Monthly Archives: March 2008

From the Hook & Eye to High Heels

Dear UT,

While we were on the phone today discussing prophylactic mastectomies and the dreaded pigeon-holing of our book-of-the-moment as a “cancer book,” I ducked into an Upper West Side store to buy a bra. I didn’t quite realize the irony of this until I was waiting online to pay for my purchase. As we were talking, I casually flipped through the racks trying to find something to flatter my small “national geographic” chest.

After I hung up with you, the older woman hovering around me asked if I would like a bra fitting. I was a little hesitant, since I wasn’t quite sure what that entailed, but remembered hearing stories of woman who had “miraculous” bra-fitting experiences that lead to better cleavage and uplifted decolletage. bra.jpgI unfortunately, did not have such an experience, as I seem to know my breasts better than most women know theirs. The sales associate brought me a selection of bras, which I vetoed one-by-one: “this one has a elastic along the upper part of the cup, it’s going to cut into my chest and squash the little I have to begin with.” Another one wasn’t padded, that’s not going to fly with me. “Too much of a dark nude, I need a lighter nude because I’m pale.” No lace this time around, I needed something for shirts in softer fabrics — what is it with older women and lace? Some stuff was pretty, but an inch away from my wondering if it came with a matching garter belt. I finally dismissed the saleswoman, who left in a huff when I shooed her out as she tried to follow me into the dressing room, insisting on being in there to help me. Umm, no thank you, I’ve been wearing a bra for 14 years, I think I’ve got the hook and eye thing down for myself now.

I walked out of the store with two perfectly decent bras, they weren’t La Perla, but fit perfectly and would be appropriate to wear under tee shirts. After that experience, I felt the need to reward myself with something I liked rather than a necessity. So, like the good woman I am, I headed straight to the shoe store, where toe cleavage, high heels and peep-toes flatter every foot and no one needs to feel self-conscious.

-Downtown

The Day I Disappeared

Like following the ingredients list for recipes, I am very good at following directions on forms. They always come out perfectly. I think it’s because I find it somewhat soothing and fulfilling to do busy work that requires minimal braincell output, but results in completed forms! Every “i” is dotted, every “t” is crossed. I would have made an excellent paper pusher. But all of my beautiful work went to pot today when the following message kept coming up every time I tried to submit my form:picture-2.jpg. Yup, apparently I no longer know who I am on my forms, let alone in my life. So, I followed the directions. I double-checked my driver’s license, “check.” I looked at my social security card, “check.” My passport, “check.” My Time Out subscription sticker, “check.” Clearly, everyone else seems to know who I am — even Time Warner and Con Ed manage to find me every month, but for some reason, I can’t be found in an online form system that will help me pay for Grad School … hmm … that just seems all too convenient.

-Downtown

Meg Wolitzer writes…

The New York Times
March 25, 2008

Writing About Women Who Are Soccer Moms Without Soccer

Barely glancing at the menu, the novelist Meg Wolitzer ordered some scrambled egg whites, seven-grain toast and a Coke at the Three Guys diner on the Upper East Side one recent morning. As she scanned the room for mothers fresh from dropping off their children at one of several private schools in the neighborhood, she pointed out a pair of 30-something women in jeans and sweaters talking earnestly, heads together. “I think they’re planning a school event,” Ms. Wolitzer said.A few tables away, two white-haired women sat chatting over coffee mugs. “Their children are in 80th grade,” Ms. Wolitzer said, smiling, “and they’re waiting for them to finish.”Ms. Wolitzer, whose eighth novel, “The Ten-Year Nap,” is being published by Riverhead Books this week, did a lot of research by osmosis at the diner. Here she spent many mornings hanging out with other mothers post-school-drop-off.Those encounters, some with women who did not work, provided the genesis of the new book, a multicharacter meditation on a group of upper-middle-class women, mostly in Manhattan, who have stayed home for a decade to raise their children.The Three Guys at 89th and Madison inspired a fictional coffee shop, called the Golden Horn, an unofficial nerve center of motherly anxiety and camaraderie.

The women, in the parlance of so many news media articles and books, have “opted out” of jobs as lawyers and bankers to attend to the day-to-day minutiae of school trips, class newsletters and homework. The mothers reflect on the careers they have left behind, the ways their marriages (and sex lives) have changed, and the ever-present question of whether to return to work. Interwoven with their stories are chapters about their mothers when they were young.

It’s got hot-button issues written all over it, all right. But Ms. Wolitzer, 48, sidestepped the polemical debate that has characterized many nonfiction contributions to the motherhood genre.

“I’m not writing the Big Book o’ Motherhood and Work,” said Ms. Wolitzer, who has been a working writer since she was 23 and now has two children, Gabriel, 17, and Charlie, 13, with her husband, Richard Panek, also a writer.

What she wanted, she said, was to capture the nuances of characters who happened to have children and happened not to work.

Some of them miss their jobs; some don’t. Some feel guilt; others don’t. Amy Lamb is a former lawyer who worries constantly about money. Jill Hamlin once pursued a career in academia and then in film, but now stays at home and worries that she doesn’t connect with her adopted daughter. Roberta Sokolov, who once wanted to be an artist, is jealous of her husband, who, after years of slogging in a pays-the-bills job, lands a gig running a children’s puppet show.

All the women have thoughts likely to have readers nodding vigorously in recognition.

Before she began the novel, Ms. Wolitzer confessed, she judged those mothers who stayed home full time. But as she wrote, she realized that paid work wasn’t always fulfilling.

“The notion that everyone has a calling, that everyone has a talent, that everyone has a passion, isn’t true,” said Ms. Wolitzer, whose graying curly hair and laugh lines betray her age, but whose baggy leather jacket and battered brown leather satchel recall her years as a writing student. “I didn’t understand that.”

Ms. Wolitzer herself always knew she wanted to be a writer. Her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, is a novelist, and the younger Ms. Wolitzer wrote her first novel while in college, first at Smith and then at Brown. “I was really kind of single-minded about it,” she said.

“Sleepwalking” was published in 1982, a year after Ms. Wolitzer graduated. Reviews were good from the start, and she followed up with a steady output of critically praised, character-driven novels, including “This Is Your Life,” which was adapted for the screen by Nora Ephron, and “Surrender, Dorothy.”

Like so many so-called midlist authors, Ms. Wolitzer established a solid reputation in the literary world. But her book sales struggled to break the five-figure mark. Her most recent novel, “The Position” (Scribner, 2005), sold about 10,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales.

Ms. Wolitzer acknowledged that she didn’t write the kinds of books that seemed most popular now. “I think there is still a real interest either in novels that read like nonfiction — like “The Kite Runner” — or straight nonfiction,” she said. “And fiction that doesn’t necessarily have a historical hook or teach you something so that you feel like you’ve gotten an education — people are a lot more suspicious of it. But that’s the kind of book I want, a book that doesn’t teach you anything but shows you possibilities of things.”

With “The Ten-Year Nap,” Ms. Wolitzer decided that women who weren’t necessarily leading lives of bold action could still be the subject of muscular fiction.

“What if you wrote what you’d seen, the way people write about war?” she said. “What if you wrote about what you were seeing about women and children, even though maybe it was hopelessly uncool and wasn’t the big male world?”

While most of the main characters don’t have jobs, Ms. Wolitzer inserted Penny Ramsey, the mother of a 10-year-old boy and two teenager daughters who runs a small museum and is carrying on an affair. (Where does she find the time?) Penny is the only principal character without a chapter from her point of view.

“She’s sort of a fantasy figure” to the nonworking mothers, Ms. Wolitzer said, adding, “It’s as though they are looking through the glass and looking at the feast of work, which it really isn’t.”

Riverhead is planning a first print run of 30,000 copies. Sessalee Hensley, the fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, said she had placed substantial orders for urban markets like Boston, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area, as well as the New York metropolitan area. “I think it’s going to end up being one of those important books for people to read,” Ms. Hensley said.

She added that the characters reminded her of neighbors in New Jersey. “It actually gave me kind of a stomachache to read it,” Ms. Hensley said, “because it’s so true.”

The book’s topicality may attract new readers, even though Ms. Wolitzer steadfastly avoids the kinds of prescriptions that some women look for.

“I think maybe there’s almost like a rejiggering neurologically, so you want to go and get the information out, and you can’t do that with a complex novel,” she said.

“Like everyone, I’m following the election and I go to a Web site for the polls,” she continued. “But I go to a novel for just the opposite. If you’re going to give me a poll number, don’t do it for a very long, long time. Make it a very curvy, long road to get there, and the road along the way showing life is why you read it.”

downtown wrote:

two of my favorite lines:

“What if you wrote what you’d seen, the way people write about war?” she said.
“Like everyone, I’m following the election and I go to a Web site for the polls,” she continued. “But I go to a novel for just the opposite. If you’re going to give me a poll number, don’t do it for a very long, long time. Make it a very curvy, long road to get there, and the road along the way showing life is why you read it.” Ok now why isn’t think idea being made into an HBO series? Forget Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle, THIS is the story of many women in America. I worked on a pilot that never got made (but only because they couldn’t cast the lead role) about post-sex and the city woman with pre-school kids … but those moms lived mainly downtown.

OR even a short film first …

What do you think?

ut crosses town

familyless due to spring break and a strong dislike for the cold, I met a friend this eve at the Mandarin Oriental, 35th floor. It was a lovely evening, crisp and clear with the full moon shining bright over the park. Post drinks I headed to Whole Foods for a look-see only to find lines and lines of patrons waiting to make their purchase. It reminded me of Russian food lines, not that I ever saw any, but go figure, 8:30p on a Friday night and the place was packed. I exited sans purchase and headed up to Borders to search for a magazine that has a short q&a with our author of the moment. I was stopped by a women who after so many words asked me if I know any single men and if I don’t, perhaps my husband does. That was enough to send me home… I didn’t pity her but wondered where these people (the food shoppers and single souls) come from and why are they hanging out in the Time Warner Building. Rather than walk across 57th street back to my side of town, I hopped in a yellow cab, grateful (yet again) for my beautiful life (with and without-for the moment-my family). sheesh.

DT meets UT Midtown

DT,

Thanks for joining me last night at The Times Center http://curbed.com/archives/2007/12/06/renzo_piano_plays_it_soft_at_the_times_center.php

for TimesTalks – Streets of New York: Writers Covering the City. The commentary was generous: to write a compelling story, the goal shouldn’t just be to entertain but to tell the reader something about the city, to find the universal in the local and hope for one of two reactions:

1. I didn’t know that and/or 2. I never thought of it that way

Make it vivid – there’s much more but a propos of that, I wanted to share three woo woo things that have happened to me already today:

While I waited for coffee in my local, not greek, not starbucks UES joint, I saw the aunt, visiting from FL, of a dear friend and, shortly thereafter, a woman with whom I grew up. Does this make me a local? bumping into people I “know?” I meandered over to the Regency to speak with R about KV’s photograph that has yet to be hung. I couldn’t help but grasp the array of Spitzer scandal headlines (R was welcoming and discreet as always, most of the power breakfasters had moved on to make today’s millions) and even more strange, while working on my “wrap-up” on Obama’s success in M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I and reading about the Freedom Summer (efforts to register black voters in 1964), I received a phone call from mississippi (saks credit department, ok, ok, i’ll pay up). I don’t think I’ve ever recd a call from that state.

woo woo from you know who(m).

Revisiting Roots: Downtown Goes Out-of-Town

Uptown, you get around! Man I feel so lazy when I read a post like that, having spent the morning sleeping, the early-late afternoon doing work and then an Italian supper with 15 family friends in New Jersey. The weekends I spend out of Manhattan make me itchy, like I need to get back, as if there’s something I’m missing or forgetting to do. It takes me at least a full day to unwind and shove those thoughts into the far recesses of my brain. hookmtn.jpeg

Though I spent most of the weekend working, I did take a break on Saturday to do some shopping and then, when the rain stopped, over to Nyack Beach/Hook Mountain for a walk on the cliffs overlooking the Hudson. I love walking there — it makes me feel like I’m in a Hudson River School painting. I went about a half a mile on the trail before the high winds whipped right through me, making my eyes tear to the point where I couldn’t see well enough to move on. I wisely turned around and shivered my way back to the car.

From there, I headed South on Broadway towards Runcible Spoon to warm myself with a nice cup of coffee. Because of the weather, the bakery wasn’t populated with the usual crowd of colorful spandex-clad cyclers stopping to refuel with a scone or one of “the ‘spoon’s” famous morning buns. dcp_2338.jpg

On the way to Runcible, I past some fun local landmarks. The first being the old Victorian house we called, “The Sisters’ House.” Straight out of a scary movie, this creepy old rundown, but gorgeous home with gingerbread detail was owned by The Johnson family since the turn of the century. Alvin Johnson, the founder of The New School, lived in it with his wife and seven children until his death. After that, two of his daughters Astrid and Felicia lived in it together. Astrid was a batik artist and once made a beautiful scarf from my mother (which now hangs in my sister’s closet, when it isn’t holding back her hair.) Felicia became an economist and professor at the New School. She was also a master gardener (the results of which you could only see if you happened to brush aside the wild growth in the front and backyard — my mother called this the ‘secret garden.’) When she was in her 70’s, Felicia became the first mayor of Upper Nyack, NY. winning by one vote with her door-to-door campaign. Both sisters died a few years ago and now someone is gutting the house and has wacked the weeds away. In the spring, I’m certain Felicia’s beautiful garden will awaken and finally be seen from the sidewalk.

A few houses away from the Sisters’ is “Pretty Penny,” the former home of the First Lady of Theater, Helen Hayes. My mother knew Helen towards the end ofpretty-penny.jpeg her life and I have vague memories of playing in the backyard of Pretty Penny and sitting by the pool. The house was incredibly rundown, as Helen was nearly 90 and not in a state to undergo a home renovation. But, it was still beautiful. Books lined the walls, an Oscar or an Tony could be found sitting here or there. Musty and a little frightening to a 10-year-old, but fascinating at the same time.

Ingrid Bergman sought refuge at Pretty Penny after her affair with Roberto Rossellini came to light; Kate Hepburn played tennis on the court while Helen’s husband, Charles, drank on the porch with Spencer Tracy.

When she was 90, Helen wrote her autobiography, a copy of which sits in my parent’s living room bookcase, the shaky inscription written out to my mother. I remember Helen’s funeral a few months later and the hundreds of people who attended, pouring out of the small Nyack church. A year or so later, Rosie O’Donnell purchased the house, gutted it and returned it to its original splendor. Then, she built a seven foot high wall around it, planted 12 foot tall trees and moved out a few years later to a “compound” off the south end of Broadway, about a mile down the street. Now, all that can be seen of Pretty Penny from the street is the hawk’s nest and the main chimney.

hopperhousefinal.jpgRight before Main Street sits the Edward Hopper House. Birthplace and childhood home of, you guessed it, E. Hopper. Now, it’s a cute little gallery exhibiting local artists and local collector’s art. Rumor has it four-year-old Edward would sit on the front porch with his watercolors, painting the neighbors as they walked by.

Further down Broadway past main street is Carson McCullers’ house. As requested in her will, the house is being used as an artist’s residence. McCullers lived here from the mid-1940’s till her death mccullers.jpegin the late ’60s. It’s a pretty place, set back from the street and flanked by a baptist church and a medical professional building — both somehow fitting for her.

After South Broadway, I head towards River Road and through the town of Upper Grandview, passing “the Storybook house,” a home built in the 1920’s by a couple fascinated with the medieval period (as illustrated by the stone cottage’s design and interior decor.) The husband and wife were authors and so inspired by their home, they created a series of books for children all taking place in the stone house. There’s even a waterfall starting right at the home’s foundation and running down the front of the rocky hillside and into a ravine below.

A few doors down and I pass the home of yet another author, Toni Morrison, whose windows were custom-blown in a pink/orange shade to mimic the dawn and dusk light that comes off of the Hudson. So, no matter what time of day, the inside of her house has a warm, rosy glow.

I continue on down the road and enter into the village of Piermont, warmed from both my coffee and the trip down memory lane, ghosts in tow.

-Downtown

Big Buck Hunter Pro

The football team gathered this eve at Brother Jimmy’s UES bbq to celebrate the season’s end. Suffice it to say, I felt like I was walking in my old shoes or might have been better off in your, younger, shoes. Picture this: UES 2nd ave restaurant where the demographic seemed to be single 20somethings drinking the night away. The younger boys were tucked away in a separate room, off the bar area, and from what I could surmise seemed to have fun. I took advantage of not having a seat with the adults to indulge myself in the surroundings and sat overlooking second avenue, watching as day turned to night thanks to daylight savings, and a foursome of cute ok, handsome 25ish looking guys. I have to say, it’s weird being old enough to be their mothers considering that they are closer in age to my fourteen year old and in fact, the ten year old, than to me. Nevertheless, upon enough intake, red and white checkered tablecloths, christmas bulbs strung carefully between lit piggies along the ceiling, I turned to find my boy excused from the table and in the next room standing with some of his “teammates” by the bar. The boys were playing Big Buck Hunter Pro. bbhproover.jpgTwo “hunters” grab plastic shotguns, one orange, the other green, and fire away (“pump to reload after every shot”) at animated deer, elk and wild turkeys. When an animal is hit, they fall to the ground. The boys repeated exclaimed, “you shot a cow,” as indicated by the text on the screen. Little did they know that the cow referred to the female elk they’d smashed to smithereens, not Elsie’s sister. Ok, so it’s hunting, killing. Is it that different from pacman or ms. pacman gobbling up other pacmen? uh. yes. guns. animals.

elkcow.jpgI stood with my boy who watched by the wayside. When he’d had enough, we settled up and headed home in a yellow cab. I reminded him of his research paper and presentation last year on cruelty to animals. He remembered well.

Another tidbit that caught me by surprise, “swamp water.” The drink menu offers, in addition to PBR, Budweiser, Blue Moon and Stella beer, a handful of special drinks. You, too, can indulge in a 64oz fishbowl filled with melon liquor, cointreau, grenadine, vodka and sprite. Replete with ten pink, orange and green 18″ straws, I got a headache just looking at it.

One of the very nice waitresses, they really were nice (zero attitude), told me that the 20something, mostly white crowd was the usual one. The place is full for most of the day on Sundays and people don’t stay late because they have to get up in the morning. Other nights are busy, same crowd, mostly neighborhood types.

If ever you are in the mood for bbq, hunting and swamp water, come on up to brother jimmy’s y’all. You won’t be disappointed in the scenery, the food leaves something to be desired.

and ps. dt, pls refresh my shrinking brain as to how to get the images to sit within the text, eliminating the white surround… your elderly writing partner. xo