Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me

I moved to New York 11 years ago today, so I'm having a moment right now. Please bear with me.

The day I moved to New York, I had two large suitcases, a backpack, and a structured messenger bag for my résumés that turned out to be the biggest piece of shit bag I've ever owned. I did not have a job to go to or an apartment to move into. I had $5,000 and my best friend's couch.

I packed through the night and almost missed my plane, so the goodbyes with my family at the airport terminal curb were brief — an unexpected blessing, as I'm horrible with both goodbyes and change.

On the plane, I wrote very, very, very, very bad poetry because I thought I was supposed to. I was 23. I don't particularly like poetry, and I'm clearly terrible at it. Here are some of the better (read: worse) excerpts from that plane ride, some bits of pathetic verse and random thoughts:

Freckles dotting
Light but heavy
Fingers spotting


Repressing emotions
Testing out lotions
My heart has stopped beating
But my body's in motion


Mikhail Baryshnikov's dentist

[This was the only doctor's name I had, an old schoolmate of my dad's.]


I'm feeling ornery
12:20 arrival time I can't believe I'm doing this
I hate the change
the stress
the distance
I love my dream
my guff
No certainty
No comfort
No security
No communication


Now I have to go do all the things I've been saying I want to do. Oy vey. Can I do it?


They say go west
But I'm going east
I'm pretty depressed
The nature of the beast




[thoughts on an unrequited crush I left behind and — thank god — eventually got over]

If I'm never going to get over someone, I at least want to make them feel bad from time to time — I want to feel that, on occasion, say every 11 years or so, I've made them think of what they missed.


Stacy was in law school in Brooklyn, living in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn Heights with her now-husband, Mark. She sent me a key and offered me her sofabed for my first 10 days until she had to hunker down undistracted and study for exams. I planned to get off the plane, take a taxi to her apartment, dump my stuff, and head into Manhattan so I could walk around, get my bearings and take the edge off.

When I got to her place, I couldn't open the door. Could not get the key to turn in the knob. After 15 minutes of trying, I sat on my luggage in the stairwell, forlorn, and thought I'd have to wait for her to get home from work several hours later. I couldn't lug around my incredibly heavy bags, I had no idea where I was and, it being 1998, I did not have a cell phone. I was emotional and exhausted and scared and overwhelmed. A neighbor finally walked by and asked if I needed help. I was convinced he'd steal the key and break in because this is New York after all, but I gave it to him. With one click, he opened the door, looked at me like I was a fish, put the key in my palm and went on his way.

I dragged my stuff into Stacy's empty apartment and, save for the rumble of the subway that ran directly underneath her building, took in the quiet. I still remember what I was wearing, this unfortunate ill-fitting shiny sweater that wasn't quite taupe. I sat on the couch, stared straight ahead, and actually said aloud, "What the fuck did I just do?" And instead of getting my bearings and taking the edge off by going for that long-intended walk, I cried in panic for five minutes and then fell asleep for five hours.

When she and Mark came home, they took one look at me, pulled me up and said, "We're going to the bar." They got me nice and tipsy, which is no difficult feat despite the fact I went to Michigan State, but this lightweight appreciated it just the same.

Stacy let me use her computer, and for the next 10 days, I furiously sent out résumés, made phone calls, panicked, went for walks and ate all of her Ben & Jerry's Blackberry Cobbler ice cream. I then moved with my stuff to Manhattan, into my friend Josh's apartment, where he let me house-sit for the next 10 days while he was in Israel. Josh — who will always and forever be referred to as Josh 1, much to the chagrin of my husband, Josh 3 (don't ask about Josh 2) — was my prom date, childhood neighbor and one of the best people I've ever known. While I was crashing at his place, I got my first temp job, and my mom flew out to cosign the apartment where I lived for the next year and a half.

All these people got me started. I came with no promises, but $5,000 and my friends' couches turned out to be more than enough.

I came to New York to work in magazines. Here are some of the things I've done since the night Stacy pulled my freaked-out self off her couch and got me drunk:

* I've worked at three magazines, and my first full-time job was as the assistant to the man who started New York magazine.
* I answered phones for a man named Stanley Licker.
* I got a lap dance from a bikini-wearing drag queen on my 24th birthday.
* I've traveled to, among other destinations, Denmark, Norway, England, New Zealand, Curaçao, Jamaica, Maine, Oregon, and the Louisville Slugger Museum.
* I walked the wrong way down the stairs inside the Statue of Liberty.
* I walked downtown and across the Manhattan Bridge on 9/11 while shocked men and women coated in dust walked uptown, away from the destruction.
* I wound up on June Allyson's speed-dial.
* I met the love of my life online.
* I got married.
* I willingly had cats.
* I kept my head down while I had an allergic reaction to medication on the subway, while other riders looked at me terrified, thinking I was tripping.
* I ice-skated in Central Park and bowled at midnight at Chelsea Piers.
* I saw Brian Dennehy play Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman on Broadway and cried for the next three days, and after seeing Tony Danza perform in The Iceman Cometh, I got him to autograph a rubber duckie I just so happened to have on me.
* I buried three grandparents and three pets.
* I saw the New York Philharmonic perform in Central Park on a perfect summer night.
* I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on the Fourth of July and watched the fireworks reflected against the windows of the World Trade Center.
* I learned that one of the best feelings is standing in my parents' backyard in Michigan with my feet in the grass.
* I smoked from a hookah on Stacy's balcony while eating her home-baked pumpkin cookies.
* I've read some really brilliant books and I've read some really horrible books.
* I was in a cooking club, a book club, and found my membership folder from when I joined the Corey Hart fan club in 1986.
* I wanted a bunny.
* I let a guy I was dating (Josh 2) feel me up like a high-schooler while we were in a packed movie theater seeing Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.
* I took mambo lessons.

When I came home from work last night — or, more specifically, at 4:35 this morning after being driven home in a car that reeked of smelt until the driver farted, and then it reeked of smelt and farts — I found the most recent issue of New York magazine on the kitchen counter. The theme of the issue is "My First New York": people's tales of moving to this great city that has given us even greater opportunities. On the cover are photos of people who came here and made it big, photos taken the years they arrived. And Jann Wenner is on the cover, a photo of him in 1977. And now I work for the guy who is on the cover of "My First New York," published by the magazine started by the man who gave me my first job here. And I feel it's all come full circle, so now, just like the day I moved here, I'm sitting on the couch crying, but not because I'm scared; I'm crying because I'm proud of myself and so grateful for how things have turned out. I'm aware this whole post sounds like I'm bragging, but maybe I am. I've accomplished a lot, building a life in a place where it's often difficult to do that, and I did it with the assistance, love and support of a lot of wonderful people, and with a force inside myself I never knew I had. I often forget about this, especially when I'm feeling unproductive, so having these moments is necessary and comforting.

It's not to say it hasn't been difficult — these last 11 years have been the most challenging, emotional, testing years, because that's life and growth and change — but it's been worth every second. Every penniless, insecure, angry, support-grouped second. I wouldn't do it any differently.

I sent Josh 3 an e-mail to that effect, and this is what he wrote back:

I am very proud of you too. With the risk of sounding rather ethnocentric, the old cliche "if you can make it here you can make it anywhere" does have a certain validity. Of course its relative (ie i would have no idea what to do in Iowa). But it does take a certain constitution to thrive here (and yes that means you). Even us natives can feel overwhelmed by it all. But those "I love New York" moments you get when walking past the Chrysler (ironic for you, isn't it) or entering Grand Central that very first time (when I think about it-I was probably three-even I get teary) make it all so worthwhile don't they? In a way, I'm kind of envious. Since I grew up here, I've never seen my city through such eyes. I can pinpoint times of wonder of seeing the city for the first time as I grew old enough to form memories. Just thinking of them makes me cry. But I never had that point of reference you have, coming from such a distant background. But then again, I have to admit, the thought of being from somewhere else makes by body spasm. Maybe that's what your wonder is all about.
You should be very proud of yourself.
Happy anniversary.

I'm so lucky.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Overheard in My Living Room

Josh: [grabbing a handful of M&M's from a Costco-size bag] What do you do when there are no more M&M's left in the bag?
Me: What if there were no more M&M's left in the world?
Josh: Oh god! I would kill myself.
Me: It's really no way to live, no M&M's.
Josh: Yeah.
Me: And, like, who's the fucker who ate the last M&M?
Josh: Let's get him!

Labels: ,

Monday, April 06, 2009

Smooth Operator

On my way into work this morning, I was listening to my iPod and playing Solitaire on it. I was sitting on the end of a row of three seats, and a mother and young boy were on a two-seater next to mine, sort of like an L-shape. Here, let me assist you with high-tech illustrations:


B = boy
o = corner
M = Marla Leslie Garfield, 5'3", brown curly hair, likes long walks on the beach and drive-ins

About two stops into the commute, the kid jumped down from his seat, stuck his face in mine, and said, "Hi!" He was adorable: big brown eyes, long lashes, not annoying-precocious. I said hi, and he immediately started watching my game, pointing to the cards. He's four years old, so I tried to explain in as age-appropriate terms as possible how to play Solitaire: "See? Red then black then red then black. And see the numbers? What comes after six?" That kind of thing. Truth be told, I worry I have no idea how to talk to children; I always feel like I'm missing something, some sense of creativity they need for things to make sense. Babies I can do, children older than 18 months not so much.

As he got more into what was happening on the screen, he grasped my iPod, not trying to take it away but just holding on to it with me so he could concentrate and feel engaged. I was asking him what the numbers and shapes were, but I couldn't really hear his responses over the music and I couldn't turn down the volume because he'd taken control of the panel, so I slipped off my headphones. (And of course, to the surprise of no one, the mom just sat there reading her book. Didn't even ask me if this was OK, her child playing with my expensive piece of technology. Or that he was basically sitting on my lap. She wasn't as indefensible as WPE, probably because the situation wasn't as extreme, but I was just frustrated for him that she didn't show even remote interest in her son's interaction with a total stranger. How would she have handled it if I'd been less friendly and less amenable to her four-year-old futzing with my iPod? I understand she clearly liked having the relief of reading her book and someone else watching her child, but, um, you know what, it's not even worth it.)

So then he started pushing the buttons and spinning the wheel. I was wishing and hoping and thinking and praying he wouldn't break my iPod, but it was OK as long as I had my hands on it. Any time he got too erratic with it, I'd just slow down his fingers and show him how to be careful. (At this point, the mom was fixing her makeup.) I figured it would be good to practice the alphabet, so I clicked on the Artists section and he cruised up and down the list while I asked him what letter we were on (pointing to Janet Jackson: "J!" "What comes after J?" [pointing to The Kinks] "K!"). Sometimes he'd stop on inappropriate artists — I didn't want to have to explain "I Touch Myself" to him — and he seemed to have an affinity for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (which was when I wondered why the hell I have Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on my iPod), but by the time he got off the train, he was playing Sade, so all was cool. DJ Fierce Commute, whuttup.

As they were leaving, the mom did thank me and told me she liked my green costume ring. And as the train was pulling away, I looked up out the window, just zoning out, and the boy had stopped on his way up the station stairs, stuck his head through the railings, and waved furiously at me. Awesome.

I confess I'm not at ease around kids of a certain age — I'm more comfortable with a hormonal 16-year-old than an energetic 6-year-old — so I was proud of myself that I didn't want to tune out this boy or flee the scene. And the whole scene more than made up for the fact that, as my woozy self got ready for work not an hour before, I came thisclose to putting deodorant on my lips. Apparently, I cannot raise my hand, for I am unsure.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 03, 2009

When the rain washes you clean, you'll know.

Wednesday evening, I walked out of the office with Jann Wenner.

Jann Wenner is the chairman of my company. He started Rolling Stone. He's a music-journalism icon and a legend in the field of magazine publishing.

The only thing I could think of to say to him was, "I like your suit."

Ugh. I am finding that, in my adult years, I am becoming so socially awkward.

Here's what happened:

I ran into him as we were both heading to the elevator to go home. We said hello, how are you, very well thank you, very cordial. There's a glass security door you have to go through, and he got to it first so he held the door open for me. Very chivalrous. I said thank you. But here's the thing: My bag was hugely overstuffed, I'm not thin, and I just felt like I was taking up a lot of space, so my pass-through was clunky and graceless and I think I almost smushed him against the door. I took dance lessons for thirteen years, I can balance in a yoga tree pose for ages, but I couldn't navigate my way through a door past a Very Important Person without practically falling over.

Then there was the awkward stand-in-the-elevator-bank-and-wait minute. The minute that felt like an hour. This is what went through my head while I was standing in the elevator bank with Jann Wenner:

Do I introduce myself?
Do I tell him how much I love my job?
His suit is blue.
Do I tell him that the latest issue of
Rolling Stone is really good? I haven't read it. He'll know I haven't read it. I can't lie to the CEO of my company. During a recession. I like the cover. Do I tell him I like the cover?
That's a really nice suit.
Where is the elevator?
Maybe someone he knows will come by and I won't be standing here like an asshole.
Do I call him Mr. Wenner?

We headed into the elevator. Two other people were in there with us. I headed for the back right corner, and a woman stood in front of me and basically backed up to about an inch away from my face. Jann was in the middle and then moved back to lean against the wall, right next to me. This is what went through my head while I was standing in the elevator directly next to Jann Wenner, practically with a mouth full of some strange woman's hair:

That's a really nice suit. I like his suit.

The doors opened, we exited the elevator and entered the lobby. This is what went through my head while I was walking through the lobby a few feet from Jann Wenner:

Do I say goodbye?
It's raining. I should ask him if he has an umbrella.
Do I give Jann Wenner my umbrella?
I hope he has an umbrella.
It's ass-kissy to give him my umbrella. But I think I should offer my umbrella. He's wearing that nice suit and everything.
Do I tell him to have a nice evening?
I wonder if he takes a cab or has a driver.
That would be funny if we rode the subway together.
I'm walking too fast. Does it look like I'm fleeing him? I'm going to get fired.
It's raining.

I spent the next ten minutes running the whole scene through my head over and over again, picking apart moments that could in any way get me fired. I really love my job. I should have told him that. I said nothing to him apart from "thank you" about 35 times. Once I was on the subway en route to my pity party, I was convinced I'd performed at least 10 business faux pas and required job retraining. Ultimately, I didn't know the answer to the big question: Do you talk to The Boss or not? I couldn't think of anything of value to say, so I said nothing. Saying nothing when you're intimidated is better than saying something stupid, right?

And then yesterday, while I was telling my boss about it, he looked up and pointed. And across the office was Jann with a group of people. In that group of people was a blonde woman, middle-aged, with shoulder-length hair. She suddenly smiled at the office, made a big, grand wave, and yelled to all of us, "Bye!" We all waved back, and as one of my coworkers walked past, I said, "Who is that?"

"Stevie Nicks," he said.

Of course. Of course I waved to Stevie Nicks and had no idea I was waving to Stevie Nicks because I couldn't see far enough to tell it was her. Stevie Nicks, who is so mind-bendingly cool that she acknowledged our entire office with one unexpected "bye!" Freakin' Stevie Nicks.

And of course then I froze, and the only song I could think of that had anything to do with Stevie Nicks was "Hold Me," and she didn't even sing lead on it. Christine McVie did. And "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" is one of my favorite songs, but I totally forgot about that one. If I happened to meet Stevie Nicks, I'd say, "I love 'Hold Me'!" and look like an idiot.

This is why I shouldn't talk to celebrities. And why it was good I didn't say anything to Jann Wenner. Because no matter who I've met (Duran Duran!), who I've interviewed (Susan Sarandon!), who I've been shitty to (Ann Coulter!), who I've worked with (Milton Glaser!), when I'm really intimidated, I freeze. And I never know that I'm really intimidated until I've made a total heel of myself. I forget that I'm a relatively smart, aware, pop-culturally-well-versed individual, and instead I become her.

(For the record, I'm not a total lost cause around The Famous and The Intimidating. One recent exception of The Famous was Christopher Atkins, with whom I openly flirted over the nuances of grammar. Long story. A not-so-recent example of The Intimidating? This is how the conversation went with my former editor-in-chief — a woman with whom I was never, ever confident in conversation, no matter how hard I tried — when I gave notice at my former magazine-of-employment:

Me: So, I'm here because I'm leaving.
Her: Oh, really?
Me: Yes. I'm going to Us.
Her: [shocked I would get another job] Oh?
Me: Yeah, so, this was a great experience! Thanks!
Her: [looking down at a container on her desk] Want a blueberry?
Me: No thanks.)

Anyway, babbling. All of this doesn't apply only to well-known luminaries or persons authorized to authoritate me. I was just invited to a girls' weekend at a friend's country home in May. It sounds like ridiculous fun and I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also nervous as hell. Lately I feel totally off my game conversationally and, even though I feel great when I'm with these women, I don't see them frequently, and I'm hesitant. What will I talk about? Will I say anything stupid? Will they even care about what I'm saying? I shouldn't speak. I just shouldn't speak at all.

Once again, I think all of this is because it's spring. I'm never as needlessly rattled as when nature fucks with me every April. I think it's pretty much consensus, particularly this year, that the transition from an unbelievably long winter into whatever this pseudo-thaw is supposed to be has been uncommonly difficult on the human equilibrium. I've felt off since January, actually, but everybody I talk to has mentioned how this season hath wrought the following for them:

ravenous hunger
complete lack of appetite
total disinterest in and inability to exercise
dry skin
Brillo hair
sudden urges to cry
botched memory
debilitating exhaustion
sleepless anxiety
generalized bloating

Want me to go on?

Is this you too?

Because I think I'm experiencing all of these things at once, if that's even possible. Damn you, environment! Screw you, recession! Why do you make me feel like I'm going through puberty all over again?!? Was it not traumatic enough the first time?!? Gah! Feh! Bleh.

So my confidence has been rocked because I'm putty, and I know it's reflecting in how I move, how I speak, how I write, how I sleep, how I make my decisions, how much I mull over my decisions to the annoyed dismay of many. This drives me insane because I know better. I should know better than to panic since this happens to me every. freakin'. year, though I always forget. I know how I want to feel, and I know how to feel that way. At this point in my life, I know what to do for my mental and physical health and well-being. I know there's no point in me obsessing over all this the way I have been because I'm not that socially awkward, I'm not that crap at conversation, I'm not the train wreck I write myself to be here. I'm just, as My People like to say, fermished. So this is horseshit. I should be able to walk up to Stevie Nicks, tell her I love her haircut, and sing the Tom Petty part of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" while she sings her part and we become BFF because she'll be really impressed with my excellent Tom Petty impression — something that, if you're lucky and if we get to know each other a little better, I'll do for you.

The good news is, things are looking up, by virtue of blooming crocuses and daffodils, and with the weather — and the goings-on in me noggin — stabilizing. And also this: This post is about an actual topic, rather than about a) how I can't think of what to write, or b) random pictures of people dressed as pandas. La victoire! C'est une pamplemousse!

Here, this is funny, courtesy of Stephanie.

Labels: , , , ,