Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Imagine Circle, Strawberry Fields, Central Park, NYC - photo by Molly Leopin

New York City and I have an interesting history.  My parents traveled there for three days after winning a game show contest.  My mother brought back two beautiful dresses for my sister and me, all taffeta and pouf.  Mine was yellow.  Mary's was lilac.  We were young, little girls, really. 

Then, Stevie Wonder's hit, Living for the City.  I remember my brother, Mikey when I hear this song.  We lost Mikey to complications due to a bone marrow transplant to combat leukemia about 19 years ago.  But he loved this song.  Every time I hear the phrase from the song, "New York City, Just Like I Pictured It," I remember Mikey.

Decades after the song came out, my friend Amanda and I decided to take in New Year's Eve in New York.  We worked at a college newspaper - I was the editor and she was the production manager.  We had too much time one night, during an overnight, and thought about how much fun it would be to tick off some of the spots throughout the U.S. that hold some sort of mythological significance.  Mardi Gras would be one; Memphis and Graceland would be another; and New Year's Eve in New York City.  Since that was the closest to Maine, we decided we to start there.  Amanda went home to Pennsylvania for the holidays.  I took the bus to New York City on New Year's Eve, and we met there.  I remember riding up the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  When the elevator opened, a rush of warm air blew back my hair.  "I feel like I'm in a Michael Jackson video," I said.  We wandered the streets until the big event, then became caught behind a barricade.  Amanda was almost taken out by a crush of people.  I saw her hand waving as she went down, and I grabbed it.  I remember the ball falling, confetti flying, people shouting out the countdown, and a conga line of drunk, white, college boys weaving its boisterous way through the crowd.  After that, people disappeared in a New York minute, and Amanda, who was supposed to have found us a place to stay, admitted she hadn't.  We wandered around amongst the debris of the ball-dropping aftermath, then found a taxi and had it take us to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, where we rode it back and forth all night.  For me, the Statue of Liberty is always moving from right to left, left to right, as the ferry passes it by on its way to and fro.  The next morning, we tooled along the streets of the hung-over metropolis and caught a bus to Pennsylvania, where I visited my friend, Phil.  Someday, I thought, I will write a novel about this.  

Cut to another decade - the nineties.  I was working for a computer service magazine, god knows why, and my colleague, Nancy, decided that Maine was not in her future plans.  She got a job in NYC and moved away.  Later that year, I went to visit her in her East side apartment.  I don't remember much about the visit, except that I bought a dress at a Gap and we went on a Merry-go-round in Central Park, went to the Whitney, and ate out at some mighty fine places, and then it was over. I was going to write that novel, I told Nancy. 

Fast Forward to 2001, two months after the towers fell.  I visited Nancy again, because the Mayor told us that he wanted visitors.  Nancy was between jobs, the city had suffered a grievous blow, and it was as subdued as NYC ever gets.  We had a drink in the Oak Room in the Plaza.  We decided to go to Brooklyn one day, and tried to take the subway there.  But the subway station was buried in piles of rubble, so we took another one.  The smells surrounding the bombing permeated the train walls, sour, bitter cinder smells reminding me that something terrible had happened, recently.  In Brooklyn, I bought some antiques; a stuffed mallard duck and a Devon candlestick with a saying on it.  That weekend, a plane crashed in Queens and they shut the airports down.  Nancy and I took a taxi ride with a suicidal driver that gunned it to the station.  "I'm going to write that novel," I told Nancy, and the train pulled out of the station.

2010.  I visited my agent in May.  She took me to lunch at the Century Club, a former men's club where priceless art hangs on the wall and the only sounds that can be heard from time to time are the rustle of newspapers.  We sat in a lively restaurant, and got to know one another.  I had written the novel; we had sold it to a German publisher, and here I was, due to the kindness of a teacher/author who suggested I send my manuscript to the energetic and awesome agent sitting across from me.  

I moved to South Dakota, and my agent sold my book to an American publisher.  I drove across country (see below) in part to meet with her and my new editor, and to be interviewed by a journalist from Germany for a German magazine.  I say all of the words in this paragraph in a sort of stunned awareness of its dreamlike reality.  I had written (finally) the novel.  It had been accepted.  I had lunch with my agent and my editor - who is wonderful, kind, organized, smart, savvy, and calm - in SoHo, while my sister and my niece explored the surrounding area.  Please excuse me while I say this again, because it's kind of hazy, and a bit weird, to realize the extent to which my dreams have come true.  I had lunch with my agent and my editor in SoHo...  It's not a dream anymore.  It's an adventure. 

After lunch, my family and I explored with a terrific guide in the form of Evan, a relative on my brother-in-law's side.  We roamed through St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Nike Store, Toys R Us, Grand Central Station, a former church turned into a restaurant in Times Square, and we found our way through Central Park, through the Sheep's Meadow, towards the Dakota (not my Dakota, but John Lennon's Dakota).  We passed through Strawberry Fields and came upon this sweet little circle wrapped round with roses and memorabilia.

New York City, just like I pictured it.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Riding Along in my Automobile

I drove across country last week.  2,100 miles, give or take a few turns.  I drove a bright red Kia Soul and took my dog with me.  Driving that far in three and a half days requires a zombie-like determination, mixed with a relaxed alertness that can be exhausting.  I drove for about 9.5 hours per day, covered about 650 miles per day, and will have to do it again in less than a month...  Here are bits and pieces that passed through the thing that pretends to be a brain in my head.

South Dakota is big.  The Cheyenne River breaks are beautiful.  Missouri River.  East River girl, now.  Turn right, and go downhill towards Des Moines, Iowa.  I have to pee.  Rua is being good.  Iowa is beautiful.  The fields are brown and gold, with undertones of red, yellow, and orange.  Hobbit-town on steroids.  It's hard to keep to any speed limit.  I have to pee.  Wind farms.  Are they good, or are they just hideous?  H.G. Wells. The War of the Worlds.  Ooo Laaa - martians.  Richard Burton narrating the score.  England.  Mikey, my brother.  Bob needs to photograph this.  Seal - Crazy.  No law in Deadwood - is that true?  Why do farmers leave whole corn fields untouched?  I have to pee.  Nice rest stop - walk Rua - back in the car.  Thank God for GPS.  Through Des Moines.  Next town to motel.  Nice motel, good rest - exhausted.

Up by 7:00.  Wanted to be up by 6:00.  On the road by eight.  I have to pee. Fabulous rest stop with writer's sayings - most memorable - Tennessee Williams - Death is but a moment.  Life is made up of thousands of them.  Near Iowa City.  Somehow - Illinois - zip through Chicago unnoticed, at about 10:00 a.m.  Arch spanning highway - road construction.  Not much to say about Illinois, because it's a blur.  I have to pee.   Indiana wants me (but I can't go back there).  Hazard by Richard Marx.  How do people who never go anywhere have the right to criticize those who do?  Patty Griffin.  Little Pink Dress, Hanging from her Knees...Indiana, more farmish.  Nice farms - well kept - almost looks idyllic.  Quiet lives, good sleeps.  I have to pee.  Pet Walk.  Dogs Prohibited.  Small walk with Rua - guilt kicking in because she's so cooped up.  Life time of guilt as a dog owner.  Ohio.  Cleveland - pain in the butt to get through - ninety degree turn - skyline is Art Nouveau against a gray and sprinkly backdrop.  Car working well - can't keep under 80, when on highway.  No cops.  Good thing.  Don't want to ding the car.  Don't want to get dinged. I have to pee.  Pumpkin Spice pretzels.  Elyria.  Beautiful word.  Dingy motel.  No bulbs in lamps.  Big holes in one of the towels.  Exhausted.  Bagel with cheese and chicken on it - soggy - half eaten. 

Pennsylvania.  Zoom.  New York.  Southern Tier Highway.  Awful shape.  Awful.  Awesome Adirondacks lining awful highway.  Bump, swerve, bump, bump, bump.  Travel lane driving - driving lane bad, bad, bad.  Kia Soul not happy with bumps.  Rua is even unhappier.  Whiny - sees trees, senses home.  Beautiful area, simply beautiful.  Seneca tribe casino.  Cranky drivers - all of us hating the nasty roads.  Green Day - American Idiot Don't wanna be an American Idiot...I Walk This Boulevard...This is Our Lives on Holiday...  Angry music for lousy roads. I have to pee.  Great rest stop - hard play with Rua.  Snacks almost gone.  Lollipops saving the day.  Need to eat something good.  Motel in Massachusetts.  Does not take dogs, contrary to web site indications that it does.  Always call, next time.  $25.00 for four-legged friend who will not use the towels, mess up the beds, leave trash all over the place, or load up her bags with shampoos and soaps.  For crying out loud.  Pumpkin Spice Pretzels for dinner.  No good sleep.  Understandable.  Need good exercise.  Butt feeling like melted swiss cheese.  Shoulders hurting.  Eyes red.

Morning.  Out of Smashachusetts.  New Hampster a neccessary blur to getting where I want to go.  Cross Portsmouth Bridge.  Beatles - Get Back to where you once belonged.  Think about Michel Kimball and Green Girls.  Welcome to Maine.  The Way Life Should Be.  Rua wild.  I am crying.  Trees, trees, trees and familiarity with route.  Turn off GPS.  Fast, almost want to take off.  Kennebunk.  Saco/Biddeford, Scarborough, Portland.  Staples Parking lot.  Sister.  My sister.  Dog out of car - hugs, hugs, hugs, exhaustion.  Reloading luggage, dropping off car.  I have to pee.

Home.  Somewhere back there, I crossed the mighty M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.