Category Archives: Politics

Are All Americans Alike?

Wednesday it rained a lot.  Audrey and I went to the café and were not too chatty.  It was an off day for us.  She was grumbling about selling her van in California and I was just noticing that my “creative life” needs to be supplemented with some sort of income.  I hate reality.

The rain made the day kind of brisk, and by dusk I just wanted to curl up and watch TV.
One crazy thing did happen on Wednesday.

I had responded to an ad on Craigslist titled: “Private Russian Lessons.”  This can only lead to bad things, right?

I responded to the email saying that I’d like to get private lessons for two hours a week and I could pay $25 an hour.
I speak a little Russian already. Russians always think that I am Russian, until I speak for more than five minutes…
So, a very accented Russian man calls me.
“You called about the Russian lessons?”
“Yes.”
“Let me tell you a little about me,” he says.  (The Russian accent is very thick).
“Okay.”
“My name is Serge and I teach Russian.  I meet with you and can teach you grammar and we can speak.  I can also teach you other things.”
I’m already thinking he’s weird.
“I teach for large companies like New York Times.”
“Okay,” I say tentatively.  “Can you email me your resume and some references?”
“Oh,” he says.  “I guess you don’t want to learn Russian.  All you want to do is check up on me.”
“Excuse me?”  I said.
“All you Americans are alike.”
With that he hung up on me.

Don’t Be Trippin – Downtown cafe girl goes uptown!

What an excellent day!  I had two important appointments uptown and Audrey told me she got a new job!  She was so excited that she had to see me, so I decided to get “gussied” as much as possible and prepared for my meetings early, so that we could live “creative life” even if it was only for two hours.

This is a side note, but I really hate my new hairdo, it does make me look like Sarah Palin’s sister.

Me in my "library pose"

I look like a schoolmarm, librarian, preschool teacher or like I hunt for rabbits (no offense to schoolmarms, librarians, preschool teachers, rabbit hunters…well sure, offense to rabbit hunters).
Audrey and I meet up at Grounded and saddle up to a little table that we share.  Laptops are back-to-back.  I look down at my computer and realize that I haven’t prepared much for either of my meetings (been too busy writing my blog perhaps?).
One of my meetings is with a theater company. They have asked me to be prepared to discuss a marketing plan for “Of Mice and Men, the Musical.”  It was kind of a “what if?” type of question.  I’m pondering this. Audrey finds me a website with themes of Steinbeck novels.  So I am trying to imagine Curley’s wife singing a beautiful song about being lonely.  Hmmm.
I nearly tripped on the computer cord of the guy sitting next to me.
“Don’t be trippin,” He says with a laugh.  I can tell he thinks this he’s made a funny pun.
I smile and look back down at the “themes” page.
Audrey, my partner in crime, nudges me:  “Interview him,” she says with a raised brow.
“Ah,” good idea.
So I look on his lap top and try to see what he’s working on, see if it intrigues me.   It looks like it’s some kind of script for a commercial.
I have a feeling that Audrey and I are starting to get “known” in this café.
“Can I interview you? It will only take a minute,” I say.
“Sure, if it only takes a minute.”


Who:  Jason
Where: Grounded, NYC
Occupation: Movie trailer writer, advertising.
I actually felt like Jason was interviewing me, more than I was interviewing him.
“So what’s your blog about?” he says.
I can tell the whole coffee house is listening.
“Oh I interview one person a day, but I’m a playwright, so it’s not like an official thing.  I feel you and I have to sit across from you in order to interview you.”
“So what is it you do?  What are you working on?  It looks like a commercial, is it?” I say.
“I write teasers for movies and television shows.”
“Wow, that’s different.”
“I know so cool, right?” he says.
I can tell he doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is a good thing.
“How did you get this job?”
I’m not sure if this is exactly what we said, but I think he said something like
“I know how to work it.”
Hmm. Something any New Yorker knows is the name of the game – working it, that is.
“I feel lucky,” he says.
The three of us laugh about it.
“Look at us, we are in a cafe,” he said.
I think I can most appreciate the luxury of getting to hang out in a café.  After all, I only just left the corporate “florescent lights” a month ago.
Whew.  I pinch myself.  I am enjoying every moment of this borrowed time.
From behind me a guy who is listening to our conversation says, “are you a playwright? I am too.”

“I’ve got a show coming up.”  He hands me his card and we talk for awhile about playwriting and the Samuel French Festival.  He won in 2007.  His play “To Barcelona” sounds fascinating.  He added me as a friend on Facebook while we were sitting there talking, and as you can imagine, my interview with Jason went south.  Oh yeah, my interview!
Thankfully Audrey took over with the interview while I became distracted with Michael the playwright and figuring out how many friends we had in common.
Jason and Audrey both went to UC Berkeley, so they had a lot to chat about.  We told him that we really only recently graduated and were like 27.  I think he believed us.
We laugh.
I think the whole café is in on this.
“Okay café,” I ask to the crowd at large, “what Broadway stars would be good in Of Mice and Men, the Musical?”
“ I was thinking of Allan Cummings as Curley,” I say.
“He’s too old,” says Jason.
Suddenly I’m hearing answers from all over the coffee house.
Back to the interview, sort of.
“So is your blog political?” says Jason.  “You say you are interviewing one person a day until November 3rd?”
“Well, that’s when I figure I’ll be exhausted. But sure, getting people’s political views is part of it,” I say with a sigh.
“I just assume unless you tell me that you are from Alaska that most New Yorkers I’m meeting are liberal.”
“Well,” says Jason with a snort:  “I fucking love Barak Obama and I will flee the country if he doesn’t win.  I don’t care how many vaginas (Sarah Palin) has, why would any woman vote for her?”
His outburst cracks all of us up because it came out of nowhere.
My day could have ended there and I would have been happy, but I did have two meetings uptown, so since I am still in my “looking up” mode, I snapped a photo of building that would make a great painting – love the pipe snaking up the side.

Since my lipstick had worn off, I stopped into Bloomingdales and got lost trying to find the makeup counter.  I stopped to look at a chic jacket and of course it was my favorite designer: Nanette Lepore.

I don’t own anything by Nanette Lepore, but the next time I have money for a shopping spree, I must get something from her collection.  It’s true love!
At 7PM, I meet up with another playwright-friend Sonya at the Women’s Project for the opening of a new play.  Sonya is the greatest.   Great writer, mom of a three-year-old, very smart, funny and supportive of other writers.  Here’s a fun secret bonus about working in the theater in NYC: I get to know a cast of very interesting characters– and I get to see lots of quality theater for free!
The play was good; the set and lighting design inventive and the acting superb.  The characters were Russian and both actors really knocked out a solid Russian accent.  Natilia Payne is one of my favorite actors, so how could I not find the play charming? Yes, charming indeed.


The after party was fun too, though we didn’t stay long.  On the way home we came out right as the Broadway stars from the musical “Spring Awakening “ were outside singing autographs, so I snapped some more photos.


Hmmm. Maybe someday this will be me? Nah, no one takes photos of the playwrights.  It’s a good thing. I don’t like my hair.
________

Skinny dipping in the East River?

The rest of the week…
Tuesday night I had a reading of my new play with the group “The Fold.”  It’s so thrilling to be writing a new full-length play and watch it come to life. As a writer, I think I tend to listen to my work as if I were an audience member, so when it’s over, it’s quite possible that you will look over at me and I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what’s going to happen just as much as you are.  When the reading is over, it’s pointless to ask me questions, especially in the beginning.  Truth is, I let the characters tell me what’s going to happen.

Writing the new scene was killing me.   Since it sounded like a bad soap opera, I re-wrote it and turned out to be pretty good.  Re-writing a scene is an impressive feat for a writer, I think.  I strongly believe one of the best things I’ve noticed about my skill set as I am maturing as a dramatist is my ability to re-write.  When I first started I certainly didn’t have this skill.  I was so lazy that I would get an idea for something once and that was that.  Let’s just say that jumping from having written one short play to being in graduate school where I had to constantly have ideas for new plays was a hurdle for me.  Now I feel like ideas come to me all the time and I can’t even keep up.  I can’t write fast enough.  I guess hard work eventually pays off.  Even though my body of work looks impressive to some, I don’t feel that I worked that hard because I love what I do.  I love to write characters and dialogue, but what I don’t like to do is set a schedule.  I am not a writer who “writes 10 pages a day” for example, like Hemingway.  I write when I get the inspiration to do so, which does not bode well for someone who wants to be a professional writer.  Because I am used to working a full-time job while also pursuing my writing career,  I am comfortable with thinking a lot about something and then spewing out a scene in 10 minutes.  I am now giving my writing my full attention which is both amazing (because I am ready) and scary at the same time.

My friend Audrey and I call this “ The Creative Life” and we are serious about it.   We make specific plans to meet up and go write together as much as possible.  We put our matching Mac Books back-to-back.  She is working on her PhD thesis and I’m writing plays, etc….it’s “fun times.”  We giggle a lot.

Wednesday, September 24th — sitting at Grounded, not exactly writing yet and my phone rings.  It’s someone from the theater (of a company who wants to produce my one-act play).  I had had some reservations about the contract.  Apparently the theater had another playwright who works with them give me a call so I could be re-assured.  Karen Williams is the playwright and she sounds like a very nice lady, so I decide to interview her, but it’s over the phone and I don’t think she lives in NYC, so I don’t think it counts.
Wednesday night.  I am running through my fabulous hood in the West Village on my way to dance class.  I try to interview my dance teacher, but I can tell she thinks I’m being weird.  So I took a picture of the window dressing of Sip and Snip, my local hairdresser.  I hope Ricky can fix my hair soon.
Thursday, September 25th – yikes, one day to my big reading.  I do some emailing for the “big reading” – found out that yes a Broadway producer might come.  Hmmm. No pressure.  I take off for White Plains to spend the day taking care of my aunt.  Nothing happens. I get home extremely tired and can’t believe that I used to commute to White Plains for my job every day.  What torture!  I can only pinch myself that I only have to do this once a week.
Friday,  September 26th – I meet tons of people.  My reading of Reporter Girl was happening.  At 4PM I met up with the actors and my friend Jamie, who was coming out of her early (just-had-a-baby) retirement to direct.  She’s incredible and I’m so glad that we are working together again. Yes, the Broadway producer was there. The audience seemed to love the play.  We only read the first act. The producer invites me out for a drink to talk business.  We went to a swanky secret Broadway club.  I order a Cosmo, then another.  Oh no, I feel myself sway and can’t remember what I just said.  Am I drunk? Really?  Seriously?  I pull myself together.   I think I was charming without seeming too crazy.  Can’t say what we talked about exactly, but we have a meeting next week.
I jump in a cab – off to meet my friends who are already at my house watching the debate.  My favorite line was something about McCain singing about bombing Iran.    My head is spinning too much to pay attention.  I dressed up like Sarah Palin and did a dead on impression: “In what respect Charlie?”

A friend of a friend is there and I decide to interview her, but since I was drinking so much who knows what she really said.  Here’s what I remember –

Who: Carol
Where: My house, the West Village, NYC
Why: Why not?
Occupation: Artist
Carol has lived in NYC since 1984 – crazy, right?  Her greatest NYC moment?
“Skinny dipping in the East River.” What? That sounds gross.
Apparently it wasn’t so gross, but one of those oh-so-daring moments.
“When else in my life would I do something like this?  It was warm and when I looked up from the water it was the most beautiful view,” she said, smiling, obviously remembering the moment with glee.
And I thought sleeping on the floor of the Grand Canyon was awesome.  Apparently one hasn’t lived until they’ve jumped in the East River.
Nope, not gonna do it.

Fall interviews – more New York City.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m interviewing….madly interviewing one, sometimes two people a day.  It’s hard work, but I am getting it done.  Alas, here is the latest.

Kenneth Butler and Danny Fernadez

Kenneth Butler and Danny Fernadez

Who:
Danny Fernandez and Kenneth Butler
Where: Greenwich Avenue, NYC
Occupation (today): Civil Rights Activists
Normal occupation: Kenneth is an actor and Danny is a filmmaker.
Tuesday, September 23rd.
11AM – I was on my way to Grounded – my new writer’s lair.  As I ran by, I noticed two guys with petitions.   Normally I do my best to avoid people with petitions, but this time, the two guys holding the petitions Danny Fernandez and Kenneth Butler looked interesting, so I decided to ask them what they were up to and what I could sign.
Turns out they were trying to get money for Gay Rights (HRC.org). They explained to me that HRC.org  supports all kinds of lobbying efforts for Gay rights in Washington.
“Did you know that a Catholic Church organization is spending 1.2 million to put bills through congress to stop gay marriage?” said Kenneth Butler.
“Proposition 8 is on the ballot in California,” seconds Danny.
Proposition 8 could ban gay marriage.
“I’m not gay, but lots of my friends are and obviously I think civil rights affects everyone.  It’s hard to believe what marginalized cultures have to put up with from the government and the Christian Right,” said Danny.
“See, my $11 a month really adds up,” says Kenneth proudly.   “When you know that gays are still being persecuted” and “they can’t marry in many states” seconds Danny….”well we feel better that we are doing something.”
After many hours of writing I came by the same area and at 4PM the guys were still out, still trying to get money.
“How did you do?” I said.  “We did great today,” said Danny.
“The people were really excellent,” said Kenneth.

Creative writing: fall interviews

More interviews…oh fall!
I always remember the first day of fall.  The air feels slightly chilly and it seems like signs for Halloween are everywhere, even if they are only in your mind. Once a romance that had been brewing all summer came to fruition on the first day of fall.  Everything seemed more poignant that fall.   Flowers were more fragrant.  I recall wearing tights that were too tight to pull up.  I got my solo apartment that fall, even if it was only a sublet.  It was a magical time, but then, fall always is.  It’s the biggest change of season, a time of re-birth.
So on with the Interviews – I haven’t forgotten.
Who: Rachel
Where: Grounded in the West Village, NYC
Occupation: Business Editor
Rachel is a fan of the Yankees, “loves Shakespeare” and will probably run a marathon someday.  She also happens to be a business editor.
“I hope my team isn’t messing up the coverage,” she says.
For the past year, she’s been my Sunday Yoga friend and that’s the extent of it.
We met while I worked in marketing for Salon.com, which is now forever ago. We met when Salon was relevant and we were not.  Things have changed.
These days Sunday Yoga is “our date” because it might be the only time we see each other in the month. We are both guilty of being busy, and we both travel a lot.  Rachel is always “off somewhere”- or “going to her country house”– or on a humanitarian mission to Africa. She seems like the kind of person who could put out a fire and save two babies on her way to work.  And no, she won’t tell me who she’s going to vote for because of her “journalistic integrity.”   Really? Okay.
Since I never go to Brooklyn, I have to appreciate that Rachel comes into Manhattan for our visits.  I’m a Taurus, which means I make people come to me.  Rachel is a Leo, which means, she controls things.
“Oh,” she says with the calmness of lion after its kill, “did I tell you that I accidentally ran a half marathon last weekend?”
“How do you accidentally run a half marathon?”
“Well, it just happened.”
But it was something, this marathon.  This was Rachel once again pushing herself to new, yet un-tested limits.
“Oh Noni, I’ve got to get going,” she says as she helps me finish my coffee.
Knowing that Rachel loves plays as much or more than I do, I ask her if she’s the kind of writer she really wants to be.
“I’m making my living writing.  That’s the kind of writer I want to be.”
Her answers are all business and I guess that makes sense.
“So, are you writing this down, Noni?”

——-

Who: Carolyn French

Where: The Fifi Oscard Agency, Midtown, NYC

Occupation: Literary Agent
I met Carolyn French over five years ago when I came in looking for a job at Fifi Oscard, a literary agency in NYC.
I was in the first summer of my MFA and really only knew that a literary agent position sounded interesting.
I stood in the waiting room with my resume thinking that I would just get to drop it off and I wouldn’t hear a thing.  Turns out that the owner, the grand dame Fifi Oscard wanted to see me.
“So what can you do for us?”  Truthfully I had no idea.  “I can….lick stamps, uh…I can…answer the phones….”I stammered.  Suddenly I knew what I could do.
“I can read plays,” I said with confidence.
“Oh good,” she said.
So Fifi gave me a play and I returned it with comments the next day.  The play was terrible and I said so.
“You should go talk to Carolyn,” she said.  So I did.
That day I became Carolyn’s assistant and for the next three years I read and commented on a great many plays. I helped Carolyn file, write letters and worked on getting people out to her writer’s events.  Eventually my role grew at the agency grew and I had my own clients.  I had quite a time there, but that’s not what I’m writing about.
The ever-stylish Carolyn was born around 1930, which means she was a teenager when my granny’s cartoon Brenda Starr had just come out.  She lived in San Francisco and from the looks of her now, I imagine she was quite a beauty when she was young.  She’s tall and slender, and boasts of how she still stands on her head every morning.
Carolyn got her PhD in English and Theater, was unhappily married and had one daughter and “traveled the world” before becoming an agent.
Carolyn is probably one of the smartest and most intellectual agents out there.  She’s an agent that really knows how to tell a good play from a bad one.  Honestly, so many agents are just into the hype, but not Carolyn.  Even if she forgets ten minutes later, Carolyn will tell it to you straight.
Carolyn only decided to become a literary agent later in life after an illness left her unable to teach.
“I lost my memory,” she said.  “So I certainly couldn’t teach.”  But she could surely choose plays.
When she came to Fifi’s to work as an agent she had to train, just like me.
“ I worked for free at first – and still do, practically.”
Carolyn was able to gain her confidence quickly as an agent.
“I only wanted a project that people would recognize,” she said.  “I was hardly expecting what happened next.  I mean where do you go from there?”
Carolyn’s first project as an agent was the play “Wit” and it won the Pulitzer Prize.
When I told Carolyn that I wanted to be a playwright she said “why?”
“A playwright really only needs one good play,” I said.
Carolyn’s become a fan of my work and a wonderful and dear friend.
These days Carolyn has a harder time getting around, but she still loves what she does.
In some ways she reminds me of my grandma (Dale Messick) who I miss very much.  “When you quit and sit that’s it” – that’s what Dale used to say.
That’s hardly the way the elegant and charming Carolyn would put it, but I think the sentiment is exactly the same.

One Person a Day till November 3rd!

One person a day until November 3rd.
I love talking to people.  Despite myself, weird, interesting and lots of times incredibly smart, magical people have been drawn to me my entire life.  I suspect the reason for this is that I am to write about these fascinating folks, which I do with ease in my plays.  Characters such as the Dutch photographer living in Paris who is going off to Kenya to shoot the Masai (The Witch of Ile St. Louis) and the advertising executive who speaks like a poet (My Life As You) are based on real people in my life who I have known.  But lately I’ve wanted a simpler outlet, something that’s just fun.
With the election coming so soon, I thought it might be an eye-opening exercise to interview random people once a day.  Let’s see if I can do it.  This will force me to be present – to ask questions and to listen.  So often, we shut the world out and just listen to our own voices, the ones in our heads.
Interview 1: Melody Olsen.
Occupation: Student, Aveda Institute.
Location: NYC
When I went to the Aveda Institue yesterday to get a cheaper-than-usual haircut and highlight job, I didn’t expect a.) it would take so long and b.) I would run into the likes of Melody.  Melody O came out around a corner and asked me softly if I was “Laura.”  I nodded, put away my book and walked towards her station.  Melody looked annoyed and an unhappy grimace turned the corners of her soft round face. With her blond bob and her broad shoulders, she reminded me of someone I knew before, in another life, someone who was “extremely type A” and from the Midwest. So that’s where I put Melody in my file of people.  I did all this before she uttered a word.   I was tired and not up for lots of conversation at first. Next, Melody and I discussed my new gray which appears just around my ears and it’s starting to make me look like Dracula.  Hmmm….what to do next with my hair? Nothing super exciting, just some low lights and a shorter cut.  Then, Melody and I set off to chatting as one does with a hairstylist.  We talked about “going to school” and what Melody thought of the Aveda Institue.  She candidly admitted her frustration was emanating from “school.”  I could relate to the drudgery of school.  I went to a three-year graduate MFA program filled with just the people I’ve been trying to avoid but inexorably drawn to my entire life “drama queens.” We also talked about finding it annoying how many times in our lives “high school” would repeat itself.  And being a good bit older than Melody (I guessed), I assured her that high school stuff happens all the time.    Turns out, the more we talked, the more I found Melody interesting and not quite like anyone I’d met before.  Her Midwestern familiarity came from her hard working background, not from Illinois as I guessed.  This 23-year-old, Independent voter came from a Republican, “hunting”  family and grew up in Nome, Alaska a town of about 3,500 that just got cell phone service two years ago.

When I asked her about Sarah Palin her face lightened, she was a fan, but admitted she preferred Hillary (uh, me too).   I asked silly non-cultured questions even though I might already have known the answers.  I asked about hunting, Wolves, Bears, Caribou (apparently Caribou is what her family hunts), Polar Bears, Grizzly Bears, Whales, Eskimos and even Igloos.
“The Alaskan people all hunt – it’s normal,” She said with a serene calmness. “A  hunting and gathering people, they feast on the land as our ancestors did,” she said with the authority of a school teacher.
Then, this blond haired blue-eyed beauty told me about  her grandmother’s Eskimo village and always knowing that she wanted to be a hairdresser and taking the chance to move beyond her small town and to NYC.   What courage!

We had that in common.  I also came from a small town of 100.
Looking at Melody, with her soft radiance, it reminded me of me when I was first  getting to know this city.
My hardest question yet:  “What’s your favorite New York experience so far?”  She had to think about it awhile.  Nearly an hour later as she washed my newly colored hair, it came to her.
“My favorite memory so far is a sudden rain storm.  We don’t have them in Alaska. There was thunder and lightening – and it was pouring.  We were all running with our black aprons on.  I was giggling….”

Thanks to Hillary…SATC and Brenda Starr Reporter

Now that all the Hillary hating is over, people can start missing her. In some of those photos, Hillary is absolutely stunning. Her beauty is deep within in the lines of her face.

The political landscape is far less interesting these days without her in the race.

I spoke to the Marketing Director of The Chicago Tribune today and she said: “Never in my life did I think I’d see the day when a black man and a white woman would be running for president. Together they’d be unstoppable.”

Probably.

Why was I talking to the Marketing Director of the Chicago Tribune? Well, because we were chatting about my granny and Brenda Starr — and how my granny, Dale Messick was one of the early pioneers for women, paving the way for not only other cartoonists, but for journalists. Dale Messick via her character Brenda Starr Reporter inspired millions with the “I’m a woman and I can do it” attitude.

SATC – perhaps it just proves that movies don’t have to be all about men or violence to be popular.