Monday, July 9, 2012

A New York State of Mind # 1

The hotel Pennsylvania (across the street from Madison Square Garden): our New York home away from home.

New York always brings me to my senses and last week, with more than 3-million visitors descending on the Big Apple for the annual 4th of July fireworks on the Hudson, the sidewalks and the subways were teeming with humanity.  The occasion was a graduation gift to my son, in the hope that he might appreciate the slower-pace of his Midwestern roots and realize that New York is a fine place to visit, but isn't suited for his plodding mentality and more sedentary pursuits.

As far as my sentiments go, I always experience New York as one of the few remaining holdouts--and perhaps the finest vestige--of a literate culture.  There is no other city where one can still buy books or practically every street corner, encounter old women on park benches who are reading Voltaire or James Joyce, or overhear discussions about novels, playwrights, or the latest biography of Walter Cronkite.

There is no other place where one can daily encounter a person reading a book--usually on the subway--and during the five days I was in New York I smiled at, and took note of:  an Italian woman reading a yellowed, tattered copy of a prayer book of Saints; an Orthodox Jewish gentleman reading a large, ornate copy of Talmudic literature; a group of women heavily engrossed in their individual ruminations of various pop novels.

My favorite was a young woman on the subway who was reading a used copy of a Woody Allen humor collection--a book that I recognized right off as one that was resting on my bookshelf back home, and one that I had read several times myself.  But I didn't have the nerve to rouse this woman from her interior pursuit to ask, "What do you think of Woody's copious references to herring in that old New Yorker piece?"

As I walked the sidewalks (or "pressed" myself through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds), I also took note of those publishing firms that occupied the higher spaces of office buildings, the familiar names rising above me like a siren call.  At one point I passed in front of a publisher's office--a firm that has continued to keep my oldest book in print--and I felt a deep desire to ascend to those offices and introduce myself to the staff there, announcing that I was "one of their own", and to thank them for holding out the hope that my book might one day sell enough copies to provide for one of their salaries.  But after realizing I was hot and sweaty, and clad in shorts and sandals, I came to my senses and struggled on toward Times Square, certain that no publisher would want to entertain a loser like me.

But the thought of those offices were enough to inspire, those offices retained on floors high above Manhattan, where editors and agents often meet and where, yes, some have even met over the years to discuss my work . . . a guy living in a small, out-of-the-way borough in Indiana who still writes his guts out most days and who will, God-willing, get back to New York another day, perhaps to sign a contract, or meet the editor who has such high hopes for a book written by a Hoosier.

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