Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I don't know when I'll have another day off.

Today was supposed to be a day off, but I'm headed into the city in about an hour to try to reorganize our storage space at the theater. I think I know how to do it; I don't know whether I'll be able to do it in the hour allotted, and I don't know if I can do it without someone else to help me lift things.

All my clothes are at the laundry, except for a denim skirt and t-shirt I'm wearing. The denim skirt is not exactly practical for a task that might require me to crawl around in a closet, but I didn't know I'd have to do this when I got dressed this morning.

I'm tired and feeling a little sour today, which is foolish. I still have most of the day free, and since I'll be near Times Square, maybe I'll go see a movie afterwards.

Updated to add: It's pretty amazing how a good review can lift one's spirits. Unbeknownst to me, the Times reviewer was at yesterday's show. She liked it!

Monday, September 29, 2008

I don't know how long it takes to charge up a screw gun.

We have just over an hour to load in our show tonight; we get into the theater at 6:30, the house opens at 7:45. In that time, we need to put up two flats, install monitors and Plexiglas mirrors on two stands, and assemble a rolling table. We can do it all in the time allotted, but we need a screw gun -- and our screw gun is in storage at the theater, having lost its charge by the end of Saturday's strike. I do not know how long it takes to charge one up. Maybe we can plug in the screw gun itself while the battery charges. This woke me up around 4:00 this morning.

Anyway, the show's up. It's running. We had a sold-out house on Friday, and close to that on Saturday, and everyone seemed to like it.

We had a few technical difficulties. A flat broke loose in the middle of Act I on Friday, and only the quick reflexes of a couple of actors kept it from falling; our set designer ran around the back with a screw gun and repaired things mid-show. Brian Gallagher, the actor playing Kathie Lee Gifford's first husband, handled the mishap beautifully, and the audience seemed to enjoy it as part of the adventure of live theater.

On Saturday, one of the two video monitors that form the core of Act II's set wasn't working, so we had a black screen onstage. It must have been mildly confusing to the audience, but only mildly.

Tonight we get another chance to do it all again. Given the nature of live theater, I assume we'll correct the weekend's mistakes and find some new ones to make. Tonight's show is sold out, and I hope the audience likes it as much as last weekend's did.

Saturday night I took a busman's holiday and went to see [title of show], a musical about two friends writing a musical for the NY Musical Festival. It's playing through October 12 at the Lyceum Theatre on W. 45th Street, and it is absolutely delightful. I might need to see it again before I leave town.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I don't know what I'm forgetting.

Our show opens tomorrow. I didn't post yesterday and I probably won't post tomorrow, barring some unexpected disaster. I have three or four lists going of various things that need to happen between now and 8:00 p.m. tomorrow. Most of them will happen, but some of them probably won't.

Some of them might not be physically possible, and some of them, inevitably, have gotten left off the lists. I just forgot, and then I forgot that I forgot. This show has a lot of moving pieces: 11 actors, two musicians, six designers, a production staff of five, a creative team of four, a wardrobe assistant, not to mention the venue manager and her assistant and the wonderful Tim, who manages our rehearsal space.

We're a small village, and in just over a week, it'll all be over. Strange to think about, but the nature of the beast. A few years ago, I shot a pilot for a game show that is now on the air as "1 vs. 100." Bob Saget hosts it now; the funnier, hipper and more attractive John Fugelsang hosted the pilot I shot. (I was the winning contestant, of course; and I really was, no one had given me answers beforehand. If it had been a real game, I'd have won at least $50,000. As it was, I think they paid me $10/hour.)

Anyway, it was an intense experience over several days -- hours of working, waiting, correcting, doing it over and over until it was right. It felt great to be part of a team focused on a single goal. At the end everyone congratulated each other and hugged and promised to keep in touch -- and I've never seen one of those people since.

I didn't expect to; it's the nature of the work. This is much the same way. I hope I stay in touch with some of the people I've worked on this show with, but it won't surprise me if I don't.

I hope I never forget them, though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I don't know the etiquette of social networking sites.

Against my better judgment, I put up a MySpace page a couple of years ago. For about a year, it was my primary means of communication with the man I was dating, which was weird because he had a normal e-mail account but preferred to communicate through MySpace.

That relationship didn't last, but I still have the MySpace page, and I wonder why. I've since put myself on Facebook, which is a much friendlier and safer environment -- MySpace is loaded with softcore porn and the worst excesses of young adult behavior, while Facebook is a place where people get serious about online word games. (Challenge me to Scramble, please; no one will play me any more.)

My MySpace profile is not inviting, to put it mildly. I describe myself as a know-it-all and say I don't want people sending me messages just because they like my photo. I state explicitly that I'm not online for flirting or intense online relationships with strangers. I also say I'm a professional editor, and warn people that I'll be rude to them if they send me messages written in textese or lolspeak.

But I keep getting friend requests from people who obviously haven't read my profile. Most of the time I just deny them; once in a while I think they might be someone I've met somewhere, and accept the friend request.

And then I get confused, because these fake friends often expect prompt and lengthy replies to their inappropriately personal inquiries or remarks.

Someone sent me a message today to ask why I was so angry. I couldn't remember having sent this person a message at all, but stopped long enough to reproach myself in case I had inadvertently been rude to someone who had no right to expect anything from me.

So what are the rules here? Certainly I'm not obligated to accept friend requests from strangers; am I obligated to respond to unsolicited correspondence? If I do respond, am I supposed to pretend to a friendship I didn't ask for and don't want?

It's probably easiest just to remove the dang MySpace page -- and I will, as soon as I'm out of tech week.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I do not know how to stuff 50 pounds of mud into a 10-pound bag.

The real estate market may be collapsing in other parts of the country, but Manhattan real estate will always sell at a premium. It's an island, after all, and there's nowhere to build but up.

New York is the only place I've ever been where people can tell you the precise square footage of their living space. I've lived in at least a dozen different places since college; I couldn't tell you the square footage of a single one. In New York, though, ten square feet can make the difference between a bedroom and a walk-in closet, so everyone knows.

Yesterday I sent my friend Richard, who's come down from Maine to be our Assistant Stage Manager, to The Container Store to buy bags to organize our props. We don't have Container Stores in Maine; Richard was a little overwhelmed by how crowded it was. But the key to New York life is that everything doubles as storage: tables have shelves and drawers, ottomans open to be storage cubes, beds have drawers or storage bags underneath them.

This week we've moved from the rehearsal space we had for the last three weeks into a much smaller room down the hall, and it's going to be a challenge. The new room has barely enough space to tape down the set, much less accommodate three musicians, dozens of props, twelve scene changes' worth of costumes, 11 actors and a production staff of five or six.

We'll figure it out, because we have to, but no simple solution occurs to me. It's good practice for our performance space, which is only a little bigger than this studio.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I do not know how to live like a bag lady.

The show opens a week from today, and we've started to incorporate costume pieces into our rehearsals. We have a cast of 11 and the show spans 30 years, which makes for a lot of costume pieces, and it's not safe to leave them in the rehearsal space overnight. So yesterday I volunteered to lug them home with me to Brooklyn.

Today we will be looking for another solution.

"They're not that heavy," our costume designer said, and he was right, for the first block. One of the bags, holding hats, wasn't heavy at all; the other, a vinyl block about the size of a courthouse cornerstone, weighed about 25 pounds. No big deal, except that my shoulder bag (with prompt book, computer, various supplies and my current reading material) weighs 15 pounds on its own, and the costume bag was just too big to be carried in any comfortable way.

So this morning I repacked everything into my big rolling duffle, thinking that would make my life easier. It did, but not by much; I am not strong enough to be able to carry the duffle up stairs easily, and you can't ride the New York subway without dealing with stairs. (You rarely see people in wheelchairs on the subway, because only a handful of stations are truly handicapped-accessible. Whenever I ride the subway, I appreciate the need for the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

Anyway, on my way home last night I needed to stop off at Kinko's to send out some e-mails, and I didn't drop all my stuff off first. As I was sitting there on my computer, surrounded by bags, a real bag man walked behind me and settled in another carrel. He was dragging a vertical shopping cart that apparently held all of his worldly possessions, packed into vinyl bags that looked just like mine.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that street people need skills the rest of us never develop. Paradoxically, they must have heightened senses of self-preservation; they truly live by their wits, even if it's in a way that most of us shudder to think about. Certainly, the average bag lady manages her loads much better than I did last night or this morning.

What I Read This Week

Margaret Atwood, THE BLIND ASSASSIN. Claire lent me this book ages ago, and I finally got around to it last week; it's a dazzling, complex novel that is both love story and mystery, interspersing the memoir of 82-year-old Iris Chase with the novel written by her late sister, Laura, 50 years earlier. The book is similar in tone to The French Lieutenant's Woman, hiding its romantic heart under a determination to be unsentimental.

James Lee Burke, SWAN PEAK. I had doubts about a book that set Burke's iconic protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, in Montana instead of Louisiana; in fact, the new setting allows Robicheaux and his oldest friend, Clete Purcel, to learn new things about themselves and each other. And the real story here is not about Dave and Clete, but about an angry, frightening man named Troyce Nix, who gets an unlikely chance at redemption. One of the best in the series.

Jan Burke, BLOODLINES. Another book I should have read years ago. Three generations of a wealthy Las Piernas family disappear in one night, as the grandparents and parents are lost at sea and the grandchild is kidnapped from the family home. Twenty years later, the discovery of two bodies buried in a car offers some answers, but the mysteries are not finally resolved for another 25 years. Burke handles a complex plot masterfully, and the section of the book set in the '30s is so enchanting I wish she'd set an entire book there.

Tom Martin, PYRAMID. I was in the mood for an Indiana Jones-style adventure novel; this wasn't it. An Oxford don specializing in astronomy gets a deathbed message from her mentor, and she and a colleague chase clues around the globe to prevent the world from cataclysm. Martin lost me early on, when his brilliant Oxford astronomer had to ask someone what the Nazca lines were, and his heroes are ultimately nothing but witnesses to the book's ending.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I do not know how many people will be at Barnes & Noble - Lincoln Triangle tonight.

This morning's post is a total cheat, but I'm already running late. The cast of SHE CAN'T BELIEVE SHE SAID THAT will be performing tonight at Barnes & Noble - Lincoln Triangle, as part of a panel discussion on musical comedy. It happens from 5:30 - 6:30, and will be the first time any part of this show has been performed for the general public. If you're in the area, please stop by and say hi.

In other news, my friend Laura Benedict and her husband, Pinckney, are offering to match donations for relief of Hurricane Ike victims, up to $1,000. Check out details on her blog.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I do not know how to cope with other people's martyr complexes.

The great luxury of my regular lifestyle is that I don't have to play nicely with others, which has always been a challenge. I'm never really happy in a working group or a team unless I am running things -- but the responsibilities of leadership make me anxious and depressed and ultimately burn me out, which is why I left management.

Being a stage manager, though, is kind of ideal: I have authority without the ultimate responsibility for decision-making. I'm now dealing with far more people on a daily basis than I'm used to, and getting back into a small-group dynamic was one reason I wanted to do this. Social skills atrophy with disuse, and I worry that my current lifestyle is a bad cycle: I live and work the way I do because I can't suffer fools, thereby reducing my opportunities to learn how.

Not, I hasten to say, that anyone I'm currently working with is a fool. In fact, as one of my colleagues said last night, this whole process has been a sort of 15-way blind date, and as such, it's working out amazingly well. The actors in our cast are talented, bright and game for almost anything, and we don't have a diva in the bunch. They're assimilating a massive amount of information (information that's still changing) in a very short period of time, and I'm blown away by them.

We're all working very hard, and everybody seems pretty cheerful about that; last Friday aside, I'm cheerful myself, and having a great time.

But yesterday one of my colleagues made it clear that this intense workload is causing him suffering, and indicated that he needs some sympathy and admiration for this suffering -- and I had none to give. I was sharp, for which I need to apologize today. I also need to figure out how to respond to this without feeling angry about it, and how to give this colleague what he needs so we can all get through the next three weeks in peace, and remember the experience fondly.

So how do I do this? How do you respond to unspoken messages and unexpressed needs? How do you help change the narrative in other people's heads?

Five Random Songs

"The Bleeding Heart Show," The New Pornographers. Excellent cheering-up music...

"Every Day is Like Sunday," Morrissey. ... followed by music to send you back to bed. "How I dearly wish you were not here."

"Spring & All," Mary Chapin Carpenter. From a tribute album to songwriter Greg Brown.

"Trouble of the World (Coming Home)," The Nappy Roots. Gospel hip-hop from the soundtrack of The Ladykillers.

"Six O'Clock News," John Prine. A sad song about how a young man goes wrong.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I don't know why people drive in New York City.

Another day with an insufficient number of hours, or at least an insufficient number of hours with Internet access. The Brooklyn Heights library stays open until 8:00 on Tuesdays, at least.

I was up and on the subway around 8:15 this morning to get to the Tribeca Bed Bath & Beyond right when it opened at 9:00, so I could buy a rolling garment rack to serve as a rehearsal prop. The racks come flat in a big box, which I carried uptown on the 2 train to Times Square, and then carried four blocks across town to our rehearsal space at 41st and 10th Avenue. It's by no means the strangest thing I've seen carried on the subway, or on the street; the other day I saw a man walking down 9th Avenue carrying one of those giant hands in the shape of a chair.

My point is that it's easy to take most things on the subway, and people do. I've noticed lately that almost the only cars on the streets in Manhattan are taxis, cars with government plates, and cars obviously driven by non-New Yorkers. Why tourists think it's a good idea to have a car in New York City, I can't imagine.

That said, I have driven in New York a couple of times; in fact, one of my first attempts at a standard shift was on a car I drove from my friend Carmen's wedding in Brooklyn to her reception in Hoboken. I don't remember why or how I wound up being the one to drive that car, but I managed to get there without crashing, although I think I shrieked a few times.

I've since mastered the standard shift, but I'd still shriek if I had to drive here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I don't know how to walk in high heels.

Before I start, Page Six mentioned our show today! Check it out here. Buy those tickets today, they're selling fast.

One difference between New York and Washington, DC is that women in Washington ride the Metro in sneakers and put their good shoes on at work, while women in New York ride the subway in heels. This puzzles me, since the streets of New York are much dirtier than those of Washington, and sidewalks are much bumpier and more cracked. Also, New York women seem to wear more expensive shoes than Washington women, so why wouldn't they be more careful?

If I had an office job in New York I'd mark myself as a rube by wearing sneakers to work, because I simply don't know how to walk any distance in heels. The other night I watched a woman and her date walk across the platform at 59th Street -- I'm guessing they had been to Lincoln Center, from their clothing -- and she was gliding on four-inch heels as if they were toe shoes. I admire that. I would lurch in those shoes, twist a knee and probably even break an ankle.

It's just not something I ever learned to do, and I'm not sure why. Part of it, undoubtedly, is that I was a senior in high school at the age of 15, and left for college at 16; I kind of skipped those last years of my teens, when most girls get serious about hair, makeup and other trappings of femininity. I never learned to style my hair with a blowdryer, I'm lousy at plucking my own eyebrows, and can't apply nail polish without looking like I came from a fingerpainting class.

Every so often I think I should make more of an effort, and I try -- but because it's not how people are used to seeing me, or how I'm used to seeing myself, I just look like I'm wearing a costume. I do have two beautiful pairs of high-heeled shoes that I bought in LA with well-meaning friends, and I think I've worn them a total of five times, combined. Needless to say, I didn't bring them to New York with me.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I do not know how to be in two places at once.

I'm in Manhattan right now, when I was originally supposed to be in Syracuse for tonight's gala premiere of The Express, the movie I've spent much of the last two years working on. No help for it; Equity rules require a stage manager to be present at all rehearsals, and I won't have an ASM until Sunday.

Yes, I am disappointed -- I would go farther than that and say that I am sad and I am actually pretty angry about this, but this show is something I wanted to do, too, so I can't complain much about not getting everything I want.

In grade school I went through a phase of fascination with all things supernatural and paranormal, as many young women do. (I have an elaborate theory about why this is, but will save it for a day when I'm not so busy.) Anyway, I was always especially interested in astral projection -- the idea that one's body could be one place while one's spirit was another. I spent a lot of time trying to astrally project myself to places I wanted to go, and managed nothing more than a few pretty good exercises in imagination.

Now that I think about it, though, even astral projection doesn't allow you to be conscious in two places at once. As I understand it, astral projection sends your consciousness away from your body, so the information your body receives while you're gone doesn't register. Sleep-learning doesn't work, as we know, and astral projection would probably work on a similar basis.

Thus dies another childhood ambition.

What I Read This Week

I am so busy that I literally want to cry about my inability to get everything done the moment I want to do it. On the plus side, I've had a lot of time for reading on the subway, and my lack of a reliable Internet connection helps with reading time, too.

Laura Lippman, HARDLY KNEW HER. I would never say that I prefer Laura Lippman's short fiction to her novels, but I like them just as much; it's like drinking Prosecco instead of Pinot Grigio. I'd read most of the pieces in this collection before, but it also includes some new stories, and an excellent new novella.

Jane Stanton Hitchcock, THE WITCHES' HAMMER. A prominent New York surgeon is murdered soon after coming into possession of an ancient grimoire, and his daughter is determined to find out the connection. A good premise and some moments of real suspense are thwarted by overwriting and tedious detail. A more rigorous edit could have made this a much better book.

Elmore Leonard, THE HOT KID. Somehow I didn't get to this book when it first came out, but it's perfect subway reading: a rollicking Western set in 1930s Oklahoma, without an ounce of fat on it. Leonard's best in years.

Gene Kerrigan, THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR. I was impressed with Kerrigan's debut, LITTLE CRIMINALS, and even more impressed with this second novel. A jewelry heist, a suicide attempt and a mother's desperate effort to regain custody of her son come together to bring the past home to a Dublin police detective. Kerrigan manages a terrifically complex structure like a seasoned veteran, and the ending feels both shocking and exactly right.

Laura Benedict, CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS. Laura's a friend of mine, and I read this book in manuscript; it won't be out until the very end of the year. Even if Laura weren't my friend, I'd be dazzled by this book, a truly creepy tale of revenants and damnation. Three teenaged girls cast a spell to bring them a lover, with consequences that ripple through the next 25 years and ruin more lives than their own.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I don't know the significance of "seven years."

Seven years is a fraught span of time. Jacob worked seven years for Leah, and then another seven years for Rebecca. Joseph's Egypt had seven fat years followed by seven years of famine. Grade school legend says it takes seven years to digest swallowed gum, and breaking a mirror gives you seven years of bad luck. Marilyn Monroe tempted Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch, and it used to take seven years to recover from bankruptcy (though I think it may now be ten -- anyone know?). Michael Apted chose seven years as the appropriate interval for his documentaries about a group of British schoolchildren as they grew up.

I remember hearing somewhere that all the cells in the human body replace themselves over seven years, so that every seven years each of us is a new person. (I don't understand how that phenomenon interacts with the aging process, but never mind.)

So today is the seventh anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It seems almost unbelievable that it's been seven years already, but I also have a hard time remembering the world as it was on September 10, 2001, before everything changed. I used to be able to drive my car down Pennsylvania Avenue, right past the White House; as recently as when I was in college, people could buy tickets right on the airplane, the way you can on trains.

I don't know what I think about the idea of a national holiday on September 11. Maybe it's not a great idea. Veterans' Day and Memorial Day used to mean more than sales and a free day off, and I'd hate to see the same thing happen to September 11. What would we call it, anyway?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I don't know why clams are happy.

The show I'm stage-managing includes the line, "I'm happy as a clam." As we were blocking it yesterday, I realized that I have no idea what this means. It's one of those expressions that makes no sense, like "pissed as a newt" or "sick as a pig."

Are clams happy? How would we know? What are the hopes and dreams of a clam, and what might be its disappointments? Do clams have history and tradition? Is their lack of this what makes them happy?

And why, if clams are happy, should oysters not be equally so? Well, oysters get irritated; this irritation is what produces pearls (thereby providing metaphors for second-rate poets and self-help gurus through time immemorial). So oysters without pearls might be happy -- except that they don't have pearls, and certainly pearls are something that would make me happy.

Why not say, "Happy as a good dog?" or "Happy as a game-show contestant?"

Five Random Songs

"Act of the Apostle, Pt. I," Belle and Sebastian. Ooh, how appropriate -- "Oh, if I could make sense of it all..."

"Chelsea Hotel," Regina Spektor. A cover of the Leonard Cohen classic; one of my favorite songs, but I'm undecided about this version. I'm undecided about Regina Spektor in general.

"Bizarre Love Triangle," New Order. A blast of hope on the grayest day, an immediate mood-booster no matter what -- the greatest pop portrait of infatuation I've ever heard. Words can't express how much I love this song.

"Welcome to My Party," Lea Delaria. Lea Delaria is a vocalist who should get more attention; I saw her live once in Hollywood, courtesy of my cousin Deidre.

"Go West (Farley & Heller Mix)," The Pet Shop Boys. Not only do I own the Pet Shop Boys, I own a collection of their disco remixes. And I am not ashamed.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I don't know what makes it "Greek" yogurt.

All yogurts are not equal. I first started eating yogurt in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. My mother didn't like it (she had issues with food textures), so we never had it in the house when I was growing up. I tried it at a friend's house and liked it, and since it was a convenient thing to take for lunch, that whole summer I lived on not much more than Light & Lively yogurt, very strong instant iced tea, and the occasional piece of toast. (Not recommended: I weighed 103 pounds, at my current height, and photos from that summer show me as a long-haired but cheerful skeleton.)

Anyway, I like yogurt, but have since abandoned the Light & Lively (i.e., gelatin-based) style, which often came in colors unknown to nature. Other types of yogurt might as well be pudding, and I stay away from those, too.

But Greek yogurt is something else. The Gardiner Hannaford doesn't sell it, but the food shop at the Clark St. subway station does: Fage (pronounced "Fa-YEH," the container says helpfully), in several flavors, with honey and without.

I like the plain stuff; it's like eating straight sour cream, except that the package claims it has no fat and only 90 calories. How is this possible? How is it made, and what makes it "Greek"?

I could look it up, but I'm already running late this morning. My blogging schedule may have to change to evenings, but we'll see how this week goes.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I don't know how to drink out of a Nalgene bottle.

Bottled water's a ripoff and bad for the environment, okay? If your local water isn't safe to drink, do something about it; show up at a meeting of the water board, install a filtration system, or buy a Brita pitcher. And I say this as a former resident of the District of Columbia, which did have boiled water alerts on an alarmingly regular basis for a while in the mid-90s.

Green wannabe that I am, I carry around a cool blue Nalgene® water bottle that advertises the fine, fine novel KILLER INSTINCT by Joseph Finder (and was a gift from that gentleman, a client and friend). It has a top that twists on tightly, to avoid leaks, with a loop that makes it convenient to hang off my messenger bag. It's extremely durable and holds 32 oz., so if I drink two of them over the course of the day I've satisified the requirements of my food plan.

The problem is that once the bottle's about 1/4 full, I can't drink out of it without spilling it down my front. It's a design issue, I think, or else there's some trick I haven't been able to figure out; I have to tilt the bottle up to pour the water into my mouth, but the mouth of the bottle itself is so wide that excess slops out on either side of my face. It's embarrassing.

Does anyone else have this problem with these bottles, or am I the only one? What is the secret I don't know? Thanks for your help ...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I don't know where I'm going to find an assistant stage manager.

I wasn't supposed to be the Production Stage Manager for this show, and I don't mind admitting it. I mean, I do theater as a hobby, and almost all of the other people involved in this production are seasoned professionals.

Assistant stage manager, that was my original title. It was going to be great; I had no problem doing whatever grunt work needed to be done, in exchange for a laughable stipend and the opportunity to learn the real job from a professional.

But understudies are part of life in the theater, and when the original PSM got a real job (with a show that was not part of a festival), I got promoted. And so far, it's been great. I'm having the time of my life, learning things at an astonishing rate, and managing to keep up with it all pretty well so far (check back about this in three weeks).

The problem is, though, that I did not have an understudy, and theater has no 25th Amendment. The 25th Amendment, remember, is the one that allows for the appointment of a new Vice President after the Vice President resigns or dies in office, and revises the succession to the Presidency if the President resigns or dies. We didn't need it until Spiro Agnew resigned in the middle of the Watergate scandal, throwing everything into chaos.

But I digress. We don't currently have an assistant stage manager, and we need one. We need one now, during rehearsals, but we can't do without one during performances; someone has to be backstage to oversee scene changes and props and wardrobe, and as someone recently said to me, "You can't leave actors on their own backstage." (That's not meant as an insult -- not really -- it's just that actors need to focus on their performances during a show, and it needs to be someone else's job to worry about everything else.)

So if you know anyone in New York who'd like an adventure in the theater, send him or her my way. At this point, no experience is necessary, just a good attitude and some decent organizational skills. On-the-job training guaranteed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I don't know what goes into the aroma of the New York subways.

"New York Subway" is a fragrance unlike any in the world. If you woke me up in the middle of the night with a vial under my nose, I could tell you exactly what it was -- but what is it, and where does it come from?

Diesel oil and tar are its primary components, which doesn't make much sense, since I think the trains are electric -- aren't they? -- and the subway tunnels are concrete. Above the diesel and tar are the more expected smells of a giant city: garbage, old urine, sweat, damp wool, coffee, food.

Several years ago I toyed with the idea of moving to New York, and spent a week with friends in Brooklyn, just poking around the city. At night I'd sleep on their pullout sofa and dream about spending hours scrubbing out subway stations on my hands and knees. Washington, DC keeps its subway stations almost unnaturally clean; why can't New York? (Obvious answer: New York's system has many times the number of subway stations, many times the number of riders, and is about 100 years older than Washington's.)

This morning I shared the elevator at Clark Street with a father and daughter, and the little girl picked an empty potato chip bag up off the floor. As she moved to pick up another piece of trash, her father said, "Sweetie, you don't have to clean up the whole car." "But I want to," she said.

What I Read This Week

Olen Steinhauer, THE TOURIST. Matt Baldacci of St. Martin's put the advance copy of this book in my hand at BookExpo America in May, saying it was the best novel they were publishing next winter. I wouldn't disagree; it is certainly the best spy novel I've read this year. Milo Weaver is a former covert agent trying to live a normal life as an office employee of the CIA. A legendary international assassin tracks Milo down, not to kill him but to find out who has killed the assassin himself -- he's dying of AIDS. Milo's search takes him back to the deepest secrets of his own life in a novel whose twists continue to the last page.

Michelle Gagnon, BONEYARD. FBI Agent Kelly Jones investigates the discovery of several sets of bones, buried in the Berkshires. Someone's been killing young gay hustlers, and soon it seems that a second killer is at work. I figured out the killer pretty early on, but this is still solid entertainment from an excellent new writer.

Marianne Wiggins, THE SHADOW CATCHER. A dazzling novel that weaves historical fiction -- the story of turn-of-the-century Western photographer Edward S. Curtis -- with a fantasia on Wiggins's own life. Gorgeous writing and a gripping story, and I wished it had been twice the length.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I don't know if I'm going to get to see Alison Gaylin and Jason Starr tonight.

Insanely, ridiculously, off-my-feet busy today -- so busy that I left my prompt book in Brooklyn and have to run back to get it before rehearsal starts at 1:00. It's always something... I knew I was leaving something behind this morning, but couldn't figure out it until I got to Hell's Kitchen, where our rehearsal space is. I kept clutching for things -- phone? check; sunglasses? check; iPod? check; wallet? check -- it didn't occur to me that the missing item was the single biggest thing in my messenger bag. Sigh.

Anyway, tonight my pals Alison Gaylin and Jason Starr (and, I hear, the legendary Ken Bruen) are reading from their works at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca. The event starts at 6:30, but I don't get out of rehearsal until 8:00 ... I hope someone will send me a text message to let me know where they go, if I miss them at the store.

But if you're in NY tonight and not in rehearsal, you have no excuse. Go see them. Maybe I'll meet you there.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I don't know why I'm supposed to wear sunglasses.

Eyes are mysterious to me. A couple of years ago I did a lot of research for a client on artificial eyes, which was was handy because it gave me the vocabulary I needed to talk to my own doctors earlier this year, when I was diagnosed with an atypical form of a degenerative eye disorder.

At this point it is no more than an inconvenience, whose main symptom is an inability to see much in the dark or in low light -- but I still don't understand much about the mechanics of this disorder, or why one of the few things the doctors advised me to do was wear big, dark sunglasses all the time when I'm outside in the light.

Don't get me wrong; I'm as fashion-conscious as the next person. I like the idea that I look cool in big sunglasses (shut up, I do look cool) and they hide the permanent bags under my eyes.

But it's annoying and inconvenient, because my trouble is not being able to see in low light -- and what do the sunglasses do? They reduce the light! It's just perverse, and I don't understand it. I'm constantly pushing my sunglasses up, and have become one of those people who wears sunglasses atop her head even at night, because otherwise I will set them aside and lose them. (I've lost three pairs since the beginning of the year. Fortunately, two of these were pairs I got for $2 apiece at Big Al's.)

My sunglasses are on top of my head right now, in fact. I'm posting this from a nice little coffee shop on 9th Avenue that offers cheap internet access and is only a block from our rehearsal space. It's going to be my home away from home for the next month, I suspect, and I only wish it had evening hours.

Five Random Songs

"Stir It Up," Delbert McClinton. A cover of the Bob Marley classic.

"One Step Up," Bruce Springsteen. From Tunnel of Love, a song about the end of a relationship -- I associate it with the breakup of one of my own.

"All Good Gifts," from the Godspell soundtrack. Love this song...

"Island of No Return," Billy Bragg. From Back to Basics. I saw a fistfight break out at a Billy Bragg concert once, actually. Bragg saw it and stopped the concert from the stage until the guys cut it out. That was cool.

"Please Don't Bury Me," John Prine. An anthem for organ donation. Seriously.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I don't know what makes strangers punch each other.

Yesterday afternoon I staggered over to the taxi stand by Penn Station, dragging the largest suitcase I own. (Today's post might just as easily have been, "I don't know how to pack for six weeks away from home," but I might use that later in the week.)

It was a gorgeous afternoon, and the line moved quickly. At the head of the line, a pink, balding man in his late 40s or early 50s moved to enter a cab.

Words were exchanged, but I didn't hear them. What I heard was the man shout, "Where you going? Where you going? F--- you!" The cab started to pull away; the man kept yelling, "F--- you! F--- you!"

The angry man started to get into the next cab, still shouting, but -- inexplicably -- the first cab stopped, and the driver got out. The angry man walked over to him and chest-bumped him, the way ballplayers do to umpires. The cab driver shoved him, and the angry man punched him in the face.

It was a clumsy punch, the punch of a man who's only seen it done on TV; the cab driver looked more experienced, and punched the angry man in the gut. And there the two of them were, brawling on 8th Avenue in front of all of us in line. The taxi dispatcher did nothing; two other cab drivers eventually got out of their cars and pulled the men apart.

The angry man demanded a police officer, and said he wanted to file assault charges. The taxi dispatcher ignored him. Eventually the man took another cab, and rode away.

Why does this happen? The angry man might have been drinking, but I couldn't tell; the cab driver seemed to be just an ordinary cab driver. It was 4:00 in the afternoon on a beautiful day.

This is something women don't do. I've never thrown a punch, except for one well-remembered day when I punched my brother Ed in the belly -- he was a toddler at the time -- just to see if it would push in like the Pillsbury Doughboy (it did, kind of). It's not on my list of things that would occur to me to do.

And ordinarily I try to stay away from places where people are likely to punch each other, but how would I know to stay off the streets of New York on a Monday afternoon?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Things I Don't Know

I'm up early this morning, more out of anxiety than anything else. In about five hours I'll board an express bus to midtown Manhattan, where I'll catch a cab to Brooklyn, where I'll dump my stuff before a 6:00 meeting with my director so that I can put together a list of things I need to do before tomorrow's 1:00 p.m. rehearsal.

It feels a little like leaving for college. I expect to learn more in the month ahead than I have in years -- not just about the process of putting on a show, but about all kinds of things. I'm throwing myself outside my comfort zone, and it's good for me. The one advantage of being single at 42 is that I can do this sort of thing without anyone calling it a midlife crisis, or disrupting anyone else's lifestyle and expectations.

But the month ahead is going to be a major exercise in learning what I don't know, which inspired the topic for the coming year.

The "Answer Girl" persona started as a fictional character in a novel I was writing (which I may one day get back to, but who knows). I use it ironically, but it's taken on a life of its own. It is not unusual for me to get phone calls from dinner parties or e-mails first thing in the morning from friends who have questions they think I can answer. It's become a party trick; sometimes makes me feel like a circus freak, and sometimes it makes me feel like a fraud, because I don't always know.

I collect information. It's what I do for fun and anxiety relief, as if knowing Gerald Ford's birth name (Leslie Lynch King, Jr.) or the capital of South Dakota (Pierre) could protect the people and things I love from harm. It is massive, nearly compulsive overcompensation for my acute awareness of all the things I don't know -- like how much it's going to cost me to live in New York for a month or how I'm going to get all my work done or how little sleep I can survive on for the next six weeks. Or why my hair is suddenly so gray...

But I also don't know bigger things, like why John McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running mate or how Barack Obama plans to pay for universal health care. I don't know why the levees in New Orleans aren't ready for another hurricane, and I don't know where those two million people have gone.

So this year's blog is going to be all about things I don't know, and how I deal with that ignorance. Sometimes I'll look it up; sometimes I'll make it up; sometimes I'll just deal with the anxiety. And every day, by posting the topic on the blog, I'll ask you.

I can use the help.