Took the train to New York last week to sign my book contract. Was it totally necessary? No. Of course the publisher and agent could have Fed-Exed or emailed paperwork. But the three of us agreed that a two-martini lunch and paper and pen was an old-fashioned rite of book publishing passage that needed to be brought back, so we made the effort. An overnight trip staying with my (fun and wisely childless) friend who lives in the city and night off from four kids back in Maryland? Yes, please and thanks.
The contract-signing lunch could best be described in Brady Bunch terms: it was dreamy. I learned that my book is in the less than five percent of books that come out of the slush pile of pitches. So 95 percent of books exist because agents/publishers either had direct referrals or sought the author out, and the slush pile belongs to those of us thousands upon thousands of writers who pitch our book ideas to the industry. It made me think there should be a “Rise of the Slush Pile” Terminator movie, or at least it would be a good name for a band.
While I was hanging around the city for a day and a night, I learned a few things in my peripheral vision.
- New Yorkers on the streets are angry. I am not sure why they’re so filled with anger, but the best thing to do seems to be to avoid eye contact or else risk just pissing them off more.
- They don’t like The Today Show. New Yorkers prefer the local network featuring a teddy bear looking guy named Greg and one of the world’s clearly most genuine lifer New Yorkers, Rosanna Scotto, who I want to meet.
- You can buy books for $1 and even $0.48 at The Strand bookstore on Broadway.
- If you order a Grey Goose Dirty martini up with extra olives (my go-to) at a swanky place, New York is fancy, so there will be pits in the olives and don’t ask me how they got them on the toothpick in the first place, but you will now awkwardly be dealing with trying to hide olive pits in your mouth in front of your publisher and agent because there are only cloth napkins.
- New Yorkers have developed invisible third eyes on the tops of their heads and therefore know how to walk on the street and look at their devices at the same time. You do not. Regardless of the fact that you’re simply trying to follow your Google maps walking directions, they will mow you down like last week’s grass (if they had any). The best thing to do is pretend you’re on a walking-highway and PULL THE FUCK OVER if you need to check your directions (see #1).
- Union Square is its own cool little town. There are musicians, people playing chess, a massive number of Jesusy people wearing “Bible Crusader” vests and many, many people trying to “ask you a quick question” (“Are you From New York?” “No.” “You look like you’re from New York.” “I’m glad I was about to work that out.” “Fake it till ya make it, honey.”)
- It’s embarrassing not to know which way “downtown” is when your friend has given you walking directions out of Penn Station. Although you are too embarrassed to text her and ask “which way downtown is,” it will not be less embarrassing to have to find a stranger willing to explain the grid street system to you.
- The grid street system is math. Fuck math, except the math that walking is cheaper than cabs and if you understand the subway less than the “grid,” you’re walking, so just be thankful it’s not raining. Google Maps walking directions are also confusing, because the arrow that is supposed to be you always seems to be floating/pointing in the opposite direction you’re headed.
- Even though I only personally know three real people who live in New York City (besides my publisher and agent), there is nothing more comforting in that massive place than to connect with an actual recognizable human face. I’m thankful for this.
- When you go to the bar where they have the most delicious burgers ever, and even though you spot Single Barrel Jack Daniels on the bar, the waitress may still return to your table and ask “Was that the single barrel or the double barrel Jack that you wanted?"
Um, honey. One’s a fine whiskey and one’s a shotgun, so just the booze for now.
-Follow Mary McCarthy on Twitter @marymac