Every Day Is Like Sunday

Whenever I find myself in a waiting period in my writing

career, I think of a passage from the memoir Poets in Their Youth . In it, John Berryman is killing a couple of

weeks before he hears if he’s gotten a teaching job that he thinks will allow

him to properly begin his vocation. It’s a muggy New York

summer; he and his girlfriend are going to air-conditioned movies every

afternoon. I imagine the two of them-young, unknown-wasting whole days sitting

on park benches, walking the streets, smoking cigarettes on fire escapes. No

doubt enjoying the city and each other in a way they never would again.

That’s what this summer has felt like. I spent the last year

and a half writing my fourth novel. I worked on it diligently, Monday through

Friday, 9 to 5. I obsessed over it,

spent sleepless nights with it, lost a girlfriend for

it. But now it’s finished and with my agent. All that’s left to do is wait. Now

it’s my turn to go to the movies.

Which is exactly what I’ve been doing.

Originally I had planned to leave the city. I thought about going to Europe

(the dollar is strong) or maybe back home to Oregon,

where I have some old friends and could get a little time in the woods.

But I didn’t leave. Instead, on my first day post-novel, I

ran an errand in midtown and then found myself in Times Square

at 2 in the afternoon with absolutely nothing to do. Times Square,

if you actually stop and look at it and feel it and

let it work on you, is still quite a formidable experience. I walked around its

circumference, then continued to lovely Bryant Park,

where I had an iced coffee and sat in one of those toy chairs. I’d only

intended to sit for a minute, but there were interesting people to look at and

that big, lulling lawn, and the buildings, and the sky. I was there for two

hours. It was not unlike spending an afternoon in the Luxembourg

Gardens. I didn’t need to go to Europe;

I just needed to get out of the house.

And so I became a tourist again. Except this time, I knew

where to go. I spent a Wednesday among the Chelsea

art galleries. The art seemed to have more to say when not obscured by the

noisy, social weekend crowd-as did the women working there. The dignity and

intelligence of the city seemed more on display during off-hours.

Such little excursions, though, have a way of expanding into

daylong affairs. The next afternoon, I stopped at Canal Jean to buy some socks,

and there went my Thursday. There’s a lot of stuff to look at and mull over at

Canal Jean: the latest asymmetrical messenger bags, just how puffy, furry and

zipper-laden they can make next year’s winter coats, whether or not Carhartt

will overtake Dickies as the brand that bohemian college kids co-opt from the

working class. As someone who writes about suburban cool, I felt justified

wasting hours comparing last year’s discounted Vans with those plastic Puma

flip-flops that never quite caught on.

On Friday, I saw Planet

of the Apes on 42nd Street.

Afterward, I went to the Coffee Pot, an odd midtown “singles” coffee shop I

visited on a date and always meant to go back to. On that first visit, the

place was dark, cozy and full of lithe actresses, smart-looking professional

women, gangs of cute college girls. Today, the place was empty, except for a

too-skinny 40-ish woman drinking what looked like a spinach smoothie. But I

stayed anyway. I got an iced coffee, read the new Village Voice and looked at the people outside. Then I enjoyed a

slow walk down Broadway into a welcome breeze, stopping for another coffee at 71

Irving Place, where I watched two girlfriends

sitting next to each other as they had separate cell-phone conversations. I

made my way over to the Virgin Megastore, where I caught up on the current

music trends. The big news is a New York

band called the Strokes. They’re young, handsome, trust-funded

and determined to stay true to … something or other, according to the endless

interview in NME .

Like many New Yorkers who suddenly have the time, I’ve tried

to take better care of myself-no more potato chips and grilled-cheese

sandwiches at the keyboard. Now I can go to the health-food store that’s

farther from my apartment. I can double up my swimming days. I can actually

think about therapy after I leave, going for thoughtful walks instead of

hurrying home to work. At the pool and everywhere else, I find the expected

armies of unemployed actors, laid-off dot-commers and other victims of the

economic fates. These gym rats and perpetual body-toners are a philosophical

lot, full of wisdom regarding the cycles of fortune, offering advice for the

job-seeking and support for those too young to understand that downtime is good

for the soul. But underneath the unhurried façade is still that drive. In this

city, no one really wants to be signing up for another yoga class when they

could be working themselves to death.

My night life hasn’t changed as radically as my day life. I

go out a little more. There’s certainly plenty to do (though I wish I had my old girlfriend back). But I’ve found that

while I have more time to socialize, my heart isn’t really in it. Some part of

me stays with that manuscript as it makes the rounds. It’s a cliché, but it’s

true: Your novel is your child. Once it’s out in the world, you can’t protect

or help it. All you can do is worry and hope. Even when I’m able to forget

about it, my social life has a surreal quality. With so much free time and no

sense of the work week, my nights out have no arc to them, no climax. Saturday

night is not the blowout it once was. It’s just more time to be passed, but

with drunker people.

In a way, when I’m in waiting

mode, every night is a Sunday night-open, available, potentially interesting,

but ultimately subdued.

In fact, that’s how everything seems. A

whole week of Sundays. A whole week of waiting for my

working life to begin again. Because that’s what will happen eventually:

My new book will get killed in a marketing meeting or will be published to

great acclaim. Either way, I’ll eventually come up with a new idea and will

start again, excited and hopeful, and the city will fade out of view as I sit

in my room, cranking away, working like the good New

Yorker I’ve become.

In the meantime, it’s August in the city and I’ll be playing

volleyball at Battery Park, or watching a friend garden, or just drinking iced

tea and listening to my Walkman on a park bench somewhere, the ghost of John

Berryman lurking in the cool shade behind me, reminding me that it’s good to be

young and unknown and free to roam the big city.