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Posted & filed under Dating, General.

Spring is here. The desire to hold hands in leafy glens forces a girl to do stupid things. Like online dating.

Aside from the bizarre experience of viewing the photos of twenty men plastered across the page like shoes for sale, there is also the requirement of plastering oneself upon the page. Am I a shoe? Yes, and here is my size, here is my style, here is my heel height, and here, the quality of my leather.

The photo you see at the top of this blog is the actual photograph chosen by a man to get dates. I assume he finds women or he wouldn’t be doing it. I guess there are women who enjoy dating a man who looks like he keeps the lights off in his basement so the plumber who comes to fix the boiler won’t see the torture chamber. Do you find that face appealing? If you do, I know a pit bull you can slap.

Dating online is work. Every day, you have to search the sea of faces, check the messages, answer the email that actually says something aside from Hi Beautiful (which I don’t object to in and of itself but for God’s sake don’t spell it bootifull), do a little chit-chatting and try to make a meaningful connection with a person you’ve never met. The dating site I’m on employs a Q&A algorithm in which you must answer at least 100 questions such as, “Is it okay for men to wear makeup?” in order to get a compatibility quotient from 0% to 100%. If your Compatibility is 84%, the other 16% is called Enemy—yes, Enemy—so all you can think of is the knock-down you will get into if he doesn’t hold your views on men who wear lip gloss.

For AANY two

Here you see another actual profile photo this guy chose because clearly, he thinks women are deeply attracted to big tires. Maybe he was hoping for a salacious metaphor but to me, this photo suggests diesel fumes. Maybe I’m too picky; I might like to date a tractor. Oh dear, I’m not doing the job; I’m not working at online dating. Rather, I’m sneering.

I guess I’m forgetting how great it felt when I discovered that one guy who was deeply compatible. His essays echoed many of my own sentiments, even to using the same words such as “prolific reader.” On closer inspection, I realized he had cut and pasted my answers into his profile. Imitation is the highest form of flattery so maybe he is the one for me. Or maybe I am.

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Posted & filed under General, Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK

Just before you fall in love. Just before you drink your wine. Just before you pack your bags. Just before you see your kid for the first time. Just before you write.

Just before the buds open, the flowers break through the ground, the world bursts into green in the first shock of leafy spring that changes everything you see into something softer and more wonderful. It only lasts a moment. Everything is waiting.

The birds know. They’re celebrating. Flying high in the trees, calling out, letting themselves be spotted perching on the naked branches, too giddy with the coming of warmth and the frisky pleasures of nest-building to bother with you, walking by, looking up. It only lasts a moment. Soon it will be all about the gathering of daily food, the constant fixing of the nest, the tiresome routine.

Moment before 1

Just before is the rare time. When it passes, when whatever you’re just about to experience actually happens, it may not be as glorious as you expected. Anticipation beats reality. Anticipation is yours. If you can imagine the thrilling first kiss, the blissful run, the ecstatic move into the sky-high penthouse you’ve always dreamed of, you’re in good shape. You’re ready.

In the city right now, not only in Central and Prospect and Pelham Bay (the largest park with 2772 acres) but also in tiny front lawns and brownstone gardens and neighborhood green spaces, and in the squares of dirt that surround the street trees and in the canopy (of 5.2 million city trees) and window boxes and on pots on terraces, buds are swelling.

There will come a day, soon, when the encouragement of water and sunshine will coax the bursting forth. You know the day I mean. You look out your window, and everything is covered in fizzy new green. And then it’s over. The time just before comes to an end. It only lasts a moment.

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Posted & filed under BREAKING NEWS, General, NEWS, Write On New York.

I shouldn’t drive down this block. I’m taking a chance. True, it’s just another street in Brighton Beach, where five-story apartment buildings march right up to the ocean. They resemble 1776 Walton Avenue in the Bronx, where I grew up—plain and mundane. But these sit on the Atlantic, right on the cusp of land and sea, just where the swaying palms should be.

Down one of these streets, past the buildings, surrounded by a tall beach fence (reinforced since Hurricane Sandy), looms what I call the Gangster’s House.

Wedged onto a tiny lot, the Gangster’s House manages to convey power. Matching stone lions face each other on the porch (if you can use that word to describe a place where people are tortured). The door is impenetrable. The roof groined. There are windows whose dark glass reflects light and into which nobody has ever seen.

It’s a scary place. When I took my grandson there, he of brave presence in the lands of Minecraft, he started to cry.
Yet I go. Just to look, just to imbibe. Writers are fascinated by gangsters. From F. Scott Fitzgerald to Allison Leotta, writers spin tales around the exploits of our most notorious citizens—folks who, in real life, are simply brutal thugs. But beneath the pen of a skilled writer, these characters take on legendary proportions. Why? They are dangerous, and every great story is about danger in one sense or another.

People who lead safe tidy lives are not fodder for storytelling. Very little is at stake. But for the mobster who lives by the gun, the Mafioso torn between safety and honor, the hit man in danger of losing his soul, the stakes are high. We all relate to that realm; we all feel like we’re in danger, however much we try to escape. Remember the last time you were in an airplane that hit turbulence? Gripping the armrest, for one instant you were alive or dead.

Whoever lives in the Gangster’s House inhabits that hazardous dimension all the time. And, since the House stands in a part of Brooklyn known to be home to the Russian mob, it’s a safe bet that the place really does belong to a gangster.

Once, when I parked outside, two guys came out. They were huge and had two huge Dobermans in muzzles, on short leashes. They headed for the monster SUV parked inside the gate. They saw me. I looked away, lest I make contact with the black depths of their soulless eyes. I pretended to be looking at a map; I pretended to whistle.

That time, I got away. But I’m going again today to take a picture for this article. If you are reading this, I made it home safe. Don’t look too closely. Don’t try to figure out where it is. The man who owns the house does not like people snooping around. He doesn’t know he’s fiction.

Gangster house

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Posted & filed under Dating, Dining & Nightlife, General, Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK
Everyone needs a great website. Ladies-of-the-night in the Midwood section of Brooklyn are proud of their pages, thanks to an English professor. I shall call him Spencer. He is sixty-something with distinguished brow and short-cropped gray hair. Tenured at a city university, he comes to Brooklyn to teach the classics.

One day, a student approached. With Russian accent, she asked Spencer if he would look at her website, which she depends on to pay tuition. Generous to a fault, unable to say no to anyone who needs a favor, Spencer agreed, and was surprised to find that she was selling not caviar or stacking dolls but love.

In her lewd, semi-nude photos, he barely recognized the open-faced young woman he knew from class, where she recited Ophelia.

“I saying college girl,” she explained, “site got to be college girl.”

And so, Spencer revised the young lady’s website, correcting grammar, softening sex with metaphor. When business improved, she gave him a gift. The young lady gave him some cash, and asked if he would revise the sites of her friends. And then, their friends. They also had friends. There is a world of women from Russia, Hungary and the Ukraine who support each other as they ply the oldest profession, and they don’t know each other from Meetup.

“Is it weird for you to work on a sex site?” I asked him. Spencer was telling me this story as we sat in a dark local bar, which used to have pretzels but is now all liquor.

“Good English is good English,” Spencer replied.

Russian beauty three

God, I know exactly what he means. Show me bad writing and my pen quivers, and that is not a metaphor. Poor English cries out for rectitude. Like the followers of Moses in the desert, poor English requires law; demands commandment.

“They like to mention they have children,” he goes on, “they like to come off genuine.”

Are they working for pimps? He shakes his head no.

“But how would you know for sure?” I ask, downing another rush of rum.

“I visit them,” he says, “they like to feed me.”

Home-made rye bread and herring, beef stroganoff and piroshki: They pool resources and lay a beautiful table to thank him because they cannot thank him enough. They regale each other with stories of the old country. Ancient feuds are forgotten. Everyone is fighting the same fight.

“Have you partaken?” I inquire, raising a brow.

“No, no I haven’t,” he goes on, “but I am falling in love with one of them.”

I exhale a long woh. Spencer is falling in love with a girl but before I can finish the thought he says, “She’s middle-aged. She was a radio technician in the Ukraine but of course, there’s no job like that here.”
He lifts his Coors. Will they be getting married soon? I wouldn’t be surprised. Spencer loves someone he can take care of and I can just picture her, looking into his eyes and speaking, in halting English, the perfect vows.

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Posted & filed under General, Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK

Networking is the new writing. But the true soul of most writers is solitary and even anti-social. We are all Salingers, hiding out behind high walls, although not all of us can afford four hundred acres and a bluff overlooking the Connecticut valley.

So while most New Yorkers are complaining about depression in the face of this never-ending snow, I feel vindicated in my desire to close the door, don my jammies, and sit here clacking away at the keyboard for hours on end.

When it’s freezing out, I cocoon inside. Here is my coffee, here is my keyboard, my cat. There is no pressure to be anything such as sociable, popular, or accessible. There is no expectation of being, as my son Shane who lives in LA put it, “blooming like a hothouse plant.” Shane is a true writer and a true New Yorker: he needs a spot of grey, finds stories in the gloom. This is why cities like New York are far better to write in than, say, LA or even Paris with its nonstop fountains. Writers like their cities frozen.

View from window

Do I ever venture out? Of course; I’m going out today to meet the founder of this very site, Kennedy Moore, who kindly has agreed to come all the way to Ditmars Park to meet up with me. I don’t hate seeing people; most writers are introverts but we have extroverted sides. Out in the world, with a few glasses of rum in us, we can be jocular and hail-hearty, handing out cards and making chit-chat along with the best natural social jocks, because a big part of writing is observing the human animal. And also, we do get lonely.

Loneliness feeds the writing. When Virginia Woolf enjoined female writers to secure a room of one’s own, that’s because the closed door, the spotted window, the hushed sounds bring the muse; a shy messenger. I am fortunate to have not just a room but an apartment and in a winter such as this, the windows are frosted, the light is dim, and from somewhere far off, I can just hear the scrape of snow being shoveled.

Out there, someone is sweating, digging and in my neighborhood, that someone may be an Orthodox Jewish grandmother shoveling in heavy garments and wig. She may be praying.

I don’t have to shovel. There is nothing I have to do. I’m even ignoring Facebook with its sugared feel-goodisms that get blown around in all sorts of weather. In the hidden, snowy city, I am here at home. Later, when the snow melts, I’ll emerge, hopefully with a breath of fresh air and a big fat script.

At Jeremy's birthday partyTo read more from Diana check back next Wednesday here on AANY
or visit her website DianaAmsterdam.com

Follow Diana on Twitter: @FrontLineWriter
Facebook: Diana Amsterdam

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Posted & filed under Dating, General, Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK

Men become mythology in the mind of a single writer and that mythology turns into stories. And so I was reminded a few days ago when I had an 8 a.m. meeting in Manhattan and, rather than struggling with slush and erratic Q train service, decided to stay overnight at the Edison Hotel on 47th Street off Times Square.

There, in the lobby, I encountered the mural by Charnick, Manhattan through the eyes of a gull painted, as you can see, before the fall of the towers. When he painted this, I was a young girl in the city. Seriously crushing on intense, poetic young narcissists—artists.

Charnick, who used only one name long after Plato and well before Oprah, broke my heart. I tried to possess him by writing a play about him. This is something writers do. We write about things that plague, haunt and entangle us. In the writing, where we are queens of the manor born, we are free to figure things out, and exorcise.

I approached the mural like a lapsed Catholic might approach a statue of Christ: raptly, but with irony. Oh, what you meant to me, once. And where is Charnick now? He winters on an island off the coast of Nicaragua, stripped by age and corrugated loneliness of his power over women. At least, he no longer has power over me.

As I look at the mural that is rarely viewed because it’s way too fantastic for the backpackers and ruddy country folk from Shropshire who frequent the Edison, I recall not only this mistake but many others I’ve made in the name of love.

There was Eoin, the charming BBC producer who came to America to find American writers of radio plays for a contest. I’ll never forget watching him on stage at Playwrights Horizons telling a roomful of playwrights about Radio 4 and all I’m thinking is, “Look at him,” and that accent. Probably, I did try extra hard; I did win.

coffee cake

Happy so far but then, when my screenplay was about to get made, Eoin steps forward with an offer from Working Title and I drop my hard-working American producers and spin off to London ostensibly to sign but actually to see him again.

There was Jim, who promised to take care of me right after cancer, and who, when I held an engagement party for us at my loft (when I was rich enough to live in Manhattan) embarrassed me by sitting stiffly in a chair and not saying a word the whole night. I spend an entire year writing a self-help book on social skills.

Richard Siebert for whom I write a book of poetry. Billy who inspires Letting Billy. And the boys in the band, literally, all of whom I had a crush on, and for whom I recently complete my new play, The Dodgers.

Early the next morning, I avoid the mural and stick to the coffee shop, where the theater folk go. Order oatmeal and coffee, and, stirring the brew, vow to write about things I don’t know: scientists, or vampires, or maybe that’s been done.

At Jeremy's birthday partyTo read more from Diana check back next Wednesday here on AANY
or visit her website DianaAmsterdam.com

Follow Diana on Twitter: @FrontLineWriter
Facebook: Diana Amsterdam

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Posted & filed under BREAKING NEWS, Fashion, General, Shopping, Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK

Children’s clothing is gone. There are plenty of bathing suits. Shoes are scarce. Women’s plus-size dresses are in big supply. Men’s socks can still be had but tights and pantyhose: zilch. Rows and rows of jeans and sweaters but need a coat? 50% off but only eleven left. Versace is discounted 40% and still pricey.

These are the last days of Loehmanns, the 93-year-old retailer that invented designer fashions at a discount. In a strange way, my shopping trips to Loehmanns reflect my trip through the city’s boroughs. My mom took me to the Grand Concourse, I shopped as a single girl at Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, and recently, I introduced a new shopper to bargain-hunting in Sheepshead Bay: my granddaughter.

Yesterday I was celebrating. The producer of the TV pilot I’m writing called—yes, you heard that right, called—to say he likes the script. I decided it was time to head for the big Lo. I considered calling a girlfriend to go with but truth be told, when the ravenous shopping instinct hits, friends only hold you back.

Just before 7, I was sitting in my car on Emmons Avenue, wondering if this was the best way to celebrate. The front window is draped with a mammoth “Going Out Of Business” sign in red letters, and behind it, fluorescent lights create a soporific glare. Then I saw people going in. I tasted blood.

Diana in fitting room 1 (1)

The place was bare. Loehmanns has always prided itself on barebones appearance and surly staff—you are here to find bargains, not to be pandered to—but the store was positively stark. Racks helter-skelter, hardly even walking paths, everything bearing big mark-down signs and a voice over the loudspeaker telling you without even trying to be smooth that coupons are no longer honored and gift certificates are good only through February 7th. Shoppers dragged carts filled to the rim with clothing piled high like wrecked cars in a junk yard.

Staff walked around with serious clipboards and I got the feeling they weren’t Loehmanns people at all but rather auditors from the bank or some other final counter like death itself. The few true salespeople you could tell by their listless gaze.

“When is the store actually closing,” I asked, hoping to come back and seize the $799-reduced-to-399 suede coat when it had been reduced to nearly nothing.

“They haven’t told us,” the staff replied, and looked away.

At first I puttered, I browsed. I tried things on, chatted with the fitting room attendant, thanked heaven for the softer lighting in the rooms, and found a bargain. And then another. And another. Then came—

The moment. When time stands still. When you realize you’ve been sailing among racks for hours, and finding finds and clutching tops, bathing suit, jeans, and sunglasses to your body like a secret lover. When, because you have surrendered and believed, the hidden forbidden treasures of the store have been revealed.

Chat with the cashier, tell her it’s been fun, and see her worn exhausted face light for a moment. The final tally is $124 for everything. Loehmanns is still kicking.

At Jeremy's birthday partyTo read more from Diana check back next Wednesday here on AANY
or visit her website DianaAmsterdam.com

Follow Diana on Twitter: @FrontLineWriter
Facebook: Diana Amsterdam

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Posted & filed under Dining & Nightlife, General, Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK

Manhattan is the richest of the boroughs but is no longer the most interesting. You can walk Manhattan a whole day and see only people who have everything—not the stuff of story. This isn’t an insult. I’m pretty sure that successful, beautiful, affluent people revel in their status and want the world to reflect their seamless luxury.

But to write a good story, or be one, something is needed that you can’t find in Manhattan any more: raw need. Writers require need. In lower Manhattan today, the average household income of a couple is $228,000, which probably means that need has been reduced to want. Where is the story when nobody’s craving?

This is why I treasure that disappearing breed of watering hole: the dive bar.

What exactly is a dive bar? The true dive bar doesn’t know it is, and is therefore not named Dive Bar. The true dive bar hasn’t seen the hand of Taniya Nayak. Décoris helter-skelter and dropped rather than designed; and there may be dirt. The jukebox may not work and the TVs are always on (but not big screen) and most likely, there is a dart board and a pool table, and a beautiful old bar, burnished wood, and a great selection of drink graced by a thin strip of mirror and defaced by signs proclaiming Bud & Shot at prices that people with real problems can afford.

If you live in Manhattan and want to haunt one, I hear that Rudy’s on Ninth is a classic and Subway Inn on 59th is still diving but if you really want to plunge to the murky, revelatory bottom, come to my local dive bar: the 773 Lounge.

773 Lounge

773 sits on the ugliest street in America, Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. Nothing matches. Tire stores and seedy delis stand cheek by jowl with front windows that have never been dressed and colors that are not chic, such as yellow, and signs with big letters that scream commerce and are missing the A. There is constant honking and spraying of dirty slush from the buses that lumber by and not a single thing the eye can light upon; all is chaos.

On this repellent street, find a storefront with huge banner draping the front and two large windows decorated with all manner of stars, lights, snowflakes and bric-a-brac from the dreams of a drunken sailor, and a sign up top that’s a lucky clover in neon green flanked by yellow letters, and the phone number.

Come in. Need shows in every face. Keep a low profile. Don’t wear your statement coat and your skinny pants. I fit in because I’ve been living in boroughs Brooklyn so long, my hair really is undone. Try not to stare at people who aren’t young and handsome; don’t be surprised if the bartender is not an actor and don’t disturb the regulars, who are not observing themselves.

If you’re feeling brave, walk to the back where the room dives into darkness broken by broken Christmas lights. If you’re a writer or want to be one, float stories up out of the dark and see if they’re worthy: Can you stand up right now and tell your story to the folks here, and will they care? If not, have a drink and keep thinking.

At Jeremy's birthday partyTo read more from Diana check back next Wednesday here on AANY
or visit her website DianaAmsterdam.com

Follow Diana on Twitter: @FrontLineWriter
Facebook: Diana Amsterdam

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Posted & filed under Write On New York.

WRITE ON NEW YORK

Back and forth, their lawyer, my agent, their lawyer, my agent, for weeks and then a month and then two. Finally, my agent tells me I need to walk away from the deal, it isn’t fair, and I call the producers and say, “We need to meet.”

There are three and they’re all named Joe. I trek to their office on the third floor of a prewar building way the eff west on 34th Street, home to the junior Joe. They greet me with hugs and, as they’d done all during the summer, when I was writing a treatment for them, welcome me to the desk with the requisite bottle of water plus cookies, cocktail napkin, and coffee cup. China. You gotta love these guys. They have manners. (I know, I used to ghostwrite for Emily Post.)

And the amazing thing is: These nice guys, these courteous good people have been monumentally successful in the dog-doesn’t-return-dog’s-call world of New York.

The two senior Joes triumphed on Wall Street with their own little cell in one of the major firms, and everybody wanted in but they maintained their exclusive club: Joe & Joe. Now, they want to parlay that success by starting up a new TV production company, and—if we can only work out my contract—hire me to write the pilot, the very first episode of their sitcom.

Far from legal beavering, with cookies and coffee, and humans, we work out the kinks and within an hour, I’m ready to sign. And now, the fun begins.

Is writing a sitcom fun? You’ve got to write a laugh every three lines so this can be fun, or terrifying. Joe Junior is my writing partner, and we do everything we oughtta in the right order. Name and describe the characters. Identify the standing and swing locations. Write and refine the outline. Choose the format: multi-cam, the classic sitcom format ala Big Bang Theory and Two Broke Girls.

Most fun of all, we scout locations.

For our sitcom, we choose Brooklyn—not only because Brooklyn is the new Manhattan but also because I live here. On a happy Sunday in January, I drive Joe around. Our protagonist (named Joe) lives in the “real” Brooklyn, boroughs Brooklyn, out past the creeping Slope. We are hunting something you cannot readily find in Manhattan or Dumbo or Fort Greene anymore: a true dive bar. We need to find that perfect bar because, as with every sitcom you can think of, the characters need a local hangout in which to hang out.

And I happen to know of one. I’ve passed it many times, driving along America’s ugliest street, Coney Island Avenue, and I’ve peered curiously but never gone in—too dark, seedy, grungy, and not at all with an awning. But I’ve heard the reputation of the 773 Lounge, which attracts not only locals with three-day growth and their dogs but a smattering of brave souls from Manhattan. Exploring souls, the kind who like to “find” places, kind of like Captain Cook “found” the Tongan Isles. And it is here, on that fateful Sunday, that I bring young Joe, who pronounces, upon entering, “This place is perfect!”

At Jeremy's birthday partyTo read more from Diana check back next Wednesday here on AANY
or visit her website DianaAmsterdam.com

Follow Diana on Twitter: @FrontLineWriter
Facebook: Diana Amsterdam