I dressed in my brown suite, took out my earring and trimmed my beard. I was prepared to meet New York half way. Scruffy work boots didn’t help the outfit, but I figured nobody would notice the boots on a cold winter’s day. My heavy winter jacket was rustic to say the least, but I could take it off inside and anyway, wasn’t I an artist?
As it turned out, I was wrong on all accounts. New York did not meet me half way. After a fruitless search for work, I wrote these words in my journal. I include them here reluctantly, in the spirit of full disclosure.
“I am frightened.
“Frightened’ isn’t the word for it. Sometimes I’m nauseous with terror. I’ll be walking along between job interviews, and I’ll think about going broke, jingle the few dollars left in my pocket, decide suddenly that nobody cares and get dizzy. The dizziness begins at the back of my head, throws a brown film over my eyes so that everything gets vague, seizes my throat, starts my heart beating too fast and then lands in the pit of my stomach like a giant undigested lump of gristle. I start to sweat and grab hold of anything nearby.
“This happened to me Friday on the corner of 46th and Broadway. It was crowded and I knew that I shouldn’t fall down. The crowd might flow around me for a few minutes, but eventually I would be trampled to death, arrested, or hauled off to a mental hospital. After all, justice must be done. You can’t run a city like this with people being allowed to fall out. There is neither time nor space for that kind of behavior.
My technic for dealing with panic attacks was simple. I tried to get someplace where I could sit down without being bothered, and then I’d blot it all out. Everything. I’d make my mind a total blank. I have found that a stiff drink helps, so I prefer dark, cool bars at such moments.
“The only trouble with bars was that the drinks cost money. They ate into my dwindling resources and so accelerated the process of going broke. It was best not to think about going broke while I’m sipping the bourbon and trying to go blank.
I tried to ignore the bartender nudging the waitress and pointing at my shoulder length hair, tried to ignore the sound of their giggles. In a few minutes the brown veil had passed. The gristle in my gut, the gorge rising in my throat, had been pushed down into my lower intestines where they sat like a huge, un-passed turd.
I pulled myself together and went to the men’s room where I splashed cold water on my face, brushed my hair, and practiced the self-confident, open smile that employers like to see on job applicants. The smile looked grotesque to me, but if the guy I was going to see was preoccupied enough with his own problems, then I might be able to get away with it.”
He was the one person who read my draft of Fast Eddy and actually agreed to see me. He was an agent who represented broadcasting writers, producers and directors He was my final chance for Fast Eddy.
“I was already late for the appointment. I pushed the panic away and went back out into the swarming street. Bright sun. Dense traffic. Carbon monoxide. Nightmare noises. Beggars with out-stretched cups, pleading cynically. Greasy young men handing out invitations to exotic massage parlors. Policemen with ever-roving eyes of distrust. Don’t think about any of this, I warned myself, and took off at a half run for 54th and 9th Avenue.
“By the time I slipped into the lobby I was dripping with sweat and breathing hard. The elevator was fortunately empty so I mopped my face. The patina of oily soot streaked the paper towel with lines of gray. I ran a comb through my long hair, stuffed everything back into my pockets and buttoned the suit jacket as the doors slid open.
“I flashed a smile and told the receptionist, “Mr. Frank is expecting me. I’m a bit late.”
“’Mr Frank is in a meeting,’ she told me. ‘He’ll be with you in a moment.’
“By the time Mr. Frank could see me I was considerably calmed by the quiet, clean, efficient feeling of the office bustle. The sweating had stopped. My heart rate had slowed. I could even manage to think of myself as self-composed.”
“Mr Frank praised some of the writing but felt the overall novel was, politely put, ridiculous. He was probably thirty, buttoned up, with short hair and wistful intelligence. Mr Frank said he was familiar with my radio work at WBAI, and said he was impressed by it. He was curious, though, what had I been doing for the last four years? I explained that I had taken a leave of absence from television production to write screen plays.
“Mr Frank was cordial, but his mind was already moving on to his next problem. He said he only wanted to see me to ask a simple question. “What in the hell are you going to do with your life now?” My blank stare must have confirmed his own decision to play it straight. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” he concluded as he gently eased me toward the door with a handshake and a thanks for dropping by.
“Thank you Mr. Frank.”