The Sydney Writers' Festival is on this week, but Miss Q provided such a complete and utter distraction, that it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I remembered, and by then all the events I wanted to attend were booked out.
Like this one. A chance to pitch your novel to three international publishers with the possibility that they may choose to represent you.
I’ve come agonisingly close with the manuscript I wrote based on my seven years in the US but it was ultimately rejected by a u-beaut-passionfruit publishing house because the marketing department said the GFC meant people weren’t travelling much at the moment and that short stories are hard to sell.
Three points on that one.
I don’t know much about a lot of things, and virtually nothing about economics, but isn’t the Aussie dollar doing pretty well right now? Maybe lots of us are travelling.
Secondly, I doubt my book would make a very helpful travel guide around NYC anyway, unless you wanted to know which bin it was that I searched in for a Rolex with bad karma, or how a dead dog managed to travel on the subway.
And thirdly, what's wrong with short stories? They're great for people with short attention spans.
Some of these short stories have already made it to various public forums, (see, plenty of us have short attention spans) but I have a lot of stories to tell, so I’ve decided to put them up on this little blog of mine, one story at a time, until all 45 000 words have been posted.
I hope you enjoy…
THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH
By Naomi Hart
Low Overhead And A Sense of Improvisation Make For A Great Life.
AN ODE TO THE APPLE
My box of chocolates is confiscated on the grounds that it has the same density as a bomb. Is it legal to rifle through a lady’s underwear in full view of the other passengers? It seems highly unlikely I’ve constructed an explosive out of my asthma puffer and yet it is still confiscated due to its high security risk. Am I a security risk?
Welcome to Los Angeles International Airport, October 2002. Just long enough after September 11 for Homeland Security to have developed a complex and time consuming screening process that seems to do nothing more than target old men and Australian musical theatre students on their way to New York City.
LAX has to be the most terminally boring airport in the world. Pardon the pun. They could learn a thing or two from the Singaporeans. Or the Thai, or Japanese. Get off a plane in those airports and you can indulge in a massage, delicious fresh Sushi or buy a twenty thousand dollar Rolex. LAX has nothing more exciting than a Starbucks.
Several hours and several more security lines later, (it’s a line now, not a queue, since I’m now in America proper) the sugar-free-hazelnut-flavoured-non-fat-double-shot-soy-latte easing the pain of my jetlag, I boarded the plane for the city that was to become my home not just for the six months I’d originally intended, but for the next seven years.
My wondrous, overwhelming, passionate, thrilling home.
I had moved to the Big Apple to study musical theatre and found myself in student accommodation on West 100th in an apartment block called The Midway. The Midway? Sounded like a halfway house to me. In fact, we’re not entirely sure it wasn’t a brothel. One whole floor was painted bright pink and there was a curious amount of traffic in and out of there all night long.
I climbed the six flights of stairs (New York did nothing to heal my discontent with elevators) and opened the door to my first American home…four uneven walls, one window with a view of a collapsed fire escape, linoleum floor, leaking radiator, a sink, two shelves and bunk beds. Bunk beds? I was twenty-three years old and I was going to sleep in a bunk bed? As it turned out, the room was large by New York standards and my roommate and I quickly became the envy of all with our very own bathroom. Our friends shared theirs with cockroaches, rats, and the hermit on the fifth floor. He died sometime in December but no one knew until right before Christmas when an ungodly odour permeated the place. The police were called and suddenly I was in my very own episode of Law And Order. The room was guarded twenty-four hours a day and the yellow tape you see in the movies quarantined half the floor.
“Welcome to New York City, the greatest city in the world. The envy of the world.” (Or so we were told by the Dean of our school). “Remember,” he added, “performing is the X-Ray of your soul.”
With my soul exposed, classes began and I was put in a group with my very own Miss America. Well, Miss Delaware actually. She lost out in the finals and had a fight in the dressing room with Miss Nevada and Miss Hawaii. I was completely fascinated. The closest I had ever come to someone like her was Miss Granny Smith in the Apple festival at the Eastwood fete. She wanted to know if “ya’ll have kangerroooos hoppin’ bout yer yard.” And although I already adored her, she sealed it forever when we all read A Streetcar Named Desire while she thought we’d read A Streetcar Named Desiree.
We took four different dance disciplines – tap, jazz, theatre and ballet - most of them at eight o’clock in the morning when I was as ready to kick-ball-change as Giuliani was to give up his post. In our first ballet lesson we had to step forward, say our name, where we were from and whom we had studied dance under.
“Naomi Hart, Sydney Australia. I studied ballet at the Armidale Ballet School.” Do you think anyone had heard of that? Our teacher took one look at our pirouettes and suggested we practice them in a closet until we could do fifteen in a row. For a while I used my room since it was about the same size, but it all came together when my jazz teacher told me the elevator theory. “You know when you’re in a crowded elevator and you need to fart,” he said as if it was perhaps an everyday occurrence for him, “so you clench your butt muscles to keep it in. It’s the same thing with pirouettes. Just pretend you need to fart.”
I didn’t get to fifteen, but it did help me land my triples.
I was the wild card entry into the top tap class (the first class I could actually do was also the last) with a teacher that had snorted so much cocaine, blood dripped from his nose in time to the warm up. I did get to hang out with the cool dancers though. You know, the ones who when their tights ladder cut out the crotch and wear them as tops.
I learned the original choreography for Cats, 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Tommy to name but a few. My knees made more noise than popcorn cooking in a microwave, (I should know since it was the only thing I had to cook with) my hamstrings were tighter than an actor’s budget, and when G-Dubbya was looking for those elusive weapons of mass destruction, I though he may have been referring to my leotard and tights. They were fierce.
Our music theatre teacher advised us not to smoke. “If you want to rebel against your parents, I suggest lesbianism.” He also reminded us that “acting is like a virgin on prom night; you just have to put out.”
We were taught never to point one finger on stage because it looks like a small skinny penis, and the first time I work-shopped a sex scene, (laying on a makeshift bed in nothing more than a body stocking) my teacher cautioned me to avoid looking like freshly landed trout. He then turned to my scene partner and advised seriously, “if she is trying to seduce you, you must account for the significant shift in body mass that is likely to occur.”
The instructors were so concerned with my speech they sent me to accent reduction class to learn standard American for the stage. It was me, the Mexicans, a couple of French Canadians, and a few blokes who wanted to rid themselves of their gay dialect. Pretty soon, we were learning to say therrow not thorough, kahndm not condom, can’t not cahn’t.
The rest of my voice and speech class was spent squatting on my haunches “like a beer shitting” as our teacher so eloquently described. Apparently he was looking for an open space so that if he shone a flashlight up our butts the light would come out our mouths.
My voice teacher followed this up with a discussion about the fache (jelly) in my face and how an open throat for singing was rather like the feeling of openness during a visit to the gynecologist.
There were times my teachers caused me great concern.
One of our subjects required we spend seven hours each week studying the craft. We could get away with watching reality TV if we wished, but most of us didn’t have one, so instead, we turned to our playground. Five buck nose-bleeder tickets at the Lincoln Centre to see Jeremy Irons perform in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Australia’s own Caroline O’Connor as Velma Kelly in the 2500 anniversary performance of Chicago. Standing room tickets to see Antonio Banderas play opposite that tour de force Chita Rivera, in a production of Nine that stands in my memory as one of the greatest pieces of theatre I have ever seen. I cried when Hugh Jackman sang I Still Call Australia Home, cheered silently when my acting teacher came on stage in an off-Broadway production of Sin and saw Kathleen Turner naked. Clearly I’m not a true artiste if that’s all I can tell you about her playing opposite Jason Biggs in The Graduate, but it did start a run of Broadway nudity for me. If Kathleen was my appetiser, my entree was a rather meaty course of front row seats to Naked Boys Singing and I sated my sweet tooth with a production of Take Me Out, which held several of its scenes in a locker-room complete with showers. In my professional opinion, the arctic air conditioning of a New York theatre can do nothing for a man’s self esteem.
My favourite class, called Film Lab was scheduled once a week. We’d all file into a dark studio and watch live recordings of the greatest theatre stars Broadway has ever seen. Chita Rivera, Dame Judi Dench, Nathan Lane, Ann Reinking, Bob Fosse, Julie Andrews, Glenn Close, Tommy Tune…I would sit there with tears running silently down my face and think; This is it. This is what I want to do. I want to be like Carol Channing and still performing the title role in ‘Hello Dolly’ at the tender age of 72.
People’s response to NYC is typically both immediate and strong. You either love her or you don’t. From the second I landed, New York became my mistress. For seven glorious, intoxicating years I was privileged enough to be her lover and while I may never live there again, when we finally broke up, she certainly kept a piece of my heart. New York. A farrago of cultures, generations and influences crammed together in an area only five miles by seven. For many her spice and bolshiness seem rude and combative. Her cauldron of cultures overwhelms and confuses. Her speed and audacity don’t charm they repel. She is more than just a mistress, she’s a dominatrix. She humbles you with her frenetic pace and uncompromising ways, and if you manage to survive all that, she just waits for winter when no one will doubt who’s boss.
If she sees you’re tired, she’ll send the trash train instead of the last A express. If she senses you’re frustrated, she’ll send a torrent of rain when you’ve got to cross town for an audition and forgot your umbrella. If she perceives vulnerability she’ll send your nemesis, wrapped up in a nasty casting director or a canceled flight on your Christmas getaway.
But where else can you do your laundry at two o’clock in the morning and enjoy a beer in the courtyard while you wait for it to dry? Not even the sign saying Please Remove All Bullets Before Washing can ruin that experience. Or go on a first date to Momofuku noodle bar in the east village, initiate him to The Strand bookstore in Union Square, get in a bit of kanoodling in the self help section and marry him eighteen months later at a converted foundry in Queens.
Corn bread and collard greens in Harlem, Ethiopian on the West side, baklava at the Greek café on the corner of Broadway in Astoria. Pedicures in Spanish, bikini waxes in Vietnamese, haircuts in Polish. Get your free coffee at the porn store on 48th and 8th on your way to a callback at Chelsea Studios. Study a lady flossing her teeth in the middle of Times Square and watch a man trim his beard on the crowded subway. Teeming sidewalks, taxis honking, people yelling, everyone ignoring the urgent siren of the ambulance. The Met, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-four hour diners with a side of mayonnaise, dance class with original cast members of Broadway shows, the rich and famous mixing inconspicuously with the worker-bees that keep that town alive.
Twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. She doesn’t stop, she doesn’t slow down, she doesn’t have to. Don’t even think about trying to change her, if you don’t like the way things run, move to Westchester and commute like all the other pussies do.
New York. A city of unconquerable energy and its inhabitants, all thirsting for what they’re not sure, but knowing that if it exists at all, they’ll find it here. It was the greatest, loneliest, headiest, saddest, ‘funnest’ and toughest time of my life. I’m stronger now, but I’m more vulnerable, I’m quicker of mind, but more deliberate in action and I oscillate between having all the answers and not knowing a damn thing for sure at all.
Yes, I thought as I strolled 9th Avenue one frosty February eve, I’ve made the right choice. Now let’s get on with the show.