Letters From the Editor

Three Observations on the Way to Lunch

1. Leaving the L train, up through the station, I nailed the smell. Winter smells like winter. Enough. It’s the same everywhere I’ve lived, and after four years of college in central Maine, I had it figured out: like leaves or branches burning but suppressed by cold, so you don’t really detect the odor of wood smoke as much as the sense that it’s entombed in the air. But today it was different, and like smells so often screw with us, it called back the memories of playing hockey. I played defense when I was a little kid from October to March for four years. Eventually I quit because I didn’t really like the game, and I hated the stress of competition, but the feelings are hard to recall unless I smell it: the ice, the sweat, the popcorn, coffee, and long johns. God I hated the drills. And there I was, in a fine mood this morning on my way to Manhattan, but as soon as I got out a strong foreboding hit me, like I was 10 again, strapping on the cup.

2. The best people to watch are the characters who don’t walk too fast, and I don’t mean tourists. New Yorkers are always running, always on business, rushing between appointments, and though most of them are happy to stop and give you directions when you need help, usually to the point of checking your map with you to prove they’re right, you get the sense they’re losing time for your sake, and you better appreciate their sacrifice. But some people walk slow. They go in circles, or stop to talk to the wall. These are the people to watch. Their tics aren’t isolated, like the boys who hold one leg stiff while they walk, boasting – their whole body is a tic. They’re the crazies by and large, but they’re also the women on smoke break, Hasidics on their cell phones, lovers breaking up, dudes out prowling, children, deadbeats, drag queens, zealots, dog-walkers, unemployed castaways, moving-men after a job, outdoor eaters, vagrants, cooks, sidewalk vendors, cigar strollers, journalists, street kids, stay-at-home dads, the recently converted, basically anyone who’s not worried about being late. I love these people.

3. The man bent over, screaming into his glove.

Also, not an observation, but a funny email from JA:
Can’t we all just agree that NYC is The Best Place Ever and get on with talking about something – anything – more interesting? It’s like advertisements for McDonalds – yeah, we KNOW you make hamburgers, we GET it, save your money.
And also, not really an observation, but a comment: Joan Acocella’s profile of Frances McDormand in this week’s New Yorker is so well-written, so detailed, so luminescent, I wanted to make a mental shift and start thinking of myself as ‘man who aspires to write non-fiction really well in 20 years’ rather than my current version, which excludes the ‘non.’

Then again, George Saunders’s short story two or three issues back has me convinced that 1) fiction is the greatest example of people caring deeply about life but willing to have a sense of humor about it, and 2) George Saunders is quite possibly an alien, in the same league but different team as Björk, and it’s much easier on the ego to imagine that he has different genes than the rest of us, rendering him capable of such extraordinary writing, rather than the more credible fact that he’s just worked so damn hard to get there.

(When I interviewed Saunders for our People We Like section, he was extremely down to earth, generous, and kind, so don’t go thinking he’s one of those affected-needy types, the kind who say ‘I’m a writer’ instead of ‘I’m a dick.’ I have a feeling he’s a very good person.)

(Also, from an interview, Saunders describing his job before he started teaching writing at Syracuse:
A geophysical engineer, at least the kind I was, is someone who uses geophysical principles for practical ends. In my case, I was trained to obtain and analyze seismic data, in order to prospect for oil. So we'd drill a hole, put in dynamite, blow off the dynamite and record the resulting soundwaves on a computer, yielding a sort of 3-D picture of the stratigraphy underneath.
Hemingway may have been the first to describe writing as dipping into an internal well, and Haruki Murakami has fairly well developed the concept into a cliché, but how about that for an analogy? In my case, I was trained to obtain and analyze seismic data, in order to prospect for oil.)

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Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of three books, including his latest novel The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of the Year). His nonfiction appears in a variety of magazines, mostly GQ. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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