Age and occupation.
I am 33 years old. In editorial parlance, this means the end. I am a self-employed person, for details see below, currently compiling a compendium of all world knowledge entitled THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE, which shall be published sometime in the future by Dutton and Riverhead Books.
How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
On January 15, 1994, in the midst of a terrible snowstorm, I arrived on East 22nd Street, then known as the Gasworks District. No one knew why I had come, or what I wanted. Bear in mind that this was a time when most of the city above 22nd Street was still untamed wilderness. It was full of wolves and badgers and large colonies of fierce militaristic rabbits. Below 22nd Street, the city was all oyster bars, crystal meth palaces, or vaudeville. The rest was on fire.
People were more superstitious then. They had never before seen a recent college graduate from the American northeast come to their city in search of a job in publishing, and they were appropriately fearful of what that may portend.
So the citizens gathered together and agreed to offer me a job in the Flatiron building cutting up copies of David Mamets OLEANNA and then scotch taping them to pieces of paper and then numbering the pieces of paper with a rubber stamp. And yet I was not satisfied.
They then offered me the chance to answer telephones at the front desk of a prestigious literary agency. This job entailed my writing rejection letters on an amber screen while fending off salesmen who claimed to be selling soap made by blind people. But still I was not satisfied.
The citizens met again and agreed to make me an actual literary agent. For some years, I seemed content. I caught the wave of the Siamese Twin Novel/Cheerleading Expose/B-Movie Memoir publishing trend and semi-thrived; I ate and drank constantly and for free and was relatively well groomed. But I was, apparently, still not satisfied.
What is it that you want? cried the anguished citizens of New York. And I would not answer. So they decided to stone me. But before they could, a child learned that I had decided to become a freelance writer. "Surely they could not add to that punishment, said this young child, whose name was Neal Pollack. The citizens grumbled and agreed and returned to their thatched cottages, leaving me as I am now: a magazine writer and serial expert on food, non-wine alcohol, cholesterol, the game of bridge, the island of Sardinia, and most other subjects; an emcee of literary readings and occasional radio personality; an exile wandering among the efrafa and bad martinis of the far Upper West Side. Dilletantism is the wicker man in which I burn, and that is indeed all I ever wanted, and so I am a grateful and surprised person.
Three from Chris Gage
1. You are all over the map: McSweeney's, NPR, Little Gray Book Lectures. It's a what's-what list of intelligent, provocative forums, populated by a who's-who of people with cult-like followings: Dave Eggers, Ira Glass, yourself wait, you do have acolytes, right?
Of course, I singlehandedly created two of the things you mention (The Little Gray Book Lectures and National Public Radio), so it is very flattering that you count them, the Lectures especially, alongside the third. McSweeneys was a much smaller operation when I joined up in 1903, but the intent was the same then as is now: to show by example that doing things for yourself, by yourself, without hope for reward, is always more rewarding than seeking some benediction from others (even if you receive it). Paradoxically, it is also the best thing you can do for your career (if your career goal is be a self-employed writer whose sedentary lifestyle has led to large amounts of lower back fat that harbor mysterious pains).
I neither have nor deserve the many admirers who accrue to Dave Eggers or Ira Glass, but I would remiss in not acknowledging the perfect stranger who said he had come from California to attend our second to last Lecture (on the subject of HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITHOUT THE AID OF WIRES). However, he did say this over a walkie talkie, as a loud disembodied voice from somewhere at the back of the bar at Galapagos, so one cannot rule out that this may have been some sort of parlor trick. As well, Ms. Kirsten Major should know that I very much appreciated her letter and submission, but I stupidly mislaid it for a time and will get back to her promptly and thankfully via electronic mail.
2. I've been hearing that the literary reading series is the sleeper hit of the season. In the face of a certain mass-market reading-series explosion, how do plan to keep your series, Little Gray Book Lectures, real?
The only appropriate answer is to now write several hundred thousand words on why you should never have asked me that question in the first place; and indeed keeping it real is not, in my opinion, the point of any ongoing artistic endeavor. I am more in favor of keeping it interesting, which I think is more difficult, in that it requires growth and ante-upping and the kind of change that you hope an audience will appreciate rather than reject. But since your proposition of a mass-market explosion of reading series is obviously absurd, we will never need to test this hypothesis. Thank Christ.
3. You used to host an Ask a Former Literary Agent Q&A. I always wanted to ask something but was afraid it was off topic. Seeing as how there is clearly no topic "off" here, I'm firing away: If dogs can mate with other dogs and create living mixed breeds, can a Mako shark (for example) mate with a Hammerhead and create a mongrel shark?
According to shark expert R. Aidan Martin (whom you may locate here: http://www.elasmo-research.org, or by googling the words NEED A SHARK EXPERT?) the answer to your question is no, for two reasons. Onethe male sharks deposit sperm using unique pelvic fin extensions called claspers (what we called in high school roach clips). Says Dr. Martin: The male of each species of shark has a different clasper morphology; in many species, the tip unfolds into a holdfast armed with all manner of kinky spurs and hooks that anchor the organ in place during copulation.
To steal from David Rakoff: my regards to Mrs. Shark.
Even if one could buy some sort of adaptor that would make one set of kinky spurs fit a differing outlet, as it were, your efforts would be merely horribly cruel, insofar as the mako shark and the hammerhead, like most sharks, have different numbers of chromosomes and thus cannot produce offspring.
This is very different, as you note, from dogs, who are all of the same species, canis familiaris, or demon familiar. The English are especially aware of the strange possibilities this offers, as you will observe if you ever go to the Three Stags Heads in Wardlow Mires, England, a small pub overrun with the strange beasts known as lurchers. Lurchers are not exactly a breed: they may be any dog born of three-quarters running dog (say, grayhound or whippet), and one-quarter working dog (say, collie). Im not sure how they do this exactly, but the result is a spooky-eyed, shaggy, stilt-legged beast that stands as high as your shoulder and drinks only beer and wants to climb in your lap. I am a great fan of this experiment and look forward to introducing the lurcher to the Upper West Side, where it may help with our badger problem.
Time travel question: What era, day or event in New York's history would you like to re-live?
For all the obvious reasons, I would like to be on top of WTC Tower 2 again, at night, having slipped away from the kick-off event for the now defunct Professional Chess Associations World Championship. I knew nothing about chess and still do not, but I knew what free alcohol smells like even at 1362 feet (as, apparently, did Gary Kasparov, who was rocking on the 107th floor). It was 1995, a more innocent time, when people did things like form professional chess associations just on a lark and buildings still stood tall enough that you could see not just the curve of the horizon, the shape of the world, but the shape of the city itself.
Best celebrity sighting in New York, or personal experience with one if you're that type.
Keep in mind that I am an old person, but the one celebrity sighting that has always stayed with me was seeing the comedic actor Rob Schneider walk up Broadway at about 25th Street, hands in his pockets, alone on a twilight spring night, whistling. I had just moved to town, and I thought this said something about New York: here is a town where you can see Rob Schneider whistling. Here is a town that puts even Rob Schneider in a whistling sort of mood.
Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
There were many low moments, but as you know, it was never possible. New York plays two important tricks. First it seduces you into believing that a human cannot live properly outside of New York (though, apparently, some still do). Second, it takes all of your money, making it impossible for you to leave without going further into debt. You are left with only one option: to make a fortune writing short stories and/or short esoteric humor pieces and/or hosting literary readings so that you can finally escape. I assure you this scheme will work. And just proving how powerful New Yorks spell can be, you will probably agree with me.
What's the most expensive thing in your wardrobe?
I realize Radosh just said so, but you really must retire this question in honor of Spiers.
If I had to say something, though, and if it hasnt already been taken, Id say the portal to another dimension with talking animals in it. While it actually costs very little in hosting fees to keep it open, it does, however, suck up a lot of work time.
Who do you consider to be the greatest New Yorker of all-time?
I will simply say that this is a sadder, dryer city without George Plimpton in it.
What was your best dining experience in NYC?
Eating free hot dogs at Rudys in the backyard before they gussied it all up with tables and it was still furnished only with dank puddles and a lopsided Ping Pong table. They, of course, refused to keep it real. So I have taken my free hot dog eating business elsewhere.
What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
Giovanni Ribisi confirmed that he may or may not be cousins with my old college roommate, Steve Ribisi.
Of all the movies made about (or highly associated with) New York, what role would you have liked to be cast in?
I was originally cast as the lead in Abel Ferraras KING OF NEW YORK, which was based on my life. But Christopher Walken stole the part from me because he can dance.
I would like to have had the Robert Shaw role in The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three because he was always dreadfully cool and a great hunter of sharks. But I would have settled for any role, really, for it is a film that recalls a better time in New York, when the Subways where pneumatically driven by actual humans and not mysterious voices, and we were all protected by the great floating head of Walter Matthau.
At least, that will always be MY New York.
That is all.
Everything you need to know about John Hodgman, the writer, is provided in the links above or can be found in an advanced Google search.