Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Monday, October 11, 2004

About Steve's New Yorker panel

The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia)
October 9, 2004 Saturday
Final Edition
ARTS & LIFE; The Browser; Pg. D3
Shout it, murmur it: I'm glad to have a New Yorker state of mind
Paula Brook, Vancouver Sun

I should probably confess off the top that I once submitted a piece to the New Yorker magazine's Shouts & Murmurs page. Incredibly, it was rejected.

That is, I never heard back from them, and it has been at least two years, so I'd have to conclude they're not interested. Or they're very slow to respond. Yeah, that's probably it. They're backlogged.

It was a piece that ran here first, in which I dead-seriously replied to several African e-mail scam artists, explaining why it was inconvenient for me to meet them in Amsterdam with a few hundred thou in my pocket. Everyone (well, more than three readers, excluding my mom who loves everything I write) told me it was so hilarious I should send it to Shouts & Murmurs.

I'm not giving up that easily. In fact, last week I went directly to the source -- The New Yorker Festival: a three-day series of public readings, rantings and (for the small but ferociously devoted demographic that would rather fight than switch off the reading lamp) earth-shattering events. Such as: Sarah Jessica Parker talking with Susan Orlean over drinks at the Holding Tank; Calvin Trillin leading a dim-sum walking tour of Chinatown; Paul Rudnick, Andy Borowitz, Chris Buckley, Steve Martin and a half dozen other A-list New Yorker regulars reading their funniest Shouts & Murmurs at the Town Hall Theatre off Broadway.

In the quaintly anachronistic manner that typifies New Yorker style, the Town Hall event was titled A Humour Revue. It was one of the few festival events held in a large venue, which meant it didn't sell out within minutes so I was able to get a ticket -- a huge bargain at $35 US, if you consider you'd have to buy a year's subscription at $90 US (double that at newsstands) to enjoy so many first-rate S&Ms.

Okay, not everybody is going to laugh their heads off at this stuff. You have to like your humour dead-seriously dry, and from the look of the 1,500 S&M buffs who showed up for the event I would say that greying hair, wire-framed glasses, wool blazers and comfy shoes are also prerequisites.

That goes for the S&M readers as well as the listeners, starting with the magazine's editor, the elegantly rumpled and perfectly deadpan David Remnick, who kicked off the show with a passage from the late, great New Yorker satirist Veronica Geng's collection, Partners -- a wry parody of the wedding announcements that run in the Sunday New York Times.

So add "regular reader of the Times" to that list of S&M prereqs.

I felt right at home there, which may strike you as snobbish but is simply a fact in the same way that my college-aged daughters felt totally at home the next night at the smash-hit Sesame Street parody, Avenue Q. They laughed their heads off, while a pair of silver-haired theatah regulahs sitting next to us did not crack a smile, and indeed appeared extremely annoyed at having paid very good money to watch a bunch of Muppets talk dirty and have sex.

In comedy, as in life, perspective is everything. My kids also laughed their heads off at a pro-Bush poster in the window of a Lexington Avenue bakery that read, "Hot and Crunchy. United We Stand."

I almost choked on my double-double smoked meat sandwich at the Carnegie Deli when my husband pointed out the Heimlich Maneuver instructional poster jammed between all the photographs of well-stuffed Broadway stars who've noshed here.

And we hooted the following night when we overheard an usher at the Marijuana-Logues (a Vagina Monologues parody) ask a couple of obvious stoners whether they were "baked or just high," because if the former they'd better sit at the back.

Any of these would be perfect fodder for a Roz Chast cartoon in The New Yorker. But if we didn't know Roz Chast like the back of our bathroom door, would we have laughed?

That's the thing about reading The New Yorker, cover to cover, year in, year out. You start to see the world in a certain way -- with you in Manhattan in the middle of it. (Never mind that you actually live in North Van.)

It's just like that famous Saul Steinberg cover from 1976: a simple pastel map titled "View of the World from Ninth Avenue," drawn from the perspective of a low-flying bird looking west over the Hudson -- New Jersey, Kansas, the Pacific Ocean and Japan falling away on the horizon.

Twenty-five years later, another simple pastel map appeared on the cover, titled New Yorkistan, drawn by Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz. It showed the city Afghanistanized into tribal 'hoods that make sense only to those who live in the city or love it (and constantly read about it) from afar. Artsifarsis for Greenwich Village, Blahniks for the Upper East Side, Taxistan for LaGuardia, Fuhgeddaboutitstan and Lubavistan and Kvetchnia for Brooklyn...

I devoted one entire sacred New Yorker bedtime hour poring over that map, laughing till my belly ached, screaming out the place names to my husband though he was only inches away -- both of us feeling a heavy dark cloud lift, knowing that our favourite city in the world was going to be okay.

New Yorkers, and New Yorker readers, went nuts for the map, laughing all the way to the magazine's cartoon bank where it continues to be a top seller ($300 US, framed), as does the shower-curtain version, available from the New York Public Library's online shop.

As Sarah Boxer wrote in the Times the week it appeared, New Yorkistan served the same vital purpose in 2001 as Steinberg's cartoon cover did in '76 -- the year NYC hit the financial skids, and the Daily News ran the headline, "Ford to City: Drop Dead."

"Both maps are pictures of New York City at its darkest hour with its back to the wall, digging in its heels," wrote Boxer.

Or, as the cartoonist Kalman put it: The city takes second place to no one -- not even Afghanistan. "We are as tribal as anyone."

That certainly holds for the blazer-wearers at the Town Hall last Sunday, who nearly split a collective gut on hearing (again, because it's been going round and round S&M circles for months) Steve Martin's "Script Notes" on The Passion of the Christ.

"Dear Mel, Loved the script. Great ending -- didn't see it coming..."

Man, I wish I'd written that. Okay, another confession. I tried to -- a few weeks before Steve Martin did. But I lost the courage, and stashed it in my circular file. They'll really hate me for this, I thought. Even my mom.

See, since being rejected by The New Yorker, I've had a little confidence problem. But the funny thing is, since returning from New York this week I've been feeling it coming back. In fact, maybe I'll try the African e-mail scam on them again, assuming they lost the first one. So what if they leave me stacked in the inbox, forever, with nothing to read but Shouts & Murmurs? Worse things have happened.


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