Sometimes you have a bench. And it’s all yours. And it’s amazing.

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In the American Museum of Natural History, there is a bench.

This is my bench.

(Pay no attention to the photograph above.  That’s not my bench.  My bench is so much more awesome than that bench.)

My bench is the best bench.  It is not a fancy bench, high-backed or elaborately carved. It is not an artsy bench, made of gum wrappers or heart-shaped paper clips.  It is not a famous bench, or an oft-used bench, or even an attractive bench.

But this it is my bench.

It is not my bench in the prosaic sense of ownership.  I do not “own” the bench.  I did not purchase the bench.  I did not carve the bench out of a giant sequoia.  I did not donate a certain amount of money to the museum to have my name engraved on the thing.  I did not put the hulking piece of wood there and arrange it with the objects around it to my liking.  But it is mine, nonetheless.

This is where I write.

Most every day, I take up my notebook and my pen and leave my Manhattan castle.  I ride the underground rails down to the 81st street stop.  I get off the train and enter the museum underground.  After flashing my handy membership card, I wander the museum at leisure for an hour or so. In this hour, I listen to instrumental music and make my way through the halls.  One day, I will be able to say that I have read every word on every plaque in every hall in the place.  

I’m not there yet.

Still, headway is being made, and that is what this wandering hour is for.

After my intellectual appetite is satiated, I head to my bench.  It is in an oft-forgotten, ill-frequented hall, in a boring section that hardly anyone goes to, behind a glass case.  If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.  🙂

Unfortunately, I cannot disclose to you, the reader, which bench is mine.  I do this for several reasons:

Reason One: You would go looking for it.  You would agree with me that it’s the best bench in the world and you would go there to write, too.  Then it would be really awkward when I went there one day and found you spread out like you owned the place and I had to punch you in the throat because you stole my bench, you cad.

Reason Two: You would broadcast it.  You would Tweet about it: #bestbenchever.  You would Instagram it with a hazy filter.  You would create a video of you extolling the bench and post it to Vine.  Or you’d tell your friends over brunch: “Hey, I heard about this awesome bench, guys.”  No thank you, sir.  Not gonna let that happen.

Reason Three: I’m incredibly superstitious and I feel like if I tell you it won’t be a good writing spot anymore.  No joke.

Anyway, back to my bench:  it’s glorious.  Out of the way, against the wall, with hardly any foot traffic that happens by, it’s my personal Shangri-La.  Without fail, every time I sit there I am able to write well.  And if not well, then at least prolifically.  

It is there that I have traveled back to 19th-century London.  It is there that I have flown through the air with faeries.  It is there that I have journeyed into a dystopian future, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a horse-drawn carriage, kidnapped a child with a senile elderly woman, shared a first kiss, thrown a punch, and even checked my email.

It’s one of the most precious and exciting places in the world to me right now, and I’m so glad I found it.

Just wanted to share.

🙂

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Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART ONE

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After a crazy busy summer filled with a massive overhaul of my novel for my agent, house managing a sold-out run of an Off-Broadway show, and spending three weeks playing war for Army, a vacation was in order. 

An acquaintance of my gal Becca just bought a house in Fairfield, CT right by the beach and was going to be out of town for the month of August.  Take it, she said.  Use my beach pass, she said.  Have a good time, she said.  

Thank you, we said. 

So one Wednesday evening we rented a car, packed it up with our belongings, and drove north.  We knew that her son, a twenty-something who is normally off in school somewhere, was going to be present for the duration.  Oof, I said.  Human interaction.  Easy, Becca said.  It’ll be ok. 

When we arrived late that night, the son was not at home.  He had left the key under the mat for us, however.  So we grabbed our bags and went up to the door. 

We were a few feet from the front door when we heard a meow.  Suddenly, out from the bushes, springs a mangy cat.  Oh dear, I said.  Must be a stray.  Its fur was matted and scraggly and its meow was deep and scratchy.  

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This cat is more well-groomed than our Connecticut cat.

As we tried to open the door, the cat tried to go inside.  Hey there, I said.  Don’t go in there.  We shooed it away.  It didn’t move.  I walked away and called it so that Becca could at least get inside.  It didn’t move.  We set down the leftovers from our fast food dinner on the other side of the driveway.  It certainly appreciated our offering but came right back as soon as we went to open the door. 

Is it their cat, I asked.  It can’t be, Becca said.  She said nothing about a cat.  It must be a stray.  It has no collar and no tag. 

Finally we managed to get inside and slam the door in the cat’s face.  Thank goodness, we said.  Then we set about exploring the house, which was lovely.  We were offered the master bedroom on the third floor, which we gladly took.  We settled in for a good night’s sleep. 

In the middle of the night an incident occurred to which I was not privy, as I was sound asleep.  There was a knock on the door and a shadowy figure opened it up.  Hello, it said.  Becca, sleepily, responded in kind.  Did you feed the cat, it asked.  No, Becca replied.  OK, it said.  Have a good night. 

SO IT WAS THEIR CAT!  The epiphany may not be as profound as it was in person, but you get the idea.  We basically just told a cat to go screw itself because we weren’t going to let it in its own house or feed it either.  C’est la vie. 

The next day was a bit overcast, but we had already decided to do the beach.  It’s our vacation, darnit, so let’s start it off right.  After quietly taking the beach chairs from the garage (since the son’s bedroom was right across the hall from the garage), we loaded up our rental car and set off to find breakfast. 

Find it we did.  Siri, ever helpful, suggested Home On The Range, a small café in a quaint downtown area.  It had, without a doubt, the absolute best French Toast I’ve ever eaten.  The sweet little old lady that runs the place works there all by herself, taking the order, cooking up the grub, and clearing away your plates and serving as cashier when you’re through.  We would spend two more mornings savoring her wares. 

After we were stuffed, we went to the beach.  And there was nobody there.  Oh sure, there was a lap-swimmer.  And a couple strolling.  And an old man sitting on a beach chair.  But that’s it.  It was deserted.  The ominous-looking storm clouds may have had something to do with that. 

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Still, we were determined to have a good time.  Let’s not take the chairs, we said, as we may not be here long.  It’s a good thing we didn’t.  After frolicking a bit in the waves, Becca set out to carve words in the sand while I took pictures. 

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Artie plus Becca plus Rising-Tide Cat.

Then, after about ten minutes of watching the tide come in ridiculously fast, we skedaddled.  It was no more than a few seconds after we got back into our car that the clouds burst open and a monsoon began. 

What does one do on vacation in Connecticut at ten in the morning when it’s raining?  Why, go to the movies of course!  Eating popcorn and drinking soda for brunch, we sat with one other couple in a giant movie theater and watched The Butler (which I highly recommend, by the way). 

Back outside, the sky was no longer angry, but it wasn’t too happy yet, either.  What to do?  Go to the Barnum Museum, of course!  It’s so close, after all, in Bridgeport, CT.  Let us away, I said. 

Unfortunately, the Barnum Museum was hit pretty hard by a tornado a few years ago and is still not open to the public.  Sigh.  Back to the house to regroup. 

Upon arriving, we were met with a shirtless, skinny, tattoo-covered young man sitting on the front stoop smoking a cigarette.  The son, we guessed.  We guessed correctly.  After exchanging pleasantries and learning that the cat did, in fact, belong to the family, we scooted upstairs to plan our evening.

 We decided to venture north to New Haven, to The Original Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana.  It’s this amazing little pizza place for which people line up down the street to get a table.  It’s been around since 1925 in the same location and owned by the same family.  Check is out at pepespizzeria.com.  It was scrumptious.  Certainly different than our usual New York City pie, but amazing nonetheless. 

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Only slightly tipsy from the entire bottle of wine we drank, we decided then to stroll the campus of the Ivy League member Yale University.  We imagined ourselves in more scholarly pursuits than our art schools offered us.  We dreamed of singing in the Whiffenpoofs and eating in the Spoonery.  And we watched all the kids move into their dorms for the start of the semester.  None of them looked smarter than us, we decided, so we totally should have gone to Yale. 

Because Becca had never been, and because there was one right by the entrance to the highway, and because we had nothing better to do and because we were on vacation, gosh darnit, we went to IKEA.  This activity needs no greater explanation.  It was pure, unadulterated, built-it-yourself furniture bliss.  We didn’t buy anything, but boy howdy did we make some I-want lists.

Full of pizza, popcorn, French Toast, and tired from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to the house to sleep.

It was a good first day of vacation. 

Stay tuned for PART TWO in my next post!