The first car I ever owned, my Plymouth Duster, and I made our way to New York. Like Gil and Emma, I had to sleep in the car a few times (parked, as in the book, in the NJ Turnpike rest area–eh, it seemed safe enough, there was a bathroom.) About a month in, I parked the Duster on the wrong New York street… but I needed the insurance money more than the car at that point!


I lived a number of places but primarily at 193 Green Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, waaaay back before one hipster could be spotted in the mists of the early ’80s, when a $200 a month, tub-in-kitchen, hot-plate-instead-of-a-working-stove kind of apartment was not uncommon.

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My friends and I, on unemployed days when the temp service did not call at 7 a.m. (or when we were too hungover to answer the phone), would go play by the East River. There were abandoned smashed cars, loosely tied-up railroad barges, even an old locomotive just sitting there. I would not let my worst enemy wander in this neighborhood, where mafia men dumped dead bodies and drug deals went down behind us. How we thought it was a playground and place to drink a sixpack of Genesee, bought by pooling our coins, sitting there until the lights of Manhattan came on, shows the oblivious luck of youth.

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They called it a “railroad” apartment, four rooms in a row. You see the pure-Brooklyn view out my back window; in front, I stared for three years and the lady in the apartment across the way who stared back, smoking, drinking all day long. We never met on the street (did she leave her place?) but, had I run into her, I would have asked WHAT was with the tar-papering of the building! Whoever did it stapled the tar-paper around the windows, almost enclosing them…


Hey buddy, wanna buy the Verrazzano? (Any old huckster can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.) Speaking of, that photo was the year of Sophie’s Choice, so every self-respecting writer-type made their way to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, pretended they were Kevin Kline and hopped up on the rail to spew some Whitman… or fall into the traffic lanes below. In 1982 and 1983 a friend got me a job working props and/or being a dresser (quick-change wardrobe person in the wings) in a number of off-Broadway shows. Those few months were, and are, the whole extent of my Life in the New York The-a-tuh, but oh what an impression it made on me. The one musical I dressed for (which never got to Broadway) was called Preppies. Does anyone remember it?

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My British agent and “discoverer” of Emma Who Saved My Life, after a year and a half of agents rejecting it (take note, young writers!): Imogen Parker. She was a magnificent agent but left it all to write her own books successfully. We decided, just like Emma‘s characters who must, for honor’s sake, ride every subway line to every terminus, that we too would go to Far Rockaway…


East Village, circa 1984, Michael Gira and Jarboe who were the then-principals of Swans, the seminal post-punk hardcore band that was, in my opinion, never equaled by the less serious, less artistically focused imitators (not mentioning any names of completely phony sell-out bands here). YES, the rumor is true, I played piano on some tracks, one of which can found as an mp3…

…click on “Blackmail.”

My poor-in-Brooklyn period came to an end in 1984 when I started working for Sports Illustrated magazine, as unlikely an event as could be imagined. But even as I went to NASCAR races and Grand Prix events, even the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A., I wanted to write down and make sense of the chaos of those wild semi-employed, musical, literary, theatrical, impoverished, lucky, heartbreaking, amazing New York years of my early twenties … and so Emma Who Saved My Life began.

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