Friday, October 31, 2008

This is How I Try to Get Money from Publishers

Well, it may be unorthodox but this is a letter I sent to a publisher today. And I adore this guy. He's been the fastest paying publisher I ever knew: Generally within a week of me turning in a column or feature he's got the money in my bank, with the transfer charge on him.
But I called a couple of times this week and he wasn't there. So I sent this transparently non-threatening but still dangerously insane note to him a few minutes ago.
I won't reveal the mag, but I will tell you his nickname is the HUN. As in Atilla, not as in Honey....

Dear HUN: Hope this note finds you well. Hope we're selling 4 million copies per issue by now and that Canada has made it a law that every single person has to buy 19 copies monthly. And if they're not doing that, I will come up north and kick some hockey-mom butt! You understand? I'm on your side.
That said, I turned in a fairly brilliant piece called the Bad Law Enforcement Officer Awards to the lovely Mamaxxx a couple of weeks ago. And she offered the paltry sum of $400 for more than 3000 words put in such an order that readers will be compelled, compelled to read them all.
At the same time I'm brokus extremus due to my family insisting on eating every goddamned day, the pigs. So I wonder if you would be so kind as to send me $400 soon so that they don't eat the actual pig yet--and let me note that the pig insists on eating daily as well....
You see that there is an unfair dependency on me as dad, or in the dad role, don't you? But no one is claiming sexism there, are they? No, not a chance. That's just a given. Well, I'm thinking of having a sex change just so that they can't suck off my teats anymore....but maybe that's more than you needed to know....or maybe not, given that I suspect you too are a dad and a filthy beast. At best.
And you still have not sent any of the porno girls to my house. How can you be a good gumba and not take care of people like me who sweat blood for you?
Unfreakingbelieveavable, to tell you the truth.
Well, I was going to give you this on the phone but you weren't there. You were probably out with 5 dozen naked women and here I was freezing in the Texas Fall heat without a stinking one...
So let's get on the stick and take care of family here, okay?
I love you, bro. I know you love me too. But god forbid we ever actually meet: We'd probably be identical bums.
Peter G

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Best Part of a Writer's Week

I never worked daily newspapers, so I have no idea what that pressure is like. I imagine it's like cooking: Get as ready as you can and still all hell is going to break loose and the minute you open the doors people are complaining they've waited too long. And so with filing stories with a daily I'll bet. "Jones! Police scanner says there's a jumper on 19th street. Get there!"
And it wouldn't just be get there, it would be get there, talk to police, climb onto the bridge and try to interview the potential jumper, find his family, talk to them, call the guy's boss, describe the sight as he leapt and the sound as he landed, call it all into rewrite within five minutes and have it all accurate and whew! Get the follow up for the paper's internet site. That is amazing pressure and that is why so many news stories aren't great: We readers have the luxury to say: "Why didn't he interview the cabbie who brought the guy to the bridge?" when that would have taken hours or days just to locate the cabbie and poor Jones only had 45 minutes to get there, grab the interviews, put the puzzle together and put it out there. And hope he was right.
I, however, have spent my life at magazines. We publish once a month. True, a lot more is expected of my features than what's expected of Jones, but I do have the time-luxury of thinking about who to call and how to find their numbers, even if unlisted, to get what I want.
But since moving to Texas I've worked for a weekly. Not nearly the same as a daily, but still more pressure than a monthly that gives you a two month lead time. At the local alternative, we've got a Pulitzer Prize winning boss. We've got two reporters who have both been the southwest's Reporters of the Year a couple of times and are somewhat legend. We've got a former Newsweek Senior Editor, a theater critic who saw my father when he came through Texas in Gore Vidal's The Best Man 45-years ago, a culture editor who, if he wasn't a gumba, would be considered one of the best music/arts editors in the country, a Calendar editor guy who knows more about movies--and almost as much about sports--than anyone I've ever met, a guy working to become a Catholic priest who's smarter than half the bishops I've met, a young punk who might very well become very very famous one day if he'll start kissing my butt a little, and a young woman food reviewer who writes the best food reviews I've ever seen. It is simply a brilliant staff and an honor to be among them.
And the best part of the week is today. Today I turned a story in that's to run as a feature but not the cover story. That means about 1,500 words. I'd done 5 interviews and read nearly 150 pages of PDF studies to get the gist of what the hell I was talking about. But it was due Friday. And Friday there was nothing. So I worked the weekend and then yesterday five people called me back and let me interview them. And then I wrote my story, and finished it today--the day we go to press because the paper comes out tomorrow--and turned it in at about noon.
Then you sit. You sit at your computer and wait. You know your Pulitzer-winning and very astute boss is going to come back at you with questions and you can't go anywhere because you're going to have to answer them.
And then at 5 PM, just two hours to press time, she does. "Peter, there's a lot of good material here but you've got too much scientific jargon in there. Also, I need quotes from X, Y and Z. Oh, and don't forget Q. Get back to me in half-an-hour."
And of course that's impossible. But that's when the race is on and you've been given a directive and a direction that you didn't see as the writer and now you've got to find out cell phone numbers for people with whom you've never talked, you've got to find them in the field or on vacation, you've got to google your butt off to translate the science into language people will bother to read.....And at the same time the kids are saying: "Hey dad! Where the heck's the dinner? I'm starving!"
And so you're playing the phone and the computer and chopping garlic at the same time.
For the record, I had so many new calls to make in the last hour before the paper would have gone to press with a hole in it--and I'd be without a job in the business forever--that I just made Basmati rice, cooked off 2 pounds of chopped meat, strained it, then cooked a head of garlic, a sweet onion, diced, carrots, zuccini, fresh green beans, tomatoes, pulled peas, added salt, pepper, achote from the jungle that I happen to have for coloration and flavor, a pint of chicken stock I made last week and just hoped it would all come out alright.
At the same time I got the pig's food together: a zuccini, a banana, a head of lettuce, tomato ends, a cucumber, a quarter of a seedless watermelon, rice, left over home made fries from last night, half a head of celery, organic baby carrots, a couple of red peppers, a bag of chopped scallions, a bag of white bread, three pounds of grain, a granny smith apple, and a bag of chips.
So in the frantic moment, the pig eats well, the story got done and now our food is just simmering wonderfully.
AND I'M going to take a moment to call a particular gal who's got my attention.
That danger zone, that critical moment, man, I live for those. They're always scary, I'm never sure I can get it done, but man, I live for those moments. And they happen about once every couple of weeks.
And I am going to sleep very very well tonight. It's my best sleep till the next time I get put in the crosshairs.
"Yeah, baby," as Madeleina would say, "think you're tough? Try me."

Good Morning, Everyone!

Well, good morning, everyone! It's still pitch black outside at 7:20 AM on a balmy Tuesday morning here in bucolic Joshua. Spent another semi-sleepless night rewriting the story that's due today in my dreams and that was lousy: Heck, I've already done that half a dozen times in real life! But there's a new coffee pot and a new pot of coffee and it looks good. It was just time for the old one to go. So this is going to be swell.
First sip: ahhhhhh! That's good coffee.
And I hope your coffee is mighty fine as well.
And that's it from here till I actually can make sense. Have a great day, you guys and gals.
Gorman out

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Baby Splooch

I'm hanging around with Madeleina today and she was asking me about what she was like as a baby. She remembers all sorts of things that never happened and I remember all sorts of things that I wish had happened. Like I wish I wasn't so stinking stressed out all the time about money and had given her more time and piano lessons. I didn't. But in Iquitos we did play "One, two, three...twenty eight!" which was her signal to try to run past me at age two or three. In Spanish it makes more sense, but you get the point.
I adored her and still do, even though she tests me pretty often these days and today had the audacity to call me "the stupidest dad or semi-human ever created by the anti-Christ"--which was followed by a very bored sigh--which I thought was not only insightful but rude. I had to pause on that one.
But then she asked what she was like as a baby and I told her how perfect an angel she was, how many months she was see-through before she became solid. And I told her about how when she was still drinking Chepa's milk I'd burp her before I went to the High Times' office to work. And Chepa would always tell me to change my shirt because even if I cleaned-up the burped milk it left a stain and a bit of an odor.
And I always said 'no', because that was my baby's smell. And sometimes I'd be on the Lexington Avenue train, if it was a rainy day and I couldn't ride my bike and all the other dads and a few of the young moms who knew what that stain was would look at me and smile and I'd smile back: "Yes, mam, that's my baby's stain and I'm wearing it like a badge of honor. I wouldn't trade that smudge on my shirt for anything in the world." And they'd smile back because they had the same stains. And then me and a handful of people riding down from 86th street would become one: There is nothing in the world like having a baby and raising it and trying to be good for her or him and watching them grow, watching them laugh, watching them become flesh from angels and I've got friends, Tree and Mandala who have a new baby and I'm so wonderfully jealous. What a time they're in for! What a wonder, every day, they will get to witness.
Until, of course, they turn about 14 going on 60 and become all curmudgeonly and hate you but even then you know that's just the start of opening their own wings and they've got to do that if they're ever going to fly on their own.
I love my babies, even though they're growing and I'm missing my Italo, away at school, and my Marco, away at his girl's house much of the time, and even my Madeleina, away at Mom's a few days a week. I'd wear their burp stains any day, any time. Those are the stains that remind me that I'm dad, and I never loved anything as much as I loved being dad.
Maybe I'm feeling maudlin tonight because I can't be with the girl I want to be with. She lives far away. But I've still got my Madeleina and I am learning to take the love when it's offered.
I love you, my little Madeleina.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

An Andy Warhol Story

So someone was talking about Andy Warhol and I remembered this tidbit from a long time ago:
Back in the day I worked at a gallery called Multiples on Madison and 74th in NYC that sold Andy’s work, and then later I worked at Chrysalis Studios, where the work was made. I was the guy who pulled the squeegie across the silk screens for Warhol’s Marilyn’s, Mao’s and Flowers. We also did a lot of Oldenburg and Lichtenstein. But Warhol was fun because I also had the job of stamping his signature onto those silkscreens with a graphite stamp we had (you didn’t think he actually did that, did you?). And I don’t know who did the numbering because my job was just sign it.
But one day I got bored and maybe high, who can remember, dahling, and I stamped a fresh box of Oldenberg Soft something or others we’d just done with the Warhol stamp.
The boss went, naturally and correctly, crazy and fired me. As a last gesture of decency I offered to have the box destroyed. "Heavens, no!" she nearly screamed."That’s an Oldenburg box signed dozens of times by Andy Warhol! It’s going to be worth millions some day."
As far as I know that box has not gone on the market yet. But I’ll bet she’s right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Loving my Madeleina

Well, while I was away for a couple of days on the weekend, I was so darned enamored with the company I was keeping that I'll admit I didn't spend a lot of time thinking of my kids. I did think of them, of course, but at the same time knew they were fine and so allowed myself to be away. I do the same thing when I'm on jungle trips: There's nothing I can do if something goes wrong so please god/spirit/universe don't let anything go wrong.
But it's a joy to be with her again as well, even though I'm still so damned enamored with the company I had I can't see straight, much less think.
Yesterday in the car I decided to teach her a little Latin--which is a lot more than I know--when she asked me why Latin America was named Latin America and then answered herself with: "Oh, yeah, because we're Latins. What are Latins anyway? I mean I am one but I don't know how to define it exactly."
"No, darling, you are not Latin. You're half-indigenous Amazon Indian and half-Irish mutt. Latin America comes from the language groups. In Rome the language was called Latin. Rome expanded and took over a lot of civilizations and the languages that grew out of that included Spanish, which has Latin roots. And so Latin America indicates that you are from an area where interlopers introduced languages that had Latin roots."
"That's impossible. You're an idiot, dad. Now tell me the real story."
So I quoted a few words from my Catholic alterboy past: Susipiat sacrafeliat sacramentum.... (Spelling is completely up in the air, okay?) and then riffed on that:
"Veni, vedi, vici means 'I came, I saw, I conquered', in Latin," I said, not sure if I had that right but close enough for government work--particularly these days.
"What about "Peni, pini, pichi?" she asked, sliding into vulgar Spanish.
"Way out of line Ms. Madeleina. I'm going to have to wash your mouth out."
"Okay. But it sounds almost the same...."
"And in about 40 years I'm going to explain what that is....but not now when you're eleven. Got it?"
"You are a downer, dad. When was the last time someone called you a nerd? Because you define the word with your presence."
"Okay, it was gonna be organic soap with mint flavor, but I think you just downgraded to detergent..."
"Oh, dad..."
"Oh, yourself."
And then we were laughing, laughing.
And then she whacked my arm and said I was lying when I claimed to have brown hair with some gray in it. "It's gray, dad. Face it. You're older than that McCain guy, and he looks like he's been dead for a couple of years."
"This is my blog. No politics..."
"You mean this is your blob..."
"I want to hear 800 notes on that flute in succession, Little Miss. Got me?"
"Yeah, dad. Like that's gonna happen."
And then today, just a moment ago, when I suggested she do homework or play the flute, but in either case just turn the television and stereo off so that she could concentrate, she responded with: "My leg...oh, my leg hurts...I can't do anything..."
And when I suggested that the thought of homework or music work was what was causing the sudden leg injury she responded: "Coincididdle, have no idea what kind of pain I'm in!"
And now I'm just sitting here loving her. What the heck. She's Irish like me and if there's anything we know how to do it's to fill in the blanks with a whole lot of cow manure. Where she got it is anybody's guess, I suppose, though some might point fingers right at me. Imagine!!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Into the Water...

Boom, I dove into the water and made my plane to visit my high school sweetheart and then it was a couple of hours later and I was being driven from the airport to her home in a Lincoln Towncar and I could hardly breathe. And when we arrived and she stepped to the screened window of her porch I will tell you she was a lovely as she ever was. She was breathtaking. Of course, since I was already short of breath I nearly hyperventilated and tripped walking up three steps and man, I was 17 all over again and having a hard time not just bursting out and making up stuff just to try to impress her so she'd like me.
The weekend was lovely, the weather perfect, the company wonderful. I'm sure I made my share of 17-year-old/57-year-old mistakes--talking too much, trying to impress her too much and others--but in between those we managed to talk and laugh and had a hayride and watched leaves turn colors and made a fire and grilled some steaks and way way way too fast I was back on a plane coming home this morning. I would teleport her here this instant if I could.
So it's nice to be home and I can't wait to see my Madeleina, and it was fantastic that Marco just came home from work to have me make lunch for him and I'm going to one of Italo's games tomorrow afternoon--but this minute, and for the last few hours, I'm sort of 17 and all taken by that girl again.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Here Goes a High Dive

Dear All: I know I've been lax lately. Haven't meant to be, just been fantastically busy. For my alternative weekly, the last month has seen me write a dozen or so short bits for the Best Of Fort Worth issue, a cover story, an inside news story, a short news piece and a food review. For my regular Skunk Mag gig I've written my column and a feature; for a business magazine I wrote a cover story and for Cannabis Culture I've been working on a feature that I'll turn in before the end of the month. I've also been working on a new cover and new news feature for the alternative. Plus, I rewrote several small stories as stand-alones for a new book, and then wrote that long piece Ayahuasca and the Glory that so many of you commented on. Thanks.
Whew! No wonder I have not had a lot of time to sit here and chat with you.
Well, that's all part of the story. There's another part.
About a month ago I got in touch with my high school sweetheart. She's single now, and so it was one of those serendipidous things. We began to write each other asking how the last 35-40 years have been. And we got along. And we got excited. And now tomorrow I'm headed out to visit her for the weekend. And if you don't think that's got me wound up like a New York City pretzel, then you have no idea who I am. I am as excited as if I were going to do a month of real exploration in the Amazon, but much less afraid of the snakes and caiman I might meet there than I am of meeting this woman. She was the absolute love of my life for a few years. And now she still sounds the same on the phone and has the same rapier wit in her emails that she used to have in person. But the thing is that I'm not 17 or 18 or 19 anymore. I'm 57-years old!!!! I'm heavier than I want to be to see her. I'm balder and grayer than I want to be. I'm OLDER than I want to be. I'm not some handsome kid anymore. I'm just me. I've beat up time a little bit; time's beaten me up a little bit, but all those scars show like pimples on a teen and my teeth are yellow and need fixing and while I'm trying my best I will probably still have some damned hair growing out of my ear and she'll still be so beautiful because no matter what she'll be beautiful to me.
And though necking was as far as I ever got with her you've got to know I'd love to try that again. What a kisser she was when I last kissed her. But it's been a long time since I kissed anybody and I don't even know if my lips work anymore, or if I'll know how to breathe if she even gives me the chance.
I think certain things freeze us in time. I'm a very responsible, decent man. I drink too much whiskey, but only after the work is done and after I've kissed the kids. I smoke too many cigarettes but that's my deal with the devil. I help whom I can, I try to be honest and giving and grown up and think I've been a good dad and hope I'm a better one tomorrow and all that jazz. But when it comes to visiting this girl--woman now--I'm just 17-years old again and full of nervousness that I won't be accepted, full of wondering if my face is going to break out, or if my pants are going to look too corny. Hell, I bought a damned jacket this week, just in case she wants me to have one. And I look like I weigh 400 pounds in it, with shoulders bigger than a football players. And I'm not that bad but that's how I'm seeing myself.
Now you know why I haven't been writing. I've been all caught up in work and this. And the work is hard but doable. This is freaking impossible. I hope my eyes don't pop from the pressure before I get on the plane.
So wish me luck and know that I know most of you are jealous, but probably in a good way. I'm very lucky to be able to see this woman again after all these years. I'm looking forward to it with short breaths. And as scary as it is, I wouldn't trade me tomorrow for anyone.
So wish me me luck. Personally, I'm hoping to get some good kissing in before I leave, though if she reads this I'll probably have blown any chance.
Thanks for listening.
PS: Madeleina thinks this woman did good by giving me the boot 40 years ago and thinks that this time around she ought to just beat me with a stick, "because you're acting like a teenager, dad. And we all know teenagers are idiots who should be smacked."
Then she hit me on the shoulder. Hard. About 10 times.
That's my Madeleina. That's my baby. You keep it all in perspective for me, girl.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Response to a Letter from a Stranger

Someone whom I don't know wrote me recently. She asked how to start traveling and then she asked how to be a free lance writer writing about traveling. (This is not to you Ms. Mollie T., this is in response to a total stranger.) It was a big question, and I answered the best way I knew how: In a confused, insane manner. Nonetheless, I'm gonna post what I wrote, just cause I feel I have short changed you all recently and don't mean to. So I hope this isn't too damned dumb or anything. It's just me responding to a stranger asking me how to start traveling, how to know where you want to travel, and how you might make a buck while doing it.
And thanks for reading, y'all.
Peter G

Hmmm. No, writing was not something I studied in school, though that's something I regret. I was just a New York city kid. I loved hitchhiking back and forth across the country, seeing new things. That was my schooling. At some point I took a trip, on my own, without speaking Spanish, to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and that hooked me. I loved the culture of Oaxaca, Merida, Palenque. I followed that up with a trip to Peru--again, lacking Spanish--and ran into a man who took me into the jungle, where I felt more alive than possible. I wanted to see Indians, but he said he wouldn't take me--not for lack of my begging him, but because they were several days walk and he couldn't risk it with a novice: If I got hurt he'd have to carry me and we'd both die.
So I returned the following year and spent a month doing some basic jungle training, then the following year got to go out to the deep deep jungle. I also traveled a lot to India--again, no language skills. But in India I never met a similar teacher, so I wasn't equally drawn back, though I did go several times for stories in magazines.
I suspect that if you are drawn to the exotic you will find your way to some place your heart is calling you. Take a tour--one like mine, though I don't mean that as a promo, I just mean a tour that will really give you the sense of a place and during which you'll meet interesting people. If a teacher appears you probably won't know it at the time, but when you return home you'll be unable to get rid of the gnawing feeling that you need to return.
And once you start to return somewhere, you will start to make sense of it in a way I can't really describe--you'll just sort of know it when it's there.
Some of it is just like diving off a high board for the first time: You're scared, unsure, and know you don't know what you're doing. Then you jump anyway and find yourself delighted to see that you've done it and survived.
I certainly can't suggest anything for your life other than to live the parts you really have to. Save some money, pick a place on the globe and head out. It won't kill you. It will enrich you. And once you have your feet wet it will be easier to make those life decisions you're talking about.
Oh, and when you're there, take lots of notes. Keep a journal and do the entire day each night before bed. Take photos. Listen to people. Listen more to locals than to other gringos. Watch a lot. Even if you're lost. Who cares? This kind of travel is very special and enriching. And if you come home and sell something--a photo, a story--that's great. If not, no sweat. Making a living as a free-lance writer is not so great. It's damned hard and I don't really recommend it as a career move. For years I supported my travel by being a chef in a restaurant 9 months a year, then traveling 3 months with my savings. I was 35 before I could make a living writing and I've never made as much writing as I did as a chef. But I'm sort of too far gone to revert to my old ways and like the challenge of coming up with new ideas for stories to sell to mags.
Peter G

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Didn't Forget You, Just Not Much to Say

Dear All: I didn't forget you, I just haven't had much to say. I've had a lot of work to do, and it's had me talking to myself rather than being out of my head, so I've been cluttered.
But I've just woken from a wonderful dream of playing baseball--just catch with my kids--and in a couple of hours I'm going to take Madeleina downtown and we're going to race each other in the crazy human maze they have in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Then we're going to have an ice cream from the Bull Ring and maybe try on cowboy hats.
The pig is fine, Boots the wonderdog is fine, all is okay.
I'm hoping you all have a wonderful Saturday morning as well.