Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kids These Days

We all do it. We take a look at the headlines, hear the stories coming out of our schools, see a kid crying in the grocery store, and then we lament on the good old days when kids had respect for adults, cared about their futures, and were afraid to defy their parents. Kids these days! Where is this country heading?

Yesterday I got my first real taste of the new school year at my now annual late summer editor's meeting and woke up this morning with one thought on my mind. If only these kids were running our country instead of Congress, we might have a chance...there might be some hope.

Sure, they get a little gaga over One Direction and giggle and whisper when boys come past the room, but if you were in that room yesterday, you might have been surprised by what you heard.

Topics of conversation included the audacity of Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" flap, the need to elect leaders by popular vote rather than the glorified board game known as the Electoral College (they even knew why the electoral college was set up in the first place), and the tragic state of our nation when one choice seems a bit weak-willed to do the job to them while the other seems to lack the compassion they'd like from their leader.

What's more amazing about the eight young ladies I sat with yesterday is what they are about to do. By the end of the year, they will have published a 224 page yearbook that will more resemble a catalog for a prestigious art school than a high school publication. At the same time, they will publish eight issues of a newsmagazine that, if only we could afford color, would make you think you were flipping through Vogue or Rolling Stone. They will be in charge of its content and production, and even have supervisory duties over the rest of the staff. They will have just one to two weeks to write a full feature story and maybe less to design their spreads with the pressure of knowing that being late for yearbook plant deadlines could cost the program thousands of dollars. (It costs about $35,000 to produce a yearbook these days by the way.) These same students are cheerleaders, singers, dancers, and even ukulele players who will be enrolled in several AP courses, some for actual college credit. And that's not even getting into the home lives some of them have to overcome.

You probably haven't accomplished feats that impressive since, well, high school.

So while it's easy to look at the headlines and listen to the complaints of parents, teachers, and administrators, know that you're not getting the full picture. I will have around 100 students this year. Three to five will impress me to the point where I just know they will go on to make the world a better place. They will totally knock my socks off. I will grow to adore another ten to twenty. At least half of them will do fairly well at their jobs of being students. A quarter of what's left will truly want to do well, they will try their best, but lack of skills or various conditions will prevent them from doing so. And in the end, only a handful will truly try to make my life difficult and show that they simply don't fit in an academic setting. And of that handful, only two or three will be the type you see in the headlines and on television that make you worry about the future of our country.

Now look at the Senate. One hundred full-grown adults elected to lead our nation. Can you say the same about that group of one hundred? I rest my case.

Now look at your community. While the kids at my high school are collecting piles of toys for needy children, what are the adults around you doing to help those less fortunate? While the kids at my school are staying late to work on their yearbook spreads, going straight to cheerleading practice, tutoring for National Honor Society, having a very late dinner, then staying up until two to three o'clock in the morning to get their homework done for an AP course load, what are your adult neighbors doing? While my editors spent a week of summer vacation at a yearbook camp, planned the ladder for a 224 page publication, redesigned templates for a newsmagazine, and worked on writing summer articles so we would have something to put on our website when school opened, how did those adults around you spend their time off from work?

Sure adults give back, work overtime, and take work home on weekends and vacations. The point isn't that these kids are somehow better than adults. The point is that they aren't what you might think they are, and I have a front row seat every day to see the truth.

You may look at the class of 2013, throw up your arms, and ask, "My God, is this the future of America?"

But I look at the class of 2013 and say without hesitation, "Thank God, this is the future of America!" If only we don't ruin them between now and then.

And if you still think there was some magic day where teens were more respectful, more civic minded, and stayed out of trouble, just look at the classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. This is a movie from those golden years when everything was roses, sunshine, milk, and honey. Yet there we are following three teens who all end up in jail on the same night. But that movie is about the poor parenting those teens received you say? About how the adults failed them? About how they are misunderstood?

Well, I guess some things never change.

"Disposable Teens"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Painful Patience

I'm dying here.

Anyone else out there hate waiting? It started, I think, when I was in high school. At one point I had to get rides to school from my uncle Bob, but because of his schedule, he had to get me to school like an hour before anyone else arrived. What to do? I went to my locker, used the potty, walked around just sight seeing, I guess. I was bored out of my mind and felt embarrassed and awkward--my standard state at that point in my life.

So, while I consider myself a patient person, my skills honed by all that waiting I was forced to do back in high school, I hate being patient with a passion. It just kills me.

I find myself now doing that...being patient...and dying. School starts next week, and unlike most of my students, I'm dying to get back. Besides my own bed at home, there's no place I feel more comfortable than my classroom. To top it off, there have been so many changes over the summer, all that I'm fairly thrilled with, including a new floor in my room to replace the puke green tiles someone vomited there back in the sixties, that I'm freaking out wondering what life will be like when we return.

The editor-in-chief of my yearbook program is hard at work setting up the ladder and visuals for our 2013 book. But knowing she has until next Friday to have it all set, she's content taking her time to get it right, which is good, don't get me wrong, but it's killing me not knowing what she'll come up with.

A few readers are currently going through my third novel and giving me wonderful feedback, but it seems I might be shelving it for a while since it will need another whole rewrite. I can see where it could be a masterpiece, but not in its current state. With the school year about to kick off, I'm not sure I can give it that kind of attention. I think Talia and Tia might have to wait to be reborn.

With all that going on, I have a brilliant idea, one of those "I think I know the next big thing in YA and I'm ready to write it and get it out there before someone else does" kind of things. Not that I'm trying to just capitalize on a trend; I'm hoping that my idea can lead to a trend. I've been obsessed with writing this type of novel for years, since I started in my MFA program, so like three years ago, and when I pitched the idea at a workshop, the room and instructor loved it. I'm just now seeing how it could be YA and am already visualize scenes and the character which means it must be good. I'm heading down that scary path toward inspiration, but what to do with All We Know of Heaven already on the back burner?

And then there's those pesky freakin' queries. I've found some amazing agents lately. I abandoned the road since I feel like I've already used up all the best matches on there. Instead I've used creative Googling and found some great interviews and advice from YA agents, finding ones that specifically fit what I'm writing much better than combing through agentquery. But they've now got my query and sample pages in hand, so until I hear from them (or don't), I'll be painfully and patiently awaiting their responses (or lack of them).

Which leads to the new waiting game life has dealt me. Today, I found an agent who not only wants edgy stories, but specifically wants the darkest possible--she craves "problem novels." This woman is excited about taking something other people don't think can be published as YA and getting it done, setting trends, shaking things up, causing controversy. Twincest, anyone? Sounds like a perfect match for The House on Bittersweet Trail, right? Pitch it to her right? Why aren't you typing that query letter and hitting send instead of wasting time writing this blog post you say? All this bitching about waiting and you're dragging your feet you say?

Closed for submissions until Fall 2012. So close, yet so far. The most painful kind of wait.

So, I think I need to start at least planning novel number four, which might leapfrog into novel number three. While I've been bored, I've been updating my online presence--a new website and more coming soon--and I know those agents are going to be calling any second for a exclusive. There's only four more days until I see my beloved classroom again, and three before I meet with my journalism editors for the first time. Eventually things will be going forward full-tilt and I'll miss these days of inactivity and time to think, plan, organize, and tinker with the relatively unimportant.

But for now, I wait.

And it's killing me!

"I've been waiting a long time..."
Love the Green Day

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oh Boy!

I've been thinking. That's never good.

Here's the deal. Over the past two days I've been reading blogs, interviews, and agent bios trying to find the right agent to represent my work. Here's the problem--none of the advice agrees on one key point.

Yesterday, I was discouraged to read several sources stating that boys don't read, so YA agents won't touch male-centered YA novels. When they see YA and a male protagonist's name together in the same query, it's a questions asked. Should I be creating characters with unisex names to trick them?

However, today I've been reading that because the YA section of the book store has gotten so pink that males are afraid to even go down the aisle, agents are dying to find good male voices in YA to attract an untapped market.

What the fuck? So am I doomed or not?

That's where the logical debate begins. First, even if it's true that young men don't read, does that necessarily mean male-centered YA won't sell? Don't girls want to see "romance" and relationships through a male point-of-view? It's like having an secret inside look at how the other half lives. I read stuff written by chicks about chicks. I loved Speak, for example. It's kind of like having that best friend of the opposite gender there to let you in on the little nuances of the opposite sex. Cool, right?

So, technically, even if boys don't read, which is probably somewhat true but not wholly, that doesn't mean girls won't buy a book with a male main character. Seems pretty obvious. But that's the "ought" not the "is." YA agents should listen to pitches about books with male leading characters because some guys might buy it and chicks could by it, too. Let's not stereotype. Let's not say this is for boys and this is for girls and that's it.

But is that how it really is? Do agents care about how things ought to be or only how they are. Look at the big hits lately--Twilight and Hunger Games. Girls. Girls. Girls. Even Harry Potter was created by a woman, and he isn't the prototypical male dealing with male problems. What about us dudes? I can see in our culture why agents might be afraid to take chances on us.

On the other hand, just because agents might be dying to add some blue to their pink YA shelves doesn't mean they're willing to take a chance on it. I also read an opinion in a comment on a blog stating that everyone in YA talks the game. They all say they want more male voices and that boys would read more if they had some to choose from, but they aren't willing to actually take the chance.

It sounds grim. But what does the logic of it matter anyway? Should agents be looking for male YA? Should agents be playing it safe and sticking to teenage chick lit? Who cares? At the end of the day, I wrote what I wrote. I write what I write. The golden rule is a great story with great characters will get published. So, what am I worried about? We've advanced to the point where boys can read girl characters and girls can read boy characters, and it doesn't matter either way!

I know you're sitting there saying the same thing--it's stereotyping to even say there's one thing for boys and one thing for girls. This is 2012--we've got Hillary Clinton and Title 9. It's a new world! The end of gender stereotyping!

Every minute in this country, 160 boys are born. How many hospitals do you think are putting the pink hat on those boys? How many of their parents have prepared a Disney Princesses nursery?

That's what I thought.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Truly Rejected 99%

Well, I'm just about finished polishing the first draft of my new novel All We Know of Heaven and completely done refurbishing Scout's Honor based on some great feedback by a top agent. I've been reinvigorated this summer by something I heard at the WestConn MFA residency last week, which is not surprising since when I was in the program, all my invigoratory writing came from those few days in Danbury.

One of the agents giving us a little talk on the industry mentioned that he rejects 99% of the queries he receives. 99%. Think about that. Basically, my chances of getting a yes from an agent are the same as an American getting a tax cut from Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. This got me to thinking, though. I had heard so many stories of people going through 20-30 rejections before getting published.

Scout's Honor was at 41. At least.

But with this new number in mind, and some important revisions based on the aforementioned agent's advice, I'm at it again. I've decided to do a query a day until I get to 100 queries. Unless my writing stinks, which I don't think I would have gotten through my MFA program and a scrutinizing mentor like Daniel Asa Rose if it did, I should get a yes from one of the 100. Basic math, right?

Meanwhile, I'm facing revisions on novel three, which I'll give myself until next summer to fully finish. I've got plenty of readers who want a shot at All We Know of Heaven, including former students, former classmates, and a friend from church. Hopefully their feedback will make this one a winner.

Right now it just kind of blows my mind that I've written three full novels. Published or not, that kind of kicks ass. I'm pretty proud of that. And I've had enough people read and love my work to not be discouraged by a lack of publication. What's even more mind blowing is that I think I have a series least a trilogy.

Agents beware! If you don't grab me up soon, you're going to have quite a backlog of work to deal with. Just sayin.'

Oops...what I meant to say...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dreams Do Come True

Despite our mounting national debt, a faltering economy, and non-stop rhetoric about tax relief and tax shelters and tax fairness, President Barack Obama and the United States government have proven that dreams still can come true--for little boys.

Just yesterday, my son, a four year-old dreamer who enjoys Wii, board games, and long walks on the beach, proclaimed he wanted a rocket ship for his birthday. "You think that's cool, little guy," I said. "Check this out." He watched with glee as I showed him a YouTube video of a space shuttle launch and pictures from Mars.

So forget making the dreams of middle class families come true by investing in education, health care, and help for small businesses. Let's launch rockets. I'm shocked that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party or Libertarians aren't frothing at the mouth to lecture the president on his lack of fiscal restraint. I'm shocked that Mitt Romney's campaign isn't jumping all over this as a waste of government money at a time when government waste and cutting departments is at the top of the list of discussion points for this election.

Why is that?

Well, it's because our country is currently being run my males. Males that are still trying to make their childhood dreams come true. We spend like crazy on really cool, top-secret military gadgets without many conservatives railing against it. There's stuff going on at the "Groom Dry Lake location" (Area 51) that may have nothing to do with aliens, but still costs billions of dollars and is so classified that even top military leaders aren't even in the know.

Why don't we hear calls to shut that place down? Because it's cool. If it's not flying saucers, it's really cool James Bond shit going down there. It's like a living, breathing GI Joe movie. Why do we even have NASA? That whole race to space thing with the Soviets is long over. Does anyone really think finding out that there were microscopic organisms on Mars billions of years ago is going to help us right now? Can't we wait, say, another million or so years, once we get the budget balanced, to go play Star Wars? At least use the technology to give us those flying cars that sci-fi movies have been promising for decades.

And when the terrorist did that despicable act back on September 11th 2001, destroying the symbol of American financial excess, what did we do? We got ready and started planning to rebuild our symbol of financial excess to show those terrorists that America will not compromise on it's excess. This is the country that brought you super-sized value meals, for crying out loud. You're not going to get us to reign ourselves in with one act of terror. Basically, those in charge are reinacting that time their big sisters knocked down their LEGO castles and they had to rebuild it bigger and better to show just how little her knocking it down really mattered to them, as they held back the tears.

Sometimes I feel like we're in a perpetual summer vacation, 104 unending days of building crazy contraption after crazy contraption as if funding was just as unending. Isn't your country a little broke to be sending a robot to collect dirt from Mars? Yes, yes it is. Where is Perry anyway?

What would happen if we cut the military budget for R & D by, like, half. And don't try hiding behind some $250,000 chair or $9000 box of paper clips either. As Corey Taylor of Stone Sour put it, "Classified, my ass; it's a fucking secret, and you know it!" And then we eliminate NASA all together. Just cut it. Then we just buy the little boys running this country a freakin' XBOX or let them go to some classic toys convention and buy all their old Star Wars and GI Joe action figures back. Maybe we get them sparklers or a jar to catch bugs in or something. I don't know. Can we please put an end to them putting us further and further in debt just to play their little preschool games.

So next time you want to complain about cutting "entitlements" or education or healthcare, please take the time to look at all the places we could be cutting if they weren't so cool. I mean, old people, teachers, and doctors are just so...well, lame. Why would our society value those losers.

Who knows? Maybe a woman president wouldn't be so bad?

Watch Phineas and Ferb help Baljeet build a portal to Mars

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A New Start...

I'm posting a completely revised chapter one to my first novel Scout's Honor. It's become clear to me that one of the main reasons it has gotten so close so many times to landing me an agent yet failed is the lameness of the first chapter. If you would be so kind, please read and leave any feedback you're willing to give in the comments below. The novel is about a 17 year-old boy that has run off to NYC to make it as a rock start, but the true reason that he has run away from his cushy, suburban life remains a mystery until the end, even as it haunts him. Thank you for all that have the time to help!

The Real World
            “Fuck you, kid.”
            I had just gotten off the train at Grand Central station and asked a nice enough looking lady in a newsboy cap and purple scarf where the taxi stand was. I apologized for bothering her, and she walked off glaring at the big board, probably pretending she cared when some imaginary train was coming in just to avoid me.
By that time, my parents had to be in hysterics. Well, at least my mom. Jerry was probably yelling a lot about how I was just trying to get attention and how I could never make it in the real world alone and how he’d beat the snot out of me if he ever got his hands on me again. He liked to threaten to beat the snot out of me. He never did, though. I guess I should be grateful. My cousin Sam got the snot beat out of him by his dad so much DCF took him away, made him a ward of the state, and paid his college tuition. Poetic.
I started wandering about looking for a sign that said where I could find a taxi. There were so many people rushing here or there, all with some huge purpose, some intense pull in one direction or the other. There were business men, dressed in the suits and ties to make sure we all knew they were business men, tourists flipping through brochures and taking pictures, and even a token homeless guy with an overgrown beard and a faded, red shirt. Perhaps times were tough even for Santa Claus.
The thing that really caught my eye in the colorless abyss of the Great Hall was this little boy with a bright blue balloon. His parents were tugging him along, but all he cared about was looking up at the ceiling. The mile-high green sky above, scattered with celestial bodies, always impressed me no matter how often I visited. What I saw on the ground, however, was about the last thing I wanted to see—cops. They were everywhere I looked. Well, at least that’s how it seemed. I was afraid of police enough when I hadn’t done anything wrong, and now… Well, let’s just say I was plenty afraid. I looked back for the boy and his balloon, but I lost him in the crowd.
Then I started thinking about my kid sister Hester. That’s right, I said Hester. My parents were very literary in college, especially my mom Priscilla. She was big on The Scarlet Letter at the time, I guess. She taught American literature for a few years before my dad got his big break at the firm, and then she didn’t have to work any more. She was happy, I guess, but never had much to do. She just sort of invented things to do, like playing tennis and watering plants and all that. They named me Truman. Yup, after Capote. Truman Armstrong, that’s me. I told you they were literary. Anyway, Hester would have been panicking about that boy and if he was going to let the balloon go all the way to the ceiling out of reach. She worried about things like that, always putting other people first.
            I shuffled through the traffic and got on line to buy a MetroCard just in case, but it didn’t take long to find the taxi stand outside the station all on my own. The line was fairly long, and it was hot and humid. I think my sweat was starting to sweat. Then this pregnant lady jumped in line behind me kind of waddling along each time the line moved. She must have been fairly far along because she was pretty huge.
            “Excuse me,” I said.
            “Yes,” she answered, a bit frazzled by a seventeen year-old punk addressing her. The night before, I had gotten my lip pierced and hair done. I had a thing for punk at the time, so I had the beautician chop it, spike it, and bleach haphazard patches of it. In the movies, whenever perps were on the lamb, they altered their appearances.
            “You can go ahead of me if you want,” I said.
            “Waiting for someone?”
            “No. I just thought…I just wanted to be nice.” She was pregnant after all.
            “That’s okay. You have a heavy load.”
            I had my portable amp in one hand, a massive bag full of whatever I could fit in the other, and my gig bag with my guitar strapped over my shoulder. So she was right, I was carrying a heavy load, but her cargo seemed a bit more important.
            “You sure?” I asked. “I’d feel bad making you wait.”
            “Where are you heading?” she asked as the line moved up again. A few businessy looking guys had jumped in line behind us, all trying to look oh-so important. They reminded me of my dad. I hoped they were running late.
            “China Town,” I said. I wanted to hit street vendors to get some cheap swag, update my look a bit. If I was going to find my way as a rock star, I was going to have to look the part. Westport was so suburban, and my high school so uppity, cruddy Metallica t-shirts were enough to look hardcore. I imagined it would take more in the Big Apple.
            “Me too!” she said like it was the biggest act of God since the parting of the Red Sea. “We’ll share a cab, and then I won’t have to wait longer.”
            “Cool,” I said, but I really didn’t want to. I didn’t much feel like striking up a conversation with her. I couldn’t handle it that particular morning.
            The cab came, and I loaded my crap in the trunk. We made our way through stiff traffic toward China Town. We didn’t talk much, just an awkward smile here or there.
            “So what brings you to New York?” she asked as I gathered my stuff out of the trunk.
            “Starting a music career,” I said confidently.
            “Sounds exciting.”
            “Hope so,” I concluded.
            “I bet a lot of people have done just that same thing.” She smiled and rested her hands on her belly.
            “I know. I just feel like I’ll be different.”
            “Oh, no,” she said. “I didn’t mean to imply you wouldn’t make it. Obviously many do.”
            “Oh, okay. Sorry.”
            “Don’t worry about it. You know what I used to want to be?”
            “No, what?”
            “An opera singer?”
            “Really? What happened?”
            “Life, I guess. Just wasn’t meant to be.”
            “I’m sorry.” For some reason that was the saddest thing I’d heard all day.
            “Don’t be. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world.”
            “What do you do?”
            “I’m heading to work now,” she said. “I guess you’d call me a companion nurse. I spend time with and help take care of an elderly woman with Down’s Syndrome.”
            “That sounds tough.”
            “It’s challenging,” she admitted, “but she’s the love of my life. I couldn’t imagine going very long without seeing her. She sees things differently than you or me. It’s refreshing.”
            “Well, I’m glad for you,” I said. But honestly, I really wasn’t. I felt bad for it, though.
            “It’s coming up on the right,” she said to the taxi driver, and he pointed to a spot in front of a brick building. We were just south of Canal Street. She turned to me. “I’m sure you’ll make it just fine, really, but if ever need anything, give me a call.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a business card. “I’m Anne.” She held out her hand, and I shook it.
            I paused to find a suitable name to give her. “I’m Trent,” I lied, conjuring the name of the first rock start that came to mind, Trent Reznor.
            “Nice to meet you Trent,” she said. What a fraud I was.
            When we pulled over to the curb, I jumped out and made my way around the cab to help her dismount from her seat. She gave me an awkward smile, probably thinking the gesture was over the top, and it was. I just felt bad for her, that’s all.
            She said goodbye and headed up the steps into the building. I was on my own again. Time to lace up the big-boy shoes and be a man. I had my guitar, my saved up allowance—three hundred and thirty-seven dollars and fifty-eight cents—and a plan. Of course, I had just come up with the plan on the train, and I forgot my pick, and three hundred and thirty-seven dollars and fifty-eight cents wouldn’t get me one night in some Manhattan hotels, but the moment I stepped out into the streets of the big city and looked up at the sun-glazed sky-scrapers and clear blue skies, I knew I’d found exactly what I’d been looking for.
            I awoke from my trance, however, as a loud honk startled me from behind.
            “Move, ya little shit!”
            A UPS truck was trying to pull into the spot vacated by our cab, but I was just standing there clueless, apparently looking like a ‘little shit,’ ruining the currier’s day. He honked twice more for good measure. Welcome to the big city. I dragged my stuff and myself up onto the sidewalk and went looking for deals with the street vendors.
I found a long row of salesman peddling cool swag, all for under ten bucks, and within twenty minutes I had too much junk to carry — a new wallet, some dark, pre-ripped jeans, a leather jacket with some crazy silver rings across the side and back, and a pack of picks, too. It was amazing. I found myself able to just start up a conversation with anyone – any guy that is. There were a few cute girls selling bracelets and paintings that were too intimidating and made me feel guilty for gawking at them, but with guys I just started shooting the breeze and whatnot. Like this one old dude selling tchotchkes. He was eyeing me while I checked out this over-priced crystal unicorn that was obviously fashioned out of glass.
I was about to move on to the next table in a long succession of worthless wares when he hollered at me, “Hey, kid, want a cool pocket knife?”
“Let me see.”
“It’s a one of kind, has a unicorn engraved in the handle. Got it off a dead guy in Central Park.”
“How much?”
“For you, eight bucks.”
            “Sold. Dead guy, huh?”
            “Yeah. Poor guy spent the whole night out in the cold. Winter ain’t no time to be homeless. Made me eight bucks, though.”
            “How ‘bout summer?”
            “Kid, there ain’t no such thing as homeless in the summer. You can sleep wherever you want, and hell, it’s not like you have to have a place to crash at night. City that never sleeps and all that.”
            He looked like he was speaking from experience, so who was I to question him? His graying stubble put him at about fifty, and his frazzled, matching, half-bald scalp agreed. It was encouraging news seeing as how I had already burned a third of my resources.
            “Well, thanks a lot, sir.”
            “Sir. I like that. Thank you, kid. Here, that knife comes with a complimentary lighter.”
            “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” I'd never even tried, actually.
            “You ain’t gotta smoke to have a lighter, kid. Take it. It used to be Henry Winkler’s. Ya know, the Fonz?”
            I knew the Fonz.
            “Sure, I’ll take it. Thanks again.”
            He tossed it to me underhand, and I made a basket catch as he answered, “No problem.”
            His smile told me I'd just bought him dinner in exchange for a couple of second hand nothings, but I was happy just the same. This stuff had character, a story. I tried to flip the knife open, but it was stuck. I pushed harder and harder, but nothing. It was rusted shut or something.
            “Hey!” I called to the vendor. “Sir, this thing is busted.”
            “Caveat emptor,” he said with a crooked smile.
            “But I want my money back.”
            “I want to be the King of England,” he said. “Always test the merchandise first, kid. Remember that.”
            “But that’s not fair,” I protested.
            “Hey asshole.” The vendor next to him, an extremely large African-American with no neck selling “silk” neckties was calling out to me.
            “Me?” I asked, pointing to my chest.
            “Yeah, what other asshole would I be talking to?” He looked to the man with the gray stubble and said, “Look, he knows his name.” The old man laughed. What a crock of shit this was. “Just move on,” the neckless man commanded, like he was performing a Jedi mind trick. I wanted to tell him it only worked on the weak-minded, but the guns on this guy were huge, and I thought it was better to just let it go.
            I suppose he taught me a lesson. And on the bright side, he confirmed for me that I really didn’t need a place to stay, so spending my cash didn’t worry me. I could make enough each day from playing to buy me a couple of items off the value menu somewhere and sleep on a bus or subway ride now and again. Who needs a bed when you've got Henry Winkler’s lighter?
            When all was said and done, there was a whopping ninety-eight bucks left in my new, cow-scented wallet. Way to conserve. But I worried not. And as the sun gave in to brighter, man-made illumination, a newfound spirit of hope overcame me. I had done all I could to screw up my life, to make Truman Armstrong a failure, but New York had given me a second chance. I would never look back.
            I spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing. From Greenwich Village to Central Park, I was everywhere. I loved it all. The people, the food, the sights, the sounds, the yellow cab swarms buzzing along as far as the eye could see, the smell of garbage and ladies’ perfumes dancing together between drops of summer sweat, the playbills, the Garment Distric princesses, the greasy feel to the hot sidewalks, and even the drone of pure, unbridled noise, it all made me feel at home.
            I ended up in Times Square. I spent an eternity just staring up into the sleepless night sky as the glittering lights of Broadway intermingled with the heaven’s stars. For a brief moment I forgot all the bullshit. I forgot high school, parents, and unforgivable mistakes. I could see myself on stage at the Roseland or Hammerstein, maybe even the Garden. I could see myself being a star.
            Then I started feeling a bit hungry. I went up to a cart selling dirty-water dogs and gyros and ordered two dogs. I reached for my wallet to pay and nearly swallowed my own throat. It was gone. At first I assumed I put it in the wrong pocket, so I stood up and felt the other. Then, in a panic, I felt all my pockets, and each one was empty. I must have looked like an idiot there, groping myself in the middle of Times Square. I checked my bag and even my gig bag. Nothing. It was gone.
            You hear about things like pick pockets, but you assume that’s something that happens to other people. Maybe they’re urban legends. But no. They’re real. And I was broke.
            “Lost your wallet, kid?” asked the man who ran the cart. He was holding a hot dog in each hand.
            “I think so,” I said in defeat.
            “There’s a couple officers right over there. I’d tell them if I were you.”
            “Thanks,” I said, but I knew I couldn’t do that.
            I walked away hungry. Luckily, I still had some money left on my MetroCard, so I got on the subway and just rode around, dozing off now and then to get at least a little sleep. The subway ran all night, but trains were infrequent, so I had to struggle to stay awake during waits. There’s no way I wanted to sleep in the station. An MTA cop would probably want to know why someone so young was so alone so late at night, and who knows what kind of whack job or crack head might mess with me while I was sleeping there. I didn’t want to just walk the streets that late either and draw attention to myself.
            Eventually the sun rose above the skyline, and the morning hustle and bustle around me in Columbus Circle told me that I had survived my first night on the island of Manhattan. Sure, I’d lost nearly one hundred bucks and my new wallet, but I had to give myself some credit. Maybe I could make it the real world. I would have to make some money, though, quickly, if I was going to make this happen. Going home wasn’t an option. It was time to put my plan into action. It was time to become a star.