Tag Archives: City-Pick New York

A friend met only once

David Ades was a friend met once only in a cafe  at an hour not as late as it felt. I’d been to the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival launch party, and with no dinner plans,  needed something warm to fill the spaces canapés had not reached.  I walked along Jonson St, Fletcher, Lawson in the cold seeking  a place and eventually spotted a warm glow at end of an open air arcade.

The café staff were starting  to clear up but a few people arrived, a woman in stark white Indian cotton ordering a takeaway, and a young man. We talked.

I didn’t know his name them but I had noticed David sitting at the next table in dark clothes that must have held stories of many nights and cities. I noticed his hair too, silvery white, back into a pony tale. He was focused on eating.

David heard the woman in white speak to us of healing and spoke to her, something about cancer. My ears pricked up, I have my story. Her food ready, she left. David resumed his meal.

The young man had asked if he could join me for dinner. He had written a children’s book about the environment and planned to scale the barriers of the writers’ festival to show it to someone. I am pitching my novel to a live audience and three publishers and I’m nervous, I told him.

David spoke to me right then and I turned to see his blue eyes. He said he’d heard me speak about pitching and unfurled the story of his Dad, Joe, who had been a pitchman in New York City that people came from all over to see. He always wore a three piece suit and Union Square was one of favourite places to pitch. In the evenings Joe would go home to his fourth wife on the Upper East Side and would have a steak at a fine restaurant, every night. By the time David told me this my lentils had arrived, glowing and golden in a white bowl.

Joe’s merchandise was always the same thing, said David, and he did this for decades. The item sold at $5. It was a potato peeler that you will never find in a store. Joe Ades was The Potato Peeler Guy and when he died the New York Times his obituary. David urged me to read about his father on his website. I will, I said.

Oh hey, I wrote a story in a New York literary travel anthology last year [City Pick New York], I said. 
I’d like to read that book, he said.
That can be arranged, I said.

We said goodbye and I felt gratitude that the uncertainty of this evening had led me to these people in that place. I awoke the next morning feeling buoyant, and carried the warmth of David’s story about his dad, Joe, the pitch man, into my own pitch that went so well that complete strangers approached me afterwards. My mood soared for a week or more.David Ades, A Glorious Uncertainty

When I had a chance to look up DavidAdesMusic.com and saw those blue eyes gazing out, I found out he not only played saxophone, he was one of the world’s finest. He never said. Naturally.

He’d had an album, out that year, recorded in New York City, David Ades & friends, A Glorious Uncertainty, and when I saw the cover with the front section of a yellow cab I smiled. The book I hoped to get to him had the back section of a yellow cab on its cover.
Where I meet Franzen

Soon after I found out he had lung cancer and was undergoing treatments, and I realised I’d heard something of this as he spoke with the woman in white.

We exchanged some Facebook messages. I wanted to get the book to him. “We could swap the CD and the book,” he said. “Sounds good,” I said. He said he was playing at Bangalow with Galapagos Duck. “Do you remember them? Or we could always use the good old postal system.” I saw the message too late for the gig. We never made the swap. It didn’t matter. The best swap was made in that hour we spent and for that I am glad.
Farewell David Ades.

MJ Edmunds

Franzen and my ‘social object’ miss

/>Jonathan Franzen’s disdain for social media is well-known. He’s also careful not to let the Internet distract him from writing. I read somewhere that he superglued a computer so he could not plug in a modem.

In  Nathan Bransford’s  excellent blog on the topic of books and writing) he  described hearing Jonathan Franzen speak and how this gave him  a new understanding of where Franzen was coming from. Franzen thinks very deeply and social media is a distraction from that.

I heard Jonathan Franzen speak at Brisbane Writers’ Festival on the chilly afternoon on September 10, 2011. He spoke a lot about birdwatching. At the end of his talk during audience questions a young man asked if  he could comment on the changes in the ‘American psyche’ in the 10 years since 9/11.

Franzen said no.

But then he said he’d explain why he was saying no. Part of the answer was that he did not like memorialisation of events being commoditised into an experience. After the talk I bought a Franzen book and  joined the end of a long queue to have it signed. A young man lined up behind me. He worked at the excellent Avid Reader bookstore and was shivering, having set out that brilliant spring morning without a jacket. When we reached the signing table, I suggested he go first.

When I reached Jonathan Franzen I thanked him for his talk and said I felt much the same way about memorial celebrations. Then I said, “You and I have work appearing in the same anthology.”  
It’s something I’m unlikely to be able to say again.
He asked me the title. It is City-pick New York I said.

Where I meet Franzen

“What's your story about?” said Franzen.

I described "Blue, blue sky". "Its a simple recollection of  visiting the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It's a tourist's memory. Returning  10 years later I questioned myself about my resistance to interpreted memorials. I am also resistant to seeing tragedies as cultural events that I can choose like experiential tourism.

After he had signed his book,  Jonathan Franzen handed it to me, then took my cold hand into his, shook it warmly and thanked me for being "one of us."

Later I realised I'd forgotten to get a photograph. The moment had passed.  There would be no currency, no

'social object' – a la Hugh McLeod –  on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media of me meeting Jonathan Franzen. It seems fitting.

Marian Edmunds