Thursday, September 3, 2015

New York State of Mind

When you grow up in Chicago, you don't go to New York. It's a competitive thing, the second city mentality. New York might be bigger and all, but we have plenty of stuff to do and see and our pizza is better and so are our hot dogs. There's no need to go to New York.

So it is that I've never been to New York.

But in a few short weeks, we are heading east for the Boston wedding of our friends Scott and Jedidiah. Before we head to Boston, we're going to New York for four days and I get to finally meet Blackbird, one of my all-time favorite bloggers who has become an online friend and who I think will become a real friend. (Assuming we're not both batshit -- she's worried because she's met batshit online before.) There will be lunch or dinner and browsing and maybe The High Line and ... too many things to list. I'm so looking forward to it though.

I'll also get to see Aaron Jaffe, my college friend who is a city editor at the Wall Street Journal; he lives in Greenwich Village and will take us on a tour. And maybe I'll get to see Matt Murray, the second in command at the WSJ and my former colleague from years ago at a Gannett paper in Virginia. And maybe Tom Carpenter, another college friend who's now the general counsel of Actors Equity. And Smadar, my old backgammon pal. And and and ...

Will four days be enough? Is it a million degrees now? Where shall we eat?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Quiet Nervous Breakdown

I can't sleep. I have to be up in six hours to go finish off this week's paper, then help finish a special section (i.e., advertorial) and get next week's issue moving. But I can't sleep and so I've decided to stay awake and have a tiny nervous breakdown.

I have to decide what I'm doing.

Through random dumb luck, a statistical bit of insanity, my husband won a few million dollars in the lottery. It was exactly four weeks ago yesterday. I was at the Salinas City Council meeting, where I didn't have to be because I was actually on vacation starting that evening, but I just can't stand to miss a good council meeting. I was tweeting away about dumb things—the mayor "confessing" to have eaten at McDonalds—when a friend text messaged me: Stop tweeting about the stupid mayor and McDonald's. Someone won the lotto off a ticket at Star Market. $2.7 million.

"Ha ha," I responded. "Hope it's my husband."

About 15 minutes later, I walked through the door of the house and Chuck met me in the hallway with a strange look on his face. "Good news or bad news?" he asked. Bad news, I said; I'm a glass is half-empty, dirty and cracked kind of girl. "The bad news is we didn't win $227 million off the lottery. The good news is we did win $2.7 million and you never have to go back to that place again."

That place is my job as a newspaper editor at arguably the best newspaper in Monterey County. I run it. I'm the top dog and I'm probably the highest paid print journalist in the county, although that no longer counts for much in this dying industry. That place has defined who I am, every waking moment and many sleeping ones, for the past five years. I remember when I first started, I would come home almost every night and mutter about that place. That place. People who behave badly in that place. A reporter who, upon hearing her story pitch criticized (and it was beyond fucking lame), said to me in the edit meeting, "Are we done here, because I don't care." Horrible human being. Horrible writer too. I was glad to see her go when she quit a few weeks later. "That place," I would say, as my husband made me a drink. "Who behaves that way?"

This place, and the job, has brought me moments of bliss, of pure adrenalin rush. When a union organizer told my publisher he found me "unusually aggressive," I told my publisher, "You didn't hire me because of my shy demeanor. You're paying me all this money because I'm a killer." And I am. Standing between me and a story I want is a bad place to be standing.

But what if it's time to do something else? Because being a killer means 50-60 hour weeks. It means managing a group of people, most of whom I adore, who all bring different skill sets and abilities and motivations and issues with them. It means getting up and finishing the special advertorial sections. It means being irate when deadlines are missed.

I made a promise to myself, when the money happened, that I would never write another word about something I don't care about. The list of what I don't care about is long: the political problems of Carmel by the Sea. The Pacific Grove sewer tax. Cal Am's desalination plant. The list of what I care about is longer: Monterey's unconstitutional sit-lie law. The dozens of homeless people who are living in their own society in Laguna Grande Park. The state of the police state we're living in. Failing schools, overwhelmed parents. Third-world poverty in East Salinas. The winners of the lucky-sperm lottery, the children and grandchildren of the landed gentry, who control everything and have consolidated their power.

I'm trying to imagine a different life, one where there aren't 50 hour work weeks and people who miss deadlines. I'm trying to imagine a slower pace, where I write stories that I care about and I don't have to care about getting paid. I'm trying to hold on for six months, because promises were made and a wise man told me I shouldn't make any big decisions for six months.

It's going to be my youngest son's last year of high school. I've missed vast portions of his past five years because I'm a killer. I spent little time with my dying mother, even though she desperately wanted me there, because I'm a killer. And now we take care of my differently abled elderly sister, and I think she's sad because she's often alone because I'm a killer. My health has suffered for it; I was supposed to have surgery to repair my esophagus three weeks ago and they couldn't operate because I was too anemic to undergo surgery. I thought the level of exhaustion I'd been operating at was normal. Now that I know it's not, it's opened up all of these exciting possibilities. I can live and be healthy and, thanks to a statistical fluke, the literal luck of the draw, I can stop worrying about money.

I have decisions to make. And thinking to do.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The List

5 Things About 2015 So Far

5. Spent Friday night of my birthday with our friend the prison psychologist and his partner, hitting bars and then eating diner food. I like to remind our friend that he's not a real doctor since he can't write prescriptions. He, in turn, likes to remind me I don't know how to walk in high heels. I think that makes us even. Spent Saturday of my birthday weekend eating fabulous food (Out the Door at the Ferry Building, then Ad Hoc in Yountville) and luxuriating at a swank hotel that had its own pillow menu. (Hello room service, will you bring me more down pillows? You will? That's great news.)
4. Nine days until Oscar night. Oscars are a holy day of obligation for me. I have two more films left to see to complete all the major categories: Selma (Best Picture) and Whiplash (Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons). I've seen two of the five documentary nominees and none of the foreign language, and I think it may be too late to do anything about that. Must hunt around and see what, if anything, is rentable.
3. There's a great deal of stress and upheaval in my worklife right now. Do we do it all or do we target more precisely what we want to do? Where do we all fit in the mission? Is the mission clear enough to even me? I wish I had better answers. Strangely, reading stories about David Carr, who died Thursday night--at the office--is giving me hope. He saw things with enviable clarity. I will miss seeing his column every Monday, the first thing I went to in the New York TImes.
2. A three-day weekend should help alleviate just a little of the stress. There's puttering to do, and books and the full series of Bosch streaming on Amazon. I need time with my people. The people in my house are my people. My other people live just a few miles or a few hundred miles away.
1. Tomorrow may be a beach day. Moss Landing Beach, specifically.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Theme

That time of the year. Time to pick a new theme for the following year. Past themes have included "The Year of Hellacious Efficiency," "The Year of Grooming," and "The Year of Extreme Self Care."

It never, ever works out well.

This year's theme, in keeping with our garage being broken into for the third time in 2014, shall be "The Year of Fucking Happiness and Video Surveillance." And apparently, of buying new tools since they took every power tool we had, as well as half of the video surveillance system Chuck was in the middle of installing.

I have to hand it to these guys. They chose a window not visible from the house or the street, with a very tight entry that abuts a brick wall separating our property from the funeral home parking lot next door. Then they pried off the sheet rock Chuck had screwed down over that window, broke the glass, knocked over the shelving unit in front of that window and went to town. Tile saw, table saw, jig saw, tool box, etc. Gone baby gone.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Camp Life

1. Sent Sam to programming camp this year for what's likely going to be his final time. He'll be 17 next year and he's going to need to get a job next summer. Last time to be a kid. There were no spaces left at Berkeley (his camp of choice) by the time we decided he should go, so he ended up at Stanford, making this the one and only time I'll ever be able to lift my chin and say, "Oh yes, we had to drop our son off at Stanford…"

2. Sam wants to follow the traditional path to world domination. Liberal arts undergrad degree, law school, state senate and then governor. I'm anticipating an insider trading charge somewhere along the way. He's very charming though, and likely will be able to talk his way out of it.

3. I miss him. There's nobody around to come into my room every night and ask for money. "Mom, you got any money?" Eye roll, fetch wallet, hand over the cash.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Morning Commute

Driving down Highway 1 on Thursday morning, dropping the older off in Monterey. Conversation as follows.

Me, looking at the ocean: You ever feel like going and taking a walk in nature?
Him, shaking his head slowly back and forth: Noooooo.
Me: Me either. What's wrong with us?

A few minutes pass.

Me: But don't you feel like you could walk five miles through San Francisco?
Him: Of course. It's setting, mom. Setting is very important.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Totally stolen from the New Yorker.

Name: Mary Duan
Age: 45
Neighborhood: Oldtown, Salinas, CA
Occupation: newspaper editor, columnist, writer, mom. 

Who's Your Favorite Salinan, Living or Dead, Real or Fictional?
John Steinbeck, duh. And I dearly wish he was still around today, because he would not believe the shit that goes on in his name. Also, former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, for his relentless optimism (he campaigned on the slogan "Imagine a Great City," to which I always added, "Then move there") and steadfast refusal to wear a tie to 99 percent of the functions and meetings he attended. I love Will Devoe and Imelda Suarez for bringing street art to the masses and introducing me to my new favorite artist, Cryptik. And finally, Todd Williams, owner of the Cherry Bean Coffee House, because he's angrier than me.

What's the best meal you've ever eaten in Salinas?
Look, Salinas might be known as "the salad bowl of the world," but this is not a town known for its culinary genius. Having said that, I miss the old Hullaballoo restaurant, because the did amazing burgers and great ribs and you could count on the quality, always. Our go-to place on Friday nights is Eagle Chinese, where the hot and sour soup comes with an angry red glow and the owner rolls the mushu tableside using a fork, a spoon and only one hand, always with a little smirk on his face. And Gutierrez Market, where the parking lot sometimes resembles an open-air drug bazaar (they can't help it--the neighborhood is a hellhole), does the single best take on carnitas this side of the border, and maybe outside of Michoacan. Crispy, salty, slightly fatty pork. And at Gino's Italian, the cannelloni is to die for. Very good red sauce.

Patria just opened in the former Hullaballoo space. Their cheese plate and a cocktail and I am a happy human. It has one of the most beautiful restaurant interiors I've seen anywhere, and that includes Europe.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I am an air traffic controller/hostage negotiator. I keep the trains running on time. I teach reporters how to be better reporters. 

Where do you get your coffee?
If I'm getting a cup in the morning before I go to the office, it's the Cherry Bean. If I have to wait and get it later, I go to ACME in Seaside.

What was your first job in Salinas?
I was freelancing when we first moved here. For a short time, less than a year, I was the Salinas coordinator for a program which sheltered and fed homeless adult men in conjunction with the local "faith community." I was ill equipped to handle the very real problems these men had been experiencing, in some cases, for many years. I was even less equipped to handle the treachery that went on among the staff and management at the program. I left after I was asked (told, really) to take the blame for the fact that one of the guys stole the keys to all the Salinas churches involved in the programs—the churches were unaware the policy was to keep the keys on the bus in the first place, and one Lutheran minister read me the riot act. I wasn't being paid enough to get yelled at by Lutherans.

What's the last thing you saw at Maya Cinemas?
So, confession: We stopped going to Maya Cinemas about three months ago because the COO signed on to a letter being driven by a bunch of Oldtown property owners demanding the city prevent the downtown Methodist church from providing services to the homeless. This despite the fact that the church is nowhere near the Maya. The Maya is, however, just two blocks away from Chinatown (home of Gutierrez Drive In and the open-air drug market.) Chuck has refused to step foot in the Maya since. But we broke down and went there to see Her, because it's nominated for an Academy Award and we try to see all the nominees in the major categories. 

What's your favorite medication?

What's hanging over your sofa?
Nothing, because it's not against a wall.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
$90. $90 is too much for a haircut. And don't get me started on a good colorist and what they charge.

When's bedtime?
Whenever the Ambien kicks in. If I had my way and could set my own schedule, bedtime would be 3am, but I wouldn't have to wake up until 11am.

Do you prefer the old Oldtown or the New?
I didn't really live here when Oldtown was Old. I imagine I would prefer the new, though.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
I almost never carry cash anymore, but when I did, yeah. Now that I'm all debit, all the time, I will usually offer to buy them a cup of coffee or a donut.

Brunch: Pro or con?
Pro. I love brunch. I'd rather eat brunch than any other meal.

What do you hate most about living in Salinas.
The racism. The violence. The us-against-them mentality. The fact that a small handful of good old boys still run shit.