(One Hundred Open Houses was a book I wrote when I was sure I would never write again. I couldn't make my mind settle down. I couldn't make my body settle down. Both of these are necessary to write a full length novel. My agent, Charlotte Sheedy got me to write this book over lunch in a pleasant restaurant in Sag Harbor, New York. We had started out at a different restaurant but she couldn't find anything she liked on the menu so we moved across the street to another restaurant. She mentioned a book that was currently popular. You could do a book like that,she said. I was sure I couldn't. Of course, you could, she insisted. Bolstered by several gulps of Merlot, I agreed to begin. For the next several months I pulled this book out of me inch by inch. I was jumpy, the book was jumpy. I wasn't used to sitting still. I wasn't used to thinking things through and being honest. I have no reliable memory of how the book progressed from chapter to chapter. When I had only a few pages left, I was finally able to write smoothly and quickly. One day the book was done. When I read it through I fell madly in love with what I had written.)
My job started out as a place to volunteer and grew into serious work. I was thrilled to have a place to go every day in my new town and it was a step up from making hummus and baba ghanoush for the gourmet market down the street although I was thrilled to get that job at first because, in a way, it was my own business. I was a divorced woman in a new community. I sometimes went to the bank just for a little conversation with the teller. I wanted to ask the teller if she had ever been held up but that would have set off all sorts of alarms.
The man who owned the gourmet market made me do a taste run and then said he would carry everything I made. I hand printed the ingredients on all the labels and weighed everything on a postal scale. If I needed a pound of anything I had to weigh it in two containers. Everything sold out every week and there was a standing order for three pounds of the baba ghanoush and three pounds of tabouleh from a rich Turkish lawyer. The man who owned the market used to call out when he saw me. “Look, here comes the Hummus Queen.”
I was so happy to be connected to something; I never stopped to do the math to see why The Hummus Queen had so little money trickling in. The film festival job that tore me away was attached to a real paycheck, a commodity I was almost losing with the baba ghanoush. Instead of weighing trendy dips, I have to raise money with rash promises of a life-changing experience for corporations that would do better to put that fifty thousand dollars into a really great gym for their employees and get some word-of-mouth good will.
It’s Tuesday morning and we are all stuffed into the back office (Jelly Castro’s office). Shana Greene, our boss, has called a “Who Moved My Cheese” meeting to clear the air.
Jelly, who programs the films, is thirty-ish, tall and soft-spoken. It’s hard to believe he used to be a cross-dressing performer.
“I didn’t read the book. What does ‘who moved my cheese’ mean?” I ask
“It’s a way to help people through change,” says Louise. Louise is a classic small framed outsourced blonde who used to work for a Fortune 500 company. She uses her Fortune 500 expertise in this operation.
“Let’s go around the room and say how we feel.” says Shana.
I will not be saying how I feel. Its nuts to say how you really feel to anyone unless it’s a medical situation. If anyone’s like me, they feel a different way every five minutes. I think Shana has a spending disorder and makes dangerous decisions, but my fickle heart falls for her on some days. . When she’s friendly and jovial and especially when she admits to being afraid, I’m crazily nice to her. We go around and everyone says something. Shana and Jelly hug and the meeting is over.
It’s only ten o’clock and Louise and I are supposed to show up at a Home and Garden Show in the city that has given us a free booth and try to sell memberships and passes to the Festival. Shana asks me to drive her to her car in the long-term lot before I leave and as we’re walking she stops and looks at me. “We are not anywhere near our budget goal. You have to bring in at least three hundred thousand dollars in the next six weeks.” I would never have predicted that anyone would ever say those words to me.
“It’s still early,” I say. “Remember last year all the sponsorships came in June and July.”
When I’m on the highway, driving alone, I think ‘How do I look in this car? How does my face look?’ I probably look like a person caught in a freeze frame. I’ve been at this job for about six years and I’m afraid to leave it. I want to be tethered, as if I’m swimming off a boat but still holding on to a line.
I’m glad to be going into the city because ever since I fell into 9-G accidentally, I want to have that feeling again. It makes me think of the main character in John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer, who is trying to figure out his suburban life by swimming home through all of the neighbors’ pools and stopping to see what’s going on in each house. Early this morning, I went to a website to see if there were Open Houses on a weekday. Tuesday, it turns out is the night when realtors have evening visitation for people who aren’t around on Sundays. One of the listings is in a building called The Jardinium on East 40th Street, an area of the city known as Murray Hill or Kips Bay or Turtle Bay.
I have noticed that there is a trend among developers to attach names to new buildings that end in “um.” There’s a building in Miami called the Continuum. I guess it’s where you continuum your life after you vacate the Park Millennium in New York. The Park Millennium is where Ian and Alicia Stone, who look to be barely out of their twenties in the New York Times photograph, just bought six contiguous apartments. He’s a venture capitalist in case you want to know what business you need to be in to amass the kind of money it takes to say, “I’ll take all six.”
In the “um” buildings, they decorate the model apartment with that ultra modern, metal-legged smooth leather furniture by RolfBenz or Rochebobois. The kitchens are all SieMatic – no protrusions, no countertop appliances, no knobs on the drawers. This is the kind of ‘shock and awe’ silence decorating that makes you want to sneak to IKEA to touch a little bit of wood. I wonder what the big deal is with Sub-Zero? Is it just that it’s below Zero?
It took some doing to find the Home and Garden site. When I arrive at our booth in the warehouse space, on the very far West Side, Louise is talking to the only person who has bought a membership, a balding man wearing a white dress shirt. “What do I get?” the new member wants to know. “I want to go to parties with movie stars.”
After three hours of no activity except cruising the other booths for free stuff, Louise and I pack it up. I head for the Open House and experience an onset of anticipation that is close to excitement. I don’t know what I’m going to find at the Jardinium or how it will add goodness to my life – but that’s just it – I have no thoughts. I have reverted to mindless anticipatory glee, the way a pet must feel when it approaches a full dinner bowl after waiting all day for his master.