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Bohemian rhapsody not all it's cracked up to be


"Life" in the Big City


by Ken Mondschein



For those just tuning in to this, the ongoing story of my life, let me do a recap. Previously on The Sopranos, it was revealed that I am 27 years old, work in publishing, and live in Manhattan, specifically the East Village. Now, to some people, this may seem like an exciting, adventurous lifestyle filled with excitement and adventure. After all, there are movies made about self-indulgent 20-somethings trying to make it as writers in the Big City. Hell, this could be a sit-com. And, since real life is always just like TV, obviously I live in an enormous apartment and have a collection of wacky friends who I hang out with, and I have a new and beautiful girlfriend every half hour.


Initially, I thought that working in publishing would be the chance to, you know, actually work on books and have lunch meetings with authors where I would say things like, "Dave, I'm sure that if you just cut out the part with the monkey, this'll sell even better than A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," and going to a lot of cool parties, where I would drink martinis and say clever things to pretty girls in black turtlenecks with horn-rimmed glasses and haircuts that feature cute bangs, who would then say "I want you to make love to me," just like in a Woody Allen film, because I'm such a brilliant genius smarty man.

Much to my dismay, though, I found that 98% of publishing is underpaid drudgery, none of which is in the least bit sexy, and most likely will not get you laid. For instance, my job consists mainly of (1) finding things on Google, (2) showing people, for the eighth time, how to download a Microsoft Word attachment from Outlook Express, and (3) spending too much on lunch. For this, I am paid about $36,000 a year, which is an OK amount of money if you're a sheep herder in Outer Mongolia or Toledo, but pitifully small when you realize I have a graduate degree and live in a neighborhood where an egg salad sandwich on white bread costs $4.50. (It is, however, really good egg salad.) If you want to get a job so much as making reservations so someone else can have lunch with Dave Eggers, you have to have an MA in literature from an Ivy League university, plus your uncle has to play golf with the publishing company's owner. And then they only pay you $19,000 a year, which is how much I made before taxes at my first publishing job. Girls never want to sleep with anyone who makes $19,000 a year. My girlfriend's an enlightened feminist-type, but I think she'd get plenty sick of our dates consisting of exciting activities such as "walking and talking," "practicing breathing," and "drinking water at public fountains."

Also, I found that I hate martinis.

The other thing people always say to me when they find out that I "work in publishing" is, "Hey, Ken, can you get my novel/poetry/picture book about my cat published?" The answer to this is, no. Everyone wants to be famous in this country. Young kids are convinced that their garage band is the next Nirvana. Senior citizens think that Mr. Whiskers Gets Neutered is the next New York Times best-seller. There are about two million people in this country who want to be authors, and, even if 99.9% get turned down, every letter from them on the desk of an agent or publisher is a letter under which my brilliant proposal is buried. If you really want to get published, you have to Know Someone, which means that either your uncle has to play golf with the owner, or you have to blow the owner in the men's room.

On the plus side, semen, while not as nutritious as egg salad, is less expensive.

Living in Manhattan isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. Sure, it's like being in a movie, but it's really annoying to have to cross the street when I'm walking home because they're actually shooting a movie on my block. Speaking of movies in New York, much like Kurt Russell in Escape from New York, I can't leave Manhattan. It may shock you or cause you to notify Project TIPS of my un-American activities, but I don't own a car. Having a car in Manhattan is more expensive than raising children or even buying egg salad because the six-foot-by-twelve-foot piece of real estate you park your car on is worth about ten million billion zillion dollars. And, because countries like Botswana have a better public-transportation infrastructure than the U.S. does, my little automotive shortcoming means that if I want to do something crazy like visit my girlfriend in Massachusetts, it requires a seven-day odyssey by bus and train. If shlep out to the 'burbs to borrow my Mom's car, finding parking in my neighborhood is sort of like trying to find the Northwest Passage. I have literally driven around my neighborhood for two hours, waiting for a spot to open up where it wouldn't be either spirited away by those rapscallions, the New York Parking Violations Bureau, or used for target practice by the local youth group.

Seriously, crime is actually not much of a problem in my neighborhood if you're alert and careful, but homeless people are. I think they actually have a union, because the job of "sleeping across the entrance to Ken's apartment" seems to rotate on a regular basis. Other homeless-people job descriptions include "mumbling incoherently to street lamps," "asking for donations to the United Negro Pizza Fund," and "standing in place and smelling real bad." (Often, however, this last group of homeless people is indistinguishable from the NYU students who also infest my neighborhood.)

If this hasn't turned you off an exciting career living the bohemian lifestyle, let me tell you about the living arrangements. In most parts of the U.S., $900 a month will pay for the mortgage on a good-sized house, or at least a decent-sized trailer. For $900 a month, though, I get one room. That's it: One fucking room. Sure, studio apartments in the East Village seem romantic, but try living in them. If I roll out of bed to my right, I'm sitting on the toilet; if I roll out of bed to my left, I can cook myself breakfast. On a good night, my neighbor the record producer will stop work at 3 AM so I can get some sleep. Also, I don't get to entertain very often, because anyone staying over had better be comfortable with sleeping in the same bed as me (that is, they had damn well better be my girlfriend).

Yup. It's a tough life, and I'd love to tell you more about it, but I have to run out to a party up in Chelsea. After all, I might meet that hypothetical cute girl who'd be impressed with my East Village style and give me an in to a job making lunch reservations for Dave Eggers—or at least someone who'll publish my book if I blow them in the men's room.


Wanna sub-lease my apartment? Send us e-mail at

Posted September 16, 2002 4:34 PM




You could always go to Penn station and take NJ transit to Trenton then change to Septa and go to Philadelphia where you will find a welcome home and a lot cheaper.

Posted by: Anne O'Rexick at July 24, 2007 4:38 PM



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