2004_09_amysohn.jpgAll About Amy
Because we're nosy: What's your age, occupation, and where do you live?
I am 30 and live in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, with my husband, a guitar, a
clarinet, and a lot of paintings.

You've essentially been a part of New Yorkers' lives since 1996, with your column Female Trouble running from 1996-1999, a short stint at the NY Post, and now your Naked City column in New York magazine. How does it feel to be not only a social anthropologist in the world of young dating New York but also someone some people might know better than their siblings?
If I am an anthropologist I am by default: I banged her head against the same brick wall so many times I wound up becoming an expert on head banging. I wrote a short-lived advice column in NYPress called "Ask Amy" while I was writing "Female Trouble," and a reader wrote in to say that it was crazy someone so clueless about love was giving romantic advice, that it was only a matter of time before I advised someone to pee on the third rail of the subway. (The best question I ever got was from a guy who said he had a lot of discomfort due to really big balls. I asked Tony Millionaire, an illustrator for the Press at the time, to give advice since he had famously big balls and he urged the guy to apply St. Ives.)

In my Naked City column, to some extent I am an anthropologist because I ask other people about their lives and learn the trends and dating neologisms. I enjoy all the insider terminology, the lingo people use to describe humiliation – my most recent column is on dating fadeaways, or paramours who disappear without any warning. I love hearing people complain about dating because it always reminds me that it's not just ugly and socially inept people who feel miserable, frustrated and unloved. It's everybody.

I most enjoy being an anthropologist of sexual subcultures: dominatrixes, strippers, female wrestlers, whores, trannies, trannie whores. For someone who has written a lot about sex I actually have a lot of fear and getting to know people in the sex industry has opened my mind a lot.

Having people think they know you leads to a lot of weird scarily personal letters. One guy sent a headshot and resume and a letter saying I should go out with him despite the fact that, as he wrote, "I'm goyim." Recently a guy sent a letter about a column I wrote on my husband's and my search for an apartment. The guy said he wasn't surprised I was having trouble finding an apartment, but that I had found someone willing to marry me. I used to cry when people eviscerated me in the Press but there was an upside. Once someone writes a letter that compares your vagina to rotting fish, there is really not a whole lot else that can upset you.

The comparisons to other female columnists who detail their personal lives, the most notable being Candace Bushnell and her Sex and the City column in the Observer, inevitably come up - how do you explain what your angle is?
I never set out to write about sex or dating – although these days many young women do, which is odd. Now we have women at every major college writing sex columns and aspiring to publish books with carnation-pink cartoony covers. I didn't try to have an angle either. I got my NYPress column when I was 22 and it focused on the primary concerns of a 22-year-old: finding a boyfriend, working shit jobs, getting drunk, feeling competitive with girlfriends, sleeping with the wrong guys. The environment was the East Village and Lower East Side of the mid-nineties, bars like Sophie's, Lucy's, the Cherry Tavern, Max Fish, Ace Bar, the International, Big Bar, Three of Cups, Hotel Galvez.

Candace Bushnell's column, which started in '94 I think, focused on north-of-59th-Street dating angst among women in their mid-thirties. She had famous fabulous friends and dated men with their own cars and drivers. Observer readers read it trying to guess who was who. The women in her column were looking for men with a net worth larger than that of all the men in the East Village put together. I wrote about getting laid and trying to get laid, always from a first-person perspective. She had an alter ego named Carrie Bradshaw and you never knew how much was true, which was part of the appeal.

As someone who has put her dating and sex life on display, you must (and do - link to your specific questions page) get some pretty bizarre requests for
dates. How often do you get offers for dates? Did you ever go out with any?

I have never gone out with a stranger who sent me a mash note. I had horrible romantic judgment but not that horrible. However, many times I was set up with guys, through friends, who I later discovered were fans. This did not make for long-term relationships. They imagined that I was jaded and easy. I was easy but also over-romantic and desperate for love. So we'd go on one date and then I'd start calling and asking where he was the night before, saying I wanted him to be my boyfriend. "But you're Amy Sohn," one guy said. "You don't want a boyfriend."

I said, "What column have you been reading?" because I always thought my romanticism was clear. They all saw what they wanted to see. Some wanted to be written about and others didn't. I went to a party once and hit on a writer who was working on a memoir. I wrote about it in my column, which came out on a Tuesday. We had made a date for that Wednesday and on Tuesday night when the column came out he called and canceled the date, saying if he was going to be written about he had to be the one who controlled it. Another guy, who is the subject of his own recent Gothamist Interview, actually rebutted my account of our date in The Mail section of NYPress, using the same pseudonym I had given him, which I found enormously flattering.

People seem so much more interconnected in New York than anywhere else in the world, and the chances of running into someone seem that much higher. How do you deal with run-ins with exes - both of the ex-boyfriend/girlfriend as well as ex-friend varieties? Any good guiding principles to share?
I remember being on my way into Joe's Pub one night when I saw an ex standing in front of the Public. I had to duck behind a car in the parking lot at Astor Place until he had gone into the theater. I have crossed streets, hidden behind benches, run into restaurants, stood in foyers. I say avoid contact at all costs. If it's too late and the person's walking toward you, just lower your head and look the other way. They may see you but the onus will be on them to acknowledge that they have. Also, when dating someone new, never ever go out of your way to greet someone you have slept with. It will lead to a conversation you don't want to have.

Do you believe in staying friends with someone after you break up?
It may speak to my general taste in men in the last decade that once the dust settled, there really were not many friendships of substance left. There are a few exceptions. The men I am friendliest with are either men that I dated so briefly it almost seemed not to happen, or men with whom I was friends for a long time before we dated, so transitioning back into the friendship was easy.

2004_09_myoldman.jpgLet's talk about your new book, My Old Man. It's about a young female
rabbinical student reassessing her life with a gentile boyfriend twice her age
and her Brooklyn parents going through some changes themselves, not to mention an oversexed neighbor. Why does this seem so plausible?

You didn't read the book yet! That is right out of the jacket description so it's not even a good fake! [For the record, Gothamist has now completed the book and we'd ask the same thing all over again, as well as "Are you into bondage?" and "Did trying to write dialogue for NYC indie actors (Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe) make you wish there were more movie star action figures?" By the way, Amy will be reading from the book tonight; details below.]

I hope that parts of my book are plausible, like the idea of living in the same neighborhood as [Jake's] parents. I grew up in Brooklyn Heights and now live in Cobble Hill. I have childhood friends in both neighborhoods that live within blocks of their parents. This is useful if and when you have children and need help taking care of them, but not so useful when you're single, on a first date, and see your parents coming out of another restaurant across Smith Street – which happened to me once. The guy wanted to introduce himself to them. Instead I made him wait with me in front of the restaurant until they were blocks away. It didn't last anyway because he worked in politics and said he couldn't date a journalist.

What was your process for writing MY Old Man - how long did it take you, etc?
I started the book in April 2001, when I moved from Brooklyn Heights to Cobble Hill. I had the idea of setting a novel in the neighborhood, the modern neighborhood, and making fun of all the 718 and bklyn T-shirts, the emerging hipster scene and restaurant culture. I had dated a few older men in that time and was interested in portraying a May-December affair from the point of view of the May. I finished the book in September 2003. It was a long and arduous process, because it was my second novel and I was self-conscious, I had been blocked for a long time, and because it has more of a plot than my first novel, Run Catch Kiss.

And how did you exactly secure the John Currin painting for the cover?
My husband Charles is a painter. Last winter we went to Currin's retrospective at the Whitney. When I saw The Never Ending Story, I said, "That would make a great cover for my book." I thought it was a real long shot but through a connection, I contacted the Gagosian Gallery and to my great surprise Currin gave us permission to use it. I have heard he is a really good guy and his generosity proves it. I am hoping this book will appeal to both men and women because of the cover.

You're married now. How is it to be someone's old lady?
I had never lived with someone before, so that was a big adjustment. I tend to have my head up my ass a lot of the time and it has been a process of learning how to take care of someone else, instead of just focusing on my own work and neurotic psyche all the time.

Until I was married I did not know that men like to take their socks off as soon as they come in from the outside, and then drop their socks on the floor. I do gross things too, though, like leave the cap off and forget to rinse off the electric toothbrush. Many of our fights have been about stuff like that. When you are single you take for granted the freedoms associated with singlehood.

The key to making it work is when they drive you crazy you have to laugh instead of kill them. People don't really change so you have to accept your differences. It also helps to go out and drink Silver Patron margaritas with your spouse and then shoot pool together, like you're dating.

I don't feel smug now because marriage is a challenge. I used to ride the F train glaring at the sappy Park Slope couple-y people. Now that I am a sappy Cobble Hill couple-y person I have had to find a new class of people to resent. I have selected the young Stepford mommies in Cobble Hill Park, who push their strollers in unison and say things like, "My husband wants us to go to his ten-year-reunion but I've just gotten Jackson into a good sleep pattern."

Did you feel you needed to get married to put an end to the crazies contacting you, or was that just an added bonus?
I was ready. I was 30 but felt 50. I was lucky to meet someone who was not interested in game playing.

As far as the crazies go, there aren't as many who read New York as NYPress so I haven't heard from them in some time. It is nice to have a six-foot-five tattooed husband come to my readings with me, though.

Who did you bribe at the NY Times Weddings desk to get the feature write-up? (By the way, Gothamist found it hilarious.)
Apparently it was the result of an inter-editorial competition – one editor was gunning for some other couple, another was gunning for us, and we won out. More people contacted me about that announcement than anything I have written in my 8-year writing career.

Your wedding dress was burgundy: Explain this bold, Jezebel-like move.
I never imagined myself wearing white. What a dumb hegemonic choice. Someone recommended the dress store Blue on Avenue A and St. Marks, so Charles and I went over to see what they had. The proprietor, Christina Kara, showed us that dress in burgundy and that was it. Christina is a real visionary with a great sense of humor, definitely the go-to girl for indie brides. If you know Greek swearwords visit the shop and say them to her.

You developed a great show, Avenue Amy, for Oxygen. Not only was it visually different, by using rotoscoping (animation-over-live action technique used in Waking Life), it seemed very honest about dealing with friends and dating. Naturally, it's not on the air anymore since TV networks are determined not to get the single life right. Will we see an Avenue Amy DVD sometime?
My cocreator, Joan Raspo, and I would love to do an "Avenue Amy" DVD if we can get the rights back. Oxygen canceled our show after September 11 because they lost a lot of advertising money. But it was not the right place for it anyway because they took out all the swearwords and dubbed in these weird dolphin noises. I am currently developing another TV project that will deal with twentysomething singlehood and thirtysomething marriage, but not for Oxygen.

Other NYC related questions:
What's your favorite subway line?
The F. It was the first train I spent a lot of time on when I moved into my very first post-grad apartment, on Clinton and Luquer. (Luquer used to be called Luqueer but someone homophobic had the signs changed.) I love the view on the F when it goes outside and the way everyone on the train seems to open up and relax (except for the people who whip out their cell phones). I don't love that the doors between cars don't open because I think it's unsafe.

I am a devotee of pre-walking, but frequently get confused, pre-walk in the wrong direction, and then lengthen my trip considerably.

What are your favorite and least favorite Brooklyn gentrification trends?
Smith Street is really suffering. All the standbys are now lousy. Grocery's terrible. Patois is mediocre. There are some new ones I like, such as Pacifica and Sammy's Coffee Shop. I like going to D'Amico in the morning because you realize that there is always someone crazier than you are. So far no good restaurants in Red Hook. Charles and I went to 360 and could not find one thing on the menu to eat, so we left.

The Cobble Hill gentrification is happening so fast that I had to change a lot of things in my book at the last minute. The protagonist, Rachel Block, is a bartender at Roxy, which closed last month due to lack of business. I had a scene set in Smith Street Kitchen, which disappeared, so I had to change it to Saul. The Atlantic Avenue Detention Center was still active when I began the book. Now it's empty. There is a pivotal scene that takes place in Studio Tavern, this amazing dive bar on Atlantic between Nevins and Third. The other day I saw that it's being renovated into what looks like a restaurant. Very sad. That was a great place to go if you were having an affair.

Best place to take your date to meet your parents.
Chestnut, if you can spring it. I recommend the homemade olives.

Amy will be reading from and signing copies of My Old Man at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble tonight, Wednesday September 8 at 7:30PM. She'll be on tour for the next few months all over the county, so see what neighborhoods from San Diego to Brooklyn she'll be in here. She also has a thorough website, amysohn.com where you can read many of her past columns and let her know if you think she should appear on VH1's 100 Greatest Red Carpet Moments.

And many thanks to Amy for graciously submitting to our numerous rambling questions; we really had no idea she'd answer them all!