Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City

Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City

by Steve Friedman


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When Midwesterner Steve Friedman arrived in Manhattan, the land of the quick and the mean, raring to go and ready to conquer, he soon found pitfalls and pratfalls more numerous and perilous than he had ever imagined. Here is his utterly honest, often hilarious, self-deprecating account of those fateful years, starting with his first job at GQ and his awkward efforts to impress his boss, Art Cooper, and including real and imagined love affairs, disasters at work and play, growing self-awareness with its inevitable bouts of depression and subsequent therapies—all of which fail—and in the end, a wisdom that promises better things to come.

In the tradition of Bright Lights, Big City and The Devil Wears Prada, Lost on Treasure Island is a witty rendition of the perils of growing up and being thrown into the real world. With sharp humor and unexpected sincerity, Friedman crafts an inviting portrait of the best of times and the worst of times. For all those who have confronted the endless opportunities of the Big Apple, only to discover how hard it is to succeed in this—or any—big city, this boisterous and often enlightening memoir will prove irresistible.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611458688
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Friedman is the author of four books, including Driving Lessons and The
Agony of Victory, and the co-author of two New York Times best sellers, including Eat & Run. He has written for Esquire, GQ,
Outside, The New York Times, New York, Bicycling and Runner’s World. His stories have been published in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Travel Writing and many other anthologies. Friedman grew up in St. Louis,
Missouri, attended Stanford University, and lives in New York City. Visit

Read an Excerpt



I am looking good. I am looking better than I have ever looked in my life. New wing tips, freshly shined. Well-scrubbed mug, recently shaved and lightly patted with aftershave. Where I'm going, the men like aftershave. I learned this last night. Where I'm going, men respect aftershave. Below my aftershaved mug, a brand-new, spread-collared, French-cuffed Egyptian cotton white shirt, knotted with a creamy silk tie of bloody, carnivorous crimson. The neck that wears this tie is not weak or vulnerable. It is not indecisive or womanly. It is not gulping, though it wants to. No one can look upon this neck and suspect that it awaits the thin blade.

I know, though. I know terrible things. I know, for example, that the humble but plucky moth caterpillar pretends it's a snake when it suspects another animal is about to eat it. I know this because for the past couple years, I have been studying clever insects on television late at night. I identify with the bugs. I relate to all prey, but especially those delicate beasts who masquerade as predators. They are my role models. Because I cannot writhe like a snake, and because I am at the moment in Manhattan, which is lousy with creatures that would like to devour me, I am masquerading as something else. For this I require protective coloration.

It is a simple item of fine worsted wool, exquisitely fitted, loosely draped. It is pearl gray, a shade so clearly masculine that it defies anyone in New York City to make me as a terrified and confused Midwesterner who bumped down at LaGuardia Airport less than twenty-four hours ago and whose life is unraveling so fast he has insomnia every night and stomach cramps every morning.

For the past four hours, I have been looking good in the GQ offices in Midtown Manhattan, where I have been summoned from half a continent away for a job interview. I have been looking good, and I have been sounding good.

"Sure, the Big East is tough," I proclaim to three lupine-suited, lightly aftershaved men, "but anyone who isn't looking for at least one team from the Big 12 to make it to the Big Dance this year is going to be very surprised."

I like the way this sounds, so I repeat the last two words. "Very surprised."

I learned last night that GQ has recently started running long sports stories. I sound good on sports.

"The Black Dahlia is a terrific read," I say, referring to James Ellroy's fictionalized account of a notorious murder in Los Angeles, "but if you want some really interesting crime fiction from that area, you should check out T. Jefferson Parker and Robert Ferrigno."

I learned last night that GQ likes crime and literature and wants to become more popular on the West Coast. I am sounding very, very good.

I talk about different brands of vodka and the middle infield of the Yankees. I talk about Andre Agassi and Bridget Fonda. I talk about serial killers and Caleb Carr, Mario Cuomo, and Anna Wintour. The moth caterpillar has nothing on me.

"We're glad you could get up here on such short notice," Art, the editor in chief, says. I have never heard such a sound. It is summer thunder and booming surf. It is more a dangerous meteorological event than it is human communication. One of his writers once described Art's voice as "having been soaked in jazz and whiskey." I find the description incomplete. It leaves out the menace.

"Me too, Art," I say. I like the way this sounds — especially the lack of quavering — so I repeat it. "Me too."

Then he asks me a question.

"Is this a downtime in your production cycle?"

GQ staffers, I will learn, refer to Art among themselves as "El Jefe," "the Big Man," and "Himself." He stands six feet tall and has a Samoan chieftain's paunch. Before my audience with Art, I had asked writers what he was like. Descriptions ranged from "a big teddy bear" to "brutal and sadistic." And now he was asking about downtimes and my production cycle. My first test.

With all the sounding good and looking good, I haven't gotten around to mentioning that two days earlier I had been fired from my job as editor in chief of St. Louis Magazine. In the midst of all the vodka talk, I haven't told the guys that I had spent a month in a drug and alcohol rehab unit seven years earlier and hadn't drunk since. With all the bonhomie and sports chatter, it didn't seem like the right time to bring up the fact that the notion of living in New York City, of working in the publishing world here, fills me with a terror so black and fathomless that my hands have broken out in blisters and that the outer layer of skin on my fingers has peeled, which has left me with smooth, printless digits and prompted my wisecracking dermatologist back home to suggest that I forget magazines and pursue a career in safecracking.

I finger the rich and luxuriant lapels of my pearl gray suit with my whorl-less digits. I put it on this morning in the dim light of the Royalton Hotel, where GQ has put me up. It is the smallest, darkest hotel room I've ever set foot in. The velvety worsted wool offers no answers. I'll stick with sounding good.

"St. Louis Magazine is always on deadline," I say. Words that wouldn't offend a gentle and house-trained grizzly or Genghis Khan. "It's just something magazine editors get used to."

"Heh heh heh," Art says to me and to the other lupine-suited editors. "I like this kid. I want to know more about this kid." Heh heh heh? Are those the baritone rumblings of a friendly, shaggy pet or the menacing growls of a ravenous beast? Art seems like a nice guy. I have heard that if Art likes you, he regularly invites you to his reserved plush leather banquette at the Four Seasons restaurant, where you discuss politics and literature and sports and eat tender, bloody meat. I have heard that if Art likes you, you are in magazine heaven. But if he senses weaknesses or fear, you're as the titmouse to the hungry ferret. I look at Art, and I think of the Man-Thing, the comic book hero whose adventures I followed with monklike devotion before my daily marijuana addiction progressed to cocaine and downers and alcohol, at which point I stopped following anything with monklike devotion. The ManThing, like Art, had a nuanced reputation. The Man-Thing possessed a preternaturally developed sense of empathy, and he could feel if you were happy or sad or confused, and he would try — in his giant preverbal slimy green Man-Thingish way — to help you. To know more about you. Heh heh heh. The trouble occurred if and when the Man-Thing sensed that you were afraid. Because, as the cover of every Man-Thing comic book promised, "whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch!" Because the Man-Thing was nine feet tall, though, oozing brownish green ichors, with three penile-looking proboscises protruding from his/its head, it was kind of hard not to be afraid. Which made for some complicated and unpleasant situations. People who hung out with the Man-Thing tended to get burned.

I stroke my lapels and try to keep the quake out of my voice.

"Heh," I say to Art and the guys, "heh heh."

"Marty, take this kid to lunch," Art booms. Marty is the managing editor, the number 2 man, and as quiet and as steady as Art is bombastic and volcanic. "I want you to get to know this kid."

Marty reports to Art. Art will decide my fate. "Getting to know me" is the last thing I want Marty to do.

Instead, I will encourage him to chat with the eager young fellow who longs to join the ranks of New York publishing, the industrious would-be editor who likes nothing better than finding and nourishing talent.

I actually say this, as we stroll through the cloud-covered canyons of Manhattan toward Marty's favorite Indian restaurant. "Marty," I say, "I like nothing better than finding and nourishing talent." I add a "heh heh heh."

Over chicken vindaloo and naan bread, I let Marty get to know the enthusiastic young man of letters who can riff on the glories of Elmore Leonard's Westerns and Jim Thompson's neglected masterpieces, the sports fan who can reminisce about the '64 series between the Cardinals and the Yankees, who admires the defensive genius of Patrick Ewing, the underrated offensive talent of John Stockton.

I encourage Marty to make the acquaintance of the guy who plays basketball often and whose girlfriend back home is an ophthalmologist. An active lifestyle and a successful sweetheart are necessary accoutrements of the GQ man, I learned in my dim hotel room last night — as essential as quirky cuff links (which I'm wearing, naturally; Big Boy, holding a hamburger). I let Marty get to know the guy in the pearl gray suit.

I don't mention that I am so well-versed in GQ's manners and mores because I spent seven hours the night before squinting through the gloom of my dim and glamorous hotel room at the year's worth of magazines I had borrowed from my girlfriend. I had never read the magazine before because most people in Missouri thought GQ was only for homosexual men.

I don't mention that I have been cheating on the ophthalmologist with a dermatology nurse, that I could barely look at the ophthalmologist as she helped me pick out the bloodthirsty red tie in St. Louis, that when she drove me to the airport and kissed me good-bye and told me I looked good, my stomach hurt so much that I thought I had come down with the flu and considered postponing my trip until the eye doctor reminded me (with a smile and an unbearably sweet tugging of my collar) that I tended toward hypochondria and to get moving. I don't mention that my stepmother is dying of brain cancer, that my father has been having fainting spells, that my skin-blistering episodes seem to coincide with the weekly brunches I share with my mother.

I don't mention that the writer who told the GQ editors about me is the old boyfriend of an editorial assistant I slept with when she was living with a different old boyfriend, or that at approximately the same time I also slept with that woman's boss, an editor, or that when the editorial assistant discovered my love letter to the editor, she accused me of being an "amoral creep," which I found disturbingly accurate even as I was admiring the editorial assistant's way with words. I don't mention that sexual misconduct has been part and parcel of my writing and editing life and has sped my professional trajectory over the years while, I suspect, hastening a descent into whatever hell is reserved for philandering and deceitful and stomachache-plagued, insomniac-suffering would-be writers with no fingerprints. I don't mention that while I have had more girlfriends than most men and am fully aware that some, if not all, of my exes consider me shallow, narcissistic, and a cad, I want true love. I need it. I don't mention that I hope to find it in Manhattan, and with it, a wife.

We emerge from lunch into a sunny Manhattan day, and I'm still looking good. Looking good, having just sounded very good indeed. I am commandeering the sidewalks of Midtown with the managing editor of GQ. I am strolling down 45th Street, near Fifth Avenue — I am taking steps into territory I have imagined since I was a child, the land of E. B. White and J. D. Salinger and Joseph Mitchell. I have arrived. The terror, the certainty that I will need to pretend I'm a moth caterpillar in order to survive here? The fathomless dread? They can be dealt with later. Right now, I belong.

I feel my lapels again. Not out of need. From strength. Looking and feeling good, I glance down at my suit. I haven't looked at my suit for hours.

What I see makes me dizzy. Jet lag? Doubtful. It's less than a two-hour flight from St. Louis. Bad chicken vindaloo? No, it's only been fifteen minutes. A trick of the light? I look again. My pearl gray suit isn't pearl gray. What had looked manly and predatory in the St. Louis department store and in the dim smoky mirror of the Royalton and in the fluorescent lights of the GQ offices and in the cloudy spring morning is now something else.

My suit is lime green.

Marty is saying something, but I'm not listening.

Midtown Manhattan at lunchtime is filled with suits. Black suits. Charcoal suits. A few brown suits — the effects of the Reagan years still linger. I scan desperately. I can't be the only one wearing a suit of such a hideous, heinous hue. I look, and I look, as Marty continues to prattle on about whatever he's prattling on about. Tina Brown? David Dinkins? Who cares!

Blue, black, gray, black, black, blue, gray. An optimist in khaki. But no lime green. Not a single lime green, not a solitary ... but wait! There, luminous salvation! Another lime green suit, moving toward us. Is it possible that I'm not a freak, but a trendsetter? Never has a shade made a man more grateful. I want to throw my arms around the other man in the lime green suit, to touch lapels. I want to smell his aftershave. And I will, as soon as I get a better look at the natty peacock.

Then I get a better look. He's fat. He's fat, and he's short, and he's sweating. Flop sweat. He looks like he just got off the Greyhound bus from Des Moines. That's what I'm thinking. A Missourian in Manhattan for less than twenty-four hours and already I despise men from Iowa. He's five foot six, a short, fat, sweaty man from Iowa, and I hate him. I don't want to share the same city block with him. He's Wimpy from Popeye. He's a joke. He's bald too. And he's looking at me. I recognize the look. It's pitiful and beseeching. The fat bald loser is looking to me for reassurance. This can't be true, of course. A stranger in Manhattan — even a short, corpulent, badly dressed stranger visiting from the Corn State — cannot be in need of my reassurance. And I cannot be wild-eyed with panic. But he is. And I am.

"Steve!" Marty cries. And I feel him grab my arm. I can't believe he's touched the lime green suit. Is he color-blind? "Are you okay?"

In my haste to escape the corn-fed village idiot, I have lurched into the street, almost being run down by midtown traffic.

"Oh yeah, sure, Marty, I'm okay. I'm okay."

I think I repeat this a few too many times, because Marty is looking at me with something like concern. Or fear. Or confusion. I think I'm hyperventilating. I am not looking good. I am not sounding good. I need to get hold of myself. Or better yet, of the guy I thought was in the gray suit.

For the next three blocks, I try to focus on what Marty is saying, to pretend my suit isn't the same color as the kind of highlighter favored by eleven-year-old girls who scribble fuzzy hearts on top of their small i's. How could I ever have thought it was gray? Might I have an eye tumor? Shouldn't April have noticed?

"Steve?" Marty says.

"Uh, yeah," I say. I haven't heard anything he's said for the past half block.

"Why don't I take you back to the office now, and you and Art can have a sit-down."

Art? El Jefe? The editor who can smell weakness five miles away? The publishing legend who — like the ManThing, "a shambling, mindless mockery of a man," senses fear and can't help himself — is compelled to dispatch mewling cowards like me to their gruesome, fiery deaths?

I can think of a number of reasons to beg off — "My stomach hurts and I have to go to the bathroom really, really bad"; "I have to take this lime green suit off and carry it to one of those landfill sites I've read about on Staten Island, where I will bury it and sprinkle lime on the cursed earth under which it shall stay forever"; "I have to call my eye doctor girlfriend and beg her never to leave me" — but none that would make much sense to Marty.

"Uh, sure," I say. "Heh." I pray the fluorescent lights at GQ are as dim as I remember them.

"Great," Marty says and then lapses into a cheerful silence. I say "cheerful" because as he walks, he whistles, and as he whistles, he tilts his face slightly toward the sun I now despise. I suspect that getting to know the guy in the gray suit has been as much of a chore for Marty as it has for me, and he has decided to take a few minutes to enjoy the last few minutes of this pleasant day before facing an afternoon of finding and nourishing talent.

And it is a pleasant day. It is a pleasant day. I silently repeat this phrase to myself. It is a pleasant day! I repeat some other phrases too, strings of words the psychiatrist from the rehab center encouraged me to call upon in times of fear or self-loathing or despair. I am my own worst enemy being one. Things aren't so bad being another. This, too, shall pass being a third.

So I walk down the street, thinking these phrases to myself. It is a pleasant day. I am my own worst enemy. Things aren't so bad. This, too, shall pass.

And they work. The day is pleasant. Others wish me no harm. The sun is shining. My suit's not so bad. I'm the only one — and maybe the fat guy from Iowa — who knows what a shame-filled, secret-hoarding fraud I really am. I'm a man, not a moth caterpillar or a titmouse. I really need to get over myself.


Excerpted from "Lost on Treasure Island"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Steve Friedman.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note 7

Chapter 1 The Man in the Lime Green Suit 9

Chapter 2 Midwestern Decency Is for Losers 20

Chapter 3 The Starlet and the Stalker 32

Chapter 4 The Eyedrop People, the Bard, and Me 49

Chapter 5 Journalist of Tungsten 63

Chapter 6 Missy's Earth Suit and the Slavering Dogs of Midnight 84

Chapter 7 Looking for Mrs. Friedman and Other Really Bad Ideas 98

Chapter 8 You Get What You Get 111

Chapter 9 "Make It Meaner" 126

Chapter 10 Dear Dirtbag, I Identify with You 150

Chapter 11 Oy, Wilderness 190

Chapter 12 The Blondes in the Basement 196

Chapter 13 My Cold Wars 217

Chapter 14 The Fat Man Makes Me Cry 233

Chapter 15 Voyage of the Damned 250

Chapter 16 She Came from Cyberspace 261

Chapter 17 Cheeseburger Whores, Unite 290

Epilogue 300

Acknowledgements 304

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