5 min read

Backs, saddles

Friday Letter // 00083
Backs, saddles

2019.05.17 // DESK // BROOKLYN //

This is Friday Letters, by Melissa Gira Grant (me), the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work and a journalist covering gender, sexuality, law, and power, as a senior staff reporter at The Appeal and a contributing writer for the Village Voice, Pacific Standard, and Valleywag (RIP). You may have read my feature reporting at BuzzFeed News and the Guardian, or my commentary in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or my criticism in Bookforum and the New York Review of Books. Or maybe you’ve followed some of my more far-flung projects, like Terrific City or w4m.club or What Price Love? or Coming & Crying. Or you were on LiveJournal in the summer of 2000, too.


Friday Letters was first on TinyLetter without an archive, then here on Substack with a subscription-only archive (were you a paying subscriber? And wondering why your subscription ended this week? Thank you — and that’s why. With the change of format, I wanted to give you a chance to re-subscribe only if you want), and now… still here, but as a totally free letter.

That’s because I want to write to more of you, more often, and to just keep subscriptions as more of a tip jar, really. Down the line, there may be a subscription-only special thing, but we’ll get there, if we get there. For now, welcome and welcome back.

April 2019, New Orleans, Pontchartrain Hotel.

The last time I was back there was right before the last staff job, and it was right to be back again, in another writer friend’s house, in another neighborhood (the Bywater this time, Gentilly last), assigned to leave the house at least twice a day to walk the dog and otherwise free to sit in the back office with the view out into the backyard, where I did steal some hours after all to start entering revisions to the [W———] proposal into the new computer.

And then I spent the last night of those 8 or so at a hotel, blown there through a downpour, waking up to this different light. In the lobby, there’s a framed reproduction of a page from A Streetcar Named Desire, which I had never read, and was allegedly written in the hotel — whose stationary Tennessee Williams used for that page, anyway. (I never read the play; I hadn’t read any Williams, other than a monologue from The Glass Menagerie I was assigned perhaps inappropriately in middle school, before I knew what “quinine” or a “cotillion” was. I bought a used paperback of Streetcar the next day in Baton Rouge and finished it on the plane home, though.) In the rooms, there are chandeliers and everything is either mint, dusty rose, black, or white. The desk is a real desk, with a real hardback notepad (I hope you are meant to take it away with you), and a real vintage (reproduction) desk lamp. I didn’t do anything at it. The bed was better.

You know my favorite hotel, or at least the hotel I always imagine, is the Sunset Tower in Los Angeles, the only hotel I know of with an in-house librarian to maintain the collection of books written by its guests, but the Pontchartrain is that, that glamorous, that still-wearing-its-patina, but without all the psych-up to slip through the lobby. It’s work to belong at the Sunset, or work at least to manage the other people who you think may belong more. The Pontchartrain takes nothing.

When I am back in October, if I am lucky or at least if I hit the deadlines I set for myself, I will be writing the thing itself here. The book is about being on the move, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work on it at home. I just forget everything I do at home, and when I pick it up elsewhere, it’s like someone else did the last round of edits.

I don’t believe in saying “it” ahead of time is a jinx. I have to say these things out loud so it feels like the days are passing with accomplishment. One of the only bosses I’ve ever had told me once to just list what I did every day so I would remember what happened, because we did most of our work alone, and no one else was going to notice. Which is what writing a book is like, or anything that’s not a blog post, maybe. Definitely a letter like this.

Can I remember the week? Not as well as the hotel.

I’m in the middle of a biography of Truman Capote and so far it’s all about money and apartments and hotels. I had one lunch in the city, and one work date in Brooklyn, and two “drinks” (one each). I received a royalty check and deposited it — amounting to 2/3 the advance I was originally paid. (Capote got $1500 I think for this first book, or maybe that was the option Twentieth Century Fox took on it… and that was in the 1940s.) I worked on the next stages of my Columbus reporting on police and my New York decriminalization reporting, still my two major projects this year. I had a box of Zapp’s chips delivered because I’m not really back from New Orleans yet. I sandpapered off a part of the excess grout around the bathroom window that had been left there long ago and every time I looked at it over the last seven years I was reminded that you can be kind of okay but that doesn’t mean you get an okay bathroom. It was gone in less than ten minutes. I put a bag of dry cleaning together (black silk full skirt, camel linen high-waisted trousers, two cashmere sweaters, a cream knit top, a mohair sweater) and left it on the floor. I wrote this and the elderly woman who does the mending at the dry cleaner walked by and reminded me. I bought a glass of wine so I could sit outside. I gave money to a bail fund in Brooklyn and I need to give money to an abortion fund in Alabama. I opened this window again.


Saturday, May 18th: I’ll be at the bookstore Bluestockings on the Lower East Side in New York, where there’s a new book club called Red Light Reader and for their first book they chose Playing the Whore. At 5pm I’ll be joining them for a reading and a discussion.


Kamala Harris brought sex work into the 2020 spotlight. Here’s what she should do next.” / Washington Post, 2019.03.02


This is Friday Letters. You brought me back.

Thank you.


// melissagiragrant.com
// 00083