Sunday, May 31, 2009

You didn't know the country mouse sports dreadlocks?

Of course he does. I know this because he's my brother, Jesse. And that dreadlocked country mouse just headed all on his own to New York City. Again.

Apparently Prince Harry had the same idea and they are hanging out right now as I type. Reading about Jesse's NY adventures on his blog ( made me think about my first and only trip to New York City.  

I went with my big brother. It was about four years ago and Jesse was giving the whole "children's book thing" a try. I'd already attended a number of SCBWI conferences and the Haystack conference. This time it was the SCBWI annual winter conference. Jesse had arrived two days earlier than me for the Illustrator's day. 

After flying in to JFK and taking a shuttle to our hotel in Manhattan (I think one of the Marriott hotels), I was about ready to turn around and head straight back to microscopic Port Townsend. 

My face was glued to the window as I absorbed this strange immense world. I felt like the immigrant in The Arrival. My senses just couldn't cope. The drivers, the buildings, the mass of it all. I had felt similarly in Bangkok, Thailand but I was expecting that to feel foreign (duh). But in New York I'd brought some preconceived notions. I had entered the cultural center of the world, as important today as Rome, Athens, Babylon, Beijing or London had ever been. The NYSE, The United Nations, the Met, NY Public Library, Kramer. And I was half-expecting to get mugged, shot or raped any second. The reality of encountering that city and its mystique in person awed me into a mild state of shock. 

After surviving the shuttle ride (thank God), I checked in, found our room and checked and rechecked the door of our room. Evidence of another Watson boy was strewn about the room. I peeked out the curtains to the opposite skyscraper and however million floors down to the concrete ant sidewalks and streets far below. I curled up in the corner of the huge bed. I carefully unfolded the SCBWI winter conference schedule and reread it for the ten-thousandth time that day until the phone rang. 

It was my big brother. He was making sure I got there ok and seeing if I wanted to go out with a friend in Harlem. I could hear lots of people laughing in the background.

"Yeah, we'll take the Subway, it'll be awesome." 

Two things I was not ready for was Harlem and subways. Or going out for that matter.

"Ok, tomorrow night then," Jesse said then added, "New York is so f#@'ng cool." A few minutes later my dreadlocked country mouse brother walked through the door with a huge smile on his face.

He looked down on me turtled up, still wearing my jacket, sucking my thumb.

"Isn't New York so cool?"

Turns out, in addition to the conference, my big brother had already travelled around on the subway by himself, FIGURED IT OUT, checked out half of New York, not the tourist parts either, and basically almost become a local in two days time. I, on the other hand, felt like a baby refusing to believe he'd just been born. 

We looked at each other and at that moment I understood that my brother was much braver than I was. Especially in this urban jungle. 

In the middle of the night Jesse finally coaxed me out just in front of the hotel to a guy on the street selling the grubbest of grub and cheap Indian food (or was it Mexican?). At night the line stretched down the sidewalk. Weird. And awesome. Even McDonalds closed at night in Port Townsend.

The conference was amazing for both of us, especially because I was there with my brother. Jesse entered a piece of his artwork from a turtle story he was working on in the SCBWI New York Showcase and won the grand prize. When it was announced I was so excited I forgot to film him going on stage and getting his award from Lin Oliver. When I finally realized I was holding his camera at this pivotal moment in his career, I whipped it out (the camera) and shakily filmed the tail end of him walking back to his seat looking red-cheeked and squinty-eyed. Jesse always gets squinty eyes when he's trying to smile at people with his mouth closed and he's embarrassed or shy. These are things little brothers know.

We were so excited afterwards that Jesse called his mother right away with the good news.


Yes, that's right. Not his WIFE at home with his son. His MOTHER. Man us Watson boys got issues. 

The rest of our trip we both made the rounds to publishing houses. That is I had the great privilege to meet and go to lunch with The Great Arthur Levine at Scholastic, who I try to call Awdie with my pathetic New Yawkah accent. New York is the children's book publishing center of the universe. We were both dwarfed by the magnitude of it all but had a brilliant time. 

While we were there Christo was preparing to unveil his Central Park installation art piece, The Gates. Jesse finally did get me on the subway and we did some tourist stuff. I didn't get to go to the New York City Library. But that will be my first stop whenever I go back. I read somewhere that the lion statues out front were named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor Fiorello LeGuardia because these were the qualities New Yorkers would need to survive The Depression. 

My big brother has since gone back to NY on his own to "pimp himself", do some school visits and to promote his book Chess Rumble. 

He's back in NY again right now by himself to promote his new picture book, I and I and to make the rounds again, including the huge BEA. I'm very proud of my big brother and how hard he has worked to make a career as a Children's Book Illustrator. I foresee very good things for him and can't wait to see what is in store. 

Jesse made a DVD of our trip together and when he gets back home maybe I can get his help getting it on here. The two yokels visit the biggest city. 

New York is an amazing place and the more I learn about it, the more I want to. I loved and was completely intimidated by that city. I can't wait to go back, but I don't see any trip beating the one time I went there with my big brother. 

Have fun Jesse. Wish I was there with you. Though I'm sure you'll tell Mom all about it so I can ask her. Just maybe call your wife first with the good news this time. 


  1. So glad you are in the blogosphere, Ben! I love the NY story with you and your brother. Hope Jesse kicked butt this weekend.

    And your family is adorable. Is Linus an ocean howler? Our lab howls when he sees the ocean, too, it is one of my favorite things.

  2. Thanks Jaime. But I'm just getting started. Your blog is amazing and funny and clever and... I'm jealous.

    Congratulations on getting married too. Pretty cool that you left the ceremony in a low rider. Or was it that you and your new hubby stole a low rider to drive off into the sunset with the bass thumping. Now THAT's romance. Look forward to reading your blog. (I'm watching the Jon Scieszka clip right now)

  3. Linus especially loves balls and the water. Lately he has this really neat trick of not getting out of the water. I really love it when he does that. He's also regressing on basic commands like COME that he knows but now prefers to ignore.

    He is such a teenager right now. He basically just rolls his eyes at us most of the time and I'm pretty sure I caught him cussing once while he was talking to his friend on the phone. If I ever catch him smoking though, he'll really get it. Hard to believe he hasn't actually lived through a summer or fall yet.

  4. Ben, it was great to hear your version of that NY trip. You are one funny guy, and I think I have finally convinced Jesse to call me first but keep me posted on that.

  5. Will do. Nothing better than getting your brother in trouble with his wife. We Watson husbands don't come pre-trained. We need to be weaned into domestication with donuts and beer, cheap beer for Jesse, expensive beer for me. Or milk.