All the jobs I ever had: Amy Sohn

Listen to Amy Sohn: don't do crack.
Listen to Amy Sohn (in the pink shirt): don’t do crack, kids.

Amy Sohn has taken us inside the sexy world of a downtown newspaper sex columnist in her first novel Run Catch Kiss, and then inside the sexually frustrated world of the Park Slope mommeratti with her books Prospect Park West and its sequel, Motherland. Her latest book The Actress comes out tomorrow and explores something close to our hearts: the world of the frustrated creative type. It’s about a young theater actress in New York who meets a famous older movie star at a film festival, and falls in love with him, only to come to wonder later if he’s closeted and only married her for publicity.

Sohn, who got her start writing an autobiographical column in the alternative paper the New York Press (since folded), in the 90s, was a child actress herself for some of her first jobs. But she’s had lots more, including a particularly 80s anti-crack PSA. See her All the Jobs report below and then catch her book release party Tuesday at Book Court. -TD.

1. Mac Wellman’s Harm’s Way at La Mama E.T.C., Manhattan, 1985. 

I was 12. There were three kids in the play, an experimental fable about Jonestown, Guyana, though I had no idea at the time. We sang crazy music and in one scene, passed around foam rocks that looked real and then threw them at each other. There were a lot of gun shots on stage (not in my scenes) and I would stand backstage and hold my ears. I have a phobia of loud noises, which is weird for a native New Yorker. Mel Gussow reviewed our play.


Sohn (middle), in Dry Land, in 1986.

2. Cyndi Coyne’s Dry Land at the Judith Anderson Theater, Manhattan, 1986. 

I played a Boston girl with a troubled mother, and a lot of the play took place on a beach. Scrims were involved. I got to use real suntan lotion and do my attempt at a South Boston accent. A then-unknown Christian Slater played my babysitter’s boyfriend (before he quit the play to loop The Name of the Rose). For one scene, I was downstage with my mother, and upstage my babysitter was in a sleeping bag with Christian Slater. During a particularly long rehearsal, Christian and the girl just made out for half an hour, and I didn’t know if they were acting.


Sohn played a small role in this anti-crack PSA. She’s in the pink shirt (not the crack addict)

3. Anti-crack public service announcement, 1988.
Partnership for a Drug Free America. We shot on the Lower East Side when it was the Wild West. I played one of the friends of the girl who eventually became a crack addict. We had to improvise our lines and I wasn’t as pushy as the other girls, who understood that you had to maximize screen time by speaking as much as possible, so I am barely in it.


Rehoboth Beach boardwalk.
Rehoboth Beach boardwalk.

4. Mother’s helper in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, summer 1988.
I took care of two blond twins for a month and got them both potty-trained. Read Jane Eyre. Had my own room and bike, and met boys on the beach. The dad in the family later resigned from a brokerage house in the wake of a trading scandal. If I had known how much money he was making I would have asked for more money.


At the track in Saratoga.
Sohn at the Saratoga Springs Race Track with actor Mark Blum. Not pictured: Ethan Hawke.

5. Actress in Jujamycyn workshop of Albert Innaurato play, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, summer 1990.
I played the girlfriend of a cute college preppie who becomes jealous after he falls in love with a much older Italian sculptress. Most of the play was about the preppie and the sculptress, my role was comic and small. I did a Valley girl accent and said “like” a lot. The guy playing the college preppie was Ethan Hawke. He was just beginning to be famous and I harbored hopes he would fall in love with me. Instead, we went on long walks and he bared his soul but said he saw me like a friend. One night we all ate at a restaurant called Hattie’s Chicken Shack and I have never eaten that well since. Mother Hattie came to our table and took good care of us. One day off, we went to the racetrack. I bet $2 on a horse called Dr. Bobby A, won about $20, and spent the rest of the day losing it. Because I was too young to place bets, one of the guys in the play, Mark Blum, placed them for me.


Amagansett, home to Whip-it loving kids.

6. Mother’s helper in Amagansett, New York, summer 1991.
I was guardian to a two-year-old girl. I didn’t have much of a social life because I couldn’t drive and had no car. One night, I went out with a cool Manhattan friend whose parents had a place in East Hampton. She took me to a party at the home of these charismatic Greek-American brothers who were super-popular on the private-school circuit. Kids were doing Whip-its (they had bought them from canisters at the Barefoot Contessa) and jumping in the pool. Someone told me where there were extra wet suits and I put one on, but the zipper was in the front. A boy made fun of me. I think it was then that I decided to be a writer.


7. Canvasser, New York Public Interest Research Group, Westchester, summer 1992.
I knocked on doors in Westchester asking people for money for the environment. Dogs barked at me. We worked 4pm-10pm, took in 38 percent of what we made, and had a weekly minimum. When I canvassed Jewish families (mezuzah on the door) I would say my name was Aviva and ask them to give in multiples of chai. One girl from our van found a rich guy and would go to his house and have sex with him for the entire shift. Then he would give her enough money to make sure she didn’t get fired. I was both horrified by and very jealous of her.


8. Cafeteria worker; Janitor; Cashier; Telemarketer for Annual Fund, Brown University. 1991-1994.
Work-study. I had to do these to get my loan. One cafeteria job involved slicing bologna. Another was replenishing cereal boxes. The worst was janitor — I vacuumed dorm hallways. Rich kids always said, “Can you vacuum my room? It’ll only take a sec.” I joined the International Socialist Organization and later got arrested in a protest in support of need-blind admissions.


9. Counselor, progressive summer camp, Thetford Center, VT, 1993.
My first and last foray into the education of young minds. I fell in love with the camp cook. He was a chainsmoking aspiring novelist and introduced me to Bukowski, Fante and Hamsun. He was into Mahler. Basically all his ideas about art came from Bukowski’s writing. After the kids were asleep we would all hang out in Adirondack chairs and talk and laugh.

My specialty was drama and I directed the kids in David Mamet’s The Poet and the Rent.  I was also a bunk counselor and didn’t like it, because I was lazy. During cleanup I got tired of yelling at the girls to clean and instead would sit on the edge of my bed reading Charles Bukowski or writing in a diary about the camp cook. One day the activities director came in and found me on the bed. When I tried to get re-hired the following summer during a reunion, the camp director turned me down, citing the cleanup bed incident. I’d been ratted out!


Sohn, left, doing tourist reporting at a hot air balloon ride in Sweden.

10. Tourist information reporter, Bandit Radio, Stockholm Sweden, 105.5.
I went to Sweden for my junior spring semester because I thought the guys would be hot. I wound up getting a job at an English-language radio station, staffed mostly by American guys who were married to Swedish women. I would do touristy things like visit the Strindberg museum or go for a hot-air balloon ride, and then report on them once an hour for eight hours a day — the idea being that American tourists would listen to my reports in their hotel rooms. My theme song was the music for the Imogene Coca show “It’s About Time.” One overnight, I was allowed to do a DJing shift. I played Hole and Liz Phair and kept saying, “Rock is dick.”


The HQ of NYPIRG on Murray Street.
The HQ of NYPIRG on Murray Street.

11. Telemarketer, NYPIRG, Manhattan, 1995.
It was my first job after college. Five nights a week calling people who’d given money and asking them to give again. This one had an hourly rate. I had trouble making my minimums and I got a lot of hangups. We worked from the Murray Street offices of NYPIRG and there were a lot of weirdos and freaks in our group. But my supervisor, Francis “Faceboy” Hall, hosted an open mike and after I told him I had been writing stories about boys, he invited me to perform. I think I quit after a couple months.


 12. Advantage Staffing, Long Island City, 1995-1996.
Through this agency, I was a temp at Ziff-Davis, Citibank in Long Island City and Lazard-Freres. I answered calls and typed things and when I wasn’t working I read novels under the desk. (I wrote about temping here too.)


Sohn and coworker Tony Millionaire in her NY Press days.
Sohn with illustrator Tony Millionaire in her NY Press days.

13. Columnist, New York Press, 1996-1999.
After a bunch of bad dates I wrote a story called “The Blow-Up Boyfriend” about how I wished I had an inflatable lover. Got a job writing a column for New York Press called “Female Trouble.” My editors told me all of my writing would be “eminently illustratable.”


14. Personal assistant to misanthropic musician, 1996.
He hired me right after he blew out his leg playing basketball so he was very unpleasant. I helped him limp around the apartment and brought him pot. Sometimes I helped him get to the bathroom on crutches. He was laconic and funny and taught me the Cockney alphabet even though he was American. On my very first day he sent me to Tower Video to rent Jaws and Swimming with Sharks.


15. Pharmaceutical drug namer, 1996.
I named drugs for a branding company for $1/name, based on short descriptions of what the drug treated. I may have named Zoloft but if I did, I relinquished all rights. Sometimes the misanthropic musician helped me, which means that he and not I, may have actually named Zoloft.

Sohn's latest novel, The Actress, is out Tuesday.
Sohn’s latest novel, The Actress, is out Tuesday.

16. Author, 1996-present.
I sold my first book, Run Catch Kiss, to Villard, a division of Random House. My publisher was David Rosenthal. He had published Rush, which had recently been made into a movie. “Kim Wozencraft is a narc-turned-novelist,” he said. “You’ll be a sex columnist-turned-novelist.” It took me fifteen years to live that down.

Follow Amy Sohn on Twitter: @amysohn and catch her Tuesday at Book Court.

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