Jane Borden wears a number of hats: Time Out New York editor, stand-up comedian and performer, comedy writer with credits ranging from The New York Times Magazine to Saturday Night Live, and now her first book, I Totally Meant to Do That, a collection of humorous essays detailing her bumpy transition from well-groomed debutante in North Carolina to New York City in her twenties. We spoke with Jane about Southern etiquette, why screaming outside Port Authority in the middle of the night is her favorite New York moment, and the lighter side of Stockholm Syndrome.
You say that your friends in New York find your Southern upbringing strange. What surprises them the most?
That's tough, because there's a lot. I mean, my grandmother and aunt once buried a topaz in their neighbor's backyard because they were so superstitious that they thought the stone was cursed. But, actually, although New Yorkers do find that astonishing, they also easily dismiss it as eccentric. I think the one custom that they really can't wrap their heads around is the will-you-have-some-salt etiquette rule. My aunt always taught me that if you want something at the dinner table, you can't ask for it directly; instead you offer it to someone else. So she might say, "Jane, will you have some salt?" And then I'm supposed to say "No thanks. Will you have some salt?"
And does your New York life shock your Southern friends?
I'm not sure they fully know what it's like -- but I guess that's about to change! What I mean is, they usually assume my life is like Sex and the City. And I don't disabuse them of that assumption. I'm afraid it would insult them to know that I live above heroin dealers, and between an expressway and a rim shop. They imagine that I haven't come home because my life in New York is fabulous. Meanwhile, my favorite New York moment was screaming in the middle of the night by the drunks outside of Port Authority, and knowing that no one would hear me or care. They think I'm Carrie Bradshaw. I feel more like Hobo Freddy Krueger.
Why is that your favorite New York moment?
It's so anonymous! No one in this city gives a flip who I am or what I do. I come from the kind of village where everyone knows everyone -- and it's wonderfully supportive and loving. But I wanted to disappear for a while. New York City is like that stupid Las Vegas commercial: what happens here stays here. Not because my bachelorette-party friends are sworn to secrecy, but because no one cares. No one is studying me. It's been helpful to remind myself of that whenever I do something really naïve.
Like what? What's the most naïve thing you've done in New York?
Well, during my first week in the city, I literally returned a man's litter to him. I saw him drop a piece of paper, and then caught up to him to return it, in case it was important. It was not important; it was trash.
What did he do?
He got angry because he thought I was being sarcastic. He didn't consider that I could actually be that gullible. When Southerners come to New York, they're like those island species of birds that you can walk right up to, because they've never been taught to fear, because they've never had natural predators. We're blue-footed boobies.
Is there anything you would change about either New York or the South?
No way! Their idiosyncrasies are what make them special. Oh no, wait: I meant to say, I would eradicate hunger and poverty in both places. Sorry, I almost forgot that the answer to the question is always "world peace." But otherwise, I love everything about both of my homes. It was important to me that the book not be critical. Or, that when it is, it's in adoring jest.
Yes, I see that you've called the book a love letter to your two homes. Do you feel that you're getting the love back?
That's the thing! My agent just pointed this out. Recently, long after I'd finished the book, he said, "It's interesting that this is a love letter, because in the case of New York, it's unrequited." He nailed it! And I hadn't seen it that way yet. But it's true: New York is not interested in me at all. And that just makes me want to chase it more -- even though the city is wearing me out and beating the crap out of me. It's like I have Stockholm Syndrome. Except, you know, funnier.