I had this interesting experience recently when it came to a certain fruit. In the past year or two, I started to see a lot of people saying they didn’t like honeydew. It started with hearing people say, jokingly, “Does anyone really like honeydew?” or “Why is there always honeydew? Nobody likes it, nobody eats it,”
Truth was, I’d never really had strong feelings on the subject. When I’d first discovered honeydew, I certainly was fond of it. While this opinion is now unpopular, so much so that it still gives me pause to come out and say it…I may have even preferred it to cantaloupe. It was new to me, and sweeter, often softer, not as complex maybe, but also not as potentially funky — you often do end up with funky cantaloupe that seems just this side of rotten, I think, but honeydew is never like that. Sometimes I’d buy honeydew at the store, but it was often more expensive, or I couldn’t tell if it was ripe, so then I’d still go for cantaloupe, but that didn’t diminish how much I genuinely liked it. When I’d encounter it on a fruit platter, I was more likely to choose it than almost anything else, except strawberries (because, you know, strawberries!). In other words, I knew honeydew had its flaws, but I still genuinely felt good about it.
But then I started to see that a lot of people I know or whose opinions I respect don’t like honeydew. In the mainstream press, I noticed that The New York Times was saying, flat out, as if it were fact, that “Americans don’t like to eat it.” While the article evenhandedly pointed out that when honeydew is ripe it is quite good, it then went on to use this as a basis for arguing that it would actually be good for honeydew if people stopped serving it, because “A reduction in melon quantity may mean an improvement in melon quality.” At first that statement shocked me a little in its direct advocation of honeydew restriction, but since this was TheNew York Times, I started to consider that maybe this and other articles had some good points, which I hadn’t taken fully enough into account. It was often harder to find a really good piece of honeydew than cantaloupe. There was also a lot of underripe and overripe honeydew out there, for sure, and while the same could be said of cantaloupe, overripe honeydew definitely broke down faster, because it was so soft and sweet already. Maybe it really was being used on the average fruit platter as filler, or for color, not taste, as so many claimed. A large number of people did seem to leave it on the plate, implying that many, perhaps most, seemed to think they’d rather not have fruit at all than have honeydew. Then I noticed in the media that some people were saying even more surprising, less veiled, negative things, like “’I despise it,’" and “’don’t let it get near me,’” or that a “friend” of the author would “pick out any pieces of fruit that have even touched honeydew in a fruit salad because the taste ‘lingers on the other fruit, and I just can’t handle that.’” The more I read these opinions, though, the more they started to sound normal and acceptable to me. This became even more true when I started to see that, among a small subset of very intelligent and witty voices in the popular culture, some that I really admired, this dislike of honeydew had become such a given that the fruit was becoming the target of jokes. Bojack Horseman has a running joke about it being “garbage fruit,” and eviscerated it (literally) on its Instagram feed. As if to prove that millennials and people generally up with the trends recognize the inferiority, even hateability, of honeydew, Buzzfeed has had a few pieces on the subject, also joking about it being “garbage,” and even going so far as to make an entire video about the shared experience of hating it, with a theme song whose refrain is “Fuck honeydew, there’s nothing good about it,” and where, as a final punchline joke, a guy gets thrown out of a restaurant for saying he likes it.
As all of these ideas seeped into me, consciously or unconsciously, I found myself no longer wanting to eat honeydew. I even started to feel like there was something shameful in liking it. I mean, I did genuinely also like cantaloupe, I told myself. Maybe I really did like cantaloupe better. At its best, in a perfect world, did a good piece of cantaloupe beat a good piece of honeydew? I started to feel like maybe it did. After all, if so many people – tastemakers, even – made that assumption, acted as if it was obvious, why shouldn’t I just give in and agree? The day arrived when I was looking at a breakfast buffet one morning at catering, when there was only honeydew left, no cantaloupe, and I found myself thinking, “Maybe I just won’t have any fruit at all.” I knew everyone around me was thinking the same thing, because there was the honeydew, glaring at us all from the platter, sickly green. Nobody wanted it.
Then I took a moment, stepped back and realized what I was doing: caving in to something with which I didn’t actually agree, just because of what I saw around me as the general consensus. I was actually not listening to my own tastebuds because of things that people were saying. And I said, You know what? Fuck that. Honeydew’s not perfect, far from it, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. It may not be good all the time, no, but it can be damn good. Moreover, if that’s the choice, if that’s what we have at the buffet, am I actually going to not have fruit at all? I sure as hell am not. Because you know where that leads? Scurvy. And trust me, you do not want to get scurvy. I’ve looked it up and it’s nasty, and that is not a matter of opinion, it’s a well-sourced fact. You start to feel weak, then your gums bleed, and your skin, and eventually it can lead to personality changes and even death from infection. Nope, there was no way that I was going to let myself get scurvy – especially because a lot of what people were saying about honeydew was biased opinion, or even just plain lies and misinformation. Honeydew does not cause cancer, in fact, it’s recommended for fighting cancer, but while there are articles about the wondrous, anti-cancer qualities of cantaloupe, as well as using it for gout prevention, acne relief, and weight loss, they only occasionally mention honeydew, which also, as a melon, has all the same properties. All of the cases I could find of salmonella outbreaks? Cantaloupe, not honeydew. And while it’s true that honeydew is not good for your kidneys because it’s high in potassium, so you should avoid it if you have kidney disease, that’s only true to the same extent that you should avoid cantaloupe — so why doesn’t anyone talk about that?! I realized — and it was just amazing to me — how people were overlooking the truth, or the details, in favor of their personal biases and emotions, how easily those emotions were whipped up into a populist frenzy, and how quickly that frenzy had coalesced into a powerful force that drowned out dissenting voices. It seemed like the thing about honeydew was that people just didn’t like it, because that was how everything out there was telling them to feel.
So I went back to eating honeydew, and I owned it. If anyone sees me eating it, or asks, or sometimes even if they don’t ask, even if it sometimes does get me odd looks, I tell them that I like honeydew, plain and simple. Because the truth is that I do, and I always have.
Here’s the key thing: it didn’t take very long, or very much persuasion at all, for me to start thinking that I didn’t; to accept honeydew hatred as, first, just an idea, then a funny joke, and then, way too quickly, the norm. And I’m a smart person. I research, I listen, I think. So why had I doubted my own thinking, my own taste? Why did I so easily let people convince me that my experience was invalid? Why was it so easy to let myself be convinced by the general opinion, or a popular one, or the one that was the loudest and strongest? Checking yourself is good, thinking and even rethinking can be good, but going along with the masses who hate something just because it’s easy, because it seems like the thing to do, is a big, scary mistake.
And that is something that’s going to be very important for us to remember and recognize in the next four years, because, as a country, we are going to be challenged a lot on what we believe. Things are likely to get turned upside-down, or at least start looking that way, and the people trying to make them that way are going to have their own “news” and “facts” to back them up. You know this is true because it’s already happening, and judging by everything we’ve seen so far, that’s nothing to the way we’ll feel once this new government gets to work in 2017. Having the courage to think for ourselves under great pressure is going to matter, a lot. There’s so much misinformation out there that it’s easy to hear and jump on and pass on to your friends — you know you’ve given in to the impulse to post first and fact-check later, like we all have, “because a lot of people were saying it and it just made so much sense" — and must, instead, invest the time to check the source, figure out where the evidence lies, and think. The opinion that is knee-jerk, popular, sounds simplest or cleverest, or is just plain loud enough to drown out everyone else is often the easiest one to believe. Resist. Check yourself. Do the research. Listen to the experience of others, and especially look for that of the minority, the one you might not be hearing because it’s not so easy to find. Form your own opinions carefully, with facts and reason to back them up. Don’t let people bully you into believing you don’t like something you actually do, or that you believe something that you don’t. Or worse, that you just don’t care, or that it doesn’t really matter.
Because that, my friends, is how we all get scurvy.
I used to work on a lot of Verizon commercials. Like most of my jobs, it was just the luck of the draw. One person I worked for fairly often worked for a production company fairly often that got the Verizon commercials fairly often, which tells you something about the tenuousness of our livelihoods as freelancers working in production. I should say some of the Verizon commercials, because there were a lot. Once upon a time, Verizon spent a lot of money on TV ads, enough that they had different lines of commercials the way companies have different lines of products — the James Earl Jones ones, the Test Man ones, the ones with The Network. There really was something for everyone, including me, for whom that thing was $$$$. Unfortunately, that’s not the case any more. Today, with many people cutting the cable company cord and no longer watching TV the traditional way (including us), corporations are having to look for new ways to advertise other than the traditional TV commercials that I used to work on. They’re spending less on those and more on whatever else they can think of, which includes Internet/social media ads that nobody clicks on except by mistake; “branded content,” which is basically just cheaper and sometimes longer ad-type things that they make for the web, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, which they generally shoot for a lower budget with a smaller, non-union crew; social media campaigns where they hire some underpaid millennial drones to operate the Verizon Facebook page, @verizon Twitter account, and @verizon Instagram account in the hope of drawing clicks and eyeballs there; and basically whatever else they think might stick. Which tells you even more about the tenuousness of all of our livelihoods, since I and many of my colleagues used to work on commercials almost exclusively, jobs that paid better, had shorter days and way better craft service than television shows, which is now what we’re stuck doing nearly all the time. It’s crazy how fast your lifestyle can change when you go from ten-hour-or-less fairly stress-free days, in which you have downtime to spend socializing or reading because you only aim to shoot maybe 30 seconds of airable footage, to 14-hour-plus ones in which you’re trying to capture five to ten minutes, and so you hardly stop moving for an entire day by whose end your fondest wish is just to sit down.
Anyway, I used to work for Verizon a lot, and so I worked with the Test Man a fair amount. That’s the guy who used to wear a Verizon jacket and walked around saying, “Can you hear me now?…Good!” He was, IRL, an actor named Paul Marcarelli. Paul was a nice and easy-to-work-with guy under a fairly draconian contract that nevertheless paid him a shit ton of money, apparently. He was required to do a certain number of commercials and live events per year, and he couldn’t take any other acting jobs that might besmirch the image of Test Man, despite the fact that Test Man didn’t really have any image or character to speak of. It was a pretty limited part, which got even more limited as time went on. Eventually, he stopped saying “Can you hear me now?” and he just said “Good!”, and then eventually, they even got rid of that so he was just nodding and smiling, and then they eventually got rid of him. He played Test Man for about ten years, though, and the commercials led to a certain amount of fame for Paul, who was always recognized on the street, and forced to listen to other people say his one famous line to him, as if that would ever be something he would want. People also apparently asked him about their bills, tried to pick him up, and hug him, and other random things that you do to people that you feel you know because you’ve seen them so often on TV (remember, a LOT of commercials). And it’s different, I think, with a big celebrity, because they are a name quantity, someone of whom you are generally at least somewhat in awe — even for me sometimes, and I work with them — for some iconic work they were in when you were 15 (like Michael J. Fox or James Spader, both of whom I’ve worked with a few times but would be hard-pressed to act normal around because they loomed so large in my adolescence). With a commercial actor who plays someone who just works for the company, it seems people don’t feel intimidated, they want to hang. But anyway, Verizon stopped doing his spots, and he disappeared from everyday viewing for a long time.
Given the way fame works in our culture, however, he recently reappeared, this time in ads for Sprint. In case you’ve been living in another country or under a rock, the American cell phone service carriers have been locked in a battle for domination ever since, well, cell phones, and even before, when they were conventional phone service carriers fighting over that (remember those days, when you paid for a phone that wasn’t your cell phone, and had to figure out who charged least for long-distance calls to the state in which your parents lived?). Verizon and AT&T have been on the top forever, with other carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile trying to chip away at that any way they can. So Sprint decided to hire Paul, five years later, to say he’d switched to Sprint because the networks are now close enough in quality that there’s no reason to pay as much more as Verizon customers do. That’s their narrative: that Paul was playing Test Man for Verizon but he’s being himself for Sprint: a real person who switched of his own accord and then decided to do ads for them. And you see that depicted across the brand, from the ads themselves (warning: YouTube has gotten to the point where you have to watch an adin order to watch an ad??), to articles about Paul and the campaign, to nearly all of their Twitter accounts – because yes, there are several. Now that social media is a huge part of advertising and marketing in a way it wasn’t five to ten years ago, Sprint has @sprint (advertising), and @sprintcare (customer service), and @sprintbusiness (”business resource”), and @SprintSMB (small business), and @sprintnews (corporate “news”), and @SprintLatino (”Nuestra meta es proporcionar experiencias increíbles”), and @sprintforward (”here to unleash the power of mobile technology”), and then all the regional/local ones (@Sprint4NYC, @Sprint4Chi, @Sprint4SoCal – are you getting yet what a rabbit hole @sprint is????).
Anyway, when I saw these ads, my first thought was sort of sad disappointment. Because I had a narrative in my head that said, This guy hasn’t done any recognizable acting gig since Test Man, and now he can get hired only to bash his old company? I thought it was especially sad when I saw the @thatwirelessguy Twitter account. That account has Paul’s face on it and tweets and retweets about Sprint wireless service and things related to Sprint wireless service — Sprint commercials, people in Sprint commercials, hashtags like #LoveWorkingWithSprint, #TheSwitchIsReal, #UpgradeSeason, #LiveUnlimited, and mobile phones, mobile apps, and…jogging with glasses, and pugs. In fact, its first tweet was, “My dog just slurped directly from my cereal bowl and I’m okay with it. #Puppylove,” which just doesn’t in any way seem like an advertisement for cell phone service. But it is: it’s an advertisement designed to look like a person. It was designed to look like Paul, who as we know, wears glasses, and also, apparently, has two rescue pugs of whom he is quite fond. I know this because he has his own Twitter account, which is not @thatwirelessguy, with a picture of him that looks like it’s from the red carpet at a film festival, with a more fashion-forward haircut and glasses than Test Man. He does occasionally retweet something about Sprint (that might be in his new contract), and he does use the glasses geek emoticon that That Wireless Guy does, and tweet about dogs, just to make it all more confusing — no doubt at least somewhat on purpose, because for That Wireless Guy to fulfill its function, it has to appear to not be just an account created by one of those underpaid Sprint social media drones to tweet and retweet things that might make you want to switch to Sprint.
Because the real Paul is much more often tweeting about his own writing and producing projects, because, as it turns out, Paul does commercial acting as his day job to pay for his creative endeavors, like this documentary and this feature, kind of like, oh, me and almost everybody I know in the film business – a much more complicated but real story about who he is. Overall, being Test Man or That Wireless Guy was/is just one part of his life as a real human being, as you can also see from the way he responds to tweets calling him a “fake friend sellout” and “hoe” and other ridiculousness. And when I realized that, I realized that the “sad” narrative that I defaulted to in my head for Paul was actually one that I’d gone to not because it said something true about him, but because it was comfortable for me. It made me feel better about my life and the fact that I’ve been struggling away at this film thing for so many years with not as much as I’d like to show for it. Thinking Paul was just an actor stuck in his own rut made me feel a tiny bit less bad about my own.
Mind you, I’m not the only one who does this: substitutes a narrative that suits my needs for reality. If you look at Paul’s Twitter feed and the feed of That Wireless Guy, you’ll see that many people have their own narratives about who Paul is, and reactions like mine, only worse. There are dozens @replies calling him a rat, a bitch, a douchebag, a turncoat, a traitor, a fraud, etc, or tweeting things about his husband, or wishing well and ill on his real and unreal pets. Because his face is also on the Sprint Care account, you even get random tweet threads like this, which mix people’s strangely strong reactions to Paul’s defection with robotic customer service. Now, I recognize that partly, this is just Twitter and what Twitter does. It goes back to what I was saying about how, in the past couple of decades, we’ve built this crazy situation where we think we actually know these people who have appeared on our idiot box, some of them because they can act or sing or whatever, but others who have ended up there and thereby become celebrities for not necessarily any good reason other than that they know how to attract attention, often with bad behavior. Twitter gives us the opportunity to reach out to those people, and do it right now, thanks to the instantaneous nature of electronic messaging — which you would think at this point we would know better than to use without extreme caution, because who hasn’t at this point drunk-texted, or angrily and mistakenly replied-to-all, or sent late-night lust-engorged Ambien online dating site messages, or the like? (Not that I would know anything about any of those situations myself). And yet, so many of us tweet our worst impulses with abandon and foolishness and familiarity, and sometimes substance-influenced or temporary or not-so-temporary insanity or just plain stupidity, to strangers, who we somehow think we know or understand or have some claim to judge – not considering the fact that we may not actually be reaching them at all, but a social media team that tweets from their Twitter account pretending to be them.
But I I think it’s much bigger than Twitter. I think that, confronted with the many levels of bullshit that is modern media, where social media and corporate messaging and advertising and big media (all of which is now pretty much all corporate-owned or subsidized) have completely blurred the lines of interest and content between news and entertainment and promotion and self-promotion, more and more of us are all too often choosing the simple narrative: the one that we want to believe, the one that reinforces the view of ourselves that makes us feel the most okay. Add on to that the complexity of the modern world at large that this media insanity now brings into our living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens and offices. Is it any wonder that what I now see on Facebook (which is where I, like many of us, find a lot of my “information”), in the stream of lefty political posts that now dominate my feed, or the right-wing ones that I now have to seek out because I’ve unfollowed my few conservative connections because I find their posts so disturbing, and in the occasional arguments with some on both sides (I know), that more and more people seem to have stopped believing that any independent truth outside of their own world view matters, or perhaps even exists, and are just putting their efforts into supporting and defending their own simple narratives? That in the face of so much confusing information and “information”— and by that I mean advertising, opinion, bad science, rumor, all repeated and reinforced from the echo chamber of whatever community, virtual or IRL, in which we find ourselves — so many of us seem to be throwing up our virtual hands and saying, “Well, I can’t tell what’s real, so I’m going to just decide what is and make it so”?
Not surprising, no, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. I mean, I did learn growing up about Kant’s “Truth” with a big “T” and “truth” with a little “t”; I was taught that shades of grey exist in everything, and that everyone has a point of view that affects how they see the truth. But that made me question more, not less, and certainly not stop questioning altogether if something I heard sounded good to me. If anything, I feel like it’s the things that sound good that you have to question the most, because somebody is making them too easy for you to believe, and the truth is not easy – because the world is not easy and never has been, despite what those of us over 40, who remember something pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-9-11, might sometimes like to think. Have we ever had a war that was unequivocally “just”? Or had a president who wasn’t flawed, and who didn’t both cheat on his wife and/or sign into law some fucked up shit? Or lived in a country that didn’t make decisions, time and again, that made it difficult to see it as a very good country, let alone a great one? Of course not. It’s just more obvious how difficult and complicated the world is now, because we have access to so much more of it. That access can be a fantastic thing, but it requires more of us too: more reading and educating ourselves from more sources, more interaction and discussion, and most of all, more questioning. And that’s hard and often unsatisfying work, because our place in that complex world? Who the fuck knows? That’s why simple narratives that make easy sense are always going to be feel better. They comfort us by confirming everything we think we know already. That’s why they work, and the fact that they work is why we keepdishing them out. And I do mean “we.” I’ve spent all my years working in media learning how to create simple narratives, because that’s how Hollywood and the mainstream media teach us to tell stories: with the good guy and the bad guy and three acts and the dramatic arc and the happy ending. But in this era, when connecting and informing and entertaining and selling have become inextricably muddled into this syrupy-sweet cocktail of Give the Public What They Want, those of us who manufacture these narratives have to doing more too. We need to stop making the Kool Aid so smooth and easy to swallow – and then drinking it down ourselves, because we do, in spite of knowing what went into it, because it makes us feel good too – before we all lose the ability to handle anything else.
We may already be there. I feel like we have a candidate in this election who is truly willing to say anything because he knows a large constituency of people will believe him no matter what, with the implication being that if enough people believe something, that makes it true. The truth is starting to feel like a popularity contest, a crowd-source campaign, where if you can get enough of your friends to sign on and tweet and Facebook something, your “facts” win. If we don’t start thinking more critically on the one hand, and writing and producing and creating stuff that rewards people for thinking more rather than less on the other, we’ll become a culture of sponges who can only absorb the simple narrative, accepting and acting on the words of any orange demagogue who comes along and tells us what we want to hear. And we’ll all pay the price for that.
I’ve had a pair of distance glasses since freshman year of college, when I noticed that I was having serious trouble seeing what the professor was doing, or his/her facial expressions. It’s hard to say if that was when I genuinely started to need them, or if I was just taking big, freshman year seminars in university-size halls — much larger than my high school classrooms — and I actually had to start paying attention in class again post-senior year of high school, so reading whatever was on the board or on slides (this was pre PowerPoint. That’s how old you are when you are BA 1990) mattered.
I also got the glasses, however, because I wanted to try on a new look. College was in a new place, with new people, and since I’d already been the same me for 17.5 years, it seemed like time to do something different there too. Plus, since I only had to wear my glasses for class and for movies, it was sort of the best of both worlds. I could put them on when I needed them, and people would notice and say, “You wear glasses?” and have to look at me again — because we know that for women, a change in appearance isn’t just about how we look, it’s about who we are. Mind you, we, women, aren’t the ones who came up with that, that’s just how the world is. This is what every red carpet and every job interview is about, as well as every scene in a movie where the girl takes down her hair and takes off her glasses and is suddenly a bombshell, as if she weren’t before, and why men feel compelled to constantly make that the topic of conversation when it really isn’t. Some like to say it’s because “men are visually driven,” but I think that’s just a nice way of saying that they’re either evil, or dumb. I don’t think either of those things, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a wrap party and had none of the guys I just worked with for two months recognize me because I was no longer wearing ripped jeans and a dirty t-shirt. But, as I’ve talked about before, the fact that how I look matters way more than it should is just one of those realities I’ve finally accepted as an adult, so I try to work with it because what else can you do?
Part of what made me okay with trying glasses at college was that it was the first time that I was actually okay with looking “brainy.” First of all, growing up in the American suburbs, or at least in my suburbs in South Orange, New Jersey, being called anything with “brain” in it was an insult you wanted to avoid. At my grade school in particular, that meant getting put in the same category as Daniel Martins, who even I found annoying because he always had to boysplain (we didn’t know what that was back then, but he was doing it) everything to everyone with the most complicated combination of vocabulary imaginable. While I, too, had always received encouragement from my parents and teachers for being creative and clever, I was basically shy, and by sixth grade, there were other factors at play as well. I was a year younger than everyone else, and I’d already had trouble keeping up with how the rules for what we were supposed to do as girls seemed to keep changing every year — how clothes and hair, which I’d always ignored, suddenly mattered more than anything else; how you were supposed to not like boys, and then suddenly you were supposed to like them again. Now, it seemed that you could get away with being smart if you were a boy, particularly if you played soccer, but if you were a girl, it was not an option. You just didn’t see images of girls or women being smart in movies and TV shows of the 70s and 80s, let alone positive images. Velma from Scooby Doo was one of the few smart chicks, and who wanted to be fat, glasses-wearing Velma? And remember this awesome ad that summed up the conundrum? Amazing how it acknowledges that women don’t get glasses because they don’t want to look bad (thanks to, again, television) and makes them look incredibly stupid for feeling that way, until the man saves the day by making Alice get glasses and telling her she looks great — and then the ad ends on his face. Yeah, no wonder that when disposable, soft contact lenses became widely available in the 1980s, pretty much all of my glasses-wearing friends got them (and so did my dad, who, remember, grew up in this era –>
) so that their faces would no longer be branded with these marks of their unattractive intelligence. But in the environment of Stanford, people didn’t hide that they were smart. It wasn’t exactly that you were super proud of it (although some people, not realizing that this wasn’t their high school and that the playing field had way changed, foolishly tried that). It was, at least for me, that now it was a non-issue, because it was a given that we all had a base level of brainpower. That was a big part of why I was finally able to be myself at college in a way that I’d never been before — and why I was okay with getting glasses.
I got my first pair of “fashionable” glasses after I moved to New York for grad school. My old pair had been plain, black, roundish, and serviceable. My new pair I bought at a place on East 9th Street called Myoptics, back when the East Village was still hip and dirty and had more junkies than strollers. They (the glasses, not the strollers) were big and round and tortoise-shell, sort of Sally Jesse without the red, and I chose them for the reasons your average 24-year-old makes a decision about what to wear on their face: because the style was in fashion, because they were one of the two cheapest pairs there, and because the guy selling them told me I looked good in them. Parts two and three in that equation no doubt worked together: the store clerk realized that these were the only glasses I was likely to buy, so of course he told me I looked good in them, and his was the only opinion available in the moment since it was 1992 or so and pre-smartphone/pre-social media/pre-being able to solicit the feedback of all of your friends in three taps. But whatever drove the choice involved, I did believe the glasses looked good on me, and probably wore them a little more often because of that, but still seldom. My prescription hadn’t changed enough for me to need them, and again, it was the element of dress-up that I liked: being able to put on a new identity sometimes, but also take it off.
I didn’t buy another pair of glasses for over 20 years. The motivation was part Groupon, since Damon and I got one for eye exams and frames at a local Brooklyn eyeglass place. Also, my eyes did seem more blurry in the mornings especially, and it suddenly occurred to me that not being able to recognize people from far away was perhaps a liability considering I needed to identify them in order to work with them, especially in situations where I wasn’t seeing the same people every day, which is basically every day I go to work.
But there was another reason too. I had started to notice that a lot of women my age and upwards were looking better to me with glasses, and I realized that it was because glasses helped obscure what was going on around their eyes: bags and wrinkles. The bags under my eyes, in particular, had recently become the most disliked feature of my own face. In my bored perusal of celebrity magazines from the client tables on commercial jobs, I’d seen the interviews with “aging” actresses (so, like, 35) who talked about how they felt like the main difference with looking good as they got older was that on the days when they got enough sleep and took care of themselves, they looked great, but those other days? Those were the problem. Working in production, those “other days” were, again, pretty much my every day. Having to get up at 4, 5, or 6 am is always cruel if sadly not unusual, and add to that the inconsistency of having your wake-up times always shifting, from job to job, week to week, or even weekday to weekday as we move from Monday to Fraturday. Some people can adjust to that, but I am a lifelong bad sleeper. As a kid I had trouble falling asleep, or getting back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night, thanks to worries about nuclear war and sudden attacks of stomach flu (I’d only had it once, but I was a hypochondriac and that was at the top of my Most Dreaded Illnesses list since I hated throwing up. Well, along with elephantiasis, but I didn’t know anyone personally who’d had it, so I only spent maybe one out of every 15-20 nights lying awake worrying about that). I mostly outgrew those fears — and, you know, Gorbachev happened — but I developed new ones, or just things that I would obsess over at all hours because I couldn’t turn off my head. And when you chronically don’t sleep well, having to get up early becomes a source of stress, because between turning over and over your missed man opportunities and the terrible things that asshole said about your script that you can’t admit might be right, you lay awake and tell yourself not to look at the clock, and try to pretend it’s not as late as you think it is, and that you don’t have to get up and be a functional human being in just a few, short, diminishing-by-the-minute hours. Therapy, meditation, vodka, Ambien, Restoril, Benadryl — yes, I have tried them all, with varying degrees of success and addiction. Knowing, at this point, that I can get through a 12-hour day at work on four hours of sleep definitely helps, as does accepting the fact that this is me and I just suck at this sleeping thing. But none of it helps my face.
So, glasses. Why not, if my eyes needed them more too? Only it turned out that they didn’t. My distance prescription hadn’t actually changed. In fact, the optometrist said, my eyes were slightly better than my prescription.
“Yeah, I guess either your eyes have gotten better or whoever gave you these gave you slightly more than you needed,” he said, referring to my 1990s Fashion Glasses. “But you do now have a slight need for near vision.”
In other words, reading glasses. This was not completely unexpected. I’d worked with enough people five to ten years older than me to know that somewhere during the 40s, I was going to have trouble reading the scene numbers on the miniature version of the call sheet that was the front page of my sides, or the teeny-tiny numbers on that stupid dial used to change frequencies on the older generation of Lectrosonics wireless mics, and then it would go downhill from there. Indeed, the need for reading glasses comes on fast, and hits you right in the midlife crisis. Not long ago, I went out to dinner with friends around my age and we all talked about how we were having trouble reading the menu without holding it far away, and how having longer arms suddenly became an advantage in the fight against admitting that you were getting old (which of course meant that men had it over us, as per everything). I had noticed all of this to a limited degree, mainly when I was trying to read while wearing my distance glasses, so I thought it might be time.
Nevertheless, my optometrist said, “I’m going to give you the near vision prescription, but you don’t have to fill it, since it’s pretty slight.” I felt good about that. “Progressives are expensive, and your eyes are likely to get much worse in the next few years, so you might want to wait until you really need them.” Yeah, not so good about that, but luckily my cheap bastard side had fastened on the “You don’t have to spend $300 right now” part, softening the blow (it’s always a surprising bonus when the Cheap Bastard brings something positive to the situation. It’s like she’s showing up to the party with a bottle of $5 wine that turns out to be really good: who knew she could pull that off?).
The upshot of all of this was that I didn’t really need new glasses at all — but at this point, I’d decided that I wanted them. I had not only begun to convince myself that I would look better with glasses, but I had already started to picture myself as Someone Who Wore Glasses. Plus, you know, I had a Groupon. So I got a new pair that was black and rectangularish and narrow. Damon called them my Sexy Librarian Glasses. They were so different from my 90s Fashion Glasses that you’d wonder how both could look good on the same person. And yet, I did choose both, because, once again, the Sexy Librarians were in fashion, they were one of the cheapest pairs there, and someone (this time my spouse) told me they looked good on me.
Now, I had to get used to my face with glasses being my normal face, and that is weird. It’s not that I’ve been looking at the same face for 47 years, because I obviously have not.
Still, it’s been pretty similar for about 25 years, and most of the changes have happened gradually. I’ve had moles removed, and carcinomas (the type of skin cancer that doesn’t kill you but is your skin’s way of saying, “I told you you were going to get old and regret this sun-worshipping bullshit some day”), added scars for those along with the bags and wrinkles, and changed the arrangement of hair around it all, but there’s really nothing else like this suddenly adding a permanent fixture to your face that wasn’t there before, unless you get a new nose. I had to get used to being the sexy librarian, even though I did not, in fact, feel any more sexy, or more like a librarian, and truly, I don’t think I looked much more like one either. But I looked different.
The world in general did not react. A couple of my friends may have complimented me, but nobody at work said anything — although many of my workmates did, again, stop recognizing me at first glance. Case in point: after I’d been wearing the Sexy Librarian Glasses for maybe six to eight months, I went to the annual holiday Hat Party, an event thrown by some of my freelance colleagues where I literally knew almost everybody there and had for at least ten years, and I had to introduce myself to half them or wait for them to do a double-take. To be fair, the fact that I was unintentionally incognito was probably also due to the fact that I was wearing nice clothes, and a hat, and this was somewhat confirmed when someone who had at first not recognized me said, in an appreciative tone, “Wow, you’ve really taken it up a notch!” Clearly, my work friends will never see me as someone who wears girl outfits.
But there was a real existential crisis waiting to happen, and it happened, when I lost those glasses. The preamble/preface/forward/table of contents to the crisis was that I literally had no idea how I lost them, one day they were just gone. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw them I was in the car, but beyond that, what happened is a complete mystery. Absent-mindedness like this is happening to me more often, and mostly I’ve chalked it up to having too much going on, but there’s this creeping suspicion I have, based, like most of what I know about aging, on things my friends tell me and that I find in internet searches like this, that it also has to do with declining estrogen, which means approaching menopause to those of you not in the know (did you know there was a website called http://www.34-menopause-symptoms.com/ ? Aren’t you glad you know it now? I especially love this image and very technical infographic
with the “Age” arrow pointing into oblivion). So losing my glasses sucked as a just really obvious instance of potential that. But what affected me more than that (because I’m 47, and have been through fertility treatment, and so the ability of my hormones to turn batshit was not unknown to me) was that I started wearing the 90s Fashion Glasses to work — I’d kept them around as my back-up pair — and that was when I started getting compliments. I heard, “Glasses suit you,” and “I really like your glasses,” both from people who had definitely seen me several times in the Sexy Librarian Glasses and never said anything. Could this just be because round glasses were back in style, or was it really that the round glasses were more me? And then what did this say about the fact that my husband had a distinct preference for the Sexy Librarians? Because, when it came to ordering new glasses, Damon was typically circumspect about his opinion.
“Anything but the round ones,” he said, ruling out not only the 90s Fashion Glasses, but 80% of what Warby Parker has. “I just think you look better in the ones you lost. Plus, I’m the one who has to look at you all the time.”
This is a good point. There’s nobody who looks at my face as often as he does, even I don’t, and I do want to be attractive to my mate. But I am an adult, a woman, and a feminist, so I was determined to pick the glasses I liked best on my face goddammit.
It wasn’t until I went to the Warby Parker Soho store and was confronted with two store-length walls of glasses, however, that I realized I didn’t really know what exactly that meant. After trying on oh, 20 pairs, I was ready to admit that I knew basically nothing about how I wanted to look. You’d think you could go with your gut on this. You’d think that you’d put something on your face and it would be like “This is it, this is me,” like falling in love, or finding the perfect apartment. But then, when you realize you’re talking about adding a permanent new fixture to your face that can make you look so different that people can actually stop recognizing you, you start to think about the power of potential. So, while it starts out with, “Is this me?”, it quickly devolves into, “But do I want to look like ‘me’ any more? Who is this ‘me’ anyway? Should I be going with the glasses that make me comfortable, or with the ones that make me uncomfortable, because if I really change how I look, to the point where people are really looking at me differently, maybe I can change who I am?” And since I know I’m not going to get that new nose, or have any anti-aging work done to my face because fuck that, or dye my hair (I don’t want to dye out the grey because again, fuck that, and while dying it a totally different color is another, potential-identity-changing alteration a woman can make, I can’t afford to do it right and maintain it. Plus, I actually like my hair color, it’s doing a good job of hiding the grey, and if I dye it, who knows what will grow back in its place?), this is sort of my only option.
In the end, I picked a pair that I thought looked…nice. They were not big, round and guileless like the 90s Fashion Glasses, or as severe/intellectual as the Sexy Librarians. Maybe some day I’ll be ready to get all Iris Apfel on my glasses and make a truly personality-defining statement with them, but for now, wearing glasses most of the time is enough of a change. I don’t feel that good about the fact that I’m partly wearing them to hide behind, but aging is hard. I don’t want to be vulnerable to what the world thinks, but this occasionally-stupid planet is where I live, and while my view of myself is ultimately up to me, I’m never going to be able to totally exclude the views of my mate, my parents, my friends, my colleagues, that dude at the store, and, to some degree that I wish I could prevent but I can’t, our culture. So for now, I’ll choose look a little different than before but not too much, and maybe a little less obviously tired all the time, and that will have to do.
Like most people, or at least those over the age of 30, I’ve been getting mail for almost my entire life. For most of that time, it was something I looked forward to. How could I not? As a kid, it was mostly birthday cards with checks from relatives and letters from pen pals — kids from school who I didn’t see much during the summer, friends I met during our summer vacation at Indian Lake and kept in touch with, or friends who moved away. Or the J. Crew catalog, for which I lived, and the packages that ensued. It wasn’t much different in college. I’d order clothes and correspond with my friends from home during the school year, with my friends from college during the summers, and with everyone when I traveled abroad. Postcards from far away places were the most fun to send and receive, so I’d always make the effort to send those to family and friends, even though buying stamps could be a challenge in a European country where you didn’t speak the language and they sold them in odd places (incredibly, in this era of smoking being banned everywhere, tabacs are still a thing), and that you basically had to buy and write the cards the day you arrived to ensure they’d get home before you did. I also used to really enjoy picking out birthday cards for my friends that I thought suited them, and I continued to send those, with a long catch-up note, probably through my 20s.
Once I became a real adult, mail became a lot less lighthearted — probably around the time I started getting bills that way. When I got a bunch of nasty letters from collection agencies regarding my student loans, that just solidified how un-fun mail could be. Around that same time, though, I also started receiving paychecks via mail, so I guess the two things kind of balanced each other out. But in both ways, figuring out that mail wasn’t just about getting fun stuff was my gateway into responsible adulthood.
Now, nearly all of my correspondence takes place over email and on Facebook, with a smattering of Twitter. Getting the almost immediate gratification of connecting with someone far away (or not) in a matter of hours, minutes, or sometimes seconds is pretty phenomenal, even though I’m so used to it at this point that not hearing back from someone I email within a day has me convinced they don’t like me any more (unless they’re someone who I know doesn’t check email every six seconds like I do. Those luddites — you know who you are — get a pass). I was actually introduced to Facebook by friends I met traveling in Guatemala and Argentina in 2006/2007, people who I’d most likely have lost touch with if it didn’t exist. While there are days when I truly wish it didn’t (probably every day since the 2016 presidential campaign started in, oh, 2014), Facebook and Instagram have ended up being a great way of finding out what’s going on with those and many other folks, such as friends from other eras of my life who now live far away, and their parents; subjects from my documentaries, some of whom were barely more than toddlers when I first met them and are now actually old enough to use social media without violating their guidelines (talk about things that make you feel old); and people from work who I may only see once a year if that, but who always like my photos (you also probably know who you are, and thank you).
But as a result, I have completely stopped writing letters, and, for the most part, getting them. For a while I still sent postcards and birthday cards and holiday cards, but eventually I just felt like they were time-consuming and unnecessary in the age of the Internet. I replaced the birthday cards with e-cards, and then, when people told me they found the e-cards annoying (again, you know who you are), I just went with Facebook posts and maybe texts or e-cards for people who didn’t have Facebook, taking the attitude that if they didn’t like the e-cards they should just have joined Facebook, even though I kind of knew that people who didn’t want to join Facebook were exactly the type of people who would hate e-cards. But it’s the 21st century, this is how we do, or I do, because I never have enough time for anything (remember, I generally have 2-3 jobs I’m getting paid for and 2-4 that I don’t. Plus the time I spent on cards I can now spend on Facebook, and I do). The holiday cards were kind of the hardest to give up (see below), but also the cards whose discarding made the most sense. In addition to my time always being at a premium yadda yadda, I don’t really celebrate Christmas or Chanukah, and I don’t have kids – and we all know that sending pictures of kids is the reason for 99.9% of all holiday cards. I do have one good friend from college who still writes long, real letters when she travels, or when it’s my birthday or some other occasion. Whenever she does, I write her back a long email, and hope she’ll make allowances for the fact that she has more patience than I do, and better handwriting. I also started making all of my bills and credit card/bank statements electronic where possible, in order to save paper and end the overall negativity attached to receiving mail that I could see was going to come with the end of letter-writing.
In spite of the fact that I no longer get letters or bills, however, we still get mail, and I’m always the one who has to check it. Damon has a key to our mailbox, but it’s not even on his keychain. I asked him why and he said that, since he gets paid mostly by direct deposit and pays his bills online, he doesn’t get anything in the mail except junk. So I started paying attention to what we actually do get, and realized that there remains an odd subset of stuff that comes to us via our struggling U.S. Postal Service. What is it? I’m glad you asked.
1) Birthday and holiday cards
A lot of people still do send me holiday cards, while others stopped sending me cards when I stopped sending mine, and because I simultaneously am insecure and have a healthy level of Jewish guilt, I manage to juggle feeling bad about both situations. And I also still get birthday cards, which is really nice, although, again, I really don’t deserve it because I don’t send cards to anyone else, see above for attached feelings (see, I even speak in email these days). I have a feeling that soon, it’ll be down to just my parents and in-laws who send them, and hopefully by the time that happens, I’ll be okay with it. This birthday card has actually been on my bulletin board forever, it was not recently sent to me. I used to save all of my cards and letters in old overnight or bowling bags from thrift stores, but I finally realized that I couldn’t continue the practice and live in New York City and not have the apartment of a hoarder.
2) Checks and W-2s for my freelance work
This is the main reason I check mail. My payments from Brooklyn College are now direct deposit, and my TV work would be too if I worked on one show all of the time, so the fact that I still wait for paper checks to come by mail is really another symptom of the scattered way I’ve chosen (for now) to live my life. At tax time, because I work for probably 30 different payroll companies a year, and they are the ones who are my official employers, I have to go through my pay stubs and make sure that nobody is missing (some production payroll companies divide themselves up into 10 different companies with slightly different nonsensical names like EEES LP and NTVUBTL for some tax- or liability-related reason that I’m sure is not related to making my life difficult, but that’s kind of how it feels). A couple of payroll companies do now put this stuff online, which is good on the one hand, because I don’t have to comb through my mail for it, but bad because now I have to use my own paper and ink to print them out and mail them to my accountant. I mean, I might as well be carving my tax info into stone tablets.
3) Correspondence from my union or my union health insurance
My union and the MPIPHP (that’s Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, duh!) still correspond with me via snail mail. Biannually, I’ll get something from my health insurance telling me that I’ve qualified for health insurance (yay!), but that I need to send money or Damon will lose his (yikes!). I also have to send in my union dues over snail mail, and in return, they send me a receipt and my new union card — which nobody has ever checked, but again, being in good standing with the union means we don’t have to worry about some day losing our home to pay for medical treatment (ain’t our health system grand?). The other things I get from the union are these one or two page updates on what’s news for them that month, like when the next general meeting that I won’t attend will be, what seminars on how to operate a scissor lift or something else I don’t need to know and therefore also won’t attend will be happening, and warnings about things people are doing that are illegal according to union rules which I am supposed to report but prefer not to notice because who wants to get their colleagues in trouble?
4) Political candidate mail
We get this from our state senate, state assembly, congressional district and city council candidates. This is probably the first one I’ve read, which should tell you how well these mailings work. Because of where I live in Brooklyn, I pretty much know the winner is always going to be a liberal Democrat, so these go right in the recycling. I’m sure some people do take the time to read them, and I know not everyone has a computer so they can look up who their representatives/candidates are and where they stand on the issues, but how many people both have the time to read them and don’t have a computer to do their own research? Probably more than I realize, living as I do in my semi-gentrified democratic bubble, but still, do they reach enough people who both care and would vote for this guy to be worthwhile? Case in point, I’ve looked him up and he is not actually my city council member, he’s from one of the districts next to mine — and I found this out just by Googling and then plugging my address into the NYC City Council website. Could David Greenfield’s intern not have done the same and saved his office some time, money, and paper products by not sending this to me and everyone else in my building?
5) Theater ticket deals and other solicitations from arts organizations
I love the arts. Being able to go see plays and performances of various sorts and visit a cornucopia of museums is one of the main reasons I live here. I do like being notified about cheap ticket deals for opening plays, and when the MOMA, of which I am a member, sends me info about their latest exhibitions. But the thing is, I already get all of this stuff via email. Do you people in snail mail and the people in email marketing not talk to each other? Why not? Couldn’t you even perhaps bethe same people? No, of course not, silly question.
6) Just plain advertising
Now we consume most of our advertising online — and the fact that advertisers still haven’t figure out the best way to do that should be evident to everyone who has to look at those horrible click-bait ads in the weather.com app that always involve some skin disease or someone really overweight or how much you are losing in mortgage interest. But have you ever looked at the ads for the companies that still solicit you by mail? They’re clearly companies that know their customer base doesn’t spend time online, or ones who think that a colorful piece of card stock with a 10% off coupon is going to convince them to run out and shop. That means it’s either discount stores, like BJ’s and Discount Shoe Warehouse, or businesses that we’ve already patronized who think they will get us to come back with some special deal, like Staples and the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team, or local stuff, like our friendly neighborhood dentist. I don’t mind the ads for cheap stuff or coupons since I am, as you know, a cheap bastard. I also enjoy reading about all of the Cyclones’ special promotions, like a Roger McDowell bobblehead, which sounds hilarious even if I don’t know who Roger McDowell is and don’t really want to know why he’s called “Second Spitter.” However, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to choose a dentist on the basis of a flyer that combines poor font choices and stock photos with a tag line promising “Healthy Teeth and Gums for Life,” – not to mention that it’s welcoming me to a neighborhood I’ve already been living in for almost seven years. I know that all advertising is really about fear and sex on some level, but it feels to me like the ads I get in the mail are aimed at people who are easy prey, probably because they’re in poor financial straits or otherwise easily sucked in by taglines like, “Reminder: don’t miss out!” I find it sad to think that such ads might actually work on my neighbors, and then I wonder if the ones who they work on are the same people I saw on that map the New York Times put together, of How Every New York City Neighborhood Voted in the Republican Primary, who voted for Donald Trump. And then I’m both depressed and annoyed.
7) Credit card offers
If you don’t think the credit card industry is taking advantage of people, look no further than your mailbox. I already have too many credit cards and don’t need to get these every week, along with balance transfer “checks” begging me to move my debt to their card.*
*for an exorbitant fee asterisked at the bottom in teeny tiny print.Who doesn’t know at this point that that 0% APR is going to jump to 20% right when you’ve forgotten about it? Again, for easy prey, so again, annoyed and depressed.
8) Mailings from our local licensed real estate salespeople
This is another kind of advertising that is ubiquitous in any gentrifying area in Brooklyn. Ryan Roberts, wants me (or not me, since this was actually sent to someone who hasn’t lived at our address for at least 12 years, which is a whole other issue I have with the mail) to know how much apartments like mine are selling for, in case I want to call him to sell or buy. Does he think a mailing like this will convince me to do one of those things, or that I’m more likely to hire him because I’ve seen his professionally-styled-and-lit headshot? The whole thing about putting your picture on your ads I just don’t get. And while it is somewhat helpful to know what a one-bedroom like ours is going for, because some day we probably will sell, I could also walk by one of the zillion real estate brokers’ offices that have taken over a ridiculous percentage the commercial real estate in Brooklyn (how many are there in Park Slope now? Like, 50? I’m not exaggerating). So, again, an unnecessary waste of card stock, and also an unhappy reminder of the fact that soon, nobody not in the 1% will be able to afford to live within the five boroughs.
9) Statements from Apple Bank
We’ve officially stopped getting all of our bills via snail mail because we signed up for paperless notifications, and the same is true of all of my bank statements except one: Apple Bank. This is because Apple Bank exists in another era, I think most likely the 80s, as evidenced by this picture Damon took of the machine on which we validated our bank cards and pin codes.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a fascinating place visit. Our banker is a nice Russian lady who always wears something low-cut and leopard print, and who puts on her makeup with many large trowels — eyeliner that swooshes out to her profile, shadow in multiple colors, the eyebrows completely removed and drawn back on in attention-getting black even though her hair is dyed a bright red. Any visit, like our most recent one, includes a conversation shouted back and forth across the office:
“Guess who opened account for them at Court Street branch!”
“Carol! Who used to work here!”
“Yeah, remember how she moved to Court Street? Small world!”
“How about that!”
So yeah, no surprise that they don’t do electronic statements. I recently signed up for online banking and it turns out you can only look at your account, you can’t actually do anything with it. I guess we can’t complain though, since we had to open a business account for our Rustle Works LLC, and picked a tiny bank because they had no fees to match the no money that we have in it.
10) Magazines I read
This is just one magazine, actually, The New Yorker. See this pile? See that it’s not only in the basket but underneath the basket? Remember what I said about not wanting to live like a hoarder? Well, this is the one area in which I’ve given up. I can’t keep up with the one weekly magazine that I really want to read and am afraid to throw away for fear of missing something good. Maybe I could keep up if I spent less time on my phone during my train time and downtime at work — keeping up with email and Facebook, but also playing Carcassonne and now Pokemon Go (I try to justify it by saying that we design games, even though we most likely will never design anything like Pokemon Go. Really, I’m just a 47-year-old who misses collecting stuffed animals) — and if I also read it before going to bed instead of the five pages of whatever book I’m currently reading on my Kindle. But then I’d have to avoid the articles that are upsetting enough to keep me awake, and it still probably wouldn’t be enough.
11) Magazines I don’t read
Because I’m a member of the Independent Feature Project or IFP, I get Filmmaker Magazine, and because I’m a Stanford alumna, I get Stanford Magazine. I don’t have time to read either one, which really means I don’t make time to read them, because I don’t want to. I love my alma mater, and I stay a member of IFP so that I can go to their events (even though I never do) and free Spirit Awards screenings (although I hardly ever do), but I really wish they didn’t send me magazines unsolicited that I have to feel, yes, guilty about not reading. They generally sit on the mail pile until it gets too big, and then end up in the recycling.
12) Solicitations from charities
Damon and I give a fair amount to charity, but the frustrating thing is that, the more you give, the more mail (and email) you get asking you to give. There are so many worthy causes, not least of all, probably, Disabled American Veterans, who I know nothing about, they just happened to be in the pile when I decided to write this. But I really dislike when charities give you free stuff, like mailing labels or cards, expecting you to then feel obligated to make a contribution. Again, as a cheap bastard I love free stuff, but not when it has strings attached. I mean, shouldn’t I give to your cause because I believe in it and know that my money is going to go to people in need rather than to making mailing labels with someone’s name on them that will just make them feel bad when they throw them away? And you already know how I feel about the manipulative, grab-you-by-the-emotions tagline – complete with the annoying asterisk they borrowed from the credit card industry:
On a certain level, I suppose a piece of mail like this should be celebrated, because eliciting the response, “Oh fuck you ‘Women for Women’” from a feminist who really wants to support causes that support women is an impressive achievement. Needless to say, it went right in the recycling, unopened.
Here’s another thing that it’s hard for me to believe in the internet age: that people still need paper catalogs. I haven’t bought anything at Crate & Barrel in probably 20 years. I kind of thought that they, like Conrans, no longer existed, and I am certainly not about to run out and buy a marble disk topped by a glass pyramid with a nipple on top to display my cheese. But this catalog, again, wasn’t addressed to me, it’s legacy mail addressed to “So-and-So or current resident,” which means it, like the Terminator, is just going to keep coming until the end of time (or until I blow up Crate & Barrel and then crush what’s left in a giant hydraulic press). We also get catalogs for B&H, which I know I am sort of responsible for, having bought stuff there online at some point in the past five years — although now that I know how they treat their employees I plan to go elsewhere (even though Amazon, my next choice, also treats their employees like shit, but at least they distribute the abuse in an equitable manner). Even so, why would I need a gigantic catalog when I’ve been making my purchases from there online? Yeah, see how it makes no sense?
I recently got this catalog for the first time. It is the single most depressing thing in this pile of mail. Why? Because it’s a catalog for a union that represents people “who work in, or are retired from, New York’s schools, colleges, and healthcare facilities,” where everything can be paid for on the installment plan. What could be a sadder indictment of America than that? And for details of just how sad, just turn to page 31, where they’re selling a Princess Diamond Bridal Set for 26 payments of $38.46.
14) Ads for radio stations
I put this in a separate category from the other advertising because this might actually be the saddest indictment of America in my pile of mail. Not only has Z100 become a terrible pop station owned by Clear Channel, a behemoth bully of a conglomerate which now dominates the airwaves thanks to the deregulation of the industry in the 90s, guaranteeing that the ten or 20 songs on its playlists – which are really just basically five songs considering how many of them sound the same – will probably be the only music you’ll ever hear on the radio. On top of that, their big giveaway in this ad is not tickets to a concert, or a meeting with your favorite pop star, no, they’re offering to pay your bills. Thusly, this ad displays a combination of how untrammeled business interests are killing our society, the dominance of sameness and celebrity in pop culture, and the fact that our economy has all but crushed the middle class in a hydraulic press – all in one, neat, graphic design horror of a package.
It’s interesting that I started this wondering what my mail said about me and ended up thinking about what it says about us…right around the time I had a job inside NYC’s central post office.
Sure, it looks fantastic from the outside, but inside is a warren of abandoned, decaying offices, like the one pictured at the top of this post, and interminable hallways straight out of a Coen Brothers film, if there had ever been a Coen Brothers film about wandering around for fifteen minutes trying to find a bathroom. And while you wander the halls, you listen to the cries of seagulls who for some reason circle the skies over head (control-click on that and open it in a new tab to listen while you look at the pictures, that way you’ll be the full effect), adding to the eerie and surreal nature of the place that makes it perfect for filming dream sequences (which is what we were doing there), and you come upon crazy shit, like a pedestal for a missing sculpture, or a yellowing flier for a lost balloon, or a strange collage on a bulletin board that was once for mail handlers that looks like it was put together by someone who the postal system has driven off the deep end – all of which also seems like it just has to be the product of an inventive mind with a penchant for the bizarre.
And so I leave you with this decaying edifice housing a dying institution in dire financial straits as a metaphor for where we’re at right now. We are a nation of people with too many messages and too little free time because we work too much and make too little. We’re struggling to keep up with how the world is changing and our place in it while being suckered into thinking we want things that we don’t need, and that the only way to get them is to do exactly what we’re told by predatory entities who have no qualms about using our deepest fears and longings to get us to give them what little most of us have left. It’s not surprising that Donald Trump appeals to a large swath of America right now, and even if/when he loses, the problems that brought us his candidacy won’t have gone away. We’ll still have a lot of thinking to do about how we ended up in this crazy place, and how the hell we can get out.
My relationship with music started when I was young. My parents’ albums were the first ones I listened to, and they set the tone and tenor of it. They had a lot of classical, and Broadway show cast albums, and an eclectic mix of sea shanties and French Canadian fiddle music and Leonard Cohen and for some reason Quarterflash, all of which I liked (well maybe not the Quarterflash), but I mean specifically their Beatles albums: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road, The White Album. I listened to them on a turntable (remember how we all did that?) and taped them so I could play them in my Walkman (and that, and those?), and as a result, those two dinosaur forms of technology will forever be entwined with my relationship with that music. For one thing, the version of “Come Together” that lives in my head to this day still has the skips in it in those distinct places where there were scratches on my parents’ LPs. For another, since it was not easy to listen to one song over and over again (without causing aforementioned scratches, or having to go back and forth forever to get to the beginning of a song on tape, which I knew would eventually wear out the tape), I got to know an album as an album. I not only pored over cover art, photos and lyrics, trying to figure out what the artists had been thinking when they chose them, but I listened to the music in a particular order that the artists themselves had created (or so I thought). That meant something to me. Continuing with the albums my older brother owned — Kansas (I know), Queen, XTC, and, most importantly, The Police — the experience of listening to a record made me feel close to those artists. If I could listen to “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” while staring at Sting’s face on the album cover and/or reading the lyrics he’d written, I could absolutely convince myself that he and I were connecting, which was something I desperately wanted at the time, since I wasn’t anywhere close to having a real boyfriend. Radio and music videos — MTV arrived in 1981, when I was in 7th grade, perfectly timed to spur more budding adolescent musical infatuations — were serendipity machines, introducing me to new music or somehow playing the song I really really really wanted to hear at just the right time.
But I truly began to define myself as a music lover when I started buying my own music, because back then, your record collection mattered. When I tell you, therefore, that the first record I ever bought was a single of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” and that my first album purchase was H2O by Hall and Oates, your salient take-away should be that I, at age 13, was very much a work in progress. Always afraid of being pinned down, I declared that I had not one favorite band, but five: Hall & Oates, The Police, Duran Duran, INXS and Men at Work. I collected music by plenty of other artists (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Howard Jones, Prince, OMD, The Cars, The Bangles, Michael Jackson), but I felt like these five bands defined not just what I listened to but who I was. Because shared love of music was also, of course, an essential part of my friendships. My friends and I would go record shopping together, at the mall or, if we could swing it, to Tower Records in Manhattan (which we’d combine with a trip to all of the used clothing stores between 9th and Canal Streets). We’d go to shows together and make sure to wear the t-shirts from them to school on the same day. We’d watch our favorite videos repeatedly, mimicking every move the artists made (I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that we learned John Taylor and Nick Rhoades’s every gesture in the video for “The Reflex”) because it made us feel closer to the music. Even when we disagreed about bands (one of my friends loved Air Supply and Barry Manilow, neither of which I could abide), that, too, was a part of our jokes, our banter, how we related to each other.
College was about exploration, and music was a big part of that too. Probably the most important thing I brought to college with me, aside from the electric typewriter that could store an entire page in its memory (I know), was a massive boom box with detachable speakers. Its pivotal feature was not its portability, because realistically it was too big for me to take anywhere, but its tape-to-tape capability, which I deployed with extreme promiscuity, recording songs and albums from anyone in my dorm who had something I wanted to try. Combining those with my own tape collection, I created mixed tapes that became not just the soundtrack to my college years, but, again, I felt, a defining part of my identity. Dance Mix #1 combined pretty much everything I learned about what people liked at every party I went to freshman year, a crowd pleaser in which I took an incredible amount of pride. It was one of the many important ways in which I got to redefine myself in college: I was now someone who danced (whaaat?) and someone whocould get everybody else dancing too. That was a powerful thing.
All of this continued more or less into my 20s and 30s — more parties, more concerts, more dancing, more relationships, and all run through with grunge, post-grunge, hip hop, soul, neo-soul, alt rock, alt metal, indie rock, post-punk, and on and on. The technology was changing but that, if anything, enhanced my relationship to music. CDs were much easier to collect than records, and now I could digitize them into iTunes, rather than making tapes. When I stopped buying them and just bought music from iTunes, that was even easier (I never took the time to learn how to use Napster or LimeWire, which, embarrassingly, might make me the only person my age on down to maybe 20 who can say they never stole music off the internet). Making mixes was also much easier, I could do it in my iTunes library.
The result of the omnipresence of music in my life was that a lot of my memories had musical accompaniment. Specific songs will forever be associated with moments and people. I can probably connect a song or an album with each of my friends, each of my successes and failures, and especially my hook-ups and break-ups. I know, it’s so girly, but those moments were the times when I had emotions that music could bring to a fever pitch. “Linger” by the Cranberries and “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow (I know) will be forever associated with guys who I pined after but never managed to date in my 20s. The excitement and potential I felt about one guy I dated in my 30s will always be associated with “Young Ones” by Peter, Bjorn and John; breaking up with another is forever connected to “Your Heart Is An Empty Room” by Deathcab For Cutie. Yes, they are all very on-the-nose; apparently my romantic side isn’t very deep.
But then at some point that just…stopped. Slowly, I think since turning 40, I found myself listening to music less and less and going to fewer concerts (I’m not sure I went to any last year, not even free ones). And at some point, I stopped buying music altogether — because I wasn’t finding new artists, because I couldn’t seem to get into new music by artists I knew (maybe because I wasn’t giving it the time), and because nobody buys music any more. As a result, aside from commercials or music videos that I worked on where music was part of the finished product (and therefore was played over and over and over again during production, making it impossible not to hear it in my head for hours/days afterwards), I can’t think of anything that’s happened to me recently that is tied to a piece of music. There are no moments in my relationship with Damon which cue a needle drop in my head, except for maybe the weekend trip we took last year where we binged on Talking Heads in the car, but there aren’t any emotions attached to that except not wanting to listen to Talking Heads any more on the way home.
I think one reason for this slow ebb of my relationship with music is that I can’t seem to write to it any more. In high school, I did all of my homework either in front of the TV or the stereo (admit it, you all did too). In college, I could study anywhere, and well into my 20s and 30s, when I was writing screenplays, the occasional short story, my first forays into blogging, I felt like music and background noise actually helped me concentrate; it was that little bit of distraction that kept my mind from wandering. Somehow, though, it doesn’t work that way any more. I can sometimes write a first draft to musical accompaniment, but when it’s time to refine, I need to be able to hear the words in my head, and listening to other people’s words now seems to make that too difficult.
But then I have to ask myself: did I stop listening to music because I couldn’t think to it, or did I stop being able to think to it because I stopped listening? Because somehow streaming, which was supposed to make discovering and listening to music easier, didn’t for me. I did Pandora Radio for a while — my favorite “station” was the one based on Beck, because it was so eclectic — until I realized that it, like conventional radio, played the same stuff over and over again. I sometimes stream on Spotify, but they don’t have Prince, and, perhaps emblematically, they don’t have the Beatles. I have some of their albums on CD, but they’re in two giant books gathering dust somewhere, and since I no longer have a DVD drive on my computer, I can’t easily digitize them into my iTunes collection – but of course I refuse to buy the albums as mp3s or mpeg4s because I already own them. The only logical place and time for me to listen to them is on the DVD/CD player in the living room when I’m working out, but why would I do that when watching TV is a much better distraction from the sweaty tedium of indoor exercise? And at other times when I used to blast a CD on the stereo — cooking, cleaning, folding laundry — my husband is usually working in the 30% of the living room that is his studio. The long and the short of it is that as other things have taken up space in my life — video-on-demand, Facebook, podcasts, a live-in spouse — music has just slowly disappeared.
These days, I’m just a binge-listener. If I’m working on something that doesn’t involve writing or video editing (for which I also need to hear), I’ll open Spotify and play everything by one artist over and over again. I do it this way because I’m only giving the music part of my attention, and/or because it’s easier just to let whatever’s playing play than stop what I’m doing and change it. The bad end of listening to music this way is that, unsurprisingly, it tends to facilitate the morphing of songs into ear worms that bounce around in the echo chamber that is my brain, possibly for days. Considering that that now generally happens with TV or commercial theme songs (since that’s the music I’m most regularly exposed to), this is an improvement. Still, at the point where I’ve been living with the song for a few days, either on Spotify or in my head or both, I can’t tell if I’m craving it or so sick of it that I never want to hear it again, or both (another and completely different way in which music is reminiscent of certain relationships I’ve had). The latest artist I discovered and then ruined for myself this way was Elle King. I heard the song “Ex’s and Oh’s” on the radio in a cab — one of the few places I hear radio these days — and it was just so catchy. So I Shazzammed it, found her on Spotify and started listening to all of her music, which is basically just one album and an EP, so it’s no wonder that I very quickly got to that place where I really want her to go away, but can’t seem to kick her out. I guess this is the way it now works for me..although I’m not sure that it really works for me.
I know things change, but considering how much music used to mean to me, it’s hard not to wonder, as I tend to do on this blog, How have I changed, and how do I feel about it? And this is generally where I tell myself that maturity is good and all that. I wouldn’t want to have the same feelings about an album or a band that I did when I was 16, because, among other things, Sting’s a massive narcissist, and real life has taught me to steer clear of those. For another, I’ve found that people around my age who are still really passionate about music seem like they’ve arrested at that adolescent moment and so haven’t developed the ability to be passionate about anything else. But still, I have to wonder, does the fact that I seem to no longer need music around mean that something fundamental that I used to like about myself is gone? Do I have less passion? Less rhythm? Less soul? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a song in my heart, but if the one currently in my head is the theme from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, does that mean I’m I dead inside, the way everyone always said we’d be when we got old? Or is it just that I’ve got other priorities right now, and music isn’t one of them?
After every mass shooting, somebody makes a list like this (and I’m going to credit those who did here, here, here, and here for inspiration), but I thought it was time for one that was truly comprehensive.
Adopt a pet.5
Bring a pet into a restaurant.1, 6
Obtain illegal drugs.6
Obtain legal drugs.1
Buy cigarettes.2, 4
Buy alcohol.2, 4
See an NC-17 movie.2,4
See an R rated movie.2, 4
Buy music with salty language.2, 4
Get a Snapchat account (without violating their terms).4
Get a Facebook account (“”).4
Get a Pinterest account (“”).4
Get a cell phone.2
Drive an Uber.1, 3, 4
Drive a car.1, 4
Rent a car.1, 2, 4
Get scouted by the NFL.3
Donate blood if you’re gay.6
Buy a wedding cake if you’re gay.6
Get married if you’re gay.1, 6
Get married if you’re not gay.1
Breastfeed in public.6
Get health insurance.2
Use the bathroom you want to use.6
Enter the United States if you are not a citizen.2, 6
Enter the United States if you are a citizen.2
Get food stamps.2, 5
Get health insurance.2, 5
Get a credit card.2, 3
Get a mortgage.2, 3, 5
Rent an apartment.2, 3, 5
Become a realtor.1, 4
Become a massage therapist.1
Become a manicurist.1
Become a ticket taker.1
Get a corporate job.3
Get a minimum wage job.3
Get an internship.3
Get an abortion.4, 5, 6
Get birth control pills.1
Allow your kids to play unsupervised in your own yard.6
1 For these things you need a license, certification, or prescription.
2 For these things you need to show ID and/or provide your social security number.
3 These activities often require a background check.
I worked on this American Ninja Warrior spot that was on Saturday Night Live last week. SNL always shoots their mini-movies on the Friday that is the day before the show is going to air, so basically the whole production is on a crazy short deadline. You’re also working around the cast’s schedule and availability, which often means they are coming and going from rehearsals at some odd hour. I’ve read (in Bossypants) and heard (on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, Fresh Air, Here’s the Thing — basically if it’s on NPR, it’s where I get my information) about how grueling the schedule is for the cast, but it really drove it home when we wrapped at 4:30 am last Friday, at which point, it said on the call sheet, the cast was scheduled togo back to rehearsal.
As you can imagine, between the technocrane, the three other cameras, and the fact that Bobby Moynihan had to jump into a pool at regular intervals (either so they could film him doing it over and over again, or in order to stay wet), the scenes on the very realistic-looking American Ninja Warrior set were no picnic to mic. Because we couldn’t wire him and I couldn’t get anywhere close with the boom, the sound guy I was working with planted a couple of mics underneath the red landing pads/obstacles/whatever those things are along the edge of the pool. On one take, when one pad was landed upon particularly hard, we heard it crack and break — a great sound effect that will never get used (and one which made me feel bad for Moynihan, but I heard that he wrote the skit, so at least he knew what he was getting into). The mics did not stay dry, but I think they all survived the day, which is always an important goal.
The problem with stuff like this is that you’re always looking for one or two moments that were hilarious when you were watching them happen but for some reason (probably time constraints) didn’t make the cut. Still, the piece did turn out to be pretty funny. And there’s some rare, immediate gratification we don’t often get, knowing that the thing I just worked on will be on television the very next night.
Also, Drake looks pretty good in a bald cap. Who knew?
The other day I was looking for a decent shirt to wear to dinner. As you may or may not remember, this is a challenge because it seems like all of my shirts, after a period of time, develop holes near the waist. But there’s another problem now, and that is that my tops are nearly all stained.
I’ve always been something of a slob. My mother likes to joke, as mothers do, that she remembers how I was always unable to eat anything without half of it ending up on my front. But when she says these things, she’s thinking about Betsy from maybe ages 0-10, who really didn’t care what she looked like, not the one who, upwards of 47, is expected to go places not looking like she recently walked through a fountain of grease. Who does this at my age, regularly decorating their shirts with globs of food in a way that most middle school students have learned to avoid? Thank goodness for Ecover stain remover, which, despite its claims that it doesn’t damage the environment, has saved many pieces of clothing – but not all, see Exhibit A above – from having to be tossed (which makes me doubt that it’s really environmentally friendly, but I’ll continue believing that it is to soothe my liberal guilt).
Lately, doing laundry has become a laughable/mortifying (depending upon whether I have the laundry room to myself) experience, because the size of the the pile that needs stain remover is rivaling the size of the pile that doesn’t. I basically had to go through my entire shirt drawer the other day to find something that had no holes and wasn’t badly splotched, or wasn’t badly splotched in especially bad places. For instance, I’ve learned that if there’s a splotch to the side of a breast, it’s in shadow and possible to overlook. If it’s right on top, where people are likely to look anyway, then it’s a problem. And of course, because my chest sticks out, just waiting to catch anything that falls from my mouth like one of those birds or fish that attach themselves to certain animal species and feed off of their leavings, it’s likely that that’s the first place where spots are going to end up. My stomach is next, and while I don’t like the fact that it’s the next protrusion down, or a protrusion at all, this is a more acceptable landing area than my chest, both because it doesn’t invite as much attention in general and because it can be hidden by a desk, or dining table, or a sweater that can be partially zipped or buttoned (unlike Exhibit A).
In overthinking about why I seem to have gotten more stain-happy lately, I’ve come up with a few possibilities. First of all, I’ve been cooking more — and by “cooking” I don’t just mean what I mainly did for most of my adulthood, which was throw a pile of food into the oven at 450 (although some of my favorite Jamie Oliver recipes still involve doing just that. They also ask for “a handful” of something, as if that’s an actually measurement, while “full whack” is an oven temperature and “smash it all up together” is considered an instruction). I actually sauté a lot now, in a pan or two, on our teeny tiny stove, which has trouble fitting two pans comfortably. It can basically do two uncomfortably, and fitting three means one of them is going to be only half on a burner, so most of my cooking has to be limited to two-pan meals, but still — I make two-pan meals. That’s something an adult does, right? This has come about partly because I have a slow cooker. Actually, it’s not mine, it’s on more or less permanent loan from friends, but I’m pretty sure they’ve forgotten I have it, which basically makes it mine, along with the lamp they also gave me. Now, you would think that a slow cooker just requires you to, again, throw a bunch of stuff in and let ‘er rip, and you can in fact make dinner in it that way. All of the recipes I’ve found for it that are really good, though, involve browning meat, and wilting onions, and possibly deglazing with wine, before you throw it all in. So I have been spending more time within the range of spatter.
I’ve also traced many of my spots back to meals at work. I think this is probably because, like everything else I do at work, I tend to eat fast, often while simultaneously doing something else. At lunch, that something else is probably just making conversation, which is challenge enough for me, but I’m still often eating as fast as possible so that I can do something with the remaining 20 minutes or so of lunch after eating: get out and go for a walk, or visit galleries (when I shoot at Chelsea Piers), or make phone calls, or grade assignments, or in some way try to deal with my other responsibilities. At breakfast, the stain-inducing speed derives from the fact that I’m often eating after call time. For those of you not familiar, “call time” is when your day officially starts on a film set, the time at which you are “in.” I’m not sure where the “in” part comes from. Inside the set? In hell? At any rate, it’s the moment at which you are supposed to be 100% devoted to your job, until they tell you you can break for lunch, in 6+ hours. Call time is often quite early, but while I may have I unceremoniously dragged the rest of my body from sleep at 5 or 6 am, my stomach somehow still manages not to wake up until at least 8 or 9, which is probably when it thinks is the right time for all of a human being’s various parts to be waking up. (If only my stomach were a producer, the world would be a waaay better place. Call times would be sane, days would be short, and there would always be fresh mango at craft service, and manchego cheese, and olives, and Iberian ham, and…well, basically it would be a tapas bar.) As a result, I often try and have my breakfast after we are already “in,” which is considered verboten by many of the people I work with, or at the very least says to them that I have slacked and didn’t get to work early enough to eat breakfast before call. So I tend to inhale my breakfast to avoid being seen eating it, and sometimes in between plugging stuff in and checking batteries, so it tends not to have my full attention which, as I said, is a recipe for sartorial disaster.
And my time not on set, lately, has been the same harried frenzy of activity. In addition to working freelance two to four days a week, I’m teaching two classes, supposedly writing this blog, and doing other projects on top of that — my own, Flat Daddy’s (yep, that’s still going on), a film or app for hire (which happens not that often but did recently), applying for a job, researching adoption, etc. It’s that one additional thing that makes it all go from much to too much, because when you add in making dinner, and grocery shopping, and laundry, and cleaning, and exercise, and sleep, and trying to have a life, there really isn’t room. Something or things must end up going by the wayside — lately it’s been writing this blog and cleaning and my sanity — and even with those gone, I often find myself eating too fast, in front of my computer. Trying to keep all of these balls in the air, and trying to move from one to the other as fast as possible, inevitably leads to something getting dropped. Apparently, on my shirt.
Sometimes I think that maybe if I finally decided to be a grown up — get one, full-time job, make enough money to have an apartment with a real stove and other appliances and furniture that are 100% mine rather than 9/10ths mine, wear an apron, adopt a child — I would stop having these kinds of not-very-adult problems. But I happen to know that my friends who have all of these things that adults have are also juggling, and the ones who have kids are used to juggling even more than I am. Women are supposed to be multitaskers, it’s what we do. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s what we’ve been forced to learn how to do. Maybe at some point my friends just managed to get better at it, or they learned to eliminate that one thing that puts them over the edge, or they earn enough to have a personal shopper and really good dry cleaning.
Then somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember that the other person my mom said couldn’t keep food off of her clothes was my grandmother. She also worried a lot. So maybe I’ve started the inevitable slide toward my second childhood early (I always was precocious), or maybe being a slovenly worry wart is in my genes. The nice thing about this answer is that it’s not a solution, it’s an opportunity to throw up my hands and say, Well there you have it. These stains are not a life choice, they’re not a sign of things out of whack, it’s just me becoming who I would inevitably become. I should just accept and embody my identity as a slob, the way I’ve accepted my bad knees and grey hairs. I don’t remember seeing “The Stainer” on the MBTI, but they probably just gave it a better name.
I’ve been living in the same building since October 2009, when I moved in with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. He owned the place, and before we decided we were going to get married, we decided I was going to buy his ex-wife out of her share of the apartment. This was partly why getting married didn’t end up seeming like such a big deal. When you’re bound by real estate, that seems much more consequential than a bunch of words and some silly license from the state.
This building is mostly owner-occupied and you can immediately tell the difference between a place that is and one that isn’t. In a renter-occupied building, you never know if people are going to say “hello” to you in the hallway, but in an owner-occupied place, you can be pretty sure they will. Having been a renter for so long, it’s clear to me why this is. There was a time when I was moving either every year or every other year. I developed a reputation among my friends for finding great places to live, and then having to move out of them. Over the 25.5 years I’ve lived in New York, I’ve had in 11 different residences:
1990-91: NYU student housing three-bedroom in East Village with two roommates
‘91-’93: large Village studio with boyfriend
‘93-’95: post break-up, East Village two-bedroom with friend
‘95-’98: for cheaper rent, three-story house in Park Slope, Brooklyn with three roommates — until house is sold
‘98-’99: another three-story house in Park Slope with two roommates — until house is sold
‘99-’01: duplex half of house with garden in Park Slope with one roommate — until house is sold
‘01-’02: very tiny two-bedroom, which is the first apartment I ever had all to myself. Less than six months later, new boyfriend moves in with me.
‘02-’06: bigger apt in Park Slope, with dining room, with boyfriend
‘06-’08: two bedroom in Park Slope, with new roommate (after breakup with boyfriend, 7-week trip to Guatemala, and two months of couch surfing) — until crazy landlord forces move
‘08-’09: studio sublet in owner-occupied building in Kensington
‘09-present: one-bedroom with then-boyfriend-now-husband
So, you can see why someone might not feel a need to put down roots. It’s not like I didn’t know any of my neighbors before I landed in my first owner-occupied building, I generally did get to know the ones who lived on my floor, and the ones who were really friendly (there’s always a few), but there was no sense of that being the norm. The norm, as a New Yorker, is not to greet anyone you don’t know — because between the door and your corner, you could encounter anywhere from five to fifty of them. Imagine walking just three blocks like that when the average New Yorker walks two to five miles a day. It would be nuts, and there are too many crazy people on the streets of this city already. This is why we aren’t friendly: not because we’re jerks, but because there are just too many of us. And when you live a building that can contain hundreds of people, that you might not be staying in for that long, it’s the same.
If you own your apartment, though, you are quite literally invested, and generally, so is everyone else who lives around you. So people say “hi.” Once you get used to it, it’s nice. Sometimes, when I get home from work exhausted after a fourteen hour day and an hour each way of commuting, it can be hard to make conversation, but people generally don’t expect much in that department. In fact, a lot of people clearly don’t want to talk beyond saying “hello,” they’ll immediately turn to their phone or their mail or the wall to signal you about that, or they’ll make conversation with the person(s) they got into the elevator with, as if you’re not there. It’s kind of a weird etiquette of being friendly but not, and you never know exactly how much is expected. I will generally chat about superficial things with the people who live on my floor, and one or two others who I’ve had conversations with before due to extenuating circumstances (like running into one of our neighbors who’s an artist at an open studio tour, or finding one of them trying to take my bike hook in the bike room).
In my case, there’s one whole other level of weirdness, because my husband originally moved into the building with his ex-wife. When you have a talk-about-the-weather-or-say-hi-only relationship, it’s not like you’re discussing the intimate details of your life. You’re not invested deeply enough for that, plus, you might only run into that person once every few months, and a lot can happen in the interim that you don’t have the time to catch up on in the minute or so you that spend together in the elevator. So for some of our neighbors, it could have been like one day Damon was living with this one woman, and the next time they saw him, he was living with this other one — despite the fact that there was, in reality, close to two years in between. How do you surface chat about that? “So, uh…what happened there?” Yeah, no. Plus, people aren’t going to know for sure that you live there until they see you at least twice. So I think for some the thought process was like, “Oh, he’s with someone new,” then, “Oh, she lives here now,” then, “Oh, I guess she’s here to stay,” and for some of them, “Maybe she was a home-wrecker but now they’re married so it’s legit,” and then they would finally talk to me.
Still, while I say “hi” to everyone in my building, I hardly know any names. I know the few names Damon knew and told me about, of people who were on the board when he moved in, or with whom he used to smoke cigarettes in front of the building back when he smoked (Damon made his one building friend this way, but now that he doesn’t smoke any more, they only hang out when they happen to run into each other during an international soccer tournament, since that was the other thing they have in common), or because they lived on our floor and were especially outgoing (like our neighbor down the hall who is in a wheelchair and orthodox, so he occasionally needs a person/shabbas goy to do things for him, plus he likes to talk. He doesn’t remember either of our names, so instead, for some reason, he calls Damon “the general.”). Damon and I use descriptive made-up names for everyone else, like, “the woman from the lesbian couple down the hall with the short hair” (since we just surface chat and we hardly ever see them together, we only felt confident that they were a couple when they had a baby), or “the short, Latino-looking woman who wears big hats who’s married to that older Black guy,” or, “the older English guy with the bike,” or, “the musician’s wife.” When they started a building email list, then I finally had names attached to emails, but the names still weren’t associated with actual people. I exchanged a series of emails with someone named Traci (who never listed her apartment number) about giving away some ink cartridges that I bought for my old printer, and when I finally met her, she turned out to be my next-door neighbor. I’d run into her and her husband and her kids so many times, but I’d never have guessed that she was Traci with an “i.” When I refused to take money for the ink cartridges, she said I should come over to her apartment some time for a glass of wine, but I didn’t really know how to make that happen. She’s married and has two little girls, it didn’t seem like I could just drop by at any time and that would be okay. So I said, “Sure,” but that was last August, and I have a feeling the offer doesn’t still stand. This all seemed so silly, so last November, I emailed the idea to have a holiday party to the building mailing list – I knew other buildings had them, why not us? Not a single person responded, so I guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t have the time and energy to make new friends, maybe I’m simply the only one who feels bad about it. It just seems weird to be surrounded by this diverse group of interesting- and nice-looking people — artists, musicians, lesbians, these are my people — and not actually be friends with any of them. (Plus, it would all be different if I had kids, as so many people in the building do. It’s automatically something they have in common, and an additional reason for them to become friends, so that their kids have friends in the building too. So thinking about it that way enables me to feel bad about not having friends in the building and not having kids at the same time.)
Why do I feel this way? Friendship hasn’t always exactly been a bed of roses for me. In my childhood, I was a year younger than everyone, I switched from public to Catholic school (and I’m not Catholic), then moved from the city to the suburbs, then started a gifted program which kept us on a different schedule from all of the other kids and made us natural targets for ridicule (it was junior high, after all), and all during that, had friends move away to different schools or states several times. Even when I got in with a solid group of friends in high school, we still weren’t exactly nice to each other, that just wasn’t really done. Being cutting to everyone was how we proved that we were cool. All of that contributed to making me afraid to put myself out there. I could point fingers and name names of those who were bricks in the wall of the edifice that is my fraught relationship with humanity by taunting or turning on me (yes, I’m talking about YOU Susan Matthews), but given the circumstances, and that I was a kid who was always too much in my head, I think I would have ended up here eventually regardless. It was only when I arrived at college that I discovered that people didn’t have to be like that; that, in fact, the presumption was that everyone was worthy of friendship until proven otherwise, not the other way around. Needless to say, it was something of a revelation — the Friendship Revelation of My 20s. Suddenly, I felt like I could be friends with anyone, or at least anyone who I had an excuse to talk with, like a class or a dorm in common. That meant even the those in the Bible study group, or the sorority girls, or even the one person I knew from high school who ended up also going to Stanford — and was placed in my freshman dorm. I mean, seriously, Stanford, I came all the way across the country and you put my past one floor down? Still, it really was like we were entitled to be entirely new people at college, which just felt like we were being ourselves.
I managed to keep this friendship open-door policy through much of my 20s, although I learned that it had its limits. Film school was somewhat backstabby, and I also figured out there that it wasn’t worth it to have guy friends who would hardly ever let you finish a sentence, much less treat you as an equal, and there are a lot of guys like that. As I entered my 30s, I found that some friendships just weren’t deep enough to grow and mature as we did, or only had room for the other person to grow so much that there wasn’t room for me any more. I still met people at parties and on buses and in hostels when I traveled, but I didn’t have the same expectations about what those friendships would be. Maybe I couldn’t be friends with anyone, but I could be friends with anyone for a few hours or a few days, and that can be great too. That was the Friendship Revelation Addendum of My 30s. Which is irrelevant when it comes to making friends in your building. You pretty much know that you’re going to see them again at some point, so if you decide to take that next step to being friends and then find out that you don’t really like them that much, you’re stuck with them until somebody moves. You can’t ghost friends in the building, you can only hurry into the elevator, pretending not to see them and trying to get the door to close before they can get on (which you’d have to be a jerk to do to pretty much anyone else).
Now I seem to be at a point where I’m not sure I want any more friends, but I’m conflicted about it. With all of us so busy, it feels like I don’t have time to see the friends I have. Plus, as I get older, I find more and more that I really am that introverted kid, which means talking to people can be fun, but damn it’s exhausting. So, the Friendship Revelation Addendum of My 40s is that while maybe I could be friends with anyone, maybe I don’t have to be friends with everyone. And yet I can’t decide if this one is a failure — me giving up because of my issues with friendship — or a victory — me triumphing over my other issues with friendship. I mean, can you really just decide that you have enough friends, that you should maybe even pare it down? Because I do see that I’m not the only one who’s changing as I get older. Certain aspects of everyone’s personalities become more prominent while others diminish. Sometimes we don’t like the things that become more prominent in our friends, or we just notice them more because of how we’ve changed, or we’re less tolerant of the things we used to ignore or excuse just because they were our friends – or they feel that way about us. We start to wonder (or at least I do), What is the basis of this friendship anyway? Was it just an accident of fate or geography, that we lived down the street or in a certain dorm, or had so many classes together? Is it because we just happened to meet at work at that time when neither of us knew anyone, or we shared an interest in something, like going to bars and picking up men, that’s not so relevant any more?
A pile of boxes has amassed outside of Traci’s apartment (I still don’t know her husband or her kids’ names), which leads me to believe that they are moving. Another chance at a building friendship down the tubes, or is it just as well, since they’re leaving anyway, and that’s one less friendship I’d have to maintain or feel guilty about not maintaining? I haven’t figured that out yet. Maybe it’s going to be the Friendship Revelation of My 50s — although just saying that gives me hives. “Of My 50s.” Guess you gotta have something to look forward to.
To my great chagrin, I often find myself having thoughts these days that make me feel like a fogey. For example, how those rings that pierce the septum and hang in the center of the nose are just a bad idea. I mean, at what point did making a semi-permanent fashion choice that’s gotta hurt really badly when you sneeze start being considered attractive? But in my head, I sound like Scar-Jo’s mother (or maybe she’s fine with it, I don’t know) when I think these things, so I tend not to say them out loud. I don’t want to be one of those over-the-hill types who complains about kids today and thinks that all new trends are bad because they’re new and she just can’t deal. Cultural change is always derided at first as shocking, improper and indecent. Women’s suffrage, jazz, television, Dungeons and Dragons, people actually thought these things were going to tear down America, but where would it be now without any one of them? I believe that questioning authority, and the status quo, and the cultural norms that keep us in line is vital to progress, so I tend to tell myself that any impulse I have to instantly dislike a new trend that I’ve noticed is telling me that I’m getting old, and I should keep it to myself.
But this time, I’m just going to come right out and say it: the level of our political discourse now truly sucks. What I’m seeing is really two trends fusing into one unholy ball of nasty. It’s one part the way that people are regularly attacked, demeaned and threatened on the internet in the most hateful ways, particularly ones that insult and degrade them based on race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, and sexual preference; combined with the way in which our “discussion” of politics is becoming the piling up of lie-, hearsay-, and hyperbole-based bullshit, recycled and repeated again and again in the echo chamber of the internet, purely for the sake of winning. A lot of this is just human beings calling other human beings — who I personally think deserve respect just because they’re human beings, much less because they’re as indisputably accomplished as, oh, our president, or Hilary Clinton, or Ben Carson, or even John Kasich — “retard” or “cunt,” just to name the two epithets that leap to mind since I’ve seen them most recently, and because they really do just epitomize how truly awesome we are becoming. Yay, America. But some of it is abusing fact just enough to create a name or catchphrase that sounds good and sticks. In some ways, flat-out lies like saying Barack Obama is a muslim from Kenya, while they have been used effectively on the gullible, are easier to fight than the reductive oversimplification and exaggeration that’s being used this season: “commie,” “fascist,” “criminal,” “liar,” “war-monger,” “lightweight,” “crazy,” “wimp,” “Bernie Bro,” “Shillary.”
You can blame assholes on the internet, or in the Tea Party, or Fox News and talk radio for calling right-wing talking points “news,” or the media and the 24-hour news cycle in general for repeating everything regardless of whether it has any basis in reality — and believe me, I do. We all know that the Republican presidential candidates in particular, with Donald Trump leading the way, really made a name for themselves with this kind of fact-neutral bullshit this season. It was so bad that even the head of the RNC was telling them to cut it out. But now that the Democratic race has heated up, it’s happening on the left too — and even if Hillary and Bernie themselves seem to be still largely sticking to civility, their supporters no longer are. Nope, turns out this is not so much a trend as a contagious disease, infecting us all.
Instead, people now just seem to accept this as if it’s the norm, or inevitable, to the point of sometimes even denying that it’s a problem. “Oh,” they say, “that’s just the internet.” Or, when they get called out for doing it, they say, “Well, their side is doing it.” Or they justify it by saying that the other side is just so bad and wrong, the implication somehow being that it doesn’t matter what you say about them, no matter how bad and wrong. And when you try to bring up the fact that this is a problem, this, specifically, the ugly and bombastic way we talk about the candidates and their supporters, the disrespectful way we often talk to each other when we disagree about them, the sexist and misogynistic way women are shouted down or discounted for supporting a particular candidate, or people of color or immigrants are typed and slurred in racist ways for saying what they think, or either of the two is “‘splained” to about how wrong they are for having the nerve to have their own ideas about who they want to support, that this itself IS the problem, the other person often just rolls right on into an argument about why their candidate is better — or really why the other one is worse, since that’s what it always comes down to: who can be demonized more. And that is not the fucking point. And maybe if you were actually listening to what we were saying, you’d get that.
If you — yes you — are simply repeating something you heard on the internet without giving thought where that “information” might have originated; or saying something without considering that the way you’re saying it might not be okay, might be something you think is okay because you’ve heard someone else do it, who heard it from someone else, who maybe…learned it from Rush Limbaugh? Yeah, you’re making us all sicker. Think about it: terms like “commie,” or “war-monger,” no matter how much you might claim that you are “just being honest” by using them to label the candidate who isn’t yours, have never been used by anyone who had respect for the opposition, or who wanted to give a fair airing to the issues. They were developed out of a desire to bend the truth to serve a purpose, usually to cause damage or stifle opposition. In our political era, I could point my finger at the worst of the right-wing — the birthers, the climate-deniers, the anti-choice activists — as examples of those who have become adept at using such language to tell lies and make them sound like the truth, but that’s just the most recent version of the phenomenon. It’s propaganda, friends, plain and simple, and we humans have had a thing for it forever. Never before, though, could it be spread so widely and so quickly and so far from the source as to make it nearly untraceable, and never before, in my lifetime, have I seen people seem so credulous and unquestioning when it comes to repeating it verbatim.
Yes, I think opposing new trends is generally wrong and pointless. We need to try and see the good in them, beyond the confines of what small amount of change our small brains can handle. This one, though, is just a new spin on a bad old story, and I find it hard to believe that anything good can possibly come of it. If this is how the “right” candidate wins, we still all lose.
So I know everybody’s doing it, but don’t. Think for yourself. Don’t stoop. Be better than that.