Plastic Bags Are Passing From Our Lives

Ever since New York City’s plastic bag ban went into effect, I’ve found myself in a strange state of mourning. It’s not like I don’t see the upside to reducing single-use plastics. But now that they’ve gone away, I’ve fallen in love with the plastic bags of the city I grew up in. You always want what you can’t have, I suppose.

I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that a plastic bag is a piece of culture in itself. Every time I crinkled up a bag and placed it below my sink, inside a bigger plastic bag, I was ferreting away a little piece of Noo Yawk, baby! Lately, I’ve been reminiscing about all the strange ways I've interacted with plastic bags—cue “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”—how I’d treasure and save the nice ones (i.e. Strand, Manhattan Fruit Market) to reuse for the most special occasions, inadvertently creating a complex plastic bag hierarchy I wasn’t even fully conscious of. Disposing of icky kitchen garbage is for the bags from the supermarket or the bodega, the type with menacing smiles that implore you to have a nice day. The more elite bags—the ones that are smooth, often transparent plastic as opposed to the crinkly, opaque stuff—are reserved for when I’m going away, and need to encase something I’m packing in plastic, or for bringing baked goods to my mom’s apartment.

I think about this invisible plastic bag pecking order, and I feel a deep tenderness. There is so much weirdness in the way that we are required to organize our lives—we form profound relationships with seemingly insignificant objects that we are forced to interact with over and over again. It’s not until something major happens, like the plastic bag ban, that you recognize the major role these little pieces of ephemera have in our lives.

I remember how cool I felt as a teenager, clutching one of those iconic black bags from a liquor store, and later, as a grown-up, moving to Greenpoint and feeling more and more connected with the neighborhood as my kitchen became populated with bags from Busy Bee Food Exchange, Rachel’s (a 24-hour fruit-centric grocery), and Xi’an Famous Foods. The other week, my sister took me to a Peloton class and I felt good after snagging a thick white (i.e. good quality) plastic bag from the locker room, knowing I would give it a good home underneath my sink, and likely repurpose it as a laundry bag for a vacation. Woven together, every plastic bag I acquired in the time before prohibition creates an account of my life in New York City.

Sometimes, you don’t realize you love something until it goes away, and as it turns out, I fucking love plastic bags. I firmly believe that garbage like this—culture so low it’s not even considered culture—can tell you as much (or more) about our world as a novel or a piece of art. Your local grocery store’s plastic bag tells you more about your neighborhood than some shitty hipster mural. The Marvel’s Avengers-branded celery at the supermarket tells you more about the power of film in the early 21st century than an indie movie at your local arthouse cinema. Maybe I believe this because I’m a contrarian at heart, or because I have a sort of Hyper-Capitalist Stockholm Syndrome, but I’m forever struck by the grotesque artistry of movie tie-in fruit snacks, of pharmaceutical commercials, of “disposable” pieces of plastic that are adorned with beautiful flowers that will float around the planet for eternity.

(image via a great New York Times photo essay of plastic bags)

They're the ultimate intersection of culture, marketing, and literal garbage—and so am I.

Dear subscribers,

Long time no talk! Apologies for falling out of touch. What can I say? At the end of last year I fell into a depression and didn’t feel like writing, and I’ve been slowly climbing out of that for the past couple months. I recently quasi-quit social media, logging on as infrequently as humanly possible, only when I need to post a link, and it’s done wonders for my state of mind. Now that I’ve started consistently reading books again, I gotta say all the old ones are sexist as hell. It’s a real bummer! But nevertheless, books are pretty good.

In case you missed it, I wrote a defense of Billy Joel of the upcoming issue of VICE Magazine. Please, read it! It’s a fun one.

And if you liked this newsletter, tell your friends to subscribe. I’m forever trying to figure out how to communicate with the general public while shunning social media.

Lots of love,

Imagine yourself at SoulCycle with Chairman Mao

On Ellen and George W. Bush's budding friendship.

Have you heard about the latest celebrity micro-scandal? Ellen DeGeneres was photographed paling around with George W. Bush at a Cowboys game. Unsurprisingly, seeing Ellen, a lesbian monoculture icon, chilling with the dude who was super into banning gay marriage and did the Iraq War, which killed over a million people, ruffled a couple feathers.

Image result for ellen degeneres george bush

Ellen addressed the inevitable outrage on her show, opining:

"They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president? A lot of people were mad… Here's the thing. I'm friends with George Bush. In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have… But just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean that I'm not going to be friends with them. When I say, 'be kind to one another,' I don't only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone."

A sampling of the Twitter discourse that followed:

  • “Here’s the thing, Ellen, George W. Bush is a war criminal who is responsible for death on a cataclysmic scale. It’s not a matter of being friends with people with different beliefs—we all have those friends—it’s about having a little perspective on the damage he’s done.”

  • “reducing the problem with George W Bush to ‘we have different beliefs’ is folksy disingenuous malarkey! He used his structural power to commit some of the most heinous acts in American history!”

  • “Yes we get it be kind to people you disagree with yadda yadda. We have families, this is obvious. The issue w/ Ellen & Bush is that he's a torturer war criminal w the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on his hands, he's never faced justice & its spun as a 'disagreement'“

Fair enough!

From a beyond good and evil standpoint, Ellen’s celebrity friendship with George W. Bush, during his post-presidential era, makes total sense. His daughter is hosting the Today show. Even before this outrage cycle, he was already appearing as a guest on Ellen’s show. He has been totally rehabilitated as cute, something that has been facilitated by the fact that, despite all the war crimes, he does have this inherent harmlessly cute vibe to him. Being affable has always been kind of his thing, which probably helped him get away with said crimes.

But really, rich people tend to bond no matter their political differences: even in the case of a gay woman being friends with a guy who wanted to amend the constitution so she could never get married. There’s a special connection the elite share with one another, which transcends all that. Something that will never be understood by us plebs: tragic nobodies who might have to experience the consequences of politics, as opposed to viewing them as a sports team affiliation.

Other celebs, naturally, clung to Ellen’s message of bipartisan kindness. Reese Witherspoon, Orlando Bloom, Jamie Foxx, and even Tulsi Gabbard eagerly praised the talk show host. “Yay being nice to each other no matter what,” the most scrutinized people in the world howled. “Kindness, for the win!” chanted the people at the top, who have to deal with the people on the bottom scolding them constantly. Big stars have always been largely amoral, but in the Trump era, where pop culture and politics are one in the same, we now demand a slightly more ethical brand of elites.

(Tangentially, I hope to be murdered by Ellen DeGeneres one day.)

Mostly, Ellen’s hangout with W got me thinking about what I would say if I was seated next to him at football game. Being aggressively mean to him wouldn’t be my style—sorry, I literally talk about my fear of interpersonal confrontation every week in therapy, sorry again. I respect the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at him and I’m glad there are shoe-throwers in this world. But I am more of a questions-asker.

I would ask him if he feels bad about Iraq and all his wars, if it eats him up inside. If things weren’t too awkward after that, I’d keep probing. Ask if he’s changed his mind about gay marriage, and why he’s obsessed with painting veterans and Iraqis impacted by his war.

Then I started fantasizing about meeting other terrible men from history. I imagined myself at a WNBA game with Osama bin Laden, the most notorious terrorist of all time, and what I’d be dying to ask him. I mean, first of all, here’s a guy who has over 50 siblings. Does he remember all of their names? I gotta know!

What would say if I was seated next to Adolf Hitler on an airplane, at brunch with Stalin, or in a SoulCycle class with Chairman Mao? If, god forbid, I found myself on a coffee date with the Unabomber, I’d of course mumble something about how I do not condone murder, but also, I’d have to inquire: Does he know what social media is and does he have an opinion about it?

How polite would I be to Pol Pot? Would I schmooze with Saddam? Give a friendly wave to Genghis Khan? Flirt with Caligula? Mingle with Robespierre? Would I get up the nerve to snub Mussolini, or give the finger to Franco?

Regardless of my fantasies, this is hopefully just the beginning of Ellen’s open embrace of highly controversial political figures. By the end of 2020, she’ll no doubt be lunching with Kim Jong-un, hitting the ski slopes with Henry Kissinger, and sending a “goodnight cutie” text to Vladimir Putin. And I, personally, cannot wait.

ICYMI, check out some of my latest work:

I Loved Him, Then I Loved Video Games- NYTimes

Branded Experiences Will Be There For You- Gen

‘I’d Rather Die Hot Than Live Ugly’- Gen

Cleaning up shit

When I think back on my late teen years and the earliest part of my twenties, I mostly feel agony. It was a time in my life when I was constantly drunk, unbelievably depressed, and embarrassingly insecure. But there are, inevitably, moments that I remember with fondness, like the job I worked between the ages of 18 and 21, as an usher, concessionaire and ticket seller at the Film Forum, New York’s iconic independent movie theater.

It was my first real job, and even though it was menial—tearing tickets, telling people which theater to go to, popping corn—my coworkers were an exceptionally lovely group of people, and we cultivated a sort of familial relationship, bonded together by the aches of minimum wage life and an undying love for cinema.

There’s one specific moment during my career as a movie theater employee that I've been reflecting on a lot lately, now that it’s been years since I worked in service and I’m a certified yuppie: The first time in my life when I had to clean up another person’s shit.

The thing about Film Forum, despite its trendiness, was that many of its patrons happened to be elderly retirees, who frequented the theater during the daytime to watch their favorite classic movies. That, staffers theorized, led to a recurring problem for us—because someone was bound to have little (or big) accident in the bathroom. There were a number of times when a coworker discovered that the men’s bathroom was covered in poop, and some brave soul would have to clean it up. Whenever shit hit the wall, we’d have fun thinking about exactly the circumstances that would lead to someone making such a mess in a public bathroom, and lament the fact that we were in the unfortunate position of having to clean it all up.

One day when I was ushering, another bathroom accident went down, this time in the ladies’ room, and my manager informed me, with a benign smirk, that it was finally my turn to clean up the shit. So the only other woman working that shift and I went into the bathroom, and did the dirty work we had to.

Rigged out in rubber gloves, we used a long-handled mop to get the shit off the walls while keeping a safe distance. We were howling and giggling in utter disgust, united by the fact that we were working a job that required us to perform such a fundamentally gross task. It was disgusting, but not in a gut-wrenching way. It didn’t make me feel bad about myself or my position in the world—it was simply a chore I was required to perform, and I made the best out of a shitty situation.

Now that I’m at a different point in my life, having written professionally for various news media organizations since 2015, I haven’t had to clean up literal shit in a minute. These days, I'm more likely to be navigating adolescent office politics, thwarting internet haters, and/or the perennial anxiety of being a professional creative. The bad feelings associated with work now tend to be deeply personal, and occasionally, I’ve found myself yearning for simpler times, when the worst thing I was required to do was clean up another person’s feces.

The last full-time job I had was writing for a talk show on cable television, the kind of gig that makes a parent proud. But three months in I called it quits, and I’ve been pretty open about the fact that it was, without a doubt, the worst job I have ever had. Not to sound too Goop-ish, but the bad energy on the set of this show truly stank.

Forced to be in the office for upwards of eleven hours a day, I underwent pointless meeting after pointless meeting, wherein my coworkers and I would present our scripts and ideas to a clique of cartoonishly difficult and insecure TV show hosts, who practically delighted in their contempt for my fellow producers—who, for what it’s worth, were amazing and brilliant—as well as the job the network had hired them to do. That was compounded by the ultra-toxic work environment fostered by clueless upper management types: a gang of white, well-dressed Gen X’ers who became obsessed with bringing different shiny new consultants every other week in a misguided attempt to fix a fundamentally broken project, creating weird rifts between various writers and producers, and all but ensuring our failure.

Working on the bad show, of course, had its upsides: it paid significantly more than my minimum-wage movie theater job did, I ended up making some great friends (hi Josh!), and most of all, it sounded impressive to other people.

Most days, I was bored and vexed by the fact that I had to spend all my time working on a show I hated for an organization that I hated nearly as much. During my months toiling away on this horrible, awful, no good project, my mind often wandered to what it really meant to clean up someone else’s shit. I thought about the day I cleaned up the mess in that bathroom, the simplicity of it, how it was a task that wasn’t motivated by other people’s malice or institutional mismanagement, but just someone having bad luck in a public bathroom, how easily the issue was able to be addressed, and the lack of lingering bad feelings about the whole thing.

Dealing with worse problems than the actual feces I was required to clean up years earlier, has made me reconsider the values I learned growing up the child of middle-class creative types in New York City. There’s a prevailing cultural assumption that having a service job, or performing any sort of unskilled labor, is somehow less respectable than, say, writing professionally. By the time I quit, I had reached the following conclusion: Fuck what’s respectable and fuck what looks good on paper. I’d rather clean up some old lady’s shit in a public bathroom any day of the week than be doomed to work in the world’s most socially toxic environment. (If I needed any more proof I needed to get the fuck out, in the weeks leading up to my departure, my back had twisted in an agonizing cramp, restricting my ability to stand-up straight, a pain I thought I might never escape. A couple days after I quit, it vanished completely.)

There’s no right way to live, and there isn't some special merit to being a TV star instead of working as waiter. Anyone who tells you different simply hasn’t had to clean up enough shit.

ICYMI, check out some of my latest work:

Which 2020 Candidate Would You Swipe Right On? - New York Times Sunday Review

Meet the Marianniacs - Elle

Grumpy Jewish Grandpa 2020 - Moment Magazine

The tender side of gaming

Hold me, love me, hold me, love me

For the past couple weeks, the words “hold me,  love me” have been bouncing around in my head like a DVD logo ricocheting across an idle screen.

My boyfriend Hudson asked if I was compulsively humming “hold me, love me” as some unbridled expression of my id. While I do immensely enjoy being both held and loved, the reason I can’t get those commandments out of my quasi-poisoned brain isn’t because of some deep desire to be further held and/or loved, but rather, because I’m a gamer.

Recently, I tried out Beatles Rockband on Wii, and ever since belting out the 1964 hit “Eight Days A Week,” its hook—“Hold me, love me, hold me, love me / I ain't got nothing but love, babe / Eight days a week”—has haunted me like a specter.

In our rough and tumble modern world, seldom will you find a tender space to be held and loved. But as a relatively new gamer, I’ve found a certain tenderness in video games that has surprised me.

I grew up in an all-female household, and never had any sort of interest in owning a gaming console. Whenever I’d play a videogame at one of my male friends’ houses, I would quickly grow frustrated because I didn’t know how to use the controller and wasn’t around anyone with the patience to really teach me how everything worked. I thus viewed videogames as boring and hard, distinctly masculine, something inaccessible to a girly-girl like me. (As it turns out, I have more traditionally masculine than I previously realized.)

I only began to slowly develop a taste for videogames when Hudson and I moved in together, and he brought along an Xbox, Playstation, and Wii. It took me a while to get a hang of all the different controllers, so it wasn't until I started cosplaying as a cowboy in the astoundingly well-made Red Dead Redemption 2 that I really got into gamer life. Since then, I’ve been enjoying various iterations of the Grand Theft Auto series, and despite its reputation for being the most violent and “bad for kids” videogame around, I’m enamored with its humanity and warmth.

Image result for gta san andreas kiss

The kiss.

GTA: San Andreas offers a co-op multiplayer mode, meaning you play with—not against—another person in the same room as you. You and your gaming partner (in my case, Hudson) can traverse the open world together, killing cops and rival gang members. But the only option the game gives for directly interacting with the person you’re playing with is kissing them. That’s it. I can’t recall any other game that has a feature where you can command your avatar to kiss another person you’re playing with. (If you can think of one, please reach out!)

A videogame where I can kiss my boyfriend: How tender and wonderfully silly! It’s literally all a girl could ask for in this cold, hard world. What a strange and beautifully dystopian way to express your eternal human desire to be held and loved.

Check out my latest for Esquire, wherein I write about millennials and the emerging non-alcoholic beer market.

O’Doul’s certainly found a niche demographic upon its debut three decades ago, but it didn’t make the biggest splash. In the U.S., NA beer has earned a reputation as the preferred beverage of retired cops, suburban dads, and reformed alcoholics. Famous fuddy-duddy George W. Bush—who, as you might recall, was the presidential candidate who voters most wanted to have a beer with—is fond of drinking what he’s dubbed “non-beer.” Notable square Mike Pence is also known to partake in a risqué Friday night routine of enjoying an O’Doul’s with a slice of pizza.

Now that a new generation of American adults are dabbling with sobriety, NA beer is finally inching toward something resembling fashionable. (A GlobalData report from earlier this year found that it's the fastest growing product in the beer industry.)

Regarding my last newsletter, I have some updates on our movie grades.

I rewatched the 1990 Paul Verheoven classic, Total Recall, which is one of my favorite movies ever. It got an A-. It’s so visually-stunning and funny and perfectly dystopian. For anyone who wants to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger yell about Mars, it’s ideal.

Also, Death to Smoochy, the Danny DeVito-directed comedy, starring Robin Williams and Ed Norton, is a hidden gem. Would absolutely recommend.

Lastly, I was really high when I watched Monsters University and fell in love. Does it deserve an A-? Probably not. But it made me laugh so hard and cry and feel things, and in that moment, I really needed that.

How grading movies helps me remember the good times

A very cute thing my boyfriend and I started doing at the beginning of 2018 was assigning a letter grade to every movie we watched together. Our list of our grades hangs prominently on the wall of our living room, and is an excellent conversation piece. It’s an imperfect system for assessing films, but it has turned out to be a pretty fun way to quantify our entertainment experiences.

Before I show you our grades, a quick note on the criteria: I assess a movie based on overall enjoyability. My ideal movie is probably not an art film. It’s fast-paced and highly entertaining, but that doesn’t mean it’s void of meaning or import. I like a movie that says something about the world, that’s funny and, more often than not, full of cool action sequences. I have reverence for (some) hoity-toity cinema, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately, I seek a movie that will help me escape from the mundanity of my life and have a good time. (It’s a joint project, but since this is my newsletter, I won’t be discussing my boyfriend’s grades, which are mostly similar to mine.)

The other week, a rando on Instagram kvetched that I watch “wack movies” and instead should be viewing “classics & liberal arts cinema.”

I replied, “I like media designed to entertain the masses. Sue me!!” But moreover, I believe in the cultural importance of mainstream films, and maintain mass culture tells us valuable things about who we are as a society, in a way that a niche art film might not (but also can sometimes)!

Anyhoo, here we go:

Before you panic, I need to let you know:

  1. I have yet to watch something that merits an A+.

  2. As you might have noticed, my only A is WALL•E, which I love and couldn’t find a single problem with. A-’s tend to be movies I believe are more or less “perfect,” and also culturally influential.

  3. A B+ and above is a great grade to me. It means I truly adored the movie. The King of Comedy, a deeply underrated Scorsese / de Niro gem, is a B+ to me. It Follows, one of all my all-time favorite horror movies? B+. My love for the poignantly sweet My Neighbor Tortoro is about as pure as it gets, and I gave it a B+.

  1. A B is pretty good in my book: I gave The Dark Knight Rises, which I revisit a lot, due to my obsession with Tom Hardy’s Bane, a B. I have deep, deep love for that movie but it earned a B because it is too long, and a little stupid. (To be clear, I love stupid.) I also gave a Chungking Express, an utterly charming and bizarre Hong Kong indie flick a B. A critic would probably argue that Chungking Express is a superior cinematic work to The Dark Knight Rises, but even though the former was an absolute delight—and has an amazing soundtrack—the latter lives on in my heart in its own special way.

  2. Many movies I have great affection for received a B-: A Quiet Place, Isle of Dogs and Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, for example. To me that it is not a bad grade. Some movies I kinda felt meh about got similar grades—e.g. some of the James Bonds—because I thought they were structurally pretty sound, and delivered what they promised to the viewer, even if they didn’t make a big impact on me.

  3. Despite having graded upwards of 100 films, none of them have received an F, on account of the fact that we seldom finish any movie that’s a real stinker, and we’re only allowed to grade movies that we’ve watched in completion together as of 2018, when we implemented the grading system.

  4. For whatever reason, we don’t grade any of the documentaries we watch. I guess I’ll save my thoughts on The Fog of War and The Unknown Known—two of my absolute faves—for another time.

The more I try to explain my complex grading system, however, the clearer it becomes that it may never make sense to anyone other than me. (Oopsie!) A simple letter grade cannot express everything these movies made me think about: what True Lies says about the anxiety of marriage; the enduring, delightful campiness of the teen horror classic, The Faculty; the brilliance of John Wick’s nonstop fight choreography; and the utter joy that revisiting Legally Blonde brought to me on a night when I really needed it.

Across the room from our movie grades hangs another list, which describes moments my boyfriend and I have had together that made us feel happy, like “watching our mushrooms grow” (pic below), “smelling the forest and early morning walks in Yosemite,” “admiring our plastic plant,” and “shopping for fruit and nunchucks in Chinatown.”

Ultimately, both lists represent an alternative method of tracking time through experiences—and not just the big, tragic ones that dominate the news. Anyone can remember 2001 as the year of the 9/11 attacks (and they'll certainly continue to), but only you can remember it as the year your sister snuck you into Donnie Darko while pretending she wasn't too scared to watch it alone.

I hope that I'll stumble across these lists again some day and remember that my twenties were about more than just financial, political and emotional instability. Even as I live through these years, it's troublingly easy to forget the smaller (but no less consequential) moments, like enjoying a great relationship, taking bike rides, and watching movies that make me think differently about the world.

P.S. Read my profile of Sam Nunberg on GEN/Medium. I accompanied the former Trump advisor—who among other things, takes credit for giving Trump the idea to build a wall—to his personal training session at Equinox.

P.P.S. If you like what you read, implore your friends to sign up for Evemail. It would mean a lot to me.

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