Sonic youth

I am in my hometown this week for my annual 1-week summer vacation. Usually I get to come here for 4th of July weekend because it’s also my stepdad’s birthday that week, but this year my mom and stepdad went to Alaska on a trip they won in a raffle.

My hometown isn’t really even my hometown, it’s just the place I lived the longest of all the places I lived so far. I lived here from age 3 to age 11, and then again in the summer when I was 17. My mom and her siblings bought my grandpa’s house here when he moved, and we share it. It’s in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the home of the TV show “Myrtle Manor,” the ficticious home of Kenny Powers, the place where this happened tonight, where thong bikinis are banned but you’re allowed to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, a place with 250 golf courses and one college, the home of the Gay Dolphin and a Nascar theme park and a pyramid-shaped Hard Rock Cafe (where I saw Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar in 8th grade).

I am not really a beach person. I can get sunburned walking to my car in a parking lot. Plus, it’s loud, it’s filthy and also there are sharks. There used to be a few record stores and a few decent, divey music venues. Now there are no stores and just a handful of country venues. I come here to sleep late, eat at restaurants, go to the outlet mall for back-to-school work clothes for the fall and read books all day.

Today my mom and I went to my favorite divey burger joint. It’s one of those places where you throw peanut shells on the floor and graffiti is encouraged and there are license plates on the walls. The beers come in bottles and the cocktails are 16 oz. and in plastic cups. There’s a roll of paper towels on the table. They’re a local chain, but only the original location, in its tiny, grimy glory,* is the one I go to. It’s also directly across the street from the condo I lived in when I was a toddler here, which is behind a Krispy Kreme.

We got a booth inside, ordered large vodka-pink-lemonade drinks and burgers with fries. The waitstaff are mostly older women who have been doing this for years (not old in general, but old to be waiting tables in divey establishments, like, they’re 40s/50s), and young guys (20s) working the bar and the line, which you can see from the restaurant.

I was wearing jeans and my 2014 Criminal Records Record Store Day t-shirt, which is an homage to the cover of “Goo” by Sonic Youth, released in 1990.


One of the kitchen guys dropped off some burgers at a nearby table, walked past us, stopped, turned back. “That’s a great shirt,” he said. “I really like it. And Sonic Youth are just mind-blowing.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Yeah, I really like them, too.”

My mom looked surprised. Very rarely do people comment on my clothes, and if they do, it’s on my t-shirt collection. A small selection of band shirts, 80s-era basketball t-shirts, indie record label shirts, Mystery Science Theater shirts (yes, I have two or three), WFMU shirts, college radio shirts, etc.

So yeah, this town is tacky, even a little trashy. And I’ve done some trashy things here (like once I heard “Single Ladies” being played at the outdoor stage in this little bar district area and ran there from the bar I was at, quickly organized a small group of ladies and led them in the “Single Ladies” dance. When the song was over, we group-hugged and I ran back to the bar I was at with my parents and their friends. And then I think I drove my stepdad’s SUV home with the parking brake on.)

But every once in a while, somebody will say something that shows there is still some indie holdouts here. Not everyone is only listening to club beats. In every trashy tourist town, in some divey burger shack, there might be a line cook who wants to tell you your shirt is cool and they’re real into Sonic Youth. I’m glad we were there for each other today.

Plus, I got to tell my mom a 10-minute history lesson on Sonic Youth and noise rock and post-rock in the early 90s.

It’s the little things that get you through. Like for example tomorrow, I’m going to get a dip cone. That dip cone will get me through. Maybe we’ll play some skee-ball, too, and ride the new giant ferris wheel. You know, vacation type things.



*Photo from this guy’s blog, where he eats the peanut butter burger.

The hard work

Last week I watched an interview of a pretty musician with a clever late-night host, and at one point they were both talking about how neither of them likes to take the easy way out. An anecdote from it stood out to me, of a kid asking what he could do to grow up and get a job like the host, and the host just says, man, kid, you gotta work really, really hard and be really good and still maybe not.

At 5:40 p.m. on July 3, I was in my office talking on the phone with my grandmother. It was her birthday, and I wanted to call her before the evening got away from me. And evenings for me mean I’m at the desk. Sitting in the chair. Evenings are when I finish things because there aren’t as many distractions in the office, especially in the summer. Evenings are when I write the next day’s to-do list, review my monthly aggregate to-do lists, check the next-day calendar and confirm appointments, clean up my desk. I’m not my best in the mornings, so I try to make things easy on myself for the next day. “So what’s going on?” she asked me. I told her not much, and that I thought a lot of people had left early, since it was a holiday weekend. “But you know how I am about following rules,” I said. “And I never leave early.” And she laughed a little, and then went off to entertain her party guests.

In the interview, the pretty musician pontificates that if a recording is on digital tape, fed through computers and software to make it be perfectly pitched and toned, is it still real? And he has a little moment talking about all the work that goes into cutting something like that from tapes by hand with razorblades and fixing it and keeping it authentic. The interviewer keeps bringing it back to something they share: they’re both Catholic. But I don’t think that’s all. I think some people are just rewarded by knowing they did something the hard way, whether anybody else knows it or not.

For some people, the doing of the hard work, and knowing that you did it, that you took extra steps, that’s enough. And whether or not other people understand if you did the work the easy way or the hard way, they only see the product.

One of my favorite paintings of my own I think is 24×36, a canvas size I easily could have bought off the shelf at the art store, but I didn’t. I built the frame in the school woodshop and then stretched and tacked the canvas myself, and gessoed and sanded and gessoed and sanded and then painted heavy oils on a collage mixed media of handmade paper and hand-stitched string patterns. If I sewed a stitch, it was real. If I tied a knot, it was real. And this covered large areas of the canvas. And then, on top, went solid-base oil paints, squeezed through these plastic patterns I’d measured and cut. Thousands of individual acts. And every single one was perfect. And I was very proud of it, not really because of how the finished product looked, but because of how I had worked on it, and because only I would ever really know what it took.

If you take the shortcuts, you know you took the shortcuts. If you did the work, you know you did it. And at the end of the day, what matters is what you know. What matters is you know the difference.

Hard work is the reward for hard work. Don’t look for anything else.

I hate your feet

One day last week I was in line at a popular chain Mexican joint at lunchtime in the business-y neighborhood where I work. The line wraps around the tables, so when I get in the line, I see this cute dude in front of me: tall, nice hair, cool glasses, good outfit (navy shorts, red gingham shirt with the sleeves rolled up), nicely groomed and carefully disheveled in that punk/prep way. Kinda like that dude from Vampire Weekend, but a little more southern-public-college guy.

Whatever. Cute. I’d give him an 8, a 9 if I was feeling generous. I mean, he wasn’t George Clooney, but he was real easy on the eyes.

Once the line advances a little, and I get around the tables, I give him the full look, and he drops to a 3. Why? Flip flops. And not just flip flops, but flip flops and nasty, dirty, too-long toenails. Toenails that almost hang over the end of the flip flops and I can see the dirt from the five or so feet away I am standing.

Look, humans: let’s quit it with flip flops. For real. Are you standing on a beach or a deck around a pool or a boat? Are you in a shower that you share with near-strangers, like at a gym or in a dorm? Are you in a nail salon and have just gotten a nice feet treatment? Are you inside your own home? Are you naked or in a swimsuit? Then fine. Fine. FINE. Wear the flip flops.

Are you fully dressed and out of your home during the day, on a weekday, nowhere near water of any kind? Are you in a place where people are trying to eat food? Shut it down. I know it’s summer. Buy yourself a pair of low-top Chuck Taylors, OK? Or class it up with some Jack Purcells. Or, so you don’t even have to worry about tying, get some topsiders or something. Slip-on classic Vans. You don’t even have to wear socks.

Think about the upsides. First, your feet are safer.* Second, you don’t make that awful flapping noise when you walk. Third, I don’t have to see your feet, ever, and neither does anybody else.

Women, this goes for you too. I’m going to let sandals pass, I guess, so long as they don’t make noise. I mean, I’m not going to wear them, but I guess if you are into that, whatever. Keep your feet and nails clean and neat and nice and wear noiseless sandals and I guess I can’t complain as much (I mean, I still don’t want to see your feet, but I’m not going to be a total jerk here).

* Look, Imma be real. I have seen some stuff. I have seen women in flip flops walking around Manhattan and D.C. in the summer with their feet generally covered in that disgusting big-city street filth and sweat, like black gunk on their whole feet. I have seen people in flip flops at outdoor concert/festival things getting their feet stepped on and toenails broken. When my mom was a kid, she walked her cousin to the store and was wearing flip flops, and opened the door to the store, caught the edge of her toenail and it came right off. Bled for the mile-and-a-half they had to walk back to their house. Once when I was a kid, I was wearing sandals to go to a sliding rock, and my dad stepped on my foot accidentally and my toenail cracked down the middle. My mom had such bad ingrown toenails her whole life, and dug them out at home in big bloody messes. In her thirties, she had them surgically permanently removed from her big toes. They’re just skin now. (When she gets pedicures, she gets her nail lady to just paint a little fake toenail right on the skin.) I danced pointe ballet for four years, and ballet for 14 years total, and my feet are just disgusting, bony, callused, bunioned hooves. My pinky toes are so misshapen from it the nails fall off. I wear a special little brace thing when I sleep on my right foot because it hurts all the time because the bones and tendons are permanently damaged. I’ll wear a peep-toe shoe maybe three times a year, and even then I just feel like people are sickened by the sight of them.

Point being, take care of your feet, y’all. Wear some damn shoes.

On ‘Catfish’

Yesterday I read Samantha Irby’s blog post about the TV show “Catfish,” and then today I had to watch some of the TV show “Catfish,” and I generally have two thoughts:

1. She’s right.

2. Humanity is the pits.

So I saw the “Catfish” movie, and then I’d assumed the show would be more of the same. People getting conned on the Internet by lonely people who are maybe sociopaths. I’ve watched 5 or 6 episodes today* and so far, only one has been an actual total fake. The rest have been overweight people using their actual personalities, just with old photos from when they were thinner or photos stolen from another person.

So it’s getting kind of boring, I guess. Dude shows up, woman is fat, dude can’t help but make some kind of face or gesture that expresses his disappointment, etc. etc., woman cries maybe, guy says something real jerky, Nev the host bro does sort of a supportive half-shrug and it’s a bummer all around.

And just like she wrote, yeah, these people sometimes have been talking on the phone or emailing or Facebook messaging or whatever for YEARS. These people are talking about their weddings and kids and futures and calling each other soulmates and then they can’t overlook a little thigh meat?

I get that the betrayal, the lie, is the problem. And a lie is a lie is a lie. But on the scale of acceptable/predictable lying to 100% straight-to-hell lying, weight and looks is totally on that “predictable” side of stuff. It’s like when people tell the dentist they floss, or when you tell a cop you don’t know how fast you were going. That’s how the Internet works, y’all. You just put your best self out there. Let’s say I’m out rollin’ with my crew at Trader Vic’s like two months ago, and let’s say there’s a photo of me from that evening holding a giant cocktail bowl with my chin smushed back in my neck and shrugging and I look like a human Corgi.

Let’s say that photo exists, and let’s say it looks like this:


So did that photo get Instagrammed? Hell no.

The photo on the Instagram from that night is me, doing the perfect lady angle-to-the-camera-stance with my arm around a plastic dolphin in a grass skirt. I’m holding my face good, the lighting is dim and flattering, and part of my ass is even hidden behind a plant. I look cool and hip and shapely and like a lady enjoying herself at a Trader Vic’s on a weeknight.


It’s a gray area. Yes, those are both photos of me, taken on the same night, maybe even minutes from each other, but if I was trying to catfish a hot dude, there’s definitely one I’d prefer using. Is that a lie? Technically? How about working some angles? How about some cropping? The journalism-ethics-student in me says … maybe. (Full disclosure: the weight on my driver’s license is accurate right now, but was a 20-30 pound lie for most of my life. I regularly allow people to misjudge my age — not really lying, but I don’t work hard to correct them. I used to dye my hair. Sometimes I wear makeup. Sometimes I say “good” when people ask me how’s it going but really I’m not good, but I don’t want to get into it with a co-worker about all my inner struggles when they’re just trying to use the copy machine. Is all of that lying?)

Also, I’m really disappointed in some of these boys. It’s like as soon as they find out the girl lied about her weight, they’re free to be assholes. They say rude things. They become lies too. They’re not the guys they were on the Internet either, they’re jerks now. But somehow it’s OK because she lied first, and about her weight of all totally superficial bullshit, and it’s a real ugly moment.

How I want it to play out:

Woman: (Opens her door, is not as thin as the guy expected. Maybe starts to try and apologize.)
Man: (Smiles real big in a genuine way ’cause he means it.) Hey girl, hey. We’re soulmates. I love you for who you are.
Woman: Aww.
(Woman gets into Man’s Benz and the happy couple rolls off to Benihana for shrimp.)

(P.S. Here’s my Trader Vic’s crew.)


*Yeah, OK, it’s summer break and the past six weeks have been really stressful and I worked every weekend and most nights and now I’m only working 10 hours a day so forgive me if I gotta watch some basic cable reality shows. Remember Combos? Those pretzel tube things filled with pizza-flavored cheese goo? And how if you eat hydroponic kale or whatever for long enough then sometimes you’re going to have to eat something really bad, just to give that kale part of your stomach a break and let the other part do some work. I need this TV right now for the parts of my brain that did not just pull 80-hour work-weeks. It is the TV equivalent of Combos. And I have limited time for these hijinks because summer school starts June 23.

Also, go buy Samantha Irby’s book.

On mascots

When I was a kid, like a little tiny child, small enough I couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own, my dad used to take me to college sports events. Mostly, I would be cute, harass women in their 20s to walk me to the ladies’ room and complain when I couldn’t see the mascot. These were University of South Carolina games, so I was looking for Cocky.

“Will this be a game with Cocky or without Cocky?” I would ask before I’d even get in the car to go.

Cocky is a gamecock, and a two-time UCA Mascot Champion. He appears on the football field in a magical box as they play “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” We sing the alma mater (which ends with everyone holding up their right hand like we’re giving a toast), the band lines up, Zarathustra cranks up, fireworks explode and the team runs out from a big cloud of smoke. In short, it’s the most epic thing imaginable.

(Also, I must mention here, that the college’s bicentennial was in 2001, and it was super-epic.)

Cocky will dance on the dugout (he’s very good at cranking the soulja boy), once to a delayed-til-the-next-morning game he showed up in huge sunglasses with an ice pack on his head. His parents come for parents weekend. His girlfriend is there for homecoming. For a while, one of the university’s recruitment slogans was “Get Cocky.”

I love college football, but part of what I love is the insane adherence to traditions, both serious and silly.

Aside from Cocky (the big guy in the suit), there’s also Sir Big Spur, a real live gamecock bird who travels to ALL games (home and away) and sits on a perch that looks like a teeny goal post.

The SEC is full of stuff like this. Auburn has a live eagle named War Eagle (one was nicknamed Tiger, for maximum confusion), and a Tiger named Aubie. Uga is a real dog,* usually lying on a bag of ice in the shade, while the goofy mascot is Hairy Dawg. At the University of Tennessee there is Smokey the dog and Smokey the actual dog. Alabama, the Crimson Tide, has an elephant named Al. LSU has a real tiger named Mike and a tiger mascot named Mike. Mike the real tiger sits in a trailer right outside the door to the opposing team’s locker room on game days. (If he wants. They don’t make him get in the trailer if he doesn’t go on his own.) There is a real Arkansas Razorback (Tusk) and his mascot companions (Big Red, Sue E., Pork Chop and Boss Hog). And the University of Mississippi Rebels are, for some reason, an anthropomorphic bear.

Texas A&M probably has the most dignified: a purebred rough collie named Reveille who wears a reserved, classy blanket with five diamonds to denote her rank. A&M students stand at games, never sitting, and call themselves the 12th man, symbolizing their willingness to be there for their team. (Literally, even. in 1922, the coach realized if there was one more injury he’d be short a backfield player, so he sent for a student in the stands who had tried out but not made the team. E. King Gill came down to the field and put on the uniform. He didn’t play in the game, but he was there. “I simply stood by in case my team needed me,” he said.) A&M also has a cannon they fire when touchdowns are scored. They don’t have cheerleaders, they have five students who serve as “Yell Leaders,” and 20,000 students come to Yell Practices at midnight the nights before games.

Reveille’s caretaker is a designated sophomore in Corps of Cadets E-2, and goes with the cadet everywhere, to classes and social events. She (Reveille) has her own cell phone and student ID. Students address her as “Miss Rev, ma’am.” If she barks in class, class is cancelled that day. When they pass away, Reveilles are buried in their own cemetery with their own scoreboard.

Deceased Ugas have a mausoleum in Athens near the stadium, with a bronze statue and epitaph for each iteration (including “Damn Good Dog” and “How ‘Bout This Dog”). Uga IV wore a tux and accompanied Herschel Walker to collect his Heisman Trophy.

The 2014 SEC football season begins on Aug. 28, 2014, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Until then, I will watch the majestic antics of my part-time favorite mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. Everything I like about the honorable and classic and proud college mascots is everything the Phillie Phanatic doesn’t have. Basically, the Phanatic is a big fat jerk. The Phanatic’s favorite song is “Motown Philly” by Boyz II Men. He tries to trick girls into flashing the crowd. He fires a hot-dog cannon while driving a four wheeler around the stadium. He will zip-line into the stadium. He’s parachuted into the stadium before. He will push Mr. Met out of the way on the Today show with his giant gut. He had a full-on red lace Lady Gaga suit. He has a Batman costume. He full-out tackles other mascots when they race the bases against kids. There’s video of him taunting Jack Nicholson. He’ll run on the field, streaking without his shirt on. He does this completely trashy pelvic-undulation dance that would be sexy if he wasn’t a weird body shape. He’ll feel up umpires. He pouts when they delay the games. He has a little tongue that comes out of his weird fur snout. Sometimes he also gets his ass kicked by unruly fans.

I also watched him since I was a baby, and since I could only see him on TV, he had mythical status, like Santa Claus. The Phanatic has no boundaries. He is beset by no ages-old traditions of decorum. He’s been sued more than any other mascot in sports. So long as he isn’t intentionally vomiting on a fan’s child, he’s out-classing the Phillies’ fans.

The college mascots are tradition. Autumn. Decorum. Honor. The Phanatic is America’s summer fling. Crass, rude and riding a four-wheeler indoors.

And don’t get me started on the inflatable Toronto Raptor.

* Full disclosure: One of my first pro clips from a fancy glossy magazine is a profile I wrote on Uga.