Friday, August 29, 2014
At 6 p.m. on a Sunday night I’m driving an hour outside of Ann Arbor to attend the Clarkston, Mich., stop of the Under the Sun tour, which celebrates “the golden age of nineties pop rock ‘n’ roll with Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Fastball.”
I am alone and wearing jorts and a baseball T-shirt, onto which I have Sharpied “MRS. RAY.” I am only slightly depressed that none of my friends in town seem to see the Under the Sun tour as the can’t-miss cultural event that it is. Mostly I’m glad, because now it'll be much easier for me to really get in there and be a Sugar Ray superfan for the night.
On the way to the venue, I play the same two Disclosure songs for 30 miles straight and get into character. “No one’s done anything like ‘Every Morning’ since 1999,” I say into the rearview mirror. “Such a chill song. Perfect for summer. We’ll never get another Mark McGrath.”
I sincerely believe all these things to be true.
When I get to the parking lot, I pause in my car for a second and smoke some weed, feeling like a loser. Fastball is already on—I can hear “The Way” from the parking lot—but people are tailgating, and near me, someone’s blaring Sugar Ray.
Suddenly self-conscious and also suspecting that I have overestimated the number of attendees who think this event is in any way funny, I walk into the DTE Energy Musical Theatre, which is a 15,000-cap venue, and get a beer from a guy standing over a cooler at the base of the stairs leading to the general-admission lawn. He asks for my ID. When he hands my license back, he says, “You’re a lot better-looking in person.”
“Cool,” I say. “Cool to know. Do you like Sugar Ray?”
“Sure,” he says. “Whatever.”
I climb the stairs in a hyper-aware state, entering a sea of earnest, clean-cut white Midwesterners jamming out with incredible enthusiasm to Vertical Horizon, who have taken Fastball’s place. I make my way around the arc of the lawn surrounding the covered pavilion and sit down at the very left edge of the grass.
Surrounded by groups, I start texting. You’re never alone when you have technology, I tell myself, and then look around, wondering how I’m going to get my journalistic in with the Sugar Ray crowd.
Then a guy taps me on the shoulder: “What’s a pretty girl like you doing here by yourself?” READ MORE
This post originally appeared on July 15, 2013.
I was a pretty late bloomer when it came to boys. Most girls in my hometown started holding hands in third or fourth grade, kissing in fifth or sixth, dry humping—as teens are wont to do—by eighth. But, because it was a small town, most of the kids with whom you attended kindergarten ended up right alongside you as you graduated, and if you’d forged an elementary school reputation as chubby and unlikeable, it was pretty hard to shake.
I ended up getting my first kiss at 15, when I went to visit a friend in rural Maine and got to be the exciting new girl for a few weeks. I was Californian and blond enough, and everyone was impressed at how I wore sunglasses even when it was overcast. That first kiss came from a young aspiring pharmacist who was a foot shorter than me and had tricked out his car to look like KITT from Knight Rider. He was a nice guy. My second kiss was from an older boy with a devilock, so that’s one I can be proud of.
My slow development was further stymied by homeschooling, which I’d taken up in seventh grade for reasons that are neither relevant nor terribly interesting. The point is: that year, I ended up in a charter school program that had me taking classes at the local community college, which was terrifying after years of studying alone.
I was socially inept and uninterested in dating of any kind until the first day of my sociology course, when this guy walked in and obliterated all solitary impulses: he was wolfishly handsome with straight black hair cut in a perfect rock ’n roll shag. He also dressed like a sexually aggressive 11-year-old at a mall goth store in baggy jeans and bowling shirts, and of course he had a wallet chain—but teenage hormones make a person discard not just reason but taste as well.
I stared at this guy throughout that entire first class, in disbelief of his cheekbones, and my infatuation persisted even when he spoke for the first time, when our urbane German sociology professor answered someone’s stupid question about evolution, and mentioned, offhand, the lemur.
“Oh yeah!” the beautiful one interjected. “Like aye-ayes.”
“Pardon me?” said the professor.
“Oh, yes, like those aye-aye things in Madagascar. Natives kill them because they think they’re demons.”
In retrospect, this interaction revealed nothing, but at the time I sat there in class drawing hearts on my notepad as my own swelled with thoughts of He likes animals!
In this way, teenage girls have no survival skills and are unequipped for the world.
This post originally appeared on July 15, 2012.
It was a dark and stormy summer night. I was supposed to start law school in a month, and I felt a sense of doom. (I would, in fact, drop out a couple months later.) Max, a man I’d been seeing, had just broken up with me because he had "nothing to give.” My friends were going to see a band in Tribeca, and I really didn’t want to go out, especially into Manhattan, but they convinced me. I pulled on some baggy ripped corduroys as a cry for help, and put my hair up in what I hoped was an “artist’s bun.” We walked into the club and I immediately saw a ghost from my past: Steve, a guy I’d lusted after a few years before. I once texted him “Admit we’d have really good sex,” to which he’d texted back “Hmm.” We’d eventually slept together through the sheer force of my will, but he’d broken my heart as expected, and I still wasn’t actually, completely over him.
We made eye contact, and I tentatively went up to say hi.
“Wow, your hair is frizzy!” he said cheerily.
He was right; in the rainy walk from the subway my hair had come out of its bun and was looking extremely “full-bodied.” I smiled feebly, and wandered away.
I was going to become a boring lawyer loser with frizzy hair and have a depressing boring life forever.
I walked out of the club into the night. Streetlights blurred, and the rain on my face mixed with tears. I lit a cigarette and kept walking. I was getting soaked, and crying, but I was also reveling in my indulgent misery. I felt like the star of a movie right before things really start looking up. The only thing I needed was a car to drive by and drench me in a wave. That didn’t happen, but I did drop my cigarette in a puddle.
“Ughhh,” I yelled to the empty street. I paused on the corner, under some scaffolding, to light another.
“Got a smoke?” I heard a deep, sensual voice say. READ MORE
I knew that teen culture had fully dovetailed with mainstream culture when my ex-boyfriend approached me at a bar to say that he'd heard that I met Justin Bieber and could I tell him about it, please?
I was so surprised that my ex knew who the Biebz was that I forgot to be surprised that he wanted to talk to me in the first place. I'd been pretty sure that only 12-year-olds were interested in the "celebrities" I interviewed. It was 2009: the Glee pilot was just about to air, that YouTube video of the wedding party dancing to "Forever" was the hottest thing on the internet, Obama had just been inaugurated, and Justin Bieber was not yet a given.
At the time, I was 22 and blogging for Seventeen, my first job out of college. I interviewed minor characters from CW and Disney shows (my favorite was the 30-year-old man who played Hannah Montana’s brother, simply because it was so nice to talk to an adult), and I wrote quizzes ("Which Twilight Guy/Harry Potter Hottie/Gossip Girl Guy Should You Date?"), a task I took very seriously, remembering how seriously I had once taken them.
Generally, I was living my 8th grade fantasy life, down to living in “an apartment just like the one on Friends” (in that it had brick walls) with my coolest friend from middle school, a girl who talked like Daria but looked like Jane. In the interest of re-entering the teen mind space, I wore my old too-short Forever 21 dresses with neon tights, listened to Taylor Swift’s Fearless on repeat, read all the Twilight books, convinced myself that Miley’s music was good, and wiki-ed the shit out of every low-level celebrity on my schedule.
On the early September day that I met Justin Bieber, I'd been doing this for a year, living off of free shampoo and cupcakes, and he was just another random singer being promoted by a major label. I didn’t even bother looking him up; I had a ton to do, and was covering the press event as my boss's favor to a publicist. I took the train down to the Nintendo store at Rockefeller Center. When I got close, I saw police tape and a crowd of anxious girls. I entered the horde and started pushing my way toward the door.
This post originally appeared on July 17, 2012.
I met up with Debi in the center of town. It was our second week of summer vacation; I was 17 and she was 15. I plopped down on the grass next to her, where she'd gathered a bunch of dandelions in her lap.
“Do you have mine?”
Debi nodded and produced an abused-looking tinfoil rectangle. She unwrapped it and there was a much smaller red rectangle inside, perforated into four tiny squares.
“I took one a little while ago,” she said. “I’m starting to feel it.”
She handed me the package. I tore one square off and put it on my tongue. “What do you want to do now?”
Debi shrugged, tracing a dandelion along her cheek. “We could stop by Sonia’s house and see if she’s home.”
“Maybe … nah, let’s just hang out the two of us. Sonia’s not gonna be on our level.” I gave Debi the facial expression equivalent of air quotes when I said on our level. As Debi herself once pointed out, the most honest and effective anti-drug PSA might be one that captures all of the unbearably cheesy and cliché-sounding things a person doing drugs actually says. Don’t do drugs … because then you’ll start talking like someone who does drugs. READ MORE
When I was a freshman in college, my family decided to move. We all liked the old house, but my little brother’s neighborhood friends had all begun to behave badly — lying, stealing, and brandishing knives. These boys were eight years old. So my parents bought a house across town, where the lawns were bigger and the neighbor children had babysitters.
The actual move occurred over the summer, while I was at home, and because I was helping with the packing up and shuttling over of a few boxes at a time, I was given a set of keys to the empty new house. Sometimes I would sneak over there to take a nap in the basement, away from the chaos at the old house. I only used the new house as a make-out hidey-hole two times. I was very responsible. One day, when I was investigating the bedroom that would be mine, I reached up to a high shelf in the closet and touched hair.
I wiped my hand furiously on my jeans and went to find something to stand on so I could see. I remember feeling kind of frightened — I was alone in an empty house with stranger hair! I got up on a box and looked. There were several piles of fine, dark hair trimmings along the shelf. Very short. Curled. Did I say dark?
I refused to acknowledge the obvious. Maybe it was beard trimmings! Or ... men’s chest hair? But this had been a girl’s room. There were frilly curtains and a pansy-printed wallpaper border. There was a dusty scrunchie on the floor in the closet. READ MORE
This post originally appeared on June 27, 2012.
On February 21, 2003, I was lucky to be a friend's date to an event held by the Grammy organization, honoring Bono as Person of the Year. A bunch of bands both cool and uncool played U2 songs (including U2) in the relatively intimate venue that was the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, but my main takeaway was meeting President William Jefferson Clinton and holding hands with him while Jon Cryer tried and failed to take our picture.
At first, I had no interest in meeting President Clinton, because there was a long line, and the food they were serving at our probably thousands-per-plate table was an unimaginable feast compared to the peanut butter sandwiches I was living on as a temp. Also I probably considered myself too cool to wait in line to meet a celebrity. (Okay, I definitely did.)
But after my friend's sister and her friend returned to our table, their faces red, giggling and smiling and gushing "Oh my god that was amazing!" and otherwise appearing to be on ecstasy, I decided I should probably make an exception to my no-waiting-in-lines policy.
But I did roll my eyes inwardly at their excitement — I mean, it's Bill Clinton. He's famous for making women swoon. It was a total cliché. I wasn't going to be impressed. I was going to meet the former president of the United States of America, but I was going to do it my way: ironically. You know, just to have a fun story to tell my friends back in Brooklyn later that night.
I joined the line of about 20 people, most of them famous. Waiting patiently right in front of me was Ashley Judd, who was breathtaking in a lavender gown. Having nothing else to look at, I studied her skin, which was perfect except for a minor case of bacne, which only endeared her more to me. Ashley Judd had an extremely minor case of bacne! I'm sure most actresses and models do because of the body makeup they have to wear or whatever, but it was thrilling to have such an intimate "Just Like Us!" moment. READ MORE
A few years ago a friend of a friend hooked me up with an amazing house sitting job. I liked the idea of hanging out in someone’s mansion for a few nights, pretending to be a rich lady. Let’s talk about the house for a minute, so you can fully understand what I’m dealing with.
A three-story Victorian mansion complete with grand piano, pool table, caterer’s kitchen (honestly, I didn’t even know what that was), and a soaking bathtub surrounded by enormous windows. There were MacBooks lying around like old phone books and a big library full of self-help titles that I felt I should peruse.
The owner of the house, let’s call her Emily, was flying with her husband via private jet to their other castle in Colorado. All I had to do was feed the cats, soak in the tub, and not steal anything. Emily showed me around her “house” taking the time to explain how her espresso machine worked and insisting I look through her box of clothes headed to Goodwill. I saw a Diane Von Furstenberg label and almost passed out. ‘Leave!’ I kept thinking, anxious to turn on the flatscreen and drink cappuccino while trying on my new designer clothes. I planned on sitting on the magnificent wraparound front porch so passerby's could admire what a baller I’d become.
As Emily turned to go she nonchalantly mentioned one final thing. “We have a ghost. She’s a little girl. I call her Rachel.” Then the bitch left me all alone in a three story Victorian mansion for two nights with a child ghost. READ MORE
When I was 27, I decided to leave PR and instead become an extremely successful magazine writer. I quit my job, which was terrible anyway, and took an internship at a now-shuttered magazine with a popular component website. All the writers there were desperately smart and cool, and for the most part, younger than me with very few exceptions. I felt like a fish out of water, a very old fish at 27 (which now, ugh, really?), but I came to really like it and convinced myself it was the path to magazine writing success. Toward the end of my internship, the website’s editor-in-chief, a man I really liked and admired, asked me if I wanted to interview for a full-time job on his side of the operation. I eagerly accepted. My first internship out of the gate and I was already getting a job interview? Clearly I had chosen correctly in my new career path, was well on my way to being Vanessa Grigoriadis Jr., and life was great and always would be.
The day of the interview I was extremely nervous. I dressed in what I thought was an outlet-appropriate outfit: a pair of white, work-appropriate, shorts, a modest yet cool shirt, and a pair of brand new, then-trendy gladiator sandals. Deep down, I didn’t feel I was good enough to be part of this hip intelligentsia, but thought if I looked the part, and just really, earnestly tried, maybe I could be. The editor took me to his local watering hole for our chat at noon. He ordered bourbon. I ordered a beer. Food, I realized too late, wasn’t on the docket. READ MORE
This post first appeared on May 1, 2012.
This is still a little too raw for me to really want to talk about it, but I got a bit of a guilt-nudge from yesterday's post on criminalizing bad mothers.
All parents do something stupid at some point, and most of us get away with it. That's the truth. Usually, it's not doing meth while you're pregnant, or putting your baby on top of a bear in Yellowstone so you can film it. But it's something, and you usually get away with it. And if you get away with it, it's a funny story, and you'll eventually laugh about it with other parents. If you don't get away with it, people will make themselves feel better about their own mistakes by pillorying you. But there's no difference between people who do something stupid and get away with it, and people who don't get away with it. It's luck. Don't kid yourself.
Me? I was making dinner, and I had my baby in a wide-based baby chair (not a Bumbo, for the record), on the kitchen island. Stable, wide-based. Not near the edge. I shouldn't have done it. It's on the packaging. Don't do it. I was singing the Eagles' "Take it Easy" to her, and I was chopping peppers, and then I heard a noise, and I looked up, and there was nothing on the island. She had somehow launched herself and the entire chair backwards off the four-foot-high island.
I wanted to kill myself. I remember thinking, very clearly, that if she died, I would have to kill myself. It was the worst moment of my life. I was filled with self-loathing, she was screaming, the chair partially broke her fall, but she obviously hit her head on the tile floor.
So I called 911. And the first thing they ask for is your address, and I started into this whole "I don't even know if I should be calling, but my baby fell and hit her head" thing, and the very nice dispatcher just said "I know, I know, what's your address?" And the paramedics were there in about ten minutes. And they were, again, very nice, and each of them, because it's Utah, was about thirty years old and had six children, and six individual stories about how they almost killed their child, but didn't, and it was okay. "I was holding my baby while drinking coffee, and dumped it on her leg." "My baby reached out and touched the glass front of our gas fireplace and burned herself really badly." "My daughter was tossing the baby in a blanket on the driveway and dropped him." It was so kind. They told me she was beautiful, and that her vital signs were good, and that babies fall all the time, and that I in no way needed to kill myself. READ MORE
This post originally appeared on April 18, 2012.
When you’ve needed hearing aids all your life, and finally get them at the age of 32, mostly the world sounds like water. At first, you crane your neck looking for fountains, but really it’s only traffic. You keep an eye out for waterfalls, but apparently that’s just what air sounds like.
To celebrate, the first day you get your hearing aids, you go to the 540 club for a mimosa and you’re in awe because when you pay, you can hear the dollars rubbing against each other. You can hear your fingers brushing against your jeans. You tell the bartender this and he probably thinks you’re crazy, but he congratulates you like he means it. You sit outside, marveling that the voices of small children from half a block away are making their way into your ear canals. It’s a little overwhelming. You gulp your drink, buzzed on champagne and little flits of Mandarin that carry from the produce store patrons next door.
You go on a date and you put in your hearing aids, and that guy never calls you, so the next time you go on a date, you don’t put them in. You can still hear most things. You’re not all that deaf — just partly deaf. Everything without hearing aids is more flat, more hollow than it’s supposed to be, and your ears left to their own devices can’t catch that “din” that your audiologist explained was the world, was what you’d been missing all these years. Plus, things like this kept happening, which was why you finally booked the appointment: READ MORE
If you grew up in the mid to late ‘90s, you probably listened to Loveline, a brilliantly conceived radio show for young people to call in with their sex and relationship problems. I’m jealous of you. Somehow, I missed it. I was mysteriously, tragically deprived of the sage, poignant advice of Dr. Drew Pinsky and his comedian co-host Adam Carolla to help guide me through the conflicting desires and general emotional turmoil of my adolescence.
Those of you who know Carolla only from his work on the critically unacclaimed Man Show, or, God forbid, Dancing With the Stars, may have difficulty believing that, on Loveline, the man was clutching-your-stomach-from-laughter-induced-pain hilarious. He knew when to mercilessly mock the particularly clueless callers (most of them), and when to tone down the teasing in favor of offering real advice (usually along the lines of, “Whatever you do, don’t get pregnant”). He referred to many of the female callers as “babe” in a way that managed to sound sincerely affectionate rather than condescending. His sarcastic refrain in response to callers with especially traumatic histories or outlandish predilections: “Perfectly normal, perfectly healthy.” READ MORE
This post originally appeared on March 12, 2012. I crouched at the top of the hill on my middle school’s campus where everyone ate lunch. I had a wedgie and was too embarrassed to pick at it, because every move I made while wearing my back brace generated a clunking sound that I feared attracted attention. So, I decided to surreptitiously make a pull for my undies as I loudly sat down, rationalizing that the normal noise I made every lunch hour would mask any suspicious hand movements. In doing this, I lost my balance and fell backward in slow motion, and then rolled in very fast motion to the bottom of this hill. I stopped only because I got lodged in a rain gutter, where I remained stuck on my back like a tipped-over turtle.
To say my middle school years were awkward is an understatement. In addition to the run-of-the-mill dorky braces, greasy hair, ill-fitting clothes, and acne issues everybody got, I spent half of eighth grade in what I guarantee is the bulkiest back brace that ever existed. My twelfth year on earth greeted me with a rare, very noticeable spinal deformity that required a major surgery. I had kyphosis, which is like scoliosis, except you fall forward instead of to the side. The upper half of an average person’s spine gently curves at about 40 degrees; mine curled into an astonishing 110 — a record-breaking number! my orthopedic surgeon would excitedly tell me later. By the way, can he take a picture of me for the research he’s hoping to publish? Yes, eighth grade was awkward.
It’s assumed my spine lurched forward because I hit my growth spurt eons before most people do — when I was a small child, my pediatrician even misdiagnosed me with gigantism and projected I would be a soaring seven-and-a-half feet tall. Prior to taking me to the orthopedic surgeon who would eventually straighten me out, my mom first sought out physical therapists, an acupuncturist, and a crotchety doctor, all of whom diagnosed me with low self-esteem. Because I was so freakishly tall at such a young age, everyone assumed I was embarrassed of my height and thus slumped. And it’s true: I did have unique body issues. While most preteen girls are worrying about whether they have an apple- or a pear-shaped butt, I was wigging out that my torso was uncontrollably rounding itself into a donut despite the fact that I was trying my darndest in physical therapy. READ MORE
This post originally appeared on Feburary 16, 2012.
The summer before ninth grade I flew from Pittsburgh to Wilmington to be an extra on my favorite show, Dawson’s Creek. I had an inkling that this wasn’t a normal thing, but I was a clueless teenager with Hollywood dreams. I read InStyle and W and Vogue, I knew things about celebrities, I devoured movies and awards shows, and I had been in a junior high production of Oliver! I was convinced that eventually I was going to be famous, and that magazines would ask me things like what sort of lip product I used. I would have said Benetint. Not because it was true, but because in 1998 it seemed like all the celebrities used Benetint.
Of course, it helped that my dad had gone to summer camp with a guy who ended up owning the studio lot where they shot the show. And I had little sense of how decidedly unglamorous a flight from Pennsylvania to North Carolina was.
I arrived at the lot, filled out my first employment form, and then was sent to wait in one of the classroom sets with the other extras and stand-ins. I remember one gorgeous blonde girl waiting with her parents. She had no fewer than 10 wardrobe changes, all with the tags still on them. I panicked. They told us to bring two outfits! TWO! And I brought TWO because I followed directions, dammit. Both were from my closet and I was WEARING ONE. Was I supposed to have purchased a whole new wardrobe? I like to imagine that I felt the provinciality of my Pittsburgh roots for the first time. That somehow, despite being in Wilmington for a television shoot, I sensed something like blue-collar rust-belt pride. But probably I just felt embarrassed. READ MORE
The summer of 2009 I threw together a really lame Steampunk outfit complete with feathers and gears, and traipsed down to Atlanta for my first Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is an amazing sci-fi and fantasy convention that happens every Labor Day weekend. Tens of thousands of people like me — people who think David Bowie in Labyrinth is the epitome of rock god, who read enormous and multi-volume epic fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire (before it was on HBO and everyone started reading it, ungh), and who were devastated (devastated!) when Caprica got cancelled — descend upon several square blocks of downtown Atlanta for a weekend of drinking, costumes, fandom, and happiness. It is the best.
I’ve returned to Dragon*Con every year since — with better costumes because, thankfully, I got over Steampunk — but my first year was notable because a) I lost my nerd-con virginity and b) I talked to Patrick Stewart, who is also the best.
I wish this were one of those random, “So I was crossing the street and I passed Edward James Olmos and Richard Hatch hugging it out on a corner” stories, but it isn’t. The Edward James Olmos and Richard Hatch thing really did happen, though, at the start of my second Dragon*Con. I sort of stood there grinning at them while they hugged, and then they looked at me like I was nuts, and then I shuffled away like an idiot instead of yelling “So say we all!” at them, which probably would have been just as awkward. Sorry, I got sidetracked. So. Instead of bumping into Patrick Stewart randomly, which would have been neat, I saw him at an official, organized Dragon*Con panel. Which was also pretty neat. READ MORE