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Kate Christensen 4 KB copyI fell in love with Kate Christensen’s fiction for the smart but deeply flawed characters, the vibrant settings, the good old-fashioned plot twists and, of course, the prose, once described by Janelle Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle as “visceral and poetic, like being bludgeoned with an exquisitely painted sledgehammer.” Always in the mix, lusciously omnipresent, was food and booze, flavoring the titles (In The Drink, The Epicure’s Lament) and served generously through the scenes. There was no doubt the author was deeply involved with eating and drinking.

I am home, finally, after spending a little more than two weeks at a different kind of home in Seattle, where I was born and raised. My new home is a former mining village in northeast England near where my girlfriend goes to university. The name of her postgraduate program: Culture and Difference.

When I was home in Seattle, I saw a lot of old friends, including one who writes poetry. We both do. This is somewhat coincidental, since we became friends around the time we learned to read. Even now, when I see him, we almost never talk about poetry.

To stave off the inevitable existential collapse that typically accompanies unemployment, not to mention looming middle age, I’ve begun taking my mom’s dog for walks.

It’s sort of Zen like, in that the sole purpose of said walks are finding my dog a nice place to shit. That’s all that matters, finding Lucky a velvet lined tree stump to shit behind. Because he refuses to shit just anywhere, and that’s fine, that’s his prerogative. But after blocks of prime real estate he still refuses. He looks me in the eye and lifts his leg, and I swear he’s fucking smirking, as if to say, ‘not this time, bitch.’

But I’ve become reacquainted with the town I live in on our very long walks, and I’ve made a few observations:

Pittsburgh is the filthiest city on the planet. At my local park there is a varied assortment of litter. This includes paper plates, a curious number of empty mini muffin packages, syringes, empty beer cans (usually Iron City, in keeping with tradition), children’s shoes, fast food bags, make up, used diapers, and so on. The litter makes its way into every patch of grass and wooded area in the city. It’s thrown from car windows and tossed into the street from front doors. There is no need for garbage cans in Pittsburgh, just patches of grass, where every degenerate mother fucker will happily dispose of their trash.

Another way of getting rid of trash here, and we’re talking the larger items, couches set ablaze because a beloved sports team either won or lost an important match, towers of tires reaching skyward, existing to only entice the alarming amount of fire bugs and amateur arsonists in the city, is to just dump said trash down the slope of hill or at the culmination of a dead end street. Almost every dead end street has a collection of trash, sometimes neatly stacked and arranged, and usually said collection is older than me by a few years.

Everyone in Pittsburgh is a hoarder. They don’t hoard cool things, like guitars or books. They hoard things like carpet remnants and bricks and other useless junk that only an idiot could look at as a good investment. Everyone who isn’t a hoarder (or a writer or a musician) is a roofer. Despite this, every single roof in Pittsburgh is on the verge of collapse.

No one here can speak English. That’s not some xenophobic slight. I’m talking about the native English speakers. Pittsburgh has an accent all its own, it incorporates the gruffness of Jersey and New York, with the apparent upbeat naiveté of the Midwest. It’s literally one of the most ridiculous accents in the United States. If you don’t believe me, please see this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEyJjAAPy38

For the record, I don’t sound like that. However, my voice sometimes twangs peculiarly on my Os, which I’ve been trying to combat for years and will probably never undo.

Pittsburgh is teeming with lovable psychos. We recently lost the crown prince of functional insanity, a guy by the name of Steve, who was famous for standing in the same spot on the avenue all summer and hosting his own private dance party. Upon Steve’s untimely death, it was found he put a lot of time into making collages, which I believe is probably a good indicator that said person has a crawl space and isn’t afraid to use it. Another guy rides around Pittsburgh on a bike exclusively. Well, that’s not very weird, is it? No, what’s weird is that this fellow decided to strap a car bumper to the front of the thing. He even took the time to loosely affix blank CDs to either side, in a nod to headlights. Why does he do this? Fuck if I know, I’m not getting within ten feet of that crazy fucker.

In the last ten years the city has been overrun by hipsters. I could go into a prolonged self righteous speech about gentrification and how they’re ruining everything, but they’re really not. These people all have jobs, they put money into the city, they’ve stemmed the hemorrhage of young people that steadily increased year to year in the past. If they want to walk around dressed like assholes and play pan flutes, well I say have at it.

What I can’t tolerate is the recent influx of crust punks, or squatters, or crusties, or whatever you call them in your locality. Think hobos with a better sense of the aesthetic. They sit on street corners with their mangy dogs (because the first thing I would do if homeless is acquire a pet) holding crudely made signs asking for money.  Most of the time these people are from well off families looking for a little adventure in the form of lax hyigene and casual drug use, which is all fine and good. Unfortunately I have hard enough time financing these pursuits for myself, so there is no way I’ve giving Caleb a fiver just so he can purchase yet another six pack of Pabst.

Do I like the place I live in? I don’t know. I regard Pittsburgh as I would an embarrassing friend or loved one. I feel loyal to some degree, but I also can’t spend a lot of time and energy defending it. I think the best thing for us would be a trial separation. Maybe Pittsburgh would look more appealing with a bit of distance between us.

Please explain what just happened.

If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. But here’s a few things I just saw (in order of importance): a fist, Tic Tacs, a cup, a video camera, a real old dude and the safe word was “taffy”.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Wait, you mean, in forever? It was probably getting off a plane at Kennedy with throngs of women welcoming my arrival in America. Later that night I played on Ed Sullivan. Whatever, I was four.

 

If you weren’t a dildo polisher, what other profession would you choose?

I’d prefer being somebody that soiled dildos. If I never polish another dildo…..well, it’ll be a happy day.

First come, first serve. One per person. No returns.

  • The Hypnic Jerks
  • Riff Medusae
  • Harumph!
  • My Share of the Dildo
  • Animals for Feminist Research

I have always maintained that Steely Dan’s music was, has been and remains among the most genuinely subversive ouevres in late-20th-Century pop.” – William Gibson, “Any ‘Mount of World”

Supermarket Subversion

So you’re standing around at the supermarket, getting your organic arugula and fair trade coffee when you hear music — unbelievably smooth music. The track, a light, jazzy soul number, features a piano and a trio of backup singers cooing every 45 seconds or so. As you approach the counter, the girl at the checkout catches you grooving. You abruptly stop and load your groceries, shifting your attention to the vocals. As the clerk rings up your responsible, locally grown produce you realize the tune you’ve been enjoying is about smoking heroin.

I.

I loathe grocery stores.  The big ones, I mean.  Where going in for cigarettes or milk or a bag of coffee is a 30-minute ordeal.

I don’t loathe them for political reasons or ethical reasons or anything like that.  With full awareness of the first-worldliness of my problem, the basic truth is that I can’t stand to have my time so discourteously pissed away walking the quarter-mile in from the parking lot and standing in line for 15 minutes.

When my husband asks me to step foot in the chain grocery store, I writhe and whine and make excuses and come down with exotic diseases.

I complain that I’m not wearing any pants.

“Well, you could put on pants.”


Yet, when we had to go out to round up supplies for our part in last year’s Thanksgiving Day meals, I had a go-getter attitude.

“Let’s go get this over with,” I said, pulling on my Sorels over bare feet.

“I was thinking we could drop some stuff off at Brad’s after we go to Sam’s Club.”

My go-getter attitude vanished.  Sam’s Club is the end-boss of all huge chain grocery stores. I became panicked.

“WHAT DO WE NEED AT SAM’S CLUB?!?!?!”

“We can get a relish tray there, then stop at Cub for shampoo and stuff.”

(Cub is the local, non-bulk, chain grocery store.)

“I’m not going to Sam’s Club AND Cub in the same day.  It’s grotesque.”

I stood there, worry-browed, unwashed ponytail poking out the bottom of my too-big stocking cap.

The problem was–and he pointed this out to me quickly–Sam’s Club doesn’t carry our brand of shampoo and conditioner.  In fact, they don’t carry most brands.  They have monstrous (however reasonably-priced) 10-gallon squeezy bottles of exactly 3 different kinds of shampoo and conditioner, none of them the kind we usually prefer.

This makes for odd hypothetical scenarios.

It is entirely possible that, if you were well-acquainted enough with the 3 flavors of hair care Sam’s Club does offer, you could, with decent odds, identify a fellow Sam’s Club shopper by smell:

“Ah.  I see you’re from the Garnier Fructis Sleek-N-Shine tribe. I myself am of the Pantene Moisture Balance clan.”

Their limited deodorant selection could make for an array of sub-groups.

I decided I’d rather be a part-time member of the Pantene tribe of the Sam’s Club Nation than go to two grocery stores in the same day.  So we settled on Sam’s Club only.

Sam’s Club, for those of you who are unaware, is the bulk/wholesale arm of the Walmart dynasty.  There, with membership, you can buy way too much of anything at a cost (usually) much less per ounce than you would spend if you were to by significantly less of it elsewhere.

To be perfectly honest, for non-perishables, coffee, etc., it’s generally worth it.  But they don’t just sell non-perishables.  They sell clothes and furniture and tires and electronics.  All of which you can get “a really good deal” on.

People who shop at Sam’s club are always eager to tell you about the “really good deal” they got on something.  Unfortunately, it’s usually something kind of cheap and ugly and shitty.  Not always, but usually.  They’ll say it’s “pretty nice,” but it’s not.  It’s only nice for that price.  Though I am not–nor have I ever been–wealthy, I come from a sort of half-assed, pseudo-bourgeois lineage: None of the money and all of the pride.  Though I can’t afford to shop like a rich person, I hate to admit I shop like a poor person.

As the husband and I stalked the aisles, I developed a sort of tic.

“We should really just shop fresh every day.  Like Europeans.”  “Jesus.  Look at this place.” “Maybe when we get home we can make some kind of plan to shop fresh cheaply and at least 4 days a week.  What must that old Hmong lady think?  Jesus.” “I know I hate when people talk like that, ‘Europe this and that, blah blah blah,’ but this is incredible.  It’s too much.”

I said ‘Europe this and that blah blah blah,’ in a high-pitched, snotty voice.

I dropped a box of frozen, microwavable White Castle cheeseburgers into the cart.

“I know, but there’s something to be said for it, probably, even if just to be healthier.  We could stand to eat better,” he said.

He pointed out some novelty thing that we could get a “really good deal” on.

“Ugh.  No.  I don’t think we’re allowed to buy that.  We don’t have mullets.”


II.

My vacillating class allegiances play out on odd stages.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the website “People of Walmart.”  I’m not linking there because I don’t want to deal with the fallout from a pingback.  If they find me, they find me, but I’m not going to invite them here.

When the site first came to my attention, I remember reacting violently.  I remember being bewildered by my own reaction.  I, of all people, should not be the sort to lecture others about being mean.  In high school, my best friend and I used to remark, after an extended, choking, gasping, laughing jag at someone else’s expense, that in all likelihood, karma would cause our own children to be born fat, ugly, and mentally disabled.

Nevertheless, I crawled right up on my soapbox and started flinging elaborate derisions and “Tsk tsk.  That’s mean.”

Generally, the defense of the website and the grim spectacle surrounding it goes something like this:

“Well, come on.  If you’re going to go out in public looking like that…I mean, they bring it on themselves.”

The gist of the argument is basically sound.  The thing serves–in addition to making us feel better about ourselves by reminding us that we are not so poor, fat, ugly or badly dressed as someone else–as a provocative bit of social commentary, both directly and indirectly.  Nothing (as far as we know) that is depicted there is fake.  The point is indeed humor, but the pictures, by and large, speak for themselves.  It just IS.  It’s a depiction of an American reality, both with regard to the people it showcases and what people’s reactions to the photos say about them.

I don’t know what my reaction says.  It probably says that I am a hypocrite.


While making fun of poor, fat, ugly, or badly-dressed people is nothing new to humanity, one thing about this website that I noticed immediately is that it features a disproportionate number of less-than-convincing cross-dressing men.  Any anomaly like that deserves attention.

And it dawned on me that the photos were all taken by someone(s).  Someone who was also at Walmart.  It is an elaborate record not necessarily of socially, economically, or aesthetically aberrant individuals, but what the people out there with the camera phones and computers uploading the pictures deem socially unacceptable enough to advertise, “This is unacceptable.”  It tells us who the other people of Walmart think they aren’t (or fear they are…or what?).

The people behind the cameras don’t know they’re revealing too much, just like Ms. Juicy Booty there in the too-short shorts and violently pink hair doesn’t realize that her cellulite isn’t attractive.  Same same.

I want one of these fat, ugly, or badly-dressed people to spin on the people taking the pictures and snap pictures of them.  Start their own website.  For the sake of science.  I wonder who’s there?  I wonder who I think would be there and what that says about me?

Who DO I think will be there?

You?  Hipster guy who insists he never shops at Walmart, wearing a guilty look on his face underneath his conspicuous facial hair?  Planned community mom scrimping on cosmetics costs to afford her Xanax and Ambien?  North Face eco-hippie fleece and corduroy connoisseur dude, stocking up on power bars?

How do I know it wouldn’t be just another fat, ugly, or badly-dressed person?


How do I know it wouldn’t be me, in my pajama pants, winter boots, dress coat, and toque with a reservoir tip, wandering the aisles with a scowl, bitching to a half-listening husband about contemptible bourgeois xenophiles and poor people mullets?


Who do I think I’m not?

Who exactly do you think you aren’t?


Can I smell your hair?



You might remember Poykpak’s Williamsburg-set Hipster Olympics video from 2007. Events included MySpace photography and ironic t-shirt hunting, and it featured the American Apparel Instant Replay and sponsorship from PBR (“When you aim for authenticity…”) That video was a pretty good primer for anyone who asked “What’s a hipster?”

In the wake of a conversation that left my partner feeling funny, we’ve started a gossip jar. He struggled to articulate not precisely shame, not exactly sheepishness, and not really guilt. More like a creeping sense that he’d caught himself gossiping about a person there was no need to talk about. The jar, he figured, would serve as a deterrent against trading inappropriate information and as a punitive measure when he slipped up: a flat rate of one dollar per character, per story. Recounting something overheard in line at the fruit market would cost a buck, while a long and detailed vignette casting a wide net over no fewer than five co-workers and incorporating judgments about their collective assholery, and which rambles on and on through dinner and into dessert might tap out at $10.

At first I thought you were having a bad day.

Maybe it was your day off, and you were called into work, forced to cancel a much-anticipated afternoon of juggling practice on the mall.

These things happen.  Everyone is entitled to grumpiness from time to time.

But that time became a week, then weeks, and now months.

Every time I leave the parking garage, if I see you in the little booth, I go to you.  Every time, you’ve got your earbuds stuffed in your head, and you snatch my parking ticket out of my hand like it’s $20 and I owe you $50.

“Hi,” I say, every time.  Every time, I smile.

Every time, you do not smile, and you do not look me in the face.  You do not say “Twelve dollars” or “Would you like a receipt?”

You thrust my card back at me like it’s on fire.  I suppose you’d throw it if, by this point, I wasn’t looking at you like you were made of Nazis.  Every time.

Sometimes I smile anyway and say “Thank you!  Have a nice day!” because you’re the kind of person who could use a little sunshine sodomy.

Other times, I say nothing.  I snatch my card back and drive out into freedom.  And you are there.  Stuck there.  In your little booth with your earbuds in your head.

Fine.  Sit there.  You and your laptop.  I hope you get Rickrolled.

Maybe you’re a DJ.  Maybe you’re mixing up some fresh jamz.  Maybe you’re going to a leggings and finger-mustache party later to impress some girl with dirty hair and aviator glasses with your ironic remix of Ace of Base’s iconic 1993 classic, “The Sign.”

Maybe you and your friends will drink pabst into the wee hours of the morning, then retire to your respective dirty, matress-pad-less mattresses to dry-hump in time with the skinny-jeans stylings of pre-sellout KOL.

Or maybe you are a disaffected metal head and the only salve for the Tantalic torture part-time employment visits upon your darkening soul is to block out unsuspecting 9-5ers with an aural assault of indecipherable, melodramatic lyrics set to music so appalling, Satan himself would not approve it as a recruitment tool.

Maybe you should stop being such a jerk.

I just got off of work, you know.

When you’ve just gotten off of work, do you want some normal giving you dirty looks as you try to drag-foot your way back to your stinky apartment?  I think not.

So why don’t you just knock it off.

One of these days, I’m going to snap.

I’m going to drive up to your little window and just sit there until you say something.  I won’t roll my window down or anything.  I’ll just sit there with earbuds in my ears, staring at my iPhone.

Or maybe I will roll my window down.  Maybe I’ll pretend to hand you my card and snatch it back.

“Wait…wait….wait for it….” I’ll say.

Or maybe I’ll just pay like normal.  Then when I’ve got my card back, I’ll just sit there, staring at you.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyouHaveanicedayTHANKS

I’ll just keep saying it.  The little gate will be up and there will be people behind me, honking, and I will just sit there shouting pleasantries at you.

Is this some kind of revolution?  Is this some kind of inter-generational punishment for capitalism and global warming?  Do you labor under the impression that I am “the man?”

You should know this is the shittiest rebellion against the mainstream bourgeoisie I have ever seen in my life.  You’re wearing a fucking Rolex, for Christ’s sake.  That Mac costs almost $3,000.

So because I loathe you, because you are now my mortal enemy, I’m going to tell you how it is.  How it’s going to be for you and your fresh jamz and disaffect.  You and this attitude of yours.  Consider it a prediction.  Consider it a curse.

After you’re finished with your fixie bikes, unshowered girls, drunken sexual experimentation, and drug-fueled ironic dance parties (and you will finish with them, or die or go to jail), you are going to graduate with a middling, unexceptional degree and marry a nice, average girl and have nice, average babies to whom you will give weird, sadistic names in a vain and selfish attempt to retain some reminder of the subversive individual you think you remember you once were–a person who is slipping away from you strand by strand faster than you can say “Walmart’s got a deal on Crocs.”

A person who–you will slowly come to realize–was never real and simply the delusion of a spoiled upbringing mixed with traumatic exposure to political activism and set to simmer  on the medium heat of institutionalized higher education, a boredom & snot culture of self-indulgent esoterica, and, of course, white, middle-class guilt.

You will be forced to spend 45 minutes commuting to–and then from–a mediocre job every day.  Then, every day, you will pull out of a parking ramp in your family-friendly hovercraft at 4:30 in the afternoon, bracing to face the reeking stalemate of rush hour traffic, and find yourself face to face with some apathetic twit who believes himself too important to spare you a friendly “Hello.”

Every.  Single. Day.

That is what will become of you.


Don’t ask me how I know.


Have a nice day.



This summer when I took the train up to Montreal for a conference, I sat next to a scruffy hipster dude in his forties who told me he was from Brooklyn. The whole ride he lamented the lousy hipster kids who had moved into his ‘hood, saying they turned a dirty patch of city space into a slice of Martha Stewart. He told me the real people in every city hate the gentrifiers, but no one knows how to stop them, and he never realized I thought he was one of them, before he started talking.

In a scenario reminiscent of My Dinner With Andre, only with way less creepy background music and little or no Wallace Shawn, two Nervous Breakdown newcomers utilize the cold war-era concept of the “face to face chat” in a likely misguided effort to push beyond the personal essay format. Daly, already a TNB darling due to his heavily reported dust-up with Wally Lamb, and Beaudoin, still reeling from the announcement of David Coverdale’s defamation lawsuit, come together for a wide-ranging discussion on a number of subjects. They each arrived armed with three pre-prepared questions in case things hopelessly flagged, but the idea was to wing it as much as possible. No topics were off limits and no feelings were spared. So here it is: unedited, unexpurgated, and without a single national security redaction:

Sean Beaudoin: (sliding into a booth in which Joe Daly is already comfortably ensconced. An awkward male-bonding slap-five handshake-y thing follows) So, this diner is a little on the sleazy side. Just the way I like it. But I’m guessing you took a pass on the eggs benedict.

Joe Daly: Food poisoning changes your perspective on everything.

SB: Our waitress looks exactly like Endora from Bewitched. If you don’t get that reference, I’m even older than I thought.

JD: You’re barking up the right tree, brother. I remember both Darrins. And they were both Dicks.

SB: They were, weren’t they? Dick Sargent and…

JD: Dick York.

SB: There used to be a bar in San Francisco called Doctor Bombay’s.

JD: Nice!

SB: Actually, it was good place to get punched in the neck by some guy who decided you stole his bar change.

JD: Yanno, the last time I was in San Francisco, some guy tried to pick a fight with me.  Has it always been a big fighting town, or was it just me?

SB: I think there are just certain places where it’s unwise to stare at the expensive vodkas, mostly because they’re full of people who see your back as an opportunity.

JD: Have you ever been in the mafia?

SB: Lipstick or Trenchcoat?

JD: Either.  Your comment about sitting with your back facing people made me wonder. That’s the thing about TNB- we really don’t know much about each other. That’s the royal “we” by the way.

SB: It’s true. I sort of feel like I know you through post-osmosis. But in reality, I know absolutely nothing about you. I guess that’s why we’re sitting here. I’m going to take out my folded piece of paper with three questions on it now.

JD: I’m keeping mine in my pocket until the last possible second. My list of questions, that is.

SB: Okay, here’s the first one: let’s talk about the ubiquity of Joe. It seems like every post I read, you’ve already commented on it. Which I mostly take to mean you’re really conscientious about participating in the TNB model, as opposed to just slinging your own work up and basking in the glory. Do you feel an obligation to make the rounds, or do you just really dig the give and take?

JD: (pulling fake pencil from behind ear and leaning over napkin) Hold on-I need to write down “The Ubiquity of Joe.” If I ever record a folk album, I now have a title. I just need the Irish sweater and kinky hair.

SB: I can see the cover. You’re on a stool in a pirate’s jacket with a banjo, doing tunes from David Crosby’s solo album. Which I’ve actually listened to, by the way. Every single song is called something like Ecology, Ecology, Mustache, Drugs. Or Morocco, Booze, Mustache, Freedom.

JD: Classics.

SB: Anyway, I know “ubiquity” might sound sort of negative, but I’m trying to say I think it’s kind of an excellent thing.

JD: How so?

SB: Just that there’s a certain sort of “writerly cool” that requires being all enigmatic and not putting yourself out too much, trading ironic for earnest, not being willing to say things if they’re not always “brilliant”…  I see you out there sort of just being supportive and I like it. It’s anti-cool. It’s zero-hipster.

JD: (chuckling) I’m like the Hootie of TNB. No, I mean, I realize some people might think it’s sort of a yahoo thing to do-to consistently comment. But I really appreciate the feedback when I publish something, so I want make sure I’m supporting other writers in the same way. Personally, I find virtually all comments on my pieces to be enormously helpful-at the very least it brings my attention to what caught their eye, good or bad, and what they related to on some level. And you?

SB: At first I felt weird commenting beneath my own pieces, like I was fluffing the totals. But I got over it. And I really like the dialogue. It forced me to think about the entire process in a different way. That whole dynamic of “I am the writer, you are the reader, there will remain a wall of silent genius between us.” Totally subverting that.

JD: I hear you. My first thought on commenting on my pieces was that it was a pretty slavish way of pimping yourself out. Then some other writers suggested to me that actively commenting on your pieces was a good thing because it drives discussion and brings readers deeper into the piece, as well as the TNB community. Let’s face it-the Bible is online, the complete works of Shakespeare, most of the Garfield cartoon strips. There are some pretty good options for readers looking to kill time on the internet. I think that for people to spend their time reading a piece on TNB is deserving of some grateful acknowledgment, in my opinion. Oh, and yes-I just implied that I’m bigger than Jesus.

SB: You are. My oatmeal is bathed in loving light.

JD: I wish I ordered oatmeal. Maybe I’ll try to multiply yours.

SB: Can you multiply me a coffee refill, too? Okay, here’s my second prepared question: Writing about music is easy in a way, because almost all of us have spent our lives immersed in it, and also pretty impossible, since almost all of us have spent our lives immersed in it.

JD: Exactly.

SB: So there’s pretty much not a single thing you can say-“I love Rush, I hate Rush”-that won’t be considered by someone to be not only ill-informed, but actively offensive. So why take that whole package on?

JD: (briefly considering) Writing about music isn’t the most original endeavor. We music obsessives all suffer from the delusion that our passion is unique in intensity and/or variety. In reality, the only thing unique is probably our album collections, which are like snowflakes-no two are exactly the same. When I crawl into an album or a band’s catalog, sometimes a theme pops up, or I find myself struggling with the question of “what it is about THIS music that makes me feel this way, when this other music doesn’t?” And next thing I know, I’m writing about it. Know what I mean?

SB: I do. Except I tend to ignore that compulsion. To write about it. To me it’s like covering a Pro Choice rally. There’s two groups of people with signs and bullhorns, a bunch of nervous cops, and no possibility of convincing anyone of anything.

JD: Speaking of convincing, you used to write for The Onion. How in the world did that happen?

SB: I pitched the SF city editor an idea and he liked it. Never thought I’d hear back from him. They were desperate, obviously.

JD: Did you just come up with an individual story idea and send it to him, or was your idea to write a regular column?

SB: I pitched him “How to Spend Christmas Day Alone” which was essentially about being that guy who doesn’t have the cash to fly back to his parents’ in Cleveland like the rest of his roommates. The idea being, okay, here’s a list of places you can go to stag in hopes of warding off the crippling depression.

JD: So what’s open?

SB: Um, not much. The Avis rental car counter. Walgreens. I advised stealing lots of candy, getting caught, and spending the day with friends in jail. Also, David Brenner does a comedy night at this Chinese restaurant in North Beach every year. Which sounds almost like jail. After that I kept pitching the idea that SF really needed a sarcastic weekly sports column. And they finally agreed. As it turns out, it wasn’t at all what SF needed.

JD: What happened?

SB: I got canned.

JD: Sexual harassment?

SB: I wish. No, like two days after Lehman Brothers ate it, the SF and LA offices were shuttered. I’d just finished my column and the editor calls and says “don’t bother to send it in this week.” That’s more or less the last I heard from them.

JD: (reaching into pocket for notebook) I guess this brings me to my first pre-prepared question: In the cultural juggernaut Road House, Patrick Swayze’s character Dalton imparts nuggets of wisdom to friends and enemies like “Pain don’t hurt,” and “Go fuck yourself,” to name a few. Ok, in one of Buddhism-lite lectures, he tells the battle-weary staff of the Double Deuce, “I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.” Is it possible for a writer to follow this advice?

SB: (Crossing fingers over chin in a Zen manner) Well, you probably remember that just before the climactic fight scene, the bad guy tells Swayze “I used to fuck guys like you for breakfast in prison. That’s pretty much my writing motto.

JD: It’s all starting to fall into place.

SB: Not to mention the 26-point Helvetica banner I have tattooed across my back…

JD: I’m sorry, but I’m going to need to see that.

SB: Obviously you’ve done a little research, and I appreciate you slyly bringing up Road House. Yeah, the lead character in my next book is named “Dalton.” And, yes, it’s an homage to Swayze.

JD: People are going to think you’re kidding. But you’re not, are you?

SB: Nope. It’s called You Killed Wesley Payne. But let’s talk about how Brad Listi called you and me onto the carpet of his mahogany-lined Fifth Avenue office last week.

JD: Good idea. We haven’t had a chance to break it down yet.

SB: So, after the usual niceties, he essentially told us-

JD: -to shape the fuck up.

SB: Yes, but also, if we did get our act together, we had the potential to be the Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry of this year’s TNB freshman class.

JD: Right.

SB: You seemed to think he was warning us not to stay up all night doing coke with Lenny Dykstra/Greg Olear anymore. I sort of thought he was trying to tell us to enjoy this time of innocence, because it doesn’t last.

JD: Seriously? I’ve been having a blast at TNB. It’s like a literary Lollapalooza. But without the eight dollar bottles of water and overflowing port-a-potties.

SB: You’ve mentioned you’re working on a book.

JD: (tenses up) Wait, is it bad luck to talk about a book that you’re still writing?

SB: Yes, and now the thing is doomed. Even so, what’s it about? What are your wildest expectations for it?

JD: The book is a direct consequence of TNB. I know it sounds trite, but the author community really inspired me to give it a shot. Being outside the literary world, I always had the idea that all novelists were pretentious and unapproachable-

SB: Aren’t they?

JD:-and riddled with fear and sarcasm. But most of the authors at TNB seem down to earth, passionate about the writing process, and sincere in participating in a community vibe. I realized I could either keep doing the one-off pieces and being a hired gun for other artists, or I could take on the challenge and see what I’m all about…the book will deal with music, which means that any expectations I have for it are hellaciously modest. In a genre populated with Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman, and Michael Azerrad, I have no pretensions that I’m going to burst onto the scene.

SB: The scene could use some bursting. You could be the new Klosterchuck.

JD: I’ll just be happy to get it published and read by a few people whose opinions I respect….(suddenly laughing) um, excuse me, Miss? Yes, waitress? Did we really order all these cliches?

SB: She’s like, “fuck off and tip me already, you guys are camping at my best table.

JD: Here’s my next written question, while we’re on the subject: You’re quite a music aficionado, seemingly across a number of genres. One of which is apparently jazz, which is sort of like the absinthe of music-few dare to sample it for fear that they won’t understand the experience. Even established musicians can be intimidated by the unfamiliar scales and chord progressions. What does jazz do for you and is it possible to discuss it without sounding pretentious?

SB: It’s unfortunate but true that you pretty much can’t talk about jazz without sounding like an asshole. Unless I meet someone who’s as much of a twitchy stalker about it as I am, I usually play dumb. There’s definitely this sense that, if you’re into Charles Mingus or Sun Ra, it must just be a bid for hipster credibility. It’s like, “there’s no way you actually listen to that for pleasure!”

JD: Right, right.

SB: But, you know, I will cop to the fact that there have been times in my life when I claimed to like things that I was actually not that into-Foucault comes to mind-because I thought it might impress people. One of the great things about getting older is completely not giving a shit anymore. I mean, if I want to waltz into Starbucks and order a triple caramel whipped cream enema, I’m going to do it and not worry what the cute barista thinks, you know?

JD: It depends how cute.

SB: And I would say that the “intimidation” aspect of jazz is probably more about the fear of looking dumb at a party than the complexity of chord changes. Even the name is sort of meaningless, because it encompasses so many different styles of music. You mean your grandma’s Artie Shaw collection? Cake walks? Hard bop? The fifteen incarnations of Miles Davis? Machito? Free Jazz? B-3 funk? Fusion-y shit?

JD: So then what’s the appeal? Does it relax you, inspire you, make you want to lay with a woman?

SB: A long time ago, and this was back in the cassette days, I worked the overnight desk shift at a hotel, and I had this one TDK of Coltrane’s Ascension which is, you know, a challenging piece of music. Seriously dissonant. People would walk into the lobby, hear it, pick up their suitcases and walk right back out again. I wore that tape down to the felt.

JD: It’s like you’re a conundrum, inside of a mystery, served next to some potato croquettes.

SB: I get bored easy. Verse, verse, chorus, solo. Turn on the radio, here’s another song about a girl you like. Here’s another song about how it sucks to be twenty and have no idea how your life will turn out. Here’s an ironic song about a toy we all grew up with. Did you really order the croquettes?

JD: I did. Out of all the world’s vegetarians, I have the worst diet by far. (gripping non-existent tofu gut). And I’m ok with that.

SB: A bunch of people I know got into a massive pixellated conflagration about Lady Gaga on Facebook last week. One side loves her, mostly for campy reasons, but still some true acolytes. The other loathes her, mostly because she doesn’t sound anything like ZZ Top. And the middle thinks arguments about musical preference need to be left in the dorm room, so grow the fuck up already. But I thought it was interesting that the main sticking point seemed to be that while some people admitted to finding her entertaining, they weren’t willing to concede she had any actual talent. Well, Joe Daly, does she?

JD: Wow. I do have a theory on Lady Gaga, which may or may not impact this question. The theory is that there are at least five Lady Gagas.

SB: Good, I like it….keep going…

JD: If you look at any series of pictures of her, she looks wildly different across all of them. Basically, you’ll see that her body and facial structure aren’t particularly unique-just the outfits, makeup, and hair. It occurred to me that if she got really blown out at a party, and was too hungover to make an appearance the next morning, she could easily send a similarly-shaped friend to do the gig, and no one would ever be the wiser. Plus, the way she sings has been auto tuned up to the max, so really there’s probably a legion of women who could pass themselves off as LGG in the studio. You see where I’m heading?

SB: Completely. And I do think she’s incredibly talented. It may just be that her incredible talent does not lay in the musical arena. I mean, she and some very smart people got together, came up with a character to inflame the pop fires, and every day they deposit truckloads of cash into various accounts. They’re just really bald about it, which I sort of admire more than bands or singers who pretend they’re not all about business.

JD: Dead on! You do have to respect an artist who plays it straight like that. So it’s my own personal conspiracy theory that Lady Gaga is like Lassie in that she’s played by a number of different actors/singers.

SB: And also that she can bark and claw the dirt in a way that tells you there’s a little boy who’s been kidnapped by Apaches and it’s time to run and get the sheriff?

JD: She would also probably be really handy if someone got caught in a bear trap. “What’s that Lady Gaga? It’s Timmy? Timmy needs help?”

SB: Seems like a good time to introduce a pretty clichéd scenario that was asked of me last week, mostly cause I got no more good material on Gaga…

JD: Bring it on.

SB: Okay, you’re going to the typical theoretical deserted island and can bring the entire recordings of only one artist to play on your coconut-fueled iPod. The caveat is, you don’t get any bootlegs or re-issues, just the studio albums. To listen to over and over, for the rest of your life. So, even if Working for the Weekend is your favorite song ever, choosing Loverboy limits you to a tiny pool of recordings. Who do you pick and why?

JD: Well, if it were one album, I was going to go with the Best of the Stone Roses, but as they only have two studio albums of original stuff, they don’t make the island.

SB: The smart move would probably be to snag Mozart, not only for the volume of material, but because you could while away the years studying him. If only to keep yourself from talking to a volleyball. Unfortunately I’m not that smart, so I’m going with Slayer.

JD: Because…

SB: Because only Slayer will keep me and my new monkey-wife sane.

JD: I’m going to have to go with The Who then.

SB: Really?

JD: I’ve just always related to them on a very deep level. I got into them in high school, when I was starting to feel my oats, and that was the same general age that Townshend was when he began writing some of his best stuff. I’ve always thought Daltrey was money. Great rage. Plus, end to end, they have a great legacy that includes anthems, punk, heavy riffing, and very melodic, stripped-down stuff.

SB: Supposedly Hendrix hated Pete Townshend. So, by extension, I am obliged to hate Pete Townshend, too. But I dig Live at Leeds. Total early punk.

JD: And one of the best motherfucking live albums ever! (waitress walks by, glares, shakes head.) Whoops-sorry for the profanity, miss. (In a quieter voice) Didn’t realize she was right behind us.

SB: We’re totally getting 86’d. I better do my final question.

JD: Good idea.

SB: (composing mentally, taking deep breath) Okay, so yesterday I was thinking about how, as a society, we process things in tiny increments-

JD: I agree. Next.

SB: (laughs)…we spend all our time like, what do I have to get done by noon? Who am I hanging out with this weekend? It’s pretty amazing how much has changed just in the last year alone, but we don’t really acknowledge it. For instance, Tiger Woods. He’s a punch-line. His iconography is permanently shot. But eight months ago he was a walking brand, one of the most revered, most reliable money-machines of the last century. Pretty much a god, at least to people who find their gods in someone else’s backswing. Okay, so….sorry this is so long-winded….so I was just reading that David Shields self-interview where for the third time he more or less said “literature is dead” and I was thinking how that was like saying “Tiger fucks waitresses at Waffle House.” Bang! Hit the defibrillator, lock your kids in the rec room, start selling off all those valuable first editions. But golf goes on. Tiger’s still playing. People still watch and care. It’s just different now. It seems to me that saying “literature is dead” is really “here’s a contentious generalized statement with which to drum up interest in my $25.95 hardback.” You know what I mean?

JD: I think I do. I mean, does anyone really think literature is dead? In fact, it’s more alive than ever-look at the growing list of contributors to the TNB, many of whom have their own books out. Maybe print is dying, but the fact that it’s easier than ever to get people to read your thoughts, via book, blog, or social networking site, shows that literature is very much alive, it’s just diluted. But for the record, I think the “contentious generalization” tool is about as original as the serial killer not being dead at the end of the movie.

SB: Right. You gutshot Michael Meyers. He gets up. Light him on fire. He gets up. But I do like that Shields is really confident about staking out his position. He’s like, “here’s what I think, here’s what my book is about, buy it or don’t, I’m not trying to make any friends.” He’s obviously spent years thinking through this stuff while the rest of us were running with scissors. I guess in the end I just feel protective of the old model. Which is dumb, since I mostly get screwed in the old model.

JD: Speaking of which, you just posted this thing called Read My Finger: How Not to Get Published

SB: I did. Which will probably guarantee I never get published again…

JD: All the TNB literary critics, editors, and very serious writers knocked each other over to effusively praise the thing. It felt like it was Christmas Eve and someone said there was only one Cabbage Patch Kid left, and it was in your article. Being an outsider in the literary world, I found the piece to be thoroughly entertaining, and at the same time, quite humbling. Not only did you name check a legion of authors I’ve never heard of, but you revealed the submission and acceptance process to be tired, saturated, and impersonal.

SB: Actually, once it was done I considered scrapping the thing. Even though most of it was intended to be comical, in the end I don’t want to genuinely discourage anybody. Writing is just too hard as it is. But, you know, it was all true. The truth cannot be denied. On the other hand, my mother called me up and was like, “that’s the last time I write anything but XXOO on your birthday card.”

JD: Nice one, mom.

SB: Since we’re at the end here, it does seem like I should mention that, even on a telepathic level, we seem to have agreed not to speak of the Steve Almond contretemps. Maybe if for no other reason than that we’re both bored to tears by ever single facet of it. But it occurred to me to ask you one thing, and maybe with this question put it all to bed, permanently, next to Hoffa in a layer of quicklime…

JD: (nodding warily)

SB: Did that experience give you, in even the most fractional way, a glimpse of what it’s like to be pinned down in the public eye like a Lindsay Lohan? By which I mean, caught up in some “spat” that was probably bullshit to begin with, but for whatever reason becomes a cultural snowball, conducted through headlines and discussed by third parties and generally taking on a life of its own, so that it goes way past really being about you, and you sort of end up standing by watching it happen?

JD: Yeah, it was really strange to watch things spin out so quickly. My thinking is that Steve had every right to say what he wanted to say, and I responded to him accordingly as a comment to his piece. My involvement ended there. I wasn’t going to get baited into some internet feud. As the saying goes, “never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” But next thing I knew, people began weighing in and a very different debate arose. Greg Olear’s piece, Something Nice,” was awesome because it set off a very thoughtful and sometimes animated discussion about what the TNB culture means to different people and what their expectations are for the site. Apparently it was time for that discussion to happen at TNB.  But as you say, the debate had little to do with me or my writing.

SB: I feel compelled to mention that I do admire pretty much any willingness to leap into the fray brandishing unpopular sentences. To not worry if your opinion is going to keep people from being gentle with your own pieces. To toss it out there like a raw steak and deal with how it effects your Amazon ranking later. I mean, essentially, the internet is nothing but a massive binary excuse to be righteously pissed about stuff. So the guy with the pointy stick, in the long run, is sort of doing everyone a favor.

JD: When the TNB dust up was still pretty new, one of the more veteran authors told me that when you put something out there, some people will like it and some won’t, and to realize that none of them are right. The important thing is to just keep writing because that’s all I can control. I’m not going to say that I don’t care what people think about my writing, but I think that as long as I’m writing about topics that mean something to me, and not for other people’s approval or feedback, I can be happy with my process.

SB: Listen, people who say ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about my work’ are either lying or Thomas Pynchon. I mean, everyone cares. Deeply. The locus of writing is showing off. It’s narcissistic just by definition to imply “my deepest thoughts are worth your investment in time.” So I think it’s how much of that ego you can deflate, you know, that makes certain writing rise above. How much can you ignore your nature and access your true feelings without censoring them, or tailoring them to a specific audience. No matter what the genre, guns and spies or Jane Austen, that’s the kind of writing that, to me, never feels disposable. So, you know, I guess I’m trying to say, if you feel like you’ve written something artfully, but with a minimum percentage of bullshit, you can pretty much get away with anything. You can call anyone out, or reveal things that are totally ugly and not be condemned for it. But if you’re going to attack someone for the intellectual rigor of their distaste for Dave Matthews, man, you better have a pretty solid handle on your own failings.

JD: Ok, they’re turning the lights out in here. I need to ask one more question though, if that’s cool. When I was researching your works, I found out that your first book, Going Nowhere Faster, was just translated into Polish. Polish!

SB: I know, right? Now it’s called Donikad Byle Szybciej. I’m embarrassed to admit how pleased I am with how entirely random that is.

JD: Why Poland over say, France? Is there a big Young Adult market in Krakow?

SB: No clue. But I intend for my empire to span from Budapest to Helsinki by 2012. And by 2112, I intend for it to span from Spirit in The Radio to Tom Sawyer.

JD: Ha! In a perfect world, where would you like to see your writing take you? If you could decide your own fate, what does the future look like?

SB: Totally honestly? If I can sell just enough to not worry about checks or agents or self-promotion, to be able to sit in my little office with my laptop and concentrate on whatever project I’ve got going that day, I would be extremely happy. Anything beyond that is frosting.

JD: Amen.

SB: Selah.

JD: What does that mean?

SB: I’m not entirely sure. Hunter Thompson used to say it all the time. Something like let those with eyes see, and those with ears hear.

JD: It doesn’t get any more profound than that.

SB: No, sir. It really doesn’t.

 

Recently, The Nervous Breakdown held a contest on its Twitter feed as we approached the 1,500 follower mark.  When the number was eclipsed, a drawing was held and a winner was selected.

The prize?  A feature interview here on TNB.

A young woman named Ellie emerged triumphant.  Ellie is from Portland, Oregon.  She is an Ivy League educated urban planner and music blogger with a penchant for whiskey and a deep love of cerebral rock stars and screen actor Ryan Gosling.

Ellie was kind enough to make herself available for a wide-ranging, spirited, and often personal conversation, the transcript of which can be found below.

Enjoy.

 

BL:  Hello?

Hi!

Voila.

You did it! Welcome to gChat.

I feel special.

As you should.

Congrats again on winning the big contest.  A very scientific selection process involving several scraps of paper and a baseball hat.

Hey, thanks. It was hard work.

So here’s how this’ll go.  I’m gonna ask you a bunch of invasive, deeply personal, and potentially offensive questions.  And you must respond with wit and total honesty.

And then you put it on the Internet. Got it!

Right.  And then we take it public, along with a bunch of personal photos, and we do our best to make sure your family and all of your coworkers have access to it.

Perfect.

So yeah.  The idea is to make it interesting and entertaining.

I’ll do my best.

And to do that, you’re going to have to tolerate me attempting to be a decent interviewer.  Which is to say, you’re going to have to be willing to play along a bit as I try to ask about things that I think will compel our readership to keep reading.  Sound good?

(**radio silence as Ellie contemplates**)

Okay!

Alright.  So let us begin, shall we?

Let’s.

Ellie, you are the winner of a recent contest that we held on our Twitter feed.  You are, in effect, the 1,500th “follower” of TNB on Twitter.  Tell me a little bit about how this makes you feel.

I feel like I need to work on my leadership skills.

Do you feel like a loser in life?  Like someone who was born under a bad sign?

I constantly feel like I am a character in a Credence Clearwater Revival song, yes.

You write about music, correct?

I do! I try to. I have a blog that is a few months old and I’m trying to do as much writing as possible this year. And go to as many shows as my bank account and liver will tolerate.

Tell me a little bit about your life.  Who you are.  Where you’re from.

Originally, I come from Upstate New York.  It’s very cold and snowy there. So I moved to Portland after college because I thought it would have a nicer climate.

And?

Now I hate rain, but less passionately than I hate snow. I hope to keep moving south as I age.

And where did you go to college?

Cornell, which is also in Upstate New York.

An Ivy Leaguer.

Yes. I’m very fancy.

Were you a good student?

I was, although I learned to do less work each year while maintaining the same grades.

What was your major?

Sociology.

That’s always seemed sort of nebulous to me.  Though I suppose no more nebulous than “English.”

It is nebulous. I like dead old white dudes’ theories on the world. So, it worked out. Not so useful in the real world, however.

What have you done since college?

I temped and waited tables, then went and got a master’s degree.

In…anthropology?   Psychology?

Urban Planning.

How’d that treat you?

Well, I’ve been employed since I graduated, so that’s a plus. Whether it’s my lifelong calling remains to be seen.

So you do urban planning in Portland.

Sorta, kinda. I do all types of planning all around Oregon.

And in your spare time you go to shows and write about music and drink heavily.

Yes, sir.

Are you a problem drinker?  A bedwetter?  Anything like that?

I’m proud to say I am not.

So purely a social drinker who enjoys the live music experience.

Correct.

Favorite bands?

That’s a harder question than it seems.  The Hold Steady.  The Gaslight Anthem.  Lucero.  The Drive-By Truckers.

Are you a hippie?

Gah! No!

Do you despise hippies?

I may or may not hate hippies.

Do you have a crush on Craig Finn [the lead singer of The Hold Steady]?

I have a crush on Craig Finn’s brain. Big time. I would put it in a different body, though.

Whose body?

Maybe Ryan Gosling. He’s adorable and scruffy enough to be a rock star.

I have a man crush on him.  Half Nelson is classic.

Don’t be ashamed.

I have no shame.

Hey, we have that in common!

And speaking of no shame:  Tell me about your life in Portland, and your personal life in particular.  Are you single?  Married?  Bi?  Asexual?  In an open marriage?

Single. Straight.

And looking for a Ryan Gosling look-alike who can play the guitar and think like Craig Finn.

That’s not asking so much, is it?

Does the music scene there annoy you at all?

Yes. There is a mismatch between my musical tastes and my surroundings.

When I imagine Portland, I imagine a lot of hipsters.  But I haven’t spent hardly any time in Portland.

You imagine correctly.

Do you feel that you intimidate men?

I feel like I should be lying on a couch when I answer that question.

Feel free to recline.

Am I intimidating you?

Not at all.  It’s a question I ask all of our Twitter followers.

I don’t feel that way, generally. Though Portland men are, as a whole, ginormous wimps.

I tend to believe that American culture has in some ways become “feminized” to an unhealthy degree.  It’s that whole “politically correct” argument.  Sensitivity over truth.  Metrosexuality.  Emo.  Shoegazing.  And so on.

We could talk about that for a while. Male friends of mine who grew up in Portland have confirmed for me that the culture here growing up was so PC that they can’t bring themselves to really hit on women.  I think Portland is the epicenter of that. There aren’t as many lumberjack types as one would think/hope.  Actually, Williamsburg, Brooklyn is potentially the epicenter of that. But we’re the west coast capital.

Have you ever considered putting up a Crag’s List ad expressing your interest in meeting a Ryan Gosling look-alike with a Craig Finn mind and the psycho-sexual bearing of an alpha-male lumberjack?

I have some friends who encourage this sort of thing. I’m not so sure.

About online dating?  Or Craig’s List specifically?

In general, yes. Craig’s List, specifically.

Have any guys in Portland hit on you recently?

They’re all too shy.  I’m not sure I’ve ever really been hit on in Portland.  Not in the proper east-coast sense.

The proper east-coast sense?

Eye contact followed by an introduction, maybe a free drink, some sort of follow-up invitation. Guys in Portland are really good at making eye contact across the room and then going home alone.

Have you ever considered taking the bull by the horns?  Flipping the script?  You do advertise yourself as a whiskey drinker.  This seems to indicate a certain predilection for aggressive, proactive behavior.

I’m overcome with social anxiety at inconvenient times.  But, yes, I have tried on occassion.  One time I bought a dude a beer at a show ’cause he’d been clutching an empty for thirty minutes. I thought that was cute of me.

His response?

He said, “That was sweet.”  We exchanged names.  He left alone.  I left with my friends.

What a pussy.

Sing it, sister.

So.  Do you read The Nervous Breakdown with any regularity?

Um…I do now?

It’s alright to be new.

I am new. It’s the power of Twitter. I do read a lot when not out at shows drinking whiskey, so I’ll check it out.

How many whiskeys do you drink on an average night on the town?  Be honest.

Four? It’s not an every night out kind of thing. One has to ration.

Four is a respectable number.

I like to drink Bud Light with my whiskey. Don’t judge. It’s delicious.

Are you a large woman?  Petite?  I’m trying to countenance this intake.

I think I can legitimately say I’m average.

Do you have siblings?

I have an older brother.

And you get along?

Famously. His wife is great too.

And they still live back in New York?

Nope.  San Francisco.

Hippies?

Not at all.

Have you done any international traveling?

I lived in Germany for a year and Scotland for four months. I’ve been to Mexico and Iceland as well.

Iceland.

It’s an island nation north of Europe.

Tell me about your experiences in Iceland.

I used to be obsessed with Iceland. I took a three-day layover on my way to Scotland. It was pretty surreal.

How so?

The landscape is unlike anything you’ve likely ever seen. And it’s so far north that you can’t really watch the sun set, because it takes a really long time and you get cold and have to go inside.

And you were in Reykjavik?

I stayed outside of Reykjavik because their hostel was full. Took a bus tour of the interior one day, bummed around the city one day and went to the Blue Lagoon one day.

The Blue Lagoon?

It’s a natural mineral spa in the middle of a lava landscape.

And people bathe in the lagoon?

Sort of float around, yes.  It’s like a big, shallow outdoor pool.

And the Icelandic people?  Were you able to get a sense of them?

Not so much. They all speak English quite well though.

Which can be kind of depressing, as an American.  You go abroad, and everyone speaks English so well.  Do you speak German fluently?

I used to. On my flight home, I was mistaken for a German native. That was twelve years ago though.  It’s not something you get to practice a lot.

It sort of scares me to hear people speak German.

It’s not the softest language, but it has a certain rhythm and it’s really quite logical.

Do you ever wonder what English must sound like to someone who doesn’t speak it?  I bet it sounds awful.

Like a mouthful of R’s.

Meanwhile Italian, French, and Spanish sound like music.

We’re an ugly people, the Americans.

Do you really believe that?

We have some ugly traits as a people, but I wouldn’t trade in.

Temperamentally speaking, what kind of person are you?  Outgoing?  Introverted?  Loud?  Quiet?  Funny?  How do you think your friends see you?

I think my friends see me as social and funny, but I think I have a bit of a split personality.

Meaning what?

I am either in super social, stay-out-late mode, or else I’m curled up with my cat reading and napping for a few days in a row.

Are you a depressive?

I can be. But sometimes when I’m really happy I like to read and nap, too.

So you consider yourself pretty well-adjusted psychologically?

I do. I mean, it’s a work in progress, always, but I’m pretty clear-headed.  Getting out of my twenties helped.

Your twenties?

Well, I finished college, moved across the country, worked a few dead-end jobs, had several apartments, ended a few relationships, got a degree and a big girl job, and put down roots.  I think everything’s a little more dramatic when you’re in your twenties.  Now it’s like, well, that sucks, but no one’s dead, so we’re all good.

You say you’ve “ended a few relationships.”  Were you always the one doing the ending?

I’ve usually been the ender, but the ones where I wasn’t were the hardest. I guess that’s obvious, but it’s a painful lesson.  I also got hit by a car when I was twenty-five. That was challenging.

Jesus.

I was on my bike.  Didn’t see the car coming. I was pretty lucky, all things considered.

And the car hit you head-on?  Sideswiped you?

I kind of sideswiped it.  Landed on my ass in the street. The actual physics of the accident are unclear to me.

What kind of injuries did you sustain?

Compression fracture in my spine.

Christ.

I was in bed for about ten days. Never totally immobile though. It’s one of these injuries where they just send you home with pain pills. I wore a very attractive back brace for a few weeks.

Did you sue the driver?

I didn’t. I had good insurance, and no one was really at fault.

Have you ever been arrested?

No!  Very proud of that.

I’m looking for something juicy here.  You seem like a pretty stable human being.  There have to have been some episodes of incredibly poor judgment in your past.  Dark chapters.  Messy binges.

Haha. There certainly have been. Not fit to print though.  Especially since my mom is getting increasingly Internet savvy.

So we’re talking about men here.  If you’re worried about Mom, then it’s gotta be men.  Waking up in bed with someone and having no idea who they are or how you got there.

I have no idea what you are talking about.

Are you a big reader, Ellie?

I am. I read a lot.

Favorite writers?

Chuck Klosterman for non-fiction/pop culture. I’m less loyal when it comes to fiction.  I read a lot of contemporary fiction. I can tell you what books I really liked lately.

Sure.  Please do.

Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles.  This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.  A Fortunate Age, by Joanna Rakoff.  City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza.

So you like humor in your fiction.

I do.  I love me some dark humor.

Do you have an e-reader?

No. I’m opposed.

Why?

I like to cuddle up with books. I love bookstores; I like the library. I don’t really want to get in bed with an electronic device.

I could easily make a joke here.

I am well aware.

So you have no plans to purchase an iPad.

Nope. I have two iPods and and iPhone, so I’m all set.

Do you have a lot of friends?

I do.  More than average, I think.

More men than women?  Women than men?

Probably more women, but certainly a good mix.  Women don’t trust women who have no woman friends. Cause they’re sketchy as hell.

How so?

It’s a red flag in the lady world.  Women who say “I don’t have many woman friends” are generally not trustworthy.  There’s a reason women don’t like them.  We’re better judges of character than y’all.

Do you really believe that?  I think I’m a pretty good judge of character.

I one-hundred percent do.

You’re speaking generally.  But you will concede that some men are actually good at such things.

Yes and yes.

Do you plan on having children someday?

I really don’t know. I’m 50/50 on that issue.

But if you meet the right guy, and you get married, it’ll happen.

So they say.

Do you like children?  Are you naturally drawn to them?  Or do you find them repellent?

I like babies. I like them till they’re about three.  Then I find them totally annoying.

Do you have any sense of your biological clock ticking?  Like, do you ever privately weep on the way home from the grocery store after seeing a baby in the checkout line or anything like that?

Well, I get really gooey when I see babies.  There is something instinctual about it.  But then they cry or I remember that I like to sleep nine hours a night, and I’m all good.

What about religious beliefs?  Are a you a churchgoer?

I’m not. I used to skip Sunday school as a kid. I was like, “this sounds hooey,” and I’d go hide for an hour.

So an atheist?

I guess technically. It’s not something I think about on the regular.

And what do you think happens when we die?

It’s like taking a nap, forever.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was, like, four, one of my brother’s friends fell and got a rusty nail impaled in his knee.

Do you have any phobias?

Natural disasters.

Specifically?

Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos erupting.  Any and all, really.

And you’re truly phobic of these things?

Well, I’ve calmed down in recent years. I used to worry a lot about tsunamis.

What do you do when you’re afraid?  Are we talking panic attacks here?

Nah.  I don’t know how to answer that.  I’m a bit neurotic, though. I sort of immediately imagine the worst case scenario. Or when people don’t call me back, I wonder if they’re dead.

Are you a pessimist?

I like to think I’m a realist. Part of me is jaded as hell, but deep down I’m pretty sure it’s all gonna work out fine.

Do you meditate?

Lord, no.

So you’re opposed to meditation.

I am way too ADD for that. I have like nine thoughts at once.  If I need to block them out, I go to the gym and listen to music really loudly.

Are you Italian?

I’m about a third by blood.  Not at all, culturally.  Well, I like pasta.

Tell me something that our readership should know about you.  What can you tell us about yourself that will give us real insight into who you are as a human being?

I am looking for a Ryan Gosling look-alike who can play the guitar and think like Craig Finn.

Anything else?

A person would have to buy me drinks to get that kind of insight.

So where can Portland men find you if they feel like they might meet your very stringent criteria?  We like to try to facilitate couplings here at TNB.

Read my blog.  Comment.  Follow me to shows—in a non-creepy way, of course.  Or email me at [email protected].

Okay, Ellie.  I think that about does it.  This has been fun.  Thank you very much for your time.

You got it.  Thank you.