Hotels Are People Too

It’s increasingly hard to escape the sensation that the primary proprietors of the so-called sharing economy don’t so much share as take—from their users, from their contracted workers, from the localities in which they operate, by utilizing infrastructure that they do not contribute toward. It’s everybody else who shares.

The New York State Attorney General’s initial report on Airbnb in New York City, which analyzed full-apartment bookings (crucially, not room shares) with the service from 2010 until this past June, feels fairly conclusive in this regard. Even if you absolutely do not care at all that, according to the attorney general, seventy-two percent of the private bookings on Airbnb are technically illegal, or that real hotel operators are losing out hundreds of millions of dollars in bookings, or even maybe that the city has lost tens of millions of dollars in taxes the city has lost to Airbnb and its hosts, it’s frankly easy, as a renter in New York City (I mean, Jesus) to feel supremely agitated that last year, more than four-and-a-half thousand apartments listed on Airbnb were booked for short-term rentals for three months of the year or more, and of those, nearly half were booked by half the year or more—meaning apartments that could and should have been on the market were being largely used as hotels. (These apartments accounted for thirty-eight percent of the revenue to Airbnb and its hosts from units booked as private short-term rentals, according to the attorney general.)

Provocations of a Bad Jingle Writer

It’s Thursday afternoon in late August. I am recording a dismal power-metal jingle for CBS Sports and the NFL. Football: a sport that should have died 65 million years ago. To record this jingle, I am using my iPhone’s GarageBand app. This isn’t composing; this is clicking. I am assembling a loop of sludgy, charmless instrumental samples. “Dark and Heavy Riff 06.” “Indie Rock Riffing 02.” “Double Punk Drumset 01.” I am 30 years old, and a songwriter. A singer-songwriter. Multi-hyphenate. But since my music is virtually unknown outside a narrow circle of Chicagoans and South American women, and since there’s about five thousand dollars left in the entire music industry, I’m also a composer for advertising.

I freelance for three agencies. Every week or so, I get an email from a music supervisor. It will start with: “we have been tapped to find the just-right song” or “we have a new spot that needs some rad music.” It will end with: “we need this in two days.” There will be a brief description of the commercial or, if I’m lucky, an attached script. Sometimes the client or advertising agency will be named. Occasionally the client will be ambiguous. A “big box retailer.” An “automotive company.” In the early stages of an advertising campaign, either the brand, the ad agency, or, more often, the director will become eye-wateringly fixated on a pop song. This song will be used temporarily while filming. However, usually for budgetary or ego reasons, it will be unlicensable. So, a knockoff version is requested. That’s when a music agency is contacted, and I receive an email. I’m often told the music should be “almost exact to the references.” At best, this is a creative process lacking creativity. At worst, it’s plagiarism.

I’m not always asked to steal melodies from contemporary songs. Sometimes a music supervisor will indicate light creative freedom. It’s like finding a few inches of space in a feedlot. In these rare moments, the music brief will say: “looking for songs that are heartwarming in a folk/pop way” or “looking for something upbeat and happy.” Empty descriptions. Once these original, or orginalish, songs are submitted, the client will request changes. “Good start, but we dig this new Black Keys song. Can we get something almost similar to that?” For Redd’s Apple Ale, I submitted several songs from my own record, Delicate Parts. My lyrics were “too challenging.” The client also wanted the word “Red” in the lyrical hook. So my words and voice–everything essential and human and exclamatory–were removed from the mix. Throwaway lines jammed with “red” were dashed off. The songs were edited into 30-second clips and a female singer recorded over them. My music became part karaoke, part evisceration. And I permitted it.

How did this happen? How did I become a jingle man?

Eight Voicemails from My Grandmother, Who Is Very Upset About the Apparent Death of My Career

This weekend marked the end of the the New York Times Magazine’s Meh List, a feature for which I have been the chief columnist for the last two years. Writing The Meh List takes up approximately five minutes of my week. (My real job is as the magazine’s digital editor.) But The Meh List is in print. The Meh List has my byline. Therefore, for the purposes of my ninety-year-old grandmother, The Meh List was my job. When I told her last week during our family’s Rosh Hashanah gathering that the Meh List was about to end, she waited until we had parted ways to unload her concern onto my mother. “No more Meh List?” Grammy asked her. “Then how will her bosses be able to be judge how well Sam is doing her job?”

As a farewell to The Meh List, here are eight voicemails from my grandmother about my Big Important Job that is no more, to be published on a medium that she does not understand and does not care to.

March 30, 2013, when I handed over the reins to someone who cares about the Mets for our annual Mehts List Hi Sam, it’s your Grammy. The magazine has meh, but it doesn’t have Sam. I’m sure you know that. But you didn’t tell me. So tell me what it means. That’s it. Bye. Anything connected with my Sam I need to know. Bye. Love.

Live Sketches from the Big Climate March

Why My Baby Doesn’t Eat Animals

Having a child means that you, as a parent, wield incredible power. You can dress your baby exclusively in green, or never let her hear Simon & Garfunkel (as if) or Iggy Azalea (oops, I wish). Arguably the greatest power arrives with the introduction of “solid food” into your baby’s mouth, around the time they are six months old. I thought for a very long time, even talking it over with friends, about what Zelda’s first food should be. I was told by my doctor to start with something naturally mushy. I settled on a daily vacillation between the avocado and the banana.

Zelda didn’t want to wait until she was six months old. By the time she was four-and-a-half months old, she was trying to grab food from my hands, or off of my plate. So, one afternoon, in a less momentous fashion than I had imagined, I mashed up both an avocado and a banana and offered them to her, minutes apart. She took the spoon from me and hoisted it into her mouth herself. She made a face, but she was also “chewing” as she handed the spoon back to me for a refill. A lot of what I gave her on the spoon fell out of her mouth and onto the floor, where the dog was anxiously waiting. But Zelda clearly understood the ritual: The next day, when I fed her sweet potato which I had peeled, steamed, and pureed, more went in—and stayed in. In less than a week, she’d been introduced to green beans, peas, carrots, and leeks (which I steamed with a small piece of potato and pureed for her).

Now, at eight months old, with just two teeth, Zelda can chomp down anything you hand over, in smallish chunks. She likes her food pureed or not, warm or not. Toast, strawberries, steamed broccoli, pasta noodles. She eats a lot, usually feeding herself, and often sharing with the dog. The one thing Zelda has never tasted, however, is an animal.

The Ten-Year Anniversary of the Time My Wedding Announcement Was Not Accepted by the Paper of Record

Margery Miller and Dan Shanoff

Margery Ilana Miller and Daniel Shanoff are to be married this evening1 at The Plantation at Amelia Island, Florida. Rabbi David Kaiman is to officiate.2

1. Ten years ago today. You see: This notice was submitted to the New York Times for inclusion in its Sunday Styles “Weddings” sub-section for October 3, 2004. After not hearing anything for weeks/months leading up to the scheduled day, I opened the paper that morning earnestly hoping for the best, but instead receiving a wedding present of inexplicable rejection, which is clearly an off-registry gift.

2. So nice!

Mrs. Shanoff, 30, is a third-year law student at Fordham, where she is a Senior Notes and Articles Editor of the Law Review. She will begin working next fall as an associate at the law firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell3 in New York.4 She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.

3. After clerking for a judge (a NYT Wedding staple detail), she eventually left the firm for a smaller one, then left that firm for a quasi-governmental regulatory group. Still a lawyer, though.

4. If we didn’t live in New York at the time we were getting married, I wouldn’t have even bothered submitting the announcement. We eventually moved out, as so many couples who make the Weddings cut inevitably do, because of kids, exhaustion or a combination.

The Anthem of the Working Stiff

I don’t know what men are made of, though a song I love begins: “Some people say a man is made out of mud.” Perhaps the dust of Eden got wet with the kiss of the Lord and made mud, and from that Adam was made, but that’s not what Tennessee Ernie Ford meant when he sang “a poor man’s made out of muscle and blood.”

“Sixteen Tons” is the anthem of the working stiff. Ford didn’t write the song and he wasn’t the first to record it, but his version from 1955 has worked its way into the assembly-line-addled ears and labor-worn hearts of workers ever since. Whatever a man is actually made of, saying he’s made of “muscle and blood and skin and bones, a mind that’s weak a back that’s strong” is acknowledging that’s what the world has made him into, and that righteous lament is why the song’s still so popular.

I thought of “Sixteen Tons” the other day while listening to Lorde’s “Royals.”

How to Freeze Summer and Use It to Make Things Taste Fresh All Winter

“Pesto is the quiche of the eighties.” Haha, that’s a line from a movie I just saw for the first time. The pesto of this decade is…other kinds of pesto.

Pesto originally comes from Genoa, in northern Italy, where the specific ingredients and preparation were codified sometime in the sixteenth century. That kind of pesto—made with basil leaves, garlic cloves, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino sardo, along with a fair amount of olive oil—is still by far the most popular, though its proper name now, in a world of many types of pesto, would be pesto alla genovese.

Most Italian dishes have, like, four ingredients max, but if one of them is even the tiniest bit different from the way Caesar liked his, it is no longer correct. For example, the Pecorino sardo in pesto alla genovese is not the same as Pecorino Romano, and only a fool would use Romano in place of sardo *shakes fingers as if trying to fling drops of water onto whoever is in front of me*. Anyway, pesto is made in a mortar and pestle, traditionally. (“Pesto” comes from the same root as pestle, as does the word “paste.”) The Italian mortar and pestle, like the French, is typically marble, and the ingredients are crushed in a circular grinding pattern, unlike, say, the “pok pok” smashing method of Thailand.

Now that you’re up to date on the true history of authentic pesto, let’s cheerfully cast that all aside. Pesto, to my modern, non-Italian mind, means nothing more than a paste of herbs and oil, sometimes with other things added, and I always have at least three or four kinds in my freezer; I rarely cook anything without some form of it. Right now, as the summer turns to fall, we are in the dying throes of herb season. Herbs are summer to me, and their aromatic compounds are most potent when they are fresh—not grown in a greenhouse in Argentina, not after a few days of wilting in your fridge. Raw leaves do not normally freeze well (they become soggy and gross when defrosted). But, when mashed into a pesto, they freeze SPECTACULARLY. So now is the time to get out the food processor (or mortar and pestle if you want, but I certainly don’t) and make enormous batches of several kinds of pesto, which you can use to add a hit of summer freshness to food all through the shitty awful nigh-endless winter we’re sure to have, again.

A Field Guide to the True American Diner

Hello, I am an American from New Jersey and I care about diners.

The True American Diner is a casual sit-down restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner—all three meals—all day, often for all twenty-four hours of it. Time has no meaning in the presence of eggs, steak and hash browns. Portions are large but not obscene; sides are available with nearly everything. The food is sturdy and simple, a few strong flavors and techniques. Nothing in a True American Diner couldn’t be made by a moderately skilled cook in their own kitchen: corned beef hash, club sandwiches, and a variety of scrambles.

Menus are oversized and presented as a single, huge laminated page with unavailable items taped over, or in a leather-bound binder. Everything in the “diet” section of the menu contains cottage cheese or is steamed. There are daily specials, and they come with soup or salad. Chicken Parmesan and mozzarella sticks must be available. Ketchup is served in bottles, not packets. The coffee is available and drunk at every meal; cups may even be set out on the table before patrons arrive. Refills are free and assumed to be always wanted, unless you indicate you want no more by turning the coffee cup over. Dessert is pie, and if displayed in a glass case at the end of the counter, it must rotate. We did not free ourselves from England’s cruel yoke to have static pie.

The Saddest Thing You Can Buy in a Grocery Store Is Salad Dressing

The most outrageous area of the grocery store is not the frozen section, nor the canned section, nor even the gross pre-made foods section. I am happy to partake of certain kinds of frozen or canned produce in the wintertime (they are usually better than fresh, when out of season), and I have been known to buy whole rotisserie chickens, theoretically to turn the carcass into stock, but really to gorge on heavily salted flesh for two days straight. No, the most frustrating and worthless aisle, the one from which no self-respecting adult should ever purchase anything, under absolutely any circumstances, is the salad dressing aisle.

There is no greater substantiation of the international reputation of American home cooking than pre-bottled salad dressing. A simple vinaigrette, like a classic balsamic, has like three ingredients—not one of which goes bad—and a superior version can be made at home for a small fraction of the price in about fifteen seconds. To save those fifteen seconds, Americans will sacrifice money, flavor, and, frankly, our dignity, and buy pre-made garbage. This is not always our fault! Sometimes we have been raised on these dressings, and sometimes the tv chefs can make them seem difficult. Whisking? Drizzling a thin stream of oil to emulsify? Lightly macerating shallots? This seems complicated, and unwelcome, given that this dressing is usually going to go on a salad, a dish many of us only grudgingly eat. But no, friends: Salad dressing can be extraordinary.

The Useless Crap You Find When You Move

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, BuzzFeeᴅ Executive Editor Doree Shafrir tells us more about the pitfalls of packing and unpacking and constantly moving from one apartment to the next.

Just found a stuffed manila envelope labeled "2006 crap." Moving is so fun. pic.twitter.com/0Ob4GrstLM

— Doree Shafrir (@doreeshafrir) September 20, 2014

Doree! So what happened here?

When I moved out of the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 2009, I got rid of my huge file cabinet and threw everything that had been in there into two storage boxes. They sat in the back of the closet TB and I shared in Carroll Gardens; when TB and I broke up, they moved into a closet in a different apartment in Fort Greene; when New York and I broke up, they found a home in the back of a closet in my new apartment in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until last week, when I was packing up my apartment to move in with my current boyfriend, that I decided it was time to excavate whatever was in those boxes.