I am supine in a plush recliner. A woman is kneeling before me, pressing her thumbs into my feet. My friend Jon, a Chinese-American Tsinghua professor, is next to me in an identical chair. The TV in front of us is switched on a nature channel. The leopard pouncing on an unsuspecting gazelle makes sense in any language.
A man is rubbing Jon’s feet. “Is that your girlfriend?” the masseur asks him in Mandarin, nodding to me. “No,” Jon says, “she’s an old friend.”
“How old is she?” the masseur asks. Jon asks me and I answer 29 in English although I understand the Chinese. Jon translates and the masseur asks him if I’m married. Jon doesn’t need to consult me. “No,” he answers.
“Ahhhh,” the man says, “American women like to play for a long time, huh?” He laughs, and Jon laughs too, in uncomfortable solidarity. The woman rubbing my feet looks up at me and our eyes meet. We say nothing.
Someone in Beijing explained it to me like this: western men think Chinese women are spoiled. Little princesses. They want to be fawned over with teddy bears and expensive gifts. Better to cry in the back of a BMW than smile on the back of a bicycle. Chinese men think western women are spoiled. Little princesses. They say whatever they want and have opinions about everything. They drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. They are easy, have probably slept with dozens of men before you, but still want respect. I know enough Chinese and western women to know this is both true and also the furthest things from the truth. I, for one, love both alcohol and teddy bears.
Mad Men is back! I’ll be writing about the show all season. Though we don’t get a glimpse of Sally or Betty in the last night’s season premiere—an episode called “Time Zones” set in January, 1969, in which Don travels to L.A. to see Megan and back—there is plenty to talk about with regard to Megan, Peggy, Margaret, and Joan. Oh, and then there’s the appearance of a woman played by Neve Campbell—where has she been lately?
Also back in the rotation is Freddie Rumsen, the guy who was forced to take a leave of absence from an earlier iteration of Sterling Cooper due to drinking too much. He’s freelancing for Peggy, while Don is now the guy on leave from the ad agency (for two months, at this point) for essentially the same reason Freddie was let go. By the end of the episode we’ll learn that Freddie is actually delivering Don’s work to the agency—Peggy always was a sucker for Don’s messaging, though she doesn’t appear to know it’s his work—but in the beginning we see just the broad face of Rumsen, eyes big and earnest to the camera, pitching Accutron watches. Peggy loves the final line, rejiggers it a bit as her own, and pitches it to her new boss for a slam-dunk. But he doesn’t bite.
And so it becomes clear: Though the end of last season brought Peggy into the spotlight as Don’s heir apparent, it just as quickly pushed her back down again, forcing her to contend with a male boss who doesn’t seem to care about the work. He tells her he guesses he’s just “immune to her charms.” This is new territory for Peggy: Don may not have been in love with her, but he certainly felt a strong creative and also paternal connection to her, and her former boss, Ted Chaough, fell head over heels for his mentee. Peggy’s feeling like just about everyone is immune to her charms these days; when her relationship with Abe ended she was left alone in their apartment, having to deal with tenant issues that he used to handle. In the workplace, even her friendship with Stan seems strained. At the end of the episode, she enters her apartment, falls to the floor, and starts to cry. We’ve all been there. But in Peggy’s lowest moments, she has seemed to possess a kind of dignity and power over her situation, an ability to get through it. Now, it seems like she’s perilously close to breakdown.
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, producer and editor Mike Byhoff tells us more about what it’s like to leave your job, get on a plane headed for a country you know nothing about, and then spend a month abroad without an agenda or being able to speak the language.
Leaving for central america for a month in 12 hours and don't speak spanish and have basically no itinerary what the fuck am I doing.
— Mike Byhoff (@mbyhoff) February 28, 2014
Mike! We spoke at the end of February after you frightened everyone with that tweet, and we decided to hold off on a Tell Us More until you got back. Now that you’ve returned home, let’s begin with this: So what happened here?
To get to me hyperventilating on a plane as it landed in Guatemala City, I should probably start from the beginning, which is the wonderful world of unemployment. I took a job as an editorial director of a video start-up in March of 2013. It seemed like the “right move” for my career, as it was part of a well-known company in the tech scene, the guy who started the company is one of the most brilliant people I have ever worked for, I got equity, and I could frame the editorial direction the way I wanted to.
Cut to 12 months later, and we’ve barely acquired users, we’ve pivoted three times, my job responsibilities shifted DRAMATICALLY, and we were going to partner with another company for content. I was sat down and given the option to take a scaled-back role or severance. Without much thought, I took the severance.
Millions of passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information may be at risk as a result of a major breakdown in Internet security revealed earlier this week.
The damage caused by the “Heartbleed” bug is currently unknown. The security hole exists on a vast number of the Internet’s Web servers and went undetected for more than two years. While it’s conceivable that the flaw was never discovered by hackers, it’s nearly impossible to tell. -The AP
Here is a foolproof guide to changing your personal passwords during this crisis.
Imagine you’re lying in a meadow and Matt Damon is shirtless next to you. He smells like corn on the cob. He whispers something in your ear, something only you can know. Add an underscore, this is your Gmail password.
9 x 9 is 49 and you were born in 1982. Your favorite cousin is 14, but your apartment number is 6. Add it all up. Take a break! How old were you when you realized math would forevermore be irrelevant to your life? Your password is STUDENTLOANS.
(No numbers or special characters. You have nothing of value to be hacked.)
Sometimes city life pushes us too hard, hard enough that we push back with the worst versions of ourselves. Forced to interact in situations when we’d rather not, city dwellers know that feeling of frustration as we stand among millions of faces. Those faces are unfamiliar and unsympathetic, and sometimes this makes us a little whiney, other times we spill with an austere rage. There’s the bitch who let the gym door slam in my face that I must admit may not really be a bitch. Perhaps her mind was elsewhere and she didn’t see me. Yes, the guy who body checked me in the crosswalk was staring at his phone, but I can’t pretend I’ve never done that. In New York City I am brought face to face with what drives me crazy about myself and those around me. Every day.
This fact of city life has made me overly polite. I do the little things; I offer detailed directions with a smile, I recommend affordable restaurants to tourists. I say please and thank you and overtip my cab drivers and bartenders. Then a skinny little blonde in her designer workout pants cuts me in line for coffee and I don’t say a word. I rise above; repeal her selfishness with my kindness.
When we’re not slamming doors into strollers or bumping into others, when there’s an interaction that is sought out, it is then that my expectations are heightened. It is in this way that I attempted to make my first Craigslist purchase.
I’ve been with my current boyfriend for three years. We’re really great together—similar interests, senses of humor, great sex. I love him so much—the only issue is that of our respective backgrounds. He grew up in a tony suburb, went to prep school, then to a very prestigious college, and finally the very prestigious graduate school where we met. I went to public school in a bad neighborhood, put myself through a not-so-prestigious college, made a name for myself in my field, then got into that same prestigious grad school. Our families could not be more different. I didn’t think it would matter so much, but something happened recently that I can’t shake.
My little brother, who has been a fuck up his entire life, has finally gotten it together and joined the Air Force. I’m not super pro-military or anything, but he was on a bad, bad path and now he has a job and structure and it’s been really good for him. When he finished basic training, we (me, my mom, and my boyfriend—our father has long been out of the picture) went to his graduation. I’d never been to one of these things before but it’s a really big deal for the airmen. A lot of them, my brother included, had never really accomplished anything worth celebrating before. My mom basically cried the entire time.
Unfortunately, throughout the day-long graduation, whenever we were alone, my boyfriend would bring the subject back to him. He looked around anxiously when we got there because most of the young men were in uniform. He kept asking me if he thought people knew that he hadn’t served. Then he would go on these weird defensive rants about why he hadn’t served, one of which included some pretty fucked-up ideas about people who don’t go to college. I got pretty annoyed at him for being so self-involved on a day that should have been about celebrating my brother. I didn’t say anything, though, because it was so out of character for him to behave like that.
*Every generation thinks it’s special—my grandparents because they remember World War II, my parents because of discos and the moon. We have the Internet. Millions and billions of doors we can open and shut, posting ourselves into profiles and digital scrapbooks. Suddenly and totally, we’re threaded together in a network so terrifyingly colossal that we can finally see our terrifyingly tiny place in it. But we’re all individuals. It’s beaten into us in MLK Day assemblies (one person can make a difference!) and fourth-grade poster projects (what do you want to be when you grow up?). We can be anything! Our parents are divorced but we’re in love! Vaguely, quietly, we know we’ll be famous. For being president, for starring in a movie, for writing a feature at 18 in the New York Times.
I’m so jealous. Unthinkable jealousies, jealousies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel I’m reading and the Oscar-winning movie I just saw. Why didn’t I think to rewrite Mrs. Dalloway? I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina. It’s inexcusable. Everyone else is so successful, and I hate them. There’s a German word I learned about in psychology class called schadenfreude, which means a pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. The word flips into my head like a shaming pop-up when a girl doesn’t get the internship either or a boy’s show is bad. I was lying in bed the other night wondering whether the Germans created a word for its opposite when I realized that the displeasure derived from the fortune of others is easier to spell. I should have thought to coin its green eyes.
You’re about to see a lot more of Thomas Middleditch in movies and TV. Middleditch got his start as an improviser and sketch actor in Chicago, where he performed at iO, Second City, and was a founding member of The Improvised Shakespeare Company, before moving to New York and then Los Angeles, where he’s performed frequently at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. This year, he has both his first lead TV role (Mike Judge’s new HBO series Silicon Valley, which premiered last night) and his first lead role in a major movie (the upcoming Search Party, which he stars in alongside T.J. Miller and Adam Pally).
I recently had the chance to talk with Middleditch about his experience on Silicon Valley, the joy of working with his friends, and what we can expect from him in the future.
London, spring semester abroad, Day 3, 1997: Things that are different from my hometown of Honolulu: Only 4 channels—all lame. Alcohol at every meal. Employees can smoke in the store, don’t have to be nice. Spice Girl stuff EVERYWHERE. Tapes and CDs cost the same in pounds and in dollars. KFC has no mash or biscuits. “Kleenex for Men.”
Nashville, fall getaway, Day 3, 2013: Things that are different from my current home of Brooklyn: Biscuits all day, every day, bring it. Near-empty freeways. No longer feel urge to change the radio station when a country song comes on. More old people than people my own age on vacation, drinking beer. Induces fantasies of wearing swing skirts. Smells regularly like meat I’d actually want to eat.
On one side of The Divide—the gap in the justice system between the rich and the poor that provides the title for Matt Taibbi’s brilliant and enraging new book—financiers and other wealthy people commit egregious crimes, including laundering drug money, and rarely face jail time. Prosecutors worry about “collateral consequences” before filing charges.
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi with illustrations by Molly Crabapple, will be published on Tuesday. You can order it now now now, wherever capitalism allows you to obtain books:
Previously in this interview series:
On the other side is Andrew Brown, who lives in a neighborhood obsessively monitored by police and is arrested for standing outside his own building talking to a friend. The arresting officer defines this behavior as “obstructing pedestrian traffic,” despite the fact that there are no pedestrians on the street to be obstructed. Unlike most of the horrifying anecdotes Taibbi recounts, this one has a more-or-less happy ending; when the judge learns the facts, he dismisses the case. But this dismissal happens only after Brown presses for his case to actually be heard, which surprises both the judge and Brown’s defense attorney. He is expected to accept whatever plea deal he is offered rather than contest the charges. That’s what usually happens at that point in the script.
That theater metaphor is cribbed from “The Theater of Justice,” an excellent recent piece in Vice by Molly Crabapple, who in the years since Taibbi called her “Occupy’s greatest artist” has also established herself as a stellar writer. For The Divide, she has contributed illustrations of great terror and beauty.
I recently sat down with Taibbi and Crabapple over coffee in the West Village. (Crabapple joined late.) In writing the book, Taibbi said, he consciously count down on the profanity that marked his prose when he was writing for The eXile and the New York Press, as well as much of his work at Rolling Stone. This is effective: The Divide’s calmly presented material will make any reader equipped with a basic sense of decency do the swearing themselves.
There are quite a lot of good books currently out, and it comes as no surprise that quite a lot of them are by ladies (no offense to men, who we hear can also write very fine books when they put their minds to it). As for our list, which you will find below, there is something for nearly everyone: Y.A., short stories, essay collections, novels, nonfiction, books you might have read a long time ago and probably should read again in their updated states now—they are here. If we missed a book you have been reading and loving that’s out now (or will be very soon), please share it in the fair comments below. Happy reading.
The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking Childrens, January 7). I read this important Y.A. novel in about two nights flat, falling in love with the characters, the heart-rending relationship between a teenage girl and her dad—a Vietnam vet struggling with PTSD—and Halse Anderson’s beautiful writing and deft plot development and pacing.
A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, by Rachel Cantor (Melville House, January 14). Girl, you had us at pizza. So layered! So warming! So incredibly delicious and also sustaining. (Just like this book.)
The UnAmericans: Stories, by Molly Antopol (W.W. Norton, February 3). It would be easy to feel just a little bit jealous of Antopol. She’s been described as “a writer with the emotional heft of Nicole Krauss and the penetrating wit of Philip Roth,” and this, her debut story collection, was selected for The National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35″ award in 2013. The thing is, it really is that good. She has her own wit that needs no comparison to Roth.
A Life in Men: A Novel, by Gina Frangello (Algonquin, February 4). The darkness in this complex, emotionally deep tale of female friendship and illness and men and women—and how one woman goes on in the absence of her friend—may not be immediately evident in the beachy cover image, but the beauty is.
The toilet man was obsessed with numbers. Like the number of days he had left to live. Ten-thousand five-hundred was about how many days he said he had left, if he lived to be eighty. Thirteen years ago, the Toilet Man said, he turned forty and asked himself, how long is one lifetime? Then he checked the national statistic: eighty. So, forty more years; fourteen thousand, six-hundred days more days, give or take. “And then you die,” said the Toilet Man. He lingered over the last world, stretched it. “Dyyyyyyyeee,” it sounded like.
Back then, before he was the Toilet Man, he was Jack Sim, a rich Singaporean, running 16 businesses, having a midlife crises, searching for meaning and finding none. “What’s the purpose of having more money?” he thought. “I mean it’s crazy! When you have no money, you need to sell your time for money, and when you have money, you sell your time for money. It’s a losing business.” And it was confusing. “Time is the only currency of life” is what he concluded, and so endeavored to do something different with his.