In the introduction to Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette, first published in 1952, the author asks: “Who needs a book of etiquette?” Her answer: “Everyone does.” The question has not aged well. She should have inquired of the future: “Who needs this 60-year-old etiquette book?” The answer: “Society people in 2013, because they wear tennis shoes outside of the racquet club.”
Ms. Vanderbilt was too accommodating to the march of time, as the 1962 edition of her book included a section on bowling. Perhaps she should have also detailed the proper manners for youths who wish to pass drug cigarettes around the unisex bathroom whilst between frames. I’m fairly sure it goes to the left, but the procedure may vary regionally. Anyway, I don’t mean to become angered at Ms. Vanderbilt. She was fighting the good fight, but, being dead since 1974, she didn’t have opportunity to see the awful place to which the upper crust was headed. For example: who hasn’t nearly fainted upon hearing a viscount addressed by his first name? People who aren’t around viscounts often, but we’re not worried about them. The true concern is that people whose whole purpose in life is to carry the flame of tradition have forgotten to do exactly that. No, you may not rise until after the fruit course, or are we in an army mess?
The more obvious transgressions of propriety—low-hanging dungarees, tattoos on the non-Māori, lindy-hopping—are not worth addressing. We need the masses to be improper so as to better define the mannered class. Imagine if everyone had starched collars. How would we figure out, based on collar stiffness, who is meant to control the world? The situation today, of course, is the converse: everyone’s collars are limp because those who once stiffened them no longer do. (This actually occurred during Ms. Vanderbilt’s time: “A revolution has taken place… in the matter of the proper shirt to wear with a dinner jacket.”) Ideally, we would put the average blue blood in a time machine so he can relearn the notions that once set him apart.
Ardie Fuqua is worried that he’s been too funny. “I didn’t get too many laughs, did I?” he asks, sliding into a seat next to me in the back row.
He has just finished a 25-minute set at Caroline’s on Broadway, the argyle-patterned comedy club steps from Times Square, where he is opening Tracy Morgan’s lineup of Thanksgiving Weekend shows. The sound of applause is still ringing throughout the 300-seat club, and Ardie is visibly out of breath, his forehead drenched in sweat from the heat of the spotlights.
It’s easy to understand why overshadowing Tracy would not be on Ardie’s to do list. This is one of their first performances together, and as the opening act, it’s an unspoken rule that one does not outshine the headliner. Ardie, the seasoned hype man, is aware of his place in the pecking order. “I’m just here to make the crowd happy,” he says.
Throughout the night, Ardie dutifully plays the role of right-hand-man, chatting animatedly with Tracy, laughing at his jokes and flashing big, sycophantic smiles his way. But when Tracy is out of earshot, Ardie deflates, as if the animating force that propels him so jubilantly across the stage had been snuffed out. I ask if he’s excited about the show, and he shrugs me off, as he often does when questioned: “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a show.” And then, later, as we vacate the green room to make way for Tracy and his entourage: “Not one person is here to see me.”
Talking to Bo Burnham About His New MTV Show, Working with Judd Apatow, and Playing an Unrelatable Character
After becoming one of the first people to rise to fame via YouTube as a teen writing funny songs from his bedroom in 2006, comedian/musician Bo Burnham is making the big jump to TV this week. He’s starring in Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, a new comedy he co-created that premieres this Thursday at 10:30pm on MTV. A mockumentary about a fame-obsessed high school grad who foregoes college so that he can stay in his hometown and hire a camera crew to follow him around, Zach Stone is Burnham’s first-ever starring role. I had the chance to talk with Burnham this week in advance of the premiere of his show, discussing how he is similar and different to the narcissist he plays on TV, how he’s using technology to expand his stand-up act, and being mentored by Judd Apatow.
Edith Zimmerman: Okay Chiara. Just respond with “….” if I ask you a question you probably get asked all the time, and I’ll picture you staring blankly at me with your BIG AND BEAUTIFUL eyes. Question one: Would you describe your eyes as big and beautiful?
Oh, I’m constantly describing my eyes as big and beautiful to anyone who will listen.
Question two: Isn’t it crazy to write about dating, don’t your dates get weirded out when they find out what you do?? How are you ever going to find a man this waaay, Chiara???
Last night I went to the symphony and one of the the guys sitting next to me asked what I do, and about 15 seconds later he had launched into talking about his own dating life, and how he had recently moved out of the city and was having a harder time meeting people, etc., etc. But basically, that’s what it’s like to write about dating: people are very happy to have an excuse to talk to someone about their own dating lives.
And it’s fun and funny for me, because generally I like talking to people and think I give good advice. But sometimes, the same thing happens when I’m on a date. And that gets weird. A guy will ask what I do and I’ll tell him and before you know it we’re talking about dating in an abstract sense, and he’ll tell me his thoughts and experiences and sometimes he’ll even say things like, “Yeah, I dunno, it’s been hard, dating is hard.” and it’s like, I don’t quite know how to respond to that when I am currently on a date with you.
But mostly I date guys who know what I do before I go out with them. And that usually goes okay, apart from the requisite, “Heh, so are you going to write about me? Heh.” that every single guy I’ve dated in the last three years has said at one point or another. (I rarely do!)
I stepped in it earlier this week when, as I was trying to say something about the economics of media, I mischaracterized NSFWCORP’s business. Paul Carr, their CEO, replied, I apologized to Carr in the comments, he accepted that apology, and, mercenary bastard that he is, even found a way to extract reparations, via the Conflict Tower, which turns conflict-of-interest reporting into a revenue stream.
So, with that all settled and a parade of rainbow-flavored unicorns once again frolicking in the dells of New Media Land, let me take another stab at what I wanted to say about the media business and what we can—and can’t—learn from NSFWCORP. The last thing anyone needs is more concern-trolling about mainstream media, so here’s some now.
You can’t understand NSFWCORP without understanding Las Vegas, and not just Vegas in general, but Vegas right now. And you can’t understand Vegas right now without understanding the Downtown Project, Tony Hsieh’s moonshot-scale attempt at bootstrapping a thriving cultural hub, no small job in a city where electronic dance music counts as high art.
Hello, would you like to buy something weird? Hammer Time is our guide to things that are for sale in New York City… fantastic, consequential and freakishly grotesque archival treasures that appear in public for just a brief moment, most likely never to be seen again.
On April Fool’s Day in 1896, the Musée du Louvre issued an announcement: For 200,000 francs, they had acquired an ancient Greek tiara that once belonged to the Scythian King Saitapharnes. It was decorated with scenes from the Iliad and bore an inscription experts at the museum dated from late 3rd to early 2nd century B.C.E.
The Louvre proudly placed the Tiara of Saitaferne on exhibition, and scholars and connoisseurs travelled from all over the world to see the artifact. What began as a whisper in front of the display quickly turned into allegations echoing throughout the 1st arrondissement, and then far beyond. Leading archeologists declared it to be entirely bogus, a forgery crafted far from the Eurasian Steppes, and certainly long after the Iron Age.
The museum responded to aspersions cast about by experts with sharp reproach, but they nonetheless began quietly making house calls to preeminent craftsman. Eventually, a specialist’s attention turned to Israel Rouchomovsky, in Odessa.
There’s a strange, wonderful short story by Donald Barthelme about a balloon that appears one day on Fourteenth Street and grows, like a low-hanging blimp, until it covers a good deal of Manhattan. It becomes an object of widespread puzzlement and fascination. Children leap across its surface. Art critics analyze its colors. City officers conduct secret nighttime tests to better understand it.
For the past couple of weeks, Fort Greene has been living out its own strange version of “The Balloon.” On a handful of corners, seemingly overnight, bike racks have appeared. And not just any bike racks, but city bike racks. Or is it citibike racks? These, in any event, are the bike racks that we’ve been hearing about for months, the harbingers of New York’s new bike-sharing system—apparently called Citi Bike℠— that will, depending on your perspective, transform the city into either an Elysium of convenience and health or a corporate-sponsored hell-scape.
The bikes themselves, though, won’t arrive until late May. Which means that for a while here, we’re living with a kind of accidental urban art installation. There the racks sit—sometimes on sidewalks, sometimes in what were, just hours before, parking spaces—like rows of water fountains designed by Donald Judd. They have no present function except to irritate, to excite, to bewilder.
My neighbors and I stand peering at them, arms defensively crossed, asking each other, “Who’s going to ride all these things?” “How much will it cost?” “What about helmets?” “What about parking?” I have, in the weeks since the racks appeared, heard more public conversation about gentrification and urbanism than in all the years that I’ve lived in New York. Barthelme’s city-dwellers decorate their balloon with paper lanterns and obscene fliers; we adorn ours with anxiety and indignation.
I know it’s only April, but I wanted to get a jump on the Commencement Addresses for various Colleges, Junior Colleges, Trade Schools, and other institutions of Higher Learning, while reminding everyone I am available for such speaking engagements, to inform and inspire the Youth.
Here is the “Uncorrected Proof” of my current address to the Recent Graduate. It helps to imagine it being read in a shouting voice.
“See your future, be your future” is not just a line one may quote from the movie Caddyshack, starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield, it is a Way to live one’s life. Like millions of people, I bet, I employ a method of Positive Visualization in my life. One makes pictures in one’s mind of One doing the stuff one wants to Accomplish.
In light of all the recent unpleasantness and the even more-recent, it’s easy to make fun of this Method, but when I say Positive Visualization, I mean for Positivity, not for Bad Things, OK? There’s enough Bad Things, let’s have Good Things. Please stop picturing somebody employing my Positive method for Bad Things. If you can’t stop, please excuse yourself so the rest of us can Evolve, OK? Things can always be Bad! That’s the Default Position! We gotta go Positive!
I was barely a moment inside Walmart, studying the cucumbers and avocados, when a middle-aged man came up to say hi.
We started talking about the oil boom sweeping Williston, North Dakota. He said his coworkers were losing it out here in the middle of nowhere. Maybe he would lose it too.
“You gotta really be focused on your shit,” he said. “And it’s hard. And on that note, that’s why you should let me take you to dinner.”
I declined. He called later that evening to ask me on a date. He said he’d take me to Pizza Hut. I was not pining for a rendezvous with a roustabout that I did not know, so I invented other plans. He phoned twice more.
Other women in Williston warned me this would happen. They said they couldn’t go anywhere alone without receiving an offer of some kind from an oil worker. They said the 24-hour retailer on Route 2 was the worst. The parking lot was crammed with cars bearing license plates from dozens of states, any time of day, as guys poured in from all over the country to make their fortune.
Working in Minneapolis, I’d come across stories about the wild impact of the discovery of billions of barrels of oil in western North Dakota. The high-paying jobs. Once quiet farm roads now straining with traffic. Crime. Rents on par with Manhattan.
And another remarkable effect that only came into focus when I visited Williston myself: an influx of men—single men, married men, overworked men, lonely men, men with big dreams, men who keep their heads down and men who cause trouble—has made it an overwhelming place to be female.
In the summer of 1959, Ernest Hemingway lit out for Spain on assignment. He was to write a long article about a series of bullfights between the country’s finest matadors, Antonio Ordóñez and Louis Miguel Dominguin.1 But on the northern side of the Mediterranean Sea, a single commission from Life swelled into a three-part series, during a long summer that would prove to be his last hurrah.
Hemingway formed his own cuadrilla in Málaga, and invited 19-year-old Valerie Danby-Smith to join.2 Val, as he called her, had been sent to interview him for the Irish Times. He rarely entertained requests from journalists at that point, but she had charmed him, and it was a summer of exceptions.3 His fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, had been surprised when he accepted an invitation to stay at La Consula, the home wealthy American expats Bill and Annie Davis. The Hemingways hardly knew them, and for wont of independence, they usually booked their own houses or hotels. For their part, the couple offered up the whole of their resources on Andalusia without reserve, and yet they rarely imposed their position as hosts, happily following Hemingway’s lead.
The Davises did insist upon, however, telegrams over phones, and the one above is currently for sale. Admirers of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author—who have at least $1,400 to spare—can purchase the Spanish telegram this spring from Alexander Historical Auctions.