Journalist, copywriter, and sometime NewsBlur functionary.
397 stories

Dark Chocolate Is Not Good for You, and Also Sucks

1 Comment and 2 Shares

Dark Chocolate Is Not Good for You, and Also Sucks

Fuck dark chocolate.

For about a decade, the sales of dark chocolate have soared, regardless of the fact that it tastes like someone melted down a bunch of brown crayons, mixed it with charcoal and then let it solidify into bar form. Why the boost? As a senior VP from Hershey said in 2006 of the 37% spike in sales of their Special Dark, “There are underlying benefits with the consumption of cocoa that give consumers the permission to enjoy chocolate.”

Wait. “Permission to enjoy chocolate”? Just… fuck you.

When I was a kid treats were rare. Cinnamon toast was considered decadent. I remember raiding the cupboards for something sweet and finding dark chocolate and thinking jackpot! But my sister said, “Don’t bother. It says ‘chocolate,’ but it’s really not.”

Milk chocolate tastes like diabetes, which is why it’s awesome. Dark chocolate tastes like you’re being punished for only shoveling half the driveway. If someone put dark chocolate in your candy bag at Halloween it was considered a crime akin to giving you a toothbrush, and you would egg the bastard’s house, as was only right and proper.

But a while back someone came up with an idea to market health claims around dark chocolate to drive sales, and now we have scantily-clad, coconut-water drinking Crossfit junkies “treating” themselves with one or two squares of paleo-approved dark chocolate after they do their dehydrated and well-lit butt-thrusted Instagram selfies, because of antioxidants, or something. And how many cheesy health websites have written listicles about “7 Ways that Dark Chocolate Shrink Tumors/Alleviates Adrenal Fatigue/Eases PMS/Cures Ebola”? Too many. It’s almost as annoying as kale or quinoa.

One thing eating dark chocolate can’t cure is sanctimonious proselytizing.

“Oh, your dark chocolate only has 70% cacao? You poor thing. I only eat 97% cacao fair trade raw vegan organic helper monkey picked chocolate that’s been through the digestive system of a spotted African cat.”

These people exist. They love to obsess over their meager ration of dark chocolate and feel all holier than Hershey-eating thou because it’s a “healthy” treat, even though it tastes like a bag of smashed badger asses and the heaps of sugar and fat somehow don’t get factored into the health-washing. It’s not too guilty a pleasure because it’s dark. Pair it with a glass of red wine for the resveratrol and you’re bulletproof.

If you genuinely like dark chocolate, fine. Move along.

But if you’re buying into the health-washing while rationing nibbles as your reward for sticking to a soul-destroying diet, just stop. Eat a mostly healthy diet, and then when you feel like eating chocolate, eat the shit out of it. None of this “I’ll just have a square of dark chocolate now and then” bullshit. Get some fucking Turtles, or a Caramilk bar, or a Crispy Crunch, or one of those triangle shaped Toblerone things. Get a Jersey Milk and dip that sucker in the Skippy peanut butter and say, “Mmmm … G-M-Oh-my-God-that-tastes-good.” Eat your favorite chocolate, the good kind, made with tons of sugar and cream and LIVE, DAMNIT!

Pretending to like dark chocolate when you really don’t–and even worse, using it as a tool to further your orthorexia–is not living. Just like refusing to eat anything but Kerrygold unsalted grass-fed butter, it’s being elitist and having a bad relationship with food.

Moderation is not a bad word. There are no bad foods, there are just bad diets. There is nothing that should be on a banned list of foods, barring allergies or if you have some kind of runaway cravings where you really can’t stop once you’ve started on a certain thing. There was this chocolate-covered caramel-coated popcorn my wife bought from the Boy Scouts once, and I have never lost control with a treat so badly in my life. I told my wife that shit was off limits from now until I had a terminal disease, and she agreed.

(Note: If there are a number of foods that cause you to lose all control you may wish to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional.)

Focus on eating mostly healthy foods, with some worthy indulgences, and don’t be a jerk about chocolate by getting all snobby over it. Just eat the treats you want most, and don’t pretend that just because it’s dark, or claims to have antioxidants, that it’s some kind of super food.

After all, there are no super foods.

Read the whole story
12 days ago
San Francisco, CA
Share this story

I Tried Hypnotherapy to Get Over My Breakup -- The Cut

1 Comment

Southern California is a great place to live if you want to be fixed. Whether you are dissatisfied with your skin or your intestinal flora or your mother, a friend will have "the name of a guy" or the number of "a LIFE-CHANGING lady" for you.

So when I found myself having trouble getting over a series of breakups, I felt a uniquely Angelenian urge to apply some sort of … laser. There are many wonderful, intelligent people in L.A., but you'll often hear the other half of us, heading glassy-eyed into a studio or home office or medical spa, say stuff like "I'm working on myself!"

I wanted to be one of those dumb people on a fake journey. They looked happy.

At a certain point, romantic repudiation does not feel poetic or Petrarchan — it feels physically uncomfortable and distracting, like craving fajitas while being punched in the throat. Conventional wisdom is to wait for time to heal you, and in the meantime, to allow yourself to grieve. But I did not want to embrace my sadness. Mostly because all of my embraces were reserved for the pillow that had briefly still smelled of someone's hair, until I sniffed all of the smell gone. But also because it felt terrible.

I was halfway through an inadvisable rewatch of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and, yes, a pizza crust I was dipping in rye whiskey) when I realized: This is it. This is the "treatment" I've been looking for.

If you somehow haven't seen the film (in which case: not cool. It's very good!), it stars Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey as a couple (stay with me, it works somehow) who have a bad breakup. It's SO bad that they enlist a new medical technology service that selectively eliminates memory. "Lacuna, Inc." (overseen in the goings-on by Tom Wilkinson, may he live FOREVER) erases all recall of your relationship and the person you were in it with, so as to make you more able to bear the southern Civil War prison that is being a human who goes on dates.

Whether you're in the plangent throes of rejection or just light crotch-grief, the idea of erasing someone who hurt you is deeply tantalizing.

In the film, the actual procedure is vaguely analogous to having a tattoo removed. The main obstacle, of course, is that the technology is strictly magical realism. I'd have to kind of replicate it using regular realism, and the magic of my own idiocy.

I knew several friends who'd credited hypnosis in helping them quit smoking. They never even thought of cigarettes anymore, they swore up and down, through their lotus-white grins.

Available locally for around the price of electrolysis, clinical hypnotherapy — and methodically purging my life of any unhelpful reminders of my anguish — seemed like the home version of the remedy dreamed up by Charlie Kaufman and his French felt-puppet friend, Michel Gondry.

Here's how it went. 

Step 1: Breakup Hygiene

This part was mostly taken care of, as I have already divested my apartment of every last painful breakup memory to the point of microinsanity. I threw out evocative CONDIMENTS. I stopped driving by a restaurant where I'd gone on a disastrous date, or watching any TV shows where the actors might eat meatballs because it would, in turn, make me think of the restaurant. Emails were gone from my inbox, numbers from my phone contacts, songs from my iTunes.

But for the sake of thoroughness, I do one last pass on my apartment, and end up throwing out an undershirt of unknown origin and an old lollipop. The candy hadn't belonged to anybody, but it did remind me of a guy who sometimes called me "dum-dum." Again: Erasing? Very appealing! 

Step 2: Informing Loved Ones

You know that point when absolutely everyone in your life is sick of hearing about your despair? I had passed it weeks ago, draining the reserves of my friends' goodwill so that there was an audible sucking sound, like someone trying to finish a milkshake.

"I know I've been a little … emotive," I tell my friend Molly over dinner, watching her try to arrange her features into a mask of neutral sympathy and not the face of someone hearing the shrill Chipmunk Christmas song of my sorrow for the billionth time. "But the good news is, I won't be anymore."

"Okayyyyyyy," she replies, looking understandably skeptical.

"Because I will be Eternal Sunshine–ing my dashed hopes," I continue. "So please don't bring that period in my life up, as it may confuse me in the way that awaking a sleepwalker might."

She nods, relieved, weirdly not objecting to the fact that I'd used a movie as a verb. Again, may have talked this one to death.

Walking home later, though, she stops me and takes my arm.

"You know that at the end of the movie, they get back together," she says, crushing the bones in my wrist supportively. "You don't want that, right?"

I think for a minute. Well, not a whole minute. She's really hurting my wrist. It isn't so much that I want to reconcile with anyone — I just don't want to feel this way anymore.

Step 3: Create a Pain Map

The one person who is not permitted to be bored by my anguish is the person I pay not to be: my therapist, whom you'll be relieved to know I see regularly.

Although, by this point, I could see even she was a little over my drama. ("Oh, you saw a man's initials on a license plate? Well … I hate to, but I guess I have to ask how that made you feel.") When your life has become a lazy New Yorker cartoon in that way, you can see how a person might resort to LARPing a movie with a Beck soundtrack.

I tell her about the candy and the ketchup, but also about my executive decision to Brita-filter my woe.

She nods, and considers for a moment. "Maybe we need to talk about allowing yourself to feel loss."

"Yeah, no, I don't want to do that," I say.

Step 4: Mind Erasure

Finally, the ACTION part. I've always wanted to be put "under," although I wasn't sure if I really believed it were possible. (I certainly don't believe in past-life regression! How can I be the reincarnated Liza Minnelli when we're alive at the same time?!) I researched a few local practitioners before settling on Dr. N., a striking blonde woman with a doctorate in psychology, whose website featured her shaking hands with Anderson Cooper. Her services — which confidently offer to assuage a variety of uncool behaviors — seemed like the perfect amalgam of science and sorcery.

At her West L.A. office, I certainly feel like I'm at a spa: There are low, glowing lamps and the same kind of reclining leather chair where you might have your upper lip waxed.

After listening to me describe my goals (and asking if the men I date are anything like my dad — I say no, other than that some of them are also kinda short), Dr. N. draws a picture of the human brain on a legal pad, dotting it with pluses and minuses. Hypnosis, she explains, can target negative memories. But instead of erasing them, you supplant crazy messages and unhappy thoughts with chill, positive ones. (Here, she uses her marker to turn all of the little minuses to pluses. I admit I love a visual aid.) Trance, unlike the terrible genre of music that shares its name, is the place in which this healing is done.

But it's not, she warns, like anything you see in movies.

Essentially, what she ends up telling me is hypnotherapists aren't Vegas-style mind-freaks, and they can't make you believe you are a duck, or anything other than a deeply silly woman who is unable to deal with adult loneliness. Dr. N. could help rid me of the behavior related to pain (the urge to text, or to equate heartbreak with sandwiches, say), but not the pain itself.

She has me close my eyes and talks me into a (very, actually!) relaxed state in which I'm meant to be very receptive to suggestion. (I mean, I have a pleather jacket I bought from Forever 21 because I think it makes me look tough, so her job isn't really that hard.) I can't say that I feel hypnotized, but I do feel kind of like you do when you're getting a massage or realize you've "zoned out" while driving a car someplace familiar and haven't been paying attention to the road. During the trance, Dr. N. says a bunch of nice, soothing things while I just sort of sit there silently with my eyes closed, not doing anything. She tells me to let go of self-doubt, and, in its place, to develop the overwhelming urge to erase numbers from my phone, and to wait for somebody who desires me equally. I try not to let my mind go into the logistics of that and instead just kind of stay in a suggestible daze where I'm not thinking about how in all relationships there's usually one sap who likes the other one more. The whole thing takes about a half-hour, but it feels like way less.

I do my best not to fight it and to ignore the fact that I am breathing heavily in a leather recliner in an office building that also houses a "gyrotonic Pilates" studio and holistic drug-counseling for teens. To continue sessions on my own, Dr. N. gives me an MP3 to listen to before bed, a relaxing recording of her voice instructing me to feel my fingers getting tingly while not thinking any inappropriate thoughts.

Those first nights, for whatever they're worth, I sleep and dream of nobody.


In the days following my visit, when I think about it, I stop and gingerly take a mental inventory. I don't feel cured or cinematically amnesiac, but I do just kind of generally feel … less. This, I suppose, could be attributed to the simple passage of time, or having occupied myself with something other than the solipsistic crumpled-diary-page wad of my brain.

But what I had hoped for was the instant gratification of a "procedure." I wanted to be emotionally Juvédermed, waxed of discomfort, anal-bleached of sentiment. I wanted somebody to get a pointy little hose and squirt warm water into my heart to get at whatever was impacted there, like dislodging 17 years of Scotch-wet cheeseburgers from an old movie star's colon.

And you can't. Because that's the nature of cautionary futuristic technology.

You just have to wait.

Read the whole story
23 days ago
Julieanne Smolinski can WRITE, y'all. God, I love her.
San Francisco, CA
Share this story

That's a Bad Lyric and You Know It : NPR

1 Comment
Hang the DJ!
Because the music that they constantly play,
It says nothing to me about my life.

The Smiths, "Panic"

In October, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article by Arthur Krystal titled "The Missing Music In Today's Poetry." In it, Krystal argues that contemporary verse, with its abandonment of traditional meter and what Krystal calls "rhythmic design," has become atonal, unmoving and unmemorable. As a music fan and critic, my initial response to the article was sympathy: I have often contemplated the reverse, bemoaning the missing poetry in today's music. But this is a gross oversimplification. While it is true that 2013 will go down as the year in which my disgust for the unchecked inanities in the lyrics of mainstream indie music reached something of a peak, possibly explaining why I felt some kinship with Krystal, it is not poetry missing from the lyrics of today's music, but a sense of accountability on the part of artists and critics alike. When music criticism promotes an environment of immunity for the insipid, the unimaginative and the superficial, do artists, perhaps subconsciously, take note?

To preempt accusations of priggishness, I wish to emphasize that I am in no way arguing that lyrics have somehow "gotten worse." I was born in the '70s, grew up in the '80s, and spent the '90s investing every spare dime in a CD collection that now requires its own storage facility. I can attest with authority that America, New Order and The Cranberries have all committed crimes against the English language that Win Butler, short of suffering some grade of concussion, could never hope to perpetrate. But in studying previous decades of pop and rock music journalism, I have noticed in pans and raves alike a strict attention paid to the words being sung; lyrics are largely the reason Kurt Cobain was hailed as the voice of his generation, and why Scott Weiland is still widley considered a buffoon.

Today's almost complete lack of critical interface with lyrical content provides no such distinctions. Indeed, a person taking a survey of several leading print and online publications might be forgiven for concluding that a song's words are no longer a measure of its failures or successes, but an arbitrary component unworthy of serious discussion. Albums instead seem to be judged on a criterion of attitude, atmosphere and that nebulous catchall imprecisely referred to as "production." This sort of negligence not only allows artists like the Black Keys to get away with writing lyrics that would make an ESL teacher wince, but also threatens to shortchange the few remaining songwriters who exhibit a genuine talent for lyrical verse by asking them not to try so hard, lest the swine trample — or, perhaps worse, ignore — their hard-won pearls.

Let's take a look at some lyrics by four popular mainstream indie artists. (I choose to narrow my focus because the genres of country, hip-hop, R&B and pop contain their own unique — and, on the whole, less apparent — problems in this regard, and warrant separate consideration).

"Afterparty in a hotel room
Pretty soon there will be no moon

—The Black Keys, "The Go Getter"

"You know I'm bad at communication
It's the hardest thing for me to do
And it's said it's the most important part
That relationships go through
And I gave it all away just so I could say that
Well I know, I know, I know, I know
That you're gonna be OK anyway."

—Haim, "The Wire"

"Turn around and no one's there
Don't know why I even care
Moods, they swing, the seasons change
Is it you or am I to blame?
I always complain ...
Before I can stay inside
Oh, how fast the time goes by
Take a pill, spend the bills,
Seems to be the way I get my thrill
A never-ending hill."

—Best Coast, "Why I Cry"

"It started storming, storming
So early in the morning
It started storming, storming
So early in the morning
I received no warning
Now that's heartwarming
Alright, the weather's boring

—Sleigh Bells, "You Don't Get Me Twice"

I quote these trite, hollow lyrics not to shame their authors — after all, even great lyricists occasionally fail to measure up when their words are removed from their original context — but to question the mettle of the influential music journals who heard them and failed to factor them into their respective ratings. Simply put, any critical voice that ignores lyrics like these is guilty of condoning — even endorsing — vapid nonsense. I contend that if the above artists were held to some higher standard, many of them might concede good-naturedly with an "Ah, you got me!" and try a little harder next time. I don't know the writers of these songs personally, but I am positive they can do better because almost anybody could. I don't believe these lyrics are the products of trivial, impoverished minds, but of thoughtful, intelligent people who, fearless of critical castigation, just don't give a damn. What's worse?

When critics do engage with an album's lyrics, their critiques are often neutered by secretive editorial policies. By now, almost everyone who reads online music reviews knows that many album scores are determined not only by the writer of the review, but by the editorial board of the journal, blog or magazine for whom he or she is writing. An album's rating ostensibly provides the time-pressed consumer with the minimum amount of information he or she needs to make an informed purchasing decision; it doesn't dwell on the details. Fair enough. But when this rating does not correlate with the accompanying review, this practice becomes problematic. In Pitchfork's 8.3 review of Haim's Days Are Gone, which received a Best New Music distinction, Larry Fitzmaurice acknowledges that the album's lyrics "aren't necessarily built to withstand close analysis; largely, the words function to add a bit of weight to the effortless, feather-light melodies."

Discrepancies like that aren't unique to 2013. Two years ago SPIN's David Marchese wrote of the Black Keys' El Camino that "Auerbach ... says very little — women are trouble; people will take what's yours; life ain't easy," which didn't prevent the magazine from granting the album an 8/10. In 2010 Noel Murray of the A.V. Club admitted that the songs on Best Coast's Crazy For You "shuffle the same few words around, mainly 'love,' 'weed,' 'I,' 'miss' and 'you,'" but the site rated it a very respectable B. This October, the same publication gave the same rating to Sleigh Bells' Bitter Rivals despite an accompanying review by Eric Thurm conceding that the band's lyrics "still leave something to be desired, but they've never really been the band's main selling point."

So what are these scores based on, if not content? After all, the above writers pointedly acknowledge the lyrical shortcomings of the albums they are writing about. Ignoring the larger question of why leading indie outlets rely on democratic, consensus-based scoring instead of allowing the respective critic to make such calls, why are such critiques not factored into the overall editorial score? The above albums appear in stores affixed with boastful stickers announcing their sterling numerical rating, but never the accompanying review that would seem to undermine it; the potshots will have little to no bearing on an artist or their sales. The reviews, then, result in a sort of cognitive dissonance: I agree with the complaints, but not the conclusions drawn from them. The authors of these reviews are mostly very fine writers, so why aren't they deemed trustworthy enough to supply a grade consistent with their evaluations? Such starchamber practices are practically kindling for ad revenue-based conspiracy theories. Imagine an elementary school teacher who takes great pains to evaluate a student's work ethic, class participation and behavior, only to have a principal on the payroll step in and award that student an unmodified 'A' for reasons unknown, and unquestioned.

It is the rating, after all, that's paramount. Metacritic is an aggregate website that averages print and online scores given to albums, films, DVDs, games and television shows, gathering a critical consensus. As of this writing, the site shows not a single overall "negative" critical rating for Sleigh Bells' Bitter Rivals or Haim's Days Are Gone — not one. Ditto El Camino and Brothers, the two most recent albums by the Black Keys. In fact, of the bands we've examined so far, only Best Coast fails to emerge unscathed: the band's Metacritic score is blemished by a single negative review of Fade Away, the EP the band released this year, by Drowned In Sound's Tom Fenwick. Excepting this lone example, a perusal of Metacritic would have you believe that our culture czars are in universal agreement that the Black Keys, Haim, Best Coast and Sleigh Bells are truly the best that Generation iPhone has to offer. It doesn't take into account the suspiciously apologetic tone of the reviews cited above, only the ringing endorsements of numerical, alphabetical and star-based shorthand. Like Roman emperors in a post-Siskel and Ebert sort of world, the music press judges with thumbs, not thoughts. Meanwhile, the Refrigerator Magnet Poetry school of lyric-writing reigns supreme as breathless praise for albums containing lyrics that wouldn't garner honorable mention at a 3rd grade poetry writing contest saturate the feed. Some respectable critics and media outlets (including this one) even refuse, out of policy or politeness, to publish reviews deemed too scathing, too potentially damaging to an artist's career, foreshadowing a future of music journalism as little more than a series of glib, presskit-parroting advertorials.

Lyrics can often mean the difference between a song worth hearing and a song worth ignoring. A review that ignores a song's words, then, renders poetry indistinguishable from pap. Let us now compare and contrast the lyrics to songs by two young songwriters, both of whom released acclaimed albums in 2013. A scan of critical reactions to both artist's current albums would suggest little difference between the two; very few reviews I've read of either discuss the matter of lyrics at all. But the differences are worthy of comment, and, more importantly, distinction. First, we will look again at Best Coast, whose Bethany Cosentino is perhaps the most egregious offender in the war on words. From her recent single, "I Don't Know How":

"And I don't know why
The sun's in the sky
The rain, it falls down
Down on to the ground."

And now, an excerpt from "Tomorrow, Tomorrow," another relationship-themed song, this one by Eleanor Friedberger, from her 2013 album Personal Record:

"Today was perfection — the axis of bliss
I was calm in your arms waiting for the kiss that never came
Tomorrow, tomorrow
I hope that it's more of the same."

These samples are largely indicative of the styles of both artists. As a writer, Friedberger is consistently sharp, lucid and thoughtful, while Cosentino is unerringly cliché-prone and syntax-challenged. Friedberger's lyrics here are evocative; her words pique my primeval curiosities. The kiss Friedberger expects never arrives, which doesn't prevent her from describing the day, poetically, as the "axis of bliss," and hoping that these events — missed smooch and all — continue to tantalize her as the new dawn approaches. Cosentino, on the other hand, is so lovesick she is puzzled by the sun's placement in the sky and by the fact that the rain falls down on the ground (as opposed to up someplace else); the lyrics sound as if they were scribbled in a taxicab on the way to the studio to record the song. Friedberger vividly constructs a scene; Cosentino sings some words that happen to rhyme. Cosentino has gone on record saying she doesn't believe that lyrics need to be "deep," advising like some Zen master of solipsism to "just write whatever comes out of you. You don't need to find intense meaning in everything." For Cosentino, a good song is analogous to an amusement park, an ultimately valueless enterprise meant only as an escape hatch from the gnarly world of international conflicts, government shutdowns and other bummers. "Fun" becomes synonymous with willful ignorance in an era that has never needed apathy less.

If lyrics like Cosentino's are to serve merely as syllabic placeholders, why write words at all? After all, many resourceful bands have found ways to circumvent the pesky tyranny of speech: Icelandic band Sigur Ros invented a language they called Hopelandic, which universalized their dreamy, ethereal music; John Tardy's wordless gargling and growling on Obituary's seminal Slowly We Rot proved innovative even as it humorously pointed to what's sometimes hidden behind indecipherable death metal vocals. I applaud these rare cases for showing enough respect for the form to abstain from a craft that, like air conditioner repair, may be best left to experts. These and other examples — jazz scat singing, backwards lead vocals, international artists with largely Western audiences vocalizing in their native tongue — prove that familiar words and expressions can be circumvented while retaining the phrasing, tone, rhythm and mood that tends to satisfy and attract Western ears. A bold and audacious thinker once proclaimed "I have nothing to say, and I'm saying it" — good for him. But John Cage never wrote pop music, and even his most impishly experimental writings were often as bracing and provocative as the best Dylan songs. Maybe even Cage understood, in his way, that while music may be a universal language, words mean things.

To be a mouthpiece of any kind in these content-saturated times is an enviable and increasingly rare position, and with this privilege ought come certain responsibilities: An artist's lyrics should honor the reciprocal contract between artist and listener; they should aim to seduce, puzzle, bewitch or provoke something in us that reflects our shared human experience. They should say something to us about our lives. But we as listeners and critics must fulfill our end of this bargain, and hold our favorite artists accountable for what they say — and more importantly, what they do not. Modern music media who refuse to confront music holistically — who cut lyricists slack — are complicit in the destruction of a rich modern tradition that begins with WC Handy and might very well end with Bill Callahan.

James Toth is a Contributing Editor at Stereogum and regular contributor to Aquarium Drunkard, among other online and print publications. He also records and tours under the name Wooden Wand.

Read the whole story
32 days ago
YES YES YES YES YESSSSSS. I am so sick of bad lyrics getting a pass. I get that music is about more than lyrics, but all the popular indie bands right now write such insipid trash that I'd rather just listen to my older albums.
San Francisco, CA
Share this story

I Played 'The Boys Are Back in Town' on a Bar Jukebox Until I Got Kicked Out | VICE

6 Comments and 9 Shares

Illustration by the author

"Nothing is forbidden anymore." —Enrique Iglesias, "Bailamos"

Whenever I'm feeling miserable, I scrounge a few dollars out of my jacket pockets and tromp up to the bar I don't like. The bar is about three-quarters of a mile from my apartment and wholly forgettable, but ostensibly a metal bar.

The first time I visited, I did what I do whenever I find myself in a new bar: Go to the jukebox and see what record is number 69. Here, it was Thin Lizzy's thoroughly nonseminal Jailbreak. I've never listened to that album the whole way through, and by the grace of God I know I'll never need to, for I know that Jailbreak features at least two songs: "The Boys Are Back in Town," and whatever song comes after "The Boys Are Back in Town," which reminds you that you need to hit rewind.

Let me make one thing excruciatingly clear: "The Boys Are Back in Town" is an incredible song and I love it. I love it so much. My heart beats bwaa-da, bwaa-dadada DAAH dah to match Scott Gorham's guitar riff, and this leaves my physician furious and unable to speak. When my roommate leaves for work in the morning, I genuflect toward his wonderful dog, who respects me. I press my forehead to his flank and I whisper "the boys are back" over and over again. The dog turns his furry brow to look into me and I know he respects me even more, for I have done as Messrs. Lizzy commanded. I have spread the word around.

I am pulled back again and again into this bar I do not like by an uncontrollable and carnal drive: a loyalty to The Boys and a congenital love of hollering. I am usually content to summon this song just once from the jukebox of the bar I do not particularly like, as even one play is a parade for the spirit. That's the life I lived for several months. I would enter the bar, queue up "The Boys Are Back in Town," slam beers until the jukebox arrived at my selection, then clap my hands, clutch them to my chest, and maybe recite a psalm from the mother tongue of my proud rural people (perhaps "oh, HELL yeah!!! HELL YEAH!!!," or "now THAT'S what I'm talking about!!!!") to the silence around me. Then I would leave.

Over the course of these past few months, I have come upon two bits of forbidden knowledge: One, this bar does not have a working "kill switch" (which allows the bartender to change a song in case someone plays, I dunno, the entire A-side of 2112). Two, this jukebox permits the same song to be played back-to-back if each instance was paid for with a separate bill.

It was 3 AM on a recent Tuesday when, standing in the dark outside my train station, these truths reconciled themselves within me. My compulsion became explicit and inescapable: I needed to stay up and play "The Boys Are Back in Town" as many times as I could. The thorns from the road ahead cleared themselves, and I walked toward the future amid roses to share the gospel with the other patrons of this unlikeable bar. The boys were back.

This is a familiar and lonely road. I play the same song over and over again in my apartment, and I've done it in bars, and I'll do again. One foggy summer evening amid the delightful garbage bars of San Francisco's Outer Richmond district, I watched a shot glass sail past my head when Annie Lennox's (rapturous! transcendent! holy, holy!) "Walking on Broken Glass" surfaced for the fourth near-consecutive time. I've been cut off by America's greatest bartender (the sunbeam who illuminates Wally's in Orlando) when she realized my plan to continually play different recordings of "The Monster Mash." I have compelled friends and strangers in a doomed bar of downtown Houston to listen to Soft Cell's "Sex Dwarf" on loop with me until I was certain that everyone's evening had been thoroughly ruined.

This is the era of late capitalism, where bigger is always necessarily better, without exception. To the true doom disciple, to listen to a song more times is to enjoy the song more deeply. General funnyman John Mulaney wrote a bit about looping Tom Jones's " What's New, Pussycat," which has been sent to me in a dozen gchats, but there are thousands more like me; maybe you've even slept with one, and we're all very sorry. We are terrible, ecstatic, self-ruinous creatures greedy for and undeserving of love. The soul of our sweet delight can be purchased for three songs a dollar. We grab our little joys and squeeze until we've throttled them between white-knuckled fingers.

That night at the bar I do not respect I played Ronnie James Dio's "Holy Diver" between the second and third repetitions of "The Boys Are Back in Town," because that song is excellent.

When Thin Lizzy reappeared, the people of the bar united in groansong. Cocktail napkins flew like weekend litter in a gust of two dozen exasperated sighs. I betrayed myself with a giggle, and the table sitting nearest to me caught on. Some dude asked me why I'd done this. "The boys are back in town," I stammered. "The boys are back!"

The opening notes to the fourth occurrence of "The Boys Are Back in Town" was met with an immediate shattering of glass, a roar of fuck-words, and the small but rapid egress of people whose ears were closed to the good news (the good news about the town, and the boys who were back in it). Two wild-eyed men, drunken and furious, descended upon the jukebox and lifted it away from the wall to get at the plug. When things had resettled, there was a line to queue up songs at the jukebox, which I joined.

"Are you fucking going to play 'The Boys Are Back in Town' again?" asked a voice when I reached the jukebox.

"I absolutely, 100 percent, am not going to play 'The Boys Are Back In Town' again," I promised, punching the buttons to select "The Boys Are Back in Town," which I had memorized.

The voice requested that I refrain from ever playing any songs on that jukebox ever again for the rest of my life.

The next time "The Boys Are Back in Town" emerged, nothing happened and I was finally—finally!—able to celebrate in peace. Four minutes and 27 seconds later, when Gorham's guitar kicked in again, this bar I will never celebrate transformed into the island from Lord of the Flies. Two men began pushing each other while the man nearest me grew new throat muscles specifically to scream "I HATE THIS SONG!" at his own lap.

Someone else's music selection granted us a brief intermission, which the bartender—to whom I am sorry—used to issue a funereal notice of last call. As she finished speaking, Thin Lizzy started again. My credit card appeared in front of me, with a request that I leave immediately. I left with a full heart, flush with new knowledge about the town, and the boys within it, who now would never leave, and word of whom I had spread around. I would also be severely late to work the next morning.

The "jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song," as described in "The Boys Are Back in Town"?

It's also playing "The Boys Are Back in Town."

Recently incinerated, and with the ashen pallor and anxious charisma of a new and fresh heartbreak, I returned a few evenings ago to my familiar perch at the bar I do not like. My motions were poised, automatic—insert dollar, punch the magic numbers 6-9-0-6, gaze thoughtfully into the abyss of the record collection. In that moment I was my best self. I found a seat and waited.

But I never heard that familiar riff I love most. Some nondescript hair metal wafted out the stereo and the evening collapsed upon me with the furious weight of realization.

This bar I will never enter again had removed Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak from its jukebox.

Where are the boys? I am in the town, looking outward. Time is space; the distance between me and the boys unravels the years before me. Come back to us, boys; come back to me. The multitudes within me are expanding and I am breaking at my seams. I am becoming my own universe, and the boys are nowhere to be seen.

Thirst will never leave you completely. The body demands water until it drowns. I had spread the word around until there was no word left to spread. Gorged on the beauty of exuberance, I dove, and I pressed myself against the floor of the sea. Today were lost the boys from town, and my whole life has been taken.

Timothy Faust lives in Brooklyn and runs a backyard wrestling league in Austin, Texas. Follow Timothy on Twitter.

Read the whole story
32 days ago
this is beautifully written and utterly hilarious.
New York, NY
33 days ago
It starts well with the epigraph and just goes upwards from there.
San Francisco, CA
Share this story
4 public comments
30 days ago
No such thing as too much Thin Lizzy
Brooklyn, NY
31 days ago
My motions were poised, automatic—insert dollar, punch the magic numbers 6-9-0-6, gaze thoughtfully into the abyss of the record collection. In that moment I was my best self.
Waterloo, Canada
Mother Hydra
31 days ago
This is the sort of writing that inspires me, and I want more damnit. Edit: this is the alternate ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey
31 days ago
Me too. The last two paragraphs are just epic. He needs to write more (and get more Twitter followers)
32 days ago
I love this in its entirety
32 days ago
This is just fantastic. Made my day.
Eugene, Oregon, USA

Ivy League Admissions Are a Sham: Confessions of a Harvard Gatekeeper

1 Comment

Ivy League Admissions Are a Sham: Confessions of a Harvard Gatekeeper

I graduated from Harvard in 2006, and have spent eight of the last nine years working as an admissions officer for my alma mater. A low-level volunteer, sure, but an official one all the same. I served as one of thousands of alumni volunteers around the world—a Regional Representative for my local Schools Committee, if you want to get technical. And, as a Regional Rep, my duties fell somewhere between Harvard recruiter and Harvard gatekeeper.

But now I'm done with all that. For a long time, I believed in the admissions process. I thought that I could use my position to help regular smart people with great test scores and impressive extracurriculars break into an elitist system. After eight years, though, I've learned that modest goal is more or less unreachable. Ivy League admissions are a complete racket, rigged in favor of the privileged and completely impervious to change. So I'm quitting the business.

And because I'm quitting, that means I can tell you, the reader, all the secrets of being a Harvard admissions representative, and what it really takes to get in.

But first, I'm going to tell you a bit about why I wanted to be an admissions representative for my alma mater, and what that job entailed.

I signed up for the job because it felt like the best way to give back to an institution that had given me quite a lot. I'm from the rural West. My father was a postal worker; my mom stayed at home. Thanks to the Common App and a little bit of urging from my parents, I applied to Harvard—and got in. And so I had a mission in signing up for all of this: I wanted to help students like me find their way into the Ivy League.

In my years working in admissions, I met with prospective students from all over the place. Technically, we're supposed to make these kids come to wherever is convenient for us to do their interview. But since I don't have a fancy office or house, and I don't want to place a huge travel burden on them, I tried to meet them someplace mutually convenient. I convened with prospective students in seemingly neutral territories: in high school cafeterias on the South Side of Chicago and in Gary, Indiana; in Starbucks in wealthy suburbs like Shaker Heights, Ohio and Bellevue, Washington. Once I even met a prospective in the boardroom of his father's company in a downtown Portland skyscraper (though that was his dad's idea, not his own). That also means I paid for my own travel costs (gas, parking, etc.), and I usually picked up their coffee or tea as well. Typically, the expense of being an admissions representative was no more than $200 every year, but still—that's more than I spend on renter's insurance.

Every winter, after meeting with students, reading over their admissions packets, and reviewing their test scores and transcripts, I've finally—most importantly—sent a recommendation to the full Admissions Committee as to whether to admit or reject them. I'm not the one who makes the ultimate decision to open the doors of upward mobility to these teenage hopefuls—or to slam those doors shut in their face—but I have been complicit in the process nonetheless.

What is it that I have looked for in prospective students, you may ask? Well, as the Harvard Interviewer Handbook rather sniffily puts it, "part of the general public believes 'best' ought to be defined by standardized tests, grades, and class rank." The admissions committee, however, "holds a more expansive view of excellence," and uses us to help discern excellence in forms that might not be so apparent on paper.

Which is important, because on paper most of these students look quite similar. To take some anonymous examples:

  • White female, suburban private school. 4.0 GPA (unweighted), 95th percentile SATs, three AP tests, two SAT IIs. Interested in community service, photography, travel. Excellent letters of recommendation from her teachers and pastor. Legacy, both parents.
  • White male, urban private school. 4.8 GPA (weighted), 92nd percentile SATs, four AP tests, two SAT IIs. Interested in creative writing, entrepreneurship, community service. All-State Debate Society. Glowing letters from his choir director and the school principal.
  • White female, suburban boarding school. 3.9 GPA (unweighted), 92nd percentile SATs, three APs, three SAT IIs. Interested in social justice, travel, painting. National Merit Scholar. Great letters from her resident tutor and teachers. Legacy, one parent.
  • White male, suburban public school. 4.25 GPA (weighted), 96th percentile SATs, two APs, three SAT IIs. Interested in entrepreneurship, community service, creative writing. Superb letters from the local Humane Society director and teachers.
  • White female, rural private school. 3.9 GPA (weighted), 95th percentile SATs, three APs…

Every year there are a few literally perfect standouts, whose stats alone are so good that no interview will keep them from acceptance: 2400 SAT I, three 800 SAT IIs, at least two 5 APs, 4.0 GPA, and the usual signs of non-academic life. The mass of more traditionally excellent humanity, however, has had to go through people like me.

(And for the record: applicants 1 and 2 got in; the rest were rejected).

Every single applicant to Harvard is supposed to get an interview. My most recent regional committee had about a hundred active interviewers for three hundred applicants every year. The others where I worked have had closer to two hundred interviewers for nearly a thousand applicants. So everyone could expect between three to six interviews per person per year, split between the fall (early action) and winter (regular applications).

Each of these interviews lasted for about an hour of in-person time. To prep, I would contact the applicant for their basic info: GPA, test scores, and any additional material they want to send. Most people sent me a resume and a sample application essay or two. Toward the end of my tenure, I also started to see more exotic types of supplements: headshots, scripts and short stories, musical recordings.

The end goal of each interview was to rate the prospective in each of three areas: academics, extracurriculars, and personal qualities, plus an overall rating to judge the candidate's overall "suitability for admission." These ratings were "absolutely superior," "strong candidate," "acceptable but perhaps not competitive," or "not recommended."

But distilling a developing young mind into four numbers was an impossibly cruel task. And an increasingly difficult one. They were there to be evaluated for one of the most important opportunities of their lives. How could you possibly hope to get at the genuine person when there's so much pressure?

Which is why the interview process has devolved into more of a pageant.

First, in the purest sense. Seven years ago, most students would opt to wear something dressy but tasteful to the interview. In the last two years, though, I've seen the entire spectrum of fashion paraded in front of me. From the students who opt for shutter shades and muscle T's to the ones who wear bow ties and (exactly once) Louboutin pumps.

After the formalwear portion of the evening, we moved on to Q&A. Which was where each candidate launched into their prepared speech to show that they personally bucked the popular image of the Millennial as a smartphone-obsessed, Ritalin-addicted egomaniac with no work ethic. In fact, they mostly went on to question whether such people even existed outside the minds of East Coast media commentators. Sure, each of them liked their iPhones and maybe they did struggle a bit to understand other people's worldviews, but that's also why they needed to take that trip to Tanzania or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or take a field trip to an inner city school or…

You get the idea. The only thing that told me was that either everyone under 18 reads New York Times Op-Eds and The Atlantic cover stories religiously, or—much more likely—that they were coached by someone who actually did.

There were other red flags to look out for, too. How they sat straight up when it was time for the open-ended questions. How their eyes glazed over and they looked right past you once they started to recite their canned answers. How their outrage, their compassion, their conspiratorial asides seemed just a bit too…performative.

What do you want out of your college experience? Ever since I was little, I knew college was for me…

What is your favorite subject and why? I love them all, I can't choose! That's exactly why I want a liberal arts education…

How do you balance your studies and your extracurriculars? I don't sleep much! Ha, ha. But seriously, if you love something as much as I do, you make time for it…

You're going from a place where you're one of the smartest people in the room to a place where you're one among equals. How are you going to deal with that? Well, I've thought about that a lot, and being the best is less important to me than being in a challenging environment…

At my day job, I've interviewed mid-career professionals who struggle with interview questions more than these high schoolers generally do. And I'm sure there are a few teenagers who really are that self-possessed.

Sometimes I think about my own application process. Would I have gotten into Harvard today? The only thing I remember about it, especially the interview, was an all-consuming anxiety, a paralyzing sense of doubt, and most of all, the desire to please the unknowable masters of my future. I recall talking about watching Star Trek and selling hot dogs and nachos at the concessions stand during high school basketball games. At times, I babbled for minutes on end (I'm a bit of a nervous talker) and I know I cut off my interviewer more than once. I'm not sure whether I would have written a nice report if I had been on the other side of the table.

To be fair, the interview is not much more than an in-person version of the application essay. It's meant to be a relatively quick, standardized way to assess a candidate's personality—an emotional biopsy, if you like. And as with any other foray into the teenage personality (especially one done by volunteers in non-laboratory conditions), it's more an art than a science.

The thing is that these personality tests won't even matter for the majority of candidates. If your scores aren't good enough, you could write like James Baldwin and interview like Richard Nixon and still not get a second look from the Admissions Committee in Byerly Hall—the ones with the real admit/reject power. Conversely, if you are a pre-Nobel laureate, you could talk only about last week's New Girl and not endanger your place in the next class.

For the few hundred or so in the middle, you have to take a calculated risk, and you have one of two places to do it: in the essay, or in the interview.

One of the least helpful pieces of non-advice that you will get about interviewing or essay-writing is this: "be yourself."

This is stupid and wrong. The "self" of the average 18-year-old comes out the best in things like GPAs and SATs and extracurricular tests: it's easiest to measure how sharp someone is, how quickly they will respond to new ideas, and how much of a work ethic they have in calculated, standardized measures.

But the vast majority of elite school applicants are a long way from becoming a whole, self-actualized person. It's not their fault; only they've never faced real threats to their existence, had people depending on them for food and shelter, or lived in actual poverty for any amount of time.

Yet for the last few years, it's felt like the normal, inquisitive, relatively unfiltered teenager of the early 2000's has been replaced by dozens of little Russell Wilsons. Gone are the hard edges and the unintentional flashes of personality that made it seem like I was actually getting something accomplished in the course of (most) of these interviews. Nowadays, I've gotten layers of carefully constructed defenses, designed to reveal only the most admission-friendly parts of the student.

Just once I would have loved to get an applicant who called out a stupid, predictable question for being what it is instead of dutifully reciting an impossibly trite, hand-wavingly general answer that cannot apply to all that many people. Someone who didn't sound like Mitt Romney when trying to relate to the challenges faced by people without blue blood.

Instead, I've seen a boringly predictable, on-trend parade of general excellence, like eating a dozen cronuts for dinner. It's interesting in the abstract, but the palate needs cleansing after a while. Hearing the liberal-upper-middle-class consensus view of the world (but with a twist, like backpacking through Southeast Asia!) certainly does not hurt an applicant. On the other hand, if I wanted that I would just sit on the toilet and listen to NPR.

And now for a little bit of advice.

First of all, there are a number of small factors that can move the admissions needle in small amounts: location, economic background, race. You can just accept that these exist and don't really count for much—a slight counterbalance to the general advantages that wealthier folks tend to enjoy as a rule. Or you can spend millions of dollars on lawyers and consultants, and hundreds of hours fighting in court in order to claw back this tiny little potential advantage from those in the lower half of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Either way, these are things beyond your control, and I'd recommend not worrying about them. Frankly, it's the cheaper and quicker option.

Otherwise, the official party line, as taken verbatim from Harvard's longtime Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons (class of 1963, dean since 1986) is that Harvard selects for "academic excellence, extracurricular distinction, and personal qualities." And that sounds good—who doesn't love excellence?—until you think about it.

What Dean Fitzsimmons really means is that he isn't going to tell you anything substantial (that's why he's lasted for so long in his job). So I will tell you that in this context, measuring "academic excellence" really boils down to two things: Will this applicant graduate on time and happy?

Pure intelligence is one part, hence the focus on scores and GPAs. Harvard is difficult, and someone who has never seen a differential equation will probably struggle in the basic required math courses; someone who has never read a Steinbeck novel or a Shakespeare play will probably feel excluded from general English Lit.

But so is extracurricular activity. You might be smart, but do you have the discipline to keep going for four years? How do you respond to setbacks, challenges, opposition? Do you show signs of life in the wider world? In short: are you of sound mind?

The 4.0 student who just works the ball-washing station at the country club does not necessarily demonstrate great time-management skills. On the other hand, we'll take the person who has an A-minus GPA but spends most of her free time in a research lab breeding generations of flies for genetic tests, thank you very much. This is why admissions officers will say "well-rounded" until they're blue in the face. There's nothing wrong with plain old eggheads—but let's try and get out there once in a while, too.

And when the committee selects for the mysterious and ephemeral "personal qualities," well, we want to know how much of a jerk the candidate is, and how well they'll respond to a campus full of jerks.

Let's be honest: Harvard and its affiliates will inflict some kind of damage (academic, emotional, occasionally physical) on everyone who lingers there. It is a place where everyone is out to get everyone else. In a place where no one can be the best at everything, everyone takes any chance they can get to measure up to their peers. It is a mob of ruthless young overachievers with a taste for blood.

Ayn Rand, eat your heart out. Your Objectivist paradise is alive and well, and its name is Harvard. Here, people believe that each of them is a "heroic being," that their individual happiness is a moral absolute, that their own reason is ironclad and incorruptible. Just look at what four years of that does to a person. Never mind the outliers like Mark Zuckerberg and Ted Kaczynski. You just need to look at the offices of Wall Street investment banks (where half of the graduating class of Harvard ends up every year). Or the op-ed pages of New York newspapers. Or the halls of Congress (one shudders at the thought).

So, as far as I'm concerned, you may as well start toughening up as soon as you can, because the world isn't going to wait for you.

Sometimes this toughness comes through in the application proper. Were you an award-winning debater? Did you write snippy op-eds in the paper? Did you muscle out people with Ph.D.s to get a second author on a scientific paper? Have you had to endure a lifetime of pressure from your legacy parents, warning you that if you don't get in, you'll be disinherited? Congratulations. You're in.

But if the force of your pushy little personality fails to shine through in the rest of the application, then I have to try and draw it out in the interview. It's not psychoanalysis by any stretch. I just want to hear that you like certain things and dislike others, that you've run into obstacles and heard the word "no" on occasion. Don't tell me everything is great, because it's not. Don't tell me everything is terrible, because it isn't. And most of all, prove to me that you've spent some time thinking about a big brand-name in education, and what it can do just for you.

Then I can give you a strong recommendation.

In my admissions tenure, I've learned to understand the process as the soft con that it is. On the one hand, it's utterly opaque and more than a little arbitrary. On the other hand, it has huge consequences for the tens of thousands of young people who get sucked into it every year, and for the multi-billion-dollar institutions that live off of those students' money. And throughout the whole process are the unpaid, underappreciated, probably not impartial people like me, who get to make a lot of questionably appropriate, marginally legal, rational-until-it's-totally-arbitrary decisions. It makes very few people look good, but makes a lot of people pretty rich.

I've endured year after year of privileged sameness, with no sign of the non-millionaires whom I wanted to help. Exactly once I was assigned a candidate who came from the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. But his GPA and SAT scores were close to the cutoff for "not recommended," and when I asked him questions—about school, sports, family, TV, whatever—his answers lasted barely five seconds. When I asked him why he wanted to go to Harvard, he shrugged and said, "Dunno."

In spite of all that, I made good on this one chance I had been given to help someone who didn't have all the advantages of his applicant peers. I put him in the "acceptable but perhaps not competitive" category and gave him a tentative thumbs-up.

Weeks later, when the acceptance lists came out from our region, I didn't see his name. Later, in June, the interviewers from my region got a gentle reminder from my Schools Committee chair: as much as we might like to give a boost to underprivileged (if less-competitive) candidates, it was our job to evaluate, not advocate. Best to leave that sort of adjustment to the professionals.

So in the grand scheme of things, I realized I was powerless to say no to those who were only marginally deserving of an Ivy League spot, and completely unequipped to find those who could make the most of a top-shelf education but who never even thought to ask for one. Instead of giving people a boost on the ladder to upward mobility, I felt that I was simply there to make sure the children of the upper class stayed in the virtuous cycle that would keep them in the upper class. And there's no point in staying in a volunteer job that brings you nothing but frustration.

True, I could always parlay my "expertise" into a college counseling business. After all, people with thinner credentials than mine do it all the time—why not make a buck myself? But that would be crossing the Rubicon. The point at which you use applicants as sales leads—your "in" to thousands of dollars of their parents' money—is the point at which you can no longer claim any pretense of helping applicants, period.

So instead, I'm hanging up my admissions-representative blazer and trying not to make anything actively worse. I hope to succeed.

Anonymous is a 2006 graduate of Harvard College.

Read the whole story
39 days ago
As a Harvard grad, I can confirm the veracity of ALL of this.
San Francisco, CA
Share this story

In Praise of Getting Back Together with the Dude Who Dumped You

1 Comment

The Concessionist gives advice each weekend about the sordid choices of real life. Trouble? Write today.

Dear Concessionist,

I have boy troubles.

Wait! Don’t hang up! Or do whatever email hanging up is! I’ll be briefish.

After years of chill, contented aloneness, I met the most hilarious, most brilliant, most exhilarating person ever to be really good at sex. Affectionate and kind and well-liked. Talented to the point of being a little famous in his field. He said he was deliriously happy and I was too—until he left me for someone else.

The problem is, it’s been about a year and, as Sinead had it, nothing compares. I have friends and hobbies and go out, but mostly I’ve just missed him. Everything else has felt like “Pleasantville” before Joan Allen masturbates. A week or so ago he emailed basically everything you’d want to hear after a year of pining: he misses me, he’s sorry, he fucked up, the girl who came after me is no me, et cetera.

While my head says that seeing him again is a terrible idea (as do all of my friends and my parents and my boss and probably the crazy old man who rides my bus, if he had all the information and was consulted). But my heart says… I think I may love him? What if he’s truly the most spectacular person I will ever meet and may be okay with infidelity if it’s part of that? Isn’t this why people still stay with kooky painters or charismatic politicians or Warren Beatty? Why does everybody else seem so boring? Should I find a trustworthy patent attorney I will eventually learn to love for his steadfastness? Help me, I’m dumb.


Girl Johnny Drama.

Dear Girl,

Why—and how—do we give advice? Two things.

Most often, we give advice to help others avoid pain. We think pain is the worst. Without really thinking of it, we assess a situation and then, like robots, spit out “This is the pain-free way.”

Pain-free advice overlaps with what most of us should actually do a big chunk of the time! Don’t stab yourself with that jerk; come clean and free yourself of torment; stand up for yourself and feel proud; ask for what you want.

There’s a subset of advice which is “Walk through pain for something better” also. That’s like: quit smoking, go to rehab, get divorced, get a really gnarly piercing.

But also, we all know as advice-givers that we will be forced to live with the outcome of our counsel. So also there are times when I do not want to hear about someone’s complicated situation for the next six months! And so I will be like “here is the most straightforward or less harrowing way.”

And so with both those guides operating, most people will be like HONEY NO STAY AWAY RUN RUN RUN.

And that advice may not be wrong? It’s not necessarily a good thing when you’re like “the world seems grey without him.” That means he burns a little too bright, you know?


Here’s the weird email I sent you in response to your letter.

If you were my friend and we were having drinks

I’d be like

Girl don’t do this

YOU KNOW not to do this

except then

on like my third mocktail

I’d be like


No person is perfect

and that goes double for men.

Huh, I email like a drunk Adrienne Rich when I get tired.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that you’re a deluded junkie for a crazy man. That you need to stuff your veins with a big pile of shiny-eyed narcissist monster. But so what if you are? And what if you aren’t?

So what’s the worst that can happen??? You end up in agony and a ton of therapy? BIG FUCKING DEAL. Getting hurt is fine. If we hated pain and loss so much, why do so many of us live with dogs and cats, knowing we’ll probably survive them? Are we supposed to live a life of safety and caution? Nope.

The worst outcome of this is you get dumped again basically. So what!

But promise me you’ll go in this time with some bravado. Like, you’ll come in hot. And say all the things. Like YOU FUCKED ME OVER FUCKNUTS. WHY WERE YOU A DICKSACK? Don’t let him not know about this stuff, at the very least.

The monogamy question here is interesting too. I mean you got LEFT. He did it the typical way—by cheating on you. People say they LOVE monogamy—yet not that many people seem to practice it? Like Christianity!

I have a shortcoming here which is that I think monogamy is silly and I don’t really care where people I love stick their parts. It’s SUPER if a couple loves being exclusive sexually and does that. It’s also HORRIFIC if they commit to monogamy and one of them cheats. Not all of us want to live inside that trap. I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that people demonstrably want to have sex with lots of different people, so the most logical thing is to… make a promise not to indulge in this desire and to stuff it way down deep inside where it will fester into resentment, anger and sorrow??? Like, what? Why! It’s just a stupid religious and parentage-tracking idea that’s become a freaky cultural rule.

Anyway are you still reading this? NOPE you are probably in some gross sex position with him by now. Unlike your friends, who are girding themselves for six months of listening to you drone on about this, I salute you.


I stand behind you. ALL WE HAVE TO FEAR IS PAIN AND SADNESS which are of course terrible but completely survivable.

Also you can love again after him anyway. Dating doesn’t really get good until you’re in your 40s it turns out! PS You’re not dumb. I heard you say that! KNOCK IT OFF.

Previously: • How to Make Your Girlfriend Like You (Again)
How Do I Live Through Getting Screwed At Work?
Help My Friend Is A Snob
How To Share Feelings With Other Human Beings

The Concessionist is an adult human in New York City who is somewhat worn down and willing to make a good number of sacrifices for a peaceful life. Is it decision fatigue? Or just ennui? That’s probably a question for a psychiatrist. Anything else, ask me.

Read the whole story
45 days ago
"If we hated pain and loss so much, why do so many of us live with dogs and cats, knowing we’ll probably survive them? Are we supposed to live a life of safety and caution? Nope."
San Francisco, CA
41 days ago
I think on my third or fourth date with my girlfriend, we were both like, "I hope it really hurts when this all falls to shit"
Share this story
Next Page of Stories