Tag Archives: Writing

McSweeney’s Monday

It’s undeniable:

Now on the California pavement, we struggled to maintain consciousness. As if fueled by our ruin, the partying intensified. We observed as near nuclear tanning spells erupted, accompanied by fierce freaking and what seemed like an endless session of putting hands up. We heard the obstructed bellow of the queen as she released her horrible, unmentionable shrieking: “Aoaoaoao oh aoaoaoao!”

More anthropological field analysis of the California Gurl, here.

James Franco and the Lede of Omission

Update: Now accepting submissions to replace the majorly clunky “Mystery First Sentence.” Our current leader comes from Eric: the Lede of Omission.

Sam Anderson’s New York magazine profile of James Franco is fantastic:

The show’s most prominent piece is a big barnlike structure made of plywood, the kind of playhouse a perfect father might build for his 9-year-old son. I step inside to find a small room lined with plywood benches. It’s sweltering. On the far wall, a video is being projected: footage of a plywood house burning to the ground. One of the other visitors walks out, and suddenly there are only two of us, here in the house that contains an image of its own destruction, and the other person is James Franco.

I stand very still, like a hiker who’s just seen a bear. Franco’s publicist has recently informed me that—after all these months of e-mailing (he always responds immediately, and likes to sign off with “Peace”) and brief conversations—Franco and I are no longer allowed to talk. He’s signed an exclusivity agreement with another magazine. Under no circumstances am I to speak to him, I’m told, not even to say hello. I can see him now in my peripheral vision: He looks not like a grad student or a hipster but like an international golden boy, a corporate spokesman—unmasked and cleanly shaven, dressed in a gray Gucci suit and pointy black Gucci shoes. His hair is sculptural, bushy but managed. Surely, I think, if someone sees us together, I will be thrown out. On the opposite wall, the flames have stripped the house to its frame, reducing it to some kind of glowing black non-substance, half-wood, half-ash.

A few seconds pass.

“Hi, Sam,” James Franco says.

Franco’s career is source of constant fascination in these parts, and Anderson’s article does nothing but add to it – though, we’d like to know more, seriously,  about the logistics of it all.

But the more important point here is to launch my first personal salvo against what I will call the Mystery First Sentence Lede of Omission. In this case:

James Franco will not stop bouncing around.

Where is Franco? On a trampoline? Hopped up on drugs? Yes, what Anderson means is that “I have a found a moment where Franco is bouncing around, and the act of bouncing around is a very important metaphor here.” But every time an article starts with this faux-mystery (See: Every Esquire profile from the past six months; almost any newspaper column about an individual), I feel just a little insulted. Tell us where he is, and what he’s doing, then, later – like Anderson did, again, in the second paragraph! – make your point. Don’t tease us.

McSweeney’s Monday

The titles do all of the work this week:





On Board #76

A celebrity post today, from the proprietor of this wonderful website, Timmy C. Send your dispatch here.

July 19, 2010, 5 p.m.
MBTA Green Line, B branch, Boston College to Government Center

I saw them crossing Commonwealth Avenue, walking inexorably toward the train stop. The signs were as unmistakable as they were terrifying: sensible cargo shorts, white Capri pants, pastel-hued polos, summery floral prints, and dollar bills clenched tight in fists. These were parents who were heading back to their hotels after Boston College orientation, and not only were they undoubtedly heading all the way to Copley Square, but they were Green Line rookies.

While Boston is technically in a temperate climate zone, there are only ever around 20 days a year that aren’t unbearably hot or bitterly cold. Consequently, when you get to the platform at the Boston College stop, it’s imperative that you get out in front of anyone that’s paying with cash. You see, at the above-ground stops on the B line (and there are 18 of them), you have to enter in the front door of the trolley car and pay there. If you’re a savvy urban mover and an earnest participant in the social contract, you have a Charlie Ticket or a Charlie Card, and you’re in the train in a jiff. If you’re a parent in town for a few days to accompany your kid while she goes through college orientation, you’ve only got two dollar bills, which you will fumble for, put into the machine backwards, and generally hold up the long line of people trying to get into the train behind you. Consequently, it’s imperative that you get in front of these folks and get on the train first.

My parents and I went through BC’s orientation. They tell you a lot of things. One of the nifty things they don’t tell you is that if you can stand a pleasant, 12-minute walk to Cleveland Circle, you can reach two other subway lines that will get you downtown much quicker than the plodding B line. (And make no mistake, these folks are going downtown, at least to the hotels at Copley Square. I can tell.) The walk is much more pleasant if you’re wearing sensible cargo shorts or Capri pants, but much less pleasant if you’re stuck in khaki pants and a long sleeved shirt.

Going inbound, the B line lets passengers off after the intersection of Commonwealth and Chestnut Hill Avenues, but there’s a traffic light that the train often stops at first. I’m a compassionate guy, but I’m not above laughing when half a dozen rooks stand up and hurry toward the door when the trolley stops at the light, only to sheepishly sit back down. Especially when said rooks have crowded in the front of the train, instead of spreading out toward the back. Of course, the fact that half the orientation contingent kiboshes my assumption that they weren’t savvy enough to pick up the C or D lines at Cleveland Circle. Then again, none of them were savvy enough to have Charlie Cards. Good riddance!

On Board #75

Details here, then send ’em in.

June 15, 9:55 a.m.
Q Train – 7th Avenue to Times Square

There’s a baby being changed: orange diaper, pink pants, green blouse. Let’s call her Sally. She’s producing a horrifying sound – like the screeching of the subway brakes disharmonizing with a dying animal.

Mom’s face does not change throughout the dirty process: she does not want to be doing this here, on the subway, but she must. No one gets off to board another car, though they could.

The deed done, she bounces Sally on her lap, then holds her over her left shoulder, patting her back all along. The crying finally stops; a pacifier is the solution. Now that the child has calmed, down the mother cannot take her eyes off Sally. For a few moments, the faintest of smiles crosses her lips.

(Timothy) McSweeney’s Tuesday

A day late, for a good reason – the weekend in verse:

In the early morning hour,
just before dawn, the two lovers wake
and sip from the leftover Franzia box wine.

She asks, “Do you love me or yourself more?
Please, tell the absolute truth.”

He says, “Me.
But only because I have no clue who you are.”

More debaucherous quatrains here.


I’ve elaborated on the joys of Instapaper before, but the reality is that I rarely use it. Most of my reading on the subway, and elsewhere, is still done with hard copies of a handful of magazines (The New Yorker, Atlantic, Wired, Esquire, New York), or whatever book is on the top of my pile (currently, The Corrections). But where Instapaper earns its keep is in those moments when I finish the magazine and have nothing else to read. Or am stuck in a subway station on a Friday night, when carrying a book to a bar seems frowned upon.

Basically, Instapaper has eliminated any possibility of boredom in my life. In The Atlantic’s latest issue, all about “Ideas,” Walter Kirn writes about the extinction of boredom:

Thanks to Twitter, iPads, BlackBerrys, voice-activated in-dash navigation systems, and a hundred other technologies that offer distraction anywhere, anytime, boredom has loosened its grip on us at last—that once-crushing “weight” has become, for the most part, a memory. Even the worst blind dates don’t bore us now; we’re never more than a click away from freedom, from an instantaneous change of conversation partners.

He goes on to lament a potential loss in creativity, owing to a lack of daydreaming, or something. And it might be true. But this is one crutch I’m quite happy to have.

This Week’s Best Profile – The Trophy Son

Among the thanks I can offer to my father this week, not putting any sporting pressure on my young body is among the top. Perhaps my will-o’-the-wisp frame led him to make the right decision, but point is, the rewards are minimal. See this, from 1998:

The injustice of it all finally brought Mr. Rutherford to express himself again. Mrs. Rutherford, because of her work with the football programs, had been asked to help organize a farewell book for the graduating seniors. There would be ads from parents wishing their children the best — Kyle’s would be one of the few full-page ads — and there would be “wills,” in which seniors would take parting shots at those they were leaving behind.

The wills were supposed to be exclusively from seniors, but Mr. Rutherford later confessed to authoring two anonymous bequests. One, “to all football parents,” offered the number of a good real estate agent: “Call 444-MOVE!!!” Another left Coach Hooks “a new set of earplugs so you can’t hear the other coaches in the district laughing at you.”

Mr. Rutherford also had a suggestion for Kyle’s will. As Mrs. Rutherford recalled, Kyle said, “But Coach Hooks will get mad, won’t he?”

“Well, what can he do to you?” asked Mr. Rutherford. “You’re out of school. You’ll never see him again.”

“Well, okay,” Kyle said, and he sat down to write the will that would change his life. To one comrade, he left “some of my blazing speed”; to another, “some of my smarts I don’t use”; and to a third, a can of Skoal. And just as his daddy told him, Kyle wrote, “To Coach Hooks, I leave a $40,000 debt. I figure you cost me that much with your 37 season.”

Parents going off the deep end, and ruining a kid’s childhood, here.

McSweeney’s Monday

The following is a beach house listing on CraigsList:

$1,000 wk/8BR — Come enjoy beautiful East Hampton this summer! Awesome beach house just steps from ocean, with fabulous views throughout. New Weber grill. Plenty of rooms to sob in. Totally did not just rent this and hope I could find seven other people to spend the summer with me. Tennis nearby.

Interested renters inquire here.

On Board #73

Read, then send.

August 4, 6:36 p.m.
B Train – 42nd Street to 96th Street

Few subway-related struggles seem worse than dealing with a stroller, a friend recently noted. True, I thought, except for handling a child just large enough to make a stroller unreasonable. Here we have a mother and  a stroller. The stroller holds two children, but she pays them no attention, with good reason: her focus is on another child, around six, busily applying a black marker to a subway pole. Mom snatches the marker and gives a lecture in Spanish. Roughly translated:

Mom: Stop that. You need to draw on your paper.

Girl: [Throws yellow paper to the floor. One side is covered in lines and shapes, the other with an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant.] No! No! No!

Mom has had a long day: brow furrowed, eyes locked on points unknown around the car, mouth forming an unwavering horizontal line. She holds a red mesh shopping bag next to her with a baby’s bottle, roll of toilet paper and cell phone sticking out of the top. She checks the phone, quickly.

The girl leans into her mother’s arm.

“Ewwww,” she spouts.

“That’s what perfume smells like,” Mom answers, in English, without a hint of sheepishness.

There is a second stroller in the car that might alleviate some of the crying if it weren’t tucked behind the two children, out of view. A man in a black polo and jeans holds a yellow cage that looks like a see-through rolling suitcase. Inside is a Yorkshire terrier that keeps still, though its open eyes betray that it’s awake. The man folds the extended handle and picks up the cage as he exits the car, the three children never the wiser.

The girl has moved from graffiti to gymnastics. She lays on her back, her head resting awkwardly at a 45 degree angle on her mother’s lap. She sticks her legs straight up, then spreads them like a reverse jumping jack. As a final flourish, she wraps her knees around the horizontal bar and pulls her torso up into a human arch.

“Look, I spit in the train,” the girl says as she, sure enough, spits in the train.

“Don’t do that,” her mother finally snaps, giving her a mild slap on the wrist. “That’s disgusting.”

The girl turns to face an ad for Dallas BBQ. Though she does not comment on the leathery texture of it’s brisket, she does begin reciting the letters she recognizes in the poster, in no particular order.

“That’s not the right order,” Mom says, in her best teaching voice.

The girl stops and recites the alphabet from a to t, then hums an indistinguishable tune. She’s too busy for u, v, w, x, y, and z.