In the beginning of Woody Allen’s 1973 film, Sleeper, scientists of the future discuss nutritional attitudes of the past:
YOU MEAN THERE WAS NO DEEP FAT?
NO STEAK OR CREAM PIES OR HOT FUDGE?
THOSE WERE THOUGHT TO BE UNHEALTHY, PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE NOW KNOW TO BE TRUE.
The future is now. “The metabolic effects of certain ingredients make chocolate a good slimming food because it is calorie- neutral, says the U.S. study.” Whoopeeeee
“Tell me what you think it is.”
…I’m totally hoodwinked; it’s not at all what I expected. It’s super-dry and as grippy as a mountain climber on my palate and yet has a luxurious texture, like wearing cashmere over thermals. It’s briny and spicy and leaves me feeling like I’ve been sucking on a peach-pit, but in a good way. As I’m standing there scratching my head over what the heck this is, Nicolson reveals the mystery: It’s a skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, and I’ve never had anything quite like it.
Actually, Danny Tamberelli is 30. Little Pete will always remain a kid growing up in northern New Jersey, just like I was during the nineties. There, from the leafy suburban towns to the highway strip malls, reality and television could hardly be distinguished from one another. Especially when they would seamlessly intersect.
Tamberelli is from the town next-door to mine. Off one of its main roads, there’s a shopping center called Boulder Run—which used to be sort of ratty-looking—with a big general store called Ben Franklin that was filled with useless knick-knacks my mom was never willing to buy for me, and a clothing shop called Kids Stuff where I was forced to try on discount winter jackets while it was still warm. Neither of those shops exists anymore, though. The whole place was recently re-modeled. Now there’s a Starbucks and a Phones 4 U.
One of Boulder Run’s enduring stores is Goldberg’s Bagels, where my dad would sometimes take me on Sunday afternoons. On one of those visits, I was in 6th grade. We ordered, we left. And then I realized that Danny Tamberelli had been behind the counter. I was belatedly star struck, but also somewhat unsurprised, as I had thought it inevitable that a character from life’s Nickelodeon rendition would make an in-person appearance—of the kind wholly unexpected from a television personality.
Pete & Pete was a great show because it was about the surreal adventures that kids like me could stumble into on the way home. And that’s what happened when I saw Little Pete. Who is now 30, and living in Brooklyn, just like everybody else I used to know.
I just saw Friends with Kids and it was so good I want to shout it from the rooftops on the internet because I have no roof. Here is a video with a kid in it.
Yesterday, the Sunday Review explained “The Way We Read Now.”
I’ve been thinking about this too.
Unable to find a seat in the metro one evening, I kept my balance by grabbing onto a pole in front of a pair of occupied seats. Those seats were filled by two guys, one of whom had on his lap a sheet of loose-leaf paper, frayed at the edges from having been ripped out of a notebook. This young man—who looked maybe 18 or so—was writing the second paragraph of a journal entry. It began: “Day #2: today was our first ‘normal’ day.”
My imagination leapt into the terrific mystery of what it had been the second day of, what normalcy felt like on such a day, and why he would keep a journal about the day’s events—not to mention, what happened yesterday? I tried to read on without too conspicuously leaning over his shoulder, as I basked in the thrill of realizing a commuter-snoop’s greatest hope. An un-edited scribble, intended only—as far as I could tell—for private reflection, this was a message that would never be broadcast over the internet or stored in a computer’s memory. The words had leaked out of this young man by way of a pen’s ink, and spilled onto me by pure accident.
A few years ago, e-reading devices caught my attention. They were new. They were flat and shiny and impressively capable. They also had mystique, because a subway-reader’s chosen literary accessory could for the first time be veiled from judgmental glances. In the summer of 2009, Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott was frustrated by this: “What she was reading was hoarded from view, an anonymous block of pixels on a screen, making it impossible to identify its content and to surmise the state of her inner being, erotic proclivities, and intellectual caliber.” The same problem goes for other previously paper-bound words: notes to self, diary entries, shopping lists. The great literature of the transit-bards. The preferred reading material for wandering eyes. But those e-readers were indeed shiny and that’s awfully eye-catching too.
Perhaps the greater threat for Wolcott was that “reading will forfeit the tactile dimension where memories insinuate themselves.” The tactile dimension of paper? Paper was everywhere to me in 2009. I wouldn’t forget it.
Now it is 2012, and Pew released a study finding that nearly a third of Americans own at least one digital reading device. (I am one of them.) I am no longer excited by the novelty of a Kindle on a bus. Alternatively, paper has a renewed allure. Beyond nostalgic attachment to sheets that can be felt between the thumb and the index finger just like James Joyce and William Shakespeare and your mom did, etc., paper is a medium that continues to be used even when others are functionally preferable. This is in part because of that attachment—which of course is not merely sentimental but also embedded into cultural practice—but also because a sheet of paper belongs to you and not us. If my digital doppelgänger is exhausted from tweeting, I can retreat into a notebook (or loose-leafs pulled out of one) and write what I do not post.
Consider that I have a public self and a private self: my public self exists and interacts via social media whereas my private self is much more interesting and “authentic,” untranslatable as a web presence. Metro riders are acutely attuned to the corresponding separation between interiority and exteriority. I am watching you, watching me; your eyes dart away; I don’t know what you’re thinking; I don’t want you to observe that I am watching you watching me; we all withdraw into our iPods. Sartre wrote about how we hold perceptions of one another, and in being observed, see ourselves as objects of perception. In what we see, we recognize what is not visible, which is the interiority of others. “Around this man whom I do not know and who is reading in the subway, the entire world is present,” Sartre wrote. “It is not his body only—as an object in the world—which defines him in his being; it is his identity card, it is the direction of the particular train which he has boarded, it is the ring which he wears on his finger…”
It is not his body only, but now, also his status updates. If Sartre were on the metro with me, he might observe how my head falls like a deflated balloon as I sleepily wait for the train to stop, and I bury my nose into my pink scarf. But this would not expose my subjectivity. On the other hand, if I were to tweet, “I could go for a burrito,” my interiority (one aspect of it, anyway) would be revealed, released onto the web. If only Sartre knew. And to whom am I more visible, leering Sartre or my Twitter followers?
But I don’t want you to know that I want a burrito. I will write it in the margins of The Journalist and The Murder, and in ten years when I pick up the book again I will see this note and feel utterly confused. Then suddenly my future self will remember, as my finger glides over the place where my pen pressed onto the page: one night, when I was younger, I was hungry for a burrito. Meanwhile, on the train, Sartre will have been the only one to see my silly scrawl. He smirks with pleasure.
Some may carry affected romance for Moleskins, but paper certainly seems seductive: zipped up in my bag for my eyes only. And in the privacy of my notebook, I can express myself far less guardedly than I ever would with, say, Tumblr. Which is not the case for everyone. But to use Dos Equis Man parlance: I don’t always use paper, but when I do, I use it intimately. So there, on the page, is a level of interiority, exteriorized, in a manner and in a context wholly unanticipated by Sartre.
The term “Papernet” was coined by web developer-designer Aaron Cope a couple of years before Wolcott wrote his Vanity Fair essay. Cope wrote that “information wants to be used not managed” and “It’s true that paper is no match for, say, molasses or fire but then neither are computers. Paper, on the other hand, can suffer water and power failures; can be folded and sat on; can be thrown; can be copied by humans and machines alike; is about eight million times less irritating at the dinner table.” Paper, when hand-written on, is also singular. Each page is discrete from other sheets of paper (unlike webpages), and my own notebook bears the mark of my being more than most any other media—not mainly because of the content, but because of my penmanship and my coffee stains.
This is Wolcott’s “tactile dimension,” made all the more enticing because it stands apart from the myriad pages and captions and messages on the internet, and elsewhere, by different means and degrees. The tactile dimension continues to shift in relation to others. Its location now feels closer to my very being than ever before.
Wolcott’s space “where memories insinuate themselves” is situated accordingly. And it depends on who is the reader in question. On the subway there is always more than one, eyes upon eyes, and each person sees from a different vantage point while reading the same text. Each person carries her own memories out of the train car.
On a recent morning I found a seat on the metro next to a middle-aged man with brown slacks. In his right hand was a Blackberry; in his left was a packet of printed notes. The first line read “Summary of Invention.” It was underlined. I leaned over, ever so slightly. “The described invention meets standards above need—” he moved his elbow. I shifted my glance. A fascinating stain on the floor. I looked back, and he had flipped to the next page, using his Blackberry as a reading marker.
In turn, I scribbled down the lines at which I had sneaked a peek—in the notes app of my iPhone, where he could not see. I don’t think.
Going to try to use this Tumblr for some actual tumbling. Sometimes internet things start off one way and turn into something else. Like this piece of music by Ernst Reijseger, which begins disturbing and ominous, but opens up to become quite beautiful. If you don’t take to it at first, stick with it for a while, and it just might grow on you. That’s how it was for me, anyway.
-I took two absurd comedians very seriously.