Baskets!: Eric Reads the Week, #78

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

This week: Making it cute with Jonathan Van Ness, goal-winning World Cup facial hair, and I regret to inform you that the Trumps have gone full villain.

This is the saga of the basket. Picture it: Baltimore, 2003. I'm waiting tables at the Hard Rock Cafe, living in my parents basement, deeply in debt to Discover card because I had a small-to-medium binge-shopping-at-the-Gap problem freshman year of college. Like many early-20-somethings I had no idea what I was doing and was, frankly, super sad about it. I thought that I was super poor, also, and in a way I was, but I look back at those rent-free time where some days I'd walk home with $20 and some days I'd walk home with $400 and am amazed at my lack of vision. Yeah, I couldn't afford my own apartment and I didn't really have a plan for this Discover card business, but honey, pay a bill. Start an IRA. Honey. HONEY. Anyway, whatever, it's in the past and money is a construct. The point is, money was somehow always tighter than tight. CONSTRICTED. My bank account was Botoxed on the regular.

Part of this, I must admit, is because I enjoyed going out with my coworkers for happy hour on the regular. When drinks are two-or-one it seems like a great financial decision, and that idea only intensifies as the twos multiply. Sloppy Suze Orman over here often liked to leave happy hour and then go shopping at the stores on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Looking for deals. Always planning.

And that's how I got the picnic basket. I had visited it at Harry & David for weeks. I loved this picnic basket. It was so chic and so comprehensive. It wasn't just for sitting on a blanket and eating a sandwich. It was for venturing into the countryside with your friends and laughing about your travels. This basket lived a better life than I did. It spoke to a kind of lifestyle that I desperately wanted and couldn't figure out how to get. Even now, I struggle to describe what I thought that life was. I think it was something about the confluence of leisure and extraness. There's a level of high living that, frankly, is impractical.

This basket had everything you needed for a full French lunch, which is probably not an official thing but in my mind was cheese and wine and conversations about the party at the embassy and perhaps cornish game hens and some pickled vegetables. And a cheesecake. So much! But this basket could deliver that. This basket could deliver me from my job selling burgers to tourists and from my basement apartment in a neighborhood where they filmed The Wire. This basket was a spaceship, it was a time machine, it was a magic lamp. It was also $80.

$80 is a lot of money. Especially for something that could be easily replaced by a couple of tote bags. But I decided that I didn't want to live that tote bag life (at this point I didn't own any tote bags, so I didn't realize that most tote bags you get come from subscribing to The New Yorker or donating to NPR, and therefore are actually part and parcel of that picnic basket life.) I visited that basket for a month, tipsily making conversation with the bored Harry & David sales associate, running my hands along the basket's surface, wishing for a life I couldn't see or even describe but nonetheless wanted. And one evening, after apparently too many two-for-ones, I pulled a stack of bills I'd just earned out of my pocket and handed them all to the sales associate, who must be commended for playing the long game here.

It was mine. The matching plates, the cheese board, the insulated innards, that basket life! I lugged it home on the bus and that was when I first realized a small flaw in my plan: I had no car and, even empty, this bag was the most cumbersome thing I'd ever encountered. I didn't have a license nor did I have easy access to a park. I had terrible taste in assorted cheeses and all my friends worked at Hard Rock Cafe. That basket life, suddenly, maddeningly, revealed itself to be less about the basket than the life.

I look back at this period and wish I could help that 22-year-old to put together a plan. I've learned that a lot of the things you want in life may look easy and effortless when you see them in someone else's instagram or in a display at Harry & David, but that everything takes planning. And planning is hoping with words, with graphs, with numbers, with spreadsheets. That 22-year-old didn't know how to hope with spreadsheets. That basket was hoping with a cash, and that's something but it's not always enough.

That basket has sat in a closet in four different apartments for the last 15 years. It has crossed state lines twice. I have never used it. It is my albatross, a mocking reminder of that boy I used to be and the things he had no idea how to manifest.

I was cleaning out our closets this week because it is Pride month and I am annoyingly literal. The albatross stared at me from underneath a collection of suits, between a box of Christmas ornaments and Wilton decorating supplies from my cupcake phase. It's color has faded, strange since its never seen the sun. There was a little dust on it it. It looked tired on the outside, even though its pristine insides remained gleaming reminders of what I once wanted. It's time to go, I thought. But I couldn't bring myself to just toss it; it felt like abandoning a dream and a part of myself. So, I did what anyone does when anyone has an existential question about the hopeful youth they used to be: I asked the internet.

The damn internet told me that I have to keep the basket! After 15 years! It cannot do a Basket Brexit. A Braxit! It must remain! This is a shocking, but democracy is cumbersome and annoying, just like this basket. Honestly, I blame Cambridge Analytica for this.

I'm going to the beach with some friends the week of the fourth. This is our second year renting a house and lounging around Rehoboth. Last year, we drank wine and ate assorted cheeses. We danced until the wee small hours and my friend Scott's drag career was born in the backyard under a floodlight. I messaged the boys after the vote and asked them what they thought I should do about the basket (like a certain president, I refuse to accept the results of a democratic process, even if it benefits me). My friend Mitchell replied, "You should ABSOLUTELY bring this. We will use it every day. And we'll be the ENVY of Poodle Beach." And suddenly that tipsy dream from the Harry & David store perked up and transformed and put on a wig and developed a strong opinion about Carly Rae Jepsen.

On that same email chain, my friend Donald had sent out a spreadsheet organizing who would bring what in terms of booze and food. I signed David and I up for a couple of bottles, then I pulled the picnic basket out of the closet and started to pack the bottles inside it. Hope, here we come.

P.S. My friend Jarrod will be angry with me if I don't mention that he was also on this email chain. He was. He is a great person and a wonderful friend and I like him very much. He fills my baskets with joy.

Okay! Articles! This week, I was a total basket case. Like, psychologically this week took me all the way apart. But it did not defeat me. I wrote some very different things this week so I've divided them into three baskets, feel free to pick and choose based on what you're feeling like you want. There's Regular Old Thirst! featuring the World Cup and Prince Harry, there's Eric Reads the Trumps to Filth, and then there's two Serious Commentaries (on Rachel Maddow and on detention cages) that I think are among my best work but will not make you lol. As Dorian Cory, says Reading Comes First:

Eric Reads the Trumps to Filth

Congratulations to the Trumps: You Played Yourselves

You never want to go full villain. Now, with the first lady wearing aggressive message attire like a rebellious teenager in possession of a Hot Topic gift card, all nuance is gone. And with it, any part of the narrative that doesn't paint these two as willfully and gleefully antagonistic to the United States of America. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Regular Old Thirst (Plus JvN!)

Prince Harry in a Top Hat Looks Like the Hot Young Mr. Monopoly of My Dreams

Wow. If you had told me yesterday that I would ever support something—anything—that covered Prince Harry's beautiful ginger tresses I would have called you a scurrilous liar and given you a job on Fox News. But yesterday is but a distant, youthful memory and I am a changed person because I have now beheld his Royal Highness in a top hat and my whole life is millinery thirst. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Jonathan Van Ness Just Wants to Make It Cute

Since his show's surprisingly well-received premiere last year, Van Ness has seen his profile sky-rocket: He's now a paragon of self-help, one-fifth of a quintet of lifestyle gurus who provide makeovers and life-coaching. Thanks to his camera-ready catchphrases, bon mots, and easy, breezy authenticity, he's become a tastemaker almost overnight. And no, that infectious charisma is not manufactured. "Whenever anyone says I've taught them things by me being myself, I'm always like, Really? I just thought that was like, Wednesday for me. I was just wearing a kilt and a sleeveless top in a Rotary Club, it wasn't that big of a deal." [READ THE FULL INTERVIEW]

A Ranking of the Best World Cup Facial Hair Journeys

The World Cup is in full swing, which you know if you live within a 10-mile radius of any bar playing any game at any hour of the day or night. People are hype, and for good reason: there's so many hotties! While we've already cataloged the 65 sexiest soccer snacks, there's a special subset who are really putting in work with their facial hair. These footballer follicles are fine and fabulous and you're going to be an instant fan. Let's look at the top picks (bearing in mind that, should there be a shortage of good barbers in Russia, these rankings might change by the end of the World Cup). [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Serious Commentary

Maddow's Tears and Lewandowski's Mockery Are a Product of The Same America

Maddow and Lewandowski don't represent two sides of America—the compassionate versus the evil—they, together, are the whole. An individual may agree with one and unequivocally reject the other but our individual stances will not and have not turned the tide of the nation. We are not a land of good people pushing back against the darkness; we are land of humans susceptible to the soundbite, to the outrage, to the panic, to the outcry, to the shock of genuine emotion, to the quick hit of relief from small wins, to the vengeful victory, and to the facile narrative of good triumphing over evil. We act as if we are a nation divided along clear lines of what is acceptable and what is not, but if there's anything the Trump administration and his army of ever-more-craven acolytes, henchmen, and spokespeople has shown us is that the line is never clear, if it exists at all. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Welcome to America in 2018: Where Cages are Not Cages Unless We Say They Are

Welcome to America in 2018: where cages are not cages unless we say they are. The action is the result of a "zero tolerance policy" for immigration and a centuries-long American custom of kidnapping and terrorizing children and families to reinforce state-sanctioned oppression. It may seem hyperbolic to draw a line from black and African children wrenched from their parents' grasp and sold into slavery to the 100 years of compulsory education at distant schools Navajo children endured to the internment of 120,000 Japanese people during World War II and end it at the current detainment crisis, but there are children sleeping under silver foil blankets on the floor of an old Walmart; hyperbole could not compete with the atrocity of reality. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Random Thing From the Internet...

I saw Hannah Gadsby's Nanette live on Friday in New York. It's hilarious, searing, expertly crafted, and absolutely essential. A devastating piece of theater. Fortunately, it's on Netflix right now and I implore you to watch it.

Hope, here we come!