Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
As I write this, billionaire Richard Branson is taking off into "space" on a ship painted with the word VIRGIN on a quixotic mission to spread the gospel of abstinence to extraterrestrial beings.
He presses his face into the window as the ship hurtles into the darkness. "Wait until marriage," he screams into the vacuum. "Be like the Sun and Moon!" he shouts, under the mistaken belief that the Sun and Moon are married to each other and did not have any partners before they met (that is not what the space scientists mean by the Big Bang). Look, I don't know a thing about "space" and I barely believe it exists and I doubt this Branson thing is even happening (it's a stunt pulled by the lame stream media meant to distract us from the photos of Zendaya and Tom Holland kissing) however even I know that the Sun and the Moon are not married. They are work friends. They aren't even work spouses. The Sun doesn't have a work spouse because it has its own office and it works flex hours so it can get home early in the winter. The Sun is kind of standoffish at work, to be honest. The Moon's work spouse is the North Star. This is just science!
I just don't know about any of this. "What is Richard Branson doing up there!" I shout into my window, on the ground where humans and dinosaurs and mermaids who have made predatory bargains are meant to be.
Pictured: me high-key pissed about some space tomfoolery up in the sky:
(I'm wearing a wig.)
Look, I don't mean to offend you if you are interested in "space" tourism. Regular people who want to go to Pluto or Knottsberry Farm or whatever are fine with me. You want to be like Mrs. Maisel and summer in the Catskills? Baby, let me hitch a ride; I've packed my espadrilles and I'm ready for a fresh squeezed tomato juice. It you're a non-billionaire just trying to walk through a National Park and point at a geyser and say "Wow," I'm not trying to block your blessing. You're never going to catch me keeping you from being Great (lake). But if you're a billionaire going up to space on the Lord's Day for funsies? Woe betide! WOE. BE. TIDE. (I believe there's only one billionaire who reads this newsletter, so if that's you, close your ears. And stay out of space!)
What business you got in "space", Richard Branson?! You're just going to go see something majestic? Okay but have you been to Dollywood?!
Don't make no sense! It's been said by far more erudite people than me but "space" is kind of gross. Have you logged on to Trip Advisor, Richard Branson? Have you read the Google reviews of "space"? A damn mess! No free continental breakfast in space, baby! The public transportation schedule is sporadic. Look, I get it. The heavens seem quite breathtaking and I would love to see Earth from afar (mostly because it would mean I am not on Earth. Have you read the Trip Advisor reviews for this place? Yikes!) Sure, I'd love to see a star in person; that's why I waited at the stage door after seeing Hello, Dolly Exclamation Point. You don't have to get on a rocket ship attached to a plane, Richard Branson. You just have to figure out how to navigate Times Square (good luck and God bless!)
As someone who normally comes back from vacation more tense than when he left, I'm certainly not interested in taking a Turbulence Tour to the lip of the cosmos, okay? A few days ago I flew into Baltimore during a tropical storm and at one point the plane banked down and to the side more sharply than I would have liked and I was like "CHECK PLEASE. Get me off of this rickety carnival ride!" Flying into Baltimore always feels like you're on the Epcot Center 4-D experience of the Denzel Washington Flight. Why would Epcot Center make a 4-D experience of this? And why am I going there on vacation, Richard Branson?!
(Flight is actually a very good movie and I would probably watch it on a plane. Or at Epcot Center. I'm just putting this here in case Denzel Washington reads this and thinks I have untoward feelings about his oeuvre. I do not. I cannot, however, watch the Denzel Washington movie Glory on a plane because I can't be mad around all these white people in a confined space. This is just science!)
I have only met one astronaut in my life (flex!) and I didn't ask him how choppy the space seas were when he was taking off but I have seen Contact so I'm basically an expert. (Carl Sagan was really wilding with that one!) And we all read the Entertainment Weekly coverage of the filming of the movie Apollo 13 in 1994 where they breathlessly reported on how Ron Howard put Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton in an airplane that zoomed straight up in the air and then dove sharply back down, creating a few seconds of actual zero gravity and how they had to do it all day to get the floating shots and how everybody threw up all the time because obviously. Tom Hanks getting nauseous on a plane for an Oscar nomination. Make it make sense!
You still in space, Richard Branson?! For why? No offense to the airline industry but we haven't really perfected flight yet, so let's start there. (Also, no offense, but I don't want these little sad COVID snacks on planes. On the way out to Portland they really gave us Ziploc bags with the tiniest little communion thimble of water, a cookie, and two packets of alcohol wipes like we were at a Little League game and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets was in charge of the snacks that week. Obviously, I don't fault the flight attendants for this. But these struggle snacks just make me sad.)
(What I DO have a small note about, however, is that one of the flight attendants was wearing a mask with a gigantic illustrated grin on it that was much bigger than her actual grin and it was so deeply terrifying that I had to pretend I was asleep every time she walked by shouting "Trash!" at me. I think I get the reason for the mask but she legit looked like one of the killers on the movie The Purge and the air marshal would not do anything about it!)
Like this! The mask looked like this! HOW COME, SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG?!
We got enough issues to deal with here on the Earth, Richard Branson! Solve world hunger, get a vaccine to every country, give everyone healthcare, and buy that flight attendant a new mask, Richard Branson! You so bored, I got a list for you!
Oh! And while you're at it, Richard Branson, make it less confusing to get to the airport in every city. Why are the roads to every major airport laid out like the city planners were trying to confuse marauding hoards? Like, we gotta keep the location of this airport a secret in case the Russians invade and then try to make a red eye flight to San Juan?
In the past I've taken Lyfts to the airport or David will drive us. The few times I've driven myself, I've been alone and so I never really clocked how confusing it can be. But on Monday, I had an audience. One of my younger brothers flew into town for my father's surprise retirement party and and had to fly back in the afternoon because he just got a very big promotion and was due back at work. I was also heading to the airport, so I said we should go together after the party. This is where the trouble started.
I was so happy to see him and to be with family after so long and I'm so so so proud of my father, who worked at the job he retired from for 24 years and worked so many jobs, often at the same time, for years before that to help give me and my brothers the lives my parents dreamed for us. He comes by it honest--his father, a pastor, one year had 20-some W-9s, the result of going where the work was at a time when there wasn't much work. Work is a complicated subject for non-billionaires. I sometimes think that my understanding of what I'm supposed to be doing, how hard I'm supposed to be hustling, and how tense I'm supposed to be when I get back from vacation is skewed. And while that's true I also know that I, like my father and my grandfathers, and my mother and my grandmothers, am doing what I need to do to put a little good into this world and pull a little good out while I'm here on Earth. AND NOT IN SPACE.
Anyway, my family was invited to the the party thrown by my father's incredible coworker Bennice and I was so grateful to go and to say thank you and to eat a waffle and to see how much people appreciated my dad's mentorship and guidance and vision. Your loved ones are different people at work (alas, I work from home and from "the internet" so everyone who loves me is just like "Oh, wow, you're really just like this... okay.") I counted it a privilege to get a little glimpse of another way my father is extraordinary. And I was so happy to see my family, including one brother who I hadn't seen in person in two years. I'm so exceedingly proud of my brothers and always impressed by them and the ways that they've made lives for themselves. We're such different people and I find myself really wanting to impress them, get them to like me, think I'm cool, which can be complicated because they're family and your family knows all of your early drafts and I, like space, am a damn mess.
My brothers are very funny and very smart and around them I become Mrs. Peacock in Clue, just babbling and careening conversationally. When my middle brother got in my car I realized I've never driven him anywhere because I got my license like 5 years ago. While I am a good driver and fully an adult, I guess I decided to revert back to the early drafts.
I feel like I know, in my bones, how to get from downtown Baltimore to the airport. And yet, as I babbled about work and life decisions and 401ks and whatever random man stuff seemed important to bring up, I missed every single turn on the way to the airport. Turning the wrong way down one-way cobblestones streets in Fells Point like I'm a British soldier trying to find a coffee shop with good wifi during the war of 1812. I had the directions announcing from my phone but I couldn't get them to work on my stereo (my brother knows how to work everything but I was like "No! It's fine!") and so my phone was just sitting in the cup holder, SIRI shouting at me "Boy, what is you doing?!"
After literally my 6th missed turn I turned to my brother and said "I'm not a crazy driver!" He looked at me like, Well if you have to say it...
I missed so many turns that I even missed the turn off for the parking garage and ended up in the airport departures speedway (almost turning into some random mechanical lot behind a chainlink fence with a guard dog). We had to drive through the entire airport and then out the other side and back out on to the highway. I was so embarrassed I was praying for the Rapture. Beam me up to space with Richard Branson, Jesus. I can't do this anymore!
We were talking about work at that point (when I should have been sitting quietly and relearning how to change lanes at an appropriate time) and he was talking about his career and pension and I was talking about my career which always feels a little pretend. "Maybe I'll make a TV show! I'm writing another book! Do you think The Moth: Mars is hiring??" As we pulled into the garage and I missed yet another turn, my brother turned to me and said "Well, one thing is for sure. You have no business being an Uber driver."
And the thing that separates me from billionaires is that I parked my car (askew) and said "You know what? You're right." Let that be a lesson to you, Richard Branson. Up there visiting the moon like it's Bring Your Billionaire to Work Day at the Space Office. For what?!
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Random Thing on the Internet
Okay, this is cute. I will admit.
You so bored, I got a list for you!,