Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: double the Jake Gyllenhaal! Our yearly ode to the greatest president, Thomas J. Whitmore, plus Marianne versus Vogue.
Why am I always surprised by how much fun carnival games are? Every time I play a skeeball or a thing where you shoot water into a clown's face like some sort of IT-hating sadist, I am legit shocked. As if all the millions of people who spend summer evenings roaming fairgrounds and carnivals that spring up over night in parking lots are just fooling themselves and I, an adult who cannot stop watching the HBO series Years and Years even though it gives me so much anxiety and seems to have been specifically created to make me deeply unhappy, am the only one who can truly understand leisure activities.
I was never a carnival person growing up. As I wrote last year this time, we were a state fair family but I am a very big fraidy cat and also a brochure nerd and so I never did the rides, choosing instead to go to the exhibition hall and collect pamphlets about bath fitters. I was a delight. There weren't a lot of other carnival goings-on in Baltimore city unless you counted the magical night carnival that appeared at Edgar Allen Poe's grave every time someone rang a bell on a full moon. But that was so expensive and after going once, I was like, "Nevermore."
Despite my dodgy history of having a good time whilst lit dramatically by flashing arcade games, I ended up in a place that had the temerity to call itself Funland on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk this week. It happened as these things often happen: we had been at the beach for four days and we were bored. I spend most of my time on vacation trying to subdue all of my Leslie Knope energy so that my friends do not cancel me, but I am truly happiest when there's a loose creative schedule of optional mandatory fun events and a list of times we will be eating and things that will be eating at those times we will be eating said things. I don't need big huge fun events all the time either. I'm definitely okay with a schedule that reads: "Evening: watch Parks and Rec episodes followed by 30 of your favorite Tony Awards clips then a cocktail out somewhere. Food: shrimp cocktails, hot dogs, hamburgers, deviled eggs, crab dip." See? I am easy! I just need everyone to be clearly communicating, totally on-board, enthusiastic, and decisive! VERY RELAXING. We are having fun here people; let's put our heads in the game like Megan Rapinoe!
Anyway, we'd gone hard the first couple of days and there are only two gay bars in Rehoboth and we found ourselves sort of adrift. The night before we'd gone down to see the fireworks and, on the way back, we'd passed the back entrance of Funland. It's a big garage door that opens into a brightly colored carnival wonderland and I stared at it like I was peering into an enchanted wardrobe. You have to understand: 1) I am never on the boardwalk; that is the place for roaming teenagers and families who are having their own versions of mandatory fun. I sit on the beach and take selfies and talk to every single person reading Less by Andrew Sean Greer. 2) When you walk by Funland on the boardwalk, it looks like a regular storefront--some skeeball games, the claw machine, etc. It gives no hint that about 20 feet back the ceiling suddenly gives way and haunted houses and pirate coasters spring up out of the ground like beanstalks. I was entranced!
So, when we all asked each other "So... what are we going to do tonight?" for the fifth time, I resolutely announced, "I don't know about you bishes, but I'm going to Funland! FOR FUN." and immediately started powerwalking down the street. I didn't know what to expect (some land?) but it was something to do. I got some money out of an ATM and immediately deposited a $20 in a change machine, thinking for some reason that it would reply "Would you like that in 5s and 10s?" like some sort of helpful robot. Instead it spat quarters at me for roughly 90 seconds. And that's when everything changed.
I made a joke about everyone's laundry being on me this week, but the truth is, striding through a carnival with a pocket heavy with quarters I realized that this world belonged to me now. Every time I saw an arcade game I wanted to play, I played it! No hesitation, no thoughts about whether it would be worth it, no time to read the instructions. Quarters in, fun out. The first game I played, I had to drop a ball in a hole of some sort and I hit the jackpot on the first try. Quarter in, 250 tickets out. I WAS THE MASTER OF THIS CARNIVAL.
I realized that I had never had the experience of being an independently wealthy child in an arcade setting. Every childhood fun time that costs money is also a tiny experience of poverty, I think, because your parents tell you how much you have to spend or give you a set amount and immediately you start wheeling and dealing in your head, trying to make ends meet. Popcorn or the tilt-a-whirl? You cannot do both. Childhood budgeting is honestly more stressful than some of my adult budgeting. You do not know true stress until you are trying to stretch you birthday money to cover all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures you want and, no matter how you slice it, the numbers don't add up.
But with $20 worth of quarters and literally no agenda, I was a KING. I was a Medici! I was a character on Succession. I paused my playing briefly to ride the Haunted Mansion ride with my friend and soul twin Chris Newcomer. We both decided without even having to consult each other that we would pose for the "surprise" photo the entire ride. I cannot describe the ride to you because I was too busy being professionally committed to a bit. The photo was $7. Worth every penny!
Funland has ticket counter machine where you feed your tickets in and they give you a stub with the total. As I was feeding mine in, it got jammed and I had to call an attendant over. Suddenly, I was 16 years old again, working at Chuck E. Cheese where I was the ticket machine attendant and some independently wealthy child person summoned me over to free their winnings. I peered inside the machine as the attendant fixed it and recognized all the parts and all his motions, but I was a different person now. I had millions of dollars in quarters in my pocket. My old life was gone.
In the end, I gave all my stubs to David and let him choose the prize. I felt no stuffed dolphin could compare to the feeling of roaming a fair grounds, rich in quarters, committed to bits, and trying my hand at every random game that crossed my path. What was my prize? I won Funland. I own it now. I am Mr. Land.
(That said, when David got stuck deciding what he wanted, Leslie Knope popped back into action and I quickly decided he should get 8 stuffed unicorn horns headbands so that every member of our house could wear them out for another evening of mandatory fun. One cannot linger in the wealthy idyll of Funland forever; one must return to the hard but rewarding work of harassing one's dearest friends into enjoying themselves on a schedule. VERY RELAXING.)
Jake Gyllenhaal has been performing a masterclass in press tour shenanigans while promoting the new film Spider-man: I No Longer Know What the Plots of These Marvel Movies Are, I Just Show Up Regularly Like I'm a Blue Apron Subscription. The actor, who constantly hints at deep reserves of chaotic energy, has opened up the floodgates as he makes the rounds with co-star Tom Holland. While an interview with Jake is never going to be your run-of-the-mill Q&A, there's something different happening here. Jake Gyllenhaal is Jennifer Lawrence-ing and it's glorious. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Marianne: Girlfriend, this is Marianne Williamson. From Earth? Put me through to Anna Wintour, please.
Receptionist: Can you tell me what the nature of your call is?
Marianne: Girlfriend, my call has a nature, an ecosystem, a moon that controls its tides, a dragon sitting in the center of it giving its power.
Receptionist: Oh! That Marianne Williamson.
Marianne: Girlfriend, you are correct. I am calling to follow up on the recent Vogue article on female candidates running for president. As you may be aware, I was not included in the article, perhaps because I am not a lawmaker, or perhaps you are threatened by my heart power. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Last week, Ivanka Trump attended the G20 Summit in Osaka with her father's delegation and gave a speech on women's empowerment as part of this administration's on-going commitment to words that mean nothing to them. From the looks of the photos that have emerged from the meeting of world leaders (and, apparently, also their preferred daughters???) Ivanka had the time of her life, which is odd because she is definitely not a world leader and also G20 doesn't exactly sound like a blast. Nonetheless, there are dozens of photos of the First Daughter straight up cackling in dignitaries' faces like she's a high school junior visiting her older sibling at college and trying to make friends at a frat party no one invited her to. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
From the vault...
Can't let the 4th go by without this salute to our greatest president!
We need to have a national conversation about the egregious level of disrespect we've given to the legacy of our greatest president, Thomas J. Whitmore. A Gulf War veteran who was elected in 1992, Whitmore (also known as Bill Pullman) led the world to victory over an invading race of space aliens in 1996. And yet I'll bet you haven't thought about him once today. Shame. Shame!
Where would we be as a country, nay, as a world if it weren't for the greatest speech that has ever been given outside of any award show attended by Viola Davis? [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
A little housekeeping...
I am thinking about switching this newsletter to Substack. I don't think you would notice a difference, truth be told, and it would stay free obviously. But Substack does have a comments feature and it occurs to me that sometimes we may want to keep chatting whatever lunacy I put in the email. Or maybe you want to chat with other people who are reading the same thing you are like I do when I see people reading Less. I don't know. It would be totally optional mandatory fun. So. I think I'll do it next week; you won't have to resubscribe or anything. But if you have any strong opinions yay or nay, send me an email!
Let's hang out!
Thursday July 11 - Hosting The Moth at The Miracle Theater in DC, 7:30 pm
Also on Thursday, before The Moth, I'm stopping in to see Zack Smedley talk about his new book Deposing Nathan at East City Bookshop. I'll have to leave early but maybe we'll see each other there!
Friday July 12 - I'm finally going to get to see A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson in NYC. Will you be there? Holla at me!
Monday July 15 - Hosting The Moth at City Winery DC, 7:30 pm
Wednesday July 17 - I'm seeing Robyn in Philly. Now I'm just bragging, I think.
Random Thing from the Internet
This 17 second deleted scene from Jean-Ralphio's fake funeral on Parks and Rec makes me delighted every single time I watch it.