Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: We’re buying Greenland?, Iowa food diaries, and something fishy about Don Junior. Also, show of hands: who wants to see the cover of my book? Good news: it’s this week’s Random Thing on the Internet at the end of this email!
Early this week, I crashed a nursing school graduation ceremony. Just another day in my high profile, all-access, celebrity life! My sister-in-law completed an accelerated RN program this month, a grueling year-and-a-half-long process that required an immense amount of work and study on her part and surely took a toll on her and her husband, my youngest brother. So, needless to say, we’re all very proud of her and I’m personally excited that she gets nights and weekends back so she can catch up on The Bachelor and Big Brother, et cetera. Kids, never let your schooling get in the way of your pop culture literacy.
I love graduations. It’s a little bit theater, a little bit church, a little bit Midsommar-style cult ceremony all performed by academic administrators. Every graduation is objectively very boring and also very emotional. OMG and then when people have to walk across the stage and perform the complicated choreography of taking a piece of paper, shaking a hand, perhaps a hug, posing for a picture, and immediately leaving, all while their relatives scream like they’re being attacked?! I LIVE FOR THIS! James Cameron could not direct a more complicated scene.
My mother got her doctorate in the late nineties (while teaching school and raising three kids with her husband and taking care of her aging parents!) (Every time I think about this I am gobsmacked. My parents are in good health, thankfully, and I have a day job that doesn’t require me to wrangle 30 kids every day and I have zero kids in my own house and I still find life untenable! I can’t even return emails and my mother was out there achieving the highest level of education possible?! What a flex! HOW? HOW DID SHE DO IT?!) Anyway, one of the things I remember most fondly about her graduation was how the administrator running the ceremony—this was at Morgan State University—was very stern about people calling things out when their relatives walked across the stage. He was like “We will throw you out if you make noise!” It was wild! Also, babe, this is an HBCU, if your relative gets a degree, doing anything less than the scream-shouting the entirety of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is considered disrespectful. This is a justice issue. This dude really got up there like the dad on Footloose and tried to tell a room full of happy, educated black people to simmer down. George Washington Carver didn’t figure out how to make butter out of a peanut for me to hide my light under a bushel, my brother. I’ll tell you that!
So! My sister-in-law’s graduation. I knew the time (6 pm) and the general location (Howard Community College) and… that’s it. I realized that that was all I knew upon getting into my car at 5:30pm. This information came via one of the many separate family group threads that my mother presides over like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. They are all slightly different, with different purposes and different populations. Most of them, however, are literally just “About to take off; turning off my phone.” “Just landed.” “Lost our luggage :-( .” Literally so many group texts about plane rides.
When I got the text about the time and place of the graduation, I’d locked that information away in my head and asked no further questions. And this was, perhaps, my first mistake. So, I drive out to Howard Community College and because it’s rush hour it takes an hour so I’m already late, which is stressful to me. I really try, in my life, to show up for the things and the people that are important to me but I find that’s very hard sometimes, either from a logistical standpoint or a too little, too late standpoint or the standpoint of not seeing how important small gestures are and missing my window. It’s something that I think about constantly, fearing my failure to show up enough will become my life’s biggest regret. So, you know, happy thoughts. I considered turning around and going home, texting my apologies, but I knew that wouldn’t be the same. I said I’d show up; I didn’t say I wouldn’t be late. Put that on my tombstone.
I arrived on campus and realized that there was no signage about where this event was taking place. I went to the college’s website but they had no information. So, as a journalist and professional researcher, I had exhausted all of my tools of investigation: looking around and googling. “I really should have asked more questions,” I said to myself. Put that on my tombstone. Then I saw a slow trickle of people in various levels of formal dress—from casual to business casual to “church”—heading toward the performing arts center. Bingo! You can always tell people going to a graduation because everyone is dressed like they were invited to a different event. Like, all the graduates look exactly alike but their relatives are like “We didn’t know if attire was ‘cocktail hour on a singles cruise’ or ‘jury duty’ or what?” I mean, it’s summer time and you’re just sitting and maybe going out to dinner but also there will be pictures. It’s a real scandal. Someone should make a graduation spectator lookbook.
So, I go into the performing arts center and I follow the crowd into the vestibule of the auditorium and I see one person handing out programs and another person taking tickets. TICKETS. “I really should have asked more questions,” I thought to myself. I definitely did not have a ticket and this didn’t look like the kind of place I could ask for a press pass. I ducked back out into the lobby and looked for another way in. “I’m going to have to sneak into this graduation,” I said to myself. I thought of my old friend Damar who I always run into at Beyoncé concerts. Every time, she boasts to me about how she snuck in. She then always disappears and you see her 20 minutes later, like, actually on stage with Beyoncé. Every time. I was like “Okay, I’m going to have to be Damar and this nursing school graduation ceremony is going to be my Beyoncé concert.” I was trying locked doors, looking for an A/V cart I could climb into and wheel myself in. I thought about dressing as a nurse.
Actual hijinks! And I’m doing all of this in fancy jeans that are maybe too tight for a family function and a Banana Republic polo so I looked like a gay cat burglar on casual Friday. A lot was happening.
Let me tell you, Howard Community College keeps their events locked up tight. That place was Fort Knox. Could not get in. Time for plan B: I saw a family of black people coming in the door and I just sort of pulled in close to them, in the back and on the far side away from the ticket taker, like I was some shy sibling who doesn’t look like anybody else. I was so close to them. One of the guys turned around and looked at me askance and I was like “It’s me! Cousin Eric! From the internet!” I started doing the hand movements that Celie and Nettie from The Color Purple. They were not convinced. They passed into the auditorium; I remained. “Nothing but death can separate us!” I called after them.
Plan C: I just walked up to the ticket taker and extended my hand like she was handing me a ticket. Reverse psychology! She looked at me; I looked at her. This went on for a long time. Finally I broke. I am a bad criminal. Final plan: play dumb at a graduation. “Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm,” I said, squinting and smiling, “is a ticketed event?”
The ticket taker was already over me. “Who are you here for?” I thought about lying so my sister-in-law wouldn’t get in trouble which is, of all the things I’d done, clearly the dumbest. I don’t anybody else’s name in this nursing program. What was I going to do? Make up a name? “Yes, I am here to see my sister-in-law. Her name? Lucy Magillicutty. No, I mean, her name is Mister Inlaw. Wait. No. Perhaps you have heard of my sister-in-law. Her name? Nurse Florence Nightingale. Esquire.”
Finally, I gave my sister-in-law’s actual name and then held up the Hallmark card I’d brought with her name on it like it was some kind of legal document. “This is a piece of cardstock with a Bible verse on it. It contains some money, also. And, as you can see, it has the first name of a person I am related to by marriage. What other proof do you need? This could get me through customs, honey.”
The ticket taker deliberated for a second and then sighed, “Just go in and try to find a seat.” I rushed past and found my family; the ceremony hadn’t started yet, fortunately. My mother was actually in the middle of texting me to tell me that there wasn’t a ticket available for me, which is both timely and helpful. “How’d you get in?” my father asked. I checked behind me for security guards pursuing me and, seeing none, replied “This is my Beyoncé concert; I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Here’s this week’s open thread! Let’s talk about graduation hijinks! Or book covers! Or Normani!
The thing I like the most about our current way of running elections is that when someone decides they want to be president, we say “Okay, sounds good. Just, if you please, before we vote for you, you have to go to a squarish state in the middle and walk around in the heat eating roughly 9,000 calories of state fair food.” And the candidates just do it!
Today The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Donald Trump, inexplicably the President of the United States, has repeatedly asked aides about the possibility of buying ::checks notes:: Greenland. Like, the whole thing. Just going to Denmark and throwing a bag of gold at the Queen's feet and then speeding off. This move is not without precedent in American history, of course. Former Secretary of State William Seward expressed interest in buying Greenland in 1867, which is also the same year that all of Donald Trump's opinions on race and gender are sourced from.
You kids want memes? Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that! During a town hall at New Hampshire's scenic Toad Hill Farm, CNN political correspondent MJ Lee captured the senator literally running for president. In the video, we see Warren running through a field, Maria Von Trapp-style, en route to de facto stage for the event and from it a thousand memes suddenly sprang to life.
Frankly, no disrespect to literally my entire life, but I am not sure how I survived before this video. You might say that's hyperbole, but I have a doctor's note that says the same thing. My doctor was like, "In retrospect, you were legally dead until Normani did a split in the rain. So, congratulations." Thank you to my doctor: Fiona Shaw from Fleabag! And thank you to Normani for reanimating my corpse!
Every day I get on actual search engine site Chum Hum from my desk at Reddick, Boseman, & Lockhart, and I type in the query "Don Junior new aquatic pictures, please." And Don Junior's Insta gets me, hook, line, and sinker.
Don Junior's hobbies include: blurry gym selfies, memes about his dad, and putting on a scuba suit and spear-fishing some bass like he's a tertiary villain in Aquaman 2: Internet Pest.
I got to be on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast For the Love this week and it was a dream! I loved our conversation; I love Jen and Jen’s work; and I love podcasts! Do you have a podcast? I will be on it! In the meantime, check out For the Love!
Random Thing on the Internet
We have a cover for Here for It, or How to Save Your Soul in America!!!! And I love it SO MUCH!!! This book is getting so close to being a real thing. Every time I see the cover I want to scream like I’m in the audience at a graduation “THAT’S MY BOOK BABY!” I will tell you all of the things I love about it some other time, but in the interim, just look at it! Just look! Designer Rachel Ake did the damn thing and I’m so thrilled.
Cousin Eric! From the internet!