Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: Kanyes we can?
I do a lot of research when I write drama or fiction. I do this firstly because I like to actually be good at what I do but, perhaps more importantly, I do it because I like buying books and saving articles to Evernote. Obsessed with finding an interview online and exclaiming “This is exactly what I need!” and then saving it to a folder called “Exactly What You Need” that has 1,000 other clippings in it. I’m very interested in history although I don’t write history plays. I just like the world to have a sense of depth and it’s very easy to go down a rabbit hole trying to figure out what the interior of one Massachusetts post office looked like in the middle of the 19th century. “Were there… stamp… machines? Were there… doors?”
I’m never quite sure what the right amount of research to do is, mostly because I get caught up in how interesting it is. As I highlight huge swaths of books on my Kindle I’m reminded of one high school classmate who I sat next to in the first week of AP History. On the second day of class, she opened her textbook and I saw that the entire page had been highlighted. Top to bottom. Footnotes. Captions! Page number!! (Okay, perhaps not page number but also… maybe so!) I was like “Sis, what is this?!” She said “I highlighted the important parts and I thought it was all important.” WISE! Anyway, I transferred to regular history at the end of the week (which I' now sort of regret because I feel bad for the version of me who was intimidated by history. Anyway, regularly history was fun, too. We had to write a long research paper and I’d originally planned to write it on Titanic—technically the ship but really just the movie; this was in 1998. But then I got obsessed with the musical Ragtime and, like the good budding homosexual that I am, I decided to write a 40-page research paper on Evelyn Nesbit, the real life vaudeville star who plays a supporting role in the musical. It was so good that my teacher accused me of plagiarizing it. Plagiarizing from who, friend, E.L. Doctorow?! Ah, good times!)
(If I had to do it again, I’d write my history paper on the American hero sound engineer who absolutely BLASTS the volume on Audra’s mic on the last note of the opening number. One of our greatest achievements as a society!)
(Every time I see an old clip I am amazed that we just watched TV like this! Literally having no idea what people’s faces looked like for 50 years! How did I have such a crush on Joey Lawrence back in the day—he was apparently just a fuzzy blob on the screen! Whew, child, the desperate times!)
For the last two years I’ve been working on a play called Backing Track (which will be premiering at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia when it’s safe and accessible for performers and audiences). It’s a romcom and family com that’s about, among other things, falling in love while grieving and communicating through karaoke. As such, it didn’t require too much research beyond finding music to augment each scene (every song is from the musical Ragtime. I’m just kidding. But actually, in the realm of greatest hits of 1997, Titanic does figure heavily into the plot.) One of the inciting incidents of the play concerns the installation of a controversial solar array in a woman’s front yard. (There are actually multiple inciting incidents; I don’t know if this is allowed. It’s my first day in AP Writing.) So, the bulk of the research I did for Backing Track was about solar energy—different options for it, how a salesperson would talk about it, etc. Basic stuff. I cut out a 45-minute monologue that explained the technical specifications of a solar panel and took the audience through the step-by-step process of how sun becomes power. The danger of doing lots of research is that, in my enthusiasm, I can turn plays into book reports. Handing out Playbills where every word has been highlighted. Classic theater!
Anyway, I write all this to say that I think I have a fair understanding of what the process of purchasing and installing solar for one’s house would be because I created a fictional world full of punchlines that is also technically correct. My main motivation for knowing anything is “Comedy Reasons,” to be honest. But I did all this solar research two years ago, before I was even thinking of ever having a house or contributing in any meaningful way to the life of the planet beyond rooting for the iceberg’s survival in Titanic. All that changed this week, however, when we were visited by a solar energy salesperson.
Technically, only David was visited by a solar energy salesperson, as I had to work (I am still working at our apartment) and David has had the week off to work at the house on improvements inside and out. Solar energy was not one of the planned improvements for this year, but they’re having a sale. You understand. I am powerless against a sale or a limited time deal. CANNOT RESIST. I will set alarms on my phone reminding me to make use of a coupon for “$5 off your first purchase of $1,000 or more”; I get actually anxious when I feel the expiration date approaching. Nothing motivates me more than a slight reduction of the sticker price. There are many things in our apartment in which I was not interested at all until I got an email that said “This haunted rocking chair is now 1% off for a limited time” at which point I sprinted to the store. My carbon footprint is generally pretty low except if there is something on sale 50 miles away at which point I will take an actual old time locomotive to get to it.
So, they were having a sale on the solar. I don’t really understand what this means. There’s a government tax break but it expires this year? Even though the planet is also expiring this year? Why not just extend the tax break? I know the reason but I still like to entertain the fantasy that the government is trying to help us survive. Perhaps I should have highlighted more in AP History. Anyway, David heard about this and barely got the words “tax break” out before I screamed “BOOK AN APPOINTMENT. NO PRICE TOO HIGH! I AM ALREADY TEARING OFF THE ROOF SHINGLES!”
David updated me on the sales pitch after it was done. He said that they could install panels on our roof for an amount that is both more and less than I thought it would be. That’s all fine; we’re figuring it out. Must out-run the tax break! I will CRUSH these taxes beneath my heel! Interestingly, the bulk of our conversation was not about this huge financial decision but rather about a second option that the salesperson had given David. “We could also put up a 20-foot solar wall in the backyard,” David informed me. I pictured literally the wall of Jericho made of solar panels and the thought was so absurd to me that I immediately said yes.
In all my research, I had never come across a solar wall. I pictured a free-standing flat wall facing the house from the backyard like a menacing object that has touched down from space. Twenty feet is SO MANY feet. This wall, which I imagined standing in the yard, propped up by 2x4s like the flat storefronts on the set of a high school musical, would be almost as tall as our house. “We could put a projector on the second floor and show movies on it!” I mused. I was already convincing myself that this shiny atrocity NEEDED to become part of our landscaping plan, right next to the hydrangeas.
Our front yard is a real scandal and we mused about putting it there, cutting down on road noise and giving ourselves a weird privacy like two people inside a glitching Holodeck from Star Trek. I have to impress upon you that when he said “solar wall” I literally thought of something that looks like the border wall and I had absolutely no qualms with putting it up on the spot of lawn facing our across the street neighbors who I suppose I feel fine about but don’t wave so… we’ll see. Make the Neighborhood Environmentally Responsible Again. Make Our Neighbors Wave to Us Again. Make Our Neighbors Tell Us If They Have a Pool Again!
I literally do not care at all about curb appeal; I am totally fine with people speeding down our road, past homes with slopping yards, manicured lawns and one property with the world’s largest flatscreen TV completely blocking the house and decorated with one Pride flag. This is the American dream.
“Our neighbor can also project movies on to our solar wall from the other side!” I told David, “helpfully.” He looked at me a little perplexed. Did he not want to give our neighbors the gift of cinema? We realized that maybe we weren’t talking about the same thing so I googled “Solar Wall” just to make sure. The strangest thing happened: I was completely unable to summon an image of 20 feet of solar panels standing straight up and down in the middle of a field, something that would definitely fall over frequently and something which, I realize now, wasn’t actually directed toward the sun. When the salesperson was saying solar wall, he was talking about what I understood as a solar array—one of those tilted panels that actually faces the sun and does not show movies.
They are fine and very useful but the problem is they look functional and not hilarious, and so obviously I have no interest in them. This look like… well, it looks like a solar array, not an inter-dimensional panel that sprang up mysteriously in a sci-fi short story. What’s the point? We are going to install solar energy for “Earth Reasons” and “Coupon Reasons” but we cannot abandon my motivation in all things “Comedy Reasons.”
Kanye West Zoom-bombed the news cycle this weekend by announcing that he was running for President of the Never-Quite-United-Per-Se States and also that he has an album coming out but that the two are definitely not related at all and are just coinciding because of a mixup in calendaring and a junior staffer in the scheduling office has been spoken sternly to about it. Yes, on top of ::gestures wildly about:: we now have to briefly contend with the ambient noise of a publicity stunt that is not serious but nevertheless dangerous, like a family game of Monopoly that devolves into angry recriminations and the ceremonial throwing of the board. Whatever happened to the good old days of album promotion where you got slimed on the Kid's Choice Awards, you played some classroom instruments with The Roots, and you didn't introduce geopolitical chaos? Kancel kulture do your thing! Kancel kulture do anything! Kancel kulture you're on mute! Kancel kulture, check ya battery!
My friend John Fram has a really great thriller out this week called The Bright Lands; think Stephen King-meets-Friday Night Lights but queer.
I’m reading Luster by Raven Leilani and I am OBBBSESSSEDD!!! It’s so good. It comes out in August!
SLO Down Wines sent me some of their selection, including one one called Send Nudes, which is really delicious. I love when things are good for Taste Reasons and also Comedy Reasons.
I watched Palm Springs on Hulu this weekend and really enjoyed it!
Oh! And as always, you can buy my book of essays Here for It now (like Chasten Buttigieg did this week!) and pre-order Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters (talk about a project that required a lot of research! The chapter on solar energy is very intense!)
Random Thing on the Internet
Have I shared Adrienne Maree Brown’s “On Rushing Toward Apocalypse” here yet? It was shared with me as part of research for a project and I keep coming back to it. A fascinating and encouraging read!
Plagiarizing from who, friend, E.L. Doctorow?!