Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: Maxine Waters owns all time now, a very important ranking of "I Voted" stickers (one of my favorite things I've ever done), and Sessions gets the boot.
In my junior year at Columbia, I was one of the vice presidents of the student council. My area of focus was Events and, despite my best efforts, I was very bad at it. I think it was a combination of not being totally adept at logistics at that point, going through a small-to-medium personal breakdown, and being terrified of talking to adults about anything (in a position that required working with school administrations and vendors in New York and New Jersey who definitely did not have time to explain literally everything to me, a small baby person who knew nothing about the real world).
For instance, one time I brought Andy Dick to campus. We received his contract rider the day of; it was two pages long and read like a scavenger hunt. At that point, I thought riders were just suggestions so besides water and snacks--which I could order from campus food services--I didn't get anything. His manager was very mean and very upset that this 19-year-old hadn't procured the two pages of items he needed, including a can of creamed corn and 4 bath towels. I had literally zero dollars and the process of buying anything through a university requires 16 forms and many adults and Andy Dick was going on stage in two hours so I wasn't really sure what they wanted me to do. I ended up borrowing a towel from one of my suite mates and running to the market to charge a can of soup to my emergency card. I couldn't find creamed corn so I thought about buying a can of regular corn for a second. I feel like the manager had a psychic premonition about the switch I was considering because a chill ran down my spine and the words "CREAMED CORN" screamed across my skull. I found it at another store.
Turns out, at one point in his act, a guy runs on stage and pretends to vomit on Andy, covering him with what turned out to be recently purchased creamed corn and then hastily wiping it off with Monica's embroidered towel. I see now that a bunch of kernels of corn would have been a visually dissonant choice.
One of the few successes I had was a program in which we brought Danny, Coral, and Julie from The Real World: New Orleans to speak on a panel. We arranged it through a bureau that booked college speakers so the logistics were relatively easier. And by that I mean, most of the big decisions were made by adults. I remember Danny, Coral, and Julie were making so much money, like a couple thousand dollars for one appearance, although as I recall, Danny made the most. We had sold the event out and all I needed to do was meet them on campus and take them out to dinner after the event, using the school's credit card. The school had arranged the restaurant, thankfully, so my job was to eat and hand someone a card that did not have my name on it.
Then it started snowing. Danny got in and checked into the hotel his rider required. But Coral and Julie's planes were cancelled. We started to panic. Should we do the event with just Danny? He was still a draw and he was there. I had to get on the phone with the adults at the speakers bureau and hammer it out and that went about as well as every conversation I have ever had with an adult. They were adamant that Danny, Julie, and Coral were a package deal and that Danny wouldn't go on alone. But we still had to pay him for showing up.
Lacking any viable options, we had to cancel the event. The public rose up against me. I was like, "Write a letter to the newspaper! All press is good press!" We thanked Danny for coming and thought that was that. But the speaker bureau called back and yelled at me about why we weren't taking Danny to dinner. I am making a mental note to have that bureau represent me here in the present. They got their boy hotelled, paid, and fed and he didn't even have to do anything. That's my kind of gig.
The school, in one of the terrible decisions in my Columbia Events career that was not made by me, had booked the students on the planning committee and Danny a table at a strange semi-underground restaurant somewhere in Midtown. I have had some incredibly fancy culinary experiences but nothing yet has matched the extravagance of this place. Every wall was covered in pink satin and trimmed with ornate gold woodwork, the carpet was pink and the tables were a high-polished dark wood. Everyone in the restaurant was Russian and all of the women had their hair styled like Ivana Trump. It was eerily quiet. In fact, I don't think I saw any other guests. We were led down a hallway to a private room, this group of 6 college students in everyday clothes, and 24 year-old Danny. Oh, and on the walls of this hallway: Barbie dolls in formal wear framed in shadow boxes. The host showed us the dolls proudly but offered no explanation about why they were there or whether Barbie means something different in Russia.
It was such a specific and eccentric detail, I often think that I imagined it. Of all the questions that I have about that period and my life and the experiences I had, I think my dinner with Danny from the Real World surrounded by blonde bouffants and wall-mounted Barbies is the thing I'm most curious about. This is the kind of thing I would bring to the host of a cold case podcast and say "Hey, can you help me figure out what the deal is with this? The memory feels like a scene from a Kubrick film and I'm stressed out."
I have tried very hard to figure out what this restaurant was, but the internet has been no help. I tried very hard in the moment to figure out what the theme or concept or reason for being of this restaurant was but it remains a podcast-ready mystery. There wasn't a single food item that any of us recognized on the menu and when it was served, on very fancy china, it was comprised of tiny portions of mysterious blobs. I have no memory, good or bad, of what they tasted like, which is odd for me as I remember every single meal I have ever eaten.
As I recall, the bill, for seven people who were not drinking, came to either $1,400 or $4,000. I wish I could remember for sure. I know it was an amount of money that struck mortal fear in all of our hearts. I remember being flabbergasted that food could even cost that much money. This was in 2000, so either amount is truly insane. It was probably $1,400 but it felt like $4,000 and I was on the verge of tears. We all just stared at each other, panicked. The school had booked this, we reasoned, so they must have known. But, we argued, it was the most money ever spent on food in history. Someone suggested that we'd all be expelled if we paid the bill. Someone else reminded us we'd be arrested if we didn't pay. The Barbie dolls menaced us from the walls. I am still stressed about this. What were they thinking sending a bunch of kids to some oligarch's clubhouse?! What's worse is that I wasn't even full! $4,000 and I still stopped at Koronet and got a slice of $2 pizza on the way home.
I wasn't very good at planning events back then but, lemme tell you, whoever sent a bunch of kids and an MTV reality star to a super expensive Russian mafia cafeteria needs to brought up on charges. Put that on the front page of the newspaper. I'm available to give quotes. All press is good press!
This week, while the news is generally v. bad and v. stressful there was some legitimately good press to cover. Sessions gets the boot, Maxine becomes a Time Lord, and Ezra Miller gives us the revolutionary costume for today. But first, one of my favorite things I have ever written.
There are many other great reasons to get out and vote in every election, but let's just stop at stickers, because that's an incredible incentive. We don't talk enough about how voting is the only place where your opinion is actively solicited and also one of the only places where you can get a free sticker without having to endure a tetanus booster. These are huge pluses. Every Get Out the Vote campaign should literally just be a poster that reads "You get a sticker!" A sticker is literally a participation trophy and, it turns out, they're pretty great and I would like one. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
When Steve Mnuchin attempted to run out the clock with non-answers, Waters was quick to snatch back what was rightfully hers, alerting the Secretary and the chair of the committee that she was reclaiming her time to speak and launching a guiding metaphor for this whole era. Now she's poised to become the chair herself and all time belongs to her. Forget Daylight Savings Time: the only thing falling back will be her partisan foes. What time is it? Quarter to Maxine; time to get your entire life. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Thank you for telling me you are firing me by my own quitting. It is my greatest honor to be fired by you while I am in the process of quitting because you told me to. There is a phrase I once saw stitched on to a pillow that read "You can't fire me, I quit." While it gave all of us quite a laugh, I do have an edit. Mr. President, you can fire me and also I quit. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Elections have become too stressful and the last thing I need is minute-by-minute information about which I can do nothing. When the Needle whirs to life like the smoke monster in Lost, chances are you've already cast your vote, you've worked the rest of your day in the office, stress-eating whatever baked goods come your way. You're at home or—if you are a person who likes having harrowing experiences in public—at a viewing party. You're defenseless and that's when the Needle strikes, using its barbed point to prick you where it hurts the most: in your complicated relationship with the concept of living in society with others. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Today in "The Most American Story You Can Possibly Think Of": a gated community in a Georgia town tried, unsuccessfully, to secede from the city of Stockbridge after a black mayor and all-black city council were elected. Their reason: racism. Wait, sorry. I said the quiet part loud. What they said was they just wanted a Cheesecake Factory.
Really. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
The latest film in the Harry Potter Cinematic Universe, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald premiered in Paris, France today and co-star Ezra Miller handily won the red carpet in a Moncler by Pierpaolo Piccioli ensemble that can only be described as Little Edie from Grey Gardens meets Missy Elliott from "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)." [READ AND LOOOOOOK]
Let's Hang Out
The Moth StorySlam at City Winery DC on 11/17
The Moth GrandSlam at the Lincoln Theater in DC on 11/28
Random Thing From the Internet
I saw Torch Song this weekend on Broadway and Michael Urie was jaw-droppingly fantastic and it made me thing of how much I love him on Ugly Betty, one of my all-time favorite shows. Ugly Betty made me so so happy at a super sad time and it was chock full of phenomenal talents seemingly having a blast. America Ferrera! Vanessa Williams in her BEST role! Judith Light! So much goodness. Anyway, here's a random clip of Michael Urie and Vanessa Williams saying nice things about each other.
What were the Barbies for?!