Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: Céline Dion breaks into a nursery, Ezra Miller fashion week continues, and Beto O'Rourke is my favorite Insta-Influencer.
Every time I go to a fancy coffee shop I feel like I am attempting to take a test I have not adequately studied for. I have been drinking coffee since I was a freshman in college and discovered cappuccino, becoming so hyper after one cup, that I vacuumed my dorm room twice while dancing to techno music like I was Jessie Spano having a breakdown. And despite the nearly two decades of coffee consumption, I am stymied on a daily basis by simply questions about what I want, how I want it prepared, and what that preparation might possibly taste like.
It often feels like the time I signed up for an Advanced Conversational French class in college, despite the fact that I speak French with about the same intelligibility and proficiency as Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. Which is to say, I am trés mal at speaking French but I do it avec style! Apparently, the conversation class was not judged like Olympic gymnastics, because my style got me no points and my stammering assault on a romance language got me asked to withdraw from the class on the first day. Mucho triste!
This morning I'm at a hipster coffee shop (it's called the Bowtie Barista so I think they're really leaning into the caricature. AND YET! No one in here has a bowtie on. I've reported them to the authorities. Because I am in Nashville, I assume those authorities are Hayden Panettiere and Loretta Lynn). When I went up the the counter, I saw a long list of espresso beverages, most of which I basically understand. And then, in a little box, the words: French Press, Aeropress, Chemex, and Melita. I was like mon dieu! I know I like Chemex coffee because it often tends to be... lighter(?)... and... cleaner-tasting (??) but the other styles of coffee-making stumped me. Well, I know what I French Press is but because of past crimes, I have been banned from using them by the nation of France and their president, sugar-coated croissant Emmanuel Macron.
I asked the barista (WHO HAD NO BOWTIE) if there was a drip coffee option. I almost never want the simplest food or beverage option but I almost always order the simplest food or beverage option because the large part of my brain that is always muttering "What if everyone is mad at me" really ramps up when I encounter possibly inconveniencing someone by asking for something that is on the menu and which they have the tools to prepare. The barista (neck bare, like a rebuke!) told me they didn't do drip. We just stared at each other for a while.
I think the issue was I wasn't really sure what they wanted me to... do... here. This is not a problem I have with this establishment. This is a problem I have with reality. It's bad enough when coffee shops force me to choose which blend I want but give absolutely no tasting notes about each blend. I always choose the African option because I believe in Black Power but I also feel like this is not an informed decision-making process. I like the coffee shops that are like "This coffee tastes like lemon squares and rose hips and a pineapple upside-down cake!" because that feels like simultaneously telling the truth and engaging with magic at a very basic level. This coffee tastes like Snozzberries! Sure, I'll buy it. To ask me to choose a coffee taste and then a way of brewing it as well is just a bridge too far. All I want is a person in a bowtie telling me how to live my life! Is that too much to ask for?!
Coffee is but one of many things with which I engage on a daily basis while constantly feeling like an absolute fraud. Another is weather forecasts. I don't know what weather forecasts mean. At all. I remember, as a child, watching the weather on the news and assuming that at a certain point in adulthood, someone sent you a brochure explaining what high pressure systems and the Doppler radar were and everything would suddenly make sense. I continue to await that information. Every time I watch the weather nowadays, I just stare it with the abject incomprehension of a man reading a chalkboard menu full of coffee-adjacent words wondering if any of them are the magic combination that will wake him up. Voulez-vous café avec moi?! Does that mean something?!! Send cold brew. And bowties.
WAIT WHY DIDN'T THEY CALL THE COFFEE SHOP BREW TIES?!
So many questions. This week, my questions also included Why did Kanye and Mark Zuckerberg sing Backstreet Boys at karaoke? Why is Céline Dion breaking into a nursery to end gender? And what's up with Ezra Miller's retired Big Bird on a cruise ensemble? But first, WHAT'S BETO BAKING?!
Wow, this is a late-breaking political development but I think my favorite social media influencer of 2018 is... grown-up '90s boyfriend Beto O'Rourke! After a disappointing Election Day defeat to a bootleg Times Square costume of Count Von Count, many thought that O'Rourke would immediately set his sights on future races, possibly even the White House in 2020. It seems, for now at least, that political aspirations are taking a backseat to Beto's new career as a lifestyle guru on Instagram. And, let me tell you, he wins this in a landslide. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
I didn't know that the thing that I needed in the conversation around societal constructs was Céline Dion in a power suit pretending to be a gender cat burglar, but now that we have it, I don't know how we ever survived before. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Why does the sight of them together seem sinister? This is that thing where two tertiary villains in a Batman movie hang out after work. You're watching and you're like, "What could The Riddler and Two-Face possibly talk about?" And they're like, "Destroying Gotham City, doy!" And you're like, "Okay, fair enough. I just feel like you have very different personalities and work styles." [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Here's what I love about this: everything. The top is giving me Big Bird as an eccentric retiree who decided to stop dyeing. The bottom is giving me chorus member in Anything Goes. What's not to love? [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Booked & Busy
I've been trying to figure out a way to talk about books in my newsletter more because reading really makes me happy and I'm trying to give more energy to the things that excite me so as to remind myself that there is much to be enthusiastic about in life. I still haven't figured out what the best format is, so I'm just going to tell you about a couple of sentences I'm really excited about and that'll be that.
I drove to New Jersey last weekend and listened to the audiobook of My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante along the way. I am super late to the Elena Ferrante train and, in retrospect, I think that the audiobook is not the ideal medium for this book because of the way Ferrante organizes words on the page. For instance, she loves a list, often describing something and then giving five, six examples. It works when you listen to it, but when you read it it has a whole different effect. What can sound repetitive, on the page looks like a flower unfolding, revealing a complex system of petals, stamens, filaments, pistils.
In any case, the language is so evocative and clean and precise that I borrowed the print book just so I could revisit some of my favorite phrases and let my eyes have the same treat my ears did. Here's one I was particularly beguiled by, from the second section of the book, titled Adolescence.
"Lila had tried to calm herself, she had said to herself: I have to seize the stream that's passing through me, I have to throw it out from me. But at that point she heard, among the shouts of joy, a final detonation and something like the breath of a wing beat had passed by her. Someone was shooting not rockets or firecrackers, but a gun."
"The breath of a wing" is just an extraordinary phrase.
Rather unexpectedly, I found John Glynn's new memoir, Out East, to be a fitting follow-up as he has a documentarian's eye and a poet's mouth and his sentences, his interiority, and his pacing have the same precision that I so enjoyed in Ferrante. Glynn's memoir isn't out until May of 2019, but I have an advance copy (brushes shoulder off), which allowed me an early introduction to his beautiful prose, including the sentence "The clouds hung like gourds" which is so simple and yet so perfect, I've been thinking about it for days.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante on Indiebound
Out East by John Glynn on Indiebound
Random Thing on the Internet
Natalie Walker is a perfect performer and her tribute to "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is a new holiday classic.
NOT A BOWTIE IN SIGHT!