FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: “LOWER MIDDLE CLASS & LOVING IT”
In her newest column, Kaitlin gets to the heart of what really matters, like: Do you own a manual pencil sharpener? And is it safe to open the windows again? And do you like your parents? Read on for answers to these and other burning questions.
Every day I wake up and think, I wouldn’t date me, hire me, or fuck me. So who are all these people texting when they could be e-mailing, calling when they could be texting, leaving voicemails (?), texting to say my voicemail inbox is full, texting to say they’re going to call, not calling, forcing me to leave my ringer on for like three days, dm’ing me to do PR for free, emailing me to write for peanuts, responding to my drunken offers to do free PR (I was drunk), asking for editors’ emails at publications, emailing those editors as if I personally recommended them, forcing those the editors to forward emails to me like, STOP GIVING OUT MY PERSONAL EMAIL, YOU MONSTER.
Sorry, I could have said this in a less dramatic way: Every day I wake up and look at my phone. Ping, ping, ping.
If I were people, I would not text me, I would text someone who would do a better job. Someone who doesn’t describe their ideal working condition as a hotel room, air conditioner on high, towel piled on head, drugs pulsing through system. The type who frames the posters they order online and describes writing as a job. Like being a doctor. Someone who writes pieces in their notes app or uses the recording app like they’re a lawyer with a stenographer in a pencil skirt. Someone who writes shorter sentences when their children are younger, and breaks out the semicolons when the kids go to college. Their husbands come to mind, their fundamental marriageability. They own manual pencil sharpeners, I’m sure of it.
A lot of prominent writerson twitter – all of whom I admire for being more talented than myself – seem terrified of the pandemic. They tweet about how long they’ve been under lockdown. They guffaw at people for quarring too late, for not tipping 50%, for biking without a mask, for biking at all. They seem unaware of being mentally ill, whichwould be fine if being forced to acknowledge head on that you are crazy weren’t a class issue.
He kissed her for a long time, I imagine with that kind of lizard tongue all men over 50 have.
As all these prominent people out themselves as scolds and squares, I can’t stop thinking about how much their personalities have squared their storytelling. How thinking that rules should be followed, selfishness repressed, and bars avoided is such a stupid rubric to adhere to.
I stop short of imagining wanting to save this world or anyone in it.
A prominent restaurant critic and prominent art critic announce, separately and at length, that they don’t feel safe going to restaurants and art museums. (The irony that we’re finally experiencing a cultural moment where we need critics again to drive traffic to suffering industries …)
An editor I’ve worked with tweets at me angrily. Her brother, living in another state, has a preexisting condition that puts him at high risk. I consider asking what that has to do with me. I wonder if tweeting that made her feel better. I wonder if she is capable of understanding that I’m really dumb that Twitter is even dumber that I’m at work that if I tweet too much at work my boss asks me what I’m working on that replying to her sets off a chain of events that ends with me doing my dumb job. I don’t reply.
The final straw is when a New Yorker writer asks Twitter if it is safe to open her window. She seems genuinely to be looking for the scientific answer. I learn more about the world, as the New Yorker perceives it, in that moment than I have from reading the New Yorker for twelve years. I feel like I’d scalped her, I feel like she’s bald now, I feel like I can finally explain “the media elite”, something I’ve long understood, to others.
For weeks, whenever people bring up the New Yorker to me, I relay this anecdote. No one cares.
When I explain that no one – not in Slack, not on Zoom, not on gchat – seems to care that a writer for the New Yorker magazine doesn’t know if it’s safe to open her window, on what I’m sure is a tree-lined block in Brooklyn, without crowdsourcing the answer, one of my dear friends, a beat reporter at the New York Times, just cocks his eyebrow, takes a sip of his martini, and says slowly, “On the other hand, what she seemed to be doing there was reporting it out.”
I order another round, my glass still half full and sweating.
It seems obvious that the majority of twitter scolds are just people who revere their parents. I can’t think of anything more warping to one’s personality than liking one’s parents. They think they know what a good relationship looks like. So embarrassing.
All relationships are bad, and once you believe that, your relationship can be great. Or better than your parents’. Flashes of greatness, anyway, that’s the best you can hope for with a boyfriend. Someone texting you back, say …
I like watching people do drugs midweek, it reminds me how little things matter.
Though a flash is more like a vibe. The light striking a formica counter, biting into a cold plum, adding ice to a glass of chilled lemonade. When writer girls are crafting metaphors – polishing stones, editors call it – why do they always evoke objects that can be seen from a kitchen with optic white walls and tidy windowsills with little planters? It’s like they’re writing in a room that always smells faintly of bleach, all those sentences too clean. Every flash neutered into a flourish.
I don’t live in that kind of apartment, the kind where you sit and calmly drink a cup of freshly brewed coffee. We call it the cave, our house, and I prefer watered down, day old deli coffee. I drink it on the street, mask dangling off my wrist. Waiting to be texted back or whatever.
Every night I leave my apartment and waste time. Whenever possible, I order the chicken liver pate, boiled eggs, and country bread with Chardonnay the colour of hangover piss. It feels like 90 degrees more than not, otherwise it’s raining.
After dinner, I get drinks with friends, friends of friends, and various teensin Tompkins Park or East River Park or a park in the West Village that I don’t know the name of. (It has a sculpture of two parental figures holding up a homunculus. It looks like they’re fisting its ass.)
I like watching people do drugs midweek, it reminds me how little things matter. Every night I get home, and think about writing down what people said to me and what I said to them but nothing comes to mind. The only conversation in my notes app, after going out every night for months, is this:
– She has the personality of a vegan. She may even be a vegan for all I know.
– Do you think she would even APPRECIATE the fact that we are gossiping about her behind her back?
– One time I was really drunk and kind of confused and falling asleep looking at Instagram stories (which I never do) and I came up on one of her stories where she’s like in front of a mirror fondling her own breasts.
– I’d be happy to receive, from her, an email about my horoscope. Like she has value, it just doesn’t always shine through.
– I just don’t like her! She’s anathema to me.
– But you told me she’s the zeitgeist … that’s not for you?
I distinctly remember feeling cornered by this line of enquiry.
I run into my friend on the street. His phone is blowing up. “Have you heard the expression Don’t stick your dick in crazy?” I have not, but it’s the kind of thing you get right away.
He’s been having a lot of sex during the pandemic. Every week he texts me the address of a new house party. Whenever I show up, he’s already involved with someone, and I have to sit alone, uninvited, waiting for him to figure out if they’re going to sleep with him. I scratch a lot of parental furniture popping bottle caps off beer I didn’t pay for.
I don’t think people call me crazy, but then again I did used to wait outside this guy’s house whenever I wanted to see him. Like every week. His fault though, because he always let me in. Sometimes he’d see me across the street, walking with another girl, tell them to wait, cross over to tell me he was busy right now.
I always wondered what those other girls thought, or what he told them, about the random twenty year old always waiting outside his house. Maybe he said I was his cousin. Maybe he said I was mentally ill.
It was so classy, I was obsessed. I’m still obsessed, I’ve written about this like five separate times, I’ll never get over it. I think about it all the time. Was it … radical tolerance? Did this kind of tolerance exist all over New York before cellphones? It was totally fine if someone just waited around where they thought you might be.
What were stalkers like in the 90s? I feel like Gen X people are always telling me how they were friends with their stalkers first, and then realised their mistake.
I’ve never seen anyone write about the kind of sex I have. I’m certainly not going to be the first. I’m still friends with everyone I’ve had sex with, more or less. I assume this is the reason sex writing is bad.
Whenever people ask what I’m like in bed I say I just lie there. A perfect example of how everyone is lying, even when they’re telling the truth. I definitely haven’t satisfied a single fantasy, not my calling. I’ve allowed lots of people to satisfy mine though. Not a calling, by definition, but it’s definitely passed the time. The passing of time being my main interest on Earth.
Everyone I dated in their fifties has texted me photos of themselves in their twenties. Whenever I text back baby photos, they get mad. What is that impulse to upset the person you’re ostensibly in love with? Whatever it is, It’s very American, very immature, very me.
A few weeks ago, I heard a story about a famous artist ordering a car for a girl from Manhattan to Montauk. She got out of the car, and he was waiting outside of the house. He kissed her for a long time, I imagine with that kind of lizard tongue all men over fifty have. Her tote bag was heavy, it was straining on her wrist, the kiss lasted longer than she thought it should have. He pulled away and said, “Sorry, but we can’t be together anymore.” He put her back in the car.
They weren’t even together. She wished she’d thought to say that. The girl who told me this story told me it wasn’t even that he made her come all the way out there. She likes drama too. It was the driveway. It was that he drove her all the way out there, only to dump her in the driveway.
“He didn’t even offer me a lemonade. We could have, like, drank an iced tea in the kitchen.” she said. “I was so thirsty.”
A few years ago, my friend was breaking up with this girl on the sidewalk. It was kind of awful, very public, she was crying. Eventually she calmed down enough that he felt he could leave her there. Walking to the subway alone, he starts eating the Starburst in his pocket, dumping the wrappers behind him. Then, blamo, out of nowhere she shoves him in the back. He stumbles forward.
“Are you fucking littering?”
“Listen, I’m lower middle class,” he says, throwing up his hands, with what I just know was a half smile.
Isn’t that best breakup story you’ve ever heard? The way the class war is just at your disposal forever … I don’t care what Twitter says, poor kids are always at the advantage. They might be serving, but you add topspin to the ball, not them.
I define prominent as writing for the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books, excuse me if this is offensive.
I know I have to stop referring to twenty-year-olds as teens, but for now I cannot stop.
Kaitlin Phillips is a writer and critic and lives in Manhattan. Her column “For Immediate Release” appears every third Wednesday of the month on Spike. Last time, she wrote about how “Lolita Got the Internet in the Divorce”.