Volume Eight: What the f*ck is up, cowgirl?
tl;dr: This Neuesletter Turned One!, Shaking Strangers (Not Their Hands) and Four Supplementary Exploits
Pull up a chair and stay awhile…
Put on a birthday hat, throw some confetti into the air and give a little shout because this August It’ll Be Nice To Meet You Tomorrow had its first birthday! Get ready for a celebration full of fast food, slow realizations and balloons at just the right speed. Even though you’re probably reading this in September. (Oops.)
But, of course, it wouldn’t be a proper celebration without talking a little bit about you first. You’re the reason we’ve made it this far! You’re the reason this author is speaking in first-person plural with confidence!
So, answer me this: Have you ever wanted something that you shouldn’t? Good. Do me a favor and visualize that coveted thing. Make it real. Indulge yourself. I’ll wait while you get into the right frame of mind. Ready?
Okay, now, keep that feeling, and bring it along with you for today’s foray into moments seen and shared. In this volume, we’re talking about the things we want, both acknowledged and attained (or not). Join me, you know, if you want to.
When what you want is condiment-based damnation…
We’re going on a family road trip. I’m eight years old; you’re eight years old. We’re surrounded by aunts, uncles, parents, cousins and the swamp.
The state is Florida. The mental state is Fraught For All Parties. The sun blazes. Everyone is dehydrated and everything hurts. For now, what everyone wants is to stop at the McDonald’s, rising mirage-like in the distance.
Our cumulative wish is granted, and we sit inside the restaurant. But, there is one other thing—aside from sustenance and air conditioning—that my young heart wanted more than anything else. I held it so close that no one could possibly have guessed it.
That day, I decided to take the plunge. Upon receiving a hamburger, I did Four Things:
ONE: Remove the bun and place it just to the right of the rest of the meal.
TWO: Apply ketchup to the bread.
THREE: Look down at it, thoughtfully.
FOUR: Face-plant into the open-faced hamburger. Left face—burger patty. Right face—condiment-based damnation. Nose—slightly cool space in between.
Enter familial panic about an otherwise healthy child passing out into fast food. Post-panic, enter a lifetime of familial quips about pickle-laced facials and sleeping at the table. I don’t even like pickles.
But my family failed to notice that there was actually a fifth thing, a secret thing, that I did. You saw it, didn’t you?
FIVE: Peer at the scene I caused through half-closed eyes, body lolling in my aunt’s arms as she hustled me to the car.
Remember that thing we talked about before that you really wanted? Well, at age eight, I really wanted to know what passing out into a burger, face-first, would feel like.
It became clear that this was an embarrassing thing to want at the precise moment it became too late to stop grabbing for it.
I hadn’t accounted for the audience reaction, so I committed by playing half-dead. And lied about the incident to all present for nearly two decades. Or, more accurately, until this neuesletter edition. (Here’s my beloved aunt’s photog. Instagram account, so she forgives me when she reads this.)
Part of me is still that eight-year-old child, blazing with embarrassment at my brush with the ultimate horror—wanting (and then having) what everyone else would deem the wrong thing.
But part of me isn’t. And that part suspects that I need to relearn how to identify and pursue my most audacious wants like that eight-year-old did—isn’t that, at its core, what wanting should be about?
Striving, hoping, face-planting and emerging slightly scathed. Ideally, with a side of fries.
When what you want is Somewhere Up There…
You notice things when you start looking up—skies and ceilings, kites and light fixtures. This noticing led to the creation of my favorite game: indoor, non-competitive balloon-watching.
The rules are easy—walk into a building with a high ceiling and high amounts of foot traffic. Look to the corners. See if you can find a suspended-in-time token of a stranger’s appreciation. When you do, be kind to it.
It’s the sort of game that’s also an act of decency.
The forgotten balloons are waiting to be redeemed from a terrifying kind of obsolescence—one where their ending is written on the floors instead of the walls. The least we can do is look at them before the air runs out.
Grand Central Station is a great place for indoor, non-competitive balloon-watching. Sometimes I monitor the same balloon for weeks.
It feels like a conversation with a life that isn’t mine.
You see, buildings that exist in the space between departures and arrivals evoke high emotion. Those of us who go to them find that it’s safer to hide behind demonstrative latex-encased platitudes than to say what we mean, or what a meeting actually might mean to us.
So, we whisper what we mean, what we want, into balloons destined to be held, beheld, loved and left to the rafters. A hand slip, a near-miss, a kiss with something that’s not meant to be kept. And then we hope, desperately, that the person we gave them to will somehow understand us without words getting involved at all.
People let go of balloons the way they don’t let go of sentences.
After all, they don’t usually make balloons that say, “WELCOME HOME—PLEASE DON’T GO AWAY AGAIN. IT HURT TOO MUCH,” or, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY—I KNOW YOU LOVE A SPECTACLE BUT BRINGING A BALLOON TO THE TRAIN WAS EMBARRASSING FOR ME. I DON’T THINK THIS IS WORKING OUT. WE’RE JUST TOO DIFFERENT.”
Every time I’m in GCS, I look for the desolate latex orbs, and then I look at everyone underneath them—each unaware that they’ve walked into someone else’s welcome home; someone else’s birthday party; someone else’s brilliant, buoyant effort to be understood.
Maybe I like that it’s a party that only I’m willfully attending. Something forgotten, special, mine, amidst the unenthused commuters and overly enthused tourists.
Now, I’m sharing it with you—as a bribe. As I mentioned, it’s It’ll Be Nice To Meet You Tomorrow’s first birthday, so I hope you’ll look down at this email long enough to willfully celebrate it with me (…by forwarding this publication to your friends, of course. Too desperate? Too bad. It's my party, and I'll [ask you to ask your friends to subscribe] if I want to) before you join me in looking up again.
Something I’m not going to share with you? Where the Grand Central Station baseball glove chair is located. That’s something you have to find on your own.
When what I want is to Shake The Stranger Out Of You (but I can’t)…
I wrote a different piece for this section that tied up all of this rather neatly. It was our standard fare—a conversation with a stranger and what it meant to me. And then the person it was about asked me not to publish it. The stranger was shaken, so to speak.
Their request was immediately granted. My want was pursued and not attained.
Though it’s a year old, this publication feels so new. I’m still learning how to balance strangers’ good faith with my desire to tell everyone about the lenses they’ve loaned me for parsing the world.
This passage of the song I linked in the subhead sums that up quite nicely—
“All your favorite fantasies will come to an end
And you'll be waking up tomorrow needing a friend
Cause I Can't Shake the Stranger Out of You”
I’d confused momentary intimacy with lasting mutual impact.
And forgotten the cardinal lesson from the incident that incited Nice2MeetYou (explained all the way back in Vol. One)—the beauty of meeting once lies in giving each other the space to meet again, even if we’re both entirely new by the time we get there.
We have this moment, right here. After that, nothing is guaranteed. Especially if you’re trying to tell a story about someone else.
So, I stopped sulking at my drawing board.
While trying to write this, I asked some friends what they want (big, small, shallow or deep) via an Instagram poll. Responses ranged from, “laser hair removal, full body,” to, “A day off. Just one.” So many people said that they need a break. Others, an adventure. What struck me about the list of responses was how simple some of the things on it should be. But, for whichever reasons, aren’t.
Earlier this month, I woke up and decided to spend the day pursuing the simple wants that I usually overcomplicate. I walked to a café that has the best orange juice in New York (location divulged in Four Things, below). I put on headphones in stores, so I would only hear music that I like. I went to Northern Bell with a friend who makes me feel safe. It was easier than I expected it to be.
For one day, I was eight years old again, determined to smash my face in a sandwich because wouldn’t that be interesting.
So, maybe acknowledgment is the most important part of all of this.
Otherwise, the balloons we fill with our unaired hopes will rise, pop to an audience of trapped Grand Central pigeons and Me in the main terminal, and suddenly we’ll all be strangers again. Alone in our wanting because we hadn’t allowed ourselves to be known—even momentarily, even by ourselves. Thank you for letting me be momentarily known each time you open up an issue of this publication. (A secret? It might be my purest want, realized.)
Now, before you break out some cake in honor of Nice2MeetYou’s birthday, here are the Four Things that you’ve been really wanting this whole time.
Something told: The best night of the month, conclusively, is Open Book, a literary open mic night, every third Wednesday at Fiction. LUCKILY FOR YOU, a group of writers who I both esteem and know (the greatest combination) banded together to publish a zine of the work read at a recent mic night. PRE-ORDER IT HERE. TEN DOLLARS FOR ART. Andddd if you need writing inspo. in the meantime, try out this AI story generator (thx2Gadi for the share). You type in two words and it gives you a paragraph. I typed in “Mime” and “Unhinged,” and this is what I got:
Mime, the most famous and idiosyncratic member of the troupe, was always the last to be seen leaving the theater. Tonight, however, was different. As the curtain fell, Mime was nowhere to be found. Panic set in as the cast and crew began to search for him. They found him in the backroom, seated in a corner, hunched over, mumbling to himself. No one knew what to do, as Mime had always been the most unhinged member of the troupe.
Something new (2): 1) If you like photography or being friends with photographers, you should join this awesome NY-based biweekly photowalk started by friends of the neuesletter Matt & Tahmid. M. & T. were also (here’s the new!) both featured in a very, very cool Chelsea photog. exhibit recently— check out their pieces in this digital archive. 2) Beloved creator of this neuesletter’s theme song, Vivid Fever Dreams, just released NEW MUSIC. STREAM STREAM STREAM. MAKE BEING FRIENDS WITH ME WORTH DANIEL OF VFD’S TIME.
Something found: In my never-humble opinion, Italian café Lella Alimentari has the best orange juice in New York. (As this song says, “Fresh-squeezed, baybee!”) As a bonus, this creature moves throughout the establishment, elf-on-a-shelf-style. Like the balloons, finding him is a badge of honor. Send me a photo if you do.
Something foretold: This neuesletter’s birthday aesthetic, in a tweet…
Also, here’s some music I’ve been liking lately. LMK if you like any of it—I rearrange the playlist every time I can’t sleep, and then listen to it on shuffle.
Special thanks to the editor of my very first edition & eternal muse, Summer, for reprising her role for this milestone one as well. (Summer’s two-cent take on the subject line? “[It’s] the exact same as this.”) None of this would make sense without her.
Also thanks to Ryland for telling me exactly what I needed to hear before I embarked upon the third act rewrite (that he liked the first two sections better anyway). Check out his indoor, non-competitive balloon-watching.
And… that’s it! One year down. (How cool is that?!) There will be more dialogue next time.
As always, it’ll be nice to meet you tomorrow,
—N. Graney I
P.S. Lucky penny for your thoughts? I’ve been thinking about how the doomed volcanologists in the doc. Fire of Love accidentally made themselves the point of a story they were trying to tell about something else (sound familiar?) and, tangentially, how this might be the reality TV show with the greatest potential for utter mortification ever created. Yes, even more embarrassing than Sexy Beasts. In the meantime, send me whatever your brain’s been occupied with, and I’ll give you a cent for your two cents.
Are you new here?
An hour or so after we were first introduced, Photog. Jon (very famous) walked up to me, grabbed my boot, and said,
“What the f*ck is up, cowgirl?!”
I think I’m still recovering from the shock. He said I could borrow his opening line if I credited him, so if you aren’t subscribed yet...
What the f*ck is up, cowgirl?! Subscribe, already! (But don’t worry, I’ll keep my hands off your shoes.)