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Volume Three: Everyone's A Funhouse Mirror, And So Can You
tl;dr: Asymmetrical Ears, Cartoon Heads and Four Things Beyond That
This is it! The issue I didn’t have mapped out when I wrote the website’s FAQ. The guardrails are off, we’re bowling without bumpers, etc. Thrilling, yeah?
Right now, I’m reading The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton, which I’m not going to summarize here beyond saying read the summary I linked to and then read the book. One moment I found striking critiqued the ways in which a photo was taken out of context,
“…people think that time gives them the right to switch up the lens, to romanticize a thing and make up meaning from it.”
We do that with art (a lot), and we do that to each other (a lot). You wouldn’t be reading this neuesletter if we didn’t—it’s all about incomplete context and what happens as a result of it.
As such, I think it’s only fair to discuss my recent experiences being looked at through someone else’s lens. In other words, welcome to my two-act debut as part of the most terrifying couples costume you’ll hear about this October: The Observed to someone else’s Observer.
Sometimes the danger of a break, I suppose, is that you actually take one.
I spent most of September with family in Marshfield, Massachusetts, a sleepy post-tourist town that has a beach, a general store and a marsh, as the name implies. The Marshfield Chamber of Commerce is located in a different city, as the name doesn’t imply.
On Thursdays I played Singo, a local music-themed bingo spectacular led by Jim the DJ Guy. He printed his phone number in the center of each bingo card—a free space for a freewheelin’ guy. It was called, “Yee Haw Singo,” when it was country-music-themed. “One (or 2) Hit Wonders Singo,” is self-explanatory. Please don’t email me begging for Jim the DJ Guy’s phone number. You’re not his type.
Mostly, between work calls, I sat on a series of beach rocks and stared—a true hiatus from the premise of a neuesletter built partially on strange encounters. In that time, I forgot the cardinal rule of people-watching and the golden rule of cardinal-seeking bird-watchers: even if you’re watching, you’re still liable to be noticed too.
My personal observers were shorter than expected: my cousin’s two young daughters.
“Your ears don’t match!” one tumbled over to me, scandalized, delighted.
“They don’t! Do they look okay?” I tried to remember which combination of earrings I’d chosen, ego hanging on the conversational whims of a four-year old.
Minutes later, her older sister entered the scene more cautiously. “Your… ears don’t match,” scandalized, delighted.
“Do they look okay?”
“Yes…” considering it, “They do.”
Thinking beyond symmetry seemed new to them.
A couple I met by chance recently made me look up my billionth second birthday because they were worried I’d forget to celebrate it.
My tiniest cousins learning about intentional asymmetry probably felt, to them, like that. They’d been too young to learn my name before this summer, but after a few weeks I had become an example of a near-stranger, or at the very least someone they found strange, giving them a new lens for participating in the world.
Or maybe not. That couple also introduced me to lots of new information about the Minnesota State Fair beauty pageant butter sculptor, so maybe I just wanted to talk about them.
Okay, break over. Walk with me.
On a recent Wednesday, I was a few steps shy from the Alligator Lounge on Metropolitan Avenue. For those not in New York, the City, imagine a moderately busy bars-and-coffee street in Brooklyn that is home to a zine store run by a man named Steven.
Street lights and store lights and headlights rendered the concrete sidewalk yellow brick. Music, when it appeared, came from the AirPod in my left ear and the windows-down, bass-up cars driving straight for my right one. Scene-setting, like many other things, should always be a community effort.
Then, a voice—
“Hey! Did you read the Archie comics?”
Hours before, I had been telling a friend about my tape deck bedecked first car, which I named Archie in honor of Archie’s weird 2014 comic book death. (Note: The CW’s Riverdale didn’t exist yet.) The voice’s left field question felt preordained.
“Uh…yes! So many of them! Why?”
“You just look like someone who would have.” Suspicions became fact, and the asker became an authority.
“Well, I did! I have a stack of them back home.”
“Doesn’t she look like someone who would have?” This time to a friend.
“She’s a Betty!” they jumped in, excited to play the game, “A girl next door!”
“Yes! A Betty! I mean… even the way you’re dressed.” I think my orange jacket, blue denim shirt and brown boots with white, flowered sneakerlaces, laughed at me in unison. She had a point.
But, it felt strange to admit it. There should be a word for finding yourself on the other side of a stranger’s daydream of who you might be and discovering she was right.
After that, the conversation continued for awhile in amicable postscript. Her friends told me they were mad at someone named Nicole (no relation), though I was never sure why. I fretted (continue to fret? is this fretting?) about whether I’m a person or a trope, too easily pinned when passing by on the street. Instagram handles were exchanged. She followed back the next day but has yet to subscribe to this neuesletter.
In the first story, I became an idea. In the second, I became a cartoon. For Halloween, I might become a personified can of Monster Energy. (Did I ruin the big reveal?) Regardless of what I am to you, here are four tangentially related things you might like, might like to know or might like to see again.
Something old: Cartoon Head—the first Flipturn song any of us fell in love with. It sadly only lives on Soundcloud now, but listen to their other stuff if you’re feeling wistful for summer. (EDIT: They took the Soundcloud link down since the initial publishing of this volume. Listen to this bad live recording of Cartoon Head instead, I guess…)
Something new: Everyone has begun to associate me with a deep appreciation for Sexy Beasts, the Netflix hit about dating in non-medical masks, because of some overly enthused, cold-medicine-induced advocacy. Leaning in, here’s a reminder that season two dropped recently.
Something torrid: CHRISTINE IS THE BEST HALLOWEEN MOVIE. You simply cannot ask for more than a love affair between a man and his car girlfriend who communicates with him through radio and murder. Note that I think all horror movies are Halloween movies, and this is the only one I’ve watched. Blame Stephen King if you don’t like it.
Something cute: Berardi’s* Avian Monster (Disclosure: said Tucker Berardi is a friend of the neuesletter whose couch I just crashed on for two days.)
So, how’d this go? If you had a nice time, forward this to someone you like. If you had a bad time, forward it to someone you don’t like. (Don’t tell them which group they’re in, so they have to wonder while reading.)
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 we should celebrate your billionth second birthday, and I really hope the answer we land on is, “going bowling without bumpers.” Send me whatever your brain’s been occupied with, and I’ll give you a cent for your two cents.
Thanks to Kieran for a kind q. about why I spell neuesletter… like that. The answer is updated in the FAQ I mentioned at the jump. Pro tip: Kieran’s the okayest barista I know with the best monthly playlists.