Sunday, May 2, 2021

Blame Me for Vaccine Hesitancy

It was 1990 and I was playing a week-long gig in Martinique, at their Carnivale (which is to Mardi Gras what a 1975 Oakland rent party is to rich teens with nose jobs dancing to "Super Freak" at a suburban bar mitzvah), with the Haitian super-group Tabou Combo (kompa at its finest!)

We had a day off and a few of us wanted to go swimming. I'd brought along a guide sheet to local beaches, helping steer visitors away from the ones downstream from sewage jets, and towards the cleaner and more picturesque options. Our trumpet player, a fellow white mercenary, wanted nothing of my annoying need to question everything. Let's just hit a damned beach, like everyone else here. For once in your life, just go with the flow without making some big fuss.

I tried to explain that this is the Third World, where people actually do bathe near sewage jets. In a place like this life is cheaper than you're accustomed to, especially if you're not cloistered in the shiny tourist hotel zone, which we never even saw. He just ground his jaw and rolled his eyes. "Fuckin' guy!"

Shortly after, I launched Chowhound, whose prevailing credo was "Never settle!" We all need to try a little harder, and drive a little farther, for better! That crap everyone else eats? Not for you! Don't stupidly follow the crowd! Instead, strategize to ensure that every occasion's a special occasion. That was an actual marketing point: "every occasion a special one!" We all need to commit more tenaciously to uncompromising higher standards!

So I've been watching interviews with vaccine skeptics. Not the loudmouthed crazies who are loudly certain that Bill Gates tracks our thoughts via vaccine-borne nanobots. I mean nice, normal people who are just unsure whether they can trust these meds that came out only fairly recently. It's hardly extreme paranoia to feel trepidation about rushed-out radical new treatments.

At least that's my enlightened take, after time spent empathizing with their perspective. My initial reaction to the hesitancy was more like yours: I ground my jaw and rolled my eyes at their annoying need to question everything. Just get your damned shot, like everyone else! For once in your life, just go with the flow and don't make a big fuss. Fucking people!


This post's title was an obvious exaggeration for ironic effect. I did start a few things, but not uncompromising consumerism. However, I certainly championed the latter as forcefully as I possibly could.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Immense Stature of an Attractive Person Making Idle Small Talk

I once hung out for an evening, in my current guise as creepy middle-aged loser, with an extremely attractive younger woman. It wasn't a date, she was the daughter of a friend, and we caught a movie together about a topic we shared interest in. Then bites and drinks. Fun!

I expected guys to be hitting on her constantly. And I expected to be sneered at for being the gross sugar daddy I wasn't. Those two bits of awkwardness were fully baked into my expectations. But I was still gobsmacked.

We hit a bar where a musician I know bartended. His singer-songwriter girlfriend, who I hadn't met, was hanging out with a clutch of friends, and conversation was struck up. Music-wise, I've played with most everyone they'd listened to as kids, plus they were all acquainted with Chowhound. These things had been mentioned by the bartender in his introductions. But I declined to dominate attention, wanting to give my young friend a chance.

She was perfectly poised and pleasant. A comfortable conversationalist! And they were absolutely fascinated by her. She was so interesting! I can't remember her saying anything particularly interesting, or funny, or smart, or kind. She didn't need to! She simply kept the ball rolling while being pretty, which struck everyone as amazing.

At one point, she went to the bathroom, and as she vanished, there was a strident cacophony of barstools being dragged and pivoted. En masse, the clutch of musician/foodies turned away from me to resume conversing amongst themselves. An Amish-level shunning straight out of a Judd Apatow film! When my friend returned, they re-shifted, and, when we finally left, they hugged her, swapped her contact info, and nodded indistinctly at me.

This is not what you think. It's not a tale of alienation; a whiny wail of "nobody gets me". I'm well past the Rodney Dangerfield point. What fascinates me is my friend's result. I can't help but wonder what life would be like if merely keeping the ball rolling were sufficient...not just to getting along, but to killing it. The notion, to me, is as alien as contemplating chromium-based life in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

I've been compensating and compensating and compensating my whole life, to the point where, like some shaggy dog joke punchline, I've wound up orders of magnitude more interesting than would remotely interest anyone. Hey, I didn't know what else to do! If the world keeps insisting you're not good enough, you keep doggedly improving, no?

At this point I must accept that there's nothing I could accomplish, no bell I could ring, to yield me any fraction of the stature of an attractive person making idle small talk. It's an unattainable pinnacle. I realize this sounds like I'm being bitterly snide and sulky, but I'm not. This is one of the few aspects of earthly life that fills me with uncomprehending awe. My friend's performance struck me like Jesus walking on water.

Two strangers at the gym once were discussing nearby food options with the telltale relish of serious hounds. I amiably offered a quick tip. Not with any weight or condescension; just another sweaty dude chiming in. The conversation froze. Jesus, do we really need to talk to this guy? Sensing their disdain, I flailed for relevance, asking them if they'd ever heard of Chowhound. They nodded affirmatively, I told them I created it, and they wordlessly stepped off their treadmills and switched to ones a few rows back.

Regard isn’t easily available to me. And flailing for it only makes it worse. And overshooting by twelve hundred light years, to my enormous surprise, turns out not to be the answer, either.

I know from experience that if I'd managed to convince them that I really was that guy, they'd be super-impressed for a few minutes (which I don't enjoy - overshooting discomfort goes both ways), and then all sorts of extra-weird stuff would happen. The only thing worse than having to cope with a chatty loser is the notoriously disagreeable experience of meeting a hero. Losers and heroes both suck. What doesn’t suck? An attractive person making small talk!

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