Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sunday Top Ten: There Must be A Thousand Things You'd Die For, I Can Hardly Think of Three

Sometimes I do weirdo things just to see what'll happen or go to idiosyncratic places simply for "the cultural experience." My definition of "cultural experience" is highly subjective and indiscriminate; it includes all things unpredictable, paradoxical, peculiar, highly specific, micro-culturally revelatory or secretly expository of pathos/propaganda/unspoken dichotomy. "Cultural experience" isn't this ambiguous category's proper name, maybe it's "things I enjoy solely because they intrigue me."

My best attempt at defining what I'm talking about when I talk about "cultural experiences" is example. As you can see, these experiences are not about Fun or Pleasure. In fact, they're often un-fun and not pleasurable.

A Tegan & Sara concert ISN'T, a Spice Girls concert IS.
Doing a reading ISN'T, being on an internet sex & dating panel at the MoSex IS.
Space Mountain ISN'T, Carousel of Progress IS.
Working at The Macaroni Grill in Michigan ISN'T, working at The Olive Garden in Times Square IS.
Taking a plane from Chicago to New York ISN'T, taking a Greyhound from Oregon to Chicago IS.
Six Flags ISN'T, the Clinton County 4-H Fair IS.

i. Before All That

I blame A., who wrote in the "farewell Marie is going to boarding school" book my friends made for me in '97: Experience is the bread of a writer: sadness & happiness, prosperity & desperation, virtue & vice. Whatever you experience, whatever you feel, will increase the genuity of your writing 100%. That line about the bread; how trite/true, but also ...

... it made me think of Zingerman's bread-ends, the fifty-cent bags we'd pick up for lunch when short on cash, smear generously with free packets of mayonnaise and then eat on the back lawn of our hippie alternative high school while the older kids, stuffed into inherited cars in various stages of erosion, smoked pot and ate real sandwiches. Everyone's car had something special wrong with it; no air conditioning, broken parking break, occasional inability to start, 1-4 windows refusing to roll down, faulty wipers, a consistent "check engine" light.

I wanted to be an older kid, I wanted a car, cars were freedom, cars enabled experience ... "how vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live ..." (Thoreau)

10) Of all the cars in that lot, I liked Jack's big red pick-up the best. Nearly ten of us -- lying on our backs -- could fit in the truck's deep bed. A bisexual before it was trendy, Jack sported multi-colored hair and he safety-pinned political opinions to his motorcycle jacket. He seemed slightly dirty always, which grossed me out & made me uneasy to touch him, but everything grossed me out then -- I grossed myself out, most of all, which's why I hid beneath layers of oversized clothing and caustic, off-putting snobbery.

He liked to drive us (us=a tight self-righteous clique of 14-15 year old girls & scrawny boys) places and not tell us where we were going (which panicked me, my Mom was strict, I had to be home), like U-Mich campus buildings with secret rooms and hideaways. We'd climb in windows, shimmy up fire escapes, slip into small cubbies of unused space where decades of punks and squatters had left wall scrawls for each other, maybe even for us. We'd just sit there, then, crouched together, checking engines, breathing, whispering, wondering what kind of architectural accident made this happen, brushing hoodie-sleeves, until Campus Security pounded on the entry we'd sealed shut -- the best part was the running out, trying not to get caught. We wouldn't; we had the car, the cool metal sending shivers down the backs of our necks, eyes to starry sky.

He talked a lot about one particular place that I knew I'd never see -- "the scariest place in the world," my girlfriends told me, thick with privilege (their mothers allowed such expeditions, mine wanted me home and always calling from sanctioned locales). Jack took my best friends there -- I had no details; outdoors or indoors? in Ann Arbor? Dexter? Ypsilanti? Detroit? Farther? an experience, a pit, a darkness, what, what, what, what's so scary, what's the secret, what kind of darkness and how deep? and they'd say, "we can't tell you anything about it, it's a secret, but it's scary." I still don't know what it was -- maybe it was just a lie, a metaphor, a story they told to piss me off.

I needed to get older and fast so that I could go look at weird things and scary things, too.

[photo by Vivian Joyner]
ii. Now

I'm a nonstop repository of anecdotes and after spending a few consecutive days subjected to me telling weird stories about things I've done for fun or considered "a good experience" ('We used to go to Cabella's hunting store for fun!" "Why?" "Um, 'cause it was weird?") ( I found every anecdote clearly incredibly relevant to whatever we were doing at the time), Cait asked me if there's anything I wouldn't do "for the cultural experience."

"Of course," I answered quickly, but couldn't think of anything just yet.

"Would you go sky-diving? Bungee jumping?"

"Oh, I'd totally do that stuff, totally."

Full disclosure: I'd just justified taking us all to Epcot Center's "The American Experience" "for the cultural experience." And it's not that I think I've had some wild life, I just -- I don't know -- maybe it's more deliberately weird since I like to write about stuff? I feel both firmly in this normal world and often dashing valiantly into others and I think it's got something to do with cultural anthropology.
iii. The Aforementioned Anecdotes

9) "You're in for an exciting adventure" at Arbuckle Wildnerness in Davis, Oklahoma, where wild animals come right up to your car for an authentic wildlife experience. Ryan was ecstatic -- THRILLED -- to bring me to Arbuckle during my first visit to his Oklahoma home (Ryan shares my taste for weird things; we spent most of that break video-interviewing people in Wal-Mart about religion and immigration). You're supposed to roll down your windows and feed the animals and Ryan thought it'd be a funny cultural experience to roll down and lock his Jeep's passenger window, so all at once I was attacked by five emus pecking furiously at the cup of feed in my lap, nuggets flying everywhere. He laughed so hard he could barely breathe, then unrolled the back window so they could get me from behind, too. I was screaming, totally scarred for life, never hanging out with emus again ever, it's only puppies for me from here on out.

8) A temp agency in Michigan I worked for over holiday breaks had a $10/hour position that entailed wearing a Tony the Tiger costume for a professional recruitment event Kelloggs was hosting at the U of M business school -- I was like, this is the best job of all time, sign me up right now. They needed a Toucan Sam, my friend agreed enthusiastically (neither of us cared really about the money, we just wanted to wear the costumes). It's so hot in those costumes! You can only wear them for thirty minutes or so. They wouldn't let us take photos, which was the point, we brought our Nickelodian four-square cameras too ... but whatevs. We snuck a few pics during one of our ten undressings (30 minutes on, 30 off, 30 on, 30 off):

7) EuroDisney: So, as mentioned in this blog, I visited Paris, solo, for no reason -- to feel romantic & pensive, I think, but some freakish curiosity drew me to Euro-Disney/Disneyland Paris. I was 18, hadn't had many chances to be alone yet in my life -- adolescence is, by definition, a constant subjection to company (as is boarding school and college) -- and this new freedom over-rode the potential awkwardness of visiting a theme park alone. I wanted to see what America meant in France, how it was bought and sold and translated over here. I wanted to see if the precise recipe of commercialized but ultimately well-conceived Americana could succeed here without tasting like photocopy. Would the dreams still be full-color, like they are here, in the Florida and California sunshine? I'd seen a documentary about Euro Disney's financial failures against initial expectation, and I love huge commercial enterprises in ruin most of all. I mostly took pictures, like when the weather turned:
6) Yes, I made everyone go to "The American Experience." We were drunk for about an hour (did you know Magic Kingdom doesn't serve drinks? They don't, but Epcot does. Champagne in France, obvs), and if I could go back in time, I wouldn't force anyone to sit through it rather than riding that buzz all the way to Imaginary Morocco. Howevs, if I hadn't been attacked so viciously for this decision, I would've made everyone go to the Hall of Presidents at MK (sober), which I think they would've liked less. ALSO if we hadn't visited The American Experience, we wouldn't've been outside at just the right moment for this lesbian couple taking photos of themselves to ask us if we wanted to take a photo of them which was a total lesbian moment, and then Cait got run over by a wheelchair.

iv. Answering That Question

But then there are things I think would be valuable experiences that I haven't done but want to,

and then things that I think'd be valuable that I haven't done ... and never plan to, like these:

5) I've heard from those-in-the-know that heroin is the purest most ecstatic high ever but also instantly addictive. Plus, I'm high on life: sunshine, raspberries, unicorns, etc. Mostly, I'm freaked out by that scene in The Basketball Diaries when Leonardo DiCaprio's coming down from Heroin in a locked room. Also, that freaky baby crawling on the ceiling in Trainspotting, that was serious, imaginary babies freak me out. Also, heroin's so 90's!

4) Food's great, love it all day long, totally, but I'm not exactly a "foodie." There's absolutely nothing on earth I haven't tasted that I think I must taste to be alive -- I mean, most food tastes like other food, right, but different? Has tasting something new and exotic ever changed your life? I mean, obvs there's things you oughta taste that could become culinary staples, like salad & ice cream. But I'm not gonna taste pork chops then suddenly start preparing it for myself every night. There's only so many ways food can taste and so many feelings food can trigger. No interest in duck, quail, dinosaur, kangaroo, water buffalo, raw fish sushi, pigs, rabbits, or any other dead animals, especially ones with bones. Foodies always act like if you don't taste their latest concoction of dead animal and ambigious Chinese vegetables that somehow you're refusing to taste the very marrow of life itself, condemned always to a boring existence of Wonder Bread and American cheese. The last thing I need is another kind of food I enjoy shoving down my gullet, it's hard enough to choose meals as it is. I guess actually this isn't "something I think'd be valuable" and shouldn't be on this list, but too late, already written. And so well, too!

3) Once upon a time, my life's dream was to be one of seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. I'm too old now anyhow, but 'cause of the internet and the general abundance of digital, easy-to-reproduce media (and the reality-recap shows they spawn), being on reality television's officially lost its allure. In fact, I'm petrified of television in general, unless it's something I'm editing myself, like vlogs for my own website. (Speaking of vlogs, I'm gonna have to start interviewing replacements for Haviland in this interim period, like on The View. First up: Lozo. He's not a lesbian, but he's a lesbian supporter.) Like I don't wanna be one of those clips they show over & over on VH1 specials; Shandy confessing her hot tub tryst to her boyfriend, Bree throwing a fork at Stephen, Vanessa attacking Brandi's hair, Tyra yelling at Tiffany, Stephen slapping Irene in Seattle, OMG ... I start to hate myself after editing my own vlogs for a few hours, I'm sure I'd be appalled to witness what a real editor would do to me but it would've been nice if a camera-person'd been there to capture Cait getting hit by a wheelchair, as mentioned above. The woman goes: "you backed up into me!" as if it was her fault or something.

2) In the introduction to her essay collection A Little More About Me, Pam Houston talks about edges she's been to and mountains she's accepted she'll never climb and says that in the five years it's taken her to write this book, she's "run more than 40 whitewater rivers .. hiked in the backcountry more than 3,000 miles ... visited 43 countries on five continents ... had search parties sent out for me twice ... been on more than 400 planes and been told to get into crash position for landing four times ... been to every United State except North Dakota ... put a total of four hundred thousand miles on three different cars." In this interview, she says: "My father, when I was growing up, was very fond of saying, 'Pam, one of these days you are going to realize you spend your whole life lying face down in the gutter with somebody else's foot on your neck.' In many ways, the aim of my life has been to prove my father wrong."

Almost everything Houston's done is something I'd like to do one day, too, except for the essay where she camps out alone for a number of days in twenty-degree-below zero weather to build character. I've just spent a bazillion minutes trying to track down this essay, beginning with my shelves and ending with the often frustrating annals of the internet, to no avail. I'll just say I hate extreme temperatures, and if you own A Little More About Me, speak now!

1) Anything involving: forced socialization with large crowds of socially confident humans without interruption for long periods of time, waiting in really long lines.
MY: And also [I liked] how you described yourself as the person who has friends that are slightly more adventurous than you, and it's your job to say, "Yeah, I'll do that." To make it okay.
EILEEN: It's like telling the story from Sancho Panza's point of view, not the hero, but the hero's friend. It's a more passive position, but you can describe everything that's going on from there because you're constantly watching.
(Interview w/Eileen Myles, Index Magazine )
"I like to listen. I like to look and to watch. Maybe I have an Attention Surplus Disorder. The easiest thing in the world for me is to pay attention."
(Interview with Susan Sontag, The Paris Review, 1994)


Adam said...

Welcome back, Riese.

I miss you when you don't write like this.



p.s. I might need a few minutes alone with that picture at the conclusion of section i. It may be the most erotic thing on the internet.

a;ex said...

I'd like to offer my defense for a moment... if I may, here are my Top 3 reasons why I loved "The American Experience":

First of all, I love America.

Secondly, Albert Einstein appeared in the montage... he is clearly not American.

Thirdness - ROBOTS! OBVS!

"The American Experience" was more than just an experience... it was a life-changing journey through time that has inspired me to ask what not I can not do for my country but for whatever my country won't not do for me... not.

Alls I'm sayin' is that it needed a drop at the end to demonstrate the force of gravity.

Lozo said...

i don't understand the IS and ISN'T portion. IS and ISN'T what? the wording lead up to those examples confuses. IS pleasurable? IS not pleasurable?

eric mathew said...

That was really good and really intense loved it. I have to say Zingerman's is great. I have family in West Bloomfield. good stuff.

the lesbian picture moment is great. BUT i was in the nyc one day and i asked a man to take a picture of me...well of course i had a curb your enthu moment and the man had no hands. i just thought they were behind his back. it was bad.

also the only reason tyra yelled at tiffany was because we were rooting for her.

and i will interview after Lozo...and start writing the Purim play for this year.

Anonymous said...

i think the fact that we were drunk was the only thing that made the american experience tolerable, seriously, but also our random lesbo moment was amazing, and as for the wheelchair, that is something i choose to forget. i think it's funny that there are so many things you'd do, just for the experience, yet you hate to leave your house. this was really well written, good sentence structure, etc. good job grasshopper. caittt

Lozo said...


somehow, that link doesn't work.

alicia said...

I wasn't going to add anything until I read Eric Matthew's comment.
Awhile back I tried shaking hands with a guy with no right hand, I had no idea he was hand-less. Most awkward moment ever...like...what do you say? "Sorry 'bout the hand."

riese said...

adam: Adam,

Thank you


(p.s. i couldn't ask for anything more in a first comment)
(p.p.s. besides, of course "FIRST COMMENT!!!!")

a;ex: I knew it! You loved every minute of it, BOOYA. I think probs what our country could do for us would be to provide a drop at the end. I suspect that Natalie and Cait may not love America enough.

lozo: IS or ISN'T an example of my definition of "cultural experience." I clarified. Thank you, you're my personal little editor person today.

eric mathew:zingerman's is great, so good that even the heels of its bread are delicious.

You're so right about Tiffany. We were rooting all rooting for her, how dare she? When she lays in bed at night she's gotta take responsibility for her own ACTIONS! I love that the man had no hands, what are the chances?

caitttttt: Also I kept waiting for the stone statues on the side to start moving, I don't know if that's cause I was drunk or not? Thank you, grasshopperette.

lozo: Urm, I blame google docs.

alicia: I'd be like "How about the left? Down low -- too slow! HAAA gotcha!" like that.

in kc said...

"I'd be like 'How about the left? Down low -- too slow! HAAA gotcha!' like that."

That is the best comment on a comment ever.

chrissy said...

I'm glad my theatre lab teacher has me sitting in front of an out-of-date Mac doing absolutely nothing for three hours, so I have ample time to read the latest auto-win. Thanks for clarifying is/isn't...I too, was confused at first.

*sips diet soda and waits for her auto-gear*

Crystal said...

I started reading this last night but abandoned it at the IS/ISN'T part because I couldn't wrap my little mind around it. It all makes sense to me now.

I feel like you used a lot of big words in this post. I had to refer to my dictionary more frequently than usual. Being this basic hurts my brain.

The idea of you as Tony the Tiger amuses me to no end.

Anonymous said...

i feel like it's a challenge to find this essay of which you speak. i just need some info because your description confused me. is the essay in "a little more about me"? or is it an essay that was published somewhere else?

riese said...

in kc: Now all I need is a vlog to give myself an award ...

chrissy: I'm glad Lozo's helped us all out with this one. I'm very baffled by your non-attainment of the auto-gear, since it generally arrives in record time and it's been 2-3 days by now ... are you sure the address the payment was made with is the same?

crystal: If you literally mean you actually are referring to your dictionary when you read, then your brain will become far bigger, faster and wetter than mine in no time. I don't know what that means, but I generally have trouble making sense, so it's all okay. Totally. It's grrrrreeeeatttt!!!!

anonymous: It's in "A Little More About Me," I'm 99.9% positive of this. I used to own that book, I've got no idea where it's run off to. I tried looking online and realized it's defo not published in any of the online previews of the book, nor could I determine exactly what essay it was in the book by looking at the table of contents (there's no titles that seem to scream "I'm the one about camping out in the cold!"). I feel this means that google books will not put libraries and bookstores out of extinction after all, as some things are clearly still not available online, just in hard copy. Does that help?

caitttt said...

1. i love america a whole lot
2. i thought the dudes on the sides did move?
3. i can't talk to you for five minutes

Katyn said...

i think the chapter you're talking about is "a man who'll freeze his eyelashes for you"

Katyn said...

oh, wait, no she's camping in below freezing weather with david in that one. nevermind.

Katyn said...

i went and checked my shelves, and i think my copy is in my office at school - so i can probably give you an answer tomorrow if it's still driving you nuts. sorry for a gaggle of comments in a row.

riese said...

caitttt: They definitely didn't move, I think you're confusing the guys on the side with me because I was so excited I was like a robot coming to life

katyn: Yay! You're the best ever. No need to apologize. I think I drove myself crazy trying to guess which one it was by the titles, and I feel I need resolution.

Chloe said...

You would think that Magic Kingdom would serve a lot of drinks. I mean after being around children all day you would expect people would be willing pay $10 for a beer. I probably would. But I was served wine in Epcot (France) when I was like 14 so I guess it makes up for it. And also, I never liked Hall of Presidents, but it does have air conditioning so I continue to go back.

Mercury said...

on my birthday, I made my friends sing "this is the song that never ends" 18 times consecutively while lighting my candles. just so that later, I could say I did.

I do a lot of things so that later, I could say I did. Like take shots of champagne while playing drinking games. and a lot of crappy things too, that tasted a lot like betrayal.

I'm gonna start saying I do these things for the cultural experience. but maybe it's more like the girl in garden state. you know, how she's like, "nobody's ever done that exact thing ever before"? like in part I do things to understand why people do them and in part I do things to be ridiculous and so that I know I'm someone else who's not you.

chrissy said...

I double-checked the confirmation email I got after I ordered the shirts, and the address is correct. I know I typed in the right credit card info too. This is weird. The bottom of the email says to contact you if there's any problems with it. I can forward it to you if you want so you can check it out.

e. said...

Doing something for the "cultural experience" of it is one of the more valid reasons I can think of, actually. I always end up doing sorta weird/uncomfortable stuff because I have a secret terror that the one thing I decide to sit out will end up being the greatest opportunity I'll ever be offered, and I'd regret it for the rest of my life if I missed it.

Personally, I can't say anything about bungee jumping or skydiving, but may I just say, cliff diving? I wouldn't recommend it--diving head-first is kinda dangerous, and even if you go feet first, the adrenaline rush is hardly worth the perma-wedgie.

Anonymous said...


thought you might find that interesting...great post!

Katyn said...

Alright, I went chapter by chapter in "A Little More About Me" to double check if there's anything about her camping alone, and the only chapter that describes camping in below freezing temps is indeed 'A Man Who Will Freeze His Eyelashes For You.' So... either the essay you're thinking of is in another one of her books (maybe A Rough Guide to the Heart?) or you hated David's frost-covered eyelashes and decided to leave him out of your memory (kidding).

dewey said...

This is kinda un related but its the most exciting thing that happened to me all day and i feel the need to tell.

I went into Topshop to day and what song was playing, only The Con. I kinda freaked out in the middle of the shop but, i dont know hearing Tegan anmd Sara in Topshop is like..... hearing them in H and M.... would that be exciting...? I dont know but it made me happy.

Anyways... that says a lot about my day but its the little things that excite me the most...

lain said...

RE: (2) I am actually fairly certain that North Dakota does not exist, and I say that having been to Bismarck.

RE: (2) (redux) I need to look up this Pamela character, clearly.

Razia said...

Omg that "scariest place in the world" shit would have irritated me so much. I'd probably call them five years from now and be all like "So, uh, scariest place? Spill bitch".

I really liked this one, go you.

riese said...

chloe: I know, right? I'd be willing ot pay $20 for a Margarita.
Air conditioning is quite a clincher, maybe that's the hidden benefit of all these rides no one likes.

mercury: I think I do glasses of champagne while playing drinking games. It's what writers do, maybe, 'cause we fully intend to say we did things, instead of what normal people do, which is just do things, and not talk about them over and over until they barely even exist.

chrissy: I think you need to double-check your postal carrier. It's been sent twice now, and one day you're gonna see your mailman in a really papi shirt and be like, wtf.

e. I got a perma-wedgie at a waterpark once, and perhaps never recovered. i think cultural experiences are as good of a reason to do anything, really.

anonymous: thanks!

katyn: omg, do I have alzheimers? It's possible. I think it's possible I'm completely insane and clearly have invented memories, like the memory of reading this essay ... hmmm ... any of those things you say are possible. I don't think I've ever read a Rough Guide to the hEart, but i read cowboys and waltzing ...

dewey: topshop + tegan & sara = love

lain: I've never been there, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist too.

razia: I know right, hopefully the answer is 'my life right now, which is miserable, barefoot and pregnant."

Lozo said...

apparently that lesbian blog doesn't get the difference between voting "until" march 3 and "through" march 3, since voting is DONE. i think the 11th hour was actually the 3rd hour.