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Funbag

At Ambition’s End

James W. Welgos/Welgos/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about dude hacks, villages, states that inspire takes, Russia, and more.

Your letters:

Kyle:

Coffee with bacon and eggs is absolute dogshit, right? I know most people in America aren’t hipsters and just need to get their protein and caffeine at the same time, but is there anybody who thinks this is actually good? Any time I stop at a diner on a road trip, my brain is hijacked by the idea of those unlimited coffee pours, and every single time it leads to me literally torturing my mouth by coating it in salt and then giving it an acid bath.

I see how you phrased that question, Kyle. Don’t you go putting takes in other people’s mouths, young man. Of course other people think coffee tastes good with bacon and eggs. I am one of them. Since quitting booze, I have developed a torrid love affair with coffee. One day I’ll complete my karmic transformation into Peter King and write extensively about that love affair, but for now I’m gonna keep it simple and rebut Kyle here by saying that I fucking love diner coffee with diner food. I fantasize about such things. In fact, allow me to engage in a painful digression before I get back on topic…

For the past decade and change, I have been a loudly ambitious fellow. I wanted all my books to hit the bestseller list. When they didn’t, I put as much effort as I could into making the NEXT book a bestseller. I tried getting those books made into movies and TV shows (and am still trying). I thought about the latter CONSTANTLY, to the point where I was distracted from the business of being a proper husband and father. When this site launched, I wanted it to have a million subscribers. The first week. I got prickly if any of our more newsworthy posts didn’t get picked up by other outlets. I still hated turning down freelance work even though I had not one but TWO steady day jobs. Every time I wrote any post, I wanted it to go triple mega-viral. Every time I did a tweet, I wanted it to do likewise. I wanted to be as rich as Caesar, as famous as the pope, and as worldly as Bourdain. I wanted all of that shit, and I wanted it right away.

I have learned that the downside of having all of that ambition is that you end up feeling unfulfilled when such goals don’t come to pass. In 2021, I wanted—expected!—Point B to get bought and produced by a streaming service and for the brain book to become a massive hit in its own right. Neither of those things occurred, and I was left crestfallen. Throughout my whole career, I have always tried to look ahead to what I’m gonna do next and not think about the shit I’ve already done. That was the proper way to go about your business. I was wrong.

Ambition has a greed of its own, you know. Let it run your mind and it’ll never be fully satisfied. So, in 2022, blessed with an America finally emerging out of the pandemic, I’ve been content for life come to me rather than go chasing it all over the place. I haven’t started another book yet. If one of my existing books hits a belated tipping point and breaks big, that’s groovy. But for now, I’m just cool with what I have. Not every dream has to come true.

And as my ambition has calmed down, so have my goals. If I have a bitchin’ cup of coffee and a nap one day, and my wife and kids have a good day too, that was a good-ass day. Some days my biggest fantasy is to buy myself a pleasant sushi lunch, and then I do. I don’t need more than that to be happy. I’m keeping the scope of my dreams much smaller, and I’ve already been rewarded for it.

THAT is why I like to fantasize about housing some coffee and eggs at a diner. In fact, I just went to a diner in New York four days ago to indulge that fantasy. It was a quality day. If you don’t like coffee and breakfast food together, well then that’s your problem. I got a life of my own and I’m growing quite pleased with it.

Philip:

Let’s say Putin pushes the button and triggers nuclear apocalypse and you survive, are you “carrying the fire” like in The Road. Or do you check out immediately?

I keep going because I died once already and don’t care to die again. I have the same survival drive as most people, which means I’m programmed to remain alive no matter the circumstances.

But lemme tell you: if I had to live through the aftermath of a nuclear war, I would complain the whole time.

You already saw me complain about Kirk Cousins getting extended. This would be, like, twice the complaining. I’d be so pissed. I’d walk around with my remaining children, pushing a shopping cart filled with stale bread and charred blankets, and I’d piss and moan every step of the way. I’d take out my phone and not be able to get a signal ANYWHERE. I wouldn’t even be able to find a charging outlet. Then I’d be in the mood for Popeyes only to discover that none are open anywhere in the world. Then I’d tell the kids to go to school so I could nap and they’d be like, “But Daddy, there’s no such thing as school anymore. This is the end times, remember?” And then I’d go “Oh, drat!” Then I’d get horny and there’d be NO private enclosed space for me to jerk off. Just a horrible situation all around.

I’d want to be dead. Death is very easy and relaxing. But then I’d say to myself, “Listen Drew, you have all eternity to be dead, so just stay alive for the time being.” Then I’d go back to pushing my little cart and yelling at every other cart pusher who cuts me off along the abandoned freeway. That’s what would happen. Thanks a lot, Putin.

Way deep inside the recesses of my mind, I have long dreamed of a nuclear war actually happening. I am NOT pro-nuclear war. Need to make that clear. (You’re ready for me to say “but” now.) BUT I’ve spent my entire life in the nuclear age, as have you. So we’ve been conditioned to imagine “what if” all the time. When I was in fourth grade, we had to read short stories from this little, saddle-stitched kiddie lit magazine my teacher passed out once a month. One of those stories was called “Helter Shelter,” about a dude living in a bunker during a nuclear war and having his brain turn to mush. It came off as very real, and it completely fucked me up. And yet, my friend would draw fallout symbols in the margins of his notebook and write NUKE ‘EM TILL THEY GLOW!, and then I’d be like, “Yeah! Fuckin’ nuke everybody!” I was attracted to the dramatic, and still am despite living through multiple wars, an openly criminal presidency, and a goddamn pandemic. I know this shit sucks. I’ve lived it. Many suboptimal days. And yet I read The Road and the fourth grader in me was like, “Man, what if that was me? That’d be fucking wild.” I have a real love/hate relationship with Armageddon. I should probably note that with my therapist.

Greg:

I have an idea for how the NBA can fix the foul-drawing problem it has; what if the clock didn’t stop during foul shots? That way, fouls dramatically reduce the available point-scoring time, which penalizes both the fouling team and the player drawing the fouls. The exception would be inside 2:00 from the end of the game to prevent teams from bleeding the clock to preserve a lead. Maybe I just watch too much soccer now. If anything, the mental image of watching Harden draw a foul and then jump up and chuck it to the free throw line is amusing. 

I might’ve agreed with this idea a year ago before the NBA instituted the Harden Rules and made leaning into defenders for three cheap foul shots nowhere near as easy as it used to be. Harden still gets his fair share of horseshit calls, but not as many that he and Trae Young used to get. Now everything in the NBA is better and I don’t have to daydream about drastic hypothetical rule changes to solve the problem. The league is doing what it should have always done, and I am thus satisfied.

February is the time of year when I tell myself to start watching basketball but can’t because I just got out of another sports relationship. But now it’s March, and the NCAA bracket is out (I haven’t watched a single minute of college hoops all year), and so now my brain is like, “Time’s up. You have to move on now,” which means I’m ready to start watching hoops again. That also means you’re gonna have to deal with me having insanely uninformed basketball takes from now until June.

[looks at bracket for the first time]

GONZAGA? AGAIN?! THEY AIN’T SHIT.

Matt:

How much different would Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have gone without social media?

It would have been exactly the same. To the second. One thing the invasion proved, at least to me, is how utterly worthless social media—Twitter in particular—is in this kind of situation. On my feed, I saw all the great footage of Russian troops getting their shit owned by Ukrainian citizens and I was like, “lol Russia.” But that doesn’t mean shit. Even if Russian morale is low and Putin made a series of demented tactical and political blunders, my feed is still only giving me a microscopic fraction of an idea of what’s happening on the ground over there. And my reaction to that limited news scope is as useless as an expired Metrocard. It means nothing. It changes nothing. I only engage with that news in “Protagonist of Reality” mode, which isn’t terribly productive.

In fact, I don’t know that anything I’ve ever said or done on Twitter has made a lick of difference in any regard. Some people agreed with me and some people didn’t. Meanwhile, the world kept doing whatever it wanted. I never got Trump impeached. I never got Joe Manchin to stop being an obstructionist fuckhead. I never shamed PopSugar to stop writing headlines like “Florence Pugh bought this little Russian girl a Black Widow action figure and it means everything.” I accomplished nothing.

I still don’t care for the “Twitter isn’t real life!” argument that every moderate deploys as a way of dismissing proposals for, like, health care for orphans. Twitter still has value amplifying good ideas (and terrible ones, of course). But I also now understand, far later than I should have, that it only gets you so far. Ninety-nine percent of the shit there is personal entertainment disguised as vital information. The rest is people asking for GoFundMe donations. It didn’t prevent the invasion and it won’t prevent whatever happens next. It’ll just be people like you and me arguing about no-fly zones while Putin ups the ante and drops daisy cutters on area hospitals. If you REALLY want to see social media make a difference, you gotta go over to Facebook. They’ve got the whole “let’s make some genocide!” thing down to a science.

HALFTIME!

David:

So I’m a father of a three-year-old and a nearly 10-month old. When can I start taking naps with the kids around me? I am a mostly stay-at-home dad, but not worried about money. Sometimes I just need to close my eyes. 

Back when they were much younger, I used to sleep whenever the kids slept. I definitely went to bed at 8 p.m. many nights because that’s when the kids fell asleep so I was like, “Shit, I better take advantage of this.” Ditto naps. If could wedge a nap in when they were either asleep or at preschool, that’s what I did. I didn’t get to electively nap until they all hit grade school. So you, David, have a bit of wait. But it’ll prove worth it, I assure you.

Sean:

My European and Asian friends who didn’t grow up within major cities refer to their hometowns as villages, which I’m wicked jealous of. Where did America lose its way and abandon the term “villages” for suburbs? When I think of villages I think of quaint little main streets where there’s a butcher, cobbler, and everyone is somewhat tolerant of each other. But when I think of a suburb, I think of a whitewashed HOA concrete jungle behind the Target where your neighbors are openly trying to overthrow the school board.

Well that’s just it. It’s no longer a matter of terminology. The American suburbs—both due to geography and industrial cravings—have been engineered to be automotive places exclusively. There are no sidewalks. No town centers, unless you count some shitty new retail development named as such. You drive everywhere, even if it’s less than a mile away. When you go to a grocery store, you buy a week’s worth of groceries and not just a day’s worth. Storefront turnover is nearly constant unless the storefront in question is, like, a Best Buy. Everything is designed not for you to linger, but for you to get your shit and then drive away as quickly as possible, and Americans have gladly fallen in line with such practices. This is why I complain if it takes me longer than three minutes to find a parking spot outside of Giant.

Meanwhile, you’ll travel abroad and find, as Sean notes, actual villages. They’re walkable. They have an architectural personality to them. Sometimes the people even know each other. This is not true of EVERY small town outside of America. I know because I’ve been to British suburbs that are just as charmless as our own. But genuine villages are still more common in Europe and elsewhere. When you get back home after visiting one, you’re like, “Well shit, why the fuck is Danbury like THIS and not that?” All of our worst infrastructural qualities become all too conspicuous and bothersome when you realize that towns don’t HAVE to be like most American suburbs and exurbs. At least some of the college towns here get that. Not many other suburbs do. And yet a sizable percentage of Americans PRIDE themselves on hailing from “small towns” that are really just anodyne shitholes no different from any other. Politicians win elections by pandering to such people. It makes me want to move to Italy and never, ever come back. Maybe one day I’ll have the balls to make good on that.

My family and I live in the burbs. The anodyne sort. A German man used to live next to us. Whenever his parents visited him from Germany, they would walk to the Safeway in the next town over and come back with a single bag of groceries. Every day. No American-born suburbanite would be caught dead doing that shit. But these folks did, and they looked happier for it.

Will:

What state has the biggest majority of people who have an opinion about it? After careful review, I think it’s down to Florida, California, Texas or New York. Everyone has something to say about those states one way another. Texas is full of gun nuts or real ‘Muricans, depending on your viewpoints. California has the best weather, Hollywood, tech bros, Nancy Pelosi. New York has generations of sports stories that no one will shut up about. But it’s definitely Florida, right? Florida’ll eat everyone’s face no matter which side you’re on. Every grandma has a story about visiting Disney orld when it first opened and every teenager/college kid has dreams of the bad choices they can make at Spring Break. “Florida Man” is probably going to be used as a defense in at least one January 6 trial, and it will work. Everyone has something to say about Florida. 

Don’t forget Alabama. Everything I know about Alabama I learned from reading Letter From A Birmingham Jail and watching My Cousin Vinny. I have Alabama takes, and so does every single Yankee I know. I tend to clump Alabama with Mississippi into a single, violently racist backwater that has occasionally good food, but I also definitely feel strongly about Alabama on its own, even though I’ve never been there. The beauty of ignorance. Texas, Florida, and even Idaho are trying their damndest to join this domestic Axis of Inbreeding, but Alabama is the original. When I think of the worst of this country, that’s the first place I think of. If you’re a Republican, you think California. Me, Alabama.

Meanwhile, thanks to Nick Saban’s efforts, everyone else in the South ALSO has Bama takes. So if you live in Alabama, you cannot escape judgment from your fellow Americans. That’s probably why you’re so annoyingly proud to live there. Dumbass.

Dan:

Rocket Mortgage claims to be a “proud supporter of college athletics.” Is there any reason to ever proudly support college athletics?

If you’re paid handsomely to, sure. I reached the peak of my huffiness with the NCAA at the height of the pandemic, when college football limped back into existence despite many players begging for it not to. You’re not gonna believe this, but my huffiness has since abated. I watched a shitload of college ball last fall, and I’ll watch the tourney this week without a scintilla of hesitation. I am, in terms of both my wallet and my eyeballs, a supporter of college athletics. I’m not a proud one, but the powers that be don’t give a shit about that part of the equation. All that matters is that I watch, and of course I do. Maybe if they hand Defector a $5 million sponsorship deal to post bracket PDFs on our website, I’ll move into the Proud tier. Until then, I’m the shameful lurker.

Kelli:

I just booked a couple’s spa day with my husband. The couple’s package that includes the treatments we want also includes a couple’s shower suite. The copy for this spa package invites us to, “shower your loved one with some alone time in our couple’s shower suite.” Is this an invitation to bone in the spa shower? Will the staff assume we had a pre-massage quickie no matter what? Can we make eye contact with any staff members after we leave the shower? Is there a team with full body protection and bleach spray waiting for us to finish? This is a spa attached to a high-end hotel in one of the nicest neighborhoods in our city. We are not spa people and are therefore not sure of the etiquette here. 

I’m not either, but I can “read between the lines” here and conclude that yes, they want customers to fuck in the shower suite. Given the expense, they’re NOT gonna make you feel awkward about it. You’re not just paying to bone in the shower suite; you’re also paying for everyone to keep quiet about it. In fact, the staff’ll probably hand you a 500-thread Egyptian cotton towel to clean off with after you’ve finished. There’s abundant discretion in that tax bracket, so that everyone within gets to experience a shameless brand of freedom that engenders both disgust and envy in equal measure across the rest of the population.

Or you can both get a mani-pedi there instead. That also comes guilt-free.

Aaron:

Do you have any good dude hacks? For example, one of my favorites is using a paper plate on top of a regular plate. All the stability of a regular plate but with none of the mess! 

Man, I never considered that idea. But why use a regular plate at all then? Why not just use the paper plate and forget about the china entirely? There’s no practical or aesthetic benefit to using a normal plate as, like, a charger plate. Also, you know goddamn well that the paper plate will leak and that you’ll end up having to wash the good plate anyway. I admire the concept but not the execution.

One dude hack I have is that the Notes app is useful for everything. If you only use that app to write an apology note to post to Twitter, you’re not exploiting the full capabilities of it. I can make a grocery list on Notes. For takeout, I can log everyone’s order in Notes and then just go off of that when I call or order online. I even busted out Notes at a Chinese restaurant last weekend in New York to get the entire group’s order. We were a big party and had six kids at the table, so it helped out the waiter for me to just show him the list on my phone.

Also, I figured out that the selfie function on my phone’s camera is also useful for seeing hard to reach places. When I replace a toilet seat, I can turn the camera on, set my phone on the (clean) bathroom floor, and see exactly where the mounting bolts are without having to look directly at them. Saves my back a lot of horseshit.

Jack:

I received a bidet, the kind that you install under the toilet seat—not a separate bowl—as a kind of “gag gift” for Christmas. Let me tell you, this is no gag. I don’t think I can ever go back to (exclusively) dry wiping. Why does every household in America not have a bidet?

Because it sounds too French, probably.

Email of the week!

DireMonkey:

When I was a young man I spent a couple weeks in Hawaii on business with a couple other coworkers. It was a great time and Honolulu per diem gets you a lot of mai tais and sushi. We meet up with one of my coworker’s friends who grew up on the north shore. We’d spent the last week shutting down Waikiki and now we were getting the private snorkel tour of the north shore. We’re hitting up the food trucks, swimming with honu, jumping off rocks. Real Forgetting Sarah Marshall stuff.

Kelly Slater takes us to Shark’s Cove on the north shore and shows us this hidden submerged hole in the rocks, tells us to time the swell, hold our breath, and watch our head, and we basically get sucked through this hole in the reef into a partially submerged lava tube and come up into this chamber under the rocks. You can see blue sky through a narrow crack in the ceiling, and sunlight coming in from under the water. To get out of this cave, it’s about a 25-yard swim underwater to the open ocean. 

The locals probably call this cave a tourist trap, but for me this is epic stuff. In Hawaii, for free, underwater caves, crystal clear water, day drinking, local grub, me, a few wahines, and surfing. The only thing that could ruin this would be possibly shitting yourself in front of a bunch of single ladies, including a few coworkers you will see DAILY when you return to the mainland.

I don’t have a sordid tale of penguin walking a half mile or clenching for 30 minutes on a public bus with my fiancé’s parents. Quite simply, there was a week’s worth of mai tais, rice, pineapple, and pork, that decided to leave my body NOW. While I was in a group. In a Hawaiian sea cave. Snorkeling.

I gave Slater the DEFCON 5 look, and praise Maui he knew exactly what is about to happen. He rallied the ladies for a rapid departure to the sea, and once they were past the point of no return, I dropped the board shorts, chummed the cave, and made the swim to freedom.  Best work trip ever. 

I’d shit in a reef cave.