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Some Basic Rules For Proper AirPod Etiquette

PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 21: A guest wears a black shiny leather crocodile print pattern jacket, a black and beige Dior Oblique Jacquard Saddle shoulder bag from Dior, outside Dior, during Paris Fashion Week - Menswear F/W 2022-2023, on January 21, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)
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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 emergency exits, Disneyland, tactical wristwatches, and more.

Your letters:


Is there proper etiquette to follow when wearing earbuds while walking? I throw in the AirPods when walking the dog alone, because I’d rather listen to Roth chat about sandwiches than interact with humans. This doesn’t prevent people from trying to talk to me, so I’m constantly pausing or taking out the pods. I assume most folks don’t notice the tiny white bits in my ears, but my millennial brain is trained to always peep the ears before dapping up strangers. Am I the asshole here?

As someone who needs advanced technology in order to hear MORE, it’s strange to me to see everyone else, my own kids included, spend all day purposely deafening themselves to the outside world. I get it, of course. I’ve been on airplanes. I know the value of noise-cancelling headphones. I don’t want some loud baby interrupting me when I’m rocking out to Oasis.

But my kids wear these things all the fucking time. I have to keep one of the dog’s toys by my recliner so that, when I need to get one my children’s attention, I can just huck a squeaky lobster at them. Because shouting at my kids does nothing (probably for the best that I can no longer raise my voice and have it be effective), and I’m too lazy to get up. Noise-cancelling devices are part of a larger tech ecosystem that isolates you from everyone else and lets you see, read, and hear only what you want to see, read, and hear. That’s a nice luxury to have when you’re stuck somewhere that’s crowded and annoying, but it also detracts from the human experience on a few levels.

I’ve said this before, but humanity is still in its digital infancy. You and I are still learning how to live with all of this new shit, and trying to sort out the best way to govern ourselves using it. How does one adopt all of this tech and still be not only a good person, but a happy one? Well, it’s only taken me two decades to get the hang of it, but I’ve slowly developed habits where my gadgets enhance my life rather than colonize it. Everyone else is on a similar learning curve, whether they realize it or not. Given that this is yet another election year, we are about to find out if we’ve gotten any better at this self-governance than we were back in 2016. I’m optimistic, but you’ve met my prognostication record. You’ve also met Elon Musk, so there’s that to contend with.

So this is an existential question more than an etiquette question. But this is the Funbag, and you come to me for ANSWERS, dammit. So lemme try to throw down some ground rules for AirPods right now. Here is when you’re not the asshole for tuning out everyone else:

  • While on a vigorous walk or run outside (although you should be on heightened alert for oncoming cars and bikes, since you won’t hear them)
  • Exercising inside
  • On mass transit
  • In a room/bed, alone
  • At a library, so long as the sound doesn’t leak out
  • At work and you need to concentrate
  • Sitting alone at a bar/restaurant and you’d like to be left alone
  • At home, so long as you give everyone else the heads up
  • While in your prison cell

And here is where you ARE the asshole for doing it:

  • At the dinner table
  • At a party
  • In a meeting where you’re expected to participate
  • In a classroom where you’re expected to participate
  • While driving
  • While out on your bike
  • While giving a speech
  • While watching a separate movie or TV show
  • While performing open heart surgery
  • When I need you to take out the fucking trash. I asked you an hour ago, dickhead!

That work? I say those are fair ground rules.


Do people age in heaven and hell? We tend to picture 97-year old grandma and two-month old Billy remaining the same age when they enter heaven. Or are they balls of light? What language do people speak in Heaven? Does two-month old Billy speak?

I only believe in heaven and hell as pop-culture constructs, if that makes sense. I don’t think there’s an actual afterlife, but I’ve been conditioned by movies and TV to visualize it. In my mind, you go to heaven or hell looking exactly like you did at your time of death. You enter heaven at the ripe old age of 85, but you don’t care that you’re still old because you’re in heaven. You feel fit, and you don’t need to wear adult diapers anymore. You’re good, and you stay good forever. Same goes for hell, only you’re too busy being tortured by an endless loop of Aaron Rodgers talking to Pat McAfee to lament your eternal case of rheumatism. This is an extremely unimaginative, not to mention inaccurate, way to think about the afterlife. But again, I blame TV and movies. Oh, and the Bible. I guess the Bible should be held accountable here.


Is it just me or in the last few years everyday products have turned "tactical"? Everything from hoodies to water bottles to backpacks look like they're marketed for bootlickers or veteran frauds. What's behind this?

“Tactical” Oakleys/chinos/baseball hats is a well-used Rothism to depict bros who want to appear tougher and more authoritative than they actually are. But that joke is rooted is a much more pervasive, and widely accepted, form of product design. Let’s say I wanna buy a travel mug. Now I can buy any old travel mug and it’ll suit my needs. But when you tell me, “This is the travel mug that Navy SEALs used when they were on their way to killing bin Laden,” then I’m like Oh wow that mug must really keep your coffee tasting hot and fresh! If it’s good enough for our most elite snipers, then it’s good enough for me!

This is true of almost all gear: outerwear, sunglasses, tools, sporting goods, camping equipment, boots, cooking supplies, food, and automobiles. There’s a sales element to this—“use what the pros use!”—but also some practical benefit. Jeep started out exclusively in manufacturing vehicles for the military. But then, in 1945, someone at Jeep was like, “Hey man, I bet area dads could really use our 4x4s when they’re out on a squirrel hunt!” and their instincts proved correct. If you live in a place that has inclement weather, it really IS useful to have a car with a high clearance, extra space for your tactical snowmobile suit, and all-wheel drive. If you work out in the field, it’s helpful to have a rugged wristwatch that can withstand deep water and bashing against rocks. And if you’re alone out in the wilderness and living off of the land then yes, you’d rather have a hunting rifle than not have one. A lot of these products are good.

Of course it was inevitable that their functionality would eventually be worked into a more widespread form of lifestyle branding. I remember being in middle school and going to the Eddie Bauer store with my mom. While she was over in the racks finding rugby shirts to hide my love handles, I was gazing at all of the camping gear locked away in the store’s display case: compasses, flashlights, Leatherman-style multitools, watches that also told you what time it was on Cape Horn, and other goodies. I was a marshmallow-soft kid from the burbs, but all of that gear fed into a tough guy delusion that 60 percent of all American men now possess. I definitely wanted to have all of that shit for the day I climbed Mount Everest sans oxygen tanks. That I would never actually climb Everest was beside the point. I just wanted to enjoy the idea that I could.

It’s always nice to think that you’re more rugged than you actually are, which is why our roads are now littered with vanity pickups that cost $85,000, and why every rural voter in America has outfitted themselves like they’re preparing for World War III. If you condition everyone to want survival gear, you’re also conditioning them to expect to need it.


I’m curious, if those compression pants (or whatever they are) that are so popular with seemingly every NBA player work so well, why is it that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pro tennis player wear them? The parallels in athletic output seem close enough that you’d think there’d be more crossover, no?

Tennis players wear compression shorts. It’s simply a matter of whether or not they’re allowed to wear them by the tournament they’ve entered. Serena Williams and her catsuit have a whole story to tell you about that. So when tour pros can wear them, they will.

Because compression shorts/pants are useful. They keep you warm, they help prevent scrapes and minor soft tissue injuries, and they keep your junk in place. I wear them when I bike, and I’m glad I have them. My only mistake was buying a few pairs that were NOT black. No idea what I was thinking when I did that. Nothing worse than peeling off a pair of white compression shorts and instantly realizing your folly.


I know the whole "They don't make good movies anymore, they only make sequels and remakes" take is beaten to death. But I honestly can't think of a movie in the last five years that I would like to actively watch again. I tried to watch Killers of the Flower Moon and it felt like time was fucking going backwards. Granted, I was slightly high. But still. Anyway, what's a movie in the last five years that's a rewatch for you?

I think your aversion to rewatching movies is less about movies changing than you changing. Back when I was a kid, I could watch the same movie 50 times and never bat an eyelash. When my old man told me he never re-watched movies, I looked at him like he was a fucking alien.

I get it now. After passing through the gantlet of early parenthood where you have to watch movies like Frozen a million times, I rarely, if ever, want to watch the same movie twice anymore. I need new stories, not ones I’ve already seen before. However, I’m willing to make a few exceptions for movies I know have a lot of dimensions to them. Flower Moon, a masterpiece, is one of them. I’ll definitely watch that movie again, if only to take in De Niro back at the height of his powers. Here are a few more examples. And yes, I’m going back more than five years for a few of these, but you’ll live:

  • Fury Road
  • The Revenant
  • Black Panther
  • Any John Wick movie
  • Any Jackass movie
  • Buster Scruggs
  • The Nice Guys
  • Coco
  • Tenet

Not all of these movies are perfect (except Fury Road, of course), but they’re all compulsively watchable. I also love quoting them to myself, and I enjoy getting the best lines down so that, while taking a piss, I can mutter to myself, “Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence.” That’s a quality trip to the bathroom: a moment all to myself.

But otherwise, one viewing is almost always enough. I’ve got football to watch, people.



At your typical grocery or drug store there will be several varieties of toothpaste that run from let's say $1 to $10 a tube. The $1 tube is your basic no-frills kind, while the $10 tube represents the pinnacle of Colgate's knowledge and research of dental health and is called Advanced Clinical Formula or something. There will be a few types in between with Xtreme Whitening Action or other features to justify their price. Is the top tier paste just a scam that appeals to many people's false assumption that the more expensive an item is, the better it is?

In general, yes. If your dentist is fine with the toothpaste you currently use, and they almost certainly are, you’re good to go. All of them contain the same tactical, abrasive ingredients that scour plaque off of your enamel, and all of them freshen your breath. The only reason to buy specialty toothpaste is for niche reasons, like if you need added whitening power (raises hand), or if you only want all-natural toothpaste, or if you have sensitive teeth. In my personal experience, Sensodyne does jack and shit, but your mileage there will vary.

Otherwise, the only reason to buy X toothpaste over another is simply because you like it more. I was horny for Aquafresh when I was a kid because I thought the colored stripes were made of jam. This was not correct. There is no candy in Aquafresh, which is why I now use an Arm & Hammer brand that tastes like absolute shit. The gagging lets me know it’s working.


What percentage of emergency exit doors actually have an alarm primed to go off if you open it? In my experience those signs and warnings are at least 80% bullshit. What say you?

It’s gotta be even higher than that, but here’s the thing: those signs WORK. I have opened one too many legitimate emergency doors in my lifetime, and had the alarm go off, to ever fuck with one again. Sometimes you can see that the door is wired to an alarm on wall directly above it. Other times you just see a sign that says EMERGENCY DOOR. Either way, I fear triggering the alarm and then having everyone stare at me like I’m a bank robber who just farted. Too dicey. I may as well spare myself the embarrassment and walk the extra 30 feet to the front of the store.

Sometimes though … sometimes you’ll be in a restaurant that has a spare exit door right in the dining room that no one dares to use. And then you take a big chance at the high school dance and stroll right out of it in front of everyone else still eating their vichyssoise. That’s a power move, and one I’ve executed on more than one occasion. If I don’t see that EMERGENCY sign across the front of a door, it’s fair game.


What are the odds that, completely unbeknownst to you, you've lived in the same city as another random person your entire life? That is, someone was born and grew up in your hometown, happened to go to college in the same city as you, happened to get a job in the same city, etc? If we remove the weirdoes who only live in one city their entire lives, what do you think the longest string of coincidental city-mates is?

In my case, there’s no chance. My lifespan goes three months in Sydney, Australia, four years in Darien, Conn., three years in Chicago, seven years in Minneapolis, three years in Exeter, N.H., one semester in Ann Arbor, Mich., three-and-half years in Waterville, Maine, six years in NYC, and 20(!!!) in suburban D.C. My itinerary is a fingerprint. Even my own parents and siblings don’t possess it, so the odds that a complete stranger does are nonexistent.

Jon above exempted “weirdoes” who live in one place their whole lives. But that’s not only a common practice, but a decidedly normal one. Some people can’t afford to live anywhere else, or they just don’t have the opportunity. Happens in every town, in every country. Sometimes I’m jealous of these people, because I have no real homeland to call my own. Even Minnesota didn’t feel like home to me the last time I went there. But that means I have the luxury of believing that [Hetfield voice, engage] anywhere I roam, where I lay my head is home. I’ve lived in Maryland for two decades, but could flee this joint next week and not feel all that attached. In this way, I am exactly like Neil McCauley from Heat.

But in my daydreams, I still imagine finding my true homeland. Maybe it’s in California. Maybe it’s in Italy. Maybe it’s back in my birth country. Regardless, I still have an inner drive to find it and make it mine. So long as I can bring my recliner with me, I’ll have it made.


Have you ever been to Disneyland with your family? This coming Spring Break I'm finally going to bite the bullet and bring my family (two boys, seven and nine) to Disneyland. It looks like we're going to pay Walt's exorbitant rates to stay at one of the hotels on site. Do you have any tips or advice to help make this fun, and enable me to keep my sanity?

I made it through my years parenting small children without once having to step foot on a Disney property, which I consider an enormous victory despite the fact that I liked Disneyland and Disney World when I visited both as a kid. Our own Chris Thompson is the better resource for all of your Disney theme park questions, given that he LOVES Disney World in a way that betrays his hard-earned skepticism of both capitalism and of humanity itself. Our commenters also almost certainly have good on-the-ground tips for you.

As for me, I’ve taken my children to Busch Gardens and Universal Studios Hollywood, and I enjoyed all of those trips. Disney is its own beast, but I have practical advice from my own theme park trips that’s probably applicable, so here it is.

Anything you can do early, do early. Buy tickets and parking passes well in advance. Make restaurant reservations well in advance. Get to the park when the doors open and go to the ass-end of the park, and all of the best rides in that area, first. Eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. before every concession stand turns into Coachella.

If you can afford to cut the lines, do it. It’s nasty business buying one of those extra special passes that let you skip ahead of the riffraff. But when I tell you that I waited two hours in line for The Simpsons ride at Universal only to finally admit defeat and abandon the line without ever having gone on the ride, you’ll understand the value of acting like an entitled rich asshole.

Go to the stunt shows. The best thing at Universal is the live Waterworld stunt show, mostly because everyone in the front row gets drenched. These shows have set times, abundant seating, and cool fake gunfights. They’re an oasis in what is otherwise a tense battle to ride as many rides as possible in as little time as possible.

Don’t let your mom ride the Matterhorn. My mom famously dislikes roller coasters, and yet she went on the Matterhorn at Disneyland with us because we begged her to. She freaked out mid-ride, broke her glasses, and then vowed to never let us talk her into anything again. You’ve been warned.

Once you’ve been on one virtual rollercoaster, you’ve been on all of them. I got to ride Star Tours and Body Wars way back when virtual roller coasters were a new thing. Now parks like Universal are comprised of like 80 percent virtual coasters (that Simpsons ride included). The thrill only goes so far. Eventually, you want to REALLY go upside down instead of being in an IMAX theater that shakes.

Buy a smoked turkey leg. That shit is good.


Recently on a show I was watching, one of the main characters was taking a rather selective writing course from a published author, at one of those pristine learning institutions. The author/instructor had an air of pretentiousness to him, and told the students that, "Writing should always cost you something." The main character said that she disagreed, and asked if sometimes a story can just be a story. I tend to agree with her. As a published author, what do you think?

Well, let’s ask Steven Soderbergh first:

Writers love to cast their vocation as the most torturous work imaginable: blank pages, writer’s block, hating your own work, etc. All of that is bullshit. Writing is only an affliction if Tortured Writer is an identity you fancy for yourself. I know I’m one to talk here, because writing can come quite easy to me at times. But I fucking love writing, even when I write myself into a corner. I love figuring my way out of those corners, and coming out of that battle with good copy gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. Writing makes me happy, and I wish more professionals felt the same way.

Furthermore, a story really CAN just be a story. One of the most annoying questions you’ll ever get in a meeting with Hollywood people is, “OK, but what’s this story about?” They’re like English teachers. They’re always demanding a moral. This is usually because they’re already prepared to reject your pitch, but first they have to ask you the dumbest question possible in order to make you say, “This is a story about POWER, and how it can lure in anyone!” If you think of a good story with interesting characters, all of those takeaways reveal themselves organically. You don’t have to force it. You don’t even have to know you’re trying to get that point across. If you give the reader license to interpret the story as they see fit, you’re gonna end up with a much more impactful narrative than if you get all didactic about what’s happening on the page. Watch The American President or some other awful movie for proof.

The only thing I do believe about the relationship between writing and your own self-regard is that your writing is always better if you put a piece of yourself into it. My job is to connect with you, the reader. I can only do that if I’m willing to open my soul and let myself be vulnerable on the page. That doesn’t cost me anything, though. Quite the contrary. It’s why I love this job.

Email of the week!


A couple years back, my wife was extremely pregnant with our second child. A little over two weeks before the due date, we were sitting around watching TV when she began to feel sick to her stomach. We didn’t think much of it until she ended up in the bathroom puking her guts out. We figured it might have been food poisoning. Regardless, it led to a long night in triage for her and in the waiting room for me. 

We were sent home the next morning, only for the baby to start wiggling his way out about an hour after we got back from the hospital. Back we went and later that day, a healthy kid arrived.

A few days later, we were back home and settling in with the world’s easiest baby (he somehow slept for 22 hours a day when he was a newborn). Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. It soon became clear that my wife had not picked up food poisoning, but some kind of stomach bug/norovirus hybrid from the very depths of hell.

The cramps were terrible, but I somehow got through the night with only a couple small bouts of diarrhea. I have a strong stomach, and was lucky not to have yakked everywhere. I somehow got myself to bed and passed out.

The next morning I woke up to the scene in The Godfather where the dude wakes up to a severed horse’s head in his bed. But this was not a horse’s head. It was the accumulated weight of two days of hospital food in diarrhea form. 

The cramps were back and somehow worse. My wife, two days after giving birth, stripped that mess off the bed and somehow made our bedroom livable again. I’ve never told anyone that story but I think about it anytime I get annoyed at my wife. Sure, she forgot to do the dishes but fuck it, she cleaned up a mess of untold proportions. 

Yup. She gets to keep that card for life.

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