What’s The Least Fulfilling Line To Stand In?
1:29 PM EDT on May 23, 2023
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 writing good characters, soccer, dads on weed, haircuts, and more.
What's the least fulfilling line to stand in? My local grocery store required me to stand in line during COVID, and after getting to the end of that line, I still had to go in and grocery shop. It sucked. I don't think it's the DMV, because while that's notoriously unpleasant, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you likely won't have to do it again for a long time.
Any airport Starbucks. You know the deal: You finally make it through security, but you still have enough time before they start boarding to get yourself something to eat or drink. You go hunting around the terminal for a place to get something and HEY LOOK AT THAT, everyone else had the same idea. It’s 7 a.m. and the only places open on the concourse are a McDonald’s and a Starbucks, both of which only have one register open and lines that go to the fucking moon. Then it’s like oh fuck do I even have time to get something? Is it even worth it? The answer to both of those questions is NO. But you test out the line anyway, and it moves slower than traffic on the George Washington Bridge. The cashier is in no hurry whatsoever. You are going to fucking murder everyone else in this line, all so that you can get the world’s most average latte.
That’s the worst line to stand in, and I say that knowing full well that the line to get ONTO the airplane two minutes later isn’t much better. Also, shoutout to the lines at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, both of which are so long that they have a pop-up convenience store built into them just so that you won’t starve to death.
Do American soccer fans need to give it a rest with their over-Anglicized vocabulary (the table, the pitch, the kit, etc)? We have different words for those things that we use for ALL our other sports. It’s like, “I’m glad you had fun on your study abroad in Barthelona, but you’re home now.”
The only place where affecting soccer-ese bother me is with our worst MLS team name offenders, namely Inter Miami and Real Salt Lake. That second one makes the nickname “Utah Jazz” look authentic to local culture. How many Mormons call that team “reel” Salt Lake? All of them, and I don’t even blame them for it.
Otherwise, I’m fine with using proper soccer terms like pitch, match, and nil. Those are universal terms in the sport across all English-language speaking countries, so why shouldn’t Americans also use them? That vocabulary is part of the identity of the sport and makes it unique. More important: If you don’t use those terms, you’ll sound like you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.
Soccerheads in America can take this too far, of course. My son is batshit crazy for soccer and, for a long stretch, insisted that I call his practice “training” and his cleats “boots.” I reacted by going full 40s mode. I went, “Oh, is that what they call cleats in soccer? Well then, OK. Let’s go get your ‘boots’ and get in the car to go the ‘the training.’” And then, just as I was getting the hang of it, he stopped giving a shit. I can call it practice again, although now I feel a touch wrong saying it.
For a decent stretch, he also wanted me to call soccer “football,” which I resisted. This wasn’t out of principle; it’s just very confusing to call soccer “football” here when the other football is so culturally dominant. It gets too confusing, and I’m too lazy to call regular football “American football.” That’s four whole extra syllables. What’s next, I gotta convert to the metric system? IN THIS COUNTRY WE SPEAK NFL. YOU GOT ME, PEOPLE?
I am in my early 40s and just started getting into weed. Mostly to relax without having a drink. I have two questions: First, do I call it “weed” as a 42-year-old? It was always “weed” to me, but do I tell the 20-somethings I work with that I “smoke weed?” Or does calling it “weed” show my age anyway?
I got bad news for you, Nicko: Everything you do shows your age. There’s no hiding it. You can get more plastic surgery than Madonna and everyone will still know you’re a middle-aged guy. And if you refer to weed by a more current term like “lound” (NOTE: I have no idea if kids actually call weed this), it’ll only make you look older, not the other way around. No 20-something is ever gonna hear you say one of their slang terms and be like, “Wow, that guy must be 26 like I am! We should vape together!” No sense in fighting the person you’ve become. Take it from someone who wasted a lot of his early 40s doing just that.
More important: Everyone still calls it weed anyway. “Pot” is more dated, and “dope” has evolved to mean heroin more than anything else. But again, trying to stay relevant at your age is a lost cause, so call it whatever the fuck you want. Call it “the reefer,” or “mary jane,” or “hippie salad,” or “that dookeebalookee.” It doesn’t matter, especially if you just took a hit.
Is it just me, or is it way easier to spread things with a spoon rather than a knife? You can scoop up more on each pass, and the surface area and curvature on the back make for a much more natural spreading process. Sure, if you have to cut into a stick of butter, then by all means use a knife and then wonder why you made the life choices you did not to end up with a tub of spreadable stuff in that moment.
Are you saying that I should buy Country Crock instead of butter? This isn’t Wisconsin in 1988, Jonathan. We had a food revolution, and pure butter played a surprisingly vital role in it. I do not question my life choices when I’m cutting into a stick of butter; I am celebrating them. Gonna go have a cookie now.
As to the question, I’ll only use a spoon to spread things that are extremely loose: jam, honey, apple butter, cherry pepper hoagie spread, etc. The back end of a spoon is useful for all of that. But once I get to a denser food, even fairly spreadable ones like cream cheese, I need a knife to cut into it and then deftly maneuver it around my bagel. I’m not unlike Picasso using his palette knife to create his latest masterpiece. A knife gives me more precision and less margin for error. Squish a stubborn jelly blob with your spoon and who knows where the hell that thing ends up. SCARY.
Snow looks like this now, by the way:
Damn. See now his first mistake was living for another 30 years. Also, I just re-watched the “Informer” video and '90s Snow looked like a goddamn accountant back then, too. Just a skinnier one.
How long will the NFL last, realistically? 15 years? 50? 500?
The NFL will last exactly as long as America itself does. Depending on who you ask, that could be anywhere from the next election to the heat death of the sun. Personally speaking, I’ll give America/the NFL a few more centuries. I know that Our Democracy In Peril editorials are standard-issue now, but I don’t believe any of that shit. Our corporate overlords will keep America around, at least in concept, for as long as they possibly can, and they’ve already proven both hardy and adaptable in that task.
And you know what? Americans LOVE being governed by corporations. Can’t get enough of it. I know “corporate interests” are cited as a prevailing evil by politicians everywhere, but all of that falls on deaf ears because Americans like me were raised by those same interests. Frito-Lay is my mommy and Time Warner is my daddy. This is why I once thought Elon Musk would make a good president. It’s also why Donald Trump, who is a corporate interest all unto himself, actually got elected President. Most Americans love corporate interests, even if they say otherwise. Much better to have the Ford Motor Company running this country than BIG GUBMINT! Can’t trust those D.C. bureaucrats!
I count the NFL among these unkillable brand overlords. The league has already withstood all of the concussion lawsuits, the streaming revolution, and a global pandemic. It’s not going anywhere in your lifetime or mine. And I’m happy about that. Maybe that’s conditioned fealty, but also: I fucking love NFL football. The NBA season is about to reach its zenith and yet I’m sitting around DYING for training camp to open. I’m not alone. There are tens of millions of us out there, and none of us are all that inclined to stop. Call us perverts and tell us that our priorities are all fucked up; we don’t care. Football is just that awesome. The only reason I boo Roger Goodell is because I know that, deep down, he still owns me. He could hook me up to a fucking milking machine and I’d probably let him.
Got mocked at work today because I didn't know BFE meant Bumfuck, Egypt (I mean what?). What are some of the best phrases you've learned over the years that you didn't know till you were an adult but everyone else apparently did?
Drew (not me):
Whenever I’m online shopping for clothes, an absurdly large percentage of reviews start with something like, "I bought this shirt for my husband and he loves it!" My wife has never once bought me any clothes, other than items that I have already picked out ahead of time (like for my birthday or Father's Day). Are all these reviews just bots? Or am I missing out on one of the prime benefits of marriage?
No, those reviews are real. The patriarchy lives on in the form of millions of women throwing a Van Heusen shirt for their man into their shopping carts while on a T.J. Maxx run. I wouldn’t count this as a “prime benefit” of marriage, because I don’t really enjoy having my wife pick out casualwear for me like my mother used to do. Sometimes my wife comes back from Target with some Merona shirt that fits into the rotation, which is nice. But otherwise, I gotta keep that Oedipus Complex in check.
Besides, I’m a grown man now. I don’t NEED family members buying all my clothes for me like I’m a fucking fifth grader. I’m allowed to have my own sense of style. My wife acts as a useful (and sometimes EMPHATIC) veto, but otherwise I know what I like and I like buying it for myself. Two years ago I got fed up with everything in my closet and went on a massive run at the Nordstrom Rack. Bought a whole new closetful of higher-end t-shirts and polos, etc. My wife didn’t veto a single item in the lot, and I still love wearing all of it. Learn your own tastes and clothes shopping for yourself can be fun, ESPECIALLY when you’re doing it alone.
So if you see a review like the one that Other Drew mentioned up above, don’t trust it. It’s real, but why would you want a pair of pants that Billyjoejimbob needed his old lady to buy it for him? That guy probably doesn’t even know how to fucking cook.
How much do you care about your haircut? How much is too much to pay?
I’m the wrong man to ask on this one because I haven’t paid for a haircut in like a decade, and even that was a one-off because I had to go get a haircut with my youngest son, so I could teach him not to be afraid of going to the barber. Otherwise, my wife has cut my hair now for the entirety of our marriage (20 years). When I was living in New York, I used to go to Jean Louis David to get my haircut, because it was affordable and because I saw it featured one time in an American Express ad. But then I came home one afternoon after asking them to give me “the JFK Jr.” (this was always what I asked for) and she was like, “Nuh-uh, you aren’t going back there,” and then literally took matters into her own hands. I didn’t fight her on this because she was the only person I needed to impress, and because I preferred spending that money on beer.
And here we remain. Occasionally, I ask quibble with my wife over the details. I always want more off the top than she’s willing to cut off, and sometimes I ask her to give me a touch-up because it’s not quite the way I like it. One time she cut off one of my sideburns entirely and still insists that I shaved it off myself. She is lying. She murdered my ‘burn. Otherwise she does an excellent job.
So I care about my hair in that I’d like to look both professional and attractive (or as attractive as I can be these days). I don’t want sportswriter hair, where it’s all strangely matted down and makes it look like Dan McTake from the Fartsville Gazette just fell asleep on an airplane. I wanna look normal. For this, I am apparently willing to pay $0.
The twist is that my youngest son will now ONLY go to my wife’s hairdresser to get a cut, which means that all of the money I’ve saved on my own hair now pays for his. He owes me big-time. And I don’t even ask how much my wife and daughter’s trips to the stylist cost anymore because I know they’d make me shit a brick.
I once thought boiled peanuts were gross, because who wants to eat a wet, mushy peanut? Then someone said to close my eyes and think of it as a pinto bean instead. Fucking A, it worked! It’s like a more substantial pinto bean but with a spicy flavor if that’s the bucket you chose from.
If you didn’t know, Robby is referring to the boiled peanuts question in last week’s bag, which I answered without ever having actually tried boiled peanuts. I really will give them a whirl the next time I encounter them, and I’ll try the pinto bean trick because, botanically speaking, it’s the correct approach.
This is because [DAD FACT ALERT] peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes, same as—you guessed it—pinto beans. So if I ever get a chance to try boiled peanuts on my way down to Georgia or wherever, I’ll make certain to forget everything I know about peanuts before tucking into a can. I might love boiled peanuts. I might end up demanding that my local Mexican restaurant include a heaping helping of refried peanuts in my next enchilada. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility.
Should penalty kicks and free throws count toward player and team point totals? (Not for winning and losing, just for statistical purposes.) In soccer, the player who gets fouled doesn't even have to take the kick. Some golden boy like David Beckham or Christian Ronaldo steps in to take the kick. Free throws are completely undefended, except for the occasional whisper in LeBron's ear. They already track shooting percentages, attempts, and FTs made separately. Someone like James Harden scores almost 30% of his career points at the line, while LeBron is just over 20%. I promise this question isn't driven by the strong dislike of one middle-aged man towards Harden, Ronaldo, and Beckham.
I do think the player who gets fouled in soccer should have to take pen, but that’s the America in me talking. Otherwise, I’m fine with all free throws etc. counting toward both box scores and player stats. I don’t even care if college football overtime stats count, mostly because it looks bitchin’ to check the scoreboard on Sunday morning and see that Hawaii’s QB passed for 10 TDs the night before. I can only be so much of a purist, you know.
As for basketball, making your free throws is still hard. Ask Nick Anderson or any other poor bastard who’s bricked a couple of freebies with the game on the line. Or head over to your nearest playground and see how many you can nail in a row. I hate it when players like Harden and Trae Young go whistle-fishing, but the NBA has cracked down on that with relative effectiveness over the past couple of years, to the point where I only notice it a few times a game instead of on every possession. Also: I’m like any other NBA fan in that I secretly LOVE to complain about the refs. Hating them gives me true sustenance, not unlike a can of boiled peanuts might. So if you earn your free throws and make them, then you earned the right to have them count. Jeff Van Gundy agrees with absolutely none of this.
When you're developing a character's voice, how much attention do you pay to what they say versus their linguistic syntax of ums, ers, likes, and overall word order?
I won’t have a perfect answer for this because I’m constantly, constantly struggling with writing good characters. I try to have the characters mimic modern speech patterns, although that often means that they end up mimicking MY speech patterns, which is an easy trap that pretty much every writer can fall into. To avoid that, I steal character traits from real people, or from other fictional characters, where I can. After that, I’m working on instinct when I write dialogue, and then I go back over and over to fine-tune it, to make sure the final cut of the movie in my head is exactly as I want it. The problem is … do I REALLY know who these characters are? Have I fleshed them out enough in my mind? Are they as real to other people as they are to me? Character development is the toughest job in fiction, and it’s always brutal when you finish a novel only to have someone say that the characters weren’t that compelling when you just spent a year-plus living with them inside your head.
To that end, I’m writing my next novel in a completely different way than I wrote my first three. I wrote those novels more or less on the fly. I didn’t outline them, because I was lazy and because I always worked under the idea that I can’t really KNOW the meat of a story, or its participants, until I’m writing it. Once I start writing, that’s when the ideas begin to cascade. I couldn’t pull plot points out of midair without living inside the story first. I just trusted that I could figure it out along the way, which I did by thinking about the story of each book all day and all night as I was writing it—frantically scribbling down bits of dialogue and other plot/character notes in my notebook before working them into the copy.
I’m not gonna do that with Novel #4, and that’s all because I failed to get a TV show for Point B off the ground. Let me explain that connection as best I can.
Warner Bros optioned Point B and let me be part of the pitch process for the show. Together with a producer and another writer, Doom Patrol’s Tamara Becher-Wilkinson, we spent a year—a literal year, for no money—on this pitch document. A pitch document isn’t even meant to be read, by the way. It’s a just a script you prepare for your pitch meeting (all of which now usually take place over Zoom). But, together with Tamara, I worked my ass off on this document, zeroing in on the details of the world and then meticulously going over every character arc. Soon I had more detail for these characters than I ever had while writing the original book itself.
We pitched Peacock, the CW, Freeform, and, the biggest one of all, Netflix. None of them bought the pitch, because no one in Hollywood buys anything. I was disappointed, as anyone would be. But the whole process gave me an appreciation not just for the background work that writers in Hollywood have to do before a single shot is filmed, but also for how that work pays off once the cameras DO begin rolling. I had already written this novel, but after that pitch I had a much better sense of who the characters were and what they wanted. That’s all bass ackwards, of course. You should know all that shit BEFORE you finish a novel, not a year and change after it’s been published.
So instead of just starting the fourth novel the way I usually do, I’m actually writing a formal story bible for it first. Only once I’m finished with that bible will I start writing the actual book, as a treat to myself. I have no idea if this’ll work, but I’m already pleased that I’ve gotten to know these characters before I go moving them around on the chessboard. Then I can option THAT book and discover all of the other legwork that I forgot to do. I hope I get to work with Tamara again on it, because she was lovely.
Email of the week!
I live in the Philly suburbs and commute into town by train for work. This morning, I stopped in the train station restroom once I got in. As I finished, I noticed that the man at the urinal next to me was holding a large piece of what appeared to be blueberry coffee cake and a butter knife in one hand while using the other hand to hold himself while he peed. The cake was half of a normal-sized sheet cake, and was wrapped in plastic wrap. The butter knife was not wrapped or in a bag. The man was dressed in khakis and a dress shirt, so I assume he was going into an office. The size of the cake, and the fact that he brought a knife, leads me to believe that he was bringing it in to share with coworkers.
The implications of this are troubling. Best-case scenario is that he’s able to shake out and zipper up with his free hand, and then leave the bathroom without washing his hands. Not ideal, but better than any scenario where he sets the cake and knife down to wash his hands. Plastic wrap is always tricky, and there’s no way he later unwraps and rewraps the cake without transferring bathroom filth onto the cake itself.
I should add—and I think this is relevant—that the bathroom smelled absolutely terrible. Clearly someone had or was having a very unpleasant morning. I nearly gagged upon walking into the vestibule before entering the bathroom proper.
Is this an OK thing to do?
If no one else knows you did it, yes.