remembering a hill

another dose of not-covid content

There are many hills in south-central Pennsylvania. When I was little my favorites were the small, rolling ones we’d drive over on our way to the beach in Rehoboth, when you’re heading through the fields dotted with cows in the southeast corner of the state. Sometime in high school, though, I found a better hill—it backed up to the Penn State Hershey hospital campus and was also conveniently a short walk from Andrea’s house. Freshman year, there was a weeklong period in the winter that we didn’t have classes—Hershey had an ice storm, and they just kept giving us days off from school because the buses couldn’t drive on the ice, so we had a midweek sleepover and then went sledding on the hill. I remember it being a steep hill, though I’m sure it’s much more daunting in my memory than in real life. It was a great sledding hill because it dipped down at the bottom and sort of gently caught you in a shallow ditch, so you didn’t just keep flying on a thin piece of plastic out into the parking lot 30 feet away. 

In better weather we had many important conversations at the hill, approximately none of which I can recall. It was where you went for secret-divulging, or for conversations you didn’t want anyone else to overhear—in all the time we spent at the hill, I only ever remember us being its sole inhabitants. It was really just a hill, and in retrospect probably a fairly unremarkable one, but it felt like my own tiny, carved-out corner of a town with too many people in it. It was a place to go when we didn’t want to go home but had nowhere else to be because we were very much 16 years old and we were not cool enough to get invited to house parties. The hill was a ponderous sort of location. You could walk up to the middle and sit down in the grass, which was not very comfortable, and have a nice view of the hospital and beyond it. Sometimes I’d just drive over there and park in the parking lot and walk directly up the hill and hang out for a while. I did this senior year, when I was for sure depressed but didn’t have anyone to be like “hey, you’re depressed, that’s why you’re sitting on a hill and crying even though you got into almost every college you applied to, take a Lexapro,” and I’m sure it was when I was sitting on the hill that I decided I needed to get out of Central Pennsylvania and See Things, which in some ways has proven to be an overrated experience.

Landmark events happened at the hill: When I was a sophomore, the hill was where Andrew asked me to be his girlfriend (this relationship, which began because we both played alto sax in jazz band, would last approximately two months, but we stayed friends long afterwards). Ben and Andrea and I ended up there one night in the spring of the same year, listening to a song from the Taylor Swift self-titled album, which Ben was playing from the iPod connected to the aux cord in his car with the sound turned all the way up so we could hear it from the hill. After a trip to the now-defunct Saturday’s Market, where one could show up on Saturdays and buy a shoo-fly pie, baseball cards, and a Bible all from different vendors, we drove to the hill with our friends Brooke and Dan. It was 2008 and we were listening to Flight of the Conchords in the car and Dan bought a winter hat with a weed leaf embroidered onto it. Everything we did was hilarious to us because as far as we knew, we were the first people on earth to do anything ironically. We walked through the woods behind the hill for hours because we had nothing else to do, which is how we learned that if you spent enough time there you could find anything, including an impressive number of empty liquor bottles and a decomposing car.

In recent weeks I’ve noticed more people I follow on Instagram dredging up memories of their pasts. Nothing new is happening now, so the edict is, I suppose, post old pictures. This was probably why last night I shared a picture of a table littered with frozen Penichillin glasses on the back patio of Diamond Reef, taken on May 25, 2018—a gorgeous summer Friday of which I evidently spent eight hours drinking on a concrete slab in Bed-Stuy. Seeing even older pictures from friends and acquaintances has made me realize how many of my childhood memories belong less to me and more to a collective 2006 consciousness. Somewhere in my own mass of digital rubble there are pictures from a point-and-shoot digital camera. In them my two best friends and I, ages 13 and 14, are posing with a 64-ounce Turkey Hill slushie that has three extra-long straws sticking out of it at all angles. We’re wearing bikinis and contorting our bodies and sitting on the edge of Kristen’s pool. We’re posing for clumsy mirror selfies and dyeing our hair with henna from Lush. We look horribly uncomfortable in dresses from DEB just before freshman year homecoming. We’re taking pictures in the dark on a trampoline, our bodies and faces overexposed with a blinding flash. I’ve seen so much of myself reflected back to me in pictures from strangers that look just like this, but at least one location-specific memory is definitively my own.

What I’m cooking this week

And perhaps a galette this weekend? And maybe I will walk over to Tyler’s on Sunday if Kate is there already and drop some off in a socially responsible manner on their stoop. And then I will FaceTime Emma so she can see us, which is a better plan than if she drives two hours back to the city just to wave at us through a car window. 

What I’m listening to this week

  • Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B, which sounds the way you want any album of breakup songs to sound at the very beginning of summer.

  • A playlist of yacht rock songs my little JQBX.fm group played on Saturday night.

  • Ariel Pink’s 2010 album Before Today, which it took me a whole decade to admit is good, actually.

If you have nothing nice to say, don’t @ me

To say nothing of the crisis happening at regional and local newspapers throughout the country, last week was a terrible bloodbath for digital journalism: Vice/Refinery29 laid off 155 employees, Conde Nast laid off 100 staffers and furloughed another hundred or so, BuzzFeed is furloughing 68 people and implementing salary cuts, 9 percent of Vox Media’s staff is furloughed for three months, Quartz laid off 80 people, and the Economist laid off 90 people. I thought it was bad when 3,000-some people got laid off last year in media, but since the pandemic began, nearly 36,000 reporters have been laid off, according to the Times. It’s been no secret to those of us who have been watching this slow-motion car wreck for most of our journalism careers that the ad-supported business model barely propping up these companies is broken, but since March, the whole thing has been totally demolished, like a sandcastle in a tsunami. 

Every time this happens it, for lack of a nicer term, fucking sucks. It’s so helpless to feel like the best you can do is futilely tweet “hire this person!” while quote tweeting a young reporter who got laid off, or Venmo them $20 for beer, in lieu of buying them some drinks in person. With all of this in mind, last Friday I tweeted:

if you were just laid off and have suddenly found yourself freelancing for the first time, hmu, i'm happy to help with advice or contacts or side-hustle ideas or anything else i've got

I then tweeted this:

if you want to talk about making the transition out of doing full-time journalism...well, i'm happy to talk to you about that, too!

I very much like my new job, and I also resent that journalism has pushed out so many people because there aren’t enough jobs for all of us. But that’s a systemic problem, and I am but one person, and if I can do anything to help other people who find themselves in similar positions, I’m more than happy to do so. What can I say? I simply want my friends to be able to pay their rent during an interminable global public health crisis.

A man with a rose emoji in his Twitter display name, who I have met many times before and was not recently laid off, took it upon himself upon seeing these tweets to DM me to ask some questions about my new job. Here is roughly how our conversation went.

He: Are you doing marketing now?

Me: I work for an agency that does comms and marketing for tech companies.

He: So you’re pitching journalists about tech startups?

Me [being purposely short because I want this conversation to end]: No, much of my work is internal

He: Oh that’s good. Do you have any ethical concerns about clients you might have to represent?

Me: I wouldn’t write anything for a news outlet as a freelancer about a client or a competitor. I left journalism at a time when the pandemic started looking like a big factor in the future of media companies.

He: Yeah I didn’t mean ethical concerns about writing about your clients. Just representing people who might be doing bad shit. Is it possible to go into marketing and comms for tech startups without becoming the sort of mercenary that makes life harder for tech journalists?

Me [completely at a loss because I dug this hole for myself by even responding to him initially because I wanted to be nice but now I realize boy, have I really stepped in it]: I would hope I wouldn’t be put in a position where I have to leave my job because I feel ethically compromised but I think I’ve already done that, I don’t know the answers to your questions, I was tired of hunting for a job and I have a lot of debt

He: Cool. I’m pretty much done with journalism now, looking at opportunities in the [redacted] sector 

To be clear I am happy to talk to people about trying out new jobs! I just don’t appreciate being accused of being a mercenary (?) and making dubious ethical choices by working in...marketing. Here’s the tl;dr story of how I left journalism: First, I quit a job very publicly last January over ethical concerns. Since last fall, I applied for something like 130 jobs, in and out of journalism. Almost every promising lead ended up falling through: companies didn’t have the funding to hire after all, or I got ghosted after doing a several-hour-long edit test, or in the case of one trillion-dollar tech company, I got told no after seven rounds of interviews for a contract job. I’ve had a pretty decent five-year career in journalism and I feel like I’ve grown my network and know a lot of editors; if I couldn’t land a full-time journalism job, what was wrong with me? I can see now that it was never about me at all—the industry is shit, and it can be so hard to find your footing when everything is crumbling. I failed, surely, but also, the industry failed me.

Eventually I started thinking more pragmatically and applying for jobs that weren’t journalism (I’m still a bit sad that I never got called back for the job doing social media for the NYC Ferry, but given the lack of mass transit use in the city this summer, maybe that’s ok after all). A very helpful former-journalist-turned-PR-guy reached out and helped me navigate the world of interviewing for jobs at tech companies with my journalism skillset. I cold-applied for a job at my current agency on LinkedIn in March, and one thing led to another, and against all odds I got hired in April. And I’m very happy there! It’s hard to start a job remotely, especially when company culture is so clearly important to the people who you work with and they’re all used to socializing IRL, and it’s hard to adjust to a different kind of writing and work, but I like being busy, and I love working with my manager, and I like the work I do, and it’s frankly nice to not worry about layoffs or outlets not paying you on time for your work or all the other externalities that come with working in journalism.

Do I wish that more people weren’t made to choose to leave journalism because of a lack of available jobs? Sure, and I wish media companies had figured out business models that were sustainable long before this. I’m furious at millionaire media executives who refuse to consider taking a pay cut, or refuse to listen to their unionized employees begging to take a pay cut themselves to keep their colleagues on the payroll and avoid layoffs. I’m furious at a system that has made friends of mine live through four rounds of layoffs in three years, that lays people off in the worst, most mismanaged ways, often with very little severance, that makes those who try to stick it out in journalism fight among themselves for scraps and turn against each other cruelly. If this is actually what you’re mad at too, perhaps try not to direct your disdain toward individuals who make the best possible choices they can in unnavigable circumstances.

Just some more nice things

Some more counterprogramming

Sundays remain the worst days of the week in quarantine because they’re a combination of normal existential Sunday dread and pandemic dread. Here’s another batch of nice memories to counteract that:

  • One day on vacation in Sicily in 2018, we drove out to Cefalu for a day. Seeing the town was wonderful but the best part was just floating in the Mediterranean with Amanda for like…three hours. It was September and sunny but not hot outside and the water felt almost like bathwater and I could have stayed there forever.

  • The Friday before I started at the Times last year, Alex, another Rockaway diehard who I really only knew via Twitter—she was nice to me when I left my job last January, and we got coffee in the spring once to talk about freelancing—met me at Rockaway Beach Surf Club and we proceeded to have a very Rockaway afternoon together—besides the tacos, we went to Connolly’s and got frozens and hung out on the beach for a few hours. It had rained that morning but the skies opened up and it was sunny and perfect and quiet and we had a vast expanse of sand to ourselves. 

  • One Saturday two years ago, Larissa texted me from downstairs and was like, do you wanna go to L&B Spumoni Gardens? So we just hopped in a car and ate some slices sitting outside in the sun. Just a nice spontaneous lunch decision.

  • Fourth of July Eve 2018: karaoke somewhere on St Marks Place with a group of people that included my friend Jack, with whom I’d never karaoked before. It was one of those private-room, BYOB situations so we just brought in a ton of beer from the store across the street, and it was a night where you say you’re committing to two hours of karaoke, but then you just NEED to stay for a third hour, and then someone is singing Fix You by Coldplay and we all really need to go home, it’s 2 am and we’re closing down the place.

  • When we were 22 and everything we did in the city felt like we were the first ones to discover it, we occasionally went to Emo Nite Brooklyn—me, Larissa, Emmie, and Katie. Katie lived in Hamilton Heights, where she still lives, and I was in Astoria, and Larissa was in Greenpoint, and Emmie was in the apartment that Larissa and I would inherit from her in Crown Heights, so we all just met at Emmie’s beforehand since it would be inconvenient no matter where we met to pregame. I would buy one of those big bottles of Barefoot Pinot Grigio, and someone else usually had whiskey, and we would drink and drink and eventually pile into a Lyft and go to Brooklyn Bowl and scream along to a Taking Back Sunday song, and when the night was over, sometimes Katie and I would get it in our heads that what we really needed at 2 am was Halal Guys, so we would venture across the bridge into Manhattan in pursuit of falafel and end up at the 14th street location.

  • Last year on my birthday, when Erin picked me up in the morning with an iced coffee (she offered to get me a bagel but I was...how you say...very hungover from my birthday party the night before, which ended at 4 am) and drove us to the Rockaways, and I’d never spent a lot of time hanging out with just Erin before outside the confines of media happy hour, and it was one of those mornings where the sun wasn’t totally bright enough to burn through the haze and fog, so we luxuriated on our beach chairs (also packed by a very thoughtful Erin) in the sand, the only people on the beach for a good hour, until the sun got brighter and the beach filled up.

  • One year ago today, when Emma was working in DUMBO and I met her at Brooklyn Bridge Park and we rode the ferry to Red Hook, and we met up with my sister and Jaz and went to a deceptively fancy looking cocktail bar, and then ate lobster rolls for dinner, and then went to Sunny’s, where we’d proceed to take over the long table in the narrow part of the bar with a big group of friends. Sam came and did their favorite party trick—bringing with them tons of makeup samples from the beauty table at Allure—and everyone spent several hours shouting over the live music, smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, and trying on lipsticks and highlighters. Going outside and securing a table in the little backyard area after you’ve been inside at Sunny’s for too long and the din of the live music inside is barely audible and you can finally hear yourself think while you look up at the string of Christmas lights and actually see a couple stars in the sky above the building is one of my favorite New York experiences.

  • Max’s birthday in 2017 at Capri Social Club, and the distinct memory of showing up with Kate and my sister, scooping jello shots out of tiny plastic cups with our fingers, chasing them with High Lifes (Highs Life?) that weren’t quite cold yet because we were drinking them faster than the bar could stock them, and eventually stumbling out to Manhattan Ave and Calyer Street to go to God Bless USA Deli for sustenance, gulping in the heavy July air. We just sat down on the sidewalk at 1 am on the very quiet Manhattan Ave and ate a foil-wrapped grilled chicken sandwich right there like that.

Recommendation: a little breakfast treat

Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves: carbs, fat and sugar

To get out of bed on Mondays is already a Sisyphean task in recent months. I’ve created a series of arbitrary rules to adhere to during quarantine—generally I eat the same jammy eggs and leftover roasted vegetables from dinner with wilted greens for breakfast, drinking is for weekends only, Friday afternoon after my meetings are over I can work from bed—to try to create some sense of order, or else I would simply never leave bed or get anything done. 

I grudgingly follow my own rules a good 85% of the time, but sometimes I must let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. It is on the days it is hardest for you to do something nice for yourself in the mornings that I suggest you make a low-effort treat of my childhood breakfasts for yourself: cinnamon-sugar toast. This joyful little snack requires few ingredients, but if you’re adhering to the cinnamon-sugar toast recipe of the late 1990s in Hershey, Pennsylvania, it looks like this:

  • One slice of potato bread

  • One pat butter

  • One whimsical shaker of Dominos Sugar n Cinnamon

You toast your bread (potato is not required, but it was the sandwich bread of choice in our house in 1998). You spread your butter or butter-like alternative across your slice of bread. You administer a few shakes of Sugar n Cinnamon — or just plain white sugar, and then ground cinnamon — to the bread-and-butter mixture. The first few dashes will melt pleasingly into the bread, but if you sprinkle a bit more on top you’ll get the textural goodness of unmelted, pure cinnamon-sugar when you take your first bite.

You can eat it just like this, or you can stick the whole thing back into your toaster oven and warm it up until the cinnamon and sugar caramelize and start to melt. Enjoy your treat and then begin your day. The week will go by quickly. They always do now.

Some things I’ve been doing to pass the time

  • Made scallion pancakes, ate the scallion pancakes (surprise, it’s a Bon Appetit recipe). The unpleasant surprise in making these is that they take a bit of time to rest after you initially knead the dough. This isn’t exactly a problem but when you get it in your mind that you want scallion pancakes, you really do want scallion pancakes immediately.

  • Zumba with Emma. Emma introduced me to this video (it’s possible that there are other videos in this set but we only use the same video every time we do it) and when we do it together I call her on Zoom and then share my screen and start the video and together we sweat through the majority of the half-hour video, cursing openly at Renee, who leads the advanced modifications of the workout. I do it by myself too but it’s not as fun as knowing that your friend in Hudson is also suffering through a series of high knees with you. 

  • Playing Animal Crossing. Since Saturday my fortunes have moderately improved, so you don’t need to yell at me anymore via email for ruining everything on the isle of Bozoville. Not trying to brag but I even went on a date to a museum on another island this weekend.

  • Running. Yes! Still. Yes, I am getting marginally better at it. Yes, I still hate it.

  • Thinking about apartment hunting next month. Larissa and I are moving into a new apartment at the end of June. (Two other tenants in our 10-unit building are also imminently moving. I wish our landlord the best of luck.) My anxiety always manifests as trying to plan things, which is difficult because a) we’re in the middle of an unprecedented global crisis with no end in sight and b) the sociopathic thing about looking for a New York apartment is that you really can’t start to look more than like...four weeks out, at MOST. So in the meantime there’s nothing to do but wait, which is excruciating for me and would also be fine for a normal person.

  • Plying myself with treats. I have purchased a series of what I call “treats” over the past eight weeks to give myself something to look forward to every so often when the mail comes. This has included shimmery Glossier eyeshadow that honestly does not work for my skin tone at all; a little box of chocolate-covered candied oranges and Haribo gummies from Economy Candy; Fenty lingerie; an artist’s print of a bunch of cans of tinned fish (with all proceeds going to Cervo’s, Hart’s and The Fly, my other three homes in New York); a sustainable girlboss workout sports bra-and-leggings set in the color “plum” from a brand that advertises heavily on Instagram (Emma bought the same one); and four bottles of Meinklang natural wine, because we can’t help what we like.

  • Embedding myself deeply in the Bravo reality television universe. On Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursday around 8 pm I excuse myself and announce to no one that it’s time for my shows—a slate of hour-long episodes of Vanderpump Rules, Summer House, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and Real Housewives of New York. If you would like to discuss any of these shows, please respond to this email with your thoughts about Sutton, RHONY Leah and her regressive politics, Denise Richards’ husband being a paranoid conspiracy theorist, the vaunted return of Brandi Glanville as a tertiary character later on this season, what the deal is with Syracuse University graduate Carl Radke, or the return of Old Jax.

  • Plotting how to make a fake beach this summer. It seems apparent nobody will let me onto the sandy shores of Jacob Riis in the coming months, so in the meantime, it is crucial to replicate the experience of the Rockaway Peninsula at home to the best of my abilities. So far this has meant: buying a new bathing suit, prioritizing new apartments on Streeteasy with outdoor space, making a beach playlist, and Instagram DMing my nutcracker guy to see if he’s planning on doing inter-borough delivery this summer. 

Please let me know the things you’ve been doing to pass the time, as eventually I will tire of all of these and require new distractions.

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