Why You Should Buy the Hairpin Kindle Serial Thing
I’ve been dreading this day for quite a while. And looking forward to it. But dread, mostly dread. Today’s the day my piece from the Kindle travel thing comes out. I feel good about it, I think it turned out pretty well. I had to buy and re-read Strunk and White because the Amazon copyeditor made me think I totally didn’t understand what a comma was anymore. Or a semi-colon. What are those for? I grew up in New England, and we have these “merge” signs everywhere. But nobody merges, we just keep on plowing through until all traffic everywhere is permanently snarled. Semi-colons remind me of merge signs. I was definitely asleep in drivers’ ed when they taught us what merge signs were for. And I was probably sick when Mrs. Dunbar taught us about semi-colons. Or maybe we just never bothered to learn them. There were so many books that I also somehow never had to endure. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example. No one ever made me read that. I also never learned when to end a paragraph. There were like 65 pages of corrections from this Amazon copyeditor.
In hindsight she was right; the piece might have been better if I’d used more semi-colons. And it seems to me that I should have gotten laid more in it, too. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled anywhere and gotten laid — maybe Santa Cruz, though, but who remembers.
Anyway, today is also the day that the Hairpin would have run an excerpt of my story, maybe the part where my dad and I take a long drive together on the day of my brother’s wedding, which I don’t want to build up or make you think is going to be so transformative — I usually don’t write about my family very much, because it seems unfair, and I probably remember it all wrong. And when I write about them, it might not seem that funny to other people, because you don’t know all these characters I know so well. But what are you going to do? I felt a great deal of pressure writing among the incredible writers the Amazon thing includes, and I felt like I had to show a little emotional leg, if you know what I’m saying. So I’d hopefully get through these next two weeks unscathed, without a pile of Amazon reviewers being like, “Who does Jim Behrle think he is trying to tell me how to travel?” And “How to Travel: Not with Jim Behrle!” Those are two lines you are totally free to use, Amazon reviewers.
But I thought maybe we could skip the whole excerpt thing. If you haven’t already bought the Hairpin Serial for $1.99, there’s no way reading something I wrote is going to talk you into it. Even though the title of this piece is “Why You Should Buy the Hairpin Kindle Serial Thing,” it’s just a suggestive title you might possibly click on. Kind of like the pieces I’m thinking about writing for Buzzfeed: “56 Things,” with a random selection of weird pictures of stuff. Also “44 Things You Should See Before You Die,” with a slightly different random selection of photos. This idea was really Edith’s but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I actually did it.
So I saw Edith! Last night! Edith wrote to me a few years back and said, basically, “Hey, I saw this piece you wrote and I liked it.” I had never gotten an email like that before. Possibly it was a Facebook message, looking back, yes it was, thanks for sticking around while I checked. I made such an ass of myself in the response. If you truly want to get me at my most flabbergasted and awkward and devastated, just tell me you like something I’ve done, it turns me into a bright red human pretzel of stormy conflicted goo. So I blew that. I usually think anyone on Facebook saying anything nice to me is probably just some dude trying to get me to tell him my PIN. So I guess I possibly was just guarded and thinking that this Edith person wanted my PIN. Whatever, it’s 7707. Who cares, I’m broke.
Later Edith wanted me to write things for The Hairpin. This was amazing. No one had ever really wanted me to do something like that before. Except cat cartoons, which were fun when done anonymously. When people found out it was me inside those cats, they cried all over the place. So I did write some things. Most of the best things I did for The Hairpin, though, never ran on The Hairpin. Because they were inside jokes about Edith. Like “A Day in the Life of Edith Z.!” And the second part of that. Those are my favorites.
So I had this great idea that I would interview her here instead of having an excerpt from the travel thing. Because, again, if you haven’t bought that thing by now, you probably won’t until the week after next, when I think the delightful Anne Helen Petersen’s story will come out. It’s kind of fun to watch it happen, actually. I have the Kindle app on my phone, which is too big for my hand and is practically a surfboard or a big-screen TV that I carry around constantly. But watching the Kindle app kind of just boop-boop download something is pretty cool. So cool I won’t mind getting fired from the other bookstore I work at when they find out I have written something exclusively for Amazon.
But where could I interview Edith? I once went on this great first date on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s an awesome and free boat that takes you right by the Statue of Liberty. Which is a real thing. It really is right there on the water facing New York and not just in X-Men movies. They have booze on the boat, too, and there’s a cool bar on the other side, in Staten Island, that has all these great Halloween decorations. And Sam Adams Octoberfest on tap. So a plan was hatched. I mean, mostly I just wanted an excuse to hang out. And I was too nervous to put up an excerpt from the Amazon piece, because what if everyone started returning it? Like what if we sold -7 copies when it was my turn to have the thing come out? No one wants to hear that writers they know are nervous about stuff like this. But what the hell. This made me feel very nervous.
I am currently listening to the recorded file of “Edith: The Jimterview” as I type this. I just asked “Where do you think you belong?” It is one of the dumbest questions. Ever in the world. Ever. It is a question that goes on and on, my voice just keeps going aimlessly in a million directions. I think I was trying to tie it into traveling, about feeling displaced. Once I started recording, at this well-decorated bar on the other side, everything seemed to stop. I put the big dumb phone that’s just too big on the table, and you can hear Monday Night Football in the background. And two different versions of “Road Runner” on the jukebox, played in sequence by the same white-bearded prospector guy. One by Joan Jett, I think. And what had been a kind of flowing conversation became suddenly a two-person Beckett play about people in a bar trying to interview each other. I am just not an interviewer. How does Charlie Rose do it? I didn’t plan ahead. An insane accordion song comes on in the background.
Jim: When you travel what are you looking for? Like are you looking for adventures? New places to go?
Edith: I think so, although I don’t do much, like, bold adventuring. I just do kind of regular stuff and hope that maybe something will happen.
Jim: Like serendipitously?
Edith: Yeah. I think travel makes me more comfortable talking to people.
Jim: You’ve been to like Iceland, right?
Jim: You’ve been to some pretty interesting places that I’ve always wanted to visit. But I’ve also always thought that travelers had to have their shit together a little bit.
Edith: No, no. No one ever does.
Edith: No. Imagine if you met someone and you were like, “Do you have your shit together?” And they were like, “Yes, I do!” Wouldn’t you be like, “Oh, no.”
Jim: I think they would say something like, “I think so. But now that you’ve said it, I don’t think I do.”
Edith: Actually, yeah. Do you have your shit together, Jim?
Jim: Do I have my shit together?
Jim: Obviously not.
Edith: Right. But you do. You do.
Jim: Of course I don’t. But you know I can’t say one nice thing about me. You already know this.
Edith: That’s not true, you’ve already said a number of nice things about yourself before this thing was turned on.
Jim: I don’t remember any of those things. You might have misheard those things.
Edith: All right.
Jim: When you — I mean I always feel so out of my element traveling. That I think I … like I remember when I was in Munich for the first time. That I didn’t want to have a camera around my neck. That I didn’t want to seem like an American. That I just sort of wanted to blend in. And to a certain extent that caused me to not … I don’t think I learned very much. I just kind of walked in circles.
Jim: Do you feel like you can get a lot out of traveling alone? And being in a new place and letting things happen to you?
Edith: I think so. I hope so. The first time I traveled alone, I was really preoccupied with not seeming weird or uncool or nervous, which I was. All of those things. I was just miserable and lonely. I wore a money belt inside my pants. I was in San Francisco, but I had a fucking money belt.
Jim: Well that makes sense.
Edith: No! It’s nonsense. But the trips I’ve enjoyed most when traveling by myself are when I talk to people. I don’t do a lot of outdoorsy things on my own — I’d rather just sit in a bar and talk. But I don’t mind being like, “Hello, I’m here from America. I’m here for a weekend. What’s going on?” Not that I have ever actually said that.
Jim: I always feel deeply embarrassed by my Americanism.
Edith: Except that you just can’t — I mean, imagine if a French person showed up and was like [American accent] “Hel-lo!”
Jim: I like French people.
Edith: I know, they’re just themselves. So you’d just be yourself, right? You could just be American, and it would be fine.
I’m too tired of my own voice to keep typing this stuff. But the whole interview was not a bust. For instance, there was a great part about bathrooms. Edith talked about oversize shower heads ultimately being disappointing. She wondered why men don’t like baths. I talked about urinals.
But I wish you could have gone out with us. Over the waves. On the way to Staten Island, I made us stand at the front of the boat and get whipped around by the wind! Until Edith was like, hey let’s get out of here. And on the return trip we stood at the back of the boat and watched the wake bubble up into fleeting white formations.
Image via SIFerry