thoughts you have on big walks through manhattan while listening to the new phoebe bridgers album
sad girl summer said "hot girl summer WHO?"
okay. hi. how are we all doing on our, uh, 100something day of quar? are you all as skeptical of reopening plans as i am? does it also fill your little rule following body with hot rage whenever you see someone out without a face covering? are you also on the “orders novelty masks” stage of this yet? are you remembering the hot girl summer of yesteryear and laughing because hot girl summer feels both like it happened a decade ago and like it can never happen again? then this is for you!
yes, folks, you heard that right! here i am showing up in your inboxes again with some real sad girl nonsense!
i should note as a disclaimer that i’m not actually a sad girl, i just contain a lot of sad girl energy. i am sorry to say, though, that i currently do not have the mental bandwidth to explain the difference to those confused by this because i also have a lot of dumb bitch energy* and you can find the definitions of both on the internet pretty easily.
anyway. gonna go for another big walk now even though it’s like 90º and i have plenty of other things i should be doing.
thanks sorry love u bye,
thoughts you have on big walks through manhattan while listening to the new phoebe bridgers album and wanting to cry
This is a strange summer.
This is a strange summer in a strange city, I say out loud, accidentally, more to myself than anyone else. I am walking around the reservoir in Central Park and thinking about that Eve Babitz essay, “Weird August,” the one she opens by talking about how oppressive the weather is in Los Angeles that August. “Ratty,” she called it. Ratty. I can visualize the word printed on the page of the copy of Black Swans I borrowed from a friend last summer then kept for myself after it became too waterlogged and warped and overly underlined in my possession to return in good conscience. I wonder what word Eve would use to describe the way things are now.
What a strange summer, indeed, in a weird limbo between past and present, normal and distinctly not, reality and something altered. The liminal space of summers. The windows of the regal old buildings on Central Park West still glisten with the reservoir’s reflection; the sky is still often so blue it hurts your eyes; sweat beads are still forming small constellations across my back as I walk. The city’s ever present seasonal perfume of hot garbage and urine is still here — it must be, it has to be — but now a little harder to detect through my mask. I hear the trains are still fucked, but I wouldn’t know; I have not been on the subway in three months. My job has never been more flexible but my work ethic and focus seem to have all but disappeared. The city always feels a little emptier in the summer but now it’s really empty. Leaving has become not just a choice afforded to only the wealthy but a decision forced upon those who can no longer afford to stay. White millennials brunch maskless in the park, scattered through the Great Lawn on blankets in clusters that from far away look kind of like the cells of the virus causing nearby Mount Sinai ambulance sirens to wail. A viral tweet went around calling this strange summer — with its absence of rich people, tourists, and 50 hour work weeks — the best New York summer only for someone else to quote tweet it and call it — with its ongoing pandemic, police brutality at peaceful protests, and rampant unemployment — the worst. Is it possible for it to be both?
Lately I’ve been thinking about all the years I spent feeling like I had been born in the wrong era and wishing I could time travel back to 1968 so I could live through something. Live through something, I say, and I think about Lady Bird complaining that the only thing interesting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome. I’m a millennial; I’ve always been living through something: 9/11, Bush, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, Trump (a shortlist, of course). The only difference, I thought, was that back then living through something meant doing something about it, and all my generation seemed to do was sit back and watch the world collapse in front of us and shrug in resignation and maybe pop off a morbidly funny tweet or two. Live through something, I say, and I think about the time I told a much older friend that I wished I had a time machine and instead of the usual bullshit reply my other grown up friends usually give me about how wrong I was, about how I was born when I was supposed to be born, she said she wished I had one, too. Live through something, I say, and I think about my mom on the phone early on in the pandemic telling me that this would probably be the hardest thing I’d have to go through in my lifetime. The hardest thing I’d have to go through in my lifetime, as if my lifetime weren’t already stuffed full of hardest things, as if having to wear a mask and stay inside and wash my hands more often qualified as a hardest thing. God. I’m tired.
Earlier this month I spent a solid week clocking an average of four hours of sleep, scrolling through Twitter, watching my feed continuously refresh with videos of the NYPD beating people my age and charts of changing hospitalization rates and empty talking points from politicians until I’d glance at the clock and find myself shocked by the single digits signifying early morning staring back at me. 1968, with its morning papers and evening Cronkite broadcasts, feels quaint now. The news was bad, but at least they didn’t have to watch it all the time.
These days I run less but run my mouth more, so I’ve taken up big walks: walks that hit double digit miles, walks that leave me just the right amount of sore and sweaty and sunburnt to feel like I’ve done something; walks that take my eyes away from my newsfeed; walks that air out my overactive brain; walks that keep me from calling an emotionally unavailable man in LA; walks that help me put off a bit longer starting the book proposal I told an agent I’d write in April; walks that keep me from self-destructively tweeting the slightest amount of criticism that has already gotten me in trouble twice about the very well-publicized ways in which my workplace is currently looking something like the Titanic after it snapped in half. I notice things I never noticed before: the specific spot on the Riverside Drive viaduct over 125th Street where you can smell the bacon cooking at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que below, the pair of Beaux-Arts mansions on 108th street, the brownstone backyards with clothes hanging out on a line to dry in the sun, the various homeless camps once active that now sit abandoned. I am very good at being by myself. I am even better at avoiding things.
It’s a Thursday in June and I am on one of those big walks snaking its way down Riverside Drive to wind up in Central Park. I have walked six miles already and will probably walk six more before the day is done and I am on my fifth consecutive hour of listening to the new Phoebe Bridgers album and when the title track, a tribute to Elliott Smith, starts to play again for the who knows what time, I want to cry.
And it’s not that I want to cry because almost every Phoebe Bridgers song is guttingly sad and therefore almost always makes me want to cry, and it’s not because Phoebe Bridgers is singing about Elliott Smith, but because when she’s singing about her relationship with her dead idol, she’s singing about about me and and any one of my dead idols, too. Maybe she’s also singing about you and yours, the people who have made things that changed our lives, the people for whom our love is so great that it’s somehow become part of our identities — even if only as a dinner party conversation starter — despite the fact that we have never actually met and never will.
When Phoebe ruminates on Smith’s life while walking through Los Angeles, I think about the younger version of myself who spent her earliest days in this city doing the same, chasing the ghosts of kindred spirits and personal deities. “I am trying to place myself in history,” Joan Didion once wrote. I underlined that sentence in South and West so many times I almost tore through the page. New York, to me, has always been a city of history in which to place myself, a city in which places are not just places, but containers of energy. Somehow, I thought, being in proximity to some tangible object was a way to conjure inspiration, a way to pay my respects. These structures — apartments lived in, bars frequented, studios worked at, organizations inspired, park benches dedicated to — are just tangentially related stand-ins for the real thing; they’re all we have, in some ways, to feel some sort of closeness with people we have never and will never be close to.
I cannot lie and say I don’t still do this from time to time, that I don’t sometimes walk by certain buildings or sit on certain park benches and mentally say hello to whatever sliver of spirit of persons since gone might reside there. As if I could conduct telepathy through architecture, as if I’m communing with ghosts I’ve never known, much as it feels like I do. Only once have I let a small “thank you” slip out loud, a whisper barely loud enough for my own ears to discern, but still immediately countered with my brain’s surprised internal dialogue: Wow, I don’t know why I just did that. Wow, that was weird. Wow, how embarrassing. Wow, well, wherever you are, I guess I hope you heard it.
The dead can’t talk back, and who knows if they can even hear, but it sure is easier this way. There’s less pressure to get it right, to say that one thing you’d rehearse over and over in your mind while waiting in line for someone you care about to sign an album or a book before moving on to the next. Like Phoebe sings, if we ever had the chance to talk to the real deal, we’d probably blow it.
And the joke, of course, is that our personal sacred spaces often hold no importance to others. I think this as I continue to play “Punisher” on a loop, sitting on a bench that is not my favorite one, the one I visit sporadically, but the one next to it. My hallowed space is occupied by an insufferable millennial on an insufferably loud business call discussing the insufferable millennial cookware brand for which she works. I always said that all I want when I die is a plaque dedicated bench in the park. Now, I can’t help but think if anyone with a Central Park bench had even the tiniest bit of their dead soul lingering there, it must really suck. Having to spend most of your time in the company of clueless assholes sounds pretty close to a description of hell.
This is a strange summer, and I am thinking about that poem about New York City summers I read in a copy of the New Yorker a few years ago and have thought about every summer since. “There will never be more of summer than there is now,” it starts. June is nearly over, the remaining days left of Good Summer almost used up. Any other year, Bad Summer would be just around the corner, but I can’t help but think Bad Summer is already here.
This summer holds none of the usual novelty of the season, none of the false promises all the bildungsromans and teen comedies in the world seek to make us believe. This summer will not be one full of infinite possibilities, of transformations, of reckless abandon and long, sweaty nights with strangers and adventures to faraway places (or, at least, just Rockaway Beach) or road trips in rented cars with the AC and music turned up too high. This summer just is. The air hangs heavier, thick with the listlessness which consumes us. I am missing all the things I never even did when summer was good, when summer was normal.
And I don’t know, maybe I’m full of shit here, but maybe that’s the whole point of this summer that is strange, yes, but neither good nor bad in entirety: to remind us of the things and the people we miss, both known and not. And maybe summer will never be normal again. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it needs to be something new instead.
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okay that's it that's the end thanks bye