I’ve always been afraid of drowning. Seems like a pretty rough way to go. You kick and you struggle and you fight but eventually, inevitably, the darkness swallows you up.
An apt metaphor, I think, for 2017. We’ve slipped into the water, and no matter how hard we paddle, we’re sinking deeper and deeper. You and I are drowning, my friend. And I’m looking ahead and it’s pretty hard to see a way back up to the surface.
So much good has happened this year. I spend much of my day wallowing and bitching that I hardly leave any time to celebrate all of 2017’s kindnesses and comedy and family and friends and the best ‘got damn’ slice of pizza I’ve ever had. I want to change that in 2018. And I figured, there’s no better time to start than right now. So now, a remembrance of my favorite photos of 2017.
Also, Mom, consider this my Christmas card.
NOHO, NY, February 1
I moved to New York City in 2014, to work for a tiny little start-up trying to punch far above its weight. I was employee #9. Three years later, three hilarious and wonderful and long and terrible years later, it was time for me to move on.
Before I gave notice, a couple of my coworkers asked if they could borrow me for a quick photo shoot. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, in part because of my rakish charm but also because we’re constantly making pitch videos and short films and what have you, so I said sure. I diligently followed their instructions, sitting down, looking up into the camera, smiling wide. They took a few photos, thanked me, and said that I was a good boy.
The next week, on the way our bathrooms, I noticed several framed photographs hanging in the hallway. Photos of the four office dogs, sitting on the ground, looking up into the camera, smiling wide. And there, amongst our pets, was my stupid, gullible, face.
The pictures were eventually taken down, but before I left my portrait was hung in a place of “honor,” right above the office throne. I don’t think the people of F&P know how much that meant.
Long may I reign.
Metropolitan Avenue, NY, February 14
This is my friend Selena. That is my bear Fred. Selena had been riding her bike and was hit by a car. She smacked her head against the pavement and came away with a serious concussion. She was out of it for months. Light bothered her. Loud noises hurt her head. Stimuli of any kind rattled her. This, as you might be surprised to learn, is not an ideal situation for New York City.
Several months after the accident, she was near my apartment to pick up some medication and stopped by. I had seen her before, but only briefly. This was the first time we’d been together for longer than a hug. She was obviously still recovering, but it was also clear the old Selena was in there, starting to shine through.
And then I went to check something on my computer. I turned back around to find that in the few moments my attention was elsewhere, she had bubble wrapped Fred. No explanation. No reason.
Concussions don’t fuck around. But then again, neither does Selena.
Tahoe, CA, February 18
I took a trip to San Francisco right after I quit my job and met up with a good friend. We then booked it to Tahoe and spent President’s day skiing and also saving a kid’s life (a story for another time). To get to Tahoe, you have to drive over the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the quickest way to do that is to go through the Donner Pass, site of the famous dinner party held there a while back. I never understood why the travelers didn’t simply power through when the other option was snacking on each other, until I saw this. They were clearing out highway signs like New York does fire hydrants. I mean, HATCHIE MATCHIE LOOK AT ALL THAT SNOW.
Deep Brooklyn, NY, March 3
On my time in between jobs, I decided to make the trek (as all good and true New Yorkers should) to Di Fara pizza with my dear friend Meghan (a good and true New Yorker). Di Fara is a tiny little pizza joint halfway between Coney Island and the Brooklyn we all mean when we say Brooklyn. It’s been there since the 60s and every slice of pizza has been made by this tiny, hunch-backed grandfather of a man named Dom. And when I say every slice of pizza, I mean every. Slice. Of pizza. For over half a century.
We arrived at like 2:00pm on a Friday. The line wasn’t bad, and we placed our order within five minutes. But it took us an hour plus to get our pie because Dom certainly wasn’t in a rush. He physically couldn’t be in a rush. Imagine your Pop-Pop making one hundred pizzas a day. You watch this guy move, and you think to yourself, I’m not not worried that he might fall over dead spreading the tomato sauce. Maybe it’s time pack it in and raise the apron to the rafters.
And then you take a bite and you think to yourself this man is a national treasure and he needs to make pizzas until the day he dies and then some. Just shoot him up with whatever they use to keep Punxsutawney Phil alive and wheel him in front of an oven.
Meghan and I salivated as Dom’s daughter (who runs the register) cut some fresh basil over our piping hot pizza, sprinkled on some parmesean, and slid it our way. We were too hungry to wait for the pie to cool, so the first bite singed the tops of our mouths and we chewed in an “O” to try and encourage ventilation. But even still.
I’d eaten at Sushi Nakazawa the year before, and it was pretty life changing. Every bite was unique — a new combination of flavours my mouth had never experienced before. I loved it. A top five meal.
But this… this was different. I am intimately familiar with the taste of pizza. But there’s a scene in the movie Ratatouille (yes, Ratatouille), where the food critic Anton Ego takes a bite of his meal and he flashes back to his childhood and the first bite of his mom’s home made pasta. That’s exactly what this was like. I was tasting my favorite meal again for the first time.
It was beautiful.
Melbourne, KY, April 29
Our first Baker family wedding! We’ve got 16 cousins on my Dad’s side, so it’s a surprise it’s taken this long for one of these. But it finally happened and it was a wonderful affair. They even had a s’mores bar, which, speaking of…
Woodstock, NY, May 21
I knocked this bad boy out of the fucking park. It didn’t get nearly enough appreciation on instagram. I mean, look at that golden brown shell. Oozy but not runny, cooked all the way through. I think you could measure my growth and maturity through the years simply by how long I’ve been willing to let a marshmallow roast over a fire. Young Chris convinced himself he liked his s’mores crispy and burnt. Young Chris was an idiot.
Greenwich Village, June 22
Earl had a birthday and also that time he had a ring in his pocket. Not physically in his pocket, I’m not even sure it had arrived yet. But he knew he was going to propose and I knew he was going to propose and I threatened to spoil everything multiple times. But we made it through the dinner with secret safe and he popped the question a couple weeks later. Now these two idiots are getting married and I’m going to be the best man and I have to tell a group of people some nice things about Earl and unrelated but does anyone have any nice things to say about Earl?
Keuka Lake, July 11
Bryn Mawr Hospital, July 30
Pop-Pop took a spill. Actually, he had fallen several times in the last year or so, he just neglected to tell us. Somehow it had “slipped his mind.” Not this time. He fell and hit his head and then next thing you know, he was in the hospital being checked for a stroke. There was none to be found, thankfully, but he spent the next four days cooped up in his hospital room, alternately sleeping, throwing up, and complaining about the food.
It was scary. In the year prior to his fall, he had started to slow down a bit, which is allowed when you’re 91(!). But even with the lack of hop in step, his mind was still all there. This was the first time we were seeing major cracks forming in the veneer.
And yet it brought us all together. I’ve seen Pop-Pop and the rest of my extended family more times in the last six months than I have in probably the last six years. I saw my sister, brother, father and mother rise to the occasion with caring and determination. And I saw I saw Pop-Pop get back on his feet (metaphorically speaking; he now has to use a walker which he HATES. But you get the point). He still gives me shit about being bad at crosswords, and refuses to acknowledge me when I do poorly in golf. His hearing is still terrible, but his memory is still razor sharp. And most important, he still has the mischievous, glowing, knowing sparkle in his eye. Even at 91, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a fall to bring Pop-Pop down.
The Phyrst, State College, August 11
Two of my favorite people at one of my favorite places. It’s been an up and down year for the Baker sibs. For instance, two hours after this photo was taken we were screaming at each other outside of a Sheetz about, among other things, my refusal to poop on the Amtrak that morning. I remember the yelling and also the face of the stranger eating his food next to us as he laughed at how stupid our fight was. But, even after the poohaha, I’m still tremendously lucky to have siblings that I’d hang out with even without being forced to. You make it all worth it.
A Barn Somewhere Outside of State College, August 12
As I was saying about my siblings, I’m lucky to have these two dancing fools as well. This was the first wedding where the whole Baker family was present. It was great to be all together, some of us dancing harder than others. Also, I told my mother I wouldn’t post this on Instagram. So technically, (he shrugs his shoulders).
Beaver Stadium, October 21
A Beaver Stadium white out is one of the coolest atmospheres in sports, and one of my favorite places on earth. 110,00 people losing their minds as loudly and publicly as possible. At any given game, the 21,000 plus students tucked into the south end zone of the stadium are almost always crazy. But during a night game, even the 80-year-old alums who’ve had seats for the last two decades stand up and scream their dentures out.
This year, the white out was against Michigan. This season was supposed to be our season, we had the greatest college football player I had ever seen (Saquon i miss u come back), and, as Michigan had thumped us the year before, it was to be a revenge game. The white out was nigh unmissable.
The only problem was, a lot of other people thought so too. it was the hardest penn state ticket to get in potentially ever. My brother and I went back and forth; do we bite the bullet and pay out the ass on a ticket site? Do we try and scalp tickets? Do we tailgate and then just watch from the bar? Finally, after several conversations, we said what the hell and bought a pair on ebay.
You know when you flip a coin and it’s in the air your heart tells you what you want? There’s definitely a clicking purchase equivalent. As soon as I hit buy a felt a wave of relief. It was the right decision.
And boy howdy, was it ever. There wasn’t a ticket to be had on gameday, and when we finally arrived at the stadium after nine solid hours of tailgating, the place was ready to explode. I’ve been to almost all of the top Penn State games in the last fifteen years. Each one has a different energy. Some crowds feel more optimistic, some more like a party. This game felt like a business trip. Every single person was locked in. Everyone was angry. We all screamed our throats out — but it was that angry, fuck yoouuuuuuuuuuuuuuu kind of yell, from the back of the throat. It was deafening. And then on the second play, Saquon Barkley ( baby dont leave plz) broke a 69 yard run right at our seats, and I thought the stadium was going to fall apart. I was jumping up and down screaming. Joe had the aisle seat, so he half stepped, half fell into the aisle. His hat fell off, hitting the woman in the row behind us. She immediately put it on and started dancing around.
That’s how it went. Every time we scored the place would explode, Joe would turn around and put his hat on the woman’s head (we both forget her name, but I remember she looked like it. Maybe Debbie?) It was a celebratory smackdown. And we shouted and yelled until our voices gave out — Mine for three days after. In the end, we won 42–13, set the Beaver Stadium attendance record at 110,823, and I had made my best purchase of 2017.
My Most Liked Instagram Photo Ever. Home, PA, December 24
When I arrived home for the holiday I was informed by my sister that I had an outfit for Christmas eve/morning, and it was “Mandatory”. It wasn’t until after I agreed that I found out what it was. They may look a bit ridiculous — I certainly thought so at first — but they’re like wearing a hug. It was lovely. This definitely won’t be the last time I zip it up. One of the advantages of living by yourself.
And that’s about it. If you’re reading this, you probably helped make a no good very bad year bearable. If you didn’t, there’s always this year. Either way, here’s hoping my 2018 and yours is filled with less drowning and more pizza and pajamas. Perhaps, if we’re all so terribly lucky, maybe even both at once.