“the eleven most boring conversations i can’t stop overhearing”

(in which a liberal white male american san francisco bay area resident possessive of the auditory acuity of a baby chihuahua learns to scream)

The news sometimes makes me cry. Wow, I didn’t think I’d admit that in this introduction that I’m writing after finishing the writing of this list. I see things on the news late at night or early in the morning and I feel horrible. I feel alone. We’re all alone. Earth is terrifying. Space isn’t much better. Politics are terrifying. Look: we have been building a machine. We have been building this machine for millennia. We turned this machine on before we started building it. Listen: we have built a machine we can never turn off. I hear the machine turning inside every insipid conversation I overhear. You might not hear the machine. In conversations that to many appear harmless or hilarious, the seeds of hate, greed, and evil sleep a deep sleep. Oh no. Oh god. I wrote these eleven items on this stupid list thinking I was writing something funny, and now that I’ve finished it, and forgotten about sports in the process of finishing it, I’m realizing I was in truth writing about politics and love and hate and climate change. I’m scared now, a little bit, of myself. I wonder if I’m human. Hey, who’s human? Who’s human out there? Tell me something if you are human.

So, yeah, I wrote a list of eleven dumb conversation topics that bother me — conversations into which I have only ever fantasized about jutting. Here’s me jutting. I had a lot of jokes in my head before I started typing. Something ruined the jokes. Oh god, where did the jokes go? Read my list and let me know if you have a good time. You can follow me on Twitter, too, like, I don’t know. Follow me, so that I may follow myself.

1. Which hot sauce is the best?

This is the most boring conversation I have ever heard. I am putting it first in the list because I have heard it so many times and it is always so similar in its tone, structure, and torturous length that I simply cannot bring myself to be philosophical about it. I’m writing about it first because it defies both my disbelief that I really have heard it as many times as my memory is right this minute screaming about it, and my ability to say anything nice or productive at all. This is an invocation exercise, in which I indulge my inexcusable, human need to sometimes be petty (forgive me!):

It was two white dudes with goatees who had this conversation. One literally said to the other, “I prefer Tapatio to Tabasco.”

Also, this conversation was two white dudes with full beards wearing flannel.

Later, this conversation was two white dudes in cargo pants, one of whom was wearing a fedora.

This is the worst conversation I have ever overheard. A conversation about two white dudes arguing about whether Tapatio is better than Tabasco is the worst conversation I have ever overheard in the way that a glass of tap water might be the best drink you have ever tasted. I’d rather watch Guy Fieri remove and then eat his own balls with his bare hands than listen to two white dudes talk about this “insane” bottle of hot sauce one of them bought while on a business trip.

“Like, [hot sauce type] is hot, though [other hot sauce type] has flavor.”

Here’s me: I pour hot sauce on everything. I steam spinach and then I pour about a quarter cup of Tapatio into there. I call it “hot sauce soup”. I don’t care. I just empty it in there. This is because food is a chore for me, and Tapatio drowns out the rotty stink and gnarly military-blanket texture of spinach. I don’t expect to convert anyone to my personal dietary pragmatism: I’m simply qualifying myself as a person who doesn’t care about food and who consumes liters of hot sauce a month.

Hopefully by now I’ve qualified myself as unfit for discussion of fine dining.

From there, I want to say: hot sauce is a useless conversation topic. Hot sauce kills the flavor of food. Hot sauce is a culinary scream: it creates sensation from nothing more than itself — itself without flavor. It is not a fine dining element. It is a rubber mallet of pure spice. Its many varieties house many hints of flavors and textures. However, by itself, it is a brick of nothing. Anyone can make hot sauce (and almost anyone does, if you’ve ever seen a shop dedicated to hot sauce). The only qualification you need to make hot sauce is a first name and a last name to put on the bottle. I make a different type of soup every week. I do not, however, Google “crazy tie-dye patterns” every week so I can Photoshop and then print out a label for my soup pot.

I’m sure a lot of people love hot sauce. I’m sure a lot of people make money selling it. I’m also sure I’d rather buy Tapatio than make hot sauce myself. I’m sure one of the primary reasons we invented machines in the first place is so that we could crush large quantities of peppers so that we wouldn’t have to taste our rotty un-fine food.

If you’re talking about hot sauce beyond “Oh, Valentina is cheaper and it doesn’t taste like poison at all” or “Tabasco gets weird after you’ve let it sit for five years”, chances are you’ve parasite-latched onto hot sauce as Your Thing. That’s Completely Normal! It shows you want to have a “thing”! Good for you! Try getting another thing, though.

For example — just a suggestion! — try learning to make salsa. Salsa is exciting. You learn how to select vegetables. You learn how to balance vegetables in proportions that meet your taste. And, you can put hot sauce in it.

2. New York Pizza or Chicago Pizza?

In some alternate universe, two white guys founded Twitter so that they could recruit the public to their useless debate of whether New York pizza is better than Chicago pizza or vice-versa. In this alternate universe, “#TeamNY” and “#TeamChi” were the first two hashtags ever forged.

I feel so sad when I overhear (oversee?) this nonversation on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. Someone traveling to New York posts a photograph of a slice of pizza, and the first comment is “Pizza? You call that pizza?” It sounds like a friendly jape, and the comments thread flows along jovially, until it erupts into a monocle-adjusting contest.

Look: When I am in New York, I eat New York pizza. When I am in Chicago, I eat Chicago pizza. When I am anywhere else, I eat whatever is good. Heck, I’ll even eat a Little Caesar’s Hot ’n’ Ready. Pizza is a food whose design encourages togetherness. Pizza’s industrial nature suggests a party. Pizza’s geometry urges your cavehuman brain to gather brothers and sisters (hint: we are all brothers and sisters) and sit or stand in a circle. It is a circle which becomes triangles. It is a food that contains its own plate, and its plate is the essence of its food. This isn’t soup in a bread bowl: it’s pizza on a plate made of pizza. It is a meta-itself. Pizza is beautiful: shut up about pizza. Pizza is beautiful: eat the pizza instead of talking about it.

Chicago Pizza and New York Pizza (I put them in alphabetical order so as to dispel any accusations of favoritism) are not the same genre of food. I’ve heard New York Pizza pundits muckrake Chicago Pizza over its resemblance to casserole. I’ve heard Chicago Pizza activists call New York Pizza “insubstantial”. I say, reckon a thing as itself: do you enjoy what you are eating? Is it particularly good at this specific place where you are eating it? What could be better about it in a way that would preserve its itness? I hope in vain I will not revisit this topic later in this list (I will, for certain).

I say, reckon Chicago Pizza as Chicago Pizza; reckon New York Pizza as New York Pizza.

Maybe you’re eating New York Pizza and a particular memory of Chicago Pizza comes to mind. This Is Completely Normal. I have often, for example, remembered cake while eating ice cream (birthday parties often pair them). This does not mean that I should, in moments away from food consumption, begin an internet war in which cake and ice cream are mortal enemies.

Worse conversations wait just beneath the Chicago Pizza v. New York Pizza debate. For example, the discussion that pizza is actually from Italy, and that New York Pizza is as far removed from Italian Pizza as Chicago Pizza is from New York Pizza. This is a field of history that I sincerely hope someone has a PhD in, though until such an individual steps forth, allow me to postulate that it’s perfectly reasonable for three types of pizza or more to exist, and that it’s more than perfectly reasonable for all three or more of those types of pizza to be “real” pizza. Would we say that “Moby-Dick” is not a “real” novel because Herman Melville published it after Alexandre Dumas published “The Count of Monte Cristo”? Let’s be reasonable.

Also, for the love of all that is good, if someone mentions “The Sopranos”, you seriously, really, actually don’t have to mention “The Wire”. And if someone mentions “The Wire”, you really, really don’t have to mention “The Sopranos”. Neither of those shows is trying to be anything like the other. All those two shows have in common is that they were early efforts by HBO to produce original drama content. They’re both about crime on the American east coast, and that’s where the comparison stops. When you compare New York Pizza to Chicago Pizza — when you compare “The Sopranos” to “The Wire” — you’re not comparing apples to oranges. You’re comparing shoes to pants.

For a more interesting and philosophical conversation, try talking about chicken wings with bones versus boneless chicken wings. I am a vegetarian, yet this conversation does not bother me. Furthermore, this is an argument about which I cannot help possessing a self-serving stance despite my lack of personal investment: I say go boneless, because there is no worse sound than that of a human with a beard pointing, flexing, and sucking his lips and teeth into and around toothpick-tiny bones in floppy effort to extract the last molecules of grease and meat.

3. “If you say ‘I’m not a hipster’, that means you’re a hipster!”

How about this conversation instead: if you call someone a “hipster” and their reflex is to say they’re “not a hipster”, maybe the next line in this dialogue should concern how you just gave the person a label they don’t like.

If you think “label” is a “politically correct” “buzzword” and its use in the previous paragraph made you turn your brain off, I’ll reiterate:

If you call someone a “hipster” and their immediate response is “I’m not a hipster”, maybe instead of telling them that “‘I’m not a hipster’ is something only a hipster would say” you should reflect on how you just called someone something they don’t want people to call them, and then you should stop talking for at least several minutes if not years.

I hate talking about the word “hipster”. It’s a terrible word. One problem with the word is that no two people agree on its definition. The more visible-to-me problem is that no one wants anyone to call them a “hipster”. Maybe this is a word we shouldn’t ever use.

Language impacts our psychology. Language can ruin our moods and make us physically sick. It’s possible to hurt people with words. “Hipster” is not the most hurtful word in the English language. If I wrote a list of the hundred most hurtful words in the English language, “hipster” wouldn’t be on it. English is full of vile slurs and hate words we should never use, and it’s colossally more important that we don’t use those words I’m not naming. In case I haven’t spelled it out enough (I probably haven’t), yes, I’m using “Hipster” as a stand-in for “labels no one ever likes”. It’s such a trivial, stupid word that no one should threaten to burn my house down for daring to talk about it.

Above all, “Hipster” is a conversational gateway to a boredom of horrific magnitude. Anyone liking anything at all in public runs the risk of someone calling them a “hipster”, and then feeling shame for being a “hipster” with regard to anything. The word “hipster” is a pocket of air trapped beneath the skin of the human condition. Day by day, it inches toward the heart. Otherwise-decent people allow it into their conversations whenever some ghost in their psychology tricks them into turning a conversation into not a conversation.

A long time ago, “hipster” was a compliment. It meant you were a person who liked cool stuff. It also meant you were into jazz and poetry and bongos and berets and little goatees, or whatever. These days, it means you are a person who looks and acts like modern people sometimes look and act. I say, beware words whose definitions change to include the word “sometimes”.

Here is what I know: with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google Plus, Google Buzz, Google Wave, or whatever, many people share what they like with many other people. Sharing one’s taste has become part of life. The FCC decided to make internet a utility in the United States, like electricity and water. We don’t classify each other as electricity-users. We’re all hipsters. None of us are hipsters. Shut the fuck up about it.

There: I’ve used my one f-word for this year.

4. “Everyone loves dogs here!”

Smarter mathematicians than myself have likely expressed more fallacious hypotheses than my notion that everyone living in San Francisco might be from Wisconsin. They get off airplanes, they purchase Giants caps at the airport, and they blend right in. San Francisco is proud of “diversity”, so everyone fits in, as long as they say something about the Giants.

I mean — let’s not talk about sports (yet). That’s another topic.

Here’s something I’ve overheard in San Francisco Bay Area coffee shops (and restaurants (usually during breakfast)) thirty-five times in the past five years. (Yes, I counted. (I count stuff.)) It’s almost always this exact wording:

“You know what I love about San Francisco? Everyone loves dogs here!”

The group of individuals then discusses at length their friends with dogs, and what kinds of dogs their friends have. My experiences running around Emeryville, California every morning has led me to believe that any one of these conversations which does not mention a pit bull is a conference of liars.

I’m all for a spirited discussion of the mechanical particulars of breeds of animals, or a discussion of the cool routes one might take when walking said animals around their neighborhood.

The part of it that bores me is the insinuation that loving dogs is a trait exclusive to (or emblematic of) the San Francisco Bay Area.

I have friends in Greenfield, Indiana. They have a dog. They love that dog.

I’ve been around to a lot of places. I hate to boast: I’ve been to most of the continents. It’s no big deal. I might go to Antarctica someday. Heck, between you and me, maybe I’ll die there.

None of the people I’ve overheard speak the phrase “Everyone loves dogs here!” seems, in their accent or features, to have been born in China or Korea.

China and Korea included, I personally have never been to a city or state or country in which civilian peoples take aim, fire on, and execute stray dogs in the street for hate-sport.

In addition, I have also noticed that people always manage to find The Best Donuts / Bagels / Chinese Food They’ve Ever Had In Their Life right across the street from the office building of their new job that pays twice as much as their previous job paid before they got laid off a year ago.

In case anyone is in doubt, I’ll say: This Is Perfectly Normal! If you like a place, you will probably like stuff in that place more than you’d like it if you were in another place.

I’m just saying: I don’t love dogs. I don’t mean this confession as a personal affront to everyone else’s sensibilities. I like dogs just fine; I will pet the heck out of a corgi. I will shriek like a little girl in a cartoon if I see a pomeranian wearing a sweater. I just want you to know that I would never use the word “love” to describe how I feel about dogs. I have enough trouble loving myself. Let’s not talk about that part, of course. You’re going to have to PayPal me a fair deal of money if you want to listen to me talk about that.

In conclusion, maybe the dog thing is getting out of hand. Maybe you only want a dog the way a teenager wants a pair of Jordans. Maybe you don’t actually like dogs. And that’s OK!

Sub-conclusion number one: I was having lunch with a friend at Google in San Francisco. After lunch, we went to get a coffee, at a cafe inside of the same office building that also had the cafeteria with sea-salt cookies. I ordered a coffee. As I waited for my coffee, I looked around at the people working in the vicinity of this cafe. They were on stools and bean-bags and yoga balls. Out the great windows I could see the Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge.

On one of the walls was a great big framed art-print. It looked like something you’d find at some sinister IKEA that emerged from a British satirist’s nightmares. It was words in a nice font and of tasteful colors. It was big and bold and loud. I stared at it until the coffeeperson called my name.


I realized why Google makes me sign a waiver when I’m a lunch guest: they don’t want me taking pictures of the wall-art. I can only imagine what the wall-art in the finance department says.

Sub-conclusion number two: I live across the street from a small school for developmentally disabled youth. They recently astroturfed the whole schoolyard. They added some little trees and a winding path.

The schoolyard used to be a big dirt lot. I parked my car by the curb in front of that park every day. The kids take long recesses. They’d kick up huge dirt clouds. My car had a fingernail-deep dirt-coat for weeks at a time, at which point, in order to feel better about myself, I’d take it to the car wash.

Well, I ran low on money. I sold that car. The next week, they started astroturfing that school’s dirt-lot.

The place looks nice now. There’s a big sign on the fence:


School starts at, I think, six o’clock every morning. I can hear the children screaming. They scream like they’re on fire. Sometimes — I’ve been living here for four years — sometimes I hear a scream-swell so shrill and sudden that I stand up from my desk, stride over to the door, and throw it open, fearing that something terrible is happening. It’s never anything terrible. It’s always business as usual.

School ends at 3pm every day. I go out and run a few laps around Pixar headquarters every day at seven. When I get back to my building, there are always dogs in the park. It’s either corgis, pit-bulls, or a combination. It’s always four or more dogs. The humans stand staring at their iPhones. The dogs make big turds all over that beautiful astroturf that special-needs children lie down on and roll in every day. A dude in Oakley sunglasses and an orange T-shirt and a Giants cap puts his phone into his shorts-pocket, yells at his dog, and picks up a turd in a little green bag. He latches the leash and yanks his pit-bull toward the street, walking past, around, and then in front of the “NO DOGS IN PARK” sign. No one ever achieved greatness by asking permission, huh?

“What’s that park over there?” someone asked a friend in front of my building.

“It’s a dog park. The sign says no dogs though it’s pretty much a dog park people bring their dogs there.”


5. “Ha ha ha Five-Hour Energy Drink ha ha ha”

Look, a Five-Hour Energy drink has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, for god’s sake.

“It’s not natural! It’s a chemical!”

Look, dude, earth is weird. Humans are weird! We invented clothes, television, and metalworking.

“You’ll have a heart attack if you drink it!”

You’ll have a heart attack if, maybe, you pour twenty of them into a Big Gulp cup and then drink the whole thing. You’d also probably have a heart attack if you drink twenty cups of black coffee on an empty stomach.

I am a weird idiot who reads books made of paper and also shaves with a straight razor. Having said that, I don’t see anything wrong with iPads, electric shavers, and Five-Hour Energy drinks. Five-Hour Energy drinks have the energizing effect of coffee, yet do not upset an empty stomach. They also have vitamins in them. To me that seems like a decent deal.

If you want to talk about Stupid Beverages, here’s a more interesting suggestion: bottled water. It’s literally tap water in a bottle. They bottle tap water, they print labels with pictures of mountains or tropical islands on them, and then they put it on trucks and send it around the country. You look at the mountain or the tropical island on the label, and now you’re not thinking about tap water, or the bottle that the tap water is inside of: you’re thinking about mountains or tropical islands.

You could buy a bottle and bottle your own tap water!

Also, did you know you can drink tap water? It won’t kill you. It’s government regulated. It’s what they use in bottled water.

6. “I hate Facebook so much”

If I may engage in a rousing fallacy for a moment: I didn’t have a Facebook when I was in high school. I was in high school in the early 1990s. I got by just fine without Facebook. More specifically: when I didn’t have a Facebook, I never complained about Facebook. Now that I have Facebook, sure: I complain about Facebook. I tend to keep those complaints to myself.

No one is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to be on Facebook. If they are, that’s terrible. If you hold down your iPhone home button and yell “Siri, call the cops!” a the words “Dialing 911” and a five-second countdown will appear on the screen. (Enable “Hey Siri” and this is even more convenient: “Hey Siri, call the cops!”)

You can quit Facebook. You can get right off of there. You can leave all those boring conversations and bad jokes and cynical comments sections and weird targeted ads behind.

Chances are, of course, if you’re on Facebook, it’s because you get something out of it.

What’s “bad” about Facebook is probably your friends. No, it’s not your friends: it’s some issues you have about other humans.

I have a friend who talks proudly about how many Facebook friends whose posts he’s hidden from his feed. He does this a lot.

“Two of my friends had babies this month! I’ve hidden all of their posts.”

Well, alright!

I tried telling him, hey, you know, people post photos of what they’re proud of. I know making a baby is easy. It’s so easy to make a baby that lots of people do it on accident, like my parents. However, I’ve never had one, and neither has my friend who hides babies. How do we know what it’s like to suddenly have a baby? Also, what terrifies you about seeing a baby? Were they vomitty nasty pictures of the baby eating food, or were they weird pictures of the baby in a bathtub? You said they were just born, so I’m presuming they were just photos of freshly-washed hospital baby faces. If they were gross pictures, I could see hiding those, though with the information you’ve given me, it sounds like it’s the idea of a person having a baby — the idea that your peers are reading chapters ahead of you in the book of social norms — that has got you scared. You’re scared because you are jealous; you are jealous because you are not jealous. You are jealous of not being jealous because you know the person you are not jealous of does not possess the fear of not knowing why you are not jealous.

I’ll go ahead and say “This Is Completely Normal”. This is the “normal” that technology has created: “normal” is everything.

“I hide everyone who ever posts a selfie.”

“Dude, yeah, me too.”

I have overheard this exchange more than ten times this year between attractive, mature, extroverted, sociable people in the real world.

Facebook is about interfacing with people. I don’t see anything wrong with a picture of a person’s face. I see a selfie, and I think, “This is what this person looks like right now, today — or [more importantly] this is what they want me to think they look like right now, today.” To me, that micro-conversation I have with myself is a more meaningful correspondence than a Christmas card from my worst enemy. I tried to tell my friend about this; he wouldn’t have it. “I don’t want to be seeing people’s faces all the time every day.” My conclusion is that technology has provided you a tool to allow you to interact without effort, to bring the outside world every where you go, and it has produced only a desire to not be outside. This is not a paradox: this is the modern “normal”.

If you love someone, you want to see their face every day. I remember the days of my first internet penpal. It was the mid-1990s. Uploading a photograph to the internet took literally hours. You needed to take a photo, have the film developed, scan the photo in a computer lab, put the scanned photo on a disk, take the disk to your dorm (by the way: I was in college), and then dial up to an FTP, put the photo on there, and hope you could get it to attach to the email — and hope it wouldn’t top out your recipient’s one-megabyte email inbox limit. I never got around to uploading a photo for her, and she never got around to uploading a photo for me. I didn’t see my penpal’s face until we met in person five years after meeting online. It was exciting.

I tried telling my friend: how many of your Facebook friends do you see every day? How many do you see every week? Does the sight of the face of a person you see in person infrequently stir up longing to see them more frequently, or does it scare you toward apathy for them, and then for all people? If it’s either of those, maybe you’re thinking too hard. What I’m saying is, Facebook isn’t worth talking about. Just hang out with it. That’s what it’s for. It’s for hanging out with.

Alternative conversation topic: Facebook has made us shut off the part of our brain that remembers friends’ birthdays; “Facebook Birthday Greeting” has replaced “Christmas Card” as the lowest rung on the ladder of social interaction. Try talking about the ramifications of that. I’ve started telling friends “happy birthday” precisely one month before their birthday. Try it! Unfortunately, even then it’s hard to prove that I didn’t just grab their birthday from Facebook.

7. iOS versus Android

Actually, despite the high iOS sales numbers, Android still has a bigger market share.”

In so much as my birth qualifies me to understand this conversation, I will inform you that if you ever use the words “sales numbers” and “market share” in a conversation between friends as outside observers of a company’s business endeavors, you are doing work for them.

Furthermore, this is not a productive conversation. Each platform has its strengths. iOS runs on a small number of devices. Apple manufactures all the devices iOS can run on. Apple can decide to make new iOS versions incompatible with older devices if it means better performance or more productive development. In this way, iOS is focused and controlled. Apple can take their time rolling out features that Android rolls out first. Finally, it’s super-easy to make an app for iOS, as a software developer, because you only need to test that app on a small number of devices, and when you release that app, it’s to an audience of people who have literally paid $800 for a phone that’s not too different from other phones. Meanwhile, Android is an open platform. It runs on literally thousands of devices. You can make your own custom Android device if can find a big enough Radio Shack (update: in the months since I wrote the first draft of this essay, Radio Shack went out of business (months later: they’re maybe not out of business)). Because of the wide range of devices available in a wide range of prices, when a developer releases an app for Android, they know that the potential audience is huge.

iOS and Android are not quite as different as Chicago Pizza and New York Pizza. However, they’re different enough: iOS is clean, simple, and user-friendly to a point of near frictionlessness, and Android is flexible, customizable, and open for experimentation. Arguing which of them is “better” is presuming that everyone on earth likes, wants, and needs the same things.

Now, arguing about the market share of the companies involved in making the operating systems is worse: if you allow that one of them is universally better, that’s still presuming that if one thing is better than another, then the other has no right to exist. That’s not how consumerism works. You need competition. Just because “Robocop” is a better movie than “Robocop 2” doesn’t mean I should go to jail for watching “Robocop 2” (though I probably should go to jail for watching “Robocop 2” more than twice).

8. “I actually, unironically enjoy — ”

Sorry: I am going to stop you before you can finish this sentence.

Let me apologize in advance: I’m about to ask you a question neither of us will be able to answer: why are you introducing irony into a conversation before arriving at the subject of the conversation?

The only answer either of us can approximate is “Because collective historical taste has compiled a phantom list of pastimes for which we should apologize”.

We can dig this hole clear through to the other end of the earth without finding an answer. So I’ll ask a weirder question.

What is it you want to talk about — do you want to talk about the thing you enjoy, or do you want to talk about yourself being serious when you enjoy the thing?

The introduction of irony (and its antithesis, the non-word unirony) into your profession of enjoyment twists it into a confession. You’re confessing to not needing to be ironic. You’re allowing “irony” to be the Default Acceptable State of liking a particular thing.

I just want to say again: I do in fact understand that “This Is Just How People Talk These Days”. I don’t mean to sound like the police. I’m not saying You’re Stupid If You Talk This Way. I’m just trying to say, hey, let’s think about why we talk this way.

It’s interesting: when you preface a conversation about, say a type of music or a dumb old cartoon series with a confession of your inability to be ironic about liking it, you’re doing the opposite of breaking away from the crowd and into uniqueness — you’re (maybe subconsciously!) acknowledging that the invisible sinister secret police of history have populated a list of things one must be ironic about. When you say you’re being unironic about liking something, you’re probably wanting to be a unique individual who doesn’t need the mandatory irony of 21st century culture, though you’re unfortunately acknowledging that mandatory irony, which feeds it power and allows it to go on existing and eating away at the grand sum total of joy in this universe.

I could write a million words about this. I’m well on my way to a million words as we speak. Let’s cut to what would be the concluding paragraph of those million words:

“Irony” is ruining everything.

Please, trust me.

I’d say, if you like something, say you like it.

“I like [Modern Pop Musician].”

If the person you’re talking to then asks “Do you, like, actually unironically like [Modern Pop Musician] or are you, like, being ironic?” I’d suggest replying like this:

“I like [Modern Pop Musician].”

If their reply is not some equivalent of “Oh, okay”, then my experience tells me they might be criminally insane.

Now, if you’re saying you unironically like something while believing you really ironically like it while possessing the repressed suspicion that you don’t like it at all — chances are you have a wide following on Twitter and are more afraid of death than you should be. I don’t have time to explain what I mean without accidentally giving you a PhD in the process (warning: I don’t have a PhD, so this would get uncomfortable for the both of us).

In summary: if the thing you’re confessing to liking is not a crime (serial murder, et cetera), there’s probably no political utility in declaring it a “guilty pleasure”.

9. “I prefer *real* books.”

I just, you know, like having something in my hand.”

“I like having something to put on the shelf.”

“I like the smell of books.”

“I love the feel of turning the page.”

Maybe you do! Loving the smell of books or the texture of paper is perfectly acceptable. People’s preferences are tactile and sometimes olfactory. We don’t need to be ashamed about this.

What bothers me is when a Real-Book Lover instigates a limp argument with someone who dares to use an electronic device to imbibe words.

“There’s just nothing romantic about reading on a Kindle.”

I believe literature is literature. If you require the touch and the smell of paper in order to enjoy a book, you might be digging in the wrong place, or barking up the wrong tree.

I’ve never heard someone say, “I just can’t eat pizza without a red-and-white checkered tablecloth somewhere in my peripheral vision.”

If the idea is that the book you’re reading was originally published on paper, and your enjoyment of the content of the book relies on the most faithful reproduction of the original readers’ experience at the time of the book’s publication, I can understand that impulse. We are sentimental, especially about something so emotional as art appreciation. One could argue that real paper and ink is the literature-delivery equivalent of a world-class art gallery. Why stop there, though? Why not read Moby-Dick on a wooden boat? Why not read Robinson Crusoe on a desert island?

Sorry: I’m being ridiculous.

Book-lovers: I am one of you. I own many books. Look at this book:

I own hundreds of books like this. I have so many of them that I don’t even bother putting them on a shelf. I keep them in big opaque plastic storage containers in my attic. I buy dozens of them each year when I visit my parents for Christmas. I put them in the storage containers until I’m ready to read them. I’ll admit that I choose them for their covers — and their opening paragraphs. I have read many thousands of books in my lifetime, and I read with great speed, so please accept my apology for selecting books by their covers. When I finish reading a book, I give it away. When my shelf has no books on it, I retrieve enough books to fill it.

I may or may not be reading these weird, stupid books as research. Whatever the case may be, these books are not available on Kindle or on iBooks.

Given the choice, I’d read them on my iPhone 6s Plus. I have terrible eyesight. I blow the font up to a pleasant size. I’m quite proud of the exact number of words that fits on the screen. I’m flipping pages every four seconds. It feels interactive.

I often hold up my iPhone and show it to people. I say, “Hey, look at how easy it is to read on this thing.”

The most common response — from book-lovers and Kindle-owners alike — is “Hmm. That doesn’t look like enough words per page.”

Here is how many words that fit on each page I read:

I think this is a good number of words per page. I can rest the phone on my thigh while I sit on the sofa. I can read books without moving my head.

“The letters are too big.”

Letters became the size they are in books because publishers had to pay for paper and ink. Electronic books are made of nothing. The words can be any size they want to be. A publisher wouldn’t publish a six-thousand-page book made of paper and ink.

I remember being a child; I remember those early adventures into reading books which had no pictures. We called these “chapter books”, because they had chapters. We didn’t call them “pictureless books”. We defined them by what they had, not by what they didn’t have.

When my chapter book adventures began, I would do one thing every time I started a book: I would look at the last page. I would not allow my eyes to glimpse the final words. All I wanted was the page number. As I began the book, I’d regard the number of each page as a percentage of the total reading required to finish the book. Each page in the bank was a tiny celebration.

I don’t gauge my ongoing completion percentage anymore when reading books. I read them because I like reading. I like the thinking that happens when I’m reading.

Whenever someone sees me reading a book on a non-book device and tells me that they “prefer real books”, I can only imagine that they love the rules typesetters and publishers have laid out over centuries. They love the exact number of standard-size words on a standard-size page. They’ve calibrated their satisfaction and accomplishment mechanisms to drop a food pellet at the turn of each page; having more or less words on a page upsets the flow of the food pellets, and this makes them uncomfortable. I think, maybe, these people consider reading to resemble a job.

My conclusion is that you can like a book without liking paper. If you have chronic dry skin, you might hate touching paper. You can like a song without liking the album it appears on. You might hate all of the other songs on the album. You can like a song without wanting deeply to have sexual intercourse with the performer. You can read a book about Picasso and decide you like his art without seeing it in person. You can love movies yet dislike going to the theater because people won’t stop looking at their phones during the movie, or because they crunch popcorn during the quiet parts. You can like whatever however.

10. “It’s not ‘soccer’: it’s ‘football’.”

“It’s not ‘football’: it’s ‘soccer’.”

Many people call the most popular sport in the world “The World’s Game” or “The Beautiful Game”. That’s only a nickname. The proper name of the sport is “football”. In America, they call it “soccer”.

Often, when an American says “soccer”, someone else not from America chimes in: “I believe you’re talking about football(, mate),” the chimer-in says.

“Well, I like to call it soccer,” the American might say.

“Well you don’t even play American football with your feet!” the chimer-in often says.

It’s difficult for me to talk about this. Someone reading this might comment that I’m an American, and therefore of course I’m going to prefer the name “soccer”. So for my first approach, I’ll try to be neutral and mathematical.

Here I go: If the American says “soccer”, and you know immediately what sport the American is talking about despite whatever name you prefer to give the sport, then ten out of ten linguists would certify that “soccer” is “a real word”.

If someone says “football” in a manner devoid of context or subtext (maybe they say “I love football!” in their Twitter bio, which lists “The Internet” under “location”) and an American person who has only ever known “football” to mean “American football” sees this declaration, they might believe this person is talking about American Gridiron Football.

So what I’m saying is, those who prefer to call The World’s Game “football” always recognize the name “soccer”. Those who prefer to call The World’s Game “soccer” do not always recognize it as “football”.

Calling American Football “American Football” is adding three syllables to an elegant name. Also, given my experience with Americans (disclosure: I am one), I know that if some tricky genie granted some British wish that American Football be irreversibly named “American Football”, Americans would start calling The World’s Game “Soccer Football”. America may have a West Virginia without an East Virginia (we call it Virginia), though they sure as heck don’t have a South Carolina without a North Carolina, if you catch my meaning.

The most boring arguments I’ve heard about the nomenclature of American Gridiron Football is that “you don’t even kick the ball with your feet”. I’ve never seen an American Britishly clever enough to offer an immediate retort of “and in basketball you don’t hit the ball with a basket”, so I’m going to step forward and be that American, for hypotheticality’s sake:

In basketball, you don’t hit the ball with a basket.

In American Gridiron Football, players carry the ball — on foot — into the goal. If someone invented a sport where you carried the ball in your car, we could call it “car ball”. I made a sport called “VIDEOBALL”. You don’t hit the ball with an HDMI cable in VIDEOBALL — you play it on a video display. The name of a sport needn’t follow this ghostly convention of “[Object used to hit ball]ball”. Clinging to that weird imaginary standard is such a constipated philosophy. We shouldn’t be so narrow-minded ever, much less when trespassing into discourse about such a beautiful, sublime, position-fluid sport whose conventions and tactics have emerged over hundreds of years.

Furthermore, cricket isn’t about little insects; hockey isn’t about . . . what is a hockey? Who knows? It’s a word. It sounds like something. It sounds like a noise. “Soccer” is a word which sounds like a noise. It is every word and no word. “Soccer” sounds like what it probably is. It echoes the depth of the sport’s ancient pre-linguistic history. Cavehumans were kicking little rocks between pairs of stationary bigger rocks long before we learned to warn one another of sabertooth tiger attacks. Cavehumans were kicking cabbages between trees long before anyone invented a word for “semantics”.

If an American calls The World’s Game “soccer”, the easiest objective statement we can make is that an American is talking about The World’s Game. To correct an American’s use of the word “soccer” is to divert the conversation from The World’s Game and onto the subject of semantics. At that point, you’re not talking about sports. You’re talking about words. If it is your sincere belief that Americans call The World’s Game “soccer” in their ignorance, rather than slap them metaphorically on the top of the head and scream them down on their word usage, why not them exercise away this ignorance you loftily perceive by sharing your obviously superior knowledge on the sport? Call it “football” with an easy natural reflex and a tone of voice devoid of condescension or patronization. Eventually one of two things may happen:

1. The American may start to call the sport “Football”.

2. You may come to respect the American’s knowledge of the sport to such a degree that you do not care what they call it.

(Yes, I know that “one of two things may happen” is among some of the most mathematically grievous rhetorical faux pas.)

In summary, talking about words is a recipe for a philosophical death vortex visible from space. When the core of the reason you believe your words are better than others’ words is that your words are yours and your culture’s, you’re denying the other person’s culture’s very existence. In this over-dramatic light, you’re being a sick individual.

Here’s how I think words would work in a perfect world: if someone says something to you and you understand them, and you say something back and they understand you, you’re having a conversation.

On the other hand, when the actual dictionary now says that “literally” means “very, extremely”, you have every right to scream. That’s a word about words. We need at least to protect our words which are about words! Imagine some future day where “noun” is a slang synonym for “verb”. For example, with the slang situation these days you might tell someone “I’m thirsty”, and the person might take that to mean you are desirous of sexual intercourse. So they raise their eyebrows and say “Uh-huh”. You correct them: “No, I’m literally thirsty.” So now they think you’re very, extremely thirsty. Then you say, “No, I’m actually thirsty. I’m literally, actually thirsty. I mean I want to drink something. I’m not using the word ‘thirsty’ in the modern slang sense.” At this point you’re miles into talking-about-talking territory. Talking about words is boring; talking about talking about words is more boring. I would know: I’m doing it right now. I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ll do myself a favor. I’ll stop.

11. “Sports person did a sports thing! Haha sports man put the sportsball in the sports place!”

Smart people in this part of the world, continent, country, and state love to either love sports, hate sports, or joke about sports with a kind of smarmy, “snarky” (let’s talk later (or never) about how much I hate the word “snarky”), non-committal, abscessive forced irony.

They do this loudly on the internet during major sporting events, proclaiming onto Twitter “SPORTS PERSON DID A SPORTS THING WITH THE SPORTS BALL! SPORTS PERSON PUT A SPORTS BALL IN THE SPORTS PLACE! YEAH SPORTS!”

They like to do this loudly in public as well, yet only after a drink and only with a timid restraint that pales beneath their social media presence. Here’s a group of Giants fans in Giants shirts conversing (maybe too loudly) on the train after a big game, and here’s a guy with a handlebar mustache grinning alongside a friend he probably calls a “chum”. They smell like some craft fruit alcohol. The guy with the mustache makes a hand trumpet around his mouth.

He yells:


The sports fans’ conversation mutes for a second. It resumes. The handlebar mustache and his chum giggle.

I’ve seen this many times — sometimes a handlebar mustache isn’t even involved. Sometimes it’s someone who does not possess a single 19th century throwback fashion choice!

I believe two things about sports: one is that they are as Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”’s protagonist Ishmael describes the sea — put a man (a person, in today’s terms) down somewhere and ask him to find the sea, and he will instinctively turn and walk toward it. The second is that they are as Doctor Alfred Kinsey described sexuality — sports fanaticism is a spectrum, and no one is ever exactly 100% a fan of all sports or 100% a fan of no sports: the ability to love sports sleeps inside our genetics.

Coach Eric Taylor once said, when someone asked him if God loved football: “Everyone loves football.”

I won’t go so far as to say that. I’d allow that anyone can love football.

Most importantly, however: God does love football (insomuch as a god exists (please allow this statement to stand beyond a conversation of theism versus atheism)).

God loves football because we are beings which can walk, run, jump, and do things with our hands and feet. We are not perfect. Sports allow us a venue of spectacle in which to compare our imperfections. I dare say you could triangulate a philosophical proof of the virtue of sports somewhere between eastern spirituality and western psychology: clear your mind, breathe deeply, and forget that your dad forced you to play little league because he loved baseball more than you possibly could have known how to love baseball, I mean, I was just six years old.

Maybe the culture of sports is something you don’t like. Maybe you don’t like the colors of the uniforms (they’re sometimes quite style-blind). Maybe you don’t like the beer commercials. Maybe you don’t like the cheerleaders. Maybe you don’t like the traditionalist approaches to celebration of masculinity. I don’t like any of those, myself. I think sports culture is the very definition of the internet’s favorite word — it starts with a P and ends with “roblematic”.

“What I don’t like is when you see people just all drunk in the street and they’re like ‘we won!’ ‘We’ didn’t do anything.”

This complaint comes from an intellectual, liberal friend of mine (and yours) — one friend with several faces — who otherwise possibly votes democrat. This friend takes issue with people feeling like they’re part of a sports team. This friend would scoff at a sports person who, after succeeding at putting a sports ball in a sports place more times than the other sports people on the other sports team, so for to win the sports game, says they “couldn’t have done it without the fans”.

I’ve considered this in the quiet and in the dark: sports teams couldn’t do it without the fans. Have you ever felt strength, power, or confidence because you know someone loves you or appreciates you? If that sentence was too schmaltzy for the hard-boiled noir detectives in the audience, I’ll rephrase it: have you ever found yourself passed out on the bottom of a bottle feeling like life ain’t worth living between one case and the next because your spouse and kid are dead and your brother or sister hasn’t talked to you in ten years?

Please: like, let people like stuff. Let people like stuff you feel is too dumb for you.

Also, news flash: it’s not too dumb for you. You can be smart about sports. You can be a rocket scientist and love sports. Many Nobel laureates attended sporting events at their universities. The Pulitzer committee offers a prize for writing about sports. Et cetera.

It seems like, if you are sarcastic about people who like sports, you might be getting old. This is perfectly acceptable! Being old is cool. You don’t need to feel bad about it. I can tell you feel bad about it, because you want to distinguish yourself from people you consider stupid (and maybe younger).

It’s an old person’s thing — a hard-boiled noir detective’s thing, if you will — to bother in the first place to talk about something they don’t like. When you yell “SPORTS!” at sports fans, or when you tweet “Wow I just don’t care about sports at all”, you’re not talking to sports fans. You’re bullying people. You’re the more grown-up version of the kid who kicked me in the back of the knee on the stairs in school every day when I was eleven. Instead of letting me know what you don’t care about, why don’t you let me know what you do care about? If I can’t convince you that anyone can like sports and that maybe you just need to think about sports differently, why don’t you just not bring up a conversation topic for the sole reason of saying it doesn’t interest you?

Bringing up a conversation topic for the sole purpose of declaring your disinterest in it is, in a word, sick. Imagine a person walking down a sidewalk toward you. This person has earbuds in their ears. They are not looking at you. You stand in front of them. You hold your hands out. They stop in front of you. You hold up your hands. You mime earbud-removal. The person takes their earbuds out. They have a look of puzzlement. They’re about to say “Can I help you?” and you cut them off. “Excuse me — please don’t tell me your name. I don’t want to know your name. I never want to talk to you. I will never talk to you. Goodbye.” Then you walk away. Would you do this? Don’t lie to me. You wouldn’t do this. What kind of person would do this? The kind of person who would do this would probably also, given the existence of a tricksy genie, press a Big Red Button that erases human history. That’s not you, is it?

When you bring up a conversation topic for the sole reason of expressing your disinterest, it’s mathematically the same as disapproving. Disapproval can equal disinterest plus discussion. The next logical step in this style of discourse is: you’re going to sound like my parents talking about gay people.

“Why do those gays have to be so flamboyant? Look at this. Look, they’re talking about this Gay Pride Parade on the television. Why do they gotta keep rubbing it in my face? For Christ’s sake — we get it already. Sorry for blaspheming [makes sign of the cross].”

The answer to your initial question, Dad of 1995, is that Those Gays have to be So Flamboyant because you disapprove of them. Your generation hated them and feared them. Your generation made them hide what scientifically is an insignificant aspect of their personality, and when that aspect came to light in an individual, that individual faced ostracism and even persecution and imprisonment. This was your generation telling them that this aspect of their biology was wrong and that you didn’t want it anywhere in your culture — either visible or hiding. You told them that your culture — the culture that the collective humans of all history had built together — was not for them. So as a concession to your sensibilities, they made their own culture. Your culture has a lot of grays and beige; they have a lot of rainbows. Their difference has the effect of allowing you to identify them and then ignore them if that’s what you want to do. They’re not rubbing their culture in your face: you’re rubbing your face in their culture. I never saw a television remote without an “off” button.

Uh, sighing at sports fans isn’t exactly the same as that, I know: though I promise you, when I sit here and look at the human race in my mind, I’m sure it all comes from the same quiet place. We need to be careful what places we let stuff come from. I find that when people are being annoying in public, I can just start thinking about math and I don’t notice them. Maybe you don’t have a brain-resort as luxurious as “math”, though I’m sure you have something. Try thinking about space. Think about that planet they found — the one that’s 1,700 light years away, and definitely supports life, and how we’d need a rocket that can travel at the speed of light, and then someone would need to live on that rocket for 1,700 years in order to reach that planet. Whoa — that’s trippy. We’re probably never going to go to that planet. That’s interesting to think about. See — even I’m forgetting about sports now.

Oh no.

Oh god.

Oh no.

Oh no; I’m forgetting about sports: oh, not this again!

Not this again, for all’s sake!

— tim rogers, oakland, california

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