Chumpy Town, Chumpy Eats

How is everything tasting? Not great, Bob.

You’re not a foodie or anything, you just happen to enjoy leaving the house every once in a blue moon for a good cocktail and a nice piece of fish that actually tastes like fish and does not involve capers in any way. But you hate to drive into the city, because you’re a lazy piece of shit.

Unfortunately, you also dislike dining out in your crappy town or mediocre suburb, possibly because you seem to expect to exchange a giant pile of cash for an enjoyable dining experience. It’s not that you’re particularly classy and discerning, you’re just prone to severe bouts of existential despair brought on by half-frozen chicken strips.

So what’s a moody, judgmental, lazy piece of shit to do?

Lower your standards, of course, using my simple, one-to-five star Chumpy Town Restaurant Rating System!


Five Stars

The cocktails did not involve crushed ice in any way. No gratuitous overuse of capers. No children were seated nearby, watching SpongeBob loudly without headphones. Zero large-screen TVs present. No one came by and asked, “How is everything tasting?” Didn’t feel like murdering anyone, not even once. “Just fine” dining at its almost, sort of, not quite best!


Four Stars

Crushed ice in the cocktails, but no Fresca involved at all. Server asked how everything was tasting, but didn’t recommend the Ahi tuna by exclaiming, “It doesn’t taste anything like canned tuna!” Zero $35 overcooked steaks on the menu. Children seated nearby watching screens, but they had headphones on. One TV screen behind the bar, but the sound was off. Check was only 2 times more exorbitant than it should’ve been. Mild crestfallen feelings but zero rage.


Three Stars

Fresca with a splash of gin on crushed ice is fine, as long as you steal all of the lemons from the water glasses and squeeze them into your drink. Bonus: The water had lemon slices in it! Probably because it was unfiltered tap water, but still. $35 overcooked steak tasted like char from the grill, but the mashed potatoes weren’t powdered. Two massive TV screens behind the bar, but zero ordering screens built into the tables. Brief wave of anger over the exorbitant check, but it dissolved into a hazier, more general state of dissatisfaction pretty quickly, thanks to all that gin.


Two Stars

Bud Light is actually pretty good when you mix it with Fresca and a few splashes of Tabasco and Worcestershire. Be sure to ask for ice for your “Michelada,” but don’t bother requesting a lime wedge, there hasn’t been a fresh piece of produce in this joint since server Marjorie Watkins brought an apple in her purse so she wouldn’t have to eat the food here again. Hot tip: Get a V8 from the Circle K next door and throw that in there, too! And grab some beef jerky while you’re there, you’re going to be hungry on the drive home. Four massive-screen televisions on the walls, but only one was playing Jerry Springer. Screens on tables flashing ads, but some were broken. Lots of rage mixed with sadness, but thankfully no one got hurt.


One Star

This is not a restaurant so much as a large daycare center full of massive TVs, all tuned to different channels and turned up full blast. Everyone present seemed either depressed or very drunk, even though there was zero Fresca and zero A1 steak sauce to mix into your lukewarm Pabst Blue Ribbon. Was that a waiter or a drunk stranger that kept interrupting to point at things on your table? “Garlic bread” turned out to be stale hamburger buns. Pizzas congealed upon arrival. Murdered someone. Now wanted in three states, but haven’t made the FBI Most Wanted List yet.


Once you apply the Chumpy Town Restaurant Rating System to the various eating establishments in your own personal dining desert, you’ll recognize that when you actively choose a 2-star restaurant, you aren’t hoping that “maybe it’s gotten better lately.” You’re looking to splash Worcestershire into your Bud Light. That’s the experience you’re craving. You want to eat a half-cooked hamburger while watching two baseball games at the same time.

Choose a 1-star restaurant? That’s a homicidal mood you’re in. Don’t take that show on the road and then blame it on a warehouse full of drunk teenagers eating congealed cheese while watching “Dancing with the Stars.”

Know Thine Chumpy Town, Know Thyself!


Remember when you had zero standards and zero discernment? Man, it was so much easier to make boring friends and eat at terrible restaurants back then! Too bad you can’t lobotomize yourself in the comfort of your own home. Write to askmolly at protonmail.com, it’s the next best thing.


How to Believe in Yourself

Even though only drowning men can see you.

Why don’t you believe in yourself? Maybe you grew up around people who thought there was something wrong with you. They believed in you, sure, but they also saw you as slightly broken. They saw you as broken because they saw themselves as broken. Or as Leonard Cohen put it:

But he himself was broken

Long before the sky would open,

Forsaken, almost human,

He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.

That last line is the epitaph that belongs on the graves of every bad relationship I ever had. And if I had Polly’s job, I’d answer every single letter from a girl hung up on a dude the same way:

Come on, woman. He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone! But you want to travel with him anyway, don’t you, you stupid motherfucker? You want to travel blind. And you let him touch your perfect body with his mind again, too, didn’t you? He’s not even that smart, you know that, right?

Meanwhile, who believes in himself more than Leonard Cohen? That’s the kind of belief we need to conjure around here. We need that level of mega-church mega-faith in yourself. Even Though I Sound Like a Stoned Zombie, I Am Just About to Touch Your Hot Ass with My Brain Waves!

Why do so many of us need to believe in ourselves more than we already do? And why do we crave tea and oranges that come all the way from China so goddamn hard? Why do we hear the words “touched your perfect body with his mind” and immediately feel a tiny bit envious of Leonard Cohen and Suzanne (who was she?) and anyone else they knew or got naked with, even though they probably all had unsightly patches of body hair and smelled like old cheese? Why is Suzanne such a deeply dirty song? Why is Hallelujah even dirtier? Why do most explicit lyrics sound utterly sterile and clinical but Leonard Cohen’s weird nerdy poetry about Jesus is just UNGH YEAH JESUS, GIVE IT TO ME?

Belief, baby! Believing is the special sauce. It turns you into a mystical being who can just sing in monotone and people trip out on how super duper amazingly groovey you are.

Belief also makes you happier. You get more done. People like you more. And even if they don’t like you at all, you don’t care. You don’t even notice.

Belief in yourself makes it easier to write, of course, but it also makes it easier to get up in the morning. When you believe in yourself, you don’t mind if someone doesn’t like the stuff you do. You’re relaxed. You’re just trying to have fun, after all. No need for stress. No need to prove anything to anyone. You’re in it for the personal enjoyment. You understand that, finally.


This really nice stranger came to my house to record some stuff for a podcast today, and she was talking about a podcast that she wants to make. Incredibly enough, as she was describing her podcast idea, I didn’t think, “Oh god, no, please don’t do that, that sounds fucking terrible, another podcast, who needs that?” I really loved her idea. “I would listen to that!” I told her, and I meant it.

But she hesitated. She said, “Yeah. I don’t know.” She had a great concept and a bunch of cool stories. She even has experience with interviewing and editing audio. But the more enthusiastic I was, the less into her idea she seemed.

“I should do it, I guess,” she said, in this really downtrodden voice.

She was struggling to believe in herself. She was struggling so much that even THINKING ABOUT SOMETHING SHE WOULD BE GREAT AT made her anxious. Her most passionate desires had formed themselves into an annoying homework assignment that she was avoiding. Blurting out an idea was all she could do. If she even considered her idea for more than a second, or planned it out a little, or followed through with it in any way, that brought up a big wave of anxiety and dread.

I remember being that way. I used to be very allergic to my own ideas. I could work on a new project briefly, but then I would always turn against it. I had all of these intensely negative associations with BELIEVING IN SOMETHING. Belief embarrassed me. It made me feel delusional. I turned every good idea into bad homework that hung over my head until I stuffed it under the bed or threw it out or ignored it forever and ever.

So I told her this: The best things are created by people who don’t have some big plan or concept, they just take their desires and run with them. All that matters is figuring out how to enjoy making something. You can’t think about whether it will change your life or not. That just turns it into something that’s too high stakes, too heavy. All you have to do is show up and show yourself and enjoy it. Yes, at first, all of the anxiety and dread will be there. You have to tolerate that part, and keep working, and eventually you’ll start to notice that you really ENJOY the work itself. And if you’re enjoying it, everything will feel organic and right. You’ll set the bar high. You’ll get into the zone (after you break through the dread phase, which you’ll have to do every day btw). You’ll know what you made is good. You won’t even need feedback from your half-interested friends. You’ll just BELIEVE. You just have to put your whole goddamn self into it. You just have to figure out how to enjoy the process. Because the process is all there is.

Anyway, as you might imagine, it is exceedingly taxing to meet me casually. If you do happen to meet me somewhere, here’s a reminder never to give me any information about yourself. Never do it! And never, ever lead me to believe that you DON’T BELIEVE IN YOURSELF or you are fucked. I will lecture you for hours. It will be so. incredibly. boring. for. you.


If you meet me in real life, it will be the exact opposite of that time when you saw someone bathing on the roof and her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya. Remember that? Was Leonard Cohen a peeping Tom in real life? Was he a total creeper? Was he Aqualung? And if he was so spaced out and freaky, how did he come up with the world’s most scathing put down:

But you don’t really care for music, do ya?

I mean what species of passionless mouthbreathing toad is indifferent to MUSIC?

I’ll tell you who’s indifferent to music: People who were trained to power down their feelings. People who were punished for feeling things. People who were punished for believing in themselves.

People who were punished for believing in themselves eventually learn to PUNISH THEMSELVES FOR BELIEVING IN THEMSELVES. They spend their lives peeping at women bathing on the roof but they never talk to them. They can only feel things when they’re tied to a kitchen chair. (Bad sign.) They can only feel things when they think they’re with Jesus. They can only feel things when they blurt something out. They can’t feel anything when someone else speaks, when it becomes a conversation, when it gets intimate and therefore scary.

When there’s a plan, when there’s homework, when sustained hard work is involved, they light up at first, but then they immediately shut down. They love hard work, underneath the noise in their heads. But the noise says, “You’re deluded.” The noise says, “Who do you think you are, Leonard fucking Cohen?” The noise says “You’re going to abandon this project the same way you abandoned the last one, and the one before that.”

They don’t know that believing in yourself is the same thing as SUSPENDING YOUR DISBELIEF. They don’t know that you can’t always feel your belief in yourself, but you have to just plow forward anyway. They don’t know that everyone abandons every single project, until finally one day they persevere. They persevere once they figure out that the process is the fun part. Everything else is just a footnote.

So the next time you don’t believe in yourself, ask yourself who didn’t believe in you, in the very beginning.

Who was it? Oh, him? That guy? You’re really going to take his opinion over yours? Because, dude. He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.


Today, The Book of Polly tells us to stop expecting to transcend our insatiable nature. Spoken like a sailor who knows only drowning men can see her, amirite? Anyway, who’s sinking beneath your wisdom like a stone at the moment? Write to askmolly at protonmail and spill it!

Evacuate the States!

Everything is terrible everywhere, sure, but our culture is the absolute worst.

Dear Molly,

I'm fucking sick of feeling like a radical in my own country for believing in things that seem like common sense and basic dignity. These things include:

  • People should make enough to pay for the basic things in life for themselves and their families and also have some extra money left over after they pay for all of those things

  • People who work should get sick time and vacation time and the part time loophole is bullshit

  • I shouldn't have to pay $400 a month for increasingly shitty healthcare coverage and increasingly high co-pays

  • The rent I pay every month shouldn't cost the same as a modest vacation to Europe, and someone should regulate that

  • Most people don't need to own a gun, ever, and the only ones who should be able to buy them should have a legitimate purpose for it and the ones they can buy shouldn't fire shots like a mini-machine gun

  • Childcare subsides are good

  • Abortions are medical procedures

  • Corporate profits are a terrible measure of success and has led to an extremely toxic work culture and the ruination of many lives through needless layoffs and benefit reductions

I'm also tired of being bullied into being happy and positive and sucking ass and covering up shit all the time. It turns out there's this other place called England. No, I don't mean the UK. I've been a fan of British television shows for over ten years. I don't mean Monty Python and Downtown Abbey, I mean Nightmare Neighbors and Stacey Dooley and Travel Man and POG's for the Love of Dogs and The Last Leg and other random stuff I stumbled upon and ended up enjoying.

I recently extensively researched English culture and visited England. I don't want to fucking go to Hogwarts or jump into a blue telephone box filled with jars of marmite. I want to not feel like a freak for my political beliefs. I live in a big blue liberal sea in the middle of a flyover country, and occasionally I'll meet someone who shares my beliefs and we often form long lasting, strong friendships. But nothing that would make where I live align more with my beliefs has fucking changed for the last ten years. In fact, it's gotten worse.

I'm not an idiot. No place is perfect and on vacation I don't have to drive or do chores or work. So why do I have this gut feeling that this would be a much better place than America to raise my future children? Could my issues with my home country really be my issues with my parents (for whom I am never good enough, am emotionally neglected, and my political beliefs mocked) in disguise and wanting to move is like individuation?

I know London is expensive as fuck and I have to work through the aforementioned parental issues before tearing up the rooted tree of my life. But goddamn am I on the same wavelength as this culture. They even started banning ads that contain gender stereotypes. And while watching TV online via VPN I saw an advert where a woman said plainly, "I took the morning after pill because I didn't want to have a baby and that's my choice" instead of that vague Plan B a where a woman walks by a baby and then goes to work or something. I also saw an ad in which a bloody pad sings. Am I just a romantic idiot, or is it natural to gravitate towards a culture more in line with your own values?

Love,

Marmite Lover

p.s. Holy shit the men in London dress well.

Dear Marmite Lover,

Like most Americans, I don’t know enough about anything to answer anyone’s questions, least of all questions about what it would mean to relocate your angry Marmite-loving microbiome to England. Can you really just pack up and move there? Don’t you need a job first? Can you live anywhere cheaply? What are the options?

I do know exactly what you mean about having to act happy and positive and covering shit up all the time. Straight out of the gate, I want to recommend that you stop doing that socially, at the very least. You can pretend with your family and at your job, of course. Be positive and light over email and via text because it’s just required. It really is. People can’t handle heaviness on their phones. I hate that but it’s true. But in your social life? Tell the truth. Be a Debbie Downer if you must. And write down your bad feelings and your rage more often. Gather complainers to your side. You must have room to bitch with impunity.

One of the things I hate the most about this moment in our culture is that there are very few places we can go and things we can read and enjoy and people we can talk to when we’re in a shitty mood. We have all of this access to the world and to each other, but we’re supposed to dive in with a big HAPPY FACE pasted over our real faces. Fuck that shit. And what could feel worse, when you’re angry and sad, than going online and reading about some trivial idiotic product that’s about to drop or some famous already-rich human who’s about to do something incredible with their boundless energy? The whole world is a sad maze of thinly disguised press releases.

We need Shitty Mood Spas instead, where we can be our dyspeptic selves without shame. We need a toggle we can add to our browsers and social media feeds, that will only bring non-triumphant and petty and funny and bitchy news items our way.

As far as whether or not you’re running away from your problems / issues by moving, I mean, of course you are. But everything you do from age 10 to 40 (in my case!) is an echo of some problem/ issue you haven’t worked through yet. Or it’s an echo of a fantasy you had when you were 5. Or it’s a manifestation of your deep-seated belief that you’ll magically become a new person the second your circumstances change. This is what happens in the movies, and in stories. You paint a new backdrop and the characters change. Chicken Little turns into Joan of Arc. The Little Mermaid becomes Princess Ariel becomes King Princess. PJ O’Rourke becomes PJ Harvey.

So before you pack up your boxes, I suppose you might ask yourself: Do you blame too many of your problems on our culture or on the current mood here or on the current administration? Does social media have a tendency to make each of us exaggerate how much our happiness and our peace of mind is created and destroyed by the matrix? Might we benefit from un-jacking ourselves from this simulation? Or does your blame come from having taken too many classes on Marxism and NeoMarxism? Is Hegel to blame for this? Can we realistically blame Jon Stewart?

Having written a great deal about what makes American culture poisonous in ways that feel insidiously personal and demeaning and disheartening, I want to encourage you to examine your deep-seated beliefs, your common sources of rage and longing, your influences, your fantasies, and your escapist tendencies. OH LOOK I HAVE SOMETHING TO SELL, WHAT A SURPRISE. My latest book, What If This Were Enough?, is a deep dive into the high capitalist nightmare we’re living in, and how we re-ingest the same broken fantasies every day. The paperback version comes out on October 8th, and I’ll be reading it in NYC (10/28), Durham (10/29), LA (11/7), Seattle (11/22). I’m also considering a PJ Harvey tribute event in LA that will not include PJ Harvey herself but WILL mostly consist of me singing all of the songs from Dry (1992) in order, ideally while swilling gin cocktails somewhere in Highland Park.

I mention my book (written under the fake Russian ice skater/ porn star/ roller girl name “Heather Havrilesky”) because you’ll probably like it (as will anyone who reads this Shitty Mood newsletter), but also because I am leaning way into the indignities of late capitalism at this dark moment. Because like you, I have this feeling (shared by many these days) that extreme measures are demanded on all fronts. Extreme measures are required to save the globe, and they’re also required to prevent my children from getting swept away by a monster hurricane. Are we unprepared for future calamities? No doubt. Are you? Probably. Is the answer some light volunteering, Prius ownership, and growing organic veggies in the sweet little garden behind your multimillion-dollar estate in Santa Cruz? If you ask Jonathan Franzen, he might say yes. If you ask me, maybe that’s just a way for one old rich dude to feel OK as the stars fall from the sky. Obviously it won’t be enough. I think he’d agree with me there.

On the other hand, what is enough? Where do we go? Who has good advice right now? What do we do? Are we all migrants from this point forward?

I don’t want to get too panicky. But I also think that walking around saying “It’s really not that bad” is a very good way to usher in a catastrophic ending straight out of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. But I won’t dive too far into this dilemma, since my idiot sister plans to tackle climate change in her column the week of September 20th, in honor of the Global Climate Strike, which we should all participate in, publicize, and encourage, and honor.

My main point is this: We all need a plan for the future. Or as Young Thug puts it, “If I get pulled over, put my coke inside your crack.” Your version of stowing coke in your crack might include eating marmite and fucking well-dressed Londoners in order to create a robust brood of mini Brits, or it might include starting therapy, getting into insanely good shape, and saving every other cent you make for a big move Somewhere Else / Anywhere But Here.

I say do whatever the fuck you like, always. Are you escaping / an escapist? Is this individuation or just horniness? It doesn’t matter either way. Moving to England sounds fun to me. Might as well do it while you can. Why shouldn’t you try it on for size, if you can manage it? At least look into it, for kicks. (Another current mantra of mine: I might never do this but I’ll pretend that I might do it, just for fun. This includes moving somewhere new, living in Italy for a month, dying my hair lavender, cheating on my husband, creating a variety show, building some kind of tiny house somewhere, learning Spanish, hosting a weekly happy hour at my house, etc.)

I just want to recommend that while you’re planning for the future, you also try very hard to live right here, right now. You can do both things at once. One of the prominent lies of our culture is that YOU CAN ONLY DO ONE THING. You have to commit, go all in on one thing, nail yourself to one identity, pursue one calling. That includes the notion that you can only BE one thing, one clearly defined person, and have ONE MOOD and behave CONSISTENTLY. But it also includes living in either the past, the present, or the future. We act like you can’t plan and also savor the moment. We act like you’re either charging forward fearlessly or you’re floundering. But living a balanced life requires doing a little of both: You work hard, you forge ahead, you plan, and you also meander, hesitate, reflect, savor. You stay married and you also daydream about hot Londoners who know how to dress, unlike your idiot husband.

Personally, at this moment, I’m very into juggling several different spinning plates at once. I want to be ambitious and also enormously slack. I want to save and sometimes waste my money. I want to work very very hard and also fuck about.

One spinning plate you always, always, always have to include in the mix is the ability to be where you are and accept the limits therein. Even when you’re angry and you’re living in a shotgun shack, you have to take some time away from your rage at what went wrong, and you have to ask yourself, “How can I make this dirt floor nice? How can I enjoy this day? How can I show some affection for this badly proportioned microbiome I’m married to? How can I savor this fucked up, crushed moment, when it feels like the whole world is squatting on my face?”

Because the inequities of existence on this planet will not lift one day. We will not suddenly have free access to amazing sushi and gorgeous housing and fun vacations worldwide. We will not become Jonathan Franzen. We will not have endless possibilities available to us. There will be floods and famines. There will be people suffering. Everything could get worse than it’s ever been before. We all have to try our best to fight for this world. But we also have to live, motherfucker.

Your parents won’t change, but this world will change around them. Stop thinking about what they think. Step away from the terrors of this moment. Unplug yourself from the rage matrix and grow a fucking flower in some dirt. Draw a picture. Write a song. Turn your inner Chicken Little into a hot chicken sandwich, then eat it. Replace your inner Princess Ariel with an inner King Princess. Spruce up your goddamn shotgun shack.

Your first job is living. Learn to live now, knowing that you can always store your coke inside someone else’s crack later. Enjoy this wretched day however you can.

Molly


Should you wait around until your partner is ready for kids? Polly says no. Hold on, you’re still thinking about how you can’t enjoy this wretched day? Yes you can enjoy it. Yes you can, asshole. Ask yourself what it would take to enjoy this day. Do the one thing you can do to enjoy yourself today. Do it now, dummy. Go ahead. It’s fine. You deserve this. Yes. You do.

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