Wednesday, August 31, 2016

“BUT I’M NEW HERE": Two morality plays about approaching people (especially women) who are wearing headphones

This week's target of internet rage is a very dumb article from a very dumb blog about "how to pick up ladies." Weird! Said article aims to give a certain set of men a step by step breakdown of how to successfully harass women who are wearing headphones in public. (SPOILER: It involves a lot of miming, standing in front of her, waving, and proving yourself to be a shameless ass.) Most people's reaction to the article has been a big ol' NOPE, which is nice to see, but reading it dredged up some things that I've experienced and wanted to share.

Headphones, for me, are the modern equivalent of an imposing Victorian chaperone. They signal that I am not available for courting at the moment, sirs and madams. Unless it is an emergency and you really need help, or you are my friend saying hello, or a small animal who recently gained the ability to speak saying hello, or the zombie apocalypse is happening this very minute and you want to trade battle plans, I am Boldly Doing Stuff On My Commute and would rather not converse with you this very minute. Thank you! You will be fine! We will all be fine without this conversation you are wanting to have.

Note: I am basically always wearing headphones when alone in public. Why? I've realized that they not only stop some people from talking to you, but they they also block out the noise gross to awful things randomly yelled at me and other people on the street.

I'm pretty committed to this decision. I've been trying to listen to people's conversations and transcribe them, because I want to develop a better ear for dialogue. So far this has involved lots of creeping on subway conversations, and listening closely to things that are far away. I do this, always, with my headphones in and no sound on, even though it makes it a bit more difficult. It sad and irritating that I need to do this, but such is the type of (pretty negative!) feedback I have received from going headphones-less.

If a stranger ran up on me and, as the article directs, stood directly in front of my and waved their hand in front of my face so they could hit me with such a Byronic line as:

" [Smile in a friendly, confident manner] Hey – I know it’s not normal for people to talk to someone with headphones in, but I was walking along and saw you and thought – wow, she’s hot, I have to come over and say hi. I’m Dan, what’s your name?"

Well, I would probably say "Nah," and put my headphones back in.

BUT if said dudebro decided to follow the rest of the article's initial advice (Danny B has edited this thing a lot now that folks outside his target audience are paying attention, and has since deleted this bit: here's the original version.) at this point he might think (bolded bits are from the article), "Surely she is only trying to gauge if I have weak vibes or am going to give up at the first sign of resistance! Sally forth!"

NO. DO NOT SALLY FORTH. Do not "Take control of the conversation." Go away and leave me to my goddamned book, and stop being insufferable.

The reasons some slightly-more-reasonable-than-Dan-Bacon people try to come up with for it being okay to approach and interrupt others so you can talk at them is astounding to me. There are probably some folks who decry the loss of organic interaction, a la the "good old days", and to those people I say: now that we have the option to opt out of all of that organic interaction, a lot of us are taking advantage of it! What does that maybe say about the pleasantness of those encounters? NOT MUCH, THAT'S WHAT.

(There are folks who have trouble picking up on social cues for legitimate reasons; you usually know if this is or is not you. It can be tough to navigate social settings if you're not neurotypical, and this screed is not directed at you.)

I realize that to most of the internet and rational society, a step by step plan for street harassment is obviously asinine. I am glad for this, and I agree. But after reading that article, and its accompanying stage directions and lil skits, I realized that tweeting angrily may not be the best way to get through to people who might think that the article outlines a reasonable way to behave.

I instead decided to fight ill-conceived skits with morality plays.

The first one, the Goofus to the second's Gallant, is even based on a true story! It is a bit of a downer but I hope you like it. I did not.

The second is my optimal being-approached-while-wearing-headphones situation. Enjoy!




A play in one act



Manhattan: Broadway, around 28th Street, late fall, 10 pm on a Tuesday evening. A YOUNG WOMAN, in her late teens, is walking uptown carrying a large messenger bag. She is wearing a bulky coat, jeans, and flat boots, not that it should matter, though you may have been wondering. She has headphones in.

A DUDEBRO enters from stage right. He is tall, wearing a suit jacket and slacks but no tie, and isn’t carrying a briefcase or bag. He walks quickly to catch up with her. Once he’s within a few feet, he shouts.


The YOUNG WOMAN does not respond. She is wearing headphones, and has a sliver of hope that it is possible he will see this and leave her alone if it’s not an emergency. She turns her music all the way down.
The DUDEBRO gets closer still. He is right behind her now, and starts to walk up next to her.

DUDEBRO: (a bit louder) Hey!

The YOUNG WOMAN begins a complex calculation of the apparent urgency in DUDEBRO’s voice, his size relative to hers, the number of other people on the street (none), and the closest open store or restaurant to which she could run in case he tries something. This experience-based algorithm is done automatically, and results in a finding of “Not urgent, probably jerk.” She decides to keep walking.

DUDEBRO starts walking alongside YOUNG WOMAN, and taps her on the shoulder. He, too, has been doing some math in his head: LADY + RUN AWAY = TESTING MY MASCULINITY. She turns around, and takes off her headphones, in case he is lost, she has dropped something and he is politely returning it to her, and/or he brings news of a zombie apocalypse-in-progress.




DUDEBRO: I’m a little lost and wanted to ask if you knew where
the nearest Bank of America was.

YOUNG WOMAN lets her responsibilities as a New Yorker override her calculations from “Not urgent, probably jerk,” to “Needs directions, be very polite and specific!”

YOUNG WOMAN: Oh, sure. If you keep walking this way you’ll see the
Manhattan Mall on your left. Keep on going, and you’ll
see a Bank of America a few blocks later. I think it's
between 33rd and 34th, near the corner.

DUDEBRO: Oh, ok! Thank you!

YOUNG WOMAN: No problem!



DUDEBRO continues to walk alongside YOUNG WOMAN. She goes to put her headphones in again, but before she can --

DUDEBRO: Hey, I’m new here, and I was wondering if you could
come with me to the bank? I think I might get lost if I
go alone?

YOUNG WOMAN: Uh, I’m trying to catch a train, sorry. (pointing) You
can basically see where you need to go from here. If
you still can’t find it once you get up there someone
can help you out.

She continues walking, wrapping her headphones around her neck. She begins to feel around in her bag for the pocketknife her dad gave her when she started college, as DUDEBRO has officially tripped the first Alert Level of her self-preservation alarm system.

DUDEBRO: (hurriedly) Yeah, but you know where it is already, and
then maybe you can show me around!

Haha! Haha! You thought you could be polite and specific, YOUNG WOMAN. You thought he needed help, and then he asked you to show him around midtown, on a Tuesday evening. She revises her estimation of DUDEBRO again, this time arriving at “A shitheel” after taking his haircut, which is worryingly and cartoonishly villainous in a 90s sort of way, and the boozy odor wafting off him, into account. She continues walking.

YOUNG WOMAN: Nope, no thanks.

DUDEBRO: (grabs her shoulder and pulls back to stop her)Oh come
on, I’m really nice, and I’m new here. We can go get
a drink after --

At this point, YOUNG WOMAN considers saying, “I have a boyfriend,” or, “My dad is good with the cops and will bodily ruin you with impunity if you touch me again.” Having to say either thing is annoying, and also both are total lies. Instead, having found her pocketknife, she flips it out and holds it at the level of his neck.


DUDEBRO realizes this has not been in any of the how-to guides. Maybe he will write a how-to guide?

YOUNG WOMAN: If you want to make it to tomorrow, you’ll keep your
hands off me --

DUDEBRO skitters backwards, his hands up. He realizes he will have to make up a lot of other lines for her, if he is to write "How To Talk To Women Who Have Pulled Knives On You After You Tried To Talk To Them While They Were Wearing Headphones." Maybe he will just write to the guy who wrote the original article. The YOUNG WOMAN turns, staring at him, knife still up.

YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, you’re new here? Get a grip before you try to
fuck with someone much worse than me. Get the hell out
of here.

DUDEBRO: I was just trying to make a friend, alright?


DUDEBRO turns and walks briskly down Broadway in the other direction, far, far from the YOUNG WOMAN and aforementioned Bank of America. Bye!

YOUNG WOMAN continues on to Penn Station in an adrenaline fugue. She had wanted to spend the train ride reading an article for a paper she’s working on, but keeps replaying the scene in her head, and wondering where that asshole went next. Should she have done more? Less? Did she perhaps make her react to wildly? Why the hell is she considering her actions as 'too wild' when someone twice her size laid hands on her in public and she successfully made them go away? Nah, it went fine. She tries to decide whether or not to take a cab home when she gets off the train, and decides to walk the mile instead. What are the chances something like this happens twice in one day? Probably too high, but she’s only got $10 for the rest of the week and she needs it for lunches.

She tells her MOM and DAD about this when she gets home, and they reprimand her for wearing headphones and “Not paying attention,” though she is pretty sure they’re both also a little proud, especially DAD.

END, for real this time.




A play in one act, and a different font, for your reading ease


Broadway, around 28th street, late fall, 10 pm on a Tuesday evening. A YOUNG WOMAN, in her late teens, is walking uptown carrying a large messenger bag. She is wearing a bulky coat, jeans, and flat boots, not that it should matter, though you may have been wondering. She has headphones in.

A large, lumpy DUDEBRO trundles in  from stage right. He is tall, too tall, and is wearing a hat and a trenchcoat. His feet and hands look much too small for his body. He runs to catch up to the YOUNG WOMAN. Once he’s within a few feet, he shouts. His voice is exceptionally high.

DUDEBRO:                Hey!

The YOUNG WOMAN does not respond. She is wearing headphones, and has a sliver of hope that it is possible he will see this and leave her alone if it’s not an emergency. She turns her music all the way down.

The DUDEBRO gets closer still, tripping over himself a bit. He is having a bit of trouble walking.

DUDEBRO:                (a bit louder) Hey!

The YOUNG WOMAN turns her head to the side to glance at DUDEBRO, and begins a complex calculation of the apparent urgency in DUDEBRO’s voice, his size relative to hers, the number of other people on the street (none), and the closest open store or restaurant to which she could run in case he tries something. This experience-based algorithm is done automatically, and results in a finding of “Not urgent, possibly three kids in a coat?” She decides to slow down to let him catch up. There is an odd sound in the distance -- groans, and police sirens.

DUDEBRO starts walking alongside YOUNG WOMAN, huffing and puffing. She takes off her headphones, and looks at him.

YOUNG WOMAN:       Yes?

DUDEBRO:                  (speaking very quickly, and wobbling) Hi! Sorry to bother you, but you're the
                                    first living person I've seen in a few blocks and --

YOUNG WOMAN:       What? Slow down.

DUDEBRO:                  (takes a breath) Okay. Ooookay. Listen, something terrible is going on, and they
                                    sent us out to find anyone who might still be alive and bring them back to the

YOUNG WOMAN considers the odd combination of DUDEBRO's gait, outfit, choice of plural pronoun, and odd, musky smell. Her estimation of him changes from “Not urgent, maybe three kids in a coat?” to “Urgent, and also almost definitely several small talking animals in a coat.” She tries to get a better look at DUDEBRO's face, and he shies away.

YOUNG WOMAN:      I'm sorry, but... can you... can you take off your hat?

DUDEBRO:                 No.

YOUNG WOMAN:      This might sound awkward, and apologies if it's not the case, but I feel like you
                                   might be several small animals in a coat.


YOUNG WOMAN:      Oh my god! Wait, what are you?! Are you a bunch of raccoons?

DUDEBRO flails a bit, regains balance. Hat falls off, revealing that his head is, in fact, that of a raccoon.

Police sirens grow fainter. There are several groans heard from offstage, much louder now.

RACOON:                   (glancing around nervously) Alright, will you come with us if we tell you what      
                                   we are?

VOICE FROM COAT: Bad idea, man!

YOUNG WOMAN:      Uh, yeah, I will probably come with you if you are all talking raccoons, yes.

After a beat, trenchcoat collapses gently. The RACCOON crawls out first, and holds the coat up for two PIGEONS, a family of RATS, and a STARLING crawl out after it.

YOUNG WOMAN:      Oh my --

RACCOON:                 Okay, you really need to come with us now, alright?


PIGEON 1:                    Are you an idiot, lady? No!

STARLING:                  Larry, don't be mean. Sorry, Larry's just kinda stressed out.

YOUNG WOMAN gapes at animals, pointing at them in turn. She claps.

STARLING and PIGEON 1 look at each other. STARLING looks away, pecks at gum on sidewalk.

RACCOON:                 (sighs heavily, head in hands) Alright, enough of this. We need to get

YOUNG WOMAN:      Oh my god, did I die?  AM I IN HEAVEN?

RAT KID:                     No no no, we're part of a government research project gone horribly wrong and --

RAT PARENT 2:           Not right now, Timmy! Ma'am, we're all alive for now, but the humans are
                                    eating each other!

RACCOON takes YOUNG WOMAN's hand and tries to pull her along, as groans from offstage become very loud. YOUNG WOMAN turns, and blanches.

YOUNG WOMAN:       Holy shit, it's the zombie apocalypse and small animals came to warn me!

RAT PARENT 1:           Hey, right place right time, lady, you ain't Snow White! Get a move on!

They all start moving towards stage right.

YOUNG WOMAN:      Wait! Are there cats where we're going? CAN THEY TALK TOO

The STARLING gasps. All the animals turn and stare at her. The RAT PARENTS gather around RAT KID, who holds his tail. LARRY THE PIGEON walks back to her, bobbing head aggressively.

LARRY:                        Are you really gonna come at us with the c- word after all we've done for you?!
                                    Have you lost your mind? There is a child present.

RAT KID begins to cry. PIGEON 2 puts a wing around the RAT FAMILY.

LARRY:                        That's just perfect. (pecks ground and puffs up) Typical human, we're walking
                                    along, trying to find the last vestiges of your frankly terrible species, and you ask
                                    if the monsters responsible for all the woes we've ever experienced, at least the
                                    ones that didn't come from YOU ALL (points wing at YOUNG WOMAN) are
                                    (mockingly) where we're going?

YOUNG WOMAN looks at the ground.

LARRY:                        Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know what? Pop your thing into your weird heary-hole
                                    and you and your untied shoe can rot right here with all the other rude assholes
                                    who --

STARLING:                  LARRY!

YOUNG WOMAN squats down and ties her shoe. Groans become even louder.

RACCOON:                  Okay, not the time, let's go!

A zombie shambles in from stage left. Everyone screams.

RACCOON pushes everyone towards stage right, and YOUNG WOMAN and her new animal friends (?) run for the Armory. The birds work to create diversions for the land-bound mammals as they navigate around zombie hordes. They reach the Armory, and find a small but tough group of humans and animals ready to wait out the worst of it. After some exposition exposition secret government programs exposition vaccine, they build a new world, one in which people wearing headphones are only bothered out of legitimate and absolute necessity.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why I do not attempt to cook, or, a recipe for butternut squash tagine

I still mostly eat like a twelve year old child. Usually I’ll rely on the pizza or Turkish food we have at work events and take out/packaged mac and cheese for evening sustenance, but I’ve recently been plagued by thoughts of my insides becoming pickled, or the color of Velveeta, and have decided to try to grow up a little bit. I’ve also recently gone pescatarian (by the “If it has dreams and I can imagine hugging it, I feel not okay eating it” logic), which means that my chicken stir fry/soup standbys are now mostly out of the question. I’m coming along veeerrry slowwwwly, and this is a story of one of those times when that one time I was feeling really ambitious one day around dinner time.

It was autumn, so I decided not only to cook but to cook a topical, themed thing. I was going to make squash, it was going to be wonderful, I was going to pack lunch for daaaayz. I went to the grocery store after work and picked up everything I needed plus a lot of Nutella and coffee creamer. I trundled home, and got to work.

Under the watchful eye of Cheese, the more voluminous of my two cats, I arranged everything on my counter, and read all of the directions first. Every recipe I found was appended with “Easy!” “Simple!” and/or “Quick!”, so I figured I was safe. I was excited. Cheese was excited.

I figured wrong. My recipe asked me to cut my butternut squash into cubes. I, mistakenly thinking that a butternut squash was more like a summer squash than a slippery armored monster, attempted to cut into it, and promptly bent the tip of my cheap, rarely used knife.

Okay, so, I was apparently doing this super wrong.

But the beauty of the internet, that great external brain, repository of the knowledge of generations and reason for many a misplaced feeling of intellectual superiority, is that if you run into a brick wall of vegetable recalcitrance, you can Google your way out of there. No need to call your dad and be subjected to “You’re a butternut squash,” jokes. No need to stare in sad consternation at the root vegetable on your countertop, wondering if you can eat its skin as it wonders how long it will take to break your spirit.

And the abject horror of the internet, as ever, are the comments. That is also unfortunately where many answers to many questions can be found. Reading through the comments of an article looking for pearls of wisdom is much like rowing through a Pacific garbage patch hoping to find a mage at its center who will tell you, for once and all, whether category 2 plastics are recyclable in your city.

I eventually found the answer I needed, though! I should cut the squash in a way I had definitely not already cut it and had already made impossible and peel the skin with a potato peeler, which I do not own.


I did the only thing that seemed logical at that point, which was test every knife I owned against this thing. I eventually settled on a cleaver and a paring knife for peeling attempts. By this point, I was losing touch with reality, and Cheese was visibly upset. I slapped half of the squash I had succeeded in cutting onto the floor due to improper stabilization of my cutting board. I almost wept, but I rallied and continued on.

I took a break from squash vivisection to get everything into their proper pots, and let them simmer. I took several deep breaths, and prepared for the final few cuts. I lined up my knife, and leaned all of my weight into it. Somehow, the first thing that felt off was the handle in my hand. As I began to lean all of my weight on the knife, something felt off. The handle wasn’t quite fitting my hand the way it had earlier. I realized with the jarring horror of missing a step or saying “Yeah you too!” when a server tells you to enjoy your meal that I was leaning all of my weight into the knife’s blade. I threw it down and inspected my hand, which was somehow totally fine.

In the end, all was well and I finished the stew and it was pretty good and I ate it for lunch and dinner for three days. Cheese is still traumatized and I will never attempt to cut a vegetable ever again, or at least until I forget this happened.

The moral of this story is that you should not assume that things are easy because the internet says it is so. Also, avoid cooking brand new things when you’re tired and also inexperienced. Also also, leave butternut squashes be. They are not worth your fingers, or your dignity.

12/2/15 Addendum:
After posting this on Zulip, the internal chat system of the RC Community, a bunch of lovely folks made some awesome recommendations about cookbooks/cooking resources and how to not grievously injure myself. A list of the books and sites they recommended is below, mostly so I remember them: the books skew towards scientific approaches to cooking, because programmers!

How to Cook a Butternut Squash in the Microwave
Ceramic Knives, for to avoid slippage and stabbing yourself
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Cooking for Geeks
On Food and Cooking
The Four-Hour Chef
Modernist Cuisine (written by the former CTO of Microsoft/a thing you can buy Matt Parker if you love him a lot)
Cook's Illustrated (from this article by Sumana Harihareswara)
The Food Lab
How to Cook Everything, The Basics

And finally, a new tagine to try for when I forget my fear!

From this exchange I also learned that it is possible for spaghetti squash to explode gruesomely and for raspberries to burst into flame when microwaved. Pearls.