City of Wuss

A young couple entered my Uber in Venice, heading for Hollywood.  They sat far apart in the back seat.   I soon heard what sounded like…sniffling, then the tell-tale exhale of deep sobs.   I started to reach into the console to offer her a tissue, then I realized she didn’t need one, he did.

And so it continued, all the way across town.

Who does this? Who weeps in front of a woman for 30 minutes?  Who weeps with another man in the car? Who can’t hold it together until the apartment?

But it didn’t end there.  He asked me, in a cracking voice, to please turn the radio up. To mask the sound of your shameful sissy tears, I thought to myself.  But no, he wanted to sing aloud to “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects, which he did with cathartic, pitchy elan.

What would Robert Mitchum think? He’d bitchslap both of us, me twice, for feeling guilty about judging. When I dropped them off, she marched away from him in silence while he followed, pleading his case in hand gestures.

Since I’m going to a shallow hell today, I’ll say it: she was not thin.

Colton Underwood cries (Courtesy of ABC)

What the hell happened to millennial men? Does no one police this?  Disney and Tinder seem to have done wonders for the women.    The men have gone a different direction.

In packs of four, they roll into the car, shouting into their phones: “Dude meet us at Harlowe. We’re swinging for the fences tonight.  If it’s not popping, we’re going to Lubitsch.”  Do you have an aux cord? I wanna play some fire.  Then they argue amongst themselves about what constitutes “fire”.  Forty minutes in West Hollywood traffic watching the lines in front of the clubs sucks the bravado right out of them.   They’re already talking about going for a taco run.

You pick them up at the end of the night, empty-handed, and they wrestle each other in the backseat. “I’m smashing Lisa. The countdown has begun. I got a number…..I’m calling Thursday.” “You’ll never do it.” “Friday, then.” “You’ll never do it.” They fall out of the car onto the sidewalk, punching each other in the gonads.

Two women take their place, as composed as swans gliding across a pond. “Hey driver, Jessica is turning 30-wonderful tonight. She’s feeling extra wonderful. What do you think about that?”

Here’s a depressing observation: I’ve had more women making out with each other in the back seat, than men with women. The last heterosexual makeout session unfolded like this:

She: Was this a date? He: What do you mean? She: Tonight. Drinks. Was this a date? He: I don’t know. Do you want it to be? She: Do you want a kiss? Say it was a date.

Then she cradled the back of his neck with her hand and pulled him toward her, the way you’d train a puppy.

I blame the phones, even though I shouldn’t.


Can a generation raised entirely on positive feedback achieve greatness?
Can a generation raised entirely on positive feedback achieve greatness?

Amelia Earhart, as you may know,  lived in Toluca Lake. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo. The first person to fly from Hawaii to the United States. She did so in an era lacking radar beacons, with primitive radio,  before the F.A.A or the C.A.B. or any of the aviation support infrastructure pilots rely on today. It was a matter of pointing at a spot on the horizon and setting forth with a compass,  a sextant and a watch and seeing it through, even after cloud cover no longer allowed one a view of the earthly landmarks below.  Amelia disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937 attempting the first solo crossing.  When they lost contact with her she was in search of a speck on the ocean called Howland Island, a fuel depot the size of Lake Balboa, a thousand miles from anything, obscured by a fog bank.

Los Angeles has done right by her memory with a nice statue and a library branch on Tujunga. I thought of her today while reading an essay in Vanity Fair by Bret Easton Ellis called ‘Generation Wuss’.  The one-time infant terrible of my own Gen X, has taken to Twitter, naturally, to weigh in on the fragility and neediness of people today in their 20’s.  Raised in a bubble of positive reinforcement by helicopter parents “…who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. And Generation Wuss responds by collapsing into sentimentality and creating victim narratives”.

In fact, not twenty yards from Amelia, beneath the portico of the building which bears her name, a young woman was doing this:


When she was this age Amelia worked as a volunteer nurse during the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Fifty million people, mostly in what is now known as the First World, experienced death-by-diarrhea.  In a single year. On Monday, you’d get a twinge of nausea, by Tuesday they’d mark your front door with chalk. Inside of a month, you may well have pooped your insides out and died of dehydration.  Oddly, if affected mostly young adults.   An environment which did not lend itself to self-pity or vanity. You live through that, contract the illness yourself and survive,  you just might say: I’m getting in the cockpit. I don’t care if they laugh at me.

Perhaps it is the uncertainties of the new economic paradigm, but at no time are millenials not texting, tweeting or self-ing.  They have plunged eagerly into an avatar life, where more waking hours are spent interacting with the world not as oneself, but as one’s on-line persona, or in Jungian terms,  Shadow Self.   If you’re a girl, your public face is not the face that greets you in the mirror, but the much-rehearsed, duck-lipped, side-angled selfie post on Instagram.  The Girl who is Always Having Fun and Doing Things and Going Somewhere and Trying On Something New Today.  If you’re a Boy (boyhood now being extended until 35) your public interactions with other young Boy-Men are conducted through game characters created by someone else. Your porn-to-real life sexual interaction ratio may easily run 100-1.  That’s normal now.

To the degree which parents have banished failure, given every kid a ribbon and a hug, then failure is no longer a waystation in the building of a fulfilling life, but a lurking demon, like the Spanish Flu, waiting to take all, and from which all must take refuge in the accoutrements of social media.    Narcissism becomes a rational defense mechanism.  A mantlepiece upon which one can safely deposit a decade of ones life,  along with a diploma, without shame.

As a corollary, cyber-bullying, the maligning of another’s on-line persona is now considered to be a terrible, terrible public crime. Like…cross-burning! It’s also presented in the media as a legitimate explantation for suicide.

Can such people navigate the course of their own lives without inflicting harm to the nation? How many little lord Chattertons can America absorb before the character of America as we have known it, is changed?

What will happen when it is their turn to run things?  I don’t know. Let’s Ask Lena Dunham:

Self-reverential moment on SNL referencing navel-gazing show on HBO
Un-ironic navel-gazing It Girl explains self-reverence for us. No privilege to see here.