Citizen Reading: 22 January 2018.
Citizen Not So Much Reading: 29 January 2018.

John Hodgman's Vacationland.

Here's my one-line review of John Hodgman's Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches: I read the whole thing, although I'm still not sure why.

VacationlandOkay, I can give you a bit more information. This is a collection of essays by Hodgman, most known for his spots on The Daily Show and his appearance as the "PC" in the very popular Apple ads from a few years back. I suppose this collection would be called humor, although it mixes humor with enough midlife ennui that while some of it makes me (a fellow midlifer) chuckle, some of it also makes me whimper with both recognition and sadness.

As far as I can tell these seem to be the hallmarks of midlife: short bits of very rueful, very hilarious laughter, mixed with lots of whimpering and sadness.

Ostensibly this collection is about Hodgman's two vacation homes (that's right, two--although he admits his family can't really afford to continue ownership of both houses, you can see why one of his friends refers to his stand-up as "the white privilege comedy of John Hodgman") in western Massachusetts and Maine. Really it's about parents, kids, marriage, the challenges of maintaining physical homes, aging, and making your way through the world as a white man who's been on The Daily Show. It was okay, but it's run through my mind like the sands through an hourglass. Wait...I think I can remember something...the chapter on how Hodgman and his wife backed up their garbage disposal and entire septic system made me laugh very hard. Here's what happened after they inherited the western Massachusetts vacation house from Hodgman's mother, and found a bunch of expired food items they wanted to get rid of, but didn't want to haul to the dump, because there is no trash pickup in western Massachusetts:

"My wife wanted to lay claim to this house and clear all this dead food out, and her plan was to disposal every last bit of it. She started opening and grinding, opening and grinding: cans of Stewart's shelled beans and jars of old pickles and capers. It went on for hours. It was a hot Saturday afternoon. I sat at the kitchen table, watching her sweat and open and grind. It was probably the most erotic moment of our marriage.

Eventually she found her way to the back of the cupboard. She dislodged three boxes of Cheerios, yellow and blue. They were five years old. She showed them to me.

'What are you going to do with that, baby?' I said.

'I'm going to disposal all of this,' she said.

'That's fucking right you are,' I said.

She did. It was a terrible idea. Here is some homeowner's advice. Do not put even a single box of stale Cheerios down the garbage disposal, never mind three. Because when you grind up Cheerios into oat powder and shove them into your pipes with a bunch of water behind them, the Cheerios do not slide easily through your pipes to the leach field (maybe?). They absorb the water and swell up. And then you have a Cheerio tumor in your pipes. And then you have to explain that tumor to the plumber you have had to call to cut it out. He will stand in the basement with his hacksaw, tapping at the Cheerio metastasis, the pipe making a solid, grim thunk.

He will look at you and say, 'How did this happen?'

And you will have to say, 'I'm sorry, Pipe Daddy. We were just having a sexy disposal time.'" (pp. 117-118.)

So yes, his white privilege comedy can be funny, particularly as I am a privileged white female.* Mainly I enjoyed that because I have done many idiot things in my house too, but even I know to treat my garbage disposal and my pipes with respect. (Ask Mr. CR. If he ever approaches the sink with anything I screech, "Don't use the disposal! It's for appearances only! Our pipes are not up to code!!")

*By which I mean I have always had enough food and shelter and I am thankful for those things. I do not usually call myself a product of white privilege, though, because if you saw my farm upbringing and how many hours I've spent in my life doing shit jobs (literally: including cleaning the bathrooms at multiple restaurants and stores in the area), you probably wouldn't call it privileged. Hodgman went to Yale without loans or financial aid. So there's privilege, and there's privilege. And Hodgman is a lot less privileged than a lot of Bushes, Trumps, and Zuckerbergs I could name (who are not funny, so they don't even offer that). I don't mind our culture's conversations about privilege but I wish we would approach the subject with just a tad more nuance.