I remember reading something by Michael Musto a few years ago about taking the Jitney to the Hamptons that made me chuckle. He had been annoyed that the passenger sitting next to him was rudely spreading his legs out and taking up more than his own seat width, so Musto got back at him by opening the Village Voice to the
prostitution massage ad pages in the back and lingering on them for a long time, just to make his seatmate uncomfortable. I was reminded of this story as I read Tracie Egan Morrissey and Rich Juzwiak's book Pot Psychology's How to Be: Lowbrow Advice from High People (Illustrations by Lindsay Mound). I read every word of it while on the subway traveling to and from the office, and I have no doubt that a few straphangers close enough to read over my shoulder felt the urge to inch away from me when they saw some of the chapter titles.
At first I tried to conceal what I was reading, holding the book close and only opening it a crack. I'm weird enough naturally, I don't want to go out of my way to seem a freak. But by the third chapter I was interested and entertained enough not to care, and almost enjoyed the double takes I got on the F train--when I noticed them. For a book spun out of a series of video advice columns on Jezebel, it's surprisingly tight, funny, and well-written, while maintaining that wry, insouciant tone employed by successful bloggers who make it look like wit just flows from their fingers, and they never even need to re-read what they've written, let alone edit it, before publishing.
But I'm sure Morrissey and Juzwiak made at least a few tweaks along the way. I mean, they wrote this thing while high (or not), and the first rule of highdom is to check your work in the sober light of morning (before the wake-and-bake, of course). I actually enjoyed this book markedly more than the one I had just finished, and that was a humorous and kooky bestseller by a well-known hipster-ish comedian who I won't name because I may wish to interview him someday. How to Be is an advice book, but I'm not sure how many life lessons I'll take from it beyond how to be cool ("instead of taking your retro cues from things that happened ten years ago, take them from things that happened seven years ago") and how to be able to talk again after sticking your foot in your mouth ("talking too much > talking too stupid > talking too mean").
The rest is an amusing peek into the minds of people in weird situations that you may or may not ever find yourself in. But one weird situation you should find yourself is reading this book in public, as I did. To wit, here's a list of the ten most awkward chapter titles, in ascending order of subway cringeworthiness.
- How to Be Around Religious Weirdos
- How to Be in a Public Bathroom
- How to Be Cool With Your Dealer Without Having To Be Friends With Him
- How to Be Gassy in Public
- How to Be the Owner of an Uncircumcised Penis
- How to Be Okay with Your Abortion
- How to Be a Sideline Ho
- How to Be Prepared for Anal Sex
- How to Be When You Queef During Sex
- How to Be Honest About the Penis Your Boyfriend Doesn't Know You Have
So buy the book, and the next time someone on the subway leans just a little too far into your personal space, turn to "How to Be Honest About the Penis Your Boyfriend Doesn't Know You Have" and read intently, occasionally twitching and adjusting yourself. You'll either get the personal space you seek, or a date. Either way, you win.