I had a free afternoon in the middle of the week, so it was sort of a spontaneous decision to travel south with a Brooklyn friend and see Coney Island and the ocean. I’d never been south of Prospect Park before. Brooklyn is huge and I’ve never seen most of it. Riding down, I’m surprised to see the residential areas clustered around the southernmost part of Brooklyn look more like South Minneapolis than like other parts of Brooklyn.
Everything on the boardwalk is closed, and the beaches are empty. The relatively temperate weather in the middle of January makes the whole scene even more surreal. On the beach, we meet a lone reporter from the New York Post, who asks us our opinion one building casinos on Coney Island. I tell him I’m just visiting, and he loses interest in speaking to me. He interviews my friend, and seems to be trying to coach her into saying something pro-casino. He’s every bit as obnoxious as you’d imagine a New York Post reporter to be. I realize I should have given him a fake name like “Randy Slurdevant” and told him I lived in some obscure neighborhood like Ozone Park and said, “I think they should tear the whole boardwalk down and build nineteen huge casinos, each one bigger than the last! Maybe they can get Donald Trump to do it! That guy is a winner!”
The only people out at all, besides New York Post reporters, are people on the pier fishing. There’s a few dozen of them bundled up in winter clothing and sitting on plastic buckets and bobbing fishing poles over the edges. It’s fascinating. The pier is littered with shimmering, iridescent fish scales and drops of bright red fish blood.
I walk past one guy fishing, and go into my usual Studs Terkel routine: “What sort of fish do you usually catch here?” I don’t know anything about saltwater fishing. I’d like to learn.
The guy frowns and silently makes a circular motion with this hand. The meaning is unclear to me. It seems to mean one of three things:
1.) “Oh, you know, we catch all kinds.”
2.) “Sorry, I don’t speak English.”
3.) “Please fuck off.”
The third seems the most likely. Walking away, I express surprise to my friend. She is a native Manhattanite, born and raised near Union Square. “This isn’t the Midwest,” she says. “You can’t just walk up to anyone and expect have a conversation.”
I am even more surprised by this. “Exactly!” I say. “This isn’t the Midwest! People don’t mind talking to strangers here!” I realize my friend and I have wildly divergent views on the social habits of New Yorkers vs. Midwesterners.
I always thought New Yorkers were pathologically opinionated loudmouths that were willing to get into noisy conversations with anyone. I always thought Midwesterners were stand-offish and tight-lipped and would do anything to avoid talking to a stranger.
She always thought New Yorkers were privacy-obsessed jerks that didn’t have the slightest bit of interest in making any sort of engagement with the teeming masses of humanity surrounding them. She always thought Midwesterners were warm, genuinely friendly people happy to make small talk with anyone.
I’m still not sure, though if the circular hand motion was a “fuck off” sign, my friend may have a point. This winter, I’ll have to go find some people ice-fishing out on one of the city lakes around Minneapolis and ask them about what they’re doing. Then we’ll know for sure.
Based on the limited figures I have at my disposal, I’d guess that this here blog has only around sixty regular, dedicated, engaged readers. Which perhaps isn’t many compared to some other blogs, but you all are the right sixty readers. Whenever I pose a question here, I am always amazed at the range of thoughtful answers I recieve.
In reference to l’affaire fiducie de fonds kids of several weeks ago (that is French for “the affair of the kids with the funds of trust,” according to Google Translate), I got a few interesting comments and emails. The first, from my old friend Brady Bergeson, a writer in Fargo-Moorhead and my favorite activity partner for a lively round of that classic hotel bar game, Can You Draw a Fairly Accurate Sketch of Vice President Henry A. Wallace From Memory? Brady says:
I was going to suggest you start a band called Trust Fund Kids. But then there’s this:
Brett, a friend from Minneapolis that’s roughly the same age as me (and an MCAD alumnus), adds some insight into the mindset of the typical college student in those post-Pets.com years:
I hypothesize that the dot-com bubble of the late ’90s may have been crucial to propagating the nationwide scare that trust-funded kids were lurking in and around every coffee shop and campus corner. Between ‘99 and ‘03, there were three different instances where I learned that a friend who had a decent apartment was seemingly supporting themselves via an online entrepreneurial venture or freelance web work. Eventually in conversation it would slip out that the freelancing work or web site was actually unsuccessful. And in fact, that person’s family owned eight apartment buildings in Boston, or a chain of grocery stores in Colorado. Once a juicy nugget like that hits a college town’s gossip chain, it spreads like wild fire, causing everyone to wonder who else may in fact be a secretly funded via a trust.
But here’s the real bombshell, from an anonymous reader named “Murk.” Murk proves him- or herself to be the Deep Throat of this whole “Trust Fund Kid” episode:
Not to muddy the etymological waters here, but, if my murky memory serves at all, I believe the term originated first as “trust fund babies,” before aging up a bit to the “kid” level. I seem to vaguely recall hearing the former term some time in the mid-80s. I place it there because my best friend from high school was literally one (receiving a trust from his grandparents at age 18), and I recall a light bulb going on about said friend once I’d heard the term (he eventually blew the entire fund on LPs top-end stereo equipment, and a generally profligate lifestyle while in college in Cambridge). Maybe your search should include tracking down this earlier term and theorizing why it may have aged through the years?
Of course! “Trust fund babies”! Using the same questionable research methods (Google Books and nGram), I explored the origins of that particular phrase.
Surprisingly, “trust fund baby” first turns up about the same time, maybe a little bit earlier, during the ‘84-‘86 period. “Places like Woodstock, NY, Taos, NM, and the Hotel Chelsea were filled with these Trust-Fund Babies,” reports New York City novelist Carole Berge’s 1984 Secrets, Gossip and Slander.
However, between 1984 and 1987, there’s almost double the references in print compared to “trust fund kid.” It seems to be in more mainstream use in the early to mid-1980s, turning up in everything from nonfiction sociology books to Mademoiselle articles, and even in a work entitled Fringe Benefits: The Fifty Best Career Opportunities for Meeting Men. (Unfortunately, the entire text of this landmark volume was not available online, so I can’t tell you what the results are, other than, in many respects, aren’t you glad it’s not the 1980s anymore?)
All of this would lead me to believe that “trust fund baby” is the older of the two phrases, and the one from which the now more common “trust fund kid” is derived.
As mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I am still giving credit to photographer Abby Robinsonfor coining the actual phrase “trust fund kid” in her semi-autobiographical 1985 Künstlerroman The Dick and Jane. Again, I can’t really prove this in any real, academic way, other than to say two things: 1.) there is no earlier instance on Google Books, and 2.) since I last wrote about this, I’ve purchased The Dick and Jane, and read it, and loved it, and it confirms my suspicions that Robinson may have been the coiner, for one specific reason. The book is a funny, thoughtful combination of the old, mythical world of the seedy, pre-WWII New York City and the then-contemporary world of seedy, pre-Giuliani New York City — a New York City that is now just as mythical as the old hardboiled New York City of Raymond Chandler. So it’s myth doubling back on myth, a fact reflected in the language in the book, a really inventive blend of ’80s downtown artspeak and ’40s hardboiled pulp fiction. One of the hallmarks of this type of writing is taking common phrases and punching them up a little bit; making them a little more colorful. I believe Robinson may have taken the then-current phrase “trust find baby,” and roughed it up, Bogart-style, into “trust fund kid.” Because “kid” is more hard-boiled than “baby,” right?
Again, I cannot totally prove this. I am not an authority on this subject. But Robinson was nice enough to exchange a few emails with me, and though she said she doesn’t think she coined the term, I told her I’m giving her credit anyhow. Someone had to coin it, after all. Why not her?
Many thanks to Brady, Brett and Murk for prompting me to further investigate this topic, and to Abby Robinson for indulging me. This is what South 12th is all about, my dear sixty readers: making crazed, unfounded speculations on things that happened 30 years ago that no one is really worried about. Well, most people aren’t worried about them: maybe me and you and the other fifty-eight are, and that’s why we’re all in this together.
(Post-script: Robinson’s favorite variation, “trustafarian,” seems unsurprisingly to be a pure product of the 1990s.)
(Double post-script: The French term for “trust fund babies” is “fiducie de fondspour bébés.” According to Google Translate.)
The Wikipedia user that posted the above photo (in the “historical reenactments” article) not only took the time and trouble to include this poor fellow’s full name in the attributions, but then also uploaded an updated version of the photo that “corrected lighting on shadowed face.” I wonder how they managed to restrain themselves from also including his email address.
Chuckle if you must at this poor farby’s plight, reader. But the day is coming soon when there will not be single person left in the Western world whose personal flaws and failings have not been used to photographically illustrate a concept on Wikipedia.
See also, though at least the subject is not identified by name in this case.
vickyj asked: Raclette *is* a wonder cheese! Tell me about some of your favorite uses for raclette.
Oh, raclette. It is among my favorite cheeses. I owe it all to Vicki Potts and Matt Hoiland at my neighborhood cheese shop, the Grass Roots Gourmet, who first sold me raclette and told me what it was capable of. It’s capable of a lot.
Here’s the thing about raclette that makes it so unlike other cheeses: it has a really, really low melting point. Absurdly low. You put a little bit in your mouth, and it begins to melt almost right away. It was recommended to me because I was asking what would be good in a broccoli soup. It’s great in soup, because it melts almost instantly.
This is a very unsophisticated way to think about a cheese, but it may do the trick for you. Imagine, in your own cooking, when you come upon a situation where the lizard part of your brain that was raised in the 1970s and ’80s in the suburbs hisses, “You know what would be great here? Some Velveeta! Or some nacho cheese! Right? What’s the matter, kid, you too good for Velveeta now?” I have that voice inside me, and I’ll bet you do, too. Now you have an answer: you can use raclette instead.
Look, I couldn’t cook a real meal until I was probably 26 or so. Even now it’s a stretch to say I’m a “good cook” (at best, I am “inoffensive”). But I am a whole Kessel’s Run worth of parsecs beyond where I was at age 21, when I’d try to cook meals for girls coming over to my apartment and didn’t know the difference between butter and margarine. Disgraceful!*
But that tiny lizard part of your brain is right: melted cheese is great. You don’t need to stoop to using processed cheese to incorporate it into your cooking. I’ve done all kinds of things with raclette: put it inside Jucy Lucys, made soups out of it (mix in some pale ale for that classic Wisconsin wintertime super-treat, beer cheese soup), used it with baked potatoes. You can even use it in the traditional Swiss fashion, which is similar to a fondue: melt it and scrape it onto your plate and eat it with prosciutto.
So there you go: buy some raclette and use it today. I wish I had answered your question earlier, Vicky, because it’s such a great winter food. But depending on where you are in the world, there may be a few chill-in-the-air opportunities remaining for soups and dips in the next couple of weeks.
* Of course, most of the girls in question didn’t know anything about food, either, so I was safe. Do you remember that time before people cared about food? I do, but only barely. I guess everyone was so busy working on their zines and mixtapes they didn’t have time to think about anything else.
One of the fun things about dating a professor* is succumbing to the temptation to look them up on the often unfair and generally awful website ratemyprofessor.com, so you can find out what all the spoiled, ungrateful kid-swine in their charge have to say about them. It’s not fair, and you wouldn’t want to take it particularly seriously, but it’s still sort of fun.
It’s mostly fun because you can mentally change the word “professor” to “girlfriend/boyfriend” (depending on the circumstances), and the word “students” to the opposite number. Then you get hilarious insider information like this:
He just is not clear about what he wants.
She is a very tough girlfriend and can be unfair.
He is a horrible boyfriend and I haven’t learned a thing.
You will get marked down if you don’t agree with her view point.
He doesn’t seem to really want to help his girlfriend.
Gives dirty looks all the time and makes you feel inferior for asking questions.
He’s kind of on a powertrip…
She is a very unhelpful girlfriend who doesn’t take time to actually listen to her boyfriend.
He is very stuck in his ways.
Those ungrateful kid-swine!
Extra Bonus Points: Employ the classic Chinese fortune cookie trick at the end.
* Just so you don’t think I am springing significant personal information on you, reader, I would like to make it very clear that I am not currently dating a professor and have not dated a professor for many, many years.
* The way Shirley sings “feeeeels so good” is filthy. Plus they’re both from New Orleans, so you know they’re up to no good.
† Listen to how Sylvia says “C’mere, lover boy.” Also, Mickey was from Louisville!
‡ Though this is truly a classic for the “we have got to get married as soon as possible because we really, really want to do it” school of hormonal wistfulness, so let’s not get too down on Paul and Paula for being complete drips; you almost think Paula’s going to sing “together the whole night through,” but it comes out “day.”
Franklin Roosevelt so admired his fifth cousin Theodore, who was elected president while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, that he took to wearing pince-nez glasses in emulation of him. FDR wore a pair of C-bridge pince-nez glasses for the rest of his life. There he is above, through the graces of LIFE’s online photo archive, wearing them in 1941.
Pince-nez glasses were very popular at the turn-of-the-century, when Teddy Roosevelt wore them. They were almost forty years out of fashion, however, by FDR’s administration. So a president wearing pince-nez glasses in 1932 would be like an elected official today wearing a pair of black plastic frames because he admired Orville L. Freeman — a touchingly twee affectation. As an enthusiastic personal supporter of absurdly outdated, touchingly twee affected eyewear, I find that very, very inspiring.
Sergio and I went to Matt’s last night for some Lucys and beers. He gave me a dollar for the jukebox, and asked me to talk about the three songs I chose on camera. So I did, and this is it.
Distant readers, if you’ve ever wondered what sitting in a bar would be like and watching me shovel fries into my mouth and yammer on about Otis Redding, I am afraid you tragically have your answer now.
Steve Jobs, from The Color 12. The caption is this quote from Jobs: “This was a very typical time. I was single. All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that’s what I had.”
I have not seen this photo in years. I used to see it several times a week; my girlfriend in college mysteriously had a Xeroxed copy of this image taped to her kitchen wall. She was a manager at a Kinko’s, so everything was Xeroxed. I always wondered if her displaying this photo was a sort of private joke. She was not particularly Zen or particularly minimalist in her personal habits or philosophies of life. I don’t think she even owned a Mac — I didn’t know many people that did at that time. She certainly didn’t have an iPod. She probably has both a MacBook and an iPod now.
She was the last girl to give me a landline phone number when I asked her out. That was a very typical time, like Steve says.