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Disquieting Modern Trends: Big Apple Edition

by Will Layman & Chris Osmond

The good people here at Disquieting Modern Trends Inc. have been bugging us about the long hours we make them work. They whine about the conditions in the office, including the lack of one of those water coolers with the big jugs you have to uncap and then dramatically flip upside down, risking for a moment pouring gallons of wildly expensive water on the office floor, when you replace it. They claim that we are the only humorous-yet-somewhat-literary Internet column that does not offer a holiday bonus, and they assure us that our contribution to their 401(k) plan is paltry compared to what they’re offering over at McSweeney’s.1

When we receive these empty complaints on our BlackBerries while swilling Cuervo on the beaches of the Yucatan, we can assure you, they are summarily dismissed. After all, the good people we hire to work for us at D.M.T. are very selectively chosen for their sensitivity to injustice and their tendency to bitch about the tiniest little thing. Why should work conditions be any different?

But, when we returned to D.M.T. headquarters to find photographs of our shiny bald heads tacked to a board by several carefully aimed, high-quality darts, we immediately retreated to the office and put together an Employee Empowerment Plan, fueled by the combination of fear and tequila that has been so successful for us in the past.

Our conclusion: to take the entire staff on a wild weekend trip to New York City!

There, Team D.M.T. spread across the city like a virus, from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn (the only places where the people who will let us crash on their couches live), enjoying the hospitality, taking in the vibrant rhythm of the Greatest City in the World and, of course, finding more stuff that gives us the impression that contemporary society is little more than a living, breathing fingernail down the chalkboard of our existence.

Herewith, some of the disquieting modern trends currently on display in New York City:

NYerPhotographs in The New Yorker
The New Yorker is, of course, one of the signature touches that makes New York City so deeply loved by a few and largely reviled, resented and spit-upon by the many. Here at D.M.T., of course, we are part of the few and—for the umpteenth time—we again offer The New Yorker the opportunity to publish “Disquieting Modern Trends” on a regular basis. [Pause.] O.K., fine—screw The New Yorker. Thinks it’s so fancy-pants with its monocled fop on the cover and its cute little cartoons that nobody understands and its over-frequent pieces by John Updike who submits his morning doodles to them as if they were the next coming of Saul Bellow!2 And plus everybody knows it hasn’t been the same since Tina Brown came in and messed everything up. Like adding photographs. Ack. In its heyday, The New Yorker floated above reality, beyond the grim and grey-scaled horror of actual humans living their actual human lives. Our own New Yorker fantasy remains this—being a dog in one of those old Thurber stories where the dog is just wiser and calmer and superior to humans in every way, like even our coolly wet noses contain more collected savvy and Charlie Parker cool than all of the Upper West Side. On the other hand, The New Yorker publishes a photograph of a dog and what do you have? Matted hair, tail lifted up causing dog-anus exposure, and that icky, brown plaque that dog teeth all get no matter how many milk bones you feed them. The D.M.T. says to The New Yorker: Fie upon your modern incarnation! We eschew your photorealism and your secular-humanist, liberal, hipper-than-thou, blue-state sophistication!3

Mi Madre!Broadway Musicals That Are Just a Bunch of Pop Songs Grafted onto a Completely Bogus Plot
On the other hand, while the overheated rabble of society properly resents “Talk of the Town,” it improperlyloves Broadway. While we find almost all nostalgia toxically disquieting, it is impossible not to note that Broadway once routinely produced the likes of Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire—and actual people made these shows hits. Today, Broadway is largely premised on shows like Mamma Mia!4—a crackpot collection of disco songs by the band Abba, woven together by a plot involving a bride on a Greek island trying to find her father by combing through her mother’s old diary. Recent entries in this theatrical hall of shame include All Shook Up (the songs of Elvis Presley), Movin’ Out (the barely-tolerable-in-the-70s-but-now-essentially-completely-intolerable songs of Billy Joel), and Good Vibrations (the songs of the Beach Boys—and we don’t mean just Pet Sounds—a musical so bad that it once had American Idol loser Justin Guarini in its cast), each of which, by itself, justifies a boycott of Midtown. Almost every other show on the Great White Way is based on a movie: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Producers, The Lion King, Hairspray, Beauty and the Beast, Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Full Monty, and—get this—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we shit you not. All the other shows either involve puppets, are Rent or are revivals.

“Hands-Free” Devices That Make It Increasingly Difficult to Tell the Difference between People Who Are Merely Annoyingly Busy and People Raving Like Madmen at Themselves in the Street
The great thing about New York, of course, are the New Yorkers themselves. Our friend Joel, a native of Canarsie, Brooklyn, likes to say that “New Yorkers are the nicest people in the world because they won’t stop you on the street to chat because they already know you are as sick of them as they are of you.” Our kind of people. We also love that a significant portion of them, despite freely roaming the avenues, are wholly insane in the muttering-to-themselves-about-the-weather sense. This is why the widespread use of “hands-free” devices for cell phones is making New York such a disconcerting and peculiar place. While grabbing a cab to head down to a bar called Happy Ending, a former massage parlor converted into a late-night lair for the hipeoisie,5 we were pleased to realize that the cabbie was laughing incoherently for no reason and muttering in Arabic to no one in particular. We delighted in his zany antics until we realized that he was simply on the phone with his brother-in-law Stu, telling him that the cast of the Blue Man Group was in the back of his cab without its makeup on.

Who Loves New York?The Proliferation of “I NY” Rip-offs
Some say that the D.M.T. team has no heart—no basic humanity—but it ain’t so. We will tickle puppies under the chin and throw a baseball in the backyard under the right circumstances. And there was a time when we found the use of the “♥” in place of the word “love” nothing short of charming. It was “I ♥ NY” that gave the symbol its charm—with the little jingle (“I-i-i-i-i-i … love New Yo-o-o-o-o-rk!) and that cuckoo, nutty little mayor, Ed Koch, popping up and singing along with Carol Channing, Bobby Short,6 and the cast of Cats7 and the “I ♥ NY” on all those T-shirts. But then it had to be “I ♥” this and “I ♥” that, all leading up to last year’s inexplicably obtuse movie I ♥ Huckabees. We could have and would have overlooked this cheap bit of dime-store existentialism were it not for the fact that it included highly peculiar career-in-decline performances by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin and that it put the “♥]” back into every headline in the U.S. of A. Like a mood bracelet or a pet rock, we believe the ♥ had its day. Let it die and fade away like Carol Channing. Let it go, people. Its resuscitation, like all things even indirectly related to Andrew Lloyd Webber, places a murmur in your soul and is, therefore, mightily disquieting indeed.

Jeepers!

Next Edition: More Annoyance from N.Y., like the bacteria-like proliferation of Au Bon Pain franchises across Manhattan, like they were the thinking man’s McDonald’s when really they are just the thinking man’s overpriced sandwich.


1 This particularly cheeses us off because, about ten years ago, we were tromping around midtown Manhattan shopping a manuscript based on the tragic story of how these two hamsters of ours died, one practically right after the other, leaving these other two younger hamsters to fend for themselves, and then the older one has to take care of the younger one, teaching him how to climb around in the tubes of the hamster cage and how to run on the hamster wheel and everything, you know? And we even had them, the two surviving hamsters, move to San Francisco and play Frisbee on the beach and eventually try to get on MTV’s “The Real World.” Totally, like, hilarious while also touchingly tragic. But, oh-ho, one N.Y. publishing house after another rejected the MS claiming—get this!—there wasn’t a big enough market for hamster books. Then along comes Dave Eggers. Believe us, we want to offer a killer pension and super-generous 401(k) rather than simply handing out granola bars in the D.M.T. office every other Friday, but the Egg-Man is playing with our money.

2 Except, you know, we really did like that “NewYorkistan” one—that cracked us up. And, you know, “Shouts and Murmurs” is still really funny (except not so much Woody Allen any more, sorry Wood-man). So, actually, New Yorker, the offer is still on the table. Though, you know, it’s gonna cost you. A little. Probably.

3 On the other hand, do not cancel our subscriptions, and have we mentioned to you that we also write short fiction?

4 When we are in New York City and the phrase “Mamma mia!” is invoked, we fully expect, minimum, to get a nice starchy dinner as part of the deal. Mamma Mia!, however, is more Swedish or possibly Greek than it is Italian, and there is not a single red-and-white checkered tablecloth in the set of this abominable “Broadway show.” Our stomachs, fairly reliable theater critics, say: Grrrowwwl.

5 While hanging out at Happy Ending, by the way, people were quick to recognize us as “Those Two Annoyed Guys from Yankee Pot Roast,” though there was a time when Chris thought they were saying “Those Two ANNOYING Guys from Yankee Pot Roast.” Whichever it was, people were quick to suggest their own entries for inclusion in this column, most of which we politely nodded along with before rejecting them out of hand. Perhaps it goes without saying (though we shall, forthwith, say it anyway) that having people suggest Disquieting Modern Trends to us has, itself, become a Disquieting Modern Trend. That said, we have no problem with this trend continuing as long as it is accompanied by free drinks and the conversations with the beautiful babies.

6 Let us go on the record here and now saying that cabaret singer and pianist Bobby Short was beyond reproach, and despite our crappy retirement plan, we did give the entire D.M.T. staff the day off after he died. Death itself, we suppose, is a disquieting trend, though it cannot be deemed particularly modern and will therefore be spared the wrath of this column. That, plus we don’t particularly want to piss off the Grim Reaper who, despite certain outward physical resemblances, may have more control over us than Dave Eggers. Coo-coo-ka-choo.

7 Please do not take this nostalgia for the “I ♥ NY” ads to be an endorsement of Cats. If we did not mention it above, let us say now: We date the decline and then outright crashing and burning of Broadway musicals as an art form to the appearance of this mewling and pleading Andrew Lloyd Webber contraption. If there wasn’t already ample reason to dislike T. S. Eliot (and we hereby site three good reasons: his raging anti-Semitism, his pseudo-Britishness and his pointlessly obtuse neoclassical poetry), Cats would be enough. If you would be interested in hosting a party at which we can get together and simultaneously deride “The Wasteland” and Phantom of the Opera, we will be there with the Doritos.

Will Layman & Chris Osmond are an old-fashioned comedy team in the tradition of Burns & Allen, Abbott & Costello, or Bush & Cheney. They cowrote the song "Jenny Bought Burritos," which is the only hit song about Mexican food that you've never heard.