In our Search History series, writers expose the disparate webpages in their recent past.
I miss how unpredictable the internet once was. Sure, there are still surprises — tomorrow the algorithm might show you the funniest or most depressing thing you will ever see in your life — but the internet of the past was more radically volatile. You used to wonder: will there be anything here at all? Where did that webpage go? Could there possibly be anyone out there who likes this thing I adore? Algorithms and fine-tuned, search-optimized recommendations are annoying for all the obvious reasons involving privacy and political manipulation. But they’re also just less fun. I have a harder time stumbling upon the detours, left turns, accidents, and casual anarchy that made the internet so consciousness expanding when I was younger. These searches are from late summer.
I don’t subscribe on YouTube, so I am always googling for a link to the latest episode of Sneaker Shopping, an interview show that involves famous people buying rare sneakers. The interviewer, Joe La Puma, has this specific way of standing and enthusiastically gesturing as he asks questions, and I feel like I have adopted some of his mannerisms in my teaching, since I often watch Sneaker Shopping on my morning train ride to school. I don’t care as much about who the subjects are or what they buy or, in the show’s parlance “WHAT’S ON FEET,” I’m usually just amused by the host’s attempt to stitch together a series of unique questions about someone’s past, organized around the shoes they have worn in the past. Some guests seem way too excited to be there, some people are clearly looking past Joe at something on the shelf, some people seem to spend lavishly just because there’s an audience. But each episode starts the same: “We’re in ____ with ____, gonna do some sneaker shopping today, gonna see what she’s feeling, what she’s not, and then hopefully she’s gonna buy some sneakers.” And never in the history of the show has a guest followed that up with something clever.
Converting 120 to 100 volts
I keep buying old, portable stereo cassette/CD players that never quite work. Some companies still manufacture dorm-style stereos like this, but they are usually shitty and ugly. I finally began researching new, Japanese models because I assumed, correctly, that companies like Sony made higher-quality players for the discerning local market. But the voltage is different in Japan, and I’m very bad at basic concepts of logical reasoning. So I spent an hour trying to wrap my head around what else I needed in addition to the player itself. “What is the difference between a converter and an adapter.” “What does it mean to step voltage up?” “If I live in 120v do I need a transformer?” “Who was the leader of the Dinobots?” “Why is there different voltages?” “What is electricity, really?”
I read a lot. But it’s very scattered and I have these vast blind spots. I think part of the reason is that I am very susceptible to internet rabbit holes and free-associative dives, I get easily distracted with weird schemes, and writing a book has offered a lot of excuses to indulge these parts of me. An initial draft of my book was twice the length of what’s being published, and the half that was cut consisted largely of digressions into the history of telecommunications, recording/repro technology, the music industry, a long section on Nicholson Baker’s discussion of zippers in The Mezzanine. All of which is to say I wrote Stay True (a story of friendship, teenage ambition/boredom, world-remaking loss) because, on some molecular, spiritual level, I had to — but I have treated the rest of the process, as it’s been converted from a bunch of thoughts/feelings in my head into a commodity, as an excuse to make merch. I used to make zines, and writing about that process in the book got me back into making them again (though now they are about other people, not me). I dubbed a few cassettes, weaving audiobook excerpts with nineties music/sounds. I used to smoke and writing about smoking made me miss the ritual of it. So I stayed up very late recently looking into how to make custom cigarette packs for my book party and then, thinking that might be irresponsible, I switched my research to matchbooks.
“a lotta burrata”
I was recently writing about “Drink Champs,” this great, long-winded podcast hosted by the rapper N.O.R.E. It’s filled with amazing, inside stories — not just the stories that went into songs and steely personae, but stories about navigating personal demons or industry shenanigans, wrestling with aging and legacy, all kinds of things that don’t show up in the music. As of this writing, Jay-Z has never been a guest, but he’s often the subject of other people’s stories — people talk about his professionalism, wisdom, etc. Anyhow, an episode featuring Ja Rule reminded me of “Can I Get A…” and, listening to it again, I heard Amil rapping, “I like a lotta burrata/Alize and vodka.” When this song came out, I had no idea what burrata was. I now do, and listening to it again gave me pause — people pair burrata with vodka??! Another search. She actually said “Prada.”
“Joyce Carol Oates”
I saw something bizarre she posted on Twitter and wanted to know who she was beyond someone who used Twitter a lot.