The Awl Stories You Never Saw

As the end rapidly approaches it seems as good a time as any to unburden myself of some of the ideas that I’ve wanted to see on the site but that for one reason or another never came to fruition. Shortly before he bolted Choire Sicha delivered his own list of unwritten work and reading it now in comparison to mine it is pretty clear (if his leaving didn’t already make it obvious) which one of us was the smart one. That said, I still feel like some of these things could have turned out okay, so I will share them with you now. I am about to be out of work so if you wind up using one of them at your organization please send me some money.

Subway Astrology

I basically already dumped this one off here, but briefly: “The premise was essentially that you could forecast someone’s weekly commute in the same way astrology forecasts offer, uh, guidance for their personal and professional week. Your subway sign would be your usual station of origin and then the most common transfer or destination of your trip.” It never happened and then the entire transit system fell apart. Coincidence? Who can say?

The Journal of the American Mozzarella Stick

The idea here was that I would go to various bars around the city (and, if we could get sponsorship, THE WORLD—or, you know, Westchester and stuff, the part of Connecticut easily reached by train, etc.) and review the mozzarella sticks on the menu. This was an idea that was doomed to fail even in its conception, because if you know anything about mozzarella sticks you know that except for the places that make those horrible square monstrosities they are essentially all identical. It would basically be an exercise in reviewing the same thing every time, but whereas Tom Scocca can do that every day and produce magic with each entry at best I could aspire to the kind of low poetry that only occasionally graces my prose, and only then by accident. I have subsequently made some horrible lifestyle changes that would have prevented me from fulfilling any of the duties this task would require, but if I somehow had got it together to spend my days drinking in bars and shoveling mozzarella sticks down my throat as a professional I would be long dead and none of this would be my problem anymore, so it is something of a missed opportunity.

Golden Eras We Never Realized We Were In

When David, Choire and I started The Awl it was in reaction to the Internet of 2009, which at the time seemed like a barren wasteland in which the earth had been set alight and then salted to ensure nothing ever again emerged from it but in retrospect seems like it was written by Shakespeare, designed by da Vinci and aimed at an audience with at least a minimum education level of third grade and a corresponding attention span. Plus there was no such thing as autoplay videos, do you even remember how amazing that was? Anyway, the point is that everything you think is terrible at the time will eventually be some sort of halcyon period at which you look back longingly. Matt Buchanan and John Herrman took this nugget of a complaint from my litany of constant whining and made an incredible list of things which were scorned in their day but were so much better than what came after. We wound up not doing it because there was no way you could pull it off without hurting a lot of feelings, and Matt and John, unlike me, are good people, but a couple of the entries (“Craig Kilborn’s ‘Daily Show,’” “HuffPo sideboob,” “”) should give you an idea of what we were going for.


At a certain moment (in the ’90s? Slightly later? Nailing the chronology would be part of the piece) it became generally acknowledged by American society that the word we would all use for female genitalia was “pussy.” No one was entirely happy with it but everyone conceded the point. Why did this happen? What brought about its acceptance in popular culture? I have my own ideas and I am sure you do too but there is no way this piece would not be littered with minefields, which is probably why Silvia Killingsworth told me it was a great idea and then let it slowly disappear from the list of possibilities. I am super easy to work around in that once I get praised for something I stop thinking about it, so that is probably why I let this one go. Silvia’s smart in a million ways and this is the easiest one to point to.

The Rural Purge

Because of my belief that up until very recently all change in this country was driven by television, one of my idiot ideas is that you can draw a line under the old America and the one that came after roughly in the space where the Rural Purge happened. (I have a similar theory about ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ being the program that taught everyone to suck by encouraging them to venerate and elevate society’s most disgusting and grasping individuals which, uh, history seems to have borne out, and could probably still be easily assembled.) Anyway, the Wikipedia entry is already pretty thorough so there didn’t seem like a real pressing need for this one.

The Awl News Quiz

I have a terrible memory, in the sense that there is very little I ever forget and it is constantly at the front of my brain as if it is happening at that moment. (If you see an older man walking the streets, seemingly in a daze, muttering “Oh, you dumb motherfucker” at himself under his breath you are watching me simultaneously recall something awful I said or did last week, last month, last year, in high school, during day care, etc.) Several years ago it became clear to me that the growing barrage of content assaulting us at every second (and it started long before what is happening right now, you just weren’t informed about it by your phone every five minutes) was making it difficult for even someone with my horribly burdensome talent for recall to keep chronological sense of. So the idea behind The Awl News Quiz was that each week you would get 20 or so stories from the last decade and you would need to organize them in the order in which they occurred. Here are some of the items I have in my notes:

Zayn Malik leaves One Direction
Cecil the Lion
Germany opens up to refugees
Beyonce drops Beyonce
Miracle on the Hudson
Chilean miners
BuzzFeed aggregates dress
Christopher Hitchens dies
Russia annexes Crimea
Marissa Mayer joins Yahoo
Sony hack
Gowanus dolphin
People make fun of Jon Ronson for suggesting maybe everyone shouldn’t be such shits on the Internet
Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” speech is revealed
Bill de Blasio kills that woodchuck

There are some obvious ones in there to place first and last but, as you can see, the degree of difficulty comes when you try to remember what happened before what else. I had planned to tech this out by having one of those things where you could use your mouse to drag and move things into position, but other concerns were always more pressing and I am not sure how you would do it now that everyone only reads the Internet on their computer phones. It seems like the screen would be too small to make it all work.

The Nihilist Advice Corner

When a popular singer died relatively young recently I was talking to a friend of mine and I said that one of the strangest things about getting old was discovering that when someone died unexpectedly you didn’t so much feel sad as a sense of relief for them, that everything was over for them now and they didn’t have to worry about anything anymore. “That’s got nothing to do with old age,” said my friend, “that’s just depression.” Well, people of good faith can disagree. Anyway, Heather Havrilesky totally reimagined what the advice column could be when she did Ask Polly for this site. Choire Sicha briefly had his own hand in it with The Concessionist, although in true Awl fashion he abandoned it as soon as it proved popular. My own idea for an advice column was that each request for counsel would be met with the same wisdom: “It doesn’t matter. We’re all going to die anyway. Nothing you do will make a difference in the long run.” Depression or JUST BEING REAL? This would kind of be a one-note joke, repeated ad infinitum, and I was already sort of doing that with almost everything else I wrote. Also the idea of being bombarded by the tragic yearnings and broken dreams of everyone who wrote in was too much to bear for one of my delicate sensibilities, so I wisely let it go. But let me just tell you now, whatever you are wondering about, it doesn’t matter. We’re all going to die anyway. I hope you find that a little freeing.

Media Masthead Olympics

This one was mostly a data-gathering exercise. We would scan the mastheads of 50 or so top publications and see who had the most appearances in “contributing editor” and other name-only positions so that we could crown the top competitors in the games of brand-building and title-getting. This was another one that would only wind up hurting feelings so we never got it together, and now there are neither 50 top publications or mastheads to find in them. Oh well.

Thanks For Shutting Up

There is some irony in this one being on this list, but here was how I pitched it: “Everybody jokes about the ‘where are they now’ files but what about the people who did what they did and then decided that while they COULD put out another album/write another book/do another movie or series or etc. they didn’t really NEED to or they didn’t have enough to say to make it interesting to them so they just weren’t going to do it. Let’s celebrate THEM for once. I am thinking, weirdly, of Billy Joel here, who just stopped writing songs even though he probably could have kept doing an album a year (and almost certainly should have stopped long before he did, but that’s another story). But there are people who were like ‘I am successful enough and I have nothing more to say so I won’t,’ and that is a decision that should be encouraged.” Of everything here I still think this one has the most promise.

The Sadiad

This was a terrible idea that I knew wouldn’t work the second I thought of it. It was just an epic poem about how depressing it is to be human. Yes, I will see your eye roll and raise you a [jerking off motion]. Mark Bibbins, the Awl’s secret weapon, would have quit as soon as he saw it, and he would have been right to. I’m sorry I even included it here.

The Doody Car

My white whale. The story I wanted more than any other. The dream I never had fulfilled. The one that Awl editor Carrie Frye, whose genius for making things happen was only matched by her genius for coming up with things that should happen, was always wise enough to never assign out. The idea is incredibly simple: We all know the doody car. It’s the car on the subway that seems to be the perfect one to take because there are only two or three people in it, and it is not until you step inside that you remember if you see an empty car it’s because there is no air conditioning or it reeks of doody. But no matter how bad the smell there are always two or three people sitting in there as if it is perfectly fine. The Doody Car story, then, involves finding out who those people are. Do they have olfactory damage? Are they so highly evolved in their mental state that they are above conventional odor? Who are they? Where are they from? Where are they going? Etc. The problems that I think kept this story from ever happening were that a) it would be cruel to send anyone onto these cars for the purpose of investigation and b) even though this would clearly be a parody of classic “New Yorkers are tough and put up with more than anyone else” stories, if someone were determined to construe it as an item making light of the homeless they certainly could and now the entire Internet is people determined to deliberately read things the wrong way and make a big deal about it on the poison dispensary we call social media, so it doesn’t seem worth it. Sorry, Doody Car story. You were too beautiful for this world. I will think of you every time I see an empty car roll by.

Photo: Ann Wuyts