A few years ago, I discovered an app called Cool Cousins, which uses a bevy of young-ish adults mainly in artsy professions as guides to major cities. (Don’t laugh at me if this is a widely known app and I’ve made it sound like I’ve unearthed something new). While lucky enough to be in Paris with my family years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the app’s set up. I chose a roster of people based on their profiles and then, once I was in a specific neighborhood, their picks would pop up on my phone via GPS. I discovered bars, restaurants and stores that I liked to tell myself were places I would never have found on my own or through the other travel guides I used. But I got some flack from my tween son for it and perhaps rightly so.
“Why are these people cool?” was his first question. Looking through my list of “reporters”, I saw they were often decades younger than me, pretty multi-cultural and mainly artists, writers or in advertising/PR type jobs. “Why are they the chosen group? Just based on their jobs?” my son, dug at me. I considered his point. It has taken me almost a lifetime to realize someone’s job does not define them or make them an interesting person. I’ve met stay at home mothers who are the most fascinating humans full of witty insights and adventurous spirit and recall my conversations with a bed bug exterminator (don’t worry it was many years back for those friends who see me) who was insightful, eccentric and downright hilarious–traits I think define cool .
My son did beg the question, why had I chosen this crew over the writers at Timeout Paris or Fodors or whatever. Am I a middle-aged wannabe? The thought has crossed my mind. I’ve chosen to be a legal services attorney at a nonprofit organization for most of my life and have times explored other paths (applied for my MFA in fiction, took classes at FIT in toy design and classes at Hunter re Urban Planning) but have landed in the same place. I have spent a lot of my life defining myself by my career and wondering if I should have listened to the results of my Myers-Briggs test that indicated that the law is one of the last professions I should pursue. Or maybe I should have heeded Robert Herbst, my least favorite boss of all time who was a civil rights attorney I worked for after law school; he told me I should pursue writing over the law. (He said this after telling me I was one of the smartest people he knew who did great legal writing but like his wife, I ran around like a chicken without its head trying to find things). The feeling that something creative was my destiny has lead me to sometimes create but more often sit in coffee shops with my computer, poking at my keyboard and drinking a lot of lattes. (Another embarrassment-the time I bragged to a young legal intern of the music I listened to, listing off the albums I like that my husband plays on his record player such as ones by Run the Jewels and Killer Mike– only to be informed that Killer Mike was part of the group Run the Jewels). I’m not great at being a poser.).
Out of curiosity, I looked up Cool Cousins in New York City. One can apply to be a reporter (unpaid or paid i’m not sure) so fairly easily I completed a form online. Aren’t you just a little intrigued as to whether you or I could pass? Will this Board of Cool accept this middle-aged, UWS parent/attorney as a reporter or will they toss my form aside with hyenic laughter. I mean, I’ve lived here for an eternity except for my four years at college, a year in Ohio and some traveling. Perhaps that will be a strike against me other than the fact that I’m old and I go absolutely nowhere in NYC (even during non-COVID times) that people want to know about. (This fruitless and ridiculous application reminds me of the time I sent out my first completed short story to only ten literary journals–the Paris Review, U of Iowa…you get the drift. I can be a little delusional.)
For purposes of writing this post, my son and I looked up “what’s cool in 2020.”
“For some reason, being Asian or Black is in,” one teenager wrote on a site called Texts From Last Night. Sludge. This harkens back to the time years ago when the NY Times Style section announced that Asians were cool in a headline that seems to have offended no one but me. What happens when we’re not? Internment camps?! (Sorry. It’s a dreary day, and my humor is dark.) We looked up what teenagers find to be cool now. (Do not ask me about Brady Bunching! I’m thinking that is a joke). As we did our “research”, my son enjoyed mocking my complete ignorance of tween/teen vernacular. (Did you know that according to this one site, “deadass” means “definitely”, “tea” means “gossip” as in “spill the tea”,” bet” is used to end conversations and “sick” is now acceptable to say for cool? I had no idea and if you do and are over the age of 30 and/or do not have teenage kids, color me impressed).
What a strange time to be Asian; for it’s reported that anti-Asian harassment has increased during COVID (I have been waiting for the first comment directed at me but on the UWS bubble I live in, I guess it’s slow coming) but at the same time, large swaths of our society can’t get enough K-pop, K-dramas, Japanese manga, Korean skin care and food. There are certainly more Asian models and well known comedians and actors than I’ve ever remembered in my lifetime. When I was much younger, the only famous Asian woman I ever got compared to was Yoko Ono (now I’d appreciate that more than I did in my youth) or that really famous Chinese female violinist. But things have progressed! I mean, a few years ago, I was likened to the Asian actress on that TV show Lost (again, really?) by people on the street, and today white people have a NEXT LEVEL arsenal of famous Asians to offensively compare us to! Hurrah for that.
In thinking about Cool Cousins, I wondered whether the concept could work for kids who are new to a school/community or those who are shy/socially delayed to find out what the kids in a particular school or community like. Would this app, if apps had existed then, have helped me in middle school when I was a scholarship kid at Riverdale or Hewitt? What if I’d come to Hewitt, an all-girls school, wearing the then ubiquitous army green canvas bag with the red eagle on the front flap and thigh highs under my kilt? Would I have sat alone at lunch for five months? It’s a funny thought. Most likely, it’d be hard to get kid reporters without monetary incentives and hard to tear them away from TikTok and Instagram of course. When I told my son about this app idea-a Cool Cousins for middle schoolers, to help kids who are shy/new to a school fit in, it was met with some well deserved derision. Why, oh why, would I want to encourage conformity? Enough said. In my defense, as my friend Deb has observed, I had a pretty unconventional life (once my mom and I slept in a friend’s massage studio for a few months and the massage table with the hole for your head was my bed!) so sometimes I just want to fit in. IS THAT SO WRONG?
Who are the people you think are cool now? Just for fun, consider. In my immediate circle, I admittedly do think of my childless, creative friends. There’s Eduardo and Jordan, an artist/film maker and activist/psychologist couple who are like light and goodness personified (Eduardo’s performance art of himself in a long wig lingering by the Great Wall of China as a group of ominous, suited men cluster closer and closer to him over time is amazing). Then another younger friend who has amazing tales of strength such as surviving Chapin school in NYC as a Black girl (she burned the Chapin school flag in front of the school after being bullied by white students and then threatened with not graduating) and not only graduating but getting a full writing scholarship to Dartmouth, fighting for immigrants as a paralegal, writing mind-bending poetry and novels in her spare time and acting as sole caregiver to her father with dementia. Or how about Michelle, my middle school friend, an artist who not only does unique portraits, has a timely “In Shelter” project involving helping others make beautiful animal- and now plant – masks out of everyday materials, has a fountain of excellent creative ideas she freely shares and lives in a dream home with art made by her friends and the kind of hidden trap bookcase I have admired since childhood. But then there are the friends who have the hallmarks of outward conformity like Deb who has a tendency to burst into the legal services office we have shared for years to announce “Elissa, you must get these boots. Every woman on the UWS has them!” but then does generous, heart felt things that few else would do (e.g, representing homeless families who are denied housing and benefits, taking real steps towards adopting a gay homeless teen boy who lived on the street despite fact she has three children already, designing a ginormous, slightly bonkers tattoo for her thigh that in big strokes symbolizes her Jewish faith and so much more, co signing leases of friends who cannot get an apartment otherwise and having joyous, insane parties in her home (with banquet-level food and drink each time) that often involve a motley crew of people once meanly referred to as “the patrons of the Star Wars tavern” by a clear outsider. I could go on and on, admiring the people in my world and I have a pretty tiny world.
But from time to time, if I have a crazy app idea that no one wants/needs or if I lean towards conformity, please bear with me! (Oh and I never heard about my Cool Cousins’ reporter application app and I’m okay with that. It might have been pretty comic to see my boring picks though (as in “Ahh I like this pizza place in my neighborhood. It’s called Famiglia. Do you know it?) Seriously, I can never find pizza or any food in my UWS waste land).