story has a moral: When you’re dumb, just face it, you’re
and in an ominously cheery mood as I bounce into my regular
suds shop, about to make a fool out of myself in a very public,
permanent way—and I haven’t even started drinking.
is a tall blonde. Taller than me by enough to remind me of
middle-school dances. She has strong features and a jutting,
shovel blade of a jaw; I recognize her immediately, towering
over the regulars at the bar. She is wearing a space-agey
shirt made of shiny lamé that clings to her chest and reminds
me of a large, silver-colored condom.
a couple of colleagues with her, one of whom has a video camera
that he is thrusting at patrons’ plates and into their faces,
while they crane away and contort their mouths in ways that
nobody would want captured forever on the Internet.
to play it cool, with drink in hand, gawking at the spectacle
from a safe distance, but the owner of the restaurant grabs
me by the scruff and shoves me toward Kristi: Lookee here,
Chet, she’s a journalist. Like you! You’re sorta like a journalist,
too. Hot damn!
know Kristi Gustafson? She works at the Times Union,”
he says. “Chet works at Metroland, but we let him drink
him I know who she is, and I feel myself go flush. I am a
bit—and this is hard to admit—starstruck. She isn’t much of
a celebrity, even by local-celebrity standards, but she has
attained stature in my small, obsessive world. We are introduced
as two journalists, sure, but to me Gustafson is more than
just a journalist. She is a near-mythic personality, worthy
of singular attention: Metroland named her Best Play
Journalist of 2007.
wrote, “Kristi, a 20-something Capitol Region resident, writes
the kind of stories that make schoolchildren cry (mostly because
if they wrote the kind of vapid stories Kristi did they would
get Fs on their report card, and their teachers might slap
is out prowling the town tonight with cameraman in tow because
of TU’s Night Cam, the new video series from the Capital
Region’s maturing gray lady. It is the latest undertaking
by that paper to attract the kids through the futuristic realm
of the World Wide Web. I stumbled across it a couple of months
ago, and was agog. I got a good laugh out of the relentless
fluffiness, such a shameless attempt to expand the TU
franchise without doing anything at all to expand TU
Gustafson attacks bar patrons with heady questions: What are
you drinking? Why? Why do you drink here? Why do drink when
you drink? How do you make beer? Why do you smell wine? It
is not far afield from Gustafson’s other contributions to
the TU, including her articles on clothing and dating,
her blog, On the Edge, about clothing and dating, and her
very popular series called Seen, in which she snaps impromptu
portraits of concertgoers and such.
she is, right in front of me, smiling down on me. She asks
me if I’d like to be interviewed for an upcoming segment,
just to talk about my favorite bar and my favorite drink,
and instead of calling my coworker David King and having a
good laugh at her expense, I turn off my brain and say yes.
no good excuse, but here are a few, anyway:
an olive branch, a chance to bury the hatchet, to mend bridges.
Yes, it’s noble!
charms me in person; her shirt hypnotizes me.
hold a stupid amount of sway over my every action.
long fingers,” Kristi offers. I am not sure why she brings
it up, but she does. And she does have long fingers—big hands,
long fingers,” I say overly loud and insufferably pleasant.
“Well, I have stubby fingers! Ha ha!”
you’re done with your drink,” Kristi says, honestly alarmed.
The drink is pivotal to my interview, after all.
get him another one,” the producer assures. Nice, I think.
That’s enough of a reason for any hack to do just about anything.
I have my justification. Tequila!
live with that.
runs down some of the questions she is going to ask me, and
I immediately start to plot my answers. I am going to crack
wise, turn my 30 seconds on video into a session of witty
repartee, with highlights of satirical flourishes. Like Oscar
Wilde or Bill Hicks. You know, like someone who isn’t awkward
and clumsy and a total sellout.
that I have forgotten: I’m not witty; I’m clumsy, and neurotic,
and totally, absolutely, a sellout. And the camera-mounted
light is foisted into my face. Kristi’s microphone is pressed
up to my chin. I realize how ridiculous I am about to sound.
interviews with an awkwardness even I marvel at, but it appears
I am trying to out-awkward her. I can’t hold eye contact.
I say “um” and “I think” 35 times; I stumble to find the words
to elaborate anemically on why I like lime juice mixed with
tequila and Cointreau. The “tricky question”—what is agave?—I
find actually tricky. I call it a plant. No, a root. “It’s
where tequila comes from.”
moves along with all the finesse of a drowning.
you had gone to the Dark Side,” a friend chides me two margaritas
crossed over, I say, just flirted.
sitting at a table with friends and near-strangers. I’m nursing
a growing sense of shame. “This is no big deal, right?” I
panic. “Just a dumb video?” Kristi’s world might be automated
and shallow, but it’s titillating and feels possibly well-paid.
What’s the harm in flirting?
looks at me with sympathy mixed with pity, and I can tell
from the expressions of my companions that none of them would
have been dumb enough to do it—even if they had been asked.
They have come to a consensus.
be watching to make sure your reporting doesn’t start to suck
now,” one of my friends says as he makes to leave. He shakes
my hand with a hint of menace, turning my wrist uncomfortably
down, smiling, but I know that he is serious. He has seen
something in me he doesn’t like.
you’re dumb, I tell you, you’re dumb. And everyone, everywhere
will see the footage when Kristi comes around.