The Trendiest Guy in New York City
I slept with 30 pillows, wore my hair in a “man bun,” and waxed my pubic hair, all thanks to New York Times trend stories.
Illustration by Charlie Powell.
Though I live in Brooklyn, work in media, and live an irresponsible bohemian lifestyle, I am not a particularly trendy person. I own a 10-year-old cell phone. I wear Birkenstocks. I shop at Sears. Other people in my neighborhood collect vinyl records. I collect CDs, and I alphabetize them for fun.
My lameness is never more evident than when I read the New York Times Style section. Every Thursday and Sunday a new edition appears, featuring the latest doings of the city's most fashionable souls. I am not among them. I don't vacation in the Hamptons, or wear Band-Aids as fashion accessories, or give expensive gifts to other people's children. According to the NYT, New Yorkers “stress-bingeing in darkened apartments” have been packing on the “Sandy Five.” Meanwhile, I’ve gained at least 15 pounds in Sandy’s aftermath. In the eyes of the Times, I might as well not even exist.
Some people like to mock Thursday and Sunday Styles, doubting the legitimacy of their trend reports. I, for one, would never call these stories specious, questionably sourced linkbait. This is the New York Times we're talking about. If they report that the city's smart set is drinking Postum and collecting doorknobs, then, by God, it's true! Lamewads like me shouldn't mock these stories. We should learn from them.
But am I too far gone for Styles to help? Would it be possible, through careful study and dedication, for me to get hip? In the interest of science, I looked at every New York Times trend story published since January and identified the ones that could best be used as instruction guides for fabulous living. My mission: become the trendiest guy in New York City.
Some trends were easier to follow than others. I wasn't able to convince anyone to let me feed raw food to her dogs. (I called it “hip,” they called it “animal abuse.”) Defying the ravages of middle age by skateboarding with friends in New Jersey was also difficult, as I am neither a skateboard owner, a New Jersey resident, or a middle-aged man. And Slate advised me that it wouldn’t be wise legally to fake a celebrity's death, which made me upset, as I’d already gone to the trouble of incapacitating Jim Nabors.
In the end, I was able to embody seven separate trends. Three of them involve hair, some of which (fair warning) is of the pubic variety. Now, on to the trendiness.
“Oh, to Be Just Another Bearded Face”: A beard is a must for any aspiring trendsetter, so I discarded my razor and got to growing. Unfortunately, I can't really grow hair on my cheeks, and the ensuing scruff made me look like a mangy Amish man. So imagine my relief when the Times informed me that, when it came to beards, smugness, not bushiness, was the thing. Some men without beards, the NYT’s Steven Kurutz reports, "are ‘extremely distressed’ by their lack of beard-growing capability. They experience ‘pain and suffering’ and ‘face ridicule’ from their bearded friends. They can even be ‘intimidated by the sight of someone with a great beard.’ ”
As a longtime Internet commenter, I have plenty of experience viciously criticizing people who are different from me. So I stored up some insults and went to Williamsburg's Brooklyn Flea—a weekly food festival and junk market for people fond of plaid shirts and artisanal mayonnaise—to razz the clean-shaven. I spotted the beardless proprietor of a stall selling chalkboards, pot holders, and Sharpie drawings of water towers—the most quintessentially Brooklyn kiosk imaginable. "So, why don't you have a beard?" I asked. "Ha ha, what?" he replied. I ran away.
Mocking strangers to their baby faces was harder than I thought. But if trendiness was easy, then we'd all be silk-screening our own postcards. I decided to give it another go, walking over to a fuzzless man selling eyeglasses. After some small talk, I pounced.
Me: Do the other vendors ever make fun of you for not having a beard?
Vendor: What? What are you talking about?
Me (panicking): You know, 'cause they all seem to have beards and mustaches.
Vendor: Oh, I thought you said beer.
Me: No, I said beard.
Vendor: Yeah, sometimes they do.
Me: Should I make fun of you for not having a beard?
Vendor: Go right ahead!
Me: Your hairless face is disgusting to me.
As he laughed to keep from crying, I walked away victorious, having taught him a lesson he wouldn't soon forget.
“Americans Are Barmy Over Britishisms”: "What's up?" "You the man." "Take it easy." I use these slang phrases all the time, which is one of the top five reasons I've never been invited back to the Yale Club. According to the Times, British slang is the only slang that a trendy American ought to use: “Snippets of British vernacular—‘cheers’ as a thank you, ‘brilliant’ as an affirmative, ‘loo’ as a bathroom—that were until recently as rare as steak and kidney pie on these shores are cropping up in the daily speech of Americans (particularly, New Yorkers) of the taste-making set who often have no more direct tie to Britain than an affinity for Downton Abbey,” the NYT’s Alex Williams writes.
I was in England earlier this year, and though I spent most of my time being jetlagged and avoiding their hideous breakfasts, I did pick up some slang—words like lorry, as in "I would rather be hit by a lorry than eat another English breakfast." So I figured this would be easy. I boned up on my Britishisms by rereading Brideshead Revisited and consulting the Wikipedia entry on British slang. When Hurricane Sandy knocked out the electricity, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. "Well, this is all to cock!" I cried.
"Your cock?" my wife said.
"No, no, it's all to cock!"
"It's. All. To. Cock!" I said again, gesturing emphatically.
"I don't get it," she said.
My friend Dan came downstairs, looking particularly pleased with himself. "Well, you're a regular Jack the Lad," I informed him.
"You're no Joe Soap, sir. You're Jack the Lad!"
Dan paused. “Greaat …” he said.
"Numpty," I said under my breath. “What’s a numpty?” my wife asked. “That’s exactly the sort of thing a numpty woud say,” I snapped.
Later, in need of some light, I resolved to hammer a candle into an empty Coke can to make an impromptu candleabra. But I needed the right tools. "Do we have a Birmingham screwdriver?" I asked. My wife paused before answering: "Well, I'm sure there are some tools around here."
"Yes, but do we have a Birmingham screwdriver?"
"I don't know how to answer your weird question!" she wailed.
I had discovered one of the main problems with being trendy: If you don’t hang out with other trendy people, then what’s the use?
“A Nation Lulled to Sleep”: A true trendsetter is trendy even when he rests his head. I sleep on an inexpensive Ikea bed frame, with a flower-print comforter, sheets purchased by my mother, and four sweat-stained pillows. Four pillows always seemed like a good amount to me—one for each limb. Oh, how wrong I was. “How did we go from a country that longed for a chicken in every pot to one that requires 14 pillows on every bed?” the Times asked earlier this year. I didn’t know the answer, but I wanted in. After all, there are 14 pillows on every bed.
Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate.
Just to be safe, I scrounged up about 30 pillows of all shapes and sizes, and threw them on my bed until you couldn't see my bed. When night fell, I realized that there is no good way to sleep on a bed containing 30 pillows. Either you sleep on top of them and spend the night writhing like the poor insomniac in The Princess and the Pea, or you sleep under them as if buried in the world's softest avalanche. I eventually arranged them so my body was touching the mattress while being walled in by pillows on all sides, like the victim in some lesser-known Edgar Allan Poe story.
And yet I slept surprisingly well, so much such so that I spent the entire next day bragging about my pillow-y bed and looking forward to sleeping there again. Unfortunately, the second night's sleep was horrible, perhaps because it was really hot in my apartment. I tossed, turned, and thrashed, and ended up flinging most of the pillows to the floor so I could sleep without being awakened by the rising tide of my own sweat. Still, it was worth it. You can't spell "painfully trendy" without "pain."
“Would You Like a Cocktail With That Workout?”: Physical fitness is undeniably trendy. Nobody wants to associate with someone who is large and flabby, unless that person is Martin Lawrence filming another sequel to Big Momma's House, in which case everybody wants to associate with him—everybody who loves to laugh, that is!
When I exercise, which is not often, I like to lift weights and play basketball. Lame! “Plenty of people forgo happy hour to fit in exercise, but now gyms are making it so that clients don’t have to choose,” the Times reports. “They’re offering evening workouts—some as late as midnight—featuring bubble machines, party favors and chances to mingle, platonically or otherwise.” It’s the “gym-as-nightclub.”
I cleared my Saturday night and headed to Barry's Bootcamp, a gym in Chelsea where Barry himself was leading an hourlong "Dance Party" workout session. Disco balls and balloons decorated the darkened gym; a DJ spun up-tempo Michael Jackson tunes; Barry wore novelty sunglasses and sparkle-glitter cowboy boots. "Before the night is over, I will fucking moonwalk," he howled as the class got started. Eat your heart out, Columbia University's Dodge Fitness Center.
I can honestly say it was the best, and only, dance party I’ve ever attended. The trendy trappings helped camouflage what was otherwise a fairly rigorous workout, involving 30 minutes on the treadmill and 30 minutes of rhythmic dumbbell work, with a break in the middle for energy drink "shots" served from a tray. "So trendy, so trendy," I told myself, breathing heavily, as I struggled to run a mile without fainting. The session concluded with ab work and some light stretching. As Barry praised our collective efforts, I collapsed on a mat and listened to the sound of my own heartbeat. It sounded trendier than ever.
“Generation Gap: Look Who’s Smiling Now” and “Spare a Hair Band? A Man Bun to Go”: In seventh grade, my parents sent me to the orthodontist and paid for braces, which, as it turns out, is yet another way they ruined my life. The Style section reports that the year's trendiest fashion accessory is gap teeth: “These days gap-toothed smiles are regarded not just as a mark of fortune or, as they have been since Chaucer’s day, a sign of sexual rapacity, but also as a positively enviable fashion calling card.” And as everyone knows, nothing goes better with gap teeth than a stupid hairdo: “In certain arty neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick, some men are twisting their long hair into a form more famously worn by librarians, schoolmarms and Katharine Hepburn. But don’t call the male version an up-do or a chignon. Call it a man bun.”
Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate.
Coincidentally, one of my recurring fantasies involves a gap-toothed schoolmarm inviting me to her Bushwick apartment to watch On Golden Pond. I bunned my longish hair, bought a tube of tooth black, and went to the Agenda: NYC streetwear trade show to mingle with designers and purveyors of trendy fashion accessories. I strolled the aisles baring my blackened teeth at everyone I met. A vendor exhibiting crocheted hats went on and on about how each hat was inscribed with the name of the Ugandan woman who made it. “What do you think of my teeth?” I asked when he finally finished. “Do you think they’re trendy?” At another stall, where a barber was giving free haircuts, I scoffed when I was offered a trim. "My hair is trendy as-is," I said. "It's in a bun, you see."
But they didn’t see, and after several similarly frustrating encounters, I realized that my outfit was unconvincing. I had bought cheap tooth black that smeared when it got wet, and it got wet often, thanks to my untrendy salivary glands. At a stall displaying winter hats that were also earphones, the exhibitor appeared nervous when I asked him to assess my teeth. I knew immediately what was wrong. “Don’t worry, I can fix it,” I said, unsheathing the tooth black and smearing it all over my mouth, such that I looked like a fashion-forward railroad hobo. “What do you think? Is it trendy now?" I asked. The exhibitor didn’t immediately respond, but he didn’t need to. The New York Times had told me everything I need to know.
Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate.
“A He-Wax for Him”: As I understand it, sexual promiscuity is very trendy these days. But the only woman I've been able to seduce lately is my wife. I blame this on my pubic hair. As the New York Times explains, more and more trendy men are taking the time to clean up their crotches. “The below-the-belt treatment—which, just like the women’s version, removes either some or all pubic hair—is becoming increasingly popular, and not just among competitive swimmers or underwear models.”
Though the headline confused me—is there such a thing as a “she-wax for him” or a “he-wax for her”?—I pressed on in the knowledge that my groin area would soon resemble that of famed Olympic douche Ryan Lochte. Several New York day spas offer male bikini waxes, with services ranging from basic touch-up services to full Brazilian front-to-back depilatory treatments. You can even go in for "pejazzling," which gives new meaning to the term "rhinestone cowboy."
I made an appointment at a downtown location of the Bliss day spa and signed up for the basic brief bikini wax, which would tame the edges of my pubic thatch and leave an inverted triangle of hair pointing directly at my junk. The process was quick and surprisingly painless. The technician covered my genitals with a hand towel, spread hot wax on my crotch with a popsicle stick, and kept up a soothing conversation throughout to stop me from squirming, flinching, or thinking better of it and attempting to flee. "Any particular reason why you're getting a bikini wax?" she asked. "Just heard it was trendy," I told her.
About 30 minutes later, I left with attractively sculpted crotch hedging and a warning to avoid scratching or violent rubbing, lest I invite whiteheads or ingrown pubes (so not trendy). I kept my hands to myself and went to sleep proud as could be. But I found it difficult to share the news. As it turns out, it's hard to work the phrase "I waxed my pubes" into casual conversation. I tried parading around pelvis-first, as if to subliminally encourage people to ask me about my crotch, but I think it just looked like I had a spinal disorder. When I disrobed in front of my wife, she was horrified. "It's trendy," I assured her. "It's weird," she replied. We were both right.
Justin Peters is Slate’s crime correspondent.