Keeping Up With Books

May 1, 2018 | Los Angeles, CA

Someone, somewhere on the Internet said one day, The devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder. The Internet, with all its tweeting minions, bowed solemnly to this truth. And in a Land Far Away & Far More Expensive, Kris Jenner heard this and smiled.

It’s been a crazy few days for the Kardashian family, what with one lover off on a Twitter spree, another blatantly cheating, tabloids circling the mess like hawks, and Kris Jenner – manager of America’s True First Family – doing damage control.

Otherwise known as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

But chaos on KUWTK means something new is on the way. Something shiny, something to be monetized. Something, perhaps, like books.
___

“It all started one afternoon this past December,” Kris told me at her Hidden Hills mansion, “[My daughters] Kim and Khloe called me into the kitchen and jokingly smashed a cake into my face. I was furious. What did I do to deserve that kind of disrespect?”

Reality TV hath no fury like a woman scorned – no less, by her own offspring. And so, Kris spent the next few months in deep thought. Somewhere in this sticky humiliation was an opportunity.

“The other night, I spoke with Khloe, who just gave birth to her daughter, True. I said, ‘Khloe, honey, this is the beginning of a beautiful new chapter for you.’ And it hit me,” Kris said, “A new chapter. Books!”

She took off her Céline glasses, clipping them to her leopard print dress.

“I wonder…if I’d pushed my daughters to read more, maybe they wouldn’t have grown up to waste perfectly good cake. Maybe I can help Khloe not get cake thrown in her face. What’s motherhood if you’re not passing down life’s lessons?”

Reality TV hath no fury like a woman scorned – no less, by her own offspring. Somewhere in this sticky humiliation was an opportunity.

Kris Jenner has, after all, taken motherhood to new levels. Over the past 10 years, she’s single handedly managed the careers of all 6 children in the Kardashian-Jenner clan. Their show, now in its 12th season, has paved the way for a QVC fashion line, tooth-whitening endorsements, makeup lines, multiple spinoffs, and an episode in which she considered being made into a diamond after her death. But something was always missing.

“This could be big. I’ve been researching, digging into some classics: Lolita, Little Women, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice,” she shuddered, “Oooh, that last one was titillating. There are entire worlds that don’t exist on television. Did you know that? Why aren’t we all reading more?”

And so, the matron of superficial beauty is on a mission to bring back books.

Except, they never went anywhere. They’ve been here all along, revered through the centuries. They win Pulitzers, appear in NYTimes Bestselling lists, get endorsed by Oprah – but nothing truly exists in culture until Kris Jenner takes an interest in it. Maybe, just maybe, books haven’t been managed correctly all these years. That’s all about to change.

“Books are fabulously understated,” Kris said, sipping a dry martini, “They don’t just go with your look, they elevate it. Just think – we could have a resurgence of literature with women at the forefront.”

6 particular women at the forefront, that is. With Kris’s business acumen, books will make their way to the Kardashian-Jenner brand – a brand with over 500 million followers who believe they’re just one lip kit, hair color, or boob job away from perfection.

The truth of the matter is that the right accessory can change a woman’s life. It allows her to express herself, it gives her a certain joie de vivre. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you’ll probably judge a woman by the book she carries. Someone might as well make money off this fact. It might as well be Kris Jenner.

The right accessory can change a woman’s life. It allows her to express herself, it gives her a certain joie de vivre. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you’ll probably judge a woman by the book she carries.

She knows this. Soon, fans will be taking Twitter surveys about their favorite books. Upcoming episodes of KUWTK will feature how to appropriately respond to a catcall over one’s “big books.” Designers are lined up for Books of the Week underpants. (Monday: “Eat, Pray, Love Me”; Tuesday: “This Ol’ Feminine Mystique”; and so forth). Kim Kardashian is developing an Old Book Scent (with hints of grass & vanilla) to add to her perfume line.

Later into our conversation, an assistant brought over a tray of oatmeal-raisin cookies. Kris waved it away – the tray was plastic. A few moments later, the cookies reappeared on an Hermès serving plate.

I asked Kris what success looks like for her new venture.

“I see a stylish young girl in a city somewhere. She understands that while looks matter, books matter more. She’s a trendsetter, she’s got all her friends reading. And when they achieve total global domination – which they will – they will be indebted to me,” Kris said, with a smile.

She took a bite of her cookie, looking into the distance.

“It’s all about creating opportunities. Where would my family be without me? Where would the world be without books?”

To think it all started with cake.

Sundays with Dominique

April 8, 2018 | New York, NY

One of my favorite things in life is a really great Sunday. Life throws a million things at us over the course of a week, but a great Sunday gives us the chance to breathe in and press “Reset.” We can try again. Do better. Be better.

It’s nice to know that the Romans were so optimistic for mankind, they allotted 52 days a year for us to just finish up brunch, open our planners, and course correct our lives. Sunday is the calendar gift that keeps on giving. Whether we wait for it or not, it’s always on its way – full of sunshine and possibility.

Today, Chef Dominique Ansel – creator of the globally acclaimed Cronut® – tells us about his Sunday routine:

Sunday morning, 5 AM: My wake-up call. I’ve always been an early riser.

5:01 AM: I lie in bed and think, “Dominique, what will you accomplish this week?” Then I remember I invented the Cronut. I’m already the World’s Best Pastry Chef. Nothing will top that, so I go back to sleep.

5:07 AM: It occurs to me that I run bakeries in New York City, London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles. I’m literally responsible for making the world happy.

5:10 AM: I get out of bed to floss.

5:30 AM: Sundays are all about rituals. After making a cup of fresh fruit juice, I settle in with a romantic comedy on Netflix. I once told the New York Times that I love romantic comedies – this is true. I have a lot in common with characters in rom-coms – we chase unrealistic highs in beautiful cities. While they chase love, I chase excellence. The ending always involves cake.

8:10 AM: “When Harry Met Sally” has ended. An empty kitchen faces me. I’d like to invent a dessert that makes women say, “I’ll have what she’s having.” What will it be?

8:30 AM: I read the newspaper to get ideas. At the height of my Cronut fame, one newspaper called me the ‘Willy Wonka of NYC.’ It was flattering, but I’m no Willy Wonka. I’m just a man in a kitchen innovating dessert.

8:45 AM: I feel terribly uninspired. Fame is a dark, twisted abyss that serves to torture gifted creative minds – particularly pastry chefs.

“I have a lot in common with characters in rom-coms – we chase unrealistic highs in beautiful cities. While they chase love, I chase excellence. The ending always involves cake.”

9 AM: I start whisking eggs with flour. I firmly believe in the Miracle of Whisking (though never Miracle Whip). It’s through the simple act of whisking that I came up with my Easter creation “Peep-a-Boo’s” – little marshmallow chicks surrounded by dark chocolate in real eggshells. Instagram loved them.

10:45 AM: Chefs at my restaurants around the world conduct their daily croissant tests. Alas, I can’t be Mark Darcy and love them just as they are. Our fluffy croissants must be 100% perfect.

11:30 AM: Still no new ideas.

1:30 PM: Still nothing. I remind myself that I am Dominique Ansel, creator of the world’s most wholesome shot (check out our signature Milk & Cookie Shot). People line up outside my bakery every morning because they love me.

1:45 PM: Do they love me, or my desserts?

1:46 PM: Is there a difference? What will happen if I run out of new ideas? There’s only so much a man can do with buttercream.

3 PM: I pick up groceries from the local farmer’s market to distract myself.

4 PM: I check in with my staff at our SoHo location and say hello to happy customers. Some are with friends, some are out-of-towners, and some are in sweatpants. One man tells me his plan to propose to his girlfriend here.

6:30 PM: Poignant subway ride home.

8 PM: I am back in my kitchen. Sundays, it seems, are about love. Suddenly, everything’s crystal clear. My one true love is the Cronut. That’s why I create a new flavor every month. Though I keep trying to outdo it, I’ll never get away from it. It enchants me (and my customers) to no end. Maybe I’m the lead in my own rom-com: “Dessert, Actually.”

9:30 PM: I watch “Notting Hill.” I’m just a man standing in front of the world, asking it to love his Cronuts.

12 AM: Lights out. Maybe next Sunday, I won’t be so hard on myself.

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The Double Text

March 4, 2018 | New York, NY

Over 40 years ago, NASA launched the twin Voyager spacecraft into outer space with a special time capsule onboard: the Golden Record, a gold-plated copper record filled with images, sounds, and music detailing life on Earth. “Hey look at us!” we said to extraterrestrials, “We exist! Look how pretty we are!

Should advanced extraterrestrials intercept the Golden Record, they’ll be treated to 115 images depicting global diversity, a musical selection comprising Bach, Azerbaijani folk music, & Chuck Berry, a variety of sounds heard in nature, and spoken greetings from Earthlings in 55 languages.

There’s something to be said about our ability to hurl an intergalactic Frisbee into deep space before perfecting more basic things (e.g. equal pay), but c’est la vie on Earth.

Both Voyagers are now hurtling billions of miles from Earth and any minute now, we could receive a message back from outer space. Except, we haven’t. The silence is getting louder, and it seems as though we’re all eternal teenagers checking our phones waiting for the hot stranger to text us back.

Enter Drake.

__

No one understands human angst quite like Drake. Aubrey Graham, aka “Heartbreak Drake”, has an unofficial PhD in communications. Hear him out. Literally, buy his albums.

Over a phone call today to discuss his latest hit, “God’s Plan,” the rapper/actor told me a plan of his own – NASA is commissioning him to spearhead a follow-up to the Golden Record (even though we haven’t heard back from our first attempt).

A double text, if you will.

There’s something to be said about our ability to hurl an intergalactic Frisbee into deep space before perfecting more basic things (e.g. equal pay), but c’est la vie on Earth.

“People don’t know this about me but in my free time, I’m really into space,” Drake said, “Why haven’t we followed up? It’s been over 40 years. That’s a nice even number. We gotta reach out again. Communication’s all about seizing the moment. It’s like I say in my song “One Dance,” ‘Soon as you see my text, reply me.’”

Well.

The creative supervisor of the original Golden Record was also a Drake – American astronomer Frank Drake. Not a coincidence, it turns out. “I knew there was a higher reason my middle name was Drake,” the musician said. This is all part of a plan, Drake’s bigger plan to take Earth to the next level.

So what would a follow-up message to extraterrestrials look like?

“A Golden iPhone,” Drake said, “See, the true Golden iPhone hasn’t been made yet. This one will have a higher calling.”

The scoped Golden iPhone would have everything:

  • Videos of President Obama’s greatest speeches (“To show extraterrestrials our greatness”)
  • Videos of SNL’s rendition of President Trump (“To show our silliness”)
  • Videos of Women’s Marches across the world (“To show our heart”)
  • Images of food (“Hey, food today looks incredible. Especially at The Cheesecake Factory”)
  • Today’s most popular music – Adele’s “Hello”, the Hamilton soundtrack, some Cardi B

But the best part of the Golden iPhone? Audio of Drake saying things.

“A couple years back, Ellen [DeGeneres], a great friend of mine, did this segment where I just said things. I read the side effects of Zoloft, talked about toner cartridge…I just make everything sound better. I have a real sultry voice. No alien’s going to turn that down.”

There you go. Of course, there are details to tend to. Like, what would Earth’s phone number be if extraterrestrials intercepted the iPhone and tried to call us? And what about battery power? But these are little things and Drake’s a big picture kind of guy.

“Communication’s all about seizing the moment. It’s like I say in my song “One Dance,” ‘Soon as you see my text, reply me.’”

“We’re being vulnerable and honest about ourselves with the universe, so it’s important to make ourselves irresistible, too. And you know what’s irresistible? Positivity. We’re just spreading joy here, we’re spreading love. That’s all it is,” Drake said.

Right now, though, Drake’s searching for a committee. The original Golden Record was created by a committee of astrophysicists, sound engineers, writers, and musicians. Creating the Golden iPhone is no small task. He recently reached out to Elon Musk to bring him onto the team, but word on the street is he’s feeling a little salty – space is his territory.

“That’s okay, I don’t let salt bring me down,” Drake said, “You get to the top by being kind. Look at me, I’m so high up, I’m heading to outer space. Started from the bottom, now I’m here.”

Hair Is Us

February 18, 2018 | New York, NY

I got a haircut the other day. It looks fantastic. The stylist gave me a blowout and when I walked out of the salon, people got whiplash from checking out my hair. Construction workers called out, “Ay sexy!” and I nodded in agreement. The best part is, when I woke up the next morning, I still had Great Hair.

Suddenly, my life was filled with possibility.

With Great Hair, I could become the woman of my dreams. I shook my head in slow motion and felt my smooth, silky hair bounce along my shoulders. I wore my best outfit and filled every minute of my day with plans because when the universe gives us a moment of confidence, we must Milk. It. For. All. It’s. Worth.

I tell you all this because for a moment in time, I shared something in common with a celebrity. Today, Milo Ventimiglia and I sat down to talk about his lauded patriarchal role on the Emmy-nominated “This Is Us.” Here are unedited excerpts from our conversation.

30 million people across the U.S. tuned in to watch the Super Bowl episode that featured your character, Jack Pearson, dying from a fire. How does that feel?

Milo Ventimiglia: Well, I gotta say, it’s humbling.

You’ve played key characters in 3 major TV series: “Gilmore Girls” back in the day, “Heroes,” and now “This Is Us.” What inspired you to start acting?

Milo: Actually, I got the courage to act from having a really great hair day.

Shut up.

Milo: (Laughs handsomely) It’s true, I did. I still remember. I was 18 and I’d worked the perfect amount of mousse through my hair. All day, people turned their heads as I walked by and I thought, “I could live like this.” I felt like I could do anything! So I enrolled in acting school.

Then what happened?

Milo: Well, I let my hair guide me. My first big break was playing Jess on “Gilmore Girls.” I remember flipping my hair in the audition and some women fainted. The producers said I had ‘bad boy hair.’ It had that volume. Then I played Peter Petrelli on “Heroes.” I went from playing a surly teenager to being on a show about superheroes – all because I cut my hair short. Life really started happening to me when my hair took on these different personalities.

That was you being a talented actor.

Milo: Sure, sure.

How did you come across your role on “This Is Us”?

Milo: Let me tell you a story. 22 years after I started acting, I decided to sit back for a second, let life happen. I grew my hair out. Right at that time, I got the call to audition for “This Is Us.” I walked in with my beard and my long hair, and they said, “You look like the dad we’ve been waiting for.” Is that a coincidence? I think not.

It sounds like a coincidence.

Milo: No, no. That’s the universe at work.

“I walked into my ‘This Is Us’ audition with my beard and long hair, and they said, ‘You look like the dad we’ve been waiting for.'”

Do you have a special hair care routine?

Milo: I’m a simple guy. Just shampoo and water. Actually…

What, Milo?

Milo: I’ll tell you the truth. My hair – (he pauses dramatically) – is my life’s big gift. And I treat it that way. I look at all my man friends who’re losing their hair and it’s terrifying. “Hey man, this is us,” they say. So I treat my hair well. I take it out for shampoos on stressful days and give it massages. Even though every good thing in the world eventually goes away, my hair cannot be one of those things.

Have you looked in the mirror recently? You really don’t need to worry.

Milo: Mirrors, schmirrors. This (he points to his head) takes more than soap and water. It takes patience. It takes nurturing and encouragement. Each morning, I look in the mirror and say, “Hair, you’ve got this.” Each night before sleeping, I say, “Thank you, sweet locks.” Before every audition and every shoot, I run my hand through my hair, letting it know I’m right there beside it. It takes constant love and attention.

Can I just say – I bet you’re an excellent boyfriend.

Milo: Actually, dating’s hard when you’re always Milo With the Good Hair. See, I really do wake up like this. I’ve been told it takes a toll on women. But what can I say? My whole life, I’ve been holding onto the feeling of that first great hair day.

Well, I’m with you on that one.

Milo: With sexy hair comes sexy responsibility. I’m okay with being America’s Dad.

____

I’m sorry to say I’ve been waking up early these days trying to replicate my salon’s blowout, to no avail. Now I have regular hair, which makes me sad.

But it’s just hair, right? They’re dead hair cells, for god’s sake. 7,200 seconds a day seems like a lot of time spent on fixing the part of ourselves that’s just trying to rest in peace.

(Don’t tell Milo.)

The Neurosis Suitcase

February 11, 2018 | New York, NY

When my stylish, doting mother taught me how to get dressed to go out, I wish, after hiding my teenage acne with foundation, she’d taught me how to hide my neuroses. A much handier skill for getting anywhere, it seems, in life. While flawless skin made me feel like I could effortlessly slide onto a Seventeen magazine cover, it didn’t keep me from hiding at parties wishing I was a little bit cooler.

Coolness, over the years, has become a hot commodity.

Today, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg – America’s top lifestyle gurus – have an announcement. The BFFs and hosts of VH1’s “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” have embarked on a new collaboration: The Neurosis SuitcaseTM.

In a statement released online, the duo said: “The Neurosis Suitcase helps women carry their emotional baggage.”

Martha and Snoop divulged more details this morning over a brief FaceTime conversation.

“Making daily life easy keeps getting harder,” Martha said, “But we’re up to the challenge. After all, I taught the whole country how to make canapés and Snoop taught everyone how to Drop It Like It’s Hot.”

“We’re psyched to help women look more put together,” Snoop said, visibly psyched.

As it turns out, women have excessive emotional baggage. We distrust authority, fret about our appearance, and are often pitted against other women. We judge and get judged for skipping the gym or missing an eyebrow wax. We read women’s magazines searching for neatly bulleted ways to improve ourselves. We are survivors of sexual assault and exes who were serial cheaters. Sometimes, we really hate men. Other times, we measure our lives by good hair days.

When my stylish, doting mother taught me how to get dressed to go out, I wish, after hiding my teenage acne with foundation, she’d taught me how to hide my neuroses. A much handier skill for getting anywhere, it seems, in life.

“It’s crazy that we’ve been carrying these things around for so long and no one’s come up with a way to help us ease the load,” said Martha, “This is my fun little way to empower women. Bags say so much about who we are. But they can also say so much about who we’re not. Stylishly, of course. We’re not animals.”

The duo has designed the Neurosis Suitcase in collaboration with Rimowa®. Each Neurosis Suitcase features two key components: a notebook and a Book of Notes. While the notebook is for writing down your neuroses (and thus releasing them from your soul), the pocket-sized Book of Notes contains affirmations, such as “I am a phoenix who has risen from the ashes,” “I am a Good Human,” and “My brows are perfect, as am I.”

Suitcases also include ample Kleenex tissues, a spare set of pantyhose (“Ripped stockings should never bring a lady down,” said Martha), a football jersey for when you really must be the ‘Cool Chick,’ and a blunt (“Every lady who wants to keep it together needs a little bit of weed,” said Snoop). For days when your baggage gets too heavy to carry, there is a small set of detachable wheels.

“Each Neurosis Suitcase is a classic Rimowa bag, with a hard aluminum exterior. But we’ve topped them with little pink bows. Prettiness is a must!” Martha said, as Snoop nodded in agreement.

The essence of the Neurosis Suitcase is that it goes with everything, and so, you can take it everywhere. The next time you find yourself at a fashionable event – say, a benefit gala or a date with NYC’s most eligible bachelor – you can simply say, “I’m here. I’m my Best Self. Everything else is in this bag, which I’ll be checking with my coat, please.”

“The Neurosis Suitcase is for all those women who are go-getters, who need a fashionable way to cage their inner demons so they can keep blazing forward.”

“You know, our fears never really leave us but it’s nice to neatly tuck them away,” Martha said, “This bag is for all those women who are go-getters, who need a fashionable way to cage their inner demons so they can keep blazing forward.”

“You said ‘blazing,’” Snoop teased Martha, “I taught you that word.”

“Yes, you did,” Martha smiled.

The Neurosis Suitcase is expected to hit high-end department stores this spring. Each bag will retail at about $1,500. While an early waitlist is lined with names of Hollywood actresses, there are installment payment options for regular women. Saving yourself, of course, takes some saving up.

“Women can now announce to the world, ‘Here’s the Real Me, front and center!’ It’s never too late to make our lives more elegant. 2018’s just getting started,” Martha said, at the end of our call.

Later today, a Neurosis Suitcase prototype was delivered to my doorstep – the big moment my teenage self had been waiting for. I put all my journals from the past few decades into it, waiting to feel liberated…But now, the bag won’t close.

I need a suitcase to hold my Neurosis Suitcase.

Also, my hair still looks terrible.

Into the Fry

January 21, 2018 | New York, NY

You know, all I can do as a reporter is point out silly things in the world and say, “Hey look at that. Isn’t that nuts?”

Sukie Simmons, founder of Green Table, America’s healthiest fast-casual chain, does not suffer nuts. Today, she’s holding a press conference at Green Table’s Manhattan HQ. Because she has a peanut allergy, all press underwent an intense security check to make sure no one had any nuts, lest we accidentally kill her in this high-profile career moment.

As Sukie walks out towards the podium, she waves hello to each of us as she passes. The woman walks like a Marines officer with the poise of Tyra Banks and the hair of Dolly Parton. “Good afternoon, everyone! Hi! Hi! I’m Sukie, CEO of this whole Green Table racket. Oh, what a big day for me. For all Green Table fans.”

“Ms. Simmons, tell us the big news!” reporters yell, microphones shoved outwards.

She fans herself.

“Let me tell you a story. Two months ago, I was lying in a hospital bed. Doc called it a heart attack but I have another word for it: Spanx. Anyway, I’m just lying in bed reading Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller, Lean In. Oh, that Sheryl. She taught me about jungle gyms, fakin’ it til you make it, and being honest. Meanwhile my heart’s starting to pump normal again and I think, ‘Sukie, what do you truly want right now?’ And the answer came, in a moment of perfect clarity: ‘A deep-fried Oreo.’”

“Meanwhile my heart’s starting to pump normal again and I think, ‘Sukie, what do you truly want right now?’ And the answer came, in a moment of perfect clarity: ‘A deep-fried Oreo.'”

The reporters around me laugh.

“But Ms. Simmons, you run America’s leading healthy fast-food chain!” one reporter calls out from the back.

“Exactly,” Sukie says, “I run it. But who IS Sukie, really? She’s not just a broad with perfect makeup and a mean corset under this suit. She wants more. She IS more. But she’s too busy staying one step ahead of the ‘CE-bros’ in this business.”

She chuckles to herself for a few seconds and then sighs, dramatically.

“Exhausting. Every day, I walk into a Green Table and see salads on the menu. It makes me feel good to see them. I look at the salad. I acknowledge the salad. But I don’t buy the salad. I buy our Slightly Bigger Burger. And you know what my inner happy girl wants on the side? Some deep-fried cookie dough. Now…Sheryl says, We must all raise the floor together. So I thought, ‘How many women ‘round the world want the exact same thing?”

I look around. Some women look confused, but others nod emphatically – in the way mothers nod at Sunday sermon. The men look exasperated. Sukie continues.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I now present the new and improved Green Table. No salads, no calorie counts on menus, free refills on all drinks, and a new Deep-Fried Everything section!”

And suddenly, she’s speaking in an Oprah voice as she begins pointing to members of the press.

“YOU get deep-fried cheesecake!”

“YOU get deep-fried Mars Bars!”

“YOU get deep-fried apples!”

She directs the last one at me. Yippee!

“Fritters for all!” Sukie-turned-Oprah continues, “You want it fried, you got it!”

“When have ‘good’ things ever been so great, especially for the ladies? Think of the Wonderbra. Think of WeightWatchers meals. Think of Jude Law in the early 2000s.”

There’s uproar across the press. Some of the reporters and cameramen cheer, while others buzz loudly with questions. Sukie poses with big smiles for the flashing cameras.

“Ms. Simmons, with industry trends moving towards a positive, healthier outlook, is this a smart move?”

“When have ‘good’ things ever been so great, especially for the ladies? Think of the Wonderbra. Think of WeightWatchers meals. Think of Jude Law in the early 2000s. Green Table is giving customers what they want. Like Sheryl says, social gains must be seized,” Susie waves both fists in the air.

“Ms. Simmons, won’t you lose customers?”

“Any customer who doesn’t want a deep-fried Mars Bar is one I don’t care to have. Next?”

“As a female CEO, what about your responsibility to customers’ health?”

“My customers are grown adults who love to eat. Like Sheryl says, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women satisfy their cravings. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a tampon. There’s a war scene raging in my pants,” Sukie stalks out of the room as the cameras click away.

And they say women on their period are helpless.

When Mindy Met Fiona

January 14, 2018 | New York, NY

I guess, no matter how old you are, the one thing we can all agree on is that our idols carry us through life.

For me, that was Mindy Kaling. Mindy, the hilarious brown woman on TV that my introverted brown girl ached to be. The witty writer. The coolest girlfriend. The voice in my head – literally – as I played her audiobooks on repeat in my early twenties when I was broke and forgot how to be funny. Mindy made it okay that I spent Friday nights in college watching rom-coms in bed while my friends picked up men at the W. Hotel. She’s proof that hard work allows you to drunkenly ride a bike into a pool and millions of people will cheer you on. She’s the woman who pops out a baby and a movie trailer in the same week.

How cool is it that kind of woman exists?

Today, I get to interview her.

___

Some East Village tapas bar – Mindy walks in wearing a glam Ted Baker dress and sparkly pumps. I call out to her, “Right here! Hi Mindy! Hi! I’m Soné!”

“Soné. Whoa, awesome name.”

Mindy sits down across me as I silently review the conversation topics I rehearsed in the mirror this morning. There’s so much I want to ask her about her new baby girl Katherine Swati, how cool Rihanna was on the set of Ocean’s Eight, how long Mindy’s childhood crush on Dana Carvey lasted, how she feels about Hollywood’s recent growing pains…all so that Mindy will later think, “What a great conversationalist, that Soné. I’m gonna make her my best friend.”

But as we order croquetas, Mindy says, “Did you know there’s a Glamour article that advises Walk and Talk therapy? So you basically look like a character from The West Wing while also gaining mental clarity.”

“Yeah! Isn’t that nuts?” I laugh.

Mindy made it okay that I spent Friday nights in college watching rom-coms in bed while my friends picked up men at the W. Hotel.

“I swear, women’s magazines these days,” Mindy says, “Don’t get me wrong, I loveee Cosmo and Glamour, but to be honest, my daughter’s role model is totally gonna be hand-picked by me.”

I try to think of how to veer this conversation back to my handy list of topics.

But she cuts through my thoughts – “Actually, I’ve already met her role model.”

“Oh! That’s amazing! Who?”

“Fiona!”

“Excuse me?”

“Fiona! Fiona the Hippo!” Mindy smiles.

I stare as she tells me how she went to the Cincinnati Zoo a few months ago, how she got to pet the Internet-famous Baby Hippo Fiona, how smooth Fiona’s skin was (“I’ve got to find out which moisturizer that hippo uses”). She stares dreamily into space and it occurs to me that I’m a reporter.

“I’m so sorry Mindy, but how did you…get there?”

“Well, I’ve been so disheartened with the news this past year and it got me thinking about Katherine’s place in the world. Do I want her to grow up in a world where men can get away with anything, or where hippos can do anything? I chose hippos.”

I take a sip of wine.

“I’m actually putting up a sign in my daughter’s room: ‘If Fiona Can Do It, So Can You!’”

“And what exactly can Fiona do?” I ask.

Mindy looks at me like I’m crazy. “What can’t she do? That little hippo came into this world beating the odds. She promotes a positive body image with her cute double chins. She takes fabulous selfies. And have you seen her twirl? That, my friend, is womanhood.”

She takes out her phone to show me pictures. I swear, mothers and their goddamn babies. But when she hands it to me, I see Fiona the Hippo cheesing back at me.

“And you know what I love?” Mindy asks, beaming now, “Fiona demands the world for herself. That’s what I want for my daughter. I want her to be a queen and wave to her fans. I want to expose her to exotic foods, like lettuce and pumpkins, which Fiona also eats. I want her to totally flaunt herself and photobomb engagement photos. God, how amazing would it be if my daughter grew up to be just like Fiona?”

“Do I want my daughter to grow up in a world where men can get away with anything or where hippos can do anything? I chose hippos.”

Mindy can’t stop smiling.

I can’t hold it in any longer.

“Except, well, be her,” I laugh, ”Because she’s a hippo.”

“Hippos are beautiful, majestic creatures,” she says, “I really think as humans, we should learn from this real-life social media star. I’m so lucky, Fiona came into my life at the perfect time.”

“You mean Katherine.”

“No- Fiona. I’m even starting an organization in her honor: Feminists For Fiona! My assistant got a tiny hippo-sized tiara & sash made, just in time for Fiona’s first birthday! I’ll send you a memo for the ceremony. Gosh, motherhood is the best.”

Her excitement’s contagious. We order a pitcher of sangria, Mindy gets the bar to turn up the music, and we dance in our seats to Drake for the next hour.

One of my idols is a beautiful, majestic woman named Mindy. One of her idols is a beautiful, majestic creature that happens to reside in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Maybe the best part about idols is that they always point us towards something new.

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Road to a Pulitzer

December 17, 2017 | New York, NY

Books, books, books!

It’s the time of year to find the perfect present to give to your literary friends to prove that you, too, are a Smart Attentive Person. No present demonstrates this more than a book. More so, an award-winning book, one that’s been hailed by other Smart Attentive People as worthy of their time.

Luckily, you’ve got this column. Today, I’m speaking with Hugo Luna, Pulitzer-winning author of Once Upon a Dreamless Night. Luna’s novel won this year’s new “Genre-Defying” category.

When we meet, he’s wearing a t-shirt, khakis, and an air of nonchalance (like most geniuses do). It’s always nice hearing fellow writers’ success stories, so I can’t wait to hear the wisdom Luna’s about to drop. Here are unedited excerpts from our conversation.

Your book, Once Upon a Dreamless Night, has been quite the bestseller this year. How do you feel?

Hugo Luna: (Shrugs) It’s just luck. I’m lucky.

Well, what inspired Once Upon a Dreamless Night?

HL: Uh, well it’s hard to get a girlfriend. You have to do so much stuff. Get flowers, iron pants, take more baths, pretend you think she’s sexy with retainers. Just so you have someone to talk to.

But I got one. I got a girlfriend.

Then, uh, 2 years ago, she started asking for a bedtime story. She’d ask before we went to sleep, during long drives, awkward silences…And I’d always say, “Gina, I don’t have a story.”(He shrugs.) Just like that. And she’d say, “So make one up!” She always said it in this high-pitched voice so I figured she had a point.

The inspiration for your novel was a bedtime story?

HL: Uh, yeah. Then one night, May 16th – I remember because I bought a new pair of khakis that day – I told her a story. She loved it and kept asking for more. Every night after that, I tried to better myself. Then the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” ended. My story got longer and I had to write it all down.

“Everything’s so upside down. You give people exactly what they want and they call you a rebel.”

What were some challenges you faced while writing this?

HL: Well, uh, I’m a writer. (He shrugs.) I give up easily. Gina broke up with me. She said I was lazy but I wrote her a story, didn’t I? After she left, I didn’t have anyone to tell stories to. My khakis got tighter from all the eating. One day at work, my messenger bag ripped and everything fell out. My coworker, Joe, found my old manuscript on the floor. He liked it and helped me get it published.

When Gina found out, she called and said I should submit it for a Pulitzer. I thought, Why not? Besides, uh, I missed the smell of her coconut conditioner.

That’s quite a story.

HL: That’s what she said every night. Hey-oh!

So much of your novel links back to the immigrant story. I loved that because my parents were also immigrants to the U.S. What influenced this decision?

HL: Uh, Gina always said I was emotionally unavailable. She’d say, “Hugo, why can’t you get deep?” So I told her the story of my parents coming to the U.S., my childhood, meals my mom cooked, struggles we had. I just threw it all in the book.

It’s funny ‘cause on the news, it looks like everyone hates us. People don’t like immigrants here. But they love beautiful stories about tragic things. And they loved my book. They called it ‘Genre-Defying.’ Everything’s so upside down. You give people exactly what they want and they call you a rebel. At least I got to tell my family’s story and make some money.

In a word, what would you say is the essence of your book?

HL: I mean, uh, it’s about being an American- what it means to be an American.

What does that mean to you?

HL: Well, uh, this.

(He points to himself, slouched down in his seat.)

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

HL: I heard Gina’s seeing someone new. But I bet he doesn’t tell Pulitzer-winning bedtime stories. That’s what women want, right? I’m back on these dating apps with my bio like ‘Award-winning bedtime storyteller.’ That’s sexy, right? It’s like a literary six-pack.

I suppose it is.

HL: See, I’m a winner. Deep down I knew I had it in me.
__

And so it goes. Behind every award-winning man tends to be an insatiable woman who wanted more.

Once Upon a Dreamless Night is available in bookstores everywhere.
Get your copy today!