I've been a cultural highbrow, or wannabe, most of my adult life: Ivy-educated, Manhattanite, foreign film and literary novel aficionado... you get the picture. But leaning into my 50's, I've acquired a taste for the lowbrow. And I gotta tell you, lowbrow is much more fun.
Exhibit A: On the ride to school this morning, my teenage daughter tuned the radio to 102.7 KIIS-FM. When she darted out of the car, instead of rabidly punching the speed button for NPR or the CD player for Eckhart Tolle -- anything to keep my increasingly impaired mental state on track or occupied -- I stuck with 102.7, suddenly intrigued. The DJ's were convening a "chick panel" to wrestle with the weighty question of the day: The DJ's wife was dragging him to a Broadway show and he didn't wanna go. Did he hafta? Should she make him?
After 20 years of marriage, I know this dilemma a little too well: My husband doesn't wanna go to my mother's, the movies, beach, dinner with friends -- even to his mother's. Does he hafta?
It was good radio. I had a driveway moment with the chick panel, I must admit. The first woman consulted had been married for 26 years, and she said nope, Mr. D.J. should not be coerced into seeing The Lion King or Book of Mormon. What's the point? She goes solo to all events that her husband nixes -- it works out better for everyone and is easier on the family budget, too. A second woman on the panel, married "sixteen long years," agreed: Doesn't want to join? Good riddance. A third woman, single and idealistic, sounded misty-eyed at such wedded harshness. Awww, she said, of course Mr. D.J. should brave Times Square and long second acts in smooshed seats. That's how it works with her boyfriend: She goes to his dumb sports events, she said, so he should reciprocate by attending her dumb cultural events.
When the chick panel concluded, I switched stations to NPR with a satisfied smile on my face. NPR was doing a story on the egg shortage in Mexico. My smile faded. Apparently the Mexicans are big egg eaters, can't live without their huevos rancheros or huevos divorciados (two fried eggs, one with green sauce and one with red, separated by a wall of refried beans, according to the interviewee). Turns out that a bird flu virus caused thousands of hens to be slaughtered of late and now... not enough eggs.
Who gives a damn? I found myself missing the chick panel, wondering if it's a regular feature or a one-off.
Exhibit B: When I want to doze off fast at night, I read a literary novel, a literary journal or even (I'll say it) fiction in the New Yorker. It works better than melatonin. The only two books I could not put down recently were State of Wonder and Gone, Girl, both heavy on plot, revolving around murder and, let's be honest, New York Times Book Review, basically crime thrillers. My English professor friend agrees about my two recent favorites, so she might be getting old and lowbrow too.) Oh, and I also liked The Paris Wife, which is essentially a well-written romance novel inspired by Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (which I own a dog-eared copy of, from when I was highbrow). I also read Freedom and The Marriage Plot with relish, both of which feature sex, or wanting sex, on every page (oral, anal, gay, extramarital et. al.). They're low on the literary quotient (if you skip the semiotics, which I didn't, because I was a semiotics major -- highbrow, see?).
Exhibit C: A close friend whom I trust implicitly raved about the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. She hadn't been so moved in ages. Oprah hyped it, too, interviewing the lead actors on her network. I rarely get to the movies anymore and settled in with bubbles of anticipation this past weekend, only to be flattened by an anvil of depression. I was so upset and even nauseated by my pick that when the 90 minutes were up, the only saving grace was that my husband had declined to come, so I didn't have him griping beside me. It's an admirable film on a worthy topic, but the last thing I need is to pay for pain and suffering on a Saturday night at a theater with grimy, decrepit seats. At home I sought the perfect remedy: a hit of Impractical Jokers on the DVR to induce a belly laugh so I could fall asleep without Beasts invading the back of my eyelids.
Yeah, I've gained a new appreciation for lowbrow in middle age. I'm still enough of a snob to gravitate toward "brilliant" lowbrow as opposed to "despicable" in New York magazine's approval matrix, but give me one more decade. My tastes should be off the chart.
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