When I was five years old, I dreamed of being an apple salesman. I imagined my future in sepia tone: pushing my cart of apples down the street, hungry kids running out of their houses to greet me.
That is not exactly how things turned out.
After college, I moved back in with my mother and waited tables at the Applebee's across the street from the airport. So close to my boyhood dream, and yet so, so far away.
The work was awful, but it was a great incentive to do anything else with my life, and I soon moved on and became a high school English teacher in New York City -- a job that caused my heart to expand as much as it did my hairline to recede.
I grew up in that job.
But then I quit it and moved back in with my mother. Then I returned to it. Then I left it again. Then I Googled "quarter-life crisis."
At 26, voluntarily unemployed and too old to get health insurance from my dad, it seemed the appropriate time to consider whether I might be a complete idiot. Instead, I started a tumblr.
In Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings, I took classic characters from my childhood--my heroes, the ones who were pure-hearted and brave, the epitomes of "happily ever after"--and I stuck them in the same dumb situations me and my friends had been going through for years. You know what they say: If you can't beat 'em, write fan-fiction that forces them to join you.
The stories from that tumblr became the basis for the book, Alice in Tumblr-land: And Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation.
Now, Peter Pan finally has to grow up and get a job, or at least start paying rent.
Little Red Riding Hood is being stalked by creepy dudes on OkCupid. And no less than three fairy tale characters are working bad restaurant jobs. I guess I'm still processing some Applebee's PTSD.
As a child, fairy tales were how I made sense of the world--a dream of becoming an apple salesman could only come from a kid who really believed anything was possible. I'm returning to those fairy tales now to try to make sense of the world again. This time, it's probably going to involve more alcohol.
The Ugly Duckling still felt gross compared to everyone else. But then she got Instagram, and there’s this one filter that makes her look awesome.
A few years had passed since Snow White and the Prince rode off toward their happily-ever-after, and things were, you know, they were fine.
Okay, so instead of going to bed with the Prince at night, Snow White found herself looking online at photos of Ryan Gosling, remembering the days when she’d felt for the Prince the same complex desire she now felt for Ryan. Like she wanted to simultaneously tear his clothes off and introduce him to her parents.
But the Prince loves me, Snow White thought. And if I were with Ryan Gosling, he’d be hotter than me, and that wouldn’t be cool at all.
Chicken Little feared the sky was falling.
She also feared losing her job, getting told off by her best friend, and going to the gynecologist.
Beauty and the Beast had been dating for a while now, and Beauty knew it was time for the Beast to meet her friends. But she was a little nervous. All her friends had these superhot boyfriends who worked in finance or modeled for J.Crew or whatever. The Beast was, well, the Beast liked to play Xbox in his underwear. And he was really into his fantasy football team.
Beauty loved the Beast for who he was, she really did, but her friends were shallow and judgmental.
“Maybe you should get some new friends,” Siri advised.
After the whole wolf incident, the ideological differences among the Three Little Pigs got only stronger.
The First Little Pig went into the arts,
the Second Little Pig got a stable desk job,
and the Third Little Pig became a Republican.
Little Red Riding Hood decided to walk home from her grandmother’s house because she didn’t want to waste money on a cab.
But soon she was being stalked by a creepy wolf. He cornered her in the entryway to her apartment and started unzipping his pants, but then she was like, “Oh hell no,” and kneed him in the balls and shot him in the face with pepper spray.
The next day she borrowed money from her mother and moved to a safer neighborhood.
Puss wore boots so that he would gain more respect, but everywhere he went people just said, “Omigod, look at that adorable kitty in boots!”
The Hare got a high-powered job in the tech industry straight out of college. He was known for never sitting down at work and always chugging energy drinks. He invented a new app every day at lunch, though many of them were about sandwiches.
The Tortoise traveled the country by train just looking out the window and thinking. It didn’t bother him that the Hare was out there making the big bucks. He was doing his own thing, something quieter, more spiritual.
The Tortoise’s travel memoir got published, and the New York Times gave it a glowing review. The Tortoise posted on Facebook about how humbled he was by all this success, and he remembered his old rival the Hare and thought, I knew I’d outshine that fucker in the end.
Pinocchio e-mailed his professor and said, “I’ve had a family emergency and need one more day to work on my final paper.”
Alice was amazed at the wonder of her life. Her rent was reasonable, she’d just discovered Greek yogurt, and she had the password to her friend’s Netflix account.
She never thought of the past. Why should she?
But then the Cheshire Cat posted online an album of old photos—of the White Rabbit with long hair, of the night they all stayed up till dawn just talking with the flowers—and God, it just brought her right back.