“Their protest often reduces salvation to the idle contemplation of one’s own inner void; to them, even the merest search for a remedy is a form of complicity with the alienating situation. On the contrary, the only possible salvation demands an active and practical involvement with the situation. Man works, produces a world of objects, and inevitably alienates himself to them. But then he rids himself of his alienation by accepting those objects, by committing himself to them, and, instead of annihilating them, by negating them in the name of transformation, aware that at every transformation he will again find himself confronting the same dialectic situation. . .
If he chooses instead to withdraw into himself and to cultivate his own purity and spiritual independence, he will find not salvation but annihilation. He cannot transcend alienation by refusing to compromise himself in the objective situation that emerges out of his work.”
—Umberto Eco, The Open Work
This post is by my Dad, Isaac Seliger.
It’s hard to be first at anything in America, but yesterday I was the very first Uber Fresh lunch delivery customer. Uber, which is of course taking on the taxi cartels with reasonable success, is trying to become something like a local Amazon–delivering restaurant meals, late-night rolling papers and condoms, for example, or taking the dog to the groomer, and so on. Since no one—including Uber or Amazon—actually knows how to do this, Uber chose this week to test the lunch delivery market in my neighborhood, Downtown Santa Monica.
Downtown SaMo,* as we locals call it, is Santa Monica’s version of the East Village, where Jake lives now, Capitol Hill in Seattle, where he once lived. Which is to say, the area is composed of lots of apartment buildings occupied either by young hipsters like Jake or geezers like me, but few people in between, since the in-betweeners are in prime family time. In Santa Monica, lots of earnest bars selling hand-crafted $12 cocktails ($15 in the East Village), $20 small plates of roasted beets and kale, and $5 cups of pour-over coffee. The tragically hip Funnel Mill coffee shop two blocks from me actually sells $90/cup Kopi Luwak Civet Shit coffee, which Jake and I did not try when he last visited.
In short Downtown SaMo is perfect to test Uber Fresh. This week Uber is testing is a single lunch selection from a local restaurant each day, starting yesterday, which is delivered for $12—including the Uber driver’s cut. At 11:30 AM I placed my order using the Uber app and, as promised, the Uber guy showed up within ten minutes. That’s a big improvement on most delivery, which can take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to never.
Unlike ordering from Eat24 or GrubHub, however, the Uber driver won’t come upstairs, so I met him at the curb. To me this is a big negative: by the time I overcome inertia sufficiently to get myself together to go downstairs, I might as well continue out the door to the dozens of takeout places within a few blocks of me. Death to inconvenience! That could be the rallying cry of a lot of modern consumer-facing startups. It’s not a bad tagline for my own company, Seliger + Associates.
Anyway, the driver turned out to be the typical Uber driver with an an odd, vaguely Eastern European name and accent, accompanied by an Uberette in her late 20s. She popped out of car with a big smile and a free cookie and declared I was the very first Uber Fresh delivery! It helps that the Uber Development Office is nearby.
But how was the food? The lunch was from Tender Greens, an LA-based salad bar chain, which is okay but not exciting. This described lunch, which consisted of a cup of tepid chicken soup, an ordinary Caesar Salad, and, in my case, a very tasty cookie. The best part the container: a nifty black Uber bag. Sort of a party favor or “party favorite,” as Jake’s younger sister used to call them when she was about four.
Although being Customer Numero Uno was interesting, I wouldn’t rush to order Uber Fresh again anytime soon. The food was kind of meh, fairly expensive at $12 and, since I had to go downstairs anyway, I could have walked to about 20 lunch places in ten minutes. As a business, the single-meal option is interesting but also problematic given the target demographic, since just about every resident of SaMo (or the East Village or Capitol Hill), except me, has some kind of food concern/issue, and most will want a vegan/gluten free/non-GMO or something alternative. Jake doesn’t like simple carbs, for example. But, as Joe Bob Briggs likes to say, you might want to check it out.
* [Jake's note: They do?]
I’ve already reviewed The Fever—it’s just under the title Dare Me, with its similar subject matter (high-school girls, transformation, darkness in women, sexuality) and style (half-knowing, unwilling to admit, chopped up narrative). This is not a criticism, Dare Me readers who want more of the same will find The Fever delivers. Like Dare Me the principle concern is female rivalry over high-status guys and female judgment of each other’s sexuality. I won’t say it’s a critique of those topics, though it could be read that way. It could also be seen as a commentary on the eternal conflict between children and parents.
Similarity is not always a bad thing—Elmore Leonard’s many caper novels consistently delivered similar characters, styles, and plots, and again that could be read as weakness or strength as he played with variations around a central concern or set of concerns (which I read as coolness and silence—subjects for an academic paper yet to be written).
There is a Paglian tinge to Abbott’s last two novels (sample: “In the school’s hallways, Tom could see it: Gabby carried the glamour of experience, like a dark queen with a bloody train trailing behind.” Unlikely, but poetic, and it tells us about Tom’s overwrought perspective). They may be of less interest to those far from high school or offspring in high school. Abbot is willing to probe darkness in a way rarely seen in TV or movies, which tend to lag books by decades in terms of their willingness to portray what lurks within. Even the better TV stations like HBO and Showtime need to appeal to “Heads of Households,” which explains why the teen series tend to be on network TV or basic cable.
There are comparisons to be made with Caitlin Flanagan, and Abbott wins them; Flanagan’s book Girl Land was published in only 2012 and already the hardcover is justifiably available for $.01 from Amazon. I think I read a library copy. Both the Flanagan essays and the Abbott novels show how little we tend to know about things when we’re young and have no context or framework for understanding them. One could argue that the knowledge for understanding the world is out there, and most teenagers choose not to access it. This leads to confusion. That confusion is reproduced to good effect in the narrative voice and structure of The Fever:
I’m next, Deenie thinks, a few minutes and it’ll be me.
If only she’d gotten it over with a year ago. But she’d heard about how much it hurt and no one else had done it yet, at least not anyone she knew.
Now she’s one of the last one.
The tense moves from present to past back to present, with the “it” deliberately ambiguous in that it sounds like sexuality but may actually be the fever of the title. Naturally hypocrisy appears too, with slightly incestuous overtones, when Eli thinks that “Since then, he could only ever think about his sister, one wall away. And how he hoped Deenie never did things like this. With guys like him.” To be thinking about his sister in this context seems like a mistake of focus. About some things there is little to say; people are people and want what they want, as teenagers are probably taught not to know or admit. The characters are also mostly ignorant: Deenie thinks, “Why did everything have to be about sex, she wondered. Didn’t it make a lot more sense that it was something else?” She hasn’t read or probably even heard of evolutionary biology or Darwin’s The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. I hadn’t either in high school, and I don’t remember my first introduction, but I do know that a couple books on the subject made a lot of previously puzzling behavior fall into place. It’s true that not everything is about sex but so much is about it because we’ve evolved to pay close attention to matters relating to survival and reproduction.
Simple principles give rise to dizzyingly complex behaviors and patterns. Deenie doesn’t know that and in some ways her society conspires with her towards ignorance. One reading of Abbott’s last two novels could be as a move from utter ignorance to slightly greater knowledge. Jealousy is a perpetual companion because there are so few real status ladders to climb in high school (“Everything was so easy for Skye, with her older boyfriends, the way her aunt bought her cool old-time lingerie from vintage shops, the strip of birth control pills she once unfurled for them like candy.”) Skye, however, probably doesn’t think things are easy for Skye, but few high schoolers have the ability to get out of their own heads and into the heads of their companions. The last two paragraphs may be unfair, like saying that Faulkner is merely writing about the machinations of slack-jawed southern yokels who need education and functioning political infrastructure, but there is also some accuracy to them.
The question of whether the fever has supernatural, psychological, microbiological, or other origins does get resolved, but its mechanics are dubious.