The mood in our office following the death of Paul Walker was somber and respectful for about thirty seconds.
Half-remembered details of his life and career were shared, heads were slightly bowed, and moments of reflective silence were observed as everyone quietly wondered what was an acceptable amount of time to leave the body to rest before talking about work. Someone somewhat famous had just died under tragic circumstances. This was the finest knife-edge between morality and professionalism in the world of entertainment journalism.
In the days that followed Paul Walker’s death every major media outlet rewrote stories, made speculations, quoted sources ‘close to the deceased’, composed galleries of his life, and impatiently waited on post-mortem and toxicology reports. While more reputable newspapers laid the story to rest after a few days, the celebrity gossip magazines continued trying to extract everything they could from subject. Walker’s life, death and career were comprehensively analyzed, scrutinized and judged as editors and reporters wondered quite how much attention his death required.
The gossip publication at which I’m employed has run a total of 35 pieces on the topic to date. But from the moment word of his passing reached our office, the message was clear: don’t overdo it. Because Walker was famous, but he wasn’t that famous. The reality however was that the Fast and the Furious star was made ‘that’ famous in death. In the 24 hours following his fatal car crash on November 30th his Twitter following almost doubled from 900,407 followers to 1,727,406, with another 500,000 or so in the two weeks that followed. As a result of the unrelenting reporting Walker was graced with a fame in death that practically alluded him in life.
In the world of celebrity gossip, a premature death is very good for business.
With the act of dying being far from straightforward, the gradual drip of information released in the days and weeks following the celebrity’s departure are paced like a tense soap opera. Each day fresh details are given, new characters emerge, subplots are formed, and the sensationalized drama is sustained for as long as it can be. The fact is that the celebrity’s job to entertain extends far beyond their final breath.
“Sometimes the media creates a demand for celebrity death coverage that plays into the insatiable appetites of these fans, and that appetite can be overzealous,” noted Jawn Murray, a prominent member of the pop culture media, in an article from HNL on the act of grieving for the famous. “Social media has made it so that you can have an immediate impact. Everybody becomes a mourner. You may not be able to go to this person’s funeral, but you can take a moment to express something about the person’s life.”
This is the age of the vast, borderless digital conversation, and few things connect the diverse online community like the death of a figure we all recognize. #RIP[insertdeceasedcelebrity] is a socially acceptable way of casually mourning those you’ve never met, and in the process it brings the disenfranchised web community closer together. And if you happened to be purveyor of the details surrounding the #RIP[insertdeceasedcelebrity] then your intentions are to continue manufacturing and distributing that content until no one wants it any more.
“Generally, I am one of the first people that would know [about a celebrity death] because my work begins immediately and doesn’t end for several weeks,” said James Vituscka, entertainment reporter and former news producer for Us Weekly and Entertainment Tonight. “There is so much to uncover, if it is someone relevant. Many times, when a celebrity has passed away at night, I have had to come into work and work straight through until the next day when the show comes out, or the magazine gets published. It’s a circus.”
Vituscka’s line of work puts him firmly on the front line of Hollywood’s gossip industry. In the hours following the death of a notable figure he is expected to contact the star’s publicist, the police department and then the coroner to get the death report. Typically the team of reporters will be gathered to discuss the editorial protocol before the body is cold. And very little, it seems, is considered poor taste.
“When Paul Walker died, I was asked to call the family and get a statement,” said Vituscka. “That made me feel very uncomfortable, but it is something that is part of my job as a reporter.”
But the gossip magazines and their audience do not grieve everyone equally. If you’re the young, handsome Glee-star Cory Monteith then they want to know every detail as it emerges. If you’re the middle-aged, average-looking Philip Seymour Hoffman then they don’t really care much beyond the essential details. Although it is important to mention that flirting with gossip culture comes as a mandatory accessory to a starring role in Glee. The same certainly cannot be said for The Master.
Hoffman, the man the New York Times called “perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation”, who died at 46 of a heroin overdose on February 2nd, received a significantly smaller amount of gossip column inches in comparison to Monteith, who also died of a heroin overdose. In our office Hoffman’s passing was noted, debated, reported, and then we moved on. Monteith’s death has yielded 84 articles on our website to date.
Hoffman is not Monteith. They’re apples and oranges. But apples and oranges are both fruits. Each of these celebrated actors died in the last 12 months of the same cause, and yet the responses to their deaths have been wildly different in the celebrity media. Hoffman’s was standoffish, resembling something closer to the controlled grieving of a somewhat distant-uncle. Monteith’s was the manic, guttural shriek of a teen that’d lost her best friend. And these responses were calculated editorial decisions.
Despite the fact that I find judging someone’s merit and value immediately following their death to be callous and abhorrent, I understand. It’s their job to report. And it’s a very simple case of supply and demand. The public has a morbid fascination with celebrity deaths. The articles written in the days following the deaths have an extremely high ‘click’-yield, and the content can be stretched out for weeks before the interest tapers off.
“Death, divorce, drugs, drama and DUI: If it not about the “5 D’s”, the public will not care,” notes Vituscka. “Many times we are questioning our ethics. Sometimes I feel that the paparazzi are overstepping their bounds, or that we are hurting a celebrity and not helping them, but that is what they signed up for when they took this role in society. Every celebrity is overexposed nowadays. No one is exempt.”
It makes you wonder if perhaps we as a society need genuine death with fickle, non-committal grief in order to verify our own lives at an arm’s length. In the eyes of the public an actor is a non-fictional representation of a series of fictional characters, and with this convoluted sense of definition comes a complex emotional response to that person’s death. As a society we stand together for a while in state a shallow emotion. We ponder a life, we send out a tweet, we flick through the tribute gallery, and then we go about our day, unfazed, yet subconsciously thankful that we’re still alive.
It was the coldest night of January 2009; Minnesota does not fuck around with January, temperatures and wind chills dip below zero regularly to test your mettle. You can brag about surviving them later. I put on two pairs of tights and threw a furry vest over my turtleneck dress for extra warmth, but it was still an impractical outfit. John and I joined our handful of friends on the street outside of Dinkytown and we walked to Andy’s party. The others were in the basement, sticky and sweaty from dancing and spilled keg beer. The heat and Talking Heads rose to meet us as we walked down the stairs to join.
Later, my stupid vest abandoned on the floor, John and I were alone upstairs in the kitchen. Someone had put “Silver Lining” by Rilo Kiley on the iPod, a song both of us loved. And in the unspoken language you have with your best friend, your partner, the Will to your Grace even though you both deny that, we locked eyes and reached for the other’s hand. I danced to him in swishy little steps in my broken-down boots with the busted heels and we twirled around the room singing to each other. Someone came in to watch, but we didn’t notice. Those four minutes were ours. As far as we were concerned, no one else had ever danced to this song before us.
That night, we left the party together as we always did. It’s very, very cold at 1:30 AM in Minnesota in January, but we didn’t wait for a bus or call a cab. “Let’s just sing every song we know,” we said. “That will help us forget that we’re cold.”
And so we did. For our entire walk home, all 25 minutes of it, we sang whatever popped into our brains. I don’t remember feeling cold at all.
I spent most of my working hours with Anthony and we bickered like a married couple. It happens when you’re running a store together nine hours a day, five days a week. I’d bitch at him for not getting enough change for the register drawer, and he’d snip at me for eating a McDonald’s sundae behind the counter. I’d call him a slob. He’d tell me I was too uptight. I hate being told to relax.
We had fooled around a few times that year, bolstered by the godawful winter and some lethal, boozy punch. We were close to the same height, both blonde and blue-eyed and good-looking in a healthy, corn-fed sort of way. Anthony was the one I went to when I’d done something really stupid at a pool party, busted up my knee bashing it on my steering wheel, fucking a boy who immediately left me for another girl. I crawled into the store the morning after, hungover and makeup-free, and went right into his arms. I don’t really like to be hugged, let alone touched, but I always felt so secure in Anthony’s embrace. Maybe that’s how it’d feel if I had a big brother. He let me cling to his stocky, muscled chest as long as I needed. He was always so warm, radiating heat.
When we’d get into tiffs at the store, both of us stubborn as cattle, he’d stop in the middle of the carpeted circus of rolling racks carrying discounted Varvatos shirts and dad jeans and beckon to me. He’d go into a lunge, point a finger at me and wiggle it along with his eyebrows, demanding I come towards him. I always did. He’d grab me, pull me close and dance with me until I laughed and forgot why I was so pissed at him. We’d twirl, we’d spin, he’d dip me low til I squealed and customers would laugh at us.
Later that year, when he drunkenly pinned me against a wall and asked me through a mouthful of whiskey why I wouldn’t date him, when he followed me down to his vomit-splattered bathroom repeating the question and yelling at me to answer, I tried to remember the dancing to bash out the bad memories. It didn’t work then, but it does now, two years later. Certain songs will play while I’m ringing t-shirts and I’ll pretend he’s standing behind me, waiting for me to wrap up with the customer so we can dance again.
Our small town bar was bustling with people; there was a band playing, a band of men who lived nearby and appeared to play cover songs when asked. They weren’t good, but they weren’t bad. They played Tom Petty and “Fishin’ in the Dark” and things like that, the kind of songs Midwesterners like to hear when they’ve been drinking. Comfort songs. I’d been celebrating my old classmate Donny’s 21st birthday with my four best girlfriends, the girls I grew up with and love like sisters, drinking rounds of Bud Light.
I always liked dancing with the men I grew up with, farmers and agronomists and the like. They knew a few dances, they led, they held your hand confidently and chatted sweetly, simply with you as you danced. My dad doesn’t dance, but my brother does. Some of my uncles do too. And I, like my mother and her band of sisters, love to dance with a man who knows how.
Donny’s sister, drunk and grinning, pushed my uncle Jeff towards me. “Dance with your niece!” She crowed. My dad’s brother had been silent, grouchy, through my childhood; he was mad at me when I was little and drew kitties, pink and blue and childish, all over the cement of the shop with chalk. That defined our relationship for the next few years.
Most of my paternal uncles are quiet men who mumble a few words at their niece who lived on the home farm, a girl they watched grow from a tiny child singing “Somewhere Out There” to anyone who would listen to the young woman I am now. I know that all of them are proud of me and that they love me, but they just don’t have the words to say it. From them I have inherited a lonely streak, a sharp tongue and quick wit and a tendency to hit the bottom of the bottle a little too hard sometimes.
I was buzzed enough to grab Jeff’s hand and let him push me awkwardly around the floor for a few minutes. It was the only time we ever talked for more than a moment or two and the only time we ever touched. He died a year or two ago, cancer, left three grown daughters and a son who is now 14, shy and mumbly as his kin. I didn’t go to the funeral; I stayed with Grandma and chatted aimlessly at her as they buried her son. I know she appreciated my company, but she never said it. She didn’t really need to.
I keep this memory wrapped up in my brain, wrapped like a present and labeled “SAVE” in heavy red printing. In my mind, it’s tied with a velvet ribbon I can run my fingers across when I feel particularly grey, when I’ve stayed up too late or slept too long or driven too far. Maybe I should let it go, but it’s too pretty to forget.
It was the night of your birthday and all the guests had left. My mouth tasted like champagne and grilled peaches; you were tipsy with gin. The living room of your house was silent and dark, save for the icy blue light of the computer screen. We stood in the middle, your hands on my waist and mine threaded up in your hair. You had turned on an old Dire Straits song, one I knew you loved because you mentioned it when we’d first started dating, and we were swaying to it, my black silk dress and bare feet, you singing and me smiling into your face because you couldn’t sing but I liked it just the same.
We had many lovely moments, other moments I threw in that box in my head, but nothing as simple and perfect as that. I hope you spend every birthday dancing with a girl that way.
“I’ll admit, my dream job was to work for a non-profit organization when I was applying to colleges back in high school. Four years later, I came out with a college degree in international affairs but no non-profit experience. I thought I had lost sight of that goal, but today, even if I don’t have the opportunity to contribute to an office like this, I know that my goal is still possible.”
I spoke candidly about my aspirations to my employer, an international non-profit organization in the heart of New York City. The faces of my interviewers lit up as I described my personal and professional experience and why I applied for a position at their company. They knew I did my research and understood the company’s mission. Better yet, I had demonstrated that I was passionate in promoting their ideas.
During one of the worst job markets this country has experienced, I, like many other peers, had few interviews with companies, let alone dream companies. My manager decided to give me the job. I was ecstatic and immediately jumped on board. I learned the quirks of the office, adapted to their technology, and contributed to the office. The work was difficult, but mostly gratifying. Day in, day out, doing routine work, coordinating schedules, running to appointments, and meeting deadlines, I happily trotted to and from work each day knowing I went from being a poor broke college student to a successful young adult making her way through the world.
I quickly got acclimated to contributing to the office. I was excited and inspired by the work around me, learning a little more each day about the details that made a non-profit successful. One early morning, as I checked my work emails and reviewed my day, I stopped cold. I realized I had actually achieved my high school dream job, despite the horrible job market. Now what?
The moment I became self-aware that I had fulfilled this goal, I became less and less excited about my job.
I met each morning with dragging feet. I left each evening by running out. During the day, I continued to meet my deadlines, crank out reports, and upheld my responsibilities, I met each moment with slight contempt and frustration. Why am I here? Why bother? If I left the company today, they wouldn’t miss me.
I spoke to my parents and friends about how I achieve my ultimate professional goal and found it unsatisfying. It was frustrating to sit at the office to feel uninspired and bored. I wanted more out of my job. I wanted more out of my professional life. I didn’t want to settle for a desk job at a dream organization and work through the motions. I need more.
Sometimes, achieving your professional goals isn’t enough.
He wants it. He wants it so bad that he’s facedown on his mattress with his legs spread waiting for me to give him what he wants. He’d be telling me exactly what he wants but he can’t, cause I strapped a gag around his mouth. I lock his hands up most of the time so he can’t touch me.
He wants it; he’s never wanted anything as bad as he wants this, at this moment. And I am going to give him what he wants — I always do — but first I’m gonna make him wait. I know that each second feels like eternity for him but he loves it and he’s getting harder and harder by the second. He always likes me to tie him up and gag and blindfold him and then do my nails real slow next to him or read a book or even go for a walk around the block.
So I strap this thing around my waist. Well, I step into it, really. I tie it tight so it doesn’t shake loose and then bam! I have all the power a big old cock provides. It feels heavy as it hangs between my legs, but it’s a good, powerful weight. It’s real big and thick and rubbery; I’ve had it inside me (I used to do it and make him watch) and it’s no easy feat to accommodate that thing.
But he loves it, so after I’ve got it good and lubed up with the slipperiest shit we could find, I slip it in his ass real slow. You gotta do it slow or it hurts. That’s what he says, anyway, because I refuse to put anything in my ass. I’m not that kind of girl.
Real slow, inch by agonizing inch. He is breathing hard, probably drooling out that gag onto the sheets. He is hard as hell right now. Sometimes he gets soft in the middle of it and I have to quick spit in my hand or suck him off a little bit. He tells me that once in awhile it feels too good and he just loses his erection.
Once I get it all in, I start rocking my hips back and forth like guys do when they’re fucking me. He is grunting and moaning a little and of course I’m checking in on him to make sure it doesn’t hurt, because I might be his dominatrix but I’m not into actually hurting him more than is OK. I go faster and faster and he is losing his mind. Sometimes I whack him off while we do this and other times I just smack his balls. He likes both equally. I like to get him really close to coming and then stop, yank the gag out of his mouth and make him plead with me to keep going. Sometimes I get myself off with the vibrator while we do this, but right now I’m focusing on him.
Then I get him on his back and slip that big dick in again so it’s like missionary, but I’m him and he’s me. It’s really weird the first time you flip that around; it feels strange to turn the tables on such a normal position. When we do this, I always get jealous that dudes can just stick it in and it feels awesome. I don’t feel anything because my “dick” is fake. But he loves this and I love him and I like bossing him around and making him act like a bitch.
I’ve asked him how this feels a couple times; we do it once a week, sometimes more if he’s been especially good. I like to make him beg for it. He can’t describe it, says it’s way too intense for words. It must be, because when he comes (usually into my hand, though sometimes I let him bust on me and then make him lick it up) he’s totally useless for like a half hour.
I’m kind of bored now so I spit in my hand and grab his dick and whack him off while I thrust.
He is howling through that gag and I’m whispering, “Shut up, you bitch, do you want to wake up the whole damn house? You better give it to me now.” And then I do a countdown from ten and if he can’t come by “one” he doesn’t get to. He loves this shit. “Six … five … four …” Thrust thrust thrust … He is just about there, so I give him one big push with that heavy dick and bam, just like that, we’re done. I throw the strapon on the floor, because when he recovers I’m gonna make that bitch clean it off.
I’ve been out of school and in the “real world” for almost ten years now (which makes me feel incredibly old). While I try not to dwell on the past too much, because that makes me depressed, when I do look back, instead of reflecting on the glory days (whatever that means), I always focus on the things that I wish I had done. The things that I wish someone had told me to do and pay attention to, because this was the time to do them.
The regrets, if you will. Which include:
1. Not joining a club. Or several clubs. And actively participating. College is probably the last time that you’re able to easily try out different activities, get involved in something that might be interesting to you, and find a group of likeminded people. It’s also probably the first time that you’ve had the freedom that comes with being an adult and making decisions on how to spend your free time solely on your own. So use it. Even if you join a group and decide it’s not for you, at least you can then cross that off the list of things that might potentially be interesting.
2. Not playing on a sports team. Similarly, college is a time for pursuing activities that you loved as a youth. I loved sports, and I wish I had played intramural soccer. I went to a meeting for the team, but then decided that it was just too much of a pain to work into my schedule. Whatever it is — sports, writing, music, art, knitting — if you’re still interested in it, by all means, don’t give it up just because you didn’t get a scholarship to do it, or think that you don’t have time, or are just plain old lazy.
3. Not making more friends. I am not good at making friends. I’m shy and introverted by nature. Which generally doesn’t work in a college setting. But honestly, there are so many opportunities to make friends of all shapes and sizes in college (see #1&2 above). Even if you just put yourself out there the tiniest bit, you’ll run smack dab into about a bazillion people that share your interests, quirks, and eating/drinking habits. So be open, even if it’s incredibly uncomfortable for you at first. It will make your time in college that much more fun and memorable.
4. Not going on Spring Break. I never went on a proper Spring Break. I either went home for the week, or went to visit my boyfriend at college in Florida. Now, I’m not really the partying type, but I would have liked to have experienced a proper Spring Break at least once. It’s a right of passage.
5. Not going out more often. Again, I’m not a huge partier. But that doesn’t mean that I needed to stay in every night. There are plenty of things to do on a college campus at night that don’t involve drinking questionable substances in a dingy frat house basement. Figure out what it is that you want to do and then go do it (and if it’s drinking questionable substances in a dingy frat house basement, then more power to you).
6. Not having school spirit. My school wasn’t exactly a powerhouse in the sports arena, but we were in the Big East (emphasis on were), and we had a pretty large student fan base at football and basketball games. I think I went to maybe two games my whole time there. I just couldn’t be bothered. And didn’t have friends that were into it and would go with me. And, in the case of football, I often wasn’t on campus on the weekends. But when I watch clips of games now, and see how much fun the students are having, I get a little pang of jealousy that I never experienced that. So go. Pull a Rory Gilmore and bring a book if you have to. But at least you can say that you were there, and hey, there’s always the chance that you’ll get swept up in the fun of it and actually enjoy yourself.
7. Not taking more classes just for the hell of it. College is a time to experiment (in many different ways). You have the option to learn so many different things — things that you might not even realize you’re interested in. Plus, you have a certain number of credits that you need to get to and electives that you need to take. So, why not take that class on ancient Greek pottery, or that one on calligraphy. Or whatever it is that catches your eye, even if it has nothing to do with your major or what you think you want to do in life. Sure, it might not be useful in the real world, or you might end up really hating it, but you might also learn something or discover a new passion. At worst, you spend a few hours a week sitting through a boring class — it’s not like you’ve never done that before.
8. Not waiting to declare a major. How many 18-year olds do you know that can tell you exactly what they’re going to be doing 10, 20, 50 years from now? That’s essentially what colleges want you to do when they ask you to declare a major. I went with the most universally applicable one that I could think of – communications. With a minor in sociology. It’s pretty much a total BS degree. But I didn’t know any better. I knew that I hated economics (which is funny, because now I deal with financial statements on a regular basis…). I hadn’t really taken many classes outside of the realm of communications (see above), and felt pressure to declare. So I just went with what I was closest to completing. I suppose I could have switched majors, but that’s a whole different pain. So take as long as you can to declare your major, if you’re unsure. Take classes in different areas to try and figure out what floats your boat (see #7). If you’re really worried, double major (or major/minor) in something more practical to go along with your degree in interpretive dance theory.
9. Not waiting to graduate. I finished college in three years (which made it even more important to declare a major quickly and harder to switch). It made total sense to me at the time — if I didn’t spend another year in school, I didn’t spend another however many thousands of dollars paying for school, and instead I spent that year getting paid. It still makes sense from a purely economical and rational standpoint, but let’s face it — economics and rationality are boring. I missed out on graduating with my friends. On living in an apartment and being “adults.” On doing all the things that seniors in college do. Instead, I got deadlines and rent payments and a blackberry to constantly be in touch with the office. Don’t be me if you have the time and finances to stick it out another year.
10. Not doing a semester or summer abroad. I had a boyfriend that went to school a three-hour plane ride away, summer classes to take to graduate in three years, and internships to do. So a semester or summer abroad just didn’t seem feasible. I would now kill to be able to just pack it up and move to Italy or Spain for three months. Studying abroad is one of those things that sounds really cliché and you think all of the people that do it are really annoying because that’s all they talk about, but it’s something that you’ll only really get to experience in college. If you like traveling, or think that you might like traveling, go abroad. Even if you get to vacation in a foreign country every year once you graduate, I’m convinced it’s not even close to being the same. I wish I could have been one of those annoying people talking about the semester that they did in Italy ad nauseam.
So, kids, I hope that you can learn something from me. If I had to sum it up into one piece of advice it would be: You can’t go back, so make the most of it the first time around. And if you do miss out, just make up stories based on what you see on Facebook. Nobody but you will know the difference.