Talk Hole: Can’t Get You Out of My Hole
Talk Hole is the bi-weekly spoken column of New York’s alt-comedy darlings Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, offering their oracular powers of cultural analysis on all corners of the zeitgeist (high, low, top, bottom). From a call in Brooklyn, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is chic and drop references to hot trends, hotter temperatures, and scalding political debates. This time around, Talk Hole nearly runs out of ideas, so they stage a Juergen Teller-inspired photoshoot and demolish their own homes.
ERIC SCHWARTAU: Hey, sorry. I’ve been tearing down the wall in my kitchen.
STEVEN P-H: Can I see the progress?
SCHWARTAU: It’s not so much progress as it is creative destruction.
P-H: When did you decide that you’re allowed to rip out a wall? You’re in a rented apartment.
SCHWARTAU: I bit off a little more than I can chew. And I have pretty sharp teeth, so that’s really saying something.
P-H: It looks like the ruins of a Roman bath.
SCHWARTAU: And yet it’s exposed brick in a New York apartment. The end of the line for most railroads.
P-H: Last stop, ancient Bushwick! Would love to go on that ghost tour.
SCHWARTAU: I removed my coffee table.
P-H: Bye table!
SCHWARTAU: [Turns to boyfriend] Darryl, Steven is saying hi.
P-H: No, I said “Bye table.”
SCHWARTAU: I thought you were saying “Hi, Darryl.”
P-H: Let’s just go with “aloha” and it’ll work for both.
SCHWARTAU: I’m noticing you’re typing. You seem busy.
P-H: I’m just exporting files, sorry.
SCHWARTAU: Here’s where I exported the coffee table. [Shows Steven the table on camera]
P-H: The magazines laid out for guests to peruse at their leisure is giving doctor’s office.
SCHWARTAU: It’s not permanently going in here. I just realized how cramped the coffee table was making the living room feel.
P-H: Well, I love that you’re making changes.
SCHWARTAU: I spent the entire day looking at coffee tables and bed frames online only to decide that I don’t need either of those. I’m harassed mercilessly by ads for one-syllable furniture brands on Instagram. Hay, Dims, Dumb—
P-H: Dimes. You know, the point of an advertisement is to make you think that your life will improve if you achieve the lifestyle that the advertisement has offered.
SCHWARTAU: Well, I’m going to sue.
P-H: The furniture brands seem to be in a panic right now. For some reason the algorithm thinks I want furniture, even though my apartment is done evolving. And the less I bite, the thirstier they get—there was this one, haunting oval mirror from a minimalist British brand that I “can’t get out of my head,” to quote Adam Curtis. It was very austere, like something a chambermaid would wash the feet of her dead boss in front of.
SCHWARTAU: Well, at least they’re putting in some effort. They’re chipping away, deep in the content mines, looking for the diamond in the rough.
P-H: It’s harassment.
SCHWARTAU: Maybe I like being harassed a little by creative directors.
P-H: Speaking of being harassed by creative directors—congratulations to Ryder Ripps and Azealia Banks on their latest project.
SCHWARTAU: I’m happy for them. Love is fundamentally toxic. They’re kind of the red-pilled, unhinged, online troll version of Kimye.
P-H: And Miami is sort of the unhinged, red-pilled version of L.A., so that tracks.
SCHWARTAU: We need a brand-conscious, half-musician couple in every port.
P-H: Mazel to Kimye as well. I’ve never done anything for 7 years besides live in New York and that’s only because I don’t have the courage to get divorced.
SCHWARTAU: Well, take a note from Daft Punk and use your breakup to reignite interest in your music.
P-H: I guess I’m not sure why they needed to “break up” instead of just… not releasing another album. Same goes for straight couples. We don’t need a formal divorce ceremony. Just don’t drop another kid.
SCHWARTAU: But if you don’t get divorced, then the existing kids are worried you’ll try to outshine them with a surprise midnight double-kid release with accompanying merch.
P-H: A knitwear twin-set to go with my new twins.
SCHWARTAU: Emhoff could collab.
P-H: So whose side are you on? Daft or punk?
SCHWARTAU: I’m famously unloyal, but Daft sounds like a wry Scandinavian furniture brand, so I’ll go with that.
P-H: You really have Stockholm Syndrome for these furniture brands.
SCHWARTAU: Chain me to your platform bed.
P-H: I suppose my issue with advertising right now is they seem to be narrowing down this idea of me as a consumer—blonde wood stools, structured sweatpants, linen succulent shackets—but why can’t they expand my mind? Is there nothing else to buy? What about plane tickets? Cotton candy? A wig?
SCHWARTAU: Sounds like you’re committing some sort of a heist. Well, I started buying stocks. Robinhood is the Fashion Nova of finance.
P-H: Maybe the next thing is ads for stocks—bespoke, lifestyle-branded ETFs saturating the feed. Imagine a lamp ETF—it’s pegged to the lighting industry! Actually, with energy prices in Texas, that could make a bundle.
SCHWARTAU: I’m literally already getting promoted tweets for stocks. And Ark ETFs are basically Tesla stocks wrapped in Girlboss packaging.
P-H: I think you’re describing Grimes.
SCHWARTAU: Most people can only afford pieces of things. Knock-offs, shares of shares. There’s subscription furniture. You can rent a side table for $10 a month.
P-H: Just make sure your main table doesn’t see your credit card bill.
SCHWARTAU: The only thing people own is their debt. When someone posts that they got into college or bought a house, they really just went into a massive debt. We’ve mythologized debt as a rite of passage.
P-H: We’ve put debt on a pedestal! A rented, blonde wood pedestal.
SCHWARTAU: Okay, I feel like you’re still not paying attention.
P-H: Sorry. I’m done now. I’m literally exporting the last file.
SCHWARTAU: Well, I feel bad for our readers. You’re not giving them the time of day.
P-H: I’m giving them this specific time of day, which includes me exporting files. Okay, I’m ready to start the column. How are you?
SCHWARTAU: I’m fine, I just feel behind on everything. Late to success, late to stocks, late to bed frames, late to bed…
P-H: I believe Nietzsche called this “the gay science.”
SCHWARTAU: I’m just noticing this pervasive feeling of eternal lateness. It might have something to do with feeling like there’s no news anymore. “Any functioning adult for president” has turned out to be a snoozefest.
P-H: No news? How about the fact that it’s The Day After Tomorrow in Texas and Ted Cruz is cruising to Cancun? Although considering how many quolx I’ve seen jet off to Mexico this past year, it seems a bit unfair to cancel him.
SCHWARTAU: Texas used to be part of Mexico so it’s kind of just like going upstate. Well, downstate.
P-H: Right. And if you really want to be anti-colonial and cede Texas back to Mexico, then going to Cancun would be staying within the country. It’s domestic travel. Which, last time I checked, isn’t cancel-worthy.
SCHWARTAU: Not to mention his name is actually Rafael Cruz. Decolonize Ted!
P-H: Meanwhile, on the other side of Jalisco, Kendall Jenner was launching a tequila.
SCHWARTAU: Launching a tequila is a birthright for celebrities.
P-H: Tequila is a strong choice for a celebrity product, because it can parlay with almost any personal brand with its unique mix of both masculine and feminine energy.
SCHWARTAU: And tequila evokes having a wild night, whereas Kendall evokes starting a three-hour skin care routine at 8pm and then popping a melatonin.
P-H: Tequila evokes having a personality.
SCHWARTAU: Tequila gives you gender-neutral wings.
P-H: Whereas whiskey has too much of an existing masculine connotation—either Kentucky hillbilly Dairy Queen-stained coveralls or Scottish hunter swathed in tweed.
SCHWARTAU: I’m trying to imagine Kendall having a whiskey.
P-H: That would basically be her coming out of the closet. I don’t think she’s prepared to do that.
SCHWARTAU: What other spirits are there? Gin?
P-H: I recently bought Kate Hudson’s … it was either vodka or gin. But personally I think vodka is a little too “I like to get blackout” for a girl to launch.
SCHWARTAU: Not knowing whether it was vodka or gin is giving me girl-about-to-blackout.
P-H: Okay, it was a vodka that tasted extremely normal. She tried to de-blackout the branding by calling it “King Street” and making it about New York, which apparently she’s deeply connected to.
SCHWARTAU: So King Street is an iconic New York street I’ve never heard of?
P-H: I wanna say it’s in greater WeSoHoVi.
SCHWARTAU: My guess was The Village. Lots of small streets.
P-H: But I feel like it’s further south—in that demilitarized zone around Varick Street where I used to work, near the passport office.
SCHWARTAU: You worked at the passport office?
P-H: I styled people for their photos.
SCHWARTAU: I feel like you were just getting a passport, which is not technically a job.
P-H: When you’re gay and in your 20s, that basically is a job. You’re always losing your passport and then needing to go to Europe.
SCHWARTAU: Being a customer is a full-time job.
P-H: Thank you! Customer rights. Maybe those will come back in the Biden era—that feels very Karen. In the Trump years, the customer went from always being always right to being always wrong.
SCHWARTAU: The Can-I-Speak-to-your-Managers need to unionize.
P-H: There is a nauseating trend of the conscious “activist” consumer—where the most morally righteous path is to center the customer as much as possible: keep your favorite knitwear taqueria in business by ordering delivery every day—but not on Grubhub which didn’t condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene sufficiently for wearing an ill-fitting blazer. Call the warehouse directly! Do curbside pickup. Bring extra masks for the taco knitters, but don’t gender them—write a review! Crowdfund your Angie’s List membership, hold a seance on Clubhouse—and if you’re not starting a GoFundMe to order more taco sweaters for local rescue pups, you’re literally Hitler.
SCHWARTAU: [Darryl hands Eric a cocktail.] Thank you, sir. Now that’s customer service.
P-H: Wow, what did your cocktail broker just serve you?
SCHWARTAU: A gin surprise.
P-H: What celebrities should launch a gin in your mind?
SCHWARTAU: Anna Kendrick. Like Hendrick’s, but mousier.
P-H: Hints of JunipHer.
SCHWARTAU: Gin-ny Weasley.
P-H: Hu Gin-tao.
SCHWARTAU: Love politicians launching a gin. AOC launches a smoky socialist mezcal, Andrew Yang debuts a pre-mixed Manhattan to prove he lives here.
P-H: Andrew Cuomo launches a canned wine with just enough COVID to kill grandma.
SCHWARTAU: I need a canned wine. Or a grandma. Some sort of guidance—I’ve spent the past two days doing house projects and I feel like I’m living in a warzone with no end in sight.
P-H: Well, I’m proud of you that you’re attacking your own home.
SCHWARTAU: I’m trying to build back better.
P-H: But it begs the question—are you attacking the home… within?
SCHWARTAU: I have therapy tomorrow. We’ll see.
P-H: I had to read an ad today on my podcast for an online therapy brand called BetterHelp. Part of their selling point is that it’s “completely secure and confidential.” As if other text-based therapists are bouncing from the session and immediately dragging you on Twitter.
SCHWARTAU: Therapists should not be on Twitter.
P-H: Therapists shouldn’t even have friends.
SCHWARTAU: I do think your therapist is legally obligated to tell the cops if, say, you killed someone.
P-H: But if you do kill someone, who are you supposed to talk to about it?
P-H: I get the idea of the therapist alerting someone if there’s a potential for harm—you say “oh, I’m gonna kill my comedy partner at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time.” But if the deed is already done, it seems a little fucked up to tattle.
SCHWARTAU: My therapist can barely remember my ex’s name, but I will make sure to remind him that snitches get stitches.
P-H: I guess what I like about the text-based thing—and this may not be how the company works at all, I don’t do my research for the brands I shill for, which helps maintain plausible deniability if someone does get murdered—is the distance. The remoteness. This person doesn’t sub your OnlyFans.
SCHWARTAU: It’s like when you chat with a customer service rep on the Verizon website.
P-H: Exactly. It’s very “How can I help you on this beautiful day, sir?”
SCHWARTAU: A bot that knows the weather.
P-H: “I’m sorry you’re dealing with these suicidal ideations. Have you considered letting go of your angry thoughts?”
SCHWARTAU: …reconnecting… please standby…. are you still there?
P-H: And meanwhile, you’ve now committed murder.
SCHWARTAU: Speaking of life and death, I’m sensing a lot of pregnancies in the midst.
P-H: I was just FaceTiming with my friend who’s seven months pregnant. It’s definitely in the air.
SCHWARTAU: Not to bring it back to this idea of lateness, but I think it’s all about timing.
P-H: Pregnancies often are. There’s this extremely schedule-driven egg everyone has to work around.
SCHWARTAU: I mean, when you have a baby, and your friends also have babies, it allows you to continue being friends with that person because your kids are the same age and they can get matcha lattes together. I think that’s just how friendship works moving forward into adulthood.
P-H: It’s contagious.
SCHWARTAU: What’s contagious is not wanting to be left behind.
P-H: The train is leaving the station! It’s like the vaccine. Or starting a podcast. All your friends are doing it. Don’t be left holding the bag of expired Moderna syringes.
SCHWARTAU: Maybe I’m pregnant with a little pod.
P-H: I think you’re headed for a miscarriage.
SCHWARTAU: There’s only three episodes and then it dies.
P-H: A preemie Patreon.
SCHWARTAU: I guess my podcast isn’t going anywhere. But there is a change happening right now. Something is afoot.
P-H: I agree. I’m ready to start online shopping again after my dry January.
SCHWARTAU: It’s more of a cloud. Something hanging in the air. A darkness. Or a lightness?
P-H: It might be acid reflux. I was told today that my recent surgery has possibly raised further complications, and it’s made me worry I might have done something I can’t take back. The foreclosure of possibility—a world that was once bigger, now feels smaller. And even if the pandemic were to “end” tomorrow, what would return? A sense of “normalcy?” Right now, people are making reservations to sit at a tiki bar in Bushwick at 6pm, 10 feet away from each other, and feign joy when so much has been lost. And the next pandemic is surely around the corner, the next ecological crisis is around the corner, the next climate crisis is around the corner, the next financial crisis, and so on. There’s an innocence—perhaps a veneer—that’s been ripped away. And it feels very hopeless. Although a lot of that may have to do with the fact that I’m in my 30s.
SCHWARTAU: Sounds like you need some BetterHelp.
P-H: I was also told it could just be acid reflux. It’s all very Adam Curtis-esque because in the new doc he essentially says our imagination has been taken from us. Which feels very much like the foreclosure of possibility—we can’t imagine a future. I can’t even imagine finishing the documentary.
SCHWARTAU: I watched the first episode.
P-H: His overarching thesis is we’re imprisoned by our previous mode of thinking. There’s no escape from capitalism—every revolutionary person and every revolutionary idea has fallen victim to the very bonds they were trying to break. I mean, look at your apartment!
SCHWARTAU: Do I have to?
P-H: You’ve demolished the kitchen wall, only to find… another wall.
SCHWARTAU: You finish one Adam Curtis documentary only to find… another Adam Curtis documentary.
P-H: I think maybe Hypernormalisation is better, but I like the general vibe of this one. It’s very MTV.
SCHWARTAU: He’s just using leftist talking points and pairing it with found footage.
P-H: Well, I appreciate that a lot more than some talking head moralizing at me. He lets the music video speak for itself.
SCHWARTAU: I like that he focuses so much on Mao Zedong’s wife.
P-H: The woman behind the Mao-man.
SCHWARTAU: But his take feels a little arbitrary and unproven. Like, 50 years from now, you could make a documentary about Trump and say, “But behind the scenes, Melania was driving her own agenda for a new America. One with more plastic surgery, more spas, and… more gold.” And then show that the price of gold went up or something. All of the sudden it’s a fact. I feel like in some ways he’s just kind of making stuff up.
P-H: That’s why I like it. I’m a serial fabricator. That was always my style in elementary school. I’d always be making shit up about the Salem witch trials, or the economy of Costa Rica—because who the fuck is gonna fact-check a diorama?
SCHWARTAU: Well, wait until Adam Curtis makes a doc about you in 50 years.
P-H: “He pretended to be a sex-positive intellectual, but behind the scenes, he was Ridgewood’s dumbest prude.”
SCHWARTAU: He claims to be anti-conspiracy theory, but the whole doc feels like a conspiracy theory—putting together bread crumbs in a Q way. I think he’s definitely creating a beautiful story, but I don’t necessarily think it explains the world to me any better.
P-H: It illuminated it for me. It gave credence to the darkness within. You’re just in denial about your kitchen reno going nowhere.
SCHWARTAU: Maybe it’s because I just got the vaccine, but I feel a degree of optimism.
P-H: I can’t relate.
SCHWARTAU: To me, Adam Curtis is in the same realm as Mark Fisher capitalist realism, which just feels like societal depression. Saying “there’s no imagination anymore” is something someone with no imagination would say. It’s like someone saying “I’m bored.” It’s like, I don’t know sis, maybe you’re boring.
P-H: Wow, so accurate. When people say “I’m bored,” it’s crazy to me. Because now you’ve ruined the possibility of not being bored—any idea that gets suggested is no longer something fun to do, but rather a feeble, reactionary attempt to fight boredom, which is obviously a deeper psychological affliction.
SCHWARTAU: Right. When you go deep into societal depression territory, you’re giving credence to the end of the road, the end of ideas. You’re willing it into reality. I suppose that’s a pretty coherent critique of that vein of leftist thought, but I’m sure someone would disagree. I just feel like Adam Curtis is that type of person—
P-H: Okay, your point is getting to the end of its road.
SCHWARTAU: I’m done. I’m ending it there.
SCHWARTAU: Goodnight, and good luck!
P-H: I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it, because you’re vaccinated.