Talk Hole: Fetching the Bolt Cutters with Martha Stewart’s Detainees

By and
Photography Eric Schwartau

Published April 23, 2020

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 Zoom call in New York, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is still chic, even in isolation. This time around, Talk Hole discusses Too Hot to Handle, finding Clandestino among a row of shuttered storefronts, and converted-oil-rig-cum-loft rental property. 

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SCHWARTAU: I’m very antsy today.

P-H: Eric, I feel like I’m hiding. I’m hiding from my partner in my bedroom right now.

SCHWARTAU: Well, you guys have been in an apartment together for over a month.

P-H: I started this passive-aggressive thing where I do all the chores he usually does, to throw off the yoke of my dependence on him. Today, I was washing the dishes, and then I came home from doing laundry—and I found him doing the things I usually do. He was dusting the plants.

SCHWARTAU: Sounds like you guys are role-playing. 

P-H: Hmm. Maybe it’s healthy.

SCHWARTAU: You know, there’s always more chores to be done, no matter what. So just remember that. Think of all the things I have to do because I’m alone.

P-H: It looks like you’re doing laundry right now.

SCHWARTAU: I’m not doing laundry, I was just decorating with folded linens. 

P-H: Trying to make it look like you live in an Airbnb? 

SCHWARTAU: If I can’t travel anywhere, I’ll just, like, visit my couch.

P-H: It’s the little things.

SCHWARTAU: Yeah, my couch is literally Barbados now.

P-H: And just like Barbados, it has no new Rihanna albums. 

SCHWARTAU: In a society bereft of new Rihanna albums, we find other things to occupy our time, like watching Too Hot to Handle, for example. I took notes on it, so I’m a media theorist now.  

P-H: Do you like it or do you love it? How many Alexas do you give it?

SCHWARTAU: I think you mean how many Lanas

P-H: The most insane part of the show is that it’s run by this smart home device that is completely infallible and has unquestioned moral certitude.

SCHWARTAU: Everyone seems like they’re a device. The contestants are sex robots. We never see the host either—she might as well be a sassy Nest.

P-H: It’s the logical conclusion of algorithmic content where they’re mixing Love Island plotting with American idiocy, and the cast is half, like British-slash-Australian people and then half Americans.

SCHWARTAU: Yes, and having an accent is the only personality trait on display.

P-H: Well, I’m a huge fan of an accent being a personality.

SCHWARTAU: I love how the producers are like, “no sex.” Because I do feel like all people with accents are just trying to get laid.

P-H: It is eerily of the moment, more so than Love is Blind—because A, it’s horny but asexual, which is how everyone feels right now. B, the contestants put all their faith in a random smart home device, Lana. They imbue her with godlike authority. They’ll say, “Well, Lana’s always right,” “Well, Lana gave us the green light,” “Well, Lana knew that you were having a truthful moment of growth.” The entire arc of the show is based around what Lana decides is growth and it’s never explained beyond a very nebulous concept. This little LED cone says, “You didn’t grow up, sorry sis.”

SCHWARTAU: In these Netflix reality shows, there’s this facade of technology, but then behind that, it’s so clear there’s a human. Like in The Circle, the contestants were speaking to the smart TV, or whatever, but there’s obviously a real human.

P-H: That’s actually not a bad point. But we buy it because we have more faith in computers than in humans.

SCHWARTAU: We’re biased towards algorithm culture. But algorithms are just made by data scientists trying to get people to have sex on cam. Too Hot to Handle relies on our belief that hot people’s lives are too bountiful, so they need more boundaries. The premise is basically taking away hot people’s Tinder.

P-H: Limits can be a super powerful thing. If you’re struggling with your visual practice, try using just charcoal for a week and you’ll be amazed by the things you draw. That’s kind of what quar is like. Removed from the ability to go to restaurants, to bars, to grills, to bar & grills—we’re having to figure out, who am I? What is my identity when I can only paint with a brush of chicken-apple sausage and wilted kale?

SCHWARTAU: We’re literally on Too Hot to Handle, but instead it’s called, “Too Sick To Touch,” and instead of $100,000, you get $1,200 dollars.

P-H: Okay, here’s a question. Why do robot servants always have women’s names? 

SCHWARTAU: That’s a great question. We should ask that Women’s and Gender Studies major who is a contestant on Too Hot to Handle.

P-H: Can I tell you something important and personal? Something big happened today. I looked in the mirror, and I’m pretty sure that my ass fell.

SCHWARTAU: Was it ever up?

P-H: It used to just be pretty flat, but now when I look at it, there’s almost two sections. It’s starting to look like an old man’s ass.

SCHWARTAU: I guess now you have to actually be funny. No more being hot.

P-H: I regret the past five years, letting them go to waste dating other bottoms, being too afraid to go to the big Portuguese sex party. 

SCHWARTAU: I never got to go to Portugal.

P-H: We should do a trip to Portugal, in our mind.

SCHWARTAU: We should go on a Google Maps road trip!

P-H: You can do a staycation. Dress up your living room to look like a sauna in Lisbon.

SCHWARTAU: I’ll just turn on the oven for a while.

P-H: You could put on…what’s that album?

SCHWARTAU: Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

P-H: Yes.

SCHWARTAU: My boyfriend specifically told me not to talk badly about Fetch the Bolt Cutters in the column. My review is that I did fetch the bolt cutters, and then I kind of just left them in a different spot and forgot why I got them and didn’t cut the bolt. Like, I put my bolt cutters down. I got distracted.

P-H: Okay, I want to talk about your trip in Manhattan. You made a video that you’ve been really busy with these past few days. What was the live report from Clandestino?

SCHWARTAU: I couldn’t figure out what storefront was Clandestino because everything was shuttered. 

P-H: And in that way, Corona is the great equalizer. You know that even if there wasn’t a crisis, Clandestino would have still been closed during the day.

SCHWARTAU: Dimes Market was open. 

P-H: Thank god.

SCHWARTAU: I mean, grocery stores are the new clubs and bars.

P-H: They’re the only place where you can try on a new consumer identity. But I’m worried about all the Lanas of Dimes Square—all the Australian diaspora girls, wandering the Lower East Side in search of seven almonds and an asparagus spear. Are they okay?

SCHWARTAU: There was actually no one around. It wasn’t what I was expecting. 

P-H: Isn’t that a good thing?

SCHWARTAU: I saw the news about Florida reopening their beaches, and how all the liberals were condemning it. And then I biked over to Prospect Park the other day, and it was completely packed. I was shocked. I was terrified. 

P-H: Were people social distancing?

SCHWARTAU: It’s hard to tell. What is six feet, you know? It’s about a yard and a half? We don’t know. It’s very hard to say what six, even as a number, is.

P-H: Six has always been one of the rounder, fatter numbers to me—second only maybe to five. I feel this about Wednesday, too. Anything that’s in the middle is usually quite rotund. So I think it being so blob-like makes it hard to use as a unit of length-focused measurement.

SCHWARTAU: I agree. Out of curiosity, what’s the thinnest day of the week?

P-H: Thursday. Okay, next topic. Rich people in quarantine with their staff. 

SCHWARTAU: Are you talking about yourself?

P-H: My boyfriend has fully vested options in this relationship. He’s a partner in this firm. But I saw an article with a quote from Martha Stewart, who was joking, saying, “Yes, I have three of my staff in quarantine with me. I call them the detainees.”

SCHWARTAU: Wow, so it’s Abu Ghraib.

P-H: I love the idea of Martha having a full Abu Ghraib-like scandal at her Connecticut estate. But instead of taking photos of them sucking dick, it’s Martha taking photos of things she thinks is humiliating. So it’d be her workers like, spatchcocking a hen incorrectly.

SCHWARTAU: Trussing a duck backwards.

P-H: She’s like, “This is the most humiliating thing a human could ever do.”

SCHWARTAU: Speaking of being detained, I watched that Lady Gaga-organized concert of celebs singing songs from their houses. It reminded me of your tweet about how every celeb looks like they’re in the lobby to their bedroom.

P-H: They all have these big, vaguely impersonal seating areas with like, one unused candle on a sideboard in the background, and it’s just like, okay, lobby to the bedroom.

SCHWARTAU: The most ridiculous one was J-Lo—fully produced. Very high def audio.

P-H: Obviously, J-Lo is the last person who will ever be down to Earth in quar. She sort of invented modern diva-ism, along with Mariah. They can pull that off. Whereas Chrissy Teigen and John Legend are really struggling to straddle their weird line of, “I’m super rich, but I’m super relatable! I’m funky and I fucked up the tacos, but I have like 18,000 couches.” That’s a weird POV right now.

SCHWARTAU: Right. And just to be clear, no one here is faulting J-Lo.

P-H: Can I say what really bothers me? There might as well not be a Democratic Party right now. There’s no meaningful political opposition to what the administration is doing, which is basically, hold Dada-esque—if I’m using that word correctly—press conferences, pass a $2 trillion bill that no one feels the effects of, and then simply not make testing available. 

SCHWARTAU: The whole Democratic nomination got so much attention for the party, but now it’s all just Trump’s briefings every single day, and Joe Biden is completely out to lunch. The Cuomo family is the actual Democratic Party now. The Governor and his CNN-employed brother, the perfect establishment family.

P-H: People love families. Especially Americans on the East Coast of Italian and Irish dynasties.

SCHWARTAU: Cuomo is a brand now. They’re the Ragu of politics.

P-H: Wait, did you see the article in The New Yorker today by Naomi Fry that was like, “Alex is protesting Hunter College and not paying for her classes, but it hasn’t stopped her from running her own art class and charging 15 bucks a person for it.”

SCHWARTAU: I saw that. I was like, wait is this a read?

P-H: But it does all beg the question, like, what were you ever paying for with college? It’s not this expensive anywhere else in the world. Why is an NYU education worth $200,000?

SCHWARTAU: Um, they have printers there.

P-H: That’s so true. Because like, where do you find a printer in New York?

SCHWARTAU: Yeah, there are printers, bathrooms, and desks. 

P-H: Right, but when you take away printers and bathrooms, what on Earth are you paying for?

SCHWARTAU: You can also find a professor to marry.

P-H: I had a crush on my French teacher at NYU. He had a very pointy nose. One time he told me that I couldn’t write a boring sentence, even if I tried.

SCHWARTAU: And he unleashed the demon.

P-H: And that’s why I’m the terror that I am today. I want to talk about advertising in the age of COVID.

SCHWARTAU: We have some key insights to deliver.

P-H: Everyone is now doing insanely self-serious COVID ads, where they’re trying to tug at our heartstrings. It’s all very, “Now more than ever, we need to be purchasing the same exact products that we were purchasing a month ago.”

SCHWARTAU: I saw a Pepsi ad like that. It’s literally diabetes in a can, complicit in death across America.

P-H: I think a lot of these companies are complicit in death across America because they fuel the lack of health vibes.

SCHWARTAU: The lack of health vibes, exactly. Okay, the other thing I wanted to talk about was the right-wing protesting in Denver, and everywhere. When I was in Colorado with my ex years ago, we were like, “Oh my god, Colorado is so beautiful, and then a giant Trump truck with Trump flags and like five 17-year olds drove by yelling, “faggots.” These protests are not about wanting to go back to Best Buy. Colorado’s governor is gay. This is political, Steven.

P-H: You mean to say it’s cultural. Conservatives don’t like things they think liberals like. So if libs are staying home in solidarity, Tea Partiers want to go to Best Buy in solidarity.

SCHWARTAU: They don’t like having to wait in line at Costco.

P-H: And this is American exceptionalism, dovetailing with our highly individualistic capitalist yet Christian society, which preaches, “If I get fucked, I get fucked. But like, I probably won’t. I can survive anything if I’m meant to.”

SCHWARTAU: Faith and family, above all.

P-H: Faith, family, and fag. I saw that on a plaque. I was actually insulted on Twitter recently by someone who, in their profile picture, had a “Gather” plaque on a shelf behind them. 

SCHWARTAU: They should have one that says, “Hunter-gatherer.”

P-H: I want a plaque that says “Hunter.”

SCHWARTAU: There’s a new Middle Ages coming upon us with this plague. People are dumb, people want to be misinformed.

P-H: Well, there’s literally no way to not be misinformed now. A nation of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists is basically getting what it wants. The government is absolutely not to be trusted. Everyone has ulterior motives. Nothing makes any sense. You can basically prove or disprove any theory. 

SCHWARTAU: Oh, I want to talk about oil.

P-H: Okay, yes, economist mind, go off.

SCHWARTAU: So, people aren’t using oil, and nobody has anywhere to put it, so they’re trying to get rid of it. And that’s why the price went down.

P-H: Supply and demand, motherfuckers. It’s an S&D situation.

SCHWARTAU: And that’s when I realized that all those people driving around Bushwick with muffler alterations at 75 miles per hour are actually doing a service to the economy.

P-H: I love to see an aggressive male in his 20s careening his souped up Honda down Wyckoff to support the economy of Kuwait. I mean, A, I think we were always going to have to wean ourselves off oil. B, the price of oil was always a completely mad- up thing. It fluctuates to a degree that is well beyond how much actual demand fluctuates. So it’s just like, now that it’s worth nothing, what’s going to happen to Kuwait and Saudi, etc.?

SCHWARTAU: The new Gulf State economy is going to be online education. And all future college classes are going to be taught through NYU Abu Dhabi.

P-H: I think that is 100 percent true. Which brings up my question: What do we do with all the massive infrastructure that oil companies have insisted on building to mine the earth? 

SCHWARTAU: We could do a cute converted loft.

P-H: Yes. The modern House Hunters Airbnb aesthetic loves repurposed materials. Like shipping containers and all that metal. “We wanted to leave that industrial grade rare-earth mining drill in place, and really make it a showstopper.” Just throw in a couple folded linens and all of a sudden that derrick becomes the perfect selfie background for Derek and Emily’s road trip! But here’s the thing: If we all start driving again, does the price go back up? 

SCHWARTAU: I don’t have a car.

P-H: Does gas go bad? I know that oil needs to be turned into gas at a refinery, but then what…?

SCHWARTAU: That’s why we have to use it so much. You have to get rid of it. It’s like scallions, but it’s not renewable. You can’t grow them in a window.

P-H: Okay, my friend, Lily sent me a photo of herself with these really big scallions from the farmers’ market and they made her look really thin.

SCHWARTAU: Wait, wait. What farmers’ market is she going to?

P-H: This is what I don’t understand. I also don’t understand what’s acceptable to do, when guilt and public censure is the only thing really stopping people from doing anything.

SCHWARTAU: What I don’t understand is if I develop immunity and someone sneezes on me, and then I touch your face, could I give you COVID? 

P-H: I have no idea. Like, if I had the antibodies, am I still at risk for giving it to an old person when I go on vacation to a nursing home? They don’t make this clear.

SCHWARTAU: They’re talking about giving immune people certificates so they can go back to work. The hottest new thing is having immunity. People are going to have plaques on their walls. I’m going to get an “I survived COVID” t-shirt.

P-H: I survived COVID-19, but my grandma didn’t, and all I got is this t-shirt. 

SCHWARTAU: Okay, I think we need to end. 

P-H: Yes, I need to go use my gas.