Sorry, I’m not addicted to “Serial.” I wish I were though.

Serial

Serial” is the most popular podcast in the world and I don’t quite understand why.

If you’ve somehow missed hearing about “Serial,” it’s a multi-part podcast that investigates a fifteen-year-old murder case and is produced by people who have worked on another podcast that I do love, This American Life. “Serial’s” popularity is a verifiable fact. According to Apple it’s reached five million downloads on iTunes faster than any other podcast and is the most popular podcast in several countries. The show’s been referenced by high-profile media outlets that I’ve never seen mention a podcast before. Conan O’Brien tweeted about it and The Today Show did a segment about it (and morning news shows are always the last place to hear about pop culture trends). I see the show mentioned in my Facebook feed several times a week, if not every day.

It’s not enough to like this show. People say they are “addicted” to it. They are “obsessed” and “enthralled.” The Today show report said it has a “cult-like” following. There is a thread on reddit devoted to investigating the crime. It’s inspired not one, but TWO, podcasts devoted to talking about the podcast. This fanaticism is where my problem comes in because although I think it’s a good show, I don’t huff it like glue. I don’t look forward to Thursday mornings when the latest episode is released. I don’t feel the need to discuss the details of the case with anyone. If a month went by between episodes instead of a week, I would be perfectly ok with that.

This makes me very strange. And alone.

Just to be perfectly clear, “Serial” is a good show. I’m not hating on it. It’s excellently produced and I love the theme music. It’s made by talented people and it shows. However, it’s not crack-cocaine for my ears like it is for everyone else. I feel like I’m at a party with a bunch of alcoholics who are slamming back drinks and don’t understand why I’m like, “One glass is fine, thanks.” It doesn’t mean the wine’s bad. It just means it’s not giving me the same buzz it’s giving everyone else.

Standing outside a phenomena is equal parts lonely and maddening. The more the podcast gets mentioned the more I wonder, “What am I missing here? Why is this so popular?” I have yet to find anyone else who feels the same way as I do about the show. I feel like everyone is at a party that I haven’t been invited to. People are seeing a color that I’m blind to. I’m not part of the group. I wish I were, but I’m not.

I suspect part of the appeal of being addicted to the show is that lots of other people are addicted too, so you get to be part of a cool, new group. You get to belong. I’ve been part of groups like this before. In high school I was part of the “RENT is the best musical ever” group. After college I was in the “Firefly was an amazing show and Fox was stupid to cancel it” group. Lately I’ve been in the “Tatiana Maslany is amazing on Orphan Black and it’ s a crime she hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy” group. Being part of a group that loves something is fun. I think this concept explains the continued success of boy bands. If all your friends like them, and hey, the boys are cute enough, it can be fun to like them too, and even more fun if you decide to really, really, REALLY, like them. It’s immensely satisfying to be part of a group that is passionate about something.

It’s also immensely dissatisfying to be outside that group looking in, but there’s not much I can do about that. You can’t make me addicted to “Serial” any more than you can make me become an alcoholic. Ironically the mass love affair for “Serial” is starting to make me dislike the show a bit because I’m not getting the same buzz as everyone else. I now feel obligated to listen to every episode so I can keep up with current affairs, and nothing kills the joy of something like turning it into homework.

The show seems to be popular in part because it gives people a lot to talk about. Because there are no clear-cut answers and everyone’s testimony is questionable, there are multiple ways you can look at the evidence and multiple theories for people to speculate about. I’m a freelancer who works from home, so I don’t spend that much time chatting with other people during the work day. However when I did work at an office I remember how difficult it could be to come up with small talk day after day, so I understand how having a podcast that releases a new episode each week could really help kill uncomfortable silences at work.

I’ve tried to figure out why I don’t like the show as much as everyone else. I think it’s partly because I find it ethically questionable to drag all the people personally affected by this crime into the spotlight. I have to assume the death of a child is one of the worst things that can happen to you, right after having that murder discussed by thousands upon thousands of strangers as entertainment. Your daughter is no longer a person but a puzzle to solve. I don’t think the producers of “Serial” had any idea how popular it would become, but that doesn’t make the basic concept any less questionable.

I’m only a year or two older than the people involved in the crime, so it seems more like something that could have happened in my life than just a story on the radio. I was in high school when they were in high school. I could have been friends with these people if I’d lived in their city. When people are interviewed about things that happened at that time I’m able to imagine what it would be like to try to remember what happened to me in high school, and trust me, a lot of those memories are murky at best. I can’t even remember my locker number, let alone my locker combination.

The podcast devotes a lot of time to the minute details of the case. Time is spent tracing out the route someone took on the day of the crime, meticulously checking cell-tower ping records and call records and trying to verify if a pay phone existed outside a Best Buy at that time. While a lot of people have described this as “fascinating,” I find it tedious. I much rather would have heard a quick summary of their findings instead of hearing about every stop on the route.

And of course, I doubt there can be any kind of satisfying ending to the show. We’re never really going to know what happened. It’s unlikely there will be a last-minute confession or a buried piece of evidence revealed that will make everything crystal clear. “Serial” explores the fact that the truth is messy. So much of life is unknowable. You can never really know everything about someone, even if they’re your best friend. While those are important ideas to know about life in general, they’re not ones I find satisfying in a multi-part podcast. If you’re going to tell me a story, I’d like it if it has a resolution, which life rarely does. Stories help us make sense of life. That’s what differentiates storytelling from life, stories have to make sense whereas real life has no obligation to.

If you’re not die-hard in love with the show, or maybe even if you are, you might enjoy these “Serial” podcast parodies which are the only things that have made me feel a bit better that I’m not part of the “Serial” love-in. (Yes, the podcast is popular enough that it’s inspired a parody.)

It sounds like it’s great to be someone who is addicted to “Serial.” You all seem to be having a lot of fun. I wish I were invited to the party, but I’m not. I’ll just be standing here outside, alone.

Updated at 5:15pm: I guess I got the timing of this post right because Salon just published an article that lays out the criticism of “Serial” way better than I could.

Mysteries of the InterWebs: My book and a bag of doorknobs

Last month a friend let me know she saw a picture of my book, Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir, resting next to a bag of doorknobs in a comment on this Gawker post about a guy on an airplane who started screaming that he had ebola, and she wanted to know, hey, what the heck was up with that?

Half-Assed doorknobs

Yeah, what the heck was up with that? The only other time I’ve seen my book appear as background in a picture was on a post on the Carrots ‘N’ Cake blog where the blogger’s book was sitting next to mine on a bookshelf. At least that made sense, alphabetically, since our last names, Fulda and Haupert, are only two letters apart. (Couldn’t find the picture, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.)

Working backwards, I determined that the image had been used because the commenter said they thought the man screaming about ebola should have been hit with a bag of doorknobs. If I had been the commenter and I were looking for an image to illustrate that oh-so-humanitarian thought, I would do a Google image search for the term “bag of doorknobs,” and whattayaknow! That image is currently the first result you get if you do that search.

Google search for "bag of doorknobs"

(Uh, I have no idea what’s up with that second row of images either.)

Once I clicked on the link to the page using the image I discovered it had been used in a post on my friend Amy’s blog. She used to date a contractor and the bag of doorknobs was given to her by a friend who’d replaced all the doorknobs in her house and figured the old ones could be used in the boyfriend’s line of work. I’m still not 100% why my book is in the picture, though it sounds like Amy might have gotten a copy of it in the same exchange, or she was just including it because my book had only recently come out. Whatever. It suddenly made a whole lot more sense than it did when I saw it randomly on Gawker. You can see the name “Amy” written on the cardboard box in the photo, which was a hint I completely missed. I’d also forgotten I’d commented on the post asking if I could pay her for the promotion in door hinges, which made me laugh and then made me feel narcissistic for laughing at my own joke even if I couldn’t remember making it. I never gave her any door hinges either.

I felt relieved once I figured this out because suddenly the universe made sense again and wasn’t a place where an image of me in my fat pants appeared in strange photos on gossip sites. Not that I’m complaining about free advertising. However, the incident did make me think about a few things:

1) If I were purposely trying to make a picture become the top Google Image search result for “bag of doorknobs” I doubt I could actually make it happen.

2) If I were truly hardcore about my self-promotion, I could start including the cover of my books in every single photo I ever post on the off-chance one of those images becomes a top Google Image search result and is used on a prominent web site.

3) The universe is unbelievably random. There is no way Amy could have realized back in 2008 that her photo would be the top search result for a phrase someone was using in a comment on a post about a disease that had not yet come to the United States on a blog that another friend of mine reads and would tell me about. Who knows what events this post itself has put into motion that won’t manifest until 2020?!

Anyway, mark this mystery of the InterWebs solved.

Wilmington, NC: Deleted Scenes

Mrytle Beach

A few days after I wrote the entry about my trip to Wilmington, North Carolina I realized I’d left out two interesting(-to-me-anyway) bits in the rush to get the entry up in time to stick to my one post a week commitment. Those vacation posts take a long time to write because of all the photo editing and linking to relevant web sites that’s required, so sometimes I forget some details. However, part of the reason I write vacation posts is so I can read them years later and be reminded of all the things I’ve forgotten by then. It didn’t seem right to edit the existing entry days after I posted it because who knows if anyone would see the additions, so instead here are my inadvertently deleted scenes.

Sleepy Hollow gossip at Wendy’s!

My mom wanted to try the pulled-pork sandwich Wendy’s has been advertising, so we stopped at one of their stores on the way to the aquarium. Near the end of our meal I overheard someone in the booth behind me talking about what it was like working on the set of Sleepy Hollow, the Fox television show that shoots in Wilmington. I took a quick glance behind me to see that the speaker was a twenty-something man sitting with an older couple who I guessed were his parents.

Anyway, Gossip Guy sounded really excited to be working on a show, and started talking about some minor drama the stars had scheduling time off. Now, if I were to listen to anyone else complain about scheduling their vacation days, it would be monumentally boring, but because we were talking about a TV show this suddenly became the most fascinating thing I’d heard all day, only to be trumped by the lady at the aquarium who told me horseshoe crabs have 10 eyes.

Sadly, we could not stay to pick up any more gossip because the aquarium closed at five and we needed to motor.

Sorry, this is not the room you’re looking for

Later that night we ate at an Italian restaurant and came back to our hotel room feeling totally stuffed. About 10 minutes later there was a knock on the door, which was strange since we weren’t expecting anyone. I opened to door to reveal a pizza delivery man standing on the other side who said, “That will be eighteen dollars.” To which I responded, “Sorry, we didn’t order any pizza.”

If I hadn’t been so full, I might have been tempted to swipe the pizza for myself. Instead the pizza man and I verified that, yes, this was room 301 but, no, I had not ordered any pizza. I was concerned he might think I was pranking him, which is something I thought only happened in movies and TV shows (and perhaps on the set of Sleepy Hollow). Finally the pizza man figured out that the person who ordered the pizza was probably at the Holiday Inn Express a few blocks away instead of the plain old Holiday Inn we were staying at. I felt bad for the guy, but none of it was my fault, so what could I do?

So there you go, those are the deleted scenes from my recent vacation. Not the most thrilling of tales, but quirky enough that I’ll be glad to remember them once I’ve forgotten them someday.

Lost in the mail

The post office lost a package that I sent to my mom last month. It would be a lot more interesting if it had been destroyed in a truck fire or stockpiled by a delivery person who was too lazy to finish their route or ended up on that desert island with Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. Unfortunately, I have no answers as to where it went. It’s just plain lost.

USPS Tracking

As this screenshot from the tracking page shows, the package was dropped off and accepted at a Chapel Hill post office at 4:17pm on September 17th. It departed the post office for a sorting facility at 4:57pm and then…nothing. It got sucked into a black hole or fell behind a machine or was stolen or something. It’s sad little bar code was never scanned again.

Ironically, I mailed another package via first class mail to my dad on the same day and it was delivered fine. I used Priority Mail for my mom’s package, which is more expensive and supposedly more reliable, and it’s the one that got lost. And before anyone accuses me of playing favorites with my postage fees, the reason I didn’t use Priority Mail for my dad’s package is because the box was too small for the Click-N-Ship labels I use to print postage at home which let me avoid the long lines at the post office. My mom’s package was larger, so I used Click-N-Ship, which doesn’t allow you to print first class postage.

The package was in truth a yellow, padded envelope that contained a 2GB USB drive and a note to my mom. That’s it. Nothing of huge value, so I don’t think anyone would have purposely stolen it. How badly could someone need a USB drive? I needed to send my mom some files and this was easier than trying to explain DropBox to her. The files aren’t that personal, so I’m not too worried about someone finding the drive and looking at them. The real pain comes from the fact that it was my favorite USB drive! It was the New Balance branded drive I got at FitBloggin’ several years ago. I only sent it because I thought I’d get it back at Thanksgiving. And now it’s gone forever :( It is sort of maddening knowing that the USB drive still exists somewhere out there in the world, but I will probably never find out where. It must be truly horrible to lose something that’s irreplaceable and beloved, like a pet or a child.

I did try to get the post office to find the package. I called the customer service line on the 24th, a week after the package was mailed. They assigned me a case number and said someone from the post office where I mailed the package would call me by the end of the day tomorrow. No one called me. I then called the customer service line again on the 26th and they said someone would call me by the end of the day tomorrow for sure. No one called me. At this point I started humming that Blues Traveler song, Runaround. Since the USB drive was easily replaceable, I gave up at this point. If I’d been more motivated I probably would have gone down to the post office and demanded answers, but who has the energy or time for that? This organization loses about $1 million dollars a day. I don’t think they care too much about losing a USB drive on top of that.

The nice thing about Priority Mail is that it’s automatically insured for up to $50, so I was able to file a claim on the USPS web site. They require some sort of proof of value, so I took a picture of the receipt from Staples where I bought a replacement. You have to swear that everything you submit is the truth, which made me a bit paranoid. Would the post office come hunt me down if they found a USB drive cheaper somewhere else? I submitted the claim on October 3rd and it was approved on October 7th, which was waaaaaaay faster than I’d anticipated. I was ready to wait 60 days for that thing to go through. The check came in the mail the next week.

Of course this begs the questions, what if the check itself had gotten lost in the mail? Would I have had to file another claim about that?

USPS check

Wilmington, North Carolina: The sequel!

When my mom visited me last month we decided to visit Wilmington, North Carolina like we did last year and see some things we’d left unseen. First up…

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is at the end of a long road that is not on the way to anything else. You are never going to accidentally stumble upon this place. If you end up there, it’s because you purposely wanted to visit or because you got unbelievably lost.

Jelly fish

That said, it was worth the trip. It’s a mid-sized aquarium, smaller than the Baltimore Aquarium my parents took me to as a kid (where a bird pooped on my dad’s head in the tropical rain forest exhibit), but larger than my mom and I thought it would be. It’s very kid-friendly. There were interactive exhibits scattered throughout the building where you could play games, hunt for fossils, and more. There was even a shallow pool where you could pet horseshoe crabs and manta rays. Yes, I touched a manta ray! And I forgot to wash my hands before I had dinner later that night, but miraculously did not contract any diseases, thank goodness. They also had one of those spiral wishing wells that I loved as a kid, and still love actually, which is why I sent a penny off to spiral down it magically.

The aquarium is also home to Luna, the albino alligator, who is one of only 50 known albino alligators in existence.

Luna the albino

There was also the skeletal jaw of a megalodon, a creature I am very glad is extinct, because it could open its mouth as wide as I am tall.

Megalodon

The Fort Fisher location is one of four aquarium/aquarium-like locations in the state, one of which is my pier!

Jennette's Pier

Yes, they spell Jennette the same way I do! Jennette’s Pier is in the outer banks, which is something like a four hour drive from Chapel Hill. I did drop by Jennette’s Pier in 2009, but it was still under construction at that point, so all I saw was a sign. I’d like to get back there eventually, but don’t know when I will.

We stopped by the gift shop on the way out, which is where I bought a magnet that has little turtle floating in it.

Turtle magnet

I’ve started buying a magnet whenever I visit someplace new. I put them all on my refrigerator so I can be frequently reminded of all the cool trips I’ve taken. The collecting is coming along quite well:

Vacation magnets

The only down side is that when I travel home with them I’m paranoid that they’ll get too close to my computer hard drive and erase my data, or demagnetize my credit cards. Nothing awful has happened yet, but I’m hyper vigilant about it.

Kure Beach

After visiting the aquarium we headed to Kure Beach, but stopped to gawk at a seaside wedding among the trees on the way there.

Wedding

As we continued on our way we would pass large, two-story, beachware stores every block or two. Instead of having a Starbucks on every corner, they had these brightly colored buildings advertising end-of-season sales. I don’t know how they stay in business. I guess the flip-flop industry is way more profitable than I assumed. My mom got so distracted by a large, pink store in the distance that we nearly slammed into the back of a car that had stopped to make a left turn. These buildings are road hazards!

We lucked into a great parking spot near the Kure Beach pier. It took us a minute to figure out how to get onto the pier though because the chain link gate we thought was the entrance was locked. It turns out you have to go through a building to get onto the pier. I suppose this is so they have a chance to sell you souvenirs and fish bait. Please don’t get the two confused! We arrived about an hour until sunset, so the pier was really busy. My mom said that was because the best time to catch fish is at sunrise or sunset. Coincidentally this is also the best time to kill wasps, which I learned during my moving-in experience four years earlier.

Kure Beach pier

As we walked to the end of the pier we noticed there was a pelican just chilling out on the top of a wooden shelter.

Kure Beach pelican

After that we headed back to the hotel. The next day we took a day trip to…

Mrytle Beach

The only thing I knew about Mrytle Beach is that it was the place the mother wanted to retire to in the movie October Sky. I know that’s totally random, and I have no idea why I remember that particular detail about that movie. It takes a little over an hour to drive there from Wilmington, and then it took us awhile to find parking. We finally settled on a spot by a parking meter and fed it lots of quarters before heading to the boardwalk.

Myrtle Beach

Mrytle Beach has a nice little boardwalk, though it’s nowhere near as massive as the one at Ocean City, Maryland that I visited as a kid. Still, it’s a good place to watch the ocean, take a walk, and buy an ice cream cone in one of 50 flavors. There was a ferris wheel, an arcade, and other attractions like a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum that had a cardboard box in front of it that said “Free Kittens” that would then blast a loud sound at you when you peered in.

We only stayed for an hour or so before heading back to Wilmington, and then back to Chapel Hill the next day. Overall it was a great trip and I’m fairly certain I’ve washed off all the manta ray germs on my hands by this point.

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Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

 
 
Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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