On Sunday, former Talk Soup host, Aisha Tyler hosted Hollywood Life Magazine’s 10th Annual Young Hollywood Awards. The way Aisha loves to talk, she had to be cracking jokes all night long. No video from the awards, but this is a great excuse to scoop a story from her book Swerve: Reckless Observations of a Postmodern Girl.
This is definitely youthful, reckless inspiration.
Aisha Tyler calls it..
The Ballad of Yogurt Girl
I had a job, when I first got out of college, in an office, with cubicles and low-pile, stain-resistant carpet, and a guy who delivered mail from a little cart with wheels. And it had conference rooms that smelled like cold cuts, because cold cuts would often be left out in those conference rooms after whatever meeting that required cold cuts in order to occur had ended.
This company had a lot of young people working there, young, hungry people, most of whom were poor, one of whom was me. These young, hungry people lived at that office: came in early, worked late, toiled away on weekends, slept in empty offices, drank beer at their desks when they thought no one was looking. They were hungry and they were poor, and they were overworked and underpaid, and goddamnit, they were going to get drunk at work because they deserved it.
This underclass of young, hungry people were scavengers. Because they all made just enough money to pay their rent, college loan installments, and monthly bus pass, there was nothing left over for food. These people went to work every day in a beautiful high-rise building, but they were all starving as hell. And so they became resourceful. Since I was one of them, so did I.
This resourcefulness took many forms, but the most prevalent, and productive, was the “post office-event swoop.” Because this was a pretty successful company, with lots of money to burn on flower arrangements and cocktail parties and catering (but apparently not enough to burn on entry level salaries), there was always food at every meeting.
Every meeting. No matter the subject matter or size of the group you could be sure there would be a giant plastic platter of halved marble muffins, a bowl of room temperature fruit salad, or a jumble of brownies and cookies, set out by the hapless assistant of whatever bigwig was running the meeting.
These assistants had a system: whatever number of people the boss said would be in the meeting, the order for food would always be for at least twice that. Six people in the meeting? Focaccia sandwiches for twelve. Training seminar for twenty? Fifty sourdough bowls it is. Senior level tete-a-tete? Cookies for a refugee camp. A midlevel executive’s birthday always commanded a full celebration, replete with coffee, ice cream, champagne and a sheet cake that could have ended world hunger.
This strategy ensured that there were always ample leftovers for the roving packs of hungry young assistants and junior executives hovering outside of meetings and presentations waiting for the older executives to disperse. As soon as a meeting adjourned, a call would go out, just a whisper at first, a murmuring among the reeds. Slowly, slowly, the murmur would grow into a babble and hum, and finally a verbal siren call - “Bagels in conference 2! Bagels and cream cheese in Conference 2”
And the hordes would descend like a swarm of carrion crows, piling baked goods and orange quarters, turkey slices and brownie triangles onto paper plates, Styrofoam bowls, paper towels snatched from the bathroom, or into the fronts of their dress shirts, held up to form little pouches, looking like futuristic marsupials - god damn the stains, this was war - fingers sticky, chins dripping, cheeks puffed out with whatever morsels were too small to bother wrapping up and taking home.
If you were alert, heartless, and unafraid to throw a couple of well-placed elbow jabs, you could be the first through the door every time. The resourceful peon could live for weeks on what was scooped up in these free-for-alls. This was a way of life, and it was a good one. I lived almost exclusively on a diet of “everything” bagels, instant hot cocoa, chocolate brownies, and open faced sandwiches. Those were the glorious days.
As I was poor, in debt up to my eyeballs and living off the grace of others, I was, as one might suspect, obsessed with food. I thought about food constantly.
Part of this obsession included looking to see what other people were eating. During the course of my day I would cruise past the other peon’s desks, casually inquiring after their bowls of udon noodles or deep dish slice. And so it was that I met yogurt girl.
Yogurt girl brought her lunch every day. Yogurt girl never scavenged. I didn’t know yogurt girl because yogurt girl didn’t move in my circle. She didn’t like muffins and cake, brownies and ham. She did not like them, Sam I Am. She brought her lunch every day, and she ate it every day. And that was what she ate day in and day out. And what yogurt girl brought for lunch every day ... was yogurt.
One carton of yogurt. That’s it. Every day. One. Carton. Yogurt.
She put it in the fridge, every day, in a plastic bag, with a spoon, so I knew that was all she brought. And I would see her retrieve the yogurt, then come back later, and primly dispose of the carton, and the spoon, and go back to her desk.
I became fascinated with yogurt girl. Fascinated.
Who was she? Why yogurt? Who could possibly survive a fourteen-hour day of typing and filing and being emotionally belittled by guys in tight gabardine on only one carton of yogurt? I, who felt as if I would faint if I didn’t have some kind of baked good jammed half into my pie hole every hour, could not fathom it.
But as much as I tried to learn her secret, catch her chuggin chocolate milk or mainlining Tootsie Rolls at her desk, I finally had to admit that yogurt girl was some kind of machine, an automaton who could go for miles on one tiny sip of transmission fluid, which, in her case, was yogurt.
I sheepishly admit, being as young and stupid and malnourished as I was, that at first I admired yogurt girl. I admired her tenacity, her self-discipline, her single-mindedness. She didn’t concern herself with mundane and unimportant matters like whether her food was delicious or nutritious, or provided enough calories to keep her from swooning into her computer keyboard. No, she ate that one little yogurt and went on about her business.
She was free to use her time to think about important things, worky things, things that would get her ahead, get her to the point where she could actually afford to purchase food at the supermarket like real people.
I would often look at yogurt girl and think, “Man, I wish I was that thin. If I was that thin, I would be happy. I would have the love and adulation of others, become instantaneously smarter, solve the grand unified theory, become best friends with Stephen Hawking, and have fingernails that would finally grow longer than a shotputter’s. I sure do wish I was yogurt girl. I bet yogurt girl’s happy.”
But as I watched yogurt girl, over those many months, she did not seem so happy. Yogurt girl did not smile much. Yogurt girl did not glow. Although yogurt girl couldn’t have been more than twenty-three, she wore awful sweater sets and sensible pumps. She brushed her teeth in the bathroom obsessively (four times a day - I counted once) and never smiled at anyone. Yogurt girl did not have the love and adulation of others, I never saw her laughing, and I never saw her drink beer at her desk when she thought no one was looking (which was my favorite thing to do and, once I got an officemate, became a regular Friday afternoon activity that ballooned into an unmanageable weekly riot that spilled far into the hallway and involved a pony keg of Old Milwaukee and an awful mixtape consisting primarily of MC Hammer and Pearl Jam, which is the musical equivalent of chocolate dipped in mustard.)
Despite repeated offers, we could never get yogurt girl to do a beer bong or pin the tail on the account supervisor. Yogurt girl, despite all her discipline and love of cultured dairy, was miserable.
What’s my point, besides the fact that a diet consisting entirely of yogurt makes you sad?
It’s that much of what we envy in another person, their thinness or their discipline or their ability to focus on work when others are having fun, isn’t something we would really want, if pressed to examine it. That obsessing over what someone else is doing, having, being, feeling, getting, keeps us from enjoying what it is we’re doing, having, being, feeling, getting. Or all the things we could be doing, having, being, feeling, getting. And eating.
Did I wish sometimes that I had eaten one less bagel, or spent five extra minutes on the treadmill, or had yogurt instead of a brownie turkey sandwich, or worked an extra hour instead of playing Quarters and Thumper on the floor in the reception area until I had to be scooped up, carried out, and placed on the train home?
Quite honestly, no. No I didn’t.
We only have a finite amount of time on this planet, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to have a good time. It is your right, no, your responsibility, to enjoy your life, every bleeding tick-tocking morsel of it. Stay up late. Have an extra scoop of ice cream. Call in sick. Do not beat yourself up about these things. These things will not bring the planet to a halt.
I’m not saying throw all common sense and restraint to the wind and take a bath in custard and Hennessey (although, wow that sounds good.)
Discipline is good. Drive is good. Focus is good.
It might be nice to have six-pack abs or a million bucks before you’re thirty. But you’re only young once. When you’re old, and reflecting on your life over a mug of moonshine and some Melba toast, you’ll think back to the time you sat up late with you’re friends, and played Mexicali until you hurled. And them right thar’s golden memories.