I walk into a bookstore downtown at 4:30 in the afternoon. I graduated from university four years ago, but I still have a stressed-out aura about me.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Well, hello there. Who are you? Based on your vibe, a student. A saucy little co-ed. Nice.
I am wearing the sweatshirt that was on top of the pile in my closet this morning. I am wearing glasses because years of staying up late on the computer strained my eyes and now my vision is a little blurry in my right eye, although the left is still pretty good.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Your sweatshirt says “MAKEOUT CREEK PARKS & TOURISM.” A Mitski reference, to telegraph your good taste in music, but a subtle come-hither, too. Interesting. And those glasses… you’re clearly not here to be ogled; you’d rather use your intellect to seduce. Okay, I’ll bite.
I walk into the “Fiction, F Through K” aisle. I’m looking for “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer, because I’m pissed that “The Idiot” lost the Pulitzer, but I figure if I’m going to complain about it on Twitter — say, by posting a picture of Gritty banging his furry orange paws against the walls of the penalty box and captioning it, “me beating down the doors of the pulitzer prize board in 2017 to prevent them from disrespecting elif batuman” — then I should, at the very least, read the book I’m complaining about. Who knows? Maybe it will end up being better than “The Idiot.”
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: You search the books. Fiction, F Through K. Hmm. Now, you’re not the standard insecure nymph hunting for Faulkner you’ll never finish. Too fragile for Stephen King. Who will you buy?
After a few minutes of searching, I still can’t find the book. I glance around, looking for the nearest employee. I would generally rather shrivel up into a cocoon than bother a retail employee, but I really do want this book, so, ugh.
ME: Hello. Do you work here?
PENN BADGLEY, OUT LOUD: Guilty. Can I help you find something?
ME: Yeah, do you have “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer?
PENN BADGLEY, OUT LOUD: It’s a good choice. (He chuckles.) Follow me.
Ugh. If he’s saying that to flatter me, or flirt with me, then… ew. If he’s saying that because he genuinely thinks it deserved the Pulitzer more than “The Idiot,” then also, ew.
PENN BADGLEY, OUT LOUD: It’s going to be over here, under “award-winning authors.”
Oh. I guess that makes sense. It’s so annoying how the bookstore silos award-winning books away from the rest of their stock. Organizing everything by the author’s surname just makes things easier to find.
ME: Oh, right. Because of the, uh… the Pulitzer.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Ugh. Acting like you didn’t walk in here solely to buy the novel that just won the Pulitzer. False modesty is such a turn-off.
PENN BADGLEY, OUT LOUD: Yeah, we always stock up on the winning novel after the prize-winner is announced. We sell a ton of them.
Once again, I’m bummed out that people are being directed en masse to purchase this book instead of “The Idiot.” But then again, like, I’m here, purchasing this book. I’m part of the problem. Ugh. I’m so annoyed at the world. I’m so annoyed with myself.
ME: That’s sad. People buying books because of what’s popular, not because they want to be moved or changed in some way.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: My, my. I’m impressed. Perhaps this person really is here to be moved by Greer’s subtle reflections on the transience of romantic love.
PENN BADGLEY, OUT LOUD: Yeah, it’s an epidemic.
I laugh a little and I pick up a copy of “Less,” and I say, “Thanks,” and then I make my way over to the young adult section, because I’ve also been meaning to buy “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.” I’m a young adult novelist myself, and I’m currently working on a high school rom-com, so it’s always interesting to see what makes these books tick. Also, if I don’t like “Less,” then Jenny Han will surely make for a nice, fluffy palate cleanser. I pick up the movie tie-in edition because Lana Condor is cute and I like looking at her face.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Oh, I see. You’re the kind of person who watches the Netflix movie before you buy the book. And you were too embarrassed to walk up to the register with a book for children, so you had to find the Pulitzer-winning novel first, just so you could buy something legitimate with your teenybopper rom-com.
I walk over to the business section to get a copy of “Capital in the 21st Century.” I studied econ in university and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Okay. Now I’m lost. Andrew Sean Greer? And “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before?” And Thomas Piketty’s incredibly dense 750-page manifesto on progressive taxation? No, no, I had you all wrong. You’re unpredictable. You’re… an enigma…
I reach up to grab “Capital” because the economics portion of the business section isn’t, like, a high-traffic area in this bookstore, so it’s on a high shelf. My shirt rides up a little.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: God, but that sliver of sun-kissed, taut stomach is tantalizing. You wanted me to see your midriff, didn’t you? I swear, if this were a movie, I’d grab you and we’d go at it right in the stacks.
I walk up to the cash register and place my books on the counter-top. I open my wallet and pass my credit card to Penn Badgley. I don’t carry cash because I’m a millennial.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Fascinating. You have enough cash to cover this, but you want me to know your name.
PENN BADGLEY, OUT LOUD: Have a nice day, Peyton Thomas.
I laugh because I’m uncomfortable. I look at his nametag, to be polite.
ME: You have a nice day, too, Penn Badgley.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: You smiled. You laughed at my jokes. You told me your name, and you looked at my nametag to get my name. Who are you, Peyton? Who are you? I’d better go home and Google you, because a guy needs to protect himself. I need to be sure you’re safe… and your name is a glorious place to start. Not a lot of people named “Peyton Thomas” in the city of Toronto.
My Twitter account is public because I work as a freelance journalist sometimes, and I like to be able to network with other people who work in media. My Tumblr account is public because there is no such thing as a private Tumblr account. My Facebook account, which I almost never use, is set to the highest privacy standards possible – like, not even visible unless you’re logged in, and you can’t message me unless we have a friend in common, and I only have 200 “friends,” and most of them are family and people from high school. I don’t have Instagram.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: And here you are. No Instagram and no Facebook; how anti-consumerist of you. Ah, and here are your Twitter and Tumblr. Set to public. You want to be seen, heard, known. Well, I’ll oblige. Let’s look at Twitter first. You retweeted an article about a homeless person who died in a clothing donation box; conscientious, I like that. Oh, and you retweeted Hanif Abdurraqib; good taste in music criticism. And… what’s this? A picture of Rory and Paris from Gilmore Girls, standing on a construction site, wearing overalls. And you captioned it, “when will amy sherman-palladino atone” — what does that mean? I’m confused. Let me go check out the Tumblr.
I was up until 1:00 AM on Tumblr last night. I reblogged a photoset of Sufjan Stevens holding flowers because I like him and the pictures were nice. I also reblogged a screenshot of Notes from Camp that talks about how queer people interact with mass culture in unique and unpredictable ways. My friend captioned it “y’all blogging about riverdale,” which is a really roundabout way of gently ribbing all our mutuals who make inscrutable jokes about Archie topping Jughead.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Okay, a photoset of Sufjan Stevens. Peyton is sensitive, thoughtful… but also, a little generic, music taste-wise? Oh, and here’s a screenshot of a passage from Sontag’s Notes on Camp; maybe there was a more sophisticated sartorial sense lurking beneath that frumpy sweatshirt after all.
I periodically read homoerotic fanfiction based on “The Social Network,” and I was in my feelings about it last night, at 1:00 AM.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: What else… oh, here’s a post they wrote: “mark : eduardo :: aeneas : dido, i will not be taking further questions at this time.” What does that mean? Who are Mark and Eduardo? When I google “mark eduardo,” it brings up Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, the co-founders of Facebook. Is Peyton comparing Facebook to The Aeneid to make a point about how the corporate conglomerates which ostensibly seek to connect us are really just fracturing our capacity to form meaningful connections? Wow. That’s deep.
I didn’t post anything about the employee who checked me out at the bookstore because I forgot about the interaction ten seconds after it happened.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: I was a little concerned, because you didn’t mention that cute guy in the bookstore. And then I realized: your online life isn’t real. It’s a collage. You post this curated version of “Peyton,” this endearingly nerdy little creature who reads Virgil and Sontag. If anything, the fact that you didn’t share me with your followers only confirms we really connected.
Because Tuesday is my day off, I spent the entire day in bed, in my Muji pajamas, playing The Sims with my laptop balanced on my stomach. I’ve got the curtains open to let some light in, and also because it’s the middle of the day, and people open their curtains during the day.
PENN BADGLEY’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Well, here I am, outside your house… Your curtains are open. My God! It’s like you’ve never seen a horror movie, or watched the news! And there you are… lying in bed… focusing intently on your laptop… are you watching PORN? Are you watching PORNOGRAPHY? Are you watching PORNOGRAPHIC MATERIAL? Oh, you naughty little minx… you manic pixie slut…
I look up momentarily from drowning my Sims in their swimming pool. I glance out the window. Some dude is furiously masturbating in a bush across the street. I grimace a little and flip over in bed so I don’t have to look at him. I think about calling 911, but like, I’m pretty sure calling the cops on homeless people automatically makes you a dick.