Happiness? In this economy?
Investigating joy + the best hamburger bun you're not using
Happy Friday and welcome back to The Crunchwrap!
We have a lot of new subscribers this week and so to all of you I say: Hello! And please know you’ve made a terrible mistake. This newsletter has very little nutritional or informational value. Still, I’m grateful that you’re here.
As you may know because I posted it on every form of social media and also screamed it out of my office window, I got some excellent news earlier this month when the good folks at Pantheon Books agreed to publish my second book. I remain very stoked about it!
But still/predictably, some of this excitement has felt somewhere between gratuitous and indulgent lately. (Stick with me, okay?) Some of it is the fact that now I have to report out and write the dumb thing. Some of it is sophomore nerves. But it’s not that alone. And over the course of the past week, I’ve been catching myself from getting too delighted or self-satisfied because it would mean I’m someone who:
(A) is a braggy jerk who needs to get over himself.
(B) is just begging for the universe to crush them for their hubris.
(C) is definitely Jewish.
(D) is immune or insensitive to the many sorrows of the world.
The psychic logic behind reasons A and B are pretty self-evident, while the spirit behind C could fill an entirely different book that nobody wants to read. It’s D that I want to talk about a bit because it connects with a sentiment that’s floating around in the ether.
Recently, the Fed released survey data from the fall that showed, among many things, the enormous gap between Americans’ individual sense of financial steadiness and their perception of the financial health of everyone around them. In short: Many people personally feel (1) very confident about their finances and (2) very disillusioned about everyone else’s finances and the state of the economy.
Erica Pandey at Axios, which made the handy chart above, chalked up some of the 54-point perception gap to inflation, stock market mayhem, and gas prices, all of which have only gotten worse since the fall when the survey was conducted.
Meanwhile, Derek Thompson linked it partially to a part of human nature that transcends financial stability: “[P]eople all over the world tend to be individually optimistic and socially pessimistic.” (He also suggested that it’s a contemporary symptom of being in a deluge of terrible news at all times.)
All of these explanations make very good sense to me. Still, there’s real “Don’t be humble, you’re not that great” Golda Meir energy to feeling personally good while also feeling a real sense of despair about everyone else. And I think a lot of that has to do with both the inequality (income and other) and the isolation (social and class-driven) that are outsized features of American life right now.
I’m currently reading The Age of Acrimony by the historian Jon Grinspan, which covers the extremely messy, corrupt, violent, and tragic era of American politics from the end of the Civil War until around the turn of the century and the Gilded Age. He points out that that those decades—which featured an impeachment, near-constant divided government, two presidential elections won by the loser of the popular vote, and three presidential assassinations—make the contentious politics of this moment look kind of cute.
Eventually, he notes, the fever breaks. And the lives of many that had been so defined by politics and consumed by civic engagement recedes. He writes:
It took a terrible bargain. The well-to-do victors of the Gilded Age’s class wars chose to trade participation for civility. They restrained the old system, decreasing violence and partisanship, but diminishing public engagement along with it. [Voting t]urnout crashed, falling by nearly one-third in the early twentieth century, especially among the working class, immigrants, young people, and African Americans. Our engagement has yet to recover. In the twentieth century, much of the dynamism of American public life lived outside “capital P” electoral Politics.
Other than “democracy is messy!,” there’s no tidy takeaway here. (And this messy and free Taco Bell-themed newsletter doesn’t have one either.)
But I do think that part of why these perception gaps exist has to do with the reality that we have fewer ways of knowing how life really is for most people and a lot of dread (real and justifiable as well as fake and artificially imposed) is filling up the vacuum.
If you’ve been following the NBA Finals, which ended last night with the Golden State Warriors clinching their fourth title in eight years, you know that Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins had an excellent redemption arc. After years of trying to find a system that fit his talents, the former No. 1 pick had a star turn at the best possible time…when it was all on the line, Bob.
What was never in question, however, is what an endearing personality Wiggins is. (He is Canadian after all.) Case in point: This 19-second video of Wiggins reflecting on musical performances by Lil Uzi Vert and Michael Bolton. Ya gotta watch:
Snack of the Week: English Muffin Burgers
This month, chefs around the country are boycotting Martin’s Potato Rolls—family-run baker of beloved breads, including the pillow-y hamburger buns used by Shake Shack and countless other burgermeisters—over the company founder’s support of Doug Mastriano, a Trump-endorsed Capitol insurrectionist who is currently running for the governor of Pennsylvania. (What a sentence!)
Anyway, we could debate the efficacy of boycotts, which often drive more attention and revenue toward the targets, but instead, I’m just going to use this moment to offer one of my more controversial and unexpected food takes: Toasted English muffins make for the best burger buns.
I owe this practice to Rebecca, a friend, former boss, chef, and open hater of The Crunchwrap, who introduced me to this concept over a decade ago. I was skeptical at the time, but I’ve since been thoroughly won over through steady and repeated testing.
Pros: The bread toasts well, will hold a loaded burger without collapsing, does not turn into paste in your mouth, has built-in nooks for spreadable condiments, is both delicious and gratifying to bite into, and compels a cook to make a compact patty so that you can have two/three of them without throwing up on your friends.
Cons: People will call you elitist.
Nu, What Else?
The novelist Camille Bordas reading and discussing Saul Bellow’s 1955 short story “Father To-Be” is a trip. A good one.
Dogs that sniff out COVID at elementary schools and become beloved mascots of the kids? Okay.
Carrington Tatum wrote this gut punch for MLK50 about how student debt and low wages forced him (and many) out of journalism. We’re all worse off and less informed for it.
That’s it for this week’s Crunchwrap! Thanks as always for reading and for all your kind notes.