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Your new book takes us from neighborhoods like Brooklyn and Silver Lake and into the wilds of America, where goths populate food courts and people wear Santa sweaters all year long. Where did the idea for this book come from?
It was kind of a joke at first. Publishers Weekly, when they were doing an interview with me for The Hipster Handbook, asked me what the follow-up was going to be, and I just ironically said that I was going to do a book about white baby boomers that dressed like native Americans. And when I was thinking about what I wanted to do as a follow up, I was like, "Hey, maybe I should do a book about white baby boomers." I came up with the word Cherohonkee, and started going to coffee shops and Barnes & Nobles cafes and that kind of thing, and documented the idiosyncratic people that I saw. It seemed to me that there are hundreds of different archetypes out there that people recognize but haven't been given a name yet, and just thought it would be a good idea for a book.
What sorts of study methods do you employ for such a wide-ranging anthropological study?
Oh, yeah, I have hundreds of field researchers all across the country that are doing scientific research. We hang out at J.C. Penneys, food courts, Applebee's—just bring our notebooks and try to blend in.
The release of the book coincides with Election Day. Which idiotype, as you call them, is most likely to vote for John Kerry?
Definitely the Hexpatriate—people who live in this country but they always talk about leaving it. Susan Sarandon would probably be the perfect celebrity person, or Sean Penn. They are the type of people that if they're at the Great American Steakhouse, they're still going to call the bathroom the loo.
How about for George Bush?
Definitely the Ru-Publican—based on Rupert Murdoch's name, they're Republicans that are maybe a little bit hypocritical when it comes to their family values. Or maybe the Yankneck. The Yankneck is—if you've ever been outside of the South and seen people who have rebel flags in their front yard—they're the Yanknecks. They could be anywhere, they don't have to be in the Northeast. I gave them the name Yankneck because it seems that if you're a true redneck, anyone who doesn't live in the South is a Yankee.
You rank people from "1," which is "Normal," to "10," which is "Run, this person is a freak." Who in the media is an absolute 10?
Thomas Friedman. He writes for The New York Times but then he says maybe it's OK to have a war for oil. And Bill O'Reilly is the perfect example of a Ru-publican.
Which group is most in danger of taking over America?
Hopefully not the Cherohonkees. It would be a frightening day if I woke up and everyone I passed on the street was wearing feathered earrings and wolf t-shirts, and obsessed with Native American culture. I think the group that's seen the largest growth in the past year would have to be the Hexpatriate. And from my travels to the suburbs, another one that I've seen a lot of is the Soccer Lily, which are soccer moms with lesbian haircuts. It seems that they're starting to take over.
Was this a solo effort or did you collaborate with the artist?
Yeah, Jeff Bechtel is integral to everything I do. He is super, super talented. He was helping me out with some of the types, too. I did a lot of traveling up where my wife lives in Maine, and down where I'm from in Richmond, and asked friends from the suburbs to identify some types as well. I think I could have done a book just based on New York idiotypes because there's such a strange little world that New Yorkers live in. But it was nice to get out of New York. I think we have tunnel vision here and don't know what is going on in the rest of the country. My whole introduction is based on how New Yorkers think that New York is the melting pot of the world. Racially speaking, that might be true, but when it comes to people's opinions and that sort of thing, New York is more homogenous than other places.
You call the CROWs "the office equivalent of the disgruntled coffee shop employee." Did you have anyone in mind?
Oh God, myself. I think my password was "fuckthisshit" on one of my old temp jobs. When I first moved to New York, as most writers, I was the permanent temp, going from banks to real-estate companies—just God-awful jobs all across the board. In my experience temping, I think I came into contact with everyone that I wrote about in the book.
So essentially you'll find the melting pot of America at a temp gig?
* * *
CROWs (Cornered Rabid Office Workers)
IN BRIEF: The office equivalent of the disgruntled coffee shop employee
POPULATION SIZE: Common
GENDER: Male or female
HABITAT: Bars with happy hours
FAVORITE BOOK: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
SCREEN SAVER: Album covers, ironic unicorns, and rainbows
IDIO RANK: 6.8
Always a force to be reckoned with, CROWs have gained notoriety in the workplace with their tendency to lash out unexpectedly at their colleagues. If the person seated next to you isn't religious, but you hear him muttering "Jesus Christ" under his breath throughout the day, chances are you're sitting next to a CROW.
The source of the CROWs discontent lies in his lack of vocational fulfillment, causing him to become bitter and snarky. CROWs are intelligent underachievers who feel their work environments are suppressive and prevent them from realizing their full creative potential. When discussing their work with strangers, they claim to be poets or playwrights, even if they spent the last nine hours doing data entry on the McFlannery acquisition.
Despite their short fuses, CROWs are able to successfully juggle work, a dysfunctional relationship, and an active drug habit all at once. Assured of their intellectual superiority, they're quite adept at the art of rolling their eyes, and they enjoy discussing the theory that everyone in the Sales Department is retarded. Other CROWs strategically place copies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight beside elite graduate school applications on their desks to illustrate that their current position is beneath them.
Many CROWs are sarcastic and catch coworkers off guard by labeling their trash cans with "inbox" signs. Some develop imaginary work-related illnesses and claim that the overhead lights don't allow the entry of an adequate number of photons into their retinas. All CROWs send out emails at least once a week saying "Contact me on my cell, I will be working from home."
Signs That You Are a CROW, Part 1
> Your computer password is fuck-this-shit.
> Everyone knocks on the nonexistent door to your cube.
> You have a rearview mirror on your monitor to alert you of enemy approach.
> You spend several hours a day making whispery phone calls to friends describing your coworkers' incompetence.
> You spend the last ten minutes of every workday counting down the final six hundred seconds.
> You commonly complain that the fluorescent lights will suck the soul from your lifeless body.
Sinking Ships and Rising Tempers
CROWs enjoy spreading paranoia about the company's demise, e.g., No company as disorganized as this one could possibly stay afloat. They typically claim to do more work than anyone else and grumble that their last place of employment was much more organized. Nevertheless, much of their time at work is spent listening to MP3s with their heads down on their desks. Others kill time creating the perfect cubicle feng shui, wondering to themselves whether the wealth corner is to the right or left of the pencil sharpener. Most commit several hours a day to debating arrival time with their bosses. They believe that it's perfectly acceptable to arrive at noon as long as they work a little bit late.
Thankfully, most CROWs are content to take out their frustrations on inanimate objects such as computers, telephones, and fax machines instead of their coworkers. Should a bag of Doritos become lodged in the vending machine, it will experience a fury that knows no parallel:
"Holy fucking Christ. Fall. Fall, goddamnit. For the love of god, I hate working here!"
Making Contact with a CROW
When coming in contact with a CROW, one should always use caution. Thousands of people are injured by office shrapnel yearly just for making the mistake of being in the line of fire when a CROW's computer crashes. Here are a few suggestions to help mollify a potentially explosive interaction, should you have to approach a CROW at work:
> Never address a CROW as chief, buddy, big guy, or sweetie. Affectionate names will make them feel patronized and on edge.
> Never approach them directly with a work question. Instead, carry a prop such as a book or CD to discuss and ease your way into work-related topics.
> Comfort CROWs with cooing noises. Sometimes, letting them smell the back of your hand can be helpful.
WARNING: Should the CROW at any time become fidgety, or begin sweating, twitching, or shifting in his chair, excuse yourself to the bathroom and complete your conversation via email. Your safety should always come first.
Truth be told, CROWs are profoundly out of place in an office environment due to their misanthropic natures and their disdain of company meetings. Offices where a CROW's attitude is allowed to go unchecked sometimes suffer mass outbreaks of CROW's disease, a condition associated with headaches, fatigue, lewd gesturing, and the pilfering of office supplies. More often than not, the CROW's tenure is cut short when he's caught keying his boss's car or mistakenly sends an instant message to a superior that says "Valerie needs someone to rip her a new asshole."
Signs That You Are a CROW, Part 2
> You knocked the mood lamp off your desk in a fit of rage.
> You spend more time smoking in the stairway than you do at your desk.
> You spend the first thirty minutes of every morning staring at your monitor and daydreaming about kicking your boss in the rib cage.
> You've strategically placed trash cans, plants, and folder drawers to function as a barricade to your desk.
> People commonly wonder if you have Tourette's.
This is excerpted from Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic, by Robert Lanham. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Lanham and illustration copyright © 2004 by Jeff Bechtel. Published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA). Excerpted with the permission of the publisher. You can buy Food Court Druids at Amazon.com.