Talk Hole: Virtue & Vice

By Steven Phillips-Horst and Eric Schwartau

Photographed by Talk Hole

Talk Hole is the bi-weekly spoken column of New York’s alt-comedy darlings Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, offering their oracular powers of cultural analysis on all corners of the zeitgeist (high, low, top, bottom). From a Zoom call in Brooklyn, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is chic and drop references to hot trends, hotter temperatures, and scalding political debates. This time around, Talk Hole sees (Ella Emhoff) and gets seen (by the Secret Service.)

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ERIC SCHWARTAU: Do you like my hair?

STEVEN P-H: I love your haircut.

SCHWARTAU: I decided it was time to shape up or ship out. 

P-H: A renewed quest for relevance. That’s why you’re wearing a wrinkly Bernie tee from 2019?

SCHWARTAU: I thought my screen-printed DIY ‘Bernie in Berghain’ font tee-shirt would go over well with the pro-Palestine folks.

P-H: It’s definitely giving Gaza over Tel Aviv.

SCHWARTAU: Berghain is kind of the Palestine of Berlin. There’s a line to get in, no pictures allowed, some Israelis destroyed the sewer system.

P-H: That tracks. Every Israeli guy I’ve slept with is a top who pees on the seat. Although I will point out that Germany is very pro-Israel. They still feel guilty about the whole Holocaust thing, and Israel is the legal and physical embodiment of their contrition. 

SCHWARTAU: The physical embodiment of my contrition is the bags under my eyes.

P-H: From Berghain?

SCHWARTAU: From writing this column. 

P-H: I’m reading Elizabeth’s Taylor excellently divulgent book Elizabeth Takes Off right now, about her struggles with weight loss and gain, and there’s one photo of herself where she says, “And you can tell by my haircut—or lack thereof—that I had no self-esteem.” A good haircut is actually a marker of good self-esteem.

SCHWARTAU: My haircuts usually reflect the barber’s self-esteem. 

P-H: My haircuts reflect the generous tip I give my barber for maintaining my combover.

SCHWARTAU: Whenever I walk down the street after getting a haircut, I think everyone is so horny for me. I guess it’s because a haircut is basically staring at yourself in the mirror for an hour. You really internalize the viewer’s gaze.

P-H: This brings us to the question of re-entry and social anxiety. I will paraphrase a thread I saw from someone who seems very smart: we are all so hyper-aware of how we’re perceived, so cognizant of our interactions, who we talk to, when it’s recorded, and how it will play later on social media, that we are essentially controlling video game versions of ourselves. We’re hovering above our bodies, watching our avatar interact with others in the third person. Which makes socializing a very high-stakes situation. And that makes us wanna do it less.

SCHWARTAU: We’ve been avatars of ourselves for a while, though. Every gay guy is a dog emoji now, thanks to Scruff. I think of the ’50s housewife archetype as the mediated version of  the self. Her identity is sold back to herself and amplified. She becomes more and more doll-like. 

P-H: True, but being recorded is new. Sally Housewife wanted to look a certain way for her husband, but she was not thinking about how she would look 45 minutes from now on an Instagram story to 2,658 other people.

SCHWARTAU: But there was still a lot of pressure in terms of how she would look to her peers, even going to the grocery store. It was just a smaller network.

P-H: And now when people go to the grocery store, they look like shit.

SCHWARTAU: I’m definitely not my best avatar when I’m in a hoodie getting Ben and Jerry’s and a bag of carrots at 1AM.

P-H: I hope you’re not pairing those.

SCHWARTAU: Not unless Ben & Jerry’s launches a hummus flavor.

P-H: Ben & Jerry’s Himbo Hummus.

SCHWARTAU: It seems plausible. They do have a lot of flavors. Perhaps too many?

P-H: Thanks for bringing that up. I hope the gluttonous carnival of choice is something we can address in the context of global warming. We always hear, “Oh, there’s too much plastic!” but it begs the question: Do we need 31 Baskin Robbins Flavors? 40 shades of Fenty? 86 flavored pumps at Starbucks? 500 laps at Daytona?

SCHWARTAU: I mean, there are lots of different skin tones, so the Fenty one makes sense. Whereas all 31 of those ice cream flavors look like the same love handles. 

P-H: The same 16 handles.

SCHWARTAU: Which brings us back to this question of identity and how we are perceived.

P-H: I choose not to perceive my love handles. 

SCHWARTAU: It’s always a balancing act between the individual and the collective. You gravitate toward looking like your peers, but you want to differentiate yourself. I was talking to this gallerist at an art opening, and he was saying how he saw this group of teens walking down the street in the East Village, talking about going to NYU, and they all looked exactly the same.

P-H: Talking about NYU is a huge pillar of the NYU community.

SCHWARTAU: And then I looked around the opening—specifically at you and another gay both wearing canvas caps and Carhartt—and I thought, doesn’t everyone here look the same? Maybe people within a community are just perceiving tiny differences more clearly, while an outsider might glance in the window and say, “Wow, everyone looks the same. A bunch of NYU Students.”

P-H: You’re more attuned to nuance within your peer group. I was walking through Greenpoint the other night, past outdoor bars chock-full of straightfolk stuffed into their little plaid shirts, with their Weezer glasses and Bon Iver beards. They all seemed the same to me. But they were probably like, “Dude! You’ve got the Boba Fett tee instead of the Han Solo tee!” and then his comrade goes, “Whoa man! You’ve got little embroidered tacos on your polo instead of hamburgers.” And that’s meaningful to them.

SCHWARTAU: Straight guys have always had a limited clothing menu.

P-H: Speaking of menus, we need to talk about the Ella-phant in the room.

SCHWARTAU: You’re referring to our dinner last week with Ella Emhoff.

P-H: And all her Secret Service. I can’t believe it finally happened. I felt like we spoke it—or tweeted it—into existence. 

SCHWARTAU: It was inevitable. That evening was full of hyperverbal Gen Z avatars and preening fashionistas. Anna Delvey ciphers on every corner.

P-H: There was Adderall in the air.

SCHWARTAU: I was following you to the restaurant, we walked past the jail, and then I see this guy with an earpiece in, and then bam—Ella tucked into her kotatsu blanket at Dr. Clark.

P-H: It was very full circle. That same block is where we used to host Talk Hole—when it was a comedy show—at Asia Roma. Then it became more notorious when Chelsea Clinton murdered Epstein in his jail cell just down the road. And now it’s where Ella Emhoff enjoys conceptual Japanese cuisine. 

Emhoff at Dr. Clark with a Secret Service agent. Photo by Sarah Nechamkin.

SCHWARTAU: That block is just jail after jail. First, it’s the Talk Hole holding cell in a basement karaoke lounge, then it’s the Ghislaine and Jeffrey suite at the correctional facility, and now Ella can’t get out of her kotatsu table. 

P-H: You are really trapped under that traditional Japanese dining blanket. And your shoes are off, which adds another 30 seconds to your escape time. And the Secret Service are watching your every move! Drop one chopstick and you’ve got a crosshair on your back.

SCHWARTAU: And I’m already so hard on myself about using chopsticks properly. 

P-H: I think the Second Daughter’s Secret Service is a little too noticeable. They’re in fleece finance bro vests with gingham shirts and bootcut jeans—not to mention the earpieces. They stand out like sore thumbs. If they’re gonna traipse around Dimes Square, can we get them some better disguises? They should’ve gone to the Eckhaus sample sale.

SCHWARTAU: Agent Dimes would fit right in wearing the $300 sweater I bought. I know it’s almost summer, but I’m telling myself I’ll wear it in L.A.

P-H: Maybe Telfar can produce an earpiece like he did the White Castle uniforms. 

SCHWARTAU: Waiting for the Telfar-Secret Service collab to drop.

P-H: Some of the Telfar bags are really big—maybe they could hide inside.

SCHWARTAU: Chloe Wise was also at Dr. Clark but not with Ella. Maybe she’s Secret Service, or is every downtown girl under protection?

P-H: Does it extend to Ella’s GQ editor boyfriend? GQ interns? Where does the line of succession end?

SCHWARTAU: I’m also wondering if she tips the Secret Service—I mean, these guys are on hour four. 

P-H: We actually have to tip, because we’re the taxpayers.

SCHWARTAU: Wrap it up Ella, overtime’s about to kick in and you haven’t even seen the dessert menu.

P-H: So this is gonna go on for all four years? It just seems—

SCHWARTAU:—like we’re paying ransom. Or pre-emptive protection, so we don’t have to pay ransom to whoever nabs Ella Enchanted when she’s slurping up shishito peppers. That gas pipeline just paid a $5 million ransom to some hackers. The last thing we need is Kamala trying to “have that conversation.”

P-H: But that’s a real security threat. I don’t think Ella Emhoff is ever going to make enough knitwear to power the grid of the Southeast.

SCHWARTAU: Get this girl a cotton gin! 

P-H: I mean, the fact that Hunter Biden can smoke crack at 3AM in a Motel 6 outside Nashville—isn’t that more of a security liability than Ella Emhoff paying $200 for sashimi?

SCHWARTAU: Weren’t his emails hacked though?

P-H: But he didn’t have the Secret Service following him when he was shoving Chore Boy down his crack pipe in a rented Chevy Lumina.

SCHWARTAU: And yet we still know exactly what he was doing because he wrote a detailed book about it.

P-H: What do we think Ella’s Secret Service codename is? I think it should be Ladybird. 

SCHWARTAU: “Ladybird’s on the move. Looks to be nesting at Bacaro.”

P-H: “We’ve got a Code White. Ladybird’s been in the bathroom at Kiki’s for 15 minutes.”

SCHWARTAU: What about “Shishito?” 

P-H: “Shishito’s at Clando. Call for backup.”

SCHWARTAU: Does an agent have to taste test all the food?

P-H: I hope so. Dr. Clark could be whipping up quite the nefarious concoction back there in the lab.

SCHWARTAU: When I hear Dr. Clark, I think of shoe insoles or glacial hydrating creams. I don’t think restaurant. 

P-H: Well, the wellness trend is booming. Everyone wants to be well. Everyone wants a doctor. Everyone wants to be told by a medical professional that what they’re doing is good.

SCHWARTAU: Actually, Dr. Clark just called, and he said our column test results came back positive for himbo.

P-H: This brings us to my next topic—I think the driving concept behind the new roaring 20s is “virtuous hedonism.” Natural wine is very emblematic of that. Indulge—but without sulfates. Get blasted—but first hear the intimate story of the winemaker and her husband, and the volcanic ash they grew the grapes on.

SCHWARTAU: Get laid—but first hear the guy’s long story about his co-worker’s going away drinks.

P-H: The other day I was at a party and this French guy was showing me his texts with his coke dealer—and the coke dealer had a menu of different countries you could order from! Peruvian, Colombian, Bolivian. With different prices, and quality grades. The same organic, artisanal know-your farmer ethos we’ve applied to Hudson Valley hens, we’re now doing with coke.

SCHWARTAU: I’m sorry, where is the virtue part of this? 

P-H: The virtue is French-American interaction. And doing someone else’s drugs.

SCHWARTAU: The key ingredient to any international treaty.

P-H: I do hope that the expectation of having artisan drugs means that the fentanyl era is ending. 

SCHWARTAU: People not dying from poison—well, worse poison—is definitely the best argument in favor of legalizing drugs.

P-H: That, and freeing up bathroom lines.

SCHWARTAU: Although drugs will get more expensive. Weed’s gotten out of hand. I don’t need the purest of the pure green Irish flower.

P-H: Yeah, I miss the old stuff. We need more carpet fuzz back in the mix.

SCHWARTAU: I guess I’m a little wary of the hedonism and everyone complaining about Uber prices and bad coke. We were all supposed to have changed for the better during the pandemic, and now everything’s inflated and inflamed—it’s inflationary hedonism. 

P-H: We’ve expanded bars into the street, but at what cost?

SCHWARTAU: Aren’t we supposed to be building back better? A smarter, gentler, more thoughtful world? Instead we’re careening towards oblivion even faster. More consumption. More clothes. More travel. More gasoline. More alcohol. More drugs. More Revels. More paying people to Revel drugs to you.

P-H: As a society, we’ve looked death in the eye and said, “Bitch, we’ll see you in the morning! Don’t wait up.”

SCHWARTAU: At least the restaurants are happy. 

P-H: And street seating makes the city more hostile to cars, which is great.

SCHWARTAU: The urban landscape is definitely feeling like it’s at capacity. Were there always this many people? The streets are teeming. Tables as far as the eye can see. Dogs for days. Revelers in every direction. It’s increased the feeling that you’re putting on a show, or that you’re in one.

P-H: You really are on display. In the old days, you sat inside the restaurant, and even at a buzzy hotspot, you would only see-and-be-seen-by those who were also inside. Now you’re getting perceived by everyone walking by. Everyone on their way to a co-worker’s going away drinks. Everyone getting tackled by the Secret Service.

SCHWARTAU: Speaking of security, we need to talk about Israel and Palestine.

P-H: I’m ready for a rigorous geo-political discussion.

SCHWARTAU: Okay. Who’s Israel and who’s Palestine?

P-H: I go to the gym 5 days a week, so I guess I’m Israel.

SCHWARTAU: It’s pretty clear I’m Palestine.

P-H: I’m the toxic Girlboss with the Blink membership and you’re the scraggly academic.

SCHWARTAU: You’ve also had a lot of Israeli weapons inside you.

P-H: Yes, and I give great Iron Dome.

P-H: My take is that this current violence feels like a shift from previous intifadas. Western liberals seem less sympathetic to Israel, and are starting to see them if not as occupiers, then at least as the more powerful party. They see the imbalance of the catastrophic destruction in Gaza, the wildly disproportionate response. I saw eternally blue-pilled Debra Messing posting about “both sides,” but there was Kathy Najimy in the comments, saying she disagreed! So, a shift.

SCHWARTAU: But how much pressure can the Najimys of the world apply via comments? I’ve seen a lot of posts saying, “Please go to this protest if you can,” which has the underlying implication of “I’m actually kind of busy this week, but you should go!” The protest vibes are not as strong this season.

P-H: I don’t think any protest is gonna pop off as much as BLM 2020, because people had just been in quarantine for four months.

SCHWARTAU: Israel and Palestine are also far away. It’s not as tangible. Which makes it great for infographics, but less for action.

P-H: It’s a very geography-driven conflict, so maps come into play, which adds fuel to the infographic fire.

SCHWARTAU: What they really need is to add some fact-checkers to the fire. What about the two-state solution? Did that ship sail?

P-H: I think the ship sailed, got beached in the Suez Canal, then sunk. Settlement expansions over the years and the dwindling territory of Gaza has really shattered the trust. Palestinians wouldn’t be happy with what little they have now, and why should they? 

SCHWARTAU: I’m happy in my railroad apartment but I still have Right of Return (to my parent’s house).

P-H: Right of Return is a valid question. Palestinians should be able to go back to whatever home their families were kicked out of, but what if there’s people on that very block? What then? 

SCHWARTAU: This is why god invented the high-rise.

P-H: Precisely. The solution is a secular democratic state with Palestinians and Israelis living in high-rises and participating equally in society.

SCHWARTAU: They can use the private rooftop deck together. 

P-H: They can join each other at Dr. Clark.

SCHWARTAU: Maybe they’re not sitting at the same booth. But they can perceive each other, and perceive each other enjoying different small plates.

P-H: Tapas is the answer.

SCHWARTAU: People come together over food.

P-H: Ben & Jerry’s Hamas Hummus. It’s in the pipeline.

SCHWARTAU: And so is my invoice! See you at Dr. Clark.

P-H: If the Secret Service doesn’t kill me first.

LAST TIME: WHITE HOLE SUMMER

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