In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Sloane Crosley is one of the sharpest and funniest writers around, as any reader of her bestselling essay collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, or its follow-up, How Did You Get This Number, can attest. Crosley mixes insight with self-deprecation—her author bio on Cake touts that she wrote the cover story for “the worst selling issue of Maxim in that magazine’s history”—a style that continues in her latest book, The Clasp. The book, her first novel, follows three self-absorbed friends on the hunt for a long-lost piece of jewelry. It comes out October 6.
Sloane Crosley: When I was 15, which is pretty much child-labor age, I had an after-school job working at this cheesy clothing store in the Westchester mall. I quickly discovered that a manager there was racist; he used to lecture me about waiting on black customers and nudge me toward white or Asian customers instead. I remember one time I decided to teach him a lesson, so I made a big show of helping a black customer, calling another location of the store to see if they stocked the most expensive dress that we carried, which she hadn’t even asked for. I wanted him to see me helping her.
The A.V. Club: Did you tell anyone about him?
SC: No. I probably should have reported him, but I was 15. I quit instead, and pretty quickly. I think I lasted two weeks.
AVC: Was it just him? Did you have any skill at the sales component?
SC: I wasn’t very good at it. The store worked on commission, and the boss might have had a non-racial point about my lack of sales chops. I couldn’t tell people they looked good in things they didn’t look good in, and I didn’t enjoy going up to people and asking them if they needed help with things. We were supposed to knock on dressing room doors to see if people needed help and I mean, it’s not cold fusion. It’s trying on a sweater. What could go so possibly wrong that they would need my assistance? I find that strange in general. Customers should just come up to you if they need help. I don’t like approaching people and asking if they need help.
SC: Well I don’t think there’s a line you cross like in Field Of Dreams, where all of a sudden, poof, you’re Ray Liotta and you’re a success. Though obviously the living definition of success is to become Ray Liotta.
Probably the moment that sticks out to me the most is when I was on book tour for my first book. At the time, I was still working at Random House as a publicist, and was looking at the bestseller list, which we got early. I was looking for the various authors that I had been working with; I remember looking for Nora Ephron for the paperback of I Feel Bad About My Neck. It was definitely on there, but while I was scanning I saw my own book title and name. Usually you’re so used to your own name that it doesn’t even register—oh, that’s my name, that’s the correct arranging of the letters—but I flipped out. It was a legit triple-take.
I was in Seattle, and because I hadn’t been getting service on my BlackBerry for some reason—this was in the days of the BlackBerry—I was at an internet café. I was in public, in other words, and when I saw the list I just screamed. When I told the woman working behind the counter why, she bought me a muffin.
AVC: And that put it over the top, the muffin?
SC: Because it was Seattle, it was this vegan bran-carrot muffin, but it was like, “I made it! This is a muffin of kings!”
SC: My villainy would actually be on behalf of all of America. I have a generous villainy.
My plan is that I would give every animal—or every house pet, at least, so all the dogs and cats—the power of speech. Don’t you feel your cat or your dog is constantly on the verge of saying something? After 14 years you’re like, “One word! Just say one word!” So I would give them the power of speech, but they would only be able to speak Chinese. That’s my elaborate way of forcing all Americans to learn Chinese super-fast, so that we can compete in the global market and dominate.
AVC: That plan seems like it would have some positive repercussions. Is there a risk that we find our our cats hate us, and that’s why they always act like they hate us?
SC: Well, yes. They will be able to express a full range of emotions, but assuming you’re not a cat abuser I don’t think that will be a problem. They’re not going to tell you to fuck off. If anything, I think the animals will be relieved; they’ve probably wanted something their whole lives, but they couldn’t tell you. What if they’ve been waiting years to tell you that the flower vase is blocking the perfect view of the birds out the window, and that they’ll be so happy if you just move it? They’ll be so relieved that they can just ask you now but in Chinese. Trust me, it’ll work out for everyone, especially cats, since most cat toys are made in China anyway.
SC: I guess I was pretty dorky, but there are tiers of dorkdom and I always had friends, though they were equally dorky. I was one of those kids who contracted cooties in the second grade and then had cooties, because there wasn’t a vaccine for it.
I was kind of a weird little kid. I was fairly reflective and spent a fair amount of time by myself. When I was around people, though, I generally wanted to make them laugh. I told a lot of stories.
AVC: Do you say you were dorky because you were studious or interested in fantasy or something?
SC: No, I wasn’t dorky in any way that would be lauded for an adult, the way someone gets made fun of for being super into computer science as a kid, but then they turn out to be Bill Gates. I just tried too hard. I wanted to be cool. I micromanaged when I played with people.
I feel like I didn’t hit my stride until fifth grade, when I had a slammin’ charm necklace and jean jacket. [Laughs.] The rest is history! It was kind of rough going for me from first grade through fourth grade. That’s really funny to me now, because you always kind of know the people you grew up with. I’m not super tight with even the people I went to high school with, but when you see people you grew up with, the social stratospheres have really been whitewashed in their memories. Everyone you knew thinks that they were really good friends with you. I run into someone, and they have these positive memories of elementary and middle school, and I think, “You’re delusional. I definitely wasn’t invited to your parties. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I don’t have those positive memories at all.
SC: I looked up 11 Questions and saw this. I’ve had some time to think about it, and I don’t think I really had one. Maybe, maybe, Christian Slater, but he wasn’t really a sexual crush. I just liked his voice and hair in Pump Up The Volume. I think I just liked his angst, which was hard not to love.
AVC: Was there a celebrity where you first remember thinking, “I’m attracted to this person?”
SC: Yes, but it was late! You’re not going to believe me, but I just don’t get crushes on celebrities. In my whole life, there’s only one that’s a distinctly sexual crush, and that’s Clive Owen. There’s something about Clive Owen that’s very much, “Step out of the screen and hold my hand, please.”
AVC: He has good hair and a good voice, too.
SC: Well here’s the thing. While Christian Slater had really great hair, the thing you don’t understand when you’re little is that it takes a small army to create whatever celebrity you have a crush on. So while I liked his way of being in the world and I liked his politics, he was responsible for none of that. He had a stylist who made his hair look good and there was a writer who wrote his speeches. I think I figured that out pretty early, which is why I don’t have a lot of celebrity crushes.
SC: “Desperado.” Oh wait, I was confusing this question with what my favorite karaoke song is. “Desperado” is my karaoke song, but I wouldn’t want to walk into any room with that playing.
For entrance, I think David Bowie’s “Cat People.” It’s a great song. I’d walk in all slow and psychotic-like.
AVC: You’d enter on the “putting out fire with gasoline” line?
SC: Yeah, there’s that big dramatic build that I’d come in on. I think I’d actually come in with a bunch of gasoline and pyrotechnics. Huge flames. I’d set the room on fire and everyone inside would get burnt up and I’d go to jail. So this is a song that I’d just be able to use once.
SC: Today I have worked on a pilot that I’m writing for HBO, which will probably not get made, but it is in fact what I did. I also answered a bunch of emails, I ate breakfast, I got some nice coffee, I pet my cat, and I picked up dry cleaning. I’m so boring!
AVC: That’s a lot to have accomplished by 11 a.m.
SC: Is it? I once read some article once about how your serotonin levels start dropping precipitously when you’re in your mid-30s and that had a psychological effect on me. I feel like I don’t sleep now. I’ve become a morning person in the sense that I’m conscious early, but it’s way, way earlier than I want to be conscious. I’m not super-peppy. I will say, it is good for writing. It’s quiet, you can concentrate, you’re not really talking to anyone.
SC: There are two, but one of them is oddly common because of my voice. Apparently I sound just like Laura Prepon.
AVC: I can hear that.
SC: I don’t know that you can. I think it really depends on how late I’ve been out and if I’ve been screaming.
The other person I get, if my hair is really straight, is Selma Blair. Please understand that this is just the answer to your question; it isn’t something I bring up voluntarily: “You know who people tell me I look like?” That would be pretty obnoxious, because both are great people to be mistaken for.
AVC: Do people you confuse you with them or do they just say you look like them?
SC: Mostly that I look like them. I’ve heard Selma Blair maybe 10 times in my life and Laura Prepon a good 15 or 20, and that’s just since Orange Is The New Black started. Several times people on the phone have mentioned her, but I’m pretty sure they’re just saying I sound like her. I don’t think they suspect that I secretly put her on to talk for me.
The only time I was confused for Laura Prepon is once when I went to a doctor. You know how the receptionists are doing a bunch of things at once, the phone is ringing off the hook, all these files are piled up in front of them? When I walked up and said I was there to see Dr. So-And-So, she thought I was the girl from Orange Is The New Black. That was the only time, and it was just because she was distracted.
AVC: Do you get recognized normally?
SC: Yeah, sometimes. Nowadays it mostly happens if I’m in a restaurant and I give a waitress my credit card. I have a strange name, so its more about their having a good memory about something they read than it is their associating me with a photo or something.
When I Was Told There’d Be Cake came out there were a few times when I was stopped on the street. It was actually really nice, because the people were all really apologetic: “I really liked your book, I hope that’s okay to say.” In what world would that be a bad thing to say? So while I’m not really famous, I do think we live in a culture that has trained halfway-decent people to leave famous people alone.
SC: I have a pretty decent backhand in tennis, but I’m not good enough to be a pro, so probably the only thing that qualifies me for is corporal punishment.
In all seriousness, I did have another line of work. I was in book publishing and worked as a book publicist. Those are skills, though they aren’t really transferable to other things, and the publicist thing wouldn’t be good for much besides books. I’m not going to be great a publicizing a pocket watch, for example, and I don’t think I could even be a publicist for a non-book celebrity. It’s funny, but the nature of book publicity is that it’s so hard to get attention for books that you’re desperate for media. Sometimes you want to shake a first-time short-story author and get them to commit a felony just so they can get their name out there.
So to do a more defensive type of publicity would be difficult. The concept of giving Vanity Fair an exclusive profile or having the right to read a story before it gets published, that’s crazy and foreign to me. I don’t think I would do a good job with putting someone through media training or making sure no one asks them about their personal life.
SC: Not really, but I kind of collect small rubber animals. [Laughs.] I say “not really,” but I probably have about 30 of them and I play with them all the time. I’m playing with one right now as I’m talking to you. You’d think I have a 12-year-old son the way they end up everywhere.
AVC: You bought them to play with?
SC: No, it started because I used to live near a natural history museum, and I guess an ex-boyfriend had gone during the day one time, and he brought me back 20 of these rubber dinosaurs, these cheap-o ones they sell in the gift shop. Since then, if I see a rubber animal I buy it. The one I’m playing with now is about two inches tall, but there are some that are really tiny, a quarter of an inch. I like those. I keep them in my bag.
AVC: All dinosaurs?
SC: No, those were just the initial members of the rubber-animal kick-starter plan. The ones I like the best are a flamingo, a unicorn, and a tiger. And a priest and a duck and a nun, and they all walk in a bar.
Let me just say that they’re not scattered around my apartment, creepily looking at me. It’s not like I’m Kathy Bates in Misery and I know when someone has turned my penguin. They’re just in a bowl, concentrated, though sometimes they wind up in my bag and such.
SC: People always have such elaborate answers for this , but I honestly think I would be so anxious that I’d just want a bunch of cherry Pop-Tarts. If I had to pick something to eat right now, it’d be sushi, seaweed salad, French toast, something with coconut and raspberries and chocolate. Not all together, those are just things I really like. But if push came to shove, stress-eating Pop-Tarts.
Bonus 12th question from Brit Marling: “If you could design an amusement park from scratch, with no constraints beyond your own creativity, what kind of rides would be inside it, and what would you want the experience of the person walking through it to be? Basically, what would you want that person to leave with, having gone through your imagination?”
SC: I hate amusement parks. This is because my A-number one visceral fear is speed. More than knives or snakes or confined spaces. Speed. I won’t even go on a motor boat if I can help it. And fear number two? Crowds. So for one thing, everything would be slowed down. Not to a frustrating degree, but just to a degree where you could be stimulated and amused without feeling like all your organs were about to fly out of your throat. I would want the person to experience delight. Everything would be antique with little pop culture flourishes. So a carousel, but with little circles showing Out Of This World and The Facts Of Life reruns on top. There’d be a funny/sad ride playing different periods of David Bowie, and that’s where you’d get your ups and downs. There’d be a House Of Horrors filled with deep secrets and ex-boyfriends. There’d be an interactive library with a garden on the ceiling and free snacks. I’d want the person to leave with a sense that most things in their own life were going to work out reasonably well and a pocket full of snacks.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?
SC: I hope this isn’t too much of a Debbie Downer question, but if you could take back one thing in your life that you’ve ever done to another person, what would it be?
AVC: What would your answer be?
SC: Whoa, I didn’t know I was on trial here! Hmm, I’m not sure what it would be, but it would probably be insensitivity-based. It isn’t like I consciously did something to someone else, but it would be a time when I was insensitive or pigheaded. Probably a time when I refused to apologize for something I should’ve apologized for, or when I was a bull in a china shop when I shouldn’t have been.