Last October, strangely personal fliers started appearing around New York City. They looked like this:
When I first saw them, they really caught my attention. For some reason, I wasn’t immediately repulsed, as was a female friend of mine (her response, when I pointed them out, was something like “ew...creepy.”). At first, the fliers struck me as a disarmingly sincere – an honest, touching gesture with no strings attached. In our guarded, jaded, best-foot-forward world, here was a guy who was willing to admit vulnerability and talk to total strangers about it. Further, the move didn’t seem completely self-serving: Jeff was interested in your loneliness, too. This was an interesting alternative to the psychiatric medicalization of the angst that we all feel at times – an anonymous mutual support line. I’m not all that lonely, honestly, but for a minute there I kind of wanted to talk to Jeff, too.
Then I had a second, less charitable thought. Perhaps, it occurred to me, this is some kind of publicity stunt. And even if it isn’t, even if this is the totally sincere gesture of a lonely and well-meaning soul in an indifferent world, how long will it be before some New York Times reporter calls this guy up, and he ends up with a book deal?
Today, this publicity notice landed in my inbox:
By Jeff Ragsdale, David Shields, Michael Logan
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Jeff, a lonely, down-and-out actor posted flyers around Manhattan asking people to call him if they wanted to talk. He thought he’d get maybe a dozen calls and he now has received about 65,000 calls from all over the world. The texts and voicemails recorded in this book reveal a sometimes hilarious, but also dark and intimate portrait of the way we live now and the suffering of loneliness.
Which raises a whole new set of questions for me:
- Was Jeff actually all that lonely to begin with?
- At what point did he realize that there might be a marketable idea in this loneliness thing?
- Did Amazon secure the permission of all the people whose voicemails and texts they included in the book?
- Does all of this basically demolish any shred of the human meaning I originally read into Jeff's gesture?
- or, is all of this actually a good thing, in the end, because Jeff’s project (sincere or scheming) as captured in this book, has something to teach us about how we’re living, at least here in New York City, in 2012?
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