30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of My 20s, and You Can Too: Essays

30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of My 20s, and You Can Too: Essays

by Marina Shifrin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250129710
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 07/24/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 122,487
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marina Shifrin is a published writer who lives in East Hollywood and likes it. Sometimes. She’s written for TV, but not enough. She’s written for free, but too much. Her middle name is Vladimirovna. 30 Before 30 is her first book.

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CHAPTER 1

GO TO A NUDE BEACH

When I was in the sixth grade, I used to smell like beef jerky. The smell, I'm sure, came from the thick leather jacket I wore every ... single ... day. Even during muggy Midwestern summers. I told everybody that I wore the jacket to be more like my idol Michael Jackson (which, now that I think about it, seems more embarrassing than the actual reason).

The real reason I wore a leather jacket every day was because I was embarrassed about my arms. More specifically: the jet-black hair poking through my skin like puberty weeds. The stiff leather of my jacket prevented me from mindlessly pushing up my sleeves and revealing my secret.

There were times when it was hard to hide my condition from the outside world. Gym, for example. I'd change into the required T-shirt and shorts, then proceed to walk around with my hands interlocked behind my back. I was awful at dodgeball.

My hairy arms are a gift from my dad, a furry little European man who has enough chest hair to cause a PETA rally. I used to bury my Polly Pocket in his hair, pretending like she was lost in a haunted forest. I also got his thin wrists, short temper, skinny legs, and big chest — our body type is bullfrog, our demeanor is bulldog. My mom, on the other hand, is a taller gentile with bare legs, arms, and god knows what else. It was always her objective to be as hairless as possible. I once walked in on her shaving the thin, wispy hair on her forearms. "Are you shaving your arms?" I asked. "No." She answered while parting a sea of shaving cream with a pink plastic razor.

My embarrassment about my arms spread to the rest of my body in the seventh grade. I was at my most-beautiful-friend Clare's house when I learned there were a lot of parts to your body and that you should hate most of them. I knew Clare was my most beautiful friend because my mother told me that every chance she got. "You know who is the most beautiful girl in your grade?" My mother told me while flipping through my yearbook. "Clare," she followed, not waiting for a response.

One day Clare and I were in her den, watching TV, when she got up to use the bathroom. As she passed a full-length mirror, she moaned, "God, I fucking hate my thighs. They're too big." (She was one of the only twelve-year-olds in my grade who sounded natural when she swore. I always sounded clumsy, like I was trying to pronounce a foreign word. I still do. I once called someone a "fulcker" because I got nervous in the middle of saying it.) Clare's declaration was the first time I learned that body parts could be "too big." I came home and examined my own body. My feet were tiny, my ankles were thin, my legs slender, and my thighs were not big. Then I got to my stomach. At the time, I liked to squeeze my gut between my hands until there was a vertical crease from the belly button down. "It looks like a lady's butt!" I'd scream as my parents shrieked with laughter. I'd jump on their bed and pretend to belly dance by flopping my stomach from left to right. I can still see the two of them curled over, in the fetal position, gasping for air. I stood at the mirror squeezing my fat. Just like that, my funniest weapon turned into my greatest enemy. Woof.

Contrary to what a man with shaggy hair and deep eye-sockets once said, no one's body is a "wonderland." We're all skin burritos, filled with organs, blood, and bile, John Mayer. All bodies are gross. Sure, there are anomalies (I've seen Kate Upton, RuPaul, and Cher — those three will always have better bodies than all of us combined), but I am talking about you and me here. We're just normal humans. Normal humans who don't have a team of professionals coating us in makeup so that it seems like we're somehow lovelier than the rest of the world.

Maintaining and projecting a body that's considered to be a "wonderland" is an unreasonable standard and also a waste of time. I realized my body wasn't that big of a deal at twenty-three, when I got naked on a beach for the first time.

My obsession with nude beaches had started ten years earlier, when my dogmatic commitment to keeping my body fully covered at all times reached a snag. My sister was getting married and decided to have a sort of a familymoon in the middle of the summer on a beach in a hot, hot desert country known to most people as Israel.

"Why does Lena hate me?" I whined at my father as he delicately folded a white linen suit into his suitcase. "I can't go to the Middle East! It's dangerous, and even worse: hot!"

He walked over to a drawer of Speedos and pulled two out. My mom came into the room to run defense. "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]," she grumbled while ushering me out. This directly translates to, "Stop swinging on your father, that's not why he hanged himself!" I heard it a lot as a child.

"Am I fat?" I asked my mom as she headed downstairs.

"Yes! But don't worry, Marina," she tried to console me, "you are just in your ugly face." My mom meant to say, "ugly phase," but it was too difficult for her to pronounce with a Russian accent.

No matter how much I petitioned to move the wedding somewhere cooler, the location remained in Israel.

When we got off the plane in Eilat, I noticed something I'd never noticed before: bodies. Half-naked, toned, glistening, adult bodies. These were nothing like the bloated Midwestern bodies I'd grown accustomed to seeing on the edges of Lake Michigan. These were exotic, sea-bodies, sporting G-string bikinis, Speedos, and the kind of lightness that comes with not obsessing over what you look like.

My confidence had been demolished by the hordes of Russian women buzzing around my teen years. Women who, during holidays, squeezed themselves into a pair of Spanx only to shimmy into their tightest discount T.J. Maxx dress. They looked like sparkly sausages. These women would then wrap themselves in the largest, gaudiest fur coats their husbands could afford. They spent their nights huddled in doorways, chain smoking and complaining about how chubby their daughters were getting. I, of course, was one of those chubby daughters. I'd developed the bad habit of snacking on mayonnaise sandwiches, and it was beginning to show.

"[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]" those same women would exclaim when they saw me, which directly translates to "You've gotten better!" This compliment never quite made sense to me, but I accepted it all the same. "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]!" was my go-to response. I loved being noticed by adults. I loved being noticed.

Years later I'd learn that while "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]" does indeed mean "You've gotten better," it also means "You've gotten fatter." I was blushing and thanking people who were calling me fat.

I wish I'd seen the Israeli beach bodies as an invitation to embrace my own, but they felt like reminders to stay covered up.

My sister's familymoon forced me out of my bulky sweatshirts and into beach attire. Our first morning in Eilat, I stood naked in my parents' hotel bathroom, avoiding eye contact with the wall-to-wall mirrors. My stomach had grown so rapidly that I had four lightning-bolt-shaped stretchmarks all pointing toward my belly button — ones I still have today.

My entire family was already at the beach, or as my dad calls it, "the bitch." Russians take vacation bitch culture very seriously. Starting at six a.m., they race (in hordes) to the hotel's meticulously aligned plastic lounge chairs — channeling Soviet-era grocery store intensity. They drag said chairs by twos, elbowing other Russians as they go, to the most ideal spots on the beach: next to trees, under umbrellas, near the bar. They line up their spoils and repeat this process until there are enough chairs for the entire family — and some extra because, "You never know who we'll run into." To claim a plastic village as one's own, Russians will take every available towel, including hand and face, from their hotel rooms and drape each one across the lounge chairs they've gathered. It creates a terrycloth chain of protection. The towels are then topped with knock-off Gucci sunglasses to finalize the newly erected territory.

Back in my parents' bathroom I shoved my tubby body into a bathing suit. The stretchy nylon fabric groaned against my girth. I then took a second bathing suit, with a completely different cut and color, and squeezed myself into that one too. Voilà! Spanx. I sucked in my stomach until my ribs were almost visible. Not so bad, I thought. I searched for a towel to cover myself for the walk to the water, but gave up quickly after realizing they were all at the bitch.

I scurried to where my entire family, plus gaggles of gorgeous Middle Eastern men, were smoking breakfast cigarettes. My father was the first one to see me. He slid his sunglasses off his face. "Why are you wearing two bathing suits?" he asked. A valid question, considering normal people don't layer bathing suits. My chest tightened. Busted.

"Are you saying I'm fat?" I screamed, before jumping into the pool to hide my body. "Are you saying I'm fat?" became my family's favorite response to any and every question. One that's still used today.

My interest in going to a nude beach didn't come until later in the trip, when I was on a scuba-diving excursion with my uncle, twelve-year-old cousin, and brother-in-law of five minutes. It happened while we were submerged underwater; the boys were off trying to do somersaults while I was screaming into my mask to see if anyone could hear me.

I noticed that my uncle, cousin, and brotherin-law had stopped goofing around and were mesmerized by something above them. I flipped onto my back, and then I saw it: a topless woman doing the breast stroke through the Red Sea. They were my first stranger-boobs, and they were magnificent. The way they floated in the water, two yolks, converging and diverging. All four of us drifted there staring. It's a fond family memory, for different reasons, obviously, but still. I decided, right then, that I too wanted to be unapologetically naked like a foreigner. I wanted to have the grace and confidence of this empowered mermaid, to be as self-assured in my own skin as she was in hers. I wanted to peel off my double-layer bathing suit and float through the water, bare chested, without a care in the world.

Ten years after first spotting this woman, I was in Chile visiting my college friend Ben when the opportunity to get naked at a beach presented itself. Ben, a tall, sometimes serious, usually silly man with six-pack abs and broad shoulders, was my co–resident assistant in college. We were assigned to the floor with all international students and loved our jobs almost as much as we loved hanging out with each other. Because we were RAs our social lives involved little more than resident assistant safety trainings, bulletin boards, and weekly meetings. Most of my college memories are comprised of sitting on Ben's bed, eating pre-sleep Gardetto's, watching him do pre-sleep crunches.

Ben was also the first person to see me do "stand-up." I made him sit on my bed as I performed stand-up into a hairbrush. I told him jokes until he was on the floor, in a fit of giggles, and then spent two years asking him if he thought I was funny enough to do real stand-up.

I got into Santiago, Chile, early in the morning and immediately crawled into bed at Ben's hostel where his Chilean boyfriend, Francisco, slept. Francisco was the most beautiful person I'd seen up close. He looked like an E! host and had four names, each sounding more exotic than the previous one. But he went by Pancho, which is how I will reluctantly be referring to him for the remainder of this story.

"Hello, I am Pancho, you are nice" — his brow furrowed — "you are nice to —" He looked at Ben for help. Not happening. "You are nice to meet you?" He attempted to correct himself and concluded with, "Ai, fuck it!" Which became our slogan for the trip.

We spent the Fourth of July in a cabin on a beach called Playa Luna, Chile's most popular (and only) nude beach. Ben's friends Jill and Matias tagged along for the trip. Matias was from Chile, while Jill was from the States, which meant they were in the most exciting of relationships: one with an expiration date. It's a shame too; they clearly loved each other. Their effervescent connection almost made me regret being single, but I quickly remembered how much fun it is to make out with strangers at three a.m.

That night, in the cabin, we drank hot wine, played cards, and ate hot dogs. The couples would take turns sneaking into corners to kiss, while I talked at whoever was stuck babysitting me. When I drink, I become a conversational vampire — sucking all the energy out of discussions, growing stronger and louder as I do it. "The thing people don't understand about Search Engine Optimization ..." I droned on until everyone fell asleep, each cuddling their loved one, and one person cuddling her empty familysized bag of chips.

In the morning, I woke up to a small tremor, my first. I played it cool by screaming "EARTHQUAKE" and crawling under the nearest table. The outburst got a few grumbles, but no one else woke up. My heart was racing too fast to go back to bed, so I headed out to the balcony. The cold, gray beach was quiet and empty. Too dreary to be peaceful, too foreign to be boring.

Once everyone was awake and had had enough weak coffee to stave off any potential hangovers, we went for a wander on the beach. We found weird rocks and picked up tiny crabs. We hugged and took photos. I practiced Spanish with Pancho, and he practiced English with me. It was a listless kind of wander. The kind you only get to indulge in when you're an independent, responsibility-free beta-adult.

We got to a particularly secluded part of the beach when Jill stopped dead in her tracks, turned to the group, and said, "You wanna do it? You guys want to get naked?"

A jolt of adrenaline coursed through my chip-and-alcohol-filled body. I pulled Jill aside, "I'm not, um. My situation isn't taken care of," I whispered. (This is one of the last times I referred to my pubic hair as my situation. It's pubic hair on my vagina. Every woman past college-age, nay, past high-school-age, should be able to confidentially refer to her vagina as a "vagina," or whatever the equivalent is in her native tongue. Situation, Lady Parts, Down There, Hoo-ha — it's too cutesy. Just this past week, I heard a forty-year-old woman refer to her vagina as her "Suzie." Stop it.)

"Uh, yeah ... neither is mine," Jill responded. I'd just assumed that pretty girls always had perfectly manicured pubic areas. Not the dark and tangled web us Russian girls occasionally sport. Jill's confused response made me realize how stupid my comment was. As if unkempt pubic hair and being naked are mutually exclusive. Can you imagine?

"So, let's do it?" Jill repeated.

I hesitated. Again, I was on a beach, but this time my body was ten years older. The stretchmarks were still there but they had faded from pink to white. Now they curved, like large quotation marks, around my belly button, which made it feel ironic. Yes, I wanted to be the woman with the egg-yolk breasts, swimming through the Red Sea. But I also assumed that there would be more time to build up my confidence, maybe do some crunches before disrobing in public.

Pancho, who had been planning his wedding to Ben (they broke up a year later), walked over when he noticed I was grappling with something. He took my hands, looked deep into my eyes, and said, "Ai, fuck it?"

I looked around. I didn't expect my crowning moment of body clarity would be as the fifth wheel on an empty beach in the middle of a Chilean winter, but I also knew there wouldn't be many opportunities to get naked in public later on. "Fuck it," I told the group.

Matias and Jill cheered, while Ben grew uncharacteristically quiet. "I'm getting over a cold, so I should probably bow out of this one," he told us. I couldn't believe it. The only person I knew who was built like a Grecian statue was bowing out of getting naked.

"But you're the one who put all of this together," I said as I waved an upturned palm across the empty water, "You brought us to a nude beach."

"Well, I think you guys should definitely get naked. Pancho and I will guard the clothes." Pancho walked over to some rocks and obediently sat down.

"What are we? In summer camp? Who's going to take a hoodie from Target and my saggy underwear?" I snarked. Ben pressed his lips together. I'd seen that look when we were RAs. It was the look he'd get before he'd yell at our residents. Something he hated doing, but was goddamn great at. I backed down. I was a guest, after all. Besides, what kind of decent person strong-arms someone into getting naked against his will? "Okay, you snooze you lose, loser," I grumbled.

Ben later admitted that he was feeling a little insecure about an innocuous rash he'd gotten on his upper thighs. See? Even hot people have body issues. It's a shame though, I would've really liked to have seen his penis.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "30 Before 30"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Marina Shifrin.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

A Little Intro, If I May 1

1 Go to A Nude Beach 11

2 Ride Bike Across Brooklyn Bridge 24

3 Become A Muse 37

4 Take A Writing Class 52

5 Adopt A Dog 69

6 Donate Hair 78

7 Have A Dramatic Airport Reunion 84

8 Live in A Different Country 99

9 Learn How to Dress My Body 111

10 Submit an Essay to the New York Times 122

11 Learn to Drink 132

12 Go to India 141

13 Quit Shitty Job 151

14 Become Famous 171

15 Meet Roe Conn 186

16 Take a City Bus Tour 198

17 Do A Late-Night Set 199

18 Tell A Story at the Moth 208

19 Fall in Love (For Real) 218

20 Move Back to New York 225

21 Buy Real Furniture 234

22 Sell A Painting 239

23 Watch all Three Godfather Movies 246

24 Eat A Meal Alone 257

25 Cook A Five-Course Meal 263

26 Find A Job I Love 272

27 Fly First Class 280

28 Become A Good Host 287

29 Visit Russia 295

30 Write A Book 312

Appendix: "A Life Plan for Two, Followed by One" 313

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