Holding steady at 65 percent
In one of the many scuzzy details that make Saturday Night Fever such an enduring masterpiece, there’s a great throwaway moment when Tony Manero, the piece of shit disco dancing stud played by John Travolta, asks the sleazy proprietor of a dance studio how he’s doing. He says something to the effect of “holding steady at 65 percent” and Manero chucklingly explains to his dance partner that that means that this bottom-feeding, parasitic garbage monster scores with roughly 65 percent of the attractive women who come into his studio.
It’s a phrase and an idea that has stuck with me, but I am not a lech like the dance floor proprietor. I’m not out to lay every woman I see. No, my ambition lies in the creative and professional and artistic realm. Ever since I broke into pop culture writing I’ve worked like a fiend to realize all of the opportunities I’ve had, which have been extraordinary.
Have I realized all of these opportunities? Of course not. I would not be begging strangers for money on the internet, having found myself writing for smaller and smaller audiences through the years, if everything had worked out and I realized one hundred percent of my potential and one hundred percent of the my opportunities.
But I do feel like I’ve realized a lot of the opportunities afforded me. Though it’s increasingly hard to believe, and also hard to remember, I was a film critic on AMC for 13 surreal episodes in 2004 and 2005, sharing the screen with some fizzy LA types but also a future Academy Award winner (John Ridley) and a man with a MacArthur Genius Grant in his future(Josh Kun). I cowrote a book with my childhood hero “Weird Al” Yankovic, scored a hundred thousand advance for my memoir, which got a rave review from The New York Times and is, at this writing, the first of five books and counting. Most impressively, I was recently shipped a package of Mountain Dew gear in recognition of decades of loyalty. Can John Green say the same? I think not.
And yet despite these accomplishments, I have fucked up so, so very much that for me to include a rundown of all the amazing opportunities I never realized would constitute an enormous humblebrag, and one that would include, appropriately enough, not making an effort to form a real relationship with the creator of Humblebrag, instead of worshipping his talent and comic genius from a safe, cowardly distance.
My life and career are filled with what-ifs and roads not taken. Would my life be different if I’d aggressively sought out a staff position at Grantland when Bill Simmons called me at the A.V Club office around the time the site launched to see if I’d be willing to jump ship? I honestly have no idea, and there’s nothing really to be gained from contemplating stuff like that.
So if I had to dream up a completely arbitrary number, I would say that looking back at my career, I probably realized exactly 65 percent of my creative and professional potential. I’ve written five books, did a season of national television, coined a pop culture archetype and have written a fuck-ton of articles about bad movies and even some good ones that are pretty fucking good.
I could not be more proud of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. I feel like I have been operating at 100 percent potential since I launched the site. I feel like it asks everything of me, but also gives a great deal. It’s the best kind of pressure, knowing that there is an appreciative, hungry, waiting audience that has followed you from website to website and job to job, not just because you write something that made them chuckle in the moment, but rather because they believe in you as a person and a creator, and are willing to back that support with the kind of cold hard cash you need to for things in our culture, like “food” and also “shelter.”
I may be deluding myself but you even seem to be tolerating my endless rumination in this particular section of the site. Because God knows that if you’re looking for professional copy-editing and lots of posts and images and videos and clips and provocative headlines and hot takes, there are literally hundreds of thousands of other sites for that. But if you want to read a weird, obscure cult figure sift endlessly through the wreckage of his life and career and unhealthily obsessive coverage of the album cuts of “Weird Al” Yankovic, this is pretty much your only option.
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