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Most success stories recount a lucky break. R. Eric Thomas’ came some years back, when he was living in Philadelphia, posting funny remarks on Facebook. An editor from Elle.com read his comments and hired him to write a daily humor column. Now he has published an amusing memoir-in-essays, Here for It, about growing up in Baltimore, being African American and gay, and floundering around in his 20s and some of his 30s not knowing what to do with his life. Or his hair. At one point he gets it straightened, but this doesn’t quite work out: “And the story here is two black dudes, one with a sort of Bride of Frankenstein thing going on with his hair, leaning into each other as they laughed.”
Thomas’ parents worked hard to send him to a fancy private school in Baltimore, where most other students came from affluent Jewish suburbs. “Much of the first couple of years I spent at Park were composed of learning by doing, learning by reading and learning by asking things like ‘What is Rosh Hashanah and why is no one in school today and does this mean we can watch a movie?’”
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When applying and visiting colleges, Thomas had some surprising experiences. “At Cornell, my host—a student named Fredo—made me sleep under his bed and told me there was a race war on campus, so I shouldn’t talk to any white people.” Thomas enrolled at Columbia, but got all bollixed up about his gay identity and didn’t finish. “Put that on my tombstone: Here lies R. Eric: he didn’t know exactly what he was doing.” After this academic debacle, he lived in his parents’ basement in Baltimore, attending the University of Maryland and working. Later, he moved to Philadelphia and became surer of his gay identity. “Physical activity has never been my bag… you can imagine my horror when I became an adult, came out of the closet and found out that one of the central tenets of homosexuality is that all gays have gym memberships.”
Another theme of Here for It is church. Religion meant much to Thomas growing up, and his husband is a Presbyterian minister. Their Christian backgrounds diverge: “We never had Easter egg hunts in church growing up. We were Baptists and that bunny didn’t die on the cross, did it? No, it did not!” Thomas also loves pop culture, mainly music and film, and specifically anything featuring Whitney Houston. But he also likes Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and even devotes a chapter to it, “There’s Never Any Trouble Here in Bubbleland.” This absence of trouble derived partly from Thomas’ no-nonsense mother, who had a special outfit for “funerals and meetings in which she had to set someone straight. She called it her death suit, because if she was wearing it, ‘either someone is already dead or someone is going to die.’ We didn’t have money in Bubbleland, but we were rich in bon mots.”
Here for It is an entertaining memoir, and even has some laugh out loud moments. But throughout, it is clear that Thomas is more than a comic. He takes some things very seriously—politics, the struggles of the gay and African American communities and their intersections, and the realities of class. He just approaches them with a light touch, which makes his views all the more persuasive.
Toward the book’s end, Thomas describes a 2016 election night party he threw, one ruined by Trump’s win and its dire prospects for gay people. This is one of the few times this book mentions Trump, which is remarkable—the past three years have been all Trump all the time. This avoidance is all the more amazing considering how plugged in Thomas is to the internet. Indeed at the book’s end, he writes, “Hi, I’m R. Eric Thomas; I’m from the internet.”
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