Ask City Sprawl: On “Celebrity Rehab,” High Altitudes and Sparring with Cabbies

Advice queries from Northern Virginians, or people who’ve been to Northern Virginia one time.

Advice queries from Northern Virginians, or people who’ve been to Northern Virginia one time.

By Susan Anspach / Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Does my enjoyment and active watching of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab” make me a worse person? If I must watch it, is detached, ironic observation morally preferable to forming emotional connections to the celebrities?

If reality TV’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. Staring agog at the littered scraps of other people’s public careers is an American tradition! I was away at camp the summer “Survivor” aired its first season; not having seen a single episode, I still knew the first and last names of the winner plus the details of his subsequent tax evasion. And who do you think leaked them? No one ever went on a reality show because he wanted to keep a low profile.

As for your show, I did watch an episode (purchased it, actually, for culture) but felt I couldn’t draw any conclusions of substance from 22 minutes. There’s an arc to a series, and a beauty. A brief glance just raised questions, like, Bob’s not a patient, right?, and, Are they sure about that? Did they double-check? Cause something about that guy looks loose. Anyway, I’m not bragging. I’m not above “Celebrity Rehab.” Anything you can name I can stoop lower. “Man vs. Wild”? “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” “The Bachelorette”? “Bridalplasty.” “Temptation Island”? “Temptation Island, Season Two.” Ostensibly there’s a place where society will someday draw the line; for now all we can say for sure is it’s not at exploiting the Amish, or waxing 4-year-olds’ eyebrows. At its core, your show’s about the health-improvement efforts of consenting adults. Just watch out for nosebleeds up there on your moral high ground. One commercial break slips into the next and before you know it you’re watching back-to-backs of “Sister Wives” in Crocs and an oversize parka with stains.


I need your help—I’m pretty sure I’m on Level 3 of “Inception.” Yesterday went by very quickly, and today went by really, really, really slowly. My question is, which is the better reality: fast-forward, the Dave Coulier “Think he needs a hurry up”-style from the 1980s TV show “Out of Control,” or the Adam Sandler remote-control style from “Click”?

In the second one, would I have to be Adam Sandler? Like, would I be doomed to make the same movie and public appearances singing “The Chanukah Song” the rest of my life? Would I have to hang out with Rob Schneider? On the other hand, Wikipedia tells us “Out of Control” aired in a time before “Full House,” and I don’t like to think about a time when there wasn’t “Full House.” There’s a YouTube video of Tom Hanks reciting a slam poem about “Full House” and it’s my favorite thing on the Internet. What’s the TV reality that lets you live inside one episode of “Full House” to the next? The one with The Beach Boys! The other one with The Beach Boys! Now I ask you: Did you have basic cable in ‘90s? If yes, that’s the time travel you’re looking for.


I get really mad at the taxi drivers who never yield to pedestrians. How can I stop the rage?

Cab drivers! Where’s the love? No one’s cab story ever ends: And upon safely arriving, we exchanged a tip of the hat, a chuckle and an agreed-upon fare. It’s always: I chucked a wadded twenty at that dude and got out of there fast; or, I bounced at a red light when I realized he was a kidnapper disguised as a cabbie (a D.C. friend’s true story, and memorable night!).

Here’s my advice: Think about a time you wronged one of them. Like there was this one time I flew to Puerto Rico on a night flight that lost everyone’s luggage. The baggage of literally every person on the plane. Dealing with it was one lost-and-found attendant and one circa-1980s computer. We were not first in line. Three hours later we finally stumbled outside, where a cabbie quoted us $15 for our trip to the hotel. He changed his mind, though, when we got there, upping the tab to $45, and you could say that was a slip on his part. A lapse in fine reasoning. Because not only did we not pay him the $45, we said things we can’t take back. Names were named, perils threatened. We struck fear in that man’s heart and his unborn children’s hearts. So you see? Somewhere in San Juan that cabbie’s writing Abby (¿Abbí?) on the ills of tourist passengers and why their black hearts are soured against his mother. It evens out in the end.


Life as a tall person is hard. It’s not all “taking things off of whatever shelf I want,” or seeing over bathroom stalls indiscriminately … when I drop something, it is WAY farther to the ground to pick it up. And airline travel? Only if you’re willing to fork over that exit row moolah. So how do I “shorten up” my game to fit in better to this Lollipop Guild of a world? I do not play basketball. Or volleyball.

A slow clap for you, sir. I laud your bravery, and conviction. Any non-athlete who’s ever special-ordered a shoe size (right here) knows nothing wrecks a day at the beach like a “casual” match of volleyball between “friends,” one where both teams have had their eye on you since the coin toss. They are in it to win it, and have no time for your (my) maladroit lurching through the sand. You do what you do and stick to your guns.

There are more ways than one. Double bass, blending in well in Sweden, the American presidency—all more within your reach when tall! Have you considered the theater? There are so many lead roles for tall men! I don’t like to boast but I brought home the part of man-god Oberon in the sixth grade because there weren’t any middle-school boys taller than me. Height takes you places. Like the stars, or the elementary-school cafeteria on parents’ night.


Would you rather have corduroy skin or muffin hands that grow back every time you eat them? (It should be understood that the muffins have functional opposable thumbs.)

Is this a trick question? I can’t think of a single pro for the one, or con for the other. But maybe it’s a trick. Like maybe the muffins have raisins, or maybe I’m gluten-intolerant? What’s your game, player? I go muffins with the condition I get to pick muffin type and specify the rate of regrowth. “Somewhat functional”? So like I can’t play the accordion? Who needs it? You can keep your opposable—I’ve got breakfast hands.

You didn’t ask my advice but I’m giving it to you: If you pose this question to someone else and they pick corduroy, don’t sleep in a house alone with that guy at night. In a world rich with linens and blue jeans, where has corduroy gotten us lately? It pills, it fades—it’s suicide in the rain. I’m getting the sense this is one of those questions wrapped up inside a question, and I’m not good enough to suss out what it is. So, muffins. Or whatever muffins are a metaphor for. Best of luck.

You get what you pay for.


Solicit free advice anytime, anywhere, from @CitySprawlNVMag.


(April 2013)