The Saturday Rumpus Essay: Crushed


I have this crush. I’m so smitten and obsessed with this person that I feel like a crazed stalker. For the past month I’ve been listening to every podcast he’s been on, reading interviews with him, looking at his photos on the Internet. I’ve never met him, but the more I listen, the more I read, the more I see of his charming face, the more I fantasize about our potential relationship. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s successful, he’s pro-choice, he’s Jewish! This is true limerence.

Unfortunately, my crush is dead.

The seed of this crush was planted about a week before he died, when I was working on a story about Parks and Recreation. In anticipation of the end of this series, I was assigned to interview everyone who was a part of the show, creating an oral history of how the series began, how it evolved, as well as the environment of the writer’s room.

I reached out to the writers, one of them being Harris Wittels.

I’ve known journalists who have ended up dating, even marrying, people they’ve interviewed. It’s one of those romantic things I hope for—in the same way I hope to sit next to someone lovely on an airplane. Despite this hope I usually get stuck sitting next to 5-year-old girls who pee on their seats (this has happened on more then one occasion, oddly). And in my experience of dating people I’ve interviewed, they always end up peeing in public as well.

I didn’t know much about Harris when I reached out to him, other than his writing credits for the show. I began my research for our upcoming interview. I watched the Parks & Rec episode “Fillibuster.” I scanned his Wikipedia and discovered that he coined the term “humblebrag.” I glanced through some of his recent tweets, noting that on Friday the 13th—the eve of Valentine’s day—he was “looking for a girl who hates to laugh.” Then I scrolled through his Instagram and Facebook photos to get a more intimate understanding of Harris—standard journalistic interview-prep.

I saw photos of him frowning at Disneyland. A video of him playing an acoustic version of Miley’s “Party in the USA.” He’s a cute mensch, I gathered, a cuddly fellow with a well- groomed beard, sad eyes, and, most importantly, a comforting voice that sounded like he was about to either cry or laugh. The kind of voice that I knew would be soothing to hear if I were to rest my head on his hairy chest.

I was excited for our interview.

On Wednesday the 18th, 10:47 a.m., Harris wrote back to me: “Yea I’m good to chat tomorrow!”

“Great! Would noon work for you?” I replied.

I didn’t hear anything back, but let my editor know that Harris was interested in being part of the story.

I never got a confirmation from Harris about what time he wanted to chat. By morning I followed up with him, asking what time would be best and for his phone number. No answer.

I emailed my editor with an update. “Haven’t heard back from Harris today.”

That evening my editor wrote me, “Holy crap, we are not going to hear from Harris,” with a link to a TMZ article saying he had died from a drug overdose.

That’s when the fantasies started.

I obsessed over his work, craving a voice that I would never hear in reality. I caught up on years of tweets. On the eve of my birthday he’d tweeted, “Happy Birthday!” And I laughed when he tweeted in 2013, “4 million people in this goddamn city and I can’t find ONE girl with onyx black shards of glass for pubic hair.” I saw that we were both watching the Violent Femmes at Coachella a couple of years ago. I loved an old Vine from May 21st, 2013 where he said “I only write articles about Muppet Babies. Guess you could call me a gonzo journalist.” I binged on old podcasts, piecing together his life based on interviews from 2011 through the present. He was a self-described spoiled Jew. A Texan. Played drums in a band called Don’t Stop Or We’ll Die. He typed potential jokes into his phone and would later read the not-quite-there jokes in what became “Harris’s Foam Corner” on Comedy Bang Bang.

I imagined our interview that could have been. The rapport would have been beautiful. I’d say, “You know, it’s a shame we had to do this over the phone.” To which he would reply, “Well, we should meet up sometime.” Then meeting up sometime. Enjoying lemonade in the park. He would tell me about how a picture of his penis is in Sarah Silverman’s book. This would lead me to share that I am working on a documentary about pubic hair. We’d then have an enchanting dinner by the ocean, then go back to his house in Los Feliz and sing “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. He would try to get me to listen to his favorite band Phish, which, by the way, I still have no idea what this band sounds like. Harris once said on a podcast that he was in love with love, and perhaps he would repeat that sentiment on our date.

I hate that I never knew this person. I hate that he is dead. I can’t help but envy everyone who knew him, who had actual relationships with him, while I am stuck in a fantasy that will never be realized. My desire isn’t even to have to been his girlfriend when he died, but to have been at least one of his ex-girlfriends. I want to get in on the mourn—to join everyone in their collective sadness. I was driving in the rain the other night imagining myself at his funeral in Houston. I was in the second row behind his parents and older sister, crying with them and his other close friends. We recited the Mourner’s Kaddish. It was overcast.

A couple days after his funeral I had Tex-Mex downtown with my friend Anne, who knew Harris. I kept my lust for him concealed. She wouldn’t understand. As she scooped some guacamole onto her chip, Anne said, “You would have really liked him. You two would have gotten along,” only validating what could have been. I nodded as I took a bite of my lengua taco. She added, “Harris had a theory that every girl had at least a 20 percent crush on him.”

I imagined Harris telling me this theory, to which I would respond, “Oh yeah, well then, what’s the other 80 percent?” He would have had a witty retort.

I’ll admit that since his death my fantasies of Harris go beyond conversation. It’s an extreme case of wanting what you can’t have. I’ve been relying on YouTube, podcasts, web interviews—all of these recorded memories—to get a sense of who he was. It’s only fueling a desire that can never be fulfilled. I’m attracted and addicted to the sound of his voice, always a tad shaky, as he shares “foam” like, “What do you get when you cross the Holocaust with a baby-clothing store? Oshkosh B’g-Auschwitz.” I admired how he bravely shared with listeners on an episode of Pete Holmes’s podcast You Made It Weird his struggles with addiction—a struggle he sadly lost—and how he candidly discussed life and death. “Doesn’t it seem like a lot of celebrities are dying right now?” Harris asks. “But every single human being ever has died and will die and so it’s not that weird to me when it happens. But everyone really makes quite a big deal of it.” He later revealed, “I just really stopped caring about my life. If I’m only here for 80 years who cares if I spend it high or not… I’m still trying to figure out how to value my life.”

The last podcast Harris recorded on Comedy Bang Bang was released posthumously a couple weeks following his death. During this podcast he talks about how in the 8th grade a girl gave him a blow job in a movie theatre. After telling this story he reveals that the girl died a few years ago. This lead to a conversation with host Scott Aukerman and fellow guests Chelsea Peretti and Adam Scott, on how appropriate it is to jerk off to someone who is dead. Hearing this gave me a sense of relief and approval. That perhaps Harris would be flattered to know that people who’ve never even met him just might do the same.

I realize that a crush on a dead man is futile. And in an effort to move forward with my life, and perhaps find the living version of Harris, I followed a friend’s suggestion to download the dating app Hinge. It’s like Tinder but it only matches you with people with whom you have mutual Facebook friends. I downloaded the app and it started me off with about 20 matches to either accept or reject. Much like Tinder, I found myself bored with just looking at these faces, reading short and predictable bios. I scanned through the first few with mild interest. But the twelfth guy caught my attention. It was Harris. I pressed the heart button.


Image credits: featured image, image #2, image #3.

Chloe Schildhause is a writer based in Los Angeles who is currently researching Boy Meets World and just got off the phone with Mr. Feeny. She is the former editor of DECADES magazine, a publication devoted to food, fashion, and gore. She can be found @chloish. More from this author →