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NTMP 85: Spark Bag
It's spooky spaghetti season
New-to-me Phrases, October 15, 2023
The Phrases, With Context
This week we have a special edition of NTMP. Recently, I found an eye-catching URL for an extremely niche museum. I decided to interview its owner, who agreed to answer questions from a random weirdo. There’s a slightly shorter list to accommodate the interview, but I’m hoping you’ll find it’s a good tradeoff.
But first: NTMP death match poll results!
If you’re new here (hi!), at the end of each month I do a poll where readers can vote for their favorite phrase from the past few weeks. The September poll had an unprecedented tie for both first and second place, so I held a second poll. Here are the results:
Aaaaaand . . . Streep Ham takes it all!
Thanks to all who voted! And now it’s time for this week’s New-to-me Phrases!
1. Richard’s Sporting Goods
This phrase is from a solid joke that makes me laugh every time I think about it and mad that I didn’t think of it first:
After spotting this on Insta, I discovered that Lyndsay Rush is the creator of Mary Oliver’s Drunk Cousin, a fave account of mine. Rush also writes for Reductress and McSweeney’s and owns a marketing agency that I would write for in a hot second.
BRB; rethinking my entire writing career.
2. “Fuck it” nook
While texting with my fellow Dirty Hags (the name of our gardening group chat), we lamented how the weeds got away from us this year in ways that could only be called aggressively impressive.
One of us wrote:
The weeds aren’t hurting anything except maybe some neighbors’ feelings. 🖕Make yourself a little fuck it nook, is what I say.
What she meant is, if you can’t keep up one year (or any year, in my case), just carve out spots in your garden that bring you joy and savor them. More and more, I’m starting to feel that letting things in the garden be a bit wild isn’t the worst thing in the world, and that my feelings about having an untidy yard come from inherited generational standards (and resulting shame!) that I honestly think are bullshit. Lawns are stupid! I refuse to use Roundup!
3. Spark bird
Journalist and author Ed Jong caught the birding bug in the wake of covering COVID-19 nonstop for months. In a recent issue of his newsletter, The Ed’s Up (highly recommended for all curious folks), Yong described a spark bird, or the particular species that sparks your interest in birding.
As more of a bird cohabitator and enthusiastic shouter of “LOOK! A BIRD!” than a formal birder, I still had to think about which wild bird struck my fancy first. I’d have to say it’s the American Goldfinch (pictured above) or the American Kestrel (my favorite raptor; everyone has a favorite raptor, right? Right?). What can I say? I like color.
Bonus A+ phrase from Ed’s newsletter (emphasis mine):
[T]his week, I started going on trips for the express purpose of watching birds, which felt like crossing the Rubicon that separates ‘bird-interested normie’ and ‘birder’.
If you’re on BlueSky, Yong frequently shares amazing birding photos there. (I have a couple of BlueSky invite codes for any interested NTMP readers—HMU.)
Are you a bird-interested normie, a birder, or somewhere in between? If so, what was your spark bird?
4. Fettuccine afraido
Here’s a seasonally appropriate joke that once lived on what was once known as Twitter until Francis from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure ruined it and the OG jokester deleted their account. We’ll always have screenshots.
If you don’t know what creepypasta is, here’s an explainer.
I learned about barfbags.com in one of the comment threads on’s Culture Study where she asked readers about their hobbies. The Culture Study comment threads, which are for paid subscribers, are some of the best places online, because people are just . . . decent there? IKR? Seems impossible, but somehow it happens every time.
Also, is there a weirder hobby than collecting barf bags? I DEFINITELY want to know about it!
I looked up barfbags.com, home to the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum and emailed the curator, Steve Silberberg. A software consultant turned backpacking guide (with stints as an expert witness, standup comedian, lost and found director, and filmmaker in between), Steve informed me that an updated version of the website lives at airsicknessbags.com, if you’d like a more modern user experience.
I rather like the alliterative vintage charm of barfbags.com, however. Steve also agreed to answer my questions about his longtime hobby, which you can read below.
Why did you start collecting air sickness bags?
Mostly, I just started doing this as a joke when I was in college. I thought it would be absurd to collect Air Sickness Bags. And it is. But over time it has become kind of a passion that has ancillary benefits. For example, by focusing on collecting bags and only bags, it minimizes my predilection for hoarding other items that I might be susceptible to. Also, I enjoy the occasional media attention since it makes me feel like I’m somewhat interesting (I’m not).
Do you have any favorite bags? Why are they your favorites? The design, amusing content, form/function, something else?
Most people (and me) really like the ’90s era Finnaviation bag as a favorite: . The function of the bag is obvious, it is visually attractive and it’s amusing. And although you can’t tell from the scan, it’s pretty big as barf bags go, so that makes it even more utilitarian (unlike the tiny Indonesian Garuda bags from the same time period).
What has surprised you the most about this project?
I find that it’s an interesting social litmus test. When people learn of my collection there are very distinct reactions: enthusiasm, confusion and disdain are the most common. I tend to get along best with those who are enthusiastic but also find that I don’t get along at all with those who are borderline disdainful. In fact, it strained a work relationship I once had, confirming in the other person’s mind that I was inconsequential and could be dismissed and disparaged.
Do you have any update or succession plans for the museum?
I have long held the idea that I’d just hand it off to other fellow collectors, but most of us are even older than I am so a succession plan is still elusive. Happy to take suggestions however. I forewarn you: There are a dearth of people who truly want to inherit 3500 Air Sickness Bags, though they may feign interest.
If people want to submit an airsickness bag, where should they send it? Do you prefer images or the physical bags themselves?
Images are interesting, but as with other collections, having a physical specimen is key. I would love to receive any bag to add to the collection. Obviously, I already have every 2 year old Delta or Lufthansa bag, but a 35 year old Druk air? Now you’re talking! I especially like bags distributed at horror flicks. The number of people who might have kept such bags as a souvenir is much greater than those that would take an unused Aeromexico bag off their recent flight as a souvenir.
Here’s where to send any bags you’d like to include in the museum:
Steve Silberberg 15 Sweet St. Saco, ME 04072
Is there anything else you'd like my readers to know that I haven't asked about?
👀 Any readers seeking a backpacking barf bag buff from Maine?
Thanks for making the time to do an interview for NTMP, Steve!
Bonus Fun Stuff I Saved For You
Writer Sam Irby gave the absolute best “what’s on my nightstand/in my purse/what I can’t live without” profile for New York Magazine.
Totally normal comments for online recipes (New Yorker, paywalled after you run out of free reads).
That’s it for this week! Remember to stay furiously curious. There’s a lot of cruelty in this world, and also a lot of humor and love and art and stories and music and natural beauty, too. Some days it’s harder than others, but if you can, please try not to absorb too much of the former because it can make you forget that the latter also exist and that they are what makes our time on this rock feel worthwhile. ❤️