Samara doesn’t want to discuss her family because, They’re all crazy. At least that’s what she tells me, flatly, and I don’t think twice about trying to change the subject because I know better than to tack too far into seas where there be dragons. Especially on first dates.
She peels the bacon off her burger, confesses that she hasn’t quite adjusted to pork yet—a segue into the formative years she spent in Iran. I slide in a contrived reference to Zoroastrianism, ask about her grasp of Farsi, and we talk about how she owes her existence to the circumstance of revolution. That I’m conversant in these topics is something I hope that she’s impressed by but isn’t, and maybe I can’t blame her. American Intellectualism is what everyone else in the world is expected to know. Read More
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Faith reveals to me that she’s a DJ from D.C. and a budding bisexual over two pints of blonde at the hostel bar around 1:00 AM only twenty minutes after I arrived and keeps glancing at her phone because she’s expecting a text from the cute bartender she met last night at a burlesque show who swore she would be free after her shift this evening and wants to meet-up at an after-hours discotheque that she’s been dying to check-out and now I’m being roped into tagging along even though I’m exhausted but of course I cave and call a cab because I can’t stand to say no to new adventures or pretty girls or nights beyond prediction.
She talks to our driver in French with an accent I can tell he finds atrocious and honestly so do I but then again I speak so little and the words she says sound right and her pace is probably fine because he continues making conversation although it dawns on me eventually that it’s only to keep her from getting keen on the fact that he can see down her shirt in the strategically tilted rearview as she leans forward from the backseat to paint her lips in cherry black and while I make a solid effort can’t manage to mime this to her subtly enough for it to not be awkward so I must admit to myself that he may have won this round and I hope he hits a moose on his return trip to the city. Read More
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Bert Fischer: You’re like one of those clipper ship captains. You’re married to the sea.
Max Fischer: Yes, that’s true. But I’ve been out to sea for a long time.
– Rushmore (1998)
“You don’t have to be the Float Queen, you know.”
“But of course I do,” she said. “I am the most beautiful girl in Trachimbrod.”
“But you don’t even like it,” he said. “You always complain after.”
“I know,” she said, adjusting the tail, which was scaled with blue sequins.
“Do you like thinking about Mom?”
“Does it hurt after?”
“Then why do you continue to do it?” she asked. And why, she wondered…do we pursue it?
– Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
It’s a bit after midnight in mid-August of 2006, about ten hours before I move away for college, and in the flickering light of a silent television, I watch her lose the battle between the tears on her cheeks and the white sheets she’s trying to defeat them with. Don’t go, she says, and I don’t know if she means right now or for good, but I have to get up early because the future waits for no one, so I shut her bedroom door after I roll four more bittersweet grenades across the floor: I love you I love you I love you and it’s only a few hundred miles.
In a supermarket line, the second week of April, 2013, I pick-up my phone to an angry voice on the other end saying fuck me for taking her friend to that dance, and, How come you didn’t ask me? Dutifully, I remind her, You have a boyfriend. Read More
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I worry about our obsession with vanity. Not Hollywood stardom or photo-shopped hips—although those too are troubling. I’m concerned about our pedestrian vanity. You, me, that woman we walk by on our way to the coffee shop. We care less about who we are than who we want the world to believe we are.
We are, in a very real way, the Mad Men Generation—we are all our personal ad executives and our product is “Me.” Our ability to transform the ordinary, a mural on a nice day, a coffee on a dreary one, into the extraordinary would be uncanny if it wasn’t, apparently, innate. We are all prodigies. Our medium is social, and our means is the lens. Read More
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I met a boy in a car and he asked me if people were born sane or insane. His name was James. He was twenty-four, from Florida, and had a slender build. He had copper, messy hair and a burnished red beard. It was six and a half hours to Belgrade and he was, the entire time, beautiful.
But it wasn’t just that. His personality was magnetic. He threw off immediately any suggestion that we were destined to be strangers. And he told stories with his emerald green eyes. They spoke with equal parts intensity and indifference.
By the time Sarajevo faded in the rearview mirror, he had confessed how he found his way into the backseat of that beaten up Peugeot crawling over this once-war torn country. He self-described as a member of the Entitlement Generation and said he couldn’t imagine being forty, divorced, and trapped in a corporate office in Orlando. So he quit his job, broke-up with his girlfriend, and boarded a plane to Portugal. He started heading east and he’s mostly out of time in the Schengen. He plans to keep heading east and is thinking about Australia next. From there he tells me he wants to sail to South America. Read More
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“It won’t be long now,” my grandmother sighs, studying the November sun. It’s been so lazy this afternoon that she can look it in the eye, can scowl with disapproval as it slinks across the western sky and into last summer’s rice stubble. No point in expecting a late fall 4:00 to feel like anything other than a July 9:00. She thinks this to herself, I’m sure.
Her hands are all knuckles and taut veins against a trembling cane. She stares down at them from in front of the screen door, says Uncle Rick lost a piece of his finger in the drill press last week. He planned to retire this year but changed his mind. Got scared he’d die with nothing to do. The cancer in Aunt Carol’s stomach ain’t calling it quits yet either. Some days she’s in agony and other days it only hurts a lot. All she prays for now are days. Maybe then her kids could visit. Maybe them seeing their mother as something less than eternal is just as painful. Read More
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I poked my fork along the edges of an Asian salad in a diner peculiarly named “The Coffee Shop.” Of course there’s nothing strange about a diner named “The Coffee Shop.” But that’s assuming that what’s in that diner are the things one would expect to be in a diner. Liquid butter in the large plastic jugs. Eggs and bacon sizzling on a flattop. Home fries and Formica tables. But you don’t get that here. Not in the heart of New York City.
It’s all the more curious here because this diner plays the part aesthetically. Outside it has the seen-better-days neon sign and aluminum flashing around the windows. And, inside, it has the traditional s-shaped counter that curves over itself, the see-through galley kitchen, the ugly teal tile that one would expect. But when you open up the menu eager for a breakfast to spite your arteries you can’t help but mumble to yourself, “Fuck.” Read More
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Wednesday was a lot better for me than it was for many people in this country. Still, for me, it was awful. Worse still, there may be more awful days ahead. And they may be more awful because of who this president-elect is and what he does to people over whom he has power. But even if President Trump is just a Republican like a big chunk of the 89% of self-described Republicans who voted for him, if he softens his evil to merely the Islamophobia of Scott Walker, the sexism of Rick Perry, and the contempt for the poor of Paul Ryan, then it’s important that we remember what he was before that. He’s the fucker who made me and many people I care about feel what we felt Wednesday November 9th, 2016. Read More
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You see, I travel—often, and preferably, alone—because traveling makes me feel small and when I feel small I learn big lessons. Not every trip reshapes who I am as a person or how I see myself. Sometimes it is a gentle nudge in the ribs, a reminder about this or that. Be decent. Be slow to anger. Talk to strangers. Other times, it shakes me.
Somewhere in Belgrade, maybe it began in Sarajevo, I was shaken. At first a sneaking vibration, until I felt it, and then once I felt it, it grew stronger until it cracked my foundations. In short hindsight, I wrote to a friend:
“I think if I boiled the trip down to a single lesson…I’d say it’s just to live life with purpose in whatever it is you’re doing. The rest will take care of itself.” Read More
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I was born in March of 1987. Since then, terrorists have killed 17,294 men, women, and children in attacks around the world. At this rate, I can expect about 600 deaths every year until I’m dead. If I live to 79, the normal life expectancy for a man in this country, just under 30,000 more will lose their lives to fanatics: 47,220 men, women, and children.
The magnitude and horror of these losses are hidden—mercifully—in the cold nature of numbers. But these numbers are more than a divisible part of a larger statistic. They were (and will be) mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. They believed (and will believe) in Gods—many of them by default and some more than others. They had (and will have) that night where they looked up at the sky from their place on a planet floating in a galaxy of gas and rock and they felt alive. And they were (and will be) killed when they least expect it, at a market or a festival, at a restaurant or a concert, in some inventively cruel way. Read More
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