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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A podcast about stand-up comedy taught me more about spirituality and being than 18 years of Catholic instruction. I am about to tell you that it changed my life. This will sound preposterous. It will warrant the same eye-rolling reaction as being told, “This diet will change your life.” Or, “This book will change your life.” And it should. Because it probably won’t. In fact, it will almost certainly be a disappointment. Profound words to some often sound like a string of banal platitudes to others. That’s the way these things go. But seriously: You should listen to Pete Holmes’ podcast, You Made It Weird, because it changed my life.
Holmes originally intended to give his audience an inside-baseball look into the lives of comics like himself, but gradually, the show became more of a vehicle for exploring his understanding of relationships, religion, and the mysteries of life—particularly in the wake of losing both his marriage and his traditional faith in the years leading up to the podcast’s launch. Commensurate with the transition, Holmes began expanding his roster of interviewees to include musicians, artists, scientists, and other Deep Thinkers. As was astutely observed by T.J. Miller about 35 minutes into his third appearance on YMIW: “People like this podcast because it’s actually a podcast about philosophy.” Read More
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I haven’t seen the skyline since going underground at Jamaica Station, but I can feel the weight of Midtown overhead. A high school couple sits across from me, their interlaced fingers forming a brown and white zipper between their knees. They make me intensely optimistic about the future. She shuts her eyes and grimaces cutely as his lips pass from her forehead down the bridge of her nose to her own expectant mouth. It’s a display I would normally loathe, but I remind myself that modesty always plays second fiddle to first love, and now I am unable to look away. With Spirits in my ears, I smile and absorb the affection they’re filling the air with.
I meet Steve at his apartment in the East Village, which is “Oh, that’s trendy” according to every person who asks him what neighborhood he lives in. He opens all the windows, hands me a Brooklyn lager. We celebrate the virtues of Summer Fridays. A text message takes us to a beer garden in Gowanus then to a shuffleboard club around the block. The cheapest beer they have on tap is served in a mason jar. No one is surprised by this. I lunge with the tang like a gladiator and always end up in the kitchen. I put a chalky hand on Jeff’s shoulder and he tells me marriage changes nothing for our generation. Read More
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I’m on a train, heading back to New York City. It’s a Sunday around dinner time. A man, maybe seventy, seventy-five, walked into the café car sometime shortly after we pulled out of Union Station. At first, I didn’t notice him. Just another traveler looking for another seat. He finally sat across the aisle from me. We’re surrounded by seven or eight people now, many of whom are drinking beer or half bottles of wine. (How tragic to drink a half bottle of wine by yourself on a train on a Sunday.)
I’m facing south, my back to the north, and our train rushes toward New York City. The water, trees, and towns are flying by me while the grey sky looms ominously over all of it. Before we had escaped too far out of the District I pulled myself out of my seat and wandered to find a bathroom. The bathroom in the café car had a little sign on it, five by five or so, navy blue with a yellow border around the outside, letting me know that it was out of service. So like a man who had just returned to shore after being at sea for ages, I ambled toward the next car and the next bathroom as the train tested my balance. I hurried as best I could. I was concerned leaving my bag unattended. But I had done it anyway, putting a grocery bag with my black dress shoes on top of it out of hopes that a potential thief would not notice the thousands of dollars of electronics nestled in a three hundred dollar bag. Read More
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I made a bad decision the other night. Like most of my bad decisions, I was very tired when I made it—and probably a little drunk.
I was tired from a long week at work; worn down by a routine that, for the next 40 years, will stand between me, a brief retirement, and my inevitable death (Strap in, everybody!); and I was utterly bewildered by a conversation I’d had earlier in the day regarding cults—specifically, Scientology—with a devoutly Catholic coworker.
On top of this, pile the latest Republican presidential debate that was waiting for me when I got home. So while I can’t be sure exactly what tipped the scales and led me to fix a drink that fateful Wednesday night, I blame Ted Cruz. Read More
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