I’ll never forget how lonely I felt in Tallinn—standing like an island in a rough sea of early twenty-somethings about to embark on another Friday night bender. Me: at least seven years older than all of them, remote, and incapable of conversation. Them: throwing back can after can of Baltic beer to keep pace with drinking games I’d long tired of, swapping taunts, high-fives, full-toothed grins, steely-eyed and sure-footed, engaged in that tacky peacock kind of flirting I knew some of them would never outgrow. All of us: tossed in the storm of incorrigible youth.
Ava was with me only a week ago, but we were elsewhere then. (Copenhagen.) Her train had been late, and I paced back and forth beneath the massive clock in Central Station, hoping she would save me from the reality that I had no one there. (She did.) My hostel was hotelish: sterile, automated, indifferent to chance encounters. So I was lucky to have met her last August: Finn by birth, Dane by residence, then a bleach blonde sore thumb on the Amalfi Coast. She shared a pizza with me. She spoke too many languages. She said, If you’re ever in Denmark. (I was.) Read More
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Her husband doesn’t call anymore. We leave our phones in the room now anyway. Too many pretty people here. White pebbles and locals raised in a land without modesty. She takes her top off like all of the other girls, lies diagonally to the water. Evenly tanned chests lap up the brutal rays. A joint sticky with sunscreen and a wet copy of Cat’s Cradle. The pages smell like sea salt. She asks me if I can afford another two Coronas. I tell her that I’m beyond broke; it’s time to go home. She says that she’s beyond broken; she’s never going home. Lies and lies and lies and lies.
It took me too long to learn her name. She knows this. I had to ask for the last time last week. Two towns ago. A little coffee shop in the Jewish Quarter. A honey cake I bought her because this city is known for them. She says that hers are better. I don’t believe her. She stirs her black coffee without reason. Without blinking. I justify my work for the Galactic Empire. She tries to explain what the food is like in Ljubljana but never comes close to convincing me she was really there. I tell her it takes more than miles to get away from what we’re leaving behind. No response. 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 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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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 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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I love this place. I really, really do. It’s still intoxicating to me. There are still those late nights walking down those narrow streets where the trees cast shadows like memories across the double yellow line and I can barely take it. But before the hangover sets in it’s time to leave.
I’ve been here for almost five years—1800 some odd days. That means I’ve spent more time in this City than anywhere but where I was born. And boy has it changed me, I mean my god has it changed me. From the decisions I’ve made (some good, some bad) to the adventures I’ve taken (some planned, some not) to the people I’ve met (some friends, some passing acquaintances).
I called moving here a horrible mistake. I had just left a place I had loved and it was full of friends. I knew no one in this marble-covered town. I knew only that you couldn’t drink on the streets, which, as far as first impressions go, should tell you something about a place’s priorities. Read More
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For whatever reason, sometimes a line from a song or movie will really stay with us. And sometimes it’s hard to explain why. Content, context, and delivery probably have a lot to do with it, I’m sure. But that’s rarely the whole story. Sometimes we just relate. We connect. We ascribe meaning, even when we can’t actually put our finger on what exactly it is. That’s where this all begins—with that kind of line.
Up in the Air is a perfectly adequate film.1 Ryan Bingham is a “career transition counselor,” which is a polite way of saying he fires people. He spends most of his time figuratively “on the road,” but literally “up in the air,” as he flies around the country doing the dirty work upper management no longer seems to have the stomach for. But “up in the air” is also a statement about Ryan’s personal life. His continuous travel comes at the expense of keeping in touch with his family and developing real relationships.2 In fact, it appears that Ryan’s only ambition in life is to earn 10 million frequent flier miles, a feat achieved by only six people before him. Read More
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There’s no pretty way to put this. I grew up in the suburbs. . . . In a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs.
Although I love The Wonder Years, I can’t speak to whether Kevin Arnold was right or not. I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, and I don’t know whether they were any more wonderful than any other place. But I do know that my generation doesn’t do suburbs. At least not all of us. We do gentrification. And while we, as a generation, might think it makes us “different” (indeed, that’s the point) or makes us more “cultured” (also, the point) than the suburbanites before us, it doesn’t. It is, I think, just a suburb in a different dress.
Gentrification has best been defined as “[w]hen ‘urban renewal’ of lower class neighborhoods with condos attracts yuppie tenants, driving up rents and driving out long time, lower income residents.” Traditionally, it arrived with the “local artists looking for a cheap place to live,” which in turn gave “the neighborhood a bohemian flair.” It resulted in a noticeably changing neighborhood with modish cafes and bars and shuttered local establishments. The debate over its effect on communities in cities across the country and world has raged and raged. (Certainly, I’m not here going to enter the fray on this heated debate.) Read More
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I’ve said it once and will say it again: Trains are dangerous; trains make me think. See, e.g., Take heed of the stormy weather. I don’t know why it is that they do. Some weird mix of travel nostalgia and the loneliness of sitting next to an empty seat occupied only vaguely by my own thoughts.
Most often I have this thought, which is mostly foolish, about being born in Illinois and finding myself sitting on a train in New York or the District, so far away from home. I smirk a bit to myself because, I guess, it is gratifying thinking that I made it all this way over the last twenty-eight years–that I escaped the cornfields and I’m sitting in a city a thousand miles away that’s mine.
Next, I usually think about being able to get to New York in just hours, or anywhere but the District. I think about the Sun Also Rises and the nights they had stumbling from one bar to another in Paris, champagne or cocktail in hand, and embracing a strange sort of purgatory in life that isn’t punishment because it’s better than heaven. And I wish that was me. See, e.g., Is the past a time or a place? Read More
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