Daniel (jungleman12) Cates, a 21-year-old self-made multimillionaire, lapsed economics/computer-science major and one-day Bubble Trouble champion of the world, was mildly annoyed. A reputedly solid player under the gun had just bet, and Cates needed to figure out if he was bluffing. Cates consulted the stat readout and deduced that the kid’s erratic betting over the past 200 hands was a product of emotional fragility. With no pair, no draw and no hope of winning a showdown of hands, Cates again raised the pot. At a second table, Cates had just made his flush. He put out a value bet that was precisely calibrated to resemble a bluff. At a third table, he folded. At a fourth, he called for time. At a fifth, his mouse slipped, causing him to accidentally fold. He muttered a profanity before turning his attention back to the first two tables.
Both plays worked. The reputedly solid player was, indeed, bluffing. He folded. Cates chuckled and said, almost seductively, “That’s right, spew monkey, spew all those chips over here.” At the second table, Cates’s opponent called the value bet and showed the worst of it. Cates had just won more than $30,000, but his attention had already shifted over to Table 3, where he had been dealt a monster hand. He turned to me and said: “Sorry if these stakes are boring. I would be playing bigger, but it’s been a rough week.”
Gitty Grunwald fled the pious world of her mother to return to the secular city of her grandparents.
by Mark Jacobson
Gitty is trying to “be normal.” Mostly she’s been looking for a job, which is difficult since, like most KJ dropouts, she has no GED and few skills. She’s checked the lower-Manhattan restaurants, hoping to catch on as a waitress, but has no experience. “Even in the diner they want experience,” she says. The fact is, even if she ate dim sum for the first time and pronounced it “totally trayf, totally good,” Gitty’s expertise in non-kugel cuisine is spotty. The other day, she had to ask what a lobster was. Her best employment prospects seem to be as a home aide for the elderly, a field where fluent Yiddish can be a major plus. This is not considered a thrilling option by Gitty, who fancies herself more in the line of an actress or fashion designer.
But she’s doing her best to “remain positive.” Recently, her beloved younger brother, Sruli, came to New York from Toronto, where he received a scholarship to art school after fleeing KJ. They stayed at Matty and Carol Feinman’s house and went to the Met. Little by little, Gitty has been filling in what she calls “my cluelessness.” The other day, dialing through my iPod, Gitty said, “Oh, Billie Holiday. My grandmother loves Billie Holiday.” A moment later, when “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” punched up on the box, Gitty said, “Wow, Billie Holiday is a woman?”
yadda yadda yadda. Thank god it’s not the sixties anymore.
IN SOUND good health I smoked legal ganja (as marijuana is termed in India, where it is traditionally used in preference to alcohol), bought from government tax shops in Calcutta, in a circle of devotees, yogis, and hymn-singing pious Shaivite worshipers in the burning ground at Nimtallah Ghat in Calcutta, where it was the custom of these respected gentlemen to meet on Tues. and Saturday nights, smoke before an improvised altar of blossoms, sacramental milk-candy & perhaps a fire taken from the burning wooden bed on which lay a newly dead body, of some friend perhaps, likely a stranger if a corpse is a stranger, pass out the candy as God’s gift to friend and stranger, and sing holy songs all night, with great strength and emotion, addressed to different images of the Divine Spirit. Ganja was there considered a beginning of sadhana (Yogic path or discipline) by some; others consider the Ascetic Yogi Shiva Himself to have smoked marijuana; on His birthday marijuana is mixed as a paste with almond milk by the grandmothers of pious families and imbibed as a sacrament by this polytheistic nation, considered by some a holy society. The professors of English at Benares University brought me a bottle for the traditional night of Shivaratri, birthday of the Creator & Destroyer who is the patron god of this oldest continuously inhabited city on Earth. “BOM BOM MAHADEV!” (Boom Boom Great God!) is the Mantra Yogis’ cry as they raise the ganja pipe to their brows before inhaling.
As Marjorie drove onto the street, with her father at her side, the car with the assassin raced up behind them, followed by the driver on the motorcycle. (The hit men were obeying a new law banning two people from travelling on a motorcycle—a law that was supposed to curb assassinations, since so many were carried out by hit men riding on back seats.) Rosenberg braced himself. After a flash, Marjorie vanished from the frame.
The hit squad had displayed military precision, raising the prospect that the crime was carried out by the state’s security apparatus. The ballistics report indicated that Khalil Musa was hardly a random victim. He had been shot nine times. The bullet that killed Marjorie was a stray—it had apparently passed through Musa’s body before piercing hers.
The first approach came unexpectedly and rather like a secret. The letter, in an official windowed envelope of no apparent distinction, had been sent on by my literary agent almost accidentally. 75 years ago, when he received something similar, Joseph Conrad mistook it for an income tax demand, and nearly threw it away. And it was a secret: an official letter from the Prime Minister’s office, kindly murmuring of his mindedness to recommend me for an honour.
The form attached presented me with two boxes: one to be ticked if you agreed to let your name go forward, the other to be marked if you wanted to hear no more of this product. Anyone who has ever at any time read the Guardian will understand the surge of anxiety, guilt even, that wells up at this moment. We all know the moral dangers of the baubles of office, the trappings of rank, the odours of power. On the other hand any sensible person will immediately realize that first sensations are of excitement and pure delight. In a liberal mind like mine, the result is utter confusion. Ten minutes after I had posted back the form, I could no longer remember which of the boxes I had ticked.
David Foster Wallace on the Maine Lobster Festival
The Main Eating Tent’s suppers come in Styrofoam trays, and the soft drinks are iceless and flat, and the coffee is convenience-store coffee in yet more Styrofoam, and the utensils are plastic (there are none of the special long skinny forks for pushing out the tail meat, though a few savvy diners bring their own). Nor do they give you near enough napkins, considering how messy lobster is to eat, especially when you’re squeezed onto benches alongside children of various ages and vastly different levels of fine-motor development—not to mention the people who’ve somehow smuggled in their own beer in enormous aisle-blocking coolers, or who all of a sudden produce their own plastic tablecloths and try to spread them over large portions of tables to try to reserve them (the tables) for their little groups. And so on. Any one example is no more than a petty inconvenience, of course, but the MLF turns out to be full of irksome little downers like this—see for instance the Main Stage’s headliner shows, where it turns out that you have to pay $20 extra for a folding chair if you want to sit down; or the North Tent’s mad scramble for the NyQuil-cup-size samples of finalists’ entries handed out after the Cooking Competition; or the much-touted Maine Sea Goddess pageant finals, which turn out to be excruciatingly long and to consist mainly of endless thanks and tributes to local sponsors. What the Maine Lobster Festival really is is a midlevel county fair with a culinary hook, and in this respect it’s not unlike Tidewater crab festivals, Midwest corn festivals, Texas chili festivals, etc., and shares with these venues the core paradox of all teeming commercial demotic events: It’s not for everyone.
Giant Pacific octopuses are, well, giant—the largest ever found, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, was 600 pounds and 31 feet from tentacle to tentacle—and they’re disproportionately strong, all muscle and protein. While trying to escape, a 40-pound octopus at the Seattle Aquarium once pushed a 60-pound weight from the top of its tank. They have venom for drool and their mouths look like something from Alien: two sharp beaks hiding a drill-like instrument called a radula that scrapes through thick shells to paralyze whatever’s inside before the octopus sucks out its innards… In 1940, two years after he opened the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 54, Ivar Haglund staged an underwater wrestling match between a giant octopus and an old prizefighter named Two Ton Tony. Haglund and the octopus’s “trainers” shook its limbs furiously while Two Ton Tony grimaced and grunted. Tony won, but the fight was a lie—the octopus was dead before the match began.
A few months ago, the cable-television and radio host Glenn Beck began his Fox News show with one of his favorite props: a pipe clenched between his teeth. “I’ve got my pipe,” he told his audience, his speech slightly muddled by the stem, “because we’re going to speak about schoolish kind of things.” The theme of the day was “Restoring History,” and Beck, looking professorial in a neat dark blazer and a pink button-down shirt, began the lesson by peering at a stack of history textbooks and pronouncing them full of falsehoods, produced by “malicious progressive intent.” Progressives, he explained—liberals, socialists, Communists, the entire spectrum of the left—“knew they had to separate us from our history to be able to separate us from our Constitution and God.” For the next hour, Beck earnestly explained some of the history that “is being stolen from us”: the depression of 1920, for example, or how conservative economics saved the nation from the “near-depression” of 1946—crises that progressives don’t want you to know about. “You’ve been taught one lie, I think, your whole life,” he said.
More than a few years ago now, when I was living in San Francisco, I happened to walk by the office of a dot-com, a competitor in the online-pet-supply business, that had gone bust. It was midnight when I passed its brilliantly lit atrium, void of humans and furniture, except for a single desk where a night watchman sat looking dejectedly at the street. A huge white banner hung over his head, with red letters five feet high, spelling out THIS IS PETOPIA. I don’t mean to be flip or to equate the company’s marketing strategy with any genuine utopian impulse, but it did occur to me that the idea of utopia is strangely persistent. It crops up in all kinds of places; this was one of them. Even people who haven’t read Sir Thomas More’s 1516 Utopia, or any of the other books in the utopian tradition—which is to say, most people—recognize utopia as a desirable parcel of real estate. You can sell things on the strength of it, or so it must have seemed to the founders of Petopia, all the way back in San Francisco in the 1990s, when many people were entertaining utopian hopes for the Internet, that literally placeless, or u-topian, region. Most of those hopes ended as Petopia did: furniture sold at auction; office space going cheap. But the question lingers: Apart from its questionable value as a marketing strategy, what is utopia good for?
Historians now estimate that in Leeuwenhoek’s day there were only half a billion or so humans on Earth. After rising very slowly for millennia, the number was just starting to take off. A century and a half later, when another scientist reported the discovery of human egg cells, the world’s population had doubled to more than a billion. A century after that, around 1930, it had doubled again to two billion. The acceleration since then has been astounding. Before the 20th century, no human had lived through a doubling of the human population, but there are people alive today who have seen it triple. Sometime in late 2011, according to the UN Population Division, there will be seven billion of us.
A little while back, when I was working on one of my many doomed projects, I went into a cave. Not just a little cave, either, but an enormous emptiness in the ground, the trace of a watercourse that gnawed its way across half the state of Kentucky a few thousand years ago. We—this was my friend Wayne and I—went a long way in, then we sat down and turned off our lights. The darkness was like nothing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face; after a while I could barely believe that my hand was there, in front of my face, waving.
That darkness is what I think about when I think of black. I was going to write, the color black, but as every child knows black isn’t a color. Black is a lack, a void of light. When you think about it, it’s surprising that we can see black at all: our eyes are engineered to receive light; in its absence, you’d think we simply wouldn’t see, any more than we taste when our mouths are empty. Black velvet, charcoal black, Ad Reinhart’s black paintings, black-clad Goth kids with black fingernails: how do we see them?
by Paul LaFarge
A JOURNEY DEEP INTO THE CAVERN OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, A UTOPIAN, PROFOUNDLY DORKY AND INFLUENTIAL GAME THAT, LACKING CLEAR WINNERS OR AN END, MAY NOT BE A GAME AT ALL
We are far enough into the cave now that I can tell you that I have mixed feelings about Dungeons & Dragons. I played fantasy role-playing games more or less incessantly from 1978, when my father brought home the D&D Basic Set, until 1985, when I changed high schools and fell out of constant contact with my gamer friends. I played so much that it’s hard for me to understand in retrospect how I managed to do anything else, and the truth is that I didn’t do anything else. I was a mediocre student; I didn’t see hardly any of New York City, where I lived; I knew less about girls than I did about the Gelatinous Cube (immune to cold and sleep; takes normal damage from fire). I played at friends’ houses; I played in the school cafeteria; I played in the hallway between classes; I cut class to play in whispers in the library. I hesitate to say that I was addicted to role-playing games only because I never knew what it was like to go without them; in D&D I had found something I loved more than life itself. Then a number of things happened, and for fifteen years I didn’t think about D&D at all. I was living in San Francisco, where dungeon referred to something entirely different, and life seemed mutable and good, like a game. In December 2001, I moved back to New York, and soon afterward I began to think about D&D again. It turned out that my agent’s office was a block from the Compleat Strategist, the hobby shop where I used to buy my role-playing games. I wasn’t eager to revisit that part of my life, which I thought of as a dangerous mire from which I had miraculously escaped, but I slunk into the store. Nothing had changed: nothing.
The best and most obvious way to avoid a hangover is not to drink at all, but I think we can all agree that this is not an option. Let’s move on.
When you wake up feeling unpleasant after a night of revelry, the most important thing to remember is that God is punishing you for having fun. In order to cure your hangover, you must therefore attend church as quickly as possible. During the service, pray for hydration. When the collection plate is passed, remove seven dollars and use it to purchase aspirin.
At the time, Lang was in his thirties. He had been doing origami — that is, shaping sheets of paper into figures, using no cutting and no glue — for twenty-five years and designing his own models for twenty. He has always considered himself very much a bug person, but his earliest designs were not insects; in the nineteen-seventies, he invented an origami Jimmy Carter, a Darth Vader, a nun, an inflatable bunny, and an Arnold the Pig. He would have liked to have folded insects, but, in those years, bugs, as well as crustaceans, were still an origami impossibility. This was because no one had yet solved the problem of how to fold paper into figures with fat bodies and skinny appendages, so that most origami figures, even television characters and heads of state, still had the same basic shape as the paper cranes of nineteenth-century Japan. Then a few people around the globe had the idea that paper folding, besides being a pleasant diversion, might also have properties that could be analyzed and codified. Some started to study paper folding mathematically; others, including Lang, began devising mathematical tools to help with designing, all of which enabled the development of increasingly complex folding techniques. In 1970, no one could figure out how to make a credible-looking origami spider, but soon folders could make not just spiders but spiders of any species, with any length of leg, and cicadas with wings, and sawyer beetles with horns. For centuries, origami patterns had at most thirty steps; now they could have hundreds.
It’s thrilling watching someone call out the solemnity of the celebrity interview, and Charlie Sheen is loudly calling it out as the sham it is. He’s raw now, and lucid and intense and the most fascinating person wandering through the culture. (No, it’s not Colin Firth or David Fincher or Bruno Mars or super-Empire Tiger Woods, guys.) We’re not used to these kinds of interviews. It’s coming off almost as performance art and we’ve never seen anything like it—because he’s not apologizing for anything. It’s an irresistible spectacle, but it’s also telling because we are watching someone profoundly bored and contemptuous of the media engaging with the media and using the media to admit things about themselves and their desires that seem “shocking” because of society’s old-ass Empire guidelines. No one has ever seen a celebrity more nakedly revealing—even in Sheen’s evasions there’s a truthful playfulness that makes Tiger’s mea culpa press conference look like something manufactured by Nicholas Sparks.
Here much-lauded post-structuralist scholar, Stanley Fish, writes a tidy review of Sarah Palin’s book, America by Heart : Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag. (Note on Stanley Fish: when I was at university, academics talked about SF in near-reverential terms, but, always went on to qualify this by saying ‘of course, he’s reaaaaaaally into MONEY’. According to them, Fish operates and part-owns a Porsche dealership on Miami Beach.)
There is then a unity to the book, but it is not one Palin proclaims or works out discursively. Rather, the unity is conveyed by the quotations that carry the argument, long (sometimes two-page) quotations from an impressive variety of authors, quotations that are strong in isolation and even stronger when they are laid next to one another. The book is really an anthology. The author does not present herself as controlling or magisterial; she gives her authorities space and then she gets out of the way. Her performance mimes the book’s lesson: rather than acting as a central authority, she lets individual voices speak for themselves. Humility is not something Palin is usually credited with, but here she enacts it by yielding the stage as others proclaims the truths she wants us to carry away.
Not, however, always. Two other strains in the book seem out of place. One is a series of family reminiscences that might more properly be found on Palin’s reality show. The other is an intermittent attack on the Obama administration that might more properly be found in a campaign tract. There is, to be sure, a rationale for this attack: in Palin’s view, Obama gets exceptionalism wrong. “We have a president,” she complains, who believes “that America is not the greatest earthly force for good the world has known.” And the references to her family do connect up with the themes of faith and virtue she stresses. But the book would have stronger had she resisted the temptations of sentimentality and partisanship.
The Yellow Pages have nothing under Flag. There’s actual interior tension: Nobody walks by or stops their car and says, “Hey, your house doesn’t have a flag,” but it gets easier and easier to imagine people thinking it. None of the grocery stores in town turn out to stock any flags. The novelty shop downtown has nothing but Halloween stuff. Only a few businesses are open, but even the closed ones are displaying some sort of flag. It’s almost surreal. The VFW hall is a good bet, but it can’t open til noon if at all (it has a bar). The lady at Burwell’s references a certain hideous Qik-n-EZ store out by 1-74 at which she was under the impression she’d seen some little plastic flags back in the racks with all the bandannas and Nascar caps, but by the time I get there they turn out to be gone, snapped up by parties unknown. The reality is that there is not a flag to be had in this town. Stealing one out of somebody’s yard is clearly out of the question. I’m standing in a Qik-n-EZ afraid to go home. All those people dead, and I’m sent to the edge by a plastic flag. It doesn’t get really bad until people ask if I’m OK and I have to lie and say it’s a Benadryl reaction (which in fact can happen)…. Until in one more of the Horror’s weird twists of fate and circumstance it’s the Qik-n-EZ proprietor himself (a Pakistani, by the way) who offers solace and a shoulder and a strange kind of unspoken understanding, and who lets me go back and sit in the stock room amid every conceivable petty vice and indulgence America has to offer and compose myself, and who only slightly later, over styrofoam cups of a strange kind of tea with a great deal of milk in it, suggests, gently, construction paper and “Magical Markers,” which explains my now-beloved homemade flag.
I have always hated astrologers, and I like to have sport with them. They are harmless quacks in the main, but some of them get ambitious and turn predatory, especially in Hollywood. In Venice Beach I ran into a man who claimed to be Johnny Depp’s astrologer. “I consult with him constantly,” he told me. “We are never far away. I have many famous clients.” He produced a yellow business card and gave it to me. “I can do things for you,” he said. “I am a player.”
I took his card and examined it carefully for a moment, as if I couldn’t quite read the small print. But I knew he was lying, so I leaned toward him and slapped him sharply in the nuts. Not hard, but very quickly, using the back of my hand and my fingers like a bullwhip, yet very discreetly.
He let out a hiss and went limp, unable to speak or breathe. I smiled casually and kept on talking to him as if nothing had happened. “You filthy little creep,” I said to him. “I am Johnny Depp!”
R. Kelly doesn’t need to throw on a tuxedo and dig into a McRib sandwich—like he did at the photo shoot that accompanies this story—to demonstrate that he is a complicated guy. In fact, the 44-year-old Kelly is the walking, talking embodiment of complicated: Complicated because, as a singer, songwriter, and producer, he has worked with everyone from Quincy Jones and Ronald Isley to Jay-Z and Michael Jackson, and represents so much of what is both good and important and difficult-bordering-on-ridiculous about R&B… Complicated because he grew up not terribly well-off on the South Side of Chicago, and started out as a street performer, quite literally singing for his dinner. Complicated because his solo debut, 12 Play (1993), includes songs with titles like “Bump N’ Grind,” “I Like the Crotch On You,” “Freak Dat Body,” and “Sex Me, Pts. 1 & 2.” Complicated because he once referred to himself in a lyric as a “sexasaurus” and included a philandering little-person character in the aforementioned “Closet” epic. Complicated because so much of what he does shouldn’t work. Complicated because so much of it does. Complicated because of the video tape that emerged in 2002 of him allegedly having sex with an underage girl, reawakening questions about the nature of his relationships with a number of young women, and the subsequent child pornography charges.
What, indeed, would future historians make of our civilization if the frustrating, beautiful, always mesmerizingly strange films of Werner Herzog were their primary cinematic witnesses? Would they be seen as damage inspections of a civilization at horrifying odds with nature and itself? as documents so fiercely visionary they often come within millimeters of insanity? Would they be seen as mirrors or warnings? symptoms or cures? Herzog himself has explored this question, using a similar science-fictional conceit to frame several of his ostensible documentaries, the genre in which he has done his most singular and protean work… Herzog’s world is not thoughtful. It is reactive, lined with thorns, and frequently blown through by ill winds. One of his most striking films, The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (1974), about competitive ski jumping, gives us replay after replay of ski jumpers landing badly, their scissoring skis explosively shed, followed by a final image of unconscious jumpers sliding to gentle stops in the snow. Just as often, though, Herzog’s ski jumpers succeed. Action is neither rewarded nor condemned but rather enacted within a vacuum emptied of everything but its potential poetry. No filmmaker is better at evoking the curious beauty of our indifferent universe.
What was the subject matter of your early poetry, if it wasn’t your life?
What most young women write about: wanting to get laid, not having gotten laid, having gotten laid badly. Wanting someone to leave, not wanting him to leave, then he finally leaves. But characters other than me. Or I’d write unbelievably pretentious shit—some world-weary gambler at a horse race trying to make stiff, faux Mallarmé statements on the nature of chance. The autobiographical “I” everybody hates so much these days was something I hated too, yet each poem was a big arrow pointing back at some self I wanted to be. I was a John Ashbery fan then—did my thesis on Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, though later I recanted my support. He’s a pollutant of the art form by my yardstick—nice guy, great ear, but his surrealistic devices and pinballing free association are among of the most pernicious and negative influences on American poetry. Most young poets cannot reproduce the interesting rivulets made by Ashbery’s stream-of-consciousness. In my early work I tried to sound cool, like Ashbery—though I’m profoundly devoid of cool.
I remember a poem about a suicidal dog, which began, “Don’t do it, dog.” So many close friends had killed themselves, and Mother was suicidal a lot. The dog was an attempt to beat back the confessional impulse. Becoming an autobiographical writer was anathema to me. Stevens was my favorite poet—still is. Any subject that compelled me emotionally got disguised and repackaged to fit this bejeweled surface I was cultivating, very New York School.
Note: this will only be of interest to people who’ve read DFW’s porn-industry take-down Big Red Son.
Also note: we’re well-aware that way too much DFW-related stuff has been posted lately. Will stop… Soon… Probably.
In its September, 1998 issue, the mainstream movie magazine Premiere ran a twelve-page article on our little awards show (Neither Adult Nor Entertainmen[later Big Red Son]). It has been suggested that the piece was written by award-winning author David Foster Wallace, with some help from Premiere editor Glenn Kenny. Contrary to our best information, Hustler Erotic Video Guide editor Mike Albo vehemently denies having acted as a source to Wallace and Kenny. “I didn’t have anything to do with that piece,” says Albo. “You guys must feel pretty stupid.” While hysterical, the piece contained factual errors and was so colored by obvious editorializing that several of us here at AVN felt compelled to respond.
Kelly seems to have no superego; he is willing to say anything that occurs to him, no matter how strange he sounds or how self-incriminating it might seem. Many people facing serious criminal charges related to sexual conduct would not include a song called “Sex Planet” on their CD, or, if they did, would probably omit the line about a “trip to planet Uranus.”
Kelly’s unpredictability may be his defining trait. On the one hand, he is an influential proponent of the elegant and largely chaste style of dancing known as “stepping,” which originated in Chicago and is usually performed in formal attire. On the other, his new album includes the song “Leave Your Name,” which sounds at first like a standard slow jam: a sparse, gentle setting for his signature combination of conversation, sprechstimme, and lovely clumps of background vocals—when he plays congregation to his own preacher. But the story that the song recounts features neither pillow talk nor a stylish come-on. Kelly sings about being so “blasted off that Hennessy” that he fell asleep at a club and needed to be driven home, where he ended up “lying on the floor, snoring.” The number is sung as an outgoing voice-mail message for all the women who will be calling him. (“Leave your name right after the beep and I’m sure to get back with you, if I’m not asleep, or smoking on some trees, or having a little sex.”) Who wouldn’t want to call an R. & B. star incapacitated by drink and under indictment?
Wherein our reporter gorges himself on corndogs, gapes at terrifying rides, acquaints himself with the odor of pigs; exchanges unpleasantries with tattooed carnies, and admires the loveliness of cows…
by David Foster Wallace
We’re about 100 yards shy of the Poultry Building when I break down. I’ve been a rock about the prospect of poultry all day, but now my nerve goes. I can’t go in there. Listen to the thousands of sharp squawking beaks in there, I say. Native Companion not unkindly offers to hold my hand, talk me through it. It is 100 degrees and I have pygmy-goat shit on my shoe and am almost crying with fear and embarrassment. I have to sit down on a green bench to collect myself. The noise of the Poultry Building is horrifying.No wonder madmen clutch their heads. There’s a thin stink. Bits of feather float. I hunch on the bench. We’re high on a ridge overlooking the carnival rides. When I was eight, at the Champaign County Fair, I was pecked without provocation, flown at and pecked by a renegade fowl, savagely, just under the right eye.
I thought that raising an only child would be the norm in New York, but I’m pretty sure my daughter is the only child in her class without a sibling. All over Manhattan, large families have become a status symbol. Four beautiful children named after kings and pieces of fruit are a way of saying, “I can afford a four-bedroom apartment and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in elementary-school tuition fees each year. How you livin’?”
Now, I’m not really one for status symbols. I went to public school. I have all my original teeth and face parts. Left to my own devices, I dress like I’m hear to service your aquarium. But the kid pressure mounts for other reasons.
Hill, whose screen name was Steve Driver, used to say his signature was “monster hands.” According to set photographer Gia Jordan, Hill “would wear these hands, like, from a Halloween costume. That was his shtick. He’d jack off on the girl with the hands and when he’d come he’d yell, ‘Monster hands!’ It was ridiculous.”
Alana Evans, one of Hill’s co-stars in the porn spoof Palin: Erection 2008, says that Hill — despite having a featured role as Barack Obama in the movie — was unlikely to be a breakout star.
"He was one of the new type of guys," Evans says. "He wasn’t strong or dominant. He was scared. He struggled in his scenes. I knew he’d never be the next Lexington Steele. He’d rarely talk to the women. He was, like, a total nerd."
Last season was a strange one in my garden, notable not only for the unseasonably cool and wet weather - the talk of gardeners all for its climate of paranoia. One flower was the cause: a tall, breathtaking poppy, with silky scarlet petals and a black heart, the growing of which, I discovered rather too late, is a felony under state and federal law. Actually, it’s not quite as simple as that. My poppies were, or became, felonious; another gardener’s might or might not be. The legality of growing opium poppies (whose seeds are sold under many names, including the breadseed poppy, Papaver paeoniflorum, and, most significantly, Papaver somniferum) is a tangled issue, turning on questions of nomenclature and epistemology that it took me the better part of the summer to sort out…
The “boys” all had nicknames like the Big Kahuna, Tubesteak, and Da Cat (more on him later). Kathy—five feet tall, and ninety-five pounds when wet—was evidently a girl and, in the estimation of the surfers, quite small: hence, Girl-Midget, or Gidget, a name that reeks of both schoolyard taunts and Freudian condensation (the trick of the dreamwork that yields the equation girl + midget = gidget). Eventually, Kathy/Gidget bought a board for $30.00 and taught herself to surf.
DESPITE HIS NOTORIETY AS A BLASPHEMOUS, WORLD-CLASS PROVOCATEUR (AND COUNTLESS QUADRUPLE ESPRESSOS), MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ SEEMS VERY, VERY SLEEPY.
by Sam Lipsyte
Back in the city limits we pass some low brick buildings that Tom says are leather bars. We pass an OfficeMax and I make a dumb joke about that being the biggest leather bar of all. Houellebecq’s eyes light up but not for any obviously pervy reason. No, like many writers, yours truly included, stationery has a nearly pornographic appeal, and besides, he appears to possess a Frenchman’s revulsion/attraction to big-box retail. We pull over and head into the store. He assures me he’s an “efficient consumer” and once inside he does seem to know exactly what he needs: erasers, folders and, most intriguingly, Scotch tape. It’s this final purchase and an earlier comment about how he planned to work in his room tomorrow that sets my mind racing. What’s the Scotch tape for? What’s he working on in his room? A collage? I’ve been on book tours before, and even bought stationery in foreign cities, but never Scotch tape. That must be the genius of Houellebecq.
Later on, several Marines in another unit gather in a dark corner of the stadium to drink toasts to a one-armed Iraqi man who’s been selling locally distilled gin for five American dollars per fifth. Generally, it doesn’t require any alcohol to lower the young Marines’ inhibitions. When they bring up the topic of “combat jacks” — who has masturbated the most since entering the combat zone — no one ever hesitates to mention the times he’s jacked off on watch to stay awake and pass the hours. After surviving their first ambush at Al Gharraf, a couple of Marines even admitted to an almost frenzied need to get off combat jacks. But now, with the one-armed man’s gin flowing, a Marine brings up a subject so taboo and almost pornographic in its own way, I doubt he’d ever broach it sober among his buddies. “You know,” he says, “I’ve fired 203-grenade rounds into windows, through a door once. But the thing I wish I’d seen — I wish I could have seen a grenade go into someone’s body and blow it up. You know what I’m saying?” The other Marines just listen silently in the darkness.
The destruction continues after sunrise. Slow-moving A-10 Thunderbolt jets circle the northern fringes of Al Hayy, belching machine-gun fire. The airframe of the A-10 is essentially built around a twenty-one-foot-long seven-barrel machine gun — one of the largest of its type. When it fires, it makes a ripping sound like someone is tearing the sky in half. The A-10s wrap up their performance by dropping four phosphorus bombs on the city, chemical incendiary devices that burst in the sky, sending long tendrils of white, sparkling flames onto targets below.
Civilians line up by the side of the road when First Recon’s convoy assembles that morning. The battalion is heading south, back to Al Hayy, then north on a different route to the next town, Al Muwaffaqiyah. Most of the crowd are boys, twelve to fifteen. The morning’s show of American air power has whipped them into a frenzy. They greet the Marines like they are rock stars. “Hello, my friend!” some of them shout. “I love you!” It doesn’t seem to matter that these young men have just witnessed portions of their city being destroyed. Or maybe this is the very appeal of the Marines. One of the promises made by the Bush administration before the war started was that the Iraqi populace would be pacified by a “shock and awe” air-bombing campaign. The strange thing is, these people appear to be entertained by it. “They think we’re cool,” says Person, “because we’re so good at blowing shit up.”
When LAPD officials tried to explain how the murder of Notorious B.I.G. had gone unsolved for eight years, one excuse they could not offer was a lack of witnesses. Dozens of people had been on the street at forty-five minutes past midnight on March 9th, 1997, when B.I.G. was shot to death. At least seven people, including two of those who had been in the car with B.I.G., had gotten a good enough look at the killer to help the police create a composite drawing of the man. As many as a hundred others witnessed the thing go down.
Consider this tale: a cultivated man of middle age looks back on the story of an amour fou, one beginning when, traveling abroad, he takes a room as a lodger. The moment he sees the daughter of the house, he is lost. She is a preteen, whose charms instantly enslave him. Heedless of her age, he becomes intimate with her. In the end she dies, and the narrator—marked by her forever—remains alone. The name of the girl supplies the title of the story: Lolita.
The author of the story I’ve described, Heinz von Lichberg, published his tale of Lolita in 1916, forty years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. Lichberg later became a prominent journalist in the Nazi era, and his youthful works faded from view. Did Nabokov, who remained in Berlin until 1937, adopt Lichberg’s tale consciously? Or did the earlier tale exist for Nabokov as a hidden, unacknowledged memory? The history of literature is not without examples of this phenomenon, called cryptomnesia. Another hypothesis is that Nabokov, knowing Lichberg’s tale perfectly well, had set himself to that art of quotation that Thomas Mann, himself a master of it, called “higher cribbing.” Literature has always been a crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast. Little of what we admire in Nabokov’s Lolita is to be found in its predecessor; the former is in no way deducible from the latter. Still: did Nabokov consciously borrow and quote?
The History of M-Company in the Vietnam War, by John Sacks
(Warning: the writer is awful comfy with the word ‘negro’. It was the seventies.)
That night M lay on its taut canvas cots and listened to noises — o-o-o-o-o things going over, b-o-o-m exploding, ta-ta-ta-ta machine guns, and automatic rifles, dive bombers, a-a-ark tropical birds, lions and tigers, banshees, the spheres of the heavens rolling against each other like empty oil drums, the stars falling and bouncing along the plains: and M wasn’t afraid. Experience had anesthetized it to these sounds of battle during its winter of Army training, its many years of John Wayne. M guessed that all of this racket was American made and wasn’t aimed at its tents, and that meant for some conjectured enemy out yonder — it was right. “That’s a mortar,” Russo explained with no hysteria. “That’s — artillery.”
Tennis-wise, I had three preternatural gifts to compensate for not much physical talent. The first was that Ialways sweated so much that I stayed fairly well ventilated in all weathers. Oversweating seems an ambivalent blessing, and it didn’t exactly do wonders for my social life in high school, but it meant I could play for hours on a Turkish-bath July day and not flag a bit so long as I drank water and ate salty stuff between matches. I always looked like a drowned man by about game four, but I didn’t cramp, vomit, or pass out, unlike the gleaming Peoria kids whose hair never even lost its part right up until their eyes rolled up in their heads and they pitched forward onto the shimmering concrete. A bigger asset still was that I felt extremely comfortable inside straight lines.