A cathedral is a good place to remember. I visited European cathedrals when I was too young to care about them. There was Chartres: buttresses and spires, relics lined up in rows in glass cases, a crypt that’s not filled with dead people, but is another church in the church. One of the tour guides told me that the cathedral’s nave was constructed on an angle so that medieval pilgrims’ muck could be washed right out the door; they would just toss buckets of water in there. She also said that people still walk out to the cathedral from Paris and that it takes three days. You leave the city behind for the country. “Paris,” she said. “Trop de monde.”
I was thirteen when I went to Notre Dame for the first time. It was so crowded that my family and I moved in a phalanx of tourists, our arms flat against our sides. The air smelled of sweat and candle wax. I dropped a coin in one of the little boxes and lit a candle and made a wish that I promptly forgot. The cathedral should have been significant, and part of me wanted to know more about the hunchback, but it was just a place of old things, and I was really biding my time until I could go to a sidewalk café and order a root beer float—glace vanille avec coca—and sit in Paris’ summer sun.
Now I remember these cathedrals refracted through another one. When I was in college, I found Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, which became my place in the city for about fifteen years. You go to some places and decide that you have seen them and that you don’t need to see them again; sometimes, you go to a place and you know that you need to see it again and again and again, like a person. I used to watch the peacocks strut in the cathedral’s gardens, and under the rosebushes, big rats slid along on their bellies. I watched the tour buses come and go, and the retirees walk in and out of the assisted living community across the street. Then I moved away, but ever since, whenever I visit New York, the cathedral is my aperture onto a city that keeps changing.
Construction on the Episcopal cathedral started in 1892, but there was never enough money to complete it, so it has remained unfinished. Inside, the stone is smooth in places but rough and raw in others, or stained with white watermarks and mold. There’s always scaffolding somewhere, proof of some kind of repair. The building is missing one of its towers on the northwest side. After a while, you get so used to it that the tower hardly seems to be missing at all, and this uneven façade seems both mournful and full of potential. It could be finished one day. It will never be finished. The soot on the stone outside marks it as a city cathedral. It looks a bit ravaged. Other places have restored themselves: Notre Dame began a major restoration and cleaning project in 1991. When I saw it as a teenager, I saw it in all its blackness, and I attributed its appearance to its medieval-ness. It was only when I got older that I realized that nothing could be more modern than pollution. READ MORE
★★★ Garbage was invisibly in bloom on 3rd Street; a sanitation truck weaved from curb to curb, through the rot-laden air. The small patches of sun were already challenging. But the clouds were surprisingly good-looking, small and loose cumulus on clean blue, and they were even more surprisingly effective against the early sun. A man sat in the little fenced yard off Prince Street and watched the passing foot traffic, the sunbeam behind his amber sunglass lenses calling more attention to his gaze than if his eyes had been uncovered. Up on the roof, out of the air conditioning, the heat was therapeutic, the brightness overwhelming in a soothing way. The afternoon sidewalks were glazed with filth, the pale ornamented face of the Bayard Building drenched in light. Out on the open pavement, the heat was baking. The west seemed to be darkening. Clouds assumed more threatening configurations for a while, but the threat held off. Then, at bath time, it arrived, with thunder that sounded throughout the apartment and rain washing down the avenue. The lightning was strobe-intense, enough to briefly stun the eye. More high and distant flashes lit the clouds lavender. Sirens and the beeping of snarled traffic joined the rumbling. A bolt appeared reflected in the eastern face of the glass apartment tower, its jaggedness overlaid with ripples.
In response to recent conversations regarding the public/private status of Internet Posts, a proposal for a framework for the sharing of Internet Posts:
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your Internet Posts, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered; anyone can do anything to your Internet Post. It can be placed in any context, including contexts which the rights holder does not like. It may be used to either glorify or humiliate its creator. It may be used to intentionally inspire threats of assault or death against its creator. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of Tweeted materials, and to achieve maximum Engagement.
To indicate that an Internet Post has been released under the Commercial-Derivs-Fear-Injury-Death license, hashtag it #AttribComDeFeInDe, or attach no tag at all. READ MORE
I never thought I'd shake Questlove’s hand.
It was at the book release party for Bradley Spinelli’s novel Killing Williamsburg at Trash, a bar in Williamsburg, where Questlove was DJing. Spinelli had simply walked up to Brooklyn’s most famous alternative hip-hop star at his own book signing and asked; Spinelli mentioned that his novel was launching on World Suicide Prevention Day, and as Questlove scribbled his thousandth autograph of the day, Spinelli listed some of the great pop musicians who had committed suicide. Questlove rattled off some more as the people standing in line shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot and rolled their eyes. Half an hour later, Questlove gave Spinelli his number and told him he looked forward to the gig.
Killing Williamsburg is Spinelli’s first published novel. Though it was released last year, it should have arrived much earlier. He finished the first draft in four months, and in early 2001, Emily Marcus, daughter of legendary punk journalist Greil Marcus, agreed to represent the book—a seemingly appropriate choice for Killing Williamsburg’s post-apocalyptic, counter-culture subject matter. Unfortunately, after 9/11, the market for gruesome disaster thrillers set in New York dried up. Ms. Marcus moved to California (as far as I know), and Spinelli moved on to other projects. Eleven years later, he decided the time was right to publish it.
As the decade passed, latent beauties blossomed in Killing Williamsburg. Its bricolage of genre, the narrator’s callow morbidity, and its homegrown feel turn out to be prescient forecasts of 21st-century taste. The story is an action thriller, an apocalyptic dystopia that predicts our current obsession with zombies. At its core, it is about a young, white, middle-class man's search for authenticity in a phony world—a Catcher in the Rye for the turn of the millennium. Benson Lee, the novel’s protagonist, and his friends are all hipsters from a time before the label carried its contemporary currency. Today, hipsters are the most discussed, studied, exalted and reviled creature of the early 21st century. But at the end of 1999, the Gen X’ers who moved from Anywhere Else, USA to New York and San Francisco were just kids in baseball caps and goatees. READ MORE
David Shapiro is the pen name of a writer who created a Tumblr blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. He then wrote a novel (You're Not Much Use to Anyone, out now) about a character named David who created a Tumblr blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. We talked about his career and his money.
What do you do?
I work as a summer associate at a white-shoe law firm. I hope to get an offer to come back to my firm after I graduate law school next year, meaning I would start full-time around September, 2015. I also write a little bit at The Wall Street Journal (in the paper) and The New Yorker (online). And I also wrote this book, obviously, the reason we're here.
What does white-shoe mean?
It generally refers to old, large, well-respected law firms. Like, my firm has about 1,000 lawyers. It's peculiar—in America, in general, the biggest corporations are the best at one particular thing. ExxonMobil is the biggest/best at producing oil and gas. Pfizer is the biggest/best at making pharmaceuticals. In other parts of the world, it's different—Samsung, the biggest/best corporation in South Korea, makes toilet seats, phones, coffee machines, cars. They own an amusement park. In May, when the CEO of Samsung had a heart attack, they took him to Samsung Hospital. But law firms in America, the biggest ones (which are generally the best ones), can provide any kind of legal service that you need—much closer to the Samsung model than the Pfizer model.
So that's what I do, this summer. I work in the private equity group.
Is your real name David Shapiro?
No. My legal name isn't David Shapiro. I'm a lawyer and law student under my legal name, and I write under the name David Shapiro. I picked it because it's like the John Smith of Jewish names. It's hard to Google. I wanted to separate my writing life from my legal life because when I was 22, me and my friend wrote a Village Voice story about heroin dealer/addicts and I thought no employer would ever hire me if they knew I had spent time with heroin addicts. That seems naive now (I didn't actually do the heroin with them), but I felt paranoid about it then.
But being David Shapiro has some definite upsides—someone on Tumblr the other day reblogged my post announcing my book, and he said, "I'm so psyched about this book, I loved his scholarship on the Shakespeare author debate, I'm definitely going to order this," and I was like, "Sick!" There is David Shapiro the poet, David Shapiro the party photographer, there was a David Shapiro in the index of my constitutional law textbook.
My publisher was not excited that I had chosen this name because it does indeed make my work very difficult to find through Google, which makes the marketing department's job harder. I used David Shapiro, Jr. for a while, which is the opposite of David Shapiro, because among Jews, it's untoward to name someone after a living person, so there are almost no David Shapiro's, Jr. There is one, actually—I think he is about 14 and he may or may not have frosted tips [in his hair]. But then I switched back because it sounded really stupid. So now I'm David Shapiro again. READ MORE
Queen Steps Into Frame Of Photograph Unbeknownst To Subjects Of Said Photograph, Smiles To Indicate Knowledge That Her Action Constitutes A Familiar Manner Of Modern Mischief
Two Australian Commonwealth Games hockey players were left stunned when the most famous royal in the world appeared smiling in the background of their picture.
That led to a series of other postings on social networks with England's European and Commonwealth 110m hurdles champion Andy Turner, 33, and another Australia hockey player, Anna Flanagan, 22, uploading similar images.
★★★★ It was still cool in the morning, though with an undercurrent of dread at where the humidity might be taking things. At the far end of the West Fourth basketball court, a lone figure shot free throws. The oncoming sun, clearing the buildings, found haze on the air and greenish dust on the parked cars. A pale scrap of a butterfly, with black-tipped wings, bobbed out over the sidewalk and into a fenced-off bed of weeds. Cornering out of the shade of Broadway into Houston was like stepping into a sluggish river and beginning to wade upstream. But the struggle passed. Midday approached and the sky showed brown around the edges, but it was still comfortable up on the roof. Down on the streets at lunchtime, the shade continued to offer refuge. The Ukrainian church and the firehouse beside it had their doors open, offering a glimpse of the showpieces in their high dim interiors. Elderly shoppers paused to marvel at a white Mustang with red-and-white seats, parked with its top down. On through the afternoon, whenever the heat threatened, clouds kept intervening.
52. (the saying goes)
51. (well, not strictly)
49. (it’s in the Pacific, somewhere)
48. (which I don’t normally do)
47. (which I’ve finally perfected)
46. (humility is underrated)
44. (practically speaking)
43. (if he’d remembered)
42. (as a matter of fact)
41. (which is no excuse)
40. (when they were still of quality)
39. (or was it ramps?)
38. (or so he claims)
37. (just like 1804)
36. (though no one seems to hear me)
35. (whoever still does that)
34. (which I’ve never heard of)
33. (or so it seems)
32. (she meant well) READ MORE
First of all, let me assure you, I feel like a huge asshole just for asking this, but I've been chewing on this question on and off for more than a year without any real resolution, so I thought I'd turn to you. Here's the deal: I'm wondering whether I'm abusing feminist ideology in order to justify a natural shyness around women and, if so, whether you could find me a new narrative that would help me feel less bad about acknowledging and acting on attractions.
I've always been seriously shy about any aspect of dating, sex, hooking up, whatever. It's not that I have trouble interacting with women—indeed, my female friends greatly outnumber my male friends. I have no problem making friends with women and, in general, I feel I am generally more comfortable in mostly female environments (this probably came from being thirteen and being constantly made fun of by the other boys in my class, as well as growing up with two older sisters). While I'd hesitate to call myself a feminist, mainly due to my concerns about being appropriative, I would say that I have an enduring interest in gender politics that I do my best to express through my actions.
This interest began to manifest after unrequited crush no. 4,523, around my mid-twenties (I'm in early thirties now) when I began to wonder whether the reason I was so unhappy about my lack of meaningful romantic relationships was because of my attitudes towards women. It has, I believe, helped a lot internally: by working to change a lot of my problematic behaviors and mindsets, I'm not nearly as hung up about sex and relationships as I used to be, and overall I do feel like I approach thoughts about women in a much more healthy way than I used to, helping me get out from being the seething ball of bitterness and anxiety that I was when I was younger.
Despite this, however, dating still fills me with dread, and even though I no longer look at my lack of a love life as some sort of scathing indictment of who I am as a human being, I'll admit that I'm still kind of lonely and would like a relationship, or at the very least to get laid more than once or twice a year. However, I seem to not want to do anything about it because I can't help but think that everything that could be done to do so upholds some unhealthy societal norm.
So, for example, when my friends comment that a cute woman has been flirting heavily with me all night, and tell me to go for it, I say that there's no way to tell what she's really thinking and that the last thing any woman needs is to feel like she can't communicate the way she wants to without some entitled creep getting entirely the wrong idea, and that some people are just naturally flirty and we shouldn't assume that that's some sort of indicator for desire, and that if she REALLY liked me that way she would have made it much more clear, and I don't want to assume that any display of friendliness is automatically some attempt to get something going, because that's a real problem in the way men and women interact nowadays. And then I bring up that she has a boyfriend, and I should respect her choice and it's creepy to hit on someone in a relationship as if I know more about what she wants than she does. And my friends go, maybe she wants a new guy, to which I say, “If that were the case then she can say it and make things clear and unambiguous because I'm not going to try and override a decision she made about her own life.” This, incidentally, is the point where one of my friends says, "You're letting your feminism get in the way of your game," which makes me think but, at the same time, I think it would be safer to err on the side of not doing anything to avoid contributing to a toxic environment.
Or, talking to my one sister about a very attractive woman at one of my group activities, she said why not ask her out, and I said that she probably didn't join the group to meet guys and I shouldn't create an atmosphere where she has to worry about being hit on constantly. Besides, I just *know* she doesn't think of me that way (I mean I don't really know for certain, but I generally make the assumption that women aren't interested in me that way, so why bother with someone I think isn't interested?). So I don't want to make her uncomfortable or anything. Or when my sister’s husband asked whether I ever talk to attractive people I see on the subway, and I respond that that's the LAST place anyone wants to talk to a stranger and that women are harassed all the time by people who can't take a hint and I don't want to be one of them because nine times out of ten everyone on a subway, men and women, just want to be left the fuck alone.
Or, last week, I was hanging out with two friends of mine, both female, and one of them began giving me some sort of vibe that involved sitting MUCH closer than necessary, initiating much more physical contact than she had ever before, and also briefly and purposefully stroking my fingers under the blanket. When the other friend left for a bit to walk her dogs, she looked up at me and said she couldn't concentrate on the movie, and I kind of just froze and said that I thought we should watch (stupid, stupid, stupid) and she harumphed and moved across the couch and bundled up her blanket and crossed her arms and acted weird to me the rest of the night. But I've known her for two years and she never had given me any indication that she was interested in the past, and neither of us were at all sober and I don't want to be predatory and take advantage of someone, and she shouldn't have to be concerned that I would try, she should be able to have fun and get fucked up with guy without having to worry that he'll try to fuck her. And how do I know that what I perceived as flirty behavior isn't just all in my head and she didn't mean anything by it? Because that happens, not just to me but to people everywhere. But her reaction made me think I fucked up somehow, and I ALSO don't want her to think I was necessarily rejecting her because she's WAY cute and awesome and smart and principled and if I'd known I was good to go I totally would have gone for it, but I felt the situation was too ambiguous and now I'm worried I made her feel unattractive in that moment, which I know from experience is a terrible thing to feel.
So, things like that. Not helping matters is that the times when I have thought I was good to go, it turns out I had miscalculated, which made me feel awkward and probably made her feel that way too, and so I'm just crappy at trusting my instincts when they're telling me "say you want to kiss her!" because I've been wrong so often in the past and it's felt terrible and I don't want to feel that way.
And so I'm wondering whether all those fancy explanations that I wrap up with deep political meaning are just excuses to justify me not pursuing the relationships I want, like the problems I've always had with sex and dating just went to grad school and came back with an MA in women's studies and philosophy but, at heart, is still the exact same problem. It's the same fear—that there's something fundamentally unlovable about me and if I ever express a desire for someone in any way, they won't like me anymore because how could I even SUGGEST such a thing—except dressed in big words and given some sort of political justification. Like, it's not that I'm shy and need to learn to take some risks, it's that I'm not going to impose myself on someone who just wants to be left alone and live her life and have male friends who don't try to hit on her, because I refuse to be That Guy. They're different mindsets, but it's the same result: I don't bring up the topic of possibly dating people I'm attracted to and decide it's not that bad having a new friend, because, obviously, awesome people don't stop being awesome just because they're not sleeping with me, and I want to have awesome people in my life.
One thing I've been thinking about is that my mindset could be making this assumption of sexlessness on the part of women, as if they don't also have bodies that get horny as well, but I'm not sure if that's really reflective of my thoughts because I acknowledge that women also want to have sex, I just have a very difficult time thinking they want sex with me. And then I've been thinking that it's unfair to expect women to take on all of the risk in romantic interaction by wanting them to make the first move and not responding to anything unless they make their desire abundantly clear, because as a man who was raised with the expectation that I'm the one supposed to do all the asking, that fucking sucks and why do I want to burden women with having to do that. But, on the other hand, it sounds like WAY too convenient an excuse and could just be my mind trying to rationalize the predatory hunter/prey model that has caused so many problems in the first place! We must always police ourselves for bad thoughts, I believe, for the oppressor within can be far more tenacious than the oppressor without, and I wonder whether this is just the inner enemy speaking.
So you can see I've been having a rough time and possibly missing opportunities to find what I want in other people. It's only recently, though, that I've started wondering whether I'm hurting other people by doing this, people who may have actually wanted me but I refused to respond because I didn't think things were clear enough and I didn't want to risk making them feel shitty, which in turn could be making them feel shitty (admittedly, it's the final example that got me wondering this).
Am I overthinking all this? How do you both pursue the relationships you want while still staying true to ideals of gender equality? How can you be more comfortable expressing what you want while not going overboard and becoming an entitled creep? And, finally, should I have kissed that girl in the last example?
Just a Dude
Dear Just a Dude,
Dude. There's this movie, "Legends of the Fall," that's ostensibly about three brothers, all in love with the same woman (Julia Ormond). But really, the movie is a soft porn bodice-ripper for ladies who saw Brad Pitt in that one small role in "Thelma and Louise" and decided that he was tasty man candy. If that sounds hard to believe, go watch "Thelma and Louise” (Again. You're a male feminist, so I know you've fucking seen it.) and you'll understand why Pitt had a certain undiscovered-fuck-toy appeal back then. He had this weird country-cousin allure that made him exactly the sort of squeaky plaything you wanted to ferret away to a secret corner of the house and chew to tiny little bits. READ MORE
Nearby, Nick Krevatas, one of the workers who were to hoist the new 12-by-18-foot red, white and blue flags that arrived in a Transportation Department truck by early afternoon, pulled on an elaborate harness.
"I feel we’ve been tampered with on our soil," he said, a fat cigar clamped in the corner of his mouth. (He was still smoking it as he walked up the suspension cable to the towers.)
“Something political, I guess," he mused. "It’s got to mean something."
The supposed mystery of the white flag over the Brooklyn Bridge is itself deeply mystifying: While bleaching the stars-and-stripes to produce an all white flag, rather than replacing it altogether, is impressive, methodologically speaking—as was the use of "large aluminum pans, like those to cook lasagna for a crowd," to cover the lights, according to the Times—the clear meaning is Manhattan's complete and unconditional surrender to Brooklyn.
How it could possibly indicate the reverse? Brooklyn, producer of New York's finest pizza, coffee, television, pickles, thinkpieces, bicycles, tattoos, beer (but not cocktails), and faux mid-century modern furniture, only grows more Manhattan-like by the day, rendering the island borough increasingly unnecessary for city essentials like unfathomable rents, finance bros roving in packs, a "downtown," or even cabs?
I spend most of my job coaching people on what to do with their careers. You might think this means I have my own life figured out. In reality, my job history shows a lack of focus and intense desire to live in locations that please me. From the mouth of a person who has likely looked at your resume, here is my career history:
Annual Conference Intern, Non Profit in D.C.
I was hired to do all of the logistics planning for the organization’s annual conference in Boston, MA. I found the job on idealist.org because that was back when I still had ideals and didn’t mind being broke. I believe it paid $10 an hour with a monthly metro card. My boyfriend at the time drove me out to D.C. for the summer where I lived in a married couple’s guest bedroom. The job was fairly low stress and my coworkers were nice. One time I won free burritos for the whole office when I dropped my business card in a fish bowl at Chipotle so I like to think that I was their favorite intern of all time. I also got a free trip to Boston out of the deal, where I learned the key lesson that networking is really about a bunch of highly paid people boozing.
I briefly considered staying in Washington D.C. because it’s an amazing city and you make friends at Front Page over pitcher beers and making fun of people who wear their Yale jacket to bars. I sadly left D.C. in favor of returning home to go to graduate school. Somewhere lingering in Dupont Circle is the ghost of the woman I would have been had I stayed.
Lesson learned: Sometimes the city makes the job. Also, if you are going to live in D.C. for the summer, live somewhere with air conditioning.
Obituary Editor, Night Shift
Ah Craigslist, you wanton beast. I was going to graduate school and looking for a gig that could accommodate my erratic student schedule. I found a posting on the old craig'ers for a part time editing position. The job was at a subsidiary of a legitimate newspaper. They had a snack room so I was sold. I worked all kinds of crazy hours, usually starting at 8pm after my evening class. Sometimes I worked onsite and sometimes I worked from home. It’s amazing what kind of people you run into when you live your life like a vampire, waking up at 2pm to start your day. For example, I encountered a crackhead that chased me on the el with a handful of Monopoly money. I fell in love with literally every boy I met at that job because they were all geeky writer/musician types who would crack jokes about punk bands and Russian history. We were allowed to listen to music while we worked and we tried to amuse ourselves with obscure covers of pop songs. When I reflect, these were the best coworkers I’ve ever had and sadly it was the lowest paying job I had in my adult life.
Buried a little too deep in The New Yorker's content mines for the site's recent excavation, but available here, is John Seabrook's legendary 1994 embed with MTV. From the office of the president of the network, Judy McGrath:
From the windows there is an amazing view of lower Manhattan, the Hudson River, and northeastern New Jersey, but the dominant view in McGrath's office is of the television set, and when you go there for a meeting you have to remember to sit so that you, McGrath, and the TV are in the proper relationship to each other. At one of our early meetings, I made the mistake of choosing a seat across from McGrath at the round glass table that she uses as a desk, which gave me the best possible eye contact with her but put the TV behind me. What happened was that McGrath made eye contact with the TV, and I looked over her shoulder and out the window at two of the four faces of the huge clock atop the old Paramount Building, right across Forty-fourth Street, which stopped years ago (one face says 4:35, and the other says 5:50), and which McGrath says serves her as a convenient symbol of her peculiar state of arrested development. During the meeting, I found my body turning almost instinctively away from McGrath and toward the TV, until by the end of our conversation we were deployed in a triangle familiar to anyone who has sat around watching MTV with friends.
Who would have guessed that this odd and stressful physical negotiation, between bodies and screens, would be a constant feature of waking existence just a few years later? Probably plenty of people, in horror books about space. Anyway:
MTV is visual radio; it's something you just have on. This is a fairly easy environment for kids who grew up in the seventies and eighties to adapt to, since the television was on pretty much all day while they were growing up, and the Bradys, the Fonz, and Mr. Kotter were like people they hung out with. But MTV ambience is surprisingly disorienting to people who grew up in the fifties and sixties, maybe because when Dick Van Dyke and Ed Sullivan were on the tube you sat down to watch them as though you were sitting in the audience.
I think about the "MTV ambience," mute music videos playing on some screen in the periphery, and it sounds relaxing. Ruined!
Past the array of simulcast screens with hypnotized leather-skinned regulars clutching bettor's tickets like Blackjack hands, and beyond the families seated on long, wooden benches exchanging crumpled dollars for informal wagers, were the chariots. They were enameled and gleaming in candy apple red, cobalt blue and, pearl white. Beyond them were the tiny, darting heads of the ostriches that will pull them to glory.
The Cameltonian and Ostrich Derby is a Meadowlands Racetrack innovation, squeezed in between a few of the night's regular horse races in the hopes of attracting spectators beyond the usual racetrack diehards. The camels and ostriches come from Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Nickerson, Kansas, a purveyor of dozens of game animals from Africa, Asia and other climates. It doubles as a bed and breakfast. READ MORE
★★★★ There was a little light in the sky when the artificial voice built into the portable speaker began announcing, loudly and repeatedly, that its battery was dying. There was full daylight when the alarm went off. Despite the promises on the front page of the newspaper, the air was damp, as if it had rolled in with the morning tide and up the island. Children were out wearing camp t-shirts or packing tennis rackets or dressed in dance clothes. Two sparrows had a dogfight in the air over the mouth of the West Fourth Street station steps, sending a feather pinwheeling down and away from them to the sidewalk. In the back room of the bar, the chess tables were still being set up. Further east on Third Street, sheets of sycamore bark lay in the planting beds and on the pavement and draped in the tops of the shrubs. The upper branches were bare waxy yellow. Out of the shade, the sky was full of glare. Clouds covered the midday sun for a moment, then let the shadows fade in again. The sky to the south was yellowish. In the later afternoon, pedestrians on Broadway were sluggish even as a sprightly breeze passed them. The room around the chessboards was still; the chess-campers were lingering somewhere out of doors. They returned at last in their own matching orange shirts, a bright file in the late sun.
In the late eighteen hundreds, the port cities of the American West were dangerous nests of sailors, prostitutes, and gangsters—none more so than Portland, Oregon. The most infamous relic of those bad old days are not the wooly beards of its male population, but the Portland Underground, the city’s network of so-called "shanghai tunnels," which tourists today are often told were used to spirit unsuspecting men, perhaps lured by a half-naked prostitute to an establishment where they were drugged and kidnapped, toward their final destination: pressed into service on a ship.
These kidnappers were known as crimps, and the "king of the crimps," according to folk legend, was a man named Joseph Kelly. By his count, some two thousand souls owe their time at sea to him. Kelly spent his early life on the sea as well: In his memoir, he wrote of once being shipwrecked on the island of Madagascar. Rescued from the shipwreck by the natives, Kelly was fed soup. Afterward, he looked into the clay jug that stored the rest of the stew and discovered the right hand of one of his shipmates. When a typhoon struck, he and some other sailors followed the lead of a man described as an old pirate, and escaped from their rescuers; they were promptly picked up by pirates. Fortunately, Kelly and his band managed to lock the pirates in the ship’s belly before heading ashore in India.
In 1879, Kelly got off a ship in Portland. In those days, since sailors weren’t allowed to leave their ships until they reached their final port, many sailors disappeared when they arrived—fleeing for jobs in the local logging industry, for instance. About three-fifths of all sailors who arrived in Astoria or Portland ditched their ships. These desertions were a problem, since captains needed able-bodied men to set sail again. This gave rise to the crimps: If a ship needed to find more men, the captain sent for a crimp, who supplied bodies for up to fifty dollars a head. Kelly took up the trade and became so good at it that Stewart Holbrook, a "rough writer" who specialized in selling local Portland history to the reading public of the East Coast literary establishment, and Kelly’s somewhat besotted biographer, described him as "an artist, for the magnificent imagination he applied to his occupation was nothing short of creative."
According to Holbrook, one October, while looking for seamen for a ship leaving the next morning, Kelley went through his usual stops on skid row—Erickson’s, Blazier’s, the Ivy Green, the Senate—and could not find a single man to press into service on a ship. Standing across the street from a cigar store, about to give up, Kelley noticed a wooden six-foot tall cedar statue Indian state outside; he wrapped the statue in tarpaulin and hauled it onto the ship’s bunk. After discovering the deception, the sailors threw the statue overboard. "Two days later," according to Holbrook, "the Finn salmon fisherman of Astoria, a hundred-odd miles down the Columbia [River] from Portland, were astonished to drag in their nets and find a cedar Indian amid the struggling fish." Kelly earned fifty dollars and the nickname "Bunko," turn-of-the-century slang for a con man.