Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
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A Night at the Ostrich Races

jtm_ostrich_camel_4Past 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

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New York City, July 21, 2014

★ 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. 

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The Legend of the Legend of Bunko Kelly, the Kidnapping King of Portland

poooortlandia

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.

READ MORE

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Our Attempt at a $20-a-Day Budget

Louder Than WordsHistory
I am a 29-year-old woman, married for four years. I am a playwright, actor, blogger, screenwriter, tutor, and babysitter. My husband is a software engineer. My money-making schedule is varied and inconsistent and sometimes I will just freak out about it—especially now, because I’m pregnant.

If you’re like me, getting pregnant means you immediately start Pinteresting and reading magazines about pregnancy and you start thinking that you need a lot of Things. The baby needs lots of Things and you need to buy them. Your baby needs his own room, his own thoughtfully organized closet, his own bookcase and nightlight and humidifier and small appliances that warm up various items. These things all cost money.

Not only do baby things cost money, but my husband and I recently made a big financial mistake, which required us to take a hard look at our finances. We recently bought a condo. There are a lot of things you have to do as a property-owning adult. One of the things one must do on a yearly basis, in the town we live in, is reapply for a residential tax exemption (ugh so boring. So boring! I know). But listen: I live in a city where enough people rent out their property that the city likes to encourage owner occupancy, which means our local government created what is essentially a property tax discount if you live in your own condo.

We learned this year that we missed the deadline for the residential tax exemption, which means we are at a deficit on our taxes, which means we have to pay an extra $500 (roughly) a month to catch up. I tried to fight it for a while, but it was more trouble than it was worth. It would have involved me having an argument with the bank that handles our mortgage payments, and as a pregnant person, I was not up for that noise. And when I actually crunched the numbers, even with just my husband’s income, not counting anything I might take in for writing for a blog here or there, tutoring pay, and the odd commercial, we should be able to survive and also pay our big tax bill every month. It just requires that we buckle down and be careful with our money. READ MORE

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Everything You Have Needed to Know in 2014 (So Far)

Today, in the Washington Post, Eve Fairbanks asks:

Could "all you need to know" be the most insidious, reductive, and lame story formula currently conquering our reading life? Everywhere you turn there’s another purported ne plus ultra explainer purporting to tell us "absolutely everything we could possibly need to know" about some current event, some curiosity of history, some deep mystery of life on Earth.

Good question! "All you need to know" can be distilled down further to the no-less-demanding formulation of "need to know." It's still just as chiding, just as exhaustive, just as needy, when you consider the full range of its implications: You are required to know what is in this document in order to be a complete human; what is contained herein is Soylent for your brain, the stripped down, crucial bits required for intellectual survival; and all knowledge that exists out of this space about a given topic (or anything, really) is wholly unnecessary. Once the diktat of "necessary knowledge" has been whittled down to its core, the true scope of its permutations can reveal itself in full.

And there are so many things to know. Here is everything (or at least most of the things, since I gave up fourteen pages into the Google search) that you have needed to know in 2014, according to the Washington Post:

July 22
What you need to know about the AFC East

What you need to know about the NFC North

What you need to know about the AFC North

What you need to know about the NFC East READ MORE

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A Smart Girl's Guide To Responding To Pop Stars

We've all been there: You're having a great day, just hangin' out with your friends, enjoying your space, when one of those pesky pop stars shows up thinking he can seduce you with his sexist lyrics and gyrating hips. Sometimes it's so vulgar and obscene you're flabbergasted and stand there, wondering what you should say! Well, wonder no more. Here's a handy guide of appropriate responses and clever come-backs that will banish the know-nothing chauvinists who have somehow weaseled their way onto the radio.

IF HE SAYS: 

Tiesto

YOU SHOULD SAY:

Ok, first of all, not a big deal or anything, but just so you don’t get embarrassed in the future: it’s “LIE in it instead” not “LAY in it instead.” Lay is the past-tense of lie. That’s a common mistake. Don’t be too bummed out about it—language is evolving and everything, I’m just saying.

Now that that’s out of the way: You don’t get to decide how much I have to drink when I hang out with you. I don’t really care how much you “like it better.” I mean, you can go ahead and get wasted all you want, but I gotta warn you, you’re kind of a sloppy drunk. Maybe you think that whole throwing-yourself-on-the-bed-where-I-JUST-folded-my-laundry-while-I’m-getting-you-a-glass-of-water move is sexy, but I don’t know WHY. I’m much more interested in spending my time with people who want to have conversations with me in which they are able to complete sentences and remember topics. Pro tip: sober up, dance like no one’s watching, and then see if you can make an honest connection with another human being, OK?

Also, please fix my laundry. You fucked it up, and I have other stuff to do.

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IF HE SAYS:

DERULO

YOU SHOULD SAY:  READ MORE

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History Recorded


Hacked? EPA Office of Water tweets about Kardashian App

EPA tweet about Kim Kardashian confuses and entertains the Internet

Kim Kardashian App Takes Over Environmental Protection Agency's Twitter

EPA Office of Water Is Caught Playing Kim Kardashian Mobile Game

‘That Happened’: The Head-Scratching Tweet From an Official EPA Account That Had Some People ‘Howling’ With Laughter

Kim Kardashian App Takes Over Government Agency's Twitter Account

READ MORE

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Twin Peaks, "I Found A New Way"

A screamy and memorable addition to the under-served "walking around music" genre, from Chicago's Twin Peaks. [Via]

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Thomas Berger, 1924-2014

"More than anything, the paradoxical logic by which Berger unfolds his scenes connects him to Kafka. Too many contemporary writers kowtow to Kafka in mummery: ostentatiously dreamlike settings, Shadows and Fog-ian Eastern European atmosphere or diction. Berger engages with Kafka's influence at a more native and universal level, by grasping the way Kafka reconstructed fictional time and causality to align it with his emotional and philosophical reservations about human life. Berger's tone, like Kafka's, never oversells paranoia or despair, and the results are, actually, never dreamlike. Instead, Berger locates that part of our waking life that unfolds in the manner of Zeno's Paradox, where it is possible only to fall agonizingly short in any effort to be understood, or to do good."
—Jonathan Lethem wrote this about the great Thomas Berger over a decade ago. Berger died earlier this month. This is his most famous book, and it's probably still a good starting point, but this is pretty great too. Also: the rest of them. Berger was 89.

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New York City, July 20, 2014

★ Bubbles drifted west on 68th Street in the sunshine. Wheeled conveyances were everywhere: scooters, bicycles, strollers, a wheeled walker. The two-year-old weaved upstream on his scooter through an oncoming line of them. He rolled expectantly up to the fence of the playground, missing the gate, looking over his shoulder at a pony-sized Parks Department garbage truck. Two games of frisbee were going on in the open schoolyard, and a boy in an Eli Manning jersey was place-kicking a football off a tee into the fence. There was humidity on the air, but still it was cool. After the playground and a long, sunny uphill, hot vapor was rising through the vent holes in the crash helmet. He woke from a nap with his head drenched in sweat, the pillow puddled with it. Down the river, in a bleary haze, a cruise ship was slowly heading off. Toward the day's end, the humidity was gone, the sky cloudless, the air near crispness. It was a little chilly for shorts, though it would have been ludicrous to call that discomfort. The sun was still warm on the nape of the neck, even on the rebound from windows on the far side of Columbus and Broadway. Ugly steel balcony railings looked like smoked glass. Groups had formed discussion circles on the edge of the artificial grove at Lincoln Center; one participant, in a surfeit of abandon, was stretched out prone on the hard pavement. The western sky at dinnertime had one swath of tiny clouds in it, strewn like barely cracked peppercorns. The sun had declined enough now that the two-year-old could no longer object to it shining in his face at the table, though if he fidgeted far enough back in his chair, he could play with his silhouette and complain or marvel that it had no eyes. 

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Selfies from the 9/11 Memorial

selfiesOn a recent afternoon, an older man and woman self-consciously configured themselves in front of the south reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial. The man placed his hand on the woman’s hip in an awkward clasp and grinned broadly as another person took their picture with a digital camera. A girl in a Yankees cap took a selfie with her camera phone, the Freedom Tower soaring into the sky behind her, the reflecting pool draining into nothingness. She was smiling. An Ethiopian man asked me to take a photo of him and his family. They wore blank expressions, though the youngest girl with them hammed for the camera with her scooter.

The 9/11 Memorial, officially titled “Reflecting Absence,” is a superlative site. It is the most expensive memorial in America, at a cost of five hundred million dollars (up from a preliminary estimate of a hundred and seventy-five million dollars). The two reflective pools are built in the footprints of the twin towers, and contain the largest man-made waterfalls in the country. The contest for the memorial design yielded more than fifty-two hundred entries from sixty-three countries. Other ideas included towers built from Lego blocks and clocks stopped at 9:11. Michael Arad, an architect from New York, won the project, along with Peter Walter, a landscape architect.

The south reflecting pool of the memorial gets considerably more traffic than the north pool. Panel S-38, at the southeasternmost corner of the south pool, near the memorial’s entrance at Liberty and Greenwich streets, sees a bounty of visitors, probably because it's closest to the entrance. Children climb on it. Families pose for photos. Tired tourists hang their bodies on the marble slab, obscuring the panel’s names—Sebastian Gorki. Hernando R. Salas. Joni Cesta. The memorial, as it stands, often functions more like a tourist rest stop than a place of somber reflection. When I visited on an oppressively hot early July day, visitors dipped their hands into the reflecting pools and poured the water onto their heads and legs to cool off. They leaned on the marble panels with the names of the dead to eat snacks, even though there are no food vendors or trash cans allowed on site. READ MORE

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Weezer, "Back To The Shack"

There is an alleviating simplicity to this song, which goes mostly where you expect it to until Rivers Cuomo starts talking about "rocking out like it's '94" and then suddenly things become quite dark.

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How to Work for the Enemy and Feel Just Fine

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer and co-founder of The Toast Mallory Ortberg tells us more about what it’s like to work at a famous conservative think tank.

Mallory! So what happened here?

Oh! I forget how this came up, exactly, but yes, for one summer I was one of several interns at the Hoover Institution, which is a fairly conservative public policy think tank attached to Stanford University, and woe betide you if you refer to it as the Hoover Institute, as I did on my first day.  

This was in the summer of 2010, I think; I had graduated the year previous from a Christian college in suburban Los Angeles with an English Literature degree and was profoundly unemployable. After about eight months of flailing in LA, where the only work I could find was picking up a few holiday stocking shifts at the BevMo, I moved north to live with my family and try to find a job. 

And I did find jobs! I found several jobs, and I was so horrified at the prospect of ever being unemployed again that I took all of them. So I worked four mornings a week at the Hoover, reviewed The Vampire Diaries for a pop-culture site based in Washington, D.C., waited tables every afternoon until midnight, and twice a week drove up to Marin to copyedit at an ecologically minded women’s website. Which I guess sort of balanced out the Hoover work, politically. 

The Hoover probably paid the best out of all of them. I think I earned between $12 and $15 an hour, which was more than I’d made at the BevMo, even. I’d ride my bike over to the campus every morning and run in through the Hoover Tower, which is quite lovely. My friends were all working at shoe stores and call centers and veterinary offices at the time, so they were mostly just excited I’d found a job. We’d all graduated at a really difficult time, you know, so there was a sense of victory whenever any of us found work or was able to afford an apartment on their own.

I just wanted a job. I wanted a reason to leave the house in the morning, and I wanted to learn how to be in an office, and I wanted to not email my resume to a thousand different Craigslist posters and bother my professors for letters of recommendation. I had no qualms about taking the job. I was grateful for it. I would have taken almost any job at that time. 

Maybe I wouldn’t have taken a job actively fracking an orphanage, but I would have happily supervised the fracking from a building a few miles away, where I didn’t have to look at the orphans.  READ MORE

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The Borowitz Problem

There's a new New Yorker website on the internet today, but one problem still hasn't been fixed:

A good deal of that traffic can be credited to Andy Borowitz—the satirist and “Shouts & Murmurs” contributor whom The New Yorker hired in 2012 to anchor its newly introduced humor blog, and whose Boomer-liberal brand of humor regularly produces groans from younger, more web-native corners. According to Thompson, “The Borowitz Report” was responsible for six percent of all of NewYorker.com’s traffic last year.

My goodness is it difficult for people to talk about the Borowitz situation! Which maybe explains how it has been allowed to persist for so long. The Borowitz Problem isn't that he isn't funny, or that he panders as a rule, or that "Boomer-liberal" humor (which is I guess is meant here as a euphemism for "unchallenging and smug?") is out of date. It's this:

"The news, reshuffled" is both the Borowitz Report's tagline and a literal description of its product (here is a bot that does the job better). In the narrow context of his section of the website, he can write in his trademark style—slightly zany aggregations of the news, in which conservatives say what they REALLY mean, or whatever—and get away with it. Or in the context of an email newsletter! But when you publish a fake headline that sounds almost real, place it on top of satire that's soft enough to skim without really reading, give it a newyorker.com URL, and promote it on Facebook, where basically every headline sounds like satire now, you know what you're really doing. READ MORE

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Seriously, Fuck You, "Kindle Unlimited"

0y1FZ1pZjopvtctnlyX0BUDro1_1280Last week, Amazon informed us that for ten dollars per month, Kindle users can have unlimited access to over six hundred thousand books in its library. But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization.

For a monthly cost of zero dollars, it is possible to read six million e-texts at the Open Library, right now. On a Kindle, or any other tablet or screen thing. You can borrow up to five titles for two weeks at no cost, and read them in-browser or in any of several other formats (not all titles are supported in all formats, but most offer at least a couple): PDF, .mobi, Kindle or ePub (you'll need to download the Bluefire Reader—for free—in order to read ePub format on Kindle.) I currently have on loan Alan Moore's Watchmen, Original Sin by P.D. James, and The Dead Zone by Stephen King. READ MORE

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An example of the insightful questions that some venture capitalists must ask before they decide to shower an app with money, so much money:

Robyn Exton, the founder and chief executive of Dattch, a location-based dating app aimed at lesbians, once pitched her product to a venture capitalist who asked a colleague, ">Do you think if I invest, people will think I’m gay?"

Obviously, the answer is super.

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28 Years with Weird Al

weirdMy Bubby and Zaydee came to visit from Florida and I couldn’t wait to share my all-time favorite musician with them: Weird Al. I sang every single song from his first two albums. I showed them the video for “Eat It,” which we had taped off of MTV. “Why do his eyes turn yellow at the end of the video?” I asked, having never seen the Michael Jackson video for “Beat It.” They were slightly confused. “Because sometimes people eat bad food and then their livers don’t work and so their eyes turn yellow,” Bubby said. “Don’t you love it?” I asked. I decided she must because she understood things like why people’s eyes might turn yellow if they eat the wrong food.


My cousin Ben had introduced me to the music of Weird Al in 1986, when I was seven years old. I didn’t get the original references from his parodies, but I knew the music was brilliant and dove into his oeuvre until I figured out what every Polka Medley was referencing. Everyone else loved the New Kids on the Block, but I loved Weird Al. We rented “The Compleat Al” and our local video store, Home Video Plus, had to put in a special order just to get it to Glen Rock.

On the Rosh Hashanah before I turned my eight, my dad made a grand announcement at dinner. My dad does this thing where he settles in and shakes his shoulders back and forth when he has important news. “There’s a concert,” he said. “Weird Al is opening for the Monkees at Great Adventure. We’re going.” While Weird Al was my longterm favorite, I was recently obsessed with the Monkees. Due to pop cultural reasons beyond my childhood ken, the Monkees were experiencing a major renaissance around that time, and they were the only tapes we listened to on family car rides. I even had my first sexual fantasies about the Monkees—first Micky Dolenz and then Mike Nesmith.

It was our first family amusement park outing. We got to the arena early—it was right behind the Teepee that sold goods partially pertaining to the Indigenous Peoples that no longer exists because it’s totally offensive. We looked around. “Everyone else is here for the Monkees,” dad said. “But we’re a Weird Al family.”

Weird Al opened the show and danced with giant Mister Potato Heads while singing “Addicted to Spuds.” There were costume changes and props and accordions and medleys and songs we’d never heard before like, “It’s Still Billy Joel To Me.” We cheered for his drummer, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, since he was a Schwartz like us. Then the Monkees took the stage (minus Michael Nesmith, who was still being a Liquid Paper heir and refusing to join the band). They played all of their old hits and two of their newest songs: “Heart and Soul” and “That Was Then, This Is Now.” Davy Jones changed into a dress for a few numbers and pretended to be a woman, but Peter Tork wore a red shirt and white pants and was the coolest man I’d ever seen. READ MORE

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New York City, July 17, 2014

★ Unbelievable breezes flowed though the clear, sparkling morning and in the open windows. The breeze blew down Lafayette in cool cloud shade, blew across Prince in the returning sunlight. Mothers wore jean shorts; men rolled trousers to show socks or ankles. Some gray gathered over Lower Manhattan, then–were there wet spots on the fire escape? If there were, they were gone soon enough, the whole interlude merely a reminder not to take this for granted. It would take more than that to ruin the day. It would take knives falling from the heavens. Now there was nothing in the sky but firm, well-spaced cumulus clouds. The downtown skyline shone. Uptown, the breeze yanked and shook shirttails, hemlines, pants cuffs. It flipped a necktie. Late sun passed right through banks of windows, bounced off other banks of windows. A concrete facade lit up like a lampshade. The breeze raised the river into dark blue ruffles, and the sun lit the stern of a boat cutting through those ruffles, leaving a smooth, brighter wake behind. 

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5

The Airbnb Hole

It is not the fault of Airbnb that its new logo looks like an anatomical negative space, a hole, its chief technology officer, Nathan Blecharczyk, would like to everyone to know:

We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator. This was a yearlong undertaking for dozens of people, it’s something meaningful, and no one pauses to really understand that.

But when one gazes into the hole—for how can one not—the tumble begins almost immediately, through the hole, beyond the hole. The world and every possible concern, hope, fear, or dream dissolves completely, leaving just you and the hole—you are the hole, and the hole is you—so that it becomes impossible to fully contemplate the long and varied chain of circumstances that led to its emergence, but for the dull ache of a single thought: It would be nice to rent out my apartment to make some extra money. But who has the space?

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The Most Expensive Meals We've Ever Paid For

steak houseMy first job out of college was fact-checking restaurant listings. Every day, I called 25 restaurants in New York City to see if any of their information had changed, asking if their curtains were still red, their bathrooms still adorned with lavender sprigs, if their salad was still served with strawberries, if their servers still donned bow ties. With time, I had a mental Rolodex of places I wanted to eat, and Peter Luger Steak House, a restaurant so fancy it has its own Wikipedia page, was at the top.

When given the chance to celebrate a two-and-a-half-year anniversary, I chose steak. My boyfriend was game. Happy steak-iversary to us.

If people judge the appeal of brunch places by the length of the assembled line, then I suppose we can judge dinner places by how far in advance one has to make a dinner reservation. Five weeks in advance, I called the steakhouse to get a table for a Sunday night dinner. Only two reservation times were left: 4:30 and 9:45. We took the latter.

I broke my "savings-are-to-be-saved" promise to myself and withdrew $140 dollars from my account. That night, decked out in our finest, we rode the B44 bus to Williamsburg (a cab would’ve cost too much).

Here is what we ate:

• Four slices of bacon: When people find out you’re going to Peter Luger’s, they tell you to order the bacon. They are right.

• One iceberg salad: This was my boyfriend’s decision, and a foolish one, because no one should order salad at a steakhouse. It did, however, come topped with more bacon, so it was a draw.

• The porterhouse for two: This is the story we tell people when they ask us what the food was like. While waiting, we yammered. We fawned over the bacon. We giggled at the old-school service. We held hands across the dark wood table and made eyes at each other. Then the steak arrived. We shut up. Our hands were never far from our plates, our eyes were rolled back in our heads, our brains could not process the immense pleasure that could come from a cut of meat. It is easily the best thing I have ever tasted.

• Creamed spinach, which was pretty good.

• An ice cream sundae, some cheesecake, and a beer.

We rolled ourselves home, bags full with leftovers (they make you take the rolls) and the little chocolate coins they give you after dinner. My share was $120, the same I’d pay for a loan payment, a month’s worth of groceries, or going home to see my parents three times. Still, it seems like a bargain. READ MORE

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