Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
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New York City, September 16, 2014

★★ A flake of gold reflected briefly from somewhere, in the gray morning. Then rain took over, dutifully, on schedule. The expected end came and the clouds lifted in the west. The showers, successfully outwaited, had left sheets of water on the pavement, and the east was still gray. A rich blue opening appeared in the clouds above the stairs into the subway, and the subway stairs downtown ascended into sunlight. Pebbles in the wet sidewalk concrete glittered. But an hour or two later, dirty clouds had still not surrendered the north, even as the full sun grew warm and edged toward being hot. Another hour, and gloom had overtaken everything again. The simple changeover had become something uneasy; gray on gray brooded over Grand Street. But at last, uptown, the clouds were separating again—recalcitrant no more, but an obliging showcase for the molten colors of the lowering sun. 

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Ólöf Arnalds, "Half Steady"

From the forthcoming Palme, a characteristically weird (and friendly!) track, freshly unpacked, from Iceland.

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Notes from a Future Shitbag Mother

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On the last day of August in 2014, following an especially harrowing phone conversation, I typed, “I want to stop hating my mom” into Google. There were 63.5 million results.

This is a mere fraction of the 209 million results for “I love my mom,” but it is a result that gives me pause. At 29, I have landed solidly in that period of adulthood where choosing a partner might be largely informed by mutual interest in procreating. Friends have told me that the question of whether or not a date wants children has been a dealbreaker in a way that seemed unheard of even two years ago. The Internet seems to be awash in articles from women who are adamant that they will remain child-free and the chorus of commenters who applaud and share their decisions. Such articles seem to have materialized just as the question of children has become more real in my own life, as is their custom. READ MORE

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Facebook Reveals the Future of All Media

Facebook! People use it a lot; therefore, publishers want to be a part of it. Everyone wants to know: How can our publication succeed in this strange new media landscape? How can we get Facebook users to come to our site, instead of all the other sites? Today, in a post called "How to Drive Referrals to your Digital Properties"—wait, no, it's just called "Drive Referrals to your Digital Properties"—Facebook posted some advice:

First, the basics:

1. Post frequently
2. Share links, photos, and a variety of content

Then, go native. Be social!

3. Upload videos to Facebook with a call to action
4. Create content with social context in mind
5. Tag other pages in your Facebook posts
6. Host a Q&A

Finally, for advanced users:

7. Build around your stars — whether TV talent or writers or public figures
8. Use Trending to find popular topics on Facebook and post about them
9. Embed Facebook or Instagram posts in your website

Followed by the obligatory hard sell:

10. Add the Like and Share buttons to your website and mobile apps
11. Add Open Graph and App Links tags
12. Add Facebook Comments to your website

As recommendations, these are fairly broad. Use Facebook more. Think like a Facebook user! Publishers know this stuff already (or at least employ a few people who do). But what does this look like in action? What kind of stories does Facebook link to, as examples, in this instructional guide?

READ MORE

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An Investigation into the Weirdest Ronald Reagan Photo You’ve Probably Never Seen

reaaaganI read and re-read many books in my adolescence. The Wanderers, for the sex; The White Hotel, also for the sex; and To Kill A Mockingbird, for the lyricism. Well-thumbed, too, was an anthology of essays, reported stories, interviews and cartoons from The Realist, a funny, scathing counter-culture magazine founded in 1958, by Paul Krassner. I didn't understand a lot of it; the "impolite" interview with Dick Gregory; the parody of William Manchester's biography on the John F. Kennedy assassination, in which LBJ has his way with Kennedy's corpse; the famously dirty Disney cartoon—but I knew, even in my ignorance, that it was funny.

Among the book's treasures was a rather crude photo, published in Issue No. 76, August 1967, of Ronald Reagan—flanked on his right by George and Lenore Romney, on his left by his wife, Nancy—smiling like a jack o' lantern. Standing in front of Mr. Reagan is a little boy. Due to the angle of shot, the former appears to be receiving a blowjob from the latter.

The caption: "SOFT-CORE PORNOGRAPHY OF THE MONTH: GRAND OLD PARTY HAS JOINT SESSION WITH YOUNG REPUBLICAN."

For reason divorced from politics—I had no idea who Reagan was, other than that my parents had not voted for him—this struck adolescent me as pretty funny. And now, two decades later, it still does. But I'm also intrigued by it; I like trifling historical mysteries, and this obscure, bizarre photo of a famous man—this image utterly devoid of context—fits the bill.

Who shot it? Where? What were the circumstances of the occasion? And who is the boy? READ MORE

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The True Value of One Banana (In a Country Without Running Water)

Produce StoreWhen I accepted a position to teach English in Georgia, my life was ideal on paper. I had friends and a full time job in a city I didn’t mind, with a Chipotle right around the corner from my reasonably priced apartment. Everything was fairly good, but there was no sparkle. I refused to settle. I had a healthy savings account and the teaching position provided room, board, transportation, a monthly stipend, and the opportunity to gain teaching experience to the benefit of my career. I threw caution and reason to the wind and embarked on my adventure, fearless, naïve, and blissfully happy.



A week into the program, I found out that the same healthy father who dropped me off at the airport now needed heart surgery. Suddenly my new adventure meant nothing. My family and my home were on the other side of the globe, I was in a country where outgoing planes only left every other day, and total travel time was over 36 hours. What if I needed to go home immediately? Would I even make it? I felt helpless. Thrown into a new environment while processing emotions I had never experienced, I didn’t know what to say to my new host family, much less how to translate it into a new language. I no longer wanted to be on my grand adventure. I wanted to go home.



At the urging of my conscience and my family, though, I kept my commitment. Rather than dwell on my own emotions, I tried to focus on the realities of my new home. In my ignorance, I was surprised to learn that my host family was accustomed to living under electricity rations or going without water for days, even though the fountains in the tourist centers still flowed freely and the hotels illuminated main streets day and night. The fading term “second world country,” accurately defined my new home, a city on its way to establishing the infrastructure to support the lifestyle it had already built. READ MORE

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A Portrait of the Alt-Bro as a Young Dumbass

It’s 11AM on the 4th day of Spring Break. He’s reading Steppenwolf at a minimal loft cafe that sells tote bags and leather notebooks and beard lube. He's drinking a $4 Americano and debating whether he should step outside to roll a cigarette. Earlier today, when he arrived at the café, which by the way is called “Brooklyn,” he thought to himself, One ought only to smoke on weekends. Yet Spring Break is currently revealing-itself-to-him-as-weekend, so he goes outside to smoke. As he observes, flâneuristically, the soft light play upon the Portuguese Church steeples across him, he feels he’s on the verge of a profound realization, a Joycean epiphany, something that will blow his mind. Google, is he manic-depressive? Sometimes he feels so much, it’s almost unbearable. There’s no way most people feel as much as he does. He’s unique. He might be a genius. He’s certainly heterosexual. He’s probably going to grad school.

He is the Alternative-Bro.

Dumpster diving though his rent is paid for him, arranging gatherings between radicals less privileged than he, calling everything “dialectical,” listening to chillwave, perpetually nodding, feeling “depressed”: this is what the Alt-Bro lives for. This is what intoxicates him “in a particularly Dionysian way.”

The Alt-Bro is now thinking, as he observes an elderly woman enter the Portuguese church, Religion has done a lot of terrible things, obviously, but it has done a lot of good things, also, and this is something most people don’t understand. The Alt-Bro wishes most people thought about things as much as he does. He’s neither elitist nor classist, but he doesn’t trust people who don’t “fundamentally feel ideas.” He says things like, “But then you start to think in iambic pentameter and it’s fucked.” The Alt-Bro takes himself seriously.

The Alt-Bro has a gift for looking like he’s thinking. His desktop background is of Swedish architecture. The Alt-Bro is in “an open relationship” with a girl who doesn’t call it an “open relationship.” He claims to be attracted to "both men and women," though he finds “something special" about women. He doesn't know what it is. It is a mystery.

READ MORE

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"And so our watch is all but over. Who knows what comes tomorrow but at least and at last the final reckoning is upon us. It is choosing time and there’s no escape," writes Alex Massie, a Scottish person, in the Spectator, referring to the upcoming vote on his nation's independence in a genuine and not-at-all strained tone. "There will be a deep sadness in many places if Scotland votes Yes and, in other parts, some raging disbelief if she votes No," he continues, establishing his high vantage point on this complicated and emotional situation. "This may be a wee country but the matter of Scotland is nothing small," he observes, in a way that is absolutely not emblematic of a pervasive tendency of not just English people but quite a few Scottish people to infantilize both Scotland and its residents, which is too predictable to really be felt as offensive anymore. "To hate [our neighbors] is in some sense to deny a part of ourselves," he hedges, in a wise and considered way, regarding a fairly straightforward statement that no living human would passionately disagree with. "In that respect we really are all in it together. Today, tomorrow and Friday too. Come what may. Be not afraid. It is, probably, going to be fine. The little white rose of Scotland, so small and sharp and sweet, will still bloom," he concludes, his eyebrows possibly raised to project a look that signifies thoughtfulness and tenderness, his mouth possibly pressed into a gentle, sympathetic frown.

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New York City, September 15, 2014

weather review sky 091514★★★★★ A dark moth had blundered in on the night air. It made its way back across the living room, encouraged by an old newspaper section, and tried to escape into daylight in the little blind glass space where the sliding windows overlapped, a child-safe distance. The strong sideways light was like a drumroll, like a ping-pong volley between two good players who aren't good enough to finish one another. The sky was clear blue, not a deep and piercing blue yet. By afternoon it had deepened a little. A little chill held on in the warm direct sun. Shadows directly preceded footfalls going uptown. The fountains in Columbus Circle seemed to be going in slow motion. The high parts of the buildings looked newly washed. A glow got into the dim plaza, even under the scaffolding. Now, symmetrically, it was cool shade that prevailed, but with a mildness lingering in it. 

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Men, Makeup, Money: The Boylesque of Rify Royalty

IMG_5372"I really want to work out before my gig tonight," Sharif Abaz said. "But I still have to fix my costume and my makeup is going to take forever. I have no time." He picked up his outfit for the evening—a black mesh bodysuit, tank-top and shorts that cover the groin with a thick strip of spandex—and packed everything into a backpack. As he walked out, he took a final glance in the mirror by his front door, then brushed glitter from the night before from his eyelashes and rubbed his hand through his beard to check for untamed hairs.

Abaz arrived at the downstairs bar area of The Monster, a gay bar located on Grove Street in New York City a half hour before midnight. The dim room was crowded with sweaty young men and women, murmuring and anxious for a show. When the DJ announced the next set, Sharif took the stage in the darkened room and stood, waiting, with his head down. A moment later, the lights came up, revealing Abaz as "Rify Royalty" in full Dia de los Muertos makeup, with a long black veil covering his dark hair, a black gown over the mesh bodysuit underneath, and massive sexual attitude. He slowly raised his head toward the spotlight and began with a reverent rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" as he slowly stripped away his outerwear, then ground his hips on a chair as he lip-synched to Rob Zombie's "Living Dead Girl" before moving to the floor, where he shot his legs in the air, exposing thigh-high stockings and high-heeled platform pumps. Piece by piece, the costume came off, until he was left in a black V tank-thong bodysuit, stockings, and heels, revealing a small collection of tattoos: an umbrella with rain underneath, pin-up girls, his mother's name, scattered across the olive skin of his slender, toned frame. After the set, which lasted about ten minutes, Rify bowed as the crowd cheered and threw dollars at the stage. He exited stage right, clutching his earnings and teetering on five-inch heels. READ MORE

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Lately, “new Berlin” has become shorthand for an under-visited European city that is cheap, fun, and up-and-coming. Ever since creeping gentrification and a massive rise in tourism have thrown into question the German capital’s status of the world’s “coolest” city, people have been racing to determine its successor. Candidates besides Leipzig include Krakow (Poland), Vilnius (Lithuania), Belgrade (Serbia), Tallinn (Estonia), and Warsaw (Poland). They share, to varying degrees, many of the elements that made Berlin famous in the 1990s: affordability, empty buildings that can be repurposed and a sizeable arts scene. But unlike Berlin, they won’t have the opportunity to develop their cool reputation slowly—and are just as likely to be ruined by the hype as they are enriched by it.

Does your small-to-medium-sized city have underutilized industrial real estate and a recognizable arts scene? Then your city is at risk of becoming cool. Doomed cities don't get to be cool; stable, healthy cities don't get to be cool. The cities that are marked for coolness are the ones with rich, varied potential—cities in some form of recovery, with uncertain but hopeful futures. For these cities, there may be no worse fate: Coolness is a guarantee that your residents will be displaced, that your local identity will be smithed into a blunt Brooklynish object, that your economy will be flooded with but then drowned by an influx of capital that sees your locale as a magical new asset class for which popping is a self-fulfilling prophesy. A passing mention in the right place at the right time—a casual "new Berlin" spoken here or written there—is an explicit threat to make a city's residents tourists in their own homes. This doesn't turn out well for the new residents, either: They're an unwitting part of the plan, a mechanism through which outside investments are protected and multiplied. Once the city is flipped, their services are no longer required. They are then left with strangely high rents and the creeping feeling that they never really understood why they wanted to move in the first place.

Photo by domat33f

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The Best Time I Was a Child Con Artist

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My family has many unwritten rules. The second most important is: do not open the door if the doorbell rings only once. In our family, if the doorbell only rings once, you were either a salesperson or a canvasser. And salespersons and canvassers are liars and thieves.

My mother came to this conclusion shortly after she first immigrated to Canada; two scam artists pretending to work for the government tried to enter our home. Looking back, this is probably why I couldn’t make it as a (sort of) con artist, selling chocolates on the mean streets of southwestern Ontario.

I have a really big extended family by most standards—twenty-nine aunts and uncles. My family seems to either reproduce at an alarmingly fast rate or have short gestation periods, because I have more cousins than I will ever know. Due to the Somali Civil War, we’ve all been displaced to almost every continent, making it easy for me to travel all over the world. As a child, while my friends were going to camp, I was visiting places and relatives I never knew existed.

The summer of 2002, I went to London, Ontario. As someone from Ottawa, which is lovingly referred to as “the city fun forgot”, I can say London was just like home—only somehow sleepier and more suburban. I didn’t really care. I was visiting cousins my own age. Besides, Avril Lavigne had just blown up; I had big plans for testing out this new punk rock attitude I was going to adopt for the school year. READ MORE

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The Case for Abolishing Juvenile Prisons

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Last month, archaeologists identified the first of the fifty-five human bodies recently exhumed at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys—a now-shuttered juvenile prison where, for decades, guards abused children, sometimes to death, despite cyclical scandals and calls for reform spanning almost a hundred years. Dozier represents an atrocious extreme, but the failures of America’s juvenile justice system are widespread. Whether labeled “boot camps,” “training schools,” “reformatories,” or other euphemisms, juvenile prisons have long harbored pervasive physical and sexual abuse. In one survey, twelve percent of incarcerated youth reported being sexually abused in the previous year—a figure that likely understates the problem.

During the “tough-on-crime” years of the eighties and nineties, states confined larger numbers of children than ever before, with the proportion of youth in prison reaching an all-time high in 1995. Since then, the tide has turned. Between 1997 and 2010, the rate of youth confinement dropped forty percent nationwide, partly because of declining crime rates, but also because of changes in how states respond to youth misbehavior. Fueled by a mix of family advocacy, costly lawsuits, scandals like the Dozier case, and recession-era pressures on state budgets, many states have enacted reforms to transfer youth out of statewide institutions into community-based programs. California, for instance, “realigned” its juvenile justice system in the aughts; New York passed similar legislation in 2012 and has recently closed several juvenile prisons, including the once-notorious Tryon Residential Center.

Even with recent declines, the United States still incarcerates tens of thousands of teenagers—about two hundred of every hundred thousand kids. (State-by-state data is available here.) Racial disparities are stark: Black kids are locked up at four times the rate of white kids. And forty percent of youth held in residential facilities are there for lower-level offenses like probation violations, nonviolent property crimes, and truancy.

In her recent book, Burning Down the House, journalist Nell Bernstein argues that juvenile prisons should be abolished altogether. “Bart Lubow at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which supported this book, talks about the ‘my child’ test,” Nell told me. When reading about conditions in juvenile prisons, “we should ask ourselves, Would this be acceptable for my child if he had committed a very serious crime? If the answer is no, we have a moral responsibility to stop it. I have two thirteen-year-olds, so I think about that a lot.” I recently spoke to Bernstein about her book.

You don’t propose any reforms in your book because you say this is a system that can’t be reformed; it needs to be shut down. Did you come into writing the book with that position, or was it a conclusion you came to over time?

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whiteppl

An electorate reshaped by a growing presence of liberal millennials, minorities, and a secular, unmarried and educated white voting bloc will most likely force Republicans to recalibrate. … When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, white voters without a college degree made up 65 percent of the electorate; by 2012, that number had dropped to 36 percent.

The latter statistic is more complicated than it seems, in large part because more people than ever are getting college degrees—33.5 percent of people between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-nine had a bachelor's degree in 2012, versus 24.7 percent in 1995 versus 21.9 percent in 1975, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Given that the rise has benefitted minorities and, in particular, women, while the share of people from low-income families attaining those degrees has "remained relatively flat over the last several decades," what's been eroded, in part, is the bastion of white men who were able to skip college and attain a middle-classish existence, leaving the remaining uneducated whites exposed and isolated, economically and, increasingly, socially—making them angrier and louder and, unfortunately for them, their views ever more toxic to the nationally minded politicians who once clamored for their votes. If Democrats can win today on issues of reproductive rights and gay marriage in the South—if only occasionally, for now—who will be left representing the poor, conservative white man in a decade?

Photo by Pierre

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Exploring the Hidden Racist Past of the Looney Toons

rabbitstewI have an uncomfortable confession to make: I have never liked the Looney Tunes. Despite the cultural pervasiveness of these characters, and a lifelong love of animation on my part, they’ve always struck me as annoying, repetitive, and boring—for all the pandemonium that Bugs Bunny and his ilk ostensibly represent, their chaos is bland, their destruction is predictable, and their lineage is corporate.

To be fair, my exposure to Looney Tunes at the time bore that out pretty well: I grew up in the age of Space Jam and the slew of jerseys, sneakers, McDonald’s toys, pogs, and cookie jars that film spawned. Today is no better, with the Roadrunner and Foghorn Leghorn perhaps most recognizable as shills for companies like Time Warner and GEICO.

Yet this was not always the case, as demonstrated by the excellent Chuck Jones exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. Entitled “What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones”, this retrospective illuminates the originality and charm of Jones in particular and the Looney Tunes in general. I learned that Bugs Bunny’s smart-alecky attitude and cigar-like carrot were based on Groucho Marx, and Wile E Coyote’s design was inspired by Mark Twain’s description of the coyote as “a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton…with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face…The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want.”

I was also surprised to discover how topical these cartoons were—as a kid watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, I didn’t catch many of the forty-year-old references. Yet Looney Tunes was a definite forerunner to the adult animation of today, poking fun at contemporary politics and pop culture. These cartoons were far from the squeaky-clean version of today: they were vibrant, innovative, and often subversive. While this certainly makes these shorts more interesting, it also means that some of the uglier elements of the time are on full display.

Such elements are abundantly clear in the Censored Eleven, shorts from the Warner Bros catalogue that were withheld from syndication due to racially offensive content. These cartoons have not been broadcast since 1968, though they are available online. I present them below, not to glamorize them but to shed some light on an occasionally fascinating—and often appalling—corner of an American institution. READ MORE

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Raury, "Seven Suns"

You can listen to Raury's debut here, in its entirety. It's the work of someone who is, by any traditional indication, about to explode—he's signed, rumored to be working with Kanye West—and it's shot with surprises. Raury is also 18, which is impossible not to think about as this strange and astonishing album weaves and wobbles through folk, pop, R&B and collage without breaking step.

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"David Albouy, an economics professor at the University of Illinois, has created a metric, the sacrifice measure, which essentially charts how poor a person is willing to be in order to live in a particular city. Portland, he discovered, is near the top of the list."

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Tonight, New York City Crowns Its Best New App! But Will It Be the Racist One?

Tonight, Big Bill de Blasio awards the winners in the NYC BigApps competition. That's a project of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. With mentors and judges from many, if not "all" walks of life, this project is one of the few rare ways that New York City might actually help a small business, while also helping to improve the lives of New Yorkers, or even making the city a better place in general. Cash prizes go to the best apps created out of city data.

But Mayor Bill will be treading on dangerous ground. Will the judges set him up for a disaster? Because among some great ideas and great executions in the finalist pool are some real nightmares. For instance, the infamous and much-derided app SketchFactor is actually a finalist in this program. Yeah, that's the thing that lets various forms of app-using gentrifiers rate neighborhoods for just how uncomfortable they feel whilst passing through.

Certainly less evil—even good at heart!—but still as annoying is Reported, which was founded by a man who was unhappy that people don't complain about taxis enough. ("There are 175 million NYC cab trips each year. Yet only 13,000 consumer complaints in 2013 about drivers," is how his mission statement begins. Uh… huh.) He's written an incredibly detailed piece (on Medium, of course) about how he kept a spreadsheet about all the cabs honking outside his house. He gives himself away early on when he says that Uber is a great experience because of the constant rider surveillance. His New York of the future: we're all narcs, and we're all customers.

READ MORE

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New York City, September 14, 2014

weather review sky 091414★★★★★ Cool, fresh air through the window vied with frying bacon and won. The children were in long pants, newly sorted through to account for a summer of growth. The clarity out the window was prodigious, unreal, like eagle vision. A dignified old brown-brick apartment building, stair-stepping as it rose, stood out deep and solid among its flatter-faced neighbors. What was the light, the two-year-old asked, standing on the radiator cover, gesturing southward: six or eight blocks away, a tiny bright orange pinprick. It took binoculars to identify it as an ordinary sodium security lamp, burning in the dark shade of a rooftop superstructure. And far beyond that, what looked like the Newark Airport control tower was just that, and even past that, the National Newark Building. And a fat waning gibbous moon, like a painting of the moon, in among high cirrus clouds and little lower ones, now lavender-tinted, now peach, moving quickly downriver. And—yes, a dark shape flapping northward, presenting in the glasses the chocolate-brown body and wings, the white head and tail, an eagle itself. Out the door, bright streaks threaded the dark falling sheets of water in the fountain. Someone was wearing a puffy jacket; two other people, walking together, were in flip-flops. Clouds in the west briefly dulled the afternoon light. A wide battery-powered kiddie car, a red Mini Cooper, hummed slowly down the sidewalk. The playground was dreamlike, meaning a little bit numbing and unreal. Chalk had been scrawled heavily on the pavement, up and all over the kneeling concrete camel statue, and finally then just detonated into piles of colored powder. The two-year-old was subdued, clinging to the chain link or walking along a bench. Then a schoolmate arrived, and they mounted an assault on the slopes of the camel together, smearing themselves with chalk from collar to shoes. Sunset was total and overwhelming, the whole visible sky out the windows cycling from opulent through shocking and on to moody.

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