The Poet and His Postcards

"David J. Thompson has been sending me four or five postcards a week since I was eighteen."

December 22, 2014: A1 or Bust

New York City , December 18, 2014

weather review sky 121814★★★ Individual buildings stood out golden in the first rays of dawn, arriving so late that the day had seemed overcast. Colors ripened, the sunrise no longer a secret reserved for early risers. Wind tossed the colorless dry leaves around in the forecourt. Blue construction mesh lit up along the edge of a new luxury tower in the distance. The sky was full of light that couldn’t reach into the streets yet. Then the sun found its way in, casting long midday shadows. A pennant of caution tape tied to a traffic cone fluttered in the same direction. Short as they are, though, the days remained perversely changeable; before the afternoon was done, the sun had vanished into a gray pre-dusk, which showed the lights in the windows to their advantage as it deepened on a crosstown walk: Here warm illumination on a wooden domestic stairway, there the cold yellow of office fixtures. The cold was deepening, too, and by Seventh Avenue the wind was something to be braced against. Eyes burned coming in out of it.

Boo Crime

sThe first season of Serial is over, and the reverberations from the world’s most infuriating podcast have only begun. It’s clear, however, that its outrageous success will yield at least two direct results over the next year: A few more advertising dollars plugged into potentially buzzy podcasts, and an explosion of the “true crime” genre across media. There are so many crimes, after all.

But the forthcoming flood of true crime stories—and the many other forms of crude Serial imitation we’re about to be inundated by!—from new and unlikely sources should be largely, if not exclusively, understood by the forces that produced them: a desire to capture some of Serial’s success, or at least its audience, paired with little intrinsic understanding of what actually made Serial a hit, or even genuine interest in true crime as a genre.

Bear Stories

why did the bear cross the road

One afternoon in late August, I sat at a picnic table with a few family members and listened to stories about bears. This was in Upper Michigan, and it was peak season for nature in a region where nature does not require a time of year—blueberries were ripening, toads cooled themselves in the middle of every gravel road. The stories weren’t unsolicited, but the volume of them was a surprise: Over the course of a couple days, I found that everybody from my parents’ generation on up had at least one bear story, and often more.

My uncle recalled a “big bear fight” that appeared in downtown Manistique some decades ago. “It looked like something out of Ringling Brothers Circus,” he said. A bear in a cage was wheeled in and, during the day, passersby could feed it. At night, “they challenged anybody that, if they could wrestle the bear to the ground, they’d give them two hundred bucks or something.” A man named Terry Smith stepped forward. My dad picked up the thread: “Terry Smith was like, what, six-four, big, blond Swedish guy. Toughest guy in town—really the nicest guy in town too—he couldn’t even touch that bear.” I asked if the bear had been declawed; they thought it might have been. “I don’t know if the bear knew all the wrestling rules,” my uncle said.

In 1985, Ian Frazier published a piece in the New Yorker called “Bear News,” in which he suggested that the survival of the grizzlies depended on their ability to enliven our imaginations:

If enough people could imagine a world without grizzlies, and with equanimity dismiss the bears from their thoughts forever, then the bears’ actual disappearance from the physical world would probably follow soon after. I like reading newspaper stories about bears because nowadays the newspaper is such a vital part of their range. There, and in magazines and on television, too, bears fatten on certain feelings people have for wilderness, and suffer for others. They seem to try so hard to remain living things in the midst of all the fantasies people have about them.”

In Upper Michigan, the news is more modest. Grizzlies are large and dangerous; native black bears, by contrast, wander amiably through local lore. Later that night, we ate down the road at the Big Spring Inn, where a bearskin rug hangs over the bar and where black bears once lived in cages out back. Patrons bought soda bottles from a vending machine and fed their contents to the animals—either the original soda or some kind of home-made syrup. Nobody could remember.

The 32 Sixth Boroughs of New York City, According to the 'Times,' in Order from Worst to Best

Newburgh (May 11, 2010)

Rikers Island (November 21, 2012; May 8, 2005)

The Palisades (December 28, 1980)

Scarsdale (April 14, 1991)

Hoboken (August 8, 1999)

Jersey City (November 22, 2014; November 21, 2004; September 14, 2003; October 31, 1985; April 15, 1984)

“Boca and surrounding Palm Beach County” (December 10, 2004)

2014, In Order

12. December

11. November

10. October

9. April

8. March

7. February

6. January

5. September

4. August

3. July

2. June

1. May

Related: 2013, In Order

The Cost of Winter Running

cold gotta runGym fatigue, an old injury that makes running on a treadmill awkward, and a general preference for the great outdoors led me to cancel my Planet Fitness membership this year (making me $10 richer every month), which means I’ll be doing all my running outside this winter. The catch here is that I live in Alaska, a place not exactly known for its mild winters, snow-free streets, or, you know, daylight.

It’s not impossible to run on ice-covered sidewalks in fifteen-degree temperatures, but it does take an investment, especially when up until now my entire running wardrobe consisted of stretch capris from Target and “free” T-shirts that I’ve technically bought with race entry fees over the last couple years.

When you run in the summer, you can just throw on any old thing and hit the road. When you run in the winter, you realize your lightweight shoes possess exactly zero insulating properties. The snot dripping from your nose freezes to your face, and you’re essentially invisible to UPS trucks doing forty through your neighborhood. You’ve got to plan a little more in the winter, is what I’m saying, and you’ve got to spend a little green before you hit the pavement.

“‘I’m saying to myself, Jesus, they’re not going to do it if they don’t get preferential treatment,’ Johnson said. ‘So we decided to step up and do it ourselves.’ Melville House will publish the [Torture Report] in paperback and e-book editions on December 30th. Copies will go for $16.95, available everywhere books are sold.”#

51 Minutes in a Revolving Door

Mid-turn, and the whole thing stopped moving. With a sighhhhh. And a click. The person in front of me (hair scraped into a bun and brown coat) was able to squeeze out. As was the person behind me (heavy boots and red scarf). But I was trapped. By three walls of glass. After much pushing and shrugging on my part, the security guard approached holding up a note written on the back of a ticket stub. Are you ok? Door stuck? His name tag said “Bill” and he could not have been older than 19. “I can hear you,” I said. “Yes it is. And yes, I’m fine.” Good, Bill wrote on his hand before, subsequently, transforming these words into a thumbs up. He turned to another security guard: “I think the door’s stuck,” he said. Bill’s Friend looks at the door. And then at me: “Christ.”

10:15 AM: Bill and his Friend start to pull the door. And like any self-respecting young woman living in a post-Liam-Neeson-Taken era, I decided to call… my father. “Dad. I’m trapped in a revolving door.” There followed a crunch of cornflakes. “Is this a metaphor?” My father asked. “Did you want to speak to your mother? You know I’m no good at these sorts of problems.” I tell him it’s real. I tell him it’s happening. I tell him to feed my fish if I don’t make it out. “Honey, [cornflake crunch/ swallow] have you actually tried pushing the door. Push the door. See what happens.” This whole time, museum patrons are trying to use the revolving door/my new glass prison. Puzzled when nothing happens, they look at me. And then exit through the side door to the left. Some of them shake their heads or roll their eyes. I have, they presume, broken the door. Children are crying: they wanted to go through “the spinning” door: “What did the lady do?” A small girl asks her mother. “I can hear you,” I say.

10:20 AM: After five minutes of unsuccessful pushing and pulling, Bill’s Friend approaches the glass with a note: Facilities are coming. I nod: “Good stuff.” Bill’s friend raises his eyebrows, blinks and writes back: How’s your air? Asthma?  Oh. Right. Ok. Right. Because *could I* suffocate in here? I shake my head. He smiles and writes: Ok. Stay Calm. Stay still.  “I”ll try,” I say as he walks away. So, like they tell you in those high-socked Primary School fire drills, I sat down. In order to avoid the non-existent smoke. All the air is at the bottom of the revolving door, right? Right. Ok. Good. Knees to chin.

Sisters, Ranked

sistersWe are five: always, five, the five of us, the group of us, the lot. “You guys,” “the girls,” “the sisters.” Once, when I was young, someone asked me how many sisters I had and I answered, quickly, without giving it a thought, “five,” as if I couldn’t extricate myself from the larger being, the group, that we made up. I was one of them and they were one of me.

We are a tribe: each loud, brassy, strong, in her own way, each of us born about two years apart so that my parents, presumably, could catch their breath. I was first: curious, playful, shy, quickly carving out my old space in the world, trying, though I didn’t know, to fill the void of a miscarriage two years prior. My next sister didn’t wait much longer—she, born eleven months after my first birthday, arrived with a vengenance. With something to prove. When it was just the two of us, me walking around in a t-shirt, a leaky diaper, and a Band-Aid I affixed to my head because I liked the look, she was still immobile, reduced to sitting in a carriage or crib. I’d reach in and try to play with her. I was three, so I probably tried to eat her: nibbled on her toes, smooched her face, slobbered on her ears. She hated it, my mother would tell us later, and she didn’t stand for it. She’d attack, in the vicious way that babies do, grasping at my eyes and ears to try to get rid of me.

The next two came all at once: twins, which was weird for me, because one day I had one little sister and the next day I had three. They are identical but roundly different, and after a while, even you couldn’t fall for their identical twin switcheraoo. They both called each other “sissy” and carried mismatched stuffed animals around everywhere they went—a matted tiger and a purple bear, called “Tiger” and “Purple.”

Two years later, our youngest sister arrived. We’d all been spoon-fed femininity by then; We had scores of photos of us in matching dresses and hats, each of us looking like discarded swatches in a fabric store, and we were all enrolled in ballet and tap dancing classes at a local studio. Barbies and doll babies littered our rooms, but finally: here was a baby come to life.

We attacked her, relentlessly. We tried to feed her and wash her and poke her and play with her and dress her up and fuck with her and boss her around and protect her. She, now, is the strongest of us all; some of her first words were “Get away from me!” and “Leave me alone!” I am pretty sure she can beat me up.