Nearly everyone can agree that Penn Station, America's busiest transit hub, which routinely takes in and spits out some five thousand humans every minute, is terrible in nearly every conceivable way. On a Wednesday in late March, David Lewis, a professor of cocnstructed environments at Parsons, and a partner at the architecture firm LTL (he's one of the L's), agreed to walk with me through Penn Station during rush-hour to show me not just how broken it was, but how it had become that way.
I was standing by the entrance on Penn's southwest corner, at 31st Street and 8th Avenue, watching roadies haul equipment out of [...]
My mother is big on politeness. Recently, before a long trip with my girlfriend’s family, she wrote me a letter outlining the things I should remember to do: stand up straight, hold open doors, and rise when ladies approach the table. “I could go on and on,” she wrote, wrapping things up. “Just please reread the etiquette book I got for you in highschool.”
I did not reread the etiquette book. I trust my own sense of decorum, particularly while on vacation; I’m good at vacations. I’m also a thirty-one year old financially independent human who has lived several time zones away from my mother for over a [...]
I don’t remember much about that first time I drove through Isla Vista, except that it wasn’t what I had expected. Our parents told us that it had a higher rate of STDs than anywhere else in the country, and that it accounted for one percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. Isla Vista, just a dozen exits north on the 101—a shorthand for danger and debauchery. But it was just beachy and grimy, pleasant and closer to whatever I imagined the real world was supposed to be like. There were palms and eucalyptus trees, and I saw a passed out man face down on a beat-up couch [...]
Follow the slope downward, to the east, toward the meadow, to where the earth levels off and there are crocuses coming up through a damp layer of wood chips. This is where the tree is. Behind the tree, the ground rises into a sort of berm between the Botanic Garden and Flatbush Avenue that breaks the siren howl and traffic rumble. A wide asphalt pathway meanders in front of it. On a typical spring day visitors usually pause here to admire the tree, and read the placard with its name and chuckle, because it’s a caucasian wingnut.
The tree’s branches are thick and deeply ridged, twisting out from a [...]
I met Aye Aye Win a little while ago aboard the Karaweik, a two-story barge on Kandawgyi Lake in the middle of Yangon, Myanmar. The barge, like the lake, is artificial: It’s actually a building made out of concrete and stucco, sunk into shallow waters. Inside was a buffet restaurant with a stage, and on it, extravagantly costumed dancers. I hadn’t been sitting at the banquet table for long when a woman with a kind face and elegant cheekbones asked, softly, if the seat next to me was occupied.
Then she told me some of her life story, beginning with her father’s name.
My father’s name [...]
How are you to know the shape and dimension of your dreams, much less the dreams of those you share a stage with? In the beginning—and we’ll begin with Tom, because this story is his story as much as it is the story of the band; he’s the one telling it—in the beginning he was just playing with people, because that’s what Tom did. He played the guitar and David played the bass and Danny played the drums.
They were all music students in Boston, then, just mixing and seeing what might match. They played together a few times before Danny said to Tom, “Hey, I have a band [...]
The toilet man was obsessed with numbers. Like the number of days he had left to live. Ten-thousand five-hundred was about how many days he said he had left, if he lived to be eighty. Thirteen years ago, the Toilet Man said, he turned forty and asked himself, how long is one lifetime? Then he checked the national statistic: eighty. So, forty more years; fourteen thousand, six-hundred days more days, give or take. "And then you die," said the Toilet Man. He lingered over the last world, stretched it. "Dyyyyyyyeee," it sounded like.
Back then, before he was the Toilet Man, he was Jack Sim, a rich Singaporean, running 16 [...]
The man was sick, or had been for hours. When he rose, finally, it was bright out and hot, and he determined that he would not be making it to the conference that day, and instead he would ride the train that went around the city. The way he figured it was, to sit upright, indoors, and work at looking interested was more likely to bring back last night’s nausea than the train. Getting sick in front of people he knew would be embarrassing. This way, if he did puke, it’d be with strangers he would never see again. And trains calmed him.
He packed a big bottle [...]
Walk down Broadway, past Canal, past banks and furniture stores, Mr. Fashion and sneaker shops and condos, old then new, brick then steel, until the buildings grow taller and begin to take up entire blocks. Turn right at the unopened Pret, across from the McDonald’s, down Thomas Street, a one-way single-lane. Look up. You can’t miss it: A monolith, brutalist, granite armored, its skeleton colossal slats of moulded concrete. It is said to feature the largest blank facade in the world. The building’s six turrets contain air ducts, a whole mess of ventilation for whatever is inside. Whatever is inside—that’s the question.
There are no windows, there are barely [...]
In the flatlands between Mill Basin and Marine Park, just before the avenue arrives at the golf course and Jamaica Bay, you’ll find VERG South, an emergency hospital for pets. Inside is a dog, which isn’t very surprising, this being a place for treating dogs and cats. Only this dog is famous.
The dog came to VERG—that's Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group—in a roundabout way. First the dog arrived at a vaccine clinic, probably hosted at a PetCo; the story is fuzzy at the beginning. One thing is certain, and terrible: the dog had owners. They brought him to get shots, which they thought might cure him. He was [...]
Brooklyn criminal courtroom number 105, at 10:43 p.m., Judge Jackie Williams presiding. The room is high-ceilinged, the light fluorescent, the pews so worn most of the graffiti etched into the wood is illegible. Judge Williams is seated far back in the room, high up and centered and staring into a flat Dell computer monitor. Behind her, sagging, the United States and New York flags and above those, on the wall in gold Helvetica, “In God We Trust.” Below and in front of the judge, behind another monitor, sits the court reporter. In front of the reporter, two attorneys and the defendant stand facing the judge at two faded lecterns, also [...]
Jim is the name he uses as a bookie, not the name he uses at his other job, which is something he’d like to not talk about, because he’d like to keep that job. Jim is broad-chested and bearded and built like the kind of kid who’d have been a good linebacker in high school. Jim didn’t play football, though. Hockey was his sport. Still is. But hockey is terrible for betting. Football is basically perfect, Jim says. The week of the Super Bowl was going to be busy for him, but we aren't there yet. The Pro Bowl is playing on a television way back in the bar and [...]
There is a passage early on in McKenzie Funk’s book, Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, that ticks through so many world-gone-crazy anecdotes that maybe aren’t but probably are related to a changing climate that the mind boggles. Drought-crazed camels would soon rampage through a village in Australia, a manatee would swim past Chelsea Piers in New York City’s Hudson River…. Armadillos were reaching northeast Arkansas. Wolves ate dogs in Alaska. Fire consumed fifty million acres of Siberia. Greenland lost a hundred gigatons of ice. The Inuit got air-conditioning units…. In retrospect, this was the moment that we began to believe in global warming—not in the abstract science [...]
In Chelyabinsk the men are tough. So tough there is a meme among Russians depicting the tough men from Chelyabinsk acting out their audacious toughness: shouldering a dead horse through a peat bog, using a chainsaw to shave, having sex with a giant scorpion. When the meteor 60-feet-wide and weighing more than the Eiffel Tower shot towards Chelyabinsk at 41,000 miles-per-hour and burst into a fireball brighter than the sun, the tough men of Chelyabinsk looked up at the sky and cursed quietly. When the fireball exploded 14 miles above Chelyabinsk it did so with a force 30 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The subsequent shockwave [...]