New York City, January 18, 2018

★★★★ The sun came on so pure and unimpeded that rooftop steam plumes cast meaningful moving shadows into apartments. The ground was clear and dry. Pigeons’ wingtips looked translucent; zippers on coats glittered. The brightness was expansive, unfaltering. It was cold enough to numb the face—correctly, appropriately, perfectly cold. A whole solid winter might be built of days like this, if only there were enough of them to find and stack together.

Jared Kushner Reads A Book

EVERYONE is hungover from the Fake Media Awards, even the staff who don’t drink. JARED is reclining on IVANKA’s fainting couch, a damp cloth on his forehead, and a pack of cigarettes on his chest. He doesn’t smoke; he never has. But on the way into the West Wing this morning, he thought, what if he did, he could if he wanted to, and the thought made him feel lighter. Even though his feet were dragging from the contact hangover, he felt in control, cocky even, for the first time since [redacted]. Plus, IVANKA isn’t at work today. The government is shut down, she murmured earlier that morning, as he laced up his new sneaks, head pounding, so there isn’t much to do. She isn’t wrong. She rarely is, JARED thinks. He pretends not to hear as his DAUGHTER asks why he’s on mom’s chair. She’s flipping through a book, Facts and Fun About the Presidents, and appalled by how little her grandfather has in common with his predecessors.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [provocatively]: According to this book the only thing Grandpa has done that other presidents have also done is get stuck in a bathtub?

JARED [to himself]: That’s not true. [JARED wracks his brain.] Is that true?

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [nodding]: He’s stuck now. I can hear him yelling.

GENERAL MATTIS [while removing a lamp shade from his head, and startling EVERYONE because they didn’t realize he was present]: No. Taft never got stuck in a bathtub. His political enemies made that up. Each Gilded Age has its own Pizzagate.

Shinjuku Ni-chōme

If you climb the C5 exit from Shinjuku-Sanchōme Station, it’s basically a straight shot to Ni-chōme. That’s Tokyo’s gay hub. Mostly just a cluster of alleys, tucked on the edge of this winding road. If you aren’t actively looking for it, you’ll miss it on your way around. It’s surrounded by the usual assortment of FamilyMarts, 7-11s, and Lawsons grounding life in the city, but then you turn the corner and all of a sudden you’re elsewhere. A lot of my nights in Japan have ended here. And the trains stop running around 1. So it’s where, for better and worse, a lot of those mornings have started, too.

Ni-chōme probably boasts Earth’s highest concentration of gay bars. They’re scattered across two blocks, sometimes one on top of the other. Some fit six or seven bodies, and others fit nine or ten, and you’ve got bars for bears and bars for twinks and bars for guys that are really into yukatas. There’s karaoke. There’s a hot spring. If you’re looking for something, or someone, you’ll probably find it. And the area is mostly foreigner-friendly, but the sheer quantity of queer spaces shouldn’t be confused with queer visibility: while some of Tokyo’s more dubious enterprises are loud on the street (the “massage parlors” in Shibuya; the dudes hawking binders of women by the stations), gay life in Japan is almost entirely under the radar. If you’re not seeking queer spaces out, you won’t even remotely run the risk of finding them.

The Tribulations of Flexible Girl

Fifteen Sandra Bullock Movies As Names For Weed Strains, Ranked

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

15. The Heat
14. Murder By Numbers
13. While You Were Sleeping
12. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
11. Gravity
10. Crash
9. Love Potion No. 9
8. The Blind Side
7. Speed
6. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
5. Hope Floats
4. Loverboy
3. Speed 2: Cruise Control
2. Miss Congeniality
1. Practical Magic


New York City, January 17, 2018

★★★★ The seething bleak gray going by the windows turned white and more opaque, and a layer of white began to appear on the fallen icy mush. There was no developing emergency, nothing to prevent the child who wasn’t coughing from making it to school. The flakes turned fatter and prettier for a while, then the light became brownish and the snowfall looked seedy again. By the time the storm had really stopped, leaving a dimpled surface of clouds overhead, it took a careful eye to pick out the traces it had all left. The pavement was clear and drying out, in an ordinary dark and damp afternoon. Wavy stripes of rose appeared through the lingering gloom at sunset, and downriver was near scarlet.

Nihilism for Optimists

Johann Heinrich Füssli, Gunther’s Wedding Night, 1807. Public Domain

I believe we should read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us with a blow to the skull, then why are we even reading it? So that it will make us happy, as you write? My God, we’d also be happy if we had no books, and the kinds of books that could make us happy, we could write ourselves if we had to. We need books that affect us like an accident, that hurt us like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, as if we were lost deep in the woods, far from humanity, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us. That is what I believe.
—Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollak, 1911

Almost exactly one year ago, as the United States unceremoniously handed the mantle of Western Democracy With its Shit Most Together to Germany, I wrote my first installment of Deutschland über Us, and thus began a weekly investigation of German current events, translated and parsed, often misspelled, complete with dubious pronunciation guides that some people still take way too seriously.

Now, as the Internet prepares to swallow up the Awl network and the world becomes just that much more stupid for it, I find myself writing the penultimate contribution to what I only half-jokingly wish to call my Gesamtkunstwerk (guh-ZOMT-koonst-VAYRK), the total work of my life. For the past twelve months, I have had the good fortune to combine all of my great loves—Germans, getting yelled at by Germans, cursing, digression—into one thing. It has been great. (For me. I don’t know how it’s been for you. Hopefully not terrible.)

So today, you guys get my unifying theory of the world. Here it is. Everyone, including and especially me, should read more books and less outrage porn—and the sort of books we should read in place of that fiftieth hot take on some shit we already agree with and are mad about? Well, today I make my case for the books that punch you in the fucking face.

Is Eminem Dad Rock?

Image: Peter Pham via Flickr

Eminem resurfaced for a BET Hip Hop Awards freestyle aimed at Donald Trump, and he got scorn from all sides: people who do not buy Eminem’s political awakening, people who get real mad on the Internet when someone is mean to our very stable genius-in-chief, and people who snicker at lines like “That’s an awfully hot coffee pot / Should I drop it on Donald Trump? Probably not.” If Em’s late career is rocky, this attempted comeback has been rockier still—his subsequent album release, Revival, received even less enthusiasm than the BET thing. You can visibly see him struggling for his place in a crowded market that no longer feels so empty without him, as he lashes out at mumble rap while trying on trap beats. The derisive term we reserve for this kind of fade into irrelevance seems appropriate: Eminem is dad rock.

You’re probably wondering how Eminem, who is a well-documented dad but not much of a rocker, can possibly fall under the umbrella of “dad rock,” and the answer is simple: dad rock is a fluid term, routinely jumping boundaries and rarely agreed upon (though this Pitchfork video is a decent start). As someone who likes some late-career Springsteen albums (yeah, plural), I’d even suggest the term can be endearing sometimes. Eric Clapton, Journey, Billy Joel, Foo Fighters; just as there have been, over the decades, many evolving species of dad telling you to turn down that goshdarn racket, so, too, are there many forms of dad rock that the proverbial dad takes as Good Old Days gospel.

New York City, January 16, 2018

★★ A yellowish wrong-way sunrise glowed briefly in the west, where the clouds had temporarily left an opening. A bank on Fifth Avenue had salted its sidewalk, hours and hours ahead of time, while the only ice in view was a cloudy and glassy frozen puddle at the curb. The office was warm for a while but the cold would take over by the end, as it always did. Out in the dusk, there were occasional motes of something or other flickering in the edge of the field of view. None of them, on inspection, were snow yet.