My younger sister has always been a real size queen about presents. Last Christmas I bought her a gift certificate to H&M, but I put it in a really big box. I taped the little gift-card holder to the bottom and filled it with crumpled newspaper and a heavy log. She saw the 20” x 24” situation and got pretty excited, shaking it every now and then for a week or two before the big day, trying to guess at just what on her wish list might be crinkling and clunking around in there.
Given the mysterious and inconclusive lead-up, the reveal was priceless. She mostly thought it was funny, but I watched her excitement turn to confusion, then dismay, and then excitement again, diminished this time, tinged with the disappointment of not having received something larger. Still, I thought $25 was pretty generous for a guy with no job.
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On the occasion of summer’s early weeks, my suburban hometown has hung an enormous banner above Main Street, touting itself as, quote, “A Bicycle Friendly Community.” Each time I drive by one of these, my editor-homunculus fights an urge to park, shimmy up the pole, and deface the sign with a hyphen—that is, in order to better facilitate “A Bicycle-Friendly Community.”
“A Bicycle Friendly Community” [sic]
Without a hyphen to unify “bicycle-friendly,” the word “bicycle” seems strangely without purpose. To proclaim this “A Friendly Community,” however banal, has perfect grammatical logic. Likewise, “A Bicycle Community” is straightforward, if awkward, but suggests some sort of bicycle commune.
Haaaallelujah! Haaaallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! And the Cherubim and Seraphim descended from on high and encircled the south portico of the White House, each one ablaze with Divine Love for President Barack Obama. Nine holy orders of angels alit in Michelle’s vegetable garden, and sang heavenly praises of partisan glory and social justice, for today, only three and a half years into this his most HOPE-ful presidency, Obama has supported gay marriage.
“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he told ABC News this afternoon. He did it. He used The M-Word.
President Obama, up to his chin in SPECIAL REPORTage.
This afternoon I read dozens of tweets that began, “BREAKING” or “BREAKING NEWS,” followed by this straightforward, if rather reserved, expression of support for gay marriage. Obama went on to describe an “evolution” (cue Intelligent Design outrage, panty-bunching) in his thinking on this issue since the 2008 presidential race.
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Every time I walk through Central Park I find something I had no idea was there. Two days ago it was Cleopatra’s Needle.
Rounding a corner just past Turtle Pond on the tail end of my jog, I noticed to my right an enormous stone obelisk. Hm, I thought. Obelisks have always seemed to me an odd sort of monument—more or less a tall, pointy rock—and I find them especially odd, if prevalent, in the West. Obelisks were initially monuments to the Egyptian sun god Ra. If art history taught me anything, it taught me that obelisks are Egyptian, until they’re something else.
Take, for example, the obelisk in Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican—moved out of Egypt to various cities by various Romans, the last of whom was Pope Sixtus V, in 1586. Nearly a century later, Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the Piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica with the obelisk as its centerpiece. Four bronze lions were added to the base, as well as a few requisite festoons, and a cross was placed on top, containing a fragment of the True Cross. Top to bottom, what began as a wholly pagan monument has been cloaked in Christianity. Voilà! Instant Relic.
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Just add Jesus.
I often think I should have kept that copy of Pnin I took from a bar in Heidelberg. I’m not sure whether I stole it or whether it was more of a “take a penny, leave a penny” kind of situation. One night after several Hefeweizen, upon spotting it among an odd assortment of books in the back of the bar, I was seized with want. The small, uneven line of paperbacks was an anomaly beside the darts board and beneath the flatscreen TV, playing whatever soccer (ahem, football) match was demanding the continent’s full attention.
This sort of half-assed lending library was in the back of a sort of half-assed bar called The Brass Monkey, named for a nearby statue and Heidelberg landmark. The bar had been the site of one or two orientation events for international students, and had proclaimed itself “the” international student bar in town, probably mostly for its weekly Tuesday International Student Stammtisch.
Whether “the” or merely “a” bar, it had also been included on one of those cursory, touristy “Things To Do” lists, printed on loud yellow or green or magenta paper that welcome wagons are always handing out. (Also on the list was the thoroughly inexplicable i-Punkt, a club whose name seemed to mean literally nothing, and whose nightly playlist frequently included, inexplicably, Stevie Wonder’s 1981 single, “Happy Birthday.”)
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Two months ago I received an invitation to my five-year high school reunion. I threw it away immediately. I didn’t even look at the date or the schedule of reunion events—something about a parade, something else about a bar. I saw a picture of four guys I never cared for pointing at a sign that read CLASS OF 2007. What I wanted to throw away was the idea that five years ago I was a high school senior. Stinky! Stinky! Stinky!
Hefty! Hefty! Hefty!
I can’t decide whether 2007 seems impossibly long ago or impossibly not-very-long ago. Somehow it’s both, in that funny perspectival way of conflicting emotions. So much has happened in the intervening years that I shudder to think how old I felt at eighteen. Perhaps I really was old, and now I’m simply older. Or, perhaps age is a function of foreshortened time, hard lessons learned and losing battles fought, that taken together bring about a general resignation to a growing number of things, the exhaustion of which just makes us feel old. I don’t imagine I’ll be sure for another five years, or maybe five years after that.
Part of my hesitation about my impending reunion, I told myself, has to do with an aversion to conversations with near-perfect strangers that begin, “So…what are you up to these days?” This is a well-known opening act for the better-known headliner, “Well I’ve been…” from whoever it is I’m stuck talking to. Perhaps I’d be more inclined to participate if I were living abroad, or the star of my own TV show, or a mule running used paperbacks to Kandahar. Living at home and looking for jobs don’t quite seem schmoozeworthy.
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