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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.

ImageThis 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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My dad once told me never to write anything down that I wouldn’t want read back to me in court. It was rather a startling note of caution to offer a twelve-year-old on AOL Instant Messenger, but the point was well taken. From that point on, typing anything anywhere online felt like a gamble with infamy. Fast-forward to 2011, and my worst fears of 2001 seem very nearly realized.

Baby’s First Status

The slow, wall-by-wall encroachment of Facebook’s “Timeline” feature has for many of us brought the past five or six years to a harrowing present. Now, suddenly and without preface, the Facebook pasts of friends, friends-of-friends, and Facebook-official loved ones lurk in a single sidebar—every wall post, every status update, every damning e-flirtation ever issued, all collected chronologically in one place. Be still, my mouse.
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Los Alamos, I said in my head, in the voice of Antonio Banderas. Tomero. Wandering the wine section of my local liquor store, I tarried among the South American reds. Antonio was really starting to sell me on the Punto Final.

I select wine on the basis of three factors. First and foremost, the attractiveness of the label—it should be very attractive. A close second is the variety of grape—anything red, really, because coffee stains aren’t enough—and third, perhaps most importantly, is price—twelve dollars and under. This last point has been a rule since I could drink legally, an Americanized holdover from my time in Germany, where I was told to pay “at least three Euro for a red, at least five Euro for a white, and no more than two Euro for a blush.” In America, I pay at least eight for a red, at least ten for a white, and won’t drink blush even if it’s free.

In the case of wines that I will drink, the differences between an eight-dollar bottle and a twelve-dollar bottle are remarkable—both to the wine connoisseur and the twenty-something, for whom four dollars is a calculable percentage of his net worth.
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At any given time, any given knitter has at least one project in the back of a closet—a would-be scarf, or sweater, or blanket, just barely begun, left among all the necessary materials, and chronically unfinished. The problem often breaks down to abandoned motivation—the sweater was for a friend, but she owes you $40 and you’re holding out; the blanket looked great on paper, but now you think it’s ugly—and is especially crippling in the case of projects on which significant time and energy have already been spent—too much to excuse surrender and retreat, but not enough to press to the finish.

It’s a lot like how you feel about your best friend from high school.

Not mine, but the chaotic pile is familiar.

And so these heaps of yarn languish as new projects come and go, and we try to forget the old ones. Sorry, guys. My new friends are cooler. Perseverance is a passing breeze.
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Originally published in the College Voice at Connecticut College.

The saying goes that nothing has truly happened until it’s “Facebook official”—relationships, friendships, and, in the inexorable march of social media into every stage of life, engagements, marriages, and birth announcements. All meet first with veracity beneath the comforting, steel blue banner of Facebook. Everything of apparent social note is set to electronic record through photo albums, event pages and status updates. The entire exercise is tantamount to scrap-booking for the Information Age.

In one of its more recent renaissances, Facebook added a link on everyone’s page that reads “View Friendship.” On the other side of this startling hyperlink, years-long real-life friendships of incalculable emotional depth and history can be reduced to a single page of photos and wall posts, common interests and events attended—you know, in case you’d forgotten.
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