Essays

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Friday, February 13, 2015 - 6:00am

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1. Seocho via Gangnam

My family and I are struggling along Teheran Road in Seocho-dong, Seoul, and it is my fault. I should have conducted us one stop farther to Gangnam Station, where the number ten exit would have deposited us in front of our destination, but we are disoriented by the city’s newness and haven’t yet learned the subway stations, nor do we know the banks and stores and restaurants piled atop each other in metallic high-rises footnoted by cafés and tea rooms and dessert shops. It is late May, nearly summer, when people punctuate meals with shaved ice covered with red bean jelly, rice cakes, diced fruit, grain powder, green tea, condensed milk, and ice cream for more richness.

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Friday, December 12, 2014 - 6:00am

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It’s Thanksgiving Day across the Atlantic in Massachusetts, where I live. There, among my American family and friends, it’s a quiet, contemplative day, but here in the Chiado, the heart of downtown Lisbon and the city’s oldest shopping district, everything is bustling, as if the Portuguese are scurrying to get a one-day head start on Black Friday. It’s a raw, drizzly day, a sign of winter’s approach, and the cobbled sidewalks are slippery. I’ve walked these hilly streets for 35-plus years, often darting from one bookstore to the next—new, used, rare—flipping through the pages of everything from current bestsellers, to obscure dime-store colonial-era comics, to rare folios of brightly-colored, highly inaccurate antique maps. That’s what I’m doing today, I’m book shopping.

Photo by Wikipedia: File:Douglas C-47 Skytrain.jpg

Friday, January 30, 2015 - 10:09am

Photo by Wikipedia: File:Douglas C-47 Skytrain.jpg

In Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where I grew up, Rex Humbard was the first Pentecostal evangelist to have his own television program. Next to the Cathedral of Tomorrow, where he hosted his weekly broadcast, he also built an enormous tower—locally known as Rex’s Erection—with the intent of making one of those revolving restaurants like at Niagara Falls. But despite eventually officiating at Elvis’s funeral, Humbard ran out of money and, ever since, the tower has just stood there, tall and useless. Though my grandfather, who was a flight instructor at Kent State, once told me that pilots used the tower as a landmark when giving their coordinates over the radio.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Eric Tillotson; image cropped slightly

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 5:00am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Eric Tillotson; image cropped slightly

I did not know who Bowe Bergdahl was when I first heard about him on the news in June. I followed his rehabilitation, which was briefly reported for a week or so and happened in ordinary details. Sergeant Bergdahl was returned from Afghanistan through a prisoner exchange with the Taliban, who had held him for five years. He was welcomed back by his parents and President Obama in front of the White House press corps in the Rose Garden.

Image by Flickr Creative Commons user UO Journal

Friday, October 3, 2014 - 9:18am

Image by Flickr Creative Commons user UO Journal

The continent, it turned out, was not ready for people. The settlers chopped down every tree and killed every animal, then started in on each other. They hoarded finite resources—furs, lumber, ore—until there werent any left to use. Counterfeiters discovered a way to alchemize gold, bringing about hyperinflation and economic collapse. The strong terrorized the weak, not just once but repeatedly, hounding them through one life after another. Normal people became outright thugs, enacting fantasies of domination. Dominated people had a tendency to become informal police, enacting fantasies of justice. Every so often a server crash would plunge everyone weeks into the past, to the most recent backup.

Black and White photograph taken in 1956 by Mr. Sumit Hantrakul (Gohng), 1921--2009.

Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 5:00am

Black and White photograph taken in 1956 by Mr. Sumit Hantrakul (Gohng), 1921--2009.

I like pressing my cheek up against the cool embrace of the teak floor, letting the chill lap against my face, chest, arms, and legs. I especially like the feeling of a freshly mopped teak floor. The wood becomes softer, more soothing like a cool straw mattress in the hot summer. When I walk barefoot, the gentle tickle below my feet beckons me to lie down. I like the rush of wooden veins flowing underneath my thighs and arms, brushing them into slumber.

Photo by Michael Meiser, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Monday, September 8, 2014 - 9:39am

 

Photo by Michael Meiser, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0).

1.
 

In May, I was abroad finishing a job, the kind that did not exist when I graduated high school. As I prepared to leave, northeast Ohio, where I grew up, came to me. I would fly down remembered winding gray roads. Sometimes I did this in my dreams. Sometimes the dream was different – I would drive out to the country but turn around because I didn’t know what to do out there, outside a car with only long grass and woods around me and no path to hike. The suburbs were my cradle. In the car from the airport to my childhood home, I realized that what I had thought of as flying was the feeling of the car tugging my shoulders in the backseat as we made familiar turns.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 2:12pm

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We lost a hive this winter. We’d set our two hives facing south on the roof of our Brooklyn home for maximum sunlight, knowing that in winter that would translate into maximum exposure to wind and cold as well. My wife, Hali, and our beekeeping consultant, Davin, dutifully taped up the cracks with red duct tape so that the bees would expend less energy over January and February with their self-composed heating system. Generally they cluster around the queen, vibrating their wings and shivering to keep her and themselves warm. It was a harsh winter in Brooklyn, however, and we’d gone up to the roof several times in December to check to see whether the hives were healthy.

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 11:41am

A six-foot-high, foot-thick concrete wall begins at 8 Mile Road, Detroit’s northern border, known as the Line. The wall marches south for half a mile along the property line behind Birwood Street, cuts through a city park, and halts at a dead end street—a network of potholes and buckled asphalt.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Daniele Scott

Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 9:31am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Daniele Scott

It is Red Cup season! Under halogen lights, red metal tumblers gleam and pinken plastic to-go mugs. Swirled teacups shine like candy canes. Behind the café counter, whipped-cream ski hills top the menu of seasonal drinks with a flurry of diamonds and snowflakes. In sizes tall, grande, and venti, towers of patterned coffee cups are plucked by red-aproned baristas, like ornaments off a tree.

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