Essays

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 12:41pm

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 - 10:31am

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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 9:45am

When you’re a carpenter’s son there are things you don’t tell your mother. The old asbestos siding Dad had you driving nails into, for instance. Or the ceiling fan he wired without first shutting off the power. Or how you close your eyes when you bring the round whirling blade of the chop saw down on a length of spouting so you won’t get any flecks of aluminum in your eyes. How it just seems safer that way.

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 9:31am

 

There was a short time, just before I stopped carrying a backpack to school, when I coveted a t-shirt with the words “citizen of the world” on the front. I signed letters for Amnesty International that year, but I never bought the shirt. A few years later, when we tired of the war in Iraq, many pointed out that six of ten young Americans could not locate the country on a map, although half couldn’t find the Empire State either.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user the camera is a toy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 8:45am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user the camera is a toy.

I no longer have a home in New York City; I will always be at home in New York City. I will always love New York City; I no longer like New York City. I am no longer a New Yorker; I will always be a New Yorker.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 8:56am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons

My mother walked toward the courthouse at her usual fast clip, and the smoke from her Marlboro hung over her head. My brother Bernard and I trailed her as we crossed Church Street, and the fall leaves, mostly auburn and pumpkin, crunched under our feet. Everything else around us was so still.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Shreyans Bhansali

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - 8:45am

I moved back to my parents’ house in Philadelphia just over a year ago, when I found out my mother was dying from cancer. The day I found out was my first day of a part-time job at Columbia University in New York City, where I was a master’s degree candidate. My father called me at the tail end of my lunch break, while I was browsing discounted greeting cards at a gift shop that was going out of business.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 12:41pm

Excerpt from the forthcoming novel Mañana Means Heaven:

Wednesday, October 22, 1947

The workers couldn’t stop talking about it. Especially that whole first day after it happened. According to the paper, a “wetback” was found strung up in a sycamore tree near Raisin City. From his neck dangled a cardboard sign:

PARASITE

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons User macwagen

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 8:45am

Speaking of Southern Illinois and fishing and smoking cigars and praying when you don’t believe in anything, I got a call last week from my neighbor Larry who was having a porn barbecue. “Every year is a gift,” he told me, when he turned thirty-four. That was forty years ago. He was always convinced he’d die young, or die middle-aged, or die a few weeks after he retired. He’d more or less been planning on it forever. In the past five years he’d sold his books. He’d sold his collection of toy figures. He’d burned most of his poems. “Nothing I can do about the published ones,” he’d said. “That’s my own little punishment from God.”

Photo by Christopher Rose from Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 8:45am

My old man taught me to drive on Sundays, usually when he was drunk.  I was fifteen and he was a big shot on the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the head engineer of combat systems on nuclear submarines and surface ships. During the work week he was a sober, respectable member of the community, but on weekends he lived an entirely different life, which included bouts of sullen, angry drunkenness and unpredictable fights with my mother. He often gave me a driving lesson after one of their battles, when he was still brooding and slugging off a bottle of Wild Turkey.  He’d insist we drive over to a small strip of land just off Honolulu, a place the locals called Rabbit Island, even though there wasn’t a wild rabbit anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands that I knew of.

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