The Daily

On the Shelf

You Should Probably Buy This French Poet’s Gun, and Other News

October 21, 2016 | by

Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP.

  • I’ve been keeping a close eye on the collectible handguns of emotionally unstable French poets, and I have a good idea: if you’ve got sixty thousand euros lying around, consider bidding on the pistol that Paul Verlaine used in his attempt to murder Arthur Rimbaud. It’s a handsome gun, soon to be up for auction, and it’s sure to make a great Christmas gift for the one you love. Agence France-Presse explains, “Verlaine bought the 7mm six-shooter in Brussels on the morning of 10 July 1873, determined to put an end to a torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover … It was in a hotel room there at two in the afternoon where, after the lovers had rowed, cried, and got drunk—according to Rimbaud—that the suicidal Verlaine raised the pistol. ‘Here’s how I will teach you how to leave!’ he shouted, before firing twice at Rimbaud. One bullet hit him in the wrist, while the other bullet struck the wall and ricocheted into the chimney. But, having been bandaged up in hospital, Rimbaud again begged the author of Poèmes saturniens not to leave him. Verlaine, who was to be dogged by drink and drug addiction all his life, pulled out the revolver again and threatened him with it in the street.”
  • Hey, honest question—are you in an online cult? Think about it. The Internet is, in some ways, little more than a cult-delivery mechanism. As Linda Besner writes, “In the 1961 handbook Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, the psychologist Robert Lifton suggests that cults can be identified by, among others, the following traits: the creation of neologisms designed to reshape the adherent’s outlook, separation from family and friends, fostering cognitive dissonance, confessional pressure, and a charismatic leader. In other words, cults are about control … An online ‘cult’ would not need to kidnap you, or bring pamphlets to your door, or go to you at all; instead, you would go to them. Perhaps the greatest difference is how much of a self-starter the average follower needs to be. The onus is on you to indoctrinate yourself.” 

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From the Archive


October 20, 2016 | by


Helena Kaminski’s poem “Face” appeared in our Spring 1991 issue
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First Person

Up and Down the Meadows

October 20, 2016 | by

Las Vegas before and during “Clinton-Trump III.”

Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Hard Rock Cafe, Las Vegas. Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Debate Wednesday in Las Vegas—or, as the front-page headline of the Las Vegas Review-Journal called it, CLINTON-TRUMP III. I arrived the night before from Los Angeles, determined, simply, to walk around and inhabit the rhythms of the city in the hours leading up to and during the final debate. Would I meet demonstrators in the streets? Would I hear megaphones and anthems? Would a police officer order me to go the other way? Or would this be just another day in Las Vegas, Spanish for “the meadows”—and if that turned out to be the case, what is “just another day” in the meadows like? Well, these meadows are sun bleached and paved, and I set out first thing to stomp about and have a look.

I started the day at the Davis Funeral Home and Memorial Park. It was a cool, clear-blue morning, and the cemetery hummed in peace. Crews trimmed the trees and mowed the lawns. To the north, the Sheep Range Mountains looked chiseled and handsome. Jets came down from the east to land at McCarran Airport, right across the street, one every minute. I saw a grave decorated for Halloween, with foam skulls and signs that said DANGER! and KEEP OUT! A man in a black leather cap unfolded a canvas chair and sat to stare at a tombstone. The three-quarter moon hung out in the west, slowly fading. Read More »

Our Correspondents

Ghost Stories

October 20, 2016 | by

Seeking out spirits in one of New York’s spookiest bars.

Photo: Alex Strada.

Photo: Alex Strada.

You’d think it’d be relatively easy to pin down a ghost in this town, with all of its historic buildings and unsettled scores. Most of the haunts frequented by the city’s cognoscenti are said to have an apparition or two knocking around, if you believe in that sort of thing. There’s the shadowy figure that paces the shore of Rockaway Beach. A young girl’s screams are sometimes heard coming from within McCarren Pool. And from the stories told about the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d think its walkway would be incandescent with floating orbs and strange lights.

After hearing that a glamorous specter often manifests and smokes sullenly in a corner of the women’s restroom at the Astor Room in Queens, I drank far too much wine and drifted in and out of the bathroom stalls a few weekends ago, but to no avail. And returning home in the early hours that morning, I thought of the original owner of my apartment building, who hanged himself from the front-door frame in 1890. He, too, has yet to materialize.

So I stopped by the perennially spooky KGB Bar in the East Village after work one night last week to see if Dan Christian, the longtime bar manager, might act as my spirit guide. I’d always heard that the bar was very haunted. Read More »

On the Shelf

Shhhh—It’s the Desert, and Other News

October 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Simon Prisner.

  • From afar, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature seems like a real laugh riot, at least to those of us whose main ambition in life is to gain the adulation of the Swedes. But a new volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters suggests that taking home the Nobel is not such a bed of roses: “The Beckett of the years covered by this fourth and final volume of letters is lionized even before he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Although, in his case, the word ‘award’ is wholly inappropriate: he considered the prize a threat to his creativity (‘I hope the work will forgive me and let me near it again’). He was on holiday in Tunisia with his wife, Suzanne, when his publisher sent a telegram: ‘In spite of everything they have given you the Nobel Prize.’ Writing to his lover Barbara Bray a week later, Beckett’s response to his laureateship couldn’t be less effusive: ‘Here things are pretty awful and little hope of improvement.’ ”
  • Want some peace and quiet? I don’t mean your garden-variety hushes or lulls. I mean some real fucking silence. Well: go on a hot-air balloon ride in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. You won’t hear a peep. Ian Thomson did it, and I gather it went pretty well: “In some parts of this shadowless immensity it has not rained for four hundred years … From the air, the Atacama resembled an African savanna, with thorny gorse, inland beaches of white dunes, and the occasional llama skeleton picked clean by condors. I thought: this must be one of the most magnificent views in all the world. We could clearly see horses grazing in a ranch; and away there, beyond a row of solitary carob trees, meadows of alfalfa dwindling in size to resemble toy-railway lichen … In the silence of the Atacama evening, the moon hung bright and radiant; the silence was as deep and complete as if never disturbed. In Santiago the next day it really felt as if we had returned from the moon.” 

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No Circus

October 19, 2016 | by

Randi Malkin Steinberger, Pier Ave.

Randi Malkin Steinberger’s book No Circus collects photographs of buildings tented for termite fumigation around Los Angeles. It includes an essay by D. J. Waldie, excerpted in part below.

If you live in Chicago or Cleveland, you may never have seen a house tented for termite fumigation. Dry-wood-termite infestation—the usual reason for tent fumigation in the southern and western parts of the United States—may become more common as the global climate warms.

Termites don’t take cold well. Neither do cockroaches. In an evolutionary sense, termites are the cousins of cockroaches that picked up other habits, including a knack for colony formation.

Like ants, a termite colony has a queen, but unlike ants, the colony also has a king. Once mated, the termite queen and king are monogamous and life-long partners. The queen may live as long as fifty years in some termite species. There is a court of princesses around the queen, waiting, infertile, until the queen dies.

Left undiscovered long enough, the termite colony will prosper until the apparently intact timbers of the house are a paper-thin skin over the hollowness inside. Read More »