The Daily

Author Archive

Slow News

July 15, 2015 | by


From an ad for White Beaver’s Cough Cream, ca. 1900.

I phoned my dad. I was eager to discuss the recent cover story on a New York City tabloid. It featured a homeless man who lives in my neighborhood, and I was indignant on his behalf. I knew my dad would have read the piece closely and would have strong opinions.

“Did you see that cover story?” I demanded, rhetorically.

“No,” said my dad. “We’re not reading any newspapers these days. Or watching any news.”

“Oh,” I said. “Why?” Read More »

Downward Spiral

July 14, 2015 | by

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the Monday-through-Wednesday crossword world, ELO is the most listened-to band in history, Ava the most popular girls’ name, and time divides into eras and eons. Think of it as the blue-plate special, but with Ali instead of meat loaf.

There are algorithms and programs that can predict the frequency of these usages. Of course there are. But for those of us who begin our day with the easy jog of a crossword, that’s of no interest. We don’t need to know; we know. It’s not that writing in the answer for “Architect Saarinen” or “Actress Thurman” makes us feel smart, it makes us feel safe. As Stephen Sondheim said, “The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution.” Read More »

Sunshine Day

July 13, 2015 | by


A bank note of the Chung Hwa Republic.

Since moving to a neighborhood with a rapidly aging population, it has been my observation that old people enjoy going to the bank. While banking is, for most of us, a necessary ordeal, it’s also easy to see the appeal for someone isolated: you get time and contact and attention—all while conducting some sort of business. Plus, the air-conditioning is generally glacial.

The employees of my local branch are a patient bunch. On a recent visit, an old man in a baseball cap burst into the office where I was sitting, arranging a trip and enjoying the air-conditioning. “Where’s Melissa?” he demanded querulously. “I want to see Melissa!”

“Melissa isn’t here anymore,” said her replacement.

The old man looked bewildered and sad. Then he gathered himself up and said in my general direction, “Don’t expect any service around here!” and left. Read More »

Tender Trap

July 10, 2015 | by

From the cover of Das doppelte Lottchen, by Erich Kästner, illustrated by Walter Trier.

From the cover of Das doppelte Lottchen, by Erich Kästner, illustrated by Walter Trier.

In The Parent Trap—and the German book, Das doppelte Lottchen, on which it’s based—two strangers arrive at a girls’ summer camp only to discover they are identical. “The nerve of her! Coming here with your face!” exclaims one roommate in the 1961 film. Of course, in The Parent Trap, they’re actually twin sisters. But as anyone who’s been compared to someone else knows, just the accident of resemblance is enough to cause an instinctive enmity.

I used to work at a store where this one customer would always remark on how much I looked like some friend of hers. She talked about it every time she came in. The friend was named Jen something. She was a potter. She lived in the Hudson Valley. The customer even brought in another woman to attest to this miraculous phenomenon.

“You may think you’re a unique person walking around in the world,” said the customer one day. (I guess I had thought that.) “But you’re not—you’re a copy of Jen.”

Obviously I had no alternative but to hate this Jen person. I imagine she felt the same way. Read More »

One-Man Job

July 9, 2015 | by

Clara Peeters, Still life with Shrimp and Eggs, circa 1635.

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Shrimp and Eggs, ca. 1635.

It is nice when people offer to help and mean it. But I was sincere, too, when I said that no, I didn’t need help cooking the eggs. That it was a one-man job.

It’s true, I could have told him what to do. I could have instructed him to cover the eggs with an inch of cold water, and bring it just to the boil. But I know he would have been watching the pot anxiously, proverbially, and that the exercise would produce a stress all out of proportion to the scale of the job. Where to me, turning off the heat, covering the pot, setting the alarm, and then shocking the eggs in their ice-water bath don’t interrupt other thoughts, or even tasks. Read More »

The Tree of Knowledge

July 8, 2015 | by

Ink Plum, scroll, ink on paper, The National Palace Museum, Taibei.

Ink Plum, scroll, ink on paper. The National Palace Museum, Taibei.

Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly ... survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it. —Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

There is a very beautiful tree growing on West Eighty-third Street. You don’t notice it at first; it sort of blends into the walls and the weeds growing around it. I didn’t notice it for many years. And then one day, a flash of red catches your eye, and you look closer and see it isn’t a bit of plastic bag or a dead balloon or a Coke bottle or any of the urban flora one grows used to. It is a ripening plum. And then you see that there are many of them, dozens of them, and if you look very closely, you could, in that moment, be anywhere in the world. It’s next door to a church. Read More »