The Daily

First Person


September 10, 2015 | by

Bicycling from Oregon to Patagonia. 


A view along the route through Argentina.

I was fourteen months into my bicycle trip to the bottom of the world. I’d started in Oregon, traveled through Mexico and Central America, through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and was now, in October of 2014, in Argentina. Mostly I went by bicycle. I won’t bullshit you, though: Sometimes a tire would blow and I’d hitchhike with poor farmers in fifty-year-old trucks held together by twine. Other times I’d hop a local bus to pass through an urban center like Mexico City, where the only available roads were freeways. I just want you to picture it correctly.

It was a filthy, patchwork travel plan, biking the back roads of the world, slowly making my way south. Often I’d sleep in thickets by the road; I’d push my bicycle through vines and disappear into jungle pockets and hide for the night. Some nights I’d ask a local shepherd if she minded a tent in her field; she’d nod and shuffle away with a shrug, as if I’d wasted her time by asking. I slept under bridges, in hammocks, and, once I reached the Andes, in tents. I slept in hostels when I could find them. I slept in the houses of people I met on the street, people I met on Instagram, friends of friends from back home. Read More »


The Unravelers

September 8, 2015 | by


Illustrations by Ryan Thacker.

There are two kinds of women: those who knit and those who unravel. I am a great unraveler. I can undo years of careful stitching in fifteen gluttonous minutes. It isn’t even a decision, really. Once I see the loose thread, I am undone. It’s over before I have even asked myself the question: Do I actually want to destroy this? Read More »

The Gordon

August 24, 2015 | by

From a fifties-era Pan Am ad.

There was a time when I didn’t know Gordon Bishop, but that time’s not worth talking about.

I met Gordon in his shop, Tropics, sometime in the early eighties. I’d been walking through Soho and noticed a store I hadn’t seen before. Inside was a jumble of Javanese antiques—carved doors; four-poster beds; objects that seemed decorative, ceremonial, and incomprehensible—along with fabrics and wall hangings and kites and sculptures. It looked like Santa’s workshop, if Santa had a penchant for priapic statues of half-dressed men with enormous erections and wicked smiles.

No one seemed to be working there, but I heard flute and gamelan music coming from the back room. There was a curtain separating me from the music, along with the sort of velvet rope commonly seen in discos, and a hand-painted sign fixed to the rope: DO NOT ENTERRead More »

My Mother-in-Law Is My Best Reader

August 19, 2015 | by

A mother-in-law joke twenty-eight years in the making.


Pablo Picasso, The Lesson (detail), 1934.

My first reader, best editor, and subtlest critic is my mother-in-law.

I’ve known H.—as I’ll call her to protect her privacy and preserve her from unsolicited requests for advice—for about twenty-eight years now. My girlfriend, now my wife, arranged for me to meet her parents for the first time at Veniero’s pastry shop, around the corner from my place in the East Village. When I went outside for a smoke, H. burst into tears. We have been best friends ever since. In those years, I’ve written six books, mostly novels, but I have been under her tutelage for only the last four, which is probably why the first two are not much good.

H. is one of a tiny core of first readers that includes my wife, J. (a professional editor), my sister, N., and my friend S. Before I give them a work in progress, I try to wait until I am satisfied I have done everything in my power to perfect it, but often they find such glaring structural or emotional flaws and gaps in it that a piece I’d believed to be cooked to a T reveals itself to be half-baked, at best. So implicitly do I trust my first readers, and so gratefully do I rely on them to be brutally and consistently honest, that I have abandoned entire drafts of a new novel on their recommendation. Almost invariably, I find that what they tell me about my own work is something I have known in my heart all along but have declined to admit to myself out of inertia, obtuseness, or fear. Only when I hear it from them does it become real to me, and actionable. I have permission to lie to myself—they do not. Read More »

Smoking with Lucia

August 18, 2015 | by

Remembering Lucia Berlin.

Lucia Berlin in Albuquerque, 1963. Photo: Buddy Berlin/Literary Estate of Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin was not PC. And she was not New Age. She never talked to me about “recovery” or “karma.” We never spoke of the Twelve Steps. It was understood: she was sober now. No need to talk about it. Especially when she could write about it. Her stories, populated with alcoholics and addicts, are rendered with an empathy, disgust, and ruthless wit that echo the devastating circumstances of her own life. She’d moved from isolation to affluence to detox and back again, and Boulder, Colorado—inundated with massage therapists, extreme athletes, and vegans—was an unlikely place for her to end up. Yet she spent much of the last decade of her life there. First in a clapboard Victorian beneath the red rocks of Dakota Ridge; later, when illness nearly bankrupted her, in a trailer park on the outskirts of the pristine town.

News of the trailer depressed me until I managed a visit, finding her at ease amid the shabby metal homes stacked on cinder blocks. It’s likely Lucia would have felt more comfortable watching a bull be gored in a Mexico City arena or huddling among winos on a corner in Oakland than she ever felt at her first place on posh Mapleton Hill. But that was where we spent nearly all of our time together. Usually at her kitchen table. Read More »

My Grandmother’s Wheelchair

August 6, 2015 | by

The author, posing with his grandmother, Natalie Faunda, in Budapest, 1990.

The author, posing with his grandmother, Natalie Faunda, at a park in Budapest, in 1990.

My grandmother had a stroke in her late sixties. She was out in her garden, struggling in the hot sun, when she collapsed into a row of tomato plants. 

A neighbor heard her cries for help and called an ambulance. It was a mild case of heat stroke, a doctor said; he sent her home. That night, having returned to her house on Vaughn Avenue—in what, even then, was one of the poorest parts of Youngstown: a neighborhood on the East Side called the Sharon Line—she suffered a second stroke. This one was much more severe. When she stabilized, days later, the right side of her body was paralyzed. She had a few months to live, maybe a year. 

Except that she didn’t; my grandmother would go on to live for nearly twenty years. And in the weeks that followed, at a local rehabilitation center, she learned to do with her left hand everything she’d done predominantly with her right: to write, to eat, to tie her shoelaces, to button her shirts. With the assistance of a quad cane, she eventually learned to walk—though in truth it was never much more than a shuffle. Read More »