March 5, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Once upon a time, a very nice couple whom I didn’t know very well threw some kind of party. I can’t remember what the occasion was, but I do know that they lived in a nice apartment near the Broadway-Lafayette F stop, and that I went to the party with a former boyfriend. It proved to be a memorable evening.
We made small talk with lots of nice people. At some point we found ourselves clustered together with two other couples; at least one component of each was an architect. Some public figure had just come out as gay, and one of the guests said something innocuous about the importance of being true to oneself.
“Oh, I agree,” said one of the women, blandly. “Take my father-in-law, for instance. It wasn’t until he got terminal cancer that he was able to tell the world who he really was.”
“What was that?” said my ex-boyfriend. Read More »
March 3, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Over the weekend, for reasons too silly to get into, I decided to change my phone number. It was a surprisingly emotional process. I have had this, my first phone number, for some twelve years, and there was something bittersweet about abandoning the area code of my parents’ suburban home. A great deal of the difficulty, however, arose from my own incompetence, a faulty Internet connection, and a confusing and ancient family plan. Long story short, I accidentally changed my dad’s number instead. The result was a small transcontinental panic, a volley of hysterical phone calls, and several confusing texts from my friends, each of which my dad apparently greeted with a suspicious “whoisthis?”
I was sure some enterprising suburbanite would snap up my dad’s abandoned 914 number before I could reclaim it, and my anxiety only grew as the automated voice on the customer-service line cheerily informed me that there was an unusually high call volume and the estimated wait time was eighteen minutes. I bit my nails and refreshed my browser every few minutes to find out if anything new had happened in the news, if, for example, we had sent troops into Ukraine. On speaker, the voice droned on about various mobile plans.
In the meantime, I took a call from my dad. “We’re very concerned,” he said. “Do you have a stalker? Is that why you’re changing numbers?”
“No. I don’t want to get into it. It’s complicated,” I said. “I just need a new number. And you have to stop watching the murder channel.”
“We can’t. The murder channel figures very prominently in our rotation. And every time a young woman is killed, we discuss the odds of the same thing happening to you.”
“No one’s going to murder me.”
“They all think that.” Read More »
February 27, 2014 | by David Pablo Cohn
How many hotheaded academics does it take to solve a riddle?
I don’t know what the best thing was about Jim Propp’s parties. They were a crystalline picture of the specialized, rarefied company I kept when I lived in Cambridge in the midnineties, parked on Mass. Ave. halfway between Harvard and MIT. Profs, postdocs, and assorted academic keepsakes from the cream of Boston academia all piled into Jim’s Victorian four-square house in Somerville for an evening of … well, we never quite knew what the evening would bring.
Technically, these were “word game” parties. Each was planned around a series of intellectual challenges arranged around the house more or less like evil wizards, ax-wielding dwarves, or more mundane impediments in a typical game of Dungeons & Dragons. You’d team up with a couple friends (or the pretty redhead who was probably dating one of your professors, if you could), and make your way from room to room, solving bits and pieces of puzzles that—if you were lucky—you could string together for the grand solution. The prize was bragging rights until the next party, six months down the line.
In any case, it all began with the invitation. Twice a year, a mysterious envelope would appear. I remember the first one I received: a single sheet with nothing but a swirling Spirograph flower on one side, and the letters RSVP below it. Where, when, and how were left to the recipient, presumably after he or she had coaxed the secret out of the cryptic drawing. Read More »
February 20, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
I am writing this from mid-air, having checked in via a code on my phone, and am generally feeling very much like an Art Deco cartoon. The Future is here. It is more like the past and the present than we expected.
There was a day on which two things happened. First, I went to see an exhibition about the 1939 World’s Fair. It featured a life-size replica of Elektro the Smoking Robot, and the famous Futurama Pavilion, and in general the Art Deco marvel that was visionary designer Norman Bel Geddes’s masterpiece was beautifully evoked. (Incidentally, for a thorough account of Geddes’s creative process, check out the terrific Barbara Alexandra Szerlip on his game design and the Chrysler Airflow.)
The exhibit was also attended by a group of young people, maybe undergrads, all of them aggressively and meticulously dressed in vintage finery. There were boys in tweed caps and sport shoes and pressed, high-waisted trousers, and girls with perfect pin curls and matte red lips. The commitment was impressive. Their interest in this particular exhibition seemed natural. I tried to stick close to them, as they added a certain air to the proceedings. But then I heard one boy say, “Wait, who was Herbert Hoover?” Still, they took careful notes on the clothes and the aesthetic, and I was glad they were there.
After the museum I went to get a cup of coffee at a nearby diner. There was a young couple at the next table, this one completely modern in dress. I heard the girl say to the boy, “The thing is, computers are the new slaves. We insult them and yell at them. We treat them like inanimate objects.”
And the boy said, “Yeah, yeah, that’s really interesting.” Which, in its way, was true.
I don’t want you to think I didn’t love all these young people, because I did. The name of the exhibition was “I Have Seen the Future,” and that day, it felt apt.
February 12, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
During my junior year of college, I had the chance to study at a university in London. I flew out of JFK on September 15, 2001, and the flight was so empty I was able to lie down across four seats for the first and last time in my life. In England, many of our fellow students seemed to feel obliged to either ask solicitously about our 9/11 experiences, or express their views on American imperialism. In both capacities, I felt I proved a disappointment.
During that year abroad, my American friend Rachel and I became fascinated with a group of fellow literature students who seemed to us unspeakably wonderful. They never said anything in seminar, they always looked glamorously ridiculous, and, best of all, their company was highly exclusive.
We came up with names for all of them. There was the seeming leader, “Robert Smith,” who had sculptural, Cure-like hair. “Charles and Camilla Macaulay” looked a bit alike—in fact, the whole crew struck us as very Secret History-esque. We called one tall, severe boy “Adam Bede”; one emaciated fellow was “Schiele”; another, I’m sorry to say, was just “the Balding One.”
They moved in a pack, smoked roll-ups in a secretive cluster, exchanged notes and amused eye contact during class, and cohabited, or so we assumed. The clique seemed to us all things not-American. It shamed us to think that they associated us with the Boston girl who was always shouting loud, obvious things about Sylvia Plath or the sleazy Arizona boy who hit on all the prettiest girls. We were desperate to prove our worth to them, but how? The only person outside their circle with whom we’d ever seen them associate was a studious, translucently fair young man named Rupert Davies. Read More »
February 7, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
The summer before I started college, I worked part-time in an antique linens shop in an East Coast vacation town. The owner, Theresa, was a warm, elegant woman who taught me not just how to do bookkeeping and how to tell the difference between point lace and Valenciennes, but a great deal about how to treat other people, too.
The rest of the time, I worked as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. My fellow employees included a shifty-eyed Hare Krishna named Heather, a bartender called Kenny who liked to try to shock me, and a thirtysomething bodyworker, Julia, who had the unfortunate habit of telling people on the slightest pretext that she had attended “a little school in New Haven.”
At the linens shop, I helped iron and fold the stock and assisted customers. Mostly, Theresa and I would talk: about her family leaving Havana after the revolution; about the history of the town; about her dashing husband and how they met when she was a receptionist at a clinic. (He’d had a dislocated shoulder and she let him jump the line.) “Always spend more on flowers than on food,” she once told me. “Good for the soul, better for the waistline.” Read More »