The Daily

First Person

Holiday Travel

December 18, 2015 | by

The night crowd.

I grew up in a Manhattan apartment whose view encompassed sky, clouds, and other apartments. For a while I kept a pair of binoculars on the windowsill. I used them before going to bed, a kind of voyeuristic nightcap. Most of the pleasure I got came from noting which lights were on and which were off in other people’s apartments. I would sometimes wonder if somewhere out there, in one of the unlit windows, perhaps, there was a kid with binoculars looking back at me. 

Once, when we were thirteen or so, a friend in the building and I took his massive telescope to the roof. This was before all modes of entrance and egress in Manhattan apartment buildings and hotels were locked down and wired with alarms. We probably almost died getting the tripod up the fire ladder. Once we were up there, we took turns slowly rotating the telescope across the landscape as we peered through with one eye closed. We did this on a few occasions, and only once achieved the semi-nirvana of seeing a naked woman. She was sleeping on her stomach. A sheet covered most of her. But enough of her back, and a bit of leg, was visible to infer that she was naked. The question was if she would wake up, or at least roll over. We stayed up there for a long time, waiting. I don’t think she ever woke. Read More »

Letter from COP21, Part 2

December 14, 2015 | by

All photos © Sara Fox

Read Part 1 here.

Day 6

Negotiators submitted a historic draft agreement today: mostly brackets and multiple choice options, but progress is more important than details right now. It is a starting point that will be handed to environmental and foreign ministers on Monday. Then the real grind begins.

The UN is calling today an official Day of Action, which is ironic—most of the official “actions” in Paris have been canceled, and the high-level ones at Le Bourget are off-limits to the public. Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein are staging a public trial for Exxon in Montreuil. Exxon was recently outed for having covered up, since 1978, the knowledge that its products were warming the planet. The dramatic reenactment includes the NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen and Peter Sarsgaard. Read More »

Letter from COP21

December 11, 2015 | by

All photos © Sara Fox

Day 0

There are more police than protestors at Place de République. White vans block the ten streets leading into the square. Officers wearing black shoulder pads, batons, tear gas canisters, machine guns, pistols, pepper spray, walkie talkies, cell phones, earpieces, sound grenades, assault rifles, plastic shields and handcuffs casually chat as the protest grows. On a side street I watch a policeman pass a large Tupperware container filled with salad around to his fellow officers.

The planet has warmed rapidly since the late nineteenth century, and nearly two hundred countries have come to Paris to talk about it. Protestors from half as many nations came, too, and planned the largest climate march in history. It was supposed to start in Place de République this morning. Since the Paris attacks of November 13, the government of France declared a state of emergency and banned the march, along with most other large public gatherings. Read More »

Points of Sale

November 30, 2015 | by

Notes on shopping and giving.

Christo, Red Store Front (Project), collage, 1965, 40" x 48" x 2”, pencil, charcoal, enamel paint, wax crayon, wood, fabric, Plexiglas, and electric light. Image courtesy Craig F. Starr Gallery

I used to get coffee at Pret a Manger almost every morning. It’s a noisy and bustling shop in Union Square, the sort of high-impact environment that teaches people how to shout at one another without sounding unfriendly. (“No, I said I would not like cream cheese!” he yelled at the cashier, smiling with his eyes.) The staff there has been rigorously trained, and no matter how large the crowds are, you can expect to get in and out in just a few minutes. Obviously this is because you’re gently shepherded through the stages of a scripted consumer experience, with the store’s layout, color scheme, music, temperature, and copywriting all doing their part to vectorize you. Later I would learn that Pret, which has more than 350 locations worldwide, holds its employees to stringent standards of affective labor, demanding that they touch one another frequently and display signs of authentic happiness, but I was only intermittently aware of this when I visited regularly. Usually I emerged (my coffee cup snug in its cardboard sleeve, to keep my hand from burning) with the prideful sense that I’d mastered the form of the transaction, with its nested sets of thank yous and predetermined courtesies. I knew the questions the cashier would ask, always with a brittle rictus of corporate-mandate cheer, and I knew the exact order of the questions, and how to answer them. The only bumpiness came at the end of the script, after I’d declined a receipt and the cashier had said, “Thank you, have a great day.” For a while, I responded, “Thanks—you, too,” and the transaction ended there. But I discovered that a slight tweak to this response could advance the dialogue to a third, hidden stage. If I said “You, too—thanks,” the cashier would say, “You’re welcome. Come see us again.”

I tried for several months to find some rejoinder to this, something to elicit some unscripted reaction. “Count on it!” Or, “Don’t mind if I do!” Or, “You know I will, you see me here every morning, five days a week!” Even my best efforts got me nothing but canned laughter (very lifelike canned laughter, it must be said) or another perfunctory exchange of thank-yous. But I was after a human moment. I wanted to parry one rote cordiality against another until the cashier, at last, gave in and acknowledged the ruse. “Look at us,” he’d whisper, “dragooned day after day into this hollow pas de deux of late capitalism.” Then we’d go rob a bank together. Read More »

The Nexus of All Despair

November 25, 2015 | by

Frances Brundage, Thanksgiving Day Greetings (detail), ca. 1913.

Our Winter 2015 issue features an interview with Jane and Michael Stern, who have written more than forty books; their Roadfood, first published in 1978 and now in its eighth edition, brought a new fervor and attention to regional American cuisine. To celebrate the new issue and the holiday, Jane Stern reflects here on Thanksgivings past. Happiness abounds. —D. P.

I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, based solely on the fact that I adore turkey. But if I were to remove turkey from the equation, I would probably realize that this holiday, for me, has been nothing but one hideous thing after another.

Why Thanksgiving is the nexus of all despair is a mystery. But to prove that it is, here’s a short list of some of the things I remember. Read More »

Our Prefab Thanksgiving

November 25, 2015 | by

Celebrating the old-fashioned way: at an African-themed indoor water park in Wisconsin.

The yellow three-track potato sack slide is encased in ice, and the go-kart tarps are encased in ice, and the Paul Bunyan chain-saw carving has grown a beard of icicles so tentacular one can’t help but imagine him having been recovered from one of Verne’s deeper leagues. The afternoon-shift dancers outside the Wisconsin Dolls Gentlemen’s Club wear parkas with fur-lined collars and smoke their cigarettes, waiting for the gentlemen to arrive. Their lips are chapped and their calves are rosy and their exhales hang in the cold air in front of their faces, nowhere to go. They take turns reading the club’s Yelp reviews from a single cell phone, which they pass between them.

Every dancer working was cute, with the exception of one.

What could be improved? 1. Men’s bathroom. 

There were 100% more people wearing head bandanas than I expected-saw like 6 dudes wearing them. Also, the Outlaw motorcycle gang represented with a couple of people rocking their colors! 

Pro tip: with so many blacklights inside, remember to wear your white pants.

Housed in a double-wide trailer (for real) and next to a sleazy strip motel (also, for real), disappointing ladies shake and shimmy on a tiny pit-style stage.

This last trip was particularly depressing, mainly due to the preggo dancer who was prancing and spinning topless and bottomless with a modified tube top covering her baby bump.

For some god-awful reason, I've been here twice. 

Read More »