The Daily

First Person

All In: Susanville

June 9, 2016 | by

The first part of “All In,” by Brandon Hobson, ran yesterday.

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas 009904, 2008

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas 009904, 2008, color photograph.

For three humiliating months, I lived in a yoga studio behind my parents’ garage, in Los Angeles, while I was looking for work. The only job I could find was teaching developmental reading and writing in Susanville, California, a remote mountain town in the Eastern Sierra that is known, if it is known at all, for the state and federal prisons nearby. Classes began in just a few days, so I threw clothes and a few books into my car and began the long journey that took me through the mountains and high desert of Nevada and California. As I drove the desolate stretch of Highway 395 that carried me north out of Reno, I tried to convince myself the isolation would prove restorative.

It was a nice thought, and a brief one. When I arrived in Susanville, late at night, the sky was raining firebrands and ash from a massive wildfire. The fire had taken down the power lines that brought electricity through the mountains, and the town was completely dark. People were walking the streets with camping lanterns. I pulled into the parking lot of the first motel I saw to ask about a room. The desk clerk was registering guests—mostly firefighters from the state forestry department and from around the West—by candlelight. Read More »

All In: Oklahoma

June 8, 2016 | by

The second part of “All In,” by Eric Neuenfeldt, will be published tomorrow.

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas, 2008

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas, 2008, color photograph.

There are more than a hundred casinos in Oklahoma, more than there are in Germany, more than in Canada, the UK, or in all of Central America. Within half an hour, I can drive to at least seven of them. Fifteen miles to the north, just before the Kansas state line, two massive casinos sprawl on Indian land. One has a hotel. To the southeast is Osage Casino, which was once a small, smoky trailer. To the south are 7 Clans Paradise Casino and Two Rivers Casino. To the west are Tonkawa East and, right off I-35, the newer, larger Tonkawa West Casino. I remember reading a few years ago that Oklahoma was the nation’s second-largest gambling market, with nearly four billion dollars in revenues. Thank God for tribal land, Oklahomans say. No need to plan a vacation to Las Vegas anymore, not when you can stop at, say, the 7 Clans Deli Mart/Travel Plaza on Highway 77 just outside of town, a convenience store that has more than a hundred slot and video-poker machines inside.

Oklahoma has plenty of large casinos—with hotels, restaurants, valet parking, and players who wear suits with loosened ties—but I liked the small, gritty places. I had a theory that most of them had looser machines, which paid out more frequently. I favored one spot in particular, a dim and smoky casino in Tonkawa that played loud rock music. It’s the size of a small warehouse, tucked away down a desolate road in the country with open plains stretching out for miles. Wednesdays it had cash drawings every hour after five in the afternoon, but it was never very crowded. Read More »

Falling for Fitzgerald

June 7, 2016 | by

A hopeless affair with America’s greatest—and deceased—man of letters.

FITZ

F. Scott Fizgerald.

Last year, I confessed to my best friend that I had fallen in love with another man. When she heard this man’s identity, she knew I was in trouble.

“First of all,” she told me, “you’re married. And so is he.”

“I know,” I said miserably.

“Plus, he has a mistress,” she pointed out.

“Yes,” I conceded.

“And, you know,” she went on, “he also happens to be dead.” Read More »

Letter from West Virginia

May 17, 2016 | by

GregNull_OldBlue

“A newspaper for people who can’t read, edited by an editor who can’t write”

Jim Comstock (1911–96) was the iconoclastic editor of the West Virginia Hillbilly, a “weakly” paper based in Richwood, a former logging boomtown in Nicholas County fallen on hard times. I spent the first years of my life over the mountain from Richwood, where Jim’s stunts were much discussed. The Hillbilly wasn’t just a paper—it was an art project, a platform for historic preservation, a conservative wailing wall, and, above all, an exploration of the West Virginian id. Once, in early spring, Jim famously added “ramp oil” to the ink at the printing press, a tribute to Richwood’s Feast of the Ramson, which celebrates the wild leeks that sprout in the mountains after a hard winter. They give off a terrible stench. Warehouses full of mailmen were made to gag. To his delight, Jim received a stern rebuke from the postmaster general. “Now we’re the only newspaper under orders from the federal government not to smell bad,” Jim told the Associated Press. “That’s an awful thing to do to a striving newspaper.” Read More »

Cleaning Up New York

May 10, 2016 | by

Cleaning is a two-way street. There is you (the cleaner) and there is the street …

Vintage Hoover advertisement.

A vintage Hoover advertisement.

I cleaned for Sylvia Smith two or three times last year. She lived on East End Avenue in a studio apartment that was falling apart from being recently built. She edited a trade magazine. She would only have me every so often when things got really out of hand. Her kitchen included defrosting the refrigerator and cleaning the oven each time. First I had to get the dishes out of the way. She used cheap tin silverware that was once painted gold but the paint had chipped away enough to leave it mottled tin. The advantage of this silverware was that she had enough pieces to supply a munitions factory and could eat for weeks without needing to wash a spoon. Although the apartment was always very dirty, Sylvia always wanted a fastidious job from me. This is really impossible to do the first time around on a dirty apartment.

It would take at least two cleanings to really bring every surface to clean clean status. Sylvia would always detain me at the end of my day with short imperatives like, “Clean this shelf please.” “I think you missed something here.” I performed my duty by being patient and thankfully escaped after much courteous bowing. Sylvia was a person with a need for sleeping pills. Next to her bed was a prescription bottle, which I sampled. Read More »

Babies in Art

May 5, 2016 | by

Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist (1635), by Carlo Dulci

Carlo Dulci, Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, 1635.

Babies in art mostly look nothing like babies in life. This is especially true of the baby Jesus, but also of babies more broadly, and this is true even, and maybe most noticeably, in paintings and sculptures that are, apart from the oddly depicted babies, realistic. Often babies are depicted with the proportions of small adults: their limbs are relatively longer than baby limbs, and their heads are not as relatively large as baby heads; in real life, babies have heads so large and arms so short that they can’t reach their arms beyond their heads. But one almost never sees this in a museum. I am told, also, that a major problem through the centuries for artists depicting the baby Jesus has been the question of what to do about the Lord’s penis. Read More »