The Daily

First Person

Chasing Away the Big Black Bird

May 21, 2014 | by

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Image: Richard Crossley

My buddy at work—I call him my buddy, but really he’s just the guy I hate the least—turned to me and asked which would be better: having one testicle or having three. I rolled my eyes and gave him the same answer I gave him every time he asks: three. I’d rather be creepy than a little sad.

Then one night in the shower I discovered that my left testicle was the size and density of a small Cadbury Creme Egg. The doctor told me my testicle needed to come out immediately; it was malignant as hell. He probably did not actually say the words “malignant as hell,” but I went into shock almost immediately, and can only reconstruct events based on what happened next.

Twenty-four hours later, I was entering emergency surgery. The nurse asked if I’d like a prosthetic. “Would I!” I said. “Can I get two?” I was thinking of how awesome would it be to really double down and commit to this joke, surprising my work friend in the men’s room.

I also have a difficult relationship with my Virginian heritage—it would be perfect if I could have an actual Civil War–era musket ball put in there instead, to literally carry a heavy, awkward, and slowly poisonous reminder of our nation’s tragic past that I only talk openly about with my black friends when I am drunk.

But none of that happened. As it turned out, I wasn’t going to be creepy. I was going to be sad. Read More »

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Hey, That’s My Snare Drum!

May 15, 2014 | by

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This drum is mine.

Last week, the Times recognized a new trend in vigilantism: do-it-yourself iPhone recovery. When someone finds his phone stolen, he uses the phone’s GPS to locate the thief; the resulting confrontations usually end peacefully, with the phone restored to its rightful owner and the thief shuffling off into the night, cowed and shamed. In one especially rousing case, a man rustled up the thief using OkCupid:

He lured the thief to his Brooklyn apartment building by posing as a woman and flirting with him on the dating service.

When the thief arrived with a bottle of wine, expecting to meet “Jennifer,” Mr. Nirenberg went up behind him, hammer at his side. He slapped a $20 bill on the thief, to mollify him and compensate him for his time and wine, and demanded the phone. The thief handed it over and slunk away.

Instead of giving that man the key to the city, the fuzz have advised against this kind of justice. Of course they have: no one likes to feel redundant. In the supercilious words of an LAPD spokesman, “It’s just a phone … Let police officers take care of it. We have backup, guns, radio, jackets—all that stuff civilians don’t have.” As if LA’s finest would, in their eminent wisdom, break out the flak jackets and heavy artillery to liberate your telephone.

I’m here to tell you: you can be your own authority. Read More »

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Maude

May 6, 2014 | by

Feline as memento mori.
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Franz Marc, Kater auf gelbem Kissen, 1912

I was in New York for a book talk, staying at a friend’s house in an industrial area of Brooklyn, when I awoke to a sound somewhere between a teakettle’s whistle and the creak of an ancient floorboard: my friend’s cat, Maude, meowing piteously at the edge of the bed. She was tiny, the color of ivory, with half crescent moons for claws and bright green, bloodshot eyes.

I’d been warned that Maude meowed in the mornings when she wanted the faucet turned on—she drank from the tub—so I walked to the bathroom and twisted the spout until cold water trickled down. Maude leapt into the tub and began lapping away, her tongue bright as chewing gum. I went about my slow morning routine: coffee, Twitter, fussing with hair, scrutiny of encroaching crow’s-feet, etc.

It was noon by the time I was ready to leave, and I returned to the bedroom for my laptop. There, in the middle of the white room, on the white bedspread, was the white cat, covered in blood. It seeped out from her in clouds, watery and pale red like a nightmare sky. But when I bent over and touched her she was still breathing, alert, looking at me with those science-fiction eyes. Read More »

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Chevrolet Caprice

April 21, 2014 | by

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A 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

On a Tuesday in late August, on my way to the ferry landing at Thirty-Fourth Street, I saw a huge, white, rusted-out Chevy Caprice make an illegal turn off FDR Drive, nearly skidding onto just two wheels. The Caprice barreled up Thirty-Fourth Street. When it blew by me I got a quick look at its occupants: three old ladies, all elaborately coiffed: the driver, another riding shotgun, and the third leaning forward in the backseat to better converse with the other two. I imagined they had just come from a group outing to the beauty parlor. Each of them probably had a rain bonnet tucked away in their purses, in case it rained later. The driver was wearing Gloria Vanderbilt–style sunglasses and a smashing shade of coral lipstick that was probably really popular in the seventies. I was quite taken with her. When I’m an old lady I want to drive around with my girl gang in a huge rusted-out white Caprice Classic and piss off cab drivers everywhere, I thought.

The image of the three ladies stayed with me well into the next day, which was also, randomly, Tori Amos’s fiftieth birthday. In observation, a pop-culture site compiled and ranked her 100 best songs. I dumped the top fifteen or so into a playlist and listened to it for most of the day. I felt sad but not depressed, an odd combination for me. One of the reasons I don’t listen to Tori anymore is that I am old. The other is that listening to Tori Amos reminds me of Tracy, my best friend from high school. Emma Straub wrote a piece for the Daily a few years ago called “My Rayannes,” which, in reference to Rayanne Graff from the nineties TV drama My So-Called Life, posits that all teenage girls are half lesbian. Less outrageously, it outlines an adolescent phenomenon in which one seeks a darker, more daring, more risk-taking counterpart—an accomplice in DIY piercings, home dye jobs, and, in Straub’s words, “tempestuous, obsessive friendship.” Read More »

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Finding a Life on the Edge

March 27, 2014 | by

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William Rich Holland, the author’s father, at Cape Elizabeth, 1983.

Every spring my mother flies out from her home in Walla Walla, Washington, to spend ten days with me in New York. Because her visits are often the only uninterrupted stretch of time we have together every year, they go mostly unplanned. “It isn’t vacation if you have to plan!” Mom has been known to say.

But when she made her way East in May 2012, just after my twenty-ninth birthday, her trip had an explicit purpose. It was my father’s fortieth reunion at Colby College, and she and I would be attending in his stead to represent his legacy and all that he had left behind.

In April 1989, at the age of thirty-nine, my father, Bill Holland, disappeared in an ice climbing accident in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. While he was attempting an unroped descent off Slipstream—the three-thousand-foot frozen waterfall that runs along the treacherous east face of Mt. Snow Dome—he fell through a cornice of ice and, as the accident reports later concluded, likely into a crevasse. A subsequent weeklong storm system dumped an estimated thirty feet of snow in the area, delaying initial rescue attempts. By the time a search party could safely enter, the snowfall had been so significant that Parks Canada was eventually forced to abandon recovery efforts. My father was never found. Read More »

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Unhousing

March 19, 2014 | by

Foreclosed homes as haunted houses.

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Photo: Casey Serin

My wife and I began searching for a house in 2008, just as the market was crashing, just as those first waves of foreclosed homes and short sales were hitting the market. Priced out of Los Angeles real estate for so long, we were finally able to afford houses whose prices had been ridiculously inflated only six months earlier. Occasionally we went to those open houses with smiling realtors and bowls of candy set out, where owners had recently landscaped or repainted to enhance value, but we could never seriously consider any of these. The homes that mattered had lock boxes, were abandoned or in the process of being abandoned—the ones that reeked of disrepair and despair.

We spent the summer touring nearly every distressed property in the neighborhoods East of Hollywood: Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Atwater Village—every abandoned or half-abandoned monstrosity and beloved ruin, looking for a home. I still have a hard time articulating the sense of dread and fascination those houses stirred in me. The feeling of moving through these spaces—particularly as we were visiting seven or eight of them in an afternoon—was indescribable. A sense of wrongness pervaded so many of these homes. I’m not superstitious—I don’t believe in spirits or forces or haunted houses—but much of our lexicon in these cases depends on notions of the supernatural; in the end, the only word that seems useful for talking about the houses is unheimlich—a German word, literally “unhomely” or “not of the home,” “unfamiliar.” It’s more idiomatically translated as “uncanny”: a word that Freud plucked and repurposed from the realm of the supernatural. Read More »

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