The Daily

First Person

Up and Down the Meadows

October 20, 2016 | by

Las Vegas before and during “Clinton-Trump III.”

Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Hard Rock Cafe, Las Vegas. Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Debate Wednesday in Las Vegas—or, as the front-page headline of the Las Vegas Review-Journal called it, CLINTON-TRUMP III. I arrived the night before from Los Angeles, determined, simply, to walk around and inhabit the rhythms of the city in the hours leading up to and during the final debate. Would I meet demonstrators in the streets? Would I hear megaphones and anthems? Would a police officer order me to go the other way? Or would this be just another day in Las Vegas, Spanish for “the meadows”—and if that turned out to be the case, what is “just another day” in the meadows like? Well, these meadows are sun bleached and paved, and I set out first thing to stomp about and have a look.

I started the day at the Davis Funeral Home and Memorial Park. It was a cool, clear-blue morning, and the cemetery hummed in peace. Crews trimmed the trees and mowed the lawns. To the north, the Sheep Range Mountains looked chiseled and handsome. Jets came down from the east to land at McCarran Airport, right across the street, one every minute. I saw a grave decorated for Halloween, with foam skulls and signs that said DANGER! and KEEP OUT! A man in a black leather cap unfolded a canvas chair and sat to stare at a tombstone. The three-quarter moon hung out in the west, slowly fading. Read More »

Our Correspondents

Ghost Stories

October 20, 2016 | by

Seeking out spirits in one of New York’s spookiest bars.

Photo: Alex Strada.

Photo: Alex Strada.

You’d think it’d be relatively easy to pin down a ghost in this town, with all of its historic buildings and unsettled scores. Most of the haunts frequented by the city’s cognoscenti are said to have an apparition or two knocking around, if you believe in that sort of thing. There’s the shadowy figure that paces the shore of Rockaway Beach. A young girl’s screams are sometimes heard coming from within McCarren Pool. And from the stories told about the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d think its walkway would be incandescent with floating orbs and strange lights.

After hearing that a glamorous specter often manifests and smokes sullenly in a corner of the women’s restroom at the Astor Room in Queens, I drank far too much wine and drifted in and out of the bathroom stalls a few weekends ago, but to no avail. And returning home in the early hours that morning, I thought of the original owner of my apartment building, who hanged himself from the front-door frame in 1890. He, too, has yet to materialize.

So I stopped by the perennially spooky KGB Bar in the East Village after work one night last week to see if Dan Christian, the longtime bar manager, might act as my spirit guide. I’d always heard that the bar was very haunted. Read More »

On the Shelf

Shhhh—It’s the Desert, and Other News

October 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Simon Prisner.

  • From afar, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature seems like a real laugh riot, at least to those of us whose main ambition in life is to gain the adulation of the Swedes. But a new volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters suggests that taking home the Nobel is not such a bed of roses: “The Beckett of the years covered by this fourth and final volume of letters is lionized even before he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Although, in his case, the word ‘award’ is wholly inappropriate: he considered the prize a threat to his creativity (‘I hope the work will forgive me and let me near it again’). He was on holiday in Tunisia with his wife, Suzanne, when his publisher sent a telegram: ‘In spite of everything they have given you the Nobel Prize.’ Writing to his lover Barbara Bray a week later, Beckett’s response to his laureateship couldn’t be less effusive: ‘Here things are pretty awful and little hope of improvement.’ ”
  • Want some peace and quiet? I don’t mean your garden-variety hushes or lulls. I mean some real fucking silence. Well: go on a hot-air balloon ride in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. You won’t hear a peep. Ian Thomson did it, and I gather it went pretty well: “In some parts of this shadowless immensity it has not rained for four hundred years … From the air, the Atacama resembled an African savanna, with thorny gorse, inland beaches of white dunes, and the occasional llama skeleton picked clean by condors. I thought: this must be one of the most magnificent views in all the world. We could clearly see horses grazing in a ranch; and away there, beyond a row of solitary carob trees, meadows of alfalfa dwindling in size to resemble toy-railway lichen … In the silence of the Atacama evening, the moon hung bright and radiant; the silence was as deep and complete as if never disturbed. In Santiago the next day it really felt as if we had returned from the moon.” 

Read More »


No Circus

October 19, 2016 | by

Randi Malkin Steinberger, Pier Ave.

Randi Malkin Steinberger’s book No Circus collects photographs of buildings tented for termite fumigation around Los Angeles. It includes an essay by D. J. Waldie, excerpted in part below.

If you live in Chicago or Cleveland, you may never have seen a house tented for termite fumigation. Dry-wood-termite infestation—the usual reason for tent fumigation in the southern and western parts of the United States—may become more common as the global climate warms.

Termites don’t take cold well. Neither do cockroaches. In an evolutionary sense, termites are the cousins of cockroaches that picked up other habits, including a knack for colony formation.

Like ants, a termite colony has a queen, but unlike ants, the colony also has a king. Once mated, the termite queen and king are monogamous and life-long partners. The queen may live as long as fifty years in some termite species. There is a court of princesses around the queen, waiting, infertile, until the queen dies.

Left undiscovered long enough, the termite colony will prosper until the apparently intact timbers of the house are a paper-thin skin over the hollowness inside. Read More »

Arts & Culture

Thirty Thousand Cookbooks

October 19, 2016 | by

Cookbooks at Berlin’s Bibliotheca Culinaria.

Cookbooks at Berlin’s Bibliotheca Culinaria.

Sven owns thirty thousand cookbooks. Why does Sven own thirty thousand cookbooks? He could not tell you.

He will tell you that he likes to cook, that he can taste a recipe by reading it, that he likes going to flea markets, that he started buying cookbooks when he was twenty-two, but nothing he tells you will really explain how he came to own thirty thousand of them. He is a collector, and that’s all you can say. If you are also a collector, this impulse needs no further explanation. If you are not a collector, you sit with Sven for three hours trying to tease out the secret of this impulse in vain. I am not a collector. Read More »

First Person

Flowers for Hitler

October 19, 2016 | by

Valais, Switzerland, as depicted in the University of the New World’s Winter 1971–72 General Bulletin.

In 1973, I took a brief sabbatical from college to study in Switzerland at the University of the New World. I still have the small red course catalog somewhere. It was a school started by visionary hustler Al de Grazia, who had been a professor at Brown and … well, you should see what they offered: a faculty that included Allen Ginsberg, John Fahey, Ornette Coleman, Robert Motherwell, Immanuel Velikovsky, John Cage, Ram Dass, twenty-four-hour music rooms/art studios/libraries. There were stalls set up on the quad promoting it.

The university was situated in a tiny canton just outside Sion. The university was actually situated somewhere deep in the recesses of Professor DeGrazia’s mind. There was no university. It was, to be charitable, a work in progress. There were no libraries or music studios or art studios. There were no classrooms. There were no dormitories. There were no teachers. There were only a handful of students—mostly from Antioch—and we were all housed in rooms in a nearby ski lodge. From this distance I can’t tell whether it was a scam or a pipe dream. I had to humbly ask to be readmitted to Brown, and Dean Hazeltine was sympathetic but let me dangle in the wind for a few weeks just … well, just to give me time to reflect. 

It turned out to be an interesting time. Read More »