On confronting death, in the road and elsewhere.
The rented farmhouse in North Carolina sat at the midpoint of a dead-end street, where the only light came from a streetlight in my neighbor’s front yard. Every night before bed, my dog, Henry (David Thoreau), and I walked down the circular drive and into the road, going as far as the light reached and back again. This provided time for the night to settle in, the stars to announce themselves, and Henry to take care of business.
One autumn night, Henry found a dead frog where the light fell brightest on the pavement. I stooped to examine the creature. He lay on his back, red innards escaping from his perfectly still mouth.
The following night, I searched ahead for the frog as we walked out of the dark driveway and into the light. Henry sniffed him and moved on. The frog was in the same place as the night before, only flatter.
The next night he looked less like a frog. After staring at him for a while, I needed more. Read More
At face value, René de Cordouan was a lucky man: born into French nobility as the Marquis de Langey, rich without effort, pleasant to look at. By generic, century-spanning sort of standards he was a catch, as endearing to unwed Catholics of the early 1600s (those seeking a deep-pocketed partner with bucolic property to share) as to manicured women with manicured nails browsing EliteSingles.com. The actual minutiae of the Marquis de Langey’s appearance remains a mystery—the size of his feet, the straightness of teeth, the presence or absence of dimples—but one part of his anatomy was so meticulously discussed it secured him a minor place in European history. Inside the nobleman’s underpants, between his upper thighs, was an intromittent organ that would be leered at and prodded before a court of law. To put it plainly, in 1657 the Marquis’s penis was subject to public trial. Read More
My mother makes a match.
My mother was open-minded about the boys I brought home. She was, in fact, oblivious to any of their flaws. In high school, in Philadelphia, my platinum-haired boyfriend, Billy, who walked with a strut and stole cars, OD’d in our basement under my black-light poster of Jimi Hendrix; Mom was fine about my visits to him in the locked ward in the Quaker mental hospital across the street from us on Roosevelt Boulevard. My next boyfriend, Randy, a whimsical outpatient with a genius IQ at the same hospital—we met on the bus; he was coming from prep school—got permission to have dinner with us one evening and afterward played with my gerbil. Randy blurted that he hallucinated perpetually because of all the LSD he’d taken and that now he was on Thorazine, Elavil, and a third prescription I can’t recall. My mother’s only comment: he should trim his nails.
She did seem to cotton on to my Mormon suitor in college (my only vice was tea) but criticized his piano playing as “stiff.” She did not seem disturbed when four years later I had a “dancer/artist” boyfriend in sex therapy (“You’re sexually repulsive to me,” he’d confided, “but don’t take it personally, all women are”), and she said nothing disparaging about his successor, an alcoholic Columbia University student/construction worker who accidentally burned, hoping to keep warm during a cold snap, all the savings he’d hidden in his never-used oven. He once showed up drunk at four A.M. with a lipstick-swished cheek and confessed he’d kissed another woman who’d bought him a cabbage, but it was me he really loved, he said, and then punched a hole in my door. Mom remained mute when I confided I’d met, in Egypt, a much younger French Algerian paratrooper named Karim, even when I revealed that he would call me long distance from Marseilles and never talk—simply whisper my name and breathe for twenty minutes, or play a tape of music he’d written. My bass-player roommate at that time, Sara, once quipped, “Karim’s mother’s not going to be very happy when she sees that phone bill.” Read More
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
- It’s Presidents Day, and surely you’re looking to relax with a presidential biography. There have been roughly fifteen thousand books written about Abraham Lincoln. These are the ones worth reading.
- New York Fashion Week is over, but it’s never too late to scrutinize these 1919 advertisements for “New York styles”: “a frock of luxurious distinction,” a “wool chiffon panama skirt,” a “bewitching little turban.”
- “Signifying nothing is harder than it looks.” “At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.” Behind the Adorno-esque Twitter presence of @NeinQuarterly, one of the medium’s finest aphorists.
- Now that Valentine’s Day is behind us, let’s take a hard look at the history of divorce.
- At last, scientific evidence that those who troll the Internet—lurking in comments sections and hurling epithets like so much feces—are sadistic and psychopathic.