The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘family life’

New Tricks

September 11, 2015 | by

From Popular Science, 1896.

Last November, my brother and I went out with my mother for her birthday dinner. It was a special birthday—she was becoming a senior citizen—so we went somewhere nice, where the waiter told us that it was the start of scallop season and the sweet local bay scallops were a special. My mother ordered them and, after the waiter had left the table, informed us, “I’m going to get my scalloping license this winter.”

“No you’re not,” scoffed my brother. Which is the sort of thing he can get away with, and which in any case was tinged with affection. He and I were thinking of other abandoned schemes: the metal detector, the archery set, the very brief period when our parents walked quarantined dogs at the local shelter. Read More »

Letters of Note

August 13, 2015 | by


Thomas Rowlandson, A Book Auction, 1810-15.

In his late twenties, my father was a habitué of the Charles Hamilton Autograph Auctions at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, where he would snap up anything that went unsold at the end of the day; in this way he earned the nickname The Vulture. Charles Hamilton himself was a noted signatures expert who had given testimony in a number of prominent forgery cases. His auctions were known for their quality and their miscellany, and for the personality of their proprietor. ‘‘Unless you have a soul made of solid lead,’’ he purportedly said, ‘‘your pulse quickens and your eyes brighten when you look upon something that a great man actually held and into which he put his personal thoughts.’’

My father, due to his own somewhat indiscriminate buying practices, ended up with a somewhat unfocused collection of bargains. He had some good pieces of ephemera—two tickets to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, a dinner invitation from Thomas Jefferson—but he also had a single strand of John Keats’s hair. And then there were the ones that got away. There was that time Hamilton auctioned off Harry Truman’s World War I diaries, and the asking price was a bit high, and no one was allowed to inspect them before bidding, “and they might have been incredibly boring,” but still … Read More »

Mister Sun

June 19, 2015 | by


Albert Anker, Portrait of a Boy, nineteenth century.

Like many small children, my brother was an accomplished con artist. And as is often the case with little boys, his manipulations were most effective when applied to his mother. I can particularly recall one bit of business he’d pull between the ages of about three and five, when we were at the market and he didn’t feel like walking. He’d gaze up at her beseechingly, bat his eyelashes, and simper, “I’ll carry your bundles if you carry me!”

By this point, I had decisively lost my looks: at seven I was a scrawny, buck-toothed gnome with a waxen complexion and a mullet, usually stalking around in pantaloons and a sunbonnet. Charlie, on the other hand, was still cherubic. Read More »

Role Play

June 8, 2015 | by


A still from Holiday in the Protectorate.

Readers of the New York Times may have noticed a recent story about a new Czech reality show. In the tradition of Victorian House and other total-immersion programs, this one sticks modern people in another time—specifically a 1939 “remote mountain farm” in what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Hilarity does not ensue. As the article explains,

There, they must not only survive the rigors of rustic life with dated appliances and outdoor plumbing, but navigate the moral and physical dangers of life under Nazi rule.

German troops (played by actors) kick down their doors in the middle of the night. Local villagers betray them to the Gestapo. Food is scarce. Conditions are crude.

Everything about this show sounds distasteful, certainly. Besides the obvious objections, the basic flaw in these time-travel shows—the assumption that you can switch off modern mores along with central AC—seems doubly true here. Reading about it, I was reminded of when my father and I had gone to an exhibit featuring artifacts from the Titanic. To enter, we’d had to show a “boarding pass,” and they’d made us pose for an obligatory picture together at the top of the stairs they’d re-created, just like Rose and Jack in the movie. Read More »

Overheard in New York

August 8, 2014 | by


Georgios Jakobides, The First Steps, 1889

Now that it is going to be sold, my grandparents’ house, and the summers we spent there, seem cloaked in romance. I remember the trips to the thrift store, the games in the phalanx of sheds, the maple bars from Red’s Donuts, nature walks with my uncle, reading Green Mansions in the woods. It is easy to gloss over the rest.

It was a place of strong smells. Mint in the yard. Eucalyptus trees on the drive. Talcum powder and Lysol and always a potato rotting somewhere in the kitchen. It would have been a good place to be blind. Or, it would have if every inch hadn’t been covered with constantly shifting stuff.

I can’t seem to stop thinking and writing about my grandparents, lately. Well, they’ve been on everyone’s minds as they clear the property and sort through the family politics. I suppose I’ve been fumbling for some sort of eulogy. I’ve started to write about singing gay nineties songs around the piano, about family holidays and the day we all dressed in costumes for a group portrait. But I don’t think any of that really tells the story. If I were to try to say goodbye with one story, I think it would need to be a conversation I overheard one day. My grandfather called every evening; I walked into the kitchen to find my mother on the phone. 

“Has Mom agreed to this?” A beat. Then, exasperated, “Then that’s not a suicide pact, Dad; it’s a murder-suicide.”