I Go Nowhere Without My Boa Constrictor, and Other News


On the Shelf


  • Today’s heiresses are boring: their idea of adventure is trying to sip a green juice while their lips are still numb from cosmetic surgery. (Oops—dribbled a bit on that Balmain dress!) Aimée Crocker, a San Francisco railroad heiress born in 1864, used her wealth to scandalize prudes and scald the bourgeois palate. Her 1934 memoir, And I’d Do It Again, describes her saturnalian adventures around the globe. Now it’s been reissued, and Libby Purves read it with relish: “When Aimée Crocker took up with a feudal Chinese warlord or a ‘Wild Man Of Borneo’ in the 1890s, it shocked everyone but her. When, back in New York, she invited the cream of society to a dinner and appeared, heavily decolletée and wrapped in a sixty-pound boa constrictor whose muscular form she found erotic, there were faints and shrieking … She falls for a ‘repulsively ugly’ hypnotist in Honolulu, dumps him after an incident at a leper colony, and reports not un-gleefully that two years later he put himself into a ‘hystero-cataleptic’ trance, was presumed dead and was autopsied while still alive. But by this point she’s only just getting going … to China, where she ransoms a girl from a cathouse and becomes the prisoner of a warlord, who makes her watch an execution by a thousand cuts and informs her, ‘I am the master of all that is beautiful in this house. I may keep those things, give them away or break them if it pleases me.’ ”
  • For Andrew Blevins, “the central question of chess” is one of paranoia: “How are they trying to get me?” Revisiting Garry Kasparov’s famous loss to Deep Blue, he sees a silver lining: it’s taught humans to lose, and to move on without getting caught up in the existential angst of it all. Of course, for Kasparov himself, the angst is never-ending. As Blevins writes: “There’s a famous moment in Deep Blue vs. Kasparov that I find revealing. After staying up all night with his team trying to figure out a particular Deep Blue move, an exhausted Kasparov accused IBM of cheating. He didn’t say this flat out but instead declared that the move reminded him of Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal in the 1986 World Cup. The move was genius, incredibly farsighted, far above any move that Deep Blue had played so far, so much so that Kasparov believed it must have been illegal … Deep Blue had selected the move at random, something it was programmed to do in the event of a certain malfunction. But experts also believe that the move in question wasn’t as brilliant as Kasparov thought it was either. Instead, it was weird and unexpected, which can be, in certain cases, even more devastating.”

  • Kristen Martin can’t stop watching Long Island Medium, in which Theresa Caputo sticks a wrench into the mechanics of grief: “I’ve kept watching partially out of morbid fascination, and partially out of the unsettling realization that if I were to overcome my skepticism I might be the kind of person who seeks out Caputo’s services. In a reading with me, Caputo would probably allude to a mother figure and a father figure—my parents. My mom died of lung cancer when I was twelve, and my dad died two years later of prostate cancer … These shows—and books—promise that we can fill the holes our loved ones leave behind if we just trust that they are out there in the hereafter, watching over us and sending us messages. On Long Island Medium, Caputo starts many sentences with ‘know’—‘Know that your mother heard everything … Know that your mom knew that you laid with her,’ she tells Nicole, the young woman whose mom died of ALS. Her ‘know’ is meant to provide certainty in the face of the unknown, but really it functions as a ‘believe,’ and that belief can only stay firm if we trust that, as [Tyler] Henry says, ‘love lasts forever.’ ”
  • Poets? More like bro-ets! (Thank you. Get all the laughs out—I’ll wait.) Okay, really, John Dugdale has surveyed the many collaborations between dude poets over the centuries. What have we learned? Men help men. “For more than 200 years, male British authors (usually poets, usually in pairs) have co-written or co-edited collections, anthologies or scholarly travel journals. It’s a tradition that is in surprisingly rude health, with recent examples and forthcoming festivities marking the fiftieth anniversary of a collaboration that sold shedloads. The subgenre’s fundamental challenge (how—and how much—to write as ‘we’?) remains unsolved, however, as is the mystery of why female or mixed doubles pairings in all kinds of writing are comparatively rare. Do try, though, to avoid potentially hurtful comparisons to Bro (buddy) movies, Bro-country acts or rappers duetting: the writers involved are sensitive chaps.”