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When my sister was in high school, she went on an Urban Experience. As a lesson about homelessness, she and her classmates were challenged to spend the night in downtown Denver with only five dollars in their pockets. They would have to sleep on heat vents or in homeless shelters; they’d have to know what it’s like to be hungry; they’d emerge from it chastened and humbled and wiser for the experience.

It was fun, my sister told me.

I suppose this was the drawback: there was nothing at stake. They only had to make it for a few hours, and by morning, they’d be back in bed, well-fed and warm. In other words, it was an early opportunity for my sister to spend an entire night out. As it was, by the time I got to high school, I had already planned how I would have spent my night, but the program didn’t exist anymore.

Years of city living has inured me to the homeless. I mistrust the men—and it’s almost always men, Caucasian—who linger on the devil’s strip near busy stoplights, where the traffic can back up a block’s length. Their clothes are dirty and sufficiently worn, though still serviceable, and they bear stubble on their face as proof of hardship. They hold cardboard squares with their lives’ misery condensed in black Magic Marker: got laid-off, Vietnam vet, foreclosed home, hungry family, God bless. They rarely speak. But they strike me the way William Powell strikes me in My Man Godfrey: There’s no way he could be homeless.

I wasn’t always so cynical. One evening when I was still in college, I was with my friend C___ and his boyfriend J___, hanging out in the gay neighborhood of Baltimore, Mount Vernon. We were all too young to go to the bars and clubs, but we were there to steep in the general atmosphere, reveling, as we were, in the then-new excitement of our community. We were at the base of the hill the rises towards the George Washington Monument, outside of The Buttery, a diner that would have been more aptly named “The Greasery.”

An African-American woman came up to us. She spun out her story—she needed milk for her baby at home, stuck in the city without bus fare. C___ and I, both still new to Baltimore, looked at each other, unsure of what to do. We could deal with homelessness when it was huddled in a corner, but never had it come up to confront us. As college students, we hardly had any money ourselves, though we must have had a few bucks between the two of us. We sputtered out our excuses, but she pressed on. My baby’s hungry, she insisted.

J____, from nearby Ellicott City, was getting more upset at us for engaging with her than with her for coming to us.

Finally, fed up, he gave her a few dollars. “Here,” he said. “Take it.”

When she left, she seemed to skip, with what might have been glee. “She seems happy,” I said.

“Why wouldn’t she be?” J___ replied. “She got her money.”


ImageBig Deal on Wheeling Street

The scene:

July 1985. Morris Heights. The field at the end of the street is overgrown with beige scrub, with a small copse of trees at its center. The copse hides an abandoned mattress, an object of mystery and excitement to bored adolescents. Around it, bike paths have been carved out of the dry ground with teeth-chipping hills and gullies for intrepid bikers. Midsummer flattens everything, a heat that stretches across the neighborhood like mohair. The sun opens the mischief in our pores, and it’s too far to walk to Circle-K to shoplift candy.

The soundtrack:

Instead of Piero Umiliani: cicadas. Cars speeding up and down Baranmore Parkway. Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Paul Young and Whitney Houston on the radio. My father snoring on the couch as we wait to have dinner with my cousins.

The crew:

Me, as the semi-innocent Mario; my best friend Daddy from across the street as Peppe, the instigator; Floyd, the Native-American, the sad-sack Capannelle; Brent, whose glasses always seemed smeared, as can’t-catch-a-break Cosimo; and Rae, the chubby-faced moll, who lived two doors down from me.

The plan:

Three blocks away, I-225 connects the major interstates I-70 and I-25, cutting through our neighborhood like a pocketknife. The highway is the terminus of our world: anything past Xanadu St. seems as distant as the moon, and the kids there, aliens. Although there’s an underpass right along 30th, the 31st St. gang decides on a shortcut: a kid-sized opening in the chain-link fence walling off the highway. There must be a similar gap on the other side.

The job:

The cars don’t seem to be going that fast, even though they’re barreling along at 65 miles an hour, minimum. We wait until we spy a gap in traffic, then, one at a time, hop over the guardrail and run across the pavement to the grassy median. That’s just northbound; we still have southbound to contend with, though it’s pretty much the same. Floyd, with his short, spindly legs, can’t sprint as fast, and the rest of us watch as cars slow and swerve to avoid him. We also discover that there’s no gap on the other side of the highway.

The fallout:

After lying low for a bit and consulting, we decide to haul ass back across the highway, but not before we see police lights coming down to road. Most of the gang scampers across and down the hill, but Danny, who’s been ushering Floyd, gets nabbed. We know as soon as we see this that he’ll sell us down the river, and we scatter home to await the knock on our doors. But as it turns out, Dad has woken from his nap, and it’s time for dinner. As we drive up Baranmore Parkway, away from the crime scene, I see a cop car coming from the opposite direction, and as we pass, there’s Danny’s red hair in the back. For one of us, at least, a successful getaway.

Bob Hoskins walks into the Ritz wearing a Naugahyde jacket the color and texture of an orange fruit roll-up, and beneath that, a Hawaiian shirt which even retired Floridians would decry as too loud. Later, he shows off a gold medallion. At the bar, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Bloody Mary, he thinks nothing of his clothes: they’re new, after all. He’s comfortable in them, proud of them, until the call girl he’s been driving around she sees him and sums up her feelings in a word: Christ.

The camera shows the dining room: white arches, chairs with red velvet cushions, and crystal chandeliers. Rose marble columns, potted palms, Oriental rugs. Everything is gilded—the statues in the recesses, the harp on which the harpist plays—and when the light reflects on your skin, you yourself become golden.

Matthew and I were there on Christmas Day. My cousin, who lived in London at the time, made the reservations, her treat. Tea at the Ritz!: the only hotel to have its name adjectivized. On the long escalator rides in the Tube, adverts framed on the walls spoke of the tradition of spending the holidays at the Ritz, only £50 a person.

But once we arrived, I felt under-dressed. Some men wore tailored tuxedoes. I wore a suit I had owned since college, when it fit a slightly skinner version of myself. It pinched, and the material seemed scratchy. When I reached for my teacup, too much of my cuff showed. Even the waiters’ uniforms seemed custom-fit. For the next hour and a half—before we had to make way for the next seating—I tried to convince myself that I belonged there.

But my clothes gave me away, I thought. The call girl who paid for Bob Hoskins clothes tells him: Being cheap is one thing. Looking cheap is another. That really takes talent.

Afterwards, sated with cucumber sandwiches and lapsang souchang, as we gathered our coats, an older woman emerged from the downstairs casino. She was tall and elegant, Parisian, I imagined.  But:  she wore the most astonishing hat. It teetered upon her head, a swirl of purple, as if Gaudi had built a beehive out of felt. I couldn’t help but gawp as she passed by. I turned to Matthew in order to confirm that what I had seen was real, but instead, I caught the eye of an older British woman. With a wry smile, she said, “I see you looking,” in a tone of voice that humored as much as it chastened.

Chances are that hat cost more than my suit. But she seemed so at ease in it that it didn’t matter that I found it slightly ridiculous, much in the same way that I found myself slightly ridiculous. She wanted to call attention to herself, so if she was there, then Bob Hoskins could be there, and so could I. I put on my overcoat (second-hand, bought at a Washington D.C. garage sale) and headed out into the London winter.

Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon has no moral center. The main character, the lone police officer of a small, colonial Senegalese town, is craven, prone to childish pranks, from salting someone’s tea to weakening the floorboards of an outhouse so that the unlucky occupant falls through. He endures humiliations with a wan smile, and when he’s finally had his fill, he metes out capricious punishment, killing the guilty and innocent alike. He draws others into his depravity, making his superior officer a patsy and inducing a schoolteacher to tell her class that his chalk-written confession on the blackboard is Le Marseillaise. Characters twice proclaim—once during an eclipse and again during a sandstorm—the arrival of Judgment Day, but no such judgment comes. Instead, life continues unabated in the town, the painted walls of houses both sun-baked and blinding.  Tavernier’s camerawork itself resists implying a moral center. He avoids, as he describes, “the principle of symmetry, with the hero in the center.” Instead, he creates, with his steadicam shots, “an image that [has] no center, that [keeps] shifting… It’s the physical equivalent of earth that isn’t solid.”

This is the creation of colonialism, Tavernier suggests—this lawless land. “The atmosphere of violence, horror, hypocrisy doesn’t leave you anything to hold on to,” he says. “But it’s not exactly a desperate vision of the world. Nor is it the opposite. You simply don’t know.”


I was raised Vietnamese Buddhist, which carries syncretic traces of Confucian ancestor worship. My parents themselves were light Buddhists, which meant that I went to temple only on major holidays:  New Year’s, smoky with sulfurous firecrackers and jangled with Dragon Dances; the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, with paper lanterns and me trading my salty yolked slice of mooncake to my father for his yolk-free one; and the Veneration of the Ancestors, for which one pinned a red rose to his lapel if his parents were alive and a white one if the parents had passed on. At temple, black-and-white portraits of the deceased were lined up on either side of the altar; each time I attended, I looked for my grandparents there. At the center of the altar was a large gilt Buddha, seated in the heroic position, hands in the ‘calling earth to witness’ mudra. The Buddha had radiant, neon halo. Buddhism doesn’t have strict tenets, such as the Ten Commandments, but instead suggests the Eightfold Path. I would have learned these paths, but the service was conducted in Vietnamese, which I understood only fleetingly, and I mouthed my way through sutras transliterated from Sanskrit into monosyllabic Vietnamese and read to the rhythm of a tapped woodblock. At the gong, I knew to bow, though I never figured out which gongs meant bow once and which meant three times.

Thus, my moral education consisted primarily of ‘Goofus and Gallant’ cartoons in Highlights for Children, read once every six months while waiting in the dentist’s office. I like to think I didn’t turn out too badly.

Pollywog Stew (1982)

I never knew the Beastie Boys did straight-up punk.

Licensed to Ill (1986)

“(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” was impossible to avoid.  The video was on heavy MTV rotation, and I disliked the Beastie Boys for many reasons:  shouty lyrics, frat-boy antics, low-level homophobia.  Of all the things to fight for, I thought, why is partying first?  But the biggest reason was that hip-hop wasn’t on my radar; I was twelve, and only making the transition from Top 40 to Euro synth-pop.

Paul’s Boutique (1989)

At Barnes & Noble, I spread all the alternative music magazines I could find in front of me on the table so that everyone could see how alternative I was.  Even though Paul’s Boutique got plenty of positive press, my antipathy towards the Beastie Boys had evolved into indifference.  They were mainstream, I thought, and to hell with the mainstream!  I was too busy with the review of the latest Peter Murphy album and the up-and-coming Nine Inch Nails, who I suspected might get big.

Check Your Head (1992)

R___ had a poetry class with me.  He wore baseball caps backwards and was in a fraternity:  in other word, the type I associated with the Beastie Boys.  And, sure enough, when I delivered a copy of my workshop poem to his dorm, there, on the floor, was Check Your Head.  Mark Strand took a liking to R___’s work, much to my dismay.  Strand held up phrases of his for us to examine:  a crumb of soap.  Grandmother slurping soup.  I wondered, How was this possible?  Strand gave me a C, and I retreated to the Baltimore raves, where frat boys hadn’t yet infiltrated.

Ill Communication (1994)

In X-Force #43, Rictor (a mutant with the ability to create seismic waves) takes his teammate Shatterstar (a warrior from another dimension) to the Limelight to teach him about human feelings.  When Shatterstar hears “Sabotage,” he notes the atavism of the song, how the bass rattles his bones.  When a young girl tries to dance with him, he runs away, wondering what it would take to make him feel human.  Years later, he and Rictor become lovers.

Hello Nasty (1998)

Ad-Rock apologized for his past homophobia in a letter to Time Out New York.  “There are no excuses, but time has healed our stupidity,” he wrote.  “We have learned and sincerely changed since the 80s.”  He takes it a step further in “Alive” when he raps “Homophobics ain’t OK,” while wearing a fuzzy powder-blue jumpsuit.

Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (2011)

Adam Yauch passed away from cancer about a month ago.  A friend in Brooklyn told me about passing a beauty salon that had a hand-written sign reading ‘R.I.P. MCA.’  I didn’t know what it meant, my friend said.  Neither did I.  Adam Yauch, to me, was not MCA but the founder of Oscilloscope Laboratories and vegan Buddhist.  But, rewatching the videos, I realized how Adam Yauch is inseparable from MCA, the way I’m inseparable from my 80s self for which I have yet to apologize.  There he is dressed like a scruffy 80s motorcycle rocker; then again with short-cropped gray hair.  There he is his delivering a gruff rap about beer; then again criticizing disrespect towards women.   There he is, still fighting.

The last time I saw Do the Right Thing, I was in Brooklyn for a sleep-over.  W___, my best friend, had invited me to meet Y___, who lived within throwing distance of Sunset Park.  Y___ was Nigerian; his wife K___ was South Asian; and, as the other guests arrived, the party resembled, more and more, a U.N. General Assembly Meeting.  I was the only delegate who had not brought his own pillow.

The gathering wound late into the night, and those of us spending the night staked out floor positions.  But even at 2 a.m., no one was tired.  We debated books and art and politics, and nibbled on leftover chaat.  We were, all of us, overeducated, despite (in spite of?) our various international upbringings, and K___’s naan tasted just as good cold as it did warm.

Y___ had set up a projector to beam pictures from his laptop onto his wall.  Someone stopped the slideshow and pulled up Do the Right Thing on YouTube.  We watched, pausing every ten minutes or so as the invisible hand guiding the cursor searched for the next section.  During those interstices, I thought about how far this slice of Brooklyn was from that one:  20 years and two bus transfers away.


Lee Klein, as he was supervising the transfer of the film to DVD, recalls cinematographer Ernest Dickerson saying, Redder, redder, redder.  “The instinct was,” Klein says, “not to go that red because it seemed too far, but that’s how he shot it and that was the intention, and it’s easy to back off the red to be safe.”


I was in Y___’s brownstone again two years later.  W___ had moved into the apartment below Y___, and she was throwing a house-warming party.  Many of the invitees I had met two years before.  I brought W___ a glazed Portuguese tile with a portrait of Fernando Pessoa.  She had already settled in quite comfortably:  a vertical bookshelf made it look as if books were climbing up her wall.  She had filled her disused dining room fireplace with books.  An arch of books, a parabola of paper.  Our lives are fire hazards.

The party moved into Sunset Park.  It was a pleasant fall late-afternoon, and the blanket kept the cold from seeping into us.  The park was a patchwork of picnics.  As we gathered around the homemade red velvet cake, a Hispanic toddler waddled up to us.  His nose and mouth were a transparent slick of mucus.  Someone offered him a slice, and he looked at it hesitantly and wandered off without taking it.  Around us, lingual cacophony:  the park of Babel.

Then:  sunset, something that would have been apocalyptic if it weren’t so beautiful.  The air turned to blood.  Loud Chinese music came over some loudspeakers as a group of dancers prepared their evening practice session.  The red grew increasingly intense, as though someone were infusing oxygen into the blood.  As other housewarmers returned to W___’s apartment, I watched the sky:  redder, redder, redder.

My father once told me about a Vietnamese folk-tale monster:  the ma lai nuốt ruột.  We were on Federal Boulevard, in the strip mall of Vietnamese restaurants and grocery stores.  My mother was shopping, as she did most weekends, stocking up on nước mắm and hoisin sauce and other thick, tarry substances that smelled of decay and sweet rot.

While she shopped, I spent my time in the Asian video rental store a few doors down.  Most of what they stocked were Hong Kong soap operas, these multi-volume sets that people rented by the pound.  I lingered at the horror movies, a single shelf.  I remember clearly The Gates of Hell.  On the back of the video case, an inset still of a pickaxe coming perilously close to a woman’s head; another with a corpse, its flesh sloughing off like oatmeal.  I wanted to watch this movie so bad.  I had come under the spell of ‘art-horror,’ which Noel Carroll describes, in The Philosophy of Horror, as a necessary feeling of threat “compounded by revulsion, nausea and disgust.”

One day, the owners of the store taped up a poster of a creature I’d never seen before.  On the poster, a woman’s severed head floated about a hollow body, entrails oozing down like candle drippings, and the large intestine dragging on the ground, glistening.  My father told me, “That’s a ma lai nuốt ruột.”  The ma lai nuốt ruột (roughly, to “hybrid-ghost gut swallower”) is a Vietnamese version of an vampire (in Thai, the krasue; in Malaysian, the penanggalan).  But it consists of only the head and intestinal tract.  The digestive system given malevolent life.  It sucks away the victim’s blood with its bladed tongue, and the dead person will rise to become another ma lai nuốt ruột.  To kill it, you either had to destroy the rest of its body before sunrise.

On the poster, it was a latex head, of course, held up by wires.  The viscera were coated in glycerin, rather than lymph.  But, I felt that strange combination of fascination and disgust.  The creature was real in a way that I knew that it was not real.  Carroll explains, “Saying we are art-horrified by Dracula means we are horrified by the thought of Dracula where the thought of such a possible being does not commit us to a belief in his existence.”

In Fiend Without a Face, the creatures that stalk the American-Canadian border are invisible.  They’re the materialization of thoughts; ideas that have been given form outside of the mind.  “Mental vampires,” one character calls them.  When they become visible, they appear as brains perambulating on their ganglia, similar to the ma lai nuốt ruột, but not exact.  We are horrified at our own thoughts.

I’ve never been able to track down the film from the poster.  It could be Witch with the Flying Head or Mystics in Bali.  But in some ways, I don’t want to find it.  I prefer having it out there, wandering, invisible, a thought detached the mind that spawned it.  It’s eating my brain, even now.

Thomas Aquinas says that gluttony “denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire.” It is that desire, “inordinate through leaving the order of reason,” that constitutes the sin. He classifies the appetite twofold: 1) the unconscious appetite, naturalis, which refers to hunger and thirst, and to which considerations of virtue and vice are irrelevant; and 2) the “sensitive appetite,” animalis, which requires the knowledge of what is pleasant and useful. It is in the concuspience of the latter that gluttony exists.

At first glance, The Blob appears to be a creature of pure naturalis, consuming “in accord with its nature, without any knowledge of the reason why such a thing is appetible.” Indeed, as Aquinas argues, if The Blob exceeds “in quantity of food, not from desire of food, but through deeming it necessary to him, this pertains not to gluttony, but to some kind of inexperience.”

But, according to Bruce Kawin, The Blob represents the growing consumerism of 1950s America — consuming for the sake of consuming. Americans’ “complacent desire to stuff themselves with goods and good times had shown itself to be a monster,” says Kawin.  If this is the case, then The Blob fulfills Aquinas’ requirements for gluttony: “when a man knowingly exceeds the measure in eating, from a desire for the pleasures of the palate.” The farmer’s hand would have been enough, but it ate the whole farmer; the nurse would have been enough, but it ate the doctor too; the projectionist would have been enough, but it swamped the theater itself; one diner would have been enough, but it engulfed the entire diner whole. Dayenu.

At the Golden Castle diner, where I sometimes have late-night meals, the neon signs reflect off the surface of the glass. It feels as if we’re being smothered in raspberry preserves. The waitresses move with desultory good cheer and, in the moments in between customers, discuss what may lie outside of the diner. Bills to pay. Disappointed families. The sadness that night brings. All the things that eat you alive.

My order arrives: a French dip, which comes with a side of fries and a condiment cup of coleslaw. The roast beef is smothered in Provolone, which looks like melted plastic bag. I release a red splotch of ketchup adjacent to my fries, trying, as much as possible, not to let it touch the fries themselves. Nonetheless, it seeps towards them, maybe from the tilt of the plate, maybe of its own accord.

At the end of my meal, very little remains. A few burnt tips of French fries like fingernail clippings. A shallow pool of au jus with a flotilla of coagulated oil, which I sop with a piece of bread. I slouch in my booth, like I’m sinking into the vinyl. I’ve always trusted my metabolism to keep my waistline in check, but lately, I’m not so sure. The skin on my stomach stretches taut, and I imagine it eating more, eating endlessly. The blob waits to consume us all.

The waitress asks if I want a refill. Of course I do.

A car salesman gave Matthew and me an exegesis on the origins of ska.  Ska, he said, originated in Jamaica in the 1960s.  This original wave of ska gave rise to rocksteady and, later, reggae.  From reggae, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, by cutting and looping master tapes, developed dub.   The second wave of ska, also known as the Two Tone Revolution, came in the late 70s in the UK, and blended punk elements into ska.  Dancing to ska was known as skanking.  The third wave emerged in the US, during the 1980s and 90s.  In Philadelphia, he said, there’s an annual Ska Blowout, which takes place at the Trocadero.  Do you skank? I asked him.  No, he said.   Matthew listened quietly.  All he wanted was a checkerboard front license plate for his new car, and I had said, Someone’s going to think you’re a rude boy.


The Harder They Come suggests that two things keep the poor in Jamaica from breaking out in open rebellion:  music and ganja.  In one scene, people pick through the refuse at the dump, triumphantly holding up a carton of eggs; then, in another, they dance at a club, losing themselves amongst the rhythm.  Still later, they smoke spliffs the size of a baby’s arm.  But these trades are controlled by the police and the military, and when the police cut access to them, the tide turns against Ivan, singer-turned-criminal, the film’s hero.


In Amsterdam, I was five miles into a 20-mile bike ride when I got a flat and had to walk my bike back to the rental station.  Tired, frustrated, I decided to go to a coffee shop later that evening.  There, I was presented with an extensive menu.  Each item had an accompanying picture, the buds and leaves in infinite variations of green, from silver-tipped and sage-like to a dark, dusky green.  I couldn’t decide:  harsh, grassy, smooth, velvety, graceful.  What was this, a wine bar?  Not to mention, I was giggly:  this was my first time!  I decided on a brownie with whipped cream, whereupon Matthew had half, because, after all, it still was a brownie.  We both fell asleep soon afterwards.


In a recent visit to Colorado, I noticed neon-green crosses advertising the dispensaries that had sprouted up across the state.  Then I remembered:  Oh, it’s medicinal now.  Our close friends, H. & J., have a grower’s license and grow a small crop in their yard.  J. didn’t sell but kept it for home use.  The trick, she told us, was to continually prune so that buds emerge.  Many people claim that cannabis elevates your consciousness, but I wonder:  does it sharpen the mind or blunt it?  Whom does it benefit in its structure of money and power?  Does it foment revolution or mollify it?  J. gave Matthew and me a Mason jar of homegrown — all-natural, organic — and a metal pipe with which to smoke it.  I hid it in my parents’ house, behind some books, like a teenager, rebellious and wicked, as if this were really something to get excited about.

Pool Sharks

The University of Houston’s reading series invited heavy-hitters from around the world.  In my three years alone:  Seamus Heaney, Mario Vargas Llosa, Salman Rushdie, Edna O’Brien, amongst others.  After the readings, wealthy donors living in the River Oaks neighborhood would host receptions for the biggest names at their houses.  A satellite image of River Oaks Boulevard shows one palatial mansion after another, each with a chlorine-blue outcropping, a de rigueur private pool.

The Golf Specialist

River Oaks Boulevard ends in a loop in front of the River Oaks Country Club.  It boasts 18 holes of golf across 6,868 yards of Bermuda grass.  Players are expected to repair divots and marks on the greens.  Soft spikes only.  A marshal enforces tee times.  A guardhouse along River Oaks Boulevard keeps wayward graduate students from getting too close.  From our old, rickety cars, we saw the white colonnades and trimmed hedges and knew that we’d gone too far.

The Dentist

Marion Barthelme, Donald Barthelme’s widow, also hosted parties at her house, in the West University area.  Her house, in comparison, seemed more modest than the ones in River Oaks, even though she had remarried to the former CEO of Tyco International.  Marion, not surprisingly, was much more involved with the University of Houston’s creative writing program.  After her receptions, for instance, she pulled out a stack of newly-bought Tupperware containers.  For leftovers, she told us.  I know how you writers get hungry.  None of us were shy about claiming one.  For days afterwards: cold lamb brochettes, chunks of unidentified French cheese, beggar’s purses.  Our teeth remembered how it felt to eat.

The Fatal Glass of Beer

At these receptions, booze flowed freely.  We sat on her sofa and looked around her house, scrutinizing the signatures on the artwork lining her walls.  She had Picasso pencil sketches along the stairwell.  One late night, red-rimmed wine glasses and empty beer bottles occupying every flat surface, one student pointed out the de Kooning in the living room, and another student, clearly blitzed, said, “Yeah, that.  That’s just a decorative de Kooning.”

The Pharmacist

In the display case separating the dining room from the living room, Marion had a small, wooden box with antique pharmacist’s bottles — clear, small ones used to hold powders and tinctures and ointments.  These, however, were filled with marbles and sand and sea glass and pinfeathers.  I wanted to shake them, just to hear the sound the objects inside made.  “Bad idea,” someone said.  “I’m pretty sure that’s a Cornell box.”

The Barber Shop

I learned recently that Marion Barthelme died from cancer.  She lived not far from the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and I wonder what treatments she had sought.  I wonder if her hair had fallen out.  That’s a stereotype, of course — Susan Sontag would have my hide for that — but there’s no other way to think of Marion than with her brown hair, packing away hors d’oeuvres, and we graduate students lining up, grateful, as always, for her generosity.