Dances with Hyenas

When you consider how much physical property North America’s colonizers stole from indigenous peoples (i.e., all of it), it’s not surprising that we also went for the IP.

Like the twelve names for the full moon as the Earth makes its way around the sun every year. Even Europeans, who have an ample supply of Druid-era terminology to draw from, use these names.

January’s Wolf Moon got its name because many tribes noticed the animals being particularly active at this time. The Sioux called it the “wolves run together” moon. In New York City, this moon was gloriously visible on January 6, capping off four days of discord and animus among House Republicans.

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In a State

As the blizzard in Buffalo raged over Christmas, the unfolding tragedy was all but ignored a couple hours east where I spent the holiday. In New York’s Southern Tier, people were focused on the frozen windows of their cars as they traveled short distances with gifts. It was deadly quiet. All the front-yard blowups had gone airless, frozen to the ground.

Nearly 40 people died in the worst storm to hit the Erie County region since 1977, the mayor and county executive blaming each other days after. Regardless of how extreme weather stages these kinds of ambushes, this was something that shouldn’t have happened in today’s “Empire State,” especially considering that New York’s Governor, Kathy Hochul, hails from Buffalo.

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“The whole world is open”

In the movie Operation Mincemeat, about the infamous 1943 British hoax to disguise the Allies’ invasion of Sicily during World War II, there’s a Churchill scene where the P.M. sits in a dark paneled chamber subtly adorned with landscape paintings—oils of green-on-green and muted gray skies, gold frames nicely aged. As the camera pans the room’s perimeter, it takes in these bygone status signifiers one after another, like those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons where a character is running indoors and the same vase of flowers on a round accent table keeps scrolling by.

This is not to diminish the classic green landscape painting, a genre not exclusive to the Brits (see: Barbizon School) but one more beloved in their country than anywhere else on the planet. It’s to emphasize Churchill’s intense love of painting as an act, his love of the natural world and the look of his native land.

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A Man for All Seasons

When I read that the art critic Peter Schjeldahl had died on October 21, I was surprised that my eyes teared up. I knew from a New Yorker essay of his that he had advanced lung cancer. The obituaries said he was 80 and had smoked since he was 16. He was also a recovering alcoholic and apparently not the greatest father. Before 2019, I knew nothing about his personal life beyond his writing on art.

The tears, I realized, were for my own future life without the sensory crescendos of a new Peter Schjeldahl review. I could say unequivocally that he was my favorite living critic, and not having his sensibility in real time felt like a serious loss.

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Things Go Better?

A month or so ago, I started noticing big subway ads for “Coca-Cola.” I insert the quotes because I can’t remember the last time I saw that infamous font advertised anywhere that wasn’t an AMC theater.

One version of the ad shows a beautiful young couple—white, male and female, both very blond—having fun at home while holding bottles of “Coca-Cola.” The other shows the same style of couple, only Black, each with light skin that seems to match the other perfectly. The weird demographics notwithstanding, my first thought upon realizing that these ads are part of a campaign was: Who still drinks Coke?

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On Getting Out

The trailer for the latest Halloween movie—landing more than four decades after the original—is so hard-pressed to titillate that the grisly deaths are shown rather than teased. Predictably, we see the gray-haired Jamie Leigh Curtis enveloped by an old house on Halloween, interacting with various teenage carnage fodder.

That trailer made me think about Getting Out—how it’s a twisted game we play with ourselves. Whether it’s out of the house (harm’s way) or out of a franchise that’s outlived any plausible narrative, we’re always messing it up.

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A World of Small Men

The diminishment of men—every age, race, and nationality—is now another thing to worry about. Or at least the New York Times thinks so. In a recent column, David Brooks looked at a new book by Richard Reeves looking at “the male crisis”—boys and men struggling in the United States and across the globe.

Brooks notes that “Reeves talked to men in Kalamazoo about why women were leaping ahead. The men said that women are just more motivated, work harder, plan ahead better. Yet this is not a matter of individual responsibility. There is something in modern culture that is producing an aspiration gap.”

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Bullshit Society

As many have written over the past few weeks, “quiet quitting” has to be the most inane concept of 2022. So you’re going to show your employer you’re checked out by working just 40 so-so hours a week? OK, maverick, but you’ve got nothing on “King-Size Homer,” what many consider the best Simpsons episode of all time (if not for the fat-shaming).

In this 1995 gem, Homer’s reaction to the nuclear power plant’s new exercise program is to pork up to over 300 pounds so he can claim a disability and work at home. He hits his mark and gets a workstation in the living room. All he has to do is press Y on the keyboard all day. Eventually he realizes he can set up his top-hatted “drinking bird” to keep pecking the Y so that he can go off and have fun. When he returns to find the drinking bird collapsed, his prehistoric DOS monitor flashes “Situation Critical, Explosion Imminent.” He has to rush to the plant (hard to do when you’re morbidly obese) to manually shut down the system before there’s a nuclear meltdown.

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The Rule of Three

Several times during our drought summer in New York, severe thunderstorms were predicted and the atmosphere complied—ashen clouds, intense humidity, barometric pressure sucking the curtains to the screen. But then nothing happened: no deluge from the heavens, not a single drop. And before you know it: sun again, that insidious free agent.

This has been my metaphor for our democracy in peril. Something threatening happens, and we think: “At last they’ll come round.” But the heavens never open; not a single drop. It turns into just another line crossed (He declassified everything that day while riding in a golf cart; all good!).

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Short Story: Ms. Tisch

My best friend Mona prefaced any philosophical thought with “It must be weird”—as in “It must be weird to be a dumb kid because you don’t even know what you don’t know.” Dumb kids came up in our conversations because of Ms. Tisch. When someone asked if there was going to be a quiz the next day, all she said was: “A word to the wise should prove sufficient.” We considered The Wise to be us.

Ms. Tisch taught fifth- and sixth-grade math and quickly became our favorite teacher, Mona’s and mine. She had taught my brother two grades ahead when she first came to St. Mary’s and was known as Mrs. Tisch. My brother didn’t have much to say about her. In fact, she was largely considered a benign oddball by students and teachers alike.

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