Last Call

Last Call

Sweet Black Angel

By 6.19.15

Rachel Dolezal is neither a black woman nor a white one but an angel sent by God to jar us from our collective insanity.

Dolezal at least passes for Angela Davis’ younger sister. Bruce Jenner could pass for one of the Twisted Sisters, but that’s about it. We mock Dolezal’s claims of blackness yet rush to call Jenner, a still-musclebound six-foot-two-inch man, “Caitlyn.” Our dishonesty rises to the pathological level at least as much as Dolezal’s does. Spokane’s Sweet Black Angel merely lies to us. Caitlyn Jenner compels us all to pretend as a matter of politeness.

An age that accepts fiction as fact naturally finds Dolezal fielding offers to display her irreality on a reality television show. The a.m. TV talkers rush to conduct confessional interviews that elicit more dishonesty. On cue, reports of the obligatory sex tape surface.

Why do they hate us?

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The Lessons of Recent History

By 2.27.15

On Tuesday, we learned that Islamic State militants had kidnapped some 220 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. The week before, ISIS released a video of 21 Egyptian Christians getting beheaded, in which a jihadist declares, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”

Preceding these atrocities was another controversy, this one oratorical. At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, President Obama beseeched his listeners to “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Many people took offense at this remark, not because of its historical veracity but because of its context. Here was the president, like a middle-aged man reminiscing about high school, discoursing on ancient history because he didn’t want to talk about the present.

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Christmas Below the Gnat Line

By From the December 2013 issue

I’ll risk cliché by saying it seems like we just did this a few months ago. Cliché perhaps, but true nonetheless. Hours and days last as long as ever, but the years whiz by.This isn’t a complaint. Christmas is joyous and I like it, even with its aggravations. There are fewer of those now as the family is smaller. Attendance at Christmas dinner at chez Thornberry, once a boisterous affair with young and old human celebrants in double figures and numerous dogs probing all perimeters for handouts, has dwindled, in the words of the song, to a precious few. 

But these few are indeed precious. And recognizing this is a good part of what Christmas is for, even though carols, presents, decorations, and parties remain in the forefront of what has been largely a secular celebration. This was the case even before our cultural transmission belts and their keepers went post-everything.

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The Modern Supermarket Is a Miracle

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

Few things can buoy the human spirit more than a trip to the local store. There, on endless shelves, stacked ceiling high, sit the progressive fruits of thousands of years of civilization, just waiting to be plucked into a shopping cart. Sometimes I come home giddy, and, while putting the cereal and milk in their proper homes, I regale my wife with the magic of it all. You probably think I’m kidding.

Maybe the best way to explain my heightened state of mind is to quote a little from comedian Louis C.K., a guy with twenty-five Emmy nominations to his name. A few years back Mr. C.K. did a bit on late night TV—the video subsequently whooshed around the Internet—on how “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.” My favorite part is when he makes fun of airline gripes, the horror stories friends and relatives tell about their arduous journeys after arriving in a matter of hours from thousands of miles away.  

“First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes. And then we get on the plane, and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes.”

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Bat Guano

By From the July/August 2014 issue

The release of an obscure photograph in May re-opened a bitter controversy. Experts broke down the visual data with Zapruder-film intensity. Some claimed they could identify fine details on a dimly lit figure shown next to a vehicle that appeared to be smoking. Others ridiculed such far-out claims while passing along equally far-out notions concerning a drone or robot they believed to be visible in an indecipherable region of the frame. This was not a newly leaked image of Pat Tillman or Michael Hastings. It was a production still of Ben Affleck in the new Batman costume. The caped crusader superjoint Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is currently shooting in the state of Michigan. And fans are going nuts. 

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Music of the Trilobites

By From the June 2014 issue

I read John Darnielle’s 2011 novel Master of Reality under the unfamiliar constellations of Australia—which was fitting, since the slender book is about being both physically and spiritually far from home. Master of Reality is an entry in Continuum’s “33 1/3” series of books about pop or rock albums. (The other books in the series tend to be straightforward critical studies.) I’ve never listened to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, but Darnielle’s diary of a 1980s teenager locked in a residential psychiatric treatment facility, pleading with his counselor to get his Walkman and Black Sabbath tapes back, captured some of the deeper and darker currents in my own relationship to music.

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Satter Up!

By From the May 2014 issue

I was raised on the baseball highlight reel. As a kid, SportsCenter was my breakfast. Eat a little Cinnamon Toast Crunch, watch a few dazzling catches, laugh at Craig Kilborn and Keith Olbermann, see Ken Griffey, Jr. hit another homerun—what a swing! On really special mornings, there might be something crazy. When I was in college people just did not believe me when I said that pitcher Randy Johnson had actually murdered a dove with a fastball he was delivering to Calvin Murray during a late spring tune-up. “Just an explosion of feathers!” I’d say. “It was crazy!”

“No way. Stop.” 

Really. There was a time you might actually call a friend after SportsCenter aired. That kind of sharing would never happen today, not when “sharing” is a bazillion dollar speculative bubble in Silicon Valley. Your phone would not let something that watchable escape your notice for more than an hour. 

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Year One

By From the April 2014 issue

Happy first birthday, dearest Ruthie! For you, the last 365 days have been the sum of all things; a near-eternity marred by neither meddlesome context nor expectations of anything save the unbidden-yet-ceaseless adoring coos of virtually every passerby, a daily living room circus performed by two wobbly, portly pugs, and helicopter parents you could be forgiven for presuming to be particularly persistent paparazzi engaged in an elaborate deep-cover operation.

Life won’t always proceed with such sublime accommodation, alas, which is why I find it difficult to fault your fervent efforts to forego slumber. Indeed, the Department of Defense should hire you to run whatever division spearheads its sleep deprivation initiatives: The work you’ve already done to radically extend the waking hours of your first long-term test subject—codename: Mother—is astonishing. And the snooze-inducing kryptonite to your intentional insomnia—a car ride plus NPR—cannot be easily weaponized. 

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Letter Man

By From the March 2014 issue

In the bottom drawer of my bedside table, you will find, if you care to look, dozens of intricately folded pieces of paper, almost all of them from the early post-Cold War era. They are what the French call billets-doux, what you might call love letters, and what I call “proof that I was awesome in middle school.” Why do I keep them? Because I find it difficult to throw away anything containing the phrase “you’re sexy,” especially if it’s written by a girl and addressed to me.

After stumbling upon these old letters at my mother’s house last year, I transported them to my apartment in Washington, D.C., where I can read them whenever I feel nostalgic or vain. Which is all the time.

These letters, you see, are a history of my adolescence. It is a history of which I am exceedingly proud. What are for many people the most awkward years in life were, for me, my glory years. I was at my social peak—popular, good-looking, and obsessed with being popular and good-looking. Thanks to these letters, you don’t have to take my word for it.

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A Hopeless ‘R’

By From the January-February 2014 issue

After a conversation about politics, my grandmother and I used to say, “Isn’t it terrible how Republican we are? Aren’t we just hard-bitten, incorrigible Republicans? Isn’t it terrible?” Yes, it is. I am so Republican, I sometimes worry about myself.

I never wanted to be a partisan (and I never wanted to be a Republican, though that’s another, if related, story). I would rather be a nice above-the-fray type. “A pox on both their houses” and all that. David S. Broder, the late “dean” of the Washington press corps, seemed to float above the parties. And think of two other Davids: Gergen and Brooks.

Many of my colleagues say, “I’m not a Republican, I’m a conservative.” They usually say it with pride and satisfaction (self-satisfaction, actually). Well, I’m a Republican, as well as a conservative. I’ll vote for (almost) anyone with an “R” after his name.