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Be Less Stupid
Updated: 9 min 28 sec ago

New York City, January 22, 2018

1 hour 56 min ago

★★★ The morning was chilly without being cold, and damp and grimy without being mucky. Sun glimmered halfway or maybe a third of the way into view. Birdsong bounced around; a sparrow, puffed up and brushy, loosed its voice from a bare branch of a skinny street tree. The sun lost its tenuous hold and a deeper chill arrived. The wait for the first-graders to show up in the schoolyard was boring and uncomfortable. In the span of an hour, the hoodie had gone from being enough to being a little less than enough.

Small Bursts

9 hours 9 min ago

Image: photosteve101 via Flickr

This is an effort to get what I want. My problem is that I know what I want, but there isn’t an adequate, efficient way to explain it. It’s a food texture and the most exemplary source is the blackberry. It involves a tension-pop and a gush. There is detonation of structure and then juice. It’s really the collision of two different moments: first a small round smoothness, second a rush of liquid. It’s more of a sensation than a texture.

The sensation is characteristic of: pomegranate seeds, tapioca balls in bubble tea, passionfruit, caviar (ughh/sorry), salmon roe, most roe though not masago roe, the smallest individual sections of citrus fruit which I once saw described as “juice-filled hairs,” quinoa, and chia seeds when I can manage to isolate one. Isolating a chia seed is like trying to catch a piece of confetti. So many, and so evasive!

For a moment, I thought alien eggs was the answer. As you may have already understood, alien eggs is gross. “No,” my friend Sophie said. Her judgment is to be trusted; she described “The Shape of You” as “icky” within a minute of hearing it for the first time. I did not tell her, but I will tell you that I first considered alien pimples, which is much worse, though still not as awful as “juice-filled hairs.”

There aren’t nearly enough words to describe the expansive and joyful experience of eating. We need to squeeze and eke words that exist for sufficient accuracy. Deciding whether or not to separate the broth and noodles for leftover ramen storage, my crush asked, “smooshie or not-so-smooshie?” Regarding the limits of language and sustenance, I still can’t believe we never solved the hot-spicy-hot-warm ordeal. But I’m onto new and weirder things.

Mining another language felt potentially fruitful. The word boba for bubble tea is a Chinese transliteration, not concerned with sounds but spelling. As a texture-eater, I am very concerned with the sounds of words, but not the spelling. I bet flavor-eaters are into spelling. Anyway, I looked up bubble in other languages. The Hausa word kumfa for bubble almost gets it. Same for the Finnish kupla. Kupla has the good hard pressure of the k, the dip of the u, the ascent of the up, the fall of the la. The Latvian word for gush, izplūst is tempting.

Another tempting word has already been hoisted by the trademarked language of American snackables: gusher. Though Gushers™ don’t have the right feeling. There isn’t quite a pop. (Popper, also could be a contender, had it not already also been claimed for other purposes.)

The blackberry vs. raspberry texture is helpful as a model. Raspberry sections aren’t as plump or divided. This doesn’t let raspberries burst quite dramatically enough. Blackberry sections are burst-ready! A blackberry is not a berry, botanically, for this very reason: it’s an aggregate fruit that is composed of many small drupelets.

Drupelets! My beloved. Aggregates of drupelets. My heart bursts. Drupaceous is a word, but unfortunately, it is a bland reference to any old drupe (peach, plum, cherry).

A suddenness is crucial. It’s the satisfaction of popping bubble wrap but edible; resistance and then not. It’s a release of tension. I saved a draft of this as “bursties” but I knew it wasn’t right. It’s too explosive, it implies a rupture and a violence. There is a softness to the feeling, though it is clearly delineated. It’s bubble-ish, though juicy, not airy.

The threshold of the sensation is the best part, the tense promise of juiciness. It’s a boundary-crosser, whole then collapsed, and effusive. Pomegranates, which each contain exactly 840 seeds, are particularly satisfying regarding this withholding promise. This is due to the strength of the membrane of pomegranate’s arils. Arils are the fleshy appendage of a seed. On the pomegranate, arils are shiny, tough ruby-colored membranes filled with juice. I’ve seen them described as having a “squirting texture,” which is not wrong.

Figuring this out has mostly tended to veer towards the erotic/porny. It keeps reminding me of Allison Janney’s character in 10 Things I Hate About You describing an arousal as “engorged,” “tumescent.” In Sophie’s words: “icky.”

We can try to make it clinical. What we’re talking about, scientifically, is similar to turgor pressure. Turgor pressure is the force within a cell that pushes against the membrane of the cell wall. I like a high turgor pressure. The feel of “containment by an expansive force”! Sometimes a growing root plant cell can have a pressure that’s three times that of a car tire! It’s how they can push through asphalt. But if you think for one moment I could call this whole thing “turgid,” I wonder if you have even adequately loved the submissive squish of a salmon roe droplet.

This poem I have affection for, “Eating the Avocado” by Carrie Fountain, presses on language’s failures to describe anything and discusses a baby’s first food. It ends with this line: “My heart did burst.” We might not get to the accuracy of describing things, but we are tasting them. I haven’t figured out my word, but I feel on the edge of it, the anticipatory pre-release part. It’s on the tip of my tongue, I’m not quite ready or able to say it, still holding onto the juiciness.

Eating the Avocado BY CARRIE FOUNTAIN Now I know that I’ve never described anything, not one single thing, not the flesh of the avocado which darkens so quickly, though if you scrape what’s been exposed to the air it’s new-green beneath like nothing ever happened. I want to describe this evening, though it’s not spectacular. The baby babbling in the other room over the din and whistle of a football game, and now the dog just outside the door, scratching, rattling the tags on her collar, the car going by, far away but loud, a car without a muffler, and the sound of the baby returning again, pleasure and weight. I want to describe the baby. I want to describe the baby for many hours to anyone who wishes to hear me. My feelings for her take me so far inside myself I can see the pure holiness in motherhood, and it makes me burn with success and fear, the hole her coming has left open, widening. Last night we fed her some of the avocado I’ve just finished eating while writing this poem. Her first food. I thought my heart might burst, knowing she would no longer be made entirely of me, flesh of my flesh. Startled in her amusing way by the idea of eating, she tried to take it in, but her mouth pushed it out. And my heart did burst.


Fishing With John Lurie

9 hours 56 min ago

In the months after he first saw “Fishing with John,” a friend of mine began thinking about buying a boat. He wanted to live off the sea. He thought about it most days until he found he could think of nothing else. Then, one day, he moved to Key West, bought a boat, and spent his days fishing. Another friend drove a few hours to a town in far-out Connecticut to buy a saxophone. He wanted to echo the sounds he’d heard on the show. A third friend awoke one morning and noticed that he was droning the theme song. He wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted.

“Fishing with John” was a very short-lived TV show, it hasn’t even been aired since the ‘90s and everyone I know had to find it on the web. It wavered between documentary realism and whimsical fantasy. It wasn’t a mockumentary, but more akin to the Steve Coogan-Rob Brydon Trip series or an exponentially funnier “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” if either show was willing to trail a toe in mind-bending, surreal waters. The eponymous John was John Lurie, star of Jim Jarmusch’s early films, mentor to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Oscar-winning composer, and bandleader of The Lounge Lizards, a musical experiment whose strange beauty could only be rivalled by Lurie’s own Marvin Pontiac recordings. “Fishing with John” surpassed all that, though, and used all of his eclectic skillset to create the weirdest and best fishing show ever broadcast.

Lurie secured funding for the show by playing home video tapes of fishing trips to a group of Japanese investors. With their money, he tried to recreate the off-handed magic of those tapes. He set off into the wild with celebrities of varying temperaments—a pissed-off and seasick Tom Waits, a bubbly and playful Willem Dafoe, a sugar-high Dennis Hopper—not necessarily in search of fish, but with all the fisherman’s accoutrements. They’d encounter strange locales and sometimes strange locals. They’d chat. Once in a while, almost by accident, they’d catch a fish.

Lurie and a skeleton crew of producers and artists turned cinematographers only managed to produce six episodes before the money ran out. After half a decade of litigation and funding gluts, Lurie edited together the footage and imposed story structures, which varied from a quixotic search for a giant squid and the squid monks who protect its secrets to a delirious, fish-less drama on the ice sheets of Maine, with the help of Robb Webb, a loopy, subversive, and extremely authoritative-sounding narrator. It went out on IFC and Bravo in 1998 and it hasn’t been on TV since. The Criterion Collection hasn’t even had a fresh home video release of it since 1999. But it’s all on Youtube.

How did the show become a cult classic? What gave it its enduring transformative power? Part of it was the strain of psychological realism that ran beneath the surface surrealism. Lurie’s masterpiece caught the wandering mind of a casual fisherman better than anything else around. As the narrator put it, with utterly straight-faced intonation, “these are real men, doing real things.”

Two real men are sitting in a real boat on the Rio Colorado, in Costa Rica. “No white man has ever been this far before,” the narrator lies after a few cutaways to dangerous looking reptiles lurking on the water’s edge. “Would you like some Fanta?” Matt Dillon asks, his tank top inflected with sweat, his sunglasses pressed to his face, and his black baseball cap on backwards. “No thanks,” Lurie says, and drinks it. “Matt?” “Yes, John.” “You still with me?” “Yes, John.” They cast out a few times and the boat rocks back and forth a bit, drifting away from the camera. They catch nothing. It starts to rain, then stops. They have still caught nothing. “How come I can’t catch a fish?” Lurie asks Dillon. “Do you think I have bad luck?” They talk about whether they did the fish dance, to honor the dead fish, with enough enthusiasm that morning. Soon a maddening montage begins. “From the depths of the jungle the power and mystery of the fish dance has been released,” the narrator tells us. Totcho, a local fisherman who led them to the hut where they spent the previous night, transforms himself into a white bird and flies to their rescue. Fish begin literally jumping from the water into their hands.

The show’s trademarks are all there: the otherworldly narration, absent-minded dialogue, strange editing, languid pacing, and impossible narrative. But none of that matters as much as the degree to which it made you want to join in, as the fact that it was a scene you felt like you could step into, a conversation you could interrupt.

Part of what makes the show so inviting is that Lurie and his guests aren’t particularly accomplished fishermen. They’re not these ridiculous semi-heroic he-men that populate your average fishing show. They don’t know everything about this year’s trout population in this particular lake. These are guys who’d rather sit and guess at what the foreign names of familiar fish are, even if it’s clear they’re just spouting bullshit. It becomes clear that this pastime and this world are accessible to your average amateur.

This is signature of Lurie’s, apparent in all of his artistic endeavors—he engages the audience, then lures them into joining him. Recently, this aspect of his work and life has reached comic heights in his hilariously overactive twitter, and with his paintings becoming popular memes in Russia, but it’s been his modus operandi long before he’d logged onto the internet. In the 1990 documentary, A Lounge Lizard Alone, we see Lurie in what looks like a dollar store, examining small instrument-shaped noise makers in plastic neon colors: little saxophones, little horns, little drums. “Should we get a thousand?” he asks. Later, at three in the morning, he and his 15-year-old bucket drummer throw them out into the crowd at a German nightclub, and he encourages them to make noise. In “Fishing with John,” it’s a little more subtle than throwing you an instrument. He gives you a model of a pleasant fishing trip and you’re free to follow it. Given the surreal elements of the show, you’d be best off improvising significantly from the model.

If none of this speaks to you, at least consider how weird it is that this minor icon of eighties urbanism ended up producing a fishing show that propels others into nature. In the commentary track to the Thailand episode Lurie says, “You go to places like this. Why do you ever go back to New York? Why do you go back to L.A.? Why do you live where you live? It just seems dumb. It’s beautiful to be here.” Listen to his meditations on quiet and soon, like my friend who suddenly found himself on a boat in Florida, you find that “Fishing with John” has changed you.

I used to catch tiny fish in a pond under train tracks with my grandfather when I was a little kid. For a long time after, with the exception of a few very brief deep sea excursions that were closer to whale watching than fishing, I hadn’t so much as held a rod. I hadn’t even consumed a fish in years. This simple and unhappy state of affairs persisted until I stumbled into an obsession with this show.

The stages of a “Fishing with John” obsession are fairly standard. First, you watch it for an easy giggle in a dark room. Soon, you find yourself watching it all the time because you’ve considered the possibility that nothing else around you really makes sense, and you continue rewatching because you’ve run out of new episodes and are hoping that there’s something new to catch in the old ones. Browsing in a bookshop, you start salivating over titles like Walleye Tactics, Tips & Tales, and A History of Fly Fishing in 40 Flies, though you’re unlikely to ever go fly fishing. You find yourself mistakenly watching films like The Annihilation of Fish. And then you find yourself going fishing every month, then every other weekend, and finally you find yourself taking days off work to go fishing. At any rate, I do.

But when you’re out there, it doesn’t feel like an addiction. Not an unhealthy one, anyway. It does feel like a high, though. “There is nothing,” says our esteemed narrator, “like fresh air with a rod in your hand.” Once you’ve done the dance that all fishermen do, once you’ve hooked a worm and you’ve cast out, a strange peace quickly overtakes you. Echoing a throwaway line from the narrator, you announce to your friend that “life is beautiful, for some more than others.” And your mind drifts off as you stare at the bobber bobbing in concert with the sines and cosines dictated by an absentee moon.

You breathe in, sit back, and look at the clouds. They’re moving slower than you’d ever imagined, shifting with the lackadaisical energy of snow before a gust of wind shakes it from a tree. You exhale and you think to yourself, “Ah, fishing.” A soft breeze passes by and the water ripples before you. You hear your friend atonally throat singing the theme song of the show, and you begin to mouth drum. In the communal cacophony one thought resounds in both your minds. It’s a random line from the show that, like so many others, you remember almost daily. “Cheese fish?”

Payne's Gray, the Color of English Rain and Henry Miller's Paris  

10 hours 2 min ago

“Of William Payne but little is recorded,” begins an article in the January 1922 issue of Walker’s Quarterly. The author, a man with the distinguished name Basil S. Long, goes on to write that the “place and date of his birth and death are forgotten. From the fact that he first exhibited in 1776, it may be deduced that he was probably born about 1755, and he is supposed to have been a native of Devonshire, a country which produced numerous artists of notes in the 18th century.” Payne, Long writes, was a civil engineer before be became a watercolorist.

By William Payne (1760–1830) – Antique Fine Art,, Public Domain, Link

He moved around England some, as evidenced by documents and bills and general scraps of paper trailed. During his most successful period, Payne lived in London, where he taught students how to paint waterfalls, rocky beaches, and mossy forests. He sold his art—enough of it to live, anyway—and he exhibited in a few galleries. He knew a man named William Henry Pyne (or at the very least, Pyne knew of Payne) and although Long describes Pyne as a “gossipy and somewhat inaccurate author,” he quotes him just the same.

The method of instruction in the art of drawing landscape compositions had never been reduced so completely to the degenerate notions of this epoch of bad taste as by this ingenious artist,” Pyne wrote. “For a long period, in the noble mansions of St. James’s Square and Grosvenor Square and York Place and Portland Place, might be seen elegant groups of youthful amateurs manufacturing landscapes, a la Payne.

For a few years there, Payne was an important teacher, but his popularity waned. According to an entry published in the Dictionary of National Biography, his work had “degenerated into mannerism” by the dawn of the 19th century. “He was surpassed by better artists, and forgotten before he died,” it concludes.

How can a man forgotten have a biography? Long wrote about him a century after his death. His work is still on display at the Tate in London and there are several at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (although none of them are currently on view). His paintings may be packed away, but Payne was not forgotten. Hell, he even has a color named for him. It’s called Payne’s gray, and it lives on to this day, in numerous paint boxes and on artists’ drafting tables.

This singular shade of gray wasn’t his only contribution to the world of watercolor painting. He also pioneered a way of smudging paint, using bread or cloth, to create a soft watery cast of color across the paper (called “dragging”). He taught students how to use dry brushes to paint precise tree limbs, sticky sharp and fading into striated lines as they blend into the background. And one day (no one knows when), he mixed a really good color, a polluted shade of navy blue that came to define his entire career. Payne made his namesake gray by mixing a good deal of Prussian blue with a smidge of yellow ochre and a dab of crimson lake. The result is a dark color, midnight teal with a trace of brown, so dark that it doesn’t read as blue with red or yellow tones, but rather a watered down, smudgy black.

When used in place of a true black, Payne’s gray creates lifelike shadows, artfully mimicking the blue stain of a storm cloud, the long aching darkness of an overcast evening. Landscapes washed with Payne’s gray look moody and damp, foreboding and quiet. It proved to be quite a useful tool for depicting far-away mountains, made indistinct by the scattering of light in the atmosphere. (Painter John Ivey suggested using Payne’s gray for the following items: “Rocks, having color”, “Mountains (remote)”, “Mountains (nearer)”, and “Clouds, cold.”) It’s amazing that a color which looks so close to black contains none of it at all.

Landscape with Donkeys 1798 William Payne circa 1776-circa 1830 Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

Payne’s gray is not often mentioned outside painterly circles. I hadn’t heard of it until I began researching colors in earnest. But like glaucous, it’s a favorite of poets and musicians. There was German prog rock band named Payne’s Gray that released a single album in the early 1990s, and a Kingston, New York-based rock band currently playing under the name Payne’s Grey Sky. American poet Gerald Burns once wrote a poem called “A Pavement Shop” that includes the lines: “It was night (French ultramarine, Davy’s gray, touch of lampblack). Pale trees (Payne’s gray, transparent olive green) by streetlamps, pointed shapes / made way.”

Message boards frequented by painters are littered with questions about how to achieve the perfect Payne’s gray. French artist Delphine Doreau recently went searching for Payne’s gray, and in the process, she created a charming little sketchbook of all the various shades of this almost-blue gray. If you want to see the color in action, you can watch soothing videos of a disembodied hand brushing Payne’s gray paint over a piece of paper, slowly diluting the color until it fades to a light slate blue. British painter George Shaw is also a big fan of Payne’s gray, as is evident from this painting of an eerily monochromatic forest, which was part of a 2011 show titled simply “Payne’s Grey.” He even told The Guardian that Payne’s gray is “the color of English rain.” “Perfect, then, for rendering of an everyday England that still exists out there in the neglected suburban hinterlands where nothing—and everything—happens daily,” the author notes.

George Shaw, Payne’s Grey II 2007-2008 © the artist

The strange thing about Payne’s gray is that, once you know its name, you start to see it everywhere. Although Payne had a particular way of mixing his gray, it was never quite nailed down—like a chef cooking to taste, he mixed the various shades until it looked right to him. He didn’t have a set recipe. As a result, Payne’s gray isn’t a precisely defined color. Different paint companies offer different versions. Some have more red mixed in (resulting in a mauve-adjacent hue), while others are greener. Yet somehow, unlike Millennial pink (which seems to encompass too many shades of pink to be a distinct color) Payne’s gray is a recognizable hue. You know it when you see it, and it is everywhere. It’s the background to WeCroak’s randomized memento mori text messages. It’s the color of jagged wet slate cliffs on the shores of Prout’s Neck. It’s the color of the industrial carpeting at my husband’s school. There are Payne’s gray cars on the highway, streaking by in the snow, and Payne’s gray books on my bookshelf.

But the most beautiful Payne’s gray of all is probably Henry Miller’s late winter gray, a gray described but not seen, a color I can only imagine. In March of 1930, Miller wrote to his friend Emil Schnellock, describing a desolate afternoon in Paris. He had spent the day when he stalking the streets, head clouded with malaise and ennui and disgust for the whole human race and their pathetic churches, their futile attempts at immortality. (He later called Paris a “preeminently gray city” where “the range of grays is seemingly infinite; here the very effect of gray is lost.”) Here’s Miller:

Boulevard Malesherbes. C’est minuit. The asphalt gleams like the black helmets of the mounted police. Indigo sky swept clear now of those fleecy clouds which hang all day over the city. One sees so much more of the clouds now, walking between low buildings, debouching onto huge carrefours. It is winter and the trees do not obscure the sky. One can look between the naked boughs and observe the colors changing from rust and purple to lilac, to Payne’s gray and then to deep blue and indigo. Along the Boulevard Malesherbes, long after the crepuscular glow of the evening, the gaunt trees with their black boughs gesticulating, stretch out in infinite series, somber, spectral, their trunks vivid as cigar ash. Where is the Seine? I inquire at intervals. Tout droit, monsieur, tout droit.

New York City, January 21, 2018

Mon, 2018-01-22 18:01

★★★★ The early light was diffuse but not so diffuse it couldn’t come rebounding through west windows and shine eastward through the pink meltwater in the glass that had held a kiddie cocktail the night before. The clouds were waxed paper with blue shining through behind them. What chill there was felt no cooler than a cold glass of water. Luminosity floated over everything, even the interior of a bus shelter. No fair excuse was left not to bring out the skateboard that had appeared beside the Christmas tree—even if it took visits to two sporting-goods branches to come up with a set of pads for it. A helpful dad, circling the playground on a skateboard of his own, showed the six-year-old the rudiments. The top of the deck quickly grew white with salt, and eventually the boy’s puffy jacket was whitened too. The board zipped off on its own, to find and ride up on the low hump of snow surviving by the fence.

Three Tides

Mon, 2018-01-22 11:12

Photos: Bryan Washington

Last year, I tried hitting up Three Tides Tattoo when I was in Osaka. But it just didn’t happen. I was mostly too busy getting lost. So I made a point to set a day aside in Tokyo, before I left, if I could manage to find an appointment, because the artists working at their spot by Harajuku are some of the best in the world. I’m aware that’s an impossible thing to quantify. But here I am, doing just that. Their building sits nestled just off of the main strips, and if you blink, you’ll miss the alley that leads to their street.

The studio’s success is sort of a catch-22: tattoos in Japan aren’t entirely outside of the social lexicon, but they’re mostly shunned in daily life. You’ll find most of your visible sleeves and scattered tags in the larger cities, or in their trendier (younger) pockets, like Daikanyama or Dōtonbori or Shimokitazawa. Beyond that, an exposed heart on your wrist or a phoenix or whatever is liable to prompt some whispers. For the most part, inked folks take the time to cover themselves, or dress around their art, but if you’re a foreigner with tattoos the stigma is dramatically lowered. It’s expected that you’d do that thing to your body, because it’s a little strange that you’re here anyways. You are an outsider. You clearly didn’t know better.

Japan has a very long, very nuanced history with tattoos. Much like everywhere else in the world, the reasons for getting inked have ranged from the punitive to the celebratory. Most folks who care know that there’s sometimes the implication of gang-ties[1]; but it’s simply not true that a half-sleeve immediately implicates you with the Yamaguchi-gumi. But a larger source of dismay is that they imply an attempt to stand out: Japan’s a pretty homogenous country. And you here, displaying a very private, individualized thing.

That’s chief among the reasons that most people cover up. If you’re a native, the repercussions can certainly outweigh the benefits. If you’re not willing to don some tape, you’ll have a hard time getting into some onsens. Local gyms might turn you away. The beach and public pools, sans a bodysuit, are out of the question. And the younger generation of Japanese residents are significantly more amenable to tattoos, but as the country (and the world) turns further and further away from the West as a leading cultural influence, it remains to be seen whether tradition will hold out, or whether new traditions, and new influences, will bleed through—to say nothing of just how much foreigners will be privy to those developments.  

But it’s still sort of a wonder that Three Tides has the reputation that it does. The company began with Mutsuo, its owner and founder. He started tattooing back in the early aughts, around 2001, and quickly became adept at working in both Japanese and American styles. His shop was one of the first “Western-style” parlors in Japan: you could just walk in and ask for something, a panther or a skateboard or the sun. Most studios didn’t do that. Or at least not in such a high-frequency. And now his parlors, and the folks who work for him, are acknowledged as some of the most proficient in the world. Both locations have reported a sizable chunk of clientele, from all over the globe, and their artists’ respective social media accounts are stacked with folks whose names, for whatever reason, we all know. And the thing is, they look beautiful. If a good tattoo brings a piece of art to your body, a great one makes your body a piece of art. So that’s what Three Tides does: you walk in as you, and you walk out as art.  

After tossing up the idea of a weekend in Osaka, I ended up deciding to try the Tokyo location. I’ve already got a few tattoos, with a bucket list for a few more. But the main thing I was looking to get was a koi fish. When I was a kid, this restaurant around the corner from our place kept a big-ass tank by the entrance. We were always ordering take-out, so it had my fingerprints all over it. But the lady who owned the place never swatted me away. Sometimes she’d put her hands up there with me. And then, a few summers back, after getting quizzed by customs at the airport on all of the drugs in their little book, I saw this dude across the terminal with the most beautiful one wrapped around his elbow.

So I hit them up. A few hours later, I got an email in Yoyogi Park saying that yes, an artist could take me, if I made a deposit and showed up on time. I wanted Ganji to do it, because he looked like the man, and also I’d seen that he’d tattooed black people before. I sent them the image I wanted, two koi, one swimming upstream, the other downstream, and lamented the fact that getting tagged again meant I’d probably be rocking a jacket for the rest of the trip.

The day of my appointment, I showed up fifteen minutes late. The local line I’d needed was delayed. I stood on the platform, dreading losing the deposit. And of course once I’d made it to Harajuku I found a new way to get lost. When I finally stepped through the door, a guy behind the counter looked up at me, and then away, before a lady sitting beside him asked if I was who I am, in English. She said Ganji would be downstairs shortly. Then she smiled.

When Ganji made it downstairs, he looked at me (a little annoyed, maybe) and shook my hand. I have no qualms in saying that he is easily one of the coolest human beings I have met in this life. He and the lady from the desk conferred in Japanese, and they asked about the image I wanted. He asked where I wanted it, and how much color (for the obvious reason). But then he squinted a little further, and turned back to the image.

He started speaking to the woman in a lilting Japanese. He’d point to one part of a koi, and then another. He’d point at my arm. He’d ask if she agreed. Then he turned to me and said, I can do this, but it’s not a koi. He pointed at the image again, and said, Koi don’t have this many fins.

This is not Japanese, he said. It won’t look good. But I can still do it.

Of course I told him that he was the man, to do what he recommended. Then, almost at once, the tension whooshed right out of the room. Ganji and the lady smiled, and he showed me what he thought made sense, and I agreed, because it was lovely, and he threw my little-printout in the trash. I told the lady I was sorry about the hassle, and she told me it wasn’t my fault.

You have Ganji to advise you, she said. You took his advice. That was smart.

Afterwards, he brought me upstairs and inked me. With the state of tattooing being tenuous in Japan, I didn’t fill out any consent forms or anything like that. And it bothered me for a half-second, but then it didn’t anymore: all things considered, nowadays, this wouldn’t be the worst way to go.

A pair of British kids sat across from me, and they couldn’t have been too far from their teens. They counted out yen on the counter in front of them. Once Ganji started shading, this song started playing above us[2]. From time to time, another tattooist wandered over to check out what he was doing, and he’d explain, to the tune of Sakamoto, gesturing with one hand and working with the other. Before he started layering, another artist caught my eye. She told me it looked really great, pointing towards the mirror.

And it did. It really did. The lady downstairs smiled when she saw it, too. She’d wandered upstairs sometime in the middle of the session. She said, Less is more, and the tattooist beside her asked what that meant in Japanese. After a quick explanation, she nodded.

Less is more, she agreed.

Afterwards, when it came time to pay, the always awkward business of tipping in Japan reared its head (you don’t do it, but tattoos have some flexibility). Everyone looked a little flummoxed when I flipped through my wallet. But he accepted it, nonetheless. We called it a gift. And then he gave me a gift[3]: a pair of socks he’d designed himself. We all thanked each other. We bowed a little a bit. It was cold when I left, but I felt brand-new, brand-new. But before I made it back down the alley, I hadn’t slipped on my jacket, and some kids around the Bathing Ape saw my arm in a flash before.

I don’t know what I expected. They hit me a with a high-five, and a quick Sugoi[4]. Then they disappeared through an alley, laughing all the way down.

[1] This is a pretty good documentary, even if the dubbing is absolutely preposterous.

[2] There’s a lot to be said about the preferred soundtrack of your tattooist: the first artist I frequented, a white guy from the mid-west, only ever played Beats, Rhymes, and Life on repeat. When he moved back to Minnesota, my next guy — a Latino dude from Austin — worked to tracks soaked in reverb. All of this is to say that I didn’t ever expect to find myself crying, to the tune of Sakamoto, in a tattoo parlor in Shinjuku. But what can you do.

[3] Which I’m aware that I probably “paid” for, but still.

[4] “Awesome” is a close English equivalent.


Government Shutdown? How About a Government Shutup!

Mon, 2018-01-22 11:06

Image: NPCA Photos via Flickr

“Who should we blame for the Government Shutdown?” —Political Pete

Blame the Founding Fathers. I know they were supposed to be revered, infallible geniuses. But they really left us with a lot of bags of burning crap to hold. Slavery being the main and most terrible one. Yes, truly, all men were created equal, Jefferson, except the ones you owned! You creep! Can you imagine the #MeToo Moment they could have had back then? “Anyone here been whipped by George Washington? [Everyone’s hands go up.] Oh, you, too?” They should have been much more specific about the 2nd Amendment referencing guns that took a half an hour to reload and were unreliable past 50 feet. I guess that didn’t sound aspirational enough. If they could have predicted AR-15 rifles, don’t you think they would have kept them all for themselves and not allowed any yahoo to walk into a gun show and walk out with one?

And why didn’t they give women the right to vote? Imagine if women had voted in the first 30 or so Presidential elections? Maybe we would have had some actually good Presidents instead of Andrew Johnson, Andrew Jackson, Millard Fillmore and Kevin Spacey. We didn’t know when we were watching American Beauty that that dude was getting exactly what he deserved. If women had help draft the Constitution we’d probably have Health Care for everyone by now, Social Security forever, and a much better National Anthem than “The Star Spangled Banner.” There would still be insane high notes, but there would be a much more danceable beat, too.

I’m sorry for all the government people furloughed today. And for all the Starbucks employees that usually stay busy keeping them caffeinated. But you’ve decided to suck the Federal teat and you have to, sooner or later, expect a mouthful of gross nonsense every once in a while. There’s no way that the Constitution was ever made to hold together a country as vast and weird as this. The problems of people in Rhode Island are not the same as those in Wyoming. They both get two Senators, though. In Wyoming’s case, they probably wear bolo ties to work. In Wyoming they probably let wolves vote. The population of both places is less than the population of Queens. By a lot. And yet they have 2 Senators apiece, in bolo ties, because they are way over there, where someone once drew a boundary between one thing and another based on strategically placed buffalo poos no one should have ever cared about.

But our two-party system is ridiculous. Only slightly less ridiculous than other countries’ multiparty system in which, somehow, the Republican types always win because they make some Green Party person the minister of loneliness. You’re better off lonely, Britons! Worse than loneliness is the state of your cuisine! It’s harder to feel lonely when you’re as fat as Americans. Our country has only been around for like 200 years and we’ve already invented fried chicken! You guys should be ashamed of yourselves! I rarely ever feel alone, because I weigh what two normal humans would weigh. Wasn’t Bridget Jones happier when she was single and squinty and unattached? Do you guys even have tacos over there? I could look it up, but I might get a close-up photo of British teeth. Ahh.

In terms of this shutdown, I haven’t seen anyone who is too upset yet. It might be nice to have a few weeks off from the contrived dramas of The District. Brinksmanship only works if you’re convinced the other side isn’t willing to drive off a cliff. We’re at the bottom of the cliff. What could be worse? We’re really more concerned with which party will be blamed for the shutdown than concerned about the shutdown. And I’m not blame-oriented. We generally blame the wrong people for the biggest problems. Was Judas really at fault for turning in Jesus to the Romans? No. I’d turn both my brothers over to the Romans for far less than 40 pieces of silver. I just love silver so much. It is so shiny!

But, really, don’t let their drama be your drama. Republicans don’t think we remember what happened yesterday. And Democrats will eventually give them whatever they want. They continue to play nice and by the rules. Meanwhile the Republicans are stealing their Supreme Court nominees. And their lunch money. Just because they can. The Trump Administration is a joke they are playing on Democrats, just to make them nuts. They’ll fill diners and op-ed pages with poorly-reasoned nonsense about how Trump means something. But he doesn’t. He just means Not-Hillary. They’ve decided to eat cake frosting three meals a day and wash it down with Drano. There are no rules. Except one: the more you hate Trump, the more they will love and forgive him. They elected the Substitute teacher the king of the world. There are no rules. Be as racist as you want! And the more normal people hate it, the better.

So maybe the President won’t be able to go to Davos. He’ll probably give a standard teleprompter speech for the State of the Union, and if he doesn’t throw up on himself his people will love it. He will then declare war with Antarctica and nuke all the penguins. I’ve read Fire and Fury and I watch MSNBC. Always expect the worst. My blood pressure is generally through the roof. But don’t let them get you down. That’s what they want! I was right about the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars all those years ago and you would have thought it would have made me feel pretty good to have told all those morons, “I told you so!” But “I told you so” doesn’t ever feel good at all. You know what feels good? Being in power and rubbing it in the face of your opponents. That is really the only thing that feels good. And tacos.


Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ.



Mon, 2018-01-22 11:01

New York City, January 18, 2018

Fri, 2018-01-19 17:55

★★★★ The sun came on so pure and unimpeded that rooftop steam plumes cast meaningful moving shadows into apartments. The ground was clear and dry. Pigeons’ wingtips looked translucent; zippers on coats glittered. The brightness was expansive, unfaltering. It was cold enough to numb the face—correctly, appropriately, perfectly cold. A whole solid winter might be built of days like this, if only there were enough of them to find and stack together.

Jared Kushner Reads A Book

Fri, 2018-01-19 15:05

EVERYONE is hungover from the Fake Media Awards, even the staff who don’t drink. JARED is reclining on IVANKA’s fainting couch, a damp cloth on his forehead, and a pack of cigarettes on his chest. He doesn’t smoke; he never has. But on the way into the West Wing this morning, he thought, what if he did, he could if he wanted to, and the thought made him feel lighter. Even though his feet were dragging from the contact hangover, he felt in control, cocky even, for the first time since [redacted]. Plus, IVANKA isn’t at work today. The government is shut down, she murmured earlier that morning, as he laced up his new sneaks, head pounding, so there isn’t much to do. She isn’t wrong. She rarely is, JARED thinks. He pretends not to hear as his DAUGHTER asks why he’s on mom’s chair. She’s flipping through a book, Facts and Fun About the Presidents, and appalled by how little her grandfather has in common with his predecessors.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [provocatively]: According to this book the only thing Grandpa has done that other presidents have also done is get stuck in a bathtub?

JARED [to himself]: That’s not true. [JARED wracks his brain.] Is that true?

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [nodding]: He’s stuck now. I can hear him yelling.

GENERAL MATTIS [while removing a lamp shade from his head, and startling EVERYONE because they didn’t realize he was present]: No. Taft never got stuck in a bathtub. His political enemies made that up. Each Gilded Age has its own Pizzagate.

[KELLYANNE CONWAY breezes into the fray. She’s not hungover or fighting off the flu because she’s not exactly human. She’s with GARY COHN, who’s not hungover either, but only because he drank, like, a quart of water before he passed out, and then this morning took four Tylenol and went to spin class, and then had a breakfast sandwich from a cart outside, and then a red Gatorade, and then a Klonopin, and then a yellow Gatorade, and then one of JARED’s muscle relaxers, and then one of KELLYANNE CONWAY’s muscle relaxers, a different brand, it hits faster but fizzles out sooner, but in tandem, chef’s kiss emoji, and then a coffee, black, no, maybe a splash of half and half, no, black, and then a slice of pizza, cheese only, he’s not a fucking savage, and then another slice, cheese, both from his place in New York, the one with the guy who runs the football squares, whose daughter he helped get an internship at—wow, why can’t he remember the name of the bank he just worked at?]

KELLYANNE CONWAY [bossily]: The President is not stuck in a bathtub. He can stand up if he wants to.

[EVERYONE gets quiet for a few seconds. There are loud shouts from TRUMP’s bathroom.]

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [powerfully]: He’s definitely yelling.

[KELLYANNE CONWAY shushes EVERYONE. She cups her ear.]

KELLYANNE CONWAY [happily]: No, no. That’s not a cry for help. That’s the pitch he uses when he is yelling at someone. [KELLYANNE counts heads. She giddily realizes IVANKA is not present.] He’s yelling at Ivanka like that?

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [protectively]: No, mom didn’t come to work today.

[KELLYANNE CONWAY counts heads again. As she’s ticking through people, she remembers how, when she entered college, she thought she’d become an elementary school teacher, and muffles her own laughter. GARY COHN takes the book from KUSHNER DAUGHTER and starts flipping through it.]

GARY COHN [dickishly]: James Madison looks like the kind of guy—

KELLYANNE CONWAY [pulling the book down to her eye level]: Who would call a female friend “m’lady.”

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [precociously]: James Madison was the first President to wear pants and not breeches.

GARY COHN [tossing the book onto the floor]: If your grandfather wore breeches, circulation would cut off in his legs, and we’d eventually have to amputate.

[JARED takes the book and flips to a photo of Herbert Hoover tossing around a medicine ball with his cabinet on the White House lawn. Enjoying this exercise in negative bonding, he shows EVERYONE.]

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [accurately]: Grandpa doesn’t exercise.

[JARED flips to Dwight Eisenhower, who’s golfing and surrounded by many, many, rich-looking white people.]

KELLYANNE CONWAY [winking]: See. Not every norm has been shattered. [KELLYANNE CONWAY takes her turn with the book.] He wears a wig like George Washington did.

GARY COHN [impishly, maybe]: He killed a person like—which one shot Hamilton?

GENERAL MATTIS [curtly]: Aaron Burr was never President.

JARED [whispering to KUSHNER DAUGHTER]: Your grandfather didn’t kill a person.

KELLYANNE CONWAY [opening the book to the twenty-eighth President]: Look. He’s like Woodrow Wilson after he had a stroke and someone else did his job for him.

GENERAL MATTIS [wistfully]: He’s like FDR in that way too.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [to JARED]: Does Grandpa have polio?

KELLYANNE CONWAY [not at all shocked by the hypocrisy of Democrats]: Eleanor Roosevelt kept a pistol in her glove compartment?

STORMY DANIELS [also removing a lamp shade from her head]: The only thing your grandfather has in common with Eleanor Roosevelt—

KELLYANNE CONWAY [actually kind of amused]: What the fuck.

[STORMY DANIELS exits. But not first without asking where the hell GENERAL KELLY is, because she needs to tell him what a piss poor, basically racist job he’s doing, even though mainstream media would have everyone believe otherwise. KUSHNER DAUGHTER looks at her watch and explains that GENERAL KELLY is most likely getting the screens set up for Executive Time.]

GARY COHN [truthfully]: He’s like—which one was a Know Nothing?

GENERAL MATTIS [correctly]: Millard Fillmore.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [correctly]: Millard Fillmore was from Buffalo.

GARY COHN [correctly]: Exactly my point. Knows nothing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY [reading]: They had to remove Andrew Jackson’s pet parrot from his funeral services because he kept squawking swear words

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [to EVERYONE]: Who’s this President’s pet parrot?

EVERYONE [in unison]: All of us?

[There’s crosstalk as KUSHNER DAUGHTER asks GENERAL MATTIS why the contraction of “will” and “not” is “won’t” and not “willn’t.” She says she asked her father earlier, but he pretended not to hear her. STEPHEN MILLER exits TRUMP’s bathroom and EVERYONE groans. KELLYANNE CONWAY bums a cigarette from JARED. She holds it up for him, but he says he doesn’t have a lighter. She asks GARY COHN why she even bothers with this one. GARY COHN lights her cigarette and then his own, and they smoke indoors for the rest of the day.]

Shinjuku Ni-chōme

Fri, 2018-01-19 13:08

If you climb the C5 exit from Shinjuku-Sanchōme Station, it’s basically a straight shot to Ni-chōme. That’s Tokyo’s gay hub. Mostly just a cluster of alleys, tucked on the edge of this winding road. If you aren’t actively looking for it, you’ll miss it on your way around. It’s surrounded by the usual assortment of FamilyMarts, 7-11s, and Lawsons grounding life in the city, but then you turn the corner and all of a sudden you’re elsewhere. A lot of my nights in Japan have ended here. And the trains stop running around 1. So it’s where, for better and worse, a lot of those mornings have started, too.

Ni-chōme probably boasts Earth’s highest concentration of gay bars. They’re scattered across two blocks, sometimes one on top of the other. Some fit six or seven bodies, and others fit nine or ten, and you’ve got bars for bears and bars for twinks and bars for guys that are really into yukatas. There’s karaoke. There’s a hot spring. If you’re looking for something, or someone, you’ll probably find it. And the area is mostly foreigner-friendly, but the sheer quantity of queer spaces shouldn’t be confused with queer visibility: while some of Tokyo’s more dubious enterprises are loud on the street (the “massage parlors” in Shibuya; the dudes hawking binders of women by the stations), gay life in Japan is almost entirely under the radar. If you’re not seeking queer spaces out, you won’t even remotely run the risk of finding them.

Like everything else in Japan, the country’s relationship with queerness is pretty multi-tiered: despite today’s recalcitrance, Japan’s has historically both tolerated and praised homosexuality. It’s not like you can’t be out today, as a native Japanese, but the repercussions, in a country so tied to traditions and customs, are staggering, across all areas of life—to the extent that one must seriously consider compartmentalizing judiciously. So homosexuality works its way into a preponderance of the literature, and boy’s love occasionally finds itself in the country’s media; and there are a handful of cities and wards[1] acknowledging same-sex partnerships; and some cities have pride parades, with a handful of small, but dedicated, groups working for queer rights; but coming out runs you the risk of severing yourself from everyone and everything you know.

So you have love motels and marriage arrangement services. You have capsule gay bars. You have little rooms that fit like eight where you can drink in drag. It isn’t that you can’t find whatever, or whoever, you’re looking for in Tokyo, but what the most densely populated city in the world does is make you look.

One night, I met a guy visiting from Kobe in this bar who told me he’d just gotten back on Grindr. The room clapped in faux-applause. When I asked why that was such a big deal, he told me that queer dating apps in Japan were a mixed bag. They worked for you, he said, until they didn’t. He’d heard no shortage of stories where family members and employers had sussed people out from the closet. It had nearly happened to him. The apps could easily go from casual tools to life-altering entities.

But, he told me, that doesn’t matter now. I’m going to try it.

And the room gave him a toast.

One night, I ended up sitting next to some bankers, and after insisting that I was not an FA[2], they let me join their circle. We talked about whatever, darting in and out of English, and in the middle of some over-elaborate story a twenty-something kid hovered just outside of our huddle. Everyone registered his presence, but no one said anything. I didn’t know why that was. So I didn’t say shit either.

Eventually, he pursed his lips, turned around, and left the bar.

One of the guys sitting beside me clapped his hands and said, It’s hard starting out.  

One night, I met a Japanese-American guy at this sauna who said he was from San Diego. He told me a story about this guy he’d been dating in Tokyo, and it was great for a while. After about a year, they’d even talked about him moving to Japan.

But one day, he said, the guy just went dark. He didn’t hear from him for one week. And then another week after that. He didn’t have any contact info for his family, and they had no mutual friends, so for all intents and purposes his partner had dropped off of the globe.

It was crazy, said the guy, and then he slid a little deeper into the water.

Like, I get it, he said. But still. Crazy.

Another night, it was me and this Chinese guy at the barside, and we’d grin at each other every few seconds and not say anything. He was from Hong Kong. I don’t speak Cantonese, and he spoke scattered English. So he’d point to someone else’s jacket, or their shoes, and I’d laugh; then I’d point across the bar at someone a little too sauced, or two guys making moves on each other, and he’d do the same. I’d mime a phrase in English, and he’d say it once, and then again in Cantonese. He played this song on his phone, and I played this one on mine. It was another way of communicating, one I hadn’t really had before, because we didn’t have to know what we were saying to get it across.

The past few years have been an interesting time to travel as an American, but especially as a queer American. And particularly if your point of origin is in flux with its relationship to queer bodies. What’s become moderately acceptable, if not at least mostly speakable, in the States, remains very much much a battle all over the world. And while that may be obvious to some folks, it’s still a little jarring to find the similarities between a dinky little gay bar in Dallas, or Madison, and their underground equivalents in Shinjuku. In a lot of ways, queerness is its own country. Despite all of our differences, that we find different ways to navigate our spaces is one of the great unifiers; they aren’t cut out for us, so we mold them ourselves.

On one of my last nights in Tokyo, I ended up drinking with a guy from Singapore. The first thing he said to me[3] , cheesing from ear to ear, was, Same faces every night, right?

He helped manage a bathhouse back home. He’d come to Japan to scope out their own.

A lot of married guys, he said. I guess it’s part of the culture.

Then he told me a story: spending an evening at an onsen in Hokkaido, he had an encounter with this guy in his thirties. They did whatever they did, and afterwards, the Singaporean saw the other man’s ring. When he asked him why he was fooling around, the man told him that of course he wanted to come out. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. Everything would fall apart.

So, said the Singaporean guy, I asked him if he thought lying was better.

And he told me he wasn’t lying, said the Singaporean guy. This was just the way things were.

I told him that was wild, but I understood. There are plenty of places across the American South where the same holds true. Then we talked about whatever else, and when we looked up we’d missed the trains. In Tokyo, after dark, cabs cost more than a brick, so if you miss them you’re either stuck or you’re paying a minor fortune. The Singaporean guy suggested we find ramen, and maybe hit up an onsen afterwards, and it made me think of this poem by Ikkyū Sojun that, if I have my way, will be on my tombstone. But we hadn’t walked five minutes down the road when we ran into the San Diego guy, and also one of the business men. They were smoking on the side of the road.

Here was the largest city in the world, and we travelers had run into each other again. There’s a warmness whenever that happens. Like a sexy sort of familiarity. You know that you’re probably leaving too soon, and you’ll never see each other again, but, in a weird way, that makes you a little more available. You’re open in the moment in this way you wouldn’t be otherwise. So we all left in spurts. And we left mostly silently. A grin, a rub on the shoulder, a pat on the ass, and then we were gone, back up the road or across the country or thousands of miles back home, whatever that looked like.


[1]Shibuya, Tokyo; Setagaya, Tokyo; Iga, Mie; Takarazuka, Hyōgo; Naha, Okinawa; and Sapporo; Hokkaido.

[2] Ni-Chōme is, apparently, pretty popular with black flight attendants.

[3] The second thing was, Are you a flight attendant? When I asked him the same, he said, “Not with this body.”

The Tribulations of Flexible Girl

Fri, 2018-01-19 12:09

Fifteen Sandra Bullock Movies As Names For Weed Strains, Ranked

Fri, 2018-01-19 11:33

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

15. The Heat
14. Murder By Numbers
13. While You Were Sleeping
12. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
11. Gravity
10. Crash
9. Love Potion No. 9
8. The Blind Side
7. Speed
6. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
5. Hope Floats
4. Loverboy
3. Speed 2: Cruise Control
2. Miss Congeniality
1. Practical Magic


New York City, January 17, 2018

Fri, 2018-01-19 08:47

★★★★ The seething bleak gray going by the windows turned white and more opaque, and a layer of white began to appear on the fallen icy mush. There was no developing emergency, nothing to prevent the child who wasn’t coughing from making it to school. The flakes turned fatter and prettier for a while, then the light became brownish and the snowfall looked seedy again. By the time the storm had really stopped, leaving a dimpled surface of clouds overhead, it took a careful eye to pick out the traces it had all left. The pavement was clear and drying out, in an ordinary dark and damp afternoon. Wavy stripes of rose appeared through the lingering gloom at sunset, and downriver was near scarlet.

Nihilism for Optimists

Thu, 2018-01-18 12:57

Johann Heinrich Füssli, Gunther’s Wedding Night, 1807. Public Domain

I believe we should read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us with a blow to the skull, then why are we even reading it? So that it will make us happy, as you write? My God, we’d also be happy if we had no books, and the kinds of books that could make us happy, we could write ourselves if we had to. We need books that affect us like an accident, that hurt us like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, as if we were lost deep in the woods, far from humanity, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us. That is what I believe.
—Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollak, 1911

Almost exactly one year ago, as the United States unceremoniously handed the mantle of Western Democracy With its Shit Most Together to Germany, I wrote my first installment of Deutschland über Us, and thus began a weekly investigation of German current events, translated and parsed, often misspelled, complete with dubious pronunciation guides that some people still take way too seriously.

Now, as the Internet prepares to swallow up the Awl network and the world becomes just that much more stupid for it, I find myself writing the penultimate contribution to what I only half-jokingly wish to call my Gesamtkunstwerk (guh-ZOMT-koonst-VAYRK), the total work of my life. For the past twelve months, I have had the good fortune to combine all of my great loves—Germans, getting yelled at by Germans, cursing, digression—into one thing. It has been great. (For me. I don’t know how it’s been for you. Hopefully not terrible.)

So today, you guys get my unifying theory of the world. Here it is. Everyone, including and especially me, should read more books and less outrage porn—and the sort of books we should read in place of that fiftieth hot take on some shit we already agree with and are mad about? Well, today I make my case for the books that punch you in the fucking face.

You might be saying: Well, Schuman, what if I don’t WANT to be cold-cocked by my books? What if I have no interest in unleashing the frozen sea? Well, in the words of three wise German children’s rappers, we can’t always do exactly what we want all the goddamned time, young man. But, also, Kafka was like 28 when he wrote that, and as such did not know anything. Or, alternately, he was preternaturally wise, but that interpretation still leaves room for a redemptive reading. Literature that works correctly should, to bastardize Nietzsche, work like a hammer: Anything in us that cannot withstand its blow shouldn’t have been there to begin with. If a Kafka work destroys you for a few days—as it should—the you that grows back in its place is a you with a more refined and probably much more interesting Weltanschauung (VELT-ansh-OW-oonk), or world view.

All right, yes, fine. German literature is lousy with death—so much, and such varied methods: drowning; needles piercing the head; decapitation; firing an old-timey gun at yourself and not dying right away but dying later; jumping onto a torture machine that malfunctions; jumping off a bridge that functions correctly (as a mechanism for jumping off). But winding around all of this demise are also a few radical insights on how to live a better life, Even Today In Modern Times, as a high-school senior in search of some sort of project might be happy to know.

Modern Times Today, you say? What-ho? How can this be? I demand an example.

Cool, let’s do this, motherfuckers! I don’t know if you’ve noticed it recently, but there has been, like, some stuff in the news about sexual issues—specifically, the notion that someone who engages in sexual activity should, you know, want to. One of the reasons this discussion has been so fraught—and one of the reasons certain opposing viewpoints spiral off into the archetypal RoipheMerkinFlanagan hydra—is that the treatment of female sexuality in the so-called Western world has been fucked up as shit since literally the beginning of time. And, no surprise, there’s been complex written record of this in the German-speaking world since at least the Middle Ages.

If you suspected this was my cue to start talking about the Nibelungenlied, which you probably did not, you were correct. You are probably at least a little bit familiar with some aspects of this 13th Century Middle High German epic, thanks to the versions of it that have appeared in Wagner operas, Bugs Bunny cartoons and Tarantino movies.

As the first of its bajillion stanzas promises, the “Song of the Nibelungs” does indeed deliver wonders many told/Of heroes rich in glory,/of trials manifold, not to mention the requisite weeping and woe. There’s a dragon and a golden boy named Siegfried who bathes in its blood and it makes him (almost) invincible; there are knights, some honest and some scheming; there’s betrayal, and murder (literal back-stabbing, SPOILER ALERT!), and, not least of all, a whole lot of sex.

And that’s what’s particularly interesting—and Relevant To Our Times Now, students: the poem’s treatment of female virginity, as the characters’ different reactions to the loss thereof drives every important event, by which I mean murder.

For example, when we meet her, the character Brünnhilde is so superhumanly strong that she can lob boulders with one hand—and so unimpressed is she with her new groom, Gunther, that he spends their wedding night hanging from a nail by his drawers. It’s only with the (eventually ruinous) assistance of Gunther’s best bro Siegfried—who enters the marital chamber unbeknownst to Brünnhilde and helps “subdue” her so that Gunther can do the dead and “take” what rightfully belongs to him—her virginity.

The second this happens, Brünnhilde falls deep in love with—and submission to—Gunther, and her superpowers are gone. Siegfried thinks that the solid he’s apparently done his friend is the extent of his involvement in their marriage, but it is not; he’s married to Brünnhilde’s more subservient and better-looking sister, Kriemhild, and when the siblings are in the middle of a fight, Kriemhild decides to lord it over Brünnhilde that Siegfried fucked her without her knowledge on their wedding night. (This is Olden Times, so the “fact” that her husband raped another woman is cause for…bragging rights?)

This isn’t actually what happened—Siegfried didn’t rape Brünnhilde, but he helped Gunther do it. But Siegfried is also an inveterate dumbass, so he stole a token from Brünnhilde’s room, and when Kriemhild saw it, she came to certain conclusions. This misunderstanding—a misunderstanding between women who are both family and enemies, about a sketchy sexual encounter that has fundamentally changed one of them—precipitates Siegfried’s murder, which itself precipitates the Kill Bill-style revenge bloodbath plot for the entire second half of the story.

The high-stakes arguments between women, about what does and does not constitute inappropriate sexual behavior; the equation of a woman’s sexuality with superpowers; the man’s apparent duty to take those powers away for, I guess, the good of humanity? That shit should sound pretty familiar to everyone, and the evolution (but persistence) of these conceptions of heterosexuality tell us more about why, for example, Aziz Ansari might have felt compelled to do those awful things to that young woman than a bajillion think pieces could dare to try.

And this, friends, is why I am largely retired from the morally outraged quick-take game, and prefer instead to write about FKK beaches, and guys who play the recorder, and the great 2016 Apple-Queen Scandal, and, apparently, about the Heinrich von Kleist novella Michael Kohlhaas six times in a row.

I am profoundly indebted to Silvia Killingsworth, Alex Balk and the rest of the Awl crew for giving me a place to do this.

I wonder, sometimes, what Franz Kafka would think of the modern internet, which definitely does a terrific job of making almost everyone who spends any time reading it miserable—albeit not, as Kafka might insist, miserable in the right way. I often feel, after about ten minutes, as if I’ve had the shit beat out of me, but that the me that will heal (if I ever heal) will be a decidedly worse person.

I think, in the end, that is my most enduring case for the dead Germans: They will make you miserable, sure, but they will do so in a way that actually matters.

This, I guess, is what I believe.

Is Eminem Dad Rock?

Thu, 2018-01-18 12:32

Image: Peter Pham via Flickr

Eminem resurfaced for a BET Hip Hop Awards freestyle aimed at Donald Trump, and he got scorn from all sides: people who do not buy Eminem’s political awakening, people who get real mad on the Internet when someone is mean to our very stable genius-in-chief, and people who snicker at lines like “That’s an awfully hot coffee pot / Should I drop it on Donald Trump? Probably not.” If Em’s late career is rocky, this attempted comeback has been rockier still—his subsequent album release, Revival, received even less enthusiasm than the BET thing. You can visibly see him struggling for his place in a crowded market that no longer feels so empty without him, as he lashes out at mumble rap while trying on trap beats. The derisive term we reserve for this kind of fade into irrelevance seems appropriate: Eminem is dad rock.

You’re probably wondering how Eminem, who is a well-documented dad but not much of a rocker, can possibly fall under the umbrella of “dad rock,” and the answer is simple: dad rock is a fluid term, routinely jumping boundaries and rarely agreed upon (though this Pitchfork video is a decent start). As someone who likes some late-career Springsteen albums (yeah, plural), I’d even suggest the term can be endearing sometimes. Eric Clapton, Journey, Billy Joel, Foo Fighters; just as there have been, over the decades, many evolving species of dad telling you to turn down that goshdarn racket, so, too, are there many forms of dad rock that the proverbial dad takes as Good Old Days gospel.

The sheer scope of music as a medium ensures that any claim to there being a Good Old Days is fundamentally bullshit; such claims more represent a refusal to step outside a comfort zone, clinging to old-school sensibilities as the only sensibilities. You don’t have to be a dad to be a dad rock enthusiast, but this is what dad rock is, in the derogatory sense. Dad rock is the embrace of what’s safe, the strict adherence to overplayed, unexciting convention to the exclusion of all else; the archetypal dad thinks your bangers are bummers because he knows what he likes and believes in every bit of that statement’s authoritative power, that there’s nothing else to discover.

Think of the familiar refrain: “I don’t like rap, but I like Eminem.” As one of the most successful rap artists of all time, Eminem represents a fairly wide comfort zone that he’s cultivated by casting a broad net. If the graphic violence and shock value of his horrorcore material doesn’t do it for you, maybe the introspective tracks will. Maybe the pop-y empowerment anthems are more your speed, or the generalized trolling. But regardless, this statement has never made much sense on its face. His rape and murder fantasies drew frequent controversy and probably should’ve been enough to scare off a mass audience, and (some intricate rhyme schemes aside) that’s mostly where Em’s music differs—his more accessible material hardly stands apart from the genre people call him the exception to. And yet there he is, the inverse hip hop companion to “everything but country”: “no rap except Eminem.”

The reason for this is obvious, even to Em himself: Eminem is the favorite rapper of white people because Eminem is white people. On the song “White America” from 2002’s The Eminem Show, he comments on “So many motherfucking people who feel like me / Who share the same views and the exact same beliefs” before remarking, “my skin is just starting to work to my benefit now.” Outside his more radio-friendly anthems, his music is not safe in a traditional sense, but given the sales, it’s safe in the aggressively mainstream sense. And what’s more dad rock than the adoring white audience who insists you’re the only one worth a damn because you’re square in their comfort zone?

In an excellent essay for The Ringer, Justin Charity finds echoes of “White America” and Eminem’s entire manifesto in current politics: “Fifteen years after…‘White America,’ U.S. politics is overrun with right-wing, Eminem-looking motherfuckers. The alt-right is a loose, amorphous movement defined largely by young, white men for whom trolling is art, recreation, and ideology altogether…their neo-shock jock, anti-PC razzing is a language they learned, eagerly or unwittingly, from Eminem.” But with Revival, Eminem’s attempted about-face has only unearthed that other dad rock hallmark, public apathy. Even setting aside the clumsy provocations of his BET freestyle, his protest music flounders—“Untouchable” clumsily flips between the perspectives of a racist police officer, a perspective we do not need in order to understand their monstrousness, and a black person from a poor neighborhood, a perspective we can get (more insightfully) without Eminem. These days, nobody’s really asking for Em’s input, as the people he spoke for in the past are decidedly overserved. He’s less a revolutionary than a relic; consider that one of his more prevalent descriptors, a “shock jock,” is a radio term.

He’s trying to stave off the creeping irrelevance so familiar to other dad rockers, and it makes you wonder about the sincerity of his politics as a result. Is Eminem just picking a fight because that’s what Eminem does? Craig Jenkins sums up his M.O. for Vulture: “He prods until he finds the joke that makes you maddest and then plays you for a fool and a square for getting worked up in the first place.” Maybe the political angle is another stab at credibility, another way to broaden his net like the trap beats of “Believe”  and that baffling “River” feature by Ed Sheeran. Where prominent dad rock outfit U2 calls up Haim and Kendrick, Eminem proclaims that he’s woke.

On the heels of Revival, Eminem has been announced as a headliner for festivals like Coachella, The Governors Ball, Boston Calling, and Bonnaroo. But given the tepid response to his album, it seems apparent that his appeal will come not from his new material, but as a novelty nostalgia act, a symbol of the Good Old Days that envelops audiences inside his great white comfort zone. He finds himself in that defiant late career rut that marks so much of long-running dad rock; how much of a coincidence is it, really, that Em can’t seem to shake the siren call of goofball guitar samples in his production, which began over a decade ago with Aerosmith’s “Dream On” in “Sing for the Moment” and now comes to an embarrassing head with Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock N Roll” on “Remind Me”? Meanwhile, his once-sharp wordplay has devolved mostly into terrible puns: “Your booty is heavy duty like diarrhea” or “You ate off Hitler” or “Nazi, I do not see.” Last week, Eminem put out a remix hitting back at Revival’s detractors, but it seems only a matter of time before his next rebuttal to the critics tired of his act is just, “Hi, tired, I’m dad.”

New York City, January 16, 2018

Thu, 2018-01-18 10:07

★★ A yellowish wrong-way sunrise glowed briefly in the west, where the clouds had temporarily left an opening. A bank on Fifth Avenue had salted its sidewalk, hours and hours ahead of time, while the only ice in view was a cloudy and glassy frozen puddle at the curb. The office was warm for a while but the cold would take over by the end, as it always did. Out in the dusk, there were occasional motes of something or other flickering in the edge of the field of view. None of them, on inspection, were snow yet.

Inside the World of Pet Anti-Vaxxers

Wed, 2018-01-17 12:26

Image: Army Medicine via Flickr

If you call your pet a “furbaby,” it is possible that you think of your dog or cat as your child. Perhaps you set aside a portion of broiled salmon for Bella at dinner. Maybe you and Peppermint dress up in matching Halloween costumes. Perhaps Buddy’s birthday party has more guests than your own. (No judgment—I do all of the above with Artemis, my two-year-old mutt.) Or, it is increasingly possible, you are a pet anti-vaxxer, a growing movement of pet owners, breeders, and even veterinarians who are against the standard recommended inoculations that usually recommended by boarding kennels.

This issue has been covered in the Brooklyn Paper, with veterinarian Amy Ford of Boerum Hill’s Veterinarian Wellness Center claiming that “[i]t’s actually much more common in the hipster-y areas,” and in the New York Post, with Stephanie Liff of Clinton Hill’s Pure Paws Veterinary Care noting that “[A]utism doesn’t even exist in pets.” But unlike what these articles insinuate, pet anti-vaxxers don’t see themselves as working in the same movement as human anti-vaxxers, who (inaccurately) claim that vaccines cause autism. The idea of dog autism is too complex and understudied for anyone to make conclusions (not that inconclusive scientific studies have stopped human anti-vaxxers). But the pet anti-vax movement still owes its momentum to its human counterpart and pet anti-vaxxers do use the “vaccines cause autism in humans” example. There is a parallel distrust of Big Pharma and a veneration of “holistic” lifestyles and alternative medicines in the pet anti-vax movement.

“A lot of people are confused between the veterinary world and the world of children,” John Clifton, a New York-based anti-vaccination activist who runs Stop the Shots, said in his Upper West Side apartment, in which he has lived for decades, surrounded by framed photos of his late Australian terrier, Sparky, and his late wife, Josée Clerens. “Because that’s an entirely different issue.” Clifton grew up with pet dogs in the 1930s and 1940s, when the most popular dog food brands on the market were Nestlé’s Alpo and Nabisco’s Rival, which were “mostly cereals, and a little meat in there,” Clifton recalled. There did not exist a raw dog-food movement or venture-backed meal-delivery services like Ollie or My Farmer’s Dog yet. But Clifton didn’t become an advocate for holistic dog-rearing until Sparky was diagnosed with cancer at age six in 2000. Sparky’s veterinarian advised against vaccinations after chemotherapy treatment. For Sparky, it made sense: his compromised immune system was too weak for vaccine treatments. But Clifton and Clerens, neither of whom had a medical or scientific background, began to do research on their own. They found out that indeed there was no one-size-fits-all vaccination procedure as recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Veterinarians should create a core vaccine program, intended for use in the majority of animals in their practice area as well as a non-core vaccine program, intended for special circumstances/situations for animals in this same practice area and consider the potential for endemic disease exposure, susceptibility to disease and risk/benefit ratios,” the AVMA officially advises. Clifton, and many other pet owners like him, believes that veterinarians are pushing vaccinations onto pets due to greed and negligence, in the sense that veterinations are using their “core vaccine program” too often, instead of providing an individualized health program for every dog.

One of the most influential proponents of anti-vaxxing for dogs—i.e., “holistic” or “natural” dog rearing—is Dana Scott, the founder and editor in chief of Dogs Naturally magazine, a publication that publishes a free vaccine guide to “know if your vet is vaccinating your dog too often.” Scott is hosted a Goop-like conference called the “Raw & Natural Dog Summit” in November 2017 dedicated to sharing “multiple, actionable steps to make your dog’s life healthier and better.” Sessions at the summit include Looking At Cancer From A Different Perspective with a homeopathic veterinarian, CBD Your Pet with a cannabis entrepreneur, and Unraveling The Confusion Between Allergies, Leaky Gut, Yeast And Immune Disorders with the same homeopathic veterinarian (who runs the first licensed holistic vet clinic in Canada). “We don’t work with [Goop] but we share a lot of the same philosophies,” Scott said. “It’s really hard to find people like that—with pets—who are in our corner.” (Goop’s own canine-oriented stories include a write-up about stylish leashes and an interview with an “animal communicator.”)

Scott is also an experienced dog breeder of over 20 years—she is partial to black Labradors—and won’t sell a puppy to anyone who refuses to follow the guidelines of holistic dog rearing, which includes avoiding frequent vaccinations and feeding a raw-based diet. She does not have children, but if she did, she said, she would not get them vaccinated. “I honestly don’t think anybody should get vaccinated, ever,” she said, preferring homeopathy to traditional Western medicine.

Scott once published an article about autism’s link to vaccines on the magazine’s website, though the article does not mention the word “dog.” She cited instances in which dogs on the continent of Africa had contracted viruses even after vaccination attempts. In 2000, there was a Canine distemper virus (CDV) outbreak in African wild dogs in Tanzania that killed 49 of 52 dogs in two months—even after they were vaccinated with the standard inoculation used for harbor seals and domesticated dogs. Lions can contract the virus from dogs—even in vaccinated, domesticated populations. In 1994, one-third of the lions (about 1000 animals) in Tanzania’s Serengeti Reserve were killed by CDV.

There are numerous theories for the outbreak, from virus mutation to a variation in population immunity. “So, the dogs all get distemper and guess what? All the lions got distemper and eventually what killed the lions was distemper,” Scott said. That was her self-described “long-winded” explanation of why we don’t know what the ramifications are—and it’s technically true in this specific instance: scientists don’t know for certain why the lions were so susceptible to CDV. Interspecies pathogen transmission is sporadic and uncommon due to the molecular adaptations that viruses that must make to successfully enter the new host.

But veterinarians know much more about the effects of vaccinations on domestic, household animals—just look at how we treat household cats, knowing that they are susceptible to side effects after vaccines. “Did you know that they give shots to the cats on their legs because it can be amputated if they get cancer there?” Clifton asked me. Maria Verbrugge, DVM, a clinical instructor and specialist in vaccines at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine, confirmed this is true, though statistically unlikely: 1 to 2 of every 10,000 to 30,000 cats can develop an injection site sarcoma (a cancer tumor), and many cats can develop inflammation that will disappear in a few days. But even this is “completely preventable”, she notes—you can opt for non-adjuvant vaccines, which means they don’t contain aluminum (or another potentially irritating material), which have been proven to boost immunity in dogs and humans, but are much more volatile to cats. As noted by the AVMA, like you and me, your dog may feel lethargic, tender, or even slightly ill after getting vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean you or your dog should avoid precautionary treatments altogether.

One alternative to vaccinations that both Clifton and Scott are pushing for is the titer test, a laboratory test that measures the antibodies for certain diseases in the animal’s blood. You could present titer test results, proving your dog’s immunity, instead of a certificate of vaccination. “If we could get kennels and airlines to recognize the titer test as an equal to the vaccination record, my [activism] work would be complete,” Clifton said. According to Verbrugge, the titer test is “very reasonable to consider as an alternative to getting certain vaccinations.” The test can be administered for both CDV and canine parvovirus (commonly known as parvo), at the same frequency as vaccines, as results can change over the course of a dog’s life. A titer test is available for rabies, but rabies vaccinations are almost always legally required in all 50 states. In 11 states, including Alabama and California, your dog may be exempted with veterinary approval. Rabies is the only vaccine mandated by American law, in fact. Everything else is like a social contract between dog owners. There are no clinically proven “holistic” alternatives for heartworm prevention, leptospirosis, or canine influenza.


According to Jeff Feinman, VMD, a Weston, Connecticut-based veterinarian who practices “veterinary homeopathy” and does not believe in the safety of vaccinations either, titer tests are not conclusive and only demonstrate “a piece” of the immune response. Instead, Feinman suggests developing an individualized wellness routine with your local “holistic” veterinarian. The problem is, even if you had access to a “holistic” but certified practitioner like Feiman and the time to monitor your dog’s health as if it were named Gwyneth, the cost of herbs and acupuncture add up. His own pets, a rescued Standard Poodle and two Rex cats, are not vaccinated, and said that he would only consider inoculations if there were a parvo or distemper epidemic going around—but by then, it may be too late. Feinman advocates preventative, non-“reductionist” treatments in the form of homeopathy, and yet even he admits that neither parvo or distemper outbreaks can be prevented without traditional vaccinations.

Like Scott, Feinman’s preferred health program for dogs seems to require a rural setting with a private backyard for your dogs to run around—it doesn’t make sense if you live in an urban area where your dog is frequently exposed to both strange humans and strange dogs while taking a piss. Prince Charles, widely disliked for his hostility to science, among other reasons, treats his cows and sheepwhich are bred for human consumption)ith homeopathy. He claims the treatments to be successful, and asks why we do “not devise more effective systems where we reserve antibiotics for treating animals where the use is fully justified by the seriousness of the illness.” Like other opponents of pet vaccinations, he acknowledges that traditional inoculations are necessary for serious illnesses, without acknowledging that, by then, the animal may be too sick or too weak for the preventative vaccination to work anymore. In response, over 1000 UK veterinarians wrote an open letter in The Guardian in 2016 to call for the end of homeopathy remedies in treating animals.

Unless your dog interacts with new dogs in tight spaces frequently, it is possible to avoid vaccinating your dog every year without an increased risk of illness. When I took my dog to the veterinarian for her annual booster shots this September, our vet asked if we boarded in kennels or visited daycares frequently. If we don’t, we don’t have to get the shots, he said. I could save $200 (on top of the annual checkup fee) if I, like Scott, lived in a rural area where my dog wasn’t being exposed to other dogs. Margret Casal, DVM, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine agreed: “If you do the puppy [vaccination] series correctly and you get the booster at one year old, you can get that particular vaccine three years afterwards. The thing is, if you’re a completely healthy dog, then I would say that every 3 years is fine—even for rabies.” She points out that some clinical studies have shown preliminarily that dogs were immune for up to nine years after vaccination.

The strongest case for not vaccinating your dog is conditional, and sad: if your dog gets cancer and ends up getting chemotherapy. Subsequent vaccinations can make a weak dog even sicker, and are unnecessary if that dog is already being sequestered from other dogs due to cancer. This is what happened to Clifton’s dog, Sparky. Casal admitted to not vaccinating her own dog against Bordetella (the bacteria that causes kennel cough, a contagious respiratory disease—like bronchitis for dogs). “It’s not deadly,” she noted. But if her dog had to get chemotherapy, she would vaccinate him for Bordetella before treatment began. “I know [chemotherapy] will diminish his immune system and then he will need to be better protected from all illnesses,” she added.

When I told Casal that Scott did not vaccinate the dogs that she bred, she told me a story: At Penn’s veterinary clinic, there was once a breeder who did not believe in vaccinations, and so she brought in a litter of five puppies that had contracted parvo. They were placed in an isolation unit and intensive care. Two survived—and the breeder received a bill of $40,000, not including the loss of not being able to sell three purebred puppies. “Three puppies died and they didn’t have to die for forty bucks, the cost of a vaccine,” she says.

The Hills are Alive With The Sound of Mozart

Wed, 2018-01-17 12:19

Image: SorinNechita via Flickr

Happy 2018! It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? Even my very last column was technically written last year, so it’s nice to be diving in. You might be wondering where I went, and the answer: Bavaria. I know what you’re thinking: it’s January. And that’s so right. You’re 100% correct. It is January, and it is insane to travel to a place where it is also winter. But compared to my hometown of Chicago where on any given day it at best 4 degrees (today it is a BALMY 14), Bavaria, with its averages in the low 40s Fahrenheit, felt absolutely tropical.

If you’re wondering what precisely there is to do in Bavaria, let me tell you. You can eat a whole variety of sausages, cabbage, plus a lot of spätzle (topped with melted cheese). You can go to some old palaces. You can go to some modern art museums. And if you want, you can take a highly functional and short train ride to the city of Salzburg, Austria, which just so happens to be the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Briefly, let me tell you about Salzburg. It’s in the Alps, a little city in a valley with a swift and cold river running through the center of it. It translates, quite literally, to salt mountain. There are salt mines. But it’s also possible you know Salzburg as the city where they shot The Sound Of Music. Now, I have never been all in on The Sound Of Music for reasons totally unknown to me, but in the midst of Salzburg’s modern art museum, they had it playing on 35mm and we managed to catch the good fifteen minutes. In the event you don’t know what the good fifteen minutes of The Sound Of Music are, they’re “My Favorite Things” directly into “Do Re Mi” and then you get the hell out. I will say that this part, specifically, made me cry for approximately four seconds.

Anyway. Mozart’s birthplace—Mozart’s Geburtshaus, if you will—is a bright yellow house in the midst of the historic part of Salzburg. You trek up the steps, you pay the fee, and you wander through the small wooden rooms of Mozart’s childhood home. There’s not really any meticulously preserved furniture or beds or anything like that. Most of what you find are a collection of paintings, letters, and a handful of instruments. But still, I found myself oddly emotional. Maybe because in his childhood home, it wasn’t all about him. He hadn’t become a celebrity yet, not fully, not yet.

Here is the part where I also feel obligated to tell you Mozart’s birthplace had a lock of his hair. I’m not sure what else to say about it. It looked like hair. The fact that it was a trend in the past to give someone a lock of your hair to show love is, uh, pretty interesting, and as someone who is very grossed out by disembodied (??) clumps of hair, I’m glad this trend is dead.

The Mozart piece I want to discuss, albeit briefly, this week is his Symphony No. 41, also known as his Jupiter symphony. It was his last symphony composed, and therefore he did not write it in his birthplace nor in Salzburg at all. But it does sound decidedly modern to me. Prior to visiting Mozart’s birthplace, it had always been easy for me to other him in terms of composers I liked. Yes, there was Beethoven and Brahms and Tchaikovsky and the like. These were the ones who experimented and pushed and pulled with what society expected from popular Classical and Romantic music. And Mozart, he was the guy who basically just wrote the rulebook and died young. But his birthplace felt shockingly modern. Maybe it was the letters. Playful little anecdotes to his father or his sister or his wife, full of inside jokes and affection. Jupiter feels this way to me too, now. Laughing and light and expressive, not just another play on form. It feels as decidedly new and bold as something this could—the textured brassy and percussive finale of the Molto Allegro altogether deserve of the loudest volume you can stand.

The last thing I will tell you is that directly next door to Mozart’s birthplace is an H&M. How you feel about that is a pretty fair metric for how you feel about Mozart, I think.