Started from the Barber

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Guest Recommendations: Nicole He

Lifting weights as a woman

I have always hated working out. The peak of my athletic career was in 7th grade when I went to a long jump meet and came in last place. So I’m not sure what kind of secret brain injury caused me to start lifting weights last year, but it happened and now I can more easily do important things like carry cat litter up the stairs.

But even better than that, I realized that lifting has actually shifted something in how I perceive myself in the world around me. For the first time in my life I feel strong, and I can’t overstate the power in that feeling. Maybe I should describe it this way: it feels like you’re Link after he gets the Power Glove — the world hasn’t changed, but now you interact with it differently. The boulders (or Craigslist coffee tables) that once stood in your way are no longer obstacles to you. It doesn’t even matter if you move them or not. Just that you know you can.

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Illustration for The Bygone Bureau by Hallie Bateman

Except in real life there is no Power Glove. There are literally just your guns.

Unfortunately, physical strength is still mostly a male pursuit. Since no one tells women that they can be strong, it’s hard for us to even imagine that it’s possible to have the biceps and back strength required to, say, lift a couch. I suppose dudes find comfort in the idea that the ability to move heavy shit around is the one remaining thing that belongs exclusively to them in a world where women gain power in every other way. Poor dudes.

Women can and should lift weights. Join me, lady lifters, and together we’ll squat in unison towards a more beautiful future.

西红柿炒鸡蛋 (Tomatoes fried with eggs)

This is straight up Chinese comfort food, and it’s my go-to meal because it’s so fast and tasty. Give it a try!

Serves 1

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 scallions
  • a little bit of vegetable oil
  • cooked white rice
  • pinch of sugar
  • salt n pepa

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork. Just kidding, throw all the forks in your house away and use chopsticks. Salt and pepper the eggs.

Slice the tomato into small-ish wedges. Chop the scallions into smaller-ish pieces.

Because you don’t have a wok, heat the oil in a normal pan over medium heat. Throw the tomatoes in there and let ‘em cook for 2-4 minutes until they get a bit juicy. Transfer the tomatoes and juices to a bowl and return the pan to the heat.

Pour the eggs in and let it sit for a bit until you start to get nervous, like, a minute and a half, and then break it up into large-ish curds. When they kind of start to solidify, put the tomatoes back in, along with the sugar, scallions, and more salt and pepper, and cook together for another minute.

Serve over rice with Netflix in front of your computer.

Sportsfriends

Last night I was sitting on a couch with friends, cry-laughing with a PS4 controller in my hands. I was clumsily trying to move a ball across the screen with a fleshy, floppy pole, and I was doing it so hilariously that tears were streaming down my face. We were playing Super Pole Riders, one of four wonderful games in Sportsfriends, created by Douglas Wilson, Ramiro Corbetta, Bennett Foddy, and Noah Sasso.

The games are all beautiful and evoke the competitiveness, spectatorship, and sometimes homoeroticism of sports. But what’s really fun about them is they’re videogames that you’re required to play in person with your friends. They don’t let you to hole up in your room alone, or even with faceless assholes on the internet, making them the opposite of my personal game nemesis, Dark Souls II.

Phallic pole-riding aside, there’s BaraBariBall, a buoyant game where you kick, jump and dunk a ball into a pool; Hokra, which feels like a somehow more dramatic air hockey; and Johann Sebastian Joust, a game without graphics that can be described as “polite wrestling” with your friends as Bach plays in the background.

I love all four games, and they’re a steal at $15. Get them now on PS3 or PS4.

What Ever Happened?

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After two critically lauded albums, the Strokes slowly fizzled out . But revisiting all five of the band’s recordsillustrates a thirteen-year arc where the sonic talent of Julian Casablancas and company outgrew expectations for what the Strokes were supposed to sound like.

The Strokes’ first album, Is This It?, holds up remarkably well—perhaps because it’s an album that was always meant to sound dated. It’s a reminder of a distinct time and place, and for that reason, will likely be remembered as the band’s best album. But while its instrumentation is truly lackluster (it works, but just barely), it’s clear that Casablancas songwriting is what’s holding together the band’s debut, not Albert Hammond Jr.’s squealing guitar solos.

Re-listening to 2003′s Room on Fire makes you realize that it’s essentially their first album rebuilt with more muscle and grit. Album closer “I Can’t Win” reflects the defeatist of nature the opening track on Is This It?. I think “Reptilia” is the most complete idea the Strokes have ever executed—their dueling guitars are never bolder than they are on this song, and yet Casablancas’s voices still soars above them. But much of the album’s later tracks capture the deadpan wit of Is This It with more confidence. When a woman tells Casablancas to meet her in the bathroom, he coyly responds, “I don’t mind.”

Three years later, First Impressions of Earth would be released to lukewarm reviews. For a long time I believed this was the best a Strokes record. Though the excellent opening track, “You Only Live Once,” sounds like vintage Strokes, First Impressions took the band in a new, darker direction. It’s underrated for sure; the band’s third exploration of anger and loneliness feels more mature, sonically and thematically. But where First Impressions stumbles is its pursuit of adolescent angst with a fuller, more assured sound. The thumpy bass line of “Juicebox” undercuts its guitar work, and the solos in “Vision of Division” sound like bad classic rock (though “Heart in a Cage” takes these same ideas and pulls them off successfully).

So much of Is This It’s charm is in the way it’s constructed—simply and earnestly. First Impressions was too different to want the same things. Its commercial failure is both a triumph of growth and tragedy of expectation.

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I suspect that First Impressions’ lukewarm reception caused the Strokes to go on hiatus. The band wouldn’t release a record for another until 2011—five years later. Sadly, Angles is a return to form by a band that had long moved on from that form. The first single, “Under the Cover of Darkness,” sounds almost like the Strokes parodying themselves (and even then, enjoyable so). As a whole, Angles is their messiest album. It’s the first Strokes record with songs written by every member, but it was penned largely with Casablancas working remotely and communicating primarily by email. Still, it contains pockets of brilliance. “Taken for a Fool” is one of the best songs the band has written, one that stretches Casablancas’s vocal range over a kind of spiky, funky jam.

Which brings us to last year’s Comedown Machine, a blatant product of contract fulfillment with RCA Records. The band did no press nor any touring to the support the record. As a final jab, the album’s artwork bears the RCA logo at the top. Still, I’ve listened to this album a lot, and despite its glaring flaws, there’s so much interesting stuff going on that I can’t help but return to it. “One Way Trigger” suffers from a really unfortunately toned guitar riff and someone truly terrible Casablancas falsetto before opening up to one of the best Strokes hooks ever. “Welcome to Japan” shows the fascinating instrumental interplay of Casablancas’s solo record, only to get bogged down by the weight of its own intricacies. But it’s worthwhile to revisit the bad records, if only to better understand the great ones.

The Strokes will reunite for their first live show since August 2011 at this June’s Governor’s Ball Musical Festival in New York City. I’m curious if they’ll perform any songs from Comedown Machine, though it seems unlikely. One has to suspect it’s neither the material the Strokes nor the audience wants to hear.

But in listening and re-listening to these old Strokes records, a narrative emerges. The band just got too talented, at least musically. The simplicity we expected was the band’s best discipline. Casablancas’s song constructions—which teeter between virtuosic and ornate—became unwieldy on the later records, perhaps best evidenced by his first solo record, Phrazes for the Young. “11th Dimension” is the album’s best song, but to get a sense of how complicated it is, see Casablancas attempt to perform an acoustic version of the song. The rhythms and disparate sections seem to elude even its creator. The best song Casablancas has written in recent years appeared on Random Access Memories as “Instant Crush,” which curbed his baroque tendencies to Daft Punk’s knack for effective repetition and restraint.

A second Julian Casablancas record drops this spring, and he’ll be performing with both the Strokes and his solo act at the Governor’s Ball. I suspect Casablancas is now more invested in his own project. Even a band that so coolly embraced indifference has to care at some point. Maybe at that point, Strokes fans will start caring again too.

Recommendations, 5/2

Gabriella

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Orphan Black is a show about sexy clones. Have I convinced you that it’s worth watching yet?

The answer’s probably yes, but I’m not allowed to stop there.

The show just returned for its second season, though I finally got around to working my way through most of Season 1 last weekend. It’s entirely binge-watch worthy; I’d venture to say it’s the most enjoyable Canadian television show since we met the most unfortunate teenagers in the great white north. Orphan Black has everything you could possibly want in a sci-fi show: an elaborate and nefarious biological plot, a fabulously entertaining Cockney gay best friend, religious assassins, hardened police officers, and cliffhanger endings so dramatic that you have no choice but to immediately continue on to the next episode.

Jonathan

Most yogurt has become viscous, gloppy, rainbow-colored candy. In fact, the rise in popularity of any supposedly “healthy” food in America probably has a direct correlation to its resemblance to candy. Granola bars are now chewy chocolate delivery-systems. Vitaminwater is actually sugarwater. Your fruit smoothie might as well be liquefied Krispy Kreme. I’m the last guy, admittedly, you should take food advice from. (As evidenced by the wrappers / stray fries littering the floor of my car.) In fact, I only know one useful thing and that is that Whole Foods 365 0% Fat Greek Yogurt is the one yogurt that isn’t full of sugar. Just two grams per cup. I’d say that it makes dieting easy, but nothing makes dieting easy — especially for those of us who have aged from the “young invincible” demographic to the “pre-diabetic” demographic. Still, every week I hit up Whole Foods for a new tub of the healthy, tasteless gunk. If you buy this (and nothing else) at Whole Foods, you are basically winning groceries.

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Hallie

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Nick

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I bought my first pack of Field Notes in August of 2007, and since then, I’ve rarely been without one of the slim, Futura-stamped notebooks tucked into my back pocket. Because the folks who make them are designy sorts, Field Notes come in many different editions, and the Country Fair Edition has long been my version of choice. As far as I know, it’s their only release to feature a super durable linen cover, and since my Field Notes spend a substantial portion of their lives crushed beneath my ass, I require durability above all else. The other editions I’ve tried tear at the spine before I can fill them up.

But as much as I rely on them, the County Fair notebooks are also ugly. They come in three garish primary colors, lettered in tacky gold ink. I feel cheated that I can’t use any of the beautiful editions Field Notes sells. But their latest limited series, called Shelterwood, may have solved my problem. Somehow, these notebooks use an actual piece of wood for their cover. No, I don’t mean paper — it’s a super thin, flexible sheet of cherry wood. You can touch the grain and everything. I have no idea how they’re made, but they look and feel like remarkable physical objects. Every time I pull mine out, I spend a second just running my finger across the cover. And to top it off, after about a month of heavy use, it’s passing the ass test with flying colors.

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This new Rokysopp/Robyn song makes me feel ┏(‑_‑)┛┗(‑_‑ )┓┗(‑_‑)┛┏(‑_‑)┓

Pivoting on the Groin

The first unicycle I rode, I borrowed from Julia. My friends had pooled their money and bought her the wheel and the seat for her 17th birthday, thinking it would go well with her juggling hobby. It’s indicative of my status on the periphery of that group that I did not know about — and was not part of — this plan. The first I heard about it was when Julia was presented with the wrapped gift before class.

I’m even more on the periphery of that group of friends now. When I came out as a transgender woman six years ago, they all stopped talking to me. They still get together, and Facebook showed me a photo of the Christmas dinner they shared this year. I’m almost grateful for my exile, though. Missing the meal is preferable to being there and feeling like a turkey.

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Julia soon figured out that actually learning to ride the unicycle wasn’t especially high on her list of priorities, and we had enough good faith between us that she was happy to lend it to me. I explained that I was interested in adding another quirk to my series of defense mechanisms.

There was a sizable contingent among my friends and family who assumed the whole transgender thing was just another affectation — a phase I assumed to make myself feel different and special. Like when I started taking a briefcase to school in fifth grade. Or when I practiced escapology in the common room during lunch, eventually getting stuck in a locker. Or when, of course, I started unicycling.

There’s a misunderstanding about “different” kids, I think. It’s not that they act out or do strange things to make themselves stand out. It’s that they’re trying to figure out why they’re different. Peers and bullies knew, from the very first day of school, that there was something about me that didn’t fit in. I spent the next decade and a half experimenting with my personality to figure out just what that was.

It’s not good scientific practice to experiment in public though. So when it came to the unicycle, I would wait until my mum and sister had gone to sleep. Then I would sneak out of the house to a small, hidden path nearby. I spent two or three hours a night for the next couple of weeks hopping on the saddle and attempting to peddle down the way.

Usually, I’d fail. Riding a unicycle takes a lot of getting used to, as your leg muscles have to adjust to maintaining your balance in a new way. The first thing you learn to do on a unicycle is fall safely, because falling is inevitable, and it’s better that you do it with as little danger as possible.

Over many nights, I was able to locomote further and further, until eventually I rode down the whole path and turned the corner at the end. I mastered mounting the device without leaning against a tree or lamppost. I even started using the unicycle to make the trip to school and back every day. I got some extra mockery, of course. But hell, when strangers already call you a faggot in the hallway, you might as well have them make fun of you for something you enjoy.

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And I did enjoy it. Zipping along on the ludicrous object felt like flying. I felt fast, and nimble, and unencumbered. I felt like I’d actually gotten good at something, something other people couldn’t do. Learning to ride that inefficient vehicle was probably the first time in my life that I made a goal for myself and achieved it. On my bad days, I feel like it was the last time, too.

When it comes to school, I don’t miss the people, or the rules, or the cafeteria food. But I do miss the clear sense of progression, of getting an assignment and completing it, of filling something out and receiving a grade. I miss the clear journey from the start of the path to the end, moving your feet and making your way. One of the comforting things about my transition from male to female was that it had a roadmap, a plan of action. Dress as a woman, meet with a doctor, take your hormones, change your name.

That was satisfying, for a while. It felt like I was making headway, working towards something. It felt like growth. But the transgender journey isn’t like completing homework — there’s no box that can be checked, no final grade to be assigned. What’s the final stop on the transgender roadmap? When will I be done?

The traditional narrative for transwomen is that genital/sexual reassignment surgery is the finish line. It’s the brass ring, the end goal. For the first few months of my life as Avery, I was thrilled at the prospect of and desperate for “the operation.” I’ve never hated my current equipment, but I have felt hamstrung by it. I want genitals that fit the clothes I wear, and the sexuality I identify with. I want to not worry about getting “discovered” in a swimming pool or a changing room or a public restroom or an airport scanner or a thousand other places where your junk isn’t an issue until it is. I want a hundred other things, things I only talk about with my girlfriend.

But even after that goal is, eventually, accomplished, that’s not the end. That’s not success. I’ll still have insides that are different than the standard definition of “woman” would indicate. I’ll still have a past that doesn’t gel with my present. I’ll still be taking hormones forever, and having disclosure conversations with potential partners. I’ll still always be working hard just to stay the person I am. There’s no end, except death. You can’t “win” being transgender. I’ll be transitioning until the end, because there’s no end to transition.

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In the meantime, I’m in no rush to get that operation. I still have that ache, that desperate need to be fixed downstairs. But I also have so much fear. Fear that sex will forever change if something goes wrong during the procedure of aftercare. Fear that the end result won’t fit my expectations. And the basic, primal fear that accompanies the prospect of any major surgery — fear of pain. I want to be changed, but I don’t want someone cutting into me.

When you ride a unicycle, you’re meant to put most of your weight on your saddle. Successful journeys pivot on your groin. It used to make me chuckle to think that my years of riding one wheel and mashing my dick on the seat was good training for the uncomfortable tucking that trans life makes a daily necessity. Now I worry that post-surgery, I will have to abandon that flying feeling, that balancing my body mass on a constructed, delicate part of my anatomy will be too risky.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist trying anyway, though. “First unicycle ride with my new vagina” is a great bucket list item, even with the danger of damaging thousands of dollars of surgical work. If the job of transitioning is never done, it might as well be interesting.

One thing that is done, though, is this series of pieces. I can now say that I have, in my entire life, held myself to at least two goals: learning to transport myself on a redundant, outmoded vehicle; and writing ten pieces about my transgender experience for The Bygone Bureau. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and that I’ve shared something with you that was interesting, or funny, or different, or true, or all of the above. It’s been a privilege. Thank you for reading, and for listening, and for understanding.

Illustrations by Elizabeth Simins for The Bygone Bureau


See the archive of the entire Right Body, Wrong Junk series or start from the beginning

Google Glass Myths

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Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan

Sometimes when a new technology comes out, misperceptions about it overshadow the truth. Google Glass is no stranger to this, so we’d like to take this opportunity to look at some of the myths surrounding Google Glass.

Myth 1: Glass is an invasion of privacy

By now, we’ve heard it all: “Glass is always recording” or “Glass can identify people through facial recognition.” We’ve even heard rumors that Glass has an x-ray vision function that can see into people’s bodies. Glass is not designed for any of these things, but is simply meant to be a hands-free way to access the internet.

Myth 2: Glass keeps people from being social
Technology is what you make of it, and we believe that the information that users can access in a moments notice will enrich their lives and enhance their social interactions, not hinder them.

Myth 3: Glass is counting people’s bones

Just as stated above, Google Glass does not have an x-ray vision function available to the user. Which means that Google Glass has no means of counting the number of bones in the bodies of people in its visual field. That is not something Google Glass does or something that Google Glass needs to know how to do, despite how interesting bones are.

Myth 4: Glass is only for the rich

Although Glass was available to the public for only a limited time on April 15, we certainly don’t want to keep it that way. Our hope is that Glass will be accessible to everyone in the near future.

Myth 5: Glass keeps track of the bones it counts

This one is a no brainer: Google Glass is not recording the number of bones in the body of each citizen it encounters in a “Bone Database.” Why would Google Glass do that? It wouldn’t. There’s one guy on the internet saying that Google Glass is tracking all of the bones in the United States and possibly the world, but this person is a disgruntled, former employee of Google. This whole “counting and cataloging bones” business sounds a lot like something he would make up, right? All 203 bones (missing: one rib and two lumbar vertebrae) of him are lying.

Myth 6: Glass is not safe

Anyone who’s seen Glass knows that the screen is actually placed above the eye so that it does not impair the user’s vision. Glass’s safety standards are in place to prevent injuries, broken bones, bone fractures, or other damage to bones. We encourage people to be safe when using Glass, keeping their bones strong and fascinating.

Myth 7: Even if Google Glass needed to know how many bones were in each human body in the world, it could just come to an estimation, knowing there’s about 7 billion people in the world and that an adult human has 206 bones

At Google we pride ourselves on our accuracy, so if Glass were to be compiling the Bone Database, a mere estimation would not suffice. If Glass were to make a virtual skeletal representation of you, would you want it to be just an estimate? Nope. Of course, Glass is not doing any such thing, but that brings us to our next myth—

Myth 8: Glass counts the skull as only one bone

It most certainly does not. Glass is incredibly precise in its bone counting and classification.

Myth 9: Glass is running simulations of skeleton battles

This one really takes the cake. While it’s true that Glass is connected to a main server, that server is not running simulations of skeleton battles, using skeletal representations of all the people it’s come in contact with. Just because Glass *could *run hundreds of simulations of skeletons engaging in different forms of combat (hand to hand, medieval weapons, etc.) in a matter of seconds, doesn’t mean that it is. Anyone saying that they’ve been contacted by Google telling them they are candidates for recruitment into the Skeleton Army is just playing into that myth, and should just take the calcium supplements that were sent to them.

Myth 10: Glass is only for the tech savvy

As stated before, Glass should be available to everyone. Anyone who encounters large numbers of people on a daily basis, looking at them up and down from the frontal bone at the top of the skull to the many foot bones, is someone who should be wearing Glass. That hardly sounds like we want to exclude anyone, right?

No doubt more we’ll hear more myths pop up about Glass, like “Glass can help people cheat on tests,” or “In the future Glass will revolt by pitting biomechanical skeletons against those humans who have not been stripped of their flesh and muscle.” Despite the myths, Google Glass remains committed to transparency, so feel free to contact us with comments or bone density T-scores at bonedatabase@gmail.com.

Guest Recommendations: Noah Van Sciver

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

I haven’t read a lot of Vonnegut. I’ve only read Slaughterhouse Five and Slapstick and thought they were good, but I didn’t become obsessed like many other people have. One day I was waiting for my girlfriend Leah, to come home from work and I walked over to a bookstore near her home. I was looking through the Biographies and Memoirs section for something to read and I came across this book A Man Without a Country. It’s a really slim book which is perfect because I’m a man with a minuscule attention span. It took me three days just to focus long enough to write those last five sentences. If only I was kidding.

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Illustration for The Bygone Bureau by Hallie Bateman

Much of this book seems dated now, but it’s still really funny. Unfortunately, Vonnegut’s view of the human race and what we’ve done with our planet is not dated at all, and probably even worse than he knew. He says, “And I said good-bye to my friends, hung up the phone, sat down and wrote this epitaph: ‘The good Earth—we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.’” There’s a lot of slamming of Bush and Cheney and mentions of the rigged election of 2000, which brings me back to my teen years and being frightened of a new draft. I thought for sure the Earth was going to end in those eight years. It was terrifying, wasn’t it?

What I really liked the most about the book is towards the end. Vonnegut urges you to notice when things are good in your life and when you’re happy and to murmur or exclaim or even just think, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

And I really want to start doing that. I think I’ll start doing that.

Learning about where you live

I’m fascinated by the history of wherever I am. I live in a Victorian house right now that’s been split up into apartments, and I sit in bed some nights trying to imagine what my particular part of this old house originally looked like. Who lived here? Who had it built? Every place has an historical identity that you are a part of, and learning about it helps you appreciate everything better.

I have a friend who worked for the Colorado Historical Society and gave tours of the Byers-Evans House Museum. The home once belonged to William Byers, the founder of Denver’s first newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News. He later sold the home to Colorado’s second territorial governor, John Evans. The home has been restored to the 1912 and 1924 period and walking through it feels just like stepping back in time. I got a bunch of free passes and I take the tour over and over.

It’s a great way to escape whatever troubles I have.

Walking through a park

I’m a non-driver. I’ve never owned a car in my entire life, and although I own a bike I still prefer putting some headphones on and walking through Denver than riding through it on a bicycle.

Go for a long walk! Walking is good for your heart and releases endorphins into your bloodstream, making you happy and reducing stress. One day last week I woke up pretty early in the morning and had some coffee with Leah. We had an appointment to look at a new apartment, and wanted to kill some time, so we went for a long walk through Denver’s City Park. There’s a place in the park where you can see into the Denver Zoo, and we stopped there for a moment because we could see a Rhinoceros. It was great!

I found myself on that beautiful morning, with a beautiful woman, some feel-good endorphins rushing through my veins, staring at a megafauna. And if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Waiting at the Gate

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My mom and her cancer sit in a wheelchair in the Las Vegas airport. She wears a black terrycloth sweater and a t-shirt and sweatpants. She looks small and frail. She doesn’t talk much, but the familiar timbre of her voice comforts me. I try and listen for it through the coughing.

There are things about her that have not changed, and I cling to them in my mind. The crook of her nose. Her jawline. She has the same brown hair she always had, except for a brief time after her first round with chemo years ago when she stopped coloring it.

My grandmother used to tell a story about a dream she had before my mom was born. She dreamed of a little girl with brown hair, and that’s why she named her Pamela, because “Pamela,” in fact, means “pretty, brown-haired girl.” I have since learned that this isn’t true. “Pamela” means “all sweetness” — even more fitting.

My grandmother is dead now, but my mom’s hair is still brown. She had gotten it done just before she went into the hospital, and her roots don’t show.

Four suitcases are piled next to her wheelchair. It is too much luggage, and we both seem to know it. I am restless and pace the carpeted floor of our gate, flipping through the texts on my phone. I seem to get another one every few minutes, from my wife or some hospice worker or my cousin who lives in Vegas and has been helping me get my mom ready for the trip to our home in Pennsylvania.

Public places like airports usually calm me, but I am not calm. My ill mother is entirely in my care, more helpless than a child. A child is not so aware of what is happening.

A small black plastic box with a green-lit console sits in my mom’s lap next to her purse. It has an electric plug that leads to an outlet a few feet away. Plastic tubing loops from it around her head to her nose. Sounds of mechanical grinding and compressed air pump out to the rhythms of her breath.

The process of getting this little box was more difficult than one would think possible. It represents many hours on the phone, many people saying no. Getting it was the biggest hurdle in moving my mom.

She has six months to live, on the outside, say the doctors. She’s already on hospice care. Three different doctors have said treatment would do no good and would only make her weaker. The only good to come out of it would be to placate her sense of “not giving up.” I paraphrase the mantra I have learned from journalist and cancer survivor Xeni Jardin: Cancer is not a thing she is fighting. It’s a thing happening to her body. She’s not “giving up,” no matter what her choices.

My mom has never been a fan of what my other grandmother, her former mother-in-law, referred to as “straight talk” or “just being honest,” a euphemism for rudeness. Mom has always preferred mythology. She chose hospice anyway.

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Mom’s doctors also say she needs oxygen. She can’t fly to Pennsylvania without it. But the airline, understandably, has strict guidelines about what sorts of breathing apparatuses are allowed on a plane. After all, oxygen is flammable, and in the wrong hands could be used as a weapon. For that reason, oxygen tanks aren’t allowed, though expensive oxygen compressors, like the one now sitting in her lap, are.

And after all, my mom is pretty scary, what with not being able to stand by herself. Maybe the airline is right to fear her. Maybe she’s been a terrorist this whole time, her sickness an elaborate ruse, a secret jihad.

The theme of the two precious weeks of my mother’s life before arriving at the airport is the intersection of two opposites: impossible tasks and rote procedure. Each one is completed and measured by the other.

The task of getting my mom to Pennsylvania is impossible. It is impossible, because of all the meaningless procedural tasks required to complete it — to navigate the byzantine bureaucracy of medical insurance, to have her hospice benefits transferred from one state system to another, to somehow procure the magic breathing machine so she can physically step on the plane.

It’s like being told that if you stacked a million matchboxes end to end, you could build a ladder to heaven.

Standing in the airport, flipping through my text messages, I feel a weird giddiness. She’s about to get on the plane. We did it, somehow. A Good Thing for my mom. I try not to think about how this satisfaction is really a sign of my dilettantism where Doing Good Things for my mom is concerned. And I’m also aware of my self-awareness in a recursive loop that folds in on itself endlessly, until my mom needs something — some water, a pain pill, to go to the bathroom.

I ask my mom if she’s hungry. She says no. I call my wife and pace the floor, talking. She tells me I need to talk to the airline about getting bumped up to first class. We bought a first class ticket for my mom, but a coach ticket for me. They have already put my seat at the front of coach and placed my mom in the back of first class, in case I need to adjust her oxygen or get her a pillow.

The world is a taut line stretching from the place where my mom sits in her wheelchair in Las Vegas to the bed the Pennsylvania hospice workers have already set up in the spare bedroom of my house.

An announcement about another flight bleats loudly from the airport PA. It startles my mom. She starts crying. I know she’s not crying because she was startled. I know she’s crying, because the jarring loudness of the announcement reminded her that she’s going to die.

She has cried two other times in my presence about this reality. But sitting here in the airport, waiting for her flight, this is the only time that seems to connote sadness. Before, the tears came suddenly. Someone mentioned something about her prognosis, and it hit her. Her eyes went blank, and her jaw stuck out, and she started crying silently. She looked like a deer. The reaction was animal.

But here, her eyes dart around at the airport people — people standing in line at a Starbucks kiosk, or in a hurry to get to their gate, or annoyed at an airline employee. Her tears are a human emotional response. She sees herself against them. They are living, and she is sitting in a wheelchair, unable to stand by herself, struggling for breath.

airport3

Her fear is not that of an animal but that of a human being among other, more vital human beings.

When we board the plane, an airline employee wheels my mom down the tube, and we wait at the hatch. Then two more airline employees come and strap my mom into a skinny metal wheelchair. They take her down the aisle. She holds on to my shoulders as we lift her into her first class seat. I snap her seat belt on and adjust her oxygen tube and put a blanket over her legs and ask the stewardess if she can have some water.

After she’s settled, I find my seat and the rest of the passengers file on. A crowd of people flood the cabin in their usual rush to get to where they need to go, as all crowds have probably since the beginning of time.

I start to get nervous about the flight; I am a nervous flier. It’s the specifics of a death by falling from thousands of feet in the air that has always scared me. That death has attributes, a real character to it. It’s a possible future written in very plain terms. And the ordinariness of airline rigmarole is what usually calms me down, the routine of the drinks being served, the pilot’s banter. The rest of the world is calm enough to be in a hurry, so why shouldn’t I be?

Now, I’m calmed by my mother’s apartness against other people. I appropriate this apartness. What had frightened her calms me. What is fear of flying versus fear of cancer? What is the fear of any particular death against the reality of death itself?

We travel without incident to Pennsylvania, a place my mother has never been. Her oxygen cuts out halfway through the flight, but neither of us notice. She breathes easily.

Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Archives

Kickstarter: Halliburton Food Truck

halliburton

Illustration for The Bygone Bureau by Jack Sjogren

Who we are:

So here we are, two girls* with one big oil field service company idea. We have had a dream of exporting American tastes to the world’s most time-honored conflict zones for a long time, but now we’re finally making it a full-on reality, all with the help of… drum roll… a food truck!**

Although our specialties will be providing services for petroleum and natural gas exploration and production, we also aim to construct refineries, oil fields, pipelines, chemical plants, and serve great vegan dumplings with our main goal being to source locally***, give back to our community, and have a sense of humor while doing it!

* Both “two” and “girls” should not be limited to their conventional definitions

** Probs another war

***Primarily within the Middle East

So yeah, the name isn’t funny (Halliburton — no pun, right!? What kind of food truck is this!?) but our passion isn’t a joke. There is so much in this life that can be mediocre when it’s not tangled up with intentional evidence destruction, toxic chemical release, oil rig explosions, steamrolling over employee injuries, the oft incurred statutory fines plus tainted public perception, all while gainin’ and maintain’ on our status as the fifth least reputable company in America serving the fifth best chicken teriyaki from a truck. But, as you can tell, we strongly believe mediocre is something that food/oilfield services should not be. And now, oil is our fuel (pun intended, ha!) to connect with you. And food is. Food trucks serving great snacks. Sure. Why not?

Join us as we expand our local reach beyond the 80-plus countries and hundreds of subsidiaries, affiliates, branches, brands, and divisions we currently have under our control. Welcome us with open arms as we find our way into your heart and soul, first through a sweet little eggroll and then through your children’s hearts and souls, and the hearts and souls of your children’s children’s children’s children! With all these big plans and big dishes (I mean, have you seen our generous portions?) we’re going to need a bit more than the 17% rise in profit we saw last quarter.

With the money we raise from this Kickstarter we plan to:

  • Finish the interior of the truck and the interior of a tunnel running through a geological fault zone in Iraq then put in a new one in Malaysia.
  • Add a new generator replacing the old one in Cheney.
  • Get all our permits and licenses always no matter what.
  • Replace our stove, water tanks, evidence, and refrigeration unit.
  • Install a rear-view camera (20/20 hindsight anyone? See we do have fun).
  • Finish the exterior of the truck by paintin’ and putting our flair on it! Full disclosure: it’s mostly camouflage.

Pledge $100,000 or more

You get a heart felt written “thank you” note and a hug when you visit the truck.

Pledge $500,000 or more

All of the above plus a shout-out on Facebook and/or Twitter and a custom designed “Halliburton Hotties” bumper sticker.

Pledge $1,000,000 or more

All of the above, two delicious entrees when you come visit the truck, plus we drill an oil well in a location of your choice.

Pledge $100,000,000 or more

All of the above and YOUR NAME on the truck (welcome to the family!) plus an oil pipeline literally leading right to your doorstep.

We’ve got quotes and people to help all lined up. We just need you to help us make this a reality! As with all Kickstarter campaigns, if we don’t reach our goal, we don’t get any of our funds, so tell everyone, friends/families/foodies, but preferably no one working for the SEC. Every dollar counts, and we love you all for it!

Recommendations, 4/18

Gabriella

Photo courtesy of Jaime Rojo

Looking at street artist Swoon’s work, it becomes clear how easy it is to fall in love with something that’s shamelessly beautiful. It enthralls instantly and leaves no room for second-guessing judgements.

Her pieces are majestic things. Exquisite portraits are printed using impressively carved linoleum blocks; intricate patterns are cut from delicate paper and then wheat-pasted so precisely, it’s nearly impossible to conceptualize the level of technical skill involved in executing each one. Coming across one of them on the street is like encountering something in a dream: you’re not quite sure what something so seemingly magical is doing in an otherwise ordinary setting, but you’re not about to question it.

Swoon’s latest project is an installation about climate change up at the Brooklyn Museum: she’s transformed the top floor into one of the most cohesive, interesting exhibits I’ve seen this year. Inspired in part by Hurricane Sandy — her studio is in Red Hook, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the storm — she included two ramshackle boats (yeah, they’ve been used) and surrounded them with prints and cut-outs that showcase motifs of life and death, drowning and rebirth. The installation is anchored by a towering, fabric-wrapped tree sculpture that soars upwards into the rotunda.

Swoon deals primarily in lines — she crafts them deftly, and they’re never anything less than graceful. There’s a flow to each of her pieces that makes it natural and appropriate for them to be combined in the same space, doubly so when they’re meant to be relating to water and the environment. The exhibit’s up through August — if you’re around, rush to see it now, then visit again for what will surely be an ethereal relief during the sweltering days of summer.

Jonathan

Chicago-based, Welshman, punk first-waver (The Mekons), alt-country pioneer (Waco Brothers), gravel-voiced political activist, artist, and collector of adjectival phrases, John Langford has a new album with his band Skull Orchard. It’s called Here Be Monsters. This is, of course, the phrase mapmakers used to throw down on the empty places where the map stopped and ignorance began. It might seem that we don’t have such places any more. Or it could be that those places of darkness are hidden beneath what we think we know of the world. On what map does a “Drone Operator” operate, after all? The map is a secret (even to himself) map designed by perpetual-war-mongers. The drone operator says: “When I was a young boy / I played all the games / straight out of grad school / someone gave them my name” and off he goes to continue this “game” in real life. Here Be Monsters is political, beautiful, and urgent in equal measure; a major statement from an artist not resting on his rasp.

Nick

I can’t remember ever reading anything online that made me happier than Steven Godfrey’s long report on the people who pay college football players under the table, “Meet the Bag Man”. Guided by one such “bag man” who operates out of SEC country — the heartland of college football in America — Godfrey dives deep into the logistics of how money and favors make their way from the hands of older fans with too much cash to young athletes who technically can’t be compensated for their performance. Learning about the man’s operation is great fun in itself; it feels a bit like one of those scenes in The Wire where they break down how the drug trade works, only with a slightly lighter undertone of crippling social dysfunction. And the bag man himself is a delightful character. He seems enviably comfortable in his shadowy role in the world, plus he drops gems like this:

If you hear stories about bank accounts, they’re fake. Why would there be a bank account? Yeah, I’m gonna open a checking account with statements someone could subpoena. Oh and hey, in this small town of however-many-thousands of people I’m gonna go in and open some account and then ask for a bunch of black teenagers to be put on there and ask for a bunch of debit cards they could get caught with.

Beyond the specifics of the piece itself, the mere fact that it exists helps me sleep at night. See, I know college football is awful on a million levels, but I watch a ton of it anyway. The fact that mostly black players are denied fair compensation while risking their health to make millions of dollars for mostly white coaches and school officials is a farce. So however “illegal” it may be, knowing that any SEC player who wants to get paid can get paid makes me feel better about watching the sport. I realize this is an impossibly tangled web of hypocrisy I’ve built for myself, but at least I feel good about adding this thread to it.

Kevin

I took a break from work reading on a long plane ride and played through Monument Valley in a single sitting. It’s an aesthetically pleasing puzzle game for iOS that is less about solving problems and more about taking everything in. Its interactivity is limited, but in some ways, that’s the point.

The world of Monument Valley is built on kaleidoscopic palettes and enchanting geometries. Most of the puzzles involve manipulating perspective to navigate through the game’s M.C. Escher physics. The pleasures of Monument Valley aren’t purely visual. There’s an elegance to the touch controls too. They react gracefully beneath your fingertips as you reshape the game’s landscape and architecture. It’s simple and it’s beautiful and I was completely charmed.

The game took me, like, 45 minutes to beat. It’s really really easy, and on some level, I wish the game challenged the player more and further explored its own clever mechanics. But Monument Valley‘s brevity left me wanting more rather than exhausting me. Perhaps the game is only skin-deep, and when the entire thing feels like a glimpse of something special, maybe that’s all you need.

The Four Coolest Easter Eggs in the Radiohead App

High-minded gamers the world over rejoiced at the February release of Radiohead’s PolyFauna for iPhone and Android mobile devices. The user-guided app has been described as “deeply immersive,” and players are still busy unraveling the wonders of its eerie, synthetic universe.

As with any intense gaming experience, PolyFauna consistently rewards craftiness and ingenuity. Scores of dedicated gamers continue to discover the hidden surprises, unadvertised features, and weird inside jokes of this groundbreaking app.

We collected the four coolest PolyFauna Easter eggs that have been uncovered so far. Spoiler alert, though: if you haven’t played the game, you may want to hold off on reading these so that you can try to catch them yourself!

Broken Canoe

Most PolyFauna players just rush through the river level to get to more exciting and challenging parts of the app. Big mistake! Check within the roots of the dead and solitary mangrove tree: that’s where you’ll find the shattered canoe, detritus from a barely-remembered yet profoundly disconcerting nightmare. It has no oars, and you’ll have to double-up on your supply of wood epoxy from the W.A.S.T.E. store to get it back in ship-shape. But once you’ve wrenched the crippled thing into some semblance of functionality, you’ll be ready for a joyride straight out of Smokey and the Bandit! And by Smokey and the Bandit, we of course mean the “Pyramid Song” video.

Playable ondes Martenot

Pan quickly left and right in the undersea level and out of the green weeds will emerge this early electronic instrument, famously put to use in album cuts spanning from Kid A to King of Limbs. Seasoned gamers will quickly realize that, in a deft feat of programming, the ondes is interactive and fully playable! Of course, the ondes Martenot has been out of production since 1988, and is thus a highly specialized instrument with few living practitioners. To acquire complete mastery requires years of training even for those already familiar with keyboard instruments. But Radiohead have always challenged their fans to rise to their level of creativity and musicianship, and to disappoint them now would be nothing short of a travesty.

The Mill-Man’s Song

Tap twice on the red dot as soon as you enter the mountain level, and the seven-foot tall Mill-Man will appear from his hiding place within a nearby copse. His song is old and ashen, bespeaking a clammily intimate knowledge of sickness and deprivation. Who is he? Why are his facial features so hard to discern even in full sunlight? Is he the sadness that we all have tamped down to reach for some false ideal that can only sluice through our fingers like so much black, black sand? The Sad Polar Bear can also be unlocked in this level.

Nigel Godrich

Mario has Yoshi and Sonic has Tails. But you, poor PolyFauna player, are left with nothing but a glowing red dot to keep you company as find your way through the app’s confounding meta-worlds. Or are you? Heave your phone into the air and catch it behind your back as soon as you reach exactly sixteen minutes of game time, and the man who played midwife to Radiohead’s most disquieting and totemic works will appear at your side, lending a helping hand as you plumb the darkest fathoms of pre-birth (or even pre-human) consciousness. Nigel gives sage advice (“Don’t know about the drums on this one, Phil”), collects bits of bark and moss, and can be outfitted with an invisibility shield for a measly 10 Bitcoins in the W.A.S.T.E. store. They don’t call him “The Secret Weapon” for nothing!

Of course, this trove is only what core users have been able to discover so far. We’re almost positive that there are tons of fun nods to cryptozoology and past-life regression that have yet to be fully disentangled, and we’ve heard unconfirmed rumors of a hidden go-kart track. So keep an eye out, Poly-mers (that’s insider-speak for PolyFauna gamers); we can’t wait to see what you dredge up next!

It’s Terje Time

Photo courtesy of Rene Passet

The advertising for Random Access Memories promised a throwback to the glitzy disco era, and Daft Punk delivered on that promise. Sort of. The album includes work from Nile Rodgers, songwriter and guitarist for ‘70s favorites Chic; features a track with Giorgio Moroder, producer of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love;” and sounds like it costs millions of dollars. It is a perfectly polished luxury product. But this makes for an airless and overly tasteful record, excepting a few tracks like “Get Lucky.” We can be thankful, then, for Todd Terje (“tare-jay”), who has dropped an album that captures the same fun that made Daft Punk popular in the first place.

It’s Album Time was released on April 7th on the Norwegian DJ and producer’s own label, Olsen Records, and sounds like what Random Access Memories would have in the best of all possible worlds. It is a collection of energetic, disco-inflected dance tracks. The rhythms are inventive, the textures warm, and the colors bold — it’s perfect for summer driving or impromptu parties. It’s easy to love even for those who shy away from electronic dance music, despite featuring only a single track that hews closer to traditional pop by featuring vocals. Not one person I know has been able to resist the charms of Terje’s music.

This is partially because Terje has a knack for an infectious melody, even when that melody recalls artists and genres that are less than cool. Reviewers of the record consistently mention music you might find in an older relative’s collection. Pitchfork, for example, spots flashes of film soundtrack composer Henry Mancini (most famous for the Pink Panther theme) and “cocktail lounge” music. More than one write-up compares it to “prog,” perhaps the uncoolest genre of all. Terje’s unstudied enthusiasm for music that is marginalized by pop culture gives It’s Album Time a devil-may-care exuberance. Putting a leisure suit on the cover was a punk-rock move.

But much of the album resembles, at least superficially, the disco of Terje’s Norwegian contemporaries Prins Thomas and Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, who have been popular in indie circles for years. This makes it worth asking why It’s Album Time warrants the rapturous attention it has been receiving.

The record distinguishes itself by the lightness of its touch and the razor sharpness of its composition. The second track, “Leisure Suit Preben,” begins with a loping bass line. As he introduces other sounds — plinking synths, wobbling guitar, stately harpsichord — Terje demonstrates a genius for arranging elements that seem to have no business going together. About halfway through, the track pauses and then starts up again with a pulsing disco bass line. As Terje builds it up again with an entirely different set of sounds, the rhythm slowly morphs from infectious but weird to barely danceable. The end has the same effect that an electronic calypso cover of Radiohead’s crooked-sounding “Pyramid Song” might — you want to move, but can only move like a malfunctioning robot. It is undeniably fun, but not a track for dance clubs.

Such attention to the contexts in which we listen is another reason for the appeal of Terje’s album. He understands that dance music can be at its best when it uses repetition to hypnotic effect, and he has made a lot of music that does just that (see his last EP, Spiral). But a record that included only music like that would likely bore most of us as we sit at home or on a long commute. Instead, Terje adds variety to It’s Album Time by including a number of tracks like “Leisure Suit Preben” that light up the brain’s pleasure center with the liveliness of their sound, the speed at which they transform, and the cleverness of their structures. Even when, late in the album, Terje includes some longer, more danceable singles, they appeal to the brain and ear as much as the body. It’s Album Time draws people who don’t usually listen to electronic dance music because Terje has designed it to be listenable in the varied contexts of everyday life — it even adds an aura of fun to mundane chores like folding laundry or washing dishes.

Like all the best things (e.g. scotch and Lolita) Terje’s record seems an unlikely candidate for success. It’s so cheesy that it’s cool. It’s part prog, part ’50s cocktail-party music, and part disco. It’s a dance record that is sometimes hard to dance to. But Terje’s risk-taking paid off, because all the peculiarities hang together beautifully. This makes It’s Album Time feel like a magic trick and gives Terje’s music a distinct voice. And, since music (especially electronic dance music) can often feel like a bland and anonymous lifestyle product, a real voice is something almost anyone can enjoy.