“I loathe vitamins, except for eggs.”
Mercury pellets. Freckle milk. Women eating poison. Oily beige tears.
Welcome to Foundation Week at Into the Gloss!
“It is difficult, but apparently not impossible, to finish a 240-page nonfiction book and learn practically nothing.”
Find out in this post for Into the Gloss.
Evan S. Connell died on Thursday. His novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge are some of the funniest, sweetest, and most trenchant books I can think of.
Picture a hybrid of Norman Rush and John Cheever, but with more restraint and a broader (more political) point of view.
Yesterday was a sad day and I woke up this morning tired and unhappy with myself. After taking a shower and dressing, I thought, “Maybe there will be something fun in the mail today. Like a package or a check. Or a package full of checks.”
Upon opening the mailbox, I found a large envelope from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It looked like a generic plea for donations, so I went to throw it out at the corner trash bin. On the way there I realized there might be some information about the beached finback whale inside, so I opened the letter.
A $5 bill fluttered to the ground and blew away.
I chased the bill, stamping it with my shoe, bending down, accidentally setting it free, chasing it down again and finally pinning it to a can of soybean oil . Now I was confused. Had the bill been included in the envelope? Had it been in my pocket, and I’d somehow liberated it in ripping open the envelope? The bill appeared to be real. It wasn’t in mint condition, but it wasn’t ancient, either.
I unfolded the page inside. “Your household has been randomly selected for a scientific survey,” the letter said. “We have enclosed a small token of thanks. Please return the survey in the enclosed prepaid envelope.”
I opened the survey. It asked if I owned my apartment (no) and whether I’d engaged in saltwater fishing during the past year (no). That was it. I checked the boxes, replaced the survey in its envelope, and mailed the envelope to a PO box in Maryland.
Once I’d absorbed the fact that NOAA was randomly sending cash through the mail, I immediately determined that the saltwater fishing survey had been a ruse, and that some bureau of behavioral economics had instead tapped the Administration to help conduct a study about how to incentivize people to take random surveys. The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like the only possible solution to the following questions:
1. Why send cash instead of a check?
2. How many bills would be wasted by people who tossed their envelopes in the trash?
3. How many New Yorkers could possible engage in saltwater fishing on at least a yearly basis?
If you have any ideas or received a similar bill in the mail, please let me know!
In the meantime, I’m grateful that my wish for an undeserved cash supplement has been fulfilled. I’m even more grateful that the cash arrived under circumstances mysterious enough to distract me until I feel better.
Here’s a question. What do you do when it turns out that the person you’re reporting on turns out to be unstable? And what you thought was going to be a mildly skeptical investigation is now potentially a hit piece on a mentally ill person?
I am a terrible arbiter of ethics in journalism, partly because I always side with the subject. I don’t believe there is ever a professional excuse for ruining someone’s life. (There may be other reasons to do so, but not trade-related ones.)
In this case, as it happens, there are no reasons at all. The subject is a person who is famous and wrong but harmless in both capacities. His faults are natural consequences of his merits. I care about him a little bit, even if he is annoying as fuck.
I called my editor to ask but hung up when I realized there was literally no one on earth less incentivized to give me good advice. Maybe I’ll ask my dad instead.
On Friday a reading took place at a bar on the Upper East Side. I met one of the readers for a drink beforehand and recognized it as a mistake as soon as I sat down, because 1) he immediately told me he was reading last which 2) condemned me to sit through the entire event. Before him, atop the bar, stood an empty glass and a stack of notes. The stack was alarmingly thick. It was about the thickness of a commencement address.
My friend didn’t look at me when I sat next to him, so I asked whether he was in a bad mood. “No,” he replied. “Why would you ask that? I just had a weird day.”
What was weird about it?
“I dropped a package in the stairwell of my building, and then when I went to get it, I fainted.”
The cause of the fainting was unknown. A Russian immigrant who lived two floors below found him and conveyed him up to the correct unit, and for the rest of the afternoon, my friend said, a hole had burned at the center of his vision. That was earlier in the day. I was curious to know but didn’t ask if the hole was still burning.
Like a lot of writers, this person was prone to self-involvement. It wasn’t the seductive self-involvement of funny people or the charming self-involvement of dumb attractive people; just a persistent fog through which all conversation lost its way.
I ordered some drinks.
“Actually,” my friend said, “I am in a bad mood.”