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A lovely date (thus far consisting of a brief stint in a tea shop working, she reading in preparation for an interview and I writing, scrambling to not miss a deadline by too much) was made lovelier when, during a stop at the outdoor Shake Shack on 23rd St., I happened across three old high school friends. I saw the first of them by the booth ready to pick up his food and made a beeline (sorry, give me 2 seconds, I whispered to the poor girl) straight for him, my best friend during those four years, my erstwhile road trip companion, the other half of our main duo in the school play senior year, co-captain with me of the JV football team our sophomore year, man of many other distinctions. I slid next to him and remained incognito for maybe all of 3 seconds until he turned, noting someone, in typical New York City fashion, standing entirely too close, then broke out in a shout and we embraced in a massive bearhug. He immediately pointed out the two others and I raced over, dragging the date along. I introduced her, we briefly caught up, then I was advised to check out the line, as indeed there was a line that wound nearly to the entrance of the park. We dutifully occupied our spot after assurances that those Musketeers had no intention of leaving their table.

In line, we talked books and movies and (of course) high school, which was where I was introduced to such staples of 1990s, early 2000s staples of upper middle class het cis male ennui and bored violence as Fight Club and American Psycho. We came out of that subject a little bit more sympathetic towards the Brad Pitt/Ed Norton saga than the gutless nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis. My baby sister and I, perhaps prompted by the changing tenor of our online presence, have taken to no longer speaking disparagingly of certain majority demographics in hushed whispers. When the subject of Bret Easton Ellis came along, I and the girl spoke at length and without our library voices about how played out late-90s ennui-laden nihilism as expressed in Bret Easton Ellis novels was and how little sympathy it elicited and how culturally deleterious American Psycho the book was and how the facade it aimed to parody was so attractive to vapid young (white) males then and now that they hopped in their imaginary Ferraris and sped right past the satire to the ideal As Portrayed By Patrick Bateman. At some point, we got to talking about tv shows and I confessed that Seinfeld never did it for me; in fact, kinda repelled me, and the guy in front of us, finished my sentence, begun as "It's a show about absolutely--" "NOTHING" he said, grinning. The ensuing monologue from him did nothing to change my opinion on the show, nor did it push me even a little bit closer to possibly one day seeking out an episode. The talk wasn't all disparaging, I did praise David Foster Wallace, and the girl did have kind things to say about Fight Club.

We placed our orders, joined my friends and the introductions resumed in earnest. There was the beginning round of catching up, who worked where, who was married, who was in a relationship, where we lived, filling out the gaps in between Facebook status updates, and just as swiftly we sank back into our old, familiar grooves, laughing at all the right places, reading each other's minds on occasion, the conversation flowing as though graduation had been yesterday instead of 11 years ago.

Our totem buzzed and we collected our burgers and fries and my root beer and returned to the troop.

During our 5-year high school reunion, we had all finished college and were in the midst of or on our way to other endeavors. The careers in consulting had just begun, or others were taking a year off before grad school while others still were prepping for business school and others still had gotten into teaching. Potential in the course of being realized. By the 10-year, people are married, in the middle of their careers or already moving on to the next one. One classmate was involved in his third startup venture. And there's the stereotype that jealousy always haunts these sorts of gatherings, because "compare and despair." Everyone is doing better than you somehow.

But at that outdoor table at that Shake Shack with the weather as breezily balmy as it's ever been, any hints of envy had evaporated. Even as I sat with friends whose employment situations were, for the most part, much more secure than my own and whose financial stability was downright aspirational, not a whiff of covetousness.

Joy at seeing them again, so serendipitously after so long apart, and being able to show them off to someone else.
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Evans Blue - Erase My Scars
18 May 2016 @ 08:23 am
Miracle of miracles, the A train was nearly empty when I hopped it this morning for an early commute. Virtuous patience at work, I'd actually had my eye on the C train, as that's provided both a seat and a longer opportunity to indulge in pleasure-reading. But this A train rolled up after the previous one and looked like New York City had been Rapture'd, so I could not but take advantage. Another surprise layered on top of this bit of thaumaturgy was that I was wide awake, this at maybe a quarter to 7 or so, having woken up at 5 for a chance at peace of mind at the gym. Apart from general questing towards self-actualization, I think I was impelled by a dual-rejection, of last night's spiritual malaise as well as the Popeye's to which I'd acquiesced in the lamenting haze. I went to bed pledging to remember that, in such instances, I'm never as hungry as I think. Often at night, a Nature Valley granola bar before bed has hand-waved hunger away for long enough to sleep more or less contentedly.*

Up and outside just after 5 to find that the sun had beat me to it. Walking, I remembered talking with a friend about how much I used to love getting up at 4.30am to go to the boxing gym in Wash Heights that I used to frequent during law school. To feel as though I were the first person awake, certainly the first person on that block, was empowering; it felt industrious. It felt like progress, of one sort or another.

And then there's the arrival at the office at a quarter to 8, before anyone else has checked in. People ask if and why I'm a morning person, and this is what comes, swiftly, to mind. Solitude where industriousness and purposefulness can stumble upon fertile soil.

* I'm getting at that age, it seems, where weight put on can't simply be ab-crunched away the next morning. It was inevitable, but a part of me expected to have my early-20s metabolism forever, forgetting of course that much of what turned my body into Teflon re weight gain was acid-reflux-inducing stress brought about by financial instability, some lethal habits in which I'd regularly engaged, and spending upwards of 20 hours on Metro-North a week for multiple semesters. There also wasn't much eating.

With the advent of stress, certainly into adulthood, I've been a chronic undereater, and there was a morbid pride that came with friends/family remarking on how swiftly I lost weight. One semester, I believe it was some time in my second year of law school, I'd lost between 15-20 pounds, and the only way I could tell the difference was that my hoodie hung a little looser on me than it had before. Certainly not the most extreme version, not nearly as extreme as that point during my time at the Carter Center before my financial aid kicked in, I had just over $12 to my name, and my hip bones protruded. Often, food has been the first thing to get cut from any routine, certainly reduced, when pressure seeks to turn this piece of coal into diamond, and even now when I know for a fact that such extreme weight fluctuation isn't the epitome of health, old habits have a hard time dying.

Now carries a different texture. My inclination towards salads now, coupled with a recent severe reduction in appetite (the body seems to be changing in interesting ways), could perhaps be me subconsciously preparing myself for Ramadan. A friend reminded me earlier this week that a packet of Skittles does not a lunch make. I flashed back to those weeks in Atlanta when the only things I could consume during the day, when we weren't having Bagel Fridays, were coffee and office M&Ms. The person who'll be guiding me through Ramadan this year spoke with wonder about her own experience with it and how very often the fasting had unlocked new dimensions in her, and she realized how focused she could become, how much work she could accomplish during the day. I've written before on how religiously-inspired deprivation is a bit of a peculiarity of mine (emboldened a bit, perhaps, by that William James book that has become a bit of a second Bible for me). But I've never engaged in purposeful full-on fasting before. I do hope this will ameliorate some of those pesky, underlying, destructive impulses and impel me even more towards health.
Current Location: the office
Current Music: RL Grime - Halloween Mix 2015
17 May 2016 @ 01:03 pm
-- How Rival Gardens of Eden in Iraq Survived ISIS, Dwindling Tourists, And Each Other - Jennifer Percy, Atlas Obscura, May 2016

"On the way we came upon a small city, drowning in sunlight, and next to it, the silhouette of a Ferris wheel. “That means there are Christians nearby,” Salar said. Salar, a Sunni Muslim, had his ideas about Christians. You knew you were approaching Christians, he said, if the road turned from dry and cracked to pristine and well tended. You knew you were approaching Christians if the meridians emptied of garbage. You knew you were approaching Christians if you saw well-dressed people who smelled nice."

-- The gangsters on England's doorstep - Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian, May 11, 2016

"Some workers who were recruited in Latvia on the promise of regular work were already in debt for their air fares when they arrived, carrying suitcases of cigarettes they had been given to smuggle. Others were recruited locally, including three Latvian alcoholics who had previously been sleeping rough next to the Wisbech Tesco carpark, and using the supermarket’s toilets to wash. An acquaintance had sent them to Mezals at the BP garage. Mezals and Valujevs took them to one of their crowded gang houses and provided them with food, toiletries and work – just helping people, they said, from their own tight-knit community."

-- The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies - Shaun Walker, The Guardian, May 7, 2016

"Alex presumed there had been some mistake – the wrong house, or a mix-up over his father’s consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the US, in an FBI operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake."

-- The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback - Rahul Bhatia, The Guardian, May 12, 2016

"From Zuckerberg’s vantage point, high above the connected world he had helped create, India was a largely blank map. Many of its citizens – hundreds of millions of people – were clueless about the internet’s powers. If only they could see how easily they could form a community, how quickly they could turn into buyers and sellers of anything, how effortlessly they could find anything they needed – and so much more that they didn’t. Zuckerberg was convinced that Facebook could win them over, and even more convinced that this would change their lives for the better. He would bring India’s rural poor online quickly, and in great numbers, with an irresistible proposition: users would pay nothing at all to access a version of the internet curated by Facebook."

-- Double Cross: The Ukrainian Hacker Who Became the FBI’s Best Weapon—And Worst Nightmare - Kevin Poulsen, Wired, May 2016

"ONE THURSDAY IN January 2001, Maksym Igor Popov, a 20-year-old Ukrainian man, walked nervously through the doors of the United States embassy in London. While Popov could have been mistaken for an exchange student applying for a visa, in truth he was a hacker, part of an Eastern European gang that had been raiding US companies and carrying out extortion and fraud. A wave of such attacks was portending a new kind of cold war, between the US and organized criminals in the former Soviet bloc, and Popov, baby-faced and pudgy, with glasses and a crew cut, was about to become the conflict’s first defector."
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Nonpoint - Pandora's Box
15 May 2016 @ 10:55 pm
Who Fears Death - A ReviewCollapse )

The Turner House - A ReviewCollapse )
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: standing fan
12 May 2016 @ 01:41 pm
Current Location: the office
Current Music: RL Grime Mix For Diplo & Friends
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Current Location: the office
Current Music: Rinse FM - RL Grime Guest Mix for DJ Oneman
-- The Difference a Mutant Makes - Ramzi Fawaz, Avidly/Los Angeles Review of Books, Jan. 28, 2016

"The series capitalized on its symbolic gesture of solidarity with minorities, queers, and misfits, but it jettisoned its earlier substantive engagement with the problem of difference: back in 1979, when Storm visited the slums of Harlem and witnessed the reality of youth homelessness and drug abuse, she was forced to contend with the realities of inner-city African American life from the perspective of a Kenyan immigrant who experiences blackness differently than African Americans and the working poor; and in the early 1990s, with the invention of the fictional mutant disease the Legacy Virus, the X-Men series used fantasy to address the AIDS crisis by thinking through the kinds of solidarities mutants and humans would have to develop to respond to a genetic disease ravaging the mutant population."
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Smile Empty Soul - Mechanical Rationality
Mothers' Day, for obvious reasons, has, since adulthood kicked in in earnest, occasioned my thoughts towards widowhood.

Spilling down my Newsfeed today, when I've had the chance to glance at it, has been bit after bit of evidence driving home the well known fact that black indeed does not crack. It is impervious. The mothers holding infant versions of my friends could double as clones or sisters.

Two threads recur on this day, less discourse than proclamation. There's either the generic celebration of Mom or the celebration of single motherhood, the celebration of adversity and the way such women seem to be, on an almost molecular level, capable of miracles. Less present are the "Happy Mother's Day, Dad" posts, though the inverse is still very much proclaimed on Father's Day.

Either way, all I know of widows I learned from the one who raised me. Her organizing principle is work, and I imagine emulation is as meaningful a way of celebrating her as any (at least, as far as what she would appreciate), so here I am, tinkering at some bit of writing that seems to have, at some point along the way, sprouted a deadline.
Current Music: Asking Alexandria - Break Down the Walls
08 May 2016 @ 09:15 pm
As I type this, I’m on the red-themed Metro-North out of New Haven, bound for Grand Central. As Mom has chosen to fill the free time that attends an empty nest with work, she has spent the weekend in the hospital, engaging the human monstrosity, as one is wont to do on Mother’s Day. Still fresh in my mind are the magnificent fight scenes from Captain America: Civil War, a movie 9-months pregnant with fan-service. I now feel liberated to read all of the think-pieces and hot-takes that have proliferated since its release.

Amber and I inhaled burgers at Prime 16, a burger and beer joint of sorts, immediately prior to the movie. And joked about the absurdly named beers, whose monikers flashed on a screen behind me. Just above Amber’s head was a framed drawing, a chubby-cheeked “Blondie”-style face, colored red, with a tongue-sticking out. With the words “Le Monstre” emblazoned above. This prompted a story about my time in Provence as a high schooler and the family I lived with and how the matriarch’s grand-daughter would eye me, avidly, at the beginning of every dinner and, just before we would begin, would whisper hungrily, “le massacre commence.” Indeed, by the end of our meal, there was no trace of the Siracha bacon burger I’d ordered nor of the fries, except for a small slice of tomato-wedge that had managed to escape and tell the tale of the battle that was lost that day.

The previous day was spent in repose binge-watching back-episodes of Veep and ordering in Thai food, after which she baked brownies, much to both our delight.

The evening of my arrival was, I believe, the day that London elected Sadiq Khan to be its mayor, history being made at the ballot box. At work, there is no shortage of Muslims and one in particular with whom I’ve had the privilege of growing close has become the other half of a swiftly strengthening friendship. I’d participated in Lent, albeit in limited fashion, earlier this year, and the topic of Ramadan had passed through our conversation. I expressed interest, at which moment this woman’s face began to glow. But later that evening, in New Haven, at my best friend’s home, she and her fiancé invited me to Shabbat and, kneeling before the candles she had lit, we sang the prayers, after which she remarked I was a quick learner.

It’s become my habit of late to pass every such reaching into a new thing beneath the microscope, and in this instance, it does not escape notice that each venturing into a religious practice not my own has been a path traced along the verdant landscape of an affection between me and another woman. Granted, there are quite a few other inputs regarding my interest in and entrance into the plains and valleys of Islamic tradition. And, as a result of many friendships, I’ve very often brushed up against the practice of Jewish rituals. There was a time, a long time ago, a lifetime ago in fact, when the thought of conversion, full-on religious conversion, held strong and frightening appeal. It no longer does, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a buttressing of my own faith by the trials and tribulations that have attended the interim between then and now. But perhaps this increased confidence in my own grounding has stripped the fear away from what engaging in the practices and traditions of other religions might entail. There’s a common place that the desire comes from, a familiar pit, and it is perhaps heresy to suggest that ritual is ritual is ritual. But both Judaism and Islam have become fascinations of mine and I recognize that there’s this massive project of self-improvement and self-actualization that powers these tentative voyages. Underneath it all is the same reasoning that allows me to consider boxing as a semi-religious outing, or a weekend in New Haven with a woman who saved my life.
Current Location: Zoe's
Current Music: ambient chatter
06 May 2016 @ 11:16 am
-- When Europe Loved Islam - Marya Hannun, Sophie Spaan, Foreign Policy, May 5, 2016

"Converts like Hugo Marcus, a gay Jewish philosopher, show Islam wasn’t just present in Europe in the years after World War I — for some, it played a vital role in discussions about what the continent’s future should look like. Marcus, who helped run the Wilmersdorf mosque, was born in 1880 and moved to Berlin to study philosophy. He converted in 1925, after tutoring young South Asian Muslim immigrants. Adopting the Muslim name Hamid, Marcus wrote articles for the mosque’s publication, Moslemische Revue, in which he engaged with the philosophers popular at the time — Goethe, Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Kant — to argue that Islam was a necessary component in crafting the “New Man.” Used to describe an ideal future citizen, the “New Man” was a trendy philosophical concept taken up by everyone from the socialists to the fascists and was central to both Soviet and National Socialist imagery. For Marcus, Islam, as the monotheistic successor to Judaism and Christianity, was the missing component at the heart of this “man of the future.”"
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Flosstradamus - UNEARTHED VOL.1 - BBC RADIO 1 MIX (2012)