A freshwater fish tank fell into my bed. The water woke me up, and I wondered for a brief second if I’d had some kind of accident (I had not). I heard my father, whose bedroom was separated from mine by the living room, screaming my name in a way I’d never heard before and sincerely hope never to hear again.
To get to each other, we had to cross through the path of another fish tank (to the question of “what the fuck were you thinking with all those goddamned fish?” I have still not received a satisfactory answer), this one filled with saltwater. It had shattered and getting cut was inevitable—my tiny eight-year-old feet and shins didn’t register the actual slicing of flesh, just the sting of salt and a new sticky sensation I didn’t know at the time was my own blood.
We made it, somehow, to the doorway (“get to a doorframe” was something we smugly recited when our third-grade teacher quizzed us on earthquake safety at the beginning of the school year).
what I mostly remember is dead fish. Slimy, smelly dead fish. Clown fish, mostly, but also guppies, angel fish, beta fish, maybe—oh, God—an eel? They were in all the bedsheets. Between the couch cushions. Every time I thought I’d identified a safe section of carpet, I’d feel one between my toes. There was an outbreak of something the news called “Valley fever”, something related to toxic dust in the air.
“There’s the fact that if I lived in an American context, I think I would have chosen a Lexus, which is the best quality for the price. And more obscurely, I have a dog that I know is very popular in the United States, a Welsh Corgi. One thing I don’t share is this American obsession with large breasts. That, I must admit, leaves me cold. But a two-car garage? I want one. A fridge with one of those ice-maker things? I want one too. What appeals to them appeals to me.”—Rereading this Houellebecq interview for the 2000000th time.
1. Chicken soup is “an excellent food as well as medicine,” says 12th c. rabbi and physician Moses Maimonides. The consumption of a chicken (not one too old or too fat, mind you) will also alleviate symptoms of asthma and sexual dysfunction.
2. Cover our…
I am curing what ails you with a heaping spoonful of history.
Yesterday I gave a tour to a group of Orthodox high school girls.
The best/worst thing about high school girls is that they’re the same anywhere you go—a group of four (like this one) has one alpha, two betas, and one desperately trying to push her way into the alpha’s No. 1 best friend spot.
Giving tours to anyone in the 12-20 age range is anxiety-inducing. If they think it’s lame (and they often do), you’re staring at 57 minutes of silent mockery and texting, which may or may not be about how boring the museum is and how hopelessly uncool the tour guide is acting.
This depends, though, almost solely on the behavior of the alpha. If she thinks it’s beneath her to be interested, the others will follow.
Yesterday’s group had an alpha who was so in command of her troops I could suss out the situation before we left the visitor’s center. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to learn that she was excited about being at the museum and had all kinds of thoughtful, interesting questions to ask! What’s more, she used her power over the others to keep them in line—anyone who tried to make a joke was shot a look so withering the offender immediately ceased offending and tried to repent by asking something about work hours in the 1890s.
The fourth member (the one trying to claw her way in) made the fatal mistake of trying to touch something.
"Don’t touch that, ___," said the alpha. "Didn’t you listen?”
The alpha shot me a look as if to say, “I’m sorry about these losers—don’t worry, I get it.”
I thought the poor girl might start crying, and I knew I should’ve felt bad for her, because being 14 and on the outskirts of the popular crowd is something every woman who has a blog knows the ache of, but I didn’t.
Because, really—how many times do you need to hear me say that objects on the table are for looking only?
The threat of betrayal is widely felt in the room—there is, for example, a sinister-looking man with bulging eyes behind thick bottle-glass spectacles, sitting silently apart, whom no one seems to know—but no one wishes to reveal his anxieties for fear of revealing his temptations as well, so instead of watching one another the conspirators concentrate on the Colonel’s daughter as she passes among them with the coffee and the biscuits. The Colonel watches them watch his daughter. Some gaze up at her face, others at her breasts, or at her hips, her costume, her legs. The men who stare at her figure are not necessarily less trustworthy than those who watch her face, and those who avert their eyes or meditate, seemingly, upon their brandy, are probably the most dangerous of all.
“As Justice O’Reilly was leaving the Essex Market Court Saturday afternoon, Dr. Henry Topping, of 84 Rivington Street, rolled in and said he wanted a warrant for someone who had stolen a diamond pin from him. The Justice told him to sober up and come around yesterday morning. He was in court at the appointed time, but as a prisoner instead of a complainant. The complainant was Lawyer Rodenberg, who is a tenant of the doctor’s, and who said that the disciple of Esculapius had got into a dispute with Mrs. Rodenberg, insulted her, and, upon receiving a slap in the face from the irate lady, had drawn a pistol and proceeded to perforate the ceiling with bullets in attempting to shoot her. He added, however, that his wife did not wish to press the charge and the doctor was discharged, but his pistol was confiscated and turned over the property clerk.”
[From Leonie d’Aunet’s Voyage d’une femme au Spitzberg, which, so far as I can determine, has not been translated into English. Large excerpts of it, though, were published in The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Sept.-Dec. 1858, ed. W. H. Bidwell, from which the…
"At your age you should be going to balls, not the Pole."
On every tour at the museum there’s a person or person(s) who seem to have gotten all their information about days of yore from slumming pieces written in 1885.
That’s fine—we all come to learn through different avenues. Still, there’s a perverse insistence upon discussing just how awful things were back then: did the toilets smell very bad (yes)? Did even the smallest of children have to work 12 hour days (sometimes, but not really—five year olds aren’t exactly the most efficient workers)? Did everyone die of horrible diseases borne from the filth they lived (it’s complicated)? Were there rats everywhere (I don’t want to burst your bubble, but there still are!)?
I’m not saying all of our great-grandparents spent their days basking in the glow of noble poverty. People died young, worked hard, got yelled at for speaking broken, accented English. The darkest stories make me think it’s a wonder all of us who are Irish or Italian or Lithuanian are even here, because in 1889 New York, with no running water or solid job prospects or privacy to do anything I certainly wouldn’t have the mental and physical fortitude to procreate.
But. There had to have been nice moments, too, right? Yesterday I left work and walked to dinner further south, and it was cool and breezy and the light came down in a way that made dumpsters filled with rotting chicken carcasses look like paintings. Isn’t it reasonable—necessary, even—to think that even the most overworked and sick and scared of our ancestors found themselves, on a day like yesterday, standing on the corner of Eldridge and Broome, looking up and thinking, “Well, this isn’t so bad, is it?”