The story of Sadakichi Hartmann, a Japan-born poet who had befriended everyone from Walt Whitman to Ezra Pound and John Barrymore—and who once attempted to stage the first-ever "perfume concert" in New York:
"But no one had ever heard of a perfume concert. It was an invention so faddish the newspapers had inked themselves in excitement and still managed indifference by the second column. 'All lovers of good smells are expected to patronize the concert,' one hopeful feature began. However, 'It may be that after a time the olfactory nerve of the New York gatherings will become jaded, and will require smells of more and more pungency.' It was suggested Mr. Hartmann take a trip to Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal."
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5531 words)
A history of standardized testing in Texas, where the accountability movement began:
"Like Jihad and skateboarding and small furry animals, high-stakes testing has given rise to a new genre of YouTube video, a kind of inspirational training film meant to be viewed just before the testing season begins. Some are slickly produced, while others are clearly homemade, though they all tend to share some common tropes: students imitating rappers, teachers gamely chiming in, a dance beat pumping while kids chant 'Rock this test!' and other mantras. Children are shown marching into class, poring over work sheets, learning 'strategies' to beat the test makers, rallying in the gym, and so forth. The songs are upbeat and the kids, especially the third graders, are cute. But after watching a dozen of these clips, the relentless support-building becomes a little disturbing. You begin to feel as if you’ve fallen asleep in the first act of To Sir, With Love and awoken in some kind of Maoist reeducation camp."
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6474 words)
On Oct. 6, 1964, first lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson hit the campaign trail to court Southerners to vote Democrat:
"The tour, organized out of the East Wing, was primarily a woman-planned, woman-run operation. Johnson had the capable and charming Bess Abell as her social secretary and Liz Carpenter as her press secretary and staff director. A former reporter, Carpenter had cut her teeth on the Kennedy-Johnson campaign and went on to serve as the vice president’s executive assistant, the first woman to hold the position. Kenny O’Donnell, LBJ’s principal campaign adviser, wasn’t sure Lady Bird’s plan would work. 'He sat sphinx-like in meetings with me—half laughing at the whole idea and obviously feeling that neither the South nor women were important in the campaign,' wrote Carpenter in her memoir, Ruffles and Flourishes. The president, however, loved the idea and pored over maps with the first lady, tracing railroad lines and making suggestions for where to stop."
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4848 words)
How modern fertilizer, and the nitrogen in it, have led to bountiful harvests with a larger environmental cost. Scientists are trying to find a balance:
"The nitrogen dilemma is most starkly visible in China, a country that loves its food and worries that supplies might run out. To the casual visitor, that anxiety seems misplaced. There’s a feast, it seems, on every street. In a restaurant called San Geng Bi Feng Gang, on the outskirts of Nanjing, I watch with wonder as dishes parade by: steamed fish, fried mutton chops, chrysanthemum-leaf-and-egg soup, a noodle dish made from sweet potatoes, fried broccoli, Chinese yams, steaming bowls of rice.
"'Did you always eat this well?' I ask Liu Tianlong, an agricultural scientist who’s introducing me to farmers nearby.
"His boyish smile fades, and for a second he looks grim. 'No,' he says. 'When I was young, you were lucky to get three bowls of rice.'"
PUBLISHED: April 24, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2929 words)
Manufactured homes in trailer parks could be an affordable way to house a growing number of seniors on a budget:
"Seniors who can live on their own cost the country relatively little—they even contribute to the economy. But those who move into nursing homes start to run up a significant tab—starting at $52,000 a year. People who are isolated and lonely end up in nursing homes sooner. Hence, finding ways to keep people living on their own, socially engaged, healthy, happy, and out of care isn’t just a personal or family goal—it’s a national priority. Among seniors’ living options, there is one we overlook: mobile homes. Time-tested, inhabited by no fewer than three million seniors already, but notoriously underloved, manufactured-homes can provide organic communities and a lifestyle that is healthy, affordable, and green, and not incidentally, fun. But in order to really see their charms, we need to change a mix of bad policies and prejudice."
PUBLISHED: April 22, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5775 words)
The writer gains a new perspective on who her parents were after examining old photos and letters they left behind after they died:
"As I worked on my blog, I read these and similar letters again and again, and wondered how the man I thought my father was could have written these words, words that are so romantic that I melt on my mother's behalf when I read them. How could my father have been the person that I knew, the person I was happy to have dead, and the person in these letters, a person who was articulate, generous, and so, so loving? And how could my mother, who never seemed very happy with him, love him so much in return? Didn't she know he was a monster?"
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6740 words)
The writer visits a taxidermy shop to purchase a Valentines's Day gift. This essay will be included in David Sedaris's new book, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
"The taxidermist and I discussed the owls, and when my eyes cut to a glass-doored cabinet with several weather-beaten skulls inside it, he asked if I was a doctor.
"'Me?' For some reason I looked at my hands. 'Oh, goodness no.'
"'Then your interest in those skulls is non-professional?'
"The taxidermist's eyes brightened, and he led me to a human skeleton half hidden in the back of the room. 'Who do you think this was?' he asked.
"Being a layman, all I had to go by was the height – between four and a half and five feet tall. 'Is it an adolescent?'"
PUBLISHED: April 13, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3265 words)
How Copeland went from European basketball unknown to 29-year-old rookie for the New York Knicks:
"You are never fully at ease, but you begin to transition. Maybe you date a local girl, or even marry her. You begin to buy tighter jeans, learn some of the language and before you can blink, you are in the twilight of your career. Eventually, you do move back home and tell anyone that will listen that you did, in fact, play pro basketball. You try to find a 9-to-5 job while fighting off the inevitable depression that comes from losing the only thing you’ve ever truly loved, and, over time, you forget you ever had a dream in the first place. It’s a good life, at times an amazing life, filled with peaks and valleys higher and lower than you could ever imagine. And then, it’s over.
"For Copeland, however, there remained a gnawing inside his gut. No matter how well he did, it wasn’t quite enough. 'I was feeling sad even though I was having a lot of success. In my head,' he said. 'I just still believed I could do better. I knew if I didn’t make it, I’d look back with a lot of regrets.'"
PUBLISHED: April 12, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6198 words)
How does a would-be blockbuster become a disastrous flop? A look at the decisions, large and small, that doomed Super Mario Bros. in the early 1990s:
"You can learn a lot about the way the movie industry works in a given moment by looking at its successes (whether accidental or engineered), but often you can learn even more by looking at its failures — the long-in-development projects that never make it to the screen, the labors of love gone wrong, the should've-been blockbusters that fail to land — particularly those that caught Hollywood by surprise, miscalculations that everyone involved has attempted to sweep under the rug. By digging up some of these misbegotten artifacts and examining them both within the context of their eras and in the cold light of the present, we'll try to understand how seemingly inexplicable disasters happen."
PUBLISHED: April 7, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4341 words)