The Bull Passes Through

Two friends decide to participate in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona:

“We talk about our plan of action one last time. We remind each other to stay to the inside on the turns. We remind each other that the most important thing is to keep our center of gravity so we stay on our feet.

“‘If you lose a shoe, keep going,’ Dan says.

“‘Yeah, glass in your foot is better than being trampled—by people or bulls.’

“‘If you fall, don’t try to get up. Just cover your head and roll to the side.’

“‘And if you see a bull on its own, try to get out.’

“This last point may be the most important in terms of living and dying. From what we’ve been told, bulls together are not as frightened as bulls alone. Bulls together tend to stay on a path, assuming they keep their footing. Frightened bulls directly charge people.”

Published: Jul 13, 2012
Length: 17 minutes (4,269 words)

Burn All the Liars

Revisiting—and correcting—the stories of Frances Farmer. The star of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood was once thought to have been lobotomized after being involuntary committed to an institution:

“Let’s make something perfectly clear: Frances was not lobotomized. Granted, Dr. Walter Freeman did visit Steilacoom and perform lobotomies while Frances was incarcerated there—but correlation isn’t commission, obviously, and, more importantly, Frances’s medical records confirm that she wasn’t operated on for any reason whatsoever at Steilacoom. This according to Jeffrey Kauffman, a musician and historian, who describes himself as ‘the first person to obtain access to pertinent medical and court records [that] clarify many aspects of Farmer’s history.’ Furthermore, no one during Frances’s lifetime claimed or even implied that Frances had been lobotomized—not Frances, not her doctors, not her family, not her bitter former lovers, not her ex-husbands three, not even that veritable (albeit charming) bullhorn of calumny, movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons. No one.”

Author: Matt Evans
Published: Feb 22, 2012
Length: 27 minutes (6,977 words)

How to Say I Love You

100 ways to say the words to that special someone:

“(36) She stands on the unpaved road with your newborn son on her breast. Even though she can’t hear you over the sound of the helicopter, you’re screaming the words. Six months and you’ll send for her. You promise.

“On a rainy midspring morning 26 years later your son appears at the electronics store where you are senior sales. He’s been looking for you for 15 years, since his mother brought him to the States. He asks to buy a VCR. All you can see is that he’s a young guy, good-looking, but nervous. That’s normal; even at $200 it’s still a big-ticket item for a lot of people.”

Author: Paul Ford
Published: Feb 14, 2012
Length: 9 minutes (2,277 words)

Now That Books Mean Nothing

Since I am not married and because my parents are loving and kind, my mother has borne the brunt of my physical and emotional caretaking these past few months as I struggled with decision-making and the eventual decision’s realities. She’s the one who has heard me most often respond to the question, “Do you want me to bring you a book?” with a matter-of-fact, “No, I’d rather watch TV.” Each time I’ve heard myself say this, I’ve watched her try not to judge me out of parental concern.

Published: Dec 8, 2011
Length: 14 minutes (3,669 words)

Standup Comity

Comedy is also an industry of paying dues: Many long-time performers regard their first ten years as a kind of clueless wandering, and veteran comics tend to treat newbies like replacement troops: They are young, dumb, and could be gone soon, so it’s best to wait till they survive a while before learning their names. This is all to say that the term “comic” is subjective and nebulous, and even geographically variable: larger cities, with their heightened competition for stage time, are famous for relegating working comics from smaller markets like the Midwest or Florida back to open-mic status, causing many visitors to experience a kind of outraged existential crisis. When two comics meet for the first time, they act like dogs sniffing each other’s butts, asking loaded questions like, “You been doing it long?” or “You been busy?”

Published: Nov 28, 2011
Length: 11 minutes (2,927 words)

Shorty

A pediatrician first recognized my failure to thrive, as he called it, when I was seven months old. An average-sized baby at birth, born by C-section to my petite mother, I had started to gain only ounces between monthly visits. Conspicuous smallness runs in my family. My mother is barely 4’11”. My grandfather (5’8″) says we are descended from a Russian clan, the Zichs, none of whom were over five feet tall. But I was emerging as a frontrunner in the shortness contest. At three years old I was 23 pounds; four, 26; five, 28. Most toddlers gain about three to five pounds per year and grow two to three inches. I was growing less than two inches and gaining less than two pounds per year. While my classmates’ torsos stretched and their legs thinned, I never made it onto the government growth charts. I was not too much bigger than an average terrier.

Published: Sep 14, 2011
Length: 10 minutes (2,731 words)

The Querent

I was 13 at the time of the accident, 16 when my father died of complications related to his injuries. When I look back at why of all the forms of the occult I’d found the one that appealed to me most was fortunetelling, it seems to me the answer came from my father’s accident and death. I wanted to know how to tell the future. I wanted one of those mirrors, the ones positioned so you can see around a corner, but for my whole life. That’s what I believed the Tarot could be.

Published: Aug 10, 2011
Length: 23 minutes (5,971 words)

The Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Three years of waiting. Everywhere around us there are waves of bouncing sons, bounties of daughters, stroller wheels creaking under the cheerful load. Facebook updates, email messages, and Christmas cards arrive with pictures of tots, their faces smeared with avocado or cake frosting. Babies on rugs, babies in hats. Invitations to baby showers with cursive script and cartoon storks. Over a beer an expectant father—another expectant father—gives me the news, tells me that his wife will soon have her second or third. Am I happy for him? What else can I be? Once again I put out my hand, close my eyes, and wish them joy.

Author: Paul Ford
Published: Jul 11, 2011
Length: 9 minutes (2,322 words)

Americhrome

“Federal Standard 595—Colors Used in Government Procurement” has its roots in World War I, when in 1918 Bulletin No. 90 of the General HQ of the American Expeditionary Force established a color identified as “olive drab” as the official shade for tactical vehicles, though what exactly those words indicated was a subject of some confusion. In 1917, the manual for the Quartermaster Corps had defined olive drab as a combination of ochre and black pigments, though it did not mention a specific ratio, nor did it indicate which manufacturer’s pigments were best suited for the job.

Published: May 4, 2011
Length: 14 minutes (3,673 words)

A Song for Aretha

When I am frustrated with my generation it is often because we have a willful disregard for what has come before. Aretha Franklin seems a prime example of this. Those hats are the hats of black churches. That weight and those breasts are a body that has aged. That hometown is family and that fear of flying is, above all, human. That “shut up” was a demand that you recognize she has been there, she has done that, and you could learn a thing or two from listening to where the “there” and the “that” have brought her and what they have shown her.

Published: Feb 4, 2011
Length: 16 minutes (4,177 words)