When I moved to Laos in 1998, there was almost no violent crime. The landlocked country had five million people, 57 languages, and 90 million unexploded bombs in the ground. In the 10th-poorest nation in the world, Lao people focused on food, festivals, and family. Buddhism thrived. In my house in Vientiane, the salty scent of the Mekong River drifted through my screens. I was 25, and my first six months there, I rarely thought of the killings that had launched me overseas.
I lived between a temple and a beer shop, the two great traditions of solace: the monks and the drunks. My excessive sleep, a portable artifact of PTSD, blended well in Laos. All around the partially paved capital, people napped in hammocks strung on half-built buildings, on tables of stacked silk at the market, and in tuk-tuks parked in the shade of banyans. My Lao colleagues at our United Nations outpost snoozed right at their desks. I did, too.
So the morning my boss, Patrick, sauntered into my office, he found me cheek to notebook. The monsoon clattered beyond the window. I’d passed out pondering the prospect of turning 26 in two weeks’ time. Birthdays, like rain, stirred up the muck. I was alive. Others were not. Read more…
Ringo first met [Harry] Nilsson after the singer did a gonzo version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep-Mountain High.” “It was bordering on madness, and so we thought, ‘We gotta meet this guy,’ ” says Ringo. While Nilsson’s destructive friendship with Lennon got the ink — they drunkenly heckled the Smothers Brothers at L.A.’s Troubadour, and Nilsson infamously ruined his voice doing a cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” with Lennon sitting at the console — it was the drummer in the world’s most famous band and the songwriter who hated playing live who became inseparable as they drank away the 1970s.
“He was my best friend,” says Ringo softly. “Yeah. I loved Harry.”
The two made an unwatchable Dracula movie together and tried to collaborate through their drug-and-booze haze. “I had one song with 27 verses that I gave to Harry to edit, and he got it down to about eight verses,” Ringo says. “It never got recorded.”
The fan relationship is often built on expectations and hope, however unfair they might be. My expectation going to Dominique [Moceanu]’s hotel that night in 1998 was that she’d come down from her room even after a long day of training and competing, and grant me an autograph or, if I was really lucky, a picture. My hope was that somehow she’d see how much we had in common – Isn’t Anne Frank’s diary so beautiful and sad? I’d ask, right there in the hotel, and we’d immediately bond. My celebrity crush is Leo, too – natch! I’d say while we watched “Titanic” together.
The fact of the matter is that Dominique and I are not best friends, not the way I’d once dreamed we would be. But I also realized that I no longer even wanted that, to the extent that it was ever possible, because that would mean I would have to shed the last remnants of that fan’s adulation to see her as an equal. Of course, I have a relationship with her that I would’ve died for when I was a kid. Instead of sending American flag-decorated letters into the ether, I can e-mail or text or call – Happy birthday! Your haircut looks awesome! How are the kids? – and Dominique will respond. Together, we’ve created something that we’re immensely proud of, a series that will hopefully inspire generations of young gymnasts in the way that Dominique inspired me.
The word “journey” used to mean a single day’s travels, and the French word for day, jour, is packed neatly inside it, like a single pair of shoes in a very small case. Maybe all journeys should be imagined as a single day, short as a trip to the corner or long as a life in its ninth decade. This way of thinking about it is a;rmed by the t-shirts made for African-American funerals in New Orleans and other places that describe the birth date and death date of the person being commemorated as sunrise and sunset. One day. Read more…
Support, salvation, transformation, life: this is what women give to one another when they are true friends, soul friends, what the Irish call anam cara. It’s what the Wrinklies did for one another, what the French resistance fighters in Auschwitz did for one another, what women do for one another in real relationships with real consequences in real time, every day, what my friends do for me.
Our latest Longreads Member Pick is “Alexander Woollcott and Harpo Marx: A Love Story,” by Ned Stuckey-French, originally published in 1999 in culturefront, the former magazine for the New York Council for the Humanities. It’s a story that takes a closer look at the dynamics of a friendship, and the roles we play in each other’s lives.
Alexander Woollcott fell in love with Harpo Marx the first time he saw him. It was the evening of May 19, 1924, and the Marx Brothers were making their Broadway debut in the slyly titled musical comedy I’ll Say She Is. Woollcott was there, reluctantly, to review it for the Sun. Another show, a much-hyped drama featuring a French music-hall star, had been scheduled to open the same night, but when it was postponed at the last minute, the firstline critics decided to take the night off. Except for Woollcott. His career was in the doldrums, and hoping against hope for a scoop, he dragged himself over to see what he assumed were “some damned acrobats.” Read more…
Reflecting on the bonds between women, often overlooked or underappreciated, and how these bonds will help the writer in her time of need:
I made friends with a group of women. I was 22, and all three women — one American, one German, and one Argentinian – were 30 years older than I and had worked for the same organization in various administrative capacities for the length of time I’d been alive. After one lengthy, boozy dinner of fondue and buckets of white wine, they quickly took me into their friendship fold and jokingly referred to themselves as ‘the Wrinklies.’ We met once a week for dinner, and saw one another every day at the espresso machine in the hallway, in the fabulously lush cantina, on the expertly-tended grounds of our superluxe office building outside the city limits. We had inside jokes and secret looks. We gave each other little gifts: a cookie, a note, a bar of chocolate, a little token of affection spotted at a shop and slipped underneath an office door.