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Three nice stories

Published by marco on

One Missing Piece by Jill Talbot (The Paris Review) is the story of a chronically peripatetic woman and her daughter. The story is specifically about a road-trip from Texas to Camden, NY, returning to place they’d lived for 3 years, full of memories.

“Every September or October, my father took me to the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, and, later, he took me and my daughter. He always followed the same route, from the entrance to Big Tex, to Fletcher’s Corn Dogs, then onto the automobile building and the food building[1], on and on, always leaving with a bag of malt balls and handing some eager kid the handful of tickets we didn’t use on our way to the exit.

“When my daughter and I returned last year without him, we followed the route we had memorized, and we stopped in front of Big Tex and took a selfie.

“How could any of those groups of friends, those families, those kids struggling to be free from their strollers imagine, on such a bright autumn afternoon, that our photo was a tradition turned mourning? That the shutter closed on an ache?”

Gluten Free Antarctica by Maciej Ceglowski (Idle Words) is the first part of a travelogue documenting his 5-week ship journey to Antarctica. He is an American of Russian/Polish descent, so he gets along with the crew on a different level than the other, idiosyncratic travelers.

There are tears of laughter on the bridge when I tell the Russian crew about the Great Antarctic Glutiny.

“You mean if this woman eats bread, she will die?“

“Not really. She just gets sick.“

“Yuri, come here! You have to hear this. If she eats bread, the woman will die.”

“She won’t die. Gluten causes digestive problems for some people. But it’s also become a sort of health fad.”

“What is ‘gluten’? Is that even a Russian word?”

Here they’ve got me. Tolstoy never wrote about gluten (kleikovina), and the ship’s dictionary is strictly nautical. Trying to paraphrase the concept only exposes the holes in my own understanding of this mysterious, flavorful substance.

“It’s some kind of a protein in grain. I think it makes things taste good.”

Yuri makes a skeptical face.

“It doesn’t kill anyone,” I insist. “But people can get digestive… unpleasantness.”

“So bread will make her sick?”


“Can she eat potatoes?”

“Yes. And corn.”

Any hope of sympathy from the Russians evaporates.

“Then let her eat potatoes. Let her eat corn. Or let them all stay home and eat whatever the fuck they want.”

He also writes about the culinary predilections of New Zealanders.

New Zealanders seem to have an almost pathological fear of flavor. There is no dish so bland that Conor can’t find a way to tone it down. At one point he serves us a tikka masala that I am pretty certain is just a blend of yogurt and ketchup. I watch disbelieving as the passengers around me fan their mouths.

“That’s got a bit of a kick, yeah?”

Can the Working Class Speak? by Maximillian Alvarez (Current Affairs) starts off more as a story, but ends up more of an essay about Alvarez’s podcast, Working People. Still, it has a few poignant passages and is quite interesting.

On struggling through a seemingly hopeless life:

“All that time I worked, waiting for myself to come back. But I never really did. Because no one ever comes back—there’s never any safe, static “normal” to go back to. Encouraging and maintaining the cruel belief that there is still a “normal,” just out of reach, is just one of the many ways the forces that command our world keep us compliant and hopeful, sucking us dry while we wait for the return of a past that is always delayed.”

On being poor in America:

“For the overwhelming majority of us, to live in the United States is to bask in a world that’s simply not ours, to be consumed by desires for what we don’t have, to strive to be what we’re not, to be told again and again that who we are is not good enough. We are inundated by an endless, kaleidoscopic barrage of elite lives and elite tastes, serving as a daily reminder to working people that the blood and sinew of our rich, complex lives will always count for less. And it compounds that unshakeable, shameful feeling we carry with us—the feeling that we’re the only ones going through this, that other people are getting by just fine, that our misery is our failure and ours alone.”

On a better way forward:

“For what is socialism if not a vision for the material and social arrangement of a world in which we can finally practice the soul-affirming art of life in common? A world in which equality, dignity, freedom, peace, justice, and ecological sustainability are actualized in ways of living together and treating each other that enable the flourishing of a collective humanity, which capitalism has stunted and squandered in the endless search for profits.”

On his podcast:

“The concept behind Working People is incredibly simple: I talk to working-class folks from around the country, from all walks of life, and I record it. We talk about their life stories.”

[1] The story speaks to me because I’m from upstate New York and I’ve been to the Texas State Fair—twice. I know exactly who means by “Big Tex” and I’ve had a Fletcher’s Corn Dog, and been to the automobile building. I have pictures, too.