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Culture

As for the murders, we couldn't quite tell when they began. Even the police weren't totally sure. No one would confirm the rumors, but word had it the burial fees were beggaring some Rockefeller’s foundation for the indigent dead. In New York, the dead wash up on the street around the First Avenue Canal when the tides are high. Plus, there was a serial murderer of prostitutes running around in Long Island for a while, and no one caught on until a bunch of women were found dead on a beach. Later, it emerged that the Long Island Serial Killer in fact had not killed at least one of these persons; rather, the beach was just a popular place to dump bodies. Not all of us in the marine labs had been there for that particular chain of stories. (read more)


At this point, it’s no longer news that America is overweight. Nor is it news that the diet market is lucrative. So of course, our disruptbros have decided this seems like an interesting problem to tackle.

The first phase was fitness trackers — devices meant to track how much you move. The idea is simple: by monitoring how little you move and telling you about it, a device can inspire you to move more. Simple. Except that many people who buy these devices don’t use them — 42 percent of the people who start using fitness trackers quit using them within the first six months, according to an NPD report. (read more)


I’ve got corn nuts and a soda pop in my hand, and I’m being rung up at the gas station just outside Hollister, California, right off Highway 101. The clerk asks me where I’m going, which seems kind of weird, but gas stations are probably boring places to work, and so I tell him I’m going back home to Oakland. I had just finished hiking around the Pinnacles.

Oh yeah, he’s been there one time. Very pretty, the rocks. And was I hiking with my friends?

I was not. I was hiking alone. (read more)


Everlasting Speech: The Afterlife of a Commencement Address (2013)

David Foster Wallace was wearing his trademark bandanna and a white shirt with a Nehru collar when Christopher Bench '05 and Meredith Farmer '05 met him. Spread in front of him were the pages of the Commencement address he was about to give, occupying most of the table in the Sunset Cottage seminar room. They were covered in ink; he was still revising-cutting, mostly. Also scattered around the room were cups of spit, from the tobacco he'd been chewing. When Farmer told him she'd been the one who nominated him to speak at their graduation, he said, "F*** you, I'm not old enough for this. I'm not my father!" and laughed.

Then, upon hearing Bench was from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Wallace began making the synth noises from the Billy Joel song of that title, which Bench described as both mortifying and endearing.

Wallace didn't wear the bandanna when he gave the speech, though he did wipe his face with it a few times while he spoke. And sometime between the graduation ceremony on May 21, 2005; Wallace's suicide on September 12, 2008; and now, the text of the Commencement address became so well known that writer Tom Bissell, a friend of Wallace's, complained of having it e-mailed to him from his aunt, a woman who "would not know David Foster Wallace if he fell on her." (read more)

 


Looking At Munch, Screaming (2012)

There’s some kind of halo we want to get from seeing an original, and that’s what the MoMA had banked on in its Van Gogh exhibit. So I went to the Munch Museum to say I'd seen The Scream, just like I could say I'd seen Starry Night or the Mona Lisa—not to have a reaction to it.

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It was arranged in a threesome with two other similar works, Despair and Anxiety. At first glance, from a distance, The Scream was nothing special—just the thing I’d seen hundreds of times before. Then I stepped closer and the damn thing changed.

I could see the cardboard it was painted on. I could see scratch marks in the paint. The viscera of the painting hadn't been captured by the reproductions. I closed my eyes and the gaping, mummy-like “O” of the mouth immediately flashed onto my eyelids.

The afterimage practically reeked of sulphur. (read more)


Dead Hostess Stymies Tokyo Police, Excites Media (2012)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: young blond beauty goes missing in a foreign country.

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The woman at the heart of Richard Lloyd Parry’s “People Who Eat Darkness” is Lucie Blackman, who hailed from the U.K. and disappeared in Tokyo in 2000 at age 21.

It’s clear from the beginning, as with every missing-blonde story, that the woman in question is dead. Blackman’s case offers an intriguing twist: She was working as a hostess in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, known for its nightlife.

Though the hostesses’ jobs weren’t sexual in nature -- the women were meant to provide conversation and encourage Japanese businessmen to buy alcohol -- they were part of the so-called “water trade,” the adult entertainment industry. Lloyd Parry interviews patrons, club owners and other hostesses and writes convincingly about the world Blackman inhabited before she vanished. (read more


Come On Pilgrim (2012)

The Harry Ransom Center, home of David Foster Wallace’s papers, is quiet and smells like air conditioning; it’s hard to miss the drop in humidity when you enter. Before you’re allowed into the archive proper, a smiling attendant suggests you watch a video first. These librarians are understandably anal about the research collection. After I watched the video, one of the research librarians walked me through the same process, just to make sure I’d understood the protocols outlined, although some of the more insulting suggestions of the video were omitted in person, those being: don’t bring food in, don’t drink anything, don’t write in the collection materials (?!), and don’t erase anything from the materials (!) with the library-provided pencils. Said pencils are uniformly dull.

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There is at least one person at every table in the archive proper, and at most tables there are two. The Wallace pilgrims are easy to spot, even before one of them cracks up in the near-silent room: they are no older than their early thirties, wearing tight-fitted jeans and, in some cases, asymmetrical hairstyles. That afternoon they are mostly baby-faced men, cute rather than handsome. The gender split, about sixty-forty, suggests to me that heterosexual women looking for a fling at South By Southwest might try heading over to the HRC. The women wear a minimum of makeup; as far as I can tell, only the librarians and honest-to-god English professors are sporting lipstick.

I mention this to Molly Schwartzburg, the very nice research librarian who orients me around the space with factoids about the HRC’s past and why it collects modern writers, and she laughs and agrees the DFW-acolytes are super-easy to spot. According to statistics kept by the reception desk at the HRC, there were twenty scholars in to look at the Wallace archives during South by Southwest. Ordinarily, the collection gets about four visitors a month.  (read more)