House of Pain
New and Selected Essays
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Arkansas Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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When I was a child I was fascinated by my father’s daring. He had come miraculously through the war, and now all his life seemed blessed with a magical quality, both rich and impervious, and he launched himself into it, laughing all the way. He married the beauty queen and had seven strapping sons. ...
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Next to killing someone or trying to escape, the most serious offenses that a prisoner in the US Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, can commit are drinking and being caught in possession of money. ...
World Trade Center
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No one had to tell people to use the term Ground Zero. It had been waiting, buried in our language, since before Hiroshima. It emerged on its own when the right time came. Of course, Ground Zero is the term nuclear scientists invented during the Manhattan Project to refer to the point at which the atom bomb exploded; ...
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I was sitting in a tent that served as a dressing room watching Ayin De Sela, the wire walker of the Pickle Family Circus, limber up before a show. We had been talking, and now she lay silent on a mat, folding and unfolding herself like a marionette. She stood and stretched. She twisted and writhed. ...
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Driving from the Memphis airport to the Peabody Hotel, I happened to pass Sun Studio. I hadn’t expected to see it so soon. Without thinking, I changed lanes and turned into the parking lot accompanied by a chorus of angry horns. I’d written the name on a list of civic shrines I wished to visit, but I’d had no idea, ...
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We came into that land from the rich and concupiscent Midwest with its green and rolling fields. The smell of cut hay and fresh manure drifted up through the air vents, as Jonas and I took long turns flying an airplane whose interior was so tight that it felt sometimes as if we reclined side by side in twin coffins. ...
House of Pain
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See one, do one, teach one. That’s what my friend Roberta used to say. She was chief neurosurgeon at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, and as I trailed her through the crowded hallway, through clouds of human and chemical smells and the sounds of human suffering, the wails and cries, she said, “We’re going to see the train wrecks of the night.” ...
Night in the City of the Sun
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When the full moon comes, the Haitian drummers congregate on the beach and play out under a canopy of stars. Somewhere out on the Atlantic, waves are gathering in long rafts of gleaming swells, pulling moonlight down in oily shafts. Then as they heave toward land, the waves lift and flicker, curling white as if they were paper catching fire, ...
Rites of Spring
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In the late 1980s, my wife Carolyn and I were getting ready for a trip. I can’t remember where we were going. It was spring, and the lilacs were in bloom. The air was filled with flowers, and Carolyn especially loved lilacs. The windows were open in our bedroom, and morning light was streaming into the sitting room as she stood by her chest of drawers getting dressed. ...
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Kotzebue, Alaska, is a village of rusted ductwork and plywood sheds for homes and house trailers up on cinderblock footings and mudhole gravel streets (and two old, old log cabins), where Eskimos live mostly with no running water, among agonized blossoms of twisted pipe that bloom in fields of low and leathery grass. ...
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The calcite cliffs behind me were pink at sunset. I drove the old Maverick Road north. The entablature of those cliffs ran for miles and miles like that, fifteen-hundred-foot walls of sheer rock ruled flat against a paper sky. The daylight was so intense that we seemed to be caught in an invisible flame, tequila on fire. ...
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When the lieutenant at the firehouse gave me my turnout gear, the first thing that caught my attention was the hat. I think that’s what gets us as kids, isn’t it—the hat? When Lt. Bob McKee of the Chicago Fire Department handed it to me, I was surprised at how heavy it was, as if it had a steel liner. ...
In the Belly of the Whale
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When the crew boat arrived at a little past dawn, I saw no way for us to get from the deck of the boat to the main deck of the rig, no stairs, no elevator. And yet the offshore oil drilling rig towered above us and blotted out the sun, a skyscraper teetering on three great steel pilings driven into the surface of the heaving sea. ...
No More Immelmans
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In the photograph, Tom Cruise has his arm around Randy. He’s grown a beard and left it untrimmed, and he wears sunglasses and a bandanna tied around his long hair. Even so, it’s impossible to mistake him for anyone else. That smile. Tom is short, but Randy is shorter. Tom is thin. ...
No Escape: The Endless Dreams of Elgin
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One morning I was sitting in the dayroom at Kilbourne I, a long-term unit at Elgin Mental Health Center in Elgin, Illinois, when a frail blond girl knelt before me on the terrazzo floor and began praying. Her face was plain and round and pale, like that of a saint in a prayer book. She appeared to be in pain. ...
Page Count: 309
Publication Year: 2013