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 comemiraculously through the war, and now all his life seemed blessed witha magical quality, both rich and impervious, and he launched himselfinto it, laughing all the way. He married the beauty queen and had sevenstrapping sons. He became a respected professor and turned out hun-...
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Next to killing someone or trying to escape, the most serious offensesthat a prisoner in the US Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, can commitplest is to take two small boxes of Kellogg’s corn flakes and dump theminto the toilet bowl in your cell. Let them fester for a week, and theresult will get you drunk. Some inmates are more ambitious than that....
World Trade Center
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No one had to tell people to use the term Ground Zero. It had beenwaiting, buried in our language, since before Hiroshima. It emergedon its own when the right time came. Of course, Ground Zero is theterm nuclear scientists invented during the Manhattan Project to referto the point at which the atom bomb exploded; everything else was...
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I was sitting in a tent that served as a dressing room watching Ayin DeSela, the wire walker of the Pickle Family Circus, limber up before ashow. We had been talking, and now she lay silent on a mat, foldingand unfolding herself like a marionette. She stood and stretched. Shetwisted and writhed. She undulated and flowed like mercury and then...
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Driving from the Memphis airport to the Peabody Hotel, I happenedto pass Sun Studio. I hadn’t expected to see it so soon. Without think-ing, I changed lanes and turned into the parking lot accompanied bya chorus of angry horns. I’d written the name on a list of civic shrinesI wished to visit, but I’d had no idea, in fact, where it was located: yet...
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We came into that land from the rich and concupiscent Midwest withits green and rolling fields. The smell of cut hay and fresh manuredrifted up through the air vents, as Jonas and I took long turns flyingan airplane whose interior was so tight that it felt sometimes as if weOver Nebraska, the land grew severe, and as we rattled on through...
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, andas I trailed her through the crowded hallway, through clouds of humanand chemical smells and the sounds of human suffering, the wails andcries, she said, “We’re going to see the train wrecks of the night.” I...
Night in the City of the Sun
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When the full moon comes, the Haitian drummers congregate on thebeach and play out under a canopy of stars. Somewhere out on theAtlantic, waves are gathering in long rafts of gleaming swells, pullingmoonlight down in oily shafts. Then as they heave toward land, thewaves lift and flicker, curling white as if they were paper catching fire,...
Rites of Spring
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In the late s, my wife Carolyn and I were getting ready for a trip.I can’t remember where we were going. It was spring, and the lilacswere in bloom. The air was filled with flowers, and Carolyn especiallylight was streaming into the sitting room as she stood by her chest ofdrawers getting dressed. I was watching her because she was beautiful,...
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Kotzebue, Alaska, is a village of rusted ductwork and plywood sheds forgravel streets (and two old, old log cabins), where Eskimos live mostlywith no running water, among agonized blossoms of twisted pipe thatbloom in fields of low and leathery grass. Little scoured backpaths cutthrough shoulder-high scrub and sedge, where great oxidized brambles...
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The calcite cliffs behind me were pink at sunset. I drove the oldMaverick Road north. The entablature of those cliffs ran for miles andmiles like that, fifteen-hundred-foot walls of sheer rock ruled flatagainst a paper sky. The daylight was so intense that we seemed to becaught in an invisible flame, tequila on fire. Now crashing through dry...
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When the lieutenant at the firehouse gave me my turnout gear, the firstthing that caught my attention was the hat. I think that’s what gets usas kids, isn’t it—the hat? When Lt. Bob McKee of the Chicago FireDepartment handed it to me, I was surprised at how heavy it was, asif it had a steel liner. As I looked it over, I just knew it had a tale to tell....
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 toget from the deck of the boat to the main deck of the rig, no stairs, noelevator. And yet the offshore oil drilling rig towered above us and blot-ted out the sun, a skyscraper teetering on three great steel pilings driveninto the surface of the heaving sea. The slick pilings, shooting right out...
No More Immelmans
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In the photograph, Tom Cruise has his arm around Randy. He’s growna beard and left it untrimmed, and he wears sunglasses and a bandannatied around his long hair. Even so, it’s impossible to mistake him foranyone else. That smile. Tom is short, but Randy is shorter. Tom is thin.Randy is stocky and wears his dark blue flight suit and a straw hat, and...
No Escape: The Endless Dreams of Elgin
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One morning I was sitting in the dayroom at Kilbourne I, a long-termunit at Elgin Mental Health Center in Elgin, Illinois, when a frail blondgirl knelt before me on the terrazzo floor and began praying. Her facewas plain and round and pale, like that of a saint in a prayer book. Sheappeared to be in pain. She wore a faded yellow blouse, slacks of a...
Page Count: 309
Publication Year: 2013