When Jay Miscovich came to Key West in 2009, he had treasure in mind. Miscovich was a fifty-year-old, 300-pound real-estate investor from Pennsylvania who had recently lost everything in the financial crash and was relying on his mother’s Social Security check to get by. He did not find gold, but as he would explain to a federal judge at a bench trial in December 2012, a couple of blocks from the terminus australis of U.S. 1, he soon came into possession of more than a hundred pounds of rough Colombian emeralds. He’d discovered them, he testified, while scuba diving in international waters forty miles north of the island.
The discovery seemed at first to be unambiguously good news, and yet less than a year after Miscovich’s testimony, police would find him dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. “I’ve loved many beautiful women, built my business and found an awesome treasure,” he said in a note he left for his friends and family. “So don’t mourn my death, celebrate my life!”
It is always tempting to say that this is not a good time for ideas. Though people hold them or dismiss them, promote them or disparage them, ideas often seem unstable. Often we think we are debating an idea only to discover that it no longer means what we thought it meant. We proclaim our affection for equality, autonomy, liberation, authenticity only to find that the meanings of those words and the concepts they name have changed into something unrecognizable. Those of us who have long been wary of big ideas, ideas that mobilize infatuates, find that even modest ideas are routinely appropriated for purposes that can seem astonishing. This is a time when students and their mentors at major universities declare themselves endangered by the "unsafe and hostile" environment created by a professor — call her Laura Kipnis if you like — who had the nerve to publish a so-called offensive essay. Thought you understood terms like "unsafe," "hostile," and "endangered" and knew more or less what diversity of outlook or opinion might entail in an academic environment? Think again.
When Heather Lende was asked to write an obituary for her local paper in Alaska, she had no idea that over the following 20 years she would go on write hundreds of them - all for people she knew. She also became an unofficial bereavement counsellor for the town of Haines.
But my husband insisted there was nothing to be ashamed of, and we should directly ask for "hot water only." He cleared his throat and in a posh British accent said, "Can I have a glass of hot water?" He paused awkwardly, then added, "Please?"
The waitress' eyes widened and her mouth suddenly popped open, like a cartoon character receiving unexpected news. She was so confused she looked pained. She stuttered a reply: "To … to … to drink?"