On YouTube, the pepperhead – a gangly 12-year-old with Harry Potter glasses, a 20-something woman in a cat T-shirt, or a bro in a backwards baseball cap – begins to chew. There’s a pause as the brain registers the sensation, then an eruption of expletives, tears, occasionally vomiting. The milk, a supposed tempering agent, never works, whether it’s chugged, swirled around like mouthwash, or poured over the body. ‘It tastes like a thousand burning needles in my mouth,’ exclaims the pepperhead, before losing the ability to speak altogether.
Why would anyone do this to themselves?
Pete Wells, the restaurant critic of the Times, who writes a review every week—and who occasionally writes one that creates a national hubbub about class, money, and soup—was waiting for a table not long ago at Momofuku Nishi, a modish new restaurant in Chelsea. Wells is fifty-three and soft-spoken. His balance of Apollonian and Dionysian traits is suggested by a taste for drawing delicate sketches of tiki cocktails. Since starting the job, in 2012, he has eaten out five times a week. His primary disguise strategy is “to be the least interesting person in the room,” he had told me, adding, “Which I was, for many years. It’s not a stretch.” But he does vary his appearance. At times, he’ll be unshaven, in frayed jeans; in Chelsea, he looked like a European poet—a gray wool suit over a zip-up sweater, a flat cap pulled low, nonprescription glasses. He was carrying a memoir, written by a friend, titled “Bullies.”
It is safe to assume that Mark Greif’s fans have been waiting for him to put out a collection of essays for some time. Greif was, after all, the most prolific prodigy in that class of gifted and talented writers responsible for bringing us n+1, the magazine that effectively remade the intellectual scene in New York City. Launched in 2004 and modeled on midcentury little magazines like The Partisan Review and Dissent, n+1 met a desperate need, providing a platform for serious debate outside the university, where relatively unknown writers could think long and hard about politics, culture, literature, sociology, and philosophy, and reach an audience of like-minded interlocutors. The magazine aspired to publish pieces free of the jargon that tends to fence in academic writing, yet equally rigorous, more broadly relevant, and far more enjoyable to read — and Greif showed everyone how it could and should be done.
The release of Against Everything, a collection that features many of Greif’s best essays, offers a good occasion to consider what it was that made his early work so singularly powerful.
Who in the course of a celebrity life hasn’t been observed behaving badly? Name your offender, but ouch, please not the late, beloved Nora Ephron. If you’re among those who saw only the good and the brilliant in her work and admired the bumps in her road, so artfully reported, Richard Cohen would like to burst your bubble.
With “Nutshell,” Ian McEwan has performed an incongruous magic trick, mashing up the premises of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Amy Heckerling’s 1989 movie, “Look Who’s Talking,” to create a smart, funny and utterly captivating novel.
Lately, I spend a lot of time gazing out my window.
In quiet moments with a cup of coffee and the whole day unspooling before me, I sit on the ledge looking at the street below and think of Alicia Ostriker’s poem, August Morning, Upper Broadway. “As the body of the beloved is a window,” she starts near-philosophically. “…and as the man on the corner with his fruit stand is a window,” she writes a few lines later, materializing the frame.