We wanted to disappear. Back then, disappearing was simple. There was one telephone in the lobby of the hotel, which couldn’t make international calls. There were no cell phones. There was no internet, no social media—no way to “check in.”
To keep in touch while traveling, we exchanged addresses of the places we anticipated we’d end up and made plans to meet at specific monuments or bars or stations at specific times. If we didn’t have maps (and we never did because they were an unnecessary expense) we got lost until we knew where we were. Athens was a sprawling, radiant, dangerous city. Learning to navigate it was one of the last acts of my adolescence.
Satire plays an important role in a healthy democracy and a vital role in an endangered one. It’s timely, then, to have “Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel,” John Stubbs’s new biography of the finest satirist in the English language. That the name of the author of “Gulliver’s Travels” persists in popular vernacular — with “Swiftian” defining caustic and accomplished wit — speaks to his lasting influence. But if Swift’s satire deserves contemporary study, so does the man himself, a figure of contradiction and intellectual courage, unafraid to savage Enlightenment England and Ireland’s greatest powers.
I was the species of moody adolescent who drove people away from me when that was the last thing I wanted, so I spent a lot of time alone. I had private enthusiasms. I liked to be in the woods by myself, I liked to sleep, I liked to swim underwater, and I liked to sit in my room and listen to music, usually repetitively, while looking at the record’s cover. The first record I did this with was the Kingston Trio’s “At Large,” which belonged to one of my older brothers. I played it often enough that I was able finally to establish who among the three men on the cover was Dave Guard, who was Bob Shane, and who was Nick Reynolds; also, who had the husky voice, who had the tenor, and who had the slightly stiff delivery.
The female-friendly (or -unfriendly) version of the garment made its appearance in the 1939 World’s Fair. It wasn’t just a novelty item, as most of the gadgets at the World’s Fair would have been. It was a requirement. The mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, ordered nude dancers at the fair to cover their “private parts.” Burlesque dancers at the time were savvy enough to realize that too much coverage would be a disservice to their profession. By creating a G-string, they were able to continue flaunting their butt cheeks while also technically obeying Mayor La Guardia’s dictate. The new garment was a far cry from the bloomers — which resembled boxers — that most women wore on a daily basis.