That was half a lifetime ago for Mr. Shaffer, 67, who came from Fort William, Ontario, to New York in hopes of becoming a great session musician. Instead, he spent more than 30 years alongside David Letterman as his wisecracking sidekick, keyboardist and bandleader on NBC’s “Late Night” and CBS’s “Late Show.”
Now, nearly two years after Mr. Letterman stepped down from “Late Show” in May 2015, Mr. Shaffer is about to step out with his first major post-TV project. On Friday, March 17, Sire Records will release a self-titled album from Mr. Shaffer and his longtime colleagues, who are once again calling themselves the World’s Most Dangerous Band (as they did on NBC).
Biologists know how chance events in the environment (such as getting hit by a bus) impact lifespan. And they understand the role of chance in genetics (such as inheriting genes for Huntington’s disease and certain cancers). But it now seems a third realm of uncertainty emerges as animals grow older, causing them to age in different ways. Researchers are only beginning to figure out the basis of biological fluctuations that build up over time. Some result from mutations that slip into the genomes within cells as they replicate. Others occur because of changes in molecules that either shut off or activate genes.
Though we gaze at each other across a socioeconomic divide, I’ve discovered over time that my dreams are similar in form, if not substance, to those of the students who enter my developmental English classes each semester.
Reggie was one of them, an aspiring nurse and a student in my accelerated English classes, which are designed to help students quickly catch up to their peers. The courses appeal to adults returning to school who are at a bend in the river and eager to put some difficult passages behind them. In Reggie’s case, this included a two-year prison sentence and a relocation from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
At first, the Southern evangelical setting of April Ayers Lawson’s debut collection of short stories, Virgin and Other Stories, might seem a strange fit with the questions of sex and desire that are ubiquitous throughout the book. Unlike other writers who focus on American Christianity — Marilynne Robinson, Flannery O’Connor, Hanna Pylväinen, etc. — Lawson does not use faith and doubt as the main source of motivation for her characters. In spite of the fact that the characters attend Christian colleges, are homeschooled, and attend weekly church services, thoughts of God or discussions of theology are largely absent.
Instead, the characters in these stories spend prodigious thought and energy contemplating and anticipating sex. Some try to overcome past sexual traumas. Others wonder if they are being cheated on, and, instead, end up being cheaters. A few learn how to masturbate to images in stolen library books. Throughout these stories, Lawson repeatedly returns to the same questions: How is desire created, and why do we desire what we desire?
Some opening lines are so good, you worry that what comes after will disappoint. This is how The Possessions starts: “The first time I meet Patrick Braddock, I’m wearing his wife’s lipstick.” It’s a perfect mystery in miniature. Who is Patrick? Who is speaking? Why is she wearing another woman’s lipstick? Is it all as sleazy as it sounds? The answer to that last question is yes, but not in the way you’d expect, as Sara Flannery Murphy unspools a creepingly clever ghost story that encompasses thriller, horror and literary fiction with seductive swagger.
I went to Iceland to see a volcano. Instead the tour guide took us to Volcano House, where images of gushing lava and smoking craters played on a movie screen. My sister said it was probably as good as the real thing. This was in Reykjavik, on a broad street near the port. Outside I could smell the rot of fish and salt.