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It Was Easier to Give In Than Keep Running

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By Anonymous

In first grade, a boy named John— a notorious troublemaker—systematically chased every girl in our class during recess trying to kiss her on the lips. Most gave in eventually. It was easier to give in than keep running. When it was my turn, I turned and faced him, grabbed his glasses off his weasel face, and stomped on them on the hard blacktop. He ran to the principal’s office and cried.

In fifth grade, I was asked to be a boy’s girlfriend over email. It was the first email I ever received. He actually told me he wanted to send me an email, so I went home and made an AOL account. We went to a carnival and he won me a Garfield stuffed animal, and then he gave me a 3 Doors Down CD. A few days later, he broke up with me, and asked for Garfield and the CD back. I said no.

In sixth grade, a girl in my year gave head to an eighth grader in the back of the school bus while playing Truth or Dare.

In the summer after sixth grade, I kissed a boy for the first time at sleep away camp. He was my summer love. During the end-of-the-summer dining hall announcements, where kids usually announced lost sweatshirts and Walkmen, an older girl stepped up to the microphone, tossed her hair behind her shoulders, and proudly stated, “I lost something very precious to me last night. My virginity. If anyone finds it, please let me know.” The dining hall erupted into laughter and cheers. She was barred from ever coming back to the camp again, and wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to anyone.

In seventh grade, I told my brother I decided when I was older wanted a Hummer. What I really meant was I wanted a Jeep, but I didn’t know a lot about cars. My mother overheard and screamed at me for “wanting a Hummer.”

In the summer after freshman year of high school, I went to sleepaway field hockey camp with many of my close friends. One of them, named Megan, I had been friends with since kindergarten. One night when I was showering, she ripped open the curtain and snapped a photo of me on her disposable camera. I screamed. She laughed. We both laughed when I got out of the shower a few minutes later. After camp was over, her father took the camera to the convenience store to get it developed. When he gave the finished photos back to her, he said, “Your friend [Anonymous] has grown up.”

Sophomore year of high school, one of my best friends Hilary had a party in her basement while her mom was away. We invited some of the guys in our grade and someone’s older brother bought us a handle of vodka. One of the boys who came sat next to me in Spanish class. His name was Thomas. I remember playing a simple game, where we passed the bottle of vodka around in a circle and drank. I remember being happily tipsy and having fun, to suddenly being very drunk. Thomas and I started chanting numbers in Spanish, and he leaned towards me and kissed me. We kissed in the middle of the party, with all of our friends cheering. Then we went into Hilary’s bedroom.

Hilary’s bedroom was in the basement, on the ground floor, with a large window next to her bed. When someone went outside to smoke a cigarette, they realized it was a front row seat to what was happening in the bedroom. It was dark outside, and the light on was in the bedroom. They called everyone outside to watch. I don’t remember getting undressed, but apparently we were both completely naked in Hilary’s bed. A friend of mine told me later she tried to open the door and stop what was happening, but Thomas must have locked it. They said they pounded on the door. I don’t remember hearing them pounding. I don’t remember seeing everyone’s faces outside the window.  I remember Thomas holding my head down, and shoving his penis into my mouth. I remember trying to resist, pulling back, but he held his hands firmly on my head, pushing my face up and down. That’s all that I remember.

The next day, my friends and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. I couldn’t eat anything, and it wasn’t because I was hung over. Every time I tried to put food in my mouth, I felt like I was choking. Anytime a flash of the night before appeared in my mind, I felt like vomiting. My friends sat with me in silence. Then they told me a girl named Lindsey, who had briefly dated Thomas freshman year, had stood outside and watched the entire time. Even after everyone else stopped watching. My friends said they didn’t watch.

On Monday, Thomas and I sat next to each other in Spanish. We didn’t speak. We didn’t make eye contact. I went to the girls bathroom and threw up. I hear Lindsey and Thomas live together, now, ten years later.

Junior year of high school, my teacher for Honors Spanish was named Señor Gonzales. Señor Gonzales had all of the girls sit in the front row. Señor Gonzales called on any girl who was wearing a skirt to write on the chalkboard. Señor Gonzales asked a friend of mine, who had broken her finger playing an after school sport, if she broke her finger because “she liked it rough.” Señor Gonzales was a tenured teacher.

Senior year of high school, I got my first real boyfriend. His name was Colin. He was on the lacrosse team with Thomas. He told me that sophomore year, Thomas told everyone on the team what happened that night at Hilary’s. Everyone cheered. Colin said that, even then, he had a crush on me. Even then, he wanted to punch Thomas.

Colin and I lost our virginities to each other. Colin said if I got pregnant, he would make me have the baby. He didn’t believe in abortion. Colin said if I got pregnant, he would make me have a C-section. Colin said that if I didn’t have a C-section, my vagina would be too loose for him to ever enjoy having sex with me again. Colin said that he wouldn’t let our child breastfeed. He said his mother gave him formula, and that he turned out just fine. I didn’t get pregnant.

Junior year of college, I lived in Denmark for the spring semester and studied at the University of Copenhagen. Copenhagen is one of the safest cities in the world. Guns are illegal there. Pepper spray is illegal there. One night, my friends and I went to a concert at a crowded club in a part of the city I didn’t know very well. I brought a tiny purse with money, my apartment key, and my international cell phone. For some reason it made sense at the time to put my purse inside my friend’s purse. Maybe I didn’t feel like carrying it. We were both drinking. My friend left the concert to go home with her boyfriend. One by one, everyone I was there with left the concert, until I was suddenly alone and I realized I didn’t have my purse, or any money for a cab ride home.

I started walking in the direction that felt right. I walked for a long time. I had no idea where I was, and didn’t recognize the area. It was almost 4 am. I was on a residential street when a cab pulled up next to me. I asked the driver if he could drive me to an intersection down the street from my apartment.

I don’t have any money, I said.

I really need your help, I said.

I will do it for free, he said.

Sit in the front, he said.

I sat in the front. We drove in silence for some time, until he pulled over on the side of a dark street.

I don’t want to do it for free anymore, he said.

He locked the car doors and reached across the center console and slipped his hand up my skirt. He grabbed my vagina. Hard. I pushed his hand away and unlocked the door. I ran down the street and realized he had taken me a block away from the intersection I wanted. I walked to my apartment and threw rocks at my roommate’s window until she let me inside. She yelled at me for waking her up. I escaped. Nothing happened. I was fine.

The summer after I graduated college I helped Hilary find an internship. She was an art major and wanted something for her resume besides waitressing. We found a posting on Craigslist to be a studio assistant for a painter in the Bronx. It was listed as an unpaid internship. The toll for the George Washington Bridge was twelve dollars, plus gas, but she got the internship anyway. She wanted the experience.

The artist was a 38-year-old Canadian painter named Bradley. Hilary was 22.There was another intern there, an art student from Manhattan named Stella.  Bradley needed assistants to help him make bubble wrap paintings. Stella and Hilary would take a syringe and fill the tiny bubbles with different color paints until it formed a mosaic. Bradley always had Hilary stay after Stella left to clean the paintbrushes and syringes. He told Hilary she was beautiful. More beautiful than his wife, who he only married for citizenship. He told Hilary they had a loveless marriage. He told Hilary he wanted to have her beautiful children. They began an affair. He told Hilary has wife knew and didn’t care. He told Hilary he was going to leave his wife soon.

Everyday Hilary drove to the Bronx, cleaned Bradley’s paintbrushes, and had sex on the studio floor. Everyday she went home with no money, and everyday she paid the toll at the George Washington Bridge. She needed the internship for her resume, she said. It was too late to find a new job, she said.

I could go on. I could tell you a lot more. About the whistles on the sidewalk, the kids who sat at the bottom of the stairs in high school to look up our skirts, my friend who was a prostitute in South Carolina, the men who’ve cornered me in parking lots and bars calling me a tease, the unwanted grabbing on the subway, the many times my father has called me fat, the time I traveled to the Philippines and discovered Western men pay preteen locals to spend the week in their hotel, the messages on OKCupid asking to “fart in my mouth.” About how I wasn’t sure if I had been raped because I was drunk and kissed Thomas back. How he raped my mouth and not my vagina, so that must not be rape. How easy it was for me to escape the dark street in Copenhagen, and how that made it not matter since “it could’ve been worse.”

Men have no idea what it takes to be a woman. To grin and bear it and persevere. The constant state of war, navigating the relentless obstacle course of testosterone and misogyny, where they think we are property to be owned and plowed. But we’re not. We are people, just like them. Equals, in fact, or at least that’s the core of what feminism is still trying to achieve. The job is not over. We’ve made great progress. There are female CEOs, though not very many. There are females writing for the New York Times and winning Pulitzer prizes, though not very many.  There are female politicians, though not very many. But these advances are only on paper. The job won’t be over until equality permeates the air we breathe, the streets we walk and the homes we live in.

I think back to how easy it was for me, in first grade, to feel fearless and strong in my conviction to stomp on John’s glasses. I felt right in reacting how I did, because John’s behavior was wrong. But his was an elementary learning of the wide boundaries his gender would go on to afford him. For me, it would never again be so easy.

- Anonymous, age 25

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4 days ago
Heartbreaking and stunning.
San Francisco, CA
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What It Feels Like to Go Viral

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Let's get some definitional housekeeping out of the way: There is no pageviews threshold for what a piece of #content needs in order to, as they say, “go viral.” It's a moving target that shifts from person-to-person, organization-to-organization, on a monthly, even daily, basis. If you normally have 2,000 daily readers, then you get 20,000, that's viral. If you're the New York Times and you get 20,000, something has gone horribly wrong. Pageviews matter, but relativity matters more.

The speed at which the audience is accumulated is also important: The phrase “going viral” is obviously linked to the rapid spread of a disease. Someone posts a link to the right forum that galvanizes a group of fellow posters to do the same, and so the spread begins. It's uncontrollable, unpredictable, uncontainable, untrackable. It's a goddamned outbreak.

It's also an incredible rush for any content creator—I'm not using it as a pejorative here, so much as a short-cut for “all posts, videos, articles, GIFs, Vines, Tweets, what have you”—when social media and pageview counts are skyrocketing. What does the rush feel like? And what are some of its ramifications?

“If you're doing this long enough you can ballpark something you know will get read,” says A.J. Daulerio. He's had plenty of experience with stories taking off, as the former editor-in-chief of both Gawker and Deadspin, and in his latest venture at Ratter. [Full disclosure: I've written for various Daulerio-run enterprises.] But there's a point when the narrative of how that story's being disseminated shifts completely. “It gets picked up by the slipstream of the Internet, and, more importantly, by outside of the Internet.”

“Once the story reaches a level where people are talking about it and they have no clue where they read it, or where they came from, or the origins of it, that's when you really know you have something super-big.”

In the realm of publications, there are two basic ways stories can hit this sweet spot. The first is through an exclusive, where the site trots out unique content that gets “picked up” by other publications. During Daulerio's time at Deadspin, a 2009 story about the outspokenly sober Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton falling off the wagon qualified in this category. “Obviously, it's not Watergate,” Daulerio says. “But you're doing something that no one else has seen before.”

Another huge story for Daulerio's Deadspin was a scoop about longtime-Packers, then-Jets quarterback Brett Favre sending scandalous photographs to a female sports reporter. The post ended up doing huge numbers (the tracker currently shows nearly six million views), forcing its way into the mainstream press, and putting Deadspin on the map for a new audience. “Once the story reaches a level where people are talking about it and they have no clue where they read it, or where they came from, or the origins of it, that's when you really know you have something super-big,” Daulerio says. “I don't even know if there's a word for that. It's beyond viral.”

But, it's not always the hard reporting that worms into the slipstream. In fact: “What was fascinating during that month, was that it wasn't the Favre story that had the most traffic,” Daulerio says. “There was this dumb, tossed-off thing that [Deadspin writer] Barry [Petchesky] had, from some golf tournament, where some dude behind Tiger Woods had a turban on. Everybody was talking about the Favre thing, that we had this monster month. The reality is that actually it was that dumbass post.”

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This is the other standard scenario for content that goes viral: something completely unexpected and random. This isn't always a good thing. “For the ones that you didn't do on purpose, it's frustrating,” Daulerio says. “It's kind of demoralizing. You realize, OK, great, I basically somehow hit the slot machine and won against the robot that is the Internet.”

This kind of unforeseen virality also has more concrete ramifications if you're in the business: During Daulerio's Gawker tenure, if something hit huge, it skewed the numbers in a way that made subsequent normal traffic look terrible in comparison. If you're tracking audience numbers from pieces you've worked hard creating, that's legit. If you're tracking Ice Bucket Challenge re-posts that, for whatever reason, are being shared at disgusting rates on Facebook, that's a fool's errand. To counter numbers that had been skewed by viral's thumb-on-the-scale, Daulerio instituted “Tank Months,” encouraging writers to work on whatever stories they wanted to.

As a senior editor—and resident Minions expert—at BuzzFeed, Katie Notopoulos' job is, essentially, to go viral. As such, the rush of hitting big isn't as pronounced. “The emotional experience is akin to that feeling you get when you know you did a good job at work,” Notopoulos writes in an email. “It's like landing 'the big account' or whatever. You go home and kiss your wife and say, 'Guess what? I just landed the Jenkins account!'”

“I remember I wrote something mean on Gawker about breaking up with California when Schwarzenegger got elected and I knew it had 'gone viral' because I heard Ann Magnuson was emailing it to friends. I was like YESSSSSS.”

It wasn't always this way for Notopoulos, though. Pre-BuzzFeed, she wrote an anonymous humor blog that went viral. “That was really a different feeling,” she writes. “I had never made something that people who didn't actually know me liked or paid attention to before. It was just immensely gratifying in a way I hadn't ever felt before. The feeling was something that was most analogous to situations that hadn't really occurred since high school: scoring a goal in soccer, or finding out your crush likes you back.”

There's crossover of a more nefarious nature too. Last year, the University of Albany released a study concluding that excessive usage of social media can lead to the same impulse control disorders associated with substance addiction. Researchers pointed toward problematic design, particularly the various notifications that “alert” users when someone responds to a post. If the notifications that come in our everyday lives are like small hits of caffeine throughout the day, having something go viral is like mainlining heroin.

“I mean yes I have found the experience of something 'taking off' disgusting and horrifying and anxiety-provoking, also a little thrilling,” Choire Sicha, of the Awl and, formerly, Gawker, writes in an email. [Full disclosure: I've written for Sicha too.] “I remember I wrote something mean on Gawker about breaking up with California when Schwarzenegger got elected and I knew it had 'gone viral' because I heard Ann Magnuson was emailing it to friends. I was like YESSSSSS,” Sicha writes. “Nothing has really matched that thrill though so it's been a long dozen years.”

The chase to go viral, then, has a lot to do with trying to chase after that first glorious fix.

On May 22, 2013, a comedy short entitled “Dadholes” was uploaded onto YouTube. After a few months online, it had received about 4,000 views. Not bad, considering this was a completely independent production with no promotion behind it. But not viral.

“The feeling was something that was most analogous to situations that hadn't really occurred since high school: scoring a goal in soccer, or finding out your crush likes you back.”

Then, after the video was online for about eight months, director Adam Forstadt received a text from its writer and star Chris Wylde. “He said, 'I dunno what’s happening, but Dadholes jumped from 4k to 17k views,” Forstadt writes in an email. “I immediately opened my computer and it had already jumped to 25K in that fraction of a minute. I hit the refresh tab about 20 seconds later and we were at 35K. And so began the wildest night of my social media life.”

Every 20 minutes, the hit count jumped around 25,000. When Forstadt packed it in for the night, the video had received more than 300,000 views and was listed on the Reddit homepage. On Forstadt's Facebook page, people were already writing to congratulate him for making it big. “It was surreal,” Forstadt writes. “When I woke up the next morning we were at 500K views and on almost every major social media site.” It currently has 1.2 million views.

Unless you're used to that kind of response—or really, really busy—there's not much else one can do than monitor the ongoing wave of attention. Going viral is like the praise pellets of Twitter at-replies, Facebook notifications, tiny Instagram hearts, and all the other social media triggers blended together with a hearty helping of crushed caffeine pills. “I was on my computer scouring the Internet for articles about it, fan comments, watching the views multiply,” Forstadt writes. “This was the safest crack cocaine money can’t buy!”

When the wave ebbed—all moments of Internet virality do—Forstadt and company felt justified in producing further videos. “My reaction was pretty simple,” Forstadt writes. “People like it, so let’s make more.” They've made four more “Dadholes” videos, which continue to receive decent view counts. “To be frank, I was super proud that we went viral on scripted content and not some random cat video or terrible accident caught on tape.”

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In January, writer Mark Lukach experienced a similar phenomenon with a piece published here in Pacific Standard. “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” is the story of Lukach and his wife, Guilia, who has been diagnosed with acute psychosis.

By the time it was published, Lukach had traversed the territory previously in a 2011 Modern Love column for the New York Times. “When [the Pacific Standard piece] was published it was like, OK, it's out there,” Lukach says. “I'll post it on Facebook, a couple friends will be like, wow, nice story.” But on the first day it was published, he logged onto Twitter and had 50 at-replies. He logged in an hour later, and there were 60 more. When he checked his inbox, there were more than 300 emails about the story. The story had been picked up by Digg, the New York Times, and just about every kind of aggregator or publisher on the Web.

“I'm not going to lie, it was a huge shot of adrenaline,” Lukach says. “It was very validating as a writer, that people are reading this, and people care, and they're talking the time to reach out to me. This is something I put a lot of effort into. My wife and I both had to suffer through the process.” He was also overwhelmed by how many responses were positive. “I only had a couple people who were critical, everyone else was really supportive. That was really cool, for the Internet kind of shocking, to not find some angle to be mean.”

“It was like a bomb went off. You never know who's going to call, email, how long you're going to be on the horn, so you have to be able to have that availability.”

Lukach still, on average, receives two emails a day about the piece. And this is what informs Lukach's advice about how to handle something that unexpectedly becomes a big hit. “I would say clear your schedule,” Lukach says. “It was like a bomb went off. You never know who's going to call, email, how long you're going to be on the horn, so you have to be able to have that availability.”

The result of “going viral” has been ideal for Lukach. The piece got him in contact with an agent, who got him in contact with a publisher, and he now has a book deal for a memoir. It's what any writer dreams about when working on a story they're passionate about.

But the experience is not always positive.

“Content going viral is overwhelming, intimidating, exciting, and downright scary,” Roxane Gay, an author and essayist whose credits are too numerous and varied to accurately give them proper due here, writes in an email. “Work going viral is certainly an ego boost but it also opens the door to a whole lot of crazy. People tend to write me without having read the entire piece in question or only the headline. They try to 'convert' me to this way of thinking or another. Rarely are they legitimately engaging with anything I have actually written. There's a reason we call it going viral. It's not really a compliment.”

A year ago, after some time off from writing, Elyse Anders re-started her blog. On July 7, she posted—as she later called it—“a quick rant in a moment of frustration” titled “Men: A List of Shit I am Tired of Because of You."

The piece received a few thousand hits Sunday night. But when she logged in Monday morning, the post had received 20,000 views. And it was climbing.

“As the numbers started increasing, my anxiety became super high,” Anders says. “In my history of writing feminist pieces, I know what's coming.”

“It's like you took a wrong turn and all of a sudden you're standing in the middle of a stadium and everyone is yelling horrible insults at you.”

What came was an onslaught of horrific harassment. “They storm your comments, they harass you on social media, I had one guy with a sort-of veiled death threat the other night,” Anders says. Some of it is vile, disgusting stuff you can imagine. Some of it is vile, disgusting stuff maybe you can't. “I have one site of gun enthusiasts who are posting my picture and telling me how ugly I am.” As she succinctly put it on Twitter:

“We have this idea that most people go through the Internet not experiencing [abuse], or get a mean tweet and you can just block it,” Anders says. “But when it comes at you when something goes viral, you can't make it go away that easily. It's like you took a wrong turn and all of a sudden you're standing in the middle of a stadium and everyone is yelling horrible insults at you.”

Anders has been through this before, so she's cultivated tools to handle the sudden wave of horror that comes when pieces hit big. She takes time off, purposefully not checking her email in the morning. Sometimes, she'll have volunteers scan her comments to see if there are threats that seem legitimate enough to look into. But Anders, at this point in her career, has built up enough scar tissue to see these attacks for what they are: A kind of defanged terrorism intended to get her to stop writing. “They're designed to scare you into complete and utter silence,” Anders says. “That's the idea.”

This, then, is the dark side of “going viral,” one that's more often than not reserved for women. As Anders further put it: “Men and women experience the Internet in very different ways.”

Going viral can be exhilarating, it can be exciting, it can lead to opportunities you've been working your whole life toward. But not always, and certainly not for all people. Sometimes “going viral” is as serious and horrific as the process it borrows its name from. Sometimes condolences are more in order than congratulations.

The Sociological Imagination is a regular Pacific Standard column exploring the bizarre side of the everyday encounters and behaviors that society rarely questions.

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29 days ago
"This was the safest crack cocaine money can’t buy!"
San Francisco, CA
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Here's how this lion-killing dentist thing is going to play out

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Look, I know it seems pretty wide open right now, but this lion-killing dentist thing is sailing along just as it’s supposed to:

The killer of the lion was revealed. The social media accounts of the Minnesota dentist who killed the lion in Africa have been mined for information. His Yelp listing has been defamed, his Facebook page has been deleted, his website has been attacked. Some terrible things he did in the past have surfaced. Many clever tweets have been fired off. Basically everyone has agreed that this was a terrible thing to do.

Now the fun stuff starts. The backlash to the backlash begins. Benghazi will be invoked. A right-wing radio host with an active following will start a GoFundMe page; it will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few hours. Everyone will act surprised. Barack Obama’s birth certificate will be invoked. The Minnesota dentist will issue a formal apology through a lawyer. The Nuremberg trials will be invoked. Furious tweets will be fired off. The second amendment will be invoked, even though Zimbabwe doesn’t have a second amendment. Someone will ask Donald Trump for comment. Someone will ask Mitt Romney for comment. Someone will ask Dog the Bounty Hunter for comment. CNN will screw up a segment about the story, perhaps by mislabeling Zimbabwe on a map of Africa, or by mislabeling Minnesota on a map of America, or by mislabeling a lion as a baby hippopotamus.

It will be revealed that the Minnesota dentist who killed the lion is a supporter of a certain presidential candidate. This will prove embarrassing for the candidate, who will attempt to distance himself from the Minnesota dentist who killed the lion. Justine Sacco will be invoked. Neil Degrasse-Tyson will tweet something smart.

A brand will tweet something oblivious and atrocious. “You don’t have to be the Minnesota dentist who killed a lion to enjoy our sale on Crocs!” The tweet will be deleted. The brand will apologize. The intern will be fired. The brand will go back to tweeting to the void, to the vast nothingness it abuts.

Someone will suggest that we went too hard on the Minnesota dentist who killed the lion. The GoFundMe page will cross $1 million. Someone will set up a counter-fundraiser, for the lions. It will raise far less money. Someone will point out that there are far greater issues in Africa that we should be paying attention to. This person will be ignored. The Minnesota dentist who killed the lion will get a sympathetic interview with Sean Hannity. His wife will sit next to him, dabbing her eyes with a Kleenex. The “liberal media” will be invoked. Twitter will be blamed. The Internet will be blamed. George Soros will be blamed. Ernest Hemingway will be invoked. A Republican presidential candidate who is lagging in the polls and struggling to gain media attention will tweet a photo of himself with an animal he has just killed. The candidate will gain media attention and surge up the polls. The GoFundMe page will cross $2 million in funds raised. Someone will point out what this money could have been put toward, instead of a Minnesota dentist who killed a lion.

Sarah Palin will be invoked.

The story will begin to lose steam. CNN will apologize for labeling Thailand as Zimbabwe. Donald Trump will say something outrageous about Iran. Mike Huckabee will say something outrageous about the Civil War. Joe Scarborough will say something outrageous about pastry strudels. The Minnesota dentist who killed the lion will appear on The Hugh Hewitt Show. The Minnesota dentist who killed the lion will appear on The 700 Club. The Minnesota dentist who killed the lion will appear on the upcoming season of Blue Bloods.

But eventually, ultimately, the Minnesota dentist will go back to practicing dentistry. He will be able to purchase all new dental tools, with the $3 million he raises from GoFundMe. An intern at a large media organization will be assigned a nostalgic listicle, about newsmakers from the past year you may have forgotten.

The intern will invoke the Minnesota dentist who killed a lion. You will definitely have forgotten.

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33 days ago
Nailed. It. (As someone who is a small part of the professional outrage industry, this is almost too real.)
San Francisco, CA
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Life at Sea: The Pleasures and Perils of Nautical Cooking



The sun slowly melts into the horizon in a riot of fluorescent streaks—pink and orange flame the sky, while the rippling water of the Bali Sea takes on a delicate lavender hue. The silhouette of a volcano rises gently from the water. And there we are, on a little sailboat from San Francisco called Saltbreaker, barely able to believe that this scene has become a nightly occurrence. We lean back against the mast and raise our drinks for a toast. "This," I say, "this is what sailing is all about."

Saltbreaker belongs to my boyfriend, Alex, and his brother, Nick. They purchased the 32-foot boat in 2011, with the aim of sailing from San Francisco to New Zealand, which they did via Mexico, Central America, French Polynesia, Tonga.* Last summer, Nick sailed her from New Zealand to Bali, where Alex and I got back on board to take our turn adventuring around Indonesian islands. Our destination: wherever the wind blows us (or something like that).

*You can read more about Saltbreaker's adventures here, and my take on dating a wandering sailor here.

When I tell people about our current travel plans and Saltbreaker's past adventures, I always get one of two reactions:

  1. "Oh wow, that is so magical and romantic and amazing!" or:
  2. " do you eat?"

On the one hand, the first group is right, it can be pretty magical. The sunsets barely seem real, and that's not even getting into the occasional dolphin escorts and the pristine beaches hidden in remote coves. But it can also be exhausting, dirty, smelly, and cramped, depending on sailing conditions and where we happen to be anchored. Like almost any travel that takes you outside of your comfort zone, it's worth it about 95% of the time.

As for answering the second group, the truth is that we eat pretty damn well. Sailing as a form of travel is pretty much like taking your house from place to place, kitchen (or galley, in sailor-speak) included. Your house just happens to be the size of a walk-in closet, and more often than not, it's rocking back and forth or hanging out at a 25-degree angle. And the average temperature is 90 degrees.


Still, while it's more difficult than your standard home-cooking experience, cooking on a boat is easier than you'd think. You're usually limited to the supplies you have onboard, with little or no ability to purchase more—that issue isn't much different from when you go camping. But you're generally better equipped and stocked than the average backpacker. And you're constantly inspired by the food cultures of the places you visit, as well as the crazy-fresh fish that, on good days, figures into your meal plan.

Stocking a boat for a multiple-month journey requires serious planning for the most culinarily apathetic of sailors. But for us, it's an even more involved process—we want to be excited about our meals as often as possible. We make eating well a priority, even if all we're doing is doctoring a packet of instant noodles or a jarred pasta sauce. And because we can't run to the grocery store to grab a missing ingredient or satisfy a craving, we do our best to anticipate what will enliven each meal.

Interested in plotting your own ocean-bound journey, or curious about how we fuel ours? Then check out how our boat is equipped for cooking, how we plot our provisions before a long trip, and the little luxuries that we can't live without (hint: Nutella is involved).

The Setup


Like any respectable New York-style shoebox apartment that happens to be a sailboat, Saltbreaker has a small galley. We've got a three-burner stove and a oven that both run on propane and, generally speaking, work quite well.

This whole setup is gimbaled, meaning the stove and oven can rock counter to the boat's movement, helping to prevent hot pans and spoons from going flying as the boat leans and rocks. There's also a safety strap that wraps behind the chef-of-the-moment, just in case balance is a challenge.

We have a sink that has two faucets, one of which connects to two 40-gallon tanks filled with freshwater. Back in the States, this was filled with tap water pumped at a marina. Now, we purchase gallon jugs of filtered water and pour them in by hand. We save as much as possible for drinking water, but will also use it for cooking soups and, more importantly, making coffee. The faucet is operated by a foot pump—an excellent way to stay aware of exactly how much water you're using. The sink's second faucet pumps saltwater directly from the ocean, which we use for washing dishes (save our knives and cast iron skillet).

Though the boat is relatively small, it has incredible built-in storage capabilities. Every bit of counter space visible in our little galley opens up to become storage for food, cooking supplies, spices, bottles of whiskey, and more. Food can be stored beyond the galley, too, in a large space under the starboard settee (bench on the righthand side), or in baskets in a port cubby. I quickly became accustomed to the fact that, on a boat, it makes perfect sense to have your clothes stored next to a basket of onions and garlic.

What about refrigeration? You might not be able to imagine cooking sans fridge, but we mostly do without. Saltbreaker does have a small mini-fridge, but we don't use it continuously. Many boats do have full-scale refrigeration systems; we've found that it takes more power than it's worth. (Saltbreaker's power runs off batteries, which are charged primarily by three solar panels.) We'll turn the fridge on for truly pressing concerns: say, if we catch a fish that we don't eat all at once, or if we want to drink a cold beer. Saltbreaker didn't have a fridge at all for close to two years; it made everyone get all the more creative with fish preparation (pickling, smoking, trading), and meant that cold beer on shore tasted even better.

The Provisions: Stocking Up and Strategizing


Some evenings, as the sun is getting low, Alex can be seen duck-diving a few feet off our boat, outfitted in a snorkel mask and freediving fins, as he plunges into the turquoise depths with a speargun in hand. I peer anxiously over the side, crossing my fingers that he's successful. He emerges once, twice, three times, pacing his breath and slowing his heartrate so he can inhale and dive 20-40 meters down again. Moments later, he pops up, triumphant—a gleaming silver fish flecked with gold cleanly pierced with the tip of his spear. "Sweetlips!" he calls, heaving the gun and fish on board as I ready a knife and a bucket of water for cleaning. "Dinner!" I say in response, watching as the fish's body shudders and is still.

It may sound primitive, but this dive for dinner is one of the biggest highlights of our eating life these days. Fishing excursions from San Francisco across the Pacific yielded tasty prizes like dorado, skipjack, tuna, sierra, and even a six-foot sailfish. Here in Bali, we've been eating a good amount of those gold-spotted sweetlips, and have our eyes on some tasty-looking schools of mackerel.


We'll eat a fish straight out of the water pan-fried whole; if it's a firm, meaty fish (like tuna), we might eat it raw as sashimi, on seasoned sushi rice, or as ceviche. We'll turn filets and heads into curry (making use of a solid store-bought green curry paste and boxes of coconut milk) or soup, laced with lemongrass, garlic, and peppercorns.

Fishing doesn't always pan out, though, despite Alex's prowess with a speargun. Sometimes, the surrounding reefs are packed with snorkelers, or the fish are too small. We'll often leave a fishing line behind our boat when we're underway (a practice known as trolling), only to stare at it wistfully for hours on end, resigning ourselves to eating canned tuna instead. Since we can't rely on catching fish every single day, we have to be well-stocked t o ensure that we remain well-fed.

Provisioning for a sailing trip requires that you anticipate what might taste good weeks or even months out, and to realistically consider what you'll be willing to cook when you're too tired to even think about food. On the other hand, it's also worth considering bigger cooking projects (say, making fresh bread or pasta) for when you find yourself with a lot of time to think about your daily meals, and can spend much of your day prepping for them.

Provisions can be divided into two major categories: long-lasting and fresh. The first category includes a whole mess of pantry staples—dried goods like rice, beans, lentils, pasta, and couscous; canned tomatoes, beans, vegetables, and condiments; and fun snack items that hit the spot when we're mid-sail, like chips, nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate (and at least three jars of Nutella). After a long, tiring sail, you'll crave the same sorts of foods you'd want as a tasty reward after a hike. Our quick-and-easy meals often draw heavily from this provisioning category: things like instant noodles and ready-made packs of curry sauce, which can be thrown together in minutes and eaten just as quickly.

I almost cried with happiness at the sight of a towering salad of freshly-grown leafy greens

Fresh food requires a little more strategy. I remember a strenuous, four-day journey down the coast of Nicaragua with no green vegetables and no trips to shore. When we finally made our way to land, I almost cried with happiness at the sight of a towering salad of freshly-grown leafy greens. These days, whenever we're on shore I'm eyeing the local stores and stands like a hawk—when I spy a pile of vegetables, it's all I can do not to start jumping up and down.

Part of the fun is experimenting with local goods that we don't necessarily recognize. Lately, we've had some great meals of kang kung, a type of earthy, spinach-like greens that are wonderful simply sautéed with garlic and coconut oil.


Our meal planning is based around what we have that's fresh and what's likely to go bad first. We make a point to stock up on long-lasting vegetables—onions, garlic, potatoes, and cabbage (which we've seen last for five to six weeks!) all fall under that umbrella—but we don't hesitate to get more fleeting goods like dark leafy greens, local fruit, tomatoes, and eggplants. We keep the produce that is most likely to turn in a basket hanging right over the galley as a reminder to use it up in good time.

Produce isn't the only fresh provision near and dear to my heart and stomach. When stored and sold unrefrigerated (as they are in most places outside of the U.S.) eggs last a long, long time—even multiple weeks—without going bad. They're an easy source of protein with rice, on pasta, or in soup, and I've yet to get sick of eggs simply scrambled or fried with some salt and spice.

traveling to delicious and exotic places has allowed us the opportunity to round out our pantry selection

A well-stocked spice stash is essential for our cooking purposes, too. Saltbreaker left the US with a healthy supply of all of the essentials (cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and many more), but traveling to delicious and exotic places has allowed us the opportunity to round out our pantry selection with additions like flaky chili powder and vanilla from Mexico, and cardamom, star anise, and tingly peppercorns here in Bali. The other week, I was delighted to find a hidden bottle of Lizano's hot sauce from Nicaragua buried under a mess of cans—the vinegary, spicy sauce was one of my favorite flavor discoveries in Central America, and tastes just as good here in Indonesia.

If there's one truly essential tool in our galley, it's the pressure cooker, where we regularly prepare things like stews and sauces, not to mention dried beans and brown rice. Our stove runs on precious propane, and the pressure cooker allows us to regularly plan on slow-cooked favorites without completely depleting our fuel supply (or causing the cabin temperature to spike to 100 degrees). I've whipped up some seriously good lentil stew in around 15 minutes, and Alex threw together a pasta sauce using a batch of must-use tomatoes and chili peppers in 20 that tasted like they'd spent all day simmering on the stovetop.

The Inevitabilities: Things Will Go Bad (No Matter How Well You Plan)


When you're living on a boat, you may have food-supply surprises. A normally long-lasting cabbage may rot in two days, while a delicate-seeming eggplant will last for a week and a half. The only thing you can plan is that you need to check on your vegetables every day, and should probably be checking in on your canned and dried goods every couple of weeks, too. Our rule: if it smells okay, it probably is. If it's attracting bugs, get rid of it ASAP.

Because our living space is on the small end, it's usually quite evident when something has gone bad. The smell is inescapable; as are the fruit flies. Fortunately, our removal method is a lot more cathartic than your average refrigerator clean-out at home—we get to toss our bad veggies overboard.

One way to slow the rapid pace of vegetable rotting is to intentionally get underripe vegetables which will be ready to eat in a week or so. We expected the worst when we bought a bag of green tomatoes and two massive green avocados, but we kept them as wrapped up and protected as possible, and were rewarded with two magical days of guacamole.

Dried goods are much less likely to go bad, but it happens. Bugs will infest bags of rice and beans that have been opened and left for too long. Cans may rust, rendering their contents inedible. Keeping things as cool and dry as possible helps us avoid a lot, if not all spoilage.


A silver lining to this much-accelerated pace of food rotting is that you're forced to think of ways to preserve what you've got. I dried a huge bunch of Balinese peppers by threading them with fishing line and hanging them in the sun, while a hefty head of cauliflower made a fine jar of lemony, peppery pickles.

So... What Do We Cook?


We may be traveling with our home in tow, but that doesn't make us totally immune from homesickness. My favorite remedy: Recreating our favorite flavors from California. (Tacos, obviously.) Remember our massive, underripe Balinese avocados? The morning we discovered that they'd softened we had new plans for the day: a frenzy of fish taco preparations, which included making fresh flour tortillas, guacamole, and glaring at every and all snorkeler who came within twenty feet of our boat, delaying our ability to spearfish for taco fillings. Finally, we had an opening: Alex promptly speared a sweetlips, we slapped tortillas into shape, and we were gloriously rewarded in the form of two guacamole-laden fish tacos apiece.


And then there are the foods we often cook at home. Alex and I make a lot of fresh pasta in our San Francisco kitchen, and, thanks to a crank-operated pasta maker onboard, can do the same here. Alex is a skilled bread baker, and while baking in the tropics is definitely different from the cooler climes of San Francisco, the fresh bread might taste even better (particularly topped with a healthy smear of Nutella).

But we're not traveling to live on tacos and pasta alone—we draw inspiration from the foods and flavors we're finding on land. I've been making batch after batch of Balinese-style sambal—coconut oil laced with chilies, shallots, and fresh lemongrass—it's the perfect accompaniment to a whole fried or grilled fish, and a killer cooking base for eggs, fried rice, and quick-sautéed vegetables. Our soups are inspired by cap cay (pronounced chap-chay), a garlic-heavy soup loaded with vegetables and a fried egg. It's hard to get too bored when we're constantly trying foods that are so delicious that we pretty much have to recreate them... though beef rendang might have to wait until we get home (unless we find a reliable butcher onshore, that is).

Still, you can't have it all. I miss cheese like crazy, not to mention good wine, strong beer, and kale salads (yep, I'm one of those). There are days that we're eating fresh fish curry when I'd kill for a good cheeseburger topped with bacon.

But we make do. More than that—because every meal takes a little more thought and effort, it tastes a little better, too. Or maybe that's just the salty air talking.

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35 days ago
I quickly became accustomed to the fact that, on a boat, it makes perfect sense to have your clothes stored next to a basket of onions and garlic
62 days ago
My friend wrote this, and I'm crazy envious of her, even if life at sea has its hardships.
San Francisco, CA
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Wal-Mart, EBay pulling Confederate flag products

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Retail giants Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears Holding Corp. said they would stop selling Confederate flags and flag merchandise following South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the flag from the state Capitol grounds.

Wal-Mart said Monday it would remove all merchandise promoting the Confederate flag from its stores and website.

“We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell,” Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said in a statement. “Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly. This is one of those instances.

“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” he said.

Sears said in a statement Monday night that it was removing Confederate flag merchandise from its Sears and Kmart stores, as well as online, including items sold by third-party merchants on Sears Marketplace.

Online marketplace EBay also said it would prohibit Confederate flags and many items containing the image of the flag because “it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism,” company spokeswoman Johnna Hoff said in a statement.

“This decision is consistent with our long-standing policy that prohibits items that promote or glorify hatred, violence and racial intolerance,” she said.

Civil rights leaders have called on Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to follow the lead of Wal-Mart and Sears and stop sales of the Confederate flag.

“Amazon now has an opportunity to again prove it is a good corporate citizen and join with other major retailers, business leaders and elected officials that now call for an end to sales and displays of a symbol that stands for hate and bigotry,” Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said in a statement.

Amazon did not comment, but by Tuesday afternoon, many Confederate flags were listed as unavailable on the site. The top three best-selling items over the past 24 hours had been Confederate flags, with the top item up 5,466%.

Other retailers also saw sales of the Confederate flag spike.

Kerry McCoy, owner of <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> in Arkansas, said the site sold 50 lapel pins of the Confederate flag Monday and sales were increasing Tuesday afternoon. Normally, Confederate flag sales make up less than 1% of business, McCoy said.

“Not everybody that uses the Confederate flag is doing it for hate,” she said. “Some of them have a family member that fought in that war. I’m not going to deny one sector of Americans the right to fly the flag of their choice.”

At least one flag manufacturer said it would stop making Confederate flags.

“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes an event like this to kind of focus you on doing the right thing,” said Reggie Vandenbosch, vice president of sales at Valley Forge Flag Co.

BMW, which is one of South Carolina’s largest employers and has its largest manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, said it “applauds the courage” of Haley and “supports her leadership” in calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the Statehouse.

While running for her second term in 2014, Haley, a Republican, defended the Confederate flag’s presence on the Statehouse grounds. Her Democratic challenger, Vincent Sheheen, called for the flag’s removal.

“I think the people of South Carolina are tired of having an image across America that's not truly who we are,” Sheheen said during a debate.

Haley responded that the flag was a “sensitive issue,” but she rejected the idea of removing it.

“What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state,” Haley said. “I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”

For more business news, follow @smasunaga

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

1:17 p.m.: This article has been updated with details about products on <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> and quotes from flag sellers.

10:52 a.m.: This article has been updated with comments from representatives of EBay and flag manufacturers.

8:41 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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70 days ago
For someone who grew up in the South, this is beyond huge. You get used to seeing these everywhere. It's so nice to see the mainstream finally standing up to them.
San Francisco, CA
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Ten Times I Knew I Loved You

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1. It’s Feb. 14, 2005, and I am 15 years old. I’m standing by a row of lockers just down the hall from the cafeteria, waiting for the last few minutes of lunch to go by so I can get through my afternoon classes, go home, and forget about school. I hate school, but I like lunch because it means I get to see you. And on the best days I get to talk to you if you happen to wander away from the junior boys into my lowly freshman territory. I live for those days. Our interactions are awkward, stilted at best, but talking to you is the only part of high school I actively look forward to. But today I don’t see you anywhere in the cafeteria. You’ve recently made friends with some seniors and I suspect you’ve left school with them (a senior privilege, not that that stops anyone) to eat overcooked hot dogs at the 7-Eleven. I try to mask my disappointment as I lean against a bright yellow locker and make small talk with a fellow freshman before the inevitable end-of-lunch bell. There’s a tap at my shoulder. I turn around. It’s you. You’re holding out a rose. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” you say. I am stunned and silent but screaming inside my head as I take the cellophane-wrapped flower from you. I know you bought it at 7-Eleven. I don’t care. I feel like my organs are leaking out my shoes.

2. It’s four months later. Summer vacation has just started. Not much has changed in our friendship, but now I know for sure you like me. That should make it easier to be around you but for some reason I am terrified of you, so I decide to not show up when you invite me to hang out one afternoon. You’re upset, so I tell you to come to my house so I can apologize. We are in my living room, seated on the black leather couch that my parents still have to this day. Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove is on TV and for some reason, we watch it. Then out of nowhere you turn to me, grab my face, and kiss me. Your lips don’t find mine exactly and your tongue is moving too fast, but it’s still The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened To Me. You tell me you have to go, so I walk you to your car. You kiss me once more and this time we find our rhythm, and then you get in and drive away. I am so ecstatic that I run inside and vomit into the kitchen sink. The date is June 20. We don’t know it yet, but we’ll celebrate today for the next 10 years.

3. We’ve been dating about a year. You’re a senior, I’m a sophomore, and there’s nothing to do in our suburban New Jersey town but drive around in your car and waste gas. We decide to park at the high school around midnight one Saturday because we are teenagers and we have only bad ideas. We are sitting and talking, making out occasionally, but really just enjoying the only semi-private space we have. We’re there so long the windows have fogged up. Then there’s a knock on the driver’s side window. We’re both startled, but you roll it down. A cop is shining a flashlight into the car, asking us what we’re doing at the high school so late. We’re honest when we tell him “nothing,” but he’s suspicious nonetheless. He’s reaching into the car, grabbing old Poland Spring water bottles from the center console and smelling them to see if they contain alcohol. He’s scanning the floor for anything that will make his night more eventful. His light stops on a hunk of green at my feet. “What’s that?” he asks. “That?” you say. “That’s a penis, sir.” The cop’s face turns red. “I’m going to ask you again. What is that?” You reach down between my feet and pick up the object so he can see it better. “It’s a piece of wax I use for skateboarding that my friends have molded,” you say as you slowly rotate the waxy green dick in the light, “into a penis.” The cop has no idea how to respond, so he tells us to leave. You tell him to have a pleasant evening and roll up the window before starting the engine to take me home. I stare at your profile while the passing street lights light up one side of your face. You are the bravest person I have ever met.

4. It’s the end of my freshman year of college, and despite being 200 miles away from each other, we’re still together. We spend too much time taking $15 bus trips between your school in New York and mine in Boston and even more time Skyping from our shitty dorm rooms. It’s finally April, which means an entire summer together is within our reach. I pull a muscle in my neck on a particularly arduous bus journey and decide to see the on campus doctor. The neck cramp is not a cramp, it’s a lump. I am given an X-ray, blood tests, and a quick rundown about a cancer called lymphoma, which typically affects 20- to 35-year-olds. I am 19, I am too young to have cancer and I don’t like needles. I am so fucking angry that the doctor has wasted my time when he should just stick to handing out condoms. I call you. The concern in your voice makes me realize my anger is masking a deeper fear inside me. It’s raining outside, and all of a sudden I’m crying.

5. I am losing my hair in clumps. I can’t take a shower without a rat-size clod of my dark blonde hair stopping the drain. I wake up choking on balls of it. I can see my scalp in places, but in others my hair is shoulder length, which makes me feel like Frankenstein’s monster but uglier. I ask a neighbor who has three young sons to borrow her hair clippers. In the backyard my family gathers and watches as my neighbor sheers off the remaining patches of hair. The backyard is covered in golden tumbleweeds, and my mom tells me the birds will make nests out of them. I go into the house and look in the hallway mirror. I am so bald. I hear your car pull up outside and I panic. I run into the kitchen and grab the first thing I see: a tea cozy. I put it on my head and go outside to meet you. “Nice hat,” you say. You take the tea cozy off my head. You tell me that I’m beautiful, but I don’t believe you until the next day, when you show up to my house with a shaved head where your long black curls used to be.

6. It’s my last chemotherapy appointment. I am 20 pounds lighter, sicker, and somehow more bald than six months earlier when I shaved off all my hair. You have come to every single doctor’s appointment since I got sick, but today you have a final exam and the professor won’t let you reschedule without losing credit, even to hold the hand of your sick girlfriend on her final round of chemo. Today should be a happy day but I just feel done, and it’s especially hard to feel up to anything without you here. Normally we’d be sneaking around the hospital, eating French fries from the cafeteria, and playing pool in the patient lounge until I am called to the infusion room, where we’d watch DVDs of Arrested Development and drink mini cans of ginger ale while they pump me full of poisons. When my name is called to start chemo I get a sick feeling in the back of my throat in anticipation for the battery chemicals that are about to be forced into my veins. Then I see you walk through the curtain. “But your exam,” I try to protest. “Yeah,” you say. “Fuck that class.” And you plop down next to me in the infusion chair.

7. I’m standing inside the arriving flights terminal at Heathrow Airport in London scanning the river of faces for yours. It’s been less than a year since I recovered from cancer, and in an attempt to reclaim my bizarrely interrupted college career, I decided to study abroad. You’re supportive even though it means we’ll be apart — really, truly apart — for an entire semester. And it’s been hard — especially for you, because while you’re home starting your unbelievably stressful student-teaching stint in the South Bronx, I am eating and dancing and laughing my way through every corner of Europe. It’s March, your spring break, and you’ve scrounged up the money to visit me, cutting our four-month-long hiatus in half. As I watch passengers walk by I can feel my heart pounding against my rib cage. I have stolen a beer out of a corner store in Paris and urinated on a famous windmill in Mykonos. I have smoked hashish in a strange apartment in Barcelona and ridden on the back of a motorcycle in Athens. But none of it is half as thrilling as how I feel when I see you round the corner in that airport terminal.

8. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and we’re buying microwavable breakfast burritos at a truck stop somewhere in the swamps of eastern Texas. I have somehow convinced you and our good friend Jordan to take this cross-country-and-back road trip with me in an attempt to escape my six-month-long, post-college unemployment and there’s a good chance you’ll never forgive me for it. In the last five weeks and 9,000 miles we’ve slept at a complete stranger’s apartment in West Virginia, been woken up by a hungry black bear in Wisconsin, ran from the police for illegal camping in Washington, stranded the car on a beach in California, and we still have days’ worth of driving before we get back home to Jersey. We are broke — broker than broke — exhausted, and heavily unshowered but we are hoping to make it to New Orleans by nightfall to celebrate my 23rd birthday. Jordan starts the engine and I settle into the backseat in preparation for the long drive. Just then, you turn around in the passenger seat holding a truck stop brownie with a lit pink candle stuck in it. You start singing “Happy Birthday” at the top of your lungs, and Jordan beeps the horn for every “Cha! Cha! Cha!” The early-morning ruckus has caught the attention of truckers in the parking lot, and many of them are leaning out their driver’s side window to see what’s going on. I’m laughing so hard I’m practically screaming and when the song is over you tell me to please blow out the candle so we don’t set the car on fire and have to call our parents to pick us up. The road trip was supposed to be over by my birthday, but bad luck and worse scheduling has landed us here instead. Somehow it still feels like home.

9. Against all odds I’ve landed my dream job. Well, sort of. I’ve landed a fellowship at my dream job, writing for a website I love, which means if I don’t perform well in the four-month-long audition period I won’t be hired full-time. So I have a taste of my dream job, which is somehow even scarier than never knowing what it’s like. I have only a few weeks left in my fellowship to impress the hiring managers so I throw a Hail Mary, a post about why you should never mess with the ocean. The post creeps up to 900,000 views and I am happy enough with that, so I stop obsessively checking the view count and leave it up to fate. Then one morning before work you tell me you’re coming over to my parents’ house where I regrettably still live before I run out to catch the train to New York. I think nothing of it, as I hear you come in the house and run up the stairs to my bedroom. “Hey,” I say over my shoulder as I dig through my closet, trying to find a shirt to wear. “Hey,” you say. “Ms. Million.” I turn around and you’re holding a homemade trophy. “1,000,000 Views for Ocean Post Awarded To Erin Chack.” You made the plaque out of construction paper and glued it to your old T-ball trophy. Today I’ve been with that job long enough to watch it outgrow three separate offices, but that trophy has never left my desk.

10. Not even a month ago I bike home from work to find you sitting on the porch of our little Queens apartment. We’ve moved into this pre-war one-bedroom together about two years ago and over the months slowly built it into a home: There are skateboards hanging above the dining room table and an herb garden on the ledge of our kitchen window. Spring has just started creeping into New York and the porch has once again become our favorite spot in the apartment, so it’s no surprise you’re there enjoying the last rays of the setting sun. We’ve both been invited to hang out with separate groups of friends tonight but we decide to blow them off to hang at home, drink Coronas, and talk. Maybe it’s because your birthday is coming up, but I decide to bring up something that’s been floating around my brain. “It’s weird,” I tell you. “We’re finally at the point in our lives where I feel like I’ve caught up to you. I watched you graduate high school, go away to college, get your first job, and I’ve always had to trail behind. Watch what you did and try to do it my own way when it was my turn. But now for the first time in our relationship we’re sort of standing on equal ground.” You take a second to consider this, looking at the ceiling for a second before returning your eyes to meet mine. “But it doesn’t feel like equal ground to me,” you say, “because throughout the years I’ve always loved you. But now I admire you.”

So I wrote this to tell you that I admire you too. I have for 10 years, and I plan to for 10 million more.

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71 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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