Prayerfully

If you’ve just heard or read the word “prayerfully,” you’ve just been asked to consider giving money. It’s the only time anyone uses the word “prayerfully.” Please prayerfully consider making a donation.

Let me prayerfully ask you to consider using this word in other contexts, though. As in, “Please prayerfully chew with your mouth closed.” Or, “Please prayerfully ban your daughter from social media.”

Bad

Tom: I had to stay after school to deal with a bad student.

Harry: A “bad student.” Wow. That’s such an extreme judgment. I don’t know that I believe in “bad students.” I believe in misguided students, underprivileged students, wild students. But “bad students”? Yikes.

Tom: Do you believe in “bad teachers”?

Harry: That’s different.

Tom: Bad cops? Bad doctors? Bad lawyers?

Harry: That’s different.

Tom: Where do you think bad teachers come from?

Harry: I would have to think about it. There’s probably something that just never comes together for them.

Tom: Do you believe in good students?

Harry: Sure.

Tom: And if a certain student had the opposite of those qualities that make a student “good,” what would you call that student?

Harry: I don’t know. Misguided.

Tom: Great. Thanks. Your thoughts definitely correspond to reality.

My Favorite Things: Summer 2022 Edition

This is what made the Summer of 2022 for me.

10. Wordle and Framed: I now start every morning with a cup of coffee and five minutes spent playing these two games. You really need a few people to share scores with to make this worthwhile, preferably friends you’re about on par with.   

9. Top Gun: Maverick: This summer I saw Crimes of the Future, Nope, and Elvis, none of which I will see again, but the summer started off with two trips to the theater to see the latest Tom Cruise picture. I liked this movie for all the same reasons everyone else liked it, but I also enjoyed the fact it was largely set in a classroom. Maverick is a school movie—an elite flight school movie, but a school movie, nonetheless. It’s about an old teacher with a bunch of young students, none of whom are up for the difficult lesson he has to teach. He doesn’t insult them or fail them, though, and they can’t really teach him anything, which is to say this one escapes many cliches common to classroom movies. The students do help their teacher, though, which is a pleasure to watch because it’s their redemption, not his.

8. Julie Is Her Name by Julie London: In the last three months, Julie London has replaced Bill Evans as the music which plays at Chez Gibbs after five o’clock. I have purchased two box sets of London’s work (sixteen albums in total) and prefer the stripped down, gin-soaked stuff to the big brassy numbers, but I could still listen to anything she’s done. Julie Is Her Name is my present favorite—and a good place to start with her work.  

7. The TWA Hotel at JFK: Paula and I went once right before the pandemic and we loved it. This summer, Jon Paul and I spent a few days in late June and sprung for a room with a deluxe view of the runway. I don’t fly, but there’s something sublime about drinking a bottle of wine and watching everyone else silently take off and land, land and take off.  

6. The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman: The best pop culture critic of the last two generations recently authored a history book about a decade I remember pretty clearly. The thesis of the book is one which couldn’t help but appealing to someone who constantly whines about people who think they’re special—Klosterman conjectures that the nineties were an era that most people remember fairly accurately. It’s really not a “very misunderstood period of history.” The centerpiece of this book is a chapter on the advent of the internet, which Klosterman argues hasn’t actually “shaped the future” quite as much as anyone thinks. There is also a great early chapter where Klosterman argues the real architect of the 90s was none other than Ross Perot. If you came of age in the 90s, you’ll enjoy this one. You might consider getting the audiobook which is narrated by Klosterman, who has a thick sweater of a voice and reads as though as he’s trying to convince you of something that is “actually pretty neat.”

5. Lobsters: The summer began with a trip to Maine where I had several speaking engagements. In Maine, my family ate lobsters, lobster bisque, lobster stew, and lobster rolls. The commitment Mainers have to lobsters is a delight, even if it’s an expensive one.   

4. Seinfeld: Before this summer, I had only seen a half dozen stray episodes of the show back in the 90s when it first aired. I never cared for it. Reading The Nineties made me give it another shot and I’ve come around to it. I couldn’t say what it was like watching it week to week twenty-five years ago, but watching one episode per night attunes the viewer to the zen of the thing. It’s a show, but it’s a mood, too.  

3. White Noise by Don Delillo: This is the postmodern 80s novel. Who am I kidding, though? I’ve probably read fewer than a dozen of the best-known works of fiction from that decade—but after finishing it, I can say White Nosie certainly feels like the postmodern 80s novel. Delillo satirizes consumerism without coming off like a commie. His prose has a few avant-garde edges to it, but it’s not “weird for the sake of weird,” as Moe Szyslak once put it. In fact, whenever something possibly avant-garde happened, I almost always had to step back and say, “Wait a minute? Are people actually this strange? They sort of are.” A hundred years from now, this one might read like straight realism.

2. The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin: I listened to this entirely while driving around the Carolinas, sometimes for work and sometimes for pleasure. Between The Road and Laurus, it is hard to say which will become the early 21st century classic—it probably won’t be The Aviator, unless of course we learn how to travel through time, in which case this Vodolazkin novel will become an indispensable part of our miserable future. The Aviator is primarily a meditation on time and how a man’s era (his time) shapes his psyche in ineffable ways. The novel is alternately dull, gripping, heartbreaking, morose, melancholy. Unavoidably Russian, which is to say it has a long finish. A month later, this one suddenly interrupts my thoughts and creates a sober, contemplative mood, one which both makes it easier to enjoy this life and to look forward to the next life.

1. Oysters: When I remember the summer of 2022, I will think first of raw oysters. I ate many raw oysters this summer. It started with a trip to The Oyster House in Philadelphia with Jon Paul. I’d had raw oysters once or twice before, but never taken with them. On this occasion, though, the oysters arrived with a little more information than I was accustomed to. These oysters come from thus-and-such, while those oysters come from such-a-place, and as soon as comparison is a possibility, hierarchy enters the picture, and the search for the best begins. I spent the latter half of the summer searching for the best oysters. I ate oysters at three places in Richmond, five places in Charleston, and made a stab at finding them in several other cities. I ate them by myself. I ate them with others. I sat at the bar and watched strangers shuck them for an hour, paying close attention to how they did it. Then I bought a shucking knife and started my daughters eating them. Not since I ate Humboldt Fog fifteen years ago have I become so completely taken with a new food.

As best I can tell, the best oysters come from cold weather East Coast locales. Eating a good oyster approximates the feeling of having a frigid bucket of sea water splashed in your face, but in a good way. When you see me, ask me to buy you oysters and if we are not yet friends, we soon will be.