Amenities, amen!

There was a time in my life when I felt that my interests, preoccupations, location, and the people I saw every day changed so radically that I was effectively a different person every five years. This is hardly something unique to me; I was just surprised that it seemed to have discrete five-year periods.

In the last couple of months I’ve been noticing that the current period of my life appears to be marked by a handful of amenities that I never sought out but which would be unpleasant to live without now. They are without exception trivial and are no doubt diagnostic of a certain degree of privilege. Most have to do with reducing hassle, and their usefulness could maybe be explained by having moved to a big city. Anyway, here they are:

  1. Concierge who screens visitors.
  2. Heated underground garage.
  3. Car backing up camera.
  4. Car GPS/guidance/maps.
  5. Phone app to pay for parking garages and meters.
  6. Phone app to scan documents.
  7. Phone app to buy movie tickets.
  8. Reserved recliner seats in theater.
  9. TSA Precheck.
  10. Phone app to deposit checks.

You see? There’s nothing here that’s even remotely as important as the big two, people and art. Yet I find myself genuinely grateful for these trivialities every single time I use them, and they have changed my life for the better

Honorable mention:

11. Car remote autostart.

12. Speed limits indicated in car gps.

13. Car door unlocks by touching handle.

14. EZ-Pass.




The name συγγράμματα (syngrammata) is Ancient Greek for “essays.” Or rather, since those people didn’t quite have the genre as we know it, it’s a word that comes reasonably close. And so you may rightly infer that I had a classical education and that I am interested in essays. This blog betrays my interest in writing essays.

My superpower is that I have an eye sensitive to the absurd, the ridiculous, the subversive, the anomalous, the unnoticed, and the outmoded. Look for a potpourri of items in this space that have struck my eye in passing, or which I’ve set aside in the past. My kryptonite is an unwillingness to be nailed down to one systematic topic.

Why essays and not poetry or narrative? I fell in love with the modern voice of George R. Stewart, having bought a copy of his U.S. 40 at a used book sale at the Athenaeum in Providence—literally across the street from Brown’s Classics department. If you know Stewart, who was an English prof at Berkeley, you probably know him for his post-holocaust novel Earth Abides or from his classic study of American place naming, Names on the Land.

In cross-country trips with his family following U.S. 40, which runs (or ran) from Atlantic City to San Francisco, Stewart’s eye was caught time and again by interesting facets of the landscape he passed through. He selected 92 photos he’d taken and published them with a short essay accompanying each. Nothing was beneath his observation, and no landscape, however unpromising at first sight, failed to provoke his interest. He brought his keen intelligence to explicating the landscape with a geographer’s insight, a historian’s knowledge and an artist’s eye. His voice was authoritative but never professorial. In some way, almost every essay I’ve written is indebted to his work, even while falling short.

But on top of that, I have learned a great deal about writing from other great essayists. Paul Fussell’s moral outrage (I think of his “Thank God for the Atom Bomb“), Orwell’s honesty, Bronowski on “Knowledge and Certainty,” Didion on the Central Park jogger case, Coates on reparations: they and many others serve as a (probably unapproachable) model for me. I hope to repay your visit here with something to interest you, and I hope you’ll leave comments to help me improve my writing.