Listen to Mister Peepers
Illustration by Vasava Studio
God bless the bureaucrat and the lawyer, too
They’re public punching bags
But someone’s gotta do it
It’s not so sexy, the procedure or the truth
I say God bless the bureaucrat and the lawyer, too
The House Intelligence Committee piles on
They’d love to know what Rosenstein has on the boss
But it’s just for cameras, yeah, it’s just a show of force
Y’all know he can’t comply
But that’s the point, of course
So they call him Mister Peepers
As the thugs all smash his glasses
Going full Lord of the Flies
Burning this island down to ashes
What’s the rule of law if we can’t agree on what a fact is?
There ain’t nothing here to see, folks, move along, move along
Thank God for facts
They’re stubborn things indeed
But little cowboys will try cases on TV
It doesn’t make it so
Because you make believe
You can’t lose in court and appeal on Hannity
The distinguished wrestler from Ohio
He’s free to lie, he’s not the one who’s under oath
The law don’t suit the boss
This Deputy must go
We got him in the locker room, boys
Start the show
So they call him Mister Peepers
Send some thugs to smash his glasses
If he’s gone and peeped the wrong thing
Then they’ll burn his name to ashes
What’s the rule of law
If we can’t establish what a fact is?
There ain’t nothing here to see, folks, move along, ah move along
They say it dies in the dark
Right now, they’re trying to kill it in broad daylight
Can flashlights really fight bombs?
You boys are Christians, right?
What would Jesus do?
Would he bury crimes and carry water like a stooge?
Or smear a family man in case he tells the truth
About the boss?
Yeah, what would Jesus do?
Would he call him Mister Peepers?
Send some thugs to smash his glasses?
The institution’s standing tall
Though we tried our best to trash it
Aren’t we all the keepers
Of this fragile young Republic?
And when all those Mister Peepers people fall…
Lord help us all
So what happened when we reached out to a famous musician for a contribution to this issue? We got a song about Rod Rosenstein, of course. Ben Folds was interested in our idea of combining journalism with pop music, and it was new territory for him as well as us. We discussed a range of possible subjects, but by that point Rosenstein already had a grip on him — for reasons that come through in his lyrics. We paired him with a reporter who sent him regular updates on Rosenstein’s role in the Mueller Russia probe. One particular detail that interested Ben was that President Trump had allegedly referred to Rosenstein, to aides, as Mr. Peepers, because of his glasses.
That imagery, in turn, led Ben to a character from literature known for his vulnerability. “I think the first thing that came to my mind was images of ‘Lord of the Flies,’ ” Ben says. “I thought of the thugs that break the little kid’s glasses.” Rod Rosenstein as Piggy, in a sense. Ben worked this into the song, using him in a way, as songwriters do, that wasn’t intended to be literal. “Now that we’ve established the glasses as simple imagery to tie you into ‘Lord of the Flies,’ now they’re what you see things through. Do we want this guy seeing facts?” He was drawn to the deputy attorney general, Ben explains, “because of the personal position he’s been put in and the position that we’re in at these crossroads, where we find ourselves deciding to stick up for our norms — or not.”
An adventure in education. Illustration by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey.
The goal of this game is to make it through 19 months in office in as few turns as possible. Unless otherwise instructed, roll the die below to move forward.
ClickTap a square to move the marker to it.
ClickTap to roll
You’ve been nominated by President Trump to serve as Secretary of Education. Good luck!
Your nomination is denounced by the editorial page editor of your home-state newspaper.
You talk about “potential grizzlies” at your confirmation hearing — which you will later compare to a root canal. Go back to start.
Vice President Pence provides the tie-breaking vote to confirm your nomination.
You are greeted by protesters while visiting a D.C. middle school. Move back one space.
You call historically black colleges and universities “pioneers” of “school choice.” Public outcry ensues. Move back two spaces.
You rank 15th out of 23 on a CNN list of “just how obsequious” Cabinet members were to President Trump at a group meeting. Impressive relative restraint. Move forward one space.
You say that Obama guidelines on campus sexual assault were unfair to the accused. A controversial sentiment — but one that wins praise from The Washington Post editorial page and other outlets.
Rex Tillerson calls Trump a “moron.” You don’t. Move forward one space.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 permits college savings accounts to go toward K-12 private education. A victory for the school-choice movement. Move forward two spaces.
You are stuck in the undrained swamp. [You must roll an ODD number to get out of this space.]
Ben Carson is ridiculed for ordering a $31,000 dining room set for his office. Your furniture causes no controversy.
You propose arming some teachers in the wake of the Parkland shooting — an idea that plenty of Americans oppose but one that will also please many Trump voters.
Disastrous “60 Minutes” interview. Go back to start.
Smooth interview on “Fox and Friends.” Move forward three spaces.
You get impersonated on “Saturday Night Live” by Kate McKinnon, who says, “I don’t like to think of things in terms of school.”
You are trapped in memeville. [You must roll an EVEN number to get out of this space.]
The press reports that Scott Pruitt has an SUV with bulletproof seat covers.
Pruitt, it is revealed, asked an aide to look into how his wife could get a Chick-fil-A franchise.
Reports emerge that Pruitt told Trump he should be appointed to replace Jeff Sessions.
Trump proposes merging your department with the Department of Labor. This could dramatically increase or decrease your power. Roll the die. If it’s an even number, move forward that number of spaces. If it’s an odd number, move back that number of spaces.
You revoke Obama administration guidelines that encouraged colleges to use race-based affirmative action. A controversial step — but one that moves the conservative education agenda forward.
You propose a rule that toughens loan-forgiveness standards for defrauded students. This would result in substantial government savings — and another policy victory for conservatives.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to 19 months in office.
The price of energy extraction in rural America: A poem by Eliza Griswold. Illustration by Franziska Barczyk.
When The Washington Post Magazine asked if there might be a part of my new book, “Amity and Prosperity,” that wanted to be a poem, I was delighted. The book follows Harley Haney, a 14-year-old boy, and his family over seven years as they try to solve the mystery of what’s sickening them and their animals on a small farm in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Washington County.
“Amity and Prosperity,” which takes its name from two nearby towns, is the story of what went wrong at a shale-gas site a quarter of a mile from the Haneys, which became the subject of several lawsuits against the Texas-based oil and gas company Range Resources and its subcontractors, as well as the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Time and again, state and federal agents arrived in Amity promising solutions, and none came. The resulting legal cases chronicle a litany of leaks and spills and accidents that occurred at the site, which included a six-acre waste pond leaking and off-gassing dangerous levels of toxins into the air.
(Range Resources has admitted to having “challenges” at the site but has denied in court that its operations contaminated the Haneys’ water or led to health problems. “Court-ordered independent medical examinations of the plaintiffs all concluded that there was no objective evidence linking Range’s operations to any alleged or real medical conditions,” the company said in a recent statement.)
Both this poem and the book it is based on explore the darker side of American energy independence, examining the myriad ways in which rural Americans have paid for urban Americans’ energy appetites for more than a century — and how that has fed their ire and sense of being left behind.
1. The Blind
One day, the boy, a hunter, stalked a deer.
He saw, he swore,
its neck and body blossoming
in purple tumors.
He said so under oath, that over near Prosperity
he’d spied this sickened creature as it fled.
But nothing was for certain and the illnesses were odd.
At night, the sky roared and burned amber. A man-made wind scorched
the lick of the Devil’s dry tongue, pungent with sulfur
Doom intended just for them.
How could they not believe the land had turned against them,
poisoned air and water,
wreaking havoc by its necessary use.
It was impossible to view such sickness as impersonal.
It had to be a curse.
Worse to think their lives amounted to so little no one cared
if they were lost.
2. Terrible Creatures
Other hunters spoke of terrible creatures
they’d seen or feared they’d seen pre-dawn in quarter light.
Honorable men who weren’t inclined to lay false claim,
who’d served in Vietnam, or in Iraq, or underground
in coal mines, said, Nothing
is for certain, but these illnesses are odd.
They said such things amongst themselves at night,
around the stocked pond of the Anawanna Club,
where catfish —
scavengers, Carrion Comfort
of the late Anthropocene —
swam so thick the surface writhed.
The hunters loved the animals they killed,
They loved the earth,
Their lives were built on usefulness
yet were no longer useful.
an industry returned
to offer relevance and purpose in this world
where they’d long learned that nothing is for certain.
And the ones who spoke of illnesses
were the ones not getting rich.
Maybe they envied their neighbors,
and envy was a sin. They said things like:
God helps those who help themselves.
and Every life involves some give-and-take.
Refrains of hymns sung from a century of sweat and muscle work.
3. The Trouble With the Government
In rode the useless regulators uselessly.
It didn’t matter that they carried guns.
It didn’t matter that the chemicals were in the air and water.
the necessary facts had more to do
with ruling out innumerable variables,
with being certain, being absolutely sure
that the leaking waste pond which had (no question) leaked
— that much was clear —
had leaked into the water and the air,
or just the air,
which had been studied wrong
such that the calculations of the chemicals
The trouble with the government was that it always failed,
and even still, its agencies still wanted
something in return.
There was a time the county’s men rose up.
They’d tarred and feathered tax collectors
here. These men were heroes; these men
to take up arms against outsiders who no longer came on horseback.
Now they came in SUVs, contagion in their tire treads,
promising change as if change were for the good.
The government was too naive to understand
that change had never once come for the good.
4. Goodbye, Farmhouse
Nothing to do but leave the farm
pack up the harder objects:
china plates and childhood portraits,
great-grandmother’s wooden spindle,
her darning egg and rocking chair.
Soft things must be left behind.
Their threads and cotton batting
might be laced with toxins and odd illnesses —
with what was sickening the air.
though nothing is for certain.
No handmade John Deere valances.
No Realtree quilts or comforters.
No baby clothes packed carefully away
for babies who may never now be born,
their parents’ endocrines disrupted,
their chromosomes transmogrified
futures torn asunder by synthetic waste.
Consumption has consequences
not yet peer reviewed and so,
considered harmless in that
their harms are uncalculated
And leave behind ...
And leave behind ...
And leave behind ...
5. The Basement
The carrying cost of two mortgages
was breaking them, so the boy moved into
the basement and enrolled in cyber school.
He finished high school from his bed —
no sweat. He tried his hand at
muscle work, too high-risk in high trees,
but it proved dangerous, and costly
to carry the proper insurance,
and what was insurance other than
a lie a company told about a safer future
when more disasters lay in wait
and what was the point of living
more of those days, marching
toward private calamity,
waiting for whatever lay sleeping
in his blood to wake. He didn’t sleep
much anymore. He went to lay pipe
for the industry that he believed
had profited by costing him.
He raged. Sometimes
he punched holes
in the basement walls.
In “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,”
Ursula Le Guin (who died this year)
tells the story of a happy country —
In Omelas, alpha children baring glittering teeth
ride bareback in a race around a bay,
where pennants snap triumphant semaphore
from the rigging of expensive boats
as the children gallop around the water-meadow.
None are cursed with blemishes —
no shriveled limbs or limbic systems
laid awry — no, for these perfect children
a perfect future is in order.
On the verge of growing up,
each one is led, in turn,
to a cellar at the edge of town,
where a child is chained to the wall.
He begs them for release until
they understand his suffering,
his illnesses are paying for their happiness.
This is certain. Some children choose
to walk away from Omelas.
We can stay
or join the departed.
Supervision, nostalgia, drama: A play in three acts, by Amanda Long. Illustration by Eric Giriat.
How do you write a nonfiction play? It all starts with the right subject. As writer Amanda Long discovered, the experiences of chaperones at a prom — a setting where adults are both looking out for the next generation and reflecting on their own youth, a place where past and present waltz together — can make for a poignant, theatrical script. Amanda zeroed in on her characters at T.C. Williams High School’s 2018 prom as soon as she got there — observing the scene and asking them questions, separately and together, in between their official duties as chaperones, while also listening to their conversations with one another. Everything everyone says or does in this play is what happened, though editing helped to give the acts and dialogue shape.
Proms have certainly changed over the past generation — smartphones, selfies — but there are also ways in which one of the most dramatic nights of any teenager’s life has remained completely the same: the thrill of dressing up, the pageantry of growing older. And this, too: the worry of adults, as well as their cherished memories.
“Prom Chaperones: A Play in Three Acts”
At the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., for the T.C. Williams High School senior prom. Teachers and other school employees are volunteering to help the event run smoothly.
7 p.m. Saturday.
Teachers and administrators from the school gather in the atrium lobby, as a steady mist falls outside and early arrivals slowly trickle in, gathering in clusters, readjusting straps, posing for pictures and swapping out wet shoes for dry ones.
What I remember most about my prom was my dress. It was a dream come true: sparkly teal, fake-diamond-encrusted, some unfortunate amount of crinoline. I was not ready to say goodbye to it for a long time. My junior year of college, I walked around in it for a full day. Did the dishes, did the laundry. I needed to have a moment, to thank it and, hey, I was happy I could still fit into it! Then I took it to Goodwill.
I left prom after about 30 minutes to go to the clubs in D.C. My friend and I went to the bathroom in the lobby to change and ran right into the principal on the way out. He said we looked nice and asked where we were headed. We named the club that everyone knew was the most all-age friendly. We did not go there, but we did go to other clubs. We had a blast.
It was the ’80s, so you can imagine my dress. I looked like Mary Poppins! I had a hat. A hat! And a full hoop skirt. There wasn’t an inch of skin showing.
It was such a fun night. I went with all my girlfriends, so none of that relationship drama, just all of us together, excited in that way only teenage girls can get. I remember looking forward to it so much and wanting it to go well so badly. Getting ready for prom is a full-day event. And that’s as much a part of the fun.
I was walking down Mount Vernon Avenue about 9 a.m., and the hair salons right on the strip were already full of kids getting their hair done.
We are just hoping their hair holds; it’s so humid and rainy. That’s our fear. Truly. They try so hard. They pay so much money. It’s a big deal. Our school only has a senior prom, so this is likely the only time many are going to get to even go to a prom. You just so hope that nothing goes wrong, even if it’s just getting your hair rained on.
My advice to other chaperones? Remember this is not about you. You’re here to help them have an unforgettably good time. That’s it, not to relive your prom.
I’ve seen chaperones do it all kinds of ways. Some go the “whole nice Sunday church dress look,” while others go all out, almost formal.
Some want to outdo the kids.
Actually — surprise — it’s not about you!
Right, it’s not your night. I mean, it’s your money if that’s how you want to spend it. But that’s not what we do. The fact that my shirt is tucked in is a big deal.
You know, though, I never get this dressed up at school. [Gestures toward her black dress and not-so-little black heels.] They never see me like this! It’s fun to see their reactions, though. It’s our way of showing them that they’re worth the effort — that prom is worth all this. These shoes are not for me. They’re for you, kids.
Last year, one of my kids was like, “Dang, Mr. Henry. You look gooooood. I should have asked you to be my date!”
[Deadpan.] Um, no. That’s illegal.
I most definitely remember my first time chaperoning. I was working at the check-in table, so I got to see every single kid arrive. I got to see every one of my students looking their best, so beautiful. I was literally taking photos the whole time. I needed to document my kids going to prom.
That’s what I’ve been looking forward to the most: seeing my kids, my babies, and the transformation.
They told us not to do that in college — to call your students “your kids.” When you spend more hours in a day with them than their parents do, they do kind of become your kids.
A student, an early arrival, approaches.
STUDENT NO. 1
Hey, Mr. Henry.
The chaperones erupt in proud exclamations over his T-shirt-to-tux transformation.
Oh, look at how sharp we are. Give me a turn. Give me a turn. Oh, there you go.
The student obliges.
I think I’ve seen you dressed up for no more than half a day. You should do this more often.
STUDENT NO. 1
Thanks. Is the prom this way?
The teachers nod and point in the direction of the escalator to the lower lobby, where the ticket table and ballroom await.
I don’t have any kids of my own, so maybe it would be different. Your own kids need to take precedence. I’d have their events to be a part of, but I don’t know if they’d always want me there. The kids are actually excited to see us — their teachers — at prom. I don’t know if it’s the same when you’re their parent.
My daughter is in there somewhere. I have instructions to stay away, and I’m going to honor them. It’s not easy having an administrator as a mom — especially here at the prom.
A cacophonous entourage descends the escalator, filling the lower lobby with whoops, hollers and camera flashes.
We had a photographer come to the house. My daughter did the T.C. Williams colors theme: red, white and blue. Her dress is red. Her date is wearing navy with a red tie. I helped her pick out the dress. I’ve seen the changes gradually. It was harder for her dad. The transformation was all at once.
The next time they get this dressed up — for most of them — is their wedding. You can’t help but think of that when you see someone in a tux whom you’re used to seeing in sweats. This may be just another Saturday night to you, but this is likely the fanciest they’ve ever been.
Prom is a glimpse into their future.
The teachers move closer to the escalator in the atrium as attendees arrive and need to be corralled toward the lower level.
Our biggest worry, honestly, is the death of a student. I know that sounds morbid. It’s not unheard of. It is prom. That’s the thing you don’t want the most.
Literally the things I tell all my kids about prom is be safe and make good decisions.
We say it all the time. As they walk out the door, that’s the last thing they hear from us: “Make good choices.”
Part of our role is to show them how adults can go out, have fun, and it doesn’t have to involve drinking.
We hundred-percent do not endorse them getting rooms here, but we can’t stop it.
We don’t endorse it and we don’t ask about it. I don’t want to know because I can’t do anything about it.
When I was in high school, we rented an entire hotel floor one year, and all the things I don’t want to picture these kids doing? Yeah, that all happened.
At the bottom of the escalator, in the lower lobby.
A car accident is the thing I fear the most, but it’s the easiest one to avoid. There’s absolutely no reason anyone should drive a car tonight! Uber! Taxi! Call your ... [She stops and rushes toward a girl who is smiling and waving as she prepares to exit the escalator.] Your train! Lift up your train! [The girl does so, and a wardrobe malfunction is averted.] That right there is quickly becoming my second-biggest fear: a dress getting caught in the escalator and pulling its owner down with it.
Homecoming is where the drama is. So many more kids. So many underclassmen. I mean, in terms of chaperoning, it’s all hands. We don’t get as many volunteers for chaperones at homecoming. With 2,000 kids in the school gym, it’s all hands on deck. But I think most staff like to chaperone prom because it’s not as crazy.
I haven’t chaperoned homecoming for years because at my previous job I saw things I didn’t want to have to police on a Saturday. Plus, it’s at the school. The expectation is lower. You’re at your first high school dance. You’re emotional. Seniors, well, they know what’s next. Graduation. Adulthood.
And since everyone goes, it gets more complicated. There’s more of that, “You said we were a couple, so why are you here with her?”
Social media is the biggest difference. We didn’t have any of that; we didn’t have to worry about any of that.
There are some pictures of my prom that I found when I was moving recently, and I am so very thankful that they’re not out there.
Every adult I know says, “Thank God my prom wasn’t on Facebook.”
There is one photo of my prom. One photo. That’s all the evidence that exists of my prom.
They really don’t have any idea of how big of an impact social media will have, how it never really goes away.
It just keeps them from being in the moment.
It’s not all of them. About 10 to 15 percent of the kids do know how to live without it. Or they’re making a conscious effort to at least try.
Just inside the revolving doors of the hotel’s main entrance. The time is 8:30.
Erin remains to greet the last students. A group of girls who were in her AP class last year enter, and when they see her they start jumping around in excitement. She takes their pictures; they take pictures of her. They huddle so Erin can take a group selfie.
I love that the pressure to come as a couple is gone. When I went to prom, it was just all my girlfriends. And now I see my girls coming in and, well, it just makes me happy. I know that sounds sappy. But seriously, I teach 11th grade, so this is the first year my students are at prom. They were taking my picture. They were like, “Miss Hudson, you look so good. I am so glad you’re here!” And I was like, “You look amazing. I can’t believe you think I’d be anywhere else!” I remember those teachers who truly connected with me, who were interested in my life beyond those four walls. That’s the kind of teacher I want to be. If you can’t be there for your kids beyond those four walls, you’ll never truly connect.
She pauses to fully appreciate a pair of royal blue, very sparkly, seemingly dangerous loafers with spikes worn by a male student who approaches.
[To student.] Look at your shoes! Do they hurt? I mean, does it hurt to touch them? What are you going to do when your date needs to take off her heels and she has to avoid getting hurt by your spiky shoes? These are the things you need to think about.
Ticket table, lower lobby. Matthew, Alicia and two other chaperones take tickets and IDs from attendees, dispensing compliments and reminders to vote for king and queen.
You know how we avoid king and queen drama? Google! Students vote tonight as they enter. We do that on the Google Forms platform, so we get the results automatically. No one can stuff the ballot. I no longer have to sit here and count. I know Google is taking over our lives, but I approve in this case!
It can get pretty cutthroat — not so much at prom, but definitely at homecoming. But, yeah, it can get competitive. In 2015, there was some campaigning at prom, and the girl who thought she was going to win, who everyone kind of presumed would win, showed up late. Really, she showed up two minutes before we stopped letting kids in. And the girl who did all the campaigning won. The other girl was so gracious about it.
This year’s prom queen is a late arrival to the ticket. When Alicia and Matthew notice a lack of entrants to be queen, they encourage a leadership student to run. When she emerges from the ballroom, she wears an incredulous grin, sash and tiara.
You won! You won! You look so happy!
Come here! We need a group hug. We need pictures of all of us.
They hug and take selfies. The queen returns to her friends.
She’s just a very, very nice girl. You just have to love when a very, very nice girl becomes queen.
Where’s the prom king?
He already left. Oh well.
The night starts to wind down, and a growing number of students gathers just outside the ballroom entrance, near the coveted outlets. They sprawl out on the floor and stay close to the wall to keep their phones plugged in.
STUDENT NO. 2
We should just go, you know? We’re all kind of over it, and we should leave when everyone is still in a good mood.
Her group stays put.
[Exiting the ballroom, raising his voice.] I’m looking for a kid wearing a Batman mask. Has anyone seen a kid in a Batman mask? He took it from the photo booth, and they want it back.
VOLUNTEER NO. 1
I told him he needed to make sure that a mask was okay with the principal, but I haven’t seen him since. Maybe check the bathroom.
I’m not chasing him down in the bathroom. If someone taking a Batman mask from the photo booth is the worst thing that happens tonight, we are good. We are all good.
An ex-Marine and a DJ, drawn together — literally. Illustration by Levi Hastings.
James Comey’s book tour: A poem by Robert Pinsky. Reporting by Katie Zavadski. Illustration by Jörn Kaspuhl.
Lies can be charismatic, the truth is cloudy,
With its traditional testing place a body.
I cross my heart and hope to die. The breath,
One hand on the book, one raised, exhales the oath.
The bully making a club of the victim’s hand,
“You hit yourself”: Falsehood asserts Command.
Mortgage papers declare and hereby pledge
That money is money. Sign here, page after page.
The President holds up for the camera’s eye
A paper with his signature, two inches high.
Times when he lied or cheated, the Director
Made longhand notes. Now the Director’s an author
On a bookstore tour. He produced his clunky book
Himself. No ghost. In a defensive joke
At signings a writer I know likes to set up
A jar he labels “For Tips”: wry overlap
Of Truth, Marketing and Art. Any collector
Knows to pay less for copies with a signed sticker
Than one with its title page directly signed:
Authentic, true. But on the other hand,
Inscribed to someone’s name is somehow worth less
Than simply Signed, out here in the marketplace —
But why? The blemish of the particular?
Or truth too a commodity? Flailing for air.
My poem “The Signings” comes from a unique collaboration, arranged by The Washington Post Magazine, between reporter Katie Zavadski and me. Our subject: James Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty,” and his book tour. Katie attended the New York and Washington events on that tour, interviewed attendees and followed the coverage.
After we had a couple of brief telephone conversations, Katie sent me a polished piece, in effect an excellent feature article balancing sympathy and judgment. That was the basis for “The Signings.” Like me, Katie has her viewpoint. One of her sentences crisply described Comey’s project as “Misguided but honest, and hellbent on honor, unlike the circle of assent that surrounds Trump.”
As I began working on my poem, with her work as a starting point, I thought about book tours and the ritual (familiar to me) of the signed copy as bodily evidence of an encounter. Katie’s words “honest” and “honor” made me think about the relation of authorial book signings to signed and notarized legal documents, and to oaths uttered or documented.
I was struck by Katie’s description of the bodily line sitters, hired to save a place in the queue, and her account of people who got on the line early, as if they were true fans, so they could buy signed copies to sell for a quick profit on eBay. I had read that the word “testimony” is related to “testicles,” with ancient Roman witnesses required to swear on that part of the body. Line sitters, copy sellers, testes: All of this material suggested ways the elusive quality of truth can be pursued (or claimed) by using the human body.
Katie notes Comey’s uninspired, derivative writing about the president’s physical appearance. She observes that in those passages Comey echoes not only much of the standard derision of Donald Trump, but also the substandard derisory style of Trump himself. Her evaluation of Comey as a writer resonates, in the poem, with my adjective “clunky.”
Katie’s compact phrase “misguided but honest” and her evocation of the sometimes weird manners of bookstore “events” — is the author a rock star or a lecturer? — led me to the “defensive joke” of a writer I know, setting up a tip jar at the table where he signs copies of his book. In the Venn diagram of “Truth, Marketing and Art,” the first two of those realms convincingly overlap in Comey’s undertaking, with Trump’s diagram including only one of the three. With his tip jar my friend strives for all three: acknowledging the truth that he is marketing his art.
I’m grateful to Katie Zavadski for her concise, alert reporting. I hope that “The Signings” achieves reporting of its own kind, by telling what I see in the current news — for example, in the third couplet, about the kind of lie that intends not to deceive, but to assert the liar’s power: Command that doesn’t bother to deceive, but asserts itself as above obedience to truth.
— Robert Pinsky
Tom Sietsema annotates a menu.
The stage is all yours. Illustration by Jörn Kaspuhl.
It can be hard to predict what President Trump will say next. Here is your chance to try. Below are excerpts from the president’s remarks at a campaign rally in Great Falls, Mont., on July 5, 2018, with blank spaces where words are left out. Fill in the blanks as directed.
The national duckpin bowling championship, in verse. Poem by Gene Weingarten. Reporting by Rachel Manteuffel. Illustration by Mikel Jaso.
Rachel Manteuffel: The first day of the National Duckpin Bowling Congress Tournament, I met a man who had taken up duckpin bowling after coming home from fighting in World War II, and I met a female bowler who was born in 1999. The continuous sound of the bowling machinery is like cutlery in an industrial dishwasher. Two men who repaired the foul-line buzzer had done this together for so many years they used a shorthand that they could not actually explain when it was read back to them verbatim. They fixed the buzzer just fine. With the regular way of reporting a feature story, the way I’m used to doing it, about 8 percent of what you observe will actually make it into the published text. You find out which 8 percent when you sit down to write. With this one, it was more like one-tenth of 1 percent was going to matter, and it was out of my hands entirely which bits those would be. It was terrifying and a tremendous relief...
Gene Weingarten: After spending 27 hours reporting her story over three successive weekends, Rachel did the job to which she’d been assigned: She delivered her raw notes to me, 2,500 words that tried to answer the question: What Is the Meaning of Duckpin Bowling? My job, to which I’d been assigned, was to reduce her notes to 350 words — as a poem, it would have to try to answer the question: What Is the Meaning of Life? I thought this was the worst assignment I ever had, until Rachel and I got to talking...
Behold! We’re at a duckpin bowling tourney
In County Page, Va. (pop. 23,726).
From Washington, a two-plus-hour journey
To see this dying sport of bucktoothed hicks.
But wait! These people here, they aren’t bumpkins!
They’re folks who love this game, and here’s the crux:
They’re rolling balls the size of pygmy pumpkins
At pins the shape of plump and squatting ducks.
They learned it from their moms and dads and grannies.
They treasure most this legacy, their past.
And though these weathered lanes have nooks and crannies
The balls roll flat and true and fine and fast.
So let us now reflect a bit upon it:
Duckpin bowling — You deserve a sonnet.
Say hi to T-Bowl Lanes in Shenandoah,
Near Luray Caverns (calcite, they are rich in).
Machinery seems near as old as Noah,
You’d see this stuff in Alice Kramden’s kitchen.
The gears and belts are creaky, but they’re fine
Until they’re not. Scott Hensley ambles in:
He tinkers, making ancient things align.
Till they’re humming ’midst that bowling alley din.
The winning prize? A couple hundred bucks.
Which barely covers entrance fees and so.
Rhode Islanders have driven up in trucks.
Most everyone is losing lots of dough.
Why isn’t duckpin bowling dead and gone?
A sort of love is helping it limp on.
No one makes these gears and belts today:
The market for spare parts is nonexistent.
So scrounging has become the only way —
And scroungers are determined and persistent.
Duckpin lanes are going straight to pot —
Fewer and fewer houses yet remain.
Old Fredericksburg’s is now a parking lot!
Duckpinners are a dying breed, it’s plain.
The winner of this tourney’s seventy-six.
But Jeffrey Ferrand rolls a mighty ball.
Still, it’s fair to ask, while down here in the sticks —
Does duckpin have a future now at all?
To live and love and in this life to thrive?
Denial is our main tool to survive.
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