Smile, America

Smile, America

by Tess Crain

America prizes smiling. Companies in client-facing industries have been known to circulate “service with a smile” policies, which require workers to feign happiness, if necessary, to please customers. “Hey Philly, got a smile only a brother can love?” “Give Us Your Crooked, Crowded, and Snaggled Teeth.” “Come in for a lifetime supply of confidence.” So asks, begs, and pledges SmileDirectClub, one of several fix-your-face startups with pandemic advertising. I understand. I got braces freshman year of high school and did not smile with my mouth open for two years.

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Upstate Dispatch: Six-Six Meadow Avenue

Upstate Dispatch: Six-Six Meadow Avenue

by Harris Lahti

The first house I ever worked on with my father was a farmhouse with syringes and beer cans ground down deep in the yard. It was my job to rake them out so as not to ruin the mower. But I ruined the mower anyway when a live shotgun round went off and bent the blade. In response, my father handed me a scythe. 

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Drunk on the Gush of Poptimism and Skepticism

Drunk on the Gush of Poptimism and Skepticism

by Robb Todd

People complain about the city. There is never not something to complain about. The sidewalks fill with leaves — red and gold — and these critics still complain. Some people complain and never say goodbye but, sometimes, a complainer vacates. The complainer who vacates complains about the city long after she has left. She complains that when she first moved to the city, the city was great. The city was amazing — she never felt so alive. Best thing ever. Never had so much fun. But the city is not great nor amazing nor the best anymore, and it never will be again, she claims. It changed. Forever, she alleges. The city changed. Not the critical complainer, though, just the city doing all the changing.

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"Production Baby" by Katie Yee

"Production Baby" by Katie Yee

by Katie Yee

The day I find out I am pregnant is also the day my husband decides to get serious about becoming an actor. I hold up the pink plus sign, and he starts Googling open auditions in our area. The first call my husband makes isn’t to his parents, it’s to his college buddy, Vito, a so-called talent agent. I hear him on the phone in the next room, saying, “I’m ready to be a serious man.”

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The Popularity of Negativity

The Popularity of Negativity

by Zack Graham

Christian loves culture. It’s how he spends all of his time. He champions good books (with the exception of graphic novels), reading the books he likes twice, even three times in a row. He listens to podcasts. He spends entire days “at the movies,” going to double and even triple features at a single theater. Culture is Christian’s life, and writing about culture is his life’s work.

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"Happier Lands" by Ernie Wang

"Happier Lands" by Ernie Wang

by Ernie Wang

Josh was eleven when he surpassed his dad Gary in muscle mass. He had surpassed him in strength years earlier, at seven or eight, but he feigned weakness and perfected his acting craft, and his exhales drew out longer and his face contorted with pained effort before he let Gary beat him in their nightly after-dinner arm-wrestling bouts. Josh would look at him with awe, to which Gary would look pointedly at Josh’s mom Sally. Sally, stone-faced, would studiously dip her spoon in her soup in even intervals, ignoring them both. Josh wanted to hug her and tell her everything was okay, or strike her with a single blow to send her flying across the room and scream nothing was okay. 

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Julius' Pigeon

Julius' Pigeon

by Siena Oristaglio

I’m sitting on a park bench surrounded by pigeons.

They teeter and flap about.

It’s raining but they don’t seem to mind. 

They peck at the ground, scouring for crumbs.

Their heads scan the surroundings mechanically.

I shift on my bench.

A few turn towards me with an ominous agility.

One sinks its head into its thick neck plumage and gives me a suspicious look. 

I stare back at it. 

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"Clean Kills" by Greg November

"Clean Kills" by Greg November

by Greg November

The dog rushed from between two large junipers flanking the road on the straightaway at the McCallisters’ place, so Denmore stomped the pedal and let the ABS take it from there. The squeal of polybutadiene rubber fusing to pavement—although it could have been the dog making the sound, he couldn’t be sure—flushed Denmore’s blood from thorax to extremities, where it pulsed like many small heartbeats.

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Debate vs. Fight: Notes in the Lead-Up to "the Debate of the Century"

Debate vs. Fight: Notes in the Lead-Up to "the Debate of the Century"

by Tess Crain

Friday night, in Toronto, Slovenian philosopher and analyst Slavoj Žižek will debate Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson on the topic of “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism,” with Stephen Blackwood moderating.

The internet (including Twitter, Toronto Life, the Chronicle, and the Stranger) has a lot to say, and the more you read, the more the debate seems like a title fight or crossover smackdown: it’s the “debate of the century,” a “philoso-fight”; Peterson “wants to throw. The eff. Down”; Žižek will “verbally curbstomp” Peterson—basically, something between Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Conor McGregor, and Alien vs. Predator. Just with words.

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"Dee Bukowski" by Michelle Ross

"Dee Bukowski" by Michelle Ross

by Michelle Ross

You people read about our town in the news—first the rape allegations, then Dolly Molly, then the car accident—and you think you know what happened. You think you know something about who we are. Reporters come here in their shiny cars and their jewel-toned dress suits, they ask a few questions, they spin a few stories, and now everyone from feminist bloggers to my annoying Aunt Monona, in Branson, Missouri, to random douchebags on social media thinks they know everything there is to know about us. 

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What Is and What Will Ever Be

What Is and What Will Ever Be

by Zack Graham

What is a ghost? Is it an apparition that appears at night to frighten us? Is it a spirit at unrest, refusing to pass on to the next life until it settles a score with our world? Are ghosts corporeal or bodiless? Real or imagined? Alive or dead? Nell Freudenberger tackles these questions in her third novel Lost and Wanted, which centers around Helen Clapp, a brilliant physicist and single mother coping with the sudden death of Charlie, a black Hollywood screenwriter and Helen’s best friend from college.

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"Sterling Place" by Aarti Monteiro

"Sterling Place" by Aarti Monteiro

by Aarti Monteiro

They met the year Rani started taking photographs. She had just bought a used digital camera, and took every chance she had to walk around Brooklyn with it. She was coming home from one of these walks when she noticed an older woman outside her building on Sterling Place digging through a purse. The woman wore a maroon coat and stood next to a full cart of groceries, plastic bags bulging from the grates. Her white hair stuck out underneath a lopsided hat. Rani jerked open the front door and held it for her neighbor.

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"The Moan" by David Ryan

"The Moan" by David Ryan

by David Ryan

Some of the boxes aren’t hers. It’s some mix-up with the movers. But it’s unclear how they couldn’t be. Could she simply have forgotten the things inside them? She’s begun seeing her life as a story lately—one from which she has stepped back as certain narrative threads, once her own, wind their way along without her. It’s a certain age she’s experiencing. The story of her life, its narrator drifting, as if away from her. These boxes, I mean, some of them. This one with the dolls. She’s never seen these dolls. There must be a perfectly good explanation. It’s not that she can’t recall. No. It can’t be that.

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Varieties of Estrangement, Intro

Varieties of Estrangement, Intro

by J.T. Price

Let us ask ourselves, Is there not already enough estrangement in the world? Sometimes, though, the familiar feels all too suffocating. Sometimes, we long for change. And no change comes without estrangement, of distancing from who or what we were … whether or not we recognize as much in the moment of its happening. Dante in the dark wood; Isabel Archer betrothed to Osmond in Rome; Ruthie and Lucille keeping house under the half-watchful eye of their aunt Sylvie; Benjamin Braddock floating in his parents’ pool; Ryder the famous pianist sidetracked from a crowning hometown performance by obligation after obligation

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Upstate Dispatch: One Heard Road

Upstate Dispatch: One Heard Road

by Harris Lahti

There is Tom the carpenter, Jim the plumber, and Harry the heating guy whose hunting dog recently bit his nose off. Ladybird still sleeps in the bed, he tells me. Wasn’t her fault. 

The bandages on the top part of his nose slip down while he talks. The bridge of his swollen nose is clearly not attached to his face. Each time he turns away, I can see the eyelashes blinking on the other side. 

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