Here is the best story you will ever read: The Potato Incident, a modern-day parable that begins with a man who has been invited to dinner to meet his girlfriend’s parents. “When I saw that baked potatoes were served I got the idea that it would be very good if I pretended I did not know what potatoes was. That would be funny.” But this choice quickly backfires. He continues:
This went on for a bit and my girlfriend was acting very confused and embarrassed by my “fucked up antics”, and then the more insistent I was about not knowing what a potato is was when them parents starting thinking I DID know what a potato was.
Well let me tell you I had to commit 100% at this point. When I would not admit to knowing what a potato was, the father especially began to get annoyed. At one point he said something like “Enough is enough. You’re fucking with us. Admit it.” And I said “Sir, before today I never heard of a potato. I still don’t know what a potato is, other than some kind of food. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Maybe we’re all Potato Man. Maybe the secret to life is believing in your story, even when others don’t. Or maybe we’re all just full of shit—Hi, Food Babe!—and making it up as we go along. It’s hard to tell.
“Upon Further Review: Inside the Police Failure to Stop Darren Sharper’s Rape Spree” by T. Christian Miller and Ryan Gabrielson
Nine women reported being raped or drugged by Sharper to four different agencies before his January 2014 capture. But police and prosecutors along the way failed to investigate fully the women’s allegations. They made no arrests. Some victims and eyewitnesses felt their claims were downplayed. Corroborating evidence, including DNA matches and video surveillance, was minimized or put on hold.
Perhaps most critically, police did not inquire into Sharper’s history. Had they done so, they would have detected a chilling predatory pattern that strongly bolstered the women’s accounts.
“On the Road With Hannibal Buress, Comedy’s Most Respected Slacker” by Hua Hsu
It’s hard to distinguish altitude-induced sluggishness from Hannibal’s naturally subdued vibe. When he’s not on stage, he’s withdrawn and disarmingly quiet, almost to the point of seeming perpetually bored. As his friend and collaborator Eric Andre tells me later, “He’s the lowest key on the piano.” They met around 2006, back when they were just a couple of broke stand-ups taking any gigs they could get. “I loved his act,” Andre recalls. “He had a real unique point of view. You would think the joke was going one place, and it would go another place.” But what really drew him to Hannibal was his unusual charisma. Small talk seems to pain Hannibal. At one point backstage, a bizarre public access show on TV catches his attention. It’s a low-budget music video that never quite evolves into the bad softcore porn everyone is expecting it to become. A fan who has wandered in seems troubled that we’re watching something so awful. “How do you think I write jokes?” Hannibal answers impatiently. “By looking at shit.” “What’s your joke about it?” she challenges. He doesn’t say anything to her for the rest of the night.
“Jason Rabedeaux Was Here” by Wright Thompson
Nobody could really say how he died, or why, not in the first hours and not in the months that would follow. In America and in Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by locals, people could only guess. Family members initially told some people he’d had a heart attack. On the advice of the team, they requested no autopsy be performed. The insurance policy paid off only in the event of an accidental death. The Vietnamese media described an “accident” at home. One of his former players suspected murder, and the deep cut on his left forearm is what ER doctors call a nightstick injury, almost always a defensive wound. Friends wondered about alcohol, even drugs. It was a mystery. The death certificate, written in Vietnamese, listed the cause of death as a traumatic brain injury.
“Mainstream Rap’s Gay Future Is Upon Us” by Jordan Sargent
Visually speaking, Thug, and to a lesser extent Makonnen, are upturning rap music, but they’re also following a path charted by artists—Andre 3000, Kanye West, Lil Wayne—before them. Those rappers rejected masculinity in their own ways—through style, too, or in the case of Wayne, by rapping proudly about a photo of him kissing Birdman—in the process moving rap, socially, to where it is now. Nonetheless, Makonnen and Young Thug feel like an acceleration point, and it’s not because of their fashion, but because of their songs.
“The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
It is also true that a sizable portion of her audience simply looks like her, in a world where black Americans, and people of color in general, are still perceived to be nonreaders. But of course Morrison, rather than feeling marginalized or slighted by that criticism, takes delight in it. In an interview for The Paris Review, she said: “I would like to write novels that were unmistakably mine but nevertheless fit first into African-American traditions and, second of all, this whole thing called literature.” She added: “It’s very important to me that my work be African-American. If it assimilates into a different or larger pool, so much the better. But I shouldn’t be asked to do that. Joyce isnot asked to do that. Tolstoy is not. I mean, they can all be Russian, French, Irish or Catholic, they write out of where they come from, and I do too.” It is a reply that stumps her interviewer. First African-American, she asks her, as if Morrison had stuttered. Yes, Morrison replies. Rather than the whole of literature she asks. “Oh, yes,” Morrison replies.
“I Was No Tourist: My Travels Through Tokyo’s Sex Underworld” by Karen Gardiner
Determined to stay in place, my fellow mizu shobai workers and I took precautions. We walked to and from work via backstreets, wearing nondescript clothes and our hair bundled under baseball caps. We stored our customers’ phone numbers under coded names because we had heard that the police were stopping women and going through their phones hoping to find evidence of illegal work. Although none of us actually knew anyone this had happened to, we became inured to the atmosphere of paranoia.
The story of Lucie’s murder hung heavy around Roppongi for years afterwards, always within easy reach of a customer—particularly the self-described “playboys” who’d been frequenting the clubs for years—who wanted to scare, or maybe impress, us with their familiarity with Lucie or the suspect. My Tokyo life seemed to orbit around the case. I worked in the same club as Lucie. I was there two years before her disappearance; later the club changed its name and I returned after four years. Barely two months later I was fired for not getting enough dohans, so I moved on to another club.
And because last week got away from us—sorry about that!—here are some stories you probably missed:
“The Sharp, Sensitive, and Surreal New Wave of Black Male Comedians” by E. Alex Jung
Black male nerd comedians are now a fixture in the traditionally white alternative comedy scene, and they reflect the tenor of that space: conversational and at times digressive, touching upon a wide array of cultural references plucked from childhood memories to nerd culture. This type of humor has entered the mainstream consciousness: Along with Buress and the Lucas Brothers, there are Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele with Key & Peele; Wyatt Cenac, who was one of three writer-correspondents on The Daily Show; Michael Che, who hosts “Weekend Update” on SNL; Eric Andre with The Eric Andre Show, and W. Kamau Bell, who will host a docu-series for CNN called United Shades of America. For their part, the Lucas Brothers are writing the third season of their surrealistically deadpan animated series, Lucas Bros. Moving Co., for FXX, and shooting the second season of Friends of the People, a truTV sketch comedy show that includes a cast of predominantly black male comedians including Jermaine Fowler and Lil Rel Howery. Their jokes are oddball and sometimes experimental, occasionally detouring into the self-referential and the surreal, and they have popularized a more playful, introverted version of black masculinity in comedy.
“Selena’s Legacy: Remembering the Singer on the 20th Anniversary of Her Death” by Erika Ramirez
In every corner of Corpus Christi’s Hi-Ho Restaurant on 3703 Morgan Avenue — one of Selena’s favorite hometown restaurants — she’s there. The walls are covered with her signature smile, traced with red lipstick. The one exception is a painting which hangs in middle of the main dining area. Selena’s eyes are closed, and though she’s not holding a mic, her lips are slightly parted as if ready to belt passionately.
“How ‘You Do You’ Perfectly Captures Our Narcissistic Culture” by Colson Whitehead
You’ve also come across that expression’s siblings, like the defensive, arms-crossed “Haters gonna hate” or the perpetually shrugging “It is what it is.” Like black holes, they are inviolable. All criticism is destroyed when it hits the horizon of their circular logic, and not even light can escape their immense gravity. In a world where the selfie has become our dominant art form, tautological phrases like “You do you” and its tribe provide a philosophical scaffolding for our ever-evolving, ever more complicated narcissism.
“Life Lines” by Daniel Zalewski
Lately, Johnson draws for pleasure, but for three decades she had a happily hectic career as an illustrator, sometimes presenting clients with dozens of sketches a day. Her playful watercolors once adorned packages of Lotus software; for a program called Magellan, she created a ship whose masts were tethered to billowing diskettes. She made a popular postcard of two red parachutes tied together, forming a heart; several other cards were sold for years at MOMA’s gift shop. Johnson produced half a dozen covers for this magazine, including one, from 1985, that presented a sunny vision of an artist’s life: a loft cluttered with pastel canvases, each of them depicting a fragment of the skyline that is framed by a picture window. It’s as if the paintings were jigsaw pieces, and the city a puzzle being solved. Now Johnson is obsessed with making puzzles. Many times a day, she uses her grids as foundations for elaborate arrangements of letters on a page—word searches by way of Mondrian. For all the dedication that goes into her puzzles, however, they are confounding creations: very few are complete. She is assembling one of the world’s largest bodies of unfinished art.
The Sockman and Me: Encounters With a Friendly Neighborhood Festishist” by David Wilson
Ours was your typical suburban New Jersey neighborhood—late ‘60s split-level houses only distinguishable from one another by their color. Most of the families were the original owners—couples who’d moved in thinking it would be a nice place to start a family. My parents bought on a dead-end that was built after the original development was completed. Except for Brian Werner, I was years younger than any of the other kids in the neighborhood. Brian was just two years older than me and split his time between hanging out with me and hanging out with the older boys. The older boys introduced Brian to the lucrative world of sock selling and he introduced me. I was twelve.
“Carl Mitchell will buy the socks off of your feet,” he told me while we both straddled our bikes like cowboys in the middle of Laney Court. “They call him the Sockman. He’ll give you $5 or $10 a pair. He’ll probably give you $10 ‘cause you’re young, but still.”
“California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth” by Adam Nagourney, Jack Healy, and Nelson D. Schawartz
This state has survived many a catastrophe before — and defied the doomsayers who have regularly proclaimed the death of the California dream — as it emerged, often stronger, from the challenges of earthquakes, an energy crisis and, most recently, a budgetary collapse that forced years of devastating cuts in spending. These days, the economy is thriving, the population is growing, the state budget is in surplus, and development is exploding from Silicon Valley to San Diego; the evidence of it can be seen in the construction cranes dotting the skylines of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“The Great Cocaine Treasure Hunt” by Daniel Riley
Julian was no drug dealer. He didn’t even really like blow. But he cut some into a jelly jar he kept in the kitchen, the way you keep nutmeg around for the rare party that requires eggnog. Then he buried the rest. Dug a hole out by the cistern at his house, and into the ground it went.
That was more than fifteen years ago. Julian and his wife kept looking for the sea turtles, but not for much longer. They split up, and he moved back to the States, eventually settling in an Airstream trailer on a big piece of land in northern Florida near a dozen new neighbors who’d get together on the edge of Watermelon Pond and swap stories on Friday nights.
Ain’t no way that coke is anywhere but where I left it, he’d say. A million bucks in the ground, and all someone’s gotta do is grow a big enough pair to go and get it.
[Image via Getty]