Subway Punches, Needle Jabs, Political Lies, and Why It’s OK to Still Feel Unsettled

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Someone punched me the other day in the Clark Street subway station. I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember the last time anyone had hit me in anger. The person who hit me, who was sitting on a platform bench and looked like they were going through some sort of mental-health crisis, turned and punched me in the shoulder as I was leaving the 2 train.

I was on my way to meet a friend whom I had not seen in person since the start…

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How the HBO Max series wonders what we got wrong about the past

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Over the past decade, one of the richest questions popular culture has asked itself has been “What did we get wrong about the past?” From Ryan Murphy’s revisionist histories The People v. O.J. Simpson and The Assassination of Gianni Versace to Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, historically oriented television has been captivated by finding new answers to old questions, by taking familiar stories and demanding we see them in a new light.

Nowhere has this effort been more forceful than in the staggered, multi-pronged effort by…

Why this New Yorker isn’t joining the Yang Gang

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He seems like a nice enough guy, and he added a welcome dose of levity and entrepreneurial vigor to a lengthy slog of a campaign, so it gives me no pleasure to make this observation, but it might just be that Andrew Yang is the Donald Trump of the New York City mayoral race.

In making this observation, I would like you to think, not of Trump’s disastrous presidential term, but of his campaign for the presidency in 2016. Among the overwhelming array of candidates for the Republican nomination in the race to succeed Barack Obama, there were no shortage…

My 25-year journey with an album I just heard for the first time

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We are the beneficiaries of a secular miracle. Right now, beneath our fingertips, we have access to more music than we could ever possibly listen to. And like most miracles, we take it entirely for granted. Of course we can listen to any music we like, anytime we like, at little or no cost. Was it not always thus?

Amid all this abundance, you’d think music would be devalued, a currency wiped out by its omnipresence. But music can surprise us with the ways in which something for everyone can also prove itself to be for us alone, the ways…

An appreciation of how wonderfully, revolutionarily boring Joe Biden has been as president

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What’s President Joe Biden’s position on the legal travails of Representative Matt Gaetz? Where does he stand on the removal of some Dr. Seuss books from publication? What public comments did he make about the Japanese golfer who won the Masters last weekend? What does President Joe Biden think about NFTs? After copious research, I believe the answers to those questions are none, he doesn’t, he didn’t, and he almost definitely has no idea what that is.

I keep trying to articulate just what we are currently experiencing as a country, and I think I’ve found a good comparison. Do…

On dreaming of being a walker in the city once more.

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For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to walk. In part, this might be because I grew up in Los Angeles, where being a pedestrian is a mark of profound suspicion — bro, what happened to your car? — and I enjoy being ornery. Feeling the syncopated clip-clop of your feet against the pavement, watching your surroundings slowly approach and fall away, taking in the comic and profound and absurd and utterly mundane theater of city life are enough to temporarily sink your troubles and remind you, hopefully, of the profound gratitude every city dweller should…

On making the extra pass

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I have attempted to do many things with my time over the past year — keep an apartment with two young children at a tolerable level of cleanliness, stay politically involved, earn money — but the primary thing I have actually accomplished during the past twelve months is to watch an Olympian amount of television. In that time, I have gone through many phases, many brief bursts of enthusiasm: for Japanese crime thrillers on the Criterion Channel, for political docuseries like City So Real and epic-length documentaries like Frederick Wiseman’s City Hall, for series that blend scuzzy realism and flights…

But not for the reasons you expect

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Of all the seasons, my least favorite is tax season. Every year, right around when February turns into March, I know it’s about time for me to dig out my receipts, ransack the Finances folder in my email account, and start accounting for how I made and spent my money over the past year. Nothing makes me feel more infantile than my yearly silent temper tantrum at the thought of tax time. Inevitably, I put it off in favor of work or Netflix or the NBA until finally the clarion call of April 15, or the polite reminders of my…

Why reading books is crucial for this pandemic spring.

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I have spent much of the past year in search of recommendations. Recommendations about whether or not to stay home; whether to purchase a mask; whether or not to send the children to school once it reopened; whether it might be safe to attend a Black Lives Matter protest in the midst of a pandemic; whether it might be safe to canvass for candidates; whether children could see their grandparents; recommendations for what gadgets and trinkets to purchase that might temporarily assuage the howling grief and fear that was part and parcel of being an American in the year 2020…

No villains allowed

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You may take this as bragging, but it most assuredly is not: my children, ages 8 and 4, have fallen in love with silent comedies. Earlier in the pandemic — I believe it was somewhere around Month 372, although I might have to double-check my records — we reached an impasse regarding the question of villains. With schools closed and the country on lockdown, our family sought to safeguard our fraying collective sanity and the silent terror of endless empty hours to fill with the imposition of a daily 4 PM movie, or “movie show,” as the 4-year-old termed it…

Saul Austerlitz

Author of Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era +4 more. Work published in the NY Times and many others. Teacher at NYU.

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