That Hell was born and raised not in some dark and edgy urban enclave but in the rolling hills of Lexington, Kentucky, can feel incongruous. It’s too soft, where he comes from—too genteel. Yet having emerged from a region Hell considers a Nowhere—not in the ugly or pejorative sense, but in the empty sense, a place that was just like any other place, a blank place—allowed for wild self-creation later on. These are ideas that repeat for Hell: blankness, voids. He is someone who understands how to make something from nothing.
It was around this time that my father and his friends started a gang. They were all blanquitos from Condado: Yasser Benítez, Claudio LaRocca, Tommy Del Valle, and Juanma Thon. On the night their gang became official, they downed a bottle of Bacardi, then smashed it into pieces and used a shard to cut their arms. Then they rubbed their wounds together, so the blood passed from arm to arm.
Sketches of Tennessee.
From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up by pointing out the most salacious stories and the home remedies for arthritis. Sometimes she’d enlist me to rub her back, and I’d perch monkeylike on the back of the couch, kneading her knots as she growled, “I could hug yer neck fer that.”
A new-society vision in Jackson, Mississippi.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba saw Jackson as a last chance. This was a place where long-marginalized black communities could build a new economy for themselves, a democratic and fair society, a foundation for good lives to grow from. In his mind, this black-majority city that sat in the middle of the state with the highest concentration of black people in our country had to be the staging ground for this particular experiment in moving past economic and governance systems that weren’t working for so many.
A story by Jesmyn Ward, the third and final excerpt from her forthcoming novel Sing, Unburied, Sing.
The officer is young, young as me, young as Michael. He’s skinny and his hat seems too big for him, and when he leans into the car, I can see where his gel has dried and started flaking up along his hairline. He speaks, and his breath smells like cinnamon mints.
We both loved Gary Stewart, and we both loved Grace.
My wife Grace’s father was a big man. He wasn’t much more than six feet tall, but I think folks thought of him as taller because he carried himself large. He tried being a hippie once, he said, but couldn’t abide the non-violence (too many people needed to get their asses kicked). At the first job he ever had, on a ranch, he got a business card with his official title: COWBOY. He kept that card. He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He had the best hunting dogs in Levy County. For a while he ran a sawmill. For a while he was a watermelon farmer, then a beekeeper, then he raised buffalo on the family farm. That’s just a small sampling. His name was John. He went by Chuck.
Wendy Brenner’s classic 2005 profile of snake enthusiast Dean Ripa, who died Saturday.
By now I’ve grown accustomed (and rather devoted) to Dean’s rhetorical style—outrageous overstatement, subsequent qualification—but I think I recognize something else, something authentic here: a certain strain of introverted misanthropy that often leads people to commit their lives to animals, something I think I know about from my family. Introverts and loners love animals. It runs the spectrum, I think, from my father’s boyhood shyness to full-fledged autism—Temple Grandin and all those like her who understand animals better than people. Whether it’s a quirk of personality or a genuine disorder, it’s a trait I find familiar and strangely comforting.