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Author Archive: "Justin Tussing"


There's a report out this morning that an Egyptian ferry, the al-Salam Boccaccio '98, carrying as many as fourteen hundred people, has capsized and sunk in the Red Sea.

In A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe's novel about the Great Plague's visit to London in 1665, Defoe tells this anecdote:

"...on the Gate, of a Field just by, was cut with his Knife in uneven Letters, the following Words, by which it may be suppos'd the other Man escap'd, or that one dying first, the other bury'd him as well as he could;

O mIsErY!
We BoTH ShaLL DyE,
WoE WoE."

Look at it. The first word, just a syllable, a moan, a sigh, an exhalation of breath. How very different "We BoTH" is from "I." I know three ways to read that passage. First, you can imagine, as Defoe's narrator does, the survivor who has watched his companion die and sees in that man's death his own fate. Or, as a student pointed out, we might imagine that there is just one man and that, recognizing his own mortality, he has left a message for the living, a memento mori. Finally, there is the reading my wife made, which ...


Between the hormones in milk and the steroids in beef, the average sixth-grader today looks like the average college freshmen from 1950. There are some key differences, however. The sixth-graders of today masturbate, menstruate, and text-message with greater frequency. On the surface this appears to suggest a legacy of progress. And you might think, that with puberty arriving earlier, the whole timeline would move up. Keep in mind that the average college freshman from 1950 would, within ten years, graduate college, find a career, marry a spouse, have 2.5 children, pay a mortgage and undergo either a vasectomy or a tubal ligation. But while today's youth reach physical maturity at a younger age, their social maturity seems to be taking much longer. A casual stroller through any urban environment will come across thirty-year-olds in sneakers who have not learned to shave. You think to yourself, This may be true, yet why is this in a blog, at least ostensibly, about books? Rimbaud stopped writing at 21. Keats died at 26. Currently the Yale Younger Poets prize is open to any poets under the age of forty! If trends continue, in another ten or ...

Day Three…

...in which the writer considers literary celebrity, recalls meeting a television actor, digresses.

Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie are about the only fiction writers that I'd expect to recognize if they passed me on the street. Maybe I would recognize this guy.

In a series of unlikely and fortuitous events, last summer I found myself in New York's Strand Bookstore being photographed by the New Yorker's editorial photographer, Steve Pyke. Before then, the last time I'd posed for a photo was in the sixth grade. While the assistants adjusted pieces of cardboard and filled Tupperware containers with water in order to reflect small segments of light, I just looked on in wonder. Pyke had shot Donald Rumsfeld just a few weeks before. There were some soft drinks on a table and if I stared at them too long someone would fetch one for me. I felt like Stephen King and Lindsay Lohan rolled into one. In fact, I felt conspicuous for the whole six hours I was there.

But the punch line, if I can call it that, is that a month later I was recognized. I was ...

East / West

My neighbor was consulting a map. He was trying to figure out how to get from Portland to Folsom, California. Everything I say 1) is true, and 2) happened in a bar.

I said, "Hey, is that a map?" I did not say, "Wow, a map appears in the first sentence of my novel." (Nor, "I'm a novelist.")

He replied in the affirmative, that it was, indeed, a map he consulted.

"Is it," I continued, "a map such as a person might use to calculate how to get from here to there, North to South, East to West? In short, is it a map like a person might use if, for example, they've gotten involved with their high school history teacher and they need to hit the road, post-haste?"

He handed the map to me. It was a W.A.C., a World Aeronautical Chart. My neighbor was an airplane pilot.

I had my topic for today's blog: the fundamental difference between the East and the West. In the West, people refer to maps for directions, while in the East they refer to Dunkin Donuts. I told my neighbor my idea. He wasn't too impressed.

It would ...

Burgers, Fishing, and Ball

I've been in Portland since August. I live in John's Landing, near Stanich's restaurant. In case there's someone out there who isn't familiar with Stanich's "Milo" burger, allow me to digress. They put the bottom of a bun in a wax paper-lined plastic basket. On top of this they add shredded lettuce, a pickle relish sauce, some tomatoes, onions, then bacon, then ham. (As the expression goes, I'm as serious as a heart attack.) What goes on top of the ham? A fried egg. I told my father and he laughed for twenty minutes. "I've never heard of such a thing," he said. Yes, they put a fried egg on top of ham which is on top of slices of bacon. Then the patty! Then cheese. Once they get the bun situated they stab it with one of those frilly toothpicks. This isn't an epicurean flourish; without the toothpick the whole thing would riot. When the waitress set it in front of me I took a picture with my cell phone and then I cried. It came with a side of French fries. The fries were brown and limp, like someone had cut up Meriwether Lewis's shoelaces. They were miserable, ...

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