city

46 articles
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To Be Seen

A model's struggle with perception and the world around her.

"Abby smiled. She said, 'If something is old, it is classic. If it is classic, you have class. If you have class, you feel beautiful. If you feel beautiful, you feel young. Something old makes you feel young.'"

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Campaign

A peculiar dedication in a strange city.

"In the center of the square, the statue of our city's founder, astride his horse, appears to be newly buffed. His long calves, the thick rope of his braid, the gun in one hand and the basket of cherries in the other—symbolizing our affection for violence and fertility—all gleam. The cobblestones are liberated of their usual chaff and cigarette butts."

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Garden at the Edge of the Other Side of the World

A young boy anticipates his own kidnapping.

"One day in school, they passed out flyers for parents at the end of the day and Mom told him that a boy from another school had been taken. A poor school, where even when you were young you walked home alone because your parents had to work all the time. A man came up to the boy and promised him treats, candy and a Happy Meal from McDonald’s but instead he brought him to an empty parking garage in Stuyvesant Town and there security cameras had lost sight of them, the boy’s hand still pressed into the man’s, his book bag carelessly unzipped halfway."

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Ulysses [Excerpt]

In honor of Bloomsday, an excerpt from Joyce's masterpiece.

"A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom’s heart. He raised his eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two. Pub clock five minutes fast. Time going on. Hands moving. Two. Not yet."

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The Men Who Flew Away

Three ambassadors find themselves on a familiar yet alien planet.

"He sees a red and white building that looks just like the pharmacy where he once filled prescriptions. He recognizes a squat building with a black awning and patio that looks similar to a restaurant where he and his wife once dined on Sunday afternoons. He spots a building that looks exactly the same as a bar all three men visited after their final training session at the space station across the city, sharing the last pitchers of beer they drank together before rocketing from earth."

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We're Coming For Them

A study in building spaceships.

"Mostly, the spaceship builders did not come out of their trailers or houses, though our local guides claimed they didn't mind the occasional tour. They were so serious they could not see that others might laugh. Some of their grounds looked measured and neat; some were spilling over or scraped to dust. Most were single, a few married, some widowed or divorced. The married ones interested us most—what sorts of agreements had they come to? were the ships built for two?"

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Counterparts

Joyce's classic study of a man at odds with the world.

"A very sullen-faced man stood at the corner of O’Connell Bridge waiting for the little Sandymount tram to take him home. He was full of smouldering anger and revengefulness. He felt humiliated and discontented; he did not even feel drunk; and he had only twopence in his pocket. He cursed everything. He had done for himself in the office, pawned his watch, spent all his money; and he had not even got drunk. He began to feel thirsty again and he longed to be back again in the hot reeking public-house. He had lost his reputation as a strong man, having been defeated twice by a mere boy. His heart swelled with fury and, when he thought of the woman in the big hat who had brushed against him and said Pardon! his fury nearly choked him."

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Symbols and Signs

Russian immigrant parents attempt to visit their troubled son in a mental hospital.

"He excludes real people from the conspiracy, because he considers himself to be so much more intelligent than other men. Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to each other, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His in- most thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns representing, in some awful way, messages that he must intercept. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme."

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Where Will All the Buildings Go?

A story of unhappiness and creative outlets.

"Last winter, when she was supposed to be designing a parking garage for a luxury shopping center in McLean, she built a city instead. She got the idea when she was surveying the lot where the parking garage was supposed to go. In her leather pumps and peacoat, she stood on the flat expanse and looked out; the land was a deep brown, lightly marbled with snow. She walked the perimeter, her hands in her pockets, her heels sinking into the dirt, her breath a white cloud in the air. She felt on the edge of something."

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The Weirdness [Excerpt]

A thirty-year-old Brooklynite on the cusp of supernatural adventure struggles with the strangeness of everyday life.

"Just a week ago he was on the subway, sitting across from a woman with a tiny dog in her purse, and as he watched her tickle the little goatish beard under its chin he made the mistake of beginning to think about the very existence of dogs in general. People have pets. He repeated it. People have pets. It began to become odd; the very concept of pet began to slide out of his grasp. How did it get to the point where we began to keep animals as, like, accessories? He spent pretty much the rest of the ride staring at the dog, thinking basically: Holy shit, human beings, the shit they come up with. When he got back to his apartment he looked up Dog in Wikipedia and lost the rest of the day. By midnight, he had somehow drifted to looking at videos of fighting Madagascar cockroaches, actually developing opinions on the cockroach-fight-video genre, cold, alone, uncertain as to what exactly had happened."

Jeremy P. Bushnell is a contributing editor to Longform.org.

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On Such a Full Sea [Excerpt]

An account of Chinese residents in a future, dystopian city once known as Baltimore; excerpted from Lee's latest novel.

"Maybe Charters can easily forget what it's like out there, but we B-Mors and others in similar settlements should be aware of the possibilities. We shouldn't take for granted the security and comfort of our neighborhoods, we shouldn't think that always leaving our windows open and our doors unlocked means that we're beyond an encroachment. We may believe our gates are insurmountable and that we're armored by routines, but can't we be touched by chance or fate, plucked up like a mouse foraging along his well-worn trail? Before you know it, you're looking down at the last faint print of your claws in the dirt."

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The World In the Evening

A narrator's strange daily life is fused with strange appearances from the natural world.

"Freezing, I sprang from bed and assembled, in darkness relieved only by a bluish gleam cast by the iceberg, sweaters, flannel pajama bottoms, my heaviest wool socks, and a down-filled coat suitable for an assault on Everest. For the iceberg that crowded my bedroom was no symbol of the world’s entropy or of a man’s estrangement from his kind, nor was it any longer a figment of the dreaming mind. (We don’t suffer cold in dreams, nor do we sneeze as I did twice while fumbling at my clothes.) Dressed, I drew aside the rime-stiffened curtain and gazed out on a flotilla of icebergs gliding solemnly down the flooded street. (To acknowledge, as you no doubt have, that I spawned one berg, a pack of them is easily granted.)"

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The Wenceslas Men

An isolated apartment sitter sees apparitions of mysterious beings.

"And then, after a few days, I returned to the living room, to sit in the blank and quiet night and watch them pass in darkness. And after a few more nights, I crept closer to the curtains. One night, having left them closed, I peeled one back as the last of them passed. I watched them proceed down the street in their own strange strides, walking steadily, not turning a corner, not entering some structure, not vanishing in mid-air."

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The Ground the Deck

Three London flatmates navigate work, identity, and class.

"Licia herself did not believe in restricting her lifestyle to her earnings, and was in the happy position of not having to. Her parents (The Parents, she called them, as if they were the only ones in the world) were forever buying her extravagant gifts and sending her hampers from Fortnum and Mason. Every spring and autumn, she and her mother went out to buy Licia a new summer wardrobe and a new winter wardrobe. If Licia were to peer from the top of a tall staircase, or teeter along a perilous rooftop, she would see The Parents waiting below, with mattresses spread out to catch her, duvets and goose down pillows. The feathers buoyed her steps; her feet, in their Italian leather shoes, never quite made contact with the pavement. She was always the one turning up the heat or throwing out two-day-old bread or buying white rum and vermouth to make cocktails."

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For You We Are Holding

Disconnect and minutiae of modern urban life.

"In the end, we can be separated despite our best efforts at staying together. We can be separated by tragedy, then by arguments, by fair and unfair blame, by couples therapy. Then by divorce and new addresses. Now we are too far away and want to get closer. If we still owned a car we would park it up your street. If we owned a bike, we would ride it past your apartment. Instead there is only the bus, the cab, the train. There is only the running, sockless in our new shoes. All day we make the blue dot follow us to the places of our previous habits. They are all diminished now but we go anyway: Here is the park. Here is the restaurant. Here is the shop and the store and the bank. Tourists would need maps to find these places, but these are not the places tourists would think to find. We have lived here too long for their kind of maps. Our maps are stretched tight across our skin. We carry them everywhere with us so that when we are lost they might carry us."

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Oscar and Veronica [Excerpt]

Two friends commiserate and reflect on their single lives.

"This was the first time she’d ever asked a man out on a date. She was from a small Midwestern town and had been brought up very old-school, very he holds the door open, he comes in to meet the parents, he makes the requisite phone call. But five years of liberal education—essays by Adrienne Rich, press conferences about Anita Hill, dormitories full of post–Gloria Steinem girls who spoke out loud about equality and in secret waited by their telephones—well, it had all confused the issue, for better or worse, and she crossed her fingers in her mittens. What would he say, what would he say?"

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The Revolution of Every Day [Excerpt]

Squatters defend their home against police.

"Boards are wedged into place to bar doors and windows, apartment doors are locked, then everyone rushes downstairs and out the front door. Nena closes it behind them, little Carla standing behind her wrapped in a blanket, and they hear her slide down the heavy steel bar that braces that door. They’re twenty strong, together, angry, adrenaline pumping, and Amelia thrilling to it, even though she’s scared. Thrilled and thinking, finally, finally something is happening. Something, whatever it is. They’ve been waiting and here it is, it’s happening now."

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Poet In the Schools

A poet's first day of teaching in an inner-city school.

"She looks at me through squinting eyes and waits. I drag out one poem about someone’s bad day, to let the students know that poets have bad days too, and that poets’ lives can be mundane and that poets’ lives can be like their lives, and that, therefore, they too can be poets. She takes a large black felt pen and crosses out words. I’m so shocked I just stand there speechless. I’d assumed we were all together in this old school in the depths of Brooklyn, hoping to reach and educate the kids."

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Taipei [Excerpt]

Disorientation and dissociation in urban Taiwan.

On the bus Erin slept with her head on Paul’s lap. Paul’s father slept one row behind. It was around 10:30 p.m. Paul stared at the lighted signs, some of which were animated and repeating like GIF files, attached to almost every building to face oncoming traffic—from two-square rectangles like tiny wings to long strips like impressive Scrabble words but with each square a word, maybe too much information to convey to drivers—and sleepily thought of how technology was no longer the source of wonderment and possibility it had been when, for example, he learned as a child at Epcot Center, Disney’s future-themed 'amusement park,' that families of three, with one or two robot dogs and one robot maid, would live in self-sustaining, underwater, glass spheres by something like 2004 or 2008. At some point, Paul vaguely realized, technology had begun for him to mostly only indicate the inevitability and vicinity of nothingness.

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Saturn Return

A young bartender attempts to make sense of where his life is going.

"A lot of people proclaim a need for independence, for space. And while I could attest to that, more than anything, I was a tiger dying amongst the sprawling jungle. I longed for a cage of my own. My apartment, a two bedroom overlooking the gentrification of Philadelphia, had a décor of my design. I picked out the furniture, including the Ikea futon I dubbed “death trap,” and gave every trinket and knick-knack their designated spots: high school diploma and Bachelor’s degree over my black computer desk, novelty shot-glasses along the top of my bookcase and various Buddha figurines, from flea markets in South Jersey, on my dresser and nightstands. And of course, my vinyl collection, a two hundred piece of my heart that took me to the dustiest, most allergenic music stores on the East Coast."

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Kind Of Like You

A late bloomer works up the nerve to interact with a woman in his building.

"On his way down in the elevator he was joined by a woman who looked familiar, and as he glanced at her sidelong he tried to recall where he might have seen her. Sensing that she was being looked at, however, she turned to Archie with an expression of covert hostility, her gaze lingering just long enough for Archie to notice that her eyes were greenish brown with corners that tapered upwards. He also noticed that although she was not small, exactly, there was an un-robust quality about her, what his mother might have called 'peaked.'"

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The Balcony Cliffs

Trying to maintain human relationships in a post-collapse underground city.

"Wick added special beetles and spiders and other precise infiltration mutations as he called them—so effective that even after the Company had cast him out and he had lost their protections, the strength of rumors alone protected him for a time. These creatures registered in my network of lines as pleasing nodes, unless I was angry with Wick, and then I thought of them as irritating, interfering knots in the system."

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The Murders In The Rue Morgue

A Parisan eccentric and his friend analytically consider a horrific crime in this classic detective story.

"At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the massy shutters of our old building; lighted a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed, threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these we then busied our souls in dreams—reading, writing, or conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true Darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets, arm and arm, continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour, seeking, amid the wild lights and shadows of the populous city, that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can afford."

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Farewell Tour

For New Year's Eve, a Times Square encounter chronicled by the author of Open City.

"Low and I stood under the cold blazing lights of Times Square, smoking, and I asked him what he had eaten. Oysters, he said, the pleasure coming back into his voice, in a row on a ridge of ice, eager to be eaten. Fluke, caviar, octopus, some champagne but not a lot."

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Lament In The Night [Excerpt]

Down in out in an unnamed Californian city: newly-translated Japanese noir from the 1920s.

"First, he was obliged to pretend to search through his pockets. Of course he knew he wouldn't find anything. All he had was the penny he'd found earlier. But if that penny were to show up now, it would only ruin his act. At times like this, Sakuzō could become quite the performer."

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Shop Around

A series of sociological observations made while shopping at a Salvation Army.

" Sometimes, I'd wish that we were real friends, the other women in the store, and me. Then the glow would last a little longer, then we'd walk out arm in arm, our huge bundles floating light as down pillows as we sauntered down the street. We'd have our coffees and linger for a cigarette or two before going our separate ways, back to our apartments and all the riches a Saturday night in New York City could hold."

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Adrift In The Ghetto

A whirlwind of city observations; people and spaces explored with precision and skepticism.

"On weekend nights, the building was an inferno of noise. People had parties and people fought and argued into the early hours, glass shattering, timber cracking, objects making dull thuds against the walls and floors. Wild cries of sexual pleasure, not easily distinguished from cries of distress, rang out. The police cars and the fire tenders and the ambulances wailed around the streets. Then towards dawn when everything fell silent for an hour, my thoughts became my own again, able at last to hear the chime of the neighbour’s clock."

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Deep Sleep

A Bosnian immigrant in Chicago undertakes some ramshackle detective work.

"Office 909 had a sign that read GREAT LAKES EYE and a black-and-white eye with long, upward-curling eyelashes. Pronek hesitated for a moment before knocking at the door--his fingers levitated, angled, in front of the eye. Pronek knocked using three of his knuckles, the glass shook perilously, then he opened the door and entered an empty waiting room. There was another door, closed, and there were magazines strewn on the few chairs, even on the musty floor, as if someone had searched through them all. The waiting room was lit by a thin-necked lamp in the corner, leaning slightly as if about to snap. A picture of an elaborate ocean sunset--somebody lit a match under the water--hung on the opposite wall. 'Acapulco,' it said in the lower right corner, 'where you want to dream.' Pronek stood in front of the picture, imagining Acapulco and all the pretty, tawny people there. It would be a good place to disappear for a while."

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Dear Creatures/Imaginary Birds

Two shorts: 'Dear Creatures' examines a relationship and a chance observation; 'Imaginary Birds' examines place, potential creations, and identity.

"Some of you will leave, break through the walls to build more in someone else’s country, uninvited and entirely necessary. You will bring tablets to make the water drinkable, pieces of printed paper to explain your theories; scrawl pictures in the dust when words become too heavy in the mouth. You will wipe soot from leaves, soak oil from birds. You will weave shelters from torn branches with ends still weeping sap. You will build things up for others to break down."

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Relationship Story

A simple title; a complex, detailed look at the ebbs and flows of modern dating and instability.

"'I’ve never felt you act this way before,' said Michelle, unsteadily, looking down; something in her previously assured, or at least focused, was now tired and scared, the protest of it having dispersed to something negotiable or seizable. They stood not looking at each other as the rain fell on them in an idle, general insistence of somethingness. Paul felt himself trying to interpret the situation, as if there was a problem to be solved, but there wasn’t anything, or maybe there was but Paul was three or four skill sets away from comprehending it, like an amoeba trying to create a personal webpage using CSS."

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What Do We Have In Our Pockets?

A short, philosophical study of why we carry what we do.

"The fact is that everything I have in my pockets is carefully chosen so I’ll always be prepared. Everything is there so I can be at an advantage at the moment of truth. Actually, that’s not accurate. Everything’s there so I won’t be at a disadvantage at the moment of truth. Because what kind of advantage can a wooden toothpick or a postage stamp really give you?"

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Event Factory [Excerpt]

Two women explore a mysterious, illogical city.

"We were alone. This was dramatic and strange. But, what was more odd was how hard we found it to take in the city visually. We walked through the gate and almost immediately came upon a wall. The back or side of a building. It was one of those situations where you could not step back to see the height of it. The sky was too low, or too far away, we could not determine."

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The Mere Weight Of Words [Excerpt]

An NYU student examines two different relationships: a friendship and a tense love affair.

"I blamed my need for Patrick’s adoration on our undergraduate rivalry. That and our occasional, unbalanced, raucous affair. It became a vendetta. Our disagreements occurred often enough to be not just memorable, but legendary, in both volume and scope. We waged verbal combat with ease, caring neither for our hewn down egos nor dismantled bonds. Other people can afford to be thoughtless; they’re ignorant of the gravity their speech holds. But linguists will devastate if only because we can do so with a well-placed term or phrase. Then it’s the silences that serve as our minions. They scrape at wounds old and new, where apologies dare not tread."

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Hello Everybody

A. M. Homes, author of the forthcoming May We Be Forgiven, trains a satiric eye on the ennui of wealthy Los Angelenos.

“I don't mind feeling paralyzed. I think I'm used to it. In fact I’m not even sure that what people would call paralyzed isn't just normal for me. I don't move a lot.”

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What We Liked About Bosnia

An American visitor reflects on a visit to Bosnia, with observations both sweet and ominous.

"We liked the weather on the ground and in the mountains and we liked the drive up Jahorena with its dismantled houses, houses whose faces were opened by bombs and tanks. We stayed in a cabin surrounded by snow and the ruined landscape of an ethnic cleansing. And on that mountain we threw paper planes and shot homemade videos and played steal the bacon until it was time for us to go to sleep, then wake up again feeling safe in the cold house with an unfed, wood-burning stove."

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Salesmen

A random conversation with a street salesman is not what it seems.

"I pass him every day. Melons, he is usually selling, although I've seen him with whole truckloads of other fruit, and in the fall with unshucked ears of corn. He has a lawn chair with an umbrella fixed over it. He sits and watches the traffic pass. Sometimes he stands with the forearms on the rim of the bed of his truck, looking out over his produce. There is something reassuring in his form. Maybe it is his placidity, the way he stands. Maybe it is because his produce always looks fresh and healthy. Seeing him means that the long hectic drive, with the traffic of the beltway and mad stop and start of the city, is almost done."

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Cat Lovers

In this curious world, a young couple find their lives filled with strange cats and a consuming video game.

"They did not stroll alone. When they left the apartment they’d see the marmalade perched beside a newspaper stand across the street or slinking in through the complex door as they walked out. Along with the cosmopolitan pigeons and robins, and the urban rats and mad squirrels, cats were stationed at odd intervals on their meandering route. One night an olive green and basalt cat sat perched on its haunches in the ruby umbrella of light cast by a low street lamp on Carmine St. Laura and Eric would swear that the same cat had sat as still as stone on the corner of Commerce St. and Cherry Lane the evening before. In a shadowed alcove on Bedford St. a giant tabby guarded a litter of three sable kittens, its marble eyes mirroring the random lights of the city night."

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The Gift

A woman records the sounds of a big city.

"She never collected in a systematic way, but when she moved to the city there were all sorts of new sounds to discover -- the rattling of the 7 train as it emerged into the light of Long Island City, the whoosh the steam produced as it rose mysteriously from the sidewalk grates, the reverberations the escalators made as you descended into Penn Station on the Madison Square Garden side of the building. It was a whole new world and Fern embraced it lovingly and ferociously."

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Glaciers [Excerpt]

A young woman's keen observations and imaginations of cities and unknown people.

"Isabel finds the postcard of Amsterdam on Thursday evening, at her favorite junk store, across from the food carts on Hawthorne. It is a photograph of tall houses on a canal, each painted a different color, pressed together and tilted slightly, like a line of people, arm in arm, peering tentatively into the water. The picture has a Technicolor glow, the colors hovering over the scene rather than inhabiting it."

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The Intuitionist [Excerpt]

A sample from Colson Whitehead's classic debut novel about clashing groups of elevator inspectors.

"The man's lips arch up towards his nose and Lila Mae understands that he's never seen an elevator inspector like her before. Lila Mae has pinpointed a spot as the locus of metropolitan disaffection. A zero-point. It is situated in the heart of the city, on a streetcorner that clots with busy, milling citizens during the day and empties completely at night except for prostitutes and lost encyclopedia salesmen."

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Driving

A dream-like drive alternates between urban and rural settings.

"A few streets away from home now, past the closed tailor’s shop, and suddenly there are ducks gathered under a streetlight. The night is disobedient. When she pulls up she sees them standing there, hovering over a puddle of dark water in a small crater made by broken paving stones. There are seven of them, tall and snow white, untouched by the soot and grime in the air, with bright orange beaks and feet. She stops the car and turns off the lights."

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Maternal Pride

Various people descend on an Italian gay pride parade.

"Her sense of her own presence was mounting. The fact was that she-who hadn't gone on even one strike when she was a young factory worker; who had not voted for at least fifteen years; who hadn't gone on vacation since her husband died, and who had only traveled on her own to visit distant, faded relatives-she was nearly becoming intoxicated by the thought of immersing herself in the tumultuous throng; of being lost and out of place in a crowd to which she had no social, sexual, or official connection at all."

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Good Morning, Giantess!

A lyrical meditation on morning in the city, from the newly published Berlin Stories collection.

"A giantess like this doesn’t dress so quickly; but each of her beautiful, huge motions is fragrant and steams and pounds and peals. "

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The Submission

The identity of the designer of a proposed 9/11 memorial competition inflames the emotions and the prejudices of an observer.

"The Rally to Protect Sacred Ground kicked off on a balmy Saturday morning in a plaza opposite the site. The members of both the Memorial Defense Committee and Save America From Islam were there, gathered in a cordoned-off area in front of the stage. Behind them stretched thousands: women holding signs that said NO TOLERANCE FOR THE INTOLERANT or KHAN IS A CON; fathers hoisting small children on their shoulders; men in camouflage who may or may not have been veterans. "

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Zone One: The Beginning

The opening to Zone One, Colson Whitehead's new zombie novel

"Just another day at the office when she gets bit by some New York whacko while loading up on spring mix at the corner deli's Salad Lounge. Full of plague but unaware. That night the shivers came, and the legendary bad dreams everyone had heard about and prayed against—the harbingers, the nightmares that were the subconscious rummaging through a lifetime for some kind of answer to or escape from this trap. With those early strains, you might last a whole day without flipping. She returns to her cubicle the next day because she hadn't taken a sick day in years."

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Downtown is For People

On the then new phenomenon of dead downtowns:

It is not only for amenity but for economics that choice is so vital. Without a mixture on the streets, our downtowns would be superficially standardized, and functionally standardized as well. New construction is necessary, but it is not an unmixed blessing: its inexorable economy is fatal to hundreds of enterprises able to make out successfully in old buildings. Notice that when a new building goes up, the kind of ground-floor tenants it gets are usually the chain store and the chain restaurant. Lack of variety in age and overhead is an unavoidable defect in large new shopping centers and is one reason why even the most successful cannot incubate the unusual--a point overlooked by planners of downtown shopping-center projects.