Mirrorings

The writer contemplates beauty and identity following reconstructive surgery.

There was a long period of time, almost a year, during which I never looked in a mirror. It wasn’t easy, for I’d never suspected just how omnipresent are our own images. I began by merely avoiding mirrors, but by the end of the year I found myself with an acute knowledge of the reflected image, its numerous tricks and wiles, how it can spring up at any moment: a glass tabletop, a well-polished door handle, a darkened window, a pair of sunglasses, a restaurant’s otherwise magnificent brass-plated coffee machine sitting innocently by the cash register.

In the Land of the Dear Leader

The author travels to North Korea in the years after Kim Jong Il’s succession. He also gets a haircut:

But suddenly the whole chair starts vibrating and I find myself surrendering to her, as she begins to knead the acupressure points on my forehead and neck. Next it's ginseng unguent all over my face. Gobs of pomade smelling like bubble gum go on my hair. Then, like a true daughter of the revolution, she upholsters her blow dryer and begins combing in the pomade and sculpting my now subdued hair. The pungent aroma of heated pomade, like fat frying in a pan, fills the room. My stylist gives my hair a little twist with the comb. It feels like she's making a Dairy Queen curl on top. Then she fries it in place with the dryer. Another dab of pomade. More mincing motions with the comb. Another blast of hot air. Suddenly I feel a moist breeze around my ears. She's taken out a can of imported aerosol spray and is cementing her creation in place. She's delicately patting my new coiffure now the way a baker taps a loaf of bread to see if it's springy to the touch. She murmurs something. I'm breathless with expectation. I open my eyes and gaze into the mirror. Magnifique! It looks like I have a loofah sponge on my head! I am reborn -- a cross between Elvis and a 1950s Bulgarian hydrology expert! At last I have become a true son of Pyongyang!

Run Like Fire Once More

On the world’s longest foot race, which takes place entirely within Queens, N.Y.:

Such were the hazards last summer in Jamaica, Queens, at the tenth running of the Self-Transcendence 3,100. The fifteen participants—all but two of them disciples of the Bengali Guru Sri Chinmoy, who has resided in the neighborhood for forty years—hailed from ten countries on three continents. They ran in all weather, seven days a week, from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, or until their bodies compelled them to rest. If they logged fewer than fifty miles on a given day, they risked disqualification. By their own reckoning, the runners climbed eight meters per lap, mounting and descending a spectral Everest every week and a half. They toiled in this fashion for six to eight weeks, however long it took them to complete 5,649 circuits—3,100 miles—around a single city block.

Army of Altruists

This is the piece of writing that inspired me to make the turn from fiction and corporate research into journalism. It’s the best reframing of American society that I’ve ever read. And kudos to Harper’s for running it. It’s not often you see anarchist anthropologists making highly visible contributions to public discourse.

-A. Madrigal