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You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

Louis C.K.

I love this description of “The American Man, Age 10.”

In 1992, Susan Orlean profiled 10-year-old Colin Duffy for Esquire magazine. Her story, “The American Man, Age 10,” is the product of a great deal of trust and collaboration between reporter and subject. Orlean doesn’t waste words describing her conversations with Colin. Rather, her sentences are richly layered with the products of those conversations. “If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks,” writes Orlean. She continues:

“We would eat pizza and candy for all of our meals. We wouldn’t have sex, but we would have crushes on each other and, magically, babies would appear in our home. We would win the lottery and then buy land in Wyoming, where we would have one of every kind of cute animal.”

In 1930, Oklahoma City had a half-million cars on its streets and seemingly no place to park them. Automobiles were choking commerce: Drivers who worked downtown were monopolizing the parking, keeping away others who wished to conduct business there. Someone needed to invent a machine that could regulate street parking. Carlton Magee was an editor of the Albuquerque Morning Journal when in 1920 he helped uncover what would become the Teapot Dome Scandal. A few years later, in a hotel lobby, a judge whom Magee once accused of corruption walked up and knocked him to the floor. The editor drew his pistol and shot wide, killing a bystander. Acquitted of manslaughter, Magee moved to Oklahoma City to run the Oklahoma News, where parking, not vindictive judges, was the big story. Magee invented the Dual Park-O-Meter, filed for its patent, and on July 16, 1935, 174 parking meters were slotted into Oklahoma City.

For businessmen and courts around the country, the invention of the parking meter was on par with shooting at a judge. 

Carol Springfield dreams about caskets. She is Curtis Springfield’s mother, and she and her husband, Ron, live in Gilbert, Arizona, southeast of Phoenix, in the same modest home where they raised their son and two daughters. “I only dream the caskets,” Carol said recently, when asked to explain. “I can never see faces.” Carol’s dreams preceded the deaths of her mother, father, and niece. Before her son Curtis was killed in the Dude Fire, Carol had a premonition. The next day, on the job at Microchip Technology, where she worked in the clean room—a sterile, climate-controlled environment where silicon wafers are transformed into computer chips for cell phones and other electronic devices—Carol couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. She stopped at Rosita’s restaurant on the way home for takeout Mexican food. At home with Ron, a usually soft-spoken production manager at U.S. Door & Building Components, Carol turned on the news. “And I never watch the news,” she said. “But I came home, turned on the news, saw the fire. I looked at Ron and I said, ‘Curtis is dead.’”

Only then did I notice that his eyes, now lifeless, were covered in cataracts. He was probably blind, or damn near it, and simply hadn’t seen us. Like other civilians we’d killed. “It’s their own goddamn stupidity,” I’d thought. Once you’ve accepted that the values you grew up with don’t apply in war, once killing becomes a given, it’s easy to convince yourself that these things just happen. The fear fades, and you bury the guilt somewhere deep. We did what we had to do to keep one another alive.

At least that’s what I’ve always told myself. It’s been a little over seven years since that deployment, nearly twelve since I raised my hand and swore my soul away to the Big Green Machine. Twenty-three and almost out of college, I enlisted in the Army as a rite of passage more than anything. I never imagined I’d see combat. But my first day of basic training just happened to be September 11, 2001, and in an instant, my fellow newbie pukes and I became the first class of the new American war.

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