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America

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Austin Manchester, 2004

The list of shared experiences by Americans[1] in the year of our LORD 2018 reads more or less as follows: death; taxes[2]; unseasonable weather no matter the season; thoughts on race, whether intentional or not; thoughts on gender equality, whether intentional or not; thoughts on the New York Times’ editorial strategy, definitely intentional; all prior thoughts brought on by pieces courtesy of social media and/or texts linking to it; and a vague understanding of nuclear proliferation.

Narrow the scope, and that list becomes broader, but then you’re dealing in sample sizes of varying confidence. The South is hot, but man, these taxes, amirite?; the Northeast is cold, and keep your business out of my business; the West is a beautiful landscape and has bad traffic, tech geniuses and an insatiable hunger to continue being a final frontier long since conquered; Texas is the South, but it isn’t, you know what I’m saying?

On the Midwest: I’m not from there[3], nor have I ever lived there[4], though my oldest, not older, brother has for over a decade, and Blog Surf James Vasiliou is well-equipped to speak on generally Midwestern things himself. Something exciting, however, is unquestionably brewing in two cities, Minneapolis and Indianapolis, involving characters both familiar to both and foreign, in nationality and suitability for the stereotypically reserved region.

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Via Twitter user @elevenzsz

Here is something that I do not imagine will come as any great shock to you, dearest reader: I am not at all knowledgeable in an overwhelming majority of the facets of figure skating. I know the equipment – a sheet of ice, a pair of skates and a warm-blooded person of distinct nationality in a skintight representation of an eighteenth century romance novel – I know a handful of names – Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, Nancy Kerrigan, Nancy Kerrigan’s problematic attacker who now has her own movie, for some reason – and far fewer but non-zero number of jump names, like the triple axel and the Salchow, and that’s where it ends.

But on Thursday night, as happens every four years, I took in the sport in all its glory, as the men’s short program from Pyeongchang hit primetime. Expecting to see the crowning of two-time American champion and team bronze medalist Nathan Chen, or the pyrotechnic flair and on-camera joyous irreverence to which we’ve grown accustomed over the past two weeks from fellow American Adam Rippon, I was instead treated to the comeback performance of quadrennial and a Winnie the Pooh hailstorm.

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You could almost sense it. A distant, long-forgotten feeling, far off on the horizon, was turning a black sky a deep shade of purple that, no matter how profoundly dark it remained, was nevertheless definitively lighter than before. At some point, it would shed its opacity and reveal itself, hope, in all its shining, youth-invoking glory. Its vessel? A 7’3” Latvian who could do things that no basketball court had ever seen.

Then, of course, came the reckoning, which every Knicks fan, and every basketball fan familiar with the Knicks franchise, should have expected. The purple faded back to black in cannonading fashion on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, when, prior to his commandeering of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s soul, Giannis Antetokounmpo presented enough of himself in just the wrong area for Kristaps Porzingis to land awkwardly after finishing a dunk, something he has made routine, and tear his left ACL. The devil is always in the details, the wicked lying in the weeds.

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After I saw the 2018 Album of the Year Grammy nominees, I told myself that I wouldn’t be mad if any of the artists nominated won the highly coveted award. There were no glaring insults to the culture-at-large, à la Beck or Mumford & Sons. There was Bruno Mars, Lorde, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino and, of course, Kendrick Lamar. All of these artists released albums that seeped through popular culture (though you could argue that the extent of Lorde’s and Childish Gambino’s impacts was less pronounced than the other three nominees).

Despite having a lineup of albums that had their valid arguments and did not seem personally imported into the category by John Lennon impersonator and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, the final win for Bruno Mars’ resounding coronation changed my earlier assertion that I would not fault the Grammys for awarding something like 24K Magic for Album of the Year. The more I began to reflect on Bruno’s win and what it meant, the more I began to question why we should even pay attention.

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2017

Graphic by Brian Kraker

Because 2016 wasn’t enough, 2017 has gone out of its way to escape its predecessor’s shadow and destroy the boundaries for how gratifyingly repugnant a single calendar year can be. Each day was a test of psychological fortitude on the parts of literally billions of people around this flat earth of ours, which somehow has yet to file for emancipation from us. For every second chance, we deliver a second disappointment, and a third, and a fourth, and–

Has the constant stream of threats, misguided anger, choose-your-own-isms and quasi-political figures you’re supposed to remember yet immediately forget driven you directly to the doctor’s office? Better there than to stay and wait for the robots to replace you, anyway.

We all have a thousand brilliant lies for the question, “How are you?” The better question, as we turn the corner with a glaring snarl, ’17 going on ’18, may very well be: Are you having fun yet?

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A funny thing about growing up with parents ceaselessly devoted to the music they like:  after a certain point, the idea of a “soundtrack” to growing up dissipates, and you’re left with a pastiche of sounds that, without warning, can trigger any number of nostalgic thoughts years, even decades, later. You didn’t ask for this, but it’s what you got. You live with it, and eventually, hopefully, you become grateful for it.

Along with a handful of other artists, I don’t remember the first time I ever heard Tom Petty because he was always just there. Not to make an assumption on your behalf, dear reader, but I’ve got a feeling that, unlike most of the rest of them for me[1], you likely don’t remember the first time you heard Petty either. He’s always been there, for all of us, which made it all the more devastating when word officially came down late Monday night that Petty had passed away at the age of 66.

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