Short and To The Point Spared You

2.8

You should know that I almost included a bunch of articles about impeachment. I make no promises for next week, but I’ve spared your inbox for one more week.

This Week in Our Dumb World

Stories About My Brother

I struggle to pull out a passage from this beautiful and heartbreaking story. To write about a siblings death following a complicated estrangement doesn’t lend itself to simple stories. It’s not a thing that has a catchy paragraph.

But this story gets at some of the challenges of being an immigrant in America. Of being the only person who looks like you in the place that you grow up. It sits with the ways that depression and anxiety and accomplishment all coexist.

It’s powerful and worth the long read.

When my brother died, I was too shattered to write his obituary. There is little record of his 29 years of life; it simply vanished. When I type “Yush Gupta,” Google autofills “Yush Gupta death,” a brutal reminder that even on the internet, a space where nothing is forgotten, Yush is a mirage, slowly disappearing.

Despite his long list of accomplishments as a computer programmer and engineer, when I complete the search there is little left of Yush: a GoFundMe started by my parents, an entry from the Toronto funeral home where his body was cremated, an article in his college alumni magazine. On the internet, a place where Yush lived his life, he has been reduced to one single fact: He died young.

I’m not exactly sure when he died. My father called me with the news on Saturday, November 4, 2017, but Yush was in Italy, which is six hours ahead. I later learned that a blood clot shot up from his leg and blocked his lungs; a pulmonary embolism. He likely fell to the floor alone in a small room in Milan, gasping for air through excruciating pain, texting his caretaker to call an ambulance. Yush drew his last breaths surrounded by Italian EMS workers who didn’t know his name, in a country that was not his.

Pulmonary embolisms are rare in young people. In the United States, they are even less common among Asian-Americans than white people. Yush was a lifelong long-distance runner; he was healthy and active. Statistically, he was among those least likely to suffer a pulmonary embolism.

And yet, despite the statistics, that is what ended his life. In the weeks following his death, I learned that his death did not result from a natural cause, nor was it suicide; it was an incident brought on by forces beyond his control, but resulted from risks that were entirely preventable.

But that was not the only mystery I uncovered about Yush’s life: While I had always worried about his financial stability, in the days and months following his death, I would learn that he had become wealthy from bitcoin investments. I learned that he was secretly building a technology that he believed could revolutionize the world. And I learned that he had written an anonymous essay about our family published in a Men’s Rights anthology, in which he lamented over a society that values the “emotional pain” of women over the burden men have to provide for them. He complained that women were inferior in logical ability, and that women in abusive relationships are not held accountable for their decision to stay, while pressures upon men are overlooked and ignored.

The truth is, though I knew Yush better than perhaps anyone, I barely understood the man he had become.

The Firewatchers

I would not have imagined that “Who keeps lookout for fires?” would inspire questions of what we lose with the switch to technological solutions, but they surely do.

Speaking as someone who knows a few drone based start ups, I can absolutely understand why people would find that technology to be incredibly appealing while not fully considering what we lose with that switch.

There's a certain pragmatism that grows out of living alone on a mountain for every summer, away from people, power and roads.

If you're thirsty, you fetch water from the missile-container-turned-cistern buried outside. If you're hungry, you cook the food you had packed in weeks earlier by mule. And if you're bored with nothing but the birds and clouds, well, you might want to take some time during your four bi-weekly days off to find another job.

Connors has spent 17 summers as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest. His white beard frames a face tanned by the southern New Mexico sun. He's as pragmatic a person as you'll find.

So when hikers stumble upon his lookout tower, a 50-foot monolith perched atop a flat peak, he's never surprised or mean when he gets asked the same questions: What about satellites? What about drones?

"I often feel I'm in a position of having to defend my very existence here," he says. "People just sort of assume that the technology has advanced to a point where it would make me totally obsolete."

There are, he says, many things he can do that a drone can't. He can sit in a tower for an entire day, watching and studying a fire's behavior. He can serve as eyes and as a communication link for fire crews working in the region's rugged terrain. He can apply his experience to put a fire in context and communicate about it in ways only a human can.

Connors looks through his binoculars. He's spent thousands of hours contemplating the contours of southwest New Mexico.

"At $14 and change an hour, I'm also pretty cheap," he says.

Diego Maradona is the most complicated story.

Random observations about Diego Maradona and Diego Maradona stories (I consume them all):

The one thing that you always get from any story on Maradona is complexity. The defining south American soccer story is always the boy who rises from the slums to become the greatest and Maradona embodies this story so completely that I almost suspect that it began with him.

Among my very first memories of soccer is having rented a video that had all the goals of the 1986 World Cup. Maradona had probably the single greatest tournament of any player in any sport ever. The video was produced by the BBC. Maradona is unquestionably portrayed as the devil.

I do not know if Maradona is the greatest soccer player of all time. I will tell you that my head and my heart probably choose Cruyff. That said, there has never been a player with the outsized impact of Maradona at his best. Soccer is not a game that lends itself to individual domination. The field is too big and the nature of the game requires interaction. Maradona is the only player I have ever seen be immune to these basic limitations. He didn’t even really break them. He was just immune.

I will say that there is no public figure who was been a hero and a villain more times than Maradona.

There is no such thing as a boring story about Diego Maradona.

Someone threw an orange at him. It’s hard to piece together the exact sequence of what happened because the stories vary so widely; there are books that say the orange was thrown when he was about to take a corner kick, and that he caught it on his foot, right out of the air. Then there are people who say none of this happened at all, because that sure sounds like a folktale, and nothing approximating a circus orange-catch happens on the surviving video of the match. (You can confirm this yourself; it’s on YouTube.) To my mind the likeliest version of the story, the one that best accords with the accounts of people who were there, is that it happened before the match started—hence its absence from the video record—and that the orange missed him and rolled to a stop a few feet away.

He didn’t catch it out of the air, in other words. But he went over to it. He scooped it up on his left foot. The way I picture it, he gave it a couple of trial bounces on his toe. Then he started juggling it. The crowd fell quiet. Suddenly he was back in one of those childhood halftimes, and the Colombian crowd, which had hated him 10 seconds before and would hate him again in a few minutes, was transformed into an audience of awestruck Argentinos fans. Actually, they were experiencing something even deeper. They loved football. They loved watching what a player could do with a ball. They’d come to the match full of tribal passion. Then the clouds parted—Maradona made them part, doing something as silly as bouncing an orange—and they were put unexpectedly into contact with that original love. There are countless moments during any soccer match when that might happen, but most of the time, in fact, almost all of the time, the crowd resists it. Watching Diego, they didn’t.

Toe-knee-toe-knee. Forehead-heel–shoulder blades. I can’t think about the feeling spreading over the stadium without remembering a line from James Merrill, from a poem that has nothing to do with soccer:

“Young storm, this house is yours.”

Every good thing he touched, he perverted. After Boca, he never again left a club on friendly terms. He ended his time in Naples as hated as he’d once been adored. He couldn’t even find peace in Seville, where oranges come from. All this is true. It’s also true that he had a rare power to take malice and violence and transform them utterly, to change them, if only for a moment, into wonder. Into laughing delight. A trick played on a large enough scale becomes a miracle. Whatever else you remember about him, remember that.

What Kind of Muppet Are You?

I am well aware that I am a chaos muppet by almost any test.

What I was not expecting was that my 2 year old son is unquestionably an order muppet. You can tell by his iron fist control over who sits where and whether or not a given piece of furniture can or should be moved.

(most lawyers are order muppets who think they’re chaos muppets)

(H/T to Sarah Schacter)

It’s hard to be ruthlessly honest when evaluating one’s own Muppet classification. As is the case when going shopping for white pants, your best bet is probably just to trust a friend. It’s not enough to judge by career choice or pastimes. For instance: Order Muppets are musical. So are Chaos Muppets. Some initial clues can be garnered by scrutinizing your CD storage system and spice racks. Chaos Muppets may well be able to recite the alphabet, but they don’t alphabetize anything willingly and usually only do so in exchange for cookies. If your house catches on fire, as you practice a death-defying leap through a flaming hoop while reciting Hamlet, you’re most probably a Chaos Muppet anyhow. But if your house catches on fire and you know precisely how to rescue your Schumann CDs in under 15 seconds, you’re an Order Muppet.

Perhaps the best determinant of your Muppet Classification however, is your partner: Order Muppets tend to pick Chaos Muppets for their life partners, cookies notwithstanding. Thus, if you’re in a long-term relationship with a Chaos Muppet, there’s a pretty good chance you’re Bert. If you’re married to an Order Muppet, you may well be the Swedish Chef. And by all that is holy, don’t marry your same type if you can help it. That’s where Baby Elmos come from.

Globster

  1. “unidentified organic mass”. Yeah. Ok. I know the work of Cthulu when I see it, thank you very much.

  2. I cannot think of a better word to describe 2019 than “globster”. This year is definitely a bit of a globster.