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We had climbed halfway up the staircase of a Valparaiso sidewalk when Salvador Dalí appeared. He was stenciled to the landing above, waiting for us with his perked up handlebar mustache. For a closer look, my fiancée Melanie and I stepped around another stray dog, his long body blocking almost the whole width of the concrete step — Valparaiso’s take on multi-use public space.

Morning had barely arrived and cargo ships at the port, in the distance below, had probably unloaded enough plastic silverware to outfit Chile’s entire fast food industry. Meanwhile, the hung-over hills overlooking the port still slept, still hugged a blanket of overcast gauze. I wondered how many cans of Escudo beer the town had put back last night. And how many new stencils had been tattooed to its buildings?
More… “What the Walls Taught Me”

Darrin DuFord is the author of Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama Without A Car, silver medalist in the 2007 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards. He has written food and travel pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Travel, Roads & Kingdoms, Gastronomica, and Perceptive Travel, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @darrinduford.

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In the very last volume of Proust’s very long novel, the narrator attends an afternoon party where everyone seems to be wearing a mask. He can recognize the voices of his long-ago friends and acquaintances, but their words issue from faces that are all strangely slackened and faded, or hardened and rigidified. They seem to be wearing powdered wigs. Even his host, having disguised himself in the same manner as his guests, appears to have taken on the role of one of the very last stages of the Ages of Man.

What has happened, of course, is the passage of time. These people have aged.

This quality of the aging face, in so many respects like a living mask, was something I had hardly considered until I began to notice the fine crosshatching beneath my own eyes and the first tracing of lines across my forehead. It was disconcerting, these creeping forerunners of age — of aging. The only face I had ever known as my own — a face resolutely unwrinkled for over three decades — was somehow being impinged upon, irreversibly. I knew that, unlike a spate of pimples or the red peel of sunburn, these new lines and creases were here to stay, and they would only grow more pronounced.
More… “The Aging Face”

Alyssa Pelish writes and edits in New York. Her essays, articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in Harper’s, Slate, Science, The Quarterly Conversation, Denver Quarterly, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others.

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As I’d been saying, it’s always something else. Take roofs, for instance. You can go months, even years without thinking much about them. They’re in jokes like, “Just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the furnace,” which considering my recent experience with a broken furnace, would be a low blow.

 

Actually, if there’s snow on the roof, it’s a good thing. That means the insulation is working and heat isn’t escaping. Or it could mean that the snow on the roof will leak, stain, peel paint — or worse.

When that starts, the first hope is that it’s just the flashing. I used to listen to a lot of home-repair programs on the radio — amazing, the trivia I store away in the file cabinet of the mind, stuffing it so that I can’t… More…

One advantage of having younger friends used to be that they were more cheerful and optimistic than I was.  It seemed then that the decade between us had insulated them from all the bad news I heard, both in the media and from my older friends.  But now that 20 years or so have passed, these friends just about caught up to me.

 

When I said I planned to write about this topic, one of my friends — perky still, though more pessimistic than she used to be — asked me to change her name. She had also told me (whenever I asked) that she doesn’t read what I write because she’s too stressed, so she’ll never know whether or not I’ve changed her name. I’ll honor her wishes anyway and call her Susie. Besides, she might have… More…

Driving alone on a highway through the desert of the Southwest, I passed a sign announcing the “Last Services for 100 Miles.” I asked myself, “How did they get a minyan way out here?” And then I came to a gas station. In the desert, “Last Gas” signs were powerful magnets, pulling my car off the road.  A “Last Chance” sign on a roadside farm market has the same effect.

 

“Last Peaches of the Season”? I’m pulling over. “First Asparagus”? I’m there, too.

It’s no wonder that I consider first fruits of the season to be significant. I grew up saying — and continue to say — the Shecheheyahu on the occasion of eating a seasonal fruit or vegetable for the first time in a year. The Shecheheyahu gives thanks to G-d “who has granted us life, sustained… More…

The world is getting very old. It is graying and wrinkling and fraying at the edges. Its voice is growing hoarse and it is finding it harder to tie its shoes.

 

There’s never been a time when so many people have been so old. Throughout the developed world, there are now more elderly than children. The details vary but go roughly like this: The number of people who are 60 and older is set to triple in the next 40 years. By 2050, there will be more people aged 65 and older than children under 14 for the first time in history. By 2150, one in three people will be over 65. In developed countries, aging is coming sooner than that. By 2050, half of the people in Spain will be 55 or older. In England, there are… More…

I can’t say that I’m upset that Cathy, the comic strip by Cathy Guisewite, will be ending it’s 34-year run on October 3. I’ve never been a huge fan of the strip, preferring more political bite (Doonesbury) or more lively domestic pratfall (Zits) in my comics fare. Still, the end of Cathy marks the end of an era that more or less coincides with my youth and a good chunk of my middle age. 34 years is a long time to riff on guilt-inducing mothers, dead-beat boyfriends, and the effect of ice cream and chocolate cake on female thighs, but though the jokes may have gotten tired, their repetition has itself been part of the appeal. The dog may die, the kids may leave home, but summer will come again and Cathy will be back in that dressing room with that ever-indulgent saleslady, trying on bathing suits.

Why… More…

 

I celebrated my 39th birthday the other day, and, for the first time ever, I legitimately felt a year older. Times have been hard lately. I discovered two totally new emotions — hopelessness and panic. I realized my plans for the future now turn less on ideals and more on necessity. Wrinkles and gray hair have made their first appearance.

It all felt like too much, and I began to wonder how much of a toll this mental state has taken on my physical health. People have long suspected that chronic psychological stress impairs health and accelerates the aging process, but the mechanism behind this link had long been unknown.

The connection has become much clearer in recent years as researchers have ascertained that stress impairs telomeres — the DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes, protect… More…

 

Currently there is a lot of space debris — generated by programs like NASA — circling the globe. It’s becoming an increasing problem for satellites and new missions. How can we reduce this debris to ensure that future and current missions will be safe? — Linwood, Boston, Massachusettes

Your mission, Linwood, if you choose to accept it, is to write an apocalyptic poem about the space debris problem that is so powerful it begins a change. It has to be so good that it inundates the mainstream, warrants translation into all the world languages, and terrifies the globe. All international leaders need to be compelled to work together, with a team of scientists, and solve this problem, and it’s your job to make this problem a priority.

After your poem’s publication (your poem should be so good that… More…

 

I wanted to read a poem to my gathered family before our Christmas meal. Could you recommend several? What would your top five Christmas poems be? — Already-Frazzled-Preparer-of-a-Christmas-Feast

I guess it would be totally lame to cite my favorite Christmas poem (“A Visit From St. Nicholas”—“’Twas the night before Christmas”), but that’s a really good one, very entertaining if you will have little ones at your table. My other top poems are below:

Emily Dickinson writes a good one (of course, right?):

Before the ice is in the pools — Before the skaters go, Or any cheek at nightfall Is tarnished by the snow —

Before the fields have finished — Before the Christmas tree, Wonder upon wonder — Will arrive to me!

The poem goes on in two more quatrains, but it gets a little inaccessible, so… More…