In No Laughing Matter, the novelist Joseph Heller outed his friend Mel Brooks as a world-class hypochondriac. “He is the only person I’m acquainted with who subscribes to The Lancet,” Heller wrote. “Principles of Internal Medicine and Dorland’s Medical Dictionary are Mother Goose to him.” I grew up in a two-doctor home strewn with medical curiosities. Among my childhood toys were plastic models of inner ears, femurs, and gastrointestinal tracts. Every day, our postman delivered a stack of medical journals dense with text broken up by gruesome clinical photographs. Every morning while eating my Cheerios, I used the magazines as placemats, read the articles absentmindedly, and stole glances at repulsive skin conditions. When I left home to travel, the memory of those photographs kept me feeling healthy. When… More…

When you believe your job is so boring it’s bound to kill you, the end of every work day feels like an unexpected gift. A couple of months ago, I got off from one of my temp jobs and I felt, as usual, euphoric and grateful to be alive. When I left my building, it was 8:00 on a Sunday night in downtown Portland, and it had just rained. I started to walk to my bus stop.

I turned left at the end of the block and headed toward the Willamette River. I looked up at the fire escape of Hotel Alder, a low-income residential hotel that sometimes serves up some low-grade drama on my commute home. The fire escape was empty. When I looked back down a man lunged toward me and said, “That’s what he gets.” Simultaneously, I heard what sounded like a gun shot, and I saw… More…