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I sat on my tall stool behind the counter in my parents’ music store, looking past my open history textbook to the dirty snow and paper trash blowing down the street in the darkening afternoon. A lone figure shuffled down the opposite sidewalk, past the jewelry store, and stopped on the corner in front of the drug store at the stoplight, his helmeted head cast down, waiting for the traffic light to turn. I scanned a few more paragraphs in my textbook until he entered, heralded by a chorus of automated door chimes and blown in by a gust of frozen air.

“Hi, Louis,” I said. More… “The Ultimate Currency”

CJ Bartunek lives in Athens, Georgia. Her work has appeared in Pacific Standard, The Big Roundtable, and other publications.

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When historians compile lists of the stuff that helped make America America, they don’t even rank the DeMoulin’s Patent Lung Tester alongside even relatively minor inventions like the cotton gin, the telegraph, and the automobile, much less epic game-changers such as instant coffee and air conditioning. Surely this is an oversight.

Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes. Introduction by Charles Schneider; appreciation by David Copperfield. 240 pages. Fantagraphics Books. $22.99.

The DeMoulin Lung Tester was a plain, serious-looking box with a nickel-plated mouthpiece and a calibrated dial on its face. Its ostensible purpose was to measure a man’s lung capacity, the bulky antecedent to today’s spirometers. Its real purpose was to measure a man’s ability to maintain his composure after being made the butt of a joke. When an unsuspecting… More…

Shoplifting rates are soaring, at least among the grabby progeny of New York state mayors and former mayors. On the last day of July, Byron W. Brown Jr., the 19-year-old son of Buffalo mayor Byron W. Brown, was nabbed stealing $58 worth of clothing and iPod accessories from a bargain apparel store. Four days later, Caroline Giuliani, the 20-year-old daughter of New York city ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani, got popped trying to lift $100 worth of lip gloss, lipstick, and other cosmetics from a Sephora on the Upper East Side.

Once you start paying attention to the latest shoplifting news, it quickly seems as if America is in the throes of an egalitarian epidemic, afflicting the sleepy, the forgetful, the disorganized, the formerly beautiful, and the insufficiently inconspicuous alike. Amongst… More…