These are things I know about people I have never met:

Islands of Privacy by Christena Nippert-Eng. 360 pages. University of Chicago Press. $22.50.

I know a former writer for Jezebel accidentally left a tampon in for several days, and I know what the discharge looked like when she finally got it out.

I know what a memoirist and blogger ate today, and also what her cat looks like sitting up, lying down, chasing a bug, and hiding under the bed.

I know the sexual proclivities and preferences of a work colleague’s wife, because her husband announced them at a cocktail party. I was not at the party, but a friend called me mid-way through to relay the information.

I know about random people’s drug habits, eating disorders, cutting, menstrual cycles, and fetishes, because they wrote… More…

 

“I have a car,” he whispered in my ear while we danced, and for a moment I was tempted to whisper back, “Me too. It’s a Corolla. Do you know anything about how to fix window seals?”

For the last six months I danced every week at a place with a $3 cover called Andrea’s Cha Cha Cha. On voice mail messages I left for friends in Portland, meant to entice them into coming out and dancing with me, I called it Andrea’s Chach or Andrea’s Cha Cha, and my friends rarely called or even texted back to say they couldn’t make it. So I started to go alone after work. I paid my $3 cover and made my way down to the basement where I hopped onto a bar stool in my work clothes and waited to… More…

 

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve read the Sunday Times (skimming the Week in Review and studying the wedding announcements), fiddled with an essay in progress (taking out a paragraph and putting it back in again), called my sister to hash over our insecurities (which parent was more to blame?), and watched a rerun of Girlfriends. Still, there are two hours until dinner. What to do?

Fortunately, my husband has circled an open house in the local real estate section, and we’re off on a familiar Sunday jaunt.*

There are two sorts of open houses that my husband and I tend to frequent. One is for glamorous, million-dollar “stretch” houses that occupy former farmland on the border of town. These houses have a fascinatingly freakish quality: They are too large for any self-respecting family and too small for their… More…

“Wild night?” my roommate sat down on the corner of my bed and asked.

“What are you talking about?” I had never had a wild night in the year I lived in Boulder, but I was flattered that she thought I was capable of pulling one off, and I wanted to hear more about this wild night of mine. I stretched out in my bed. It came from a dumpster, but it was king sized, and it was a good bed.

“That guy in your car,” she said. “Did you guys have a fight?”

“What?” I thought back on the night before. I remembered watching the dog obedience class in the park across the street from our porch, and then, when the class was over, throwing crackers at the squirrels while they had really loud sex on the porch banister. It was wild, but not the kind of wild I… More…

At the close of the 20th century, I found myself wandering the streets of Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia in reluctant search of someone willing to talk about Chinggis Khan. It was an assignment for my study abroad program, and I didn’t want to do it. I had just barely skimmed the assigned excerpts of The Secret History of the Mongols, the story of the rise of the Mongol Empire, and for the two weeks since we were given the assignment, I hadn’t bothered to approach a single person.

A couple days before the write-up was due, I hung out in Sukhe Bator square and tried to work up the courage to talk to people, but everyone looked so respectably private. Many were walking to destinations in cashmere sweaters and suit jackets, jeans, riding boots, and felt caps; others walked away from me in traditional nomadic dress and boots. It was fall… More…

Once, in Brazil, I ended up eating dinner in a section of Salvador called Pelourinho, which my Lonely Planet said was the old slave auctioning and whipping site, but that was now filled with charming, overpriced tourist restaurants. I was with a Japanese girl I had met in Rio. She swore like a Yakuza member, but she read her guidebook diligently. I was alone as usual, and she allowed me to follow along as she took the right buses to the beach and showed up at the bank to change money during business hours. In exchange for my freeloading she occasionally demanded we must eat some of the “must eat” dishes in some of the “must eat” restaurants pictured on the shiny pages of her Japanese guidebook. Monika, a Canadian who was model gorgeous and fluent in her parent’s Portugal-style Portuguese, but had trouble walking on all the cobblestone in… More…