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Keeping up with Ms. Jones

April 21, 2008

Ah, the circles of coincidence. Perhaps I should not be so easily impressed. It’s a small world, after all, and given the e’er-proliferating recombinations and regurgitations of information in this, our grand digital age (we ain’t seen nothin’ yet), we might certainly expect to encounter, on a regular basis, nexes of factors that, in some small way, strike us as coincidental.

Like this. Colson Whitehead. Couldn’t tell you a thing about him, just to go by the name. Well, except from what I gleaned from Wikipedia. Turns out I heard of one of his novels, several years ago, and listened to the New York-based writer discuss his debut—The Intuitionist—on the radio.

Tap, tap, tap, your foot might say. Your inner voice might inquire, “And?”

And nothing, actually. I only mention this to add the appearance of substance. After all, I’m only posting a link and a short excerpt otherwise.

And don’t think name-dropping counts for anything significant. It’s not like I ever met Colson Whitehead. Hell, it’s not like I ever read Colson Whitehead, else I wouldn’t have had to look him up to figure out why the name was familiar. Oh, right. And what to call him. He’s not what we might call a regular at New York Magazine; “Flava of the Month” is the first article bearing his name to grace the pages of the periodical in four years:

As we return to the city, I ask her why she thinks people respond so strongly to her book. “Most people live comfortable lives, and that makes them uncomfortable.” She notices my expression and says, “That’s like a Zen koan, right, homey? Think about the times you’ve said, ‘My life is so boring—why can’t I have olfactory hallucinations or a flesh-eating disease?’ How many times have you thought, ‘Where are the killer bees, and will I be trapped alone in a desperate fight for survival when they come?’ ” I shake my head and smile: She has my number.

“There’s no shame in being average, you jive turkey,” Margaret says. “The only shame is in doing nothing about it.”

Average. That’s one thing Margaret most definitely is not. I broach this subject with her friend Misha Defonseca, author of Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, which describes how she hid out in the forests of Europe to escape the Nazis and was taken in by a gang of wolves. Whenever Misha makes it out to the States for a visit, she and Margaret go shopping for Levi’s, which are difficult to come by in her native country. She resells them to aspiring hipsters in her village at a dreadful markup.

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