Essays

Gentlemen, Start Your Tugboats

As annual New York competitions go, the Great North River Tugboat Race is, not surprisingly, a bit of a plodder. Organized by the Working Harbor Committee, the 25-year-old race is contested over the same mile of Hudson River, often by many of the same entrants, year after year, generally to little fanfare.

Tugboat

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Reading in the Shadow of Sendak

I’m pretty sure I was the least productive Sendak Fellow. The Sendak Fellowship is awarded each year to a small group of children’s book authors, who then spend a month at Maurice Sendak’s summer home, a bucolic cluster of farmhouses, barns, and ponds nestled in the hills of upstate New York. Each Fellow is given a cottage, food, money, a studio, the space to create. But in a place designed for work, I didn’t.

Sendak Fellow

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Somewhere, Under There, Is a Dog

The Westminster Dog Show is much more than the show most experience on TV, a seemingly endless parade of immaculately groomed dogs on short leashes running in long loops. Spending a day backstage, an artist with a sketchbook pulls back the curtain on the pooches, the people and the primping.

Somewhere, Under There, Is a Dog

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The Ignominy of Aston Villa

Relegation looks all but certain for a legendary English club—a fate made painfully clear with a recent 6-0 drubbing

Elisha Cooper The Ignominy of Aston Villa

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Backstage at ‘The Nutcracker’

Thousands experience the beauty of George Balanchine’s classic ballet at Lincoln Center each year. Far fewer see what happens behind the scenes — the makeup and mouse heads — or what life is like for the dancers and workers who put on 49 performances in 38 days. Here is a sketchbook, in pictures and words, of the world in the wings.

nutcracker elisha cooper

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A Terrifically Bad Idea

It had never seemed like a good idea. It had, in fact, always seemed like a terrifically bad idea. But with climb-the-mountain-because-it’s-there logic, we kept talking about the idea until it became inevitable and the inevitable formed into a plan: 10 cafés, 10 macchiatos, one morning, by bike.

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Beauty

The most irritating thing cyclists do? Wear their helmets indoors, of course. A few years ago I wrote about the folks who shopped for groceries with their helmets on (“What, you’re going to crash into the tomatoes?!”). A friend who had read my essay came over for dinner one evening and began to chop vegetables at our sink, with his helmet on. Ha ha. I was uncorking a bottle of wine, so I wadded up the metal foil top and threw it at my friend’s head/helmet.

I missed, barely. The metal wad hit him right between the eyes. He didn’t need stitches, but he bled all night during dinner. And he took off his bike helmet.

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The Breakdown

New York cyclists are a tribe. Within any tribe, there are distinctions. We parse our smallest differences and look down on one another, even as we look down on everyone else.

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There Will Be Blood

Wreck no. 1 was in Central Park. I plowed into a guy who looked like Jesus, if Jesus not only had a beard and flowing locks, but also rode a Bianchi fixed-gear across traffic to retrieve the bouncing cap of his water bottle. I flipped over Jesus, and met the pavement. I bled.

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Still a Terrifically Bad Idea

This time, we will learn from our mistakes. We will be sensible. We will mature. Last time we may have overdone it: 10 macchiatos at 10 cafés on one morning bike ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan, an experience that left us feeling giddy, then gloomy, then giddy again before a long afternoon of hunger.

This time, we will only do five: five cafés, five macchiatos. This time, we will eat. This time we will bring a friend, for support. But there are new cafés opening all over Brooklyn, and we like coffee, and we are curious. We must go.

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Who’s Crazy Now?

“There’s a crazy guy running!” I shout. My daughters and I gather at the window and look across the street. On the 12th floor penthouse roof of the neighboring building, a man is running around an SUV-sized bush. Tight, counterclockwise laps. We time him. Each lap takes 10 seconds. He runs round and round the bush, for half an hour. He is obviously insane.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

I have two very different running partners. The first is large and loud. He sports a headband and shorts that are too tight, and he doesn’t wear a T-shirt, though he should. He has the unpleasant habit, as we start our run together, of immediately badgering me with cutting comments: “Why exactly are we running today?” “Did you really need to eat that extra breakfast sausage?” “I can’t believe you haven’t finished that assignment, you lazy !*%@!” He’s a real pain, my running partner, but it’s sort of hard to avoid him since he’s in my head.

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On Your Left!

We know it and fear it. The thump-thump-thump over our shoulder, the flash in our periphery, then the other runner pulling away. Passed! Runners, men in particular, hate getting passed. Often, they’re passed by Elise, my fast wife. This they can’t stand. Especially when she’s pushing a jogging stroller. Especially when the stroller has both our daughters in it. Especially when our daughters are carrying weights. So the poor guys try to stay with her, breathing heavily just off her shoulder. Elise finds this irritating, this unasked-for competition on her afternoon run.

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Visiting the Farm with Elisha Cooper

[B]elieve me when I say this picture book is worth your time. It is a detailed, intimate look at a contemporary farm, one that looks at modern family farms with a clear eye and with great reverence. It’s luminous is what it is. When I first got my review copy, I recall gasping lightly at that gorgeous cover. And spending about five minutes just taking in the colors and composition and all-around Elisha goodness. If the room weren’t spinning lightly, I’d do my usual bit in which I tell you what the professional reviewers have said about the book thus far, but you can hit a site like Barnes and Noble (my favorite for compiling reviews clearly in one spot, though supporters of independent bookstores should know I always link to IndieBound when I can).

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Q & A with Elisha Cooper

Author of such picture books as Ballpark, Dance!, and Beach, Elisha Cooper has transported young readers to numerous child-pleasing locales. His latest book takes them to yet another. Due next month from Orchard, Farm follows the workings of a Midwestern farm over the course of a year. Physically removed from that bucolic setting but obviously close to it in spirit, Cooper spoke to Bookshelf from his home in New York City.

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