A Look Inside William S. Burroughs’ Bunker

When everybody had one or two vodkas and smoked a few joints, it was always the time for the blowgun. —John Giorno

From 1974 to 1982, writer William S. Burroughs lived in a former locker room of a 19th-century former-YMCA on New York City’s Lower East Side.

When he moved on, his stuff, including his worn out shoes, his gun mags, the typewriter on which he wrote Cities of the Red Night, and half of The Place of Dead Roads, a well-worn copy of The Medical Implications of Karate Blows, and a lamp made from a working Civil war-era rifle, remained.

His friend, neighbor, tourmate, and occasional lover, poet John Giorno preserved “The Bunker” largely as Burroughs had left it, and seems to delight in rehashing old times during a 2017 tour for the Louisiana Channel, above.

It’s hard to believe that Burroughs found Giorno to be “pathologically silent” in the early days of their acquaintance:

He just wouldn’t say anything. You could be there with him the whole evening, he wouldn’t say a word. It was not the shyness of youth, it was much more than that, it was a very deep lack of ability to communicate. Then he had cancer and after the operation that was completely reversed and now he is at times a compulsive talker, when he gets going there is no stopping him.

According to Burroughs’ companion, editor and literary executor, James Grauerholz, during this period in Burroughs’ life, “John was the person who contributed most to William’s care and upkeep and friendship and loved him.”

Giorno also prepared Burroughs’ favorite dishbacon wrapped chickenand joined him for target practice with the blowgun and a BB gun whose projectiles were forceful enough to penetrate a phonebook.

Proximity meant Giorno was well acquainted with the schedules that governed Burroughs’ life, from waking and writing, to his daily dose of methadone and first vodka-and-Coke of the day.

He was present for many dinner parties with famous friends including Andy WarholLou ReedFrank ZappaAllen GinsbergDebbie HarryKeith HaringJean-Michel Basquiat, and Patti Smith, who recalled visiting the Bunker in her National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids:

It was the street of winos and they would often have five cylindrical trash cans to keep warm, to cook, or light their cigarettes. You could look down the Bowery and see these fires glowing right to William’s door… he camped in the Bunker with his typewriter, his shotgun and his overcoat.

All Giorno had to do was walk upstairs to enjoy Burroughs’ company, but all other visitors were subjected to stringent security measures, as described by Victor Bockris in With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker:

To get into the Bunker one had to pass through three locked gates and a gray bulletproof metal door. To get through the gates you had to telephone from a nearby phone booth, at which point someone would come down and laboriously unlock, then relock three gates before leading you up the single flight of gray stone stairs to the ominous front door of William S. Burroughs’ headquarters.

Although Burroughs lived simply, he did make some modifications to his $250/month rental. He repainted the battleship gray floor white to counteract the lack of natural light. It’s pretty impregnable.

He also installed an Orgone Accumulator, the invention of psychoanalyst William Reich, who believed that spending time in the cabinet would improve the sitter’s mental, physical, and creative wellbeing by exposing them to a mysterious universal life force he dubbed orgone energy.

(“How could you get up in the morning with a hangover and go sit in one of these things?” Giorno chuckles. “The hangover is enough!”)

Included in the tour are excerpts of Giorno’s 1997 poem “The Death of William Burroughs.” Take it with a bit of salt, or an openness to the idea of astral body travel.

As per biographer Barry Miles, Burroughs died in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital ICU in Kansas, a day after suffering a heart attack. His only visitors were James Grauerholz, his assistant Tom Peschio, and Dean Ripa, a friend who’d been expected for dinner the night he fell ill.

Poetic license aside, the poem provides extra insight into the men’s friendship, and Burroughs’ time in the Bunker:

The Death of William Burroughs

by John Giorno

William died on August 2, 1997, Saturday at 6:01 in the
afternoon from complications from a massive heart attack
he’d had the day before. He was 83 years old. I was with
William Burroughs when he died, and it was one of the best
times I ever had with him.  

Doing Tibetan Nyingma Buddhist meditation practices, I
absorbed William’s consciousness into my heart. It seemed as
a bright white light, blinding but muted, empty. I was the
vehicle, his consciousness passing through me. A gentle
shooting star came in my heart and up the central channel,
and out the top of my head to a pure field of great clarity
and bliss. It was very powerful—William Burroughs resting
in great equanimity, and the vast empty expanse of
primordial wisdom mind.

I was staying in William’s house, doing my meditation
practices for him, trying to maintain good conditions and
dissolve any obstacles that might be arising for him at that
very moment in the bardo. I was confident that William had
a high degree of realization, but he was not a completely
enlightened being. Lazy, alcoholic, junkie William. I didn’t
allow doubt to arise in my mind, even for an instant,
because it would allow doubt to arise in William’s mind.

Now, I had to do it for him.

What went into William Burroughs’ coffin with his dead body:

About ten in the morning on Tuesday, August 6, 1997,
James Grauerholz and 
Ira Silverberg came to William’s
house to pick out the clothes for the funeral director to put
on William’s corpse. His clothes were in a closet in my
room. And we picked the things to go into William’s coffin
and grave, accompanying him on his journey in the
underworld.

His most favorite gun, a 38 special snub-nose, fully loaded
with five shots. He called it, “The Snubby.” The gun was my
idea. “This is very important!” William always said you can
never be too well armed in any situation. Of his more than
80 world-class guns, it was his favorite. He often wore it on
his belt during the day, and slept with it, fully loaded, on
his right side, under the bed sheet, every night for fifteen
years.

Grey fedora. He always wore a hat when he went out. We
wanted his consciousness to feel perfectly at ease, dead.

His favorite cane, a sword cane made of hickory with a
light rosewood finish.

Sport jacket, black with a dark green tint. We rummaged
through the closet and it was the best of his shabby clothes,
and smelling sweet of him.

Blue jeans, the least worn ones were the only ones clean.

Red bandana. He always kept one in his back pocket.

Jockey underwear and socks.  

Black shoes. The ones he wore when he performed. I
thought the old brown ones, that he wore all the time,
because they were comfortable. James Grauerholz insisted,
“There’s an old CIA slang that says getting a new
assignment is getting new shoes.”

White shirt. We had bought it in a men’s shop in Beverly
Hills in 1981 on The Red Night Tour. It was his best shirt,
all the others were a bit ragged, and even though it had
become tight, he’d lost a lot of weight, and we thought it
would fit.  James said,” Don’t they slit it down the back
anyway.”

Necktie, blue, hand painted by William.

Moroccan vest, green velvet with gold brocade trim, given
him by 
Brion Gysin, twenty-five years before.

In his lapel button hole, the rosette of the French
government’s Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, and the
rosette of the American Academy of Arts and Letters,
honors which William very much appreciated.

A gold coin in his pants pocket. A gold 19th Century Indian
head five dollar piece, symbolizing all wealth. William
would have enough money to buy his way in the
underworld.

His eyeglasses in his outside breast pocket.

A ball point pen, the kind he always used. “He was a
writer!”, and sometimes wrote long hand.

A joint of really good grass.

Heroin. Before the funeral service, Grant Hart slipped a
small white paper packet into William’s pocket. “Nobody’s
going to bust him.” said Grant. William, bejeweled with all
his adornments, was traveling in the underworld.

I kissed him. An early LP album of us together, 1975, was
called 
Biting Off The Tongue Of A Corpse. I kissed him on
the lips, but I didn’t do it .  .  . and I should have.

Related Content: 

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William S. Burroughs’ Class on Writing Sources (1976) 

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

300 Rarely-Seen, Risqué Drawings by Andy Warhol Published in the New Book, Andy Warhol: Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings (1950–1962)

It’s not the ingredients that sell the product. It’s how Warhol makes you feel about the product. 

Young and Rubicam employee, circa early 1950s

It did not take Andy Warhol long to find the status he sought as a young man. Shortly after moving to New York City in 1949, he established himself as one of the highest paid freelance illustrators of the period.

His whimsical, eye-catching line drawings for various luxury brands appeared in such high profile publications as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

The sense of prettiness and play that animated his pictures of shoescats, and perfume bottles is evident in the 1000-some homoerotic drawings he produced during the same time, but those proved to be a tougher sell.

In an era when sodomy was judged to be a felony in every state, full-frontal male nudity was considered obscene, and the art world was in the thrall of the macho Abstract Expressionists, Warhol had difficulty finding a gallery to show his gentle depictions of gay intimacy.

Finally, a personal connection at the Bodley Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side agreed to host a small exhibition, opening Studies for a Boy Book by Andy Warhol on Valentine’s Day 1956.

The drawings were reminiscent of Warhol favorite Jean Cocteau’s sketches’ in both subject matter and cleanly executed line. His models were friends, lovers, assistants, and other scenemakers.

Warhol’s friend, Robert Fleischer, a stationery buyer at Bergdorf Goodman’s, recalled:

He used to come over to my apartment on 76th Street. He used to come quite often. He always wanted to sketch me. At the same time, just about that time, I became a model. I was photographed a lot, and I was in retailing but earned part of my income by modeling and Andy used to sketch and sketch and sketch and sketch… He said he was going to do what he called his ‘Boy Book,’ and he wanted all of us to pose nude, and we did. There was loads of us… Andy loved to sketch models and very intimate sexual acts. Really! 

Warhol’s ambition to publish a monograph of A Boy Book went unrealized during his lifetime, but 300 of the drawings appear in Taschen’s just-released Andy Warhol. Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings 1950–1962. (You can purchase the book directly from Taschen here or on Amazon.)

The collection also features essays by biographer Blake Gopnik and critic Drew Zeiba, as well as poems by James BaldwinThom GunnHarold NorseAllen Ginsberg, and Essex Hemphill.

Warhol’s first studio assistant, antiquarian and illustrator Vito Giallo, remembered Warhol during this period: “He never considered himself a fine artist but he wished he could be. We often talked about that.”

As Michael Dayton Hermann, who edited Andy Warhol. Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings 1950–1962 observes:

Collectively, the hundreds of drawings Warhol made from life during this period provide a touching portrait of the one person not depicted in any of them—Andy Warhol.

Related Content: 

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Langston Hughes’ Homemade Christmas Cards From 1950

Who doesn’t treasure a handmade present?

As the years go by, we may begin to offload the ill-fitting sweaters, the never lit sand cast candles, and the Styrofoam ball snowmen. But a present made of words takes up very little space, and it has the Ghost of Christmas Past’s power to instantly evoke the sender as they once were.

Seventy years ago, poet Langston Hughes, too skint to go Christmas shopping, sent everyone on his gift list simple, homemade holiday postcards. Typed on white cardstock, each signed card was embellished with red and green pencils and mailed for the price of a 3¢ stamp.

As biographer Arnold Rampersad notes:

The last weeks of 1950 found him nevertheless in a melancholy mood, his spirits sinking lower again as he again became a target of red-baiting.

The year started auspiciously with The New York Times praising his libretto for The Barrier, an opera based on his play, Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South. But the opera was a commercial flop, and positive reviews for his book Simple Speaks His Mind failed to translate into the hoped-for sales.

Although he had recently purchased an East Harlem brownstone with an older couple who doted on him as they would a son, providing him with a sunny, top floor workspace, 1950 was far from his favorite year.

His typewritten holiday couplets took things out on a jaunty note, while paying light lip service to his plight.

Maybe we can aspire to the same…

Hughes’ handmade holiday cards reside in the Langston Hughes Papers in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, along with holiday cards specific to the African-American experience received from friends and associates.

via the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her latest alter ego, L’Ourse, wishes you a very merry Xmas and peace and health in the New Year  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Get Inside the Head of a New York City Christmas Tree: A Gonzo Short Film from Artist Nina Katchadourian

For every year this Christmas tree

Brings to us such joy and glee

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Such pleasure do you bring me…

All over New York City, tree stands are springing up like mushrooms.

Unlike the fanciful windows lining 5th avenue, the Union Square holiday market, or Rockefeller Center’s tree and skating rink, this seasonal pleasure requires no special trip, no threat of crowds.

You could battle traffic, and lose half a day, dragging the kids to a cut-your-own farm on Long Island or in New Jersey, but why, when the sidewalk stands are so festive, so convenient, so quintessentially New York?

The vendors hail from as far away as Vermont and Canada, shivering in lawn chairs and mobile homes 24-7.

What befalls the unsold trees on Christmas Eve?

No one knows. They vanish along with the vendors by Christmas morning.

The spontaneous cooperation of two such vendors was critical to artist Nina Katchadourian’s “Tree Shove,” above.

Katchadourian, who may look familiar to you from Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, recalls:

My friend Andrew had been hearing me say for years that I wanted to be shoved through one of those things and he found two friendly Canadians selling Christmas trees in a Brooklyn supermarket parking lot and worked it out with them.

The result is highly accessible, gonzo performance art from an artist who always lets the public in on the joke.

Add it to your annual holiday special playlist.

Related Content: 

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Byrne Turns His Acclaimed Musical American Utopia into a Picture Book for Grown-Ups, with Vivid Illustrations by Maira Kalman

Whatever your feelings about the sentimental, lighthearted 1960 Disney film Pollyanna, or the 1913 novel on which it’s based, it’s fair to say that history has pronounced its own judgment, turning the name Pollyanna into a slur against excessive optimism, an epithet reserved for adults who display the guileless, out-of-touch naïveté of children. Pitted against Pollyanna’s effervescence is Aunt Polly, too caught up in her grown-up concerns to recognize, until it’s almost too late, that maybe it’s okay to be happy.

Maybe we all have to be a little like practical Aunt Polly, but do we also have a place for Pollyannas? Can that not also be the role of the modern artist? David Byrne hasn’t been waiting for permission to spread joy in his late career. Contra the common wisdom of most adults, a couple years back Byrne began to gather positive news stories under the heading Reasons to Be Cheerfulnow an online magazine.

Then, Byrne had the audacity to call a 2018 album, tour, and Broadway show American Utopia, and the gall to have Spike Lee direct a concert film with the same title, and release it smack in the middle of 2020, a year all of us will be glad to see in hindsight. Byrne’s two-year endeavor can be seen as his answer to “American Carnage,” the grim phrase that began the Trump era.

As if all that weren’t enough, American Utopia is now an “impressionistic, sweetly illustrated adult picture book,” as Lily Meyer writes at NPR, “a soothing and uplifting, if somewhat nebulous, experience of art.” Working with artist Maira Kalman, Byrne has turned his conceptual musical into something like a “book-length poem… filled with charming illustrations of trees, dancers, and party-hatted dogs.”

Byrne’s project is not naive, Maria Popova argues at Brain Pickings, it’s Whitmanesque, a salvo of irrepressible optimism against “a kind of pessimistic ahistorical amnesia” in which we “judge the deficiencies of the present without the long victory ledger of past and fall into despair.” American Utopia doesn’t articulate this so much as perform it, either with bare feet and gray suits onstage or the vivid colors of Kalman’s drawings, “lightly at odds,” Meyer notes, “with Byrne’s words, transforming their plain optimism into a more nuanced appeal.”

American Utopia the book, like the musical before it, was written and drawn before the pandemic. Do Byrne and Kalman still have reasons to be cheerful post-COVID? Just last week, they sat down with Isaac Fitzgerald for Live Talks LA to discuss it. You can see the whole, hour-long conversation just above. Kalman confesses she’s still in “quiet shock,” but finds hope in historical perspective and “incredible people out there doing fantastic things.”

Byrne takes us on one of his fascinating investigations into the history of thought, referencing a theorist named Aby Warburg who saw in the sum total of art a kind “animated life” that connects us, past, present, and future, and who reminded him, “Yes, there are other ways of thinking about things!” Perhaps the visionary and the Pollyannaish need not be so far apart. See several more of Kalman and Byrne’s beautifully optimistic pages from American Utopia, the book, at Brain Pickings.

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Watch Life-Affirming Performances from David Byrne’s New Broadway Musical American Utopia

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch 26 Free Episodes of Jacques Pépin’s TV Show, More Fast Food My Way

You need never endeavor to make any of the recipes world renowned chef Jacques Pépin produced on camera in his 2008 series More Fast Food My Way.

The helpful hints he tosses off during each half hour episode more than justify a viewing.

The menu for the episode titled “The Egg First!,” above, includes Red Pepper DipAsparagus Fans with Mustard Sauce, Scallops Grenobloise, Potato Gratin with Cream, and Jam Tartines with Fruit Sherbet so simple, a child could make it (provided they’re set up with good quality poundcake in advance.)

Delicious… especially when prepared by a culinary master Julia Child lauded as “the best chef in America.”

And he’s definitely not stingy with matter-of-fact advice on how to peel asparagus, potatoes and hard boiled egg, grate fresh nutmeg with a knife, and dress up store bought mayo any number of ways.

His recipes (some available online here) are well suited to the current moment. The ingredients aren’t too difficult to procure, and each episode begins with a fast, easy dish that can be explained in a minute, such as Mini Croques-MonsieurAsian Chicken Livers, or Basil Cheese Dip.

Many of the dishes harken to his childhood in World War II-era Lyon:

When we were kids, before going to school, my two brothers and I would go to the market with my mother in the morning. She had a little restaurant… There was no car, so we walked to the market—about half a mile away—and she bought, on the way back, a case of mushrooms which was getting dark so she knew the guy had to sell it, so she’d try to get it for half price… She didn’t have a refrigerator. She had an ice box: that’s a block of ice in a cabinet. In there she’d have a couple of chickens or meat for the day. It had to be finished at the end of the day because she couldn’t keep it. And the day after we’d go to the market again. So everything was local, everything was fresh, everything was organic. I always say my mother was an organic gardener, but of course, the word ‘organic’ did not exist. But chemical fertilizer did not exist either.

If you have been spending a lot of time by yourself, some of the episode themes may leave a lump in your throat—Dinner Party SpecialGame Day Pressure, and Pop Over Anytime, which shows how to draw on pantry staples and convenience foods to “take the stress out of visitors popping in.”

The soon to be 85-year-old Pépin (Happy Birthday December 18, Chef!) spoke to Zagat earlier about the pandemic’s effect on the restaurant industry, how we can support one another, and the beauty of home cooked meals:

People—good chefs—are wondering how they will pay their rent. It is such a terrible feeling to have to let your employees go. In a kitchen, or a restaurant, we are like a family, so it is painful to separate or say goodbye. That said, it is important to be optimistic. This is not going to last forever.

Depending on where you are, perhaps this is a chance to reconnect with the land, with farmers, with the sources of food and cooking. This is a good time to plant a garden. And gardening can be very meditative. Growing food is not just for the food, but this process helps us to reconnect with who we are, why we love food, and why we love cooking. With this time, cook at home. Cook for your neighbor and drop the food off. Please your family and your friends and your own palate with food, for yourself. This is not always easy for a chef with the pressure of running a restaurant. Cooking is therapeutic…

Many people now are beginning to suffer economically. But if you can afford it, order take-out, and buy extra for your neighbors. If you can afford it, leave a very large tip. Think about the servers and dishwashers and cooks that may not be able to pay their rent this month. If you can be more generous than usual, that would be a good idea. We need to do everything we can to keep these restaurants in our communities alive.

…this moment is a reassessment and re-adjustment of our lives. Some good things may come of it. We may have the opportunity to get closer to one another, to sit as a family together at the table, not one or two nights a week, but seven! We may not see our friends, but we may talk on the phone more than before. Certainly, with our wives and children we will be creating new bonds. We will all be cooking more, even me. This may be the opportunity to extend your palate, and to get your kids excited about cooking and cooking with you.

Watch a playlist of Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way (they’re all embedded below) courtesy of KQED Public Television, which has also shared a number of free downloadable recipes from the program here.

Attention last minute holiday shoppers: the companion cookbook would make a lovely gift for the chef in your life (possibly yourself.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Are You Happy, David Lynch?

Filmmaker David Lynch answers a basic life question from Mary Anne Hobbs, BBC Radio 6 DJ, during a fan Q&A. The accompanying video apparently comes from The Art Life documentary trailer.

The source of Lynch’s happiness? Most likely meditation. Find more on that below.

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The Map of Doom: A Data-Driven Visualization of the Biggest Threats to Humanity, Ranked from Likely to Unlikely

Surely you’ve learned, as I have, to filter out the constant threats of doom. It’s impossible to function on high alert all of the time. But one must stay at least minimally informed. To check the news even once a day is to encounter headline after headline announcing DOOM IS COMING! Say that we’re all desensitized, and rather than react, we evaluate: In what way will doom arrive? How bad will the doom be? There are many competing theories of doom. Which one is most likely, and how can we understand them in relation to each other?

For this level of analysis, we might turn to Dominic Walliman, physicist and proprietor of Domain of Science, the YouTube channel and website that has brought us entertaining and comprehensive maps of several scientific fields, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and quantum physics. Is ranking apocalypses a scientific field of study, you might wonder? Yes, when it is a data-driven threat assessment. Walliman surveyed and analyzed, as he says in his introduction, “all of the different threats to humanity that exist.”

When the pandemic hit last winter, “we as a society were completely unprepared for it,” despite the fact that experts had been warning us for decades that exactly such a threat was high on the scale of likelihood. Are we focusing on the wrong kinds of doom, to the exclusion of more pressing threats? Instead of panicking when the coronavirus hit, Walliman cooly wondered what else might be lurking around the corner. “Crikey,” says the New Zealander upon the first reveal of his Map of Doom, “there’s quite a lot aren’t there?”

Not content to just collect disasters (and draw them as if they were all happening at the same time), Walliman also wanted to find out which ones pose the biggest threat, “using some real data.” After the Map of Doom comes the Chart of Doom, an XY grid plotting the likelihood and severity of various crises. These include ancient stalwarts like super volcanoes; far more recent threats like nuclear war and catastrophic climate change; cosmic threats like asteroids and collapsing stars; terrestrial threats like widespread societal collapse and extra-terrestrial threats like hostile aliens….

At the top of the graph, at the limit of “high likelihood,” there lies the “already happening zone,” including, of course, COVID-19, climate change, and volatile extreme weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis. At the bottom, in the “impossible to calculate” zone, we find sci-fi events like rogue AI, rogue black holes, rogue nano-bots, hostile aliens, and the collapse of the vacuum of space. All theoretically possible, but in Walliman’s analysis mostly unlikely to occur. As in all of his maps, he cites his sources on the video’s YouTube page.

If you’re not feeling quite up to a data presentation on mass casualty events just now, you can download the Map and Chart of Doom here and peruse them at your leisure. Pick up a Map of Doom for the wall at Walliman’s site, and while you’re there, why not buy an “I survived 2020” sticker. Maybe it’s premature, and maybe in poor taste. And maybe in times of doom we need someone to face the facts of doom squarely, turn them into cartoon infographics of doom, and claim victories like living through another calendar year.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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