From “The Search for Marvin Gardens” by John McPhee (discovered in The Next American Essay, ed. by John D’Agata, who is only a little older then I am – I know this because he has selected one essay per year from the year he was born to the present – and editing collections of experimental or at least boundary-shaking essays, which he describes as “that genre known as ‘something else.'”). The piece that starts this book, “And,” by Guy Davenport, is a tiny, beautiful “something else” – meditation? – that I would quote except that I’d have to quote the whole thing. I felt pretentious buying this collection of essays, but now I think it is exactly what’s needed.

I buy Vermont Avenue for $100. My opponent is a tall, shadowy figure, across from me, but I know him well, and I know his game like a favorite tune. If he can, he will always go for the quick kill. And when it is foolish to go for the quick kill he will be foolish. On the whole, though, he is a master assessor of percentages. It is a mistake to underestimate him. His eleven carries his top hat to St. Charles Place, which he buys for $140.


The sidewalks of St. Charles Place have been cracked to shards by through-growing weeds. There are no buildings. Mansions, hotels once stood here. A few street lamps now drop cones of light on broken glass and vacant space behind a chain-link fence that some great machine has in places bent to the ground. Five plane trees – in full summer leaf, flecking the light – are all that live on St. Charles Place.

For a brief period of childhood, maybe one summer, I could reliably swindle my siblings in games of Monopoly that felt like our trades had one-upped the stiff rules of an ordinary board game. I don’t know how it felt to them. Soon they stopped trading with me, and the game sank back down into rolls of the die and cards pulled from piles.


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