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May 22, 2024

'The Unnamed' — Joshua Ferris


A 2010 novel about a man who develops an uncontrollable urge to walk until he drops to the ground from exhaustion.

The episodes can begin at any time and are no more controllable than hunger.

When the walking first appears, he's a litigating partner in a major New York City law firm with a wonderful wife and marriage, a thirteen-year-old daughter named Becka, and a comfortable home in the suburbs.

After four months, the walking compulsion disappears as mysteriously as it had come on.

Four years later it reappears, this time for thirteen months, during which time he goes from to doctor after doctor, gets worked up at the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics, and has a description of his case published in the New England Journal of Medicine, all to no avail as none of the specialists he consults can offer a diagnosis or effective treatment.

He resorts to having his wife chain him to his bed to prevent him from leaving the house, but this fails when he pretty much goes berserk while restrained when the need to walk strikes.

Once again, the walking episodes stop.

Until, as the book opens, it returns for a third time.

His law partners grow increasingly unhappy with his unexpected, pretty much inexplicable absences, and his wife finally wearies of having to drive to where he's found himself after an episode stops, usually with him outside and a long way from home.

The descent of an ordinary man from an apparently secure, charmed life into a living hell is chronicled beautifully by Ferris, in such a way that the book for me was as absorbing as any I've read this year.

Excerpts below.

He enjoyed against his will those narcoleptic episodes that set him down wherever the walks concluded, the pinched-eye, clenched-fist sleep of a newborn. He had watched Becka as a baby with her smooth pink brow and he couldn't recall ever sleeping with such enviable unburdened purity. Horses ran through his brain the minute his head hit the pillow. He drifted into bad sleep drafting motions. He carried on pointless exchanges with opposing counsel. But this sleep, these black-dot swoons — coming after such punishing miles, after the caloric drain and metabolic change — were invigorating. And he came out of them with perfect clarity. Everything was bright. Even in the landscape of that dead season, even among the black snow, the world was crisp and lucid. He could make out every nub-ended tree branch, he heard the crawl of a crow across a black wire, he smelled the carbon in the decomposing earth. It offered him a brief respite before he was forced to wonder again just where on earth he was.


Once he ran with the goal to exhaust himself. Maybe there was no slowing down, but could speed it up. He could move his head, his limbs — hell, he could dance so long as he kept moving forward. Like a stutterer in song. He juked and huffed around casual city walkeruntil he was in New Jersey and his lungs hit a wall and he stopped. But his legs, he realized at once, had every intention of continuing, and continue they would until they were through. He couldn't believe what he had inflicted on himself, his muscles quivering with fatigue, every step like lifting out of quicksand.


He walked from the main road to the subdivision. His body trembled with cold. It had let him know, five minutes earlier, that the walk had come to its end. He wore his suit coat backward, the back in front, which did better against the wind, and his hands were wrapped in plastic bags. He had swooped down during the walk and plucked them from the icy ground, one hand in a black plastic bag and the other in a white one.

The first house was circumscribed by a chain-link fence. He forced the latch up and stumbled to the door. He tried to think of what he might say. The right idea wasn't coming. The words behind the idea were out of reach. He was at one remove from the person who knew how to form ideas and say words.

He fell to his knees before he could ring the doorbell. He put his bagged hands on the storm door and rested his head there. The metal was cold against his cheek. He fought with angry determination for two or three seconds. If he could defy the tidal fatigue, his body wouldn't win, and might still learn that someone had discovered him and would see him to safety.


It was true he was depressed. Depression followed in lockstep with each recurrence, a morose inwardness with which he tyrannized whatever room he happened to drift into and glaze over, waiting for the next walk to take him. But it wasn't a permanent, abiding depression. Sadness always gave way to a bout of pugnacity in which he thought again, I'm going to beat this thing. He was tough and he was special and he had inner resources, he had many things going for him, and others had seen much worse, time was precious and things happened for a reason and there was always an upside, and it only took a good attitude to fight and and win and and nothing was going to stop him and tomorrow was another day.


The next walk took him from the motel to a Home Depot to the McDonald's to the strip mall with the Family Dollar store. He came to a stop outside a mall, specifically the long wall of glass doors leading into the Sears wing, locked at that time of night. A stone ashtray and stone bench matched the plain stone arcade above the doors that extended twenty feet out toward the parking lot to keep the smokers dry and the old people safe from the treacheries of the curb while awaiting rides. He remembered all over again how pleasurable it was, arguably the most pleasurable physical experience of his life, to arrive at the end and, without giving a damn where, to lie down, the blood in his veins still walking, and to yield to the exhaustion. He fell asleep on the stone bench by a refugee tree in a metal grate and by the time mall security came to run him off he'd gotten the sleep he needed and felt oddly cheery.

He walked to the fork in the road and went left and that road gradually curved around and followed the stucco wall of a private country club and then went up past the cemetery and a few miles later down a hill to a reservoir sitting beyond a bank of trees,which gave way to a public golf course, and then to a switching station humming menacingly behind a chain-link cage, and he continued onward to a town square, through the parking lot, and he walked the edges of gas stations hung with red and white flag bunting along another endless avenue until five mile later a writhing parabola of highway appeared and his body stopped under an overpass festooned with graffiti, where he lay down a few feet from traffic rushing overhead and fell asleep.


In the past he could sleep anywhere, in the snares of frostbite and the hothouses of heatstroke, exposed to ticks, spiders, snakes, the insult of birds, the menace of authorities and of the evil intentions of men.

The decision one night to sleep on the side of the road had forced him into the back of a squad car and his God talk and end-of-days ranting combined with some old-fashioned disrespect ended up with him in the psych ward under physical restraint. He was given a more effective cocktail of antipsychotics and forced to take it, daily, until his release, upon which time the importance of finding seclusion and providing protection for himself became intuitive again. That's when he bought the tent, the bedroll and the new pack.

He established a rule never to linger too long at a campsite. He was not free to enjoy the ebb and flow of an hour, the leaves quivering in the wind, or the distant patch of drifting sky. Meditation and mindless wonder led to disaster.


Ferris reads from his novel.


he talks about his book.

May 22, 2024 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Scot Halpin, Accidental Drummer for The Who

From James Wood's article about Keith Moon in the November 29, 2010 issue of The New Yorker:

In San Francisco, in 1973, he took so many [pills]... that, after slopping his way through several songs, he collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital....

What magically happened onstage, while Moon was being carted away, was incised on my teen-age cerebellum.

Pete Townshend asked the crowd if anyone could come up and play the drums.

Scot Halpin, a nineteen-year-old, and presumably soon to be the most envied teen-ager in America, got onto the stage, and performed in Moon's place.

Townshend's plea to the audience happens 5:24 into the video up top (ignore the digital clock on the screen).

Halpin died of a brain tumor on February 9, 2008.

He was 54.

On January 27, 2009, The Who created a memorial blog "featuring a work of his art and music, each day for one year, commencing February 9, 2009, the first anniversary of his passing."

May 22, 2024 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

World's Most Beautiful Vegetable Brush










May 22, 2024 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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