Information Age

Cora Lewis
Illustration by Tung Chau

How can you stand it?” a man asks a woman on a building’s stoop as I pass by.

“First of all,” she says, “I can’t.”

This year, the year of the declassified alien dossier and the blaze in Glacier Park, I have my own sources, despite my general-assignment role on the breaking news desk.

Season to season, I cover California wildfires, Gulf Coast hurricanes, and the country’s dark constellation of shootings. I train or Greyhound to campaign rallies and recounts. When I’m not in the field, the day’s celebrity death falls to me, if there’s no pre-write —so, often the young and healthy, by drugs or suicide.

I’m a half-decade in now, at the online outlet. I can summarize in no time flat the day’s virtual controversy or IRL outrage. When I do it just right, hundreds of thousands of people click.

There’s a place for what the website does in the world. At least, a market for it. So I often say. It’s human interest, ghastly crime, sensational gossip. The funny pages and crossword, refreshed for an instantaneous information age.

Phoenix, a campaign stop
. I see a snake and a scorpion the same morning, en route to a stump speech. I mention them to a photographer I know there.

“Anything alive in Arizona doesn’t want you to be.”

Back in New York
, a booth in a bar.

“It’s got Warhols on the walls,” I hear a woman tell her date. She’s hoping to impress.

“The thing about Warhol,” says the date, “was he was prolific.”

Now I’m walking Saul’s dog with him, but I’m not being assertive with the leash.

“Tell Milo what’s what,” he says.

I don’t change my pace. “What’s what, Milo,” I say.

There is no there there,” is a line of Gertrude Stein’s that an editor has started using in meetings. “Where, in this piece,” he asks, “would you say, is the ‘there’?”

Everyone hopes this passes, and it does.

Now Saul is telling me his favorite definition of “life.” It goes, “the sum of functions by which death is resisted.”

I ALWAYS LIKED THAT THE ECONOMIST doesn’t have bylines,” I tell a new acquaintance. He’s been reading an issue.

“What’s a byline?”

“The part of the article that says who wrote it. Who it’s by.”

“Do they all have those?”

“Usually,” I say. “Almost every time, they do, yes.”

A friend’s directing his first movie, a short.

“Is it fun?” I ask.

“It’s better.”

Late evening, Cleveland. Outside, a hot summer twilight. Inside, a politician’s apartment.

“We’re not aiming for lockstep unity,” I hear. “We’re not interested in parroting views.”

In one room, operatives smoke pot, bodies stretched on surfaces. In another, figures grasp drink stems, feet shift to music.

It sounded different when Shakespeare said it, but that’s meter for you.

My source sees me arrive from the kitchen, where he’s adding ice to a rocks glass. He comes over and hugs me, the sexless hug of a professional after-hours, then guides me through the open rooms: “Glad you came.”

We approach a union chief, a woman in a shirt reading “Bread and Roses.” She’s stirring a pot on the stove, adjusting the burner.

“Do you feel lucky to be here?” she asks, turning towards me.

EARLIER, I covered the conference at Cleveland State on assignment, going only into spaces my press pass had permitted. There’d been concerns there might be violence at the campus edge—a protest slated, and a counter-protest, and disagreement over which tactics to deploy. My contact, a reporter-turned-PR-guy, had invited me to the private HQ party over the wishes of some rank-and-filers, I knew. But no one doesn’t go backstage.

We want transformational change, not transactional change,” a union-local president instructs a salt I recognize.

“You might know me by my handle,” the plant tells me. I nod, the avatar and face a match.

“What’s yours?” I ask a woman at my elbow, her T-shirt a blank.

“You don’t want mine,” she says. “I’m just an ear to the ground for the talking heads.”

“How is it for you?” Bread-and-Roses presses me. “Are you getting what you’re looking for?”

“May as well write it down,” says the ear to the ground, walking away.

Everything interests you,” my ex tells me now. “The horizons of your mind are broad.”

“You used to tell me I was too tolerant, too broad-minded,” I say. “That I suffered fools.”

“I should never have said that.”

The tone’s the thing,” I hear the opinion editor say, by the office soda machine. “Often wrong, never in doubt.”

Making dinner at Saul’s, I keep my distance. I tell him a bug’s been going around, laying my roommates low

“Some biologists consider viruses to be alive, because they contain genetic material and reproduce,” he tells me, grating ginger for a dressing. We’re assembling a vast salad.

“I’ve heard ‘living dead,’” I say.

“Right. But they lack enough characteristics of life that others consider them ‘replicators.’”

“What characteristics do they lack?”

“Cell structure, homeostasis, an ability to grow and change.”

“Replicators,” I say, committing it to memory.

“They walk among us.”

Relax the skin of your forehead,” the exercise instructor is saying in the morning. “Relax the skin of your knees.”

I exchange a look with the woman one mat over.

“Remember: the greatest live-action play of all is unfolding around you in real time.”

It sounded different when Shakespeare said it, but that’s meter for you.

He’s easy with people. She’s easy with people.”

“Well, who’s hard with people?”

“I am.”

The party is full of chitchat and noise. Then I hear something witty. “I wish I’d said that,” I tell my companion.

“I’m sure you will.”

Cora Lewis is a writer and reporter based in St. Louis. Her fiction has appeared in Epiphany and her nonfiction in BuzzFeed News, among other outlets. She received her BA from Yale University and her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis.
Originally published:
March 21, 2022


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