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Illustration by Amy Friend

Lord of the WASPs

My grandmother bought her first island in 1952. It was eight acres in the shape of a meaty drumstick, a hunk of sunbaked granite off the eastern shore of the Georgian Bay, in southern Ontario.

Photo by Jeff Sharlet

Telemetry

For two years I’ve been walking into the tall grass to take snapshots of this field at the top of the “crooked mile,” a winding hill that leads into the shallow valley of swamp and stream in which my house stands, just past the sign that reads pavement ends. I use my phone. I want the rough eye. The note. The diary. The record. The document. This time, this moment, unplanned.

Anna Schuleit Haber, No. 059 Two Brothers.

American Cool

With most screenwriters, the work lives well after the name is forgotten. So it is with W. R. Burnett, who is all but lost in public memory, and yet the long narrative reach of this screenwriter and forgotten novelist extends to half a dozen key pop-culture tropes, especially cable drama’s dependence on tortured suburban outlaws—Tony Soprano, Walter White, Nancy Botwin. Burnett’s narrative innovations helped shape the arc of a century’s worth of popular culture, starting with his first novel, Little Caesar, a surprise bestseller in 1929 that was adapted into Hollywood’s first gangster film; together with Scarface (Burnett wrote the 1932 screenplay), these two films remain gangster boilerplate. A decade later, he helped create film noir through director John Huston’s adaptation of Burnett’s novel High Sierra and his own screenplay for Graham Greene’s This Gun for Hire. Burnett also has a solid claim to inventing the heist film with 1950’s The Asphalt Jungle, a novel-turned-noir classic (again by Huston) that even had a Blaxploitation remake a generation later, called Cool Breeze. His last screenplay was for The Great Escape, the acclaimed 1963 World War II film that established Steve McQueen as an icon of cool: His character’s nickname was “The Cooler King,” in reference to his ability to maintain his dignity and sanity even in solitary confinement (that is, even in “the cooler”). Five years later, Burnett’s last novel, The Cool Man, was a swan song for his most original contribution to American cool: the existential criminal. This admirable figure was an independent, ethical man within his own code, riveting for his contradictions, and ultimately doomed as someone who, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, lives outside the law because he assumes himself honest.

Illustration by Claire Scully

Twinkle, Twinkle, Vogel Staar

Whistle a little Mozart to a starling in a cage. If it knows humans as creatures that sing and are sung to, the bird will shut its beak. It will arch its starling neck, bending toward your puckered lips.

Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

Mysterious American Cat

Due to their increasingly isolated habitats, the native mountain lion population of Los Angeles is under threat of extinction. Ryan Bradley discusses one solution under consideration, as well as the surprising relationship between big cats and one of the most populated cities in the country