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We ignore the powerless at our own peril, says LBJ biographer Robert Caro.

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Robert Caro doesn’t want to renew his lease. He tells me this on a cold day in mid-October, as we stand in an elevator bay on the 22nd floor of the Fisk Building on West 57th Street. He has worked in this same office, every day, for the last 26 years. He likes his routine — he dresses to write (this day he was wearing a periwinkle v-neck sweater and a pair of pressed khakis; an informal choice for a man who usually puts on a tie before he writes a single word), walks from his apartment on Central Park West down to Columbus Circle, and takes the same rickety elevator up to the cloistered rectangle of grey carpet and a drab brown desk where he has written the last two orchestral volumes of Lyndon Johnson’s biography. …


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Because this is 2015, we open on an Instagram. My favorite of the year. I didn’t take this particular photograph, but I did screengrab it, meditate on it, make it my phone background. It was a picture of an Excel spreadsheet.

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Illustration by Amanda Lanzone

I was up late one night a few months ago working on a profile of Claire Boucher a.k.a. Grimes and I had hit a writing impasse in the homestretch. So I cannonballed into her ’gram (a.k.a. dogged cultural reportage). I scrolled back a few weeks, trying not to accidentally double-tap anything at 3 a.m. (lurkers never win). …


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This was the first message I sent into the void in 2015, and I don’t remember being particularly happy when I wrote it. I was heading back to Brooklyn from one of those New Year’s Eve parties in a Manhattan apartment that is pleasant and has the right bowls of snacks out but also makes you wish you never dared leave the house; on New Year’s eve the party juice is never really worth the squeeze unless you have a designated face to smash your face into and enough petty cash saved up to cover surge pricing. The moment midnight hit, I watched other people kiss, shoved a handful of fun-size candy bars into my bag, and ghosted without fanfare. I walked alone through the West Village in search of a yellow cab for twenty minutes, through throngs of financebois in starchy shirts and women in bandage dresses, shivering and stockingless. I had just broken up with someone, and the solo swim through the drunken maw felt both like a mourning and a release; necessary either way. I held a piece of information close to my heart that bolstered me: I had gotten an email confirming that I would see my first New Yorker piece in print the next week. …

About

Rachel Syme

Writer/adventuress/reporter about town.

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