»  The Straggler

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"I am a straggler. I may leave this town and go to Grand Cairo, without being missed here or observed there."

                    — Boswell's Life of Johnson, 17 April 1778

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From October 2002 to March 2012 I contributed an as-I-please column to the back pages of National Review. The topics were anything I felt like writing about, though with a suitably back-of-the-magazine flavor—no heavyweight political or social commentary.

Asked to give a name to the column, I could only think of Johnson and his Ramblers and Idlers. Because I was bringing up the rear of the magazine, and perhaps also because of a nagging feeling that I am always a bit behind everyone else at taking in news and trends, I settled on "The Straggler."

The column ran in every other issue of National Review, alternating with Rick Brookhiser's "City Desk" column. The vague idea was, I think, that Rick should write about city life while I wrote about the suburbs, in the manner of those "Town and Country" columns you get in British literary/political weekly magazines.

It didn't work out exactly like that, since Rick spends a lot of time out of the city and I am frequently in it. Still I think we kept some of that flavor, since Rick, if not a totally committed urbanite, is more urban (and definitely less suburban) in sensibility than I am.

The magazine's format required that these one-page columns be in the range 1,050-1,100 words. That's a very good discipline for a writer to have imposed on him—especially a writer like myself, with a tendency to sprawl.

[N.B.—The Straggler column only acquired its name at column number 3, as listed below. Because the first two columns were in the same spirit, and at the same place in the magazine, I grandfathered them in to the Straggler family.]

  Number   Date Title Topic
112 April 2, 2012 Desperate But Not Serious Review of the fiscal situation.
111 March 5, 2012 O Valiant Hearts Remembering a brave soldier.
110 February 6, 2012 The Higher Silliness Bidibidobidiboo and other art objects.
109 November 28, 2011 Nations of the Mind Russia, imagined and real.
108 November 28, 2011 The Proper Study I am ill-read.
107 October 31, 2011 Words, Words, Words Goodbye, "supererogate."
106 October 3, 2011 Catalog Shopper While I still can.
105 August 29, 2011 A Glimpse of Hell The lost souls of consumer culture.
104 July 18, 2011 Ex Libris Confessions of a book amasser.
103 June 20, 2011 A Walk in Caria I visit Turkey.
102 May 16, 2011 Tumbled the Towers The fragility of civilization.
101 April 18, 2011 Decline and Fall I become a client of the
    welfare state.
100 March 21, 2011 Recycling the Sixties Brace for the big commemoration.
99 February 21, 2011 Morpheme Addiction Learning to talk Turkey.
98 January 24, 2011 Shovel Ready I fill a hole.
97 December 20, 2010 Hats Checked If you want to get ahead, get a hat!
96 November 15, 2010 Sad, Bad, Mad Capital punishment then and now.
95 October 18, 2010 A Sea of Glass The past, present, and future of
    an indispensible material.
94 September 20, 2010 Labor Pains The world of work.
93 August 16, 2010 On Thy Silver Wheels I become a cyclist.
92 July 19, 2010 Dinner with the Buckleys Priscilla and James.
91 June 21, 2010 Follow the Fleet The Navy comes to Manhattan.
90 May 17, 2010 The Voice of the Derg The risk-reward equation in medicine.
89 April 19, 2010 The Arts of Cheerfulness Clubs and clubbability.
88 March 22, 2010 No Hiding Place Finding each other with Google.
87 February 22, 2010 Second Childhood Reflections on being an immigrant.
86 January 25, 2010 Car Talk Thoughts from passenger-seat limbo.
85 December 21, 2009 Machine Dreams Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
84 November 23, 2009 Driveway Drama Adventures in asphalt.
83 October 19, 2009 The Glorious Eighteenth Captain Cook, Mozart,
    and the Founding Fathers.
82 September 7, 2009 Creative Destruction Sell auto-makers, buy self-storage.
81 August 10, 2009 Summertime Blues Twelve weeks of juvenile idleness.
80 July 6, 2009 Magnificent Folly We Landed on the Moon
    40 Years Ago.
79 June 8, 2009 Office Romance Confessions of a papyrast.
78 May 4, 2009 Juvenal Delinquent One of the leading darks.
77 April 6, 2009 Shooting Like a Gentleman The pheasant that got away.
76 March 9, 2009 Down in the Dumps From beneath the sign of Saturn.
75 February 9, 2009 Chance of a Ghost The occult is still with us.
74 December 29, 2008 The Cold Eye We need some H.L. Mencken.
73 December 1, 2008 No, We Can't Nature/nurture total
    immersion course.
72 November 3, 2008 De Haut En Bas Life in the middle.
71 September 29, 2008 Over the Boardwalk Playing the slots in Atlantic City.
70 September 1, 2008 On the Shelf Libraries and their discontents.
69 August 4, 2008 Distant Voices The past is full of noises.
68 June 30, 2008 The Road to Wisdom Taking a walk.
67 June 2, 2008 New Every Morning First meal of the day.
66 May 5, 2008 Green the Tree of Life A nephew gets married.
65 Apr. 7, 2008 A Rumor of Angels Family ski trip.
64 Mar. 10, 2008 White Lightning Drinking, Chinese style.
63 Feb. 11, 2008 Gripe Homeostasis Not my favorite time of year.
62 Dec. 31, 2007 Maps and Chaps Cartophilia.
61 Dec. 3, 2007 It's a Living The jobs we do.
60 Nov. 5, 2007 Left behind WW1, the spinster-maker.
59 Oct. 8, 2007 The Virtual Attic Keep junk alive!
58 Sept. 10, 2007 Fled Is That Music Junior wins one.
57 Aug. 13, 2007 Let's Get Physical Weilding a shovel, or spade.
56 July 9, 2007 Out of the Box Just not a TV person.
55 June 11, 2007 The Sea! The Sea! Seen from a cruise ship.
54 May 14, 2007 Single Parent Blues Mrs. Straggler takes a trip.
53 Apr. 16, 2007 Keep Hope Alight! How I miss cigarettes!
52 Mar. 19, 2007 Old School Tie I wish I'd been
    the Child Left Behind.
51 Feb. 12, 2007 Flow Ho Ho My annual jigsaw puzzle.
50 Dec. 31, 2006 On the House Painting the garage.
49 Dec. 4, 2006 Evergreen Elsinore The thing not done.
48 Nov. 6, 2006 Numbering the Nation How many of us are there?
47 Oct. 9, 2006 Gridiron Dad Junior joins a football team.
46 Sept. 11, 2006 Too Darn Hot Sweating through the summer.
45 Aug. 7, 2006 I Sing the Hobby Electric But how does it work?
44 July 3, 2006 Letters to the Editor A low and embarrassing genre.
43 June 5, 2006 Reading Lolita in Long Island We were so much older then.
42 May 8, 2006 The Future Comes Apace Illegal immigrants on the march.
41 Apr. 10, 2006 The Year That Was Remembering 1963.
40 Feb. 27, 2006 A Room of One's Own Up in the attic.
39 Feb. 13, 2006 Getting Pally with Ally Getting a feel for McBeal.
38 Dec. 5, 2005 Bonfire Memories Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
37 Nov. 7, 2005 Law's Grave Study Picking a new judge.
36 Oct. 10, 2005 The Same Old Story Murder in a country lane.
35 Sept. 12, 2005 Grand Tour The Stragglers cross the pond.
34 Aug. 8, 2005 Competitive Instincts Weekly magazine competitions.
33 July 4, 2005 Blinding Science The school science fair.
32 June 6, 2005 Britain Turns Are there any conservatives
    over there?
31 May 9, 2005 Fountains and Stuff A trip to Our Nation's Capital.
30 Apr. 11, 2005 Last Call Looking forward to old age … not.
29 Mar. 13, 2005 Vox Humana The sound of my own voice.
28 Feb. 14, 2005 Count Me Out Conservative anti-Census rant.
27 Dec. 31, 2004 Yes, Un-Deedy Deediness is next to godliness.
26 Dec. 13, 2004 Fall Festival Purchasing pickles in the park.
25 Nov. 8, 2004 Boxing Day Step aside, Rocky.
24 Sept. 27, 2004 Tiny Revolutions Where's the soap? Where's
    my hankie?
23 Aug. 23, 2004 Sweet Sorrow Saying goodbye to neighbors.
22 July 26, 2004 Seer or Sucker? The unbearable lightness
    of gents' tailoring.
21 June 28, 2004 Splinter Party I dedicate my treehouse.
20 May 31, 2004 On the Fence The contractors arrive.
19 May 3, 2004 Book Report Reading books for a living.
18 Apr. 5, 2004 Open Wide A visit to the dentist.
17 Mar. 8, 2004 War Games Playing Stratego with Junior.
16 Feb. 9, 2004 The Decline of Stuff The pageant gets more insubstantial.
15 Dec. 31, 2003 Snow-Bound—A Winter Idyl Sheltering from the elements.
14 Dec. 8, 2003 Image Conscious Sitting for a portrait.
13 Nov. 10, 2003 Riding the Rails The joys of commuting.
12 Oct. 13, 2003 The Tale of the Tapes Out walking with P. Vergilius Maro.
11 Sept. 15, 2003 Conversion Experience I switch to the wheelie.
10 Aug. 11, 2003 Post-hole Serenade You can't fight City Hall.
9 July 14, 2003 Name That Tune I can't.
8 June 16, 2003 Short Back and Sides Getting a haircut.
7 May 19, 2003 Long Island Easter Picnic in the park.
6 Apr. 21, 2003 The Home Front The house needs fixing.
5 Mar. 24, 2003 I Was an Illegal Alien And nobody cared.
4 Feb. 24, 2003 Dads and Cads Parenting equals guilt.
3 Jan. 27, 2003 Nor Custom Stale Shy about your age?
2 Nov. 11, 2002 Timor mortis conturbat me Air in the chest.
1 Oct. 14, 2002 What's New? Our back pages.