Essay: The Bright Cave Under the Hat

A man in a park in Phoenix showed me how to make a home out of cardboard boxes. Not a home, exactly, but something like a backyard playhouse built by an ingenious child. The cardboard boxes interlocked, and the shelter, secret and cozy, kept out the cold of the Arizona night. The man, named Ernest, had once been an engineer at the Boeing Co.

Ernest, I came to understand, was a sort of brilliant grown-up orphan: he had an air that was both distinguished and tattered. Something in his mind had broken years before. He survived on technique. Ernest taught me...

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