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Dear Reader – Alexander Chee-Curated Series of Letters

The first ten years of my life I moved around Greece and believed in ghosts. The line between the present and the legend was crossed daily. My aunts and grandmothers baked wheat for the dead, and placed food at cemeteries to nourish the spirits. They bought shoes for mummified saints who would wear them out and every year, at their name-day, needed replacement. They made stockings to please Kallikantzaroi, ancient demons during the holidays. All semireligious rituals from pre-Byzantine times that the Greek Orthodox Church had licensed in, or looked the other way; breaking rules through small paganistic allowances, kept the regime going. Feed a bit of forbidden behavior, just, and you rule it.

I divorced that world when I moved to California, but never forgot about it. My Greece stories flickering by then, diminished to anecdotes over Pinot Noir dinners in Menlo Park and West Hollywood with metaphysical charlatans who used entanglement and cosmic inflation to flirt and convince me that what I cannot see doesn’t mean that it’s not there. But when I started hotel living—I spent years in hotels as a management consultant—ghosts slowly reentered my life. Cute, at first, the staff showed me the room that Oscar Wilde preferred at The Lancaster, or gave me the tour of the suite Marlene Dietrich lived during her late years in Paris, Please don’t touch anything, she hates it when guests move her lilac chairs. She does? She walks around at nights. We have footage! I want to see that. Oh, don’t sign John Belushi for the room service at the bungalow, it’s gotten old, he gets angry. The maître d? No, John! Folksy. But who cares, I went ahead and signed J.B. anyway.

And then a ghost found me. I opened my eyes to the light from the New York snow invading my room. It was Sunday. Showered, threw on my gym clothes and went down to the lobby to get the first espresso of the day, where I met him. It. Was in a white wool suit, in February. Slim, youthful, but with a lived, Mick Jagger face. Looked at me and I shivered. We were alone at the counter, and I smiled nervously. He asked me if I still go to church like I used to. I paused, not sure for how long I stared. I have not been for a while, I finally said, and reached for my espresso, took a sip, to make things normal again. And he was gone.

Curated by Alexander Chee.