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The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey Into His Father’s Life

The first chapter from The Magical Stranger, Stephen Rodrick’s memoir about his father, squadron commander and Navy pilot Peter Rodrick. Our thanks to Rodrick for sharing it with the Longreads community.
PUBLISHED: June 10, 2014
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2779 words)

Longreads Best of 2013: Here Is What Happens After You Write a New York Times Story About Lindsay Lohan

Stephen Rodrick (@stephenrodrick) is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, contributing editor for Men’s Journal and author of The Magical Stranger.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 27, 2013

A Pilot's Son, Flying Solo

An excerpt from the new book The Magical Stranger. Rodrick was 12 when his pilot father died in a plane crash:

"A colleague once nicknamed me – half mocking – the 'magical stranger' because I get people to tell me things. But to me, the magical stranger has always been my father. He was brilliant and unknowable, holy but absent, a born leader who gave me little direction. Peter Rodrick was one of only around 4,000 men in the world qualified to land jets on a carrier after dark. And he was an apparition, gone 200 days of the year from when I was six until he died. He was such a ghost that I didn't fully accept he was gone for years.

"Evidence of the actual man was harder to come by. His pictures hung on our walls, but Mom never talked about him. Most of my father was locked away in cruise boxes and crates in our basement: a framed picture from the Brockton Enterprise of a boy with a pole on the first day of fishing season; a long black leather sleeve holding a sword, and a small metal box containing envelopes with single dollar bills sent to him on his birthday by his father, the envelopes still coming for years after he died."
PUBLISHED: May 9, 2013
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7374 words)

To Catch (and Release) a Predator With Rachel Graham

A profile of Rachel Graham, who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect sharks that are disappearing from the ocean:

"Some eco groups suggest that as many as 73 million sharks are killed globally every year. Hammerheads, blue sharks, mako sharks – they're disappearing, and they ain't coming back.

"Unless activists like Graham have a say. Most of Graham's life is now spent trying to reverse the damage that has already been done. She tells me that because sharks are almost all cartilage, there are no skeletons to recover and study. Basic information about their lives still eludes scientists.

"'We don't even know how long they gestate – no idea,' explains Graham. 'We can't save them if we don't know where they go and how they live.'"
PUBLISHED: March 20, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4148 words)

Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie

Director Paul Schrader and writer Bret Easton Ellis attempt to make a film with Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen—with a budget of $250,000:

"Lohan sits down, smiles and skips the small talk.

"'Hi, how are you? I won’t play Cynthia. I want to play Tara, the lead.' Braxton Pope and Paul Schrader nod happily. They’d been tipped off by her agent that this was how it was going to go. They tell her that sounds like a great idea.

"Schrader thinks she’s perfect for the role. Not everyone agrees. Schrader wrote 'Raging Bull' and 'Taxi Driver' and has directed 17 films. Still, some fear Lohan will end him. There have been house arrests, car crashes and ingested white powders. His own daughter begs him not to use her. A casting-director friend stops their conversation whenever he mentions her name. And then there’s the film’s explicit subject matter. Full nudity and lots of sex. Definitely NC-17. His wife, the actress Mary Beth Hurt, didn’t even finish the script, dismissing it as pornography after 50 pages. She couldn’t understand why he wanted it so badly.

"But Schrader was running out of chances."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 31 minutes (7752 words)

Greetings from Williston, North Dakota

A trip to an oil boomtown transformed by thousands of young men arriving to find work:

"I'd heard Williston was a magical place. A small town where the recession didn't exist, where you could make six figures driving a truck, and where oil bubbles straight up from the Earth's Bakken layer like water from an elementary school fountain. Or at least that's what I saw on the news.

"Men came to Williston, worked hard, and saved their homes from foreclosure back in Texas, Florida, or Oklahoma. The women stayed home with the kids – there just wasn't enough housing for the little ones. So mostly just manly men doing manly things. It all sounded so masculine.

"And it was all because of the North Dakota crude coming out of the frozen ground at a rate of a half-million barrels a day. In 2010, for the first time in 13 years, the United States imported less than half its oil from foreign countries, and that's largely because of extraction in the Williston Basin, an area that stretches from west North Dakota to eastern Montana and up north to Saskatchewan. Little ol' Williston – preboom population 12,000 – had become the rump capital of an oil country."
PUBLISHED: July 1, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6669 words)

More Songs About Feelings and Women

Stuart Murdoch recruited the other six members of Belle and Sebastian for their shared sensibility rather than their musical chops. The band provided the perfect accompaniment to Murdoch’s wistful, sometimes lisping voice. Swirling guitars and jaunty piano and horns sometimes created a deceptively upbeat counterpoint to his wry yet bleak wordplay but could also combine to create serotonin-lowering tunes reminiscent of the sadly beautiful songs of Morrissey and Nick Drake, two of Murdoch’s great influences.
PUBLISHED: June 26, 2009
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2978 words)