“He is fifty-two years old. He is wearing a black hoodie zipped to the neck, blue jeans, and boots laced so assertively they squeak when he flexes his ankles. He has a long neck, upon which his long head, adorned by long ears, wobbles like a tulip. Everything is to scale with him. Many people have long eyelashes; he has lashes as long on the bottom as they are on the top. His eyes look like they’ve been caught by Venus flytraps. He is going gray, yes, but if you took a population sample of his hair, there is no doubt that any analysis would reveal that the numbers of black and gray hairs are evenly distributed and have achieved equipoise. He has recently showered, and a careful modicum of product lifts his hair off his forehead. He has surprisingly fine hands. He smells like soap.”
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Before I became a bona fide football fan, a development that nearly all of my friends find as disturbing as if I’d become a dog murderer, I only knew of two football people: Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I knew them because they were both Hollywood Handsome, with gleaming white teeth, and square jaws, which seems to be a minimum requirement to become an NFL quarterback. I didn’t differentiate between them other than that one was blond and the other was not, and I couldn’t tell you what teams they played for, only that they were both quarterbacks, and rich and famous.
But now that I’ve been a football fan, specifically a Seattle Seahawks football fan, I have come to loathe Tom Brady and the Patriots with an intensity I once reserved for Pavement. (They should have given the ball to Marshawn; Pete, baby, a slant pass? Why did you burn a timeout? Let us never speak of this again, etc. etc.) Read more…
Everybody thought Lou Junod was a gangster. He not only looked the part, with his pinkie ring and French cuffs and blue dress shirts white at the collar, he played it, cultivating an air of danger. He had beautiful manners and always strove to be a gentleman, the striving itself a part of his charm. But there was something feral about him behind the civility, the elaborate coded masculinity and even more elaborate actorly diction. He chased down men when they cut him off in traffic and got into fistfights well into his 70s, his anger an eclipse you couldn’t help but look at even though you knew it would strike you blind. He had an underworld glamour, even to his own children, and a reputation. People figured he had “connections,” and he did — his connections called our house, like old friends. But they weren’t friends. They were bookies, and they had him by the balls.
He placed his first bet on the first Super Bowl, Chiefs-Packers 1967. That was also the first football game I ever watched, because my uncle George was married to Vince Lombardi’s sister. Who the hell knows why you fall in love, but I can tell you that several love stories began that day: between America and the NFL, between my father and gambling, between me and football, and between me and my father.
I was 8 years old at the time, alone in the house because my brother and sister had just gone off to college. I was afraid of him until football. He scared me often to tears, and football gave me a way of talking to him without crying. And it gave him a way of talking to me, well, without making me cry. I dedicated myself to football in an effort to reconcile myself to him, and to reconcile him to the rest of my family. That he lost tens of thousands of dollars in the process didn’t really matter as much to me as my role in trying to help him win.
Tom Junod reflects on his father’s gambling habit: “…he made people think he was a gangster when really he was just a mark.”
We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in profile writing.
Executive editor, The Atavist
A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof (Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, GQ)
There was no piece of journalism in 2017 more honest or more raw than Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s profile of Dylann Roof for GQ. Its brilliance began with an enviable lede—”Sitting beside the church, drinking from a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, he thought he had to go in and shoot them” — and persisted for the duration of what proved to be an unlikely profile. Unlikely, because Kaadzi Ghansah didn’t set out to write it. She went to Charleston to cover Roof’s murder trial, planning to report on the families of his victims, but found herself drawn to the young man who sat, angry and silent and unfazed, day after day in the courtroom. She decided to profile a black hole, an absence, because she couldn’t not.
The story is unlikely, too, because of its style. Ghansah winds through Roof’s life like a criminal profiler. She collects evidence, data, interviews, and observations, then pieces them together for readers, showing where the connective tissue resides. She is an essential presence in the story, which is no easy feat to pull off, and the result is wholly organic. This is a story about race, class, anger, bewilderment, and division. It is also, as the headline “A Most American Terrorist” attests, a story about the current political moment. You come away from it knowing who Dylann Roof is, who Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is, and what America is—or, really, what it has always been.
Above is a brief tribute to journalist Michael Brick, who died in February at the age of 41. The video features Tampa Bay Times writer Ben Montgomery reading from Brick’s 2006 New York Times story, “Dusk of the Drummer” — and it’s one of many pieces featured in a new collection, Everyone Leaves Behind a Name: True Stories, published by The Sager Group. Proceeds from the book will go to Brick’s wife and children.
In a brief note, Montgomery tells us:
When journalist Michael Brick died from colorectal cancer in February at the age of 41, he left behind a wife, three kids and a body of work that rivals the best of the best. His friends collected his stories in a remarkable anthology, along with original essays from greats like Tom Junod, Gary Smith, Charles Pierce, Amy Wallace, Michael Paterniti, Dan Barry, Chris Jones, Kurt Eichenwald and Wright Thompson. Sales benefit Brick’s family, and the book solidifies his place in American letters.
Tonight, Jon Stewart ends his 16-year run as host of “The Daily Show.” Here are seven stories looking back at how Stewart became the most influential fake-news anchor in the history of television:
1. Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America? (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, Aug. 15, 2008)
“Hopefully the process is to spot things that would be grist for the funny mill,” Mr. Stewart, 45, said. “In some respects, the heavier subjects are the ones that are most loaded with opportunity because they have the most — you know, the difference between potential and kinetic energy? — they have the most potential energy, so to delve into that gives you the largest combustion, the most interest. I don’t mean for the audience. I mean for us. Everyone here is working too hard to do stuff we don’t care about.”
Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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This is a story about an American dog: my dog, Dexter. And because Dexter is a pit bull, this is also a story about the American dog, because pit bulls have changed the way Americans think about dogs in general. Reviled, pit bulls have become representative. There is no other dog that figures as often in the national narrative—no other dog as vilified on the evening news, no other dog as defended on television programs, no other dog as mythologized by both its enemies and its advocates, no other dog as discriminated against, no other dog as wantonly bred, no other dog as frequently abused, no other dog as promiscuously abandoned, no other dog as likely to end up in an animal shelter, no other dog as likely to be rescued, no other dog as likely to be killed. In a way, the pit bull has become the only American dog, because it is the only American dog that has become an American metaphor—and the only American dog that people bother to name. When a cocker spaniel bites, it does so as a member of its species; it is never anything but a dog. When a pit bull bites, it does so as a member of its breed. A pit bull is never anything but a pit bull.
-Tom Junod, in Esquire.
Photo: matthewalmonroth, Flickr