Author Archives

Aaron Gilbreath
Aaron Gilbreath has written essays and articles for Harper's, The New York Times, Paris Review, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Vice, and The Morning News. Curbside Splendor published his essay collection, "Everything We Don't Know," in 2016. @AaronGilbreath

Why Don’t You Just Get One of Those Creative Jobs?

I never acted on my mother’s suggestion that I find a nice creative job, like in advertising, but then the job came to me anyway. An art-director friend called and said she was making a TV commercial for Barneys New York and she needed some words. Would I do it?

I didn’t hesitate for a second. Why not? What is the difference between art and advertising?

Quality? Clearly not. The only difference I could come up with for sure was the logo. I was an adman from that day forward, and somehow it gave me the resources to do what I thought was art—with a logo.

I had always been interested in the neutral zone, the DMZ of art and commerce, and now I was working there. It was a place where I could push the limits, mainly because I was so unfamiliar with the limits. Like Iggy, I didn’t feel like a sellout, I felt empowered. If you’re going to be a bad boy, be bad: like Bob Dylan talking to the computer in the IBM ad. Don’t tell me he wasn’t savoring the transgression of the whole thing.

At The Paris Review, writer and creative director Glenn O’Brien narrates the comic struggle of making a living in the arts, particularly the way many creative types struggle with whether or not to go into advertising. He doesn’t.

Read the story

The Scam Is Up

When the marshals searched his backpack that night, they found three wallets, each stuffed with debit cards, scraps of paper, and IDs suggesting he was Kenneth D. Morsette, Alan Reace Lacy, or Anderson Yazzie. Other materials identified him as Lodi Gene Bitsie, Dale Booqua, Richard Overturf Jr., Anatoly Volokhonskiy. He was a specialist at Interstate Storage Rentals Inc., a security expert at LaRouche et LaRouche, a consultant at Guiness Records Ltd.

In a storage unit he rented, investigators found a suitcase full of other people’s documents: driver’s licenses, birth certificates, credit reports. Another contained newspaper-wrapped bricks of cash totaling more than $981,000. Also among his possessions were eight pairs of nonprescription glasses, more than 200 passport photos showing him disguised by various haircuts and facial hair, and a DVD of Catch Me If You Can, in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays the serial con man Frank Abagnale.

In the Washingtonian, Daniel Fromson unravels the long, winding mystery of a scam artist whose sham charity drained people of millions and who then donated large sums to political causes, and to himself.

Read the story

Searching for the Lost on Public Land

After the September 11 ­attacks, Interior tried to build its own data­base to track law-enforcement actions across lands managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. (The Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture.) The result, the ­Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System, is a $50 million Database to Nowhere—last year, only 14 percent of the several hundred reportable incidents were entered into it. The system is so flawed that Fish and Wildlife has said no thanks and refuses to use it.

That leaves the only estimates to civilians and conspiracy theorists. Aficionados of the vanished believe that at least 1,600 people, and perhaps many times that number, ­remain missing on public lands under circumstances that defy easy explanation.

People regularly disappear on America’s 640 million acres of national forests, national parks, and Bureau of Land Management property. The disappearance of an 18-year old runner in Colorado sent Outside journalist Jon Billman to investigate the sheriffs, trackers, amateur detectives, and mourning families who search for the people who go missing in the wild.

Read the story

Not Giving Up on the Dream

Geronilla is mercurial. Mussed hair, holes in his sweatshirt, shattered iPhone. He listens to the xx on vinyl and shares his bedroom with two brothers, one of whom has enlisted in the Army. The room is lined with cameras, including a Red Epic digital, and videotapes of “Dr. Zhivago” and “Some Like it Hot.” He sleeps on a roll-up futon, edits and shoots commercials and music videos. Aside from the two other scripts he’s working on, he’s writing a thriller set in an auto shop that he estimates will cost $500,000 to make, or “maybe $100,000 can still make it look good.”

Hoston is slender and her hair falls deep south of her shoulders. Glasses perched on her nose, she likes precision; a quiet presence who on-screen can glow bright as a filament. She has a quick laugh and on most days is bigger than her doubts. On her way to a recent acting class, she worked on “not smooshing words together” when reading lines. She has a new agent and manager and head shot photos for pilot season. She’s been told to edit her demo reel down to 40 seconds. “How can I show them who I am in that time?” she agonizes.

In the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Fleishman turns the camera on two young Angelenos trying to establish careers in show biz, showing that, despite the seductive shimmer of La La Land, the industry is just as likely to break you as ever. Better have a Plan B, C and D.

Read the story

I’m on a Boat, Y’all! (With Canada’s Hyper-Conservatives)

In The Walrus, Canadian writer Peter Norman spends a week with followers of Canada’s fear-mongering conspiratorial conservative Ezra Levant to explore how Trump’s nationalistic fervor has taken hold across the border, and what it portends.

How does an ordinary Canadian become a Rebel? During my week at sea, I began to classify Rebels according to the issues that made them angriest—the ones that had originally brought them into Levant’s orbit. Fear of Islam and a distrust of mainstream climate-change science were the most prevalent. Rebels might start out as temperate conservatives, centrists, or even leftists (Faith Goldy said that her conservatism had emerged from the ashes of a youthful hard-left zeal). But at some point, a gateway issue draws them in.

Maybe a sudden spike in a tax bill is what enrages them, or they lose their job. It could be a workplace incident in which they’re accused of exhibiting some stigmatized trait—racism, sexism, transphobia—that they don’t believe they possess. Or, watching the news, they are overcome by the horror of an Isis terrorist attack.

Read the story

Living In These Curated Times

Those who work with food are especially prone to thinking of themselves as curators. Chefs, for example, are said to be curating things wherever you look. There are countless internet personalities who refer to themselves as “food curators.” With a little searching, you will also encounter wine curators, beer curators, coffee curators, tea curators, spice curators, and cupcake curators.

The fantasy of curation can be extended to virtually any product category. Shops are often thought to be curated. So are rugs. And furniture. Cosmetics. Landscaping. Wardrobes. Music is eminently suited for the oversight of curators. So are TED talks. In fact, “curator” appears to be the actual job title of the chief officer of the TED organization, as it is of those who oversee TEDx events. It’s also a title of a radio producer at NPR.

At The Baffler, one of its founding editors Thomas Frank takes a close, comical look at the way taste makers select, vet, and collect various things for presentation, and parses the pros and cons, the necessity, the fantasy, and the modernity of what we call “curation.”

Read the story

Mixing Business and Family in the LA Lakers Empire

LA lakers jersey, number 24

Janie Buss said she thinks her older brothers are looking to cash out. Together, the six Buss children inherited 66 percent of the Lakers via four trusts established by Dr. Buss and his first wife, JoAnn. According to court documents, the trusts state that four of the six Buss children would have to agree to a sale of their interests in the Lakers. That’s further complicated, because a percentage of the Buss family shares are in JoAnn’s name and cannot be sold until her death.

“The way the trust is set up, it’s last man standing,” Janie says. “If I die tomorrow, my kids benefit a little bit but they don’t get everything I’m entitled to. As we all go down, it’s all going to end up in Joey and Jesse’s hands because they’re the youngest.”

She says she understands why Johnny, age 60 with two young kids, would want to cash out and leave more to his own children. She’s had the same thought. But ultimately, she wants to follow her father’s wishes because, “I am living life better than I ever thought I could live, and it’s all because of my dad’s hard work.”

At ESPNRamona Shelburne tells the complex family drama between the LA Lakers’s president and other stakeholders, which include her siblings. The business dealings off the court are an American story about power, money, and the disciplined stamina necessary to run a successful business.

Read the story

The Face of Mass Deportation

Sixto testified that he had lived in the US since 1986. He owned a home and paid a mortgage of $812 a month. He owned a 2003 Chevy and a 2008 Dodge super-duty truck. He had a 401(k) plan worth about eight thousand dollars. He had about six hundred dollars in savings. He paid child support. He had studied English for eight months at a community college.

When asked by the court if he could find work in Mexico, Sixto testified that the roofing systems he installed and the building materials he used would not be available there. He did not think he could support his family. Sixto argued that the court should not underestimate the importance of a father to the lives of his children.

The court found that Sixto and his daughters provided credible testimony. It did not, however, conclude that his children would suffer “unconscionable” hardship should he be deported. The court denied Sixto’s application.

In March 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the court’s decision and gave Sixto sixty days to voluntarily leave the US.

At Guernica, journalist J. Malcolm Garcia profiles forty-eight-year-old Sixto Paz, a roofer with a family and no criminal record who moved into a church to avoid deportation. Garcia discusses the uncertain future of sanctuary sites, where Federal immigration authorities have rarely detained undocumented migrants.

Read the story

The David Letterman University of Excessive Self-Deprecation

Over at Vulture, David Marchese sits down to a nice long conversation with the great David Letterman to rap about Dave’s thirty-three years in television, the evolution of late-night, what obligations comedians have to put comedy in service of our nation, and the loneliness of retirement. Wait, why is this man retired? Dave, please pop your head up more often!

How? Is comedy useful for that?

Comedy’s one of the ways that we can protect ourselves. Alec Baldwin deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, he’s not going to get it from this president.

Can you explain that a bit more? How does satire protect us from Donald Trump?

The man has such thin skin that if you keep pressure on him — I remember there was a baseball game in Cleveland, and a swarm of flies came on the field and the batters were doing this [mimes swatting at flies] while the pitcher was throwing 100 miles an hour. Well, that’s Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live. It’s distracting the batter. Eventually Trump’s going to take a fastball off the sternum and have to leave the game.

There’s this idea that reducing Trump to a punchline could make him seem harmless or helps to normalize him. Is there any validity to that argument?

I guess it’s a possibility. On the other hand, Donald Trump can be Donald Trump, but if he doesn’t help the people that need help, then he’s just a jerk. That press conference that he held berating the news media? I mean, how do you build a dictatorship? First, you undermine the press: “The only truth you’re going to hear is from me.” And he hires the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Steve Bannon, to be his little buddy. Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: “Steve, could you have just one drink?” “Fuck you.” How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up? I don’t know. How’s this interview going? Do you think you’re talking to a normal person here? Don’t I seem like I’m full of something?

Read the interview

So Many Food Writers Under the House-Made Polenta Sun

“Food has become entertainment,” Meehan said. As David Kamp showed in The United States of Arugula, a chef like Alice Waters can be a product of 1970s counterculture just like any musician. And Waters is much more likely to be available to talk about her motivations.

“Those of us who have pursued this course are on the pleasure beat,” Gordinier told me. “It doesn’t mean we partake of the pleasure the entire time. It means we’re interested in the way culture engages with pleasure, and what the pursuit of pleasure says about us. The defining pleasure of the ’60s was music. To some extent, the defining pleasure of the ’70s was film. The defining pursuit of our time now is food.”

At The Ringer, editor Bryan Curtis examines the rise of modern food writing and the confounding popularity of writing about food. Everyone’s doing it. Why is everyone doing it? Food writing is the new Applebees but at Lonchero prices, and something smells fishy. See? It’s harder than you think.

Read the story