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A Thereness Beneath the Thereness: A Jonathan Gold Reading List

Jonathan Gold poses for a portrait during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

For the past four decades, Jonathan Gold tirelessly catalogued the ebb and flow of cuisine in Los Angeles, and in the process, became known as the “food writing poet” of the city. That poet, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past month, died last week at the age of 57. In his New York Times obituary Ruth Reichl, who published Gold in Gourmet magazine, said of the writer-critic,

Before Tony Bourdain, before reality TV and ‘Parts Unknown’ and people really being into ethnic food in a serious way, it was Jonathan who got it, completely. He really got that food was a gateway into the people, and that food could really define a community. He was really writing about the people more than the food.

According to David Chang, no one knew more about Korean cuisine than Gold, and the critic, whose career began as a music journalist, became the foremost expert on the various regions of the world. Some opine his speciality was Mexican and Central American cooking, having eaten at every pupuseria, taco stand, and restaurant along the 15.5 mile stretch of Pico Boulevard. But really, Gold’s expertise wasn’t limited by borders. Read more…

One Dollar a Word? That’ll Be $28,000

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Carl Bernstein attends the 2017 New Yorker Festival - All The President's Reporters at SVA Theatre on October 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

In October 1977, Carl Bernstein — then still basking in the post-Watergate glow (though, at the time, he had recently left the Washington Post) — wrote a 25,000 word feature titled “The CIA and the Media” for Rolling Stone detailing the chummy relationship between the press in the United States and the CIA. According to Bernstein’s reporting, reporters for the Post and the New York Times, among other publications, had advanced the agenda of the CIA for years. As he wrote,

…[More] than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.

The feature should have been scathing, but its publication was instead somewhat of a dud. For starters, the story accompanied the first-ever punk cover in Rolling Stone‘s history — a feature on the Sex Pistols by Charles M. Young — and America did not react kindly to a snarling Sid Vicious and a sneering Johnny Rotten on newsstands: The magazine only sold 108,000 copies, one of the worst-selling issues in Rolling Stone‘s history. Secondly, for all of Bernstein’s revelations — one such bombshell was that the New York Times, under the direction of the late publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, knowingly secured media credentials for CIA operatives — the piece was jejune. As Joe Hagan writes in Sticky Fingers, his 2017 biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner,

…’The CIA and the Media’ was a dud (and no revelation to Wenner, who appointed a former CIA agent, Putney Westerfield, a retired publisher of Fortune, to his board of directors in 1977).

Wenner called the article his “one mistake” in publishing, and features editor Harriet Fier (who, following her tight edit of Bernstein’s draft, later became the magazine’s managing editor) told Robert Draper in the classic Rolling Stone Magazine that the piece was “really terrible.”

Still, in light Robert Mueller’s independent investigation and strained relations between President Donald Trump and the United States’ intelligence communities, Bernstein’s exposé is in the midst of a renaissance. Notably, the decades-old feature was given a boost in mid-July when Jack Shafer included it in Don Van Natta’s weekly “Sunday Long Read” newsletter as a “Classic Read.” But what’s interesting about the article viewed through today’s prism are not those connections — rather, it’s the stark contrasts between the two media climates.

Bernstein had always wanted to write for Rolling Stone, telling a Playboy interviewer that before Watergate, he felt that he had reached his ceiling at the Washington Post. He had grown bored of “covering Virginia” and editor Ben Bradlee refused to send him to Vietnam, so he thought his next move would be to join the ranks of music criticism and become a “rock critic.” Bernstein had heard whispers that Hunter S. Thompson was about to leave Rolling Stone, so he wrote to Wenner, asking (as he recounted to Playboy), “Hey, I’d really like to take Hunter’s job.” Bernstein sent the letter weeks before the Watergate break-in, but even so, “Wenner being Wenner, he took forever to make up his mind about what the hell he was doing” and Bernstein ultimately “stayed at the Washington Post, and that was the end of that.”

But, following his departure from the paper, the two reconnected, at a time in which Wenner was flush with cash: The magazine, which was about to shed San Francisco and move to New York City, was in the midst of a publishing boom, launching Outside (for $1 million) and helping reinvigorate Look magazine; its fat revenues were helping to finance prestige journalism. The year before, Wenner had paid photographer Richard Avedon $25,000 for “The Family” issue, a multi-page spread of Washington’s most influential figures. The issue had won a National Magazine Award, and Wenner believed an investigative feature by Bernstein could help snag another Ellie, so he commissioned “The CIA and the Media.” The price Bernstein quoted? An astounding $28,000 (which, accounting for inflation, would be $116,430.16 today). True, it was a little more than $1 per word, but the fee was an exorbitant boondoggle and as such, it was breathlessly reported throughout the publishing industry, which only helped to hype Rolling Stone‘s success and acclaim.

It’s challenging to imagine a media climate in which a reporter — even one as celebrated as Bernstein at that point — could earn that much for one article. Wenner’s employees certainly couldn’t understand it: Draper reported that the fee was more than what the magazine’s associate editors made in a year, and it even dwarfed Young’s salary. When compared with publishing in 2018, the halcyon fee is almost perverse. According to the Washington Post, 200,000 jobs in journalism have been eliminated since 2000, not to mention cuts to the editorial staff of the New York Daily News, half of which were let go this week in an attempt to trim $14.8 million from its coffers (a debt that was created when Tronc, the paper’s publishing company, shelled out $15 million to jettison its chairman Michael Ferro following sexual harassment allegations made against him).

There are serious conversations being had about whether journalists should write for free, and if exposure counts as payment, all the while chants of “fake news” are continuously being hurled against those in the profession. Dark times, indeed, and it is frankly astonishing to think back to a moment in publishing history in which five-figure payments were — while not the norm — at least not gobsmacking.

According to Bernstein, the CIA began to work in tandem with the Gray Lady during the Cold War:

Arthur Hays Sulzberger signed a secrecy agreement with the CIA in the 1950s, according to CIA officials—a fact confirmed by his nephew, C.L. Sulzberger. However, there are varying interpretations of the purpose of the agreement: C.L. Sulzberger says it represented nothing more than a pledge not to disclose classified information made available to the publisher. That contention is supported by some Agency officials. Others in the Agency maintain that the agreement represented a pledge never to reveal any of the Times’ dealings with the CIA, especially those involving cover. And there are those who note that, because all cover arrangements are classified, a secrecy agreement would automatically apply to them.

Attempts to find out which individuals in the Times organization made the actual arrangements for providing credentials to CIA personnel have been unsuccessful. In a letter to reporter Stuart Loory in 1974, Turner Cadedge, managing editor of the Times from 1951 to 1964, wrote that approaches by the CIA had been rebuffed by the newspaper. “I knew nothing about any involvement with the CIA… of any of our foreign correspondents on the New York Times. I heard many times of overtures to our men by the CIA, seeking to use their privileges, contacts, immunities and, shall we say, superior intelligence in the sordid business of spying and informing. If any one of them succumbed to the blandishments or cash offers, I was not aware of it. Repeatedly, the CIA and other hush‑hush agencies sought to make arrangements for ‘cooperation’ even with Times management, especially during or soon after World War II, but we always resisted. Our motive was to protect our credibility.”

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Puma’s Ploy to Become Relevant in Basketball Again

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 18: PUMA sneakers on display at the PUMA Hoops HQ kickoff where Walt "Clyde" Frazier signs the first ever life long contract with PUMA on June 18, 2018 in Brooklyn. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for PUMA)

There were few players as dominant in college basketball this past season as Deandre Ayton, a 7-foot-1 center who played his freshman year at the University of Arizona before declaring for the NBA draft. The native of the Bahamas was an imposing force and, as such, will likely be selected as the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft, which will be held at the Barclays Center this Thursday.

It’ll be a historic moment: If he is chosen by the Phoenix Suns with the first pick, Ayton will become the fourth international player in the past six years chosen as the number one overall pick. But even if he’s chosen as the second pick, Ayton will still make history — in a shocking turn, the center spurned Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour to sign a four-year multi-million sneaker endorsement deal with Puma, a company that hasn’t been relevant in the sneaker game for decades.

When asked by Bleacher Report about the ramifications of signing with a company whose last NBA sneaker endorsement ended in arbitration (Vince Carter signed with Puma in 1998, only to back out of his contract a year later, claiming Puma failed to deliver a signature sneaker as well as a sneaker that fit properly; he had to pay $13.5 million after the arbitrator ruled Carter had indeed breached his contract), Ayton said, “That’s a problem. That’s going to catch everybody’s eyes. That’s a huge step for Puma, too.” Read more…

The Escapism of Bruce Springsteen

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Bruce Springsteen performs onstage during a special performance of "Springsteen on Broadway" in front of an audience of SiriusXM subscribers at Walter Kerr Theatre on March 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

There is a moment at the end of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” his seminal hit from the 1975 album, Born to Run, in which New Jersey’s most famous son intones, “It’s a town for losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win.”

The lyric is classic Springsteen, a nod to the most consistent theme of his biggest hits throughout his early catalog, which spans seven records over a decade from the mid ’70s to the mid ’80s. From “Born to Run” to “Atlantic City,” Born in the USA to The River, Springsteen is constantly searching for the open road and thus fulfilling some inherent promise and potential. Springsteen was 26 when he recorded “Thunder Road,” and it’s not surprising that the musician’s promise that “these two lanes will take us anywhere” would appeal to fellow baby boomers, those trapped in contemplation between seeking out quarter-life ennui or something more.

But Springsteen’s evolution as an artist hasn’t been static. As fans age with the Boss, those same themes of entrapment and freedom have taken on new meaning while, at the same time, attracting new audiences, such as millennials and those who came of age during the recession. Born in New Jersey, Toniann Fernandez of The Paris Review grew up haunted by Springsteen’s specter:

The sound of “Born in the U.S.A.” used to conjure images of the muscular white boys of my high school years, drunk with testosterone and Natural Ice, clad in denim and American flags. They screamed along with E Street imitators in bars we were all too young to patronize. I had always found the Springsteen omnipresence in coastal New Jersey offensive.

That sentiment, though, changed recently, and Fernandez describes her quest to not only embrace the musical menace of her teenage years but to actually meet Springsteen during the Broadway run of Springsteen on Broadway.

I had exactly five hundred dollars in my savings account at the time, the last crumbs of my earnings from my days as a nine-to-fiver. He encouraged me to buy the ticket. I told him that he didn’t get it. The point was not just to see the show, the point was for the Boss to request my presence at the show, perhaps in the front row. I suppose I hadn’t been so clear to myself or to anyone else how much this was about me, not Bruce. When I went back to the ticket window, the clerk told me the ticket was in someone else’s cart on Ticketmaster and that I would have to wait three minutes to see if they released it. Of course, having the ticket withheld was all I needed to draw my debit card from my wallet. Three minutes of purgatory ended, and I paid for my ticket through tears.

Fernandez writes of finally understanding the Boss’ appeal once she left New Jersey, of realizing and appreciating what the open road feels like upon riding in the getaway car, and what’s fascinating is how this thread of escapism that Springsteen represents — his hook for all these years — is an oft-repeated thread through various forms of music. Take EDM — as Emily Yoshia explains in her recent essay for Vulture about Avicii’s reported suicide, the musician’s massive hit, “Levels,” spoke of attaining a level of both personal and professional success that seemed (and still seems) unattainable to anyone who celebrated their 21st birthday in the mid-2000s.

Like every apocalyptic radio pop song of that era, asking us to live like tomorrow will never come, there was an overwhelming need for the music of the era to freeze time, both to stave off adulthood, but also to deny every feeling of doubt and sadness and confusion that had come before, to will it away in order to start our lifestyle brands or build our Twitter following. I had managed to convince myself in 2011 that I could still get what I wanted, but in reality I had a very small reservoir left, constantly one disaster away from moving back home again.

There is a connection between Springsteen and Avicii, of escaping and living like tomorrow will never come, and it’s why Springsteen’s catalog still sounds fresh after all these years. Yes, many of his tracks are bangers, but that’s beside the point: the Boss’s lyrics connect us to a future that we may never know.

 

The Enduring Legacy of the Willie Lynch Hoax

Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

Kanye West’s emergence from his self-imposed cocoon of social media silence last week has not been seamless. After proclaiming his support for Donald Trump and the president’s Make America Great Again plank, the musician and fashion designer took to TMZ Live on Tuesday for arguably the most bizarre of what has already been a bizarre fortnight of proclamations:

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word ‘prison’ because ‘slavery’ goes too direct to the idea of blacks. Slavery is to blacks as the Holocaust is to Jews. Prison is something that unites as one race, blacks and whites, that we’re the human race.”

Kanye is well aware of the weight his words carry. As someone who has referred to himself as the “most impactful artist of our generation,” Kanye long ago realized that anything he says, no matter how inane and obviously ridiculous, will be incessantly discussed. For Kanye to then make such an ignorant proclamation is willfully disingenuous. And his follow-up tweets (now deleted) didn’t help to clarify his position:

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The latter tweet references William Lynch, a purported 18th-century slave owner from the British West Indies who traveled to Virginia in 1712 to teach slave owners how to better control their property. His speech on the banks of the James River was first “discovered” in 1970, and began its life online starting in 1993 when a reference librarian at the University of Missouri-Kansas City uploaded the “Willie Lynch letter,” which detailed how Lynch psychologically and physically tortured slaves. The letter is also patently false.

Willie Lynch never existed, nor did anyone from the British West Indies organize such a summit to advise slave owners in the early 1700s. As the librarian mentions in an email to her superiors, “Prof. [William] Piersen of Fisk contacted us a few months back about its origins and provided me with a critique which points to the narrative being a much-latter-day document…assuming Prof. Pierson’s [sic] critique is on target, I think it likely that it’s a ’60s or ’70s document.”

I accessed this email via the Wayback Machine, which means it has existed to dispel the Lynch rumor for years. Yet the letter continues to be legitimized within the framework of pop culture. Kanye isn’t the only artist to name-drop Lynch: So has Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, and Nas among others.

And it’s not just rappers dotting bars with reference to Lynch’s “letter,” Denzel Washington quotes the letter at length in the 2007 film The Great Debaters.

The letter, and its supposed relevance explaining not only the slave experience but also the origins of “lynching,” has been disseminated enough times that in 2004 Jelani Cobb wrote an extended answer to the question, “Is Willie Lynch’s letter real?”

There are many problems with this document — not the least of which is the fact that it is absolutely fake…it has been cited by countless college students and a black member of the House of Representatives, along the way becoming the essential verbal footnote in barbershop analysis of what’s wrong with black people.

When Mark Adams of the Baltimore Sun contacted the publisher of the St. Louis Black Pages in 1998 — the newspaper that first printed Lynch’s speech in the early 1990s — to inquire about the provenance or authenticity of the letter, Adams was rebuffed. “I’ve never run a piece that got the response this one got. There’s something truly magical about it. Don’t ask me to explain it,” said publisher Howard Denson. “How else can you explain how whites kept control when they were outnumbered five, 10 or 20 to one?” he asked. “Blacks still carry the negative mental legacy of slavery. I think we really need to address the things that hold us back. Blacks spend $400 million annually, but they believe they’re poor and powerless because they’ve been conditioned to think that way.”

Even though the letter is fake and Willie Lynch is a conjuring from the civil right era, that is not to say the character doesn’t have power. As Lupe Fiasco noted via Twitter:

Lynch’s letter shouldn’t be downplayed, but it also shouldn’t be given the sort of weight that a work of historical  significance carries, and perhaps a search down a Willie Lynch rabbit hole with lead to other examples that provide a far greater historical context, whether that be Solomon Northup, When I Was A Slave, or Cudjo Lewis.

Willie Lynch is an urban myth, and while the internet is full of stories that we know to be false, we’ve known for more than two decades that there was no Willie Lynch, so why keep spreading the lie to only fit a convenient narrative? For Kanye to willfully ignore what has been proven untrue is perhaps more dangerous than his support of MAGA and his “brother,” Donald Trump.

The 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winners

From left, writers Alice Crites, Stephanie McCrummen, Amy Gardner, and Beth Reinhard embrace in the newsroom after The Washington Post wins two Pulitzer Prizes. The Post shared a Pulitzer with the New York Times for their coverage of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and contacts between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian officials and won a second Pulitzer for uncovering the decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct against Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As expected, the New York Times and The New Yorker dominated much of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize fanfare, and while it is necessary to honor the award-winning reporting undertaken by Jodie Kantor, Meghan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow, some of the most-talked about features from this past year were also celebrated. Including, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, whose in-depth reporting on Dylann Roof for GQ won for feature writing (Ghansah also won a National Magazine Award for this story). And the staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which provided a brutal examination of the effects of heroin during a week-long period.

The entire list of the other Pulitzer recipients can be found here, but below is a list of some of the honored works. Read more…

How to Cover Native American Sports

Evan Butcher of the Chippewa Tribe plays basketball near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. 2016. Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the New York Times Magazine featured the high school basketball team the Arlee Warriors on its cover. Hailing from the city of Arlee, home to about 600 people on Montanas Flathead Indian Reservation, the Warriors are among the greatest Native American high school squads ever assembled, a group that blends high-octane offense predicated on three-point field goals with a frantic and suffocating pressurized defense.

The feature, written by Abe Streep, doesnt just showcase the Warriors and its players —  including Phillip Malatare, a six-foot guard wholl be a preferred walk-on at the University of Montana next fall — it also profiles the town, the reservation (a sovereign nation comprising the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), and a wave of recent suicides in the community. It was these suicides that prompted the Warriors transformation: The team wasnt just a winner of back-to-back state titles, but rather a beacon to those that viewed suicide as a solitary option. Read more…

David Chang’s ‘Ugly Delicious’ Pushes Food TV in the Right Direction

David Chang with South Philly Barbacoa's Cristina Martinez in 'Ugly Delicious.'

There’s no denying that David Chang’s new Netflix docuseries, “Ugly Delicious”, is aesthetically gorgeous. The show’s underlying concept—”ugly” food like tacos, barbecue, and fried rice all have intrinsic values that surpass its creation born out of necessity and a lowly legacy—is a sui generis angle for a well-worn genre that has long shifted to food porn rather that pursuing and examining the cultural and geopolitical value that food possesses.

In a recent interview with Grub Street, “Top Chef” judge and chef Tom Colicchio mentioned the rise of “unfussy” food on the program’s 15th season: “The chefs were doing more, I wouldn’t say rustic, but a much more conventional style of food.” Translation: This shift isn’t occurring in a vacuum.

As the New Yorker‘s Helen Rosner explains in her review of the eight-part series, “What makes “Ugly Delicious” compelling, ultimately, is Chang’s commitment to rejecting purity and piety within food culture…In food culture, particularly American food culture, the concept of authenticity is wielded like a hammer…[and] the problem with such rigid categorizations, according to “Ugly Delicious,” is, for one thing, creative stagnation.”

This certainly makes for a thoroughly interesting viewing experience; before I realized it, I had binge-watched four episodes. This sort of programming is also refreshing—Chang has subverted a genre. For a generation that has been bred on the gluttony of glossy networks and competitive cooking, “Ugly Delicious” throws up a middle finger, and instead asked questions that are relevant to how we should be thinking about food (and not just consuming for its sheer shock value). Read more…

How a Medical Catastrophe Can Bankrupt a Life

It started with a Lean Cuisine. After a night out catching up with a friend, I just made one of the last NJ Transit trains leaving Penn Station that April night, traveling the 20 or so minutes to the suburbs of New Jersey where my wife and I had moved two weeks prior in anticipation of welcoming our first child to what truly is NYC’s sixth borough (daycare and two-bedrooms aren’t cheap in the original five boroughs).

Dinner consumed and sleep completed, I awoke with one of the worst bouts of food poisoning I’ve ever encountered, a wasting that lasted through midway into the next week. Eventually, the illness subsided, but I wasn’t concerned when I woke the following Saturday with slight soreness in my right ankle and the inability to fully extend my left knee. Seemed odd, sure, but perhaps that was just a lingering side effect of the tainted Swedish meatballs. And there was a crib to be built along with final trips to Target and Buy Buy Baby.

On Sunday, though, I could barely put any pressure on my right leg, hugging walls as I walked in an effort to support myself. A nighttime sprained ankle, I thought, but I still went to the ER on Monday, while accompanying my wife for her final OBGYN appointment. The medical establishment’s consensus: must be a sprain. I spent four more days in sheer agony, unable to put any pressure on my right leg and unable to sleep because the pain was too intense. After our son was born, I was the one wheeled out of the hospital while my wife carried our nine-pound baby. By this point, my other ankle had started to tingle (both eventually swelled to the size of a grapefruit, and my left knee was significantly inflamed, looking as though a softball had lodged itself behind the kneecap).

Two days after our first child was born.

The first two weeks of my son’s life were a blur. Of course, there was no way I could help during feedings in the middle of the night — it took me 10 minutes just to navigate the short hallway between the bed and bathroom. And unless I was sitting on the couch RICEing my legs (for what I thought must be the two worst sprains in the history of orthopedics), I couldn’t hold my son. I was an invalid, completely useless to all around me at a time when those same people needed me the most. My brother had gotten married during this time period, and I recently looked at the photos from the ceremony, which was held at City Hall: shuffling along in crutches, my ankles are encased not only in compression wraps but also air casts.

The realization that my “sprains” had — HAD — to be something more significant arrived during my son’s third week on earth. My general practitioner was located in Manhattan, so I found a local doctor who, for the first time since this health scare began, had more than an inkling of what was plaguing my body: I had joined the roughly 20,000 Americans who suffer annually from reactive arthritis. This exceedingly rare form of arthritis, which shares symptoms with rheumatoid arthritis, was attracted to the genetic antigen I carried, passed down maternally, and had proceeded to attack all of my white blood cells. When I finally was able to see a rheumatologist, I was told that my CBC — complete blood count — was one of the lowest he’d ever seen.

As I read Molly Osberg’s harrowing essay for Splinter detailing her health catastrophe, the result of contracting a rare form of strep that began to wreak havoc on her internal organs, I found myself mentally transported to my own uncertainties this past summer. Her concerns about medical expenses, proxies, if her full-time job still exists, and whether or not any of the poking or prodding will work — all of those emotions became all the more real again. We even both made it into medical journals!

I encountered them all when I was admitted to a Brooklyn hospital, though I only remember a fraction of the people who tried to puzzle out what was sending my body into septic shock. According to my medical records I saw six specialists in 40 hours. There was the anesthesiologist who assuaged my terror when I was put under for a bronchoscopy (I was afraid I’d wake up with a camera down my larynx), the infectious disease doctors who asked me about my sex life, how often I got high, my last period, whether I’d been anywhere near livestock.

I also shared her feeling of invincibility. Before I contracted reactive arthritis, I rarely needed anything more than a hot shower and a few doses of Dayquil to right whatever was ailing me. I didn’t get sick. As Osberg writes,

As someone with a pack-a-day habit, I got a little sick every year, and my response was to sleep (or work, or drink) through it until the issue somehow resolved. Before 2017 I don’t think I’d been to a doctor in about five years—though as was later reiterated to me by one chagrined specialist after another, my abysmal life choices up to that point didn’t end up making much of a difference.

Like Osberg, I was fortunate to have insurance, but if I had been a freelancer, my bills would have been astronomical. One shot of Humira, the immunosuppressive drug I inject twice a month, costs upwards of $500 without coverage, and that doesn’t include the barrage of pills I take daily. As I was reading Osberg’s piece, I stumbled across the story of Donald Savastano, a 51-year-old from central New York who recently won the lottery—a $1 million prize. A construction contractor, he first decided to visit a doctor, something he hadn’t done in several years because of his lack of insurance, before lining up a vacation. Following a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, and just twenty-three days after winning the award, Savastano died. Osberg conveys the sheer terror that accompanies such a health scare; the worry isn’t so much about how to survive — it’s about how to recover.

Never mind recovering physically or financially in any of these scenarios: I can’t imagine surviving emotionally, fielding calls from collections agents, facing eviction, waiting for the pain meds to hit so I can keep at a futile job search with an IV still dangling from my side. I am 29 years old, with no pre-existing conditions before this moment, and I am unemployed and exhausted and in pain all the time.

It took one month before I could walk a distance greater than a hallway. It took another month before I could walk back and forth to the elevator bank in our apartment building. And it took three months before I regained my walking gait and balance, and didn’t feel any debilitating pain for the first 90 minutes of my morning. It’s now been eight months since the diagnosis, and my health has somewhat returned to normal — although my right Achilles still aches every day, and I’ve been told to limit my exercise to stretching and spinning (so as to not potentially tear the tendon). But I can walk, and just the normalcy of that activity is something I never thought that I would have taken for granted. It’s those actions that become the most significant.

Around mid-August they took the PICC line out. My white blood cell count went back to normal; I was cleared to drink by far the best beer of my life; the scabs left over from the drainage tube punctures in my torso fell off. I was pleased the surgical incision had missed my favorite tattoo, and less pleased when streaks of my hair turned gray and started coming out in clumps, or when my nails fell off—a months-delayed reminder of that time my body was preparing to die. I went back to work towards the end of the summer.

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Inside the Absurdity of ‘Spice World’

(AP Photo/Adam Nadel)

I wish I could say that my love of the Spice Girls as an 11-year-old was based on some innate wokeness, but really, when I first heard the group’s debut album Spice 22 years ago, all I cared about were the insatiable melodies, catchy hooks, and Mel B’s rapping (“Here’s the story from A to Z”) that carried ‘Wannabe’ into its final chorus.

From the jump, I was a Spice Girls stan. The group, an all-female pop band cobbled together following a blind audition, made one of the first tapes I played non-stop, continuously transferring the record back and forth between my boombox and my walkman. It got to the point where my younger brother also became an uber-fan, eventually receiving a copy of Spice World, the group’s 1997 biopic-slash-ode to the Beatles’ Hard Days Night.

For Broadly, Sirin Kale perfectly illustrates the film’s appeal to a generation of adolescents who were struck by the Spice Girls’ inherent coolness and fun vibes:

In 1997, the Spice Girls were cresting the Girl Power wave. I, an eight-year-old weirdo in platform trainers with an imaginary boyfriend, revered the five-piece with a doglike devotion (except Geri—more on that later). The Spice Girls were my childhood soundtrack and the object of all my worldly ambitions. To quote Mel C’s well-received 1999 solo offering, they were my northern star.

Kale delves into the backstory of the film’s production, including an ever-changing script, persistent paparazzi (e.g. posing as a cow to snap a pic of the super-group), and an utterly absurd plot that involved bombs planted in the Spice Girls’ bus and an alien invasion.

Despite this, Tickner does have some fond memories of the shoot. Without him, the iconic alien invasion scene might have crash-landed. “For some reason, no one was addressing the problem of what the spaceship was going to be on set,” he explains. “Here was a very obvious prop in the script. An alien was going to come down in the spaceship. But the art department hadn’t been asked to make one.”

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