The Mysterious Disappearance of Peter Winston

The story of a young chess prodigy’s unraveling and disappearance:

“NEW YORKERS DISAPPEAR all the time. A handful leap into the public eye and remain there, like 6-year-old Etan Patz. An even smaller number miraculously return after decades, like Carlina White, stolen as a baby from a Harlem hospital in 1987 and found more than 20 years later when she discovered her real identity. But most are forgotten, lost to history through apathy or outright indifference.

“What makes the case of Peter Winston so baffling is that at one time he was fairly well-known. The cover of the December 19, 1964, edition of The Saturday Evening Post bears the words ‘BOY GENIUS,’ and inside, not far removed from a short story by Thomas Pynchon, is Gilbert Millstein’s account of a very special 6-year-old child attending one of the earliest of the schools for gifted children that popped up around the New York City area, Sands Point Elementary in Long Island.

“Peter was, Millstein wrote, ‘a wiry, intense-looking youngster with dark-blond hair and hazel eyes, big ears, a wide vulnerable mouth and a somewhat oracular manner of address that is in peculiar contrast to both the shape of his mouth and his childish treble.’ At 18 months, he learned the alphabet by studying the spines of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and he was reading the volumes mere months after that. He mastered fractions by 3. He could tell people—as he did Sands Point’s headmaster—what day of the week their birthday would fall on in any given year using the ‘calendar in his head.’ At age 5, Peter stood up in class and gave a detailed precis of the assassination of President Kennedy, cobbled together from newspaper and TV accounts. He even argued about the existence of God with a classmate, Richard Brody, now a writer for The New Yorker, fascinating the teacher who overheard a snatch of the conversation.”

Published: Jul 18, 2012
Length: 13 minutes (3,271 words)

Chow vs. Chow: The Story of an Epic New York City Food Fight

A New York Chinese restaurant loses a former member of its kitchen staff—who then opens his own, very similar restaurant. Inside the legal battle:

“In essence, the suit claimed, they’d tried to become Mr Chow—the Invasion of the Body Snatchers of haute Chinese cuisine. ‘They want to not just clone me, they want to take the whole thing,’ Mr. Chow testified on the stand, sporting his trademark owlish glasses and a bespoke Hermés suit. ‘They want to wipe me—just replace me completely, including my personal identity.'”

Author: Aaron Gell
Published: Feb 28, 2012
Length: 15 minutes (3,893 words)

Haunting MoMA: The Forgotten Story of ‘Degenerate’ Dealer Alfred Flechtheim

Flechtheim was driven out of Germany by the Nazis—and many works from his galleries are now in private collections and museums around the world. A lawsuit brought by his heirs raises questions about provenance:

“Works in the MoMA online database today with Flechtheim in their provenance histories were sold prior to 1933, meaning they are legally deemed to have been acquired absent any Nazi persecution, though, as Mr. Dascher put it, ‘Flechtheim was confronted with anti-Semitism already before 1933, even as a German officer during World War I.’ Museums around the world that now possess works the Nazis sold off can and do claim that they have them legally, even though some of the art may have come through galleries like Flechtheim’s, shuttered under anti-Semitic persecution.”

Published: Feb 17, 2012
Length: 10 minutes (2,544 words)

Novels From the Edge: For Helen DeWitt, the Publishing World Is a High-Stakes Game

Lightning Rods is about a salesman named Joe who fails to sell a single Encyclopedia Britannica and sells exactly one Electrolux vacuum cleaner. He realizes the problem isn’t with him. The problem is with other people. He needs to sell “something people knew they needed anyway.” He sets up a business of contracted female administrative assistants—nicknamed Lightning Rods—that have anonymous sex with the male employees in an office through a glory hole in the bathroom. He says he can convince people that this is a substitute for ordinary sex, and a way of guarding against workplace sexual harassment. The idea sweeps the nation and changes everything. Ms. DeWitt gives the last word of her novel to George Washington: “In America anything is possible.”

Published: Dec 21, 2011
Length: 12 minutes (3,070 words)

Body by Rikers: Getting to Know My Trainer, The Ex- and Future Con

In the years since his release from prison, Bashar had a difficult time finding work. Bally and Equinox wouldn’t hire him, but my smaller, independent gym did. “I started helping people,” he said, noting that he had been inspired to train by his grandmother’s struggle to touch her toes, a struggle I shared.

So training me was part of his own self-improvement regimen? That felt a little too The Help for me. I asked him if it bothered him to have a gay client. “Everybody’s just there to get healthy and get big,” he said. “We just on different boats.” You give respect, you get respect.

Published: Nov 30, 2011
Length: 5 minutes (1,437 words)

A Twee Grows In Brooklyn

It’s as if the tumor of hipster culture that formed when the cool kids moved to Williamsburg had metastasized into a cluster of cysts pressing down on parts of the borough’s brain. Around the militantly organic Park Slope Co-op, for example, or Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, where you can buy rings glued to typewriter keys as well as used, handmade, vegetable-dyed, vintage Oriental rugs for $1,000. Brooklyn is producing and consuming more of its own culture than ever before, giving rise to a sense of Brooklyn exceptionalism and a set of affectations that’s making the borough look more and more like Portland, Oregon.

Published: Jul 26, 2011
Length: 12 minutes (3,207 words)

Almost Amis

And so Martin Amis and his wife, the author Isabel Fonseca, are coming to Cobble Hill. And what’s it like being a writer in Brooklyn? “I expect it’s like writing in Manhattan,” Colson Whitehead once wrote in The New York Times, “but there aren’t as many tourists walking very slowly in front of you when you step out for coffee.” More likely, there are other writers walking in front of you. It’s a zone of infestation. Not only of novelists but reporters, pundits, poets and those often closeted scribblers who call themselves editors and agents. Not to mention bloggers, or whatever counts for being an online writer these days.

Published: Apr 26, 2011
Length: 12 minutes (3,132 words)

If She Did It (2007)

No one expected Judith Regan to go quietly. After dropping out of sight for much of this year, on Nov. 13 she filed a lawsuit against News Corp, HarperCollins, and Jane Friedman for defamation, breach of contract, and sex discrimination. Most spectacularly, the lawsuit alleges that Ms. Regan was the victim of a vast conspiracy, set in motion by two unnamed News Corp executives, who were worried that she would expose secrets about her now-indicted former lover Bernard Kerik—the former New York City police commissioner—that would imperil his former boss Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid. News Corp conspired to not only fire her, according to the lawsuit, but also defame her and discredit her so that any allegations she made would be immediately discounted as the ravings of a crazy person.

Published: Nov 20, 2007
Length: 15 minutes (3,902 words)

Blank Slate: Jacob Weisberg Doesn’t Much Care for What Works on the Internet. Can Slate recover?

The site’s internal numbers show that page views for October were up just 6 percent, to 83.6 million, and unique visitors were down 21 percent — growing pains as the site weans itself from longtime traffic teat MSN.com and develops its own, more clicky readers. Over the same time period, Gawker has more than doubled its audience, and the Huffington Post has a global readership roughly three times as large. Through October, the Daily Beast racked up publicity with long, will-they-or-won’t-they talks of a merger with Newsweek. When media people talk about the future of publishing online, in other words, they don’t talk about the site with the 12-year-old CMS.

Published: Nov 10, 2010
Length: 9 minutes (2,304 words)

Metaphor on 23rd Street: The Chelsea Has History and Architecture. Is That Enough for a $100 Million Sale?

It’s where Mark Twain stayed. And Jack Kerouac. And: Thomas Wolfe, Frida Kahlo, O. Henry, Arthur C. Clarke, Willem de Kooning, Henri Cartier Bresson, Allen Ginsberg and Martha Graham. It’s where couples from Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe to Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin made love. It’s where Dylan Thomas collapsed into a coma in 1953—”I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that is a record!”—which led to his death four days later in St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Published: Nov 3, 2010
Length: 9 minutes (2,360 words)