The Remarkable Brain of a Carpet Cleaner Who Speaks 24 Languages

Vaughn Smith lives in Maryland. He’s 46 years old. He also learns languages with the seeming ease of a run around the block — including endangered indigenous tongues like Salish. In this fascinating profile that’s part ridealong and part science dive, Jessica Contrera takes you inside the life (and brain) of a man with a very particular set of skills.

When I introduced him to Richard Simcott, who organizes an international conference for polyglots, Vaughn switched between 10 languages as they spoke, telling stories in Welsh, Bulgarian, Serbian, Norwegian and more.

Because for Vaughn, every language is really a story about the people it connected him to.

Published: Apr 5, 2022
Length: 15 minutes (3,994 words)

The Death Spiral of an American Family

In this heartbreaking portrait of one American family, Eli Saslow offers a look at “backwards mobility” and the country’s collapsing middle class.

It had been almost a month since Dave, 39, found his father lying unresponsive in bed next to his cellphone and a bill from a collections agency, having died of a heart attack at age 70, and ever since then Dave had been trying to make sense of what his father had left behind. He’d read through his father’s credit card statements and then talked to a banker, who concluded that the final estate of David Ramsey Sr. was of “inconsequential value.”

Author: Eli Saslow
Published: Mar 20, 2022
Length: 16 minutes (4,025 words)

No Escape From Guantánamo

“For the former detainees of America’s war on terror, stigma, poverty and continuing persecution present formidable obstacles to resettlement.”

Published: Jan 7, 2022
Length: 15 minutes (3,800 words)

‘My Sincere Condolences’

Inside the struggles and heartaches of FEMA’s massive COVID funeral assistance program.

Published: Dec 21, 2021
Length: 16 minutes (4,083 words)

A QAnon Con

“An Internet mob wanted to rescue a 13-year-old girl. Instead, they terrified her, derailed real trafficking investigations, and incited ‘save the children’ violence.”

Published: Dec 16, 2021
Length: 20 minutes (5,200 words)

The Vaccine Tore Her Family Apart. Could a Death Bring Them Back Together?

“Laurel Haught moved out of her own home to escape her unvaccinated daughter. Now they are facing a funeral, the coming holidays and the divide splitting many American families.”

Published: Nov 15, 2021
Length: 14 minutes (3,700 words)

Have Democrats Reached the Limits of White Appeasement Politics?

In short: Pretty much.

Published: Nov 11, 2021
Length: 17 minutes (4,300 words)

Two Kids, a Loaded Gun and the Man Who Left a 4-Year-Old to Die

The children will never recover from what happened inside a D.C. apartment. The owner of the illegal gun faces far less serious consequences.

Published: Sep 27, 2021
Length: 22 minutes (5,539 words)

The Last Days Inside Trailer 83

“As climate disasters increase, a last-gasp FEMA camp for wildfire survivors tests the government’s obligation to the displaced.”

Published: Oct 17, 2021
Length: 17 minutes (4,400 words)

‘The Mansion on Emerson Street’

“After more than a year of allowing most homeless camps to remain intact so as not to displace people during the pandemic, cities across the country are now beginning to confront another public health crisis unfolding on their streets.”

Author: Eli Saslow
Published: Jun 12, 2021
Length: 17 minutes (4,268 words)