Search Results for: David Kushner

The Bones of Marianna, by David Kushner


This week’s Longreads Member Pick is by David Kushner, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone whose work has been featured on Longreads often in the past. He has just published The Bones of Marianna, a new story from The Atavist, and we’re thrilled to give the ebook to Longreads Members.

Kushner explains:

Almost everyone who hears the shocking story of the Dozier School for Boys, one of the country’s oldest and largest reform schools, and a model for the nation, asks the same question: how could this happen? How could the Florida government allow generations of young wards to be whipped, shackled, forced into hard labor, and possibly worse for over 100 years? Allegations of abuse dogged the school through its closing two years ago, and continue today, with troubling questions and answers still remaining.

In The Bones of Marianna, which I spent the past year reporting, I tell the story of two determined crusaders who pushed this dark past into light. Jerry Cooper, a star of Dozier’s football team, haunted by the memory of a teammate he accused the school of killing, spends years quarterbacking the fight to expose the truth, while a leading forensic anthropologist, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, digs up grim secrets in the school’s unmarked graveyard. The Prologue, excerpted here in Longreads, draws from Cooper’s recollection of a little white building that he, and hundreds of boys who passed through Dozier, will never forget.

Thanks to Kushner and The Atavist for sharing this story with Longreads Members. Below is the opening chapter. You can also purchase the full ebook on Amazon.


It didn’t take much to get sent to the White House. Smoking. Cussing. Taking an extra pat of butter at lunch. Or, as Jerry Cooper learned late one spring night in 1961, refusing to play football.

The White House was a small building near the cafeteria at the Florida School for Boys, where 15-year-old Cooper had arrived earlier that year. The school was the oldest reformatory in Florida, spread across 1,400 acres of rolling farmland in Marianna, a town of 7,150, an hour from the state capital in Tallahassee. Like most schools in the South, it treated football like religion. But the reform school’s Yellow Jackets had languished of late, and acting superintendent David Walters—who took such pride in the team that he kept its few trophies in his office—wanted Cooper to lead them to victory again.

Cooper was tall, lean, and amiable, the star quarterback at his high school in suburban Orlando before his life veered off course. When Walters, a stocky, crew-cut middle-aged man, summoned Cooper to his office a few months after his arrival, he didn’t ask if he’d play quarterback for the Yellow Jackets. He told him to.

But Cooper didn’t want to suit up. With his good behavior and dutiful work as a teacher’s aide, he had earned an early release from the school and would be going home in a few months. He didn’t want a commitment to the football team to keep him around through the fall. He obligingly attended practices with the other boys, struggling through the Florida heat in thick, ratty pads every afternoon, but he refused to sign up for the coming season.

Then, one night, he was awakened by a hand gripping his neck. Two guards—one larger than him, one smaller—dragged him barefoot from his cottage. They wouldn’t say where they were taking him as they threw him into the back of an old blue Ford. They drove along the rocky dirt roads across campus until they reached a little white building. Cooper had never been sent to the White House before, but he had heard the stories of kids being taken there to be whipped—or worse.

As the guards shoved Cooper through the door, the stench of bodily fluids overwhelmed him. A lightbulb hung from the ceiling of the bare concrete room, illuminating three husky men: Walters, school disciplinarian R. W. Hatton, and a supervisor, Troy Tidwell, whom the boys nicknamed the One-Armed Bandit. As a child, Tidwell had leaned on the muzzle of a shotgun and blown off his left arm. His remaining arm possessed a fearsome strength, and he was known to the boys as the strongest whipmaster of the White House.

“What do you know about a runner?” Walters asked Cooper, referring to a boy who had run away from the school earlier that night.

“I don’t have a fucking clue,” Cooper replied.

Walters lunged for him, and Cooper’s football instincts took over. The boy jammed his shoulder into the superintendent, taking Tidwell down with him. But the men recovered, and Tidwell’s hand closed around Cooper’s neck, hurling him against the wall. Tidwell smashed his heel down on Cooper, shattering the ball of his foot. When Cooper grabbed his foot in agony, he caught a fist to the mouth, which knocked loose his front teeth.

The men threw Cooper facedown on an army cot and tied his legs down. Cooper heard Tidwell’s whip snap against the ceiling and an instant later felt it sear his skin. One burning lash followed another, and Cooper, who never considered himself a coward, begged for mercy. “Jesus, God help me!” he cried. “Mother!” Then he passed out from the pain.

That night in his cottage, Cooper nursed his broken foot. The wounds from the whip were still so raw that the blood soaked through the back of his nightshirt. A boy who had been waiting his turn in the White House during Cooper’s beating later told him he had counted 135 licks in all. The supervisors had told Cooper he was being punished for not helping them find the runaway, but Cooper surmised the real reason for the whipping: They wanted him on the football team, even if they had to beat him into compliance (though they probably hadn’t planned on breaking his foot). Now, on account of his alleged insubordination, he wouldn’t be released from the school anytime soon—certainly not before the end of the football season.

Lying on his bed, Cooper wondered how he would survive the months that stretched before him. The White House had changed him. He vowed to bring the men who had broken him to justice, no matter how long it took.

But first he had to play ball.


We need your help to get to 5,000 Longreads Members.

Join Longreads now and help us keep going.

The Bones of Marianna, by David Kushner: Our Latest Longreads Member Pick

Longreads Pick

This week’s Longreads Member Pick is by David Kushner, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone whose work has been featured on Longreads often in the past. He has just published The Bones of Marianna, a new story from The Atavist, and we’re thrilled to give the ebook to Longreads Members.

Source: The Atavist
Published: Oct 31, 2013

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Back of a nun's habit
Graeme Robertson / Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Christine Kenneally, Desiree Stennett and Lisa Rowan, Andrea Long Chu, Victoria Blanco, and David Kushner.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

The Music of the Cave

Getty Images

Cueva de los Tayos — Cave of the Oilbirds — is a giant cave in the Andes guarded over by the Shuar, the Indigenous people of the region. This cave has compelled visitors for hundreds of years, who have linked it to UFOs, ancient metal tablets, and burial grounds. Writing for Outside, David Kushner tells us how the allure of this cave even reached as far as Scotland, to a civil engineer named Stan Hall. 

As a young married man in Dunbar, a seaside town near Edinburgh, he was a mild-mannered civil engineer with a bookish interest in science, history, and travel. “He got interested in explorers,” ­Eileen says. “People like Lawrence of Arabia who would go off into the unknown.” Reading about Tayos in The Gold of the Gods captured his imagination like nothing before. Von Däniken claimed that an Argentine-Hungarian explorer, Juan Moricz, had taken him to the cave, where they found the tablets that, he wrote, “might contain a synopsis of the history of humanity, as well as an account of the origin of mankind on earth and information of a vanished civilization.”

The fantastical account gripped Hall, who on a whim decided to write to Neil Armstrong and invite him to take a trip to the cave in 1976. Armstrong, recently world-famous from his moon walk, could draw enormous attention to the venture, and as Hall had learned, the astronaut had Scottish roots, so he just might consider the idea. To Hall’s shock, Armstrong wrote back saying he was interested. With that letter in hand, Hall approached both the British and Ecuadorean governments, which agreed to provide funding and helicopter transportation to the site. Within a year, Hall had organized one of the largest cave expeditions of his time.

After Stan Hall passed away, his daughter, Eileen, also felt the call of the cave. Kushner joins her on one of her expeditions and discovers that her motivation is very different from that of her father. Eileen is not treasure hunting in the traditional sense, feeling “a growing sense of alienation in a male-dominated adventure narrative,” Eileen was drawn to the spiritual side of the cave. She wants to record music there, an idea, which after some resistance, was welcomed to help “spread the word about the fragility of the region’s landscape and the Shuar people.” And so it is with musical instruments that Kushner descends with her into the deep. 

The deeper we go into Tayos, the more spectacular it becomes. We step into a giant cavern, which I nickname King Kong’s Palace. Boulders cover the ground like fallen ruins, and the cave’s ceiling looms at least a couple hundred feet overhead. In the distance, there’s another passageway with perfectly smooth walls that rise and meet at close to a right angle.

Around the corner, we come to the gargantuan Main Chamber. It could hold a 20-story building lying on its side, and it’s just as tall. The light from our headlamps fades before it reaches the far side. The ground is rocky, lunar, and black, but unlike the moon it’s teeming with life. Giant brown tarantulas stroll between stones. I catch the glimmer of the silvery back of a three-inch beetle before it scurries into the shadows. On a small boulder, we spy what looks like a steampunk insect, part flesh, part machine. It’s an Amblypygi, or whip spider, and as we get closer, we see that it has a beetle in its mandibles.

After pitching our tents and filling up on lentils and rice, we fall asleep to the cries of the oilbirds, which gradually fade to silence.

Read the story

Viagra: The Happiest of All Happy Accidents?

Getty Images

Did you know that the discovery of Pfizer’s erectile-dysfunction drug Viagra was an accident? While testing a drug that expanded blood cells in the chest to relieve chest pain back in 1991, some patients reported getting erections as a side effect — enough of them that clinical researcher Ian Osterloh decided that this intriguing result merited more study, despite opposition from Pfizer’s staunchly conservative upper management, legislators, the medical establishment, and even the Catholic Church.

As David Kushner reports at Esquire, after getting approval from the FDA, the team wooed urologists to get the little blue pill into the hands of men the world over, making Pfizer a potent profit along the way.

In fact, it’s a miracle that it ever came to be at all. In addition to the people within Pfizer who were in an uproar over the “dick pill,” four major groups began rallying against it before its launch: the Catholic church (which thought it was immoral), medical experts (who insisted patients would be too embarrassed to ask for the pill), business execs (who thought it would make Pfizer a laughingstock), and legislators (who lobbied against the pill for the same reason as the church).

It was the job of two unlikely guys at Pfizer to overcome them all: Rooney Nelson, a young Jamaican marketing whiz, and Sal “Dr. Sal” Giorgianni, a crusty Italian pharmacist from Queens who became Viagra’s medical expert. Together, Nelson and Dr. Sal became the dynamic duo of erectile dysfunction, wooing angry religious leaders, skittish politicians, and cynical pharma nerds from all over.

To sell an erection drug, however, meant swaying the doctors who were way lower down the pecking order: the urologists. Compared with brain surgeons and cardiologists, urologists were the Dunder Mifflin of the pharma world: nerdy, unsexy, and unaccustomed to the warm fuzz of marketing crews. But that was about to change.

The mid-nineties were the heyday for pharmaceutical junkets, but Viagra marked the first time that unglamorous urologists were the ones being seduced. Pfizer would fly a dozen of them to an all-expenses-paid weekend at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, and give them $2,500 each for their time. Pfizer could easily spend $200,000 per trip to entice them. “Urologists, they had never really been to places like that; they had never eaten like that; they had never drank like that,” Nelson says. “So you had a really primed group that was receptive to hearing your message.”

Over dirty martinis and lollipop lamb chops, Nelson would look out into the room and wonder how he was going to energize them. He pitched them on how he was going to make them as cool and desirable as open-heart surgeons. “This is an opportunity for you to be at the cutting edge of what could be the most revolutionary product in a long time in medicine,” he said. But there was one problem, they quickly told him: They never talked about sex with their patients. There was no reason to discuss impotence, because they had no remedy. “No physician asks about things that they can’t treat,” as Nelson puts it. “It was a wall of silence.”

Read the story

When Gamers Assumed the Role of the Antihero

At Gamespot, an excerpt from David Kushner’s book Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto, which details the origin of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Initially, designers devised a game where the player would assume the role of a police officer who had to obey traffic lights and avoid hitting pedestrians. Players found the gameplay boring. Everything changed when the designers decided to let the player assume the role of a bad guy:

One day a new build of Race ‘n’ Chase arrived for Sam and the others to try out. At first, it seemed the same. With the top-down perspective, the gamer felt as if he were hovering over a city in a balloon, looking down on gray and brown rooftops. Puffy green trees poked of out of green parks. Horns honked. Engines roared. When you tapped your forward arrow on the keyboard, you saw your unnamed character, a tiny guy in a yellow long-sleeved shirt, stride across the street.

With a few more taps of the arrow keys, you maneuvered the character toward a stubby green car with a shiny hood, then tapped the Enter key. That’s when it happened. The door flew open, and the driver–some other little dude in blue pants–came flying out of the car and landed on the pavement in a contorted pile. He got jacked. As you held down the forward arrow, the car careened forward, supple to the flick of the side arrows–left, right–with a satisfying vroooom. You headed toward a flickering traffic light. Why stop? This was a game, right? A game wasn’t life. A game takes you over, or you take over it, pushing it in ways you can’t for real.

So you drove through the light, squealing around a corner. As you took the turn too wide, you saw a little pedestrian in a white long-sleeved shirt and blue pants coming too close, but you couldn’t stop. Actually, you didn’t want to stop. So you just drove. Drove right into the ped–only to hear a satisfying splat, like a crushed grape with a wine-colored stain on the sidewalk, and the number “100” rising from the corpse. Score! This wasn’t the old Race ‘n’ Chase anymore.

The moment that DMA let players run over pedestrians–and be rewarded with points, no less–changed everything. Instead of cops and robbers, the game became robbers and cops. The object was to run missions for bad guys, such as jacking cars, the more the better. The leap was radical. In the short history of games, players had almost always been the hero, not the antihero. You were the heartsick plumber of Super Mario Bros., the intergalactic pilot of Defender, the glacial-paced explorer of Myst. One obscure arcade game from the 1970s, Death Race 2000, let players run over virtual ghosts, and it got banned. Nothing put you behind the wheel to wreak havoc like this. As Brian Baglow, a writer for DMA, said “You’re a criminal, so if you do something bad, you get a reward!”

Read the story

Longreads Best of 2013: 22 Outstanding Book Chapters We Featured This Year

This year we featured not only the best stories from the web, but also great chapters from new and classic books. Here’s a complete guide to every book chapter we featured this year, both for free and for Longreads Members: Read more…

Longreads Member Exclusive: Cormac McCarthy's Apocalypse

This week we’re excited to feature a Longreads Exclusive from David Kushner, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ and Wired. “Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse” is Kushner’s 2007 Rolling Stone profile of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men” and “All the Pretty Horses.” See an excerpt here.

p.s. You can support Longreads—and get more exclusives like this—by becoming a member.

(Illustration by Katie Kosma)

Longreads Member Exclusive: ‘Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse’

Longreads Pick

This week, we're excited to feature a Longreads Exclusive from David Kushner (@DavidKushner), a contributing editor to Rolling Stone whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ and Wired. He's been featured many times on Longreads, and he's the author of Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto

“Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse” is Kushner's 2007 Rolling Stone profile of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Road, No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses. Kushner explains how he first met the reclusive writer:

"I owe my Cormac McCarthy story to two people: Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, and my dad. My dad urged me to read Cormac's books when I began writing for my college newspaper. The sentences are amazing, he said. He was right, and I read every one of them. Years later, I was interviewing Randall for Rolling Stone when she told me that Cormac had done an edit of her most recent book on theoretical physics. Come again? I said. Cormac hangs out at the Sante Fe Institute, she explained, a science research center in the foothills of New Mexico. After meeting him there, he offered to read her book—and surprised her by sending back an edited copy of the manuscript. Hmm, I said. Can I interview him about you for the story?

"Randall laughed, and I knew why. Cormac had a reputation for being reclusive, and had only done a couple interviews over his career. It's a long shot, she said, but she'd give it a try. A few minutes later my phone rang. You're not going to believe this, she said, but he'll talk with you.”

Source: Rolling Stone
Published: Dec 1, 2007
Length: 16 minutes (4,196 words)