One version of my perfect day would consist of nothing but walking from one spicy-noodle stand to another, consuming so much chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns my mouth would no longer feel like it’s connected to my body. At Roads and Kingdoms, Josh Freedman made that dream reality, following Mr. Lamp — Chongqing’s most devoted noodle explorer — around the city, in search of the ultimate bowl of xiaomian.
Lamp steps out to take a call; he returns to tell me it is a reporter for one of China’s national newspapers. The article written about me the day before has been published in the local morning paper, under the headline “American Guy Loves Chongqing Noodles So Much He Flies All the Way to Chongqing to Eat Noodles and Learn About the Ingredients.” Within hours, the article was reposted by the flagship state-run paper, the state newswire, and dozens of aggregators. The article about me writing an article was such a big hit that the national press wanted to redo it for the international edition.
I look around the table, uncomfortable with the attention, thinking about the xiaomian stories that link each person together. Mrs. Lamp and her sister-in-law sit to our right, drinking sugary iced tea and gossiping. Across the simmering hotpot, Ms. Hu and her husband propose a toast to the table. They run a store called Fat Sister’s Noodles, named, they quickly add, after Ms. Hu. They operate the store themselves, with little help, starting before dawn every morning; rarely do they have a free moment to go out and eat with friends. After several rounds of toasting and laughter, Ms. Hu’s cheeks have turned bright red, almost as red as the hotpot broth on the table between us. Brother Lamp sits back, soaking it all in, watching connections borne of noodles grow into friendship and camaraderie. He has started smoking again.
In Sichuan’s spicy-noodle capital, a local xiaomian aficionado takes a visitor on a quest for the ultimate bowl.
I’ll try to follow a few guidelines for the sake of imagined objectivity, so, no friends; no GQ pieces; no pieces published before January 1, 2011; no stories pseudonymously submitted by my mom; no sandwiches. Here we go, with apologies, to, like, everyone.
An obvious choice made less obvious by the passage of time. It has been only nine months since Wright’s startling, white-knuckled journey to the center of Scientology, with outraged and wounded filmmaker Paul Haggis as his Ahab. In Internet time, this story feels very old—check out Tom Cruise’s new movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this Christmas!—but it hasn’t budged an inch. Wright has long been a dogged writer-reporter and interpreter of foreign, pre- and post-Judeo-Christian faiths, but he’s never been so simultaneously zingy and stone-faced. TNY fact-checkers famously sent the Church of Scientology 971 questions for confirmation before this was published, followed by an eight-hour inquiry session with the religion’s spokesman. I have 971 questions for Wright. Question One: How?
An arch and hilarious move by the editors at Grantland to lead their launch week with the story of an ambitious, innovative, and ultimately overextended sports publication. Too cute by half or not, French and Kahn, who have contributed great work like this to GQ, too, talk to damn near every wunderkind, wonk, and graybeard involved in the fast construction and faster crumbling of The National, the first (and last) sports-only newspaper. By turns funny, informative, and oddly thrilling, it presages the too-much media by at least a decade. Also, the characterization of editor-in-chief and sports scribe demigod Frank DeFord as a dashing dandy beyond all, an almost Gatsby-esque sportswriter (?!) is remarkable.
Access isn’t everything, but it’s a lot of things. Refreshing. Enlightening. Embarrassing. Mirth-making. Other gerunds. That much is clear in this loose, funny portrait of one of the most important people in America, drawn small and sorta goofy, but not without empathy by Pressler. Just a damn good and entertaining profile.
Rabin is a pretty brilliant cultural critic and flotsam scavenger, but he’s secondary here to the form, the increasingly utilized Insta-Tell-All. Though shows like Louie or the rabidly championed Community are seen by relatively modest audiences, rarely exceeding a few million or so, the fandom they inspire is maniacal, bordering on unhealthy. In some instances, I hate this. But when it’s something I care about, I make exceptions. This literal step-by-step, shot-by-shot printed audio commentary track for the second season of comedian Louis CK’s FX series plays out in four parts and in a way that both satisfies in a very grim empty-calorie way and devastates with clarity. Louie isn’t exactly better after you’ve heard about every motivation—it’s fine standing alone, on your DVR. But that doesn’t mean you won’t inhale this series in one sitting and then enjoy this.
Stunt journalism, maybe. Multimedia art project gone wrong, sure. Belly-button-deep inside baseball, yeah, definitely. Doesn’t mean this very funny and very unnecessary attempt to get high and get paid for it (while sort of lampooning the whole Plimptonian, we-can-do-it style of participatory journalism along the way) isn’t a genuinely inventive and uniquely audience-conscious piece of web writing.
Guillermo del Toro, a perfect profile subject. Bonus points for savvy multimedia accompaniment.
Brilliantly crafted. Made a monkey outta me.
Could probably do with less tweeting and more writing of this kind from Kaling.
Bradford Evans, The Lost Roles of Chevy Chase (Splitsider)
Wherein the Chevy Chase is a Colossal Asshole reputation is burnished, buffed, and efficiently honed in a countdown form that neatly conveys the story of a career coulda-been.
William Bowers, Now What? (Pitchfork)
Made me feel better about all my time spent mining the crevasses of insular music writing.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Susan Goldberg, Leslie Jamison, Jacqueline Keeler, Max Genecov, and Ryan Bradley.
“High turnover is now a virtue” in the restaurant business, “which means the latest food trend isn’t an ingredient or a cuisine; it’s a length of time.” GQ sends Ryan Bradley to eat his way across Los Angeles in an attempt to help readers (and his 96-year-old grandmother, Bam-Bam) get to the bottom of our trendy attraction to ephemeral dining experiences.
My favorite food truck in Austin was closed last Sunday.
This particular truck is a neighborhood mainstay. (DM me if you are wildly curious about my taste in trucks. I’ll reply in the form of a koan, like a fortune cookie. May we all selfishly hoard the best things in life for as long as we can keep them secret.) It’s open every day; it’s been there for years. It is usually up and running, rain or shine, weather be damned. But last Sunday it was closed.
Look, it’s a truck. It was purposely designed to drive off into the sunset. But this one is supposed to be a food truck only in name. It was present and closed, crucially, as opposed to absent and lost to time. (Although the window was boarded up, and the grain of the wood was ominous.) It could disappear, but it doesn’t. It’s been stationary for at least five years.
Did someone die? Was someone sick? It might’ve just been a peculiar forecast situation, but I just don’t really know. And the not knowing hurt.
Apparently, I metabolize (get it?) disappearing restaurants differently than people who know insider things about roving food options. If the limited-edition dishes at a truck or a pop-up are insanely good, I figure the foldable version was always intended to serve as a low-overhead test kitchen. If there are regularly lines snaking around the block, I just assume the plan is to size up locally, secure a larger space, and graduate gracefully into sustainability and permanence. Good food is good! I like good things to stay.
But no! This is only a thing sometimes! It’s true that a number of temporary dining operations start out as low-risk test runs to prove or disprove long-term viability, but now a great many more are specifically designed to flame out. There are city-block queues of eaters out there who live for limited time offers, for trick candle food that’s here one day and gone the next. They’re tickled by the vanishing acts that fill my stomach with so much dread.
The entire point of pop-ups is to expire. That limit then feeds into a ticking time-bomb of popularity that is as temporary as a wet nap at a hipster barbecue. To get to the bottom of this evaporating attraction, GQ sent Ryan Bradley to eat his way across Los Angeles to help us all digest why pop-ups and ephemeral dining experiences have become the fastest-moving craze in food:
As attention spans shortened and experiences became the new status symbols, disappearing restaurants gained more cultural capital than their stodgily static alternatives.
This shift has created entire multimillion- and even billion-dollar real estate interests (malls, mostly) with spaces devoted to pop-up restaurants at New York’s South Street Seaport, Platform in Culver City, and Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, among others. A company based in San Francisco, called Cubert, manufactures purpose-built pop-up stalls. High turnover is now a virtue. Which means the latest food trend isn’t an ingredient or a cuisine; it’s a length of time. The most successful pop-up operations are those that can burn brightly, then quietly (and quickly) disappear to make room for something new.
Chefs have adapted to the churn. Time was, an accomplished chef would rarely up and leave a restaurant for something else. Now it happens all the time. Michelin-starred chef Dan Barber decamped from his idyllic Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley for an international jaunt making luxury meals out of food waste. Chad Robertson, of San Francisco’s cultishly loved bakery Tartine, has done so many collaborations that his sourdough starter is everywhere from New York to Stockholm, as iconic as a gurgling blob of yeast can be. René Redzepi has taken Noma (and its dedicated fans) on the road from Copenhagen to Sydney, Tokyo, and Tulum. At Lalito in New York, Gerardo Gonzalez hosts regular pop-ups that often turn into dance parties you see on Instagram the next day and wish you’d been at. I recently ate ramen from Oakland’s Ramen Shop without having to leave Los Angeles, which was honestly very convenient. A few years ago, Google hired a whole crew of chefs to run a “world” café pop-up for the tenth anniversary of Google Translate. And last summer, Jessica Koslow, of L.A.’s now iconic breakfast-and-lunch spot Sqirl, started cooking out of the Food Lab, that space in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport built specifically for pop-up restaurants. And eaters, well, we lined up around the block, flew halfway around the world, and paid premium prices just for a chance to say we were there.
Nicole Chung | Longreads | March 2018 | 11 minutes (2,845 words)
I am writing a book my father will never see. Not in its entirety, not out in the world. He got through about half of my first draft, my mother said, or maybe a little bit more, sometimes using a magnifying glass to read the manuscript I’d sent in 12-point double-spaced Times. When I heard this, I berated myself — I should have thought of that; I should have sent a larger-print version. “Honey, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Mom said. “He had to use the magnifying glass for all his reading, even the bigger type.”
Why didn’t I know that? Because I was far away, across the country. Because he didn’t read books on the too-rare occasions when we were together; he was focused on spending time with me. Because, while I asked about his health all the time, I never asked, specifically, how does he read these days? One more thing I hadn’t known about my father. One more thing to reproach myself for.
He did read part of my book. I think about that every day. He and my mom would sometimes read it aloud, together, chapter by chapter, working their way through it in the evenings after she got home from work. When my dad died suddenly, six days into the new year, they were still several chapters from the end.
At GQ, Zach Baron has a profile of actor Brendan Fraser, who was popular in the ’90s for movies like School Ties, and who has been making something of a comeback since he was cast in The Affair in 2016.
Fraser tells Baron that in 2003, he was touched inappropriately by Philip Berk, a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The incident left him feeling violated and insecure. Adding insult to injury, his reporting of it seems to have gotten him blacklisted for years.
The story he wants to relay took place, he says, in the summer of 2003, in the Beverly Hills Hotel, at a luncheon held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization that hosts the Golden Globes. On Fraser’s way out of the hotel, he was hailed by Philip Berk, a former president of the HFPA. In the midst of a crowded room, Berk reached out to shake Fraser’s hand. Much of what happened next Berk recounted in his memoir and was also reported by Sharon Waxman in The New York Times: He pinched Fraser’s ass—in jest, according to Berk. But Fraser says what Berk did was more than a pinch: “His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.” Fraser says that in this moment he was overcome with panic and fear.
“Am I still frightened? Absolutely. Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely.”
Fraser eventually was able, he says, to remove Berk’s hand. “I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry.” He rushed out of the room, outside, past a police officer he couldn’t quite bring himself to confess to, and then home, where he told his then wife, Afton, what had happened. “I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me,” he says now. (In an e-mail, Berk, who is still an HFPA member, disputed Fraser’s account: “Mr. Fraser’s version is a total fabrication.”)
In the aftermath of the encounter, Fraser thought about making it public. But ultimately, “I didn’t want to contend with how that made me feel, or it becoming part of my narrative.” But the memory of what had happened, and the way it made him feel, stuck with him. His reps asked the HFPA for a written apology. Berk acknowledges that he wrote a letter to Fraser about the incident but says, “My apology admitted no wrongdoing, the usual ‘If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize.’ ”
According to Fraser, the HFPA also said it would never allow Berk in a room with Fraser again. (Berk denies this, and the HFPA declined to comment for this story.) But still, Fraser says, “I became depressed.” He started telling himself he deserved what had happened to him. “I was blaming myself and I was miserable—because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’ That summer wore on—and I can’t remember what I went on to work on next.”
He knows now that people wonder what happened to Brendan Fraser, how he went from a highly visible public figure to practically disappearing in the public mind, and he’d already told me most of it. But this, he says, is the final piece. The experience, he says, “made me retreat. It made me feel reclusive.” He wondered if the HFPA had blacklisted him. “I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA. But the silence was deafening.” Fraser says he was rarely invited back to the Globes after 2003. Berk denies that the HFPA retaliated against Fraser: “His career declined through no fault of ours.”