Poker Night was sacred in my family, even though the game couldn’t start until Motzei Shabbos — the departing of the sacred Sabbath. Arguments were as likely to break out in Yiddish — my first language — as English. Most players were Holocaust refugees residing in Brooklyn like my parents. The rest were American-born Jews, that is, the ones who “didn’t know from true suffering.” A group to which I belonged, as Ma often reminded me during my surly adolescent years. Most of the refugees were observant Orthodox Jews, like Dad. The rest were more likely to be irreligious, like Ma.
I was 6 years old in 1969, the year of my earliest poker memory. Shabbos had just ended and I had a plan. Ma had recently bought me a quilted light pink robe dotted with small dark pink and fuchsia flowers that I loved more than anything in the world. She’d taught me to loop the dark pink quilted belt asymmetrically on the left side of my waist, like the movie stars did, she said. I felt like Cinderella in that robe, or, more specifically, Leslie Anne Warren’s Cinderella from the movie. Maybe prettier, even. So entrancing that my parents and their poker buddies would forget to deal the first card. Read more…
College campuses are full of ghosts. Alumni magazines have the glossy success stories about the alumnus who made good, but what students remember are the cautionary tales. The tormented writer who worked here for a while. The student who fell to his death from the eighth floor of your dorm. But these stories are almost always more legend than fact. Alexander Deedy’s chronicle of the University of Montana fraternity brother who built an online poker site into a multimillion dollar outfit and then went to jail for it is as much a celebration of the fantasy life of young men as it is a sober warning about the long arm of the law. Deedy’s pacing and sympathy makes his story compelling and his main character relatable.
The vast sums of money shuttled among the accounts of these young professionals — and the shocking aggressiveness and recklessness with which they played — deepened the divide between the young online players and the older guard who earned their millions when poker was still a game played by men sitting around a table. Since the rise of online poker in the early 2000s, every principle of the game, every lesson learned over hundreds of thousands of hours of play, every simple credo uttered in some old Western gambling movie — all those tersely stated, manly things that made up the legend of poker — has been picked apart and, for the most part, discarded.
Evening approached as I strolled west, back toward the ocean, past San Luis Rey’s trailer parks and down the river levee’s bike path, vaguely looking for a place to camp or simply reassurance that there would be a place to camp if I walked a few more miles. The river channel was a bottomland of scrub, deadwood, and patches of sand, with larger cottonwoods shivering, a revelation of groundwater. Hard to imagine a flood in this dry land that would warrant a levee of this size, but history must justify it. Several figures in a culvert raised my guard as I first approached the levee, but it was only three kids with their pit bull, sharing a joint.
In the distance, parachutists were swinging in descent. Camp Pendleton marines, I thought at first, but the base was north of the river, beyond a ridge. These were just civilians falling toward the Oceanside Municipal Airport for a thrill and the evening view. On Benet Road I crossed the river, seeing on my phone’s screen another dotted line, a trail, one that might be less traveled. Maybe I could camp there. Past the driveway to Prince of Peace Abbey, past a scrapyard with battered cars piled up, I came to a sign where the road dead-ended: No Trespassing — Area Patrolled. A man was changing the oil of his old vehicle just there. When I asked if anybody went down that way, his mumbles were unintelligible, but my impression was, No, it was a bad idea. A semitruck idled nearby with its driver hidden behind tinted glass. Feeling a little desperate, I turned around. Read more…
I’ve admired Natassja Schiel since we met at a writer’s workshop on the Oregon Coast nearly three years ago. Her crisp sentences move with warmth and certainty, and her gentle courage with difficult topics pulls a reader in.
Schiel’s essay “Finding My Father,” is a layered coming of age story about a woman who turns to sex work and creative writing after a difficult upbringing. Opossum, a small literary journal based in Oregon, originally published the piece in November, 2017. According to Schiel, the editorial process was pleasant enough, until the lead editor, John Blanton Edgar, sent her numerous unwanted emails, texts, and calls outside the bounds of their working relationship. She began to hear similar stories from other women writers who’d interacted with him, so Schiel asked for her piece to be removed from Opossum’s site. Edgar complied, then reversed his decision before sending emails claiming responsibility for her career’s success. When Natassja took her story public in May 2019, she heard a resounding chorus of support. Edgar took down the piece the following month.
Longreads reached out to Edgar. He told us he believed their interactions post-publication were borne of a growing friendship. “I was under the impression that we were friends and that the publisher/writer relationship was in the past. We exchanged many texts and had a small number of phone conversations during the next year or so.” He also expressed regret that Natassja’s experience had been so challenging. “I am sincerely sorry that Natassja feels this way and that I ever made her or anyone else feel uncomfortable.” According to this statement, Edgar shut down publication of Opossum in June.
Longreads is thrilled to re-publish “Finding My Father.” It is Schiel’s second piece with us. —Danielle A. Jackson
* * *
I’d often lean into an older balding man, when I worked as a stripper, grazing his shoulder before bracing myself on the plush leather chair that he lounged in. I’d stand between his legs, undulating my body, my torso inches away, but never touching him, my right breast lingering over his nose. When he exhaled, the tickle of his breath would stiffen my semi-erect nipple even more. “You’re so sexy,” he’d whisper over the loud music, redirecting his gaze to my face. I’d look him in the eyes and think, You’re old enough to be my father. Are you?
I didn’t know my father. I’d never met him. He could have been anyone.
I have one job — building the Pepper-Crusted Beef on Brioche with Celery Root Salad, an elegant little bite to be passed during cocktail hour at the Park Avenue Armory Gala, a black-tie dinner for 760 people. In theory, it’s an easy hors d’oeuvre, a thin coin of rosy beef on bread with a tuft of salad on top. It’s 4:50 now and the doors open at 6:30, so I’ve got some time to assemble this thing. The ingredients can be served at room temperature — any temperature, really — and they were prepared earlier today by a separate team of cooks at the caterer’s kitchen on the far West Side of town, then packaged on sheet pans and in plastic deli containers for a truck ride to the venue. All I have to do is locate the ingredients in the boxes and coolers, find some space to work — my “station” — and begin marshaling a small army of beef-on-toasts so I’ve got enough of a quorum, 240 pieces or so, that when serve-out begins I’ll be able to keep pace with replenishment demand through a forty-five-minute cocktail hour.
Jhovany León Salazar, the kitchen assistant leading the hors d’oeuvre (“H.D.”) kitchen, shows me the photo the executive chef supplied that reveals the precise architecture of this bite: a slice of seared beef tenderloin, rare in the center and the size of a Kennedy half-dollar, resting on a slightly larger round of toasted brioche. On top of the beef is a tangle of rich celeriac slaw — superfine threads of shredded celery root slicked with mayo, with a sprinkling of fresh chives showered over the whole. This is New York–caliber catering intelligence at work: take a throwback classic — the beef tenderloin carving station — to a higher, more knowing plane in a single bite. Here, the colors are lively, the scale is humane, the meat perfectly rosy-rare and tender, its edge seared black with ground pepper and char, the celeriac bringing novelty, though its flavor is familiar enough. It’s a pro design that satisfies the meat-’n’-potatoes crowd without talking down to the epicures.
The kitchen tonight — like every night, no matter the venue — is as makeshift as a school bake sale, a series of folding tables covered with white tablecloths and fashioned into a fort-like U. Since there are two warm hors d’oeuvres on the menu, our crew has a hotbox standing by — the tall, aluminum cabinet on wheels that both serves as transport vehicle for food and, once it’s on-site and loaded with a few flaming cans of jellied fuel (the odor-free version of Sterno is favored), becomes the oven. Imagine the most flame-averse venues — the New York Public Library, City Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art — even there, the ghostly blue flames in the hotbox pass muster with the fire marshal. In fact, this one fudge, this unspoken exception to the no-open-flames rule, is the secret to restaurant-quality catering in New York City. Read more…
Matt Giles | Longreads | March 2019 | 28 minutes (6,730 words)
Dry heaves racked Dan Stoddard’s body as he bent his 6-foot-8, 325-plus-pound frame awkwardly over a toilet, shaking as he vomited up the Gatorade and other fluids he had consumed in an attempt to stave off dehydration. The 39-year-old hadn’t slept well in days, and even when he did manage some shut-eye, it was only for a few hours at a time before beginning the first of his two six-hour shifts driving a bus for Ottawa’s OC Transpo public transit system. Stoddard had never felt this exhausted, but he couldn’t rest — down seven points at halftime, his team needed him.
It only took the first 20 minutes of this early February 2018 game against Seneca, one of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s top teams, for Stoddard to realize his body was fully gassed. Algonquin had lost 10 of its first 14 games, so the final outcome — an 80-71 defeat — was immaterial, but Stoddard had joined the team to finally act on the lifetime of regrets he had accumulated, and he didn’t want to add another disappointment to the ledger.
In September 2017, Stoddard enrolled as a freshman at Algonquin College, one of Canada’s largest public colleges. Not long after, the accounting major joined the basketball team. But Stoddard wasn’t just acting on a whim, a loosely conceived midlife crisis outfitted in size 14 Air Jordan 8s: Stoddard, who is known around campus as “Old Man Dan,” has serious hoop dreams. “You can call it lunacy,” he told me over tea with honey at Tim Hortons on campus. “I’m not saying I’ll make the NBA or go play overseas, but I want to get to a point where I can do it.”
He knew others would think this experiment was crazy — during the Thunders’ preseason schedule, Stoddard heard the laughter from opposing coaches and players — and he even realized that his endeavor reeked of desperation, but he never felt the pull of quitting. “If I’m not talented enough, I can live with that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to put in the effort to be the best player I can be,” he told me. “I don’t want to be wasting time hemming and hawing thinking about it.”
Most of Stoddard’s teammates are at least two decades younger than he is; at first, they thought of him as something of a sideshow, but Stoddard’s commitment to training earned him respect: “They see me on Instagram at the gym at 5 a.m., and they see me in practice every day, and they understand how dedicated I am to the team.”
According to Trevor Costello, Algonquin’s head coach, “All Dan cares about is getting better and better. This fucker is constantly in pain. He sprained his ankle before last Christmas, and after a twelve-hour shift driving a bus, his foot down on the ground the whole time, his foot was the size of a watermelon. He’s just so dedicated. Fuck, if he was a real stud, he’d get us thirty points a game. But he’s working — he’ll be better next year.”
Photo by Brendan Burden
Yusuf Ali, Seneca’s guard, didn’t initially understand Stoddard’s passion. He was taken aback when the two teams first met in November — “[Stoddard] looked so old, it was very confusing,” he told me — but before the February rematch, he congratulated Stoddard: “I told him it was an honor to play against him. I know people out there are scared of the risks to pursue their dreams, so he is a hero in my eyes. This doesn’t happen every day.”
At the start of his freshman season, Stoddard experienced something of a 15-minute burst of fame in the Canadian press; several outlets featured his journey for the same reason — his story touches the very base emotions of our human core — but then the novelty of his quest wore off. Now, he’s just a player with immense hustle in a changing body still growing accustomed to the grueling athletic demands of a college athlete.
‘All Dan cares about is getting better and better. This fucker is constantly in pain.’
The now 40-year-old is more than a publicity stunt, and although he’s taken it to the extreme, Stoddard’s career is part of a trend of competitive athletics taking hold among adults well into and beyond their 30s: Of the 2,500 or so adults surveyed for a 2015 study commissioned by Harvard, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, only a quarter said they’d played or participated in some sport in the past year. But of that quarter, a large majority played once a week or more. The majority play mostly because they enjoy doing so, but 23 percent said they played mainly for health reasons. Stoddard’s quest is emblematic of this shift. Not only does he plan to keep attending and playing for Algonquin for the next three years, after which point he will be 42 years old, but he has also already lost nearly 150 pounds pounds in a 12-month period and hopes to drop nearly 200 pounds total by the time he graduates.
Where Stoddard differs from those other midlife warriors, though, is that he would actually like to continue playing beyond Algonquin — to explore the possibility of becoming a pro athlete. Stoddard claims ex-pros have been encouraging, and his stats, were they those of a 19-year-old are promising: Through 21 games of his sophomore season, the center averaged 6.4 points and nearly five rebounds per game, and his field goal percentage (54.7) was fourth-best in the conference. During a November win against Georgian College, Stoddard barely missed a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds), hustling up the court in a high-paced (77 possessions) game, which he could never have done when he joined the team.
But still, the facts are glaring. Stoddard has spent decades willing his body across eastern Ontario; stabilizing badly sprained ankles with tightly bound boots while working a 100-hour week at a construction site; falling 22 feet from a ladder and breaking his hand, only to cut the cast off to avoid unemployment. Stoddard estimates he has had about 60 jobs since graduating high school; construction, sewer maintenance, a bouncer who once fought off a knife-wielding assailant — you name it. The work has put an untold amount of stress on his body. It has, in other words, been through the wear and tear that everyday life requires.
“To jump in at the top rung without developing one’s body fully is a recipe for disaster,” said Andre Deloya, a retired sports trainer with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “The predictive formula is not rosy. Our bodies are developing, evolving, and positively growing until the age of twenty-five, which is the peak of the mountain. After that, we all start to deteriorate.”
Stoddard is aware of the risks, but to his mind, they make his current moon shot all the more enticing: Who could have possibly conjured up a tale of a bus driver to the Algonquin hardwood (and potentially beyond)? “The reality is that when growing up, you see the NBA, and that’s where you want to be,” he said to me when I met him in February 2018. “It’s the best, and you strive for the best. You don’t just want to be the guy no one remembers. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
He added, “So what if it happened at forty-two? Who gives a shit. I’ve always said age is a number, but that’s bullshit. We all know it’s old, especially when it comes to basketball. But if you can play, you can play, and I just want to have the definitive answer, to have someone tell me I don’t have the talent to make it at the highest level. It’s just to know.”
According to his Ottawa-Carleton (OC) Transpo colleagues, Stoddard’s a “big teddy bear,” someone who “shoots the shit” in the locker room between his daily bus routes. “I’m always honest and I don’t beat around the bush,” he told me, detailing his childhood in what he calls the boondocks of Ontario, helping his father to build houses for a burgeoning community on what previously had been acres and acres of farmland. Stoddard had a sheltered upbringing: If he wanted to visit friends, he biked several miles to the next town, which explains why he didn’t take to basketball until high school. “I was a teenage kid doing nothing,” he explained, adding that until the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors expanded north of the border in the mid ’90s, he had never watched a basketball game on television.
Stoddard started playing a bit early in high school, but in 11th grade he sprouted and added several inches to his frame. While he lacked coordination and his understanding of the game was limited, a player with his size — by then 6-foot-8 — was very much in demand. “My center of gravity was thrown off,” he said, “and after six months of being messed up, I had to retrain my body’s balance. I was just a tall guy.” Stoddard flunked out of high school before he could improve upon his burgeoning basketball skillset, and his biggest regret, he told his family, was that he didn’t play organized basketball beyond high school. That failure gave way to a chip on his shoulder, one fueled by a sole thought: Why didn’t he succeed on the court? No matter the highs in his life, the nagging perception remained. “I spent a long part of my life not knowing what I wanted to do, or how I wanted to be perceived, or the legacy I want to leave behind,” he said.
“Once I achieve a limitation or a goal or an understanding of what I’m doing, I get bored quickly,” he continued. “I tend to drive myself a thousand miles a minute.” And off the court, that chip was a hindrance — dropping out of college after a semester or two, he rebuffed his father’s offer to take over the family’s construction business. “It felt like he was encroaching on me, and I couldn’t be bothered,” said Stoddard.
Stoddard forced himself to do things for the health of his own family — working those 100-hour work weeks to not only provide for his son and daughter but also to help pay for his wife, Amanda, to get a nursing degree in palliative care. Basketball was his one outlet that provided unfettered joy; it was his lone constant and getaway from the demands of life. “You fend for yourself, and you take care of yourself,” he said. But on the court or at the playground, he wasn’t a construction worker, a sewer company employee, a garbageman, a nightclub bouncer, or a husband married at 20 years old and father of two teenagers.
Photo by Brendan Burden
He could be found on the playgrounds of eastern Ontario at least four nights a week, finally “doing something for me, and not for the family.” All those reps had an added bonus, transforming Stoddard into an immovable center with an unguardable skillset. His hulking frame — “I told people that I weighed 386 pounds, but that’s only because it was the last number on our scale, so the notion I weighed somewhere around 400 pounds isn’t far-fetched” — belied a pick-and-pop nimbleness with a soft touch around the basket. By 2017, he was “crushing” guys with backgrounds more advantageous than his.
Each summer, Stoddard participates in a high school alumni tournament. It’s very low-key: #BallIsLife during the two-day round-robin setting, burgers and beers at night. Stoddard’s team — a roster of mid-’90s graduates, the group’s name is “We’re So Old It Doesn’t Even Matter” — was typically good enough for a win or two but unable to compete with others in their athletic prime. But few teams had a player Stoddard’s size, and even fewer had a player of Stoddard’s size who, prior to the tournament’s tip, was balling a dozen-plus hours a week.
As Costello watched Stoddard torch players — some at least two decades younger than the hulking center — the coach jokingly blurted out, ‘Look at the size of you! You could play for my team.’
When he isn’t coaching the Thunder, Costello supports himself through refereeing (he also works at an elementary school as an educational assistant and spends his nights overseeing a group home), and he was refereeing Stoddard’s alumni tournament that summer of 2017 when he first spotted the ultimate diamond on the blacktop. Stoddard’s play was a revelation to the coach, who was about to coach his 18th season at a school that had once been the crown jewel of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association but recently tumbled down the rankings. “The best Canadians who don’t cross the border to play college basketball play in the OUA,” said Costello. “That’s the dream for most kids”.
He added, “The last few years haven’t been good. I don’t want to demean it, but Algonquin is a last chance resort. It’s tough to get kids.” Three players Costello expected to join the team bailed before ever arriving on the Ottawa campus, and his lead recruiter had taken a new job, which prevented him from working Algonquin’s sidelines.
As Costello watched Stoddard torch players — some at least two decades younger than the hulking center — the coach jokingly blurted out, “Look at the size of you!” recalled Stoddard. “You could play for my team.” The more he thought about it, the more the coach began to formulate a different sort of recruiting pitch. Yes, Stoddard was clearly overweight, but few teams in Algonquin’s conference had a taller player. On a team whose prospects were already dim for the upcoming season, inviting Stoddard to try out didn’t seem much of a gamble. “I’m all about winning games,” explained Costello. “Dan was far from a sideshow. I’m hardly getting paid enough to do this as a goof. Did I know he would ultimately end up starting for us? That might be pushing it. His upside is far from that of a twenty-two-year-old, but his brain is working so much harder.” Read more…
What becometh a woman best, and first of all? Silence. What second? Silence. What third? Silence. What fourth? Silence. Yea, if a man should aske me till Domes daie I would still crie silence, silence.
—Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique, 1560
For women, silence within the world of judicial punishment has its own complex history. It’s less recorded than that of men, and fragmented. Details must be teased out of obscurity and can be distorted by what is absent. Often, there are more questions than answers for punishment that amounts to silencing on top of silence, since women have long been expected to govern their tongue.
In colonial America this presumption of silence was reinforced by women’s subordinate place in society, and bolstered by centuries of English common law. No woman had the right to vote and once she married — in an age when most women married — she became subject to the law of coverture, which meant that she not only became dependent on her husband but, as William Blackstone in his eighteenth-century work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, explains: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing, and is therefore called in our law — French, a femme covert… under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.” Read more…