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CAM NEWTON ZAYN MALIK CHRISTIAN SLATER CHANCE THE RAPPER
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> One Direction survivor Zayn Malik.
Cargo pants, $99, by Polo Ralph Lauren. Henley, $695, by Dolce & Gabbana. Boots, $1,295, by Giuseppe Zanotti Design. Necklaces, from top, by Degs & Sal; Miansai. Bracelet by George Frost. Ring by David Yurman.
Cover: Cam Newton Won’t Stop The reigning MVP has a lot to say about the Super Bowl—and no apologies BY Z AC H BA R O N
Kick-Starters We haven’t seen two-tone dress shoes since the swing revival. Now they’re back and ready to teach your work clothes a new step 198
Christian Slater Shines On Thanks to the transfixing Mr. Robot, Slater’s getting a second act. So he takes naturally to this ’80s fashion reboot: the shiny suit BY TA F F Y B R O D E S S E R - A K N E R
210 Zayn’s New Direction Tween heartthrob Zayn Malik demonstrates how to break out of a boy band while rocking slimmed-down utility pants B Y S A R A H B A L L
through the non-stop tantrums and insults, through the seething Republican Convention (and, hey, let’s stop calling what happened in Cleveland the Republican Convention, because that is a slur to both goodhearted Republicans and anyone who actually convenes. That was a certiﬁed shitshow, and we should be calling it by its proper name, Tragicomic-Con), I kept wondering why Donald J. Trump was so orange with rage. He’s had a nice life! He should spend more time on boats. Get into luxury crabbing. Maybe buy a bay. That’ll chill you out.
ALL SUMMER LONG,
More to the point, I wondered, why were his followers so drawn to that hot temper and fulminating rage? Everyone says Hillary Clinton has an “authenticity problem” and that Trump “tells it like it is,” but I’ve never believed either. Hillary’s just sti≠; that’s her 62
authentic self. I would argue that Trump’s anger is fake, but his pique is real. That we mistake his natural peevishness and easily injured pride for something endangered and fragile in us, and that he helps us to mistake it. He’s not really mad at Mexicans any more than he cares about coal miners or the future of babies—Mexico is just a dim place on the map with no Trump hotels to brag about (sad!), whose mythic size approximates his self-worth and so justiﬁes its cartoon-rank as enemy. But, to his fans, watching him denigrate one-third of a continent has always felt so very personal. He really cares about me! This is the trick that every great politician does, and, people, when will we stop saying that Donald Trump isn’t a politician? He’s every bit as craven a politician as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Insert Your Favorite Demagogue. A politician is someone who wants your vote. Trump’s actually a more natural politician than Hillary Clinton is. Worse, he’s no less cynical than the “career politicians” Americans say they abhor, a man who simply grew bored with the size of his sandbox, real-estatin’ and realityTV-makin’, and so went looking for larger conﬂict somewhere else. I still believe that he doesn’t really want to be president. He’s much more interested in defeating anyone who might wish for the Big Job. This is what gets him up in the morning. Defeating is everything. No wonder, according to veteran reporter Robert Draper, Trump ﬂoated a weird super-VP slot to John Kasich that would have allowed the veep to be in charge of “domestic and foreign policy.” (Also known as: the world.) The president would presumably sit back and Trumpiﬁcate. So you’ve got a pretend non-politician who pretend-rages for the beneﬁt of people he doesn’t care about. That’s a guaranteed recipe for success. But still, why is that blindingly attractive to so many Americans? A lot’s been said about the lily-white appeal and racial Unterton of Trump’s campaign, and that’s there. But I think something
else is in the air. Something, if the country would simply lie down on a couch in front of me, I could explain in a kind and Freudian way. Straight up: fear of a gynarchy. Rule by women. It’s no coincidence that in a year when the ﬁrst female president loomed as historical reality, Republicans would gravitate toward the most swaggering, insecure alpha male ever to run for higher o∞ce. Whether you love, hate, or wish to federally prosecute Hillary Clinton, your ears register it—at Trump rallies, in negative ads, in the subtext of Chris Christie’s venom, and surely soon at the debates—a strange male whine that is disproportionate to any threat. It’s the threat that comes from the imagination, the psychic kind. In that regard, the GOP convention hit a new high in lows. The withering attacks on Hillary—she was name-checked compulsively and viliﬁed more than any candidate in modern history—were cast as dire, last-ditch attempts to regain our “security.” But the securities at new risk were all-male. For the hardest-core Hillary haters and knee-jerkiest Trumpers, this election is not about sovereignty or national security but about something more threatening: submission. Just as many aggrieved white males couldn’t bear to submit to a black leader under Obama, causing strange, ﬁnger-pointy, That man is from Kenya! anxieties, many now can’t imagine submitting to a powerful woman, and so must conjure a she-devil worthy of their hysteria. Lock her up!, the convention crowd roared, like some chant from a witch trial. It will all be okay, I want to say. Hillary will become president, she will be capable and wise, and exert sound and prudent judgment, all qualities Donald Trump couldn’t milk out of a vice president if you paid him. She’ll be part of our growing up, our maturing as a political culture, once we accept her. But we must submit to wisdom.
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> The latest news from the monthly, the daily, and the all-the-time-ly world of GQ.
New Names on the Masthead d Meet the latest additions to the GQ-niverse 1 What was the first GQ story you ever read? I can’t remember, but the first GQ story I made everyone I know read was “The Well-Hung Boy Next Door,” the profile of James Deen by Wells Tower.
We Partied i d with i h Ki Kim & K Ko. > For this year’s Love, Sex & Madness issue, we put the loveliest, sexiest, madliest Kardashian on the cover. To celebrate Kim K, we gathered Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Dave Chappelle, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Hart, and every Kardashian in a ten-mile radius of L.A.’s Chateau Marmont (that is, a lot of them). It was a night of squads, hot bods, and style gods. Check out the full slideshow at GQ.com.
3 Are you Team Mystic, Team Valor, or Team Instinct? House Tyrell.
1 What was your first accomplishment? My parents kept me.
l ess m e g! a h S Plu
2 What was your worst
accomplishment? A number of years ago, I met a handsome young man named Adam Levine, and I asked him, “Have you ever considered a career in music?”
John Ortved > @jortved Ortved is GQ’s senior associate editor, fashion and lifestyle focused.
3 You’re Canadian. What’s the most Canadian thing you say? “I’m sorry to hear about President Trump, but you can’t live here.”
1 What was your SAT score? The important thing is that I won my sixth-grade spelling bee.
Ross McCammon > @RossMcCammon McCammon is an articles editor at GQ. He knows a lot about service journalism (i.e., motors).
2 Is your office aesthetic more American Psycho or pro-tchotchke? Besides books and headphones, the only object in my brand-new office is an antique duck-shaped clothes brush. I’ll go with “Psycho tchotchke.” 3 What’s your favorite outdated medical practice? That thing in the ’80s where the dentist’s office would give you a lollipop as you left.
gq prefers that letters to the editor be sent to email@example.com. letters may be edited.
ON NETFLIX : LAS T C HANCE U Straight from the pages of GQ > Drew Jubera’s 2014 GQ story, “Last Chance U,” about a group of community-college football misfits hoping to crack the NFL, inspired a six-part docuseries on Netflix. Read the original story on GQ.com, then binge-watch the series online.
Q’s for Dave, Our Swinger > “Dave,” the prolific swinger from our July issue, fielded some curveballs in a Reddit AMA. How did you become such a popular swinger? Believe it or not, word of mouth. Once people see me and see I’m a respectful guy who doesn’t want to just jackrabbit their wife, it’s just sort of a domino effect. What advice would you give to a virgin so that he doesn’t actually perform like a virgin during his first time with a girl? Be honest with her... Everyone has to have a first time at least once. What impact do you think the Brexit referendum will have on the long-term viability of the European experiment? Only time will tell.
Shameless Plug‘ #2!
Take a Magical Journey with Drew Magary > GQ correspondent Drew Magary’s new novel, The Hike, follows Ben, a dad trying to get home after wandering into a parallel universe on a business trip. The Hike, in stores now, is Magary’s fourth book. Buy it for all your friends— everyone loves a good dad odyssey.
“ W E PA R T I E D W I T H K I M & KO . , ” C L O C K W I S E F R O M TO P L E F T : N AT H A N I E L W O O D ( 2 ) ; A M Y L O M B A R D . “ O N N E T F L I X : L A S T C H A N C E U ” : C O U R T E S Y O F N E T F L I X . “ Q ’ S F O R D AV E , O U R S W I N G E R ” : B R I A N S TA U F F E R . “ TA K E A M A G I C A L J O U R N E Y W I T H D R E W M A G A R Y ” : C O U R T E S Y O F P E N G U I N R A N D O M H O U S E . L E F T, I L L U S T R AT I O N S : A L E X A N D R A C O M PA I N -T I S S I E R ( 3 ) .
An Anna nna Peele P > @bananapeele Peele is GQ’s culture editor and Matt Damon correspondent.
2 What’s the worst thing someone can shout at you when you’re exercising? ”Don’t ever darken the door of this Zumba studio again!”
• Clockwise from m top left: GQ editor-in-chief Jim Nelson and Kim; Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle; Kim’s squad
> Get the GQ Look L I K E W H AT YO U S E E I N T H E PAG E S OF GQ? Gucci backpack Page 82
N O W YO U C A N G E T I T— A N D W E A R I T— R I G H T A W AY >EACH MONTH,
the editors of GQ will select a series of items from our pages available through our online retail partner, Mr Porter.com more—and see what we have wh chosen sen ffor you this month— th—go to GQ.com/selects ects
Just a few of our picks from this issue...
Gucci crewneck p. 134
Prada shoe (center) p. 190
Tom Ford jeans p. 46
Gucci loafers p. 81
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: STUART TYSON; JAMIE CHUNG; MARIO TESTINO; NIGEL COX; MARK SELIGER
All Things Gucci
• Every so often, a designer creates clothes so inspiring they push fashion in a whole new direction, and right now that designer is Alessandro Michele of Gucci. In the year since he was named creative director, Michele has completely re-imagined the storied Italian
fashion house. His clothes are younger. Bolder. Wilder. The new Gucci is such a phenomenon that its revamped stores can’t seem to keep anything in stock longer than a couple of days. All hail the new king of cool and the raddest clothes on the planet.—J I M M O O R E Loafers | $750
P R O P S T Y L I S T : S H A R O N R YA N AT H A L L E Y R E S O U R C E S
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TK designer | $000 | website.com PHOTOGRAPH
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The clothes and accessories in the fall collection draw on a freaky menagerie of ideas—zoo animals and ’70s wallpaper patterns, plus iconic loafers and Milanese tailoring, all through the filter of a Wes Anderson movie
Enter the Gucci-verse
Seek This Hide Accessories have always been Gucci’s bedrock. Nobody treats leather better
Flip Everyone the Bird Gucci’s clothes are not for the faint of heart (or the light of wallet), but if you’ve got the mojo and the bucks, then pile ’em on. In fact, maximalism is the whole point. See those loafers? They’re lined with kangaroo fur. The bird on this sweater is flying through lightning bolts and gold stars and tiny bunnies. And why would you wear it with khaki pants when you could go plaid? More is more is more is more.
Sweater, $1,850, pants, $890, jacket, $3,980, hat, $295, belt, $420, and loafers, $995, by Gucci. At select Gucci stores nationwide; gucci.com
GROOMING: LISA-RAQUEL USING DIOR HOMME. BRACELET (ON MODEL): CAPUTO & CO. S T I L L L I F E S : S T U A R T T Y S O N ( 4 ) . P R O P S T Y L I S T : S T E L L A R E Y AT M A R K E D WA R D I N C .
To nail this move, build your look around one mellow main color—like, say, this gray. From there, you can freestyle.
The Suited Man
The Business Shirt Gets Busy Don’t let people fall asleep at the office! Loaded up with geometric shapes, your dress shirt will go from a snooze to a style jolt surprising (but not too zany), and they’re businessappropriate (but not too fussy). With more shapes than you’ve seen since tenth-grade geometry class, they’ve got diamonds and circles that pop o≠ your chest and make all the other guys look like squares. —ANDREW GOBLE
Shirt $495 Canali + tie Gant Rugger | pocket square The Hill-Side | suit Nick Graham
Shirt $170 Caliban + tie Ermenegildo Zegna | tie bar (throughout) The Tie Bar | pocket square Thomas Mason suit H American Tailor | Where to buy it? Go to GQ.com/go/fashiondirectories
Shirt $145 Michael Kors + tie Burberry | pocket square Eton | suit David Hart
Shirt $385 Ermenegildo Zegna + tie Thomas Mason pocket square Michael Bastian | suit J.Crew Crosby PHOTOGRAPHS
G R O O M I N G : R E B E C C A P LY M A T E U S I N G B U M B L E A N D B U M B L E
• The hierarchy of dress shirts goes like this: your safe solids, then your go-to stripes, and then your oncein-a-while plaids and checks. Those standards are ﬁne, but they can be a little, well, standard. Which is why we recommend these Art Deco–ish prints. They’re
I take pride in wearing a suit— even on business flights. But it’s not exactly comfy. Can you recommend a good plane suit?
I don’t really understand this for two reasons. For starters, you yourself admitted it’s uncomfortable. Wait until you get stuck in a middle seat on a crosscountry ﬂight in a three-piece suit. No amount of funsize proseccos can save you, my man. Second, even if it’s a nice suit, you look like a traveling salesman begrudgingly en route to the Nashua branch. I have a travel uniform. Dark jeans, solid T-shirt, and a black cashmere hoodie I got from Ralph Lauren a few years ago. The plush hood doubles as a pillow, and the cashmere keeps me from looking too slouchy.
The tech tights that GQ has featured in the magazine—can I wear them without shorts? I think they’re comfortable, but will they look too much like leggings? I like to think I’m open-minded as far as Style Guys go. Red suede pants? Sure. Fur cardigan? Make Namath proud! Rarely is it impossible to pull something off. But this—this pressing issue at hand—is extremely tricky. Here’s the complicated, nuanced reason why men can’t wear tights by themselves: We have penises. And with spandex, everyone can vividly see the outline of your penis. You might be thinking, “So what? Parisians and rock stars have been showing bulges for centuries.” Fair. But there’s a difference between bulges and delineation. A bulge is a vague affirmation that there’s something at rest there. Congrats! A delineation—especially in those neon and “breathable” tights that are popular now—shows everything shy of moles and veins. If you’re uncomfortable reading this, imagine how uncomfortable it is to see it. Even in a pair of slim sweats, I worry about showing too much of the little Style Guy. Tights are an entirely different—and not to be attempted—beast. The Style Guy is in! Send questions to styleguy@GQ.com or @GQStyleGuy.
Can you settle an argument for me? Sometimes when I see a picture of Ryan Gosling or Kanye on GQ’s site, I’ll copy his outfit head to toe. My friend thinks that’s lame, but isn’t that why you guys feature them?
There’s an ancient Milanese proverb that goes, “Jacketh one’s swagger, never thy rig.” Or something like that. Point being: We want you to take note of how these stylish superhumans put clothes together. For example, Kanye’s oversize parka or Gosling’s impeccably tailored green suit. But don’t buy the exact same parka and suit. Your personal style is just that— your personal style. Copy the ﬁt. Copy the color scheme. Copy the vibe. But don’t outright copy anyone. Even Gosling.
Style Hack: Mo’ MoMA in Your Closet Stylish—and broke—art lovers know this trick best: Buy collaborations. Artist-and-designer collabs are more accepted by the art world nowadays. Which gives top-shelf artists a green light to get into the game. And it’s cheap. Relatively. Take this bomber jacket KAWS did with Mira Mikati. For a jacket, it’s a bit pricey at $1,985. But as a limited piece of art by KAWS, which it is (only 350 made), it’s not half bad. Plus, you can’t wear a painting on a first date. ILLUSTRATION
P H OTO G R A P H : S T U A R T T Y S O N . P R O P S T Y L I S T : S T E L L A R E Y AT M A R K E D WA R D I N C . J A C K E T : C O U R T E S Y O F A L L TO O H U M A N .
The Style Guy
This month, GQ style guru Mark Anthony Green tackles the optics of tights, suits on a plane, and the difference between channeling style and stealing it
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GREG ZAMFOTIS, 34
CEO, Gregorys Coffee
Clockwise from top left: 1. Shirt by Van Heusen. Tie and tie bar by The Tie Bar. Pants by AMI Alexandre Mattiussi. 2. Sweater by Gap. Sweatpants by Adidas Originals. 3 . Hoodie by John Elliott. 4 . T-shirt and pants by Zara. 5 . Shirt by Brunello Cucinelli. Pants by Michael Bastian. 6. Sweatshirt by Adidas Originals. Shirt (around waist) by Levi’s Vintage Clothing. Jeans by Balmain. Sneakers by Golden Goose Deluxe Brand. Where to buy it? Go to GQ.com/go /fashiondirectories
WITH PROMO CODE: GQOri
M AT T G L U E C K E R T, 3 1
BOBBY GOUSE, 2 9
$95 ALPHA INDUSTRIES
M E C A L L I N D S E Y, 2 7
Cheap Flights for Everyone!
We styled six real New Yorkers in this season’s must-have flight jackets, all for a hundred bucks or less 90
JUSTIN WILKES, 39
President of entertainment for RadicalMedia
$100 AMERICAN EAGLE OUTFITTERS
H A I R : B A R R Y W H I T E AT B A R R Y W H I T E M E N S G R O O M I N G . C O M . G R O O M I N G : K U M I C R A I G U S I N G L A M E R . C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P L E F T : 1 . G L A S S E S : M O S L E Y T R I B E S . WAT C H : E M P O R I O A R M A N I . 2 . H E A D P H O N E S : P R Y M A . WAT C H : S H I N O L A . 3 . B R A C E L E T : M I A N S A I . 4 . C A P : K I T H . S U N G L A S S E S : D I TA . B A C K PA C K : VA U LT B Y VA N S . S I LV E R B R A C E L E T : D I E S E L . 5 . S U N G L A S S E S : M O S C O T. B A G : L O U I S V U I T T O N . B E LT : J . C R E W. WAT C H : I W C . B R A C E L E T : D AV I D Y U R M A N . 6 . B E A N I E : P S B Y P A U L S M I T H .
Man on the Street
Grooming > Secrets of the Famously Kempt
As we’ve long suspected, the daily routines of wellgroomed gents involve both upmarket products and drugstore staples
• Fashion is one thing. You wouldn’t wear a $1,000 suit with a ﬂimsy pair of lace-ups. Grooming is di≠erent. ≠ You can pick and choose what you value most. We love Tom Ford Neroli Portoﬁno eau de parfum, for instance. It’s oilbased and lasts a long time. And for $300, it should. We love drugstore deodorant, too. Because it works and it’s cheeeeeap. (Go for lightly scented. You don’t want Fresh Mountain IceBlast interfering with the Neroli.) Thinking we couldn’t be the only ones to employ this approach, we asked a few friends of the family to tell us the grooming products they splurge on and the ones they save on. Even we learned a few things. — M A R K A N T H O N Y G R E E N
R A D I C A L FA S H I O N D E S I G N E R
I N F LU E N T I A L DJ
“I got a proper shave one time, and they used Baxter of California aftershave. I was like, ‘What is that?!’ A lot of aftershaves smell like your grandfather’s coat closet. But this has aloe in it. I put on way too much. It smells so good, you just want to taste it.” $19 , baxterof california.com
“Drugstores treat razor blades like they’re the crown jewels. I refuse to buy the expensivelocked-cabinetrazor-game razor! I go the other way. Gillette MACH3 razors. Not even the Gillette MACH3 Turbo! Just the regular. I can’t even bring myself to do the Turbo.” $9
“Fragrance. Byredo. B d If you’re ’ ever in SoHo, their store sells a little leather travel set that you can fill with smaller bottles of colognes. Super handy.” $150 | 50 ml., byredo.com
“Toothpaste. Colgate te. It’s, like ike, five bucks. You buy too oothp hpaste only because you need it. I’m not going to get the special toothpaste from France.” $3.50
“I’d recommend the Bevel hair trimmer, even if I wasn’t a spokesman for it. It’s lighter in the han easier for someone who’s not a barber. I’m searching for what works.” $180,
“I use Perricone face wash and moisturizer. But they have this face cream: Perricone MD Cold Plasma. It’s one of their most expensive products—and one of their tiniest. But I like it. I don’t even know what it really does. It just has a rejuvenating function after a night of partying.”
“Lotion. One day I’ll be trying Eucerin. Some days it’s Vaseline. Or any kind of lotion with aloe vera. I’m always dry! I need lotion on my hands at least three times a day. You gotta stay smooth with it.” Eucerin, $8; Vaseline, $3
“Old Spice Original Scent deodorant. I’ve tried artisanal deodorants, but they end up not really… working as deodorants. I stick with Old Spice.” $2.50
$162 , perriconemd.com
Behold the Winners of the Decade GQ All-Stars
Better Versions of Everything You Own
He’s Bringing the Streets to the Mall
why we love him: Because as both a retailer and a designer, he’s raised our expectations for what menswear should be. what to expect: Gray jeans. Garmentdyed, reverse-seam shirts. And this navy corduroy blazer with a relaxed shoulder. his take: Alan says the collection is simply “what we do, which is elevated essentials.” And by “elevated” he means sweaters and beanies made from awesomely unusual yak yarn.
why we love him: Because after doing more for sweatpants than anyone since Champion, he’s now revamping our entire wardrobes. what to expect: Long tees, slim jeans, oversize hoodies, leather jackets, and, yes, sweatpants. his take: “This leather jacket is based on our Rider’s model. It really has the soul of the original piece. For the value, I think that’s gonna be something our guy will be excited to get his hands on.”
Casual Clothes, All Dressed Up
why we love him: Because his clothes conjure settings from the Galápagos to the Erie Canal. what to expect: A collection inspired by the winter sports he played as a kid in upstate New York. That means shetland sweaters, snowmobile patches, ﬂannel shirts, and this jacket, which converts—via zip-o≠ sleeves—to a vest. his take: The collection, Bastian says, is “all those things you just want to grab when it’s snowing outside.” 98
why we love ’em: Because the morethan-just-surf brand makes reﬁned pieces (like this sick camel coat) that carry you from a sophisticated Friday night straight into, well, you know. what to expect: Oxford shirts, ﬂeece crewnecks, reversible nylon jackets, and tees in two-packs. their take: “We focused on the evolution of the brand,” says Morgan Collett, a co-founder. “Where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow.” PHOTOGRAPHS
G R O O M I N G : L I S A - R A Q U E L U S I N G D I O R H O M M E . L E AT H E R B R A C E L E T : C A P U TO & C O . S I LV E R B R A C E L E T A N D P O C K E T S Q U A R E : V I N TA G E . I L L U S T R AT I O N S : A L E X A N D R A C O M P A I N -T I S S I E R ( 4 ) .
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of our Best New Menswear Designers in America program, we asked four of our favorite winners over the years to come back and take a victory lap—designing all-new collections for Gap. Call it the Greatest Hits from the GQ All-Stars, hitting stores later this month
The Working Man > The BYOB (Bring Your Own Better) Lunch
1 of 2
• When we say “Bring your lunch to work,” we know what you’re imagining: bologna and sadness. But BYO lunch doesn’t have to be a disaster. To enjoy a ﬁnedining experience cubicle-side, forgo the community microwave for the “desk pantry,” a stash of a few simple, non-perishable 102
ingredients that will lift your lunch and ﬁt in a drawer. Turn the page for GQ’s version (compiled by chef Mashama Bailey of The Grey in Savannah), featuring food-lifters like dried seaweed (a salty, crunchy ﬂavor bomb) and olive oil (the best way to upgrade anything), and a week’s worth of toogood-for-work meals from chef Teddy Klopf of Provenance in Raleigh. —J E S S I E M O O N E Y
F O O D S T Y L I S T : R E B E C C A J U R K E V I C H AT E D G E R E P S . P R O P S T Y L I S T : S A R A H S M A R T.
The key to eating well—very well—at work is some Sunday prep, a little at-your-desk meal assembly, and a drawer pantry involving more than pepper packets and duck sauce
The Working Man
The Sunday-Night Blitz 2 of 2
Three delicious, easy-to-make dishes that need less than an hour of prep time and combine to make five meals—and some amazing leftovers.
Olive-Oil Chicken-Thigh Confit Really? A Desk Pantry? What makes any meal are last-minute flavor boosters that can elevate everything from reheated lasagna to the last third of yesterday’s Chopt salad (or the recipes on this page). Which is why you need a desk pantry—a drawer, a shelf, or just a corner under your desk—with non-perishable staples.
Chef Bailey suggests a few cans of tuna for a protein hit. Apple-cider vinegar and flake salt for cranking up flavors that are already there. Mustard powder and dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and oregano, along with live basil, for adding flavors that aren’t. Ground pepper, red-pepper flakes, and Sambal Oelek ( GQ’ s favorite hot sauce) for
some bite. Honey and dried fruit like apricots and cranberries for making savory dishes a lot more complex. Dried seaweed, sesame seeds, almonds, and pine nuts for crunch. And any Italian cook will tell you that finishing a dish with a drizzle of good olive oil makes it, scientifically, 20 percent tastier.
Hell yes, stash your own olive oil!
3 lbs. chicken thighs Hondashi (fish-stock powder) Salt Ground black pepper A few sprigs of fresh thyme 1 fresh bay leaf Inexpensive olive oil
3 > Bake in a 200-degree oven 8 to 12 hours or overnight. 4 > Put the chicken pot in a sink ﬁlled with ice water—this keeps the meat juicy. 5 > When cool, remove skin and bones and store meat in an airtight container.
cooker with a removable cylinder, then mix. Add the pork. 2 > Cook for 40 minutes on high. 3 > When the meat stops steaming, use the icing technique you just learned about. 4 > Pull the pork from the fat and refrigerate.
“Braised” Pork Belly
1½ oz. Hondashi 8 oz. Sambal Oelek 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce 1 cup water 3 lbs. pork belly
1 > In a pot,
1 > Pat the thighs
dry and season generously with the Hondashi and salt and pepper. 2 > Place in a covered pot with the thyme, bay leaf, and enough olive oil to submerge.
1 > Throw everything but the meat into an electric pressure
submerge six eggs in cold water. 2 > Bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. 3 > Shock in ice water.
phase 2 A Week of Insanely Great Lunches In addition to your desk pantry and Chef Klopf’s Sunday recipes, you’ll need a few more things this week: sourdough, bacon, avocado, lemon, butter lettuce, tomato, dill spears, and mayo.
Mix equal parts Sambal, honey, and olive oil with a pinch of dry mustard and salt, then stir in chopped eggs. Add lettuce, bacon, and tuna, and dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. tuesday
Slice tomato super-thinly onto bread. Add chicken, pulled pork belly, and bacon, and drizzle with oil and vinegar.
marjoram and oregano and dry mustard. Add a spoonful each of pine nuts and mayo. Make into a sandwich with pickles and apricots. thursday
Pulled-Pork-Belly Lettuce Wrap
Fold pork, sliced dill-pickle spears, red-pepper ﬂakes, dried fruit, and vinegar into lettuce for a healthy(ish) burrito(ish). friday
Chicken & Egg Sandwich
Mix chicken and eggs together with pinches of dried
Counterpoint > Making Lunch at Your Job Isn’t Your Job
Make Lunch While You Shave
Chef Bailey’s Ten-Minute Udon
Dinner is about the food. Breakfast is about the food. But lunch isn’t about the food at all. It’s about the break. A break from your cubicle. A break from Tim and his whimsical ties. Even if you love your job, you need the break. You know what noon means in Latin? “Necessary retreat.” (Okay, not really.) But it’s impossible to take a break without leaving the building. Even the universe acknowledges the importance of lunch. How? Well, she’s made lunch so cheap and quick to order. Five Guys workers are Talladegalevel efficient during the lunch-hour rush. Let them do the work. You rest.— M A R K A N T H O N Y G R E E N
1 > Put 2 cups of beef
5 > Combine
broth on the stove with a couple of ounces of beef jerky. 2 > Shave. 3 > Add fresh udon noodles. Cook until tender. 4 > Strain noodles, reserving broth. Pack separately.
broth and noodles and season with a few pantry ingredients. (The GQ o∞ce favorites: vinegar, olive oil, dried herbs, seaweed, sesame seeds, and fresh basil.)
Assemble avocado, tomato, and pork on sliced sourdough and dress with Sambal and basil.
Get Up There, Man. It’s a New Era in…
The word karaoke used to evoke beer-soaked melancholy nights in Holiday Inn lobbies. Then a bunch of cool karaoke bars—with fun menus and private rooms—opened across the country. The at-home machines got way better, too. And the parade of celebs in James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” showed us all how to drop our inhibitions. Karaoke is now,, in everyy sense,, amped p up. p And the open p secret is that you y don’t need an amazing g voice to kick ass. The only requirements are a rowdy group of friends and a little courage. — B RYA N LU F K I N
Better Food + Better Drink = Better Singing
Build a Repertoire of Go-To Jams
Three new-school karaoke bars are transforming the amateur-singing experience into…an amateur-singing experience with killer atmosphere.
The ideal karaoke song is short (please resist “Purple Rain”), massively popular (no one wants to hear that Radiohead B-side), and cathartically fun (sorry, Adele). Work your way through this set list.
YamaSho (San Francisco) Beneath this cavernous Japanese restaurant lies a basement labyrinth of singing chambers ﬁlled with disco balls and sake carafes. Happy hour cuts your room-rental fee in half and your drink prices by 10 percent.
Insa (Brooklyn) Opened in late 2015, Insa offers not just karaoke but also Korean food and a tiki bar. Polish o≠ a platter of bulgogi, then power through your meat sweats in one of ﬁve private rooms that hold 10 to 20 people each.
e aok Kar gin Vir
“Wonderwall,” Oasis Suddenly, everyone in the room has a British accent. “I’m on a Boat,” The Lonely Island Being funny always trumps being talented. “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Rick Astley
To be honest, it’s a pretty tough song to sing, because it’s quite staccato. There’s a lot going on to get all the lyrics out. So in the chorus, stick to doing the Never gonna… bit and get the room to sing as much of the rest as possible.”— R I C K A S T L E Y
Turn Your Living Room Into Your Stage First, the creators of Guitar Hero convinced us we could shred like Slash. Now, with Singtrix, they’re helping us wail like Axl. Singtrix is basically an at-home system that lets you sing along to thousands of free karaoke tracks on YouTube or Spotify, and it’s perfect for anyone
“Just a Friend,” Biz Markie It’s fine if you can’t sing. He can’t sing, either.
“Pony,” Ginuwine Filthy in the best possible way, this can only be performed after alcohol destroys your final inhibition. “How Deep Is Your Love,” the Bee Gees Anyone can scream, but it takes real finesse to croon.
too shy to warble in public. Be sure to play with the filters: They let you distort your voice until you’ve
channeled your inner T-Pain or pitch-shift until you squeak like an anxious chipmunk. $350, singtrix.com
, k It Suc sh Jo a b n Gro
“Dream On,” Aerosmith God help you singing Steven Tyler’s high notes. God bless you if you can.
See a (V) next to your song in the songbook? That means a video will play while you sing. Always pick the version with a (V)—karaoke vids range from cheesy to surreal. They’re never not funny. ILLUSTRATION
B OT TO M L E F T : S T U A R T T Y S O N . P R O P S T Y L I S T : S T E L L A R E Y AT M A R K E D WA R D I N C .
The Highball (Austin) Come for the buckets of Lone Star, stay for the themed rooms: The Inferno lets you sing inside a heavy-metalinspired church, and The Black Lodge re-creates the trippy setting from Twin Peaks’ series ﬁnale.
Yes, There Is a Male Engagement Ring He wants it…but he doesn’t want to want it. Jessi Klein’s husband works through his complicated feelings about the ultimate status symbol
• I felt like a genius when I bought my husband his birthday gift early. A leather iPhone case, with a pocket for his credit card. What a great wife! But a few days later over frozen entrées, Mike said, “Fortyﬁve feels like a big birthday.” He generally treats his birthday with the reverence the average person gives Arbor Day. “Oh,” I said. “Well, sure. Okay. What do you want for your present?” Eyes cast down at his Amy’s burrito, he said: “A Rolex.” He immediately buried those two words under a long string of “Just kidding”s and “Promise you won’t”s. I mentally threw the iPhone case into a Dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. I’ve never really understood the Rolex phenomenon. I love watches, but I gravitate toward leather bands and delicate faces like Michael Cera’s. But, undeniably, there’s something to Rolexes—something that makes them worthy of coveting. The iconic aspect. That 112
crown logo that lurks in the background of Wimbledon matches. Roger Federer is a spokesman for Rolex. Who’s classier than Federer? I bet he’s never heard of frozen burritos. The thing about Federer, though, is he’s rich as shit. I knew Rolexes cost a lot, but I didn’t know how much “a lot” was until I went on their website. They don’t list prices, which is always a bad sign. Some Googling revealed that even the lowest-tier Rolex would take me close to a ﬁve-ﬁgure purchase, more than I’ve ever spent on something I wasn’t planning to actually live in. Trying to justify the expense, I imagined Mike one day passing it on to our baby son. Since it’s a gift for two people, it’s actually only half the price! I also sought reassurance from my pal James, who conﬁrmed that Rolexes seize men with a push-pull of guilt and fascination: It’s a beautiful gizmo that radiates status and achievement, but whose price point gives
guys a stomachache. Rolexes, I realized, are engagement rings for dudes—the main di≠erence being that most women would absolutely buy a diamond solitaire for themselves but can’t; men are free to buy a Rolex for themselves but just won’t. So that left me as the only person who could convince my husband it was all right to want this watch, in the form of actually getting it for him. But I still needed help ﬁguring out which kind of Rolex guy he was. “The di≠erence between the Submariner and Datejust models is elegance v adventure,” James texted. “Which does Mike need more of in his life?” I pictured Mike changing a thousand poop diapers over the past ten months. Did that leave a bigger deﬁcit of adventure or elegance? I needed a big gun, which is how I ended up chatting with Jim Moore, the longtime creative director of this magazine. The ﬁrst thing Jim talked me out of was a white dial. Mike usually wears a black one. “Doesn’t he want something di≠erent?” I asked. Jim assured me that men like a uniform. He also said that while the Submariner is great, the Air-King, with its lower price point and humbler proﬁle, was a more conﬁdent choice. It’s a male-psychology thing: While guys might not call out a Submariner, Air-Kings get compliments all the time. It’s why no dude ever tells Brad Pitt, “You have a pretty wife.” Ultimately, I made the decision the way one should make all important choices: I went on Internet forums to see what anonymous randos had to say. Across message boards, the Submariner is the most primally loved Rolex. And almost every thread singing its praises contained a photo: Steve McQueen in a denim shirt, sunglasses, necklace, and scru≠, ﬂashing his Submariner. Fucking fuck, McQueen was cool. And if the Submariner was cool enough for McQueen, what can you do? Happy birthday, Mike. You’re not Steve McQueen, but you’re the guy who schlepped 12 suitcases through the airport when we moved across the country and emerged through security laughing even though your ﬁnger was profusely bleeding from getting caught in the stroller as you stu≠ed it through the X-ray. Which means you’re even hotter than Steve McQueen. I love you. And I hope you love this watch. (You can exchange it if you want.) jessi klein is the Emmy Award–winning head writer for Inside Amy Schumer and the author of You’ll Grow Out of It. ILLUSTRATION
A Modest Proposal from… JOHN MALKOVICH
Get More Done by Being Less Productive Don’t Listen to Compliments That Don’t Come From Yourself You have to be able to tell yourself, “Listen, I thought that was a very bad, inadequate job I did.” Even if everybody else says, “Oh, I don’t think so. I loved it” or “I thought it was fantastic.” Even if a majority of people say that. You have to have your own barometer. Know This: Multitasking Is Just Procrastination The Internet gives you the sense of getting things done. We think we can accomplish a lot just being on it. And perhaps we can. But I think what the Internet does is it sort of pushes us on to the next thing. When people get an e-mail and they’re instructed that they need to do this or that, I wonder if they actually read it anymore—or if their eyes just glaze over and they go, “Whatever, I’ll get it later.” I think of it as kind of an information sickness.
Malkovich—that guy’s got to be a machine, right? Nearly 100 films! The latest: this month’s BP-oil-spill thriller Deepwater Horizon. He’s a 40-year member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and is now directing the play Good Canary in London. He’s even got a fashion line! So you might be surprised to discover he’s a man who advises against ambition Finishing Just Means Knowing When to Quit Here’s how I look at work and productivity: It’s best to be restless. And to be able to leave things when you feel that you don’t have anything further to contribute. And then, on the other hand, there are things one believes one was completely done 114
with, only to find there are new things to discover in them. I’ve had the opportunity to go back and direct a play, or act in a play, that I’d already acted in or directed. The play was the same, but my relation to it was not. In a certain way, you’re probably never really finished, but you also have to accept sometimes that you’re finished for now.
Be Less Ambitious Accomplishment may be the result of ambition or drive. And I think I probably have lots of drive. But I don’t have any ambition. I never really had any. I don’t have a hugely high opinion of ambition. I think of ambition as the need to prove something to others, and the need to be recognized. A need for rewards outside of the work. Drive motivates you to do whatever it is you’re doing as well as you can. That’s an important distinction, and it always has been. It was as true 40 years ago when I started as it is now. For more unexpected stories in gq, go to gq.com /unexpected. Brought to you by the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.
SEBASTIEN AGNETTI/13 PHOTO/REDUX
Don’t Believe in the Power of You People will say how your life goes is up to you. You know, the whole kind of Tony Robbins, walk-through-fire of it all. That’s all great—but maybe not realistic. For instance, I would have maybe preferred to be in the NBA or be a professional baseball pitcher. But I wasn’t good enough. No amount of exerting control over myself—or attempting to assert control over my destiny—would change that. I don’t know what I would’ve ended up doing if I hadn’t met the kids who had this stupid idea to start a theater—which turned out not to be such a stupid idea.
AMERICAN TELEVISION STORY
The Creative Genius Behind Peak TV
SEE ADDITIONAL CREDITS.
How did all of our favorite shows (Fargo, The Americans, The People v. O.J. Simpson) and all that Emmy love come out of one place, one network, and possibly one man? Alice Gregory went looking for the reason FX is killing it. Plus: what to watch next!
I A M A 2 9 - Y E A R - O L D C O N S U M E R of American
television and I have a problem. I, like you and probably everyone else we know, watch a ton of TV: hours and hours and hours a week. I am often in danger of handing literally all of my d i s c re t i o n a r y t i m e ove r t o s t re a m i n g s h ows .
• FX president John Landgraf is making some of television’s best shows while also criticizing the age of “Peak TV.”
Television has also gotten bigger—there is literally just more of it. The number of scripted shows nearly doubled between 2009 and 2015, to 400-plus.
here’s a certain irony to the fact that the guy who delivered the industry’s most headline-worthy statement in recent memory is himself inclined toward neither superlatives nor showmanship. Landgraf has been called “the mayor of TV,” a designation that implies public-facing ambition and tactical ascendancy. But in person—and practice—he’s less city politician than suburban dad. His speech is punctuated with seemingly nonstrategic but still squirm-inducing pauses, and he radiates an eerie calm. It is impossible to imagine him honking in tra∞c or yelling at an automated phone message or even getting agitated over nontrivial, professionally relevant things like ratings or reviews. An assistant in Landgraf ’s o∞ce described him to me as “intellectually intimidating but completely approachable socially.” The top 11 executives at FX have worked for Landgraf for a combined 107 years. And since he joined the network in 2004, not a single creator of a single show has been ﬁred or replaced. Landgraf (who premiered six new series in the past year) has read drafts of every script and watched rough cuts of every episode that’s ever made it to air. Landgraf ’s way of doing business— characterized by his loyalty and his counterintuitive investment in the odd men out—is a philosophy born of his own life. The only child of two itinerant gospel musicians, Landgraf was born in Detroit in 1962 and didn’t live at the same residence for three consecutive years until high school. The family moved often while Landgraf ’s parents pursued graduate degrees, and he
STEVE SCHOFIELD/CONTOUR/GETTY IMAGES
Until a few years ago, I wondered if I was doing something stupid by not working in TV—in the same way that I worry if I’m doing something stupid by not having a job at a start-up. Like I’m like the one person in 1849 Sacramento who’s “just not that into gold.” We hear every day pretty much how it’s gotten better over the past 15 years, how it’s taken seriously as an art form now, how it’s our Dickens. Blah blah blah. What’s said less is how television has also gotten bigger—there is literally just more of it. The number of scripted shows nearly doubled between 2009 and 2015, to 400plus. I watch a lot of this stu≠—I think I can safely say too much— and still it feels like I’m missing out. The excess is indulgent—and anxiety-inducing. Some weeks my consumption verges on career-disabling. I use my parents’ Netﬂix account and the HBO log-in that belongs to the mother of a friend’s friend’s ex-girlfriend. Sometimes I pay, sometimes I pirate, sometimes my husband will do something on my computer that I don’t understand and—poof!—there it is, whatever I asked him to get. Though I sometimes barely know what I’m watching or where I’m watching it, I’m conﬁdent that it’s all pretty good. Last summer, John Landgraf, the 54-year-old head of FX, named this condition—this blessed/cursed feeling and this glut of “pretty good”—that I and everyone I know had internalized but never really interrogated. He called it “Peak TV.” “There is simply too much television,” Landgraf said during a press tour. People glommed on to this idea, comforted to receive such a correct-feeling diagnosis from a bona ﬁde expert. It was strange, though, everyone thought, that the person credited for naming the biggest problem with television also happened to be making some of the very best of it. This spring and summer, I talked again and again with Landgraf about that tension. Landgraf is responsible (along with an impressive team) for everything on FX. It’s an odd thing—grouping shows together as though they all hang out in the same locker room and have anything much in common beyond the executives at the top. And yet on a night in late March, all those distinct faces and voices from the ﬁctional universes of FX were colliding at a bowling party, uno∞cially celebrating the unexpected success of The People v. O.J. Simpson. It had an uncanny, almost sci-ﬁ quality to it. Matthew Rhys from The Americans was chatting with the show’s head writers; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Danny DeVito sat wedged between two leggy blondes at the bar. If one listened carefully, swaths of ambient noise revealed themselves to be made up of the voices from Archer. The stars of O.J. were everywhere, too. Cuba Gooding Jr. posed for selﬁes with fans. Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, and Courtney B. Vance laughed and drank and ate. The journalist Je≠rey Toobin, upon whose book the limited series was based, wandered between tables laden with kebabs. And meandering past a center lane, in a kind of metaphysical, self-made seclusion, was Landgraf, besuited, drink in hand. He did not pick up a ball that night, though he is, according to all his colleagues and even himself, a pretty good bowler. “That’s my curse,” he later said, smiling. “I’m pretty good at a lot of things.” FX was, undeniably, having a moment. And it was funny to see it expressed in real-live physical space. Though more TV was being made than ever, FX seemed to have found a way to cut through. (In July, that point was made quantiﬁably: FX garnered more Emmy nominations than any network besides HBO.) Landgraf and FX were doing something with their culture of creativity that was turning FX into practically a one-stop solution to the problem—to my problem—of “Peak TV.” What a tidy ﬁx. I wanted to know what their secret was.
The Emmy for Best Emmy Goes To... With so many FXers nominated, GQers identify the super-best of the best
Kirsten Dunst Lead Actress in a Limited Series
Bokeem Woodbine Supporting Actor in a Limited Series
The Americans Drama Series
Sarah Paulson vs. Sarah Paulson Lead Actress in a Limited Series and Supporting Actress in a Limited Series
If we really, really went deep into the point of view of a lot of different people and relentlessly allowed them to pursue that, would those shows then end up having some common thread that could be united?”
Kirsten Dunst’s blood-tingling turn as Peggy Blumquist in Fargo wasn’t even her first time playing a Minnesota beautician (remember Drop Dead Gorgeous?). With her dexterous touch, the accidental murderess became as volatile as a shimmering gas cloud. Yes, Peggy was delusional and deranged— but also a delight.— CA I T Y W E AV E R Bokeem Woodbine’s middle-management mobster is the first notable black character in Fargo’s—hell, in the Coen brothers’— tundra-white screen universe, and the joke of it is that he has the same “you betcha” patois as everyone else. He deserves the Emmy for reciting “Jabberwocky” while he straps on to go execute someone.— D E V I N G O R D O N The Americans, FX’s thriller series about Russian spies embedded in suburban D.C., is like a John le Carré adaptation where you root for the bad guy and can understand the plot. It’s as romantic as The Notebook and as fucked-up as the end of Memento. Also as fucked-up as the end of Memento: It’s never won a major primetime Emmy.—A N N A P E E L E One’s a prosecutor, one’s a poltergeist. One was in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story, the other in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. Although her role as a ghost guest in Lady Gaga’s hotel was also nominated, Sarah Paulson’s devastating portrayal of doomed O.J. antagonist Marcia Clark altered America’s sympathies so completely it deserves both of these Emmys.— N I L S S J O B E R G
Landgraf ’s own reserve can be seen in the shows he picks to pursue. “TV is so inﬂated with its own self-worth right now,” he said. “It’s so pretentious about its greatness.” Unlike some other networks that shall go unnamed, FX does not seem to be operating under the mistaken assumption that Low Winter Sun is a good thing to call a series or that a Ventura County investigator should be named Antigone Bezzerides and say things like “The fundamental di≠erence between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands.” He gets that grandiosity isn’t the same thing as ambition. “Part of what people want from TV is a passive experience. They want to be able to tune out,” Landgraf said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten at a three-star prix ﬁxe restaurant three days in a row, but when you’re done with that, all you want is a piece of pizza. You don’t want to sit and savor and treat it seriously. You just want to eat something when you’re hungry.” But how do you know what kind of pizza? You could poll a bunch of hungry people. You could just give them Domino’s and assume they’ll eat it, anyway. Or you could ﬁnd the most talented, most enthusiastic, most innovative pizzamakers in the country and let them do whatever they want in the kitchen. They’ll come up with some bizarre pies, but some people will be super into them. The people will come back for more; they might even like them more than the sous vide whatever served at the three-star place. “The classic notion of a brand is something that is deﬁned and imposed from the top down—these are our colors, this is the
F R O M TO P : C O U R T E S Y O F C H R I S L A R G E / F X ( 2 ) ; C O U R T E S Y O F PAT R I C K H A R B R O N / F X ; COURTESY OF BYRON COHEN/FX; COURTESY OF SUZANNE TENNER/FX
describes his boyhood as unhappy, salved mostly with books. “I was often an observant outsider,” he told me. Landgraf ’s adulthood has resembled something of a self-caricatured corrective: He has lived in Los Angeles now for 31 years, 18 of them in the same house, and made a career (developing shows like Friends and The West Wing before FX) out of providing economic, creative, and emotional support to writers who in all likelihood think of themselves as observant outsiders, too. He runs FX according to the idea that the best TV is more likely to germinate from an environment of safety than of chaos. Despite the myths of creative genius, for every artist with an abusive stepmother or teenage drug addiction, there’s another who watercolored in his bedroom between deliveries of crustless PB&Js. Landgraf doesn’t coddle, but he believes wholeheartedly in the e∞cacy of the sandwich-supplying method. “If I have any role in the creative process at all, it is to simply remind the writer of what it is she or he wanted to achieve from the beginning and have very detailed conversations about how they’re achieving that,” he elaborated. “You see what kind of work comes out when a person, instead of encountering resistance, encounters support. Over and over again, I have seen extraordinary things. Extraordinary things.” The most famous example of Landgraf ’s commitment to removing barriers is a bargain he struck with Louis C.K. while negotiating Louie. C.K. had asked FX to increase its o≠er (a modest amount for a pilot order) but was swayed when Landgraf agreed to give him complete creative control. The result was a ﬁrst season of television lauded for its singular vision and execution—one of the most uniquely original series to air anywhere even mildly mainstream. More recently, Donald Glover, whose new series, Atlanta, premieres this month (see page 126), said that he did not want to create a show within the constraints of a traditional whiteboard-lined writers’ room, so Landgraf enthusiastically allowed operations to be based out of Glover’s own house in L.A. Glover was brand-new to the production side of television—he had never made a single TV episode from behind the camera. In fact, nearly half of the series that Landgraf has shepherded onto air at FX were created by people who had never before made television. He says he prefers it that way: “Usually in this world, when you’re in that position, you run into wave after wave of resistance. Because you have to prove yourself. But when that type of talented person meets someone who is willing to invest real support and resources behind them? It’s like watering a ﬂower: You just watch it grow and explode. It’s exciting.”
Suc k on it Trebek. ,
By St Stephen h F Falk, lk creator of the FXX sitcom You’re the Worst
W AT C H I F T H E S H O W …
> There’s a scene in Moscow on the Hudson in which a newly defected Russian man, played by Robin Williams, collapses when faced with the overwhelming number of options at an American grocery store. I’m like that when I look at my DVR these days, except I’m not nearly as hairy and my accent is believable. Yes, as over-bemoaned as it is in the press, there are just too many shows. How can one know what to watch? Who has time to read actual good, informed writing about television? No one. That’s why they brought me in to offer a handful of helpful shortcuts to quickly let you know if a show is worth watching or not.
Is British and features too-old/ lumpy/dentallyanarchic-forAmerican-television detectives solving a brutal murder. GQ RECOMMENDS
Happy Valley (Netflix), Broadchurch (BBC America) Is called — Hunters. Punch-worthy couples demanding openfloor-plan everything is always a hatewatchable good time. GQ RECOMMENDS
Seems to be really swinging for the fences, as misguided as the attempt might be (hello, Vinyll and Billions!). I’d much rather watch something with some oomph and effort behind it, rather than a safe, tepid attempt that feels like you’ve seen it a million times before. (Or a billions.) GQ RECOMMENDS
black-ish (ABC), The Good Place (NBC) Has the reasonable possibility of Fred Armisen popping up at any minute. There are currently about eight shows where this is applicable. GQ RECOMMENDS
Fixer Upper (HGTV)
The Leftovers (HBO) 124
Was created by Jenji Kohan, Michael Schur, Mike Judge, Kenya Barris, Vince Gilligan, Damon Lindelof, or Tina Fey and Robert Carlock.
Documentary Now! (IFC) Is on FX or FXX. GQ RECOMMENDS
You’re the Worst, Atlanta (see page 126).
SKIP IF T H E S H OW… Has “Chicago” in the title. Is an adaptation of an ’80s movie. (But mostly just because I’m jealous I haven’t thought of one I wanted to remake yet.) Features a comedian who is clearly just trying to make their Louie. Is a game show hosted by Alec Baldwin. Yes, it looks like an easy, fun-as-shit job, and I would never begrudge him that, but many of us would die to write for him. (I’m with UTA, Alec. I promise to instruct all my directors to leave you alone on set and keep eye contact to a minimum.) Is on a pay network and doesn’t feature copious swearing and nudity. C’mon. Stop wasting our time.
f FX is a home for speciﬁc points of view, it’s Landgraf ’s job to choose which of them we’ll learn to love. Historically, the network was devoted to the elaborate realization of hyper-masculine fantasies. Its initial forays into programming included The Shield (a four-man antigang unit of the LAPD enforces vigilante justice), Rescue Me (ﬁremen deal with PTSD in post-9/11 New York City), Sons of Anarchy (members of an outlaw motorcycle club run ﬁrearms throughout the sun-scorched West), and Archer (a spy solves international crimes while o≠end ≠ ing everyone on earth). Only in the past few years has the network begun to branch out from its testosterone-soaked fare. It’s not like the shows have gotten feminized, but they have gotten, for lack of a better word, weird. Lots of unsubtitled Hungarian on Louie; Zach Galiﬁanakis playing a classically trained clown on Baskets; Pamela Adlon’s Better Things (see page 130), the ﬁrst FX series with a sole female showrunner, about a single mom doing her best to raise a family—not exactly avant-garde, but a far cry from her role as C.K.’s dirty-joke-trading sidekick. Ryan Murphy, who for years had been an outlier at the network with his Lady Gaga– laced self-conscious camp, is an example of a writer whose particular perspective Landgraf has underwritten repeatedly. Before creating O.J. for FX, Murphy made Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story, shows that epitomize Landgraf ’s deﬁnition of “success” (“That’s somebody’s favorite show. That’s a show that wouldn’t exist if you didn’t back it”), which he considers di≠erent from “non-failure” (“Okay, you did something pretty good and people are watching it”). Murphy had been seen as a TV outsider—too gay, too pop, too Glee— but his bizarre and particular mind is the kind that Landgraf is always searching for. Murphy, like a lot of other people at FX, explicitly frames his relationship with Landgraf as one between petulant child and stern, but righteous, father. They came to the network at roughly the same time, and almost immediately Murphy was ﬁghting with Landgraf over notes provided from the broadcast-standards division. Unlike previous managers, Landgraf refused to indulge Murphy. “He basically told me to just knock it o≠,” ≠ Murphy recalled, laughing.
J U S T I N T H E R O U X : C O U R T E S Y O F VA N R E D I N / H B O . AYA C A S H : C O U R T E S Y O F B Y R O N C O H E N / F X . K R I S T E N B E L L A N D T E D D A N S O N : C O U R T E S Y O F J U S T I N L U B I N / N B C . F R E D A R M I S E N A N D B I L L H A D E R : C O U R T E S Y O F R H Y S T H O M A S /A M C . A L E C B A L D W I N : H E I D I G U T M A N /A B C / G E T T Y I M A G E S . TAY L O R K I N N E Y : C O U R T E S Y O F E L I Z A B E T H M O R R I S / N B C . T R A C E E E L L I S R O S S : C O U R T E S Y O F K E L S E Y M C N E A L /A B C / G E T T Y I M A G E S . A N T H O N Y A N D E R S O N : C O U R T E S Y O F K E L S E Y M C N E A L /A B C / G E T T Y I M A G E S .
What Shows Can I Skip? A Unified Theory
tone—but we thought it would be interesting to go in the other direction, from the bottom up,” Landgraf said. “If we really, really went deep into the point of view of a lot of di≠erent ≠ people and relentlessly allowed them to pursue that, would those shows then end up having some common thread that could be united?”
Sometimes you have every element of a good show but it just doesn’t jell, and sometimes you have shows that on paper look really problematic and then they’re remarkable.”
Gimme an A!
> TV is starting to pay attention to us. To acknowledge (slowly, slowly) that we’re not all bland white people who live in a place called The Big Bang Theory Town. Us! You know, 126
black people (Empire!); people who aren’t, like, heteronormative but aren’t a gay sidekick on Will & Grace, either (Transparent); dragon moms (GoT). And now,
• Real-life rapper Donald Glover stars as a wannabe rap... manager.
thanks to FX and Donald Glover, TV is finally admitting that there’s an Atlanta. The A! (As people who live
there call it.) The weirdest, most fascinating city in the country. The alternatereality culture capital of the world. It has a historical claim on such things as crunk and Future and the word “trap.” Atlanta is singular, it’s deep, and it’s high as fuck. Glover—who was from Georgia before he was the guy from Community/the guy who is Childish Gambino—has made a half-hour show about a lost soul swimming in the weird music-industry/trap/ upwardly-mobileprofessional seas of Atlanta. It’s sensitive, it’s appropriately surreal, and it features the best stoner this side of Inherent Vice (the brilliant Lakeith Stanfield; keep your eye on that dude). I don’t know—I haven’t seen the whole season because FX only made the pilot available. But I’m gonna be watching. —DEVIN FRIEDMAN
re-registering his indebtedness each time anew. “What people want in this business is just someone who fucking tells it straight. Maybe that’s the secret of John,” he said. “And me having this therapy session with you,” he added. Beyond the identiﬁcation of singular vision and a stern but encouraging paternal hand, I was still having trouble understanding what it was that enabled Landgraf to steer the network toward the things that audiences most desire. Landgraf thinks about this question a lot. He embraces it. “People don’t know what they want,” he often says, citing Star Wars and Game of Thrones as examples of blockbusters that were only obvious in retrospect. Even Landgraf himself doesn’t know what he’s after until he reads a draft of a script, sees a cut of a pilot, eats a sandwich with a potential showrunner and ﬁnds that he likes the guy—trusts him, can laugh with him, gets good vibes. That he admits that there is no overarching, genius, master theory to picking a great show besides a gut feeling and good judgment is one of the simple things that make him so successful. During one of our conversations, Landgraf asked me if I’d ever seen the movie Amadeus. I told him I had. “Okay, then,” he replied. “Salieri destroys Mozart, right? I watch that movie and I think, ‘Wow, that’s so sad.’ The tragedy is that nobody can recognize how good Mozart is as well as Salieri can; he can see his genius better than anyone else. Salieri wrote some decent compositions in his day, but nothing survives that we still listen to because he just wasn’t that good. That’s how I feel about myself. I’m good, I’m really good as a writer and director and dramaturge, but I’m not as good as Denis Leary or Ryan Murphy or any of the people making shows for FX. And wouldn’t it have been great if Salieri used every bit of his mind and motivation to help Mozart instead of trying to bring him down? I genuinely think that what I do is the best use of my abilities. It’s a better use of my time. I could have written; I could have created shows myself, and they would have been good, but they would not have been great, and I really do think that what we’re making right now is great.”
spoke to Landgraf just hours after the 2016 Emmy nominations were announced. The network led with The People v. O.J. Simpson, Fargo, and The Americans, and its 56 were second only to HBO, which has had original programming for decades longer. Landgraf was in a good mood. And though he didn’t boast, he also didn’t seem particularly surprised by the morning’s results. I was curious to hear how a speciﬁc show, pitched in 2010 or 2012 or whenever, was
C O U R T E S Y O F G U Y D ’A L E M A / F X
Today, Murphy speaks of Landgraf with a kind of cautious gratitude, as though terriﬁed to imagine his career without him. When I visited the Fox lot, he ushered me into his o∞ce and gestured for me to take a seat in an armchair. “Gosh, what can I say about John?” he asked, settling himself into a sofa. And then he began. “John’s parameters as both a human being and a runner of business are very clear. And most people in this town are not like that. They give you the runaround; they can’t just tell you the truth, because they’re afraid you won’t come back or you won’t like them anymore.” Murphy spoke of Landgraf as though his insights were ones arrived at only after years of psychic pain; his praise was cautionary. “Don’t underestimate John when he’s been crossed. He has a very strong moral center: This is how you should behave in the world; this is how the world should be ordered; this is the right behavior, and this is the wrong behavior.” Murphy was perfectly still. “He doesn’t yell, but he can annihilate you with his intellect and make you feel like a really shitty, bad person.… Most acts of anger feel reactive. His are set back and thought through. He’s not trying to pick a ﬁght, he’s trying to change your behavior in the future.” The conversation was a bit like listening to a Marine credit basic training for conditioning his very soul. At one point, Murphy predicted that Landgraf would be “the last gentleman standing” and then called him “a Mount Rushmore–like ﬁgure in the TV industry.” He shook his head every few seconds, as though
The Louis C.K. Universe Is Expanding
Louie collaborator Pamela Adlon is about to unleash a new FX show, Better Things. (Yes, C.K. is involved.) Below, her survey of the television landscape. On the limits of basic cable > Because I’m on FX, I can show sideboob with no nipple freely. When Louis and I got in the bath on Louie, they were so concerned about my nipples that we
had to pour milk in the bathtub, but he could show his whole giant body, no problem. But you can’t show any fun parts. You can’t show, like, pubic areas in a painting. And you can say naughty things, but not “fuck.” Once in a while, you can fight for a “fuck.” On Hollywood doppelgängers For years, people said to me, “Oh, my God, you’re so good on
Entourage.” And House of Cards’ and UnREAL’s Constance Zimmer told me people said to her, “You’re so good on Californication.” I did a pilot, and Showtime wouldn’t let me out of contract to do the series, so they offered it to Constance. Putting her in Better Things as my competition at an audition was just a little homage to show that not only am I not competitive— I put that fucking bitch on my show and I’m in love with her. On parental control My 13-year-old makes me watch The Bachelorette, which feels really dirty and bad and awful. I feel like I’m watching porn with my daughter.
transformed, incrementally, into an Emmy nominee in 2016. In his own gentle way, Landgraf refused to answer the question. But he was eager to dive into The Americans. Though Landgraf is intimately involved in all the network’s shows, he takes special interest in some. The Americans began in 2012, when Landgraf took a lunch with a former CIA o∞cer named Joe Weisberg, who had pitched him an ’80s spy show. “I wanted to get a sense of who he was,” Landgraf recalled. “So much of this hinges on the character of the creator: their steadfastness, their maturity, their willingness to learn. The showrunner has to bring out the best in literally every person who is working on the show.” Landgraf had a hunch that Weisberg would get along with an old friend of his who had decades’ worth of producing experience. He introduced Weisberg to Joel Fields, and now they are inseparable writing partners. Once the show was green-lighted, it was Landgraf who suggested Keri Russell for the lead, approved all subsequent casting choices, and gave multiple rounds of notes for every cut of the pilot, down to the score. “That ﬁrst season, when we were still trying to ﬁnd the voice of the show,” Weisberg said, “so many of the notes from John basically boiled down to: Push to ﬁnd something unique and not homogenized. The big question from the beginning was: Do we turn this into a sexy, action-y, violent spy show, or do we dig into something that has a more esoteric heart? The constant message from him and his team was to explore, to not be afraid, to really ﬁnd what’s special about this show. Which, of course, doesn’t mean run away from the pulpy or exciting aspects but, you know, just don’t do those things because you think you have to chase an audience or ratings.” 130
But we can’t monitor what kids watch anymore. Parents are in a lot of denial: “My kid’s not on the Internet.” You’re a fucking idiot, because kids are watching ISIS behead people on cell phones. So I just say, “It’s all out there, and it’s your choice, but I’m telling you if you see certain things, it will stay with you. You can’t un-see it.” On her favorite show The Americans? I freaking love that show, and my kid’s watching it. I’m like, “Honey, you want to find out about when I was growing up and I felt like we were gonna explode from a nuclear bomb all the time?”
What makes us good in this business is [knowing] that there’s a point where our control ends and something magical begins—or, frankly, ends.”
Landgraf isn’t ideologically opposed to those things; he just doesn’t think they’re e∞cient means to good TV—or proﬁt. “It’s not a jet engine, where a good engineer can take it apart and stress-test the pieces. There are too many feedback loops inside this process,” he said. “You can’t do this perfectly; it’s just too subtle a challenge. Sometimes you have every element of a good show but it just doesn’t jell, and sometimes you have shows that on paper look really problematic and then they’re remarkable. To be honest, I never know. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I just don’t know. I’ve picked up some shows that have failed, and I haven’t picked up some shows that have succeeded.” (Landgraf passed on Breaking Bad, to name one.) “It took me a while, to tell you the truth, to accept the notion that I was the person in this chair, the one making these decisions. I hated for a long time that I couldn’t do this job perfectly.” Landgraf spoke slowly and deliberately, with a conﬁdence complicated, sentence by sentence, by humility. It’s a rare quality in people in the entertainment world, but his speech is so ﬂuent that it preempts the need for paraphrasing. Like when, mid-conversation, his childhood encounters with organized religion became evident and enviable. Given enough time, he began talking about television as though it is literally divine. “What makes us good in this business is our acknowledgment that there’s a point where our control ends and something magical begins—or, frankly, ends. Part of the job is so rational and quantitative and can be described, and I’ve thought for 30 years now about how to be good at it, and then there’s a black box beyond the data, beyond the knowable. It’s a weird thing to say, ‘Get good at something that’s beyond your control,’ but it’s true. There’s a kind of graciousness and unfettered hopefulness. The job is to link this ine≠able, even airy-fairy, stu≠ with the hard-nosed, business-minded requirements of the job. Because, look, FX is a business. HBO is a business. Netﬂix, Paramount, these are businesses. And there’s a tendency for the story, the ine≠able, to be subordinated and put in service of business. But I’ve been trying to do the opposite, to subordinate the business to the artist. And I do think it’s the best way to meet the goals of the shareholders and my bosses. I have to be incredibly buttoned-up on the business side to make this work. If my attitude was, ‘Screw the business,’ somebody else would be here, and they very well might have less heart, less respect for the stories, and this stu≠ wouldn’t be getting made.” alice gregory is a writer in Brooklyn.
K C B A I L E Y/ F X / C O U R T E S Y O F E V E R E T T C O L L E C T I O N
Highest Art > Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair just work. Maybe it’s that the couple had the same deeply un-rebellious preteen pre-bed ritual of listening to the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack. Maybe it’s the complementary filmmaking style that begot three seasons of High Maintenance, a Vimeo series turned HBO show about Brooklynites serviced by a Sinclair-played weed dealer. Or maybe… “We’re pretty co-dependent,” Sinclair explains. “But we’re working on it,” says Blichfeld. Just, you know, not hard enough to have spent more than five days apart in the past four years. Blichfeld, a 37-year-old Emmy-winning casting director with a Debbie Harry bob, brings what she describes as “law and order” to the marriage, while the 32-year-old Sinclair, a former garden-store employee whose tufts are enhanced by Toppik “root volumizing” spray, is all “chaos.” When Blichfeld says she worries her neighbors will kill her, Sinclair stares. “I just think, like, What if that person finds out that I didn’t actually see ‘Shampoo’ and I just said I did to look like a Warren Beatty fan?” he says. That relaxed, semi-baffled vibe is on display this season of High Maintenance, as Sinclair’s unnamed distributor flits between clients and vignettes—every episode features a different star and tone, ranging from cruelly hilarious to poignant. The new season is the same but feels more HBO-y, somehow. More... expensive. “We can hire porn actors,” says Blichfeld. “That guy from the first episode is an artist and a Marxist—really interesting person. But, yeah, he does porn.” Whatever works.— A N N A P E E L E 132
P R O P S T Y L I S T : J O N AT H A N R I T Z M A N F O R B E D N A R K S T U D I O . H A I R : C A S E Y G E R E N F O R B A - R E P S . C O M . M A K E U P : J U S T I N E S W E E T M A N F O R B A - R E P S . C O M .
The newest strain of prestige programming comes from a couple of Brooklyn tokers
At just 23, C H A N C E T H E R A P P E R has already earned the love and respect of his elders, like Kanye West, who let him lead off on The Life of Pablo, and his musical peers, who hear a generational voice in his third mixtape, Coloring Book. He’s so positive he seems to walk around on a beam of light, even though he comes from an American city going through one of its darkest chapters. And yet that light just keeps getting brighter. This is Chance’s summer, nobody else speak ✒ ZACH BARON
> Chance the Greatest ESPN called up Chance the Rapper and asked if he would perform a song at the ESPYs, in tribute to Muhammad Ali. Maybe “Blessings,” from Coloring Book, the ecstatic mixtape Chance released for free this spring, turning him into a guy who regularly gets these kinds of calls. “Blessings”—man. Chance is 23 years old, but most of us will go our entire lives without approaching anything close to whatever sacred frequency he channeled to write this song. It’s about falling in love and becoming a father. It’s about God. It’s about making art when what people want from you is product. And it’s about the value of black life, about taking care of you and yours when no one else will: Jesus’s black J U S T A F T E R J U LY 4 ,
P R O D U C E R : C O C O K N U D S O N . S T Y L I S T : M I C H A E L N A S H . O N - S E T P R O D U C E R : K AT I E S WA N S O N . G R O O M I N G : A N T H O N Y C R I S T I A N O AT ANTHONY CRISTIANO SALON. CREWNECK: GUCCI. JEANS: DIOR HOMME. BOXERS: POLO RALPH LAUREN. CAP: NEW ERA.
life ain’t matter—I know, I talked to his daddy / Said, “You the man of the house now, look out for your family.” In its steely faith, its glowing pride, “Blessings” would’ve made an apt tribute to Ali. But Chance had another song in his head. He started writing it down four days before the ESPYs, a Saturday. He ﬂew from his home in Chicago to Los Angeles on Monday, on the plane ESPN sent. Now it’s Tuesday, the day before the show, and he’s due in a rehearsal space opposite the Burbank airport to rehearse the song, which still has no name and won’t even by the time he performs it. Everyone’s waiting. The whole team of people who follow Chance wherever he goes these days: producers, assistants, two di≠erent guys who play brass instruments. The Faithful Central Bible Church men’s choir. Chance’s friend Nico, a.k.a. Donnie Trumpet, blasting Lauryn Hill to keep the energy up. Everyone curled into that nest of JanSport backpacks, electronic cords, and watery iced co≠ee that musicians seem to build wherever they go. When Chance walks in, the room doesn’t so much perk up as get more tranquil. He’s got a kind of calming force to him, like he’s got fewer moving parts than most people. Slender, hat pulled low, quizzical eyebrows, mustache—he looks, from across the room, like what would happen if someone challenged you to draw a man in ﬁve lines or less. He wanders up to a microphone that dangles, boxing-style, in the middle of the room. His band and the choir form up loosely around him. All this happens pretty much wordlessly. And then they rehearse the song. By now, hopefully, you’ve heard it. Steady hold, I’ve grown weary and old. A song that 136
nods at Ali—Ain’t no one prettier!—but also channels a kind of melancholy belief in the rightness of things, a belief that next to loss and failure is the sublime, and vice versa. A belief that is particular to Chance the Rapper. I sat in the room and listened to his voice. There’s nothing like it in music right now. It’s its own jazz instrument, bright and unpredictable as a trumpet, primary colored, a cheerful roar soaked in a meditative sadness. He’s an uncommonly dexterous rapper, but it’s the voice—the physical quality of it, the way it feels textured by experience and elation—that’s truly remarkable. He ran through the song maybe four or ﬁve times, never the same way twice, never saying much of anything between versions. Finally he cleared his throat and quietly addressed the choir. He reminded them not to smile during the performance on television the next day. “One of the reasons I wanted a black men’s choir is because I want that power, that Ali feel,” he told the assembled vocalists. He said he didn’t want them “doing anything other than conveying that power.” They should look hard right up until the moment they open their mouths to sing: “The duality of softness and aggression, of blackness and shit. I want the energy of it—it should almost be scary.” The men of the choir nodding seriously. And that was all he said. Eventually the choir dissipated, and then the band, too, everyone heading downtown for another rehearsal later that night. I lingered there a little stunned, thinking about what I’d just seen. There is something about Chance’s voice and manner that suggests joy—sometimes joy shaded by real pain, or real sadness, or real loss, but, nevertheless: joy. I was wondering
where the joy came from. So a few days later I ask him. We are at a diner in West Hollywood. And he tells me this story. Never told it before, he says, but somehow it occurred. “When I was younger, my grandma said a prayer over me that damn near sounded like a curse.” This was maybe three years ago—so, after he’d made 10 Day, the mischievously cheerful mixtape he recorded while on suspension from high school for “weed-related activities,” and either just before or just after Acid Rap, the bratty, beatiﬁc record that helped make him famous among rap fans and actual rappers, a guy who Kanye West would share festival bills with and later invite to the studio, to work on The Life of Pablo. A guy who then got the opportunity to turn down every major record label in existence, which is what he did and continues to do. Acid Rap, as in acid jazz, but also as in the fact that he wrote and recorded plenty of the record on actual acid. “I was just doing a lot of drugs, just hanging out. I was gone all the time.” One day he went over to his grandmother’s house. “And she looked me in the eyes and she said, ‘I don’t like what’s going on.’ She said, ‘I can see it in your eyes. I don’t like this.’ And she says, ‘We’re gonna pray.’ And she prayed for me all the time. Like, very positive things. But this time, she said, ‘Lord, I pray that all things that are not like You, You take away from Chance. Make sure that he fails at everything that is not like You. Take it away. Turn it into dust.’ ” He appreciated the benediction. But also: “I’m thinking, like, damn, I don’t even know if God likes rap! You know what
KEVIN MAZUR/GETTY IMAGES
• Chance wrote his ESPYs tribute to Muhammad Ali just days before the awards ceremony.
I’m saying? Is she praying that I fail at everything I’m trying to do?” But then he decided to take it how she meant it, which was: as a blessing. As fate. What he succeeded at would have God in it, somewhere. What he failed at would not. He embraced his own lack of control: “Things that you push so hard to get, and they don’t work out—I don’t dwell on them as much, because she said that. You know? Because it makes me feel like, you know… everything is mapped out.”
I was doing it real big. I was Xanned out every fucking day.” He had instruments all over the house. He’d wake up in the morning and blast gospel music. In time he made local friends: Jeremih, BJ the Chicago Kid, J. Cole, Frank Ocean. “A lot of those people would be at my house constantly.” He will admit to some questionable decision-making during this time. He worked for actual months on a cover of the theme song to the animated TV show Arthur. Recorded a song or two with James Blake, when Blake was around. Mostly just hung out, did drugs, saw girls. Had the kind of nights you’d hope he might have. “I was on a date one time at the crib, and we’re sitting in the front room, maybe rolling up some weed or something.” Frank Ocean was downstairs, somewhere. “And then Frank just comes up and starts playing the piano and lightly singing in the background of our date. Obviously, that
L O S A N G E L E S I S a weird, complicated town for him. It’s where all the record labels are, for one thing. And Chancelor Bennett, as he was born, is unsigned. Won’t sign. It’s maybe the most interesting, improbable music-industry story going right now—a young, obviously gifted rapper, universally hailed as the heir to Kanye and leader of a new generation of Internet-savvy kids who think of Jay Z as a failed tech entrepreneur, now on his fourth year of refusing to sign with a label. People ﬁnd out he’s in town and his phone starts ringing. These days he just ignores it. Hides out in places like this one, Mel’s Drive-In, on Sunset, where he eats constantly when he’s in town, surrounded by old-school diner waitresses in red lipstick. At this point, Chance says, he’s refusing to sign out of spite as much as anything else. “Just in terms of, like, those guys being able to say that they got me. That’s what they want to do. It’s like a fucking • Yes, Chance says he’s getting paid, via touring and merch. dick-swinging contest, where they all just brag about who they recently got. scored me a lot of points with this female.” And so I’m deﬁnitely not trying to be a part A reclusive genius serenading two kids, the of their dick-swinging contest. I’m staying sun setting over the valley. “But it wasn’t far away from all dick-swinging.” where I was supposed to be.” Plus, he doesn’t need their money. “I After a while, it started getting to him, the make my money o≠ of touring and meremptiness of whatever it was he was doing. chandise. And I’m lucky I have really loyal Or not doing. “I was just fucking tweaking. fans that understand how it works and supI was a Xan-zombie, fucking not doing anyport. I don’t see myself ever being in a posithing productive and just going through tion where I need to sign to a label.” relationship after relationship after relationSo yeah, Los Angeles, a monument to a ship. Mind you, this is six months. So think swung dick. But also, he tried to live here about, like, how could you even do that?” for six months and damn near lost his God. So he decided to move back to Chicago. Got demons out of his life. Got back to his This was in 2014. He’d released Acid Rap the year before. Gone on tour with Macklemore. God, got back to the Chicago in him—all the Moved here at the end of December in a things that would eventually pump through pill fog, like a young rock star, and lived Coloring Book like blood. Got back with his a young rock star’s life. He got a place in girlfriend, too. They got pregnant. “I think North Hollywood, signed a lease on it with it was the baby that, you know, brought my the mournful English songwriter James faith back.” The heaviness of the responsiBlake. They called it the Koi Kastle. “It was bility. But also the terror of it. “My daughter, like a big-ass rapper mansion.” Then Blake when she was still in utero, she had, they removed himself from the lease and left call it atrial ﬂutters. It’s kind of like an irregChance to pay the whole rent. Chance set ular heartbeat. But when you’re in utero, it’s real hard to detect and also to treat. up a studio there. “I had the pool. I had the Sometimes you have to get a C-section so movie theater. I had the basketball court.
they can operate on the baby. Never told this to anyone.” It made him and his girl closer. “And it made me pray a whole lot, you know, and need a lot of angels and just see shit in a very, like, direct way. And…you know, God bless everything, it worked out well.” Kinsley Bennett. Born healthy in September of last year. Chance almost vibrating from the energy it brought out in him. Soon after, Chance started thinking about making Coloring Book. All he had, at the beginning, was a set of themes: God, love, Chicago, dance. He rented out a room in a Chicago studio, and then a second room. “And then we started bringing in more producers and more vocalists and a choir and an orchestra, and at a certain point we were like, ‘Okay, now we need three rooms.’ And eventually we decided to rent out the whole studio, and we just put mattresses in all the rooms and it became a camp.” He started to try to put it all back into the world, whatever had built up inside him. Kanye West called—he was working on what would become The Life of Pablo. He wondered if Chance wanted to come hang out in L.A. Chance ﬂew in with God in his heart. “So my vibes that I brought were actually gospel vibes. I was like, ‘Let’s sample this, let’s make some glory songs’ ”—songs that would become, or add to, “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “Waves,” “Feedback,” and “Famous.” The meditative, soaring, emotional core of Ye’s record. Meanwhile, Chance sat and watched and learned. “I would say almost 60 percent of working with Kanye—let’s say 53 percent of working with Kanye—is speeches.” In one room, West had racks of baby clothes. He had three di≠erent studios for producers. “There was another guy there who was a magician.” Chance gave what he had to give, left Kanye to it, and ﬂew back to Chicago. The majority of Coloring Book ended up getting made in about two months: March and April. Chance slept in the studio for most of it, with his girlfriend and his new daughter. Studio One. “No smoke, no foolishness.” Chance’s mother and his father—a lifelong community organizer in Chicago who used to work for then state senator Barack Obama—coming by regularly to check on him and visit their granddaughter. One of the last things he did was this: “I had the ﬁrst verse for the intro song, which is called ‘All We Got.’ ” As in: Music is all we’ve got. Hook by Kanye West. The song has one of the all-time rap boasts, too: I was baptized like real early / I might give Satan a swirlie. Anyway, there was a part of the song that was troubling Chance. First
TO D D OWYO U N G
verse. “There was a lyric where I say: Life was never perfect / I could merch it. And for the ﬁrst, like, the last two months before the project came out, that was the line. It was: Life was never perfect. And I remember, the last week I was like, ‘Let me go in there and do a dub’ ”—an overdub—“and say, Man, I swear my life is perfect. Because I don’t know if I really want people repeating that and thinking that and shouting that to me from the crowd on a stage. ‘Life was never perfect.’ Life is perfect! You know?” D O W E K N O W I F ‘Coloring Book’ has
made its way to the White House? “Oh yeah. They’re bumping Coloring Book hard up there. If you go up there, you’ll probably hear Coloring Book. This is not a joke at all.” How do you know that? “Malia. Malia listens to Coloring Book. And I send them stu≠ sometimes. I haven’t seen Malia since I was a kid. I think they were both in school the day that I went up there recently, but Barack was talking about it. Or, uh, President Obama was talking about it.” Saying that he listened to it? “Yeah.” Do people know that?! “He didn’t say it publicly. There was a big meeting [in April] about My Brother’s Keeper and criminal-justice reform, and a whole bunch of artists and celebrities were there. And at the end, everybody takes a group photo, and he’s signing stu≠. And he keeps pushing me to the back, and I’m like, ‘I don’t understand why he won’t sign my shit.’ And he makes me wait till the end, and then he brings me up to his o∞ce, and we had a really good conversation about what I was working on. He told me I needed to start selling my music. He’s a good man. Even if he wasn’t president, if his ass worked at, like, Red Lobster, he’d be just a good man working at Red Lobster.” H E C H O O S E S T O R E M A I N in Chicago,
where his family goes back generations. “I’m third- or fourth-generation 79th Street, same house”—West Chatham, on Chicago’s South Side. His great-grandmother marched with Martin Luther King. He has a close but occasionally tense relationship with his father, Ken Bennett, who more recently worked for Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, during some of the most violent years the city had ever seen. Part of Bennett’s job, Chance says, consisted of getting “a call every morning with a list of all the people with their names and ages of who got shot.” Chance came of age as a musician and a man during a moment of uncommon interest in Chicago’s music scene—local rappers like Chief Keef, King Louie, and Lil Durk were getting national attention, 146
even as the city’s murder rate soared and On Acid Rap’s “Everybody’s Something,” Chicago descended into bloody sumChance raps: I got the Chicago blues / We mer after bloody summer. The results invented rock before the Stones got through / were strange and grotesque: Seattle after We just aiming back ’cause the cops shot you. Nirvana, but with guns instead of heroin. “You know, that is the feeling,” he says. “Like, we’re all supposed to be human He watched the media come in “and beings. People tell us that all lives matter create this poverty porn that was not something that was a±icting them on a personal level, but put a magnifying glass over it “Oh yeah. They’re bumping and literally take Keef to a gun Coloring Book hard up there [at the range”—which Pitchfork did, in 2012. “MTV wanted to do a White House]. If you go up there, Chiraq piece, and VICE wanted you’ll probably hear Coloring Book. to do a Chiraq piece. You know? This is not a joke at all.” All the labels were coming out and recording everybody. I was going through that at the same time. I was speaking to all the same labels. and shit, but it’s never really looked that way And luckily, it didn’t work out for me.” to the public or to the people a≠ected by it.” Paradoxically, all the interest in Chicago’s He pauses. “I think it’s always the job of young rappers allowed Chance to be blasé the artist, in trying times or not—it’s always about the attention; it allowed him to see our job to tell the truth.” it for what it was. Not to mention the grim contrast between the real life he and his H E W A N T S T O live up to that responsibilfriends were living in Chicago and what ity. He also still likes to get high and watch Adaptation. At Mel’s Drive-In, his debit record labels and journalists wanted out of him and his fellow musicians. “I lost a lot card gets declined when he goes to pay. The of people,” Chance says now. As sunny as fraud-services lady at the bank calls, and he Coloring Book is, it’s also steeped in shadow, recounts his Social Security number in front as on “Summer Friends,” a eulogy for lost of like ﬁve people. He explains he’s just in Los childhoods and lost companions, done up Angeles for the week and gets his account in pointillist, Technicolor detail: unlocked. There is a kind of sincerity about him, an honesty about who he is and what he likes, that draws people to him. Obama, JJ, Mikey, Lil Derek and them 79th Street was America then whom he knew when he was a boy. LinIce cream truck and the beauty supply Manuel Miranda, for whom he’s doing a song Blockbuster movies and Harold’s again on the upcoming Hamilton mixtape. (After We was still catching lightning bugs Hamilton won all the Tony Awards, Miranda When the plague hit the backyard got on Twitter to shout Chance out: “Maestro, Had to come in at dark you’re playing on A LOOP at the Rodgers. ’Cause the big shawtys act hard Thank you.”) This week alone, he hung out Okay now, day camp at Grand Crossing with Justin Timberlake and crashed Peyton First day, n****s shooting Manning’s retirement party. “It’s funny meetSummer school get to losing students ing athletes and them being like, ‘I already But the CPD getting new recruitment know who you are!’ ” he says. But he also likes living far away from Los Angeles, where he More recently, Chance lived through the can concentrate on the things that matter to torment that tore Chicago apart over the him, like raising his daughter. video of Laquan McDonald being shot by the Every choice he’s made up to this point has police, he and his father on opposite sides of been about preserving his own autonomy; a divide that split the city. “It was really hard now he’s wondering where to go next with for my dad,” Chance says. “He worked on a lot it. He wants to write a screenplay, or found a of very noble and decent causes. And I think theater; or maybe he’ll just give away another he believed in Rahm as much as everybody record. The point is, he can choose. “Because, else did.” But to Chance, the incident was a you know, I don’t know, not to sound like an conﬁrmation of many things he’d already asshole, but I’m paid. I deﬁnitely am getting suspected or felt. “We already have a really money.” His slender arms out next to him, rising and falling. “You could write that in bad relationship with the police. We already have a really bad relationship with the city. parentheses: ‘Throws hands like he’s throwThey kind of have us stuck in our corners of ing money. Throwing imaginary money.’ ” He lights a cigarette and laughs, tossing the West Side and the South Side and only come through our neighborhoods when imaginary dollar bills in a diner parking they’re trying to do some bullshit. Now we lot, free. have video of them doing us like this? It was just scary, I think for everybody.” zach baron is gq’s sta≠ writer.
> We Built This Sh!tty
radio stations and MTV put an insidiously catchy song called “We Built This City” into heavy rotation and kept it there. The hit single gave the members of the band Starship—which emerged from the ashes of Je≠erson Starship, successor to Je≠erson Airplane, the essential 1960s psychedelic band—unlikely second careers as pop stars. At the time, Starship’s most famous member, singer Grace Slick, was 46. But over the years, as ’80s music began to sound dated and ludicrous—and no song sounds more ’80s than “We Built This City”—it developed a hideous reputation: the worst song of all time. Blender magazine ﬁrst crowned it thus in 2004, and the THIRTY YEARS AGO,
It has been playing, ceaselessly, for three decades now, and it will stay lodged in your brain, like a barnacle made of synthesizers and cocaine, for hours after you read this article. (Don’t blame us—blame Starship.) This is the true story of how “ W E B U I L T T H I S C I T Y ” — the most detested song in human history—got built ✒ R O B T A N N E N B A U M
T V S A N D B A C K G R O U N D : X AV I E R A R N A U / G E T T Y I M A G E S
An Oral History of the Worst Song of All Time
Dolby kind of writer—someone using new technology. I wanted to impress Bernie: I did a demo of the song on a Fostex deck in my living room. It sounded like Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey.” I sent it to Bernie, who said, “Bernie Taupin comes into the future.” Member of successful ’80s band: Our producer brought the demo to us. It’s the most pussy thing I’ve ever heard. “Knee-deep in the hoopla”? Well, even Mark Twain wrote some bad prose. Don’t quote any of this. Bernie Taupin (lyricist, in 2013): The original song was… a very dark song about how club life in L.A. was being killed o≠ and live acts had no place to go. A producer named Peter Wolf—not the J. Geils Peter Wolf, but a big-time pop guy and Austrian record producer—got ahold of the demo and totally changed it.… If you heard the original demo, you wouldn’t even recognize the song.
label has stuck, thanks to a series of online polls, thickening into something close to empirical fact. Like many things celebrated and awful, “We Built This City” has grown into a meme: It was the title of a 2008 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. During the late-1980s peak of junk bonds on Wall Street, Michael Milken changed the lyrics to We built this city on highyield bonds to celebrate his law-breaking ﬁrm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. Russell Brand has sung it, Fergie and the Muppets have performed it. John Kasich played it at campaign events. “We Built This City” was written and recorded in stages, by an assembly line of songwriters. (Cancer, too, develops in stages.) Today, its creators are ambivalent about what they’ve wrought. It has made them wealthy, but years of ridicule have taken a toll. Among the people who now say they hate it are two band members and the guy who wrote the lyrics. “I don’t think anybody can take all the credit,” says Starship guitarist Craig Chaquico, “or all the blame.” Dennis Lambert (executive producer): The Starship was one more act in a long line of artists I worked with who, if they weren’t given up for dead, were thought of as being in a deep career hole. Bringing them back wasn’t gonna be easy. Peter Wolf (producer): There was a lot of hate inside the band. What was his name, the gentleman who just died? Paul Kantner. Paul [Je≠erson Airplane’s co-founder] was an old hippie who was not relevant anymore. 150
Everyone wanted to go more modern, and he didn’t want to. I was happy Paul left. He argued with everybody, and I hated that. Mickey Thomas (Starship vocalist): I joined Je≠erson Starship in 1979, which was one of the pivotal points of re-inventing the band. I wasn’t exactly a Starship fan—I came out of soul music. There were always di≠erent members coming and going, so the band was constantly evolving. I shaved my mustache. We were re-inventing ourselves, so I wanted to re-invent my personal look as well. The music itself was a huge gamble. Martha Davis (vocalist, the Motels): As best I remember—and we’re talking about the ’80s, so I don’t remember much—[Elton John lyricist] Bernie Taupin sent me the lyrics to “We Built This City” so I could write music to it. I called Bernie and said, “My artistic muse won’t let me ﬁnish the song.” Regrets? Oh, hell no. Martin Page (co-writer): Bernie was moving away from working with Elton John. Everybody wanted him to work with a Tom
Craig Chaquico (Starship guitarist): Peter came to my recording studio in Mill Valley and played the demo for me. About a minute in, he hit the pause button and in his Austrian accent started to sing: “Vee built dis seety on vock and VOLL.” Lambert: Grace Slick was the matriarch of the group, and everyone was focused on making her happy. She gave me very speciﬁc marching orders: “I want to make hits.” She told me she wanted to tour, make a lot of money, and then retire. That’s how she put it. Thomas: Doesn’t every band want hits? We did. Grace Slick (Starship vocalist; ‘Vanity Fair,’ June 2012): I was such an asshole for a while, I was trying to make up for it by being sober, which I was all during the ’80s, which is a bizarre decade to be sober in. So I was trying to make it up to the band by being a good girl. Here, we’re going to sing this song, “We Built This City on Rock & Roll.” Oh, you’re shitting me, that’s the worst song ever.
“That album, for me, was musical hell. I joined the band in ’74, and gradually the music had become vacuous, sterilized, escapist. It was an embarrassment. We had band meetings with big arguments. I probably should’ve tried harder to oppose it. I had a family.” —Pete Sears, Starship bassist
M AT T M A R T I N
• Cover art for the “We Built This City” vinyl single. Half a million people paid money to own this.
Wolf: I said to Bernie, “I wrote a chorus. Is that okay with you?” He said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to write any more lyrics.”
Wolf: Chicago was looking for a new singer, after Peter Cetera left. They o≠ered Mickey the job. I said to him, “We’re a few minutes away from a huge hit.” Chaquico: Peter Wolf was a genius synthesizer player. The Synclavier was cutting-edge. We didn’t feel like we were selling out; we felt like we were trying to land a man on the moon.
Thomas: Anybody who says the lyrics are dumb hasn’t taken the time to digest the verses. I don’t think there’s anything dumb about “looking for America, crawling through your schools.” Sears: That was the best song on the album, even though it’s considered the worst song of all time. The rest were a load of crap. Slick (in 1985): I like this record.
Wolf: Journey was recording in the studio next door, and every time I opened the door, their band members were standing outside with their mouths open. “This is the Starship? It’s unbelievable!”
Sears: Grace was unhappy. I saw that. She was being staunchly brave. In a band, either you’re in or you’re out.
Chaquico: It’s a very ’80s track. I remember watching Miami Vice in between takes.
Wolf: It sounded like nothing else on the radio and had a very in-your-face, hardedged machine bottom. Yes, I’m proud of it. Sure. The mockery came way later.
Pete Sears (Starship bassist): That album, for me, was musical hell. I joined the band in ’74, and gradually the music had become vacuous, sterilized, escapist. It was an embarrassment. We had band meetings with big arguments. I probably should’ve tried harder to oppose it. I had a family. Les Garland ( former head of programming, MTV): This is a great Garland story. I’d known them since the Airplane days, because I was on the radio in San Francisco. They played me “We Built This City” and I said, “That sounds like a radio smash.” Then the producer, Peter Wolf, says, “We’re thinking of putting a deejay’s voice in the middle.” So they used my voice. I did one take, then threw the earphones on the ﬂoor. I didn’t think a second thing about it.
Francis Delia (video director): I got a call from the band, asking if I could be in Kalamazoo to join them for a dinner. It was a very celebratory time; a bunch of guys who were knocking on middle age suddenly had a No. 1 song. Everyone was drinking $100 snifters of brandy. Garland: You know me, kind of a clown. I sent a telex to the Starship: “Thank you so much for backing me up on my No. 1 record. Love, Les Garland.” Chaquico: It marked a new chapter in the band where we couldn’t stop making No. 1 songs. We had three in a year and a half: “We Built This City,” “Sara,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
• Trigger warning: This photograph of Starship can cause unpredictable reactions in people who survived the 1980s. From left, Thomas, former Starship drummer Donny Baldwin, Slick, and Sears.
Wolf: I saw them in Costa Mesa, and when they played the beginning of the song, 15,000 people were singing. Tears were running down my eyes. It was very moving for me. The ’80s, in my personal life, were a total disaster for me. Garland: That year, they played the MTV New Year’s Eve party for us. Someone in the production crew thought it would be neat to release thousands of Ping-Pong balls. The audience starts throwing the balls, and while Mickey’s hitting a note, a ball ﬂies into his mouth. He was pissed. Thomas: When the song went to No. 1, I said to Bernie, “More than ever, people are gonna ask what ‘Marconi plays the mamba’ means.” He said, “I have no fucking idea, mate.” Page: Hmm. Marconi was the ﬁrst one to send music across the ocean. I saw “We Built This City” as saying stop the corporations, we need to play music. Thomas: Bernie didn’t say “mambo,” he said “mamba,” which is a snake. Marconi created the radio. Maybe Bernie meant to say “mambo.” Maybe it means: If you don’t like this music, some really angry snakes are gonna come out of the speakers. Chaquico: Marconi’s the guy who invented the radio, and his style of music was the mamba. But listen to the radio now. Do you hear any mamba? That’s how I look at the lyric: Things change. I could be totally wrong. Thomas: At one point I did start to sing “mambo,” to try and be more grammatically correct, and after a while I thought, “Fuck it,” and went back to “mamba.”
Thomas: The stakes were higher because of the band’s past. People said, “You have to carry the mantle of the ’60s.” C’mon. It’s 1985. Chaquico: The song says we built this city on live music, let’s bring it back—but the music is computerized. It complains about techno pop, but it’s a techno-pop song. It exempliﬁes the problem it’s protesting. Wolf: Do I have a sense of why people mock the song? It’s a good question. I really don’t know. It was a terrible video—cheap and ugly—and it got incredible play on MTV. I felt it didn’t do the song justice. 152
LY N N G O L D S M I T H / C O R B I S / G E T T Y I M A G E S
Stephen Holden (critic; ‘The New York Times,’ 1985): A compendium of strutting pop-rock clichés, Knee Deep in the Hoopla represents the ’80s equivalent of almost everything the original Je≠erson Airplane stood against—conformity, conservatism, and a slavish adherence to formula.
Page: To make ourselves feel strong, we say, “We’re running to the bank.” But it does hurt. You want people to see the quality in the song, and the beautiful melody. Chordally and harmonically it’s—this isn’t an ego thing—it’s incredibly skillful. If it was cheesy, I’d know it.
• Chaquico, rocking two sweet axes at once.
Chaquico: The No. 3 song on that Blender list was “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” by Wang Chung, which Peter Wolf produced. I called him and said, “Dude, I’m on one of the worst songs ever, but you’re on two. That’s awesome!” Lambert: It’s part of the price you pay for making hit records. Can’t please everybody. I’m still here; Blender’s not. Thomas: I was upset at ﬁrst, but the article was written with quite a bit of humor, so after about an hour, I laughed about it. I’m still here and Blender’s not.
Page: “We Built This City” is like Mickey Mouse. People want to knock it and d they want to love it. It’s iconic, like Mickey’s ears. The moment it comes on, people go, “I know that. I love it.” Because people love Mickey.
Chaquico: I do the song with my band— sometimes as a full-on power trio, like if Cream or Jimi Hendrix were to do it, but we also do a reggae version of it, when we’re in the mood. Imagine Bob Marley singing “We Built This City.”
Sears: In 1987, I quit the band. And I went into therapy for a year. At times, I’ve thought it is the worst song ever, yes. Occasionally, now, I hear “We Built This City” in a supermarket, or in some movie, and I’m grateful that it helps renew my health insurance, via SAG-AFTRA.
Thomas: I do 60 to 75 shows a year, and it’s probably the most popular song in the show.
Chaquico: If you listen to any song a million times, you’ll get sick of it. So a lot of people got sick of that song, including me.
Page: Thirty years ago, Grace said, “We love it.” She’s a lovely lady. She helped me get my green card. So I was surprised at how much she loathes the song now.
Lambert: We licensed the song to ITT for almost a million dollars. A major smash song never stops earning money. I’ve probably written 500 songs, but ten of them earn 90 percent of the money I make.
Slick (in 2002): The Starship, I hated. Our big hit single, “We Built This City,” was awful.… I felt like I’d throw up on the front row, but I smiled and did it anyway. The show must go on. Lambert: She’s talking out both sides of her mouth, that’s all I can say. Maybe she took too much heat for it over the years and decided to take this tack to save face. Thomas: People seem to have convinced her that it’s a blot on her legacy.
Page: About two years ago, I saw an advert in London for the mobile service Three UK with a little girl riding a bicycle and singing the song, and it went viral. I nearly cried. After all these years, the song went back into the Top 20 in the UK. It keeps creeping back. It refuses to die. rob tannenbaum is the co-author of ‘I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution,’ which somehow mentions Starship only once.
The (S)Hit List: A compendium of the fantastically terrible
Surfin’ Bird (1963) The Trashmen They say the word “bird” 84 times in 143 seconds, compounding a lack of originality: It’s a rip-off of a Rivingtons song.
Rock Me Amadeus (1985) Falco Mocked by The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Weird Al—an honor reserved only for a truly special level of musical affront.
Wild Wild West (1999) Will Smith This very uncatchy theme song is not even Smith’s best moviethemed sellout. (That would be “Men in Black.”)
Who Let the Dogs Out (2000) Baha Men We would also like to know who let the dogs out. So that we can find him. And punish him.
Accidental Racist (2013) Brad Paisley ft. LL Cool J As tone-deaf in form (rap + country = ugh) as it was in content: The laughable lyrics, shockingly, did not solve racism.
TO P : PA U L N AT K I N / G E T T Y I M A G E S
Only one song can be THE worst of all time—but just because “Rock Me Amadeus” didn’t win doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trash it. Weird Al did.
Are Yu W ke Yet? GQINTELLIGENCE
Your idea of workplace diversity is… 158
Telling your redhead assistant, “You should go brunette”
Haranguing everyone about how obsessed you are with Transparent; declaring yourself “genitalia neutral”
Saying to your HR manager, “Maybe we shouldn’t ALL look the same, you feel me?”
“Just Right” Woke
J A M E S D AY/ G A L L E R Y S T O C K ( 2 )
Most of us these days want to be a little woker. You know, more aware, more sensitive to the reality of people who aren’t like us. We know it’s easy to be blindly un-woke (see: Trump, Donald J.), but it’s also possible to be overzealously woke (that co-worker who desperately wants to convince you he knows a gay person). Really, we’re all just striving for that sweet spot: “just right” woke. Take this test and find out where you fall
Next up: It’s Halloween at the office...
‘AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR’
has become one of the biggest prime-time TV hits in the country, thanks to a very simple premise: Take regular (if insanely fit) folks, let them dress up as CrossFit superheroes, and throw them into a sadistic, candy-colored obstacle course. Everyone who watches it imagines how they’d do if they ever got a shot. Here’s how GQ’s D R E W M A G A R Y did. (Spoiler: He did poorly) • The author and his belly hair, shortly before plunging into ice-cold water.
> Enter the Ninja Dad 162
O N E O B S TAC L E .
That’s all I want to get through. I’m at Turner Field, in Atlanta, erstwhile home of the Braves but now temporary home of the towering course run for the eighth season of ANDREW HETHERINGTON
American Ninja Warrior—a reality sports competition that started out on a cable channel that no longer exists and has since grown into the crown jewel of NBC’s summer schedule. See the course with me now: steel trusses reaching 20 feet into the air, blinking-light diodes shifting from color to color. A terrifying fun house of six increasingly preposterous obstacles—sliding metal bars, spinning baskets, inverted walls— designed to grind up contestants (who train for months, even years) and then humiliate them by dropping them into vats of frigid water on national TV. Every year, the show’s producers have to up the ante and make the course more challenging because the competitors (ninjas!!!) have gotten too good. Except for me. I am not too good. Yes, I am the lucky(ish) 39-year-old father of three who has been allowed a guest run during a ﬁlming session tonight. I know I won’t make it to the very end—only a small fraction of ninjas do—but I have ambitions. I want to get past the ﬁrst obstacle—a series of giant pinball ﬂippers— if only so no one makes fun of me. I have trained for over a month—a hilariously short regimen for normal contestants, but a great deal of sweat equity from my vantage point—and one of the show’s most decorated ninjas has served as my counselor. But let’s back up so that I can tell you more about how I got ready. ‘ A M E R I C A N N I N J A W A R R I O R ’ was
never meant to be on network TV. Its earliest incarnation—a spin-o≠ of an insane Japanese game show called Sasuke, hence the ninja theme—was on the since-rebranded G4 cable network. “During the third season,” ANW host Matt Iseman explains to me, “G4 said [to NBC], ‘Listen, we’ll give you our ﬁnale for free. Just air it on NBC to tell people G4 exists.’ It ends up winning the night with no publicity.” From there, the show has become a minor phenomenon, with entire families tuning in to cheer on the shockingly wholesome
• The scene at an American Ninja Warrior taping is a bit like pro wrestling, only all heroes and no heels.
spectacle of maniac athletes ﬂying down booby-trapped zip lines. Over 50,000 people applied to run the course this season. There are ninja gyms operating in nearly every state. American Ninja Warrior is knocking on the door of becoming an Actual Sport now, with actual athletes participating. Like my trainer, Geo≠ Britten, the dude who made it through all of last season without falling once and was the ﬁrst man to ever conquer the ﬁnal ANW run in Las Vegas. We meet at Alternate Routes, a ninja gym outside Baltimore, which is equipped with a series of slanted wooden steps designed to mimic the Quad Steps, a traditional warm-up obstacle. Geo≠ shows me how to run through them with a series of three alternating, tapping steps, starting with my
outside foot. After a few test runs, I have the rhythm down and make it through with ease. I am now a parkour master. Instantly, I become overconﬁdent. If the whole course is as easy as this, I could be champion! But the whole course is not nearly as easy as this. After the steps, there are log rolls, and spider climbs, and rope swings. Swinging from one rope to another looks fun, right? Like Pitfall! WRONG. Swinging from ropes is awful. “It’s one of those weird things,” Geo≠ says, “where I think every human who ever played on a playground is like, ‘I’m great at swinging on ropes,’ when the reality is, most people are horrible at swinging on ropes.” He’s right. I attempt my ﬁrst rope-to-rope swing and can feel my shoulders pulling
Obstacle Curse: The six f#©%ing toughest hurdles
L i ke p i n b a l l . Yo u ’ r e t h e b a l l .
Slide, then fling—hard.
Te s t y o u r t r e e - c l i m b i n g s k i l l z .
apart like a piece of cooked chicken. Geo≠ sees that I still have my wedding ring on and advises me to take it o≠. Why? “Ever seen a de-gloving?” he asks me. I have not. He then mimics pulling the skin o≠ his ﬁnger, like removing a prophylactic. I take the ring o≠. A couple of weeks later, I meet Geo≠ at a nearby climbing gym. The footholds are cute and colorful, in order to disguise the fact that they are merciless. They slope and crimp and jut and generally make your hands and feet angry. By the time I’m halfway across the wall, I tap out. My forearms are bursting. “There’s something called ﬂash pump,” Geo≠ explains. “It actually happens on Ninja Warrior to famous competitors, where they don’t quite warm up enough, and your forearms just get blown out, and you’re done.” What if I’m in the middle of the course and I get ﬂash pump? “You fall.” I A R R I V E A T T U R N E R F I E L D in late
afternoon. An ambulance stationed outside the entrance nearly backs into me, which is not a good omen. Dozens of contestants are packed into the stadium concourse already, some of them dressed as literal ninjas. Since ANW is only ﬁlmed at night, aspiring ninjas will be here from dusk until dawn, waiting for their number to be called. One of the men in charge of designing the American Ninja Warrior course—like the game master in The Hunger Games—is executive producer Kent Weed (great name) and he purposely varies the obstacles so that no particular type of specialist (climbers, runners, jumpers, etc.) has an advantage. Once your body or any part of your clothing touches the water below, you’re DQ’d. Run over. Bye-bye. The goal is for roughly 23 ninjas out of 100 to make it over the fabled Warped Wall and hit the buzzer to advance to the next round. The rest will fall.
Once you get out of the water, your wet clothes are your scarlet letter. And every time someone eats it, a bunch of squeegee guys hustle out and wipe the water away. It’s like watching undertakers at work. I dip my hand in one of the pools to sample the water and it’s polar-bear cold. The PR person, who had warned me earlier to bring my own towel, comes and taps me on the shoulder. They’re ready for me now. I’ve been waiting all this time for my shot, and yet I feel like this is happening too fast. What? Now? We’re going now? These Floating Steps are slightly di≠erent from the ones Geo≠ has trained me for. Lots of people are getting through them by grabbing them. The fuck do I do, Geo≠ ? Do I stick with my toe taps? “Get across them, dude. Get across them,” he says, somewhat unhelpfully. “You have to make a choice. Don’t hesitate. Hesitation will kill you.” Okay. The sun is setting and now the course is bathed in spotlights, giving it a menacing air. I walk through a huge entranceway with the American Ninja Warrior logo overhead, which makes me feel like I’m on Skull Island, being sent out to face King Kong. There is nothing going on inside my head. In scary moments, my brain goes literal. Facts only. There are the lights. There are the steps. There are many people here. I spit on my hand and rub it on the bottom of my shoes for better grip. (Geo≠ taught me to do this.) Then I stare at the steps. One obstacle. I hit the ﬁrst step…left-right-left. No grabbing on. I’m committed. I hit the second step…right-left-right. I hit the third step.… I’m doing it! This isn’t so bad! I’m gonna make it to that fucking rope! I AM TARZAN. I bound over to the fourth step and… You know, it’s a funny thing about pressure. Usually, you don’t feel it until it’s too late. In retrospect, I have a great number of new and interesting strategies for handling that
fourth step. None of that matters, though, because in the moment, when I leave that third step, gravity takes hold with cruel force. I yell out “BLAHHHH!!!” and then drop straight into the cold water. While submerged, I take stock of everything. Am I dead? No, I am not dead. Should I climb out? I don’t really want to climb out. Everyone will see me. I could just drown instead and that would be cool. But there’s a nasty little coda. Even though my run is technically over, the producers have decided to be generous and let me try the next few obstacles. And so we commence with the ritual falling down. I fall and I yell, again and again. None of the other ninjas yell on their way down, but I do. Real solid dad yells, too. There is much toweling and squeegeeing in my wake. As a ﬁnal insult, I get to fall o≠ the 14-and-a-half-foot-high Warped Wall. As Geo≠ had explained during our training, the key to the Warped Wall—a sloping ramp of death that goes vertical in the center and then inverts at the top—is to run up it instead of forward, grabbing the top at just the right moment. This is a problem because human beings tend to fall when they run in that direction. I take one run up the Warped Wall, give it a slap ten feet up (generous estimate), and then slide right back down on my ass, leaving a trail of damp failure behind me. No more, please. No more. Geo≠ shakes my hand and warmly congratulates me even though I have conquered nothing, not even the one puny obstacle I set as my goal. Like some of the real ninjas who run and fall after me, I am soaked in grief. Those steps will haunt me forever. If only I’d made it, I could have done something more. “The number one ninja statement of all time,” Geo≠ tells me as I dry o≠, “is, ‘Well, if I hadn’t fallen there, I would’ve ﬁnished the whole course.’ ” drew magary is a gq correspondent and a sta≠ writer for Deadspin.
Yo u r a n k l e s m a y n o t s u r v i v e .
Yo u r w r i s t s m a y n o t s u r v i v e .
Ru n u p , n o t f o r w a r d . E a s y !
> The Wiliest
A decade in the life of America’s most dedicated, brazen, and outrageously creative people smuggler
✒ K AT H Y D O B I E
• Elden Kidd, smuggler extraordinaire, in the surf along the U.S.-Mexico border.
F O G W A S his ally, but the rain was his best friend. It was 10 p.m. and drizzling, so Elden Kidd knew there would be nobody on the Tijuana beach to watch them leave: no bad guys, no policía. The rain shrouded them as they pulled on their wet suits, discarding their clothes on the sand and heading into the surf; it mu±ed the tiny noises they made—the frightened gasps of the two Chinese teenage girls clinging to the boogie boards as the ﬁrst waves reared up and smashed over them, the sound of Elden’s ﬁns slicing the water as he headed out beyond the surf break. The colored lights from Tijuana’s dance clubs began to shimmer, then blur. The frenetic thumping of the bass line carried across the dark water like someone breathlessly chasing them. Soon that, too, would fade. Elden lay on his back, kicking steadily, a tow rope wrapped around his shoulder linking him to the girls. Every six seconds the beam from Tijuana’s lighthouse pierced the dark and the drizzle, and he used the light as a reference point. First they headed straight out into the Paciﬁc, paddling several hundred yards to get as far as possible from the JEFF RIEDEL
rusting border fence that sloped down into the beach—an area closely surveilled by U.S. Border Patrol—and then they could ﬁnally turn and plow their way north, the girls’ destination all along. Elden had begun smuggling people across the border ﬁve years earlier, in 1989. In a business run almost entirely by Mexicans, he was this clean-cut Mormon from California who barely spoke Spanish— the American Coyote. Mostly he took Mexicans, but when his satisﬁed customers found kitchen jobs in Chinese restaurants, Elden’s reputation spread. He had shuttled people across the border dozens upon dozens of times, and always he was impressed by the bravery he saw: farmers and factory workers following him at a crouch along the ragged bottom of a gully, grandmas and children wading a cold river toward a night-shrouded shore. On this night, the rain, cool and sweettasting, sluiced o≠ his Vaseline-smeared face. Elden kept his ears tuned to the waves breaking on his left. If the sound grew too loud, he was drifting too close to shore; if it began to fade, they were heading farther out to sea. It would be ﬁve hours before they would come ashore at Imperial Beach in California. Until then, they were alone with the thick churn of the ocean, the velvety depths, the dark and the rain
curtaining them o≠. The girls began singing softly to each other. Besides providing the two kids with dark-colored life jackets and boogie boards, Elden had fastened duck decoys on their heads, so if anyone would happen to spot them on a moonless night, in the rain, hundreds of yards from shore, they would see only a couple of ducks bobbing on the ocean surface. It had taken the girls three weeks to get this far, and this was the last leg of their journey, his leg, at $5,000 a head. They’d never been in an ocean before, didn’t even know how to swim. It had helped that the people who had brought the girls to him— they rendezvoused at a little bike shop in Tijuana—had told them Elden had supernatural powers, that this American had never failed to get people across. And the look of him had only bolstered the myth: six feet three, 270 pounds, a tanned and muscular giant with a pleasantly white-toothed grin. As soon as the girls had seen him, they left the side of their Chinese-Mexican handler and came to him, hugging his brawny arms, clinging to him like delicate vines. After an hour or so in the cold swells, the girls began to ask, “Meiguo?” The word for America that translated to “beautiful country.” All he could do was point up ahead in the distance, over the black water, at a cluster of white haloed lights that marked
Imperial Beach. Time crawled. Or sped. Lost its shape altogether out here. Had another hour passed? Less? Impossible to tell. Finally, they came ashore at 3 a.m. They dug up the plastic bag of clothes he had stashed in the sand, buried their wet suits, threw their life jackets into the surf, and hurried to the motel room that Elden had booked. There, the girls jumped into a hot shower and stayed for 40 minutes while Elden sat wrapped in a bedspread, shivering and waiting his turn. His throat was raw from all the salt water, his ankles and calves throbbed, he was physically spent, his body tugging him down into the sweet molasses of sleep. But elation is what he felt—he was almost goofy with it. T H E S E D A Y S , Elden is still an impressively large man, thick-necked and bearpawed. I ﬁrst met him in a pancake house in Riverside, California. He had his second wife and her two kids with him, his pride and joy. He didn’t walk so much as surge and shamble. Even though he’s 62, it’s not hard to imagine that he’d once shepherded scores of people across the border, becoming a legend in a time and place now long gone. He’d created dozens of routes and perfected an endless array of ploys, cover stories, costumes, and props—all products of a profoundly devious and clever mind.
O P E N I N G PA G E S , T H I S PA G E , A N D L A S T PA G E , P R O D U C E R : PA I G E D O R I A N . P R O P S T Y L I S T : N A D I A C OTA .
• With an array of routes and schemes, Elden Kidd and Tim Burraston (right) ferried scores of immigrants out of Mexico.
A lot has changed since Elden prowled the border—though, to listen to Donald Trump, you’d never know it. A cornerstone of his campaign for the presidency is to build a wall to save America, and so, naturally, he doesn’t mention that much of it—some 700 once porous miles—is already sealed o≠. Nor does he mention that more Mexicans leave the U.S. today than enter it. Today, the wild and untamed border—an unruly netherworld where hordes of Mexicans pour into our country—exists mostly in Trump’s mind. But once upon a time, before 9/11, in an era that now seems innocent and free, the border was a stranger, more chaotic place. And in those days, Elden felt ﬁreproof. He had married at 22, and he and his wife settled in Riverside, California, and began having babies. Providing for his family was Elden’s high holy cause, his “earthly mission,” as he says, a calling that made him feel both invincible and free to do whatever it took, however risky, underhanded, or illegal. Then, as now, the politics of the border—the legalities of immigration—didn’t much concern him. This was about making money. If Elden had a ﬂag, it would be for his family. He was an adventurer, a restless, ready soul. Human smuggling married so many parts of his personality—his athleticism, his wiliness, the rebellious prankster and the defender of the underdog. As his ex-wife says, with both appreciation and pain, “he’s the freest man I know.” Back when Elden ﬁrst started, hundreds of people would storm the stretch of border near Tijuana every night, swarming the outmanned Border Patrol agents stationed there. “It was as simple as ducking under a fence in those days,” Elden says. Some nights, all it took was Elden hanging out near the Tijuana River with a rubber raft; when immigrants reached the water, he would ferry them across at $25 a head. 174
labored to drag him out of the 180-foot-deep canyon—270 pounds of dead weight—and then when they reached the high ground, Elden leapt to his feet and took o≠ down the slope again. The o∞cers were just too exhausted to follow. “ O C T O B E R 1 1 1 9 9 4 . To my great mis-
fortune my life has changed completely. I’m being held against my will in the Federal Prison in Toluca Mexico.… My heart is broken. I feel as if I am already dead and this place is my tomb.” That is how Elden’s prison journal began. At the time, he had no way of knowing that he was facing a twoyear ordeal that would make him harder, humbler, quicker with his ﬁsts—and, ultimately, a much better criminal. Elden was arrested for smuggling in Toluca, 40 miles west of Mexico City—he wasn’t moving people, a crime he had committed many times, but rather marijuana, which police found hidden beneath the ﬂoorboards of a motor home he was driving. He’d been hired by a wealthy MexicanAmerican mango grower to drive the motor home down into south-central Mexico for a large family gathering, take a few days o≠ while they partied, and then drive the motor home back to the States. This was the third such trip Elden had taken for the man. He claims he had no idea he was being used as a mule. “Back then I was still a serious Mormon, and marijuana was the devil,” he says. After his arrest, Elden was transported to a prison in central Mexico called Almoloya de Juárez. Elden’s cell block contained 250 men; he was the only American. At ﬁrst, Elden had no interest in friends or alliances; he didn’t belong here. He had only one aim: to survive this hell until he could ﬁnd a way out. “I dream of escape every night, but there is no way. 10 guard toweres maned by two men each with riﬂes. High grey walls topped by spools of razor wire. Doors, gates, bars... May God help me and my family.” The mornings were god-awful. He woke to the sounds of phlegmy coughing, water sloshing in buckets, mops clanking, the ﬁrst garbled cries and shouts of a language not his own. Twice a day, he was fed from a barrel ﬁlled with rice and beans or some unidentiﬁable stew. “This was a rough day. The food was horrible. Horse teeth in the soup pot,” he wrote that October. He quickly began to lose weight. Other prisoners tormented Elden, throwing rocks or bread rolls at him when he was in the yard. “Got in a short ﬁght with a guy who attacked me with a heavy pipe. Put him down instantly.” Elden spent hours outdoors in a distant corner of the yard, reading and watching the sky. He noted snowy egrets and kestrels, ﬂycatchers and blackbirds.
COURTESY OF ELDEN KIDD
• Throughout the 1990s, Tim, top, and Elden were the rare Americans in a business run by Mexicans.
Sometimes Elden would be joined by his buddy Tim Burraston, a surfer and carpenter he’d met while leading whitewater-rafting trips in the U.S. and Mexico, along the Guatemalan border. When the river was running full, the two were in their glory. The going price for taking someone all the way from Tijuana to Los Angeles was only $250. “A thousand-dollar night was a home run,” Tim recalls. Things would change when, in 1994, President Bill Clinton launched Operation Gatekeeper, intensifying security on the most heavily tra∞cked section of the border—the six westernmost miles. Reassigned agents ﬂooded the area, armed with infrared telescopes and encrypted radios. Lines of double fencing were built and highpowered stadium lighting installed. Crossing the border became a lot more di∞cult, but being a smuggler became a lot more lucrative. Elden began to charge $1,800 a head for Mexicans and $5,000 for Chinese immigrants, a riskier bunch to take across because they were undocumented on both sides of the border. (But children always traveled for free; nothing made Elden happier than ferrying a child or a baby.) As the preferred crossing routes shifted away from the heavily policed sections of the border and toward much more treacherous terrain, many more immigrants began to die during the passage. And although no one ever died on Elden’s watch, the routes demanded more complex—and inventive— schemes. Case in point: One Christmas Eve, he crossed six young men over the border and into California, dressed them in Santa Claus suits he had purchased at Big Lots, gave them bicycles, then sent them north, through an area often patrolled by border police. Or during pheasant-hunting season? He put them in hunting vests and handed out BB guns. Of course, avoiding the cops altogether was always preferable, and for this, Elden ﬁgured he could use a little intel. So, one day he approached an agent in Yuma, Arizona, introduced himself as a Boy Scouts leader, and said he was bringing a bunch of scouts camping there next weekend and he knew the boys would love to be able to tune in to the agents’ activities and cheer them on. Would the agent be kind enough to share the call signs they used on their radios? Sure. After that, Elden could easily listen in, and if cops spotted him heading into Mexico (“Looks like we got a guy on a taco run…”), he would turn around, hunker down, and try again later. If elusiveness failed him, he resorted to quick thinking. Once, when Elden was discovered by Mexican police, he let the cops chase him into the bottom of Smuggler’s Gulch, where he promptly clutched his chest and fell to the ground. Four cops
And he tried to forget the headaches, colds, hives, and badly abscessed tooth that plagued him. His skin became gray. Still, he jogged in the yard and lifted buckets of water, buckets of rocks. He easily won a prison-wide arm-wrestling contest. By the spring, some prisoners were glomming on to him for protection: An old man who was too afraid to walk the yard alone. A young Zapatista who had his shoes stolen. (Elden retrieved them.) A humble Indian who was getting kicked around. But after 18 months inside, Elden had lost his faith in God. Writing to his still devout wife, he asked her not to judge him too harshly. “My plan is to love you as much as you let me. I can never be the same though. To be the money making machine I was… running Mexicans through the sewer river and freezing waves or back-to-back river trips, it’s over. When my freedom ﬁnally comes I won’t waste even one hour doing anything I don’t want to do. I need to enjoy nature…see my parents, play with the kids, catch a ﬁsh.… There’s no bitterness against God. I just will let God do as he please and I will do what I can to be a good person.” In February 1996, under a treaty that allowed American prisoners in Mexican jails to serve their time in the United States, Elden was transferred to La Tuna federal penitentiary in Texas. Eight months later, he was released. His eldest daughter, Eileen, vividly remembers her dad’s ﬁrst day home, his grabbing her mother, pulling her close, and slow-dancing with her. His grin like a big wink to the kids as they watched, delighted at his impetuousness. They ﬁgured the worst was behind them. But within ﬁve months of returning home, instead of doing what everyone thought he would do, what he had promised to his wife—to walk the straight and narrow and keep miles away from trouble—Elden starting running people across the border into Arizona. What was he thinking? He says his prison experience a≠ected him in a peculiar way. “That’s what kind of made my mind a little twisted as far as, yeah, let’s bring a bunch of people in.” T H A N K S T O H I S T I M E inside the Mexican
prison, Elden was now ﬂuent in Spanish— a skill he knew would make him a better smuggler. And his elder kids would be needing college tuition. Still, to this day, he’s not really sure why he took the risk. He’d been released on three years’ probation, so any slip would land him back inside. His ex-wife thinks he needed to be the hero again—the Moses of Mexico. Maybe his time as a lowly jailbird made him need it even more. But I wonder if the expectation that he would behave felt like a harness, and parole just another cage. What better way to feel unbound than 176
stitched the sky. Elden watched as his dashing back and forth across a walled and group rose and, the parents putting their heavily guarded border? arms around their children’s shoulders, When Elden returned to smuggling, the walked slowly to the back of the cemeroutes around Tijuana were all sewn up. Everything had moved east, to Mexicali and tery. When the dusk deepened and the sky Los Algodones, to Sonoyta on the border was drenched in ink, they set o≠ toward the border and the bird-watchers’ camp with Arizona, into more and more treacheron the other side. Elden carefully inched ous desert and mountain terrain. He always carefully surveyed his routes, the group forward. They stopped often to and sometimes made a dry run: Could he crouch in the gullies. When they arrived, climb that mountain? Swim that canal? Elden put the immigrants in the tent and Could children? Old men? What would happen if the plan failed? The part of every journey that Like a sudden change of weather, a felt dangerous to Elden was flash flood, or a stampede, a flock rarely the part that was scary to those he was crossing with. of official vehicles—Border Patrol, When he had used the ocean Highway Patrol, dark unmarked route, it wasn’t swimming out cars—swarmed Elden’s van. into the Paciﬁc at night that he worried about; it was the instant right before they entered the water, when, say, he and the two Chinese got a campﬁre going. He sat there toastgirls were on the Tijuana beach, pulling on ing marshmallows, ready to o≠er some to their wet suits. No cover story could explain Border Patrol if they happened by. that. And even though Elden knew he could Even when one scheme succeeded, Elden escape by diving into the ocean and swimwas eager to try another. “The thing with Elden,” Tim says, “is he’d come up with a ming away, the girls couldn’t. The moment was electric with tension. plan, it would work perfectly, and instead Within months of getting out of prison, of saying, ‘Well, that plan worked, let’s do it Elden had established a route out of again,’ Elden says, ‘Well, that worked, let’s Mexicali, using an old ruse of his: birdtry something di≠erent next time.’ ” watching. On a desolate stretch of furBy 2001, Elden’s operation was booming; rowed sand and brittle bush, Elden would he and Tim were now taking people over set up camp on federally owned land on the Rio Grande into Texas, and the two men the American side of the border. A tent, his were joined at the hip. The route was eastrailer. He tramped around with binoculars ier to manage with a partner, and as Elden and a bird book. Made campﬁres. Whenever neared the end of his parole, he wanted to Border Patrol came by, he o≠ered the agent play it a little safer. “It just came so naturally to us,” Tim says. “Because of our co≠ee or hot dogs or pancakes. Asked the river-rafting tours, we knew about transagent if he’d ever seen a burrowing owl around these parts. Later he listened to porting people and the logistics of packing them radioing one another, “Oh, he’s just everything in a van and camping out, and some bird-watching nature boy.” we were good in watery environments. We After a few days of this, Elden would take were so good, we got careless.” a cab across the border, to Mexicali, and meet up with his clients. On one particular T H E T R A I L that led to their arrest began with a sidelong glance. It was February trip, they rendezvoused at a motel, where he 2001, and Tim had ﬂown in for a job from checked everyone’s gear—no white clothes, his home in Santa Cruz, rented a 15-seat no light-up sneakers on the kids. Then they passenger van, and driven down to Big all hopped into a pair of taxis and set o≠ for Bend National Park on the banks of the a cemetery just outside town, not far from Rio Grande, where Elden had already the border. Along the way, they stopped to set up camp. Elden was driving an old pick up ﬂowers and a kind of powdered-chile moss-colored Dodge van with crushed candy they could rub into their eyes if they needed to cry. At the cemetery gate, the beer cans on the dashboard, bumper stickMexicans headed inside while Elden skirted ers written in Spanish, and no rear license the perimeter until he found a vantage point plate. Their decoy car. from which he could keep watch. While his In the late afternoon, the two men waded across the Rio Grande, the cold, group huddled around a grave, some hushed and intent, others brimming with the desire jade-hued water pulling at their legs, and to giggle, Elden scanned the area for Mexican then walked for about an hour and half to Bocquillas, where they met a group of border police and any other kind of trouble. As the sun dipped behind the mountain, indigenous people from Oaxaca. After ferthe dry earth seemed to sigh with relief. rying everyone across the river, black now A breeze kicked up and tiny birds swiftly beneath a thousand white stars, and hiking
a half hour more through the charge was importation of illehardscrabble terrain, they gal aliens, and he was looking at ﬁve years. “All I have to do arrived at the camp. The next morning, the two is think of this as my gift to the vans pulled out of the camp— family,” Elden wrote, accepting Tim and the entirety of the his fate. Coal miners risked group in one vehicle, Elden black lung; coyotes, jail. If it up ahead playing scout, in wasn’t part of the job descriphis. They were heading to tion, it ought to have been. Fort Stockton to hole up for Resigned and philosophithe night, as they always did. cal? Only if he needed to be. There they would get the men After a decade-plus of successhaircuts, coax them into shavful smuggling, Elden ﬁgured he had some valuable inforing o≠ their mustaches, and put everyone into thrift-store mation to trade—and he was suits and dresses. Sometimes looking for a deal. Before long, Tim and Elden handed them ﬁve agents with U.S. Border Bibles for the ride out; somePatrol arrived. After grilling Elden about his underground times they put little dots on the contacts in the Mexican and women’s foreheads. Chinese communities, they Ten miles south of Fort realized he could be useful Stockton, where the two-lane helping to catch crooked borroad runs through a creosotestudded desert with nowhere der agents and gathering intelto hide, Elden spotted Border ligence on counterfeit goods Patrol up ahead. He pulled coming from China via Mexico. onto the shoulder and jumped If he agreed, it would be an open-ended commitment— out. “Good morning, o∞cer. I’m wondering if you can help they might cut him loose in six me out. My son wants to join months or in two years, they the Border Patrol.…” While told him. The judge might look the agent was giving Elden a • After a life of adventure, Elden settled down. But he hasn’t changed much. favorably on his cooperation, phone number, a large gold van but there was no guarantee. drove past, and he noticed Elden giving it morning, they saw Elden and his now iden“I would start walking a backwards moon the side-eye before quickly looking away. tiﬁed associate, Timothy Burraston, load two walk the 1500 miles…right now in my boxElden turned up the charm, though now vans full of people. The cops waited until ers just to be on my way home,” Elden wrote it had a nervous edge. After Elden drove the men had driven out of the city and were to his wife. And so he signed a “contract of o≠, the agent contacted Fort Stockton heading west on Route 10, Elden in the lead. co-operation,” and he was allowed to go P.D., asking them to watch for a green van Baby blue skies, Tim thinking ahead to the home before sentencing. missing a rear plate. They found the van, surf back home when, like a sudden change and when they ran the existing front plate, of weather, a ﬂash ﬂood, or a stampede, a I M P E R I A L B E A C H , 2 0 1 6 . The Tamed they came up with a name: Elden Kidd. ﬂock of o∞cial vehicles—city police, Border Frontier. The new 18-foot-tall border fence And guess what, buddy, he’s got a prior for Patrol, Highway Patrol, and dark unmarked runs down a blu≠, across the beach, and then straight out into the ocean for 300 transporting marijuana. cars—swarmed Elden’s van, corralling him Later that day, police saw Elden with and moving him to the shoulder. Tim kept yards more, like a runaway roller coaster. another white man standing beside a gold on driving, his heart leaping, blood draining On top of that hill, a white Border Patrol Chevy Tahoe with green stripes stands van matching the description of the secto his feet, thinking, “Maybe they don’t know watch. Another one comes rolling down ond vehicle. They put out a BOLO (be on I’m involved, maybe they don’t…,” when Texas Highway Patrol zipped in cleanly the lookout) alert for the two, and Elden’s the kelp-strewn beach toward us. It’s been photo was distributed. The cops ﬁgured behind him, blues and reds ﬂashing. almost 20 years since Elden last stood on they had a couple of drug smugglers workAt the local Border Patrol station, Elden this beach. As the ocean unfurls wave after ing the west Texas border. and Tim were stashed in an interview room, wave, gray and pearly under a half-lit sky, A month later, an o≠-duty Border where Elden tried to reassure his friend he has a visceral memory of the cold water Patrol agent coming out of the Walmart with a wink. Later, Tim asked him, “Did you and the burning in his legs, and it hits in Fort Stockton spotted a hard-to-miss him now like it didn’t then—what a huge think everything was gonna be okay?” Elden walking in. He and Tim had just responsibility it was taking people into “Nah,” Elden said. “I knew we were made another border run, picking up 18 fucked.” that ocean at night. Mexicans, including a 6- and a 7-year-old “What do you think, Elden? Still doable? They were locked up in Pecos, Texas, child, and after checking them into two where Elden wrote to his wife, “Neither You just stay in the water, stay low…,” Tim of us fully calculated the risk. Seems like di≠erent motels, they were out buying them says, coming up to Elden’s side. “Like, if in some ways a good thing to be caught, you had a little bag of diamonds and you socks and shoes. It was 9 p.m., and for the because when would I have stopped?” next 12 hours, several law-enforcement wanted to get it…” After 28 days, Tim got friends to sign o∞cers watched as the two men drove “If I had to smuggle diamonds,” Elden replies, “I’d just have you swallow them between the La Quinta and Atrium motels, bonds totaling $60,000 for his bail, and he in a burrito and follow you around with a bringing bags of food from McDonald���s hightailed it to Santa Cruz. Because of his and trays of co≠ee into the rooms. In the criminal record, Elden was left inside. The bucket.” (continued on page 237) 178
HE ISN’T GOING TO STOP BEING GREAT AT FOOTBALL—15-1 LAST SEASON, NEAR UNANIMOUS MVP, A SCORCHED-EARTH RUN TO THE SUPER BOWL—AND HE ISN’T GOING TO STOP REVELING IN HIS OWN GREATNESS AT FOOTBALL. HE ISN’T GOING TO STOP CELEBRATING AFTER TOUCHDOWNS AND WINS, OR WALKING OFF PODIUMS IN ANGRY SILENCE AFTER HIS TEAM LOSES. CAM, IN OTHER WORDS, IS STILL GOING TO BE CAM. AND HE WON’T STOP UNTIL HE GETS THE ENDING RIGHT B Y ZACH BARON P H O T O G R A P H S B Y MARIO TESTINO
“The optimism of football brings people together closer than any other sport,” he says, and that’s what Cam wants to do. His goal is to win football games and inspire joy, in that order. “It’s all about winning,” he says. “I’m not trying to sound like Charlie Sheen, but it is. We live life, like, America, we’re taught to become, you know, successful, and success comes with winning.” This is a guy who hates losing. A proud sore loser. Recall his post–Super Bowl press conference. A tense and complicated moment for Cam. Shrouded in the cowl of a post-game hooded sweatshirt, minutes removed from losing the most important game of his life. The Panthers had lost just once the entire season. Had been favored by almost a touchdown. The opposing quarterback, Peyton Manning, minutes away from retirement, his right arm as light and wavy as a car-wash balloon. Instead, Cam had his worst performance of the season—sacked six times, intercepted once, fumbled twice, once on what could’ve been the game-winning drive, then failed to fall on the ball. One of those arbitrary moments that completely, unfairly ﬂips the narrative on a player; like his pal Steph Curry, Cam went from being the author of sports perfection to a grasping loser C A M N E W T O N C A R R I E S an iPad with him in a case displaying the in the span of ﬁve minutes. Cam, what did Coach tell you guys after logo of Super Bowl 50—the game his Panthers lost in excruciating the game? “He told us a lot of things.” He managed about 150 terse, fashion, after which he went home and cried and cried and cried, angry seconds, eyes cast nowhere in particular, before standing up, until 4 a.m. came and he didn’t have any more tears left. He keeps a walking o≠, going home to sob. It was national news—not just the to-do list tucked into the iPad case, like he’s about to go run errands loss but the press conference. “Newton, 26, an ebullient, intelligent, with the other suburban wives having lunch at this restaurant in gifted quarterback,” wrote The New York Times, “decided to act in his Buckhead, the Atlanta neighborhood 25 miles from where he grew moment of truth like a 13-year-old.” up and where he now owns an o≠-season home, and in time he shows “I had so much emotion,” he says now, trying to explain. “A lot of emotion. We play the game to win. And we didn’t.” He’s past it me what’s on it. A white piece of paper covered in neat, tiny handnow without regretting it exactly: “I could care less. You know, writing, Cam reading aloud from it. “Gotta get a truck tag. Gotta go what a person says to me, says about me—if it’s not coming out of to the bank. Got to…oh, send an e-mail about the play diagrams. Gotta go get my watches wound. Gotta go to the dry Chosen’s mouth.… That’s what the birth of my son does. cleaner.” Gotta get in some quality time with his infant Like, what do I gain? Now I have purpose in this world. < son, Chosen. Gotta do this interview. Whether a mean tweet, a mean [person] saying, ‘Hey, Supreme He holds the to-do list in his giant hands, and once you’re supposed to do it like this’—if my son ain’t saying confidence it, then it don’t matter to me.” you notice his hands they’re all you can see. They’re like isn’t all Cam has in weird stone formations you might encounter out in a The Super Bowl still follows him around daily, like common with desert. You could imagine desperate, nomadic civilizaa ghost. “I just hate that we didn’t win. We had our Joe Namath. tions ﬁnally coming to rest and building settlements opportunities. I haven’t seen the game yet. I don’t plan This coat around them. Otherwise he’s so perfectly proportional on seeing it. But it just plays back in my mind, knowing comes from you wouldn’t notice the way he’s built, which is: densely. that it was plays to be had.” He hates to lose. Hates old-school to bore. He’s a born performer—all you have to do is You wouldn’t know he regularly gets hit at car-crash New York furrier Marc speeds by rough human equivalents of compact cars. watch him on the ﬁeld, or moving powerfully through Kaufman, who Plenty of players wear that kind of punishment on their an Atlanta shopping mall, to know that. He’s got purstill makes faces after a while. Not Cam. The NFL’s reigning MVP. pose. He carries a to-do list. Puts on a show because Broadway Entering his sixth remarkable season in the league and that’s what winners do. Joe’s iconic he looks…fresh. Only the hands give him away, the fact It’s this quality, paradoxically, that has led to some of furs to this day. that he plays a borderline blood sport for money and the most savage and consistent criticism of Cam Newton. our entertainment. Especially after things like that press conference, which Entertainment. He takes that part seriously, maybe conﬁrmed to doubters every bad thing that’s ever been too seriously. Football! “What other sport do you know said about him. Picking almost at random here… Pro ‹‹ ‹‹ brings people around, or that brings the unity from famscout Nolan Nawrocki, 2011: Very disingenuous — has a PREVIOUS PAGE ily, friends, loved ones, like a Super Bowl does?” He loves fake smile, comes o≠ as very scripted and has a selﬁsh, coat $4,995 football. Embodies its spirit, its better angels. If someone me-ﬁrst makeup. Always knows where the cameras are Marc Kaufman Furs stumbled out of the Alaskan wilderness tomorrow, wonand plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of + dering why we’re all so obsessed with this dumb, complientitlement that continually invites trouble and makes tank top $40 (for three) Calvin Klein Underwear cated game, you’d show them tape of Cam—against the him believe he is above the law — does not command pants $60 Giants last year, maybe, the game where the Panthers led respect from teammates and always will struggle to win sneakers $120 35–7 in the third quarter, gave up the entire lead by the a locker room. Only a one-year producer. Lacks accountUnder Armour end of the fourth, only for Cam to rise up from the turf, ability, focus and trustworthiness— is not punctual, seeks sunglasses unkillable like Michael Myers, and calmly drive his team shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had Dita Eyewear to victory. It was like watching something implacable issues with authority. Not dependable. necklaces make its way down the ﬁeld—the improbable grace amid A thing that was really written. A version of a thing Degs & Sal chaos, the sheer power of his talent. More than 300 yards that gets written about Cam Newton all the time, even watch passing, 100 yards rushing, ﬁve passing touchdowns in a now. Maybe especially now. One game away from immorBulova single game, the ﬁrst player in NFL history to do that. A tality, from being dependable. Instead it’s like, Here football Leather Head Sports battering ram that handles like a BMW. we go again. (text continued on page 188) 182
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Before you leave the house, Coco Chanel once supposedly said, you should look in the mirror and take one thing off— because the goal in fashion is simplicity. Well, all due respect to Coco, but today you wanna look in the mirror and see what else you can put on. Fashion right now is about going bigger, louder, brighter, funner, and altogether more maximal. Basically the goal is to dress more like Cam Newton, the man who infamously wore skintight Versace zebra-print pants to the effin’ Super Bowl. You’re a suit guy? Make sure those pinstripes are nice and thick. You need a winter coat? Go up a size so it fits you like a bear hide. When selecting your accessories, delete the word “or” from your style vocabulary—you should only think “and.” The more fearless moves you make, the sooner you’ll become the style MVP you’ve always wanted to be.
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see me play, they see the antics of, like, a heroism, you know. Superman—” Here he does the gesture, his two giant hands parting an imaginary business suit to reveal the logo underneath. “A taunt. Or whatever you may call it. And I’ve always been called Superman. Or Super Cam.” Super Cam! Let’s just linger here for one more second. Because it’s true, he looks fucking invincible out there. Bigger, stronger, faster. A less-than-once-in-a-generation athlete. It’s just him; there’s never really been anyone like him. Everything else is noise, in a way. He’s been marked for this since he was very young. Always the biggest in his grade. “Every team that I’ve ever been on past high school, they won a national championship.” Heisman Trophy winner. Rookie of the Year. And still nothing gets at the pure narcotic sports rush that happens when Cam Newton takes the ﬁeld. Like a video game. The player his fellow players admire most. A homicidal competitor, like his idol and North Carolina neighbor Michael Jordan. Seventeen wins in 19 games last season and he could care less. Still burning up about having lost twice.
a green tea and a Shirley Temple, extra syrup. He orders the deviled eggs. He orders the mussels. He orders shrimp and grits, and also trout. He’s a pescatarian out of pure self-discipline. No other reason—just to prove to himself that he can. “I feel if I can control myself not to eat meat, I can control myself not to litter. If you can control yourself not to litter, then you can control your choice of words. If you control your choice of words, you can, you know, kind of go down from there.” He’s obsessed with testing himself. Obsessed with a certain level of control. When the food comes he bows his head and prays: Dear my Father Lord, I thank you for waking us up this morning, starting us on our way, putting food on our table, clothes on our body, shoes on our feet. Lord, bless this food that we’re about to receive. Let it be the nourishment of our body in Christ’s name. Amen. The waiters can’t get enough of him; they explain the menu so many times I think I might dream about it. He is matter-of-fact about being this kind of public ﬁgure. “My thing is: There’s no off switch. I can’t just sit up here and say, ‘Okay, tshewww, I’m John Doe and I can eat dinner with my son or my family and people won’t know who I am.’ Because that’s not true.” He is Cam Newton, everywhere he goes. Later, we walk into a cigar store around the corner from the restaurant. He started smoking cigars two years ago, he says; after the Super Bowl loss he started drinking white wine, too, mostly 188
Chardonnays. Part of discipline is knowing when to change things up. The salesman at the cigar store, Ben, a friendly guy with a bushy beard and a green tie, just lights up like someone shot off a bottle rocket in front of him. “Man,” Ben says, dazed, half to himself. “You’re bigger in person.” “That’s what she said,” Cam says, his timing immaculate. HEN HE
and his girlfriend, Kia Proctor, had Chosen, they decided not to tell anyone at ﬁrst. A few days after his son was born, but before anyone knew, Cam celebrated a touchdown against Atlanta by gently rocking an imaginary baby on the ﬁeld. Then, a few days later, after the Panthers had lost the Atlanta game, their ﬁrst and only loss of the regular season, he posted a statement announcing the birth and asking for privacy in this joyous time. A woman by the name of Patricia Broderick, writing to The Charlotte Observer, responded with a statement of her own: “Congratulations would be in order if he had been man enough to marry the mother of his child and make a home.” Patricia was just “very sorry.” She was “very disappointed.” Waiters banging plates down all around us. Cam nodding grimly as I read Patricia’s letter to him. It’s not the ﬁrst letter that’s been written to The Charlotte Observer about what Cam Newton should and shouldn’t do. They were getting bags full of them the whole damn season. Then reporters like the one sitting in front of him right now would ask Cam about them. If you can control yourself not to litter, then you can control your choice of words. Exhibit A, right here: All season long, people writing in to criticize or berate Cam, and Cam instead ﬁnding the truth in the letter, acknowledging the sentiment, controlling the exchange. Using it to grow, even. “What do you want me to do, write another letter back to her? No. And she’s preaching to the choir. When she mentions those things, those are all things that I’ve thought about. With my father being a preacher, you don’t think I’ve had this discussion before?” Now he’s laughing. Patricia’s got a point! For somebody who is supposed to be me-ﬁrst, Cam is very good at imagining and understanding what is in other peoples’ heads. He just doesn’t always happen to agree. “What, are you gonna hate me for it? I’m not perfect. I’m not presuming to be. Nor am I expecting somebody else to be perfect. We all make mistakes. We all have things that we would not want others to know. But in my case, everybody knows everything.” Going all the way back. “Yeah.” Yeah. We don’t need to recount all these things that he would prefer other people not to know, right? Not in 2016? For a decade now—ever since he left the University of Florida under controversial circumstances, and Auburn, where he wound up, also under controversial circumstances—Cam’s been apologizing for the teenager he was. C’mon. The NCAA is a cartel, anyway. “We all have life lessons that we most dearly learn from. And I just want to be the voice of that.” He’s a better man at 27 than he was at 18, even as he regularly endures condescension far worse than what he got as a kid. Seriously. Look at what he’s gone through since college. All these so-called experts calling him, in effect, lazy. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock: “It’s just this gut feeling that I have that I don’t know how great he wants to be.” And: “Something tells me he’ll be content to be a multimillionaire who’s pretty good.” (continued on page 236)
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Thereâ€™s no telling how many guns we have in Americaâ€”and when one gets used in a crime, no way for the cops to connect it to its owner. The only place the police can turn for help is a Kafkaesque agency in West Virginia, where, thanks to the gun lobby, computers are illegal and detective work is absurdly antiquated. On purpose. Thing is, the geniuses who work there are quietly inventing ways to do the impossible By
JEANNE MARIE LASKAS
Federal agent Charlie Houser is forced to fight gun crime with a meager tool: a bunch of boxes of paper.
BL O O D E V E RY W H E R E, a dead guy on the floor. The cops come in with their yellow tape, chalk line, the little booties, cameras, swabs, the fingerprint dust. One of them ﬁnds a gun on the ﬂoor. The gun! He lifts it with his pinkie, examines it, takes note of the serial number. Back at the station, they run a trace on the gun. A name pops up. It’s the wife! Or: It’s the business partner! It’s somebody’s gun, and this is so exciting because now they know who did it. Except—no. You are watching too much TV. It doesn’t work like that. “Think,” says Charlie Houser, a federal agent with the ATF. We’re in his o∞ce, a corner, and he’s got a whiteboard behind him where he’s splashed diagrams, charts, numbers. The cops run a trace on a gun? What does that even mean? A name pops up? From where? There’s some master list somewhere? Like, for all the guns all over the world, there’s a master list that started with the No. 1 (when? World War I? Civil War? Russian Revolution? when?), and in the year 2016 we are now up to No. 14 gazillion whatever, and every single one of those serial numbers has a gun owner’s name attached to it on some giant list somewhere (where?), which, thank God, a big computer is keeping track of ? “People don’t think,” Charlie tells me. He’s a trim guy, 51, full lips and a thin goatee, and he likes to wear threepiece suits. They ﬁt loose, so the overall e≠ect is awkward innocence, like an eighth grader headed to his ﬁrst formal. “I get e-mails even from police saying, ‘Can you type in the serial number and tell me who the gun is registered to?’ Every week. They think it’s like a VIN number on a car. Even police. Police from everywhere. ‘Hey, can you guys hurry up and type that number in?’ ” So here’s a news ﬂash, from Charlie: “We ain’t got a registration system. Ain’t nobody registering no damn guns.” There is no national database of guns. We have no centralized record of who owns all the ﬁrearms we so vigorously debate, no hard data regarding how many people own them, how many of them are bought or sold, or how many even exist.
a shoestring budget. “ It’s It’s a bunch of friggin’ boxes. All half-ass records.”
∆ In its massive reference library, the ATF houses examples of every gun imaginable— including a gold-plated number once owned by Saddam Hussein. What we have instead is Charlie. “Can I go smoke a cigarette while we discuss it?” Anytime a cop in any jurisdiction in America wants to connect a gun to its owner, the request for help ends up here, at the National Tracing Center, in a low, ﬂat, boring building that belies its past as an IRS facility, just o≠ state highway 9 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in the eastern panhandle of the state, a town of some 17,000 people, a Walmart, a JCPenney, and various dollar stores sucking the life out of a quaint redbrick downtown. On any given day, agents here are running about 1,500 traces; they do about 370,000 a year. “It’s a shoestring budget,” says Charlie, who runs the center. “It’s not 10,000 agents and a big sophisticated place. It’s a bunch of friggin’ boxes. All half-ass records. We have about 50 ATF employees. And all the rest are basically the ladies. The ladies that live in West Virginia—and they got a job. There’s a huge amount of labor being put into looking through microﬁlm.” I want to ask about the microﬁlm—microﬁlm?—but it’s hard to get a word in. He’s already gone three rounds on the whiteboard,
scribbling, erasing, illustrating some of the ﬁner points of gun tracing, of which there are many, in large part due to the limitations imposed upon this place. For example, no computer. The National Tracing Center is not allowed to have centralized computer data. “That’s the big no-no,” says Charlie. That’s been a federal law, thanks to the NRA, since 1986: No searchable database of America’s gun owners. So people here have to use paper, sort through enormous stacks of forms and record books that gun stores are required to keep and to eventually turn over to the feds when requested. It’s kind of like a library in the old days—but without the card catalog. They can use pictures of paper, like microﬁlm (they recently got the go-ahead to convert the microﬁlm to PDFs), as long as the pictures of paper are not searchable. You have to ﬂip through and read. No searching by gun owner. No searching by name. “Okay?” Charlie’s tapping a box of Winston Reds. His smile is impish, like he’s daring you to say what needs to be said: This is a fucking nightmare. “You want to see the loading dock?” We head down a corridor lined with boxes. Every corridor in the whole
place is lined with boxes, boxes up to the eyeballs. In the loading dock, there’s a forklift beeping, bringing in more boxes. “You go, ‘Whoa!’ ” he says. “Okay? Yeah, but a million a month? ” Almost 2 million new gun records every month he has to ﬁgure out what to do with. Almost 2 million slips of paper that record the sale of a gun—who bought it and where— like a gloriﬁed receipt. If you take pictures of the gun records, you can save space. “Two million images! You know, it’s 2 million photo shots. I’ve got to have at least seven machines running 16 hours a day, or otherwise, right? I fall behind. And to fall behind means that instead of 5,000 boxes in process, there’s maybe 5,500 tomorrow, you know? “These were Hurricane Katrina,” he says, leaning against a stack. “They were all submerged. They came in wet. And then we dried them in the parking lot. When they got dry enough, the ladies ran them into the imager. “Do you want to see the imagers? I’ll show you. Imaging is like running a copy machine. So, like, if there’s staples? So what these ladies along here do, from this wall to this wall, from six in the morning until midnight…staples.” It’s hard to tell if he’s complaining, or bragging. “All this, everywhere, all these hallways, the boxes,” he says. “We’ve been as high as 15,000 boxes backlogged. When we go over 10,000, the General Services Administration dudes are walking around going, ‘We’ll collapse the ﬂoor.’ “And then Denise says—did you meet Denise? Denise says, ‘Let’s get some shipping containers! They’re like 70 bucks a month to rent.’ So we put shipping containers out in the parking lot here.” He pushes open a heavy metal door and there they are, three red, one orange, and one blue, pinged with rust, sitting on the hot asphalt with weeds popping through. “See, now we ﬁll these up. Um…” He yanks the latch on the orange one, bends his knees as he heaves open the door. Inside it’s the same as the corridors: boxes. “Maybe 50 times a day a trace will come in for gun records in those boxes. Right? So, 50 times today somebody will be out here hand-searching boxes because we don’t have them imaged yet. “You want to go see the microﬁlm archive?”
HOW WE GOT INTO THIS MESS UT WHY SHOULDN’T a gun be like a car—or food? If you need to know the history, you call a number and somebody’s got the information. If we have an E. coli outbreak, we don’t have much trouble getting to the o≠ending bags of lettuce. Guns don’t work that way. The last time Congress seriously addressed the notion of creating a way to keep track of America’s guns was 1968. Back then, assassination was the thing. First President Kennedy, then Martin Luther King Jr., then Robert Kennedy. The outcry was nearly identical to the one we have now: too many guns, too few regulations, too many crazy people shooting with abandon. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was an attempt to impose order. It set up the Federal Firearms License (FFL) system; gun stores would have to become licensed and they would have to follow certain rules. Felons, illegal immigrants, and crazy people would be prohibited from buying guns. People would have to sign a document, Federal Form 4473, also called the Firearms Transaction Record, swearing that they were none of these things. (Background checks to prove you weren’t didn’t come until 1993.) President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the act into law, was at once jubilant and depressed. He had wanted the law to establish a national gun registry, too, but Congress wouldn’t agree to that part. “If the criminal with a gun is to be tracked down quickly, then we must have registration in this country,” Johnson said. “The voices that blocked these safeguards were not
Each day, some 1,500 requests tumble in from cops all over the country who need help solving a gun crime.
the voices of an aroused nation. They were the voices of a powerful lobby, a gun lobby, that has prevailed for the moment in an election year.” It was the same conversation we’re still having—except now mass shootings are the thing. We average at least one a month. Since 1968, more Americans have died from gunﬁre than have died in all our wars put together. In 2014: 33,599. Who’s doing all the shooting and where are they getting all those guns and how many do they have and can’t we get control over this clusterfuck? Wouldn’t a national gun registry give us a tool to stop some of the killing? No, says the gun lobby. It would give the government a tool to conﬁscate our guns. The idea of a gun registry is the great fever dream that lies at the heart of gun-control conspiracy theories: Government evildoers are going to attack us any day now. We have to be ready. (And you don’t give the enemy an inventory of all your weapons!) The Gun Control Act was an abomination, from the gun-lobby point of view. Especially Form 4473, which they considered all but radioactive. Even though there wasn’t a registry, there was suddenly a document that existed, a piece of paper linking a gun to the name of its owner. Surely the Second Amendment was thus doomed. In 1984, Form 4473 even showed up in a movie, Red Dawn. Soviet paratroopers invaded Colorado, and they went on a search for gun owners by getting their hands on a bunch of 4473s. “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” was a popular NRA bumper sticker at the time and a variant was featured prominently in the movie. It would be reasonable to assume, as many people do, that since 4473 is a federal form, the feds have them all locked up somewhere safe, but they don’t. They are kept at the store that sold the gun; only when the retailer goes out of business do the gun records come here to the tracing center, which accounts for Charlie’s box problem. Those are just the out-of-business records he’s dealing with in the corridors and the shipping containers in the parking lot. “Those are just the out-of-business records,” repeats Charlie, for emphasis. The vast majority of the gun records linking a gun to its owner are kept back at the various licensed dealers, the Walmarts, Bob’s Gun Shops, and Guns R Us stores dotting America’s landscape.
By law, the system must remain intricate, thorny, and all but impenetrable.
We have more gun retailers in America than we do supermarkets, more than 55,000 of them. We’re talking nearly four times the number of McDonald’s. Nobody knows how many guns that equals, but in 2013, U.S. gun manufacturers rolled out 10,844,792 guns, and we imported an additional 5,539,539. The numbers were equally astounding the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. Matching a ﬁrearm to a person— tracing a gun—is therefore a needle-ina-haystack proposition that depends on Form 4473. To the people at the tracing center, locating that document is the whole object of the game. It’s the holy grail. The form has the gun purchaser’s signature on it, his or her address, place and date of birth, height, weight, gender, ethnicity, race, and, sometimes, Social Security number (“Optional, but will help prevent misidentiﬁcation,” says box 8). It’s a jackpot of information that could help solve a murder case, or exonerate an innocent guy on death row, or, as happens frequently, open unexpected investigative leads.
To search the millions of records they have on file, tracers must scroll through miles of old microfilm.
Last December two gunmen opened ﬁre at a holiday o∞ce party in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people. Remember: Nobody knew who these maniacs were or why they were doing this. After a shoot-out, the cops recovered a Smith & Wesson handgun, a Llama handgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P assault riﬂe, and a DPMS Panther Arms assault riﬂe. At the National Tracing Center, they ﬁgured out where the guns came from, as well as who bought them—the slain assailants. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, had purchased the handguns legally between three and eight years previously at Annie’s Get Your Gun, an FFL in Corona, California. Farook and Malik were discovered to have posted an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook just before the attack began. But what about the assault riﬂes— they were still a mystery. Turned out a former neighbor, Enrique Marquez, bought those during the same time period. The FBI picked up Marquez, who is alleged to have been plotting attacks with Farook at Riverside City College and on state highway 91 as early as 2011. Remember: We didn’t know too much about radicalized homegrown jihadists until then. It was a trace just like any other trace that happens here in Martinsburg. The ATF completed it within a few hours, despite a system that, according to federal law, must remain intricate, thorny, and all but impenetrable.
HOW TO TRACE A GUN O, TAKE THAT MURDER we began with. Blood all over the place, cops looking for clues, the booties. They ﬁnd the gun! What happens next does not involve the wizardry of some supercomputer somewhere. It hinges on a phone call. That cop with the gun dangling from his pinkie. He dials the tracing center and describes the gun. This is Step One. Let’s say, for example, he reports that he’s got a 9-mm semiautomatic Beretta 92. This would seem to be a straightforward matter. It’s not. Cops are bad at describing guns. This is because many guns look alike and the nuances can be fantastically minute and critical to a successful trace.
was traumatic. “ Newtown People were bawling and tracing and bawling.” “You don’t think of Egypt making pistols, but they make a knocko≠ of the Beretta,” ATF specialist Scott Hester tells me. He’s a slim guy with a ruddy complexion in a black ATF polo shirt. He’s been tracing guns for a decade. We’re in his cubicle, and I can’t help but marvel at all the horrible newspaper clippings he’s got hanging everywhere, including one on the San Bernardino case, for which he and his team won an award. “I did Tucson. Pick a shooting. Pick a gun crime,” he tells me. “Pick whatever you want—a ﬁrearm event that’s any type—and one of us here has done it. That’s just the nature of what we do. Triple homicide here. Six killed here. Triple homicide there. Murder here. Boston Marathon there. I mean...” He’s holding a hefty book, one of his favorite gun encyclopedias, and he would like to tell me about the Beretta 92 and its various doppelgängers. “Now, the real Beretta’s made in Italy,” he says, “but Taurus is made in Brazil. So you have the Beretta 92 and Taurus PT 92. They’re the exact same gun except the safety’s on the slide on one and on the frame of the other.” I want to tell him it doesn’t matter—I was just picking any random gun so he could walk me through the steps about how to trace it—but it occurs to me that his entire career is built on the premise that, yes, it matters. “Now, Beretta was licensing its stu≠ in Brazil,” he goes on, “but Taurus bought it out, so they bought up Brazil—Beretta’s factory in Brazil— and licensed it as Taurus.” He’s pointing to a page in the book, tapping hard as if the force of the tap will make this any easier to follow. “Now, they’re almost identical guns,” he says proudly, like a math professor who just reached the most obviously correct answer, “but from di≠erent parts of the planet!” It takes a guy working here for a decade to know stu≠ like this. The can-do attitude is comforting. It’s encouraging to know people here are so wildly invested in conquering this chaos. So, okay, not a Beretta 92, and not an Egyptian knocko≠, but a Taurus PT 92 made in Beretta’s factory in Brazil. Let’s say that’s our gun. What’s the next step in tracing it back to its original purchaser? “I need the serial number,” Hester says. He lifts his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug and lets out an ominous sigh. Serial numbers: not so simple. “It gets worse and worse, more and more problematic.” Serial numbers, it turns out, are tangled clogs of hell. Half the time what the cop is reading you is the patent number, not the serial number, or it’s the ID of the importer, and then you have the “zero versus letter O” problem, the “numeral 1 versus letter l versus letter smallcap I” problem, and then there is the matter of all the guns with duplicate serial numbers (various Chinese guns, certain pre-1968 American guns). “Okay?” Hester says, in a pleading sort of way. The number one reason gun traces go dry is because the cop got the gun description or the serial number wrong. I tell him I need to move on. I could never work here. I tell him let’s pretend there’s a miracle and we deﬁnitely know we have a Taurus PT 92 and it has a legible serial number. We may now move on to Step Two.
Step Two: Hester calls the manufacturer (if it’s a U.S.made gun) or the importer (for foreign-made guns). He wants to know which wholesaler the gunmaker sold the weapon to. Basically you say, “Hey, who did you sell this gun to?” Gun importers are licensed by the ATF, and they have to keep records of acquisitions and sales. So the importer has to go through all his gun records and ﬁnd that particular Taurus PT 92 with that particular serial number, ﬁnd what batch it was in, and tell you what wholesaler it went to. Step Three: You call the wholesaler and say, “Who did you sell it to?” The wholesaler, who also has to keep such records, goes through the same rigmarole the importer or manufacturer did, and he gives you the name of the gun store that ordered it from him. Let’s say it was Walmart. Step Four: This could go one of two ways. If the Walmart is still in business, you call it. The actual store. Not corporate headquarters, or some warehouse, but the actual Walmart in Omaha or Miami or Wheeling. You call that store and you say, “To whom did you sell this Taurus PT 92 with this particular serial number on it?” By law, every gun dealer in America has to keep a “bound book” or an “orderly arrangement of loose-leaf pages” (some have been known to use toilet paper in protest) to record every ﬁrearm’s manufacturer or importer, model, serial number, type, caliber or gauge, date received, date of sale. This record corresponds to the store’s stack of 4473s, which some clerk has to go dig through in order to read you the information from the form. Or he can fax it. Congratulations. You have found your gun owner. “I get a sense of ‘Yeah, I got you, pal,’ ” Hester tells me, about what
it feels like to ﬁnd just the right 4473. It can take people at the tracing center 70 phone calls on one trace alone. There are rows and rows of cubicles ﬁlled with ladies on phones doing the calling, but not everything happens by phone. They do have some Internet in the building: e-Trace is a system that allows cops to submit requests for gun traces and get the results back by computer, if they’re subscribers. They can also mail the requests in. Either way, once you have found the name of the gun owner, you get back to the cop who initiated the trace. “And then I say, ‘Okay, your trace is done; I got the buyer,’ ” Hester tells me. “And they say, ‘Oh, who is it?’ ” Maybe it’s one of the suspects. “And he’ll say, ‘Are you sure?’ And I’ll say, ‘I’ve got this form in my hand here. I’m looking at the form. I can tell you for a fact right now the purchaser and possessor are the same person.’ And without exception, these guys are like, ‘Oh, man, you’re a rock star. You’re a god. Man, you rule.’ ”
But hang on, because maybe you didn’t get so lucky. Maybe you’re working on a trace, and it turns out that the Walmart that sold the gun was one of those old cruddy Walmarts that closed down in the 1990s. This leads you back, as almost everything does, to Charlie’s boxes. Now you go dig. All the out-of-business records that come in here—2 million last month— are eventually imaged and organized according to the store that sent them. It might be 50,000 Form 4473s from one Dick’s Sporting Goods in some suburb of Cleveland. So, say you need to ﬁnd one particular 4473 from that store. “We go through them,” Charlie tells me. “Just like photographs from your Christmas party, and we look through every one. Until we ﬁnd it.” More than 30 percent of all traces lead investigators here, hand-searching through boxes, or going frame by frame on microﬁlm readers, looking for a 4473 from Mom and Pop Gun Shop long after Mom and Pop closed up shop. “It’s in here somewhere,” Linda Mills tells me. I meet her in the “roll room,” a cavern of beige drawers you pull out and pick among—40,000 rolls of microﬁlm in all, each with about 10,000 frames on it. “I’ll ﬁnd it,” says Mills. She’s in her 70s and due for retirement and wears her white hair long and down her back. She’s looking for the record of a person who bought a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun that was sold by a now defunct dealer in Denver. She thinks she picked the right roll, so she carries it back to her desk, where the lights are as dim as a closet’s, and where a microﬁlm reader circa 1973 is planted. Here she will sit, as she has for the past 18 years, turning a dial right while countless images zoom past. “I’m looking for a W,” she says. The images are the color of asphalt, and the writing on them looks like tiny pebbles, and they whiz by so fast, I begin to get (continued on page 238)
∆ Officials fear the tracing center’s floors could buckle under the weight of all the incoming gun forms.
Happiness Is a Found Gun
1. COPS NAB A GUN. NOW WHAT?
2. TRACERS CALL THE GUNMAKER...
3. THEN FIND THE GUN STORE...
4. BUT THE GUN STORE CLOSED!
5. SO TRACERS COMB THEIR FILES
Linking a killer to his gun is preposterously hard. On purpose.
Police contact the tracing center and describe the gun they’ve got: the make, the model, etc.
And have the manufacturer (say, Glock or Smith & Wesson) dig up the retailer they sold it to.
Tracers phone Walmart (or wherever), and there, a guy hunts down a form signed by the gun buyer.
A shuttered retailer’s forms go to the tracing center (almost 2 million monthly).
To find the gun owner, they hunt by hand for the form he signed back when he first bought the gun.
— RACHEL WILKINSON
BACK WHEN HE WAS THE NEXT JACK NICHOLSON, CHRISTIAN SLATER LIVED FAST AND NEARLY DIED YOUNG A THOUSAND TIMES. NOW, THANKS TO THE MESMERIZING ‘MR. ROBOT,’ HE’S GETTING HIS SECOND ACT—AS A MAN WHO COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD. SO HE TAKES NATURALLY TO A BIT OF ’80S FASHION THAT’S REBOOTED FOR ITS OWN UNEXPECTED COMEBACK: THE SHINY SUIT B Y TAFFY BRODESSER-AKNER P H OTO G R A P H S BY
ERIC RAY DAVIDSON
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With a little shine in the fabric, even the most ordinary suiting colors look a little more… brilliant. Where matte suits might be gray, shiny ones are silver. They catch the light differently, giving off a glint of Hollywood glamour. They work with ties, of course, but also with turtlenecks. With polos. With tees. And how much you shine is up to you. Go with a slightly dimmer suit (like the one on this page) when you’re after versatility, or crank up the wattage (see the one at right) to make sure you’re always in the spotlight. ›› suit $2,695 Dolce & Gabbana + polo shirt $375 Dolce & Gabbana shoes $695 Ermenegildo Zegna socks Falke ›› ›› suit $895 Boss + shirt $145 Boss tie $200 Dior Homme pocket square Brooks Brothers watch Hermès grooming by mira chai hyde at the wall group. set design by jc molina at jonesmgmt. produced by cathy mele-lyman for bauie productions. where to buy it? go to gq.com/go /fashiondirectories
C H R I S T I A N S L AT E R A N D
I are dangling high o≠ ≠ the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island on a beautiful Saturday this summer, contemplating our next move. Maybe we’ll go to fsociety’s headquarters, which is an actual arcade when it’s not a hacker hideout on Mr. Robot, to play a game of Skee-Ball. Maybe we’ll ride the Cyclone. But he’s in no hurry. “Look how beautiful this is,” he says, peering out far over the ocean. The last time Slater
was up here, he was shooting his ﬁrst-ever scene for the ﬁrstever episode of Mr. Robot, the show that has resurrected his career by giving him the kind of character he’s always been so very good at: a seductive mastermind with a menacing streak, an adult version of the purring high school anarchist he played in Heathers, the movie that made him famous. It’s good to see him on a show like Mr. Robot. Years of trying to live up to the Jack Nicholson persona that he tried on too early and got stuck in didn’t work out so well: He struggled with addiction, struggled with obeying the law. He made some good choices (True Romance, Broken Arrow) but too many bad ones (lunging for a cop’s gun, Bed of Roses), and then he lay low for a while, either because projects didn’t get picked up or because he was in recovery. And now, at 47, he’s come out the other side,
so grateful to be working and getting interviewed for it that it’s almost disconcerting. He has a wife of three years, two teenagers from his previous marriage, and plans for more kids. He’s got a Golden Globe, perspective, gratitude, a role on a show that’s so good it got picked up for a second season before its ﬁrst one even aired. “That just doesn’t happen,” he says. On maybe our tenth rotation, the owner of the Wonder Wheel and his wife jump in for a ride. “Sorry to bother,” she says, a punch-drunk smile on her face that lets us know she’s not actually sorry. “I’m just such a fan.” Mr. Wonder Wheel takes pictures of Slater and Mrs. Wonder Wheel at di≠erent ≠ angles while she tells him her favorite movie of his is Pump Up the Volume—no, Heathers. No, Ku≠ u≠s. And Slater big-smiles through it all, giddy, as though he were somebody who just
became famous on the Ferris wheel today. ≠ and ﬁnd After we get o≠ our land legs, I re-suggest the Cyclone, but his answer is no. We’ve been talking all day about how he got his life right, and now he sees a metaphor and he’s going for it. The upshot is: Christian Slater is done with Cyclones. “We can choose to get on this lovely Ferris wheel, have a nice relaxing ride, get in the stable car, enjoy the view, have a nice conversation,” he says, “or we could have chosen to be wild and crazy and gotten on the Cyclone. I think we have to get to a point where life does present you with those choices. And when you see a Cyclone, I think the healthiest choice you can make—maybe, hopefully, the sexiest choice you can make—is avoid it at all fucking costs.” taffy brodesser-akner is a gq correspondent.
A pageant champ–turned–Indian movie star–turned FBI agent (on TV)? Watch out for Priyanka Chopra 202
H A I R : YA N N I C K D ’ I S AT M A N A G E M E N T A R T I S T S . M A K E U P : L L O Y D S I M M O N D S AT A G E N C E C A R O L E . M A N I C U R E : B R E N D A A B R I A L AT J E D R O O T. H E R T O P ( O P P O S I T E PA G E ) : C O R TA N A . S H I R T : I S A B E L M A R A N T E T O I L E . S K I R T : B A L M A I N . R I N G : L E G R A M M E .
> “I like winning,” Priyanka Chopra says about becoming Miss World at 18. She sounds like an Indian Donald Trump, but with eyelids that work, nearly 5 million more Twitter followers, and slightly better hair. Now Chopra is preparing to dominate season two of her first U.S. TV show, ABC’s Quantico, about FBI trainees who all seem to have at least one plot-upending secret. The twists serve an important function: giving Chopra the chance to show off her range of surprised faces. Her character went outside to get reception on a phone call with a terrorist, and her friend got blown up? Shocked and devastated! The recruit she’s in love with is married? Shocked and angry! But the marriage is just part of his cover? Shocked and secretly relieved! “They’re called ‘act enders.’ I’m really good at them,” she says, correctly. Thanks to her work in Bollywood, she’s also good at dancing and singing, which, based on Indian movies I’ve seen on mute in artsy bars, is important. When asked whether Quantico or next summer’s movie remake of Baywatch (her role: “billionaire bombshell”) has a cast more likely to break out in Bollywood-style song, she says, “Baywatch, for sure. I mean, they’re already running in slow motion. They’re going to dance.” Although Chopra has a 22-person entourage, there is one thing she has to do on her own: find an apartment. She’s doing it right now, while we’re on the phone. This is the 20th she’s looked at, and she really likes it. Chopra claims I’m her lucky charm. I feel like her 23rd assistant. This definitely deserves a dance.— P E T E R M A R T I N
Welcome To Your New Office G Q . C O M 2 0 5 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 6
A RT ST R E I B E R
WILL FORTE How to Master the (Surprisingly Difficult) Art of WORKING FROM HOME
Trading in your cubicle for your condo sounds like every man’s dream. But doing it right is tougher than you think— whether you’re working from home one day a week or it’s your permanent workspace. These nine steps will help make sure you’re actually getting shit done—even if you’re working eight feet from your TV.
Apple 27" iMac
Don’t spend 13 hours a day huddled over a 13-inch laptop. $1,799, apple.com
There’s no one else around—time for loudspeakers. $1,599/pair, dynaudio.com
Jump-Start Your New Work Life by Reading This Book
Humanscale Freedom Headrest Chair
Congrats! You negotiated working from home. But your productivity can’t take a hit—or you’ll be back in that cubicle. You’re going to need to be your own manager, your own boss. Start by reading The War of Art. It’s short— under 200 pages— and it teaches you that procrastination is the enemy. And beatable. How? Throw up and get to work. No excuses!
Most “ergonomic” chairs are webby monstrosities that make you look like a weenie from Silicon Valley. Keep the function without losing the form. Starting at $1,368, humanscale.com
—MARK ANTHONY GREEN
KC CO. Valet Tray
Keys, shades, earbuds—they all go here now. $135, kccousa.com
Das Mechanical Keyboard
Crazy comfort and speed at the keys. $175, daskeyboard.com
Now That You’re Settled In, Build Yourself a Badass Workstation
Fight Off Diversions on Your Quest for Out-of-Office Glory 206
Demon Child Your needy spawn is no excuse for not changing the world. (Or hitting a deadline.) You need childcare.
Blu Dot Strut Table
Give yourself the excessive desk space you’ve always desired. $1,399, bludot.com
Comfortable but not too cozy. Productive but not too sterile. Carve out a space for work and only work. And stock it with gadgets and gear that get you excited to spend time in your home office.— A N D R E W G O B L E
Mother of Dragons and Distractions There are always new episodes in your queue. Reward yourself at the end of the day—not during.
W I L L F O R T E , P R O D U C E R : A L L I S O N E L I O F F F O R S U N N Y 1 6 P R O D U C T I O N S . S T Y L I S T : K E L LY M C C A B E A T A R T D E P A R T M E N T. G R O O M I N G : N ATA L I A B R U S C H I U S I N G S H U U E M U R A A R T O F H A I R A N D M A K E U P F O R C H A N E L ; S E T D E S I G N : A N T H O N Y A . A LT O M A R E . C L O T H I N G : S E E A D D I T I O N A L C R E D I T S . T H I S PA G E , 2 ) S T U A R T T Y S O N ( 6 ) . WA L L E T O N VA L E T T R AY : P S B Y PA U L S M I T H .
Dynaudio Xeo 2 Wireless Speakers
ABS: Always Be Snacking There’s a moment every day when your outside-the-box thinking becomes hand-insidethe-cereal-box thinking. But with a little prep, you can make sure those five minutes away from the screen crafting a killer snack are the highest form of procrastination, the best break you can take. Master these three essentials and stay in the game.— B E N J Y H A N S E N - B U N DY THE COFFEE
Pod coffee is the hallmark of sad office break rooms, and you work at home to avoid those miniature buckets of depression. We recommend a six-cup Chemex with a glass handle, a Bonavita gooseneck kettle, and Blue Bottle’s homedelivery service. The days of ’Bucks breaks are over. THE JUICE
A crummy blender brings the whole party down. Bite the bullet and buy professional grade—even if it costs as much as a round-trip flight to Mexico. Then make the Vitamix 750 your vacation substitute by loading it up with superfruits—blueberries, goji berries, coconut, etc.— and give yourself a healthy midafternoon bump.
Will Forte Shares His Secrets for a Successful Day Working at Home The ﬁrst thing I do is check my shower. And then I check my stove. Then I check my shower again. Then check my stove again. Because I’m OCD. And once I’m sure the shower is o≠ and the stove is o≠, I go upstairs to ﬂip through the channels and make sure Shawshank Redemption isn’t playing. If it is, I’ll watch it. Whether it’s ﬁve minutes in or 40 minutes in, I’m going to watch it. And then
Motherf#©%ing Mother Nature Your golf clubs are whispering sweet nothings. So what. Today’s agenda is today’s agenda.
I ﬁgure out which Zamﬁr album I’m going to listen to. There’s something about the pan ﬂute that really brings out the best in my grammar. Lastly, I light some incense. I just came out with my own brand of incense, that’s made of my own body hair, called Forte Hair Incense. I ﬁgured I’d just come right at it with the name. In the incense game, you have to be very clear.
Disco Naps It’s only a nap until you wake up three hours later with 45 unanswered e-mails. It’s quicksand. Stay a-woke!
A Mopped Floor Would Help Me Think So now you’re Martha Fucking Stewart? Do the dishes when you get home from work, like the rest of us.
The goods that’ll keep you going longest are always natural. Experiment with combinations of nuts, dried fruits, and bitesize veggies. Stock up on sweetened cacao nibs instead of eating chocolate—that’s like chewing coca leaves instead of doing cocaine. Smart!
Hubs and Tubes Pornhub and chill seems like a good way to “clear your head,” right? Nope! Take it out on Microsoft Word.
Do It the Same Way, Every Day Whether it’s an office day or a home day: The alarm clock doesn’t change. Breakfast? Same peanut-butter toast. Normal office time, you’re ready to go. Not just because you want to avoid giving your less fortunate colleagues stuck at the office reason to talk behind your back. But as a way to differentiate from the weekend. Take calls when you always take them. E-mail responses right away. Lunch at one. Coffee at three. What’s the point of working from home if you keep it all exactly the same, you might ask? The solitude. The space. No distracting co-workers, no meetings, no excuse to not take a bite out of the big project you never have quite enough quiet to complete. The office away from office is luxurious. Each session at home is an extrajuiced workday, not a workday lite: It’s when you tackle the above-and-beyond.
Learn from Marc Maron: Don’t Hide Your Work When It’s Time to Entertain “I do my podcast out of my garage every single day. It’s okay for your workspace to look like a workspace. Just manage the clutter. Depends on who’s coming over. Today I have Jeff Goldblum. The president’s been here! But if I’m having people over, a dinner party, I’ll tidy up a bit. Keep the bedroom clear. Keep a place to sit down and watch TV. They know this is where I work. The goal is to make it look like a workspace, not a disaster area.”
Master the Art of Telecommunication
Let an App Teach Your Internet Not to Distract You Of course, in an ideal world you’d be able to fully focus for eight to ten hours a day, crushing PowerPoint decks. We know how hard it is. Which is why we suggest downloading the Freedom app. It temporarily locks you out of all the fun stuff on your phone, computer, etc. Wait’ll you see what you get done in an hour without text messages and Twitter.
— DA N I E L R I L E Y
Cool! You’ve got a handle on your office away from office. Next and final step? Kick ass and show your boss how much more productive you’ve been while remote. Then persuade her to bump you from one day a week out of office to three.
Earlier this year, I moved from New York to Los Angeles. My wife got a job worth relocating for. My editors, kindly, let me go. It’s 2016, we ﬁgured. If I’m needed in the ofﬁce, they have holograms for that, right? Well, as the author William Gibson likes to say: “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” At GQ, we use Skype. It’s just like calling your grandparents, except terrifying, because when the audio cuts out, or your voice starts a noise-rock feedback loop because you forgot to put headphones in (and you will), your boss will be there, staring at you. (Hi, Jim!) Here is the good news: We’re getting better, used to it. They put me on an iPad and stick me at the edge of the table. My advice is to come prepared, pick your spots. Also, this is the part of these things where the writer always tells you to wear pants. But seriously: Wear pants! Cover up the windows, block out the sunlight. Don’t let them know how nice it is there. They might try to join you.—Z ACH BARON
A RIFF ON CARHARTT Usually a pillar of Milan-after-dark elegance, Prada is suddenly borrowing the dusty clay color, reinforced material, and hard-nosed manual-labor spirit of workwear pants. â€şâ€ş pants $1,000 sweater $870 Prada + boots $895 Giuseppe Zanotti Design bracelet David Yurman ring John Hardy guitar Fender
IT AIN’T EASY LEAVING A TWEEN-ADORED BOY BAND. BUT WHEN ZAYN MALIK BROKE OFF, HE IMMEDIATELY STARTED DATING SUPERMODELS AND MAKING HIT RECORDS OF HIS OWN. HERE HE SHOWS US HOW TO WEAR THE PANTS (SPECIFICALLY THE NEW TRICKEDOUT, SLIMMED-DOWN UTILITY KIND) AND TELLS US WHAT’S NEXT ON HIS RISE TO THE TOP P H O T O G R A P H S B Y ANDERS OVERGAARD
GO AHEAD, PUT YOUR FEET UP Utility pants should be tough enough for work but comfortable enough for lounging. See how these have the same stretchy cuffs as your favorite sweatpants? That’s the idea. Stuff a snack in your cargo pockets and you’ll never need to get up. ‹‹ pants $130 Armani Exchange + sweatshirt $1,190 Gucci tank top $88 John Elliott sneakers $695 Giuseppe Zanotti Design socks Uniqlo ring David Yurman
MOTOCROSS MEETS THE FRENCH ARISTOCRACY Think of it this way: Either you can buy pristine Balmain pants and then cry when the first speck of dirt graces your shapely calves, or you can buy grimy-on-purpose Balmain pants and never worry about a damn thing. ›› pants $1,461 Balmain + jacket $7,900 Louis Vuitton tank top $195 Dolce & Gabbana sneakers $695 Giuseppe Zanotti Design necklaces throughout Miansai (top) Degs & Sal link bracelet George Frost
COMING SOON TO YOUR FEET Last summer, Giuseppe Zanotti—the Italian shoemaker whose flashy footwear has lured superstars like Beyoncé and Kanye for collaborations—came across scores of young women in Central Park losing their bananas at a One Direction show. “When you see another generation, another kind of lifestyle, it’s another world,” he tells us. Wanting a piece of that world, he asked Zayn—whom he’d hit it off with at Paris Fashion Week—to help design a line of dressy sneakers (as seen here) that are more like minimalist softbottomed boots: much simpler than the studded and flame-embellished sneaks Zanotti is known for. (“It doesn’t have to be fireworks,” he says.) Zanotti, who was a radio deejay in his 20s, sees his new collaborator as not just a talent but a talisman. “My work is to be a shoe designer, but also to understand what this generation likes to wear. The music helps me understand.” 214
METAL GEAR SOLID The beauty of these pants is that they can look streetwise or sophisticated (or both at once). To class up those punky metal zippers, pull on the kind of fitted sweater you’d wear to dinner with your girlfriend’s parents. ›› pants $168 Nautica + sweater $2,600 Dior Homme boots Giuseppe for Zayn ‹‹ pants $1,395 Versace + t-shirt $75 Icons jacket $5,900 Bottega Veneta link bracelet George Frost other bracelets, vintage ring David Yurman sneakers Giuseppe for Zayn
T H E R E I S N O electricity in the tiny sea shanty where Zayn Malik would like to have a conversation about Zayn Malik. No heat and no real ﬂoor. Just darkness—and the underfoot lick of London’s dead-black Thames. And yet, near midnight, when our pirate hero (singer/ musician/T-shirt maker) Zayn bursts through the rustyhinged door, home from sea to his shanty (an unfurnished, pitch-dark toolshed his people thought would be maximally “chilled,” as Zayn su≠ers severe anxiety), he’s in a good mood. “Romantic!” He sparks a joint to illuminate a stubbled boomerang jaw, plus a brown suede shearling jacket that swells him to the rough scope of a weedsidaisical Saint
›› pants $395 Belstaff + shirt $175 Icons desert boots $995 Giuseppe Zanotti Design socks Falke necklace Degs & Sal ring David Yurman grooming by larry king at streeters. set design by roxy walton. produced by ragi dholakia productions. where to buy it? go to gq.com/go /fashiondirectories
Bernard. He doesn’t seem too anxious, moving with the loosehipped swagger of someone used to walking in fake wind. He looks, as he would say, sick. “It’s about being happy to look a bit scru≠y,” he says of his style, which comprises thousands of dollars of designer merchandise. “I just got into the whole rock sort of feel to clothes—big boots, skinny jeans, and dark T-shirt, and rings. Just the grungy feel.” Grunge, to be clear, as opposed to the pip-squeak gleam of his boy-band start. If you don’t know Zayn, 23, as ex–One (of the) Direction(s), he is now a hugely famous solo act, a recipient of Gigi Hadid’s giddy PDA, and an ongoing case study in mononymous rebranding. And as Zayn, he’s a true style renegade. He’s worn robot arms (Versace). He’s worn a doorman duster (Valentino). He’s worn one Yeezy and one dress boot at the same time. His metaled-up ears, full sleeves, and daily-shifting hair are pure Beckhamian (“He’s sick,” says
Zayn, ﬂicking his lighter for emphasis), his own hair having been man-bunned, skunk-striped, and buzzed under some fake scalp tats. Zayn now has two lines of his own. The ﬁrst is his contribution to the Great Upscale Merch Revival—a 26-piece capsule linked to his album, Mind of Mine, with shirts featuring Urdu script for his Pakistani roots (like the word for mind, pronounced zehn) and graphic work by Iron Maiden’s guy. It’s Hood by Air crossbred with Supreme’s ’99 Arabic collection, says The Guardian, a review Zayn
endorses. (Speciﬁcally, he says: “Sick!”) His other, newer, and more ambitious fashion project is footwear. He loves biker boots so much he made a pair with Italian designer Giuseppe Zanotti, a similarly edgy dude he fell into natural partnership with at Paris Fashion Week last year. “Style is not being afraid to be bold about some things, or to say what it is you have to say,” Zayn says. “I feel like Giuseppe does that with his collection— and I try to do that with my music. So it kind of works.” Meanwhile, if you want to know what’s next, as we did,
you’ll get the kind of answer where the platitude machinegun ﬁre of an ex-boy-bandee merges with press ramble and weed haze into maybe-sort-ofpossibly-deep profundity: “I’m being very, like, blessed at the minute by God or whoever it is [lighter ﬂick], fate or whatever, so um, there’s a lot of o≠ers come our way at the minute with di≠erent things to do with fashion. And hopefully I get to get involved in all of them. I’d love to just continually have a presence, because I feel like it’s very heavily tied into music and the image and the fashion, and it’s all kind of one thing. So you kinda gotta be in there, I guess.” Honestly, you do gotta be in there. And by our lights—even in the dark—he is.—SARAH BALL
G Q ’ S Guide to BEING THE BEST BRAND YO U C A N B E
Remember when “selling out” was the worst thing an artist could do? If you licensed your song to an ad, you were a sellout. If you let them make your novel into a movie, you were a sellout. If you wanted to make a commercial, you had to do it in Korea so no one here would see it. But now? Everyone does it. Oscar winners. Knighted sirs. Even Bob Dylan. And no one cares! The big risk now isn’t selling out—it’s doing it wrong. GQ teamed up with DA N N Y M C BR I D E and his Vice Principals co-star W A LTO N G O G G I N S to demonstrate how to sell out without selling your soul
r i e f Hi s t o r y o f
SELLING OUT We’re Okay with It If You REALLY Commit Ryan Reynolds is an actor, a man, and a deeply committed brand ambassador of Swiss watch manufacturer Piaget. — M AG G I E L A N G E
GQ: If you were stuck on a desert island, which three Piaget watches would you bring? Ryan Reynolds: Two Polos and an Altiplano. The Altiplano, I love. It’s so beautiful. What I really need is a desert island. What type of watchband best represents your soul? If you’re talking about a soul, and a soul is transcendent, a metal watchband. That’s a dangerous question. What if I was like crocodile skin? Which Piaget watch represents humankind as it currently exists on earth? I don’t believe that a Piaget watch reflects the nature of our society right now. It reflects the nature of how we could be, how we would want to be. The world is in a state of slightly perplexed chaos right now. A Piaget watch is the utopian destiny to which we are inexorably marching.
What celebs bring to your brand, according to the Davie-Brown celebrity marketing index • T R U S T: Morgan Freeman • I N F L U E N C E : Kate Middleton KELSEY DAKE
P R O D U C E R : D AV E Y E A G E R A N D K A T H R Y N W I N T E R S . S E T D E S I G N : E D M U R P H Y A T A R T W O R K S H O L LY W O O D . S T Y L I S T : N I C O L E S C H N E I D E R A T T H E W A L L G R O U P. G R O O M I N G : C H E R I K E A T I N G A T T H E W A L L G R O U P. S P E C I A L E F F E C T S M A K E U P : J O R J E E D O U G L A S S A N D B R I A N K I N N E Y.
THE BEATNIKS AT THE 1965 Newport Folk Festival should have known something was up when Bob Dylan walked onstage, trailing a suspicious cord behind him. He plugged in his Stratocaster and launched into “Maggie’s Farm,” but he may as well have been performing a Puccini aria, since he was barely audible over the boos. The charge: The harmonica-tootling folk king had Sold Out. But when we look back through the Snapchat ﬁlter of 2016, it’s clear what he was really doing: expanding his brand. When pop stars began signing endorsement deals in the ’80s, they weren’t just accused of dumbing down their art but of exsanguinating its authenticity. Madonna feigned Pollyanna purity in Pepsi commercials, and even David Bowie, the ghostly prince of the avant-garde, slummed it in Japanese sake ads. When electro-elf Moby licensed every song on his album Play to brands like Nordstrom and Volkswagen Polo, he found himself in artistic purgatory, too pervasive for original fans and too weird for anyone not looking to buy a German supermini. Musicians In 1965, Bob Dylan didn’t even need to align with companies was asked what to earn the scorn of the sellout police. product he would After Metallica hired a producer who had ever sell out for. worked with Bon Jovi, chat rooms ﬁlled His response? “Ladies’ garments.” with metal geeks whining about how Four decades mainstream they’d become. Commitment later, the voice to artistic purity had curdled into hairof a generation appeared in a splitting snobbishness. Victoria’s Secret Everything changed as the ’90s progressed. commercial, Hip-hop was about upward mobility; the fulfilling his prophecy and conspicuous presence of platinum and paving the Patrón didn’t undermine artists’ success, way for these it legitimized it. After Jay Z blew up in enterprising celebrity heroes. 1998, he eviscerated the false dichotomy of authenticity and wealth, acquiring critical acclaim along with a portfolio of partnerships and investments: Samsung, Budweiser, Tidal. Unlike with the sellouts of the ’80s and ’90s, Jay Z’s hustle was part of his artistic narrative, the scrappy Brooklyn drug dealer made good. As hip-hop and its Midas values have seeped into the mainstream, selling out is no longer a transgressive act. It’s now mandatory to extend your tentacles into brands—as long as you do it right. Alicia Vikander and Vuitton pair like champagne and caviar. Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercials align perfectly with the machismo kitsch of the McConaissance. When Gwyneth Paltrow endorses a $15,000 dildo on Goop, she’s luxuriating in her “other half” wellness branding. But few have done it with the cocky insolence of Bob Dylan, the OG sellout. Dylan doesn’t need to expand his brand anymore, but he’s doing it anyway—a middle ﬁnger to his Newport hecklers. Over the past 15 years, Dylan has appeared in commercials for Victoria’s Secret, Pepsi, Chrysler. At 75, he doesn’t give a fuck. And neither does anyone else.— E M I LY L A NDAU
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1989: Starred in Tim Burton’s film revival of Batman. 2014: In Birdman, portrayed an aging actor haunted by the superhero he played as a young movie star.
Th LLongg A The Arc of the Perfect Sellout: MICHAEL KEATON
DIDDY TIME WARNER CABLE
KATHY BATES DIRECTV
JEFFREY TA MB O R
2016: Cast as the villain in next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. LIEV SCHREIBER
With a lilittl W ttlle help elp,, Walt Walt l on o Goggin Gog gi s has eno enough ugh gh h en e erg ergyy to t clean cle an THE an T WH WHOL OLE OL LE HO HOUSE U . US USE
TIME WARNER CABLE
D RA KE
RO B LOW E DIRECTV
TIME WARNER CABLE
JUSTINN BBIEBER DIDDY
JENNIFER GA RNER K AT Y P E R R Y
Q U VEN ZH A N É WAL L IS MASERATI
ALEC BALDWIN WILLEM DAFOE MERCEDES
h e r e A r e T i n g s Th a
WH I P S
M AT T H E W M C CONAUGHEY
MONEY CAN’T BUY
AMAZON ECHO NEW ERA
Wisdom from the agents behind celeb paydays “Beyoncé turned down a Facebook post for a hair brand. Her people said, ‘You can come up with $2 million—she won’t take it.’ ” —Mike Heller
“Anne Hathaway was o≠ered $500,000 by some billionaire in, like, Bahrain to come and have dinner.” —Mike Esterman [Editors’ note: She did not go.]
“Up on that stage, it’s all the same shit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bar mitzvah. It’s more, ‘Am I doing this for some dictator’s kids?’ ” —Steve Einzig
A MY POEHLER
JU LIA LOUIS-DREYFUS
A P P E A L : Robin Williams • FA M I L I A R I T Y: George W. Bush
FR E D A RMIS E N PAUL DANO GAP
Your Map to the
DANIEL CRAIG HEINEKEN
WI LL FE R R E LL
PAT RI CK SWAYZE
There’s a galaxy of branding opportunities out there
J ENNIFER ANISTON WATER
HEL EN M IR R E N BUDWEISER
VERNE TROYER GEICO
L AVA Z Z A
GWYNE T H PA LTROW MARTINI & ROSSI
ST I M U L A N TS
CHEVY E VY CHASE CHA DORITOS
C H A R L I ZE THERON
A L PACIN O
FRIENDS OF OBESITY
MARTINI & ROSSI
DAVID V I D LY LYNCH SIGNATURE CUP
A R N O LD SCHWARZENEGGER BUD LIGHT
RACHAEL RAY DUNKIN’ DONUTS
TO M HIDDLESTON
L E BRON JAMES BRA D LEY COO PE R
WHO O P I GO LLDBERG
JAMIE LEE CURTIS
STEVEN TYLER JAMES FR A N C O
PLUMBING P ROBL E MS
MERYL Y L STREEP STR
LISA SA RI RINNA N STEPHEN COLBERT
NUT ST U F F
SEE ADDITIONAL CREDITS.
SAMUEL L . JACKSON
TINA FEY AMERICAN EXPRESS
ROBERT D E NIRO
J E NNI FE R GARNE R
KEVIN BACON VISA
CR EDIT SH AR KS
KATE M C KINNON MASTERCARD
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Di s e m
bodied Old-Guy Voice
Ever swelled with pride for humanity while watching a Visa ad? Worried that your family is going to explode because it isn’t “in good hands”? Wanted to eat at Arby’s, even though it’s Arby’s? Congratulations—you’ve been manipulated by the voice of an old man. See if you can match the AARP-eligible actor to the corporation he’s imbued with wisdom and gravitas.
This season’s most herculean exertions are occurring not on the NFL ﬁeld but in the bleached halls of a suburban high school, as Danny McBride É and Walton Goggins vie to become its head administrator. We talked to three-time sellout McBride (K-Swiss, Southern Comfort, PlayStation), star of HBO’s Vice Principals, about something even nobler than the education of America’s youth: ads.— CA I T Y W E AV E R What commercial jingle will be lodged in your brain until you die? When I was a kid, there was a karate school in northern Virginia. Their ad was two little kids who would say, “Nobody bothuhs me.” “Nobody bothuhs me, either!” Then it would cut to a shot of a bunch of people doing karate in a ﬁeld, and the song was like, [singing] “Call U.S.A. 1000! You will...ﬁght for life!”
James Earl Jones
V I NG RH AMES > ARBY’S • JAME S EARL J ON ES > VERI ZO N MO RG AN FREEM AN > VISA • DEN N IS H AYSB ERT > ALL S TATE
If It Makes Us Think,“Why Is He Doing That?” YOU’RE DOING IT RIGHT Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t need Old Navy. She’s got Seinfeld money. I can no more picture her purchasing a pair of $29.94 boot-cut jeans than I can Oprah seeking external validation from a Weight Watchers meeting or Diddy spot-treating his adult acne with Proactiv. Which is why this kind of endorsement— taking money you don’t need for a product you don’t need— is the ultimate power move. By associating yourself with greasy teens squeezing husky thighs into cheap denim, not only do you embrace the plebes of Middle America; you prove nothing can blemish your brand.— A N N A P E E L E
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AT T E N T I O N : Morgan Freeman • V I S I O N S O F F O R T U N E : Bill Gates
So you have strong brand loyalty to that dojo. Are you usually a devoted customer? Like, do you use store loyalty cards? I read some crazy story about a guy who was getting workers’ comp. [His employers] hired a private detective and accessed, I think, his grocery-rewards card and saw that he was, like, buying alcohol and shit on certain days, which went against [the lost time] he was claiming. That kind of spooked me—that they can track your purchases and use your purchases against you. I don’t want that. You don’t use loyalty cards because you want to be able to commit fraud? You never know what opportunities might come your way. And I hate when you go to Barnes & Noble and they’re like, “Are you a member of our rewards club?” I’m like, “No.” “Would you like to do that?” “No. I wouldn’t. I’ve been to fuckin’ Barnes & Noble before, and I know all about it. I want this book.” What’s the best music for a car commercial? Old classic rock. That sells a truck. And house music to sell compact cars. What’s the best music for a prescription drug that prevents blood clots? Kendrick Lamar. Have you ever done a weird overseas commercial? I would love to. I’d wanna be ﬁlmed in black and white with a tuxedo, half unbuttoned, walking on the seashore, looking o≠ into the distance. It could be for any product. You’ve been paid to endorse goods a few times Stateside. What do you think it is about your face and voice that makes people want to buy products? I don’t know if it does equal people buying the products. I’m pretty sure K-Swiss closed down after my ads. As a celebrity, do you get tons of free swag? I don’t. Heineken sent me a beer keg one time. I don’t think a lot of brands want to be associated with me.
G E N T L E M E N â€™ S Q UA R T E R LY
On a Saturday evening in Februar y, a 45-year-old Uber driver and father of two named JASON DALTON got into his car, left his home near Kalamazoo, Michigan, and began shooting people. But the strangest, most unfathomable thing about the night that Dalton killed and killed again is what he did in between
BY C H R IS H E AT H
ILLU S T R AT IO N BY J O H N R I T T E R
SD DIFFERENT as one mass shooting gm may be from another, we have beco ome primed to expect cer o tain patterns. First, the violence. Then en, the explanation. It’s never en a su∞cient ex explanation, of course, but generally, with withi within a day or two, we learn of some kind of motive or circumstance that acted as a trigger. Whether radical Islam, anti-cop vengeance, suicidal depression, or virulent misogyny, an explanation swiftly emerges to help us understand. And then we wait to hear about all the warning signs that were missed, the clues that, if only recognized or heeded at the time, could have prevented this bloodshed. But what if one day a man became a mass killer and there were no real clues at all about why in the life he’d lived beforehand? Could such a person exist? In the aftermath, as everyone struggled to comprehend the chaos Jason Dalton had caused, that was exactly what those closest to him suggested was the case. Brian, the man whom Dalton would characterize to the police as his best friend, said that during the hours they spent together that day, Dalton had been “a little more quiet” than usual, enough that Brian asked if anything was wrong. Dalton said no. He remembered Dalton asking him if he was interested in driving for Uber as well, but Brian told his friend he was too busy. Nothing about those hours gave Brian any hint what was coming. Afterward, Dalton’s wife, Carole, and his parents hired a lawyer to speak for them, and the lawyer’s message was that they were ba±ed: “They’re thinking like everybody else, Why?… Certainly they’ve looked inward as a family to see whether there was anything that would have been an indicator that Jason was capable of something like this, and we’ve got nothing to o≠er.” ≠ The lawyer also shared this: Two days before it happened, Carole did notice that her husband seemed a little down and had asked him about it. He told her that he was just tired from all the driving. That’s all she had. He was tired.
What happened next could be seen on the showroom’s surveillance cameras. Dalton parks in front of the dealership offices, then approaches the father and son. He was almost upon the Smiths before they noticed him.
WHEN DALTON went out that afternoon to pick up Uber fares in his silver Chevy Equinox, he also brought along the family dog, Mia. His ﬁrst fare of the day, a female college student, refused to get in the car because of Mia, but the local man he picked up just after 4 p.m., Matt Mellen, was okay with it. Mellen thought it a bit weird, but it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, so he ﬁgured maybe they’d just been for a walk. “And I like animals,” Mellen explained. “Doesn’t bother me.” So he got in the front passenger seat. Mellen was headed from the edge of downtown Kalamazoo to a friend’s house to pick up his car, which he’d left there after a birthday party the previous night. He and Dalton even chatted a little to begin with. Small talk. Nothing unusual. After they’d driven a short while, Dalton received a phone call. He was using Bluetooth, so Mellen could hear the call, though he wasn’t really paying attention and wasn’t even quite sure if the voice he heard was male or female, adult or child. Anyway, they didn’t talk for long. That was when the universe abruptly shifted. “He hung up,” said Mellen, “and he ﬂoored it. He hammered the gas pedal. He just started driving crazy.” Later, there would be much speculation about this phone call, the call that seemed to set Dalton o≠. For a while, the popular assumption was that the caller must have been his wife: Their relationship must’ve been failing, and an incendiary moment must have enraged him. And as it turned out, the call did indeed come from her phone— but it wasn’t Carole on the line, it was their son. Dalton had called a little earlier as she and their children were sitting down to eat
KALAMAZOO COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE VIA GETTY IMAGES
JA S O N DA LT O N began this particular Saturday— February 20, 2016—by doing nothing at all unusual. While his wife of 20 years went out with their 15-year-old son and their 10-year-old daughter, Dalton, 45, took their German shepherd, Mia, for a walk, then ran errands for a couple of hours with a friend, Brian. Afterward, he told Brian he might take a nap, then go to work. Dalton was an insurance loss adjuster in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but less than two weeks earlier he had also started doing some driving for Uber in his off time. The Daltons were doing ﬁne, but he liked the idea of making some extra money. The plan was to take his family to Disney World. It looked like another ordinary day in the life of an ordinary man in an ordinary part of America. Except that on this day, for reasons that Jason Dalton would later struggle to explain, Kalamazoo would be terrorized by a man driving around town and shooting people, apparently at random. And the person doing the shooting would turn out to be an Uber driver named Jason Dalton.
at Wings Etc.; their son had answered (he was playing games on the phone when his father called) and they chatted about his drivers’-ed class. Then—the call that came during Mellen’s journey—Carole had asked their son to call back to check whether Dalton wanted them to pick up some food for him. What might have seemed like a crucial moment was actually a brief, banal call from his teenage son about a chicken dinner. Whatever the real trigger, Dalton’s behavior became unhinged. He sped into an oncoming-tra∞c lane, blew through a stop sign, and violently sideswiped a Ford Taurus. But, as he did so, he reacted as though nothing had happened. “Dude, you hit that car!” Mellen shouted at him. “You just hit that car!” “I didn’t hit anything,” Dalton replied, with eerie calm, and accelerated onward. “I was like, ‘Bullshit!’ ” says Mellen. “And then I was just, like, pleading for him to stop the vehicle so I could get out.” But Dalton wouldn’t stop. He shot through some more lights and repeatedly swerved onto the wrong side of the road. In the back, Mia got down on the ﬂoor and hid. And yet the whole time, Dalton showed no outward signs that anything unusual was happening. “I was, ‘Please just let me out! Please just let me out!’ ” says Mellen. “And he was, ‘Well, don’t you need a ride to your friend’s house?’ I was, ‘Not anymore! Let me out! Let me out!’ And he refused to let me out.” By then, they’d passed the correct turn, so Mellen started indicating other houses, saying that’s where he had to go: “Pointing out random houses so he would slow down.” Finally, halfway down a quiet stretch of Iroquois Trail, Dalton slammed on the brakes and asked again where Mellen’s friend lived; Mellen took advantage of the moment to leap out. “The worst ride I’ve ever had in my life, that’s for sure.” Kacey Black was having a cigarette with her husband outside their house on the corner of Iroquois Trail, enjoying the ﬁne weather, when, amid the loud screeching of Dalton’s braking and acceleration, they saw Mellen tumble out of Dalton’s car. Dazed, Mellen told them what had happened. “I was, ‘Am I having a mental breakdown? Did that really just happen? What the hell was that? What the fuck just happened?’ ” Black called 911, describing the silver Chevy SUV, and an Uber driver throwing out a passenger, but she didn’t feel they grasped the extremity of what she’d seen. “They basically just blew me o≠,” she says. “They said, ‘Okay, well, we’ll report that.’ They sounded like they didn’t even believe me.” Mellen also called 911 as he headed down the road to retrieve his car. He had to tell the story three times as he was transferred
to di≠erent jurisdictions, but each time he clearly identiﬁed the man as an Uber driver. er. er “I just wanted to report it,” he told them, m, m “because I don’t want somebody to get hurt.” tt.” Back home, Mellen called his ﬁancée, and nd at 5:33 she posted a warning for their friends on Facebook about an Uber driver named Jason, using his Uber photo: “ATTENTION kzoo peeps!!! This uber driver named JASON drives a silver Chevy Equinox is NOT a safe ride!… Despite Matt pleading with this driver to pull over he refused.… He was acting completely normal throughout all of this erratic driving!!… Hoping this man will be arrested or hospitalized soon if he has a medical condition causing his behavior.”
After Mellen escaped from his car, Jason Dalton sped home. When he arrived, he went inside and drank a glass of water, then went down to the basement and prepared his guns, ﬁlling up the magazines. By the time he set o≠ back out into the world, he was carrying a loaded Glock 9-mm semi-automatic pistol and he was wearing a bulletproof vest under his jacket. Around the time when he headed back onto the Kalamazoo streets, Dalton also called his wife. He wanted to swap his damaged car with a Hummer they owned, but that was parked at his parents’ house (they were away for the winter in Florida) and his wife had the keys. When her phone rang, she was in the parking lot of Sam’s Club with their kids, loading up the car. Their son answered and relayed the message; Carole said she’d meet him at her parents’ house. But Dalton didn’t go straight there. Instead, he accepted a new fare.
FTER JASON DALTON was capFT tureeed, the word coming out of the ja ail was that he had in some way acknowledged his role in the murders. m He was variously described byy police p as “quasi-cooperative,” “pretty matt matter-of-fact,” “a hard read,” “polite, meek, and mild,” “very even-tempered,” and “not upset about anything.” But he was also said to have shown little emotion or remorse, and the clear impression was that he had o≠ered ≠ nothing close to an explanation. As the local under-sheri≠, ≠ Paul Matyas, put it: “He’s not particularly saying.” Two days later, when the public ﬁnally got a look at Dalton—on live video streamed from the jail to the courtroom as the charges were read to him, a process that took nearly ten minutes—it was hard to read anything at all on his face. Blank? Stoic? Dazed? Eerily composed? Any could describe how he seemed. He spoke only one substantive sentence, after the judge asked if he had anything to say. “I would prefer,” he said, “just to remain silent.” This silence left everyone in limbo. But the fact that nobody could say for sure why this had happened hardly stopped people. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the Internet has given everyone the means to ﬁll it. And so over the next few days, all of the following explanations would be o≠ered, often with great conviction, to explain what Jason Dalton had done: mental illness, family breakdown, withdrawal from antidepressants, “maybe a spooky demon possessed him,” he’d been ﬁred, he was a sleeper agent activated by a phone call, he was coming down from meth, he was sexually frustrated,
Dalton’s Parents’ Hom me ome
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approaching, he stepped on the gas and almost runs into me. My ﬁrst intent was to throw up the ﬁnger—thank God I didn’t.” Meanwhile, Maci continued to text Dalton. At 5:40 she wrote, “All good?” Dalton didn’t reply. It was right then, as he looped one more time around the Meadows, that he spotted a 25-year-old woman who was leading ﬁve young children, including her daughter, across the grass to the playground. Dalton rolled down his window and asked if she, as she later recalled it, was “Maisie or Misty.” The woman said no—in fact, her name was Tiana Carruthers—and Dalton momentarily drove o≠. But then he turned the car around again and headed back. Still sitting in his car, he took out his Glock semi-automatic and pointed it at Carruthers through the driver-side window. DeAllen was still waiting for his ride when he heard gunshots, out of sight but somewhere nearby. Maci, meanwhile, was typing out one more text to Dalton: “Are you close?”
↑ Dashboard camera footage shows police leading Dalton (left) away from his car, finally putting a stop to his long night of bloodshed.
he was disappointed by Marco Rubio’s poor showing in New Hampshire, it was a primal expression of free will, it was being a fat man denied his lunch break, high levels of lead in his blood, Chantix anti-smoking pills, Big Pharma, grief over the death of Justice Scalia, a brain tumor, elevator music, money problems, and Beyoncé’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl. His behavior was said to be, variously, the fault of Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, liberals in general, too many guns in America, too few guns in America, Uber in general, Uber’s lax hiring policies, Uber’s low pay rates, Mossad, and the Illuminati. Do something that seems unfathomable, then sit there and say nothing, and a nation’s splintered psyche will be imprinted upon you.
D E ALLEN BLACKBURN, an 18-year-old -old -o high school senior, lives in the Meadows ws w townhomes in northeast Kalamazoo. He’d d spent most of that Saturday outside, until his girlfriend, Maci, messaged him, asking if he wanted to come hang out at her place in downtown Kalamazoo. He did, so sometime after 5 p.m., she called an Uber to pick him up. By mistake, Maci initially entered the wrong pickup point—the Meadows townhomes admin o∞ce, rather than DeAllen’s address—and so after a while Dalton called her. (It was her name on the Uber account and, subsequent events would suggest, she was the passenger Dalton thought he was picking up.) “He was like, ‘Hey, I’m lost, can you help me out?’ or whatever,” Maci would recall. “So I gave him directions.” Then, she said, he went silent for about ten minutes. “I was, like, texting him repeatedly. I was, ‘Okay, did you ﬁnd it?’ or ‘Are you lost still?’ ” Dalton’s silver car can be seen on the security cameras circling the estate from 5:33 onward, trying but failing to ﬁnd DeAllen. By chance DeAllen’s guardian, Amy, actually saw Dalton in his vehicle during this period when she went out to her mailbox. She didn’t realize he was there for DeAllen, or she would have said something, but she did notice how on edge he seemed: “He was really aggressive. He’s sitting kind of by the trash can and as I’m coming forward he’s, like, a crazy look in his eye, and as I’m
N TH HE DAYS afterward, a few scatH tered news articles purported to o≠er ≠ in nsight into the mass murderer n Jason n Dalton. Potentially meaningful d details were seized upon and de imbued dw with far more signiﬁcance than they d th deserved. Neighbors were quoted saying that Dalton sometimes ﬁred guns out the back of his house. An old insurance co-worker contacted the police and said that when they worked in the same o∞ce nearly 15 years earlier, Dalton would get upset when he was challenged by clients. One time he yelled and hung up on a customer, and then paced around his desk. More suggestively, a man named Mark Cottingham, who owned a nearby business, Visions Car & Truck Accessories, detailed a disconcerting interaction with Dalton over a repair the previous September: At times Dalton seemed to have unreasonable anger, but other times he was all sweetness. To Cottingham, it almost seemed like Dalton had a dual personality. But if Dalton had really been a man on the edge—a swelling river of anger about to burst its banks—you’d have expected 30 similar stories to follow, and 30 more after that. And they didn’t. Taken all together, it was pretty thin stu≠. There was one fact, though, that seemed pretty damning on the surface, and seemed to speak to Dalton’s state of mind that day. The errands he had done in the early afternoon with his friend Brian involved visiting three gun stores. At one of them, Dalton bought an $85 black tactical jacket, which
had a chest pocket designed for hiding a handgun. What clearer sign could there be of premeditation, of a man planning a mission, equipping himself ? Except. For one thing, it wasn’t at all unusual for Dalton to spend his Saturdays at a gun store—he was a regular customer, often with Brian. (Brian, who, it should be noted, is a volunteer sheri≠ ’s deputy.) Guns were one of Dalton’s hobbies. And at the store where he bought the jacket, Southwick’s, the way the owner described Dalton’s demeanor that afternoon was a poor ﬁt for someone gearing up for a homicidal rampage: “He was smiling and joking around, and he did a one-armed hug to my manager and told him to have a good day.” And while eyebrows would be raised over news reports that Dalton owned 16 guns, that’s not particularly unusual around here. Or in many places. (It was recently estimated that each gun owner in n America has an average of eight guns.) Even the tactical jacket itself turned out tto be one more false lead. It was widely assumed ed that he wore this jacket during his killing g spree—but his wife later found it in their house, still in the bag from the store, its tags on, apparently unworn. • • • WHEN TIANA CARRUTHERS saw the gun, she shouted at the kids to run, and tried to do the same. As she did, she was shot four times. The ﬁrst bullet hit her in her left arm. The second bullet hit her in her right leg. One of the last two bullets broke her other leg, and the other went through her buttocks and lodged in her liver. As Dalton sped o≠, he knew that he had just killed someone. Nobody could survive that many gunshots. Somehow, Dalton was wrong. “I just remember just shooting and shooting,” Carruthers said. “I tried to move but I couldn’t move. After I realized he wasn’t going to stop shooting, I just pretended like I was dead already.” Some of Dalton’s shots missed. Seven bullets went into the house behind her, four of these going through the wall, stopped only by the clutter in a closet a few feet from where three teenagers were playing NBA 2K15. When the neighbors found Carruthers, she was on the ground, wedged between the curb and the back wheel of a truck, and she couldn’t feel her legs. She told them that the man who had done this was heavyset with blue eyes and had a dog in the back of his car. And that she had never seen him before.
As the 911 calls came in from the Meadows, one of the dispatchers recognized the similarity between the description of the vehicle this shooter had been driving and the one reported by a distressed Uber rider an hour earlier; the dispatcher even called Matt Mellen back for more details. Mellen repeated that the man’s name was Jason, and this time he sent the photo from his Uber receipt to the dispatcher’s private phone. But somehow, amid all the chaos and violence to come, this connection seems to have been overlooked or ignored. Evidently no one involved grasped the implications of this information—that if Jason Dalton was an Uber driver, police could easily locate him with Uber’s help. Instead, an opportunity to end the violence before it escalated came and went.
RAC ACKING DOWN people who AC knew w Dalton over the years, you ﬁnd the opposite of what you’d expeeect: The better they knew him, thee more ba±ed they are. Andrew Jamieson w was close with Jason Dalton for over tten years and the best man at his wedding. He met Dalton at a party when they were both 18, and they bonded over cars: “He was the guy that I used to see on the cruise strip in his black Camaro, and I was the guy he saw in the green ’69 Charger.” Dalton invited him over to his parents’ to check out his car and they became fast friends. I asked Jamieson what they’d do apart from car stu≠. ≠ “Chase girls,” he said. “Go to the beach. Go to clubs. Basically just doing stu≠ ≠ that guys do. Going to the drag strip. Going to Silver Lake Sand Dunes. Going dirt-bike riding.” In middle age, the two men drifted apart— no real reason, just jobs and families and kids. The last time Jamieson saw Dalton was a year earlier. He didn’t seem much di≠erent. ≠ “A little grayer,” said Jamieson. “A little heavier.” Jamieson was ﬁnding all his memories of Dalton unpleasantly prodded by recent events, and it was only adding to how unexpected this was. One memory in particular: He and Dalton used to talk about when people went crazy. “Not murders, necessarily,” he clariﬁed. “But we knew people that seemed a little o≠—like, ‘Oh yeah, someday you’re gonna see that guy in the news for doing something insane.’ We would always use the term ‘go postal.’ He didn’t really like them.” And now…Jamieson is at a loss. “I just can’t put my ﬁnger on it. I stare into space
like I’m going to get the answer, but it’s just not there. It truly doesn’t seem real. That Sunday morning, my phone was blowing up all morning. I didn’t know what people were talking about. They said, ‘Dalton…’ I was, ‘What about Dalton?’ I turned on the news and there he was. I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me.…’ ” He shook his head. “If this becomes common, we’re all in trouble. I mean…Jason? He was a wuss.” • • • JASON DALTON had just shot a complete stranger four times. This is what he did next. He raced away at great speed, to his parents’ house. Just down the road from the Meadows, he went through a red light at about 80 miles an hour and, for the second time in two hours, sideswiped a car. There was something wrong either with the Uber app itself or, more likely, with the way Dalton was using it, because soon after he had arrived at the Meadows townhomes the app had registered that he had his passenger on board, and so it began recording his route. That is also why, a little later, Maci would get a receipt that showed Dalton circling the estate, then driving to his parents’ house; she was billed $7.31 for the phantom journey. At his parents’ house, Dalton hid the damaged Chevy Equinox in the garage. When his wife arrived, though, he discovered that the Hummer wouldn’t start and so instead he took his parents’ black Chevy HHR, which she had been driving. Carole Dalton’s full description of meeting her husband that evening—the last time she would see him as a free man—unveiled itself over several di≠erent accounts. The ﬁrst, relayed through her lawyer, Paul Vlachos, was the most anodyne. “Carole asked what had happened,” Vlachos said, “and he said he’d had trouble with the taxi people. He said he’d contacted Uber and they were going to handle everything.” She did reveal a rather strange instruction from her husband: He told her and the kids to stay at his parents’ house and lock the doors. “She listened to her husband,” Vlachos said. “He wasn’t disheveled or acting strangely or anything at that point that would have given her any pause.” In later versions, which weren’t released until weeks later, her husband’s behavior seemed weirder, and less benign. The “trouble” now involved a taxi driver shooting at him. Dalton fetched a loaded gun for his wife, telling her that she could not go back to work anymore and the kids could not go back to school. When she (continued on next page)
Dalton hurried home as fast as he could and prepared his guns: “He stated it was like he wasn’t even himself, like it was an altered reality.” He said that it was the Uber app that made him get his gun, and made him put on the bulletproof vest.
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asked what he was talking about, Dalton replied, obliquely, that as soon as she saw something on the news, she’d know it related to him. Carole also told the police that when she arrived at his parents’ house, a little after 6 p.m., Dalton was in the garage on the phone. He told her he was reporting the damaged car—to either Uber or the insurance company, she assumed. But it appears she was wrong. There is a strange coda to Maci’s experience with Dalton: At 6:09—nearly 30 minutes after Dalton shot someone he presumably assumed was Maci and left her for dead—he called back the real Maci. Perhaps he’d realized from her texts that she could not have been the woman he had just left on the ground. Maci said that they spoke for nearly three minutes, and she described how the call ended: “He was, ‘Sorry, I don’t have time for this anymore. I have better things to do, and you’re just wasting my time, and I basically can’t do this anymore—you can call someone else [for a ride].’ ” Mostly, Dalton was unpleasant. “He was really sketchy and rude,” she recalled. “Like, he was extremely rude to me.”
T H E D A L T O N S L I V E D on the northwest
corner of a rural junction in the Kalamazoo suburbs. Since they moved in 17 years ago, their one direct neighbor had been a machine mechanic named James Block. He was just as mystiﬁed as everyone else. Block told me that when the Daltons ﬁrst arrived, they kept to themselves, but a couple of years later, after they had a baby boy, they opened up more. Or Jason did, anyway. “He was a talker. A ten-minute conversation turned to 40 minutes, easily. He was so sociable. He would never actually let you leave.” Block was the person who insisted that one widely circulated rumor, accepted as fact— that Dalton liked to ﬁre guns out of the back of his property—simply wasn’t true. Sometimes it was folks hunting coyotes in the wooded land back there; other times it was actually Block himself. “I got a target thing back here so I can shoot my gun,” he said. “I mean, I got an AK-47 and stu≠.” ≠ (Block, for the record, has 13 guns.) After that terrible night, Dalton’s wife and children had moved elsewhere, but Block said that he had seen Carole several times since, when she’d come by to pick up stu≠ ≠ from the house. They’d talk about the kids and the dogs. Once they’d gotten everything, she told him, they were never coming back. • • • A F T E R L E A V I N G H I S W I F E and children
at his parents’ house, Dalton headed to the family home. At about seven that evening, GQ.COM
• • • J A M E S B L O C K and Jason Dalton would
• • •
his neighbor’s daughter saw the car in his driveway, idling for a few minutes with its lights on. Then it sped down the driveway, stopped for 30 seconds, reversed fast back up the driveway, then parked with the lights on for ﬁve more minutes. Whatever was going on in Dalton’s mind, his trip there seems to have had a practical purpose. Later, when the police searched the property, they would ﬁnd the Glock with which he had shot Tiana Carruthers, lying on a workbench; it appeared to have jammed. Now, as he drove away, Dalton was carrying a replacement inside his coat pocket—a Walther P99 9-mm semi-automatic. He would be needing a gun that worked, because he wasn’t done yet. Not nearly. Still, anyone trying to understand what he was thinking may struggle to comprehend what Jason Dalton did next: He started picking up Uber fares again. And his passengers in this period didn’t notice anything about his behavior that might suggest what he’d done over the last few hours: two high-speed accidents, a cascade of bullets ﬁred at a stranger. At 8:02 he picked up Keith Black at his home near the Western Michigan campus and took him into the center of town. Black sat in the passenger seat and made small talk. Another passenger, later that hour, remembered Dalton singing along to the radio. At 9:21, when he picked up a fare at the Fairﬁeld Inn, next to Cracker Barrel, and took three passengers to the Beer Exchange in town, he couldn’t get his app to start and the fare wasn’t charged properly, but he seemed easygoing enough about it, like it wasn’t a big deal. He seemed to be doing his job as though nothing had happened and nothing else would.
greet each other every morning, as Block ferried kids to school and Dalton headed to work. They had their ﬁnal substantial conversation, for 20 minutes over the fence, only two days before the shootings. One of many online eruptions about the case was sparked by the discovery on Dalton’s Facebook page that he was listed as a “Progressive.” Finally, a mass shooter who couldn’t be stereotyped as some kind of a right-wing nut: Look! You liberals do it too! Then someone pointed out that Progressive was actually the name of the insurance company Dalton used to work for. After that, the default assumption seemed to be that he would turn out to be a right-wing nut after all. But that seems unlikely as well. “He never told me if he was a Republican or a Democrat,” Block explained, though he recalled that during their last conversation, they did discuss politics. “He goes, ‘Man, look, we have a choice between Trump, Hillary, Bernie Sanders…’ He never mentioned Cruz. He goes, ‘Look at our choices!’ He was like, ‘Man, who are we supposed to vote for?’ We both laughed about it.” • • • T Y L E R S M I T H W A S 1 7 . He had spent most
of Saturday looking for a car with his girlfriend of nine months, Alexis, also 17; in the evening, his father, Rich, a plumber, joined them to see what his son had scoped out earlier. Tyler and his father both loved cars, but they were also looking for something they could use to go into business together. There’s
a strip of dealerships along Stadium Drive, and as the time neared 10 p.m., they pulled into Seelye Kia. Tyler and his father got out to look at a blue Ford pickup truck parked right by the entrance of the closed dealership. Less interested, Alexis stayed in the backseat of their Range Rover, which was pulled up next to the pickup truck with its lights on, engine running. As though the three of them wouldn’t be more than a moment. What happened next could be seen on the showroom’s surveillance cameras from several angles. Dalton enters the frame, drives around the lot and parks in front of the dealership o∞ces, then approaches the father and son on foot, walking past the Range Rover, apparently without seeing Alexis. He was almost upon the Smiths before they noticed him. Dalton later said, mystifyingly, that he had gone into the car lot because he felt compelled to look at a black BMW. This is exactly how, according to the police report, Dalton explains the subsequent change of plan that actually made him a killer for the ﬁrst (and second) time: “Jason advised that he got out of his car and instead of looking at the black BMW, he shot a couple of people.” Alexis watched as Dalton walked up to Rich and Tyler Smith and spoke to them. “He asked them what they were looking at,” she said. “They turned around.… ‘Yeah, we’re looking at…’ That’s all the words they got out, because he pulled out the gun and started shooting. They looked at him, and they put their hands up, and they said, ‘What are you doing?’ and they fell down. That’s when I ducked behind the seat.” According to another witness, who was driving by at the moment of the attack, even after the father and son fell, Dalton shot them some more. Only then did Dalton try the door of the black BMW next to the bodies, but it was locked. Alexis, panicked, crouched behind the seat, could see Dalton’s shadow move over the Smiths’ Range Rover as he came back past her. She’d left her cell phone at Tyler’s house. After waiting about 90 seconds, she leaned the front seat forward and looked for Dalton, then got out and crawled to where her boyfriend’s still body was lying on its back. She took the cell phone from his pocket, then retreated to the Range Rover. At 10:08 she dialed 911. By then, Dalton was long gone. Whatever was guiding him, it was telling him that he had somewhere else to be. • • • T H R E E W E E K S A F T E R the shootings, when
the police released accounts of their two formal interviews with Jason Dalton during his ﬁrst 24 hours in custody, it turned out that what they’d so far been implying—that Dalton had o≠ered no explanation for his actions—wasn’t quite true. In fact, he had. Maybe they didn’t believe him, or couldn’t take him seriously. Maybe they felt that an explanation like the one Dalton had given was the same as no explanation at all. Or maybe they felt that passing on what he had said would be one further insult to his victims. Because while Jason Dalton had given an explanation, it wasn’t one that would satisfy—or make much sense to—anybody.
THE UBER KILLER CONTINUED
This is the moment in his police interrogation when he ﬁnally explained: Dalton said if we only knew, it would blow our mind. Dalton then explains how when he opens up the Uber taxi app a symbol appeared and he recognized that symbol as the Eastern Star symbol. Dalton acknowledged that he recognized the Uber symbol as being that of the Eastern Star and a devil head popped up on his screen and when he pressed the button on the app, that is when all the problems started…. Dalton said the iPhone can take you over. Dalton explained how you can drive over 100mph and go through stop signs and you can just get places.… Dalton described the devil ﬁgure as a horned cow head or something like that and then it would give you an assignment and it would literally take over your whole body….
A while later, he elaborated: Dalton was asked what was di≠erent tonight from the other nights and he said as driver partner with Uber, the icon is red and it had changed to black tonight.… I asked him why he was carrying his ﬁrearm tonight and he said that the Uber App literally took over his mind and body. Dalton said that when the Uber symbol is red it is just picking up and dropping o≠ people, but when he recognized the symbol and spoke what the symbol was, the color changed from red to black.
After this report was released, the headlines went around the world: variations on “the Uber app made me do it” and “the devil possessed me through Uber.” And, naturally, the assumption was that Jason Dalton was crazy, a liar, or both. When Dalton’s full explanation ﬁnally became public knowledge, it was mostly greeted cynically, as though people saw calculation behind the crazy talk. It was a plot everyone has seen over and over on TV: the murderer who tries to avoid the harshest punishment by laying the basis for an insanity defense. Except that the full transcript of those police interviews simply doesn’t read that way. Over and over and over, Dalton avoided giving this explanation. He refused to say, or asked to take the Fifth, in total, at least twenty-two times before he ﬁnally blurted it out. In the meantime, he was otherwise reasonably cooperative (he said he didn’t want to call anyone, that he wasn’t suicidal, that he wasn’t hungry, wasn’t on any medications, wasn’t on drugs) and answered more general questions about his life calmly and sensibly, discussing his marriage and dog and daily habits. He also deﬁnitively ruled out what didn’t happen: He denied seeing a psychiatrist or being bipolar or having any mental problems, and he insisted he wasn’t an anti-government or militia person. “He said nothing triggered him,” the report records. Even when Dalton ﬁnally told the police the truth as he claimed to experience it, he made it clear that he really didn’t want to. He came across less like someone trying to seem delusional than someone rational enough to know that what he was saying sounded completely insane. • • • A T T H E S T A R T of the night, four women
over 60—Mary Lou Nye, Mary Jo Nye, Dorothy Brown, and Barbara Hawthorne—and 14-yearold Abigail Kopf met up for dinner at the
Cracker Barrel, then carpooled to see a performance of Chinese acrobatics on campus. Now, a bit after 10 p.m., they were back in the Cracker Barrel parking lot purely so they could split back into two parties, before heading home. By the time Dalton came upon them on foot, four of them were in one car, and the ﬁfth, Mary Lou Nye, was in another. The ﬁrst time Dalton described what he did here, he said the only thing he remembered was the percussion of the gunshots. But the next time he remembered more, including a particularly disturbing detail: He went up to a woman in a white van and “asked her whether she could spare a dollar to make America great again.” After she declined, he shot her in the head. He said that he was about to run away, but then he heard the four women in the other car scream, so he shot them, too. He methodically described the order in which he did this: ﬁrst the driver, then the rear-seat passenger on the driver’s side, then the front-seat passenger, then the rear-seat passenger behind her. The police would quickly gain access to surveillance footage from Cracker Barrel—not as clear as the Seelye footage, but clear enough to conﬁrm that it was almost certainly the same shooter. “They show,” Kalamazoo’s chief prosecutor, Je≠ Getting, would say, “that it was done intentionally, done deliberately, without any hurry. There’s no question about whether he did this with the intent to kill somebody.” Meanwhile, at Seelye Kia, one of the o∞cers on the scene listened as reports came over the radio of what had happened at Cracker Barrel. “We got a serial fucking killer going around,” he said. The o∞cers also discussed how lucky Tyler Smith’s girlfriend, Alexis, was to be alive: “She should have been dead, too,” said one. “She got fucking lucky. His tunnel vision fucked him up.” As they stood there, trying and failing to come up with anything that would make easy sense of any of this, they discussed one ﬁnal haunting image from the scene. “The father falls on his son’s lap,” one said. “Like they’re almost hugging each other.” Even at this late hour, police still had perilously little information about the shooter—all they knew about Dalton was what they could see in the security footage. Soon the public was warned to look out for an older white male driving a dark-colored Chevy HHR. Shortly after, word arrived that, in addition to the father and son at Seelye Kia, all ﬁve victims from the Cracker Barrel parking lot were dead. • • • T H I S L A S T D E T A I L wasn’t true. In fact one
of the Cracker Barrel victims was still alive. But nor was this sloppy journalism—the media and the police were simply passing on information they had received from Bronson hospital; doctors treating 14-year-old Abigail, who had been shot in the head, had called a time of death, and the body was maintained so her organs could be harvested for transplant. And then breathing and a heartbeat were detected—the type of event that people like to see as a kind of miracle, a miracle that would grow and o≠er succor to a shattered Kalamazoo over the next weeks as Abigail would recover su∞ciently to say her ﬁrst word—“pig,” because she had a pet pig—and take her ﬁrst steps. Her story, accompanied by upbeat bulletins from Tiana
Carruthers, became the story that Kalamazoo wanted to tell about this night. The other story was too awful. And the closer you looked at it, the less and less sense it seemed to make. • • • A F T E R T H E C R A C K E R B A R R E L shootings,
Dalton went back to his family home—a journey of 16 miles—one ﬁnal time. His neighbor, Jim Block, ominously heard four shotgun blasts on Dalton’s property at around 11:20. But if there are rules or patterns to shooting sprees, Dalton sidestepped them all. The shots Block heard, Dalton later explained, were just him ﬁring into the garden shed with a shotgun. Even at the time, he recalled, he wondered why he’d just done this. Then he got back into the Chevy HHR and drove o≠ into the night. He left the shotgun behind, but the Walther 9-mm he’d already used to shoot seven people now contained 20 fresh rounds. It remains the most ba±ing aspect of this long surreal night: Dalton, who had just slaughtered six people, the subject of a county-wide manhunt, simply resumed picking up Uber fares, once again shuttling people back and forth from bars in downtown Kalamazoo for a few dollars each, just as he might have on any other night. Only on this night, he was driving around with a loaded murder weapon hidden in his coat. The police, meanwhile, were still struggling to make sense of what was happening. They established an emergency operations center at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and the key ﬁgures arranged to meet there at 1 a.m. (Chief Hadley had been sleeping on his couch when his 9-year-old daughter walked in and told him, “Daddy, your phone’s going o≠ a lot.”) Someone was going around Kalamazoo shooting people—young, old, male, female, white, black—seemingly at random. And they had no way of knowing whether, when, or where the killer might strike again. What no one could have imagined was that neither, it seemed, did Jason Dalton. • • • D U R I N G H I S F I R S T couple of days in police
custody, Jason Dalton gave various accounts of that day, and while some of what he told them matched known facts, just as often his details and chronology would be deeply muddled. But over time, a picture of why Dalton believes he did what he did builds. It was as though he knew he had murdered people, but he could do no more than watch, unable to intervene in his own actions. Or, as ba±ingly relayed by the police: “Dalton told us that he is not a killer and he knows he has killed.” It all seems to have started while Dalton was at the dog park, early in the afternoon. His Uber app beeped in a way that made him feel he was being urgently summoned, so he ran to his car and drove as fast as he could to the college campus, where the girl refused to get in his car because of the dog. Then he picked up Matt Mellen, and he described with chilling accuracy how crazily he drove, and Mellen’s panic. Afterward, Dalton hurried home as fast as he could and prepared his guns: “He advised it was scary. He stated it was like he wasn’t even himself, like it was an altered reality.” He said that it was the Uber app that made him get his SEPTEMBER
THE UBER KILLER CONTINUED
gun, and made him put on the bulletproof vest. All he would say to explain why he shot Tiana Carruthers was that “it just had a hold of him.” Parts of what Dalton was claiming did have a kind of logic or real-world context. For instance, all that stu≠ about the Eastern Star, which is both the symbol and name of a branch of the Masons: Dalton told the police “his grandmother was in the Eastern Star and his grandfather was in the Masons”; this turned out to be true. What’s more, Dalton’s mother would later tell the police that he’d asked her about the Masons during an unusual phone call weeks before the shooting. Dalton’s wife, meanwhile, told police that he would discuss the Masons with her. Clearly, somehow or other, this had been percolating in Dalton’s mind. Similarly, one theme in Dalton’s police interviews was the intermittent problems he had with his Uber app. Even though Dalton himself never seemed to connect these with his improbable story of the app taking over his body, the overlaps seem evident. For instance, many of the visual cues he described sounded like standard app functions that he’d simply misinterpreted. And some of his movements that night—returning to the Cracker Barrel, with Seelye Kia along the way—appear to have resulted from a compulsion to retrace his steps from the botched fare an hour earlier. None of this, of course, means that he truly was possessed by his Uber app. But it may mean this much: As he sat there talking to the police—lost within whatever vortices of unreality were swirling around inside his head— Jason Dalton was trying as best he could to explain what had happened to him that night. • • • A N D S O T H E U B E R D R I V E R carried on
Uber driving. At 11:30 p.m., Jason Dalton accepted a ride request from a 19-year-old student named Nick. Nick couldn’t ﬁnd the car, so he called Dalton, who said he’d been there and maybe Nick hadn’t sent him the right location. Then, at 11:58, Nick was notiﬁed that his ride was canceled, with a $5 fee. Annoyed, Nick called again. “Oh, report it to Uber,” said Dalton. “Okay. ’Bye.” At 12:04, Dalton successfully picked up three friends who wanted to be taken to one of the dorms at Western Michigan University. They were surprised that Dalton didn’t seem to know where he was going—they had to direct him—and they didn’t think he was very friendly. But he got them there. Meanwhile, Derek, a law student from Indianapolis, was ﬁnishing his night at Bell’s Eccentric Café. He’d traveled up earlier in the day with his wife and in-laws to see his wife’s stepbrother’s jam band. It was after midnight, but it was only a few blocks back to their hotel. They would have walked, but one of the hostesses told them something that made them reconsider: There was an active shooter on the loose. They weren’t that worried, but they ﬁgured they might as well be prudent and order an Uber. Seemed safest. Derek used his phone, and their ride came up: Jason, Chevy Equinox. Shortly afterward, the driver called. He said he was ﬁve minutes away and added that, by the way, he wasn’t in a Chevy Equinox—they should look out for a black HHR instead. A few minutes later, at 12:12 a.m., Dalton pulled up. 234
Derek got in the front, next to Dalton. His father-in-law was behind him, his wife in the middle, and his father-in-law’s wife, Sheri, was behind Dalton. Before the journey started, Sheri told her husband, “Hey, don’t say anything.” Because she thought he might. And, of course, he did. “You know there’s a shooter situation going on?” he told Dalton. Yes, Dalton replied, he knew that. To Derek it seemed a bit awkward, this whole exchange, so trying to make light of it, he chipped in: “You’re not the shooter, are you?” “No,” Dalton said. That answer, so deadpan and curt, only added to the awkwardness, so Derek doubled down. “Are you sure?” “No, I’m just tired,” Dalton replied. He said he’d been driving for seven hours. After that, they chatted normally: the slightly drunken reveler from out of town and, next to him, a newborn serial killer with a loaded pistol in the pocket nearest Derek, inches away. “I always make conversation with Uber drivers,” said Derek, “because, I don’t know, it’s just awkward when it’s quiet.” And there was nothing to raise their suspicions. “He drove very carefully.” They were dropped o≠ at 12:15, though once again either Dalton or his Uber app messed up, because their receipt would show that they continued to be charged as he continued, his car now empty, down Portage Street. “There’s not really much funny about this,” said Derek, “but…the guy over-charged us.” • • • F I V E D A Y S A F T E R the shootings, Carole Dalton would ﬁle for divorce from her husband of 20 years. Not as a reﬂection of anything at all prior to February 20, 2016, lawyer Paul Vlachos insisted, but in response to what had happened, and to life moving forward, and to protecting herself and her children. Vlachos also said that while Dalton’s parents were declining to see their son, and had gone back to Florida, Carole had visited him twice in jail. “The second time she went in she said, ‘As you know, we’re getting a divorce…,’ ” he said. “They didn’t talk about the case.”
• • • M A R C D U N T O N W A S O U T with two friends
at the Central City Tap House when they decided to move on to Up And Under, more of a roughneck spot. The trip was only a few blocks, but it was cold out, so they called an Uber. They were picked up by Dalton at 12:26. They’d heard what had been going on in Kalamazoo that night and had taken in the speciﬁcs of the police warning. They realized that Dalton and his car ﬁt the description. Still, it’s a common car. And, anyway, Dalton was an Uber driver. Surely someone on a shooting spree wasn’t going around picking up fares. Nevertheless, during the ride, Dunton did ask Dalton: “You’re not the guy going around killing people, are you?” “Wow,” they remembered Dalton answering. “That is crazy. No way—I’m not that guy.” Dalton remembered them, too. Later, he would tell the police that he felt like his passengers were mocking him; in his mind, he said, he heard one of them say, “Does he have a gun?” and “Are you gonna shoot me?”
But he didn’t shoot them. He just drove them to their destination and let them out. • • • D U R I N G J A S O N D A L T O N ’ S ﬁrst police
interview, before he’d begun to try to explain anything, he asked if he could call his wife. But as soon as she came on the phone, he ended the call. He said he just wanted to hear her voice. Later he explained that he wasn’t sure what he had or hadn’t done, and he was afraid he might have killed his family. For the most part during the interviews that night, Dalton appeared a≠ectless, but there is one moment, faithfully recorded in the police report, that is eerie and sad in a di≠erent way. In between sessions with di≠erent o∞cers, during a short interlude when Dalton had been left alone but was still being ﬁlmed, he could be heard speaking aloud to himself. The words the police believed they heard him say in the empty room: “Sorry to you, my love.” • • • S E R G E A N T J A M E S H A R R I S O N didn’t
normally work in the city, but he’d been called into town to investigate a report of a shooting—another incident entirely, nothing to do with Dalton. And as it turned out, not even a real one. Prank call. Happens. But like everyone else working in law enforcement in Kalamazoo that night, he was now on the lookout. Harrison was idling at the stoplight on the corner of Main and Michigan when he happened to turn and spotted something over his right shoulder: a black Chevy HHR about to pull out of the Up And Under parking lot. In a bar a few blocks away, Mallory Lemieux, a student at Western Michigan, was enjoying a mother-daughter night out with several other friends: seven girls, seven mothers. Lemieux noticed her father had been calling and texting since the previous bar, so she went to the bathroom to ﬁnd out what was up. A shooter on the loose, seven people believed dead. Her father told her what was right now being talked about on the news: a Chevy HHR driven by an older male. The moms and daughters decided to just hit one more spot, the Wild Bull, then call it a night. Her dad kept phoning, increasingly worried, and by now the other women were getting calls and texts too, so she summoned a cab. At 12:33 a.m., Lemieux’s Uber request was accepted by the nearest driver, and his information came up on her phone: Jason. Chevy Equinox. When Lemieux saw the word “Chevy,” and Jason’s picture, she panicked. (She did notice that the Uber app was telling her, wrongly, that the car on its way was a Chevy Equinox, not an HHR, but as far as she was concerned Chevy-anything was too close.) She canceled the ride and tried to rebook a di≠erent driver. At 12:34, her new request was accepted. Jason. Chevy Equinox. She canceled again. On her Uber app, she could see the car icon move right past where she and her group were waiting. Meanwhile, Sergeant Harrison trailed Dalton as he circled the Wild Bull. Harrison had no idea that Dalton was an Uber driver; there was every reason to worry that this person might be going from one Kalamazoo nightspot to another, scoping out new victims.
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“I’m like, ‘Oh shit,’ ” Harrison would later tell his colleagues, “because there’s 30 or 40 [people] standing outside the Wild Bull.” But instead Dalton headed north, then took a right turn down Ransom Street, into the quieter industrial and business district northeast of downtown. He was listening to the radio: Open House Party on 103.3 FM. There were no signs that he noticed Sergeant Harrison behind him, or the second car of Sergeant Scott Miller, who had just joined the pursuit. At 12:38, Mallory Lemieux tried Uber one more time. Jason. Chevy Equinox. This time, though, she noticed something odd: The car icon was not moving toward her on the map. In fact it had stopped moving entirely. No matter. He was an older man in a Chevy. She canceled a ﬁnal time. • • • I N T H E D A Y S after his arrest, Jason Dalton’s
court-appointed lawyer would apply on his behalf for a competency test—not (yet) to consider his mental state when these acts were committed, but merely to judge whether he had the mental capacity to understand legal proceedings. Dalton told the psychologist who interviewed him about the app, how it had taken over his body and controlled his actions. Asked whether this was possible or whether his mind could have been playing tricks on him, Dalton sounded like someone who was slowly beginning to wake up: “That’s what I’ve been trying to work through.… I guess that’s the heavy part. I believed at the time I was experiencing something. I’m not sure what that is. In the cell, it’s heavy thinking about if I was imagining those things or if they were real.” The psychologist found Dalton competent to stand trial. • • • J U S T A F T E R 12:37 a.m., a few hundred yards
away from where Mallory Lemieux was about to cancel her ride for the third and ﬁnal time, Sergeant Harrison ﬂipped on his lights to make what police call a felony stop. Dalton pulled over almost immediately. The two police cars pulled in behind Dalton and, after a pregnant minute, ordered the driver to put his hands out of the window. Dalton complied. At 12:38 a.m., Harrison—gun drawn, covered by Sergeant Miller, his gun also drawn—slowly edged toward Dalton’s car, then grabbed Dalton’s wrists. “Do you have anything on you?” Miller asked, but Dalton just stared blankly ahead. Patting him down, Harrison found the pistol—“Gun!” he announced—and placed it on the roof of Dalton’s car. Then Dalton was handcu≠ed and Harrison led him to the police car. As Harrison searched Dalton some more, one of his colleagues walked by and gave Harrison a ﬁst bump. The call went out over the police radio: “One detained. Firearm on person.” After Dalton was put in a car and driven away, the o∞cers who remained at the scene seemed surprised, and maybe disappointed, that such a violent and terrible situation could have ended so quietly. Snatches of their conversations could be heard on the police-car audio, the o∞cers still adrenalized as they talked through what had happened: “He had a bulletproof vest on. I can’t believe we didn’t have a fucking gun battle out here.”
“Oh man. Could you get a better fucking backdrop? Brick building…brick building… metal building…no residential.” “Dude, I’m gonna tell you right now, I really wanted to… [mimes ﬁring his gun several times] I was like, ‘You fucking piece of shit.’ ” “When he stopped here, I was like: ‘Game on.’ ” “We would’ve fucking obliterated his ass.” “He didn’t say a single thing when we pulled him over. I can’t believe he didn’t go out in a blaze of glory.” They also discussed whether more bodies would be found. Somebody mentioned that o∞cers were checking all the other parking lots along Stadium Drive. “He’s got to have killed his wife and everything,” said one. “I would think so,” came the reply. As the news came through that his wife had been successfully contacted—“She’s a 14”; Kalamazoo police code conﬁrming she’s okay—they sounded perplexed. Cops at the Seelye scene were also surprised. Clearly this was not how they had anticipated the night would end: “He didn’t ﬁght us? I am surprised that he didn’t want to go at it—ﬁgured that would be suicide by cop.” “Wow. What a fucking puss.” • • • I N T H E M O N T H S S I N C E his arrest, there
has been little sign that Jason Dalton might o≠er a clearer account of his motives. At a pre-trial hearing in late May, Dalton interrupted the testimony of Tiana Carruthers— who was sitting in the witness box a few yards from him and who was beginning to describe how he shot her—with a seemingly nonsensical outburst: “No,” Dalton cried out, “they gave bags, these old people, they have these old black bags, that are called—they’re black, they’re black bags that people drive around and people look at them. It gets real bad, it’s time people look and that’s when they tell the people it’s time to get to temple.” He then appeared to try to break free of his restraints, repeatedly shouting “Take!” at Carruthers, who had burst into terriﬁed tears, and jabbing his right foreﬁnger at her in a way that seemed to resemble someone ﬁring a gun. After that, he had to be dragged from the courtroom, his body deadweight, legs trailing on the ﬂoor. For the rest of the hearing, once it reconvened, he appeared by video link, ﬂanked on either side by a law-enforcement o∞cial, each with a hand on one of his shoulders. A few weeks later, a new, peculiar detail emerged—if true, an almost clichéd serial-killer precursor. Someone told the police that Dalton had once talked of “choking and killing” the family cat, then leaving it on the marital bed. Asked about this, his wife conﬁrmed that six or seven years ago she had found their cat, Leo, dead, lying where it usually slept on their bed. She assumed it had died of natural causes. In early June, it was conﬁrmed that Dalton would be o≠ering an insanity defense, though the bar for proving that Dalton was legally insane when he committed these crimes, given all the methodical acts that punctuated the day, might be a high one. At trial, he can be convicted without us ever knowing why he did what he did.
“Legally, I don’t have to prove motive,” said the Kalamazoo prosecutor, Je≠ Getting. “I have to prove he did it, I have to prove premeditation, deliberation. Legally, that’s what’s important. The reality is, there’s a want to explain it, but that’s not something I have to prove in court. We’ll continue to look for explanations, but I’m not sure we’ll ever get a good enough one.” • • • J A S O N D A L T O N later tried to explain why
he had allowed himself to be arrested without a ﬁght. He said that he did reach to his right side for his gun when he was pulled over, but then, once again, something happened with his phone. In one police interview, he said that it beeped. In another, he said that his app turned from black to red. At that moment, he said, “he felt like he was no longer being guided.” As the report summarized, “Dalton said that was the reason he didn’t shoot the ofﬁcer.” • • • E V E R Y O N E S T I L L wants a reason. Of course
we do. A reason helps us to know how to feel, helps us know where to put an experience like this. A reason reassures us that it can’t happen again. Not easily, anyway. Not often. And maybe that kind of reason will come. Maybe more information will surface— medical, situational, ideological, biographical—that will help us understand. Experts of various kinds will be invited to explain or name Dalton’s behavior in ways he cannot. When we can’t explain something, we often pretend by ﬁnding clever words to describe it. Maybe we’ll even convince ourselves that we’ve learned what we needed to so that we can ﬁle away the horriﬁc deeds of Jason Dalton, and move on. That’s what we want. That’s what we demand. But when it comes to reason and motive, cause and e≠ect, the eternal need for sense and order to triumph over chaos and entropy, we often expect too much. Maybe, more often than we can bear, the one thing we don’t want to accept is the one thing we need to: Sometimes the world fractures. It just does. For now, this is what we do know. On each of the ﬁrst 16,678 days of his life, Jason Dalton killed no one. The next day, he killed six people. There’s one further form of testimony that might provide some insight about what was going on in his mind: a handwritten polygraph background information form he completed on his second day in custody. Yet again, the most revealing clue is the absence of clues. What shocks the most is Dalton’s respectful compliance, the way his banal, diligent attempts at honesty sit there on the page, in contrast to the barbarity that will deﬁne him forever: Physical Condition Now: “Feel okay” Hospital (injury, fracture, surgery, etc.): “2000– 2009 stitches R Hand” Person Most Respected: “Father” Person Least Respected: “None” Best Thing: “Got a job at Michigan Appraisal” Worst Thing: “This + the consciousness of what has happened” Self Concept: “Okay.” How Honest: “1–10 Rating I Rate Myself a 9.” Ever Arrested: [Dalton has ticked the “Y” box] What For: “Just this”
chris heath is a gq correspondent. SEPTEMBER
CA M NEWTON Reactionary—or, as Cam’s longtime backup quarterback Derek Anderson has put it, “ﬂatout racist.” An honest question: Can you name a contemporary athlete who has been subjected to more veiled and sometimes outright racism than Cam Newton? Is this even a controversial opinion, to think that Cam lives in a world of coded and not-so-coded critiques that basically boil down to resentment about the existence of such a sublime black quarterback? • • •
C O N T I N U E D F R O M PAG E 1 8 8
A C C O R D I N G T O Cam Newton, yes, actu-
He came into the league under the shadow of real prejudice. He told the football writer Peter King he wanted to be considered an “entertainer and icon” in addition to a football player, and America reacted like that isn’t exactly what we want our quarterbacks to be. We acted like he’d said he wanted to join Mobb Deep and play QB in his spare time. Then the owner of the Panthers, Jerry Richardson, went on Charlie Rose and bragged about telling Newton that he couldn’t get any tattoos or piercings as a condition of being drafted by the team. That he couldn’t so much as grow his hair out. Even Charlie Rose was taken aback. He was incredulous. “I just sound reasonable to me,” a then 75-year-old Richardson said. (Cam denies this part of the conversation between him and Richardson ever took place—“He never said that,” Cam says. Control the narrative. Obviate distraction. Discipline. But Richardson’s account survives on YouTube; look it up, if you want to break something.) As a rookie, Cam wears No. 1 because his teammate and future backup, Jimmy Clausen, already has Cam’s old number, No. 2, and won’t give it up. He sulks after losses; his own coach, Ron Rivera, calls him “Mr. Mopeyhead.” A legit charge, maybe: The Panthers were losing constantly then. Cam on the sidelines with a towel over his head. But that wasn’t the reason they were losing, Cam says now. They were losing because their team wasn’t good. “You had certain guys that didn’t know how to win that would make bonehead mistakes.” But people wanted to blame the towel, or whatever Cam had on that day. “If you’re losing, it’s like, Oh, my God, they’re losing because he’s wearing, you know, white shoes! Everybody else is wearing orange!” Then the Panthers started winning—a lot— and all of a sudden maybe leadership wasn’t actually Cam Newton’s problem. “Only thing changed was that our record was pretty bad.” Then it was pretty good. It’s like whatever was essentially ﬂawed in Cam was…not an essential ﬂaw at all. It was a win-loss record. The more his team won, the more maybe Cam was a real leader after all. Playo≠s ≠ three seasons in a row, Super Bowl last year. Cam showing up on your TV every Sunday like Tony Soprano garroting new victims. And meanwhile ostensible sports fans found new things to get upset about. He smiled on the ﬁeld and on the sidelines. He danced after touchdowns. “The chest pu≠s. ≠ The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts,” hyperventilated a woman named Rosemary Plorin (who, to be fair, later apologized), again in a letter to The Charlotte Observer, a wonderful newspaper that’s kept its lights on during this di∞cult time for newspapers thanks in part to reactionary complaints about Cam Newton. 236
ally. It is. “I don’t think of it like that,” he says. Shaking his head softly. I want to be clear about a few things here. We’d met maybe 25 minutes prior—one of those situations where we’re both trying to talk about a lot of things in a relatively short amount of time. It’s amazing, the scale and duration of what Cam’s endured from the football public; it’s why I wanted to ask him about it. But faced with a national-magazine writer and a switched-on tape recorder, you too might say something other than what you really thought, if that thought seemed like a dangerous, potentially uncontrollable thing to share with a stranger. With a person whose motivations you couldn’t be sure of. Maybe today he woke up and felt like being just a quarterback, not a black quarterback. Maybe he feels fatigue at having to have this conversation with any random reporter who thinks he’s entitled to his thoughts on this subject. Maybe losing the Super Bowl, and hearing all the criticism of Cam Newton that poured out afterward, left him in a place where he just wanted to retreat, at least in front of a reporter, and for once in his life just not be responsible for explaining away the cruel and insinuating things that other people say about him. Maybe he just didn’t feel like participating in the whole economy of outrage that surrounds him today. Actually, I know he didn’t feel like it, because this is how the rest of this conversation goes: Your now former teammate Josh Norman said last year, “I’m going to be precise when I say it: It’s hate.” “His response may be somebody else’s response, but that’s not how I feel.” Do you feel like football fans are racist toward you? “It’s not racism. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.” So if it’s not that, what is it, do you think? “I’ll let you be the judge. I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like some people have certain beliefs, and I have my own belief, and we can agree to disagree on certain things. But this is what makes sports so amazing, that we can start a discussion around a table, in the newspaper, in the magazines, that will get people’s attention. And that’s what sports does.” In January, right before the Super Bowl, you said: “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.” “I don’t want this to be about race, because it’s not. It’s not. Like, we’re beyond that. As a nation.” You really think so? “Yeah. I mean, you bring it to people’s attention. But after that, that’s it.”
N O T S A Y I N G C A M doesn’t mean what he says here. I couldn’t begin to know that. But I do know that he and his father, Cecil, have said and indicated otherwise as recently as four months ago. In April, after the Super Bowl, Cam gave an interview to Ebony and got to talking about the hoodie he’d worn during his Super Bowl press conference. He asked them if they would consider taking his photograph wearing a hoodie again. According to the magazine, Newton’s father explained to them why: “The hoodie can represent a lot of things as it pertains to a young Black man. Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter. Even as athletics can function as a leverage piece for African-American expression, it still points to the inequities that go on.” My guess, based on the few public quotes from Cam Newton and his dad on this subject, is that what Cecil told Ebony is more or less how Cam actually feels. But now, when I bring up this exchange in the magazine, this is what he says: “For what it’s worth, I really wear hoodies. Like, that’s a fact.” Is that why you wanted to wear it for the photo shoot, though? “I know why I do certain things, and it’s because how it makes me feel. I’m comfortable in a lot of things that I wear, and wearing a hoodie happens to be one of those things.” Look—even by the standards of professional sports, the NFL is by far our most buttoneddown, militaristic, conservative, tyrannical, anti-individual league. Maybe it’s because it’s been so lucrative for so long. Maybe because it’s always been a capital-t, capital-gg Team Game that has allowed for precious few ﬂashes of individuality. The NBA is a collection of personalities, of aggressively civic-minded guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, who began this year’s ESPYs broadcast with an urgent re-assertion of the value of black life. It’s a league of players who share opinions when they have them, even when those opinions are controversial, or fuck with the league’s money. Not the NFL. It prefers its stars to be anonymous pitchmen, or at worst, big and dumb and cuddly. There’s a rule about taking o≠ ≠ your helmet on the ﬁeld and actually showing your face. There’s a rule about excessive celebration. The league is so massively popular in part because it is scrupulous about never betraying a political opinion beyond an unwavering faith in American greatness. It’s a sport for men like Cam’s now retired Super Bowl 50 opponent Peyton Manning, who celebrated his last moments on a professional football ﬁeld by seeking out the pizza CEO Papa John in the midst of a crowd and kissing the man’s ﬂushed bronze cheek before kissing his own wife. A real-life deleted scene from Talladega Nights. Meanwhile, Cam Newton’s most famous on-ﬁeld gesture last year was the dab, a dance that comes from whatever the spiritual opposite of corporate America is. He hangs out with Future and Jeezy on the sidelines of Panthers games. He’s been spotted at the Atlanta strip club Follies. Is an outsize personality in a game that does its best to be devoid of human personality at all. And he knows this, the expectations the league has of him, the way they sometimes run counter to who he is as a person and as a man. “That’s the deal. Like, I knew this coming into the league. It’s a responsibility that I have that’s unbeknownst to anybody
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CAM NEWTON CONTINUED
else. Or it’s like a pinnacle that you’re put on. People expect certain things from you. Undue things, and easy things. And that’s cool, you know. And that’s what I do now.” It’s arguably part of his job to look me in the eye and say that a hoodie is just an article of clothing. Which isn’t to say it’s not a choice. It very much is. But you could understand why he’d make it. Even if it’s dispiriting to hear. It’s probably dispiriting to say, too. To channel the most anodyne version of himself through conversations like the one below: Do you have an opinion on Donald Trump? “I don’t. I think he’s an unbelievable businessperson. That’s probably it. But outside of my personal belief, that’s just, you know, my personal belief.” Did you vote for the North Carolina governor that enacted that bathroom law? “Um…that’s too personal. You know, I gain nothing by answering it.” I think the bill is repellent. I’m not trying to be coy. “I love people too much to care about those type of things.” That’s exactly why it bothers me. “I went to school to study sociology. You know, and that’s something that really gets my attention. I don’t look at things through color lenses. I don’t look at things through genetic images or whatever. Their sex. I just love the di≠erent ≠ type of vibes people bring. I try to alleviate any type of bad energy. But I could care less. I love a person because of who they are. And that’s who I am. So whatever you are personally, I don’t care. You know, if you a good person, you a good person. No matter what anything, from religion to politically to, you know, sex preferences—” Wouldn’t that be a reason not to vote for the North Carolina law? “But that’s too personal. That’s when you put the microscope to the person. But overall, I don’t care. Man, in my circle, and especially growing up in Atlanta, you see everything!” • • • T H A T P A R T I S T R U E ! Cam walks around
Atlanta like the city belongs to him, like he belongs to the city. We barely make it into the cigar shop before the other salesman, a dapper guy with cu≠ ≠ links and thick-framed glasses named Jonathan, cries out in recognition, takes Cam aside, Cam getting more and more excited. He turns around: “This guy’s ﬁancée sold me the pants!” You know the ones. Zebra-print Versace. Part of a long series of out-there, occasionally dubious fashion choices for Cam, who more than once wore a $200 foxtail—the feathery tail of a dead fox—clipped to his trousers during a press conference. Another way he can’t help but assert personality in his colorless league. After he wore the Versace pants on Super Bowl Sunday, they sold out almost immediately. Cam was even told they made more. “I heard that’s unheard of,” Cam says proudly. • • • H E ’ S F A S C I N A T E D with other successful people. “Because I love people! I love them, man. Pretty much can talk to anybody. And that’s kind of like my gift and curse. Sometimes I talk too much. But needless to say, it’s fun. I’m all about learning.” Fascinated
with those who came before him. “I read The Wall Street Journal constantly. I read, you know, certain magazines, just to try to get hip to certain people’s vibes.” He says he’s been watching ESPN’s O. J. Simpson documentary. “That’s been unbelievable. Just compelling to just see a person of his magnitude. And not just him, because the show doesn’t just talk about him. It talks about everything around him, from the socio-economic problems that we had to everything. And it’s just a day back in the history, and to keep people hip to what or where we came from.” This spring he shot a TV show. All in with Cam Newton, for Nickelodeon. A big deal— no other active quarterback has his own television half hour. Cam grew up watching the network, “from Nick at Nite to All That to SpongeBob to Rugrats, everything.” Then they gave him his own show, about helping kids accomplish their dreams. He loves kids. “Not necessarily saying that the older generation isn’t important. I just feel like my impact and my heart tends to, you know, go the younger route.” Every episode, Cam helping some young boy or girl realize some weird ambition, like making a YouTube show about snake handling. Cam out in the desert with this kid, in a full rubber bodysuit so he doesn’t get bitten. Cam looking at the camera in terror: “You never know when a snake is just gonna pop outt of the bushes!” What an opportunity, for him and for the children. He believes people have di≠erent ≠ talents in this world, see? That’s the idea behind the show. “When you look at comic books, and when you look at di≠erent ≠ superheroes, they all possess something di≠erent. ≠ Spider-Man wasn’t like Superman. Superman wasn’t like Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman wasn’t like Aquaman. Aquaman wasn’t like the Hulk. They all brought something di≠erent.” ≠ Don’t be like Cam, was the idea. Be like yourself. Be your own Aquaman. • • • H E S A Y S T H A T Chosen’s helped him grow
up, become a better man. Before, the goal “was always to live comfortably and do the things that you want to do with whoever you want to do it with. Now it’s like, you have a seed on this earth that you see all your similarities in, from the nose, the ears, the face, the smile. You know, the body composition, and everything just makes you feel obligated to make his life as easy as possible.” What about the parents who won’t let their kids play football anymore? Would you let Chosen play? “Of course. Why wouldn’t they let them play football?” I’m incredulous that he’s so incredulous. Concussions. Brain damage. “But they don’t talk about the joy it brings! Super Bowl Sunday trumps every TV rating known to man.” But that’s the point. I get to sit on my couch and watch you risk physical harm from Von Miller for my own entertainment. It’s great for me. But is it great for you? “Oh, of course!” I believe that he really believes this. I believe that he loves what he does, even when it doesn’t love him back. “There’s no doubt in my mind: Yes.” zach baron is gq’s sta≠ a≠ writer.
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Elden was sentenced shortly after September 11—an event that made his decision to work for the government feel righteous. In exchange for his help, the judge gave Elden three years’ probation. He would eventually report to agents at the new Department of Homeland Security. Elden would be an information gatherer: Watch this guy or that warehouse. Get close to so-and-so. He says he handed the authorities puzzle pieces, rarely getting a glimpse of the bigger picture, but he preferred it that way. Eventually his smuggling contacts dried up. Still, he kept his eyes open. He says the last time the government contacted him for a tip was in 2008. Tim got three years of probation, too. He never wants to slip up again. “Elden’s the tough guy; I’m the guy that hits the ﬂoorboards,” Tim jokes. These days Tim performs in a band; he picks up carpentry jobs only when he runs completely out of money, the slacker to Elden’s workaholic. Early that evening, I head with Tim and Elden over the border into Mexico to take a road trip down memory lane. Before leaving his house in Riverside this morning, Elden had tucked an axe in the back of my Jeep Cherokee (“You never know when you might need to chop some ﬁrewood,” he explained dubiously) and then worked the roof lining loose on the driver’s side and slipped several thousand dollars in there. (He brought along his bird book and binoculars and had debated whether to pack some Red Cross T-shirts for us.) As we near the border, Tim is anxious because he doesn’t have a passport. Elden keeps telling him everything is going to be ﬁne, but Elden, who’s got an almost sociopathic sense of security, only makes Tim more nervous. “You always say that, ‘Don’t worry,’ and then something bad happens,” Tim complains to Elden as we crawl toward the border checkpoint. We roll through without incident and are soon strolling the streets of Tijuana. Tim and I watch as Elden pads ahead of us, past the hawkers and the call girls, the police cars with their roving lights. So much has changed, but has it? Fences and walls and cameras and patrols. But Elden is only a calmer version of the man he once was—a guy who always ﬁgured that he’d been born in the wrong century, that the 1800s would’ve suited him. Still the man who needed a wilderness to traverse. As he ambles down the neon-lit street, he looks like an old lion in a jungle, Elden does, an outback Buddha, a man on the loose. kathy dobie’s last article for gq, “The Curious Case of the Homesick Bank Robber,” appeared in the January 2016 issue. SEPTEMBER
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actual car sickness. I ask her how she can possibly read anything moving this fast. “I’m looking for a W,” she says, picking up a magnifying glass and leaning in toward the upper left of the screen. She’s hunting for the ﬁrst letter of a 15-character code atop the defunct dealer’s record books. “Sometimes they’ll just put the numbers, they won’t put the alphabet.” Now she’s squinting, one eye closed, the machine whirring, the images zooming. “We had 8’s. We’re still in the 9’s. See, now it went on to a di≠erent ≠ gun again…. But if we get past—wait!” Abruptly, she hits the “stop” button. “See, here’s W’s.” • • •
Information Is Power S I X T Y - F I V E P E R C E N T of the time, workers at the tracing center are able to successfully trace a gun used in a crime back to the original purchaser. A routine trace takes about a week, but they can turn an “urgent” around in 24 hours. The San Bernardino case was an urgent. The Boston Marathon bomber case was an urgent. Gabby Gi≠ords: ≠ urgent. Charleston. Aurora. Fort Hood. Columbine. Washington Navy Yard. Sikh temple. Just ﬁgure every crime you ever watched endless horrifying footage of on TV involved somebody here in Martinsburg searching through a rat’s nest of records and then experiencing a moment of jubilance upon seeing that, yes, this is it, here is the 4473 that belongs to that lunatic. (Or his mother. Or his uncle. Or the pawnshop dealer who sold it to someone else. Tracing the gun beyond the initial point of purchase is on the cops.) This is the maddening, ine∞cient way gun tracing works, and there is no e≠ort ≠ afoot to make it work any better. For all the talking we do about imposing new limits on assault weapons, or stronger background checks, nobody talks about ﬁxing the way we keep track—or don’t keep track—of where all the guns are. On just one of the days I visited the tracing center, there were 5,000 trace requests in the hopper awaiting attention. There would be about a thousand more the next day. In 2013, recognizing how important tracing is for solving crimes, and for providing intelligence regarding patterns of illegal gun tra∞cking, President Obama asked for more of it: He signed a memorandum demanding that all ﬁrearms recovered in the course of criminal investigations be traced. But Congress didn’t give Charlie any funds, or manpower, to accommodate an inﬂux. In fact, his budget has been ﬂat since 2005. What Charlie got from Congress is the same thing he always gets: scrutiny. “If a stick drops in the road, we’re getting some pressure,” he tells me. The idea—which is forcefully pushed 238
by the gun lobby and implanted in the heads of lawmakers at the behest of the NRA—is to make sure Charlie is not using his power to access America’s 4473s to secretly create a searchable database. There is no other place in America where technological advances are against the law. Unless you count the Amish. Even if a gun store that has gone out of business hands over records that it had kept on computer ﬁles, Charlie can’t use them. He has to have the ﬁles printed out, and then the ladies take pictures of them and store them that way. Anything that allows people to search by name is verboten. To be clear: Charlie doesn’t want names. “You got a dead guy in Chicago, right? So what name did you want me to look for?” he points out. “I ain’t got a damn clue! Nobody else does, either. I don’t need to be able to search by the name. If I knew the name, I wouldn’t have to trace the gun.” Still, you never know. The NRA, which, in the words of its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, regards the ATF as “jackbooted government thugs,” demands that Congress keep an eye on things. “Hitler and Stalin, like every dictator who perpetrated genocide during the 20th century, assiduously conﬁscated guns before starting the genocide,” wrote gun-rights activist Dave Kopel in a recent NRA publication. “Registration. Conﬁscation. Extinction. Each step makes the next step much easier.” None of which has anything to do with what actually happens here. People here are trying to help cops on the street nab bad guys. “We are a factory producing investigative leads,” says Charlie. That is the point of the place in its entirety, despite anybody’s worry. “They say, ‘They’ve centralized the records. We’re comin’!’ ” Charlie says. “Checking all di≠erent ≠ angles. ‘Are you keeping—you know, how are you keeping information? Are you collecting information you shouldn’t be? Are you accessing information you shouldn’t have access to? Has the computer world at the tracing center gone too far? We might need to back you o≠ ≠ a little bit.’ “You go, ‘Back us o≠ ? Back us o≠ o ?’” • • •
How to Work the System R E C E N T L Y , C H A R L I E had a heart attack. “Yeah, it was pretty—yeah. They cut a hole in my arm, jammed a catheter up there, blew out the blockage. Then they sewed it back up. I rolled the windows down, drove to North Carolina, hung out on the beach the next day.” He tells me he looked at the ocean, the waves rolling, seagulls gulping. He sat there and thought about his life, and what it would be without cigarettes. I ask him if he thinks the stress of being the person in charge of keeping track of America’s estimated 300 million guns—with the aid of little more than a photocopier—had anything to do with his heart giving out. “I gotta go to the hospital on Friday for like ﬁve hours for tests to make sure I’m not gonna keel over dead soon,” he says. We’re in his o∞ce again, and he’s in his shirtsleeves and his tie is loosened. He’s chewing gum madly. He’ll never smoke again. “Sometimes you just kind of wonder if you train-wrecked the thing, would you get more money?” he says, referring to the lack of funds and his frustration with this place. “ ‘Well,
yeah, we couldn’t solve this one!’ ‘Well, why not?’ ‘Couldn’t ﬁnd the microﬁlm. Just took too long!’ Right?” He glances out his window toward the parking lot. It’s surrounded by a chain-link-andbarbed-wire fence lined with a black screen so no one can see in. He tells me he has a wife he loves. “She’s not the kind of wife you’re gonna expect. She’s an arson-and-explosives expert. She’s working on a serial arsonist tonight.” He’s got four kids and two grandbabies he loves. He’s painted portraits of all of them. “Oil paints,” he says. “I read a book on it. How the masters, like, painted.” He’s looking somewhere just over my head, like he’s imagining all of this in the air. “What is the color that I used. Okay, burnt sienna. You get that on the outline, right?” He tells me about his guitar and learning ﬂamenco music. “I got a book on it. But I hit a plateau.” He tells me about the history of the blues. “I got a book on it. You go, ‘Well, I gotta dump the nylon string. I need, like, an amp.” He tells me he blew his amp on “Gimme Shelter” the other night. He started with the ATF as an agent in Detroit, inﬁltrating street gangs. That was his hometown. The auto industry, robots, process control—he loved that stu≠. He studied computer science and industrial engineering in college, then joined the army full time and became an intelligence o∞cer. “Which is, you know, the movement of large quantities of information, ﬁguring out what’s worth a damn.” Given his background, the ATF ﬁgured he might excel at more than gang work. “They said, ‘Hey, you might be a good ﬁt for something that’s computer-heavy,’ which…which we are in a certain sense here.” Just without the computer. He got to the National Tracing Center in 2005. He never expected to stay. It was a stepping stone to maybe a cushier deal maybe up at headquarters in D.C. But then he started to think about ways to work with the antiquated system—and make it more e∞cient. Would it even be possible? “You mind if I do the whiteboard thing?” he says, standing up. It’s covered in numbers, arrows, circles, and dashes. “I don’t know what my mojo was here,” he says, looking at it, and then attacking it with the eraser. “I went to the bookstore just looking for a way to organize better and I just… Right?” He’s looking at his tray of markers, trying to pick. “Like, ISO 9000 stu≠, ≠ right? And you just stumble across something, you look at it and go, ‘Well, that looks like what I’m looking for.’ Six Sigma, you know that kind of stu≠ ?’ ” I have no idea what he’s talking about. “I just found it at Barnes & Noble,” he says, in a tone suggesting that this shit is basic. He uses the blue marker. “I mean, I know that the average person can type in 1,600 gun descriptions per eight-hour day,” he says, scrawling the numbers. “Why? Because I timeand-motion studied them. And then—I don’t know if you know anything about queuing theory. Do you have one line with three cash registers—or do you have three lines come into one?” Arrows, circles. He’s moved on to the black marker. “There’s a whole science of mathematics behind queuing theory. So what we did was, I sat around trying to ﬁgure out what would be the best way to queue the traces up and punch them through....
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“Let’s say yours is one hour, 60 minutes. Yours is one minute, yours is one minute, and yours is one minute, right? One minute, one minute, one minute, one minute…one, two, three minutes…” In these moments, I realize that during his tenure here at the tracing center, and faced with the obstacle of no computerized search technology, Charlie went ahead and turned himself into the computer. Soon he’s got the green marker going, and next it’s purple. He sees it all on the whiteboard and in the air, and soon he is spinning and pointing. “…So now it’s 69, 72 minutes, divide by 4…4 goes into that once…32, 80… My turnaround time just became 18 minutes! I just shu±ed you around in a di≠erent order. Average turnaround time. Right?” It doesn’t matter if I follow; he’s so happy about all this I want to clap. For ﬁve years Charlie took it upon himself to create a new workﬂow system for the tracing center, breaking down each step in the tracing process into equations, doing time-motion studies for actions as minute as how long on average it takes the ladies to go from their desks to the roll room. Every step was analyzed and rethought, the numbers crunched. And now? Despite no increase in budget, no new technology, no new sta≠: “I’m doing twice as many guns, twice as fast, and almost twice as accurately as we did when I got here in 2005.” He tosses the markers in the rack, sits down. I can tell he wants a cigarette. Charlie didn’t train-wreck anything. Charlie did the opposite. And maybe there’s some solace in that fact alone. If America has to have this gargantuan arsenal of personal ﬁrearms, and no registration system, no laws allowing us to keep track of them like we do, say, cars, or household appliances, or bags of lettuce, well, at least we have Charlie. You can pass laws and add amendments until you paralyze an entire institution, but you can’t outlaw the natural human urge to make life better. “So we ﬁre the Glocks through as fast as they go into mainstream tracing, and we send the gun made in the Czechoslovakian factory, which is gonna take a genius an hour, send Czechoslovakia over here…. That’s how you start stripping time o≠ stu≠!” • • •
“What’s in It for Charlie?” W H A T ’ S I N I T F O R any of these people who don’t ever seem to leave the National Tracing Center? I meet one woman who’s 84 years old. She unpacks boxes. She says she won’t leave until they kick her out. Nobody here seems all that put out by the microﬁlm reading, or the staple removing, or even the box sorting. “I love tracing,” people say. Back in the cubicles, I sit with an ATF specialist named Daniel Urrutia. He’s a big guy, shy, a blocky head and a thick accent. He’s been here 18 years. Everybody I talk to has been here years and years. Urrutia tells me about a 96-year-old guy who got robbed and beaten nearly to death in his own home; the gun trace that Urrutia did on the stolen gun is what broke the case and how they caught the assailant. He tells me about an 8-year-old girl who got killed, and a college girl who got raped, and in both cases the gun trace Urrutia did solved the crime. He tells these stories in detail, explaining why he searched one place,
rather than another, and how critical these choices were, and how he agonized over them, and somewhere in the middle of the stories, his eyes well up. At ﬁrst I think he’s got allergies or something—he is not a person you imagine crying. “When I ﬁrst started, I was the lowest salary in the whole tracing center, as a contractor,” he tells me. “Now I’m doing this.” He points to a framed letter from the Floyd County, Indiana, police, thanking him for the valuable role he played in nabbing the monster who beat up the 96-year-old man. The longer I stick around the National Tracing Center, the more emotion starts pouring out. “That’s how I look at this,” Hester explains. “It’s an honor to do what I do. I mean, you have the Gabby Gi≠ords case. That’s a classic example. I had that one done within an hour, tied right to the shooter. Problem solved. At that point, the defense can’t say, ‘Well, it wasn’t his gun.’ Really? His name’s on the form; he signed it. Guess what? You’re done, topic over. “I’ve had situations where the tracing’s been done where the guy bought the gun, you know, 25 years ago and he’s still got the gun and he did something stupid with it. I’ve had situations where the person bought the gun two hours before the crime. I had a lady who bought a gun ﬁve minutes before the crime. She went home and killed her kid, and then herself. “There are some that will stick…. A lot of them stick in my head and won’t go away.” “I know I should move on,” Linda Mills tells me, hours after she ﬁrst started zooming through microﬁlm looking for the Remington shotgun, which she has not yet located. Sooner or later you’re supposed to give up and start a new case, but she’s not surrendering. “You think, ‘What if it were my child, or what if it was my parent, or what if it’s somebody that I love whose life is involved?’ ” “The day of the Newtown shooting,” Urrutia says, “I was the whole day here. A day and a half. When I sleep? I slept here.” That’s the one I hear most about. Everyone I meet eventually wants to tell me what that day in 2012 was like. “Newtown was traumatic,” Charlie tells me. “People were bawling and tracing and bawling. Everybody’s going, ‘Oh, my God, somebody’s done what? It’s a kindergarten class? Who, what, how many?’ There’s confusion. We start to get a little bit of stu≠. Everybody’s jumping around, waiting for anything they can get. We gotta get this, you know, right? We gotta do something, we gotta do something, we gotta do something. C’mon, c’mon, let us, give us a chance, right? Put us in. You know? Give us, give us—give us a way to contribute. Let us do our part. Because that’s, you know, that’s what I get out of this whole thing. “You go, ‘What do you get, Charlie?’ Right? ‘What’s in it for Charlie?’ That’s what I get. “This place looks to you like a factory. Right? It looks like a factory and a government cube farm. And that’s what it is. But 1,200 traces a day, of which we have no idea which one’s going to save somebody’s life. You don’t know which one, so which one do you get to mess up on? Which one do you go slow on? Which one? Uh—well, none of them, right? None of them.” jeanne marie laskas is a gq correspondent. Additional reporting by Rachel Wilkinson.
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ON HER, HAIR AND MAKEUP: LOUISE MOON FOR LEONOR GREYL
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