this Way In BOURBON TO STOCK UP ON NOW
When Suntory, maker of coveted Japanese whiskies, acquired Beam Inc., producer of some of America’s best bourbons, spirit fans watched to see how East and West would meld. The result is Legent, a collaboration between master distiller Fred Noe and chief blender Shinji
Editor’s Letter The Big Bite weed; Silicon Valley’s new sheriff; the coolest car show you’ve never heard of; American Psycho’s author takes a hatchet to youth culture.
The Code Sunless-tanning products that won’t leave you looking like a human Cheeto; doubling down on denim; pants are the new sneakers; struggling to understand dress codes; a conversation with the visionary behind Valentino.
Unconventional Wisdom . . . or it certainly feels that way to more and more of us. The author confesses his apocalyptic fugue state.
Snake in the Grass DJT, from the SWAT-team escort to the caddies who go pond diving for the boss.
Don’t Take Why for a Question He was having fun making log letters . . .
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A B R I E F M O N T H LY D I G E ST O N A TO P I C O F G E N E R A L I N T E R E ST
The neutrality of this information is disputed. And rightfully so. By Drew Dernavich
F E AT U R E S
The Paper of “Gotcha”
TWEED-WEARING INTELLECTUAL VEGANS
CALIFORNIA (NOT REALLY PART OF U.S.A.)
TEXAS A PLACE COLDER THAN AN EX-WIFE’S HEART
THE “MEX” IN TEX-MEX
THINGS TEXANS WOULD NEVER OPENCARRY
commonly associated with the cowboy, the character who embodies the iconic western American ideals of freedom
the Lone Star State because there is so much oil-reﬁnery pollution that a person can see only one star in the night sky.
The New York Times style section Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar A dog under 40 pounds The emotional burdens of their fellow man
LESSER-KNOWN LOCATIONS A SECOND GUNMAN COULD HAVE SHOT FROM, OTHER THAN THE GRASSY KNOLL:
By Carvell Wallace Samuel L. Jackson has been so good for so long, we might think we know him. But do we?
By Peter J. Boyer During Trump’s presidency, news outlets have scrapped their standards of objectivity. But will their changes have unintended consequences?
The Last Rhino By Josh Karp Fifty years ago, Bob Rafelson led the New Hollywood revolution. Here he emerges to reflect on a career that redefined American movies.
The Game of Pharaohs
By Adrienne Westenfeld Us star Winston Duke shows that big men can still have big style.
By David Kushner How has an Israeli army program turned its country’s autistic teens into super-soldiers?
By Dwight Garner The author wanted something else to be good at. So he bought a plane ticket to Monte Carlo.
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f you play golf, as I do, then you know how tempting it is to cheat. It’s a pretty ridiculous game, even when you’re good at it. The world-number-one Tiger Woods was no less prone to f-bombs and teeth-grinding self-disgust than the world-number-thirteen Tiger Woods. That’s because, unlike a team sport, golf pits you against yourself, so when things go wrong, you must find something else to blame—the ball, a noise, some tree, the world. On a particularly bad day, the game brings your self-esteem to its knees, and mocks you with your own inner thoughts— You actually paid to do this?—as you pretend that the last five hours were fun. I have never cheated in a real competition, and I never would. But out with friends for a casual, unposted round, have I improved my lie, dropped a ball without penalty in place of one lost, accepted a gimme that wasn’t really a gimme, and in so doing shown the gods of golf I won’t take their unfair bullshit? Yes! In truth, I don’t know a golfer with a good swing who hasn’t. But then there are those who cheat not to hold what remains of their own athletic dignity intact but to crush someone else’s. This is Auric Goldfinger, the villain obsessed with his tan who, in a match against James Bond, has his caddy drop a ball down his trouser leg when he can’t find his tee shot. This is Bill Clinton, famous for taking multiple mulligans off the first tee, who somehow claimed to maintain a 10 handicap. And, as Rick Reilly writes in these pages, this is Donald Trump, who once convinced the pro at one of his courses that he had won a club championship that year even though he didn’t compete in it.
Rule breaking, bending, and rewriting, all his policies to question whether his greatest key tenets of the onanistic, Silicon Valley- media foes—The New York Times and othborn religion known as Disruption, is the fad ers that have followed its lucrative lead— of our age; at this point, anyone who utters the have not tarnished themselves in the strugword without irony should be assumed to be gle to cover him. For many decades and many presidents, Pethe poseur they are. Some seem to see rule breaking as a sport in and of itself. That— ter J. Boyer writes, the Times valiantly walked and money—is clearly what drove Amazon a strict objective line. Then the day Donald J. to invent a business model in which the less Trump, Queens developer, became Donald J. profit it posts, the higher its stock rises, al- Trump, candidate/POTUS who still acts like lowing the company to decimate Fortune a Queens developer, something changed. The 500 competitors still held accountable by paper began accusing Trump not just of “inthe old-fashioned concept of earnings; in- accuracies” or “misstatements” but of outspired Uber to turn the taxi and limousine right “lies”—language previously forbidindustry into a factory farm; and permitted den by editorial gatekeepers. Some readers the T-shirted vampires of Facebook to se- complained, but harsh anti-Trump coverage cretively exploit their users’ private infor- caused digital subscriptions to soar. Paper and president became, as one formation while taking the I-don’tPAPER AND mer Times reporter says, “sparwant-to-know attitude of Google PRESIDENT ring partners with benefits.” Even about how their platform might BECAME, AS ONE if the paper was willing to forgo hollow out the economic foundaFORMER TIMES the famous advice often attributtions of journalism and the literREPORTER SAYS, ed to Shaw not to wrestle with ary world. “SPARRING pigs because “you get dirty, and I’m ashamed to say that many PARTNERS WITH besides, the pig likes it,” is there of us in the business wholeheartBENEFITS.” not, perhaps, a fallacy in trashing edly participated in this self-fulfilling scam. But the smart ones wised up journalistic norms because the guy you’re covquickly. As Graydon Carter, the former ed- ering has trashed political norms? The Times’s itor of Vanity Fair, who is launching a sub- transition from paper of record to something scription newsletter called AirMail.news this approaching a high-end Huff Po may be satsummer, recently told The New York Times: isfying to its #resistance staffers and good for “You know, if Howard Schultz gave away cof- its stock, but if the cost is a loss of trust among fee for free, Starbucks would be the most half its audience, that might not be so good popular food organization on earth—for for our Republic. (I think it is fair to say that a about two weeks.” Free is not a sustainable White House reporter labeling the president business model. So the paywalls are finally a liar is of a different order of magnitude from starting to go up, including one here at Es- a sportswriter calling him a golf cheat, though quire.com, and I encourage you to check out reasonable minds may disagree. . . .) To be cheated, Ian Fleming seems to “Politics with Charles P. Pierce” for $1.99 a month, which, to be completely frank, is per- say in Goldfinger, after the villain gets outwitted by Bond on the golf course, is the haps too good a bargain. In the midst of this inevitable self-correc- just reward of the cheater. But if everytion, however, some of the media’s biggest one cheats, even just a little, we all lose. players might now be making yet anoth- —Jay FIELDEN er shortsighted blunder with long-term consequences. No one can seriously argue that Donald Trump isn’t one of the most unconventional presidents ever to occupy the White House. The highest office in the land, even in the clutches of Andrew Johnson or Richard Nixon, has never had an occupant so unashamedly divisive and so willing to lower the bar of acceptable behavior. Still, you don’t have to like Donald Trump or
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Skip the lines, stay together, and get straight to the good stuff.
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the Big Bite
A Cultural Guide to Just Enough of Everything
HIGH DINING Care for some KUSH with that chateaubriand? Your next-level FOOD PAIRING might be with weed. By Jeff Gordinier
phot o il l u st rat i o n: C.J. Robinson
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the Big Bite
Please forgive me. My notes from the dinner in Denver are a little sloppy. I had met up with a group of Coloradans in the main room at Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen. Dinner was a private affair, and the purpose of the meal was to pay close attention to pairings—to all the mysterious ways that food and wine interact. We had guides for this task: Carlin Karr and Matthew Mather, whose connection to Colorado restaurants such as Frasca and Tavernetta means that as sommeliers go, they’re sort of like Navy SEALs. Even with their sure hands steering a course through the
carried away. Infusions are cool, Weiss will assure you, but eating weed obviously sidesteps one of the hallmarks of smoking weed, which is the way it intensifies the deliciousness of the other things you are eating. He and Karr dream of the day when, in a traditional restaurant setting, a puff is followed by a sip that is followed by a bite, the triad of ingested delights—leaf, wine, food—all engaging in a heightened, curated conversation about one another. Ideally, each would say something about the land it comes from: Think of it as terroir in triplicate. “That’s truly, in my opinion, what’s miss-
Beware of packages arriving April 1st.
illustration: Ben Schwartz
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: Stuart Tyson
the Big Bite
LEGISL ATE AGAINST THE MACHINE SENATOR RON WYDEN— an original early adopter—has become the new sheriff of Silicon Valley By Adam Elder Recall, if you will, the promise of the Internet. Democracy would be upgraded, distant peoples would be brought together in perfect harmony, and all of human knowledge would be a click away. Let’s just say the bugs haven’t been worked out quite yet. Today, the Internet is a wasteland of partisan rants and sensational clickbait of dubious origin, dominated by monopolies you can count on one hand. It has become a playground for Russian saboteurs, neoNazis, and grotesque conspiracy-mongers. It lured
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Should Mark Zuckerberg do time? “My bill isn’t retroactive,” Wyden says. But: “If the company lied to the FTC . . . its CEO could end up in jail.”
paying customers to the Fyre Festival and helped put a Twitter troll in the Oval Office. Oh, and everything you read, watch, swipe, type, or tap is being tracked and shared with shady middlemen, government agents, and other Internet giants. Somehow we ended up way off course from utopia. Back in the ’90s, Oregon senator Ron Wyden simply wanted the Internet—and the little guy working away in his dorm room, fueled by Mountain Dew and a big dream—to be able to get off the ground. “I had no idea it would have these implications,” he tells me, slouched on his office sofa. His wire-thin, six-footfour frame is comfortably sprawled out, with his feet crossed on the coffee table between us. Wyden’s expertise on technology issues is unequaled in national politics. Yes, that’s a notoriously low bar. Remember when then-senator Ted Stevens described how “an Internet was sent by my staff,” calling it “a series of tubes”? Or when then-senator Orrin Hatch asked Mark Zuckerberg how it was possible to make money off a free product? But Wyden is not merely tech proficient; he’s the link between the hacktivist community and Congress, where the 69-year-old Democrat is a leading advocate for net neutrality, strong encryption, and election security. He’s also got a libertarian streak that has sent him, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, down long, lonely rabbit holes from which he emerges to shed light on
illustration: Kristina Collantes
no table is set without sparkles.
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the Big Bite
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the “nerdiest senator”— he means it as a compliment—has in the past year, via his boss, gotten the Supreme Court to start encrypting its emails, publicized the discovery of cell-phone listening devices near the White House, and uncovered phone companies’ location-data sharing with highly questionable third parties. This year, Wyden is also aiming to rein in what
calls “surveillance capitalism.” Making widgets is out; selling your interests, consumption habits, or location data to the highest bidder is Silicon Valley’s reigning business model. That’s when with political mercenaries, as Facebook did with Cambridge Analytica. Online privacy is shaping up to be a major issue in 2019 and the next election cycle. Several politicians have already intro-
Actually, beware of packages anytime. It’s a scary world these days.
Into the Breach Tracking your every move for fun and proﬁt? There’s an app for that.
April 2018 It’s revealed that Facebook exposed 87 million users’ info to Trump-affiliated Cambridge Analytica. September 2018 Uber pays a $148 million settlement for a data breach that nabbed private info from 57 million users. December 2018 Google acknowledges that a bug in Google+ inadvertently exposed 52 million users’ private data. The New York Times reports that hundreds of popular apps sell your location data for ad targeting.
varying quality. Wyden’s own bill would give users the option not to be surveilled as well as threaten massive fines for big companies (over $1 billion in annual revenue or more than 50 million users) and jail time for CEOs who lie about their business practices. “[Facebook executives] clearly haven’t been honest with Congress or the American people in how they’re sharing data.” When asked directly whether Mark Zuckerberg should face jail time, Wyden says, “My bill isn’t retroactive, so it wouldn’t put anyone in jail for past actions.” However, he adds, “the kind of privacy scandals Facebook has been involved with in recent years would almost certainly trigger massive, unprecedented fines. If the company lied to the FTC about them, its CEO could end up in jail.” At the time of our conversation, the Weather Channel’s app had just been outed for collecting and selling the location data of its users. And the week before, three of the four major phone carriers were caught sharing users’ location data. I ask if there are other shoes that will soon drop. Members of the guerrilla movement nod. Wyden pauses. “I can’t talk about things as they relate to the Intelligence Committee, but the answer is yes. “Fortunately,” he says as he leaves to give a speech on the Senate floor, “in America, the truth always comes out. I got that from my dad.” illustration (Wyden): Kyle Hilton
illustration (Eskpertise): Ben Schwartz
the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, or question the CIA’s assassination-by-drone program. For Wyden, surveillance issues are personal. Both of his parents fled Nazi Germany. His father, Peter, volunteered with the U. S. Army’s propaganda department, where he delighted in writing pamphlets to demoralize the Germans before becoming a respected investigative journalist. “[My dad always] said, ‘You gotta ask the hard questions, Ron boy,’ ” Wyden recalls. “ ‘Because what the big guys are always out there looking for is the little, itty-bitty, unfair advantage.’ ” And yet Wyden has a lot to atone for regarding the growing “techlash.” He cosponsored several major pieces of Internet legislation and coauthored the landmark Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which regarded websites as a new form of library, freeing them of any liability for what their users post or upload. Section 230 is why YouTube isn’t deluged with copyTIP OF THE SPEAR right suits and Reddit Wyden wants to rein isn’t responsible for the in “surveillance capitalism.” often noxious utterances of its redditors, thereby allowing a social-media platform such as Facebook to become one of the world’s most valuable companies. This law also trusted websites to self-police and remove any objectionable material without penalty. Wyden refers to these two parts of 230 as the shield and the sword. And while tech companies have long enjoyed the unlimited liability protection of the shield, they’ve pretty much laid down their swords, which has enabled hostile foreign governments to turn Facebook and Twitter into unwitting, Alien-style host bodies for fifth-column subversion. Wyden has concerns about the likes of Alex Jones and the coarsening of online discourse. “Are you gonna just say that it’s okay to harass parents and tell them things that will upset them after their kids die?” But he remains steadfast in his defense of free speech. “I would like to make clear that government shouldn’t regulate content, as a principle,” he says. “I would like the big tech companies to do more to step up and deal with the slime that’s on their platform. The companies are clearly capable of doing it when they think it helps their bottom line,” referring to most socialmedia platforms’ policing of pornography. Considering Wyden’s field of expertise, his office feels startlingly low-tech. It’s pretty much like any other workspace, with family portraits, souvenirs, cabinets of tchotchkes, a desk piled with paperwork. The only observable security feature is a sticker covering the camera on his desktop iMac. What Wyden has that most politicians don’t is a high-tech brain trust. (Unofficial code name: “guerrilla movement.”) Senior advisor Chris Soghoian, a well-regarded and somewhat infamous cybersecurity researcher who calls Wyden
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the Big Bite
SAME GRE AT TASTE Can the new eighth-generation 911 stay CLASSY, and classic, after all these years? By Kevin Sintumuang To the beloved, we say, don’t change. But then what? If it were up to some Porsche aficionados, development of the 911 would have stopped in 1998, the final year of the code-named 993 series, the last of the air-cooled 911’s. The last real 911, they say. The car would be like one of those permanent Vegas acts, enbalmed for the entertainment of boomers. Nostalgia seven nights a week plus matinees on Wednesdays. Why are some of us resistant to newness in cars, particularly when it comes to Porsche 911’s? Is it because we feel certain models nailed it and could get no better? Is it because plastic bumpers just aren’t as sexy as metal ones? Is it because, in this age of seemingly disposable cars, we’d like one thing to remain constant? Especially now that Porsche is a company that sells more cars with four doors than with two? Or is it because with each new generation, we’re forced to confront our own mortality? Too dark? Too true? Whether you choose to search your soul or not, the eighth-generation 911, which enthusiasts will refer to as the 992, is very much a new 911. And let’s cut to the chase: After some track time and driving on Spanish roads so narrow there wouldn’t be room for
photographs: Th o m a s L av i n co u rt e sy of Pet ro li ci ous
How do you easily spot the new 992 in the wild? The long red LED taillight and the vertical brake lights.
a jamón on the shoulder, I can tell you it’s still a singular experience in the automotive world. Still an original since 1963. But surely there will be grumbling from a small but vocal minority: It doesn’t sound the same. It’s not as much fun. It’s gotten too big. Where did the second cup holder go? While I appreciate the reverence for great car design and history, let’s let change happen. Let’s let things mature, especially when the tweaks are handled with restraint and an eye toward progress rather than baiting or nostalgic tendencies. Grousing about new Porsches is like complaining about a tree getting rings every year. No car company manages the evolution of its product in a more understated, organic manner. (But alas, they did move the cup holder.) The layperson would say every model looks the same. And the layperson wouldn’t be wrong. Though it looks a lot like its predecessor, the 991, it is a very different car. Much of the steel in the body has been replaced with lightweight aluminum. Exteriorwise, you can tell the two apart by the newcomer’s long, horizontal LED light in the rear and the vertical brake lights that, at night, kind of resemble an “11,” though I can’t imagine a German engineer being quite that cheeky. The tires in the front are smaller than those in the back, giving it an even sportier stance. Most significantly, it is a wider car—by more than an inch in the front and the rear. Whereas a wide body could be found only on all-wheel-drive 911 variants
in the past, it is the new, permanent shape of the 992. So yes, it’s bigger. But it doesn’t feel that way: Thanks to (optional) rear-axle steering, it drives like a smaller car with that fun, trademark weight-in-thehips balance that makes all 911’s so damn tossable. If anything, it feels stickier than the outgoing 911. And the PDK dual-clutch automated transmission, aka Porsche Doppelkupplung, aka flappy paddle-shifter thing, is practically telepathic, feeding you sonorous downshifts as if you were actually a skilled racer. The cabin is possibly more comfortable, more Grand Tourer–like, than it’s ever been. Haters will say this is Stuttgart pandering to older customers and their cushy needs. But to me, it feels more like the natural culmination of 50-plus years of perfecting an interior. Time-tested, holistic, slow engineering, as opposed to a cabin designed by the algorithms from robot asses. While it remains sporty, you could log hundreds of miles in the 992’s seat without the aid of an acupuncturist. The backseat, however, is still sized for those who can name the dogs on Paw Patrol. Change is inevitable. There will be a hybrid at some point: The transmission has a spot that can easily fit an electric motor when the time comes during this product cycle. It sounds a little different, too. Listen closely. Is that the new turbo? The new exhaust? Maybe. Perhaps it’s just your existential dread dissipating into the slipstream. Get behind this change. It’s good for the soul.
All in the Family This is how classics are made. A timeline of the past seven generations of the 911.
1963–73 The original 911 111,995 produced
1973–89 G Series 198,496 produced
1988–94 Type 964 63,762 produced
LUFTGEKÜHLT MY RIDE: THE COOLEST CAR SHOW YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF • • • Think car shows are a bit too stodgy? Then you need to know about Luftgekühlt. Translated from German as “air-cooled,” it is a celebration of Porsches built before 1999, when water became the marque’s coolant of choice. The brainchild of Patrick Long, Le Mans winner and Porsche’s only American team driver, and
his partner, Howie Idelson, “Luft” is everything the traditional car show or concourse isn’t: no big hats, no lawn, no attitude. Instead, the now-global get-togethers, which started five years ago in a Venice, California, parking lot, honor diversity, creativity, and imperfection. Think wabi-sabi meets Weissach. At a time
when teens are forgoing their driver’s licenses for Uber, you’ll see groups of kids at Luft setting up shots for Instagram, and as many women as men are “walking the cars” at the one-day event. Long is adamant about changing venues every year. The location is kept under wraps until online ticket sales
begin; within days, the event is sold out. It went international in 2018, with gatherings in Oxford and Munich, and though the weather wasn’t California warm, the vibe was most definitely Cali cool. Sign up for the newsletter at luftgekuhlt.com to be notified of the next show. —Matt Jacobson
1993–98 Type 993 68,881 produced
1997–2005 Type 996 175,262 produced
2004–12 Type 997 213,004 produced
Since 2011 Type 991 217,930 produced
April 2 01 9_E squire 27
AUTHOR TO A FLAME
Bret Easton Ellis in 1989.
BAD BOY FOR LIFE The AMERICAN PSYCHO author takes a hatchet to 21st-century youth culture By Wesley Yang Bret Easton Ellis has never quite gotten over the incredulity and scorn he felt upon first contact with the culture of the millennial generation. Before he encountered it on Twitter, he lived with it in his home, in the form of a boyfriend 22 years his junior. Five years into that ongoing relationship, he recalled his early initiation into its alien norms in tones of fresh dismay. “I noticed this general wussiness in him and his friends that shocked me, and that my male friends, at a comparative age decades ago, simply did not have. I was shocked at what they were frightened of, and what they were offended by. To a hard-bitten whatever, Generation X, it seemed ludicrous.” Ludicrous enough to merit a term of abuse that Ellis coined and pushed into circulation on his Twitter feed and podcast: Generation Wuss. This generation, he writes in his first nonfiction book (out April 16), is characterized by “[their] oversensitivity, their sense of entitlement, their insistence that they are always right despite sometimes overwhelming proof 30 Apri l 2 01 9_ E s q u i re
SORRY NOT SORRY
The working title for Ellis’s first nonfiction book was “White Privileged Male.”
to the contrary, their failure to consider anything The Bret Easton within its context, their Ellis Podcast joint tendencies of over- A fresh alternative to reaction and passive- Rotten Tomatoes aggressive positivity— incidentally, all of these misdemeanors happening only sometimes, not always, and possibly exacerbated by the meds many this age have been fed since childhood by • • • Come for the millennial overprotective helicop- bashing, stay for the ter moms and dads map- pugnacious ﬁlm criticism. In an age when the measure ping their every move.” This was when Twitter of a movie is taken by its was still “fun and escap- box office, its “relevance,” ist,” as he puts it to me, and the correctness of its politics, Ellis mounts a when it was a place where bracing defense of artistic you could “say whatever freedom—and standards. you wanted, and no- Like his idol, Pauline Kael, body really cared,” when he’s unafraid to break from it advertised itself as a the critical pack. The show platform for unfettered is now subscriber-only, speech rather than a ma- via Patreon. For a taste, chine for the coordina- check out Ellis’s (free) tion of a right-thinking interviews with Paul consensus. “People were Schrader, Alex Gibney, and Peter Bogdanovich. shocked or outraged, but —Ash Carter it didn’t destroy your career. You didn’t lose everything because of a tweet.” Generation Wuss might have functioned as an alternate title for the sprawling miscellany of cathartic rants that constitutes his latest book, which for a time bore the working title White Privileged Male before its author eventually settled for the marginally less inflammatory White. Ellis’s passage into midlife coincided with a paradigm shift in the culture driven by technology: from broadcast media, which placed Hollywood movies and major novels at its center, to social media, which weaponized peer pressure and made staying in lockstep with the crowd imperative to survival. White is about the sudden death of everything he values in culture—art characterized by candor about the moral ambiguity of life—at the hands of this shift and the equally sudden replacement by, as he puts it, “a world where one never got offended, where everyone was always nice and kind, where things were always spotless and sexless, preferably even genderless.” Ellis has always been a figure who thinks and is thought of in generational terms. His first novel, Less Than Zero, published when he was 21, made him the divisive voice of his precociously cynical, nihilistic, drug-addled cohort. He held on to the role of enfant terrible of American letters for several years, as his Wall Street serial-killer satire, American Psycho, was canceled by its original publisher after generating prepublication scandal over its depiction of rape and murder—only to be picked up by a more prestigious publisher. It later became a movie that remains an iconic portrayal of the sociopathy lurking beneath the superficial veneer of Reagan-era New York City. co nt inu e d ▶
illustration: C. J. Rob in s on
the Big Bite
Live free-range or die!
HAPPY LAND AN INSPIRING NEW FARM DOCUMENTARY WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO TILL SOME EARTH
Except 4/20. Packages on 4/20 are cool.
Vinyl revival: Why sacriﬁce the romance of analog for the convenience of streaming? HYM’s Duo turntable ($369; info@hym-originals .com) comes with a detachable, Bluetooth-enabled smart speaker—so you can switch between Dylan and Skrillex with ease.
I’m not sure how to describe the premise of this documentary without triggering class rage, but hear me out: A couple who live in Santa Monica (she’s a private chef and food blogger; he’s a cinematographer) get evicted from their apartment for having a dog that barks too much. Their solution: Find a dogfriendly apartment? No, they opt for a simpler life for themselves and their canine by giving up their careers and . . . buying a farm. I mean, doesn’t that sound like an episode of Portlandia minus the humor and an extra heap of privilege? Yes, but once John and Molly Chester’s lives start on the farm, the film takes root in unexpected ways. This is perhaps the first mainstream movie that will get you talking about cover crops and natural fertilizer and how coyotes, vilified animal poachers, are really just misunderstood. It will make you believe that a rooster
and time-lapse photography you could ask for, not to mention Al Gore–
illustration: Ben Schwartz
White is, among other things, a chronicle of how the last generation to be raised offline came to regard the medium that took over the world in its lifetime: first with enthusiasm for what it might have been, and then with contempt for what it became. Ellis attempts no searching sociological inquiry into the angst afflicting Generation Wuss, or the economic precarity said to undergird its condition. He instead reaches for a few ready-to-hand explanations that have already hardened into cliché (screens, helicopter parents, SSRIs, etc.). And yet the book gains rather than loses power through the repetition of its animating polemic. White is not a deep or nuanced analysis but doesn’t pretend to be. It’s simply one man laying into what annoys him in all its myriad manifestations. Along the way, he demonstrates that sometimes the bluntest instrument is the most effective, sometimes the most superficial reading is the right one. American Psycho contains 40 references to Trump as a figure whom its psychopathic antihero admires. In White, Ellis disavows Trump while simultaneously articulating his growing frustration with the apocalyptic rhetoric and moral grandstanding of the Resistance. He stakes a claim for a third position in the culture wars that may prove to be as distinctive of his own generation as his earlier novels: “How could artists flower in an environment while terrified about expressing themselves however they wanted to, or take big creative risks that often walked along the edges of good taste or even blasphemy, or simply those that allowed them to step into someone else’s shoes without being accused of cultural appropriation?” When the culture changes, each of us must either seek an accommodation or choose a hill to die on. In making the latter choice, Ellis has done something entirely in keeping with his nature. “I mean you can’t pretend to be someone else. That’s the problem. You can’t do it; it doesn’t work. So let the sword fall where it may.”
: Stuart Tyson
the Big Bite
BE ARD FAIL S Some people just don’t know how to beard. Use this handy guide to find out if you’re one of ’em. By Lars Kenseth
April 2 019 _E s quire 33
SAVE 20% ON YOUR FIRST ORDER BY USING CODE ESQUIRE20 AT CHECKOUT
Because Style Is Always Personal
BOMB OF SMOOTHNESS A fancified BOMBER is the piece of outerwear that will pull all your spring looks together
Few things wear the way they look in the movies, but the bomber jacket does. You think Ryan Gosling would’ve seemed half as cool in Drive without that scorpioned bomber? There’s a reason it appears so effortless: The outfit starts with a T-shirt-andpants template, but the bomber gives it a touch of swagger and elegance. Basically, the more luxe your jacket is, the more surefire it’ll be. Begin with something like this suede bomber, with material that’s supple and soft, so not only will it pair well with your office and weekend reliables, but it will look that much better. And it’s a no-brainer spring transitional layer: It’ll take you from March through May—regardless of the material you land on. —Brady Langmann
Jacket ($5,995) and shirt ($495) by Brunello Cucinelli.
p h oto gra p h : Jeff Vallee
Apri l 201 9 _E squi re 35
the Code: Secret Service
TOP BRASS The NAVY BLAZER rethunk There are few things in the tailoring back catalog quite as loaded with meaning as the brass-buttoned navy blazer. Look at one and it’s hard not to think of Prince Charles. With its privileged allwhite connotations and its clubbable symbolism to the upwardly mobile, it’s a hard pill to swallow in these more egalitarian, street-inspired times. Yet its neglect has somehow shaken off some of those crusty associations. So it is intriguing to see fashion designers beginning to play once more with its possibilities this spring. Today’s blazer does not look or—more critically—feel at all like its snobby predecessor. Purged of the salty whiff of the yacht club, it adds a refreshing and deliberately ironic dash and casual sense of luxury to the easy, slouchy clothes of summer. — N i c k S u l l i va n
OPEN SEASON No need to get overly fussy or formal about it—wear your blazer open to add dimension and relaxed style to an otherwise polished look.
Jacket ($1,170) by Beams F, mrporter.com; shirt ($378) by Bode; trousers ($550) by 3.1 Phillip Lim; loafers ($745) by Brunello Cucinelli.
THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW
Needlecord jackets ($1,075) by Boglioli. 36
• • • Corduroy is not the ﬁrst cloth you think of when the temperature rises. A fabric associated with damp country walks, log ﬁres, and dusty libraries, it is nevertheless, done right, an ideal choice for spring and early summer. Done right in this case means a cotton needlecord so light you could make a shirt out of it, but constructed as a jacket with no visible means of support, so you can wear it with all the ease of a cardigan. Corduroy, like its posher cousin, velvet, also takes color extremely well, making possible an array of unexpected and interesting shades, like these available from Italian colorists Boglioli. —N. S. ph ot ograph (to p) : Jeff Vallee
the Code: Sole Searching
KICK OF COLOR The CLASSIC SOCCER SNEAKER gets a remix for the STREET, and for your next voyage
The Adidas Samba is among the most versatile sneakers around. You can play soccer in them, and if you’re Kanye, you can even pretend to run from the paparazzi in them. Their low profile makes them perfect for everything else, including shucking them in the TSA panic. That’s why it makes sense that sportswear brand Oyster Holdings would team up with Adidas on its own Samba, in a Crayola-bright yellow. Oyster Holdings specializes in go-anywhere basics, so you can count on this shoe to withstand whatever you throw at it—from the tarmac to the penalty spot and beyond. —Adrienne Westenfeld
Sneakers ($130) and track pants ($100) by Adidas Originals x Oyster Holdings; socks ($20, pack of three) by Adidas Originals.
p hotograp h : Jeff Vallee
A pri l 201 9 _Esqu ire 37
the Code: Style Sit-down
Pierpaolo Piccioli, the creative director of Valentino, understands how to do two extremely difficult things that rarely occur in tandem these days. First, he designs clothes with fashion cred that don’t make you look like a fashion victim; second, he constructs them according to the impeccable standards of Old World Italian craftsmanship, but they still look modern, not like something that reeks of mothballs. The result is something special. Piccioli designs clothes that dare you to wear them. Dare because, though these are the kinds of essentials every guy should have in the closet—a well-cut suit, a trustworthy trench, some good ol’ khakis, a pair of black lace-ups that don’t look orthotic— Piccioli’s execution places them in the realm of Michelin-star combinations, skydiving, the Ring Cycle, and Polar Bear Plunges. You may have to acquire the taste, but you won’t regret it. Sure, you might at first wonder if you are meant to wear an embroidered camo jacket or a burgundy tracksuit patterned with white beads or
RAD TRAD PIERPAOLO PICCIOLI, the designer behind VALENTINO, knows how to get you out of your comfort zone By Jay Fielden
JF: So, you have kids. . . . PP: Yeah, three. Two girls and a boy—21, 19, and 12. I have three, too. We’re roughly the same age, I suspect. I think you’re younger. The way the world judges age now, we’re the same age—we’re not 20. Unfortunately not. Speaking of youth, if fashion is about what’s going on at the moment, how do you continue to keep in touch with those things? It’s a big question. I will say Valentino is a beautiful brand, but being beautiful today is not enough. I think you have to be relevant for the moment,
Harden, Mark Ruffalo, and
put Piccioli’s stuff on is that it
Last November, Piccioli chose a warehouse in the Tokyo to hold his pre-fall
was partly an homage to the things Piccioli loves about Japan—wabi-sabi, origami, itinerary of the event reinforced that impression with visits to various museums,
4 0 Ap ril 2 01 9_E s q u ire
designed home of one of the country’s great modern-art collectors, and a party at Valentino’s Ginza store. On the last morning of the trip, I met the designer in a small conference room high atop the Park Hyatt hotel—yeah, the one where Lost in Translation was shot. As we talked, clouds drifted by, and it sometimes felt like we were at an altitude where we could see the curvature of the earth.
Clockwise from top left: Pierpaolo Piccioli; looks from his pre-fall show in Tokyo, including a T-shirt designed in collaboration with artist Izumi Miyazaki; the show’s life-size origami lion, by Satoshi Kamiya.
the Code: Style Sit-down
you try hard to be cool, you will never be cool. My children never talk about coolness. You’re cool or you’re not cool. You don’t have to try. So your kids, like mine, keep you grounded? Always! [Laughs] They never praise me. Never! I think they are the most honest people. When you do something, all they say is you shouldn’t do that. But I like that, because in my job it’s easy to get praise. And I’m very aware people don’t always mean it when they say, “Oh, it was great.” How would you describe your approach to this collection? What I did was to reinterpret the older codes of the house through a lens closer to the Japanese culture. I had already shown streetwear in Paris, so I thought I had to face the other side, the tailoring, the classic, and I thought that creating a new kind of effortlessness in tailoring would be updating the idea. How so? I always think that my job is about the idea of beauty—but close to the time I’m living in. If not, I do half of my job. So tailoring is beautiful, but men are different today. You want to wear a piece of tailoring, but you want to wear it even for a different life. Trend or no trend, I think streetwear, or what we call, you know, leisure, is part of our wardrobe. What does the modern suit look like to you? For me, it’s important to keep the sharpness, even giving it a new attitude—and with sneakers! I hate the idea of a tie and sneakers, though. Don’t ask me why. It’s forced when you do it. You try hard to be cool with a tie and sneakers. Being a poetic soul, how did you come round to using logos? I wasn’t a big fan of the logo, because I lived through the ’80s and usually the logo was the cheapest part of a brand’s collection. But of course I 4 2 Ap ri l 2 01 9 _Es qu i re
The house has found its way into the working wardrobes of a wide array of guys, including (clockwise from top left) the Weeknd, Justin Theroux, Serge Ibaka, Troye Sivan, and James Harden.
don’t work alone. I have a team of people, and they have a voice, even the youngest. And talking with them, I saw they were obsessed with the Valentino logo. They used to buy pieces from Amazon. I said, “Why do you like this?” They explained the idea of the logo as expression, a way of belonging to a gang, in a way. Not to a dream. In the ’80s, the logo was like having a piece of the dream, of the lifestyle. Today it’s more an expression of yourself. So I rethought the logo with fresh eyes. That’s how VLTN was born. We have others from the ’60s and ’70s we use, too. But I don’t want to use them for commercial reasons. Every piece of VLTN, even the most luxurious pieces—even the double-faced cashmere coat— is approached like a T-shirt. I want it to have that freshness, to seem almost random.
Right: Valentino gets sneakerhead cred with the Camouﬂage Bounce. Below: A few key pieces from Valentino’s previous
What do you hope men understand about your clothes? It’s a brand where a man can find his whole wardrobe: tailoring, sneakers, shirts, and special pieces. I think that the wardrobe of men is made of authentic items you interpret in a different way for today. It’s important to give the pieces a real Valentino feeling but to keep the authenticity. I’m wearing my trench coat today. It’s cotton, pleated like the ones in the show, but it’s not really so different. A man’s wardrobe is made of details. A trench coat for me is a trench coat.
T H E 7 8 TH A N N U A L
ALL-STAR DAD CONTEST CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS! Do you know a Dad who is a real “All Star” to his children, his family and his community? If so, nominate him today as the National Father’s Day Committee searches for America’s #1 “All-Star” Dad.
Every Dad is special. But does your Dad or another Dad you know demonstrate such important attributes as dedication, love, unselfishness, support, and community service on a regular basis? If so, he could be the Father’s Day Committee “All-Star” Dad for 2019.
GO TO ALLSTARDAD.ORG TODAY AND SUBMIT YOUR ESSAY
the Code: Trending
BLUE. PERIOD. Doubling down on DENIM is easier than you think, especially when you start up top One guy’s fashion sin is another guy’s signature style. With double denim, too much can be disastrous (remember Justin and Britney?), but when worn correctly, it’s one of the most timeless tools in your arsenal for proving you’re an Advanced Style Person. For inspiration, observe the pros. In the ’70s, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Warren Beatty pioneered the look, pairing western shirts and jeans. Bob Marley and the King himself were also early adopters, opting for lived-in washes and flared hems. But few can rock it quite like Ralph Lauren, who often sports a trademark uniform of not just double but triple denim— chambray shirt, denim jacket, and jeans. If the getup sounds dated, don’t worry— we’re not asking you to bring back bell-bottoms. Double denim has resurged thanks to guys
Jacket ($1,790), shirt ($810), and trousers ($1,200) by Prada. 4 4 Ap ri l 2 01 9_ E s q u ire
ph otog raph s: Jeff Vallee
like Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper, who’ve cemented it in their rotation. It works because it’s a time-tested move, one that screams Americana, rugged masculinity, off-duty ease—it speaks to the weekend warrior and the wannabe horse rancher in all of us. Here’s how to do it. Contrasting shades are a solid bet, because it takes confidence to pull them off—so don’t feel the need to go full throttle. For a novice, we’re fans of doing double denim up top. Keep it simple, then progress to head-to-toe denim when you feel authentic. Maybe someday you’ll be ready for the monochrome club. —A. W.
A STUDY IN CONTRAST
Head-to-toe denim is an advanced move. If you’re still testing the waters, stick to doubling your denim above the waist. A relaxed jacket and a button-down will do the trick.
Don’t be precious with your washes—to add texture, go for highcontrast pairings like white and blue or dark wash and chambray.
Jacket ($98) and shirt ($118) by Calvin Klein Jeans.
Jacket ($385) by A.P.C.; shirt ($188) by AG.
Brad Pitt, Bob Marley, Bradley Cooper, and Kanye West double (even triple) dipping in denim, pairing lighter washes with darker ones for a pop of visual interest.
the Code: Rants
NO SNEAKERS? NO T-SHIRT? NO LID? NO SERVICE! Want to make people think you are a RADICAL right now? WEAR A NECKTIE. And if you really want to be SEEN AS A LOON, toss on a SUIT, too. MICHAEL HAINEY tries to understand current “dress codes.” Recently, I was having dinner with two friends when one confessed he had been the victim of a somewhat strange public shaming. “I went to meet some buddies for drinks at Soho House in Dumbo, and a dude who works there told me to take off my tie. I said, ‘Why?’ He said I was wearing ‘corporate attire,’ which was in violation of their dress code, and in doing so I was making other members uncomfortable.” I laughed, thinking he’d made up the story. “Wait!” my other friend said. “The same thing happened to me at Ludlow House a few weeks ago. They said my tie was ‘not the kind of look’ they want to have in the bar. That I was making members ‘uncomfortable.’ ” I have to interject here that both of these guys, in terms of personal style, are not McKinsey tools in navy suits and crappy ties. To me, corporate attire means you look like Wilbur Ross, that cadaver that chews. Both my friends, on the other hand, are distinguished men of a certain age and definite style, a style I confess to have nicked from. They have a taste I admire, classic/writer chic/faded WASP: jackets from Montedoro, knit ties from Charvet, decades4 6 Ap ri l 20 1 9 _ Es q u ire
Wild and crazy? Steve Martin wearing a suit and tie in 1974.
old button-downs from Brooks Brothers that someone like Margiela would try to copy and charge you 800 bucks for, crisp khakis from Filson. And yet . . . in the current world, where all norms seem to be
who possess that rarest thing of all—true personal style (which also happens to include wearing a tie)—are told that their appearance makes people “uncomfortable.” If you want to blow
now, it ain’t about wearing your sneakers and T-shirt to “disrupt” someone’s preconceptions at a pitch meeting. That’s so 2003, brah. Now it’s about busting out a jacket and tie. And, increasingly, this
seems true for the cool kids. As Kim Jones told me last year before his Dior show, after a decade of dominance by streetwear, there is a generation of men for whom the suit and tie now appear to be new—and rebellious. Curious as to the definition of corporate attire, I called Soho House. The rep I spoke with admitted that Soho is now as flummoxed as the rest of us when it comes to defining “bad style.” “Look,” she said, “the suit has changed, and the way we view them has changed. Style is evolving, so just like everyone else, we are now evolving our dress code. What is ‘corporate attire?’ We’re trying to figure it out, too.” I asked if it’s a bit like pornography: “You know it when you see it.” “Yes!” she said. “Here’s the point: We don’t want a clump of six guys in suits, drinking. That’s not our vibe.” It made me wonder what Soho would make of Andy Warhol, who had his own, rather corporate dress code— button-downs, repp ties, blue blazers. All of it worn, as my pal Glenn O’Brien once reminded me, because it was at the time the least-trendy way to dress. “Andy Warhol? Dressed like that?” she asked. “Perfect.”
stainless steel case with gold ion plated bezel Japanese chronograph movement 5ATM / 165ft water resistance
available at macys.com
ANGLES OF INQUIRY What’s old is new again—ART DECO is back
“Art deco” was never a satisfying catchall for the explosion of modernist design that emerged post– World War I. Inspired by cubism and futurism, deco encompassed things as diverse as the rarefied luxury of Cartier and the undecorated architecture of Le Corbusier’s International Style. Unfortunately, lumped in with it was all the massproduced tat—the cubist teapots and vorticist trouser presses—that redefined homes before it all went to shit in 1939. Le Corbu and Cartier ensured that art deco would retain respect, but apart from a brief resurgence in the 1960s, it has looked dated next to its successor, mid-century modern. Now some subtle cues suggest deco may get a rehab. Last year, Cartier reissued the Tank Cintrée, an iconic version of its Tank watch, always produced in limited numbers. Panerai introduced an unlikely limited edition of its Radiomir 1940 watch, bearing for the first time an art-deco dial. In interior design, two new venues—Bibo Ergo Sum (top left) in Los Angeles and Benno in New York’s deco revamp of the Evelyn hotel—emphasize glass, metal, and curves. These signifiers may mean nothing on their own, but add to them a hunger for a new elegance—even among champions of casual streetwear—and come fall we may be
4 8 Ap ri l 2 01 9_ E s q u ire
liqueur set ($1,400) by Asprey; cigarette case ($31,000) by Verdura; cuff links ($12) by Paul Stuart; ring ($36,000) by Boivin, available at Fred Leighton, NYC; sculpture
the Code: Essentials
YOUR BETTER HALF Kick the jeans habit and let bold PANTS be your new style obsession
P L E AT I T U P, B O I ! CHECK OUT A FEW DESTINATIONS FOR YOUR JEANS SABBATICAL: PANTS OF VARYING SHAPES AND PATTERNS THAT’LL FLATTER YOU BUT STILL GIVE SOME MOVING ROOM. YOU CAN EVEN LEAVE THE BELT BEHIND.
GRAPHIC CONTENT • • • The graphic tee is an easy, Instagram-friendly way for celebrities to add some pop to an outﬁt. But lately we’ve seen them go all-purpose with their casual stepand-repeats: the graphic knit. Let Donald Glover, Ryan Gosling, and Armie Hammer show you how to wear it right. —B. L.
All-Graphic Everything Go the extra mile and layer patterns over each other.
I wish I could say I stopped wearing denim after watching Brett Favre’s builttough Wrangler commercial one too many times, or because I refused to take a box cutter to my pant legs when I was 13, but really it’s because jeans never fit me right. I swore off them a few years ago, when jeans were as ubiquitous as Biebs and bottle flipping and all you had to do to punch up an outfit was keep a few standout sneakers in rotation. Now, thankfully, there are more options for your lower half. Take that same sneakerhead mentality—the endless search for distinctive patterns, colors, and 50 Ap ri l 20 1 9 _ Es q u i re
shapes for your collection—and apply it to pants. Just as you would switch up shoes during the week, try fitted wool trousers one day and loose-cut pleated chinos the next. If your pants are especially loud— say, salmon trousers or patterned khakis—
keep your footwear simple and go with a pair of white sneakers or low-cut boots. Regard-
less of how you mix and match, you’ll end up with something in the sweet spot of the weekendand office-wear Venn diagram. And if you roll with those loose-cut chinos and sneakers, maybe you can even toss a football around in them. — B . L .
Left: Trousers ($228) by Todd Snyder; sweater ($550) by Editions MR; boots ($229) by Closed; belt ($215) by Margaret Howell. Center: Trousers ($430) and sweater ($600) by Ami; sneakers ($80) by Adidas Originals; belt ($645) by Brunello Cucinelli. Right: Trousers by Fendi ($770); sweatshirt ($198) by John Elliott; sneakers ($450) by Bally. ph otog rap hs (pa nts): Jeff Vallee
Trailblazer Keep your blazer—just swap the oxford for a knit.
Check Yourself Let a sweater this distinctive stand alone.
the Code: Grooming
JOIN THE TAN MAN GROUP The latest SUNLESS TANNING products have painterly precision and won’t leave you looking like a human Cheeto There was a period in my life when I was obsessed with being tan. Daily visits to a tanning salon eventually turned my skin a color I now consider burnt sienna but at the time thought was richperson bronze. Looking back, I’m embarrassed and somewhat worried for my future, knowing now that UV rays can cause premature aging and up to 90 percent of skin cancers. But like most of us, I still think I look better with “a little color,” which is why I repost vacation selfies all year long. But few of us can (or should) sit by the pool every day to get it. That’s why sunless tanners were invented. These products use DHA, a chemical that reacts with our skin’s amino acids to produce a dark pigment, in an attempt to mimic the sun’s effects. Early sunlesstanning products left you smelly, streaky, and carrot orange. The first
A DROP WILL DO Not ready to be garden-hosed with spray tanner? Mix self-tanning drops, like Tan-Luxe’s THE FACE ($53), with your daily moisturizer for a healthy, even tan—without the Trumpy goggle eyes.
time I tried a spray tan, it rained on my walk home and I woke up the next morning a spotted orange and white, like a Fraggle with measles. But I heard that sunless tanning has improved, which is how I found myself standing in a pop-up tent inside my living room as a stranger pointed an industrial paint gun at my body. That stranger was Anna Stankiewicz, a professional spray tanner who specializes in
at-home, on-demand tanning. She said 30 percent of her clients are men, and most get spray tans before events like weddings, vacations, and even dates. Getting a professional spray tan is awkward, but it’s slightly more comfortable when done at home. Anna showed up at my apartment (pro tip: shower and shave beforehand), unfurled her tent, and said to strip down to whatever I was comfortable in.
brush to “detail” my hands and feet as if I were a car, before dousing me in baby powder to combat stickiness. Leaving a spray tan to a professional has its benefits. Anna asked how dark I wanted to go (“very light”) and mixed colors to match my skin tone. With a painter’s eye, she darkened certain areas to contour my body. (Don’t expect to
PIERRE HARDY x HERVÉ DOMAR • • • Pierre Hardy, purveyor of luxe, minimalist accessories, isn’t known for ﬂashy touches. But in collaboration with eyewear virtuoso Hervé Domar, Hardy walks on the wild side. The ﬁve throwback shapes in its collection have a ’60s feel—something both retro-futurist and utilitarian. Count on being noticed when you have them on. —A. W. Sunglasses ($495) by Pierre Hardy x Hervé Domar. 52 Ap ri l 2 01 9_ E s q u ire
get a six-pack.) And she mentioned a few posttan tips you should note: Don’t get wet for eight hours or wax for a few days, and sleep in clothes the first night to make sure the tan sets. A home tan, which lasts about a week, costs more than double ($200, versus $95 for an in-salon session), but the process took half an hour, and she was out the door before I put on my robe. For someone who has tried a cornucopia of do-it-yourself products, the biggest advantage was time. —Garrett Munce
And Now, the E N D I S N E A R . . . . . . Or it certainly feels that way, every day, to more and more of us. DWIGHT G ARNER confesses his AP OCALYP TIC fugue state.
Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come. —Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 here’s a terrific scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove in which Major T. J. “King” Kong, played by Slim Pickens, announces the contents of his pilot’s postnuclear survival kits. There are guns and ammo and rations in there, he tells his men, and antibiotics. Then he gets to the good stuff: “Morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings.” He pauses and then comments, “Shoot, a fella could have a pretty
ph oto graph: N ick Ve as ey
good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.” These days, a survival kit is called a bug-out bag, or a BOB. A good one is supposed to keep you alive, out on the road, like the grizzled father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, for at least seventy-two hours. There’s a whole industry devoted to telling you what to put in yours: ham radios, fire starters, water filters, high-end slingshots. Nothing, certainly, that will help you have a good weekend in Vegas. If you’re not the DIY type, you can buy an excellent ready-made BOB on Amazon for as much as a thousand dollars. At those prices, I’d also want aromatic gin to be included, as well as a magnum of Armand de Brignac and a handful of cyanide capsules for, worst-case scenario, crunching between my molars. I don’t keep a bug-out bag handy. I live in Manhattan. Like most Manhattanites, I’m pretty fatalistic. When the Big One is dropped into midtown, like trillion-ton flatulence, my simple hope is that it’s over quickly. I tend to agree with Martin Amis, who wrote about nuclear missiles and their aftermath: “For myself and my loved ones, I want the heat, which comes at the speed of light. I don’t want to hang out for the blast, which idles along at the speed of sound.” This is not an after-party one wishes to attend. Yet lately I’ve been reconsidering my BOBless existence. It seems increasingly less likely that when the end announces itself, it will be with a flash and a goth-chic death rattle. Forget Kim Jong Un and rogue nukes. There are too many other balefully vivid scenarios to consider. Pandemics, for example. Economic collapse. Perhaps the power grid will be zapped by an electromagnetic pulse. The New Madrid Fault may decide to take a determined slider. Yellowstone may erupt. There might be a force majeure of an unknown-unknown sort, to paraphrase the best thing Donald Rumsfeld ever said. Art Bell, that late-night ghost whisperer, might be proven right, and aliens will land in Taos. Maybe we’ll all be left stranded at Fyre Festival II. Oh, the humanity. Most of us like to consider, late at night, how the world might end. It delivers a dark, miserable thrill, a frisson of dread. We have a sweet tooth for unease. As the critic Irving Kristol put it, “The premonition of the apocalypse springs eternal in the human breast.” I grew up Roman Catholic, and the notion that I should be prepared for an imminent rapture was planted in my imagination from the time I could handle my own food. My mother sent further chills up my shanks by taking me, at an impressionable age, to see a gonzo film called The Late Great Planet Earth, based on a best-selling 1970 book by Hal Lindsey. Narrated by Lindsey and Orson Welles in full late-career kook mode, the movie mix-
es biblical prophecy (“the end of the world is at hand”) with footage of floods, hurricanes, and missile strikes, all set to ominous music of the sort Fox News used to cue up whenever it showed a photograph of Barack Obama. This movie scared the acne right off my chin. It tried and failed to turn me into a Republican as well. When Lindsey speaks of “the prophecy of the Antichrist,” the film cuts to shots of Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, and Jimmy Carter. Today it’s impossible to pay even moderate attention to the news without the isobars of disquiet pulling closer together in your mind. Newspapers and magazines have come to take our sleep. The so-called Doomsday Clock, created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, is currently set at two minutes to the apocalypse—only the second time it’s been so close to midnight. (The first time was in 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union tested
MOST OF US LIKE TO CONSIDER HOW THE WORLD MIGHT END. IT DELIVERS A DARK, MISERABLE THRILL. hydrogen bombs.) Donald Trump has pulled us out of the Paris climate agreement at a time when the permafrost is melting, when we’ve had four straight years of the highest global temperatures on record, when butterflies and bumblebees are vanishing, when animal populations have declined by 60 percent and levels of Arctic sea ice are the lowest ever recorded. David Attenborough, the British naturalist, appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January and declared that humans have harmed the environment so radically that we are no longer in the Holocene era, “the twelve-thousand-year period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilizations.” We’re now in the “Anthropocene,” he said, “the Age of Humans.” He added: “We are destroying the natural world, and with it, ourselves.” It’s as if God, tired of this game, is flipping over the board and walking away from the table. Some days I try to avoid these realities, like a dentist scraping around a nerve. As Zadie Smith observed, “It’s hard to keep the apocalypse in mind, especially if you want to get out of bed in the morning.” Some mornings, I don’t get out of bed at all. I sit there and stare at the gas mask that my employer, The New York Times, handed out to all its staffers not long
after 9/11. This mask—I keep it on a nearby shelf, unable to put it away—has changeable filters for a nuclear or chemical attack. But I have only one. A big part of my nightmare vision of the apocalypse is not being able to do anything useful for my wife or my children. This feeling of helplessness is surely what motivates many doomsday preppers. A bug-out bag may not get you very far, but it might buy time to say goodbye over a small fire. When I visited a psychic witch in Cassadaga, Florida, for this magazine last year, she looked me in the eye and told me I was going to become a doomsday prepper. The odds of that are low, I recall thinking. But as I sat in my hotel room in Cassadaga the next day, reading Trump’s morning dump of terrifying Twitter ordure, I thought that perhaps I owed it to her to at least check this hobby out. In Orlando, I bought a copy of a book called Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide, by Jim Cobb. I didn’t get very far in it. There is only so much I can read about making a debris hut. But Cobb’s warning about the potential scarcity of medicine, especially for diabetics (insulin needs to be kept cold), makes me want to stay in shape. Nor can I seem to shake Cobb’s observation about corpse removal. “Leaving corpses where they lie isn’t just a health hazard,” he writes. “It would be a pretty big hit on morale.” Quite so. The worst part about reading prepper books is their perhaps necessarily grim view of human nature. Susan Sontag was once asked what she’d learned from the Holocaust, and she replied, in Kurt Vonnegut’s retelling, that “10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and that 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and that the remaining 80 percent could be moved in either direction.” Prepper lit says the same thing. The best in us is not going to flourish. I’ve read a lot of end-time novels. My favorite may still be Stephen King’s The Stand. (“That wasn’t any act of God,” King writes. “That was an act of pure human fuckery.”) I’ve seen a lot of end-time movies. I’m partial to Lars von Trier’s oddly magisterial Melancholia, in which Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst debate drinking wine or listening to Beethoven’s Ninth as another planet prepares to slam into Earth. If real horror is what you are after, turn to Elizabeth Kolbert’s riveting The Sixth Extinction. This is nonfiction. The current extinction will have its own novel cause, Kolbert writes, “not an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption but ‘one weedy species.’ ” In my BOB, I’m going to place a novel or two by Iris Murdoch because (a) I find her work sustaining and (b) she’s the writer who said, “Almost anything that consoles us is a fake.” April 2 01 9_E squire 55
S n A K E By R ic k Re i lly
What to expect when you hit the links with DJT, from the SWAT-team escort
He who has the fastest golf cart never has a bad lie. — M I C K EY M A NT L E
REALLY? YOU HAVE A TEE TIME
with the President of the Freaking United States? Okay, brace yourself, because according to my well-placed sources, what you’re about to experience isn’t really golf. It’s more of a paramilitary heavily armed exercise with odd-shaped sticks, using a vague set of rules that requires you to lose, and it will all be over very quickly, so put your memory on “save.” First of all, you’ll play at one of Trump’s courses—since he’s been president, he’s played only at his own courses. Me, I’d rent a car. Yours could get egged by protesters. With Trump spending so much time at his courses, thousands of Trump resisters have come to realize it’s a great place to remind him how much they loathe him. As a result, the police blotters in Trump golf towns make fabulous Cheerios reading. For instance: A woman wrote a Spanish slur in lipstick on the entrance
56 A pri l 2 01 9 _E s q u ire
sign to Trump Los Angeles. About 200 activists laid down on the front lawn of Trump Los Angeles and formed a human-body message reading: “RESIST!” A woman took a cornfield near Trump Bedminster and carved into it the words “VOTE” and “TRUTH” in letters 60 feet high and 75 feet wide.
I hope you get to play Trump Bedminster, in New Jersey, because there’s nothing quite like it. Just to become a member can cost you up to $300,000. It was once the country estate of car tycoon John DeLorean. Jackie O rode her horse there among the pastoral hither and yon. It’s 45 minutes from Manhattan and ten exits past the fanciest place you’ve ever been. Enjoy the one-mile tree-lined driveway that takes you to a place that’s a cross between Augusta National and the Paris Ritz, only with sniper towers. When Trump arrives, the Bedminster car valet told me, “you know he’s coming because you hear the choppers. There’s always three, so nobody knows which one he’s in.” You’ll be directed to the locker room
to change shoes. Trump locker rooms are spectacular. When you walk, the marble squeaks under your feet. Go find his locker. At every American Trump course I visited, he had one, sometimes full size, sometimes half, always locked. Sometimes the clubhouse guys get so sick of guests taking selfies in front of it, they tape over the nameplate. Now it’s time to go hit a few warm-up shots on the practice range. This is where you’ll see Trump for the first time. He’ll greet you like a nephew greets his lottowinning uncle. Bring your A game because you’ll be playing with decent golfers. Trump doesn’t suffer hacks. They take too long. If there’s a politician in the group, he will almost certainly be a Republican. Since taking office, Trump hasn’t played with a single Democrat, despite reaming out Obama in a 2012 tweet for the same thing: Obama should play golf with Republicans & opponents rather than his small group of friends. That way maybe the terrible gridlock would end. You will not believe the security around you. There can be as many as 60 Secret Service agents, a SWAT team, and 30
G R a S S to the caddies who go pond diving to save face for the boss
carts following along as you play, traveling with, among other things: The nuclear football A doctor with vials of Trump’s blood type A secure satellite phone The one-man portable bomb shelter An entire supply of gas masks, machine guns, and weapons A small missile, which really speeds up play The story goes that one day when Trump was playing Bedminster, a member hit an unspeakable hook not just deep into the woods but bound for I-78. As the caddy was looking for it, he suddenly found four machine-gun barrels in his face, all held by camouflaged Marines. So the perimeter is covered, in case you were wondering. Okay, time to quiet the knocking of your knees and hit that first shot. Not to worry, Trump will make it fun. Bill Clinton loves playing with him. Don’t expect a lot of in-depth conversation with the president, though. Trump’s golf conversations go about 7,000 yards long and one inch deep. Often Trump and his caddy ride in their own cart and will
always be way ahead of you, the better to kick, foozle, or throw his ball out of the cabbage. “It’s like a roller-coaster ride,” says author James Patterson, who belongs to both Trump Westchester and Trump International in West Palm Beach. “We were playing through people all the time. I hate playing through people.” Three and a half hours later—sometimes less—the round will be over and you’ll have no idea what he shot or you shot, but it’ll be fun. I asked hockey legend Mike Eruzione how Trump played the time they played together on the day of Barbara Bush’s funeral. “I don’t really know,” Eruzione said. “We only putted out on a few holes. He had a couple of presidential mulligans. He said that was his right. He picked up putts. He’s the president; he can do whatever he wants to do.” Now he’ll invite you to the grill room for lunch. I wasn’t with Trump, though, the day I played Bedminster, so I skipped lunch and went straight to the caddyshack. Inside, a dozen guys in white overalls (also very Augusta) were watching a
illustration by Edward Steed
huge TV and eating free cheeseburgers whipped up by the resident caddy/cook. Everybody agreed Trump was a good player, an “8 or 9” handicap, they all said, knowing full well that he tells the world he’s a 3. Does he cheat? There was a lot of sudden interest in birds out the window. One caddy held his hand up while looking me right in the eye. “Donald Trump never cheats,” he said, slowly and sternly. He stared at me. “Ohhh!” I said. “His caddy cheats FOR him?” The entire room howled. What followed was a dozen or so stories about just HOW he cheats. “He’s always got four balls in his pocket, if that tells you anything.” “He foozles his ball on every hole. All 18. I promise you. Every hole.” “He wants you to throw it out of the woods, kick it out of the rough, fluff up his lie. We all know the deal.” Most of them said they didn’t mind doing it but felt a little bad when there was money on the line or a tournament going on. (c ont i nue d on p age 1 0 4)
Adapted from Co m man de r i n C he at , by Rick Reilly, out April 2 from Hachette Books.
He’s a MUSE to Spike and Quentin. He’s a MARVEL STALWART, a JEDI, and a STYLE ICON. Given his magical way with a certain four-syllable word and the fact that he’s been so good for so long—120 movies over nearly forty years—we might think we know Samuel L. Jackson. But do we? Here, fresh from morning golf, he tees off on Hollywood, politics, and his childhood in the Jim Crow South. C A RV E L L WA LL ACE meets the man who believes success is about “maximizing your sh!t.” P h o to g r a p h s b y M A R C H O M 58
Tougher Than the Rest“I
wanted to be the black Jacques Cousteau. I always thought Bruce Springsteen backstage at the inner space was a lot more the Walter Kerr interesting than outer space.” Theatre, September 2018.
Jackson, photographed in Los Angeles, January 2019.
Jacket by Loro Piana; shirt and trousers Vintage Golden by Boss; boots by Christian Louboutin; hat by Brunello Bear biker jacket, Cucinelli; watch by Piaget; socks by Pantherella. H&M T-shirt, Previous page: Tank by Jockey. jeans, boots, and jewelry, Springsteen’s own.
Samuel L. Jackson is driving our golf cart pedal to floor through the unseasonably cold southern California morning fog, pushing the whining electric engine to its limits. It is 8:15 A.M., and he and his foursome have already played nine holes. I met up with them at the turn and hopped into Jackson’s cart as they continued on the course, interrupting their mild shit-talking with sporadic occurrences of golf on the back nine. It is one of those bizarrely random Los Angeles groupings of people you never imagine together. Richard Schiff puffing on a cigarette in a faded Yankees cap and pink-trimmed performance golf slacks. An unfailingly upbeat producer-writer who spends much of the time encouraging everyone’s shots and explaining the game of cricket. A young semipro in a razor-crisp polo who drives the ball off the tee like he’s opening up a portal to another dimension. Don Cheadle is supposed to be here but is absent for unknown reasons. (We eventually discover on the clubhouse television that it has to do with him appearing on Good Morning America at that precise moment.) I later hear that Josh Duhamel frequently rounds out the group. I have never been on a golf course in my life. Jackson drives, peppering me with questions (“Have white folks started confusing you with Brian Tyree Henry yet?”) and gleefully navigating around obstacles in our path by running two wheels up on the wet grass despite bountiful signage warning us not to do just that. Each time he does this, the cart threatens to pull a little movie-stunt two-wheel tip and throw me onto the asphalt pathway. “Engage your core,” he tells me with an 85 percent straight face. It is good advice from a seventy-year-old man from Chatta-
nooga, Tennessee. I am vaguely scared and trying to play it cool. He is driving decisively, wholly unconcerned. At his age, the Hollywood veteran wears “wholly unconcerned” as comfortably as the faded black Adidas bucket hat he golfs in. This becomes clear to me when I later interview him in the country-club restaurant and he sprinkles n-words and motherfuckers about the dining area like handfuls of glitter as Grandpa- and Memaw-type club members look awkwardly into their eggs Benedict. He behaves not only like a man who belongs here but also like one who basically owns the place. His casual inattention to the perceived authority of white power structures is so deeply woven into his way of being that in his presence it seems bizarre that anyone, anywhere, would think to behave differently. A lot of people like to say they don’t give a fuck. Samuel L. Jackson simply doesn’t. What he does care a great deal about is acting and movies (and golf—he is coy about his handicap but acknowledges it lies in low single digits), and he approaches his craft with both a childlike love for the medium and a specialist’s obsession with technique. This combination has led him to enjoy one of the most prolific film careers of any actor alive, despite his relatively late-in-life big break. Perhaps only Nicolas Cage comes close to achieving Jackson’s ability to pop up across a pantheon of wildly disparate titles, ranging from the sublime (Pulp Fiction, Unbreakable, Eve’s Bayou) to the absurd (Snakes on a Plane, Jumper, The Man). I had heard that he averaged four releases a year, which I thought was insane until he corrected me and told me that it was closer to five. In two separate calendar years, 1990 and 2008, Samuel L. Jackson’s name was on the call sheet for seven different films. Moreover, he has found his way into megafranchises like Star Wars and The Incredibles, and as former SHIELD director Nick Fury, Jackson has shot eleven different Marvel movies, including four Avengers films. But if any year is the year of Sam Jackson, 2019 looks to be it. In addition to his upcoming Marvel work, he will star in the sequel to 2000’s cult-classic remake of Shaft and handle narration for the much-anticipated docuseries Enslaved. This year also marks the twentyfifth anniversary of Pulp Fiction, which will be celebrated with hundreds of theatrical screenings and a bevy of appearances and interviews by the man who immortalized Jules Winnfield. The Jackson-led M. Night Shyamalan sequel Glass opened the year atop the box office for multiple weeks, and between that and his Marvel commitments, the actor could spend the first year of his seventies with more weeks at number one than any other working actor in 2019—a remarkable feat for a man who is already the highest-grossing
film actor of all time, with his movies accounting for an estimated $13 billion combined. You can think of film acting—and most people do—as the art of creating convincing emotions on command. But fewer recognize it as the art of both nailing takes and saying other people’s words in a way that is so engaging, so clear, so mesmeric that viewers can’t help but stop whatever they’re doing to watch. He is an all-time great at the second and third things and is woefully underrated at the first. Sam Jackson owns words. It doesn’t matter who wrote them. Once he says them, they belong to him, and anyone else who dares speak them is immediately reduced to a cheap imitator. More than flash on film, he has managed to build a legitimate leading-man career out of the journeyman’s trade by showing up to sets on time for nearly forty years and saying his lines correctly and with inimitable style. This gift is particularly visible in his work with Quentin Tarantino, Jackson’s most frequent collaborator. He has starred in six of Tarantino’s eight features. The directorscreenwriter’s ear for dialogue marries the elegant with the profane and is a perfect match for Jackson’s talent for irreverent rhapsody. Jackson received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Jules in Pulp Fiction, but a legitimate case can be made (and Jackson has made it) that he was a leading actor in that film. Ask any dorm-room Pulp Fiction fan to quote a line from the movie and the odds are high that the one they choose will have been spoken by Jules, a startling fact when you consider that he only appeared at the beginning and the end of the film. This effect is even more pronounced in Tarantino’s follow-up effort, Jackie Brown, a long-form character study masquerading as an underworld heist flick. Like Jules, Jackson’s character—the Kangol-clad, ponytail-sporting arms merchant Ordell Robbie—is by turns winsome and pestilent. But here Tarantino and Jackson court an entirely more malignant vibe. Whereas Jules is a charming man in a world of stylish people who do horrific things with integrity and humor, Ordell is squarely situated in a province of aging criminals confronting their rapidly crumbling chances to live out their youthful dreams. Jackson cuts his winning smiles, easygoing manners, and lyrical maledictions with a heavy dose of nihilist grief and quiet desperation. His trademark charm offers a thin veil for his unutterable evil. You would like to have a couple drinks with Jules Winnfield. You would quickly leave the bar if Ordell Robbie so much as made eye contact with you. Growing up in legally segregated Tennessee, Jackson says his world was entirely black.
April 2 01 9_E squire 61
BIG DOG “I’ve never understood that whole ‘I want to do two movies a year’ thing. I want to get up and act every day.” Coat by Hermès; suit and shirt by Versace; tie by Dries Van Noten; shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo; cane by Gucci; Great Dane (“Rhino”) from Hollywood Animals.
He was an only child raised by his maternal grandmother and his mother, a factory worker and later a supplies buyer for a mental institution. His father was largely absent from his life. His aunt, a performing-arts teacher, cast him in plays and placed him in dance classes, which he ultimately came to love for the applause most of all. “You hear the claps,” he tells me, “and that shit is like ego food.” He also played multiple woodwind and brass instruments and harbored dreams of becoming a jazzman until he discovered in the eleventh grade that he lacked the ability to improvise. He entered Morehouse College, in Atlanta, just as the famously persnickety HBCU was opening its gates to a wider variety of students. The decidedly working-class Jackson found himself alongside stern, Afroed, black-fisted men newly returned from the war in Vietnam and carrying a radical militancy that made sense to the young Tennessean who had been warned as a child not to even look white people in the eye. Jackson quickly fell into student activism, helping to take over an administration building in an attempt to secure a black-studies course and greater black representation on the board of trustees. Among the hostages in the multiday siege was Martin Luther King Sr., whom they had to let go because he was having heart trouble. For his role, Jackson was expelled in his junior year, but the event would only serve to energize him. He slept in the office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and joined forces with H. Rap Brown and others in a scheme to steal white people’s credit cards and use them to stockpile weapons for what he thought was an inevitable race war. Meanwhile, his friends and associates were dying in “mysterious” automobile explosions. Providence intervened in the form of two FBI officials who visited Jackson’s mother to tell her that her son was under surveillance, and that if he didn’t leave Atlanta, he would be dead within months. She quickly shipped him off to live with an aunt in Los Angeles, where he worked for the county, smoking weed and dropping acid for a time before deciding to return to school and focus on acting. Soon he was in New York City, auditioning for plays and struggling in theater alongside a tight-knit group of actors that included Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Bill Nunn, Laurence Fishburne, and LaTanya Richardson, his wife of nearly forty years. His drug use soon got the better of him, however. One week after leaving rehab, he took on the role that would launch his career, that of Gator, Wesley Snipes’s crack-addicted brother in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). So powerful was Jackson’s performance that the Best
Apri l 201 9 _E squi re 63
Supporting Actor category was created at Cannes just so he could receive the award. A scant thirty years and more than a hundred movies later, we are sitting in that country-club dining room and he is saying things like “Engage your core.” Glass, the much-awaited sequel to 2000’s gritty superhero epic Unbreakable, hit theaters in January; he is reprising his role as Nick Fury in the upcoming films Captain Marvel and SpiderMan: Far from Home (we’re pretty sure that’s it for his Marvel movies); and the Brie Larson– directed Unicorn Store is slated for Netflix in April. I got to sit down with Jackson over breakfast while Don Cheadle hawked his latest project on the screen above us and members occasionally smiled at us, stared at us, and quickly looked away when caught. You have a way of making the most out of whatever character you’re given, no matter how small the part. How do you do that?
You show up. It’s like when I had that job in Coming to America. [Jackson had a bit part as a stickup man.] It was like, all right, I have to make the dude compelling. He can’t be just a motherfucker running in here with a shotgun. It’s got to look like he’s desperate. He’s got to look like he’s serious in the middle of this comedy, and he’s got to be dangerous. You did the same in School Daze, where you represented this element that was outside the gates of a historically black college.
Interesting enough, those were the dudes that I hung out with when I got to Morehouse. My mom dropped me off and I saw a basketball court up the street. So I stopped in the beer store, bought a quart of beer, walked across, asked who was up next. And I balled with them, hung out with them that night, to the point that they didn’t know I went to Morehouse until they saw me at a dance. I’ve heard you say that you got radicalized at Morehouse.
My class, ’66, was famously the first class of sort of street niggas that they let in. It had to do with folks like Stokely Carmichael, who was in and out of there speaking. And I was radicalized from both ends. From the black end with Stokely, Rap, and those guys, and the Vietnam vets, and I had an English professor who was driven to Morehouse on the magic bus with Ken Kesey. And then that was when I started dropping acid, and hanging out with him, and finding out what was happening in Berkeley, and then the white parts of the world. My whole existence had been black. I didn’t have a white teacher till I got to Morehouse. You came up during real segregation.
It was normal. That was the way of the world. I lived in a black world. My teachers were black.
I went to school with black kids. I only interacted with white people when I went to work with my grandfather, who worked for white people. What was that like?
It was always scary for him, because I was that stare-at-white-people dude. I didn’t drop my head. He said, “Yeah, this boy got a little backbone.” The only other time I saw white people was when I went to town. That was it. We had our own black movie theaters in Chattanooga: Liberty and the Grand. What are some of your earliest memories of seeing movies?
I would go to the movies on Saturday morning and we’d watch cartoons for like an hour. And then they’d have a serial like Buck Rogers. And then they would have the kiddie double
I’m the“ same cat. I still got my
politics. I still have my
” feature, Francis the Talking Mule or some shit. And then the serious movies would come.... I always remember these Sidney [Poitier] movies because they were always so strange to me. He got killed all the time. And I would ask my mom, “Why?”. . . I’m like, “What the fuck?” As a kid, did you look at movies and think, I want to do that!?
We looked at movies and went home and redid the movies. We pretended to be whatever we had seen that day. But I wanted to be a marine biologist. That was actually my fantasy career growing up too!
I wanted to be the black Jacques Cousteau, because I loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I thought those guys were so cool, just out at sea, chilling, looking at starﬁsh and shit.
And I loved all those pirate movies. I wanted to be on a boat out in the ocean. I always thought the inner space was a lot more interesting than outer space. I always ask people in my family this: Did growing up in segregation make you feel angry?
6 4 Ap ri l 20 1 9 _ Es q u ire
I don’t think I was ever angry about it. I’m an-
grier now about it than I was then just because I see these guys and I know these are the same guys: Trump and all those assholes, Mitch McConnell. But they’re the same fucking guys. And when I hear their voices, I hear the same voices. Those twangs where they didn’t specifically call you “nigger,” they said “nigra.” “The nigras.” There was no doubt about where they stood, that you were never going to be their equal and, if possible, they were going to make sure you never had as much shit as they had. And they were worried about the chasteness of their women, and miscegenation, and not having enough of them, there being more of us than there are of them. Your ﬁrst ﬁlm was Ragtime in 1981. What was that like?
Awesome. It was like, going to London, that was my first time in Europe. It was a whole ’nother set of circumstances, being in the world and seeing what that world was. We used to sit and talk with James Cagney at lunch. That was his last movie. That was a big, big experience, figuring out that the world wasn’t what I thought it was. I always looked at Britain as this white place. I realized it has West Indian culture that I didn’t know much about. And from them, I connected to the African culture that was there. And then I realized, “Oh, shit. It’s a bunch of black folks that’s been here for a very long fucking time.” So in some ways it was just seeing the diaspora in a larger sense.
Exactly. And you’re a part of it. You ﬁnally cleaned up when you were back in New York. Why’d you stop?
Tired of getting high, using up that energy. I’d been at Ruben Santiago’s bachelor party drinking tequila all fucking day. On the way home, I decided, “I need some coke so I can even my shit out.” I went by the spot, copped, went home, cooked the shit, and passed out before I had even smoked it, drunk. That’s when my wife and daughter found me on the floor. She called my best friend, who was a drug counselor. I was in rehab the next day. I just didn’t know I was ready to go, but I was ready. That was in 1989, not long before Jungle Fever?
Jungle Fever was the first thing I ever did without a substance in my body. That’s ironic, isn’t it?
Yeah, because all those motherfuckers at rehab were like, “You don’t need to do this movie, because you’re going to have triggers.” . . . I was like, “Well, shit, if for no other reasons, first of all, where the fuck are you going to get $40,000 in the next six weeks? And second of all, I will never pick up another drug, because I don’t want to see any one of you motherfuckers ever again.” I hated them. But that was their job. And I made it through that. So
BALLS OUT “I expect everyone to be as prepared as I am. We came here to do something. Let’s do it.” Jacket by Gucci; shirt by Salvatore Ferragamo.
significantly, when Gator gets killed at the end of that movie, I always look at it as the death of my . . . active addiction.
fucker that would come to their house and had gotten something from them or stolen something from them, broken their heart in some kind of way. After that movie, you launched into doing sometimes as many as seven titles a year. A lot of actors don’t think of doing their work that way.
A lot of actors are concerned about doing quality movies.
profound-storytelling thing. I was entertaining. I used to go to movies to forget my fucking troubles. I used to go to movies to enjoy myself, to get out of my segregated fucking life, to see what the world was like, to travel. I want people to come, smile, laugh, leave that movie going, “Man, that was awesome.” Even if it’s A Time to Kill. It’s a serious subject, but it was something that needed to be told. And that was a way to tell it. And it’s a very different movie from the movie that I went there to do.
Performing rather than acting.
What’s a quality movie? What the fuck is that?
In what way?
I understood another thing about being a crackhead and using up your relationships, fucking those things up, and what it meant to hurt the people in your family. Gator was people’s sons, their nephews, their brothers, their daughters. Everybody had a mother-
You tell me.
Well, [my character] Carl Lee kills those dudes because he has to kill those dudes for his daughter so that she’ll understand, “The world is safe for you. And if anybody else does some shit to you, I’ll kill them, too. But I’m your protector. I will do anything to make sure you’re okay.” In the editing of that movie, everything I did that spoke to that got edited out, and it turned to: I killed some motherfucking white people and I connived to get away with it. So when I saw it, I was sitting there like, “Oh, that’s right.” They’re in control of the shit. It’s a director’s medium; they could do what they want to do to make it change. Which leads me to now, when I’m on a movie set and the motherfucker says, “Can we try this?” Sometimes I’ll be like, “Naw.”
Was that cathartic?
Yeah, of course. It’s one of those things where my wife always criticized my acting as being bloodless. She said, “You’re smart. You know the right facial expression. You know the vocal inflection. You know everything to do except how to feel it.” Do you think she’s right about that?
She was totally right, because I used to act and watch the audience for their response to what I did.
I’ve never understood that whole “I want to do two movies a year” thing. It’s like, you don’t love the job? I want to get up and act every day. And there’s a limited number of acting possibilities in everybody’s lifetime. So I’m trying to maximize my shit.
Quality movies are movies that make me happy, a movie I would’ve gone to see. I’m not trying to make people cry. I’m not trying to do the
SHARP-EYED “My grandfather said, ‘Yeah, this boy got a little backbone.’ ” Shirt and tie by Versace.
That’s why you don’t do multiple takes.
I don’t do more than three. I don’t get to go to the editing room, but you do. And you’re going to put that thing that you asked me to do in there, because that’s the thing you like. So if I don’t do it, I don’t have to worry about you fucking with my performance. I haven’t seen all your ﬁlms—I mean, who has time to see every single Sam Jackson movie?—but. . .
I do. Which roles do you love?
I love Mitch Henessey, the dude from The Long Kiss Goodnight. He’s another dude that’s in a job that he thinks is a con. “I’m not really a private detective, but if I can get you to hire me. . .” I just love the sincerity of that dude, who becomes brave in the face of some shit that he knew he shouldn’t even be talking about. I love the teacher in 187, because that’s like my aunt. I understand how hard that job is. And believe it or not, I love fucking Stephen from Django Unchained. Why?
I mean, the dude ran that fucking plantation. Candyland was his fucking plantation. Leo’s out fighting niggers and doing whatever, running the strip club. Dude’s writing the bills. He’s making sure the crops get planted. He’s making sure the slaves get sold. He runs that place. And he’s been there. His father did the same job he had; his grandfather did the same
job he had. And he has this misplaced love for Leo and this stuff because he raised him. He ain’t really got no kids of his own because he ain’t have time to do that. But Leo was basically his kid. And Candyland is his world. He knows outside Candyland, he’s just another nigger on the plantation. What do you think about all the controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino’s use of the n-word in that movie?
It’s some bullshit.
The Motherf#!&in’ Motherf#!&er Awards Samuel L. Jackson has said mother#!&er more than 200 times across his 38-year film career—and we pored over every motherf#!&in’ one for you.
All of it?
Of course it is. When we did Pulp, I warned Quentin about the whole “nigger storage.” I was like, “Don’t say ‘nigger storage.’” He’s like, “No, I’m going to say it like that.” And we tried to soften it by making his wife black, because that wasn’t originally written. . . . But you can’t just tell a writer he can’t talk, write the words, put the words in the mouths of the people from their ethnicities, the way that they use their words. You cannot do that, because then it becomes an untruth; it’s not honest. It’s just not honest. And half the time, too, there are other ways. And I generally add like at least five niggas to what Quentin has already written, just because I’m talking. I mean, that one sentence to Chris Tucker [in Jackie Brown]: “I hate to be the kind of nigga that do a nigga a favor and then bam hit the nigga up for a favor in return, but I gots to be that kind of nigga.” It’s just one sentence. It’s like boom. But wouldn’t Ordell say that? Absolutely. But that brings me to the other question: How do you reconcile having once been a radical, stockpiling weapons for a race war, with your life now, on a golf course, doing Capital One commercials?
I’m the same cat. I still got my politics. I still have my anger. But I can’t regulate a bank. I can’t deregulate a bank. I can’t do any of that. It’s been a great revenue stream right now. And because I have that revenue, we’re able to have our names on the fucking wall of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We’re able to give money to the Children’s Defense Fund. We’re able to dig a well in Africa. But I don’t run around with a film crew and say, “Show everybody what I’m doing.” I just do what I do. It’s not like we’re just building up a stack of cash somewhere for whatever’s going to happen. They might wake up tomorrow and decide that money ain’t the thing. Then what?
School Daze, 1988 As a townie lecturing college punks: “How come y’all college motherf#!&ers think y’all run everything?” LO U D E S T
Formula 51, 2001 To a dance club he’s testing psychedelics on: “You’re gonna kiss the sun, and taste the motherf#!&in’ rainbow!” B E S T VA R I A N T
Freedomland, 2006 As a detective facing an angry mob: “Kiss my ass, brotherf#!&er.” M O S T PA I N E D
over a Wall budget? What happened to “and Mexico is gonna pay for it”??!! #ineversaidthat#yesthefuckyoudidmotherfucker” BEST USE DURING C O M B AT
Rules of Engagement, 2000
While ordering his men to fire: “Goddammit, waste them motherf#!&ers!” M O S T L I K E LY TO H AV E A M OT H E R F # ! & E R IF IT WEREN’T A P I X A R M OV I E
The Incredibles, 2004 As a superhero screaming to his wife: “Where’s my supersuit?”
After Django shoots him in the knee: “Ah . . . AHHH . . . you motherf#!&er . . .” MOST TIRED OF THIS SHIT
Avengers: Infinity War, 2018
As Thanos dusts him: “Mother. . .” BEST TWITTER U S E BY @ SA M U E L L JACKS O N
“Why is that Hemorrhoid threatening to shut down the Government
Pulp Fiction, 1994 While interrogating a burger-eating fool: “English, motherf#!&er— do you speak it?” T H E G OAT
Snakes on a Plane, 2006
Before saving his fellow reptile-plagued ﬂyers: “I’ve had it with these motherf#!&in’ snakes on this motherf#!&in’ plane!” CONTRIBUTORS: JOSH GLICKSMAN & KAYLA KIBBE
the world a better place for a specific group of people that need betterment in that way. You’ve been vocal about Trump. A lot of people have their beliefs but are careful about stating them, because they don’t want to jeopardize their career.
I think we feel the same way that all of the motherfuckers that hated Obama felt for eight years. So they said all that shit. They put fucking pictures up on the Internet of Michelle sitting with her legs crossed with a dick hanging down. We feel the same way that they feel or they felt about Obama being the man, even though he wasn’t fucking ruining their lives; he was trying to help their lives. This motherfucker is like ruining the planet and all kinds of other crazy shit. And the people think that’s okay. It’s not fucking okay. And if you’re not saying anything, then you’re complicit. And I wouldn’t give a fuck if I was a garbageman and I had a Twitter account; I’d tweet that shit out. I’m not thinking about who I am and what my job is when I do that shit. Do you worry about antagonizing fans?
I know how many motherfuckers hate me. “I’m never going to see a Sam Jackson movie again.” Fuck I care? If you never went to another movie I did in my life, I’m not going to lose any money. I already cashed that check. Fuck you. Burn up my videotapes. I don’t give a fuck. “You’re an actor. Stick to acting.” “No, motherfucker. I’m a human being that feels a certain way.” And some of this shit does affect me, because if we don’t have health care, shit, and my relatives get sick, they’re going to call my rich ass. I want them to have health care. I want them to be able to take care of themselves. This is how I feel. And I count to one hundred some days before I hit “send,” because I know how that shit is. So you’re seventy?
Mm-hmm. Everybody you work for you can have a beef with, especially in this business that I’m in, because it ain’t the studios no more; it’s corporations. I’m working with corporations. And all those motherfuckers got issues. But we do what we can. We understand our responsibility. We understand from a revolutionary standpoint what we came from, and what’s going on in the world, and what can we do to make the world a better place or to make
What are you getting better at as a person?
I guess opening up. I talk more to my wife and daughter than I used to. I ask them more about their shit, because it’s always about my shit. I’m getting better at talking to them about their lives and what they are doing and how they feel. A pril 20 19_E squi re 67
What brought about that change?
I guess age and the fact that we’re more apart than we used to be. It’s like my wife—she’s got to be in New York [doing To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway] for a year. So it’s not like she can come and hang out with me while I talk to her. How much longer are you going to work?
Till I can’t do it. Michael Caine’s still acting, right? It’s acting. It’s not like I’m digging a ditch. I go on set, do some shit. I go back and sit in my trailer for two hours watching TV, eat a sandwich, read. And I go back and do ten more minutes and go sit down some more. So, yeah, it’s a great job. What have you gotten better at as an actor over the years?
Relaxing into it, not being tense about getting there and getting the big scene. I’m getting better about being patient with people on the other side. I’ve heard stories.
Really? Yeah, well. . . My agents and managers tell me my biggest problem is I expect everyone to be as prepared as I am. And I do. We came here to do something. Let’s do it. What is your favorite scene?
I guess it would be actually the ultimate scene that everybody turns out to love so much, and it’s the diner scene in Pulp Fiction. Everybody loved the killing ones, but the diner scene, just because there’s so much going on when John [Travolta] and I are sitting there having that conversation prior to what happened, and the bullets not killing us, and he’s making this decision about walking the earth just to see what’s going on. So by the time Tim [Roth] gets there and I have an opportunity to do that speech again, the same speech that I’ve been killing people with, and make it make sense in a whole ’nother kind of way, and, one, it’s just the biggest threat you’ve ever heard in your life. And the next, the dude’s like sitting there making a revelation about who he is and where his place is in the world, and who he actually is. He said, “I’d love to be the shepherd, and that would be great.” They said that they didn’t know how the movie was supposed to end until I did that scene. But they had no idea that that’s what all that shit meant until I did it. I just teared up a little bit, because that is what makes that scene work: that no one—no one in the audience, no one in the movie, no one anywhere—knows what any of it means until that speech is delivered.
Exactly. Why didn’t the bullets hit you?
Deus ex machina. And that motherfucker wasn’t that good a shot. So what do you have planned for the rest of the day?
Pilates and then acupuncture. L.A. life, man.
It’s not just L. A. life—this is my life. I got to work this body. 6 8 Ap r il 2 01 9_ E s q u ire
DO THE RIGHT THING “I want people to come, smile, laugh, leave that movie going, ‘Man, that was awesome.’ ” Jacket, T-shirt, trousers, and boots by Balenciaga; watch by Piaget; hat, Jackson’s own.
GaVELS CaME DoWN
on the 2016 political conventions, the news cycle did not ease into the usual midsummer lull but instead locked directly into a state of high alarm, with Donald J. Trump at its center. In the days following Trump’s nomination, there came reports of senior Republican officials considering ways to replace him on the ballot (ABC News), of “suicidal” despair inside the Trump campaign (CNBC), and of a growing list of Republican leaders who planned to publicly support Hillary Clinton (Time). Fox News reported that friends of Trump’s were planning to stage an intervention, involving his family, in hopes of saving his candidacy. But amid those passing controversies was one story that Trump himself remembers clearly still. “Yep, very famous story,” he remarked to me in a recent interview. “It was a very important story. . . .” Trump was referring to a front-page New York Times article published on August 8, 2016, under the headline THE CHALLENGE TRUMP POSES TO OBJECTIVITY. The opening paragraph posed a provocative question: “If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?” The author of the piece was Jim Rutenberg, an important byline at the Times. He writes a media column for the paper, a feature deeply informed by Rutenberg’s experience covering politics and as an investigative reporter. Rutenberg has a keen sense of current thinking in the media hive, and when he wrote that “everyone” was asking the questions he raised in his Trump “demagogue” column, it carried the weight of mainstream newsroom consensus. Reporters who considered Trump “poten-
tially dangerous,” Rutenberg wrote, would inevitably move closer “to being oppositional” to him in their reporting—“by normal standards, untenable.” Normal standards, the column made clear, no longer applied. Trump said that was an important article because “they basically admitted that they were frauds. “They admitted in that story that they didn’t care about journalism anymore,” he continued, “that they were just going to write badly. That was an amazing admission.” It’s an essential Trumpian assertion—wildly hyperbolic, but containing what much of Red America would consider a sort of rough truth. The Rutenberg column was an astute and honest piece of analysis. The unavoidable takeaway from it was that Donald Trump, in shattering the norms of presidential politics, had baited the elite news media into abandoning the norms of traditional journalism—a central tenet of which was the posture of neutrality. That certainly seemed to be the case at the Times, which soon began to characterize dubious Trump statements as “lies” in news reports and headlines, a drastic break from the paper’s once-indelible standards. For decades, Times journalists were deeply imbued with a sense of the Times’s way of doing things, instilled in them osmotically, as well as by consultation with the holy writ of proper form, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. The Style Book, as the manual was known in the newsroom (where I worked for three years in the 1980s), insisted upon a tone of impartial neutrality, the foundation upon which the Times’s claim to authority rested. Such com-
mon terms as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” were firmly rejected as being too politically charged. Tone was paramount. “Writers and editors should guard against word choices that undermine neutrality,” the 2015 version of the Style Book directed. “If one politician is firm or resolute, an opponent should not be rigid or dogmatic. If one country in a conflict has a leadership while the other has a regime, impartiality suffers.” This view of impartiality suffered mightily with the entry of Donald Trump into presidential politics, and the eventual decision to describe his inaccurate statements as “lies.” Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, told NPR that Trump’s falsehoods, such as his claim that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U. S., were “different from the normal sort of obfuscations that politicians traffic in.” A “normal” political prevarication, Baquet explained, is “the politician who says, ‘My tax plan will save a billion dollars’ and when in his heart of hearts he knows it’s $1.9 billion that it’s not going to save; that, in fact, it’ll cost people.” As it happened, on the same day that the Times referred to Trump’s birther claim as a “lie,” it also employed the term in another story about Trump—on a subject that neatly fit Baquet’s definition of “usual political fare.” The Times reported that Trump’s campaign had made conflicting statements about the candidate’s proposal to offer huge tax cuts to small businesses. “Call it the trillion-dollar lie,” the paper declared. It was the sort of editorial inconsistency that news organizations (excepting cable news’ more amped-up precincts) had once strenuFrenemies: New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet and unaverage reader.
ously tried to avoid, bearing as it does on credibility and trust. Calling Trump a liar in news stories was a significant first step toward becoming openly oppositional, leaving readers little choice but to conclude that the Times would cover Trump as a “potentially dangerous” figure, as Rutenberg had termed it. Even within the Times, there was at least one voice expressing concern about forsaking the old rules. Liz Spayd, who was the Times’s public editor in the early months of the Trump presidency, was the embodiment of traditional journalistic standards—a former managing editor of The Washington Post and the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. We spoke at the time and she told me she found the turn toward oppositional journalism discomfiting. “I am a little worried, personally, about going too aggressively down that path,” she said, “or that being seen by reporters and editors at The New York Times as some kind of a gate that was just busted open, and now you can run through and do everything you need to do to take on this man.” Jill Abramson, Dean Baquet’s predecessor at the Times, agreed with his decision to call Trump a liar but also recognized the risk that such departures from standards carried to the Times’s hard-earned reputation as the paper of record, so prized by generations of Times journalists. “Though Baquet said publicly that he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump,” Abramson wrote in her book Merchants of Truth, published in February. While she believed that the challenges of Trump’s campaign and presidency had pushed the Times to improve its journalism in many ways, the “more anti-Trump the Times was perceived to be, the more it was mistrusted for being biased.” here The New York Times led, others inevitably followed. The Washington Post, for instance, adopted the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” a month into Trump’s presidency. Though the paper denied any partisan intent, the slogan landed as a clear poke at the president—if not a kind of Klaxons-blaring red alert. The risk for journalists is not only a loss of trust but also a loss of perspective, a predisposition to overhype the next item in a ceaseless cascade of “bombshells,” each promising to end the Trump presidency, many ending in a fizzle, or worse. The BuzzFeed story in January alleging that Trump had ordered his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress was feverishly seized upon by many in the mainstream news media, with only the faintly murmured caveat “if true.” The morning after the report, ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos devoted more than five minutes of Good Morning America’s opening news segment to the BuzzFeed story. “Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are jumping on this report and calling
BREAKING: PRESIDENT BEARS FALSE WITNESS!
Before Trump, The New York Times was averse to using the word lie, noun or verb, in its news sections. So how did the paper cover previous White Houses when they were caught dissembling?
“(HE) CHOSE TO PUT HIS OWN INTERPRETATION ON IT. . . . (AN) 800-WORD STATEMENT CONTAINED THE USUAL JUSTIFICATIONS FOR HIS ACTIONS THAT HAVE BECOME FAMILIAR. . . .” —RE: RICHARD NIXON’S RESPONSE TO THE “SMOKING GUN” TAPE, AUGUST 6, 1974
“Mr. Reagan went beyond any of his previous statements. . . .” —Re: Ronald Reagan’s televised address conceding culpability in the Iran-Contra affair, March 5, 1987
“Four administrations progressively developed a sense of commitment to a non-communist Vietnam, a readiness to fight the North to protect the South, and an ultimate frustration with this effort— to a much greater extent than their public statements acknowledged at the time.” —Re: the publication of the Pentagon Papers, June 13, 1971
“SAYING THAT HE HAD MISLED HIS WIFE AND THE PUBLIC, PRESIDENT CLINTON ADMITTED IN A SOLEMN AND GRIM-FACED ADDRESS TONIGHT THAT HE HAD AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP AT THE WHITE HOUSE WITH AN INTERN.” —RE: BILL CLINTON’S CONFESSION OF HIS AFFAIR WITH MONICA LEWINSKY, AUGUST 18, 1998 “President Bush and his top advisers had described what they said were illicit Iraqi arsenals as the central justification for going to war.” —Re: the formal end of the U. S.’s unsuccessful hunt for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, January 12, 2005 for an immediate congressional investigation,” said the network’s Justice Department correspondent, Pierre Thomas. “And some potential presidential candidates are now using the I-word—impeachment.” After the BuzzFeed story was shot down a day later by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, there was a palpable sense of collective damage among the elite media. Jeffrey Toobin, a New Yorker writer and legal analyst for CNN and a consistently fierce Trump critic in both venues, conceded, “The larger message that a lot of people are going to take from this story is that the news media are a bunch of leftist liars who are dying to get the president, and they’re willing to lie to do it.” Speaking to a panel at Oxford University last year, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron lamented that the news media seemed to be losing the power to influence events. “Journalism may not work as it did in the past,” Baron said. “Our work’s anticipated impact may not materialize.” It’s almost as if the effort to undo Trump has had an unexpected effect—that Trump has somehow broken the news media. It’s a proposition that Trump would not dispute. “Look, when I started, the news [profession] had a very high favorability rating,” he told me, referring to the launch of his political career, during a recent forty-minute phone conversation. “Now it’s down in the realms of...it’s as
low as it can possibly get.” Some more Trumperbole, perhaps, but the news media’s bond of trust with its audience is certainly under strain. Is that your doing, I asked, or the media’s? “It’s my doing,” he said. “But it’s my doing with my good ammunition, my great ammunition.” In light of the unprecedented disharmony that has characterized his relations with the news media, I asked Trump, “What, in your view, is the value to this country of a free and open press?” “Oh, I think it’s important,” he said. “I think there are few things more important than a free press.” He paused, and I was about to ask him why he’d disparaged the press as “scum,” “the lowest form of humanity,” “a stain on America,” and “the enemy of the American people” when he resumed answering my first question. “But see, I don’t consider fake news to be free press,” he said. “I consider that to be dishonest press.” The term “fake news,” of course, has been part of Trump’s “great ammunition” in his battles with the press. He didn’t coin the term, but he has cannily made it his own and wielded it to great effect. A Monmouth University poll taken last year found that 77 percent of Americans believe that traditional news outlets report “fake news”—a significant leap from the year before. I asked Trump whether he distinguished “fake news” from news that (co nt i nu ed on pa ge 10 5 )
J OS H K ARP PHoToGRaPh BY
FIFTY YEARS AGO, BOB RAFELSON WAS ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE NEW HOLLYWOOD REVOLUTION, BACKING EASY RIDER AND DIRECTING FIVE EASY PIECES. BUT WHEN HIS FORMER COMRADES IN ARMS BECAME THE NEW ESTABLISHMENT, RAFELSON REMAINED A FILMMAKER APART. HE EMERGES FROM HIS ASPEN HIDEAWAY TO REFLECT ON A REMARKABLE FEUD- AND BRAWL-FILLED CAREER THAT REDEFINED AMERICAN MOVIES.
Preceding pages: Bob Rafelson in 1972, the year his third ﬁlm, The King of Marvin Gardens, was released, and, right, in 2018, at home. He left Hollywood for good in 2002 and never looked back.
is a black-and-white film about a vanishing way of life in a small Texas town. Five Easy Pieces, which Rafelson himself directed, is the story of an alienated former piano prodigy. With an average budget of around $1 million (about $7 million in today’s dollars), each of those films lacks a traditional story line, a happy ending, a hero, and an established movie star. But collectively, they earned fourteen Oscar nominations and an estimated $100 million at the box office, capturing the mood of the largest generation in history. After the breakup of BBS in 1974, Rafelson continued to make personal films about “odd American places” and, over and over, displayed a knack for spotting talent. He gave Bruce Dern, Jessica Lange, Sally Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jennifer Lopez their first serious film roles. And he saw Jack Nicholson’s potential when the actor had been in nothing but cheap exploitation movies. “I may have thought I started his career,” Nicholson says, laughing, “but I think he started my career.” A true director’s director, Rafelson is, according to Francis Ford Coppola, “one of the most important cinematic artists of his era” and a man who “seems to approach a film with absolutely no compromise and no sense of personal danger.” “I don’t know who else would have made The Last Picture Show or Easy Rider,” says Bogdanovich. Quentin Tarantino has shown Five Easy Pieces in a curated film-festival program on seventies cinema. Wes Anderson, another fan, describes Rafelson in an email as someone who “falls into the almost nonexistent category of the movie director who does whatever he wants.” And in 2002, after thirty years of making pathbreaking, influential films, there was only one thing Rafelson wanted to do, and that was disappear. “When he went to work, it caused him so much angst. He never slept. He got tense and angry all the time,” his wife, Gaby, says. “He made a conscious choice to walk away.” “There wasn’t 1/100th of my attention that was on anything but the movie,” Rafelson tells me. Months later, when I send him that quote for confirmation, his only comment is: “Pathetic existence.” Rafelson has spent the past two decades living apart from Hollywood, raising two sons with Gaby— the British magazine Sight & Sound published a long feature on Martin Scorsese, for which it compiled E. O., nineteen, and Harper, fifa sort of Where Are They Now?: New Hollywood Edition, cataloging the fates of the directors who teen—in Aspen (he also has a fiftytransformed American filmmaking in the seventies. A few, like William Friedkin and Paul Schrader, eight-year-old son, Peter, with his were still working. Others, like Robert Towne, were effectively retired. Scorsese, along with first wife, Toby; their daughter, Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick, remained at the “top of the game.” Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Julie, died at age ten in 1973); giving Michael Cimino, Dennis Hopper, and Bob Rafelson, meanwhile, were “gone.” the occasional lecture; and simply goShortly after that issue hit newsstands, I received an email from Rafelson, who lives in Colorado, ing about his business, free from the that read: “So. . . Even the pros think I’m dead.” intensity and pressure that always acBelow that was the eighty-six-year-old director’s response to an apology from the editor: “Ok for companied his film projects. the mess up. I want five copies of the issue with reports of my mistaken demise. And a free subscripBut Rafelson—now in his ninth tion to Sight & Sound. I do not want a retraction. . . .There are several people who have heard the rudecade, and still a man with enormors of my death that I owed money to so I suppose I should be grateful. mous energy and an extremely sharp “On the other hand this subterfuge could backfire. Many years back I prized my anonymity to mind—isn’t done. He agreed to do an absurd degree. An Italian extra who spoke perfect English seduced [Marcello] Mastroianni, this interview for one reason and one [Catherine] Deneuve and others into doing a movie with him pretending to be me. He raised more reason only: Nearly thirty years after money than I was customarily paid.” (A French actor later told him that he should have read the imits release, he is convinced that his postor’s script, because it was way better than anything Rafelson had ever written.) 1990 film, Mountains of the Moon, an He signed off, “I am alive but lonely. Bob” epic story about two explorers lookFifty years ago, Rafelson revolutionized Hollywood with a deceptively simple idea: Recognize taling for the source of the Nile that perented people, provide them with the resources they need to succeed, keep them on a reasonable budformed poorly at the box office, deget (enough to make a good film, but not so much that a bad one would be a disaster), and then leave serves a second look. them alone to make the movie they want to make. “Most everyone has an ax to grind,” On paper, it was hard to imagine that three of the first four movies produced by Rayhe said in his first email to me. “I have bert and BBS, the companies Rafelson cofounded, would attract a mass audience. Dennis a penknife.” Hopper’s Easy Rider is about two hippie bikers. Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show
Februar y 2017,
7 6 Ap ri l 2 01 9_ Es q u i re
From top: Jack Nicholson and Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jeff Bridges in Stay Hungry; Bob Rafelson (left) with his partner, BBS cofounder Bert Schneider, in 1967; Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.
won’t help you find the nineteen-fifties cabin in Aspen that Rafelson bought as a second home in the seventies, when the billionaires’ resort town was still populated by freaks, outlaws, and misfits. “No one in Aspen asked me what I did for a living,” he says. “And you didn’t ask, because they were all dope dealers.” I choose to ignore the directions he gave me and get lost on a winding, snowy, one-lane road. I find a UPS driver, who tells me where to go and asks me to deliver a package so that he can avoid driving his truck over the sometimes icy bridge that leads to the director’s house. When I finally arrive, there’s a handwritten note on the front door that reads: SLAMMING THE DOOR IS A GOOD IDEA! I knock apprehensively and wait. The door opens, and I am greeted by Rafelson, a big, barrel-chested man with a resonant voice and a pair of glasses affixed to his forehead. He’s friendly, a little wary, and definitely one of the last eighty-six-year-olds you’d want to face in a bar fight. The house is a tasteful, cozy place with a wide-open floor plan and not a trace of evidence that its owner was once a famous filmmaker. There aren’t any movie posters on the walls, his New York Film Critics Circle award isn’t sitting on a shelf, and the living room isn’t filled with pictures of him alongside pals like Nicholson (with whom he has shared Christmas dinner for nearly thirty years) and Hunter S. Thompson (an Aspen neighbor with whom he would practice shooting using pictures of Richard Nixon). Instead, his home is decorated with handmade artifacts and other exotic totems—Day of the Dead statues, a poncho from the Andes, a Mauritanian marriage contract— that Rafelson gathered in the course of his travels. “It’s a big collection,” Gaby says, “but none of it’s worth anything.” “Movies are the only verboten subject in the house,” Rafelson says. His teenage sons have barely seen any of their father’s work. For them, making movies is something he used to do before they were born. When Rafelson comes upon one of his films on television, he changes the channel. His relationship with his kids is warm and paternal, but he treats them like adults. The night I stay for dinner, I find myself standing in the kitchen with Rafelson and Harper, who may not watch his dad’s movies but has an extensive knowledge of the Marvel Universe. Looking me up and down for a moment, Rafelson says, “You’re not as nerdy as I thought you’d be.” Harper nods in assent. Rafelson also hasn’t shielded them from his bouts of anger and frustration, which can reach a boiling point over sometimes irrational matters (something he considers “lame and despicable”), or the physical limitations that are the result of a life filled with adventure and devoid of caution, beginning in his teen years when he entered a rodeo in Arizona on a five-dollar bet. Thrown from the bull, he broke his coccyx. (“But five dolla!”) He later broke both his arms and wrists after falling during a riot in India, and received treatment at a hospital where a storm had knocked out the electricity and the X-ray machine used to assess the damage was powered by a car battery. He also has a propensity for confrontation. “When properly motivated, Bob could get physical in a hurry,” Nicholson tells me. “He didn’t pull in his horns for anybody.” All of this has left him with steel rods in his spine and one of his arms, a plate in his shoulder, and chronic pain. He now requires physical therapy, massages, and stretching assistance, which his kids sometimes provide. Though often cantankerous, Rafelson has the bearing of an uncle you don’t see as much as you would like. He quickly sizes up whether you can handle his provocative but self-deprecating humor. Those who can’t probably don’t get too far. Perhaps the best encapsulation of that humor—and of Rafelson’s 7 8 Apr i l 2 0 1 9_E s q u ire
lifelong aversion to authority—comes midway through Five Easy Pieces, when Nicholson, as Bobby Dupea, a character closely modeled after Rafelson, stops at a roadside diner and orders an omelet with a side of toast. The waitress informs him that a side of toast is not on the menu. Words are exchanged. Bobby orders a chickensalad sandwich without mayo, butter, lettuce—or chicken. “You want me to hold the chicken?” she says. “I want you to hold it between your knees,” he says, at which point she throws him out and he knocks the table clean. The son of a well-to-do hat-ribbon manufacturer, Rafelson was raised in Manhattan knowing one thing from early on: He didn’t want to manufacture hat ribbons. Instead, he spent his childhood trying to escape his upbringing by reading about the adventures of nineteenth-century British explorer Richard Francis Burton (“my hero growing up”) and hanging out in Manhattan art houses watching foreign and experimental films, like dadaist Hans Richter’s wildly surreal Dreams That Money Can Buy (“the weirdest shit of all time”). At fourteen, he was sent to Trinity-Pawling, a boarding school that had served as a military hospital for convalescents during World War II and, according to Rafelson, “didn’t change its population all that much once I got there.” At Dartmouth, he was tossed out of English Composition on the first day for writing a story about killing his grandfather. (The same story became the source for Nicholson’s opening monologue in Rafelson’s 1972 film, The King of Marvin Gardens.) As editor of a student literary magazine, he traveled to Cornish, New Hampshire; knocked on J. D. Salinger’s door; and tried—unsuccessfully—to bullshit the reclusive author into becoming the school’s writer-inresidence, a post held previously by Robert Frost. (“I couldn’t abide his carefully combed gray hair,” Rafelson says of Frost.) He also made a pilgrimage to Hartford, Connecticut, to speak with poet Wallace Stevens, who, despite his renown, was still working as an executive at an insurance company. Rafelson went seeking inspiration. What he found was a paunchy, dead-eyed man in a three-piece suit who balked at the idea of leaving his job and writing poetry full-time. “I love selling insurance,” Stevens told Rafelson. The summer after he graduated from Dartmouth, Rafelson sold ties at a Manhattan department store. For most people, this would have been just a boring job, but when Rafelson came home from work, it seemed like anything but. “There was always some incredible story to be told about somebody who worked there or came in to buy a tie,” says his ex-wife, Toby. “It was always beyond reality. He could take experiences of reality and embroider them and make them entertainment. . . . Anything that he did became fodder for his imagination.” Rafelson’s stories would come to include swimming with sharks and springing Dennis Hopper from a mental institution. (Hopper later pulled a gun on Rafelson, who called the actor’s bluff by putting his mouth around the chamber, daring him to pull the trigger.) Then there are the tales of his brushes with the law. According to Rafelson, he’s been incarcerated and tortured on four continents (“maybe three—who counts?”) and was once hanged by his feet from the ceiling of a Colombian prison, an experience he describes as “painful, not so much because of the wires attached to my nuts but because Perry Como was on the radio.” After college, Rafelson joined the Army. He wound up with his own radio show on the Far East Network and was court-martialed twice, once for striking a sergeant. While stationed in Japan, he subtitled Japanese films for a local studio. When his tour was up, Rafelson enrolled at Banaras Hindu University to study Hindi but never attended. Back in New York, some family friends helped Rafelson get a job as a story analyst for David Susskind, who had him writing supplemental dialogue for The Play of the Week. While working for Susskind, Rafelson was introduced to Bert Schneider, a young executive for Screen Gems, the television arm of Columbia Pictures, the studio
Rafelson attending to some yard work at his home in Aspen.
run by Schneider’s father, Abe. Rafelson and Schneider hit it off. They spent their lunch hour most days walking around Central Park, discussing the stagnant state of American movies, which they believed had fallen behind those of Italy, France, and England. During one of those walks, Rafelson told Schneider that “the problem [in Hollywood] isn’t the lack of talent. It’s that we don’t have people who will recognize it.” People, that is, like them. One day they would start a company dedicated to identifying and supporting original filmmakers. The idea wasn’t so much to beat the system but to create their own. Moving to Los Angeles in 1962, Rafelson took a job working for Universal’s television division as an associate producer on the campus drama Channing, for which he approached Edward Albee and Aldous Huxley to write scripts. Before long, Rafelson was called in to see Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal’s parent company, MCA. Then the most feared and powerful man in Hollywood—he once brought Shirley Temple to tears by telling America’s sweetheart that her career was over, then handed her a box of tissues and said, “Here, have one on me”—Wasserman was appalled to find that Michael Parks, one of the actors Rafelson cast, had pockmarks on his neck, and screamed that he wanted to see “real actors.” Rafelson responded, “How would you know whether [something] is real?!” He picked up an award from Wasserman’s desk, shouting, “This isn’t real!” and hurled it across the room. He then did the same with anything else he could grab, including a picture of Wasserman’s family. “We weren’t on the same page,” Rafelson explains. According to Toby, Rafelson “wasn’t meant to be a company man,” something that became more and more evident to his employers, as he rarely lasted even a year at a series of jobs he held before Schneider moved to Hollywood in 1965 and the pair formed Raybert, the production company that would evolve into BBS. Rafelson had conceived a TV show about the life of a rock band, but the idea went nowhere until the mid-sixties, when the success of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night suddenly made it incredibly marketp hoto gra ph : C hr is Buc k
“HE PUNCHED THE PRODUCER,” SAYS PETER BOGDANOVICH. “I’D LIKE TO PUNCH A FEW PRODUCERS.”
able. Rafelson and Schneider auditioned hundreds of actors (including Stephen Stills but not, as has been rumored, Charles Manson) before hiring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith as the teen-friendly, made-for-TV group they called the Monkees. “The Monkees was the single most commercial venture that they ever did together,” Toby says. “It was followed by millions of screaming teenagers.” A near-instant hit when it debuted on NBC in September 1966, The Monkees made Rafelson and Schneider rich, giving them enough money to start doing the kinds of things they had talked about in Central Park. Easy Rider (1969), another Raybert production, was financed with $400,000 they’d earned from The Monkees. The film grossed around $60 million (almost $400 million in today’s dollars), which made it one of the most profitable movies in history at a time when the studios were being run into the ground by middle-aged executives producing films like the Western musical Paint Your Wagon. After Easy Rider, however, everyone in old Hollywood suddenly wanted to be in business with Rafelson and Schneider. Taking on a third partner, Schneider’s friend Steve Blauner, they formed BBS (Bert, Bob, and Steve) and signed a six-picture deal with Columbia in which the studio would put up $1 million per film—without seeing so much as a script—and turn over total creative control to BBS and its filmmakers. “That was a big deal: to have that much independence,” Nicholson recalls. It was more than final cut; it was final everything. Seeking out filmmakers he deemed worthy of the freedom BBS could offer, Rafelson found one when he watched Targets, a low-budget movie directed by Bogdanovich about a mass shooter. Bogdanovich’s next project, 1971’s The Last Picture Show, was produced by BBS for $1.3 million, made $30 million, and received a Best Picture nomination. “Bob was the artistic conscience of that group,” Bogdanovich says. “His instinctual aspect was exceptional. He knew people’s good points and their limits as well.” Indeed, Rafelson had the foresight to pass on Hopper’s second film, The Last Movie. Despite Easy Rider’s incredible A pri l 201 9 _Esqu ire 7 9
success, Rafelson realized that “Dennis had begun to believe his own myth” and let Universal take on what would become a disastrous project. Rafelson, with his innate ability to judge people and projects (“If I see a movie,” he says, “I know who’s talented and who’s lucky”), was a perfect match for Schneider, a born risk-taker (he’d been kicked out of Cornell for gambling) who was raised in the movie business and understood its inner workings. “I could come up with ideas, Bert could turn a film into a hit, and Steve knew every theater in America,” Rafelson says. “It was incredible how much freedom landed on the right group of people and what it could produce,” Nicholson says. Toby says she first became aware of Nicholson in the mid-sixties, when she and Rafelson were milling around a theater lobby after a screening. “From across the room, I saw something kind of radiate: a flash of white teeth, beaming at me, or toward Bob, who seemed to respond.” Later on, when Toby asked Rafelson about the young man who’d smiled at them, he replied, “That’s an actor named Jack Nicholson. And I’m going to make him a star.” At the time, Toby thought his comment was the height of arrogance, given that her husband was a television producer and Nicholson was mostly working on B-movies. “Then it turns out to be true,” she says. Rafelson had met Nicholson at another screening, where both were shouting their disapproval at the screen. They found each other when the lights came up. “We seemed to have the same taste about the movie,” Nicholson tells me. “We always seem to have the same taste about things.” As they became fast friends, Rafelson quickly realized that Nicholson was “a genius”—one of the most brilliant and talented people he’d ever met. Nicholson, meanwhile, had found a kindred spirit who was smart, creative, ambitious, and completely unpretentious, with a tendency to stir the pot when things got boring. “He had a nature that irritated a lot of people,” says Nicholson. “Which was also appealing to me.” Their first collaboration was Rafelson’s feature debut, the Monkees movie Head (1968), which they wrote while smoking pot in Harry Dean Stanton’s basement, and which Nicholson structured during an acid trip. (They picked the title so that the Easy Rider poster could read, “From the guys that gave you Head!”) The result was a genre-mashing deconstruction of the made-for-TV band Rafelson had cocreated. He considered it an audacious film—“so audacious that nobody saw the fucking thing.” Rafelson had different plans for his next project. “I knew it would be quiet,” he says. “I knew it wouldn’t be a Monkees film.” He wrote two scripts, one of which he based on his own life, and gave them to his cowriter Carole Eastman, who chose to revise the more autobiographical screenplay. Nicholson appeared first in Easy Rider as a replacement for Rip Torn, due to an incident in which Torn and Dennis Hopper nearly murdered each other. But as Rafelson had predicted back in that screening-room lobby, Five Easy Pieces was Nicholson’s breakout, the film that turned him from a gifted, charming supporting actor into a leading man whose star power has hardly waned nearly fifty years on. In the 1970 film, the disaffected Bobby Dupea flees the expectations of his family to work in an oil field but winds up returning to the cloistered home where he was raised in order to say goodbye to his dying father. Dupea bore similarities to numerous people, but more than anything, he resembled the man behind the camera. Nicholson’s wardrobe consisted largely of Rafelson’s clothes, including a dark turtleneck sweater the director had owned since Dartmouth.
Five Easy Pieces was a box-office hit that garnered two Oscar nominations for Rafelson and a Best Actor nod for Nicholson. It did more than just launch Nicholson’s career; it also defined what movies could be in this new era. It showed that they could be both profane and smart. They could be bleak and funny. And, ultimately, they could revolve around quirky antiheroes who weren’t always likable, as well as follow nontraditional, character-based story lines that could end without necessarily providing answers or even resolution. Alexander Payne describes the film as “a blend of cinema and literature.” “I remember the explosive laughter, the deep silences, the stunned attention as the final shot seemed to continue forever, and then the ovation,” Roger Ebert wrote in 2003. “We’d had a revelation. This was the direction American movies should take: Into idiosyncratic characters, into dialogue with an ear for the vulgar and the literate, into a plot free to surprise us about the characters, into an existential ending not required to be happy.” As Rafelson discusses the final scene, in which Bobby bums a ride north with a truck driver while his pregnant girlfriend waits for him beside their car at a gas station, he becomes emotional, telling me: “He’s doomed to leave. He’s doomed to disappear and keep going. He’s doomed to be unsatisfied.” When I ask him about the breakup of BBS, Rafelson responds, “I had to collect rent” from the other tenants in the building. Prodded further, he cites Schneider’s deepening commitment to radical politics and his own eagerness to focus on directing. But whenever we start discussing their eventual estrangement, Rafelson changes, dropping the humorous provocation and mock irritation, always telling me to ask him about it later—a later that never seems to arrive during our three days of interviews. The closest I get to an answer is when Rafelson tells me that Schneider’s attitude was “If I help you, you owe me,” while his own code was almost the opposite. “I expect to be betrayed,” he tells me. Months later, I email Rafelson a question about Schneider and betrayal, to which he responds: “Bert did many courageous things in his life. His political stance— Abbie Hoffman, Newton and the Panthers, his willingness to bet on friends to take extreme positions. To be united and defy authority. This cost him, this risk. But, if that person didn’t live up to Bert’s expectations . . . he would cut them dead. I mean totally eliminate them. He could not see it from their point of view. He was betrayed. At different times, [Henry] Jaglom, Jack, Warren [Beatty], Terry Malick, Candice [Bergen] and finally me. I never could believe that could happen. We’d been through so much together. I was immune you see. The cost of loyalty denied to Bert was extreme. “I had a different attitude. I thought of all men having their failings.” hile shooting Stay Hungry, a film about a wealthy southerner who befriends a bodybuilder, in 1975, Rafelson took Sally Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jeff Bridges to see Jaws. When it was over, he told them: “This is the death of the movie you’re in right now.” (In her 2018 memoir, Field alleges that Rafelson made her kiss him to get the part, which the director denies.) The revolution was over; iconoclastic, character-driven films were quickly going out of style; the studios had regrouped with corporate backing; and the young directors running Hollywood were now Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and anyone else who could make a blockbuster and work within the new system. (c on t i n ue d on pa ge 10 2)
“IT WAS INCREDIBLE HOW MUCH LANDED ON THE RIGHT GROUP OF PEOPLE AND WHAT IT COULD PRODUCE,”
SAYS JACK NICHOLSON. 80 A pri l 2 01 9_ Es q u i re
Clockwise from top: Bruce Dern and Jack Nicholson in The King of Marvin Gardens; Rafelson on location for Mountains of the Moon; with Nicholson; with the Monkeesâ€™ Davy Jones; with Theresa Russell and Debra Winger on location for Black Widow; Iain Glen and Patrick Bergin in Mountains of the Moon.
Just because you are a big man doesn’t mean you can’t have big style. As Winston Duke, star of Black Panther and Jordan Peele’s new horror 82
film, Us, shows, the keys to looking great when you have a large frame: know how to wear color, mix in the right prints, and layer on the texture.
Style secrets for the bigger man: Donâ€™t be afraid to combine
O V E R L E A F, L E F T
Jacket ($10,990) by Tom Ford; shirt ($1,125) by Versace. O V E R L E A F, R I G H T
Jacket ($1,550) by Valentino; T-shirt ($430) by Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh.
“I’m six-foot-five and over two-hundredsome-odd pounds. You don’t get to see a lot of my body type in fashion. I really loved that in this shoot we got to push the envelope of what types of bodies fit in the world of high fashion and representation.” T H I S PA G E
Jacket ($2,550), turtleneck shirt ($840), and trousers ($1,260) by Prada. OPPOSITE
Printed shirt ($600) by Pyer Moss; shirt ($248) by Boss; vintage trousers from Early Halloween, NYC; loafers ($110) by G. H. Bass & Co.
textures and prints. Fortune favors the bold.
“People tend to say that if you don’t fit sample sizes for a photo shoot, there’s not much choice for you. But I feel we’re showing people who don’t fit a sample size and who value self-expression that they have options.”
Overcoat ($810) and coat ($1,125) by Homme Plissé Issey Miyake; trousers ($890) by Issey Miyake Men.
Confidence is king. With the right swagger—and accent 86
color—you rule the room.
is no mean feat for any actor, but when you’re six-foot-five, it’s a lot harder. That’s what makes Winston Duke’s genre fluidity all the more impressive—even with a can’t-miss physique, he sinks with ease into roles as disparate as comic-book hero, drug lord, and highbrowhorror protagonist. Chalk it up to his childhood: As a boy growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Duke was steeped in stories and characters. “I was always around storytelling—it was a way of life,” the thirtytwo-year-old says. “I was always told stories about cousins or neighbors, fantastical stories that included magic and folklore—those things shaped me.” Duke was born in the Tobagonian village of Argyle, the son of a single mother who worked for the government and owned a restaurant on the side. When he was nine years old, his mother sold everything she owned to pack herself and her two children off to Brooklyn, where they lived in a studio apartment to facilitate his sister’s dream of becoming a doctor. Around twenty years and two acting degrees later (from the University at Buffalo and the Yale School of Drama), Duke captured the public’s imagination with Black Panther, last year’s highest-grossing film, in which he costarred as M’Baku, the scene-stealing leader of a renegade Wakandan tribe. (You might remember him better as the guy who barked at Martin Freeman.) To audiences, he could have seemed like the proverbial overnight sensation, but for the journeyman actor, who spent his twenties doing regional theater and playing small roles on television shows like Modern Family, it didn’t quite feel instantaneous. “Black Panther changed how people see me, but it hasn’t changed me as an artist,” Duke says. “It’s a reflection of all the things that came before. My time doing August Wilson, my time studying Brecht and Ibsen. It feels like an overnight success because I’m exposed to more people, but the work’s been there.” This month, Duke takes the lead in Us, Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated chaser to Get Out, a debut feature that handily won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, grossed more than $250 million at the box office, and upended expectations of what a horror film can be. Peele spent the past four months teasing a film just as singular and provocative as Get Out. Duke stars as a suburban dad alongside mom Lupita Nyong’o, with whom he appeared in Black Panther. Their friendship goes even further back—they grew close as classmates at Yale, where Duke always admired Nyong’o’s fierce talent. “During Black Panther, I said to Lupita, ‘I can’t wait until you’re leading a movie. I can’t wait until people get to see you the way I’ve known you for such a long time,’ ” Duke says. “To be supporting her as a black woman in a leading role, it brings tears to my eyes.” As Peele continues to transform the horror genre with cerebral, socially conscious films, the resonance of Us isn’t lost on Duke, a vocal advocate for racial justice and gender equality. “It’s a powerful statement,” he says, “that this is a movie with a family of African descent as the leads in a genre that usually uses them as sacrifices or plot momentum—the black friend gets killed in the forest, the black friend gets killed first. It’s a wonderful addition to the film landscape to have a black family at the center.” Up next, a different shade for the chameleon. Duke will star opposite Mark Wahlberg in Wonderland, a Peter Berg crime drama, after reprising his role as M’Baku in Avengers: Endgame. Beyond that, he’s eager to lend his talents to projects “that are in conversation with larger social issues,” and now that he’s no longer hiding in plain sight, he’ll have his pick of roles. “My mother constantly reminded me that the race is not for the swift, but for those who can endure to the end,” Duke says. “That’s something I’ve carried with me through coming to this country and entering this industry. My ultimate goal is to last to the end.” —Adrienne Westenfeld
“This shoot allowed me to distill my sense of fashion and what it means to me. This was liberating to me. Being able to choose what you wear on your body and how it fits, and what statements you make nonverbally just by what you’re wearing—it is incredibly important. Being able to be a part of a story like this, it’s been earth-shattering me.” for
T H I S PA G E
Jacket ($1,220) by Dries Van Noten; polo shirt ($135) by Rag & Bone; trousers ($980) by Gucci; sneakers ($55) by Converse; IWC watch, stylist’s own. OPPOSITE
Sweater ($1,490) by Monse; T-shirt ($78) by AG; trousers ($690) by Gucci; boots ($625) by Belstaff.
Big does not mean boxy. Look for clothes that move with 88
you but are still trim. For store information see page 106. Production by Amy Ground. Grooming by Red. Hair by Chris Leno. Retouching by Elizabeth Moss at Rare Digital Art.
IT’S early June in Israel, as sirens blare and golden explosions burst the black sky. Clashes have been raging since before President Trump moved the U. S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing it as the country’s capital to the outrage of Palestinians, but the relocation sparked the most deadly outbreak in years along the Gaza Strip. Legions of protesters hurl firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers over the security fence. Burning kites fly over from Gaza into the brittle, dry fields
cus, an uncanny ability to stare at a screen and process highly complex data without tiring or daydreaming. For that reason, as their scruffy, middleaged commander Eitan (to protect some IDF identities, aliases are used) tells me, “These are the best soldiers in the unit.” They are also the most distinctive—not only in Israel but in the world. They’re part of an innovative military program called Roim Rachok, Hebrew for “seeing into the future.” The elite group consists entirely of members of a burgeoning but underserved and overlooked population with powers as special as their needs: autistic teens. Founded in 2012 by three former agents of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, it accomplishes two goals: providing the military with highly skilled analysts and providing autistic teens with the opportunity to serve. The program scours the country for capable volunteers, men and women, then trains them for three months in life and work skills to integrate them into the unit known as 9900 (which also includes soldiers who aren’t on the autism spectrum). The experience doesn’t end with the service, which can last several years. The soldiers enter the workplace with this invaluable expertise, and companies such as Intel seek
SERVING ON THE SPECTRUM
Clockwise from top: A burning kite from Gaza; a member of the Roim Rachok program; troops in the ﬁeld often get intelligence support from Roim Rachok soldiers; recruits are trained in visual analysis; IDF troops along Israel’s northern border.
“I’m here to prove that not all autistic kids have trouble with relationships. It really along Israel’s southern border, setting the ground ablaze. Forty-five miles north, in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel Defense Forces personnel bustle around the Kirya, the sprawling campus that has served as the IDF’s main base and headquarters since shortly after the founding of the country in 1948. On an upper floor of one heavily guarded building, at the end of a narrow hall, a half-dozen young intelligence soldiers in olive-green fatigues stare intently at their dual computer monitors. Aerialsurveillance photos of the country’s borders flicker on their screens. They’re doing visual analysis, eyeballing an ever-shifting cascade of thousands of satellite images, looking for the slightest sign of enemy activity—a small stockpile of explosives behind a hill, perhaps, or a tiny, upturned pile of sand indicating a nascent underground tunnel. Missing one detail could cost lives. Their high-stakes work is crucial for protecting Israeli citizens and soldiers. It’s also unforgiving. For nine hours a day, or more during a crisis, they exhibit almost bionic fo9 2 Ap ri l 2 01 9 _Es q u i re
them out. The story of Roim Rachok has implications far beyond Israel. It demonstrates an inspiring new way of thinking about autism, one that empowers both those on the spectrum and those around them. “It’s a winwin for the country,” Eitan says. “It’s a winwin for the soldiers. And it’s a win-win for me. This is the right thing to do at the right time.”
is on the rise. A study released in April 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based on the most recent data, from 2014, found that one in fifty-nine children in America has autism-spectrum disorder—a 15 percent increase from two years prior and a 150 percent increase from fourteen years before. Although autism predominantly affects boys, the rate for girls is also increasing. In 2012, boys were four and a half times as likely to be on the spectrum; in 2014, that figure fell to four times as likely. In total, about 3.5 million Americans have autism-spectrum
disorder. The stats track around the world, where roughly 1 percent of the population shares the diagnosis. There is no single cause of autism, which is thought to develop from a combination of environmental and genetic forces. The increase has also been correlated with a greater awareness of symptoms. People with ASD often struggle with social skills, communication, and repetitive behaviors, but the range of individual strengths and weaknesses is vast. About one third of people on the spectrum are nonverbal, and the same fraction have an intellectual disability. Autism can also coincide with a variety of physical and mental challenges, such as seizures, anxiety, and ADHD. According to a Drexel University study, among young adults with nonphysical disabilities, those with autism have the lowest rate of employment. In fact, nearly 42 percent of people in their early twenties with autism have never worked for pay at all. The wide majority of those who do work are lucky to earn a living wage. For young Israelis with autism, the
within the IDF, to see how autistics might play a role in military service. This is when he learned that Sali was looking into this matter herself. With a go-ahead from the IDF, in 2012 they began the Roim Rachok pilot program. It wasn’t just about transforming Israeli service. It was also about proving to the world that young people on the spectrum could not only perform but excel. “I felt that this is the purpose I’m here for,” Vardi, a tanned sixty-five-year-old with short gray hair, tells me, “to create a new life model for people with autism.”
is a rainbow, it’s a spectrum.” frustration is compounded by the country’s mandatory military service. Citizens over the age of eighteen are required to enlist in the IDF, two years and eight months of service for men, two years for women. For generations, it has been viewed as a rite of passage into adulthood, a way to both serve the country and spread one’s wings after high school. But it’s an experience that has been lost for teens on the spectrum, who, along with others with disabilities, are exempt from conscription. They fall under a category known as Profile 21. The pain of missing this experience is one that Leora Sali, one of Roim Rachok’s cofounders, and her family know firsthand. A physicist who managed the technology team for the Mossad, Sali has an autistic son herself. By the time he was three, she saw that he seemed to be having trouble communicating and reading social cues. Like many parents, she and her husband didn’t understand the scope of his subsequent diagnosis. They feared that, given his exemption from the military, he would never get to find him-
self and his purpose as they and generations of others before him had. “I wanted him to be part of society,” Sali tells me. “I wanted him to learn to have a profession, to be able to work and support himself in the future.” But Sali wasn’t willing to give up her dream of having him serve his country. “This is something I knew he could do,” she says. She believed that her son had powers of focus and concentration that could be of great use to the military. In 2011, she persuaded her colleagues in the IDF to allow her to put together a small team of researchers to explore what special capabilities autistics might have that would entice the military to take them on. She wasn’t the only one pursuing this goal at the time. Tal Vardi was a veteran Mossad agent who had spent decades in service (including during the Yom Kippur war and the raid on Entebbe). Since retiring, he’d been teaching yoga and giving tours of the country. In January 2011, he gathered with former colleagues after one of their sons had been killed in Gaza. As they sat in a garden catching up with one another, one of the men, now a wealthy software executive, said that he had two autistic teenage sons who were struggling to contribute to society and lead happy lives. The anguish of his friend’s family moved Vardi, who offered to help. With the support of his friend Tamir Pardo, then the head of the Mossad, Vardi organized a meeting of dozens of scientists and researchers, including technologists
midafternoon inside a windowless classroom at Ono Academic College, a school of fourteen thousand students in a leafy suburb outside Tel Aviv. A dozen Roim Rachok recruits sit around a table, listening intently as two others stand up front by a whiteboard reporting on the Lebanon war. The speakers—a guy and a girl in their late teens—confidently click through their PowerPoint slides, taking pains at the end to make eye contact with the others, who pepper them with questions and comments. “You displayed a good memory for dates,” one classmate, Ari, tells them in Hebrew, “but it’s a bit too long, and you didn’t use body language enough.” The students here are two months into their initial three-month training before moving on to the IDF headquarters. As Ari’s critique suggests, the focus is not just to build their military knowledge but to help them develop the social skills they’ll need in order to work with those they call “neurotypical” soldiers—or NTs, as they nickname them. “The issue wasn’t really the Lebanon war; it was the teamwork,” Vardi tells me after class. “It was them being able to stand in front of people and talk and present something and then later on going through the process of getting feedback in a respectful way.” In this sense, Roim Rachok presents a model for how autistics can be integrated into the Israeli military as well as one for integration into society at large. It fits with Israel’s reputation for innovation—as chronicled in books such as Start-up Nation. Vardi refers to the program, which they designed from the ground up, as “a social start-up” whose template can be adapted to operate just as effectively in the workplace. Selected candidates must be on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, with self-sufficiency in daily routines and basic time-management skills. Of the roughly one hundred applicants each year, about 80 percent are accepted. For the new participants here in class, being part of the proApril 2 0 19 _E s quire 93
gram fills them with a deep sense of pride and purpose. “I’m here to prove to the world that not all autistic kids are dumb or have trouble with relationships,” one young man, Hillel, tells me, “because it really is a rainbow, it’s a spectrum.” “Autism is a present,” says another, Yosef. “It is a gift to the world, and people on the spectrum can offer a lot to the world. And that’s why I’m here, to spread this word.” For many of them, this kind of opportunity for self-growth eluded them before in school and at home. “I had problems with really making friends,” a student, Oded, says. “It was like being on an alien planet. . . . I believe I’m not a person with a disability; I’m disabled because society doesn’t put that much effort into integrating me.” Michal, the young woman who presented on the Lebanon war, tells a heartbreaking story of what it felt like to be cast aside when she was young. After being diagnosed with autism at age three, she was sent to a special school at a hospital where “they always treated me like I’m a worthless and stupid girl,” she says. “People told me that autism is not good.” Part of the problem is the feeling of not being challenged, that skills and interests are going unacknowledged. Gil, another participant, laments how after his diagnosis in fourth grade, he was put into a special class that left him depressed. “I thought, I can’t be in this cage,” he recalls. “I want to be like everyone else.” But he wasn’t simply on par with the NTs in his school; he was in many ways far beyond them. Gil is among the 10 percent of autistics with savant abilities, such as a photographic memory of Japanese history and an aptitude for jujitsu. He shows me a video on his iPhone of him deftly playing the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” It can take years to learn, but he mastered it in two months by watching his teacher play and memorizing the motion of his fingers. “I try to build some road with my hands, and on this road I can remember which notes to play,” he says. A passion for specialized knowledge runs through many of the students. “We have people interested in bitcoin, the fuels of the spaceships, the history of the Holocaust,” says Efrat Selanikyo, an occupational therapist specializing in autism who serves as Roim Rachok’s professional manager. During a class field trip to a historical site, one teen fresh out of high school shocked the archaeologist guide by speaking to him about the area in an ancient and arcane Hebraic language. “He’s on the level of my doctoral students,” the archaeologist told Selanikyo. Another student astonished his father during a vacation to China by speaking fluent Mandarin, which he had recently taught himself. 9 4 Ap ri l 2 01 9_ E sq ui re
Sali wants to ensure that those in Roim Rachok see themselves more positively. “I can say it as a parent: There’s a stigma. The word autistic is a hard word,” she says. “We believe that you should tell somebody, ‘You’re on the autistic spectrum. However, you have strengths, you have abilities, you have potential.’ ” Roim Rachok puts its members’ intelligence, focus, and determination—their “superpowers,” as Gil calls them—to use. Beyond cultivating social and communication skills, the program trains the participants in areas of military intelligence that utilize the unique talents of someone on the spectrum. In addition to visual analysis, recruits get schooled in information analysis, which means gathering intelligence online. Information warfare—the kind practiced by Russia against the U. S. during the 2016 election—requires analysts who scour the web
being able to serve their country, and confidence that they can do it just as well as, if not better than, their NT peers. As Corporal Lev tells me frankly, “Probably I will be way more motivated than them.” In fact, it didn’t take long after the first class of eleven volunteers joined the IDF for the autistic soldiers to distinguish themselves. Operation Protective Edge, in 2014, entailed comparing tens of thousands of aerial photographs to determine potential terrorist activity. Eitan expected it would take them at least a year. “We’ll see how they do it, and we’ll see what their next mission will be,” he had said. The team members took to their dual-display computers, eyeing picture after picture after picture of terrain around the Israeli border, looking for signs of cars or bombs or terrorists. It’s the kind of mind-numbing, detail-oriented work that
“We believe that you should tell somebody, ‘You’re on the autistic and make sense of all manner of information, from fake news on Facebook to propaganda videos on YouTube. It’s the perfect task for those in the program, who are able to spend several hours in front of a computer assimilating a flood of data while maintaining intense concentration. This knack also makes the candidates ideal for what’s known as quality assurance, or QA, searching for and fixing bugs in software and hardware. Not everyone makes it through the initial training phase. One recruit took one look around the room and insisted he was better than the rest. “I’m not like you,” he told them bitterly. “I’m going to be a real soldier.” Even Sali’s own son couldn’t make it, because his anxiety was too high. But the 97 percent who do get through the first stage leave with a sense of self that they never knew was possible. “I love my autism now,” Michal says with a smile after class. “I’m proud of it.”
C O RPOR A L
Lev and Sergeant Lev, two twenty-one-yearold autistic soldiers now serving in IDF intelligence, share more than a name. After befriending each other in Roim Rachok and working together as visual analysts in Unit 9900, they began sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, where they play video games and guitar like a lot of young guys their age. But they also share something deeper: pride in
would leave NTs with dry eyes and wandering minds, if they managed to persist at all. “Any regular soldier wouldn’t last in this duty more than a month, because it’s very Sisyphean and boring,” Eitan says. But day after day, the autistic soldiers rose to the task. “They enjoy repetitive work,” as Selanikyo puts it. “They like the routine.” What was supposed to take twelve months they finished in three—earning a special commendation from the IDF. “It’s not because they’re autistic,” Eitan says. “It’s because they did great work.” It’s now become expected that Roim Rachok soldiers will not only outlast NTs but also approach their commanders requesting extra work. The benefits, however, don’t come without challenges, for either the autistics or the NTs who work with them. The Roim Rachok soldiers can easily overwork themselves. They must be told to take a break and clear their minds; otherwise they would keep going until they burned out. During training, Gil became obsessed with determining the location of a monument in a satellite photo. It haunted him day and night that he couldn’t figure it out. “I will not stop until I find it,” he tells me. “But in the middle I will get very tired. I will be very sad because I can’t find it. Not eat. Nothing. Not sleep. When I go to sleep, I will think how to find it. Never stop.” They can also be brutally blunt and expect the same in return. “You have to make sure everything you’re saying is clear, without bull-
ThE SPeCTruM StaTEsIDE Right now, those with a diagnosis of autism-spectrum disorder aren’t eligible to serve in the U. S. military. But that’s just one avenue closed to the fifty thousand autistic young adults who exit from high school every year. Here’s what the job landscape is like for them, and what some specialized schools and training programs are doing to improve their chances of employment. —Brady Langmann
LOOKING FOR WORK
STRUGGLING TO START
THE BUSINESS WORLD
Autistic young adults have the lowest rate of employment compared with their peers with other nonphysical disabilities.
Autistic young adults who work hold about three jobs during their early twenties—almost 80 percent of them work part-time at an average of $9.11 per hour. Nearly 42 percent don’t work for pay at all.
Two years after high school, only 32 percent of autistic young adults have ever had a job. It takes six to eight years for that ﬁgure to reach 93 percent.
Conversation ability is one of the biggest indicators of employment—only 15 percent of autistic young adults with the lowest conversation abilities have worked.
According to the Department of Defense, those with autism can’t serve in the military, although the FBI “welcomes the consideration of all qualiﬁed applicants for any available position.”
Corporations like JPMorgan Chase, Ford, and Microsoft have training programs aimed at hiring autistic individuals. They’re often placed in information technology and software engineering.
Trade schools in the U. S. help develop speciﬁc skills in autistic individuals, schools like California’s Exceptional Minds studio, which trains those pursuing careers in computer animation.
spectrum. However, you have strengths and abilities.’ ” shitting, without being embarrassed about it,” says David Kreizelman, the military-history instructor in Roim Rachok. “They can misread social cues and hurt people,” Selanikyo says. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, you are very fat’ or ‘Why did you cut your hair that way?’ ” (When one of them learns this magazine’s name, he says, “It’s very funny that this is published by the publication that sounds like the most punchable aristocrat ever, Esquire.”) Since the soldiers are working in sensitive military intelligence, though, the risks run far deeper than hurt feelings. A difficulty in reading social cues can manifest as an inability to distinguish right from wrong. “Sometimes we’re not sure whether they can keep a secret or not, whether they can understand what is classified and what is not,” Selanikyo says. “It’s a very serious situation.” They can be a weapon that falls into the wrong hands. “They’re sometimes very naive, and they believe what other people say,” Selanikyo continues. “So they may be exploited.” One Roim Rachok soldier, who desperately wanted to be friends with other soldiers, was talked into stealing items from stores and holding weed for the NTs. He had to be let go as a result. Another’s trust was taken advantage of by NTs who would sell him cheap goods—like headphones—for twenty-five times the appropriate price. The concern is that an enemy could find out that these people are soldiers and extract top-secret information in a similar way.
Maintaining privacy is paramount in the IDF, which has restrictions on allowing soldiers to post pictures of themselves in uniform on social media—and thereby put their lives at risk. But one autistic soldier let himself be filmed playing video games and was soon on gaming sites compromising his identity. Enemies could then make contact over the Internet—one tried to approach a soldier claiming to be his cousin. “They could ask him for information,” Selanikyo says, “and we are not sure he can understand.” Still, of the hundreds of volunteers who have been placed in the IDF, 86 percent have been able to stick it out. This high success rate is due to Roim Rachok’s extensive support efforts, which ensure not only that the soldiers adhere to the requirements of service but also that they receive the help they need. Each volunteer meets with a psychotherapist once a week for emotional counseling and an occupational therapist once a week for help navigating the workplace. This isn’t just for their benefit. “It’s needed for them, for the commanders, for their colleagues,” Vardi says. “And this is the kind of support people on the spectrum will need all their lives.”
that it’s going into its sixth year, Roim Rachok is beginning to fulfill its ultimate mission: transitioning its soldiers from the IDF
into the job market. “We’re using the stage of the military to give these young adults the experience of work so they can utilize it in life,” Vardi says. Intel and eBay are among the first companies in Israel to hire people from the program. The skills the autistics learn—from quality assurance to information analysis—is directly applicable in many high-tech fields. And the soldiers’ focus and dedication are equally valued. In fact, what has long been considered a liability is starting to be seen as an asset. Neurodiversity—a term that applies to a variety of conditions, such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism—is a burgeoning movement that seeks to “reject the idea that autism should be cured,” according to a statement from the National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University, “advocating instead for celebrating autistic forms of communication and self-expression, and for promoting support systems that allow autistic people to live as autistic people.” The notion is catching on among corporations, which are cultivating and capitalizing on this population’s powers of concentration and understanding of complex systems. “It’s a talent pool that really hasn’t been tapped,” Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the chief accessibility officer at tech giant Microsoft, told CBS News last year. In addition to Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ford, IBM, Ernst & Young, and JPMorgan Chase are some of the companies exploring how to include autistic people in the workforce. One afternoon, I visit Barak, the first graduate of Roim Rachok (co nt i nu ed on pa ge 10 5 ) Apri l 201 9 _E squ ire 95
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The Game of Pharaohs
The author may be one of the country’s most important book critics, but like the rest of us, there was something else he wanted to be good at, something else he didn’t want to transform from a dream into a regret. So he packed a bag and his backgammon board and headed to MONTE CARLO. By Dwight Garner
I SEE A RED DISK AND I WANT TO MAKE IT BLACK. . . Opposite: Mick Jagger in Barbados with Jerry Hall, just prior to his fortieth birthday. This page: Tina Turner as she appeared in a photo for the cover of Backgammon magazine in 1979. Photograph by Andrea Waller
of the Fairmont hotel in Monaco, home to the Backgammon World Championship, is like striding through an aquarium. Well-tended women, summa cum laude graduates of the Ivanka Trump School of Advanced Moisturizing, move through the firstfloor casino as if in schools, their older boyfriends, many of them Russian, in tow. Call girls, only slightly less well tended, perch on couches and sip cocktails from long straws. There’s a throwback bad-taste glamour here in Monte Carlo, the Las Vegas of Europe. One waits for Engelbert Humperdinck or some other sideburned lothario of the 1970s to sidle past in a leisure suit. Yet the Fairmont, in its way, is an up-to-date sin palace. There’s the thumping of EDM from the hotel’s Nikki Beach roof bar. Out front there’s a crush of valet-parked Porches, Bentleys, and Maseratis glinting in the July sun. The hotel sits on a hairpin turn that bedevils Formula One Grand Prix racers and has caused countless crashes. The calm on my first morning is shattered by a distraught gambler who rocks the lobby’s ATM as if it were a pinball machine, slapping it and calling it his bitch because it refuses to dispense money he no longer has. Among these beautiful people, the most elite backgammon players stand out, the way roadies do on an Ariana Grande tour. Some 190 players are here from all over the world competing for $250,000 in prize money. Nearly all of them are men. Many, if not most, are unshaven introverts in cargo pants or dad jeans. They’re “froggish men, unpleasant to see,” in the words of an old Randy Newman song. On the first morning, I see a crowd gathered around a match in the hotel’s conference room. I peer across the rows of heads. Akiko Yazawa, then the world’s number-three-ranked player and among the game’s few great female adepts, is competing. It’s fun to watch her play, in part because she’s brilliant and in part because, as one spectator tells me, “she’s attractive-attractive, not just backgammonattractive.” Akiko wears a T-shirt with a backgammon board on it. The caption: “And they call this fun?”
I’ve traveled to Monaco to compete in the World Championship. I feel I am plausibly ready, at least in the sense that George Plimpton was plausibly ready to sub in for a few plays as quarterback of the Detroit Lions. I’ve been playing backgammon since I was a kid, often in all-night, low-stakes gambling binges with friends. Lately I’ve been really working on my game. I live in New York and I’ve sat in with the hustlers in Washington Square Park and Bryant Park in Manhattan. I’ve devoured a pile of books with titles like Backgammon: The Cruelest Game. I’ve watched classic matches on YouTube, the way a wide receiver studies game tape. I hired a tutor, a pro who lives in Virginia, and took online lessons. Additionally, I’m sickly addicted to a pro-level backgammon app on my iPhone. I play twenty or thirty games a day. It’s my go-to stress reliever. It beats a black-tar-heroin habit. Just before I flew out—in a moment of pride or panic, I’m not sure which—I reached out to Victor Ashkenazi, the numberone-ranked backgammon player in America. Victor lives in New Jersey and at the time was a vice-president at Goldman Sachs. I’d read about him. I emailed Victor out of the blue, told him I was going to compete in Monaco, and asked: Would he agree to a match with a relative novice, to let a guy know what he was in for? Victor texted me back: “Haha why not?” We meet on a warm spring Saturday at Bear and Birch, a Russian banya, or spa, in Freehold, not far from where he lives. It’s where Victor goes to unwind. The place is modern and well lit, yet it has that emotional five-o’clock shadow that clings to so many restaurants and other spaces in New Jersey. You can imagine a Sopranos-style hit going down in a corner sauna. Victor, who is in his late forties, is late and apologetic. He has a six-pack of beer under his arm. (The place is BYOB.) He’s so tall that he has to lean down to say hello, his shaved head gleaming. “You want to have sauna?” he asks. So we sit, towels around our waists, and bake. Victor’s family emigrated from Russia in 1995, he tells me, when he was twenty-five. Back then, he knew maybe twenty words of English. “I’d played chess as a kid, and I noticed the chess games in Bryant Park for small stakes,” he says. “Then I noticed this other game, one I’d never seen back home. They were playing for more money than in chess! Backgammon was more competitive and volatile. The crazy arguments helped me to learn English.” Victor has a gift for numbers. He landed a job as a computer programmer, and at night he played online backgammon. “I have a good visual memory,” he says. “I remember positions and patterns. And I’m a sports guy. Backgammon is a sport. There are long hours playing—long, long, long. It’s like a boxing match. You have to have stamina and a strategy and the will to win.” He played in his first major tournament in 2007 in Las Vegas, the largest one in the United States at the time. He won it and he was hooked.
A PLACE IN THE SUN Backgammon and the good life, as captured by Slim Aarons in Acapulco, 1972.
We climb out of the sauna. Victor pulls out a shiny black-and-red backgammon set that looks like it belongs to a Bond villain. (James Bond plays backgammon. In Octopussy, Roger Moore suavely defeats a cheating Middle Eastern cad.) The pieces on his board— these are called stones, blots, men, or checkers—are marble and have an agreeable heft. Hurling one, you could stop a charging Pussy Galore in her tracks. Backgammon is a racing game. You want to get your fifteen checkers around the board and then remove them, a process that’s called “bearing off.” If you get your checkers off the board first, you win.
I am reminded of Mike Tyson’s comment that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
I have a small shot against Victor, I think, because backgammon involves some luck. About 80 percent of the game is chance. This is one way it differs from chess. If you sit down opposite Magnus Carlsen, the world’s top chess player, you have zero hope of winning a game. Chess is 100 percent skill. A casino game like roulette, on the other hand, is entirely luck. Backgammon sits, tantalizingly, in between. It allows enough luck that, if only in the short term, David can slay Goliath. We start playing. Here my memory goes somewhat blank. I am reminded of Mike Tyson’s comment that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. During the first five or six games, Victor doesn’t just beat me; he does to me what Sherman did to Atlanta. After about thirty minutes of abject defeats, I begin to pull my wits together. I slow down and analyze the entire board before moving, as the pro I’d studied with had taught me to do. I start counting my “pips”—the total number of places I need to move to win—to determine whether to use the doubling cube. I start to win the occasional game. My eyeglasses unsteam. Victor begins to heckle me. “What a luck-box,” he says, grinning, when I roll a series of doubles. He says it with a lingering Russian accent, so it’s like having Count Chocula dis you. Then his girlfriend (now his wife), Alia, who’s watching, chimes in. “Look at this guy, Victor—he thinks he’s a tiger.” Later, she says, “Look at his big balls. Hear his big balls clacking.” Victor adds, “What a luck-box.” on I realize we’ve been playing for five hours. (We’ll play for
eight.) I begin to appreciate once again why backgammon has more juice than any other game I know. Its highs and lows are intense. With its weird mix of luck and skill, it’s the game that most resembles life. Like life, it offers extreme reversals of fate—fate that can rain down on you like magic or bury you entirely. It’s a game that small children can play, yet it takes a lifetime to begin to master. It’s the only thing I know, besides sex and skiing, that you can do for eight hours and still want to keep doing. There’s something oddly moving about the game, too. In order to win, you merely need to find your way home. By now it’s dark. We get up to leave. I see that Victor has barely touched his first beer, while I’ve had several. Don’t drink and play; that was my first unspoken pro tip. I think I’ve done moderately well until Victor remarks that my checkers play was poor and my use of the doubling cube was dismal. A game of backgammon may be only 20 percent skill, but if you put that number in Las Vegas terms, you realize how overwhelming that percentage is. In a craps game, the house is a favorite by only 1 percent, yet it rakes in the money. Imagine if the house were a 20 percent favorite. I never had a chance. Victor looks down at me and shakes his head. “My friend,” he says, smiling, “you are like a little child lost in the woods.”
Backgammon World Championship in Monaco unfolds over nine days. The first three days are given over to preliminary tournaments in which the top prize is $22,000. The championship takes place over the final six. After observing the talent in the room, I decide to play in the intermediate division. I want a fighting chance to land in the money. Here we go! My first match in the preliminary tournament is a breeze. I play a cocky little Frenchman in a polo jersey, and all the breaks go my way. We play a nine-point match, which ostensibly means the winner must win nine individual games. But when the doubling cube is laid down, you can quickly find yourself playing for two, four, or, more rarely, eight or more points. In backgammon, you double if you’re in a winning position. The other player can accept or resign. If they accept, only they can double the next time. The Frenchman is annoyed at my dominance. He’s annoyed, too, at my sloppy backgammon etiquette. He reminds me that dice must be shaken vigorously, as if you were making a margarita. He reminds me to roll only on my side of the board. Back in Bryant Park, these niceties matter less. I win in about an hour. The next afternoon, my second match also goes well. My opponent is again French, a woman in her late forties. She casts a certain Mrs. Robinson or Jackie Onassis glamour. It occurs to me that much of the game’s lingo has sexual overtones. When you roll a five and six early in a game, for example, so that your checker sails over the board like Evel Knievel over a row of school buses, it’s called a “lover’s leap.” When one of your open checkers gets hit by an opponent and put out of action, on the game’s center bar, you are “dancing on the bar.” I’m in the zone. I double aggressively, and it pays off. I win the match after about forty-five minutes. When I report the results, I look at the brackets on the wall and realize I am only one victory away from finishing in the
money. Hot damn. I decide to look for Victor to give him the news. It takes me a while to find him across the expanse of the conference room. But here he is, midmatch. His T-shirt says, “I bought this T-shirt with your money.” He’s winning. But as I stand over him, watching, he begins to falter. He shakes his head after making a minor counting mistake. His dice rolls turn sour. I fear I’m his cooler, so I walk away. When I see him much later that night, he’s irritable. He’s not doing well in the tournament. But he’s scanning for something more important: men and women known in the backgammon world as fish or pigeons or marks, wealthy players who might want to test themselves for large stakes against a pro. He finds one and disappears. I look around for a private game myself, but most people have left. The atmosphere in the hall, with its fluorescent lights, is grim. I can’t find a player, and the bars are mostly empty. And not for the first time, I wonder: What happened to backgammon? When did it lose its chic and fall off the cultural map? Can we get those days back? The game itself is as old as the pharaohs. According to The Backgammon Game, by Oswald Jacoby and John Crawford, Homer mentions a version of it in The Odyssey. The Roman emperor Claudius had a built-in set on his chariot so that he could play while on the move. Shakespeare and Chaucer each cited the game in his work, and Thomas Jefferson played while drafting the Declaration of Independence. In a notebook of his expenses during the summer of 1776, Jefferson wrote: Lost at backgammon 7/6 Won at backgammon 7d / 1 / 3 As recently as the 1970s, backgammon was a pop-culture obsession. Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul Newman, Tina Turner, and the members of Pink Floyd were photographed hovering over boards. Thousands of players flocked to tournaments in Las Vegas and the Bahamas, where winners took home million-dollar prizes. (The top prize money at tournaments today rarely reaches one-twentieth of that sum.) From 1977 to 1980, The New York Times ran a weekly backgammon column by Paul Magriel, a master of the game. Backgammon became a jet-set phenomenon, but its popularity first took off in private clubs in London and Manhattan. The game had an aura of cigar smoke and black tie; it was something you might play while eating a haunch of venison and sipping Madeira. In 1966, the Times sent a reporter to cover the burgeoning backgammon scene at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Club. He came away with unintentionally hilarious quotes like “All these men are members of the different Ivy League clubs. You see the type of men they are” and “There’s always been a backgammon game available in the good families.” Backgammon seemed like
Backgammon is the I know, besides sex you can do for eight and still want to
just the thing to play if you wanted to be the first to lose your head when the revolution came. In Playboy, Hugh Hefner began to print photographs of tanned celebrities playing the game with adoring women. Sports Illustrated sent reporters to cover backgammon tournaments. The attention was good for backgammon—and bad for backgammon. The secret was out. The wider world had discovered the game, but like airplane travel, it slowly lost its cachet. To put it in Yogi Berra terms, backgammon got so popular that no one wanted to play anymore. Shady players such as the Israeli-born Gaby Horowitz invaded the scene. Horowitz—who at one point was married to Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the O. J. Simpson murder trial— was a West Coast hustler who seemed to have walked out of an Elmore Leonard novel. He was a brown-eyed ladies’ man who was accused of cheating by manipulating magnets under his board. In a bizarre twist of fate, Horowitz was accidentally shot by another backgammon player, a gun collector, in a freak accident in 1989, when a bullet ricocheted off a ceiling and into his head. He was paralyzed and never heard from again. Then the number crunchers began to arrive, as they have in all professional sports. The game started to be broken down by computer programs. The first of these, created by IBM’s Gerald Tesauro in 1992, used neural networking to teach itself to play. These programs, over time, have thoroughly deconstructed the game by assigning equity values to every possible position. No one used to know what the best move was; now they do. The game has become one of memorization and mathematics, increasingly for wheycomplexioned nerds who play and study all day in their basements. Nowadays playing with your heart or with your instincts will get you nowhere. The final blow came with the advent of online poker and the live broadcasts of poker tournaments on cable television, beginning in 2003. Poker stole what little thunder backgammon had left. It offered higher stakes and a shot at fame. It’s a casino game, and backgammon can’t really be played in casinos. There’s no place for a dealer in backgammon, for one thing. For another, a game involves only two players and can take a long time. It simply isn’t profitable. One former backgammon champion, Erik Seidel, is now a poker legend, having won eight World Series of Poker bracelets. He made the switch partly because it was easier to find poker games. Players flock to poker, he tells me, because cards are familiar to them and because poker appears to have, at first glance, a lower barrier to entry. “With poker, people can delude themselves for a longer period of time in terms of their skill,” he says. “In backgammon, a novice will get killed constantly. In poker, a newbie might think he can actually play.”
only thing and skiing, that hours keep doing.
still got a shot in the preliminary tournament. But then I get knocked off by a stringy fellow with an unplaceable accent who rolls double sixes the way Roger Federer fires aces. As he does this, he shakes his head philosophically and says, “Eh, it’s backgammon” just as Jack Nicholson’s partner said, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” I lose again later that day and then again the following morning. I’m out. I wake up early the next morning, the first day of the World Championship, and seek wisdom from the Israeli-born Matvey Natanzon, better known as Falafel. He got his nickname from his favorite cheap lunch. Falafel is a backgammon-world superstar, a man who became a world champion while homeless and playing in Washington Square Park. He’s almost certainly the only living backgammon player to have been profiled in The New Yorker. Falafel is an endearing slob who’s a treat to watch play. He rubs his belly, rocks back and forth like a diviner, and grimaces and sighs as if he were Zero Mostel. He’s as close as backgammon has to a celebrity. He won’t confirm it, but he’s said to have been hired by Leonardo DiCaprio as a tutor. “I keep trying to get out of this game, but they keep pulling me back in,” he tells me. The prize money in backgammon these days is barely enough to make it worthwhile, he says. I ask him if he has any advice for me. He encourages me to take my time, to study the whole board before moving. Then he says, “You will also need the gods on your side.” Sitting with Falafel, I wonder: What does this guy have, in terms of ability, that I don’t? An inborn gift for numbers, for one. Plus, he became a champion because he was literally hungry—desperation can bring a lot out in a person. It’s why good boxers rarely grow up in houses with manicured lawns. The championship starts. I’m nervous. I suddenly want this thing. First I play a sweet older man who resembles my father-in-law and played in the 1973 Backgammon World Championship in Las Vegas, nearly winning. This fellow is in his eighties. I later discover he is gravely ill with cancer. He genially destroys me. My next match is in the evening. I badly want a martini to steady my nerves, but drinking and professional backgammon don’t mix. I pace. In my room, I consult my backgammon books. I try to keep my wits about me. The next day, I lose again. And the next day. I burn through my consolation rounds and then my last-chance rounds. My luck, and my focus, have gone to hell. My tournament is over. All that’s left to do is swim in the Mediterranean, play blackjack, eat oysters, and watch the others. I brood over my bad math skills. It doesn’t surprise me that the tournament is ultimately won by a little-known Frenchman, Didier Assaraf, who other players say is savant-like and has an aptitude for numbers. It’s the last day. Victor has been avoiding me. He hasn’t done well in the tournament, either, but he’s apparently done well in his extracurricular matches. He asks me if I can carry a wad of money back to the States for him. I make a face that says, “Really?” He says never mind. I fly home and mope about my game. I buy more instruction books and upgrade my computer program. I text Victor: “How about another match?” We meet again at Bear and Birch, this time in early fall. We take some steams. We eat chewy Russian dried fish. We begin to play. He annihilates me, but not as definitively as he did earlier in the year. He calls me a luck-box once in a while. In the end, he admits that there’s a fair to middling chance I might find my way out of the woods.
THE LAST RHINO
an offer from Fox to direct Robert Redford’s prison movie Brubaker, deciding that he’d at least try to work on a studio project, despite his suspicions as to why he’d been hired. “It’s not because I was good,” he says, “but because I was independent. It was like capturing the last rhino.” Rafelson was known for his somewhat obsessive preparation. He spent several months hitchhiking across the South, infiltrating southern society, and immersing himself in weightlifting culture before committing to adapt the novel Stay Hungry. He used only the plainest cars from the thirties in his 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice so that audiences didn’t become enamored with the period and lose sight of the story, and he had Jessica Lange’s blouses, which never appeared onscreen, made from silk. In order to understand how Lange would land when falling out of a swerving car, Rafelson took his girlfriend to a beach where she swerved twenty to thirty times, dumping him out the passenger side until he figured it out. And while shooting Five Easy Pieces, Rafelson says, he became consumed with finding the right sound the ashtray in Nicholson’s car would make when it rattled during driving scenes, recording four hundred rattling ashtrays. Making movies “comes easier to some than it does to others,” Rafelson says. “Because most people don’t give a shit about the sound of an ashtray.”
His apprehensions about working for a major studio aside, Rafelson approached Brubaker with his usual intensity, spending a few nights in a notoriously dangerous Mississippi penitentiary. (He says the wardens made him sign a waiver absolving the state of responsibility if he was killed on the inside.) Promised free rein over his set and the opportunity to make the film his own way, Rafelson began shooting in April 1979, only to have a Fox executive named Richard Berger visit just over a week into production. Poking around the set, Berger started asking questions of the cast and crew, sat in to watch some dailies, and then told Rafelson they had to have a meeting. Rafelson asked what the meeting was about. “It’s about your career,” Berger responded. Rafelson didn’t react well. “I came two or three steps closer, I grabbed him, [and said], ‘It’s about my what?’” he recalls. Accounts vary as to what happened next. Rafelson claims that he let go of Berger “a little forcefully,” while Berger contended that Rafelson bashed his head with an ashtray. One thing is certain, though: On April 20, 1979, nine days into the shoot, Rafelson was fired. The Brubaker incident made Rafelson a folk hero to other directors, like Bogdanovich, who says, “He punched the producer. I’d like to punch a few producers.” There were standing ovations when he entered Dan Tana’s, a restaurant frequented by the Hollywood elite. Yet Rafelson was filled with shame. “I had lost considerable credibility,” he says. “But even more painful was the fact that I’d lost a movie that I so wanted to make.” “Bob wasn’t cut out to be part of a structure,” Toby says. “For whatever reason, he couldn’t take having authority figures tell him what he could do or should do. It was more important to be a maverick.” Theresa Russell, who starred in Rafelson’s 1987 movie, Black Widow, describes him in similar terms: “[Bob] is a bit of a renegade, and anybody who doesn’t buy into the system suffers the consequences, as he has. Hollywood is a very hard system to deal with, and I sometimes think it doesn’t encourage the kind of standards Bob brings
Spot On: Movies By Seth Fleishman
to his work, but it takes two to tango. If you know the rules and don’t like them, then why play the game?” After Brubaker, Rafelson was blackballed by the industry. People stopped taking his calls. Pitch meetings were canceled. There were lawsuits and countersuits. He wound up having to finish a French porn film in order to make some money. Rafelson’s friends, led by Nicholson and Warren Beatty, held a “rescue meeting” (without him) to discuss how they could get him back to work. Eventually, Nicholson approached Rafelson about directing a remake of the 1946 film The Postman Always Rings Twice. Despite his situation, Rafelson didn’t jump at the chance and only agreed to make the film after watching the original and deciding his version could be better if he stayed true to the James M. Cain novel on which it was based. He also imbued the movie with a level of eroticism rarely achieved in any mainstream film, including an iconic sex scene in which the stars, Nicholson and Lange, don’t even remove their clothes. When Rafelson screened the film for Nicholson, the actor threw his arms around his old friend and said, “Curly, this picture is gonna get me laid for the next ten years.” Years later, on a visit to a remote Russian Orthodox monastery, a monk told Rafelson that he’d seen The Postman Always Rings Twice while in the Russian merchant marine. “[It’s] one of the best dirty movies I’ve ever seen,” the monk said. “[It’s what] drove me to the monastery.” “He was a man for all seasons,” Bruce Dern, who starred with Nicholson in The King of Marvin Gardens, says of Rafelson. The same could be said of the director’s childhood hero, Richard Francis Burton, a soldier, geographer, spy, poet, diplomat, cartographer, and geologist who translated the Kama Sutra into English and traveled from Egypt to the Far East, embedding himself in foreign cultures and sometimes going native, much as Rafelson did while researching his films, exploring often-ignored areas of the U. S. like Bakersfield, California; the San Juan Islands; off-season, pre-casino Atlantic City; and Birmingham. At heart, both men were anthropologists. One night in the early eighties, Rafelson was sitting by the fire at his home in Aspen, smoking a joint and reading William Harrison’s Burton and Speke, which recounts Burton’s evolving friendship with fellow British explorer John Hanning Speke. The more he read that evening, the more he began to wonder if this was a story he could turn into a film. But Rafelson had up to that point specialized in small American stories, and this was a period epic. Finally, he thought, Why the
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fuck don’t you find out? He contacted the author of the book, found a studio that would give him $12,000 for research, and took off for Africa, where he spent the next several months traveling from Uganda to the Indian Ocean in the company of a young Dane who drove him around in a 1942 Jeep and a local navigator who sat on the hood and always pointed the wrong way. It was the most joyous trip of Rafelson’s life. One night he put down his bedroll and lay down after watching two elephants spout each other with water on the beach. He was in heaven— until he realized that there was a nest of red ants under his bedroll. “Every story of my joy,” Rafelson says, “has a little bit of puncture to it.” He wasn’t able to make Mountains of the Moon until a decade later, when, during a writers’ strike, two producers (“One of them sold wigs in Hong Kong. The other was from Lebanon”) were looking for material and asked if he’d written any scripts that he wanted to direct. Rafelson said yes, he had one about Richard Burton. “They thought I was talking about Richard Burton and Liz Taylor,” he says. “But they didn’t give a shit.” The producers asked him how much it would cost. He pulled the number $12 million out of the air, and they accepted. “I left the next morning,” he says. “Before they could change their minds.” Rafelson cast Irish actor Patrick Bergin as the fearless Burton, and Iain Glen (Emilia Clarke’s loyal protector on Game of Thrones) as the ambitious, aristocratic Speke. Mountains tells the story of the relationship between Burton and Speke as they search for the source of the Nile. Along the way, they battle wild animals and natives (Burton winds up with a spear through both cheeks during one fight) and contract miserable diseases with even more miserable cures. Initially hesitant, the two men come to love each other as colleagues and brothers. Back in England, however, the bond they forged in Africa is tested when an opportunistic publisher convinces Speke that Burton has been spreading lies about him. “It’s my most personal movie,” Rafelson tells me. “It’s very much about loyalty. Burton won’t betray him. The irony is, Speke was right [about the source of the Nile]. But he was weak.” Rafelson begins to cry. “It’s personal because of that.” The shoot began in England, where Rafelson says it didn’t go particularly well, but when he took a smaller cast and crew to Africa, everything changed. Things like finding a phone were a chore, so he rarely spoke to his producers and knew they would never be coming to Africa to check on him. Freed from the confines of Hollywood, and of his own past work, Rafelson found himself genuinely having fun and making the film with great spontaneity. “It was everything a film can be, because it was 1 04 Ap r i l 2 01 9_ E s q u i re
such an extraordinary adventure into the un-
SNAKE IN THE GRASS
plane. “Give him a go,” Rafelson said.
there I was,” Glen recalls, “stoned and flying up into the clouds.” Working without constraints or supervision, Rafelson took a hidebound genre and made a film that is rich in detail and true to its period yet seems thoroughly contemporary in its storytelling. You can almost feel what it was like to make the movie as you watch it. That’s the joy. Now, here’s the puncture: Almost nobody went to see it. Over the years, though, Mountains of the Moon has developed a cult following among certain critics and filmmakers. Alexander Payne, for one, describes it as a film that “is both incredibly entertaining and wonderfully told, but also completely modern, while being absolutely authentic to the period it depicts.” When I ask Francis Ford Coppola what he’d say if Rafelson was awarded an honorary Oscar, he replies, “Such an award would be appropriate if his only single film had been Mountains of the Moon.” In his review, Roger Ebert demonstrated a deep understanding of both the film and its creator. “The movie is about the unquenchable compulsion of some men to see what is beyond the horizon, and about the hunger for glory,” the critic wrote. “It is a tribute to this movie that, at the end, neither the filmmakers nor their audience have much interest in whether anyone found the source of the Nile.” Life, for Rafelson, has never been about making a hundred movies, breaking box-office records, or winning awards. It’s about the compulsion to see what’s beyond the horizon. Last winter, while he was ordering dinner in Los Angeles, Rafelson asked for a substitution— something he does fairly often. “It’s a character trait of believing that if I pay, I should get what I want, if possible, from the fucking kitchen,” he tells me. When the waitress said they didn’t do substitutions, Rafelson persisted, at which point the waitress said, “Oh, you must have seen that movie.” Rafelson responded, “I made that fucking movie.” And, of course, he says, “I failed to get what I wanted.”
ways a very friendly Jamaican gentleman who kicks more balls than Pelé. People like to tell about the time Trump hit one in the pond. Everybody saw it splash a good 30 feet from shore. The Jamaican gentleman was forecaddying. When the group got up to the pond, the caddy says, “Boss, your ball is right here.” It was sitting safely on the grass. Somebody in the group yelled at the caddy, “What did you do with your mask and flippers?” Like so much of what happens with Trump, the caddies were revolted by the immorality of the cheating but impressed by the genius of it. “For a while he kept a can of red spray paint in his cart,” one caddy said. “Whenever his ball hit a tree that he didn’t think was fair, he’d go up and paint a big X on it. The next day, it was gone.” “That’s true!” somebody else yelled. “It’s like the Mafia with him. You get the red X, you’re dead.” The best Trump story I heard, though, wasn’t from a caddy but from a member who came up to me as I was looking at the tournament plaques on the locker-room wall. There was one called the “Bedminster MemberMember,” and Trump’s name was on that three times. A “member-member” is a twoman-team deal, lowest best-ball score wins. This barrel-chested guy came up to me. “You know how Donald got one of those?” he said. No, but I’d sure like to. “Okay, you’ll love this. One year we were playing the Member-Member on the Old Course. But Trump wasn’t in it. He and his buddy were just playing by themselves at the New Course. When they were done, he came into the pro shop and asked what score won the Member-Member. They told him some number, net 61 or something. Whatever. And Trump goes, ‘Oh, me and so-and-so played better than that today. So we actually won.’ And the pro is like, ‘I’m sorry?’ And Trump tells them that he and his buddy should be the winners and the guy should put their names on the plaque instead. And that’s how he won one of those Member-Members. Can you believe that?” Yes. Yes, I can.
THE PAPER OF “GOTCHA!”
their apartment outside Tel Aviv. Having volunteered in QA for three years at the IDF, he now works for Intel finding bugs in computer chips. A twenty-two-year-old with dark hair and a Nirvana T-shirt, Barak is rocking crosslegged in a reclining chair, clutching a small, purple plastic box. “This is my hobbies box,” he tells me. “There are many, many surprises there.” He takes out a deck of cards and begins shuffling them over and over. Barak’s parents, who have a fifteen-year-old daughter who is also autistic, both worked in army intelligence and never thought their son would be able to follow in their footsteps. “I couldn’t even imagine that he would join the army,” his mother, Dalia, says with tears in her eyes. Though Barak scored in the upper end on intelligence tests in grade school, he says he struggled to fit in. “High school was hell,” he tells me. “There was a group that I wanted to integrate with, but they didn’t seem to want this too, so they sneaked away from me.” But he’s happy to have found his place among the others in Roim Rachok, whom he considers lifelong friends. “They were always there for me,” he says, “and they will always be there for me.” Vardi and Sali are now expanding their program into further areas of Israeli society, training and placing autistics in the Land Authority and the transportation industry. Other nations are taking note. Singapore is among those looking to emulate the program for people on the spectrum in their own country. In the Netherlands, a police detective agency, after consulting with Roim Rachok, hired autistics to crack a cold case. The police force had the team examine hundreds of hours of city-surveillance footage looking for a suspected murderer—one whom they ultimately found and brought to justice. In the meantime, Roim Rachok continues to school more and more teens in Israel. The program now runs three groups of recruits per year. The volunteers look forward to the day when they will put on their uniforms and serve their country at last. “I feel like it’s a miracle,” Gil tells me with a smile. “I feel like it will be a dream come true.”
news that’s made up,” he said. “I mean, fabricated. I’ll give you an example. I was in the office recently, in the Oval Office, with a group of businesspeople. And on the television, we were watching something where they were showing me. And they had a reporter out from CNN saying, ‘He’s upstairs in his suite at the White House brooding, and walking the halls.’ And here I am in the office, where I’m laughing with a very important group of traders, because we’re trying to get great trade deals for this country, and these were people who were working on that, and in two cases representing other countries, and we’re down there having a really good talk, and a very interesting one, and having a good time, actually, because we enjoyed what we did, and if you watched CNN, I was up walking the hallways, brooding. And they’re always doing that. They’re always saying, ‘He’s brooding, he’s angry,’ and I’m not! You know, I know how life goes. I get life better than a lot of people. I mean, I just get it. And I even understand where they’re coming from. But the problem is, it’s very dishonest, really dishonest.” But through the course of our conversation, it became clear that Trump makes no meaningful distinction between, say, the disputed BuzzFeed story about Michael Cohen and news reports that are journalistically sound but negative to Trump. The vast majority of news reports in the Trump era fit into that latter category. He has claimed that 90 percent of coverage of him is negative, which may be another of his signature exaggerations. But a study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center of press and TV coverage of Trump’s first sixty days in office found that 62 percent of stories about him were negative, compared with 20 percent for Barack Obama across his first sixty days and 28 percent for both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Whether that discrepancy is due to bias or the uniquely tumultuous nature of Trump’s administration or some combination of the two will have to remain in the eye of the beholder. Trump seems genuinely bemused by his negative press. “I was surprised at some people that I’d always found to be fair, and all of a sudden they had a very different bent,” he said. This is owing, perhaps, to the fact that in his life before poli-
tics, Trump’s media profile was shaped largely by himself. In that New York version, Trump was the colorful, if slightly garish, operator whose lifestyle—the helicopters and planes, the hotels and casinos, the wives and girlfriends—was the tabloid ideal. His exploits sold papers, and the publicity helped make his name an indelible brand. The fun stopped when Trump announced his run for the White House. He thinks it’s because he ran as a conservative Republican: “I used to get great press until I announced that I was gonna run . . . and the fact that you’re running as a Republican conservative, automatically, they put you behind the eight ball.” While it’s true that the news media are not known to be favorably inclined toward conservative policies, the negative reaction to Trump had more to do with the person of Trump—and especially his words, his aggressive hyperbole and verbal brushback pitches—than with policy prescriptions. Maggie Haberman’s writing about a colorful Queens real estate developer for the New York Post is going to be different in tone and substance from Maggie Haberman’s reporting about the president of the United States for The New York Times. That is particularly true if the president continues to talk and behave like a developer from Queens. It is the local boy who anguishes over the tough coverage he’s received from the Times, his hometown paper. “I came from Jamaica, Queens, Jamaica Estates, and I became president of the United States,” Trump reminded Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger during a January sit-down in the Oval Office. “I’m sort of entitled to a great story—just one—from my newspaper.” Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, told me his old boss longs for the respectability conveyed by the Times—the one paper, Bannon said, that Trump reads every day, cover to cover. “He looked at me one time and he said, ‘You know, in all those years in New York, I had five page-one stories in the Times,’ ” Bannon recently recalled. “And he looked at the paper that day and there were literally five stories about him that day on the front page. And I said, ‘Here’s the problem—they all suck.’ ” Bannon cited a day with Trump not long after the election when, he said, the Times was “just fucking hammering” the president-elect and protesters were gathering daily outside Trump Tower. “He says, ‘You know, I thought it would be different. Everybody would come together and say, Let’s work together and unify the country, and they’d kinda congratulate me that I won a hard-fought campaign.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding me, right?’ He said, ‘No, isn’t that what happens?’ He thinks he’s in a movie. It was so endearing.” Since moving into the White House, Trump has added his new local paper to his list of irritants. “I’m trying to figure out which is worse,” he told me, “the Times or The Washington Post.” On the day we spoke, he was stewing over a A pri l 201 9_Esqu ire 10 5
story published in the Post a week earlier: “It was so inaccurate, it was incredible.” Trump explained that he’d agreed to an interview with Post reporters Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey “as an experiment” to test the Post’s fairness to him. Trump said he was on his best presidential behavior for the Oval Office session, and he thought the interview went well. “I did it just to see if I could, you know,” he said. “And I was on very perfect behavior. You’ve heard me say I could be the most presidential man ever, other than perhaps the late, great Abraham Lincoln—but only if he wears his top hat. I can be the most presidential of them. And I was more presidential [with the Post reporters] than anybody could be. And when you read the interview, it was disgraceful. It was a two on a scale of ten. And it should have been a very good interview. And I realized there is nothing we can do in The Washington Post or in The New York Times to be treated accurately. Not fairly. Accurately, not only fairly.” The Post interview covered a range of subjects, from the policies of the Federal Reserve to the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Post, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The transcript of the interview does not necessarily substantiate Trump’s complaint. True, the story that Dawsey and Rucker wrote emphasized the edgy angles—TRUMP SLAMS FED CHAIR, QUESTIONS CLIMATE CHANGE . . . read the headline—and the reporters noted, perhaps gratuitously, that their conversation with the president had been “discordant.” But Trump really did say what the two journalists reported. Asked if he feared the prospect of recession, the president said that he was making deals with China and Europe “and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed,” a reference to the fact that the Fed continued to raise interest rates, rocking the stock market. “I’m not happy with the Fed. They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me. . . . So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay [Powell, the Fed chairman]. Not even a little bit.” A professional politician would not have answered so bluntly. On the subject of the Fed, for example, he might have said, “Some people have noticed that in the entire tenure of my predecessor, the Fed raised the rate twice, where this Fed has raised it seven times in my two years as president. Of course, that might be in response to our very strong economic growth.’’ On the other hand, there can be little doubt that, had the subject of the Fed come up over a Trump family dinner, he would not have answered the question any differently than he did for the Post. That points to one of the ironies of the enmity between this president and his press corps. For all of the distaste for Trump’s communications style, he is more accessible and his thinking more transparent than any 1 06 A pri l 2 0 1 9_E sq ui re
other president in memory. Trump understands his own marquee value and believes deeply in it. He seems less accepting of the fact that the Trump media allure is indifferent to context: Trump’s draw abides equally in friendly and unfriendly settings. He seems particularly galled by the souring of his relationship with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, whom he once considered as sort of friendly colleagues. Trump blames the rupture on a business decision by NBC to cater to never-Trump viewers. “The funny thing is, it’s NBC, and I made NBC a fortune on The Apprentice,” he said. “When they were down on the bottom and I had, in many cases, the number-one show in television during many evenings, but also it was the only show in the top ten for a long time. I was very good to NBC. And it amazes me that Steve Burke”—CEO of NBCUniversal—“and these people at NBC would have allowed that to happen, this hatred.” While the Trump–Morning Joe discord may be dismissible as a celebrity spat, the tensions between the president and the White House press corps exist on a far more meaningful plane. Trump himself seemed to understand this when he nixed a plan by senior aides to move the press corps outside the White House. (“They are the opposition party,” one proponent explained at the time.) Trump likes having reporters close, but he still hasn’t quite settled on an approach to dealing with them. For a long stretch early in his tenure, he avoided press conferences and most other direct sessions with reporters. “I tried that,” he told me. “That didn’t work too well.” Concerned that the void was being filled by stories suggesting that he wasn’t up to the job, Trump adopted his current approach: more press conferences, of both the formal and informal varieties, and even inviting reporters to Oval Office meetings. “The good thing about doing a lot is, the one thing they don’t say is ‘He’s incompetent,’ ” Trump said. “Now they don’t say that anymore.” Regarding that staple of political journalism, the White House press briefing, Trump has gone in the other direction. Once a daily fixture (and a source of reliably good entertainment), the briefings have been reduced to a trickle, with only five conducted by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders from last August to the end of the year, at Trump’s instruction. “I look at a lot of these people, and the hatred in their eyes as they’re asking Sarah—who’s a wonderful person, I mean, she’s before me now [i.e., in the room], but I would tell you if she wasn’t, Sarah’s a wonderful person—and for her to be treated like that, with the hatred of the question...” Trump said. “I’m not just mentioning Jim Acosta”—the CNN correspondent who turned the briefings into performance art—“you have some, I think, that are worse than him. The hatred when they ask a question is just incredible. “I know reporters that would love to be nice
to me, love to be. I really think they like me and they like what I stand for,” Trump continued. “And then you see them and they’ve got a negative bent. And I really strongly believe that their bosses tell them that they must do that. . . . It’s not only a political view, it’s also a business view. It’s their business model.” That suggests a misunderstanding on Trump’s part about how journalists work. No reporter needs instructions from the boss to aggressively pursue the big scoop that may prove to be Trump’s Watergate. But Trump is right in thinking that Trumpcentric coverage has become a nice little business model for news organizations from Fox News to CNN to The Washington Post. After Trump began referring to “the failing New York Times,” Dean Baquet, taking the bait, publicly declared that his paper’s aggressive coverage of the president had been very good for business. But before Trump came along, the Times had indeed been failing, or at least flailing—the impact of its journalism dulled by the Internet, its advertising revenues drained by competition from such entities as Facebook and Google. The paper’s survival, much less its long-term health, was anything but certain. As Jill Abramson notes in her book, the paper’s discernible tilt away from its formerly fussy insistence on impartiality paid off. “Given its mostly liberal audience,” she wrote, “there was an im-
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plicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative: They drove big traffic numbers.” According to Abramson, the Times racked up six hundred thousand new digital subscriptions in the fiscal quarters around Trump’s election, a roughly 40 percent increase. The company’s stock price had hit a three-year low of $10.80 on November 3, 2016, five days before the election; last November 1, the shares reached a twelve-year high of $28.23. Abramson quotes the former Times reporter Jeff Gerth, who referred to the paper and Trump as “sparring partners with benefits.” Back in the early months of the Trump presidency, I had asked Liz Spayd, the public editor, if the Times’s new business model was to become a sort of high-end Huffington Post. “I hope that is not the case,” she said. “I think that would be a sad place for this country to find itself, that one of the strongest and most powerful and well-financed newsrooms in the country would speak and have an audience only on one side of the political aisle. It’s very, very dangerous, I think.” Spayd had become the voice of the old traditions at the Times, a position that earned her the opprobrium of progressive critics outside the paper (“This editor appears to be from 1987 or earlier,” Keith Olbermann tweeted. “Sorry— get in the game or get out”) as well as inside the Photographs & Illustrations This Way In, p. 7: Watch: Allie Holloway/Studio D; prop styling by Wendy Schelah; whisky: Stuart Tyson. The Big Bite, p. 19: Family: Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images; marijuana: Getty Images; p. 26: New Porsche 911’s: courtesy Porsche; p. 27: Porsche 911’s: courtesy Porsche; blue vintage Porsche (bottom left): Matt Jacobson; p. 30: Ellis: Patrick McMullan/Getty Images; book cover: courtesy Penguin Random House; p. 32: The Biggest Little Farm: courtesy Neon. The Code, p. 35: Grooming by Matthew Tuozolli/See Management; location: Elsa, Brooklyn, NY; p. 36: Grooming by James Mooney/Art Dept; tailoring by Joseph Ting; jackets: Allie Holloway/Studio D; prop styling by Wendy Schelah; p. 40: Piccioli: Inez & Vinoodh; origami, Tokyo runway looks, sneakers: courtesy Valentino; red suit: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images; p. 42: The Weeknd: courtesy Valentino; Theroux: Marc Piasecki/WireImage; Ibaka, Harden: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images; Sivan: Steve Granitz/ WireImage; sneaker, previous seasons: courtesy Valentino; pp. 44–45: Grooming by James Mooney/Art Dept; tailoring by Joseph Ting; p. 45: Pitt: TheImageDirect.com; Marley: Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty Images; Cooper: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Warner Bros.; West: Pacific Coast News/Avalon; p. 46: Martin: Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; p. 48: Bibo Ergo Sum: Dylan + Jeni; Chrysler building: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images; Tank Cintrée watch, travel case, liqueur set, cigarette case, ring, pen, wallpaper: Allie Holloway/ Studio D; Metropolis poster: Advertising Archive/courtesy Everett Collection; Villa Savoye: Fabrizio Carraro/Artur/VIEW View Pictures/Newscom; p. 50: Tailoring by Joseph Ting; Glover: Matthew Simmons/FilmMagic; Gosling: Juan Naharro Gimenez/WireImage; Hammer: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sirius XM; p. 52: Blue Man Group: Francesco Prandoni/Redferns; bottle: Allie Holloway/Studio D. Smooth Operator, p. 67: Coach Carter: AF Archive/Alamy; Pulp Fiction: BFA/Alamy; The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Lifestyle pictures/Alamy; The Negotiator: Archive Photos/Getty Images; Snakes on a Plane: Photo 12/Alamy. The Last Rhino, p. 74: Courtesy Everett Collection; p. 77: Clockwise from top left: Everett Collection (4); Henry Diltz/Morrison Hotel Gallery; Everett Collection; p. 81: Clockwise from top left: Everett Collection; courtesy Bob Rafelson; Everett Collection; courtesy Bob Rafelson; Henry Diltz/Morrison Hotel Gallery; courtesy Bob Rafelson/©20th Century Fox Film Corp.; ©TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection. Neuro Force, pp. 92–93: IDF Spokesperson’s
newsroom. Five months into the Trump presidency, her job was eliminated; she now consultsfor Facebook. Another example of this cost-benefit approach was the wholesale dismissal of the paper’s copy editors, whose role had included safeguarding the old standards within the news sections. (Dean Baquet declined to be interviewed for this article.) One problem is that there will come a day relatively soon, whether it’s next week or next month or in the middle of the next decade, when Donald J. Trump will no longer be president. Whoever is running the Times when that day arrives will have to somehow refit the Trump model to whatever personality and news environment comes next. By then, the Times’s core identity as the authoritative paper of record may be difficult to reclaim. Toward the end of her book, Abramson mentions the epitaph above the grave of the Times editor Abe Rosenthal, who helped shepherd the paper through some of the biggest social and political tumults of the last half of the last century, including Vietnam, Watergate, and the rise of Reagan conservatism. Rosenthal’s grave marker reads: “He kept the paper straight.” Those words will not likely be affixed to those who directed the paper through the challenging tenure of the forty-fifth president. More fitting final words for them might well be: “Trump made us do it.” Unit (5). The Game of Pharaohs, p. 96: Jagger and Hall: Wally McNamee/Getty Images; p. 99: Pool: Slim Aarons/Getty Images. (ISSN 0194-9535) is published monthly (except combined issues in December/January and June/July/August and when future combined issues are published that count as two issues as indicated on the issue’s cover), 8 times a year, by Hearst, 300 West 57th St., NY, NY 10019 USA. Steven R. Swartz, President and Chief Executive Officer; William R. Hearst III, Chairman; Frank A. Bennack, Jr., Executive Vice-Chairman. Hearst Magazine Media, Inc.: David Carey, Chairman; Troy Young, President; Debi Chirichella, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer; John A. Rohan, Jr., Senior Vice President, Finance; Catherine A. Bostron, Secretary. © 2019 by Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Esquire, Man at His Best, Dubious Achievement Awards, The Sound and the Fury, and are registered trademarks of Hearst Communications, Inc. Periodicals postage paid at N. Y., N. Y., and additional entry post ofﬁces. Canada Post International Publications mail product (Canadian distribution) sales agreement no. 40012499. Editorial and Advertising Offices: 300 West 57th St., NY, NY 10019-3797. Send returns (Canada) to Bleuchip International, P. O. Box 25542, London, Ontario N6C 6B2. Subscription prices: United States and possessions, $7.97 a year; Canada and all other countries, $19.97 a year. Subscription services: Esquire will, upon receipt of a complete subscription order, undertake fulﬁllment of that order so as to provide the ﬁrst copy for delivery by the Postal Service or alternate carrier within four to six weeks. From time to time, we make our subscriber list available to companies that sell goods and services by mail that we believe would interest our readers. If you would rather not receive such mailings via postal mail, please send your current mailing label or an exact copy to Mail Preference Service, P. O. Box 6000, Harlan, IA 51593. You can also visit preferences.hearstmags.com to manage your preferences and opt out of receiving marketing offers by e-mail. For customer service, changes of address, and subscription orders, log on to service.mag.com or write to Customer Service Department, Esquire, P. O. Box 6000, Harlan, IA 51593. Esquire is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts or art. None will be returned unless accompanied by return postage and envelope. Canada BN NBR 10231 0943 RT. Postmaster: Please send address changes to Esquire, P. O. Box 6000, Harlan, IA 51593. Printed in the USA.
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