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YOUR COMPLETE

SPECIAL REPORT

AN EXTINCT POSSIBILITY The truth behind the shocking drop in sperm counts

BADASS, FEMINIST HERO, SUPER DAD

ANTONIO BROWN JOHN C. REILLY GUCCI MANE TOM FORD PETE DAVIDSON JADEN SMITH


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ON THE COVER Photograph by Alasdair McLellan. Styled by Jon Tietz. Jacket, $5,400, by Louis Vuitton. Sweater, $1,350, by Saint Laurent. Ring, his own. Grooming by Larry King at Streeters. Set design by Roxy Walton. Produced by Ragi Dholakia Productions.

The dog days of summer are here. Embrace the heat! Or stay cool, like young style icon JADEN SMITH (P.51) . Or SNL’s super-funny and (now) superfamous PETE DAVIDSON (P.79) . Style editor Mark Anthony Green has advice on how to find a CHAIN STORE (P.62) for fashion emergencies. A non-stylish staffer fell for a pair of CHELSEA BOOTS (P.58) —are they his gateway drug to fashion? The Elder Statesman founder GREG CHAIT (P.68) demonstrates how to live big in a small home. Seven chefs recommend their favorite CONDIMENTS (P.64) . Marian Bull convenes a chefs’ table to figure out HOW TO FIX TOXIC KITCHEN CULTURE (P.86) . And Christopher Hooks reports that BETO O’ROURKE’S (P.98) Senate showdown with TED CRUZ might be a crystal ball for 2020.

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Behold, a rare sight: Antonio Brown captured outside the end zone. Blazer, $1,140, and pants, $600, by Paul Smith. Turtleneck, $360, by AMI Alexandre Mattiussi. Watch, his own.

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C A L E B E L I J A H WEARS RAF S IM ONS


S K Y L A R P E N N WEARS GUCCI


Clay Skipper catches up with ANTONIO BROWN (P.124) , who’s having a blast being the NFL’s best wide receiver. Alex Pappademas manages to find GUCCI MANE (P.150) in a rare moment of peace. TOM FORD (P.154) talks underwear with Mark Anthony Green. Brett Martin eats his way through HOUSTON (P.132) , the South’s new culinary mecca. Zach Baron visits CARY FUKUNAGA (P.140) in upstate New York. Tom Lamont dissects a deadly attack on an EX–RUSSIAN SPY (P.118) . JOHN C. REILLY (P.158) clowns around with Sam Schube. Are we cruising for SPERM COUNT ZERO (P.146) ? Daniel Noah Halpern investigates. And Lauren Larson breaks bread with CHRIS HEMSWORTH (P.108) , sensible hunk.

Director Cary Fukunaga steps out from behind the camera. Coat (price upon request) by Dior Men. Sweater, $205, by Officine Générale. T-shirt, $40 (for pack of three), by Calvin Klein Underwear. Pants, $550, by Canali.

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How We Feel About…

HEALING CRYSTALS

G

Q

H

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Crystal-curious

Hyped

Skeptical

Fall draws nigh, quite left summer’s chill styles behind.

EDITOR

NOAH JOHNSON SENIOR EDITOR

JAMES

“The black rope sole and suede upper are an unexpected combination for a typically summery shoe. No matter what you’re doing, with these on your feet, it’s beach time.”

PRODUCER

on an island

Meet…

MARK AN T HON Y GREEN As GQ’s resident style guru, Green is used to fielding readers’ sartorial queries (page 62). We had a few questions of our own.

How many pairs of shoes do you have in your office at this time? Let’s not talk quantity. Let’s talk quality. I have some gems in my o∞ce right now. How many rings is too many rings? Eleven. Because a toe ring would be overkill. Describe an item you own that you’re too scared to wear. A Gucci G-string that Tom Ford designed. I don’t have any sneakers to go with it.

E A R D AT GQ ERH OV JULY 24, 2018 No context, no mercy

“EVERYONE HAVE A BEVERAGE READY AT ALL TIMES.” CASEY JABBOUR digital production associate (via Slack)

When you meet someone new, what is your biggest style red flag? A maga hat. Other than that: Come as you are! What’s the best outfit you wore in middle school? I didn’t miss in middle school. Probably a green Ralph Lauren blazer.

Sweet Memes

What’s the longest you’ve waited in line for a purchase? I slept outside for a pair of Heineken Nike SB Dunks. The good old days! Describe your look at age 75. Black Gianni Agnelli mixed with James Baldwin. What is the smallest thing that you’ve spent the most money on? Probably that Gucci G-string.

Zach Baron’s July essay about being “washed”—letting your ambition drain away in favor of “getting into red wine”—spoke to people in various stages of washedness. “I wish I’d known earlier that life could have periods of dormancy and activity, and that a dormant stretch doesn’t mean the end.”—REBECCA ONION, SL ATE

Mere hours after we released our Augustissue cover, artist Saint Hoax shared a glorious mash-up, replacing Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner with…well, this.

“I love to wake up early, take walks, and tend a garden behind my house. I’m so washed and I didn’t even know it.”—SHANNON M C FARL AND, T WIT TER

“I love yoga now. When I was younger, I thought yoga was the biggest waste of time. But the older I get, and the sorer my muscles get, I’ve come around.” —RYAN, CALLER ON THE ‘BRIAN

REJECTED HEADLINES

NO, NOT CHRIS PRATT

STOP—HAMMER TIME!

THIRSTY THORSDAY

FOR OUR CHRIS HEMSWORTH COVER STORY

—MARIAN BULL

—C.G.

—ASHLEE BOBB

WE’RE NOT HEMS-WORTHY!

BIG NORDIC ENERGY

CHRIS ME, YOU FOOL

LEHRER SHOW’ SEGMENT

—CHRIS GAYOMALI

—TOM PHILIP

—SAM SCHUBE

“ ‘ WASHED’ AND HAPPY”

(See page 108.)

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PHOTOGRAPHS, FROM TOP: KRISTA SCHLUE TER (3); @SAINTHOA X . ILLUSTRATIONS, FROM LEF T: ALEX ANDRA COMPAIN-TIS SIER; JUSTIN ME T Z .

The Latest News from the Monthly, the Daily, and the All-the-Time-ly World of GQ


Up With the System! been brewing in the political nether parts of my brain lately. Nothing conspiratorial. Just the opposite. In the Trump era of naked power grabs, anti-democratic impulses, full-scale bullying, and open corruption, when even “collusion is not a crime,” I find myself longing for the System. It slipped away, and I wish it would come back. Reborn and improved, for sure. But back. ¶ When I grew up, the last of the original hippies in my town—crispy guys who hung out in the parks or at the black bridge behind my school; guys who’d seen the Grateful Dead back in ’72 (and ’73 and ’74); people we no longer called hippies, actually, but “burnouts”—they would smoke a lot of dope and then mansplain, or I guess hippie-splain, to us kids what was wrong with society, which always boiled down somehow to the System. The System had it out for us, and you could never beat the System. ¶ I believed them because they were obviously incredibly wise. They had reached a stage of nirvana that allowed them to hang out all day at the bridge and smoke my weed. A STRANGE THOUGHT’S

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Anyway, the System, man! It’s a drag. The System was the original Enemy of the People before the press won that pageant. It was the Crusher of Dreams, the Foiler of Plans, the Matrix-like force field that held us all back from realizing our ambitions, such as smoking a shit ton of Thai stick this afternoon. Over the years, the System became the bogeyman for a whole generation of antiestablishment thinkers, hepcats, and iconoclasts. (“The System,” railed Noam Chomsky, led to wide-scale submission and indoctrination and was propped up by the media.) Belief in the pernicious intent of the System grew systematically, until its existence, ironically, became part of establishment thinking. Donald Trump played right into that. During the past election he famously declared, “This is a rigged System!” (Turns out, not quite true: Other forces were rigged against the System.) What remained unsaid, throughout the years, was what exactly the System was, or is. Is the System the “swamp” that Trump promised to drain? Only to fill it with the biggest swamp creatures since The Shape of Water? How about Trump’s other favorite term, the Deep State? What is the Deep State but a hysterical version of the System? It sounds a whole lot like Chomsky. To Trump, the Deep State is conspiring against him, a sort of hidden state within a state trying to undo all his best and purest intentions. But maybe the opposite is true. Maybe the thing that’s missing now is the actual System. What if we spent years vilifying an abstraction, gave a name to it precisely because we couldn’t identify its murky outline, and it turned out to be not the problem but the only solution? What if the System were a mostly benign force that, when it’s working well, supports and defends the rule of law against tyrants like Trump? What if the things that make it run were the banal and painfully practical tenets of a legitimate

democracy—good governance, accountability, fighting corruption—you know, boring shit like that? And what if these were now the things we needed most, and the only forces that could save us? Wait, hold on. Seeing the System as the potential hero? That’s a little weird. Disorienting, even. It’s like that moment when you realize that the supervillains in the comic book you’re reading are actually superheroes. There’s an epiphanic flash, and then the entire narrative shifts. What I’m saying is, I think we can go with that. What I’m saying is, the System isn’t a dirty word anymore. We need more, not less, of it. And the clearest and freshest proof is this: It is in the absence of a System that conspiracy and collusion thrive. The swamp? That’s what happens when Scott Pruitt comes to town. And that’s what Trump’s trying to do, to choke the System right out of the state. To make power a loyalty oath. To make justice and the rule of law not systematic but capricious, subject to his idiosyncratic whims. It’s why he makes such a big, gratuitous deal out of pardoning people. L’état, he’d be saying if he spoke French, c’est moi! I’m rooting hard for the System now. If the System is the civics class we all stopped attending; if it’s the constitutional right of checks and balances— if it’s Congress finally finding the balls to stand up to Trump’s perverse power plays—I’m on Team System. If Robert Mueller is the System, sweet Jesus, I am so into the System. Because Robert Mueller, ex–FBI chief, is straight out of that comic book. He’s a Clark Kent superhero. He’s the Systematizer! I know it’s not exactly a rousing folk song: “Give the System a Chance.” But I’ll sing it. And I say, let’s turn the old hippie phrase around: Up with the System!

JIM NELSON EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

ERIC RAY DAVIDSON

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR


GQ Style The Fall 2018 Issue STARRING

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BARBER: KAVION GRIFFITH. GROOMING: SUSSY CAMPOS USING EPICUREN.

The 20-year-old wunderkind has a new collection with G-Star and a whole bunch of thoughts on why Batman is a style icon By SAM SCHUBE

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S M I T H H A S three style icons. There’s Tyler, the Creator, who taught him about Supreme. There’s Batman, whose suit Jaden wore to Kim and Kanye’s wedding because, he explained at the time, “I felt as though I needed to protect everyone there and needed to have the proper gear to do so.” And then there’s Poseidon: “He always comes with the next-level vibes.” Maybe I’ve misheard him. Poseidon? Like, the Greek god of the sea? “Yeah,” he says. He’s smirking. How does he dress? “Really good,” Jaden says. “A lot of drapes, you know what I’m saying? Those are really next.” Jaden soon makes it clear that he means sculptures of Poseidon, wrapped in marble robes, not the actual deity. And you know what? On this count, Jaden Smith, 20-year-old actor, musician, and fashion plate, is not wrong. I do some Googling, and I learn that Poseidon style is really next. There’s a connection here: Jaden, who is an ambassador for Louis Vuitton and a fan of its womenswear, has done more than most humans to encourage guys to wear skirts, including wearing one to prom. But Poseidon did it first, and Jaden has done his homework. JADEN

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THE FUTURE IS FLUID Jaden doesn’t think twice about wearing women’s Vuitton: “There’s no concern about that, ever.” Sweatshirt (price upon request) by Louis Vuitton. Jeans, $360, by Jaden Smith + G-Star RAW Forces of Nature. Necklace, his own.

PREVIOUS PAGE

Coat, $1,250, by Comme des Garçons Homme Plus. Hoodie, $60, by MSFTS. Jeans, $360, and T-shirt, $120, by Jaden Smith + G-Star RAW Forces of Nature.

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FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES Jeans with history: Jaden made his own pants and showed them to Pharrell, who sent him to G-Star. Vest (price upon request) by Louis Vuitton. T-shirt, $35, by MSFTS. Jeans, $360, by Jaden Smith + G-Star RAW Forces of Nature. Sneakers, $1,090, by Louis Vuitton. Jewelry, his own.

This quality—and ability to say something bananas and then to smile, teasingly, as you realize that it was, in fact, bizarrely, uncomfortably sage and true— might help explain how, shy of drinking age, Jaden has become a style icon. Now he’s channeling his godly influence with Forces of Nature, a collaboration with G-Star. It’s all nature-themed, including jeans designed to replicate the patch-heavy denim Jaden cuts and sews in his room at home in Calabasas. It fits nicely in his sustainable-goods portfolio next to JUST, his paper-water-bottle company. “Animals are the most important thing,” he says. “And what G-Star is doing

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with sustainable denim as well. It’s just all bringing back nature and animals. Trying to make people aware of, like, Go outside.” Which brings us back to Batman. “He’s just the shit,” Jaden says. “Everything about that suit: the cape, the utilities, the tactical equipment. It’s everything you ever want. I just want be a superhero and save lives and jump o≠ of buildings and hide in the shadows.” You’re a young, famous dude, I say. It’s hard to hide in the shadows. Jaden looks at me like I’m 5. “Hence the Batman suit.”

sam schube is gq’s deputy style editor.


C r e a t i n g n ew h e i g h t s The new Montblanc 1858 Geosphere. Spirit of Mountain Exploration. montblanc.com/1858


(SOME) REST FOR THE WEARY

T h e

Even 20-year-old multi-hyphenate superheroes get tired sometimes.

F i x

Jacket, $410, by Jaden Smith + G-Star RAW Forces of Nature. T-shirt, $35, by MSFTS. Jeans (price upon request) by Louis Vuitton. Belt, stylist’s own. Necklace, his own.

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EVENTS || PROMOTIONS || EXCLUSIVES

GENTLEMEN’S QUARTERLY || EST. 1957

Photo credit: Elizabeth Dooley

THE GENT—SOHO, NYC GQ’s invitation-only penthouse serves as an exclusive hangout in the heart of trendy SoHo, surrounded by fashionable boutiques, art galleries, and top restaurants. The luxurious apartment spans three floors and features architectural details such as exposed brick, slanted walls, skylights, and glass staircases. A combination of two pre-war buildings, the curved window frames, high ceilings, and two private outdoor spaces make The Gent the perfect combination of eclectic and cool. For more information, visit solyhalabi1.wixsite.com/springph. @GQTHEGENT @GQREPORT


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Staff writer Clay Skipper’s step-by-step makeover

Where Do I Begin? One Man’s Modest Quest to Finally Get Stylısh CHAPTER 1:

PROP ST YLIST: LEIGH GILL. ILLUSTRATIONS: SIMON ABRANOWICZ.

The Chelsea Boot

The boot that launched a thousand fits. New Republic $99

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THE CHELSEA-BOOT SPECTRUM, FROM SKIPPER TO SWERVE T h e

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Maybe foremost among the 7,648 reasons we love Chelsea boots? They’re perfect for your very first foray into fashion—but also for every last step on your own style journey. Whether you want harness hardware or cherry red designer soles, there’s a boot for you

C L O T H E S H A V E N E V E R really been my thing. I wore athletic shorts for basically my entire childhood, including in pile-driving Connecticut snow, waiting for the bus to take me to middle school. So when I started at GQ , I quickly learned that my closet was not up to the task. No one here dressed alike, but everyone dressed with purpose. The only intention behind my outfits was “Don’t be naked.” My boss gave it six months before I figured things out. It happens to everyone who comes to GQ, he said. It has been three-plus years and I’m still waiting. That’s not to say I haven’t tried—a pair of A.P.C. jeans here, 18 pairs of Stan Smiths there. But I never quite turned “owning clothes” into “having style.” I wasn’t trying to go crazy with oversize Visvim ponchos or ugly-cool Balenciaga sneakers. I just wanted to give o≠ David Beckham on a Weekend Co≠ee Run, but I couldn’t manage to get past Ben A±eck on a Vape Break. And then I discovered Chelsea boots. I don’t remember where, only that once I saw them, I couldn’t stop seeing them— on red carpets, in magazines (like this one), on seemingly every other dude on the sidewalk. In a fashion universe where trends moved quickly and barriers to entry were high (“Baggy pants? With pleats?”), they seemed timeless, and democratic: Kanye looked great in Chelseas, but so too did all the hot dads in my neighborhood. I didn’t yet have the vocabulary to describe what I was looking at, but I knew they were sleek and sexy, not clunky like all the other boots I’d owned. (Plus they slipped on!) Best of all? These boots—from New Republic—were only $99 and came in lots of di≠erent styles. I passed on brown leather (trying too hard) and

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NONE MORE BLACK

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2 the rainbow. But before you grab a pair in desert camo, try slightly out-there maroon.

Ralph Lauren, master of all things aspirational, figured out how to turn upperclass velvet slippers into badass boots.

Common Projects $529

Ralph Lauren $795

A BARGAIN BIT

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STAND TALL

One side effect of the Chelsea-boot explosion? You don’t have to fork over a grand for that coveted strap-and-ring piece. Aldo $150

camouflage (too teen hypebeast-y) and grabbed a pair in tan (“sand”) suede with a cushy crepe sole. They were elegant but non-threatening. I could imagine wearing them without a chorus of my longtime bros calling me Devil Wears Prada. Which makes sense: The man behind the boots—Mark McNairy, a veteran shoe designer—explained that this whole style thing doesn’t have to be so hard. “You can put on a pair of Levi’s and a white T-shirt with a cool pair of shoes, and that’s all you need to make your statement,” he told me. And what did these particular boots say? “You’re timely. But you’re not an idiot who spends his money on unnecessary things.” I was okay with putting that message into the world. But even though these boots weren’t that out-there, their stylishness quiet and personal, I was still nervous. So I wore them to dinner with a low-stakes audience to try something new on: my family. No one noticed, and I realized I could wear them without feeling like a complete poseur. So I kept wearing them. I wore them with the few “fashiony” items I owned— those A.P.C. jeans; a dressed-down gray suit with a black T-shirt—hoping they would elevate my style. People at work started to notice. It was a small addition with an outsize consequence, like a spritz of cologne providing an extra layer of presence as I moved through the world.

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Buy for the details you can see—that extrasleek silhouette, the cap toe—and the one you can’t: CL’s famous red lacquer sole. Christian Louboutin $1,195

Walking to dinner one night, I felt like I’d finally slid into the slipstream, one more figure in the nightly parade of fashionable New Yorkers. Even at dinner, my boots hidden under the table, I got an added dose of confidence just from knowing they were there. Also: They feel like walking on memory-foam pillows. And then one night, because it was raining and my boots were suede, I took a cab four blocks home. Had that moment of reckoning my old boss promised finally, belatedly, come to pass? Was I someone who cared about getting dressed? Yes and no. I still don’t know much about fashion or What to Wear, but I don’t roll my eyes at the idea that caring about clothes might actually breed confidence. When I asked McNairy what he’d say to the guy—me—who was skeptical whether style really mattered, he drove it home: “You can not give a shit about clothes and still look super-fucking cool.” But how? I’ll spend the next few months here, trying to figure that out— how you go about finding the denim jacket you want to own for life, or how to wear a necklace, or what a damn “grail” is. At the end, my style might not scream David Beckham Jr., but I’m hoping it’ll be somewhere beyond “grew up wearing athletic shorts in the snow.” Low bar, sure. But it’s a start. clay skipper is a gq sta≠ writer.


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Style editor Mark Anthony Green has your answer at @AskMag

You Just Haven’t Found Your Chain Store It can’t be too cheap, or too pricey, or too… everywhere. I just found mine

When I shop, it feels like the only good fashion pieces nowadays have a 3-D frog sewn on them or cost a thousand bucks. Am I doomed, or is there an easily findable store I’m overlooking—a place where I’ll want everything on the rack? I went to a mall in L.A. a few weeks back to find a simple white button-down for a party, and it turned into some kind of fashion odyssey. Everything had pick stitching or bejeweled buttons or embroidered amphibians. I felt like I was shopping at the Rainforest Cafe gift shop. So I agree: In this maximalist, put-ananimal-on-it sartorial era that we’re currently shopping in, it’s damn near impossible to find a foundational anything. Which warps our perception of what makes

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a great brand. We’re too focused on pieces and not collections. Just because you like a jacket you saw on Ryan Gosling doesn’t mean the whole line is strong. The way I grade a brand is by something I call the pass-to-grab ratio. If out of every ten items I would only grab two, then that brand isn’t really my thing—even if two of those items are the “must-have,” celebritycraze items of the season. It’s like our grandparents complaining when pop stars pad out their albums with filler songs. (Looking at you, Beebz.) And the brand that has the highest ratio (I’ll put it at eight out of ten) is the French go-to Sandro. It doesn’t just make hit singles. Each collection is a balanced four-disc rock opera. Almost everything there is marked by a Parisian touch—a baked-in nonchalance that makes you look like you know what you’re doing. It’s easy for a brand—lazy, even—to make a great sweater that costs 800 euros. But Sandro’s pricing is a fraction of that. And they often have sales. And the clothes don’t fall apart when you accidentally wash ’em on “sanitize.” Plus you can find Sandro in Bloomingdale’s or at an outlet center just past the Ruby Tuesday. Which really comes in handy when you’re traveling. I often find myself buying clothes when I bounce from city to city. I’ll need a dark pair of pants for an unexpected dinner, a lighter jacket because, despite my much wiser girlfriend’s pleas, I won’t look at the weather forecast before I board the flight. And I can always find something at Sandro that I can wear long after my specific style emergency— and this style era—passes. Isn’t that the whole point of shopping? To find things that, no matter what Gosling is wearing, you’ll always come back to? Clothes with value. And with as few frogs as possible.

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1. CRUSHED CHILE PEPPERS These salty, fermented, oil-packed chiles “add deep notes of spice not only to pizza and pasta but to shellfish, chicken, and pork,” says chef Anita Lo, author of the upcoming SOLO: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One. 2. TOMATO VINEGAR Never buy pre-made dressing! Mix up your own. “I’m in love with Mutti tomato vinegar,” says Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina. “It’s a great base for a vinaigrette—especially for dressing fresh tomatoes.”

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3. MOUTARDE DE BOURGOGNE Opt for real-deal French mustard for your next sandwich, says Jess Koslow of L.A.’s Sqirl: “Once I read that true Dijon mustard is made with verjuice—the juice of pressed unripe grapes—I picked up a jar of this and quickly realized what I had been missing.” 4. BLACK SOY SAUCE “Anyone who grills should have black soy sauce in their pantry,” says Kris Yenbamroong of L.A.’s Night + Market restaurants. “It’s dark and sugary, which is good for getting a nice char on a piece of meat.” 5. MOLE SAUCE Make your own special sauce with a jar of mole. “I usually fry it up with some onions to make quick sauces,” says Fabian von Hauske, chef at New York City’s Contra and Wildair, “or to marinate meats.”

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7. NONG’S KHAO MAN GAI Chef Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s in Portland, Oregon, is obsessed with this superversatile sauce: “It’s got spice and lots of garlic. I love it in stir-fries or brushed onto grilled chicken. It’s one of those things that make you say, Holy shit, this is good.”

Yes, There Is a Secret Sauce We asked some pros to help us assemble the ultimate condiment lineup for way less boring meals at home B y M A R I A N B U L L 6 4

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PROP ST YLIST: RACHEL STICKLEY AT BERNSTEIN & ANDRIULLI

6. CHILI CRISP Use this Chinese staple as a crispy, spicy jack-of-all-trades. “Whether you’re stirring it into a vegetable stir-fry or bleeding it into your instant ramen,” says Trigg Brown of Win Son in Brooklyn, “it really transforms the final product. It’s also money on scrambled eggs.”


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This retrofitted Malibu trailer isn’t the only residence of Greg Chait, founder of The Elder Statesman. But it is the only place he calls home

↑ This custom reading nook Voltrons into a queen-size bed for guests.

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The Coolest Way to Live Small

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GROOMING: HEE SOO KWON USING DAVINES

B y NOAH J OHNS ON


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“ TO DAY, W H AT W E E X P E C T

F R O M A H O U S E I S A LOT

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W I T H A N O P E N K I TC H E N ,

L I K E T H E O N E AT T H E

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A N D H A S TO B E T H AT M U C H

MORE BEAUTIFUL.”

The Designer’s Mind DA R R E N B R O W N Designer


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“ T H E G O A L I S to be happy, right?” Greg Chait asks. He’s trying to convince me that his surf shack in the elite Malibu trailer park known as Paradise Cove is all he needs. “Keep it simple,” he says. “That’s what I want.” The home is indeed simple: a onestory rectangular abode with low-slung ceilings, a wooden deck out back, an outdoor shower, and two small bedrooms. But the Elder Statesman founder isn’t the average American trailer-park resident, and this isn’t the average American trailer park. Matthew McConaughey has reportedly lived here, for starters. And it’s been called the “hippest neighborhood in Malibu.” But all that aside, this little community of milliondollar homes tucked between multi-

million-dollar homes is an idyllic escape from the fuss of nearby Los Angeles. “It’s supposed to be like this,” he says, meaning: slightly tacky. He steps o≠ the front porch into the kitchen that’s been partially renovated to update the original design, which dates from 1968, when the place was built. He left the original wood floors and chose not to raise the ceilings, as many of his neighbors have over the years. So yeah, it’s humble and modestly appointed, but it’s also draped in insanely luxurious hand-dyed cashmere. The stu≠ is everywhere. A blanket tossed haphazardly across the bed. Psychedelic couch cushions on the custom-built wood furniture. A floor-length robe hanging casually on a door.

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1. The fridge is periodaccurate but was chosen for the color. 2. Beach-life knickknacks. 3. Chait keeps his ’64 Impala parked a hundred yards from his bungalow. 4. Stacked petrified-wood slabs make for an improvised bedside table.

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FAIRFIELD CHRONOGRAPH SUPERNOVA™ Cut from metal. Shaped by light. From the laser-cut INDIGLO® backlight dial to the complementing perforated leather strap, the appeal of this watch is all in the details.

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5. The wood paneling and built-in closet in the bedroom are both original. 6. Paradise Cove residents get to the beach and restaurant via golf cart.

THE HOME OF FLY KNITS At The Elder Statesman’s West Hollywood outpost, clients can buy high-grade cashmere off the rack or dream up no-limits custom creations for their closet or home.

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Chait started The Elder Statesman in 2007 with a line of cashmere blankets. Today he has a factory in Culver City and around 50 employees who design and knit everything from vibrantly colored socks and ponchos and hoodies to trippy stu≠ed animals and sculptural furniture. The outpost in West Hollywood acts as a retail shrine for cashmere lovers. When Chait bought the place, four years ago, he wanted a safe haven for himself and his 8-year-old daughter, Dorothy. “Everybody around here just looks out for each other,” he says. (One neighbor, an ophthalmologist, will soon perform eye surgery on Chait so he can see where he’s going when he surfs—“I’m totally blind out there!”) It’s

not exactly an undiscovered beachside utopia, but Dorothy can roam freely and he can beat the crowd to the best surf breaks in the morning. “Small spaces create close relationships,” he says. They also force a certain aesthetically pleasing kind of minimalism. One lamp or vase too many in a place this small and you step onto the precarious path toward hoarderdom. “I’m super fucking happy,” Chait says. “I don’t even know what I want—I have what I want.” A few hundred square feet, a golf cart, and a dozen or so surfboards, it seems, is plenty. noah johnson is a gq senior style editor.


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Pete Davidson is one of SNL’s youngest cast members ever—

GROOMING: JESSICA ORTIZ USING JACK BLACK

and his DGAF comedy has turned him into a star we can’t look away from

Shirt, $650, by Lanvin. Tank top, $360, by Hermès. Pants, $228, by Michael Kors. Sneakers, $160, by Nike. Watch, $195, by Seiko.

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D A V I D S O N S A Y S fame hasn’t changed his style. The 24-year-old Saturday Night Live comedian is wearing pastel purple parachute pants— swishy $280 Acne Studios warm-ups with a drawstring waist and zippers at the ankles. They are the easiest decision Davidson will make all day. For one, they fit his lanky six-foot-three frame perfectly. (“I look like a praying mantis,” he says.) And, two, they look cool. “I dress how I dressed when I was, like, 10,” he explains. “I’m like, ‘What would be cool? Purple pants.’ ” Since making his SNL debut in 2014, as one of the youngest cast members ever at age 20, Davidson has charmed audiences with this direct, shoulder-shrugging brand of comedy. He often appears as himself on “Weekend Update,” where he jokes about his personal life. As the “Resident Young Person,” he talks about weed, obviously, and sex. (“If you don’t go down on a guy for a million dollars, you obviously don’t care about your family,” he said, straight-faced, during a bit on his very first episode.) But he also mines the darker elements of his life in his stand-up. His dad, a New York City firefighter, died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Davidson often references the tragedy in blunt terms. On Comedy Central’s roast of Justin Bieber in 2015, he turned to the troubled pop star and said, “I lost my dad on 9/11, and I always regretted growing up without a dad. Until I met your dad, Justin. Now I’m glad mine’s dead.” Despite how beloved Davidson has become on SNL and in the stand-up community, he still doesn’t see himself as a star. It’s “mortifying” for him to do a photo shoot like this, all the posing and talking about himself. “It’s all bullshit. GQ wouldn’t hit me up if I didn’t recently get engaged to a super-famous person,” he says, settling into an oversize black leather couch at the studio with a plate of catered pasta salad. “Nobody gives a shit, you know what I mean?” He’s referring to his new fiancée, the intergalactically famous pop star Ariana Grande. According to the tabloids, Davidson presented Grande, 25, with a $93,000 pear-shaped diamond in June, after just a few weeks of dating. According to Davidson, it happened even quicker than that. “The day I met her, I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll marry you tomorrow,’ ” he says, grinning. “She was calling my bluff. I sent her a picture [of engagement rings]. I was like, ‘Do you like any PETE

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of these?’ She was like, ‘Those are my favorite ones,’ and I was like, ‘Sick.’ ” Suddenly, Davidson became one half of the most talked-about millennial couple in America. Paparazzi trail him and Grande everywhere they go in New York City, and the tabloids report breathlessly on each moment they’re spotted together. Davidson seems to think this is happening just because Grande is a “super-famous person.” He’s correct in that she introduced him to a wider audience, but we’d argue that his lovably bizarre antics are what have propelled the couple to publicobsession territory. Instead of hiding from the press, Davidson waltzes down the street wearing neo-goth surgical masks, flipping the bird. (“My friends think I’ve gone crazy,” he says of the masks.) When Jimmy Fallon asked

him about Grande on his show in June, Davidson confirmed the engagement and replied, “It’s fuckin’ LIT, Jimmy!” His easy, unbothered confidence inspired Twitter users to give it a very flattering name: Big Dick Energy. But still he insists that when the paparazzi camp outside his door, “they’re not waiting for me.” Davidson and Grande recently moved into a Manhattan apartment that reportedly cost $16 million. She bought the place, Davidson says, and he stocks the fridge. “She’s really sweet. She’s like, ‘This is our house,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re very nice for saying that. Thank you for letting me stay here,’ ” he deadpans. “She’s like, ‘We’re getting married!’ And I’m like, ‘I know, thank you for letting me stay here.’ ” They’re still working on decorating it. “It’s like, we have six beanbags, but we have (text continued on page 84)

↑ Shirt, $90, by Wu Wear at Barneys New York. Pants, $1,500, by Gucci. Sunglasses, $665, by Mr. Leight. Watch, his own.


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1. Necklace, his own. 2. Coat, $2,900, by Salvatore Ferragamo. Jersey, $165, by Rapha. Pants, $258, by Palace Skateboards. Sneakers, from left, $190 (for pair) and $170 (for pair), both by Nike at KITH. 3. Vest, $360, by Polo Ralph Lauren. Turtleneck, $170, by Jil Sander. Sweatpants, $140, by Wu Wear at Barneys New York. Sneakers, $190, by Nike at KITH. 4. Cardigan, $795, by Simon Miller. Sweater, $300, by Acne Studios. Watch, $315, by Seiko.

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no forks—you know what I mean?” he says, taking a massive bite of pasta salad. “We’re learning how to be adults. We’re having a really fun time.” The only impediment to their domestic bliss is the level to which the tabloids have focused on it. It used to be that Davidson could keep up with what was written about him. “I gotta tell you, up until about two months ago, if someone wrote about me, I saw it,” he says. “Nobody gave a shit two months ago, so anytime there was an article, I would obviously see it, because my mom would send it to me and be like, ‘Yaaay!’ ” Soon, Davidson will get to escape the city altogether: He’s filming a new movie, Big Time Adolescence, in the decidedly

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less paparazzi-heavy Syracuse, New York. But he won’t exactly evade tabloid speculation. There are rumors that he and Grande will get married very soon, on August 4, to honor his dad’s badge number, 8418. (He recently posted a photo of her wearing the badge on Instagram, but it’s since been deleted.) Davidson says that they haven’t really started wedding planning, but “it’s definitely going to happen, for sure.” As if on cue, Grande appears at the studio to pick him up. Looking like a fairy-tale woodland creature, with two pigtail buns on top of her head and cateye makeup, she skips around in a cloud of sweet perfume, offering hugs to everyone on set. Then she greets Davidson by burying her head inside his Balenciaga T-shirt. “The universe works in weird ways,” he says. “All I know is that I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” He wears the purple pants right out of the studio. allie jones is a writer based in Brooklyn. This is her first story for GQ.

As with all GQ fashion shoots, we started this one with a plan: a half-dozen looks, styled out on a rack, that we wanted Pete Davidson to try on and, hopefully, wear. But Davidson dresses with the swagger of a Staten Island dice roller. He’s not the kind of guy who lays his outfits out the night before. So we ditched the rack and embarked on a sartorial Choose Your Own Adventure with the SNL comic that took us to all corners of a modern man’s wardrobe—even the corner where he keeps his bright pink cycling jersey. Next time you don’t know what to wear, borrow a few of these moves and a fraction of Davidson’s boundless confidence and you’ll be all set. Coat, $1,990, by Burberry. Tank top, $40 (for pack of three), by Calvin Klein Underwear. Pants, $1,295, by Giorgio Armani. Sneakers, $450, by Adidas by Raf Simons at KITH. Hat, $100, Wu Wear at Barneys New York. Sunglasses, $665, by Mr. Leight. Necklace, his own.


©2018 IMPORTED BY BIRRA PERONI INTERNAZIONALE, WASHINGTON, DC


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How Do We Fix Restaurants? 8 6

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When accusations of sexual harassment and abusive behavior took down big names like Mario Batali and John Besh, few people in the business were surprised. Is kitchen culture inherently toxic? And what to do about it? We asked six chefs from different backgrounds to sit down and figure out what it takes to change an industry B y M A R I A N B U L L

PHOTOGRAPH: ALESSANDRO SALVADOR /EYEEM/GE T T Y IMAGES. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION FOR EDITORIAL PURPOSES.

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Kitchen

CAST OF CHARACTERS 1. AMANDA COHEN CHEF-OWNER

2. JEN AGG RESTAURATEUR

3. GERARDO GONZALEZ CHEF

4. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV CHEF-RESTAURATEUR

5. PREETI MISTRY CHEF

6. TOM COLICCHIO CHEF-RESTAURATEUR

Known for: Dirt Candy, a gratuity-free finedining restaurant serving vegetarian food in downtown Manhattan.

Known for: Three bars— Grey Gardens, Rhum Corner, and Cocktail Bar—and a nose-to-tail restaurant, The Black Hoof, all in Toronto.

Known for: The casual, cool, smart CaliforniaLatino food at Lalito in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Known for: Modern Israeli at his Philly flagship, Zahav. Also Federal Donuts in Philly and Dizengoff in N.Y.C.’s Chelsea Market.

Known for: Semi-casual California-Indian cuisine served in Oakland at Navi Kitchen and Juhu Beach Club, both now closed.

Known for: Co-founding New York’s iconic Gramercy Tavern and his flagship restaurant, Craft; judging on Top Chef.

that restaurants can be intense, sometimes hostile places to work—screaming chefs, creepy diners, personal and professional boundaries blurred by long hours and alcohol. But in the past year, it’s become clear: The need for change, in the way the restaurant industry treats its employees and prosecutes abusers, is dire. As the #MeToo movement gathered steam, restaurants had their own reckoning. We learned about Mario Batali’s history of groping female employees; Ken Friedman, the megasuccessful New York restaurateur, had a similar M.O. plus a third floor reportedly nicknamed “the rape room” in his WE’VE LONG KNOWN

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West Village landmark, The Spotted Pig. New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from his restaurants amid reports of the sexual harassment that allegedly ran rampant in his company. The list continues to grow. Here at GQ, we love restaurants and desperately want them to be better to the people who make them such a joy to dine in. So we put six chefs in a room—a mix of old guard and new guard, restaurateurs with empires and chefs who are still in the kitchen every night—and got them talking about the state of America’s restaurants and the work that needs to be done to fix them.

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HAIR: FRANCIS CATANESE FOR R+CO HAIRCARE. MAKEUP: SARAH APPLEBY USING NARS COSME TICS.

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G Q : So we’re in a place where predatory behavior on the behalf of male chefs and restaurateurs has been exposed. I’m curious what you guys think needs to happen now. Do the offending chefs need to divest from those restaurants? J EN AG G : Of course they should divest. P R E E T I M I S T RY: They should just go the fuck away. AG G : They’re gonna try to come back, as we’ve seen. Ken Friedman is on the way to redemption and hasn’t done anything to get there.

ILLUSTRATIONS: SIMON ABRANOWICZ

In June news broke that Gabrielle Hamilton—chef-owner of the much beloved Manhattan restaurant Prune— would be taking over operations at The Spotted Pig with her wife, Ashley Merriman. Controversy erupted over their decision to work with Ken Friedman after his abusive behavior was reported in ‘The New York Times.’ TO M C O L I C C H I O : I think it’s too easy to say, “They should just go away.” They’re not gonna go away—they wanna try to make a living. MISTRY: Why should they have the right to still earn a living? C O L I C C H I O : Even if you come out of prison, you— MISTRY: But they’re not going to go to prison! They’re not going to be held accountable. C O L I C C H I O : They are being held accountable, okay? But the question is— AG G : How are they being held accountable? C O L I C C H I O : Look at the tally. Three [of Batali’s] restaurants were closed in Las Vegas. That’s about $40 million worth of revenue gone. AG G : A drop in the bucket. C O L I C C H I O : It’s not a drop in the bucket! You have no idea! AG G : [laughs] I’m not trying to rile you. I’m saying that I don’t think they’re being held accountable in the right way. C O L I C C H I O : No, no, I agree. MISTRY: When all of those cases came out last fall—it’s not like anyone in this room was surprised by the people who were being accused. With Charlie [Hallowell, whose abusive behavior was the subject of a ‘San Francisco Chronicle’ report in late 2017; his most popular restaurant, Pizzaiolo, was an Oakland staple for California-style

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“You get to a point where you realize that you don’t have to yell. You don’t have to threaten to get your point across. It’s much easier to be quiet about it.” pizza.—Ed.], I didn’t personally know how fucked-up it was. But I knew he was a fucking creep. I’ve told him to his face to fuck o≠, with a smile. A M A N DA C O H E N : I don’t understand why people aren’t picketing outside of The Spotted Pig. MISTRY: I don’t think people care. They care more about where the fucking meat in the burger came from than they do about the people cooking it. C O L IC C H I O : They don’t care about that. MISTRY: In California they do! C O H E N : So many people who are eating there don’t know what’s happening. MISTRY: When I think about The Spotted Pig and Charlie’s restaurants in Oakland, those are fucking really busy restaurants. As a front-of-thehouse person, that is a really good job. Those people are walking out of there every night with anywhere from $500 to $800 in their pocket. C O L IC C H I O : Do you think that restaurant should close? MISTRY: Yes! C O L IC C H I O : Then [the employees are] not getting that money. MISTRY: But someone [in that environment] being able to say, “I’m being treated this way. I’m gonna go get another job”—it’s not easy when you’re working in a place that is phenomenally busy. Going to get another serving job somewhere else is not necessarily gonna pay the same bills. AGG: And you might be blacklisted! C O L IC C H I O : You know what I think really sucks: There’s some big people that got taken down, but there’s some fucking asshole chef somewhere in Nebraska that just cornered someone in the walk-in and is gonna get away with it because he’s not known. Even if they fire him, he’s just gonna walk over to the next place and get a job there. AGG: This is my big thing right now: You’re not rapey enough to be brought down, but you’re still a terrible person.

THE ORIGIN OF THE SCREAMING CHEF ERIC RIPERT CHEF, LE BERNARDIN My first restaurant job was at a fine-dining restaurant in Paris called La Tour d’Argent. The kitchen had an extremely disciplined, military mentality: The chef or the sous-chef is directing the chef saucier, for instance, who is going to give orders to his commis. It’s very dogmatic in a sense—you do not question authority. There was a lot of pressure from the top. Sometimes there was yelling in the kitchen, sometimes even some physical contact— being punched in the shoulder or being

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kicked in the butt. Not in a mean way, but it was not a joke. There was no terrible abuse, though, because it was so structured. It was not like the chef was going crazy and throwing pots and pans. There were no women. I saw one American woman who came in for training, and we were like, wow— we had never seen a woman in the kitchen. Her name was Jane. One smart-ass guy went to her and said, “Hi, Jane, I’m Tarzan.” And she said, “You’re more like Cheeta”—the monkey—“than Tarzan.”

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It might not be sexual harassment. It might be, like, emotional abuse. There’s all of these other categories. MISTRY: I had a line cook for a while who had worked in some top places—I was super excited about his skill level. But he honestly believed that being a dick was cool. I’d sit down and I’d reason with him: “Hey, we’re a nice kitchen. We respect each other.” And he was like, “Oh, I didn’t take the Rosetta Stone on nice.” [laughter] AGG : It’s funny when you say it. MISTRY: He thought that was really fucking hilarious. And then I was like, “We have an open kitchen. Be fucking nice to the servers. Don’t treat them like dumb girls. See it as a business decision: Customers are gonna have a bad experience.” And he still wouldn’t get it—he believed that being an asshole was what it meant to be a chef. C O L I C C H I O : I’ve had kids say, “I can’t work here. You’re just not yelling enough.” AGG : Nobody said that! Nobody said that! C O L I C C H I O : Absolutely. “You’re not yelling and screaming enough. You don’t seem to care enough.” C O H E N : I have a kid right now who’s like, “I need to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant, Amanda. I need a lot more motivation. I need to be yelled at.” AGG : Why are we all such fucking masochists? GER ARD O G O NZ A L E Z : ’Cause that’s what success is in this industry. I think sometimes you have to refine your idea of success to just being a decent person. You see these people who can’t even look at their sta≠ in the eyeballs or acknowledge them as human beings. AGG : Oh, my God. GO N Z AL EZ: I saw the direction that I could’ve gone, in the [traditional sense] of what it means to be successful in this industry. I got a review in The New York Times, and that week my grandmother was in the hospital. I was like, I’m gonna

WHY KITCHEN CULTURE STAYS TOXIC PREETI MISTRY CHEF There’s an idea that child care and maternity leave are this issue that’s keeping women out of the upper echelons of the industry, and I just find it to be really myopic. What it really comes down to is the environment. There was an article a couple of years ago from René Redzepi about his fantasy for a kinder kitchen. He said something about instructing his chefs not to use such vulgar language or make inappropriate jokes, and I’m like, This is a restaurant that people say is the best restaurant in the world. You’re still at the phase of lowering the amount of locker-

room talk? To me, that’s why women don’t want to be in kitchens anymore. And most of the ones who stay decide to continue to put up with it. To really change things, it requires people at the top to fucking listen. How many times do women, queer people, people of color have to voice our issues and have people roll their eyes at us or say, “She can’t take a joke. They didn’t mean anything by it”? The kitchen should be a place for all different types of people to work in, not a domain that is ruled by straight white men where everyone is secondary to that.

go visit her in California. And my co-worker’s like, Why would you even do that kind of thing—you’re jeopardizing the week after a review. MISTRY: Good for you. Because I’ve been that asshole. I’m curious as to how your early jobs in cooking have shaped the way you run your kitchens now.

GQ:

C O H E N : I had the worst boss. So I’ve learned so much of what not to do. G O NZ AL E Z : It’s amazing once you stop to think about how easy it is to be respectful and run a kitchen that promotes acceptance. It doesn’t have to be a violent kitchen. That’s what I really appreciate about the restaurant that we’ve created as a team. Everybody is just accepting—there’s not even a second thought about it. C O L IC C H I O : You get to a point where you realize that you don’t have to yell. You don’t have to threaten to get your point across. It’s much easier to be quiet about it. AG G : I was just talking with this guy on my sta≠, and he’s like, “You actually do things in a way that is terrifying— but not because there’s yelling. You’re very stern. You make it clear this can’t happen again.” That is unfortunately how you lead a restaurant. You can’t just say, “Hey, could you please not do that again?” That is not e≠ective. C O L IC C H I O : But that’s such an honest conversation to have. It’s much easier to yell at someone. AG G : Sometimes it has to be during service, so that the impact lands. Unfortunately, restaurants are dictatorships, not democracies. Otherwise they’d fall apart. G O NZ AL E Z : Right, I mean it’s tricky. I would say from my experience running places, you can get very kumbaya, and the problem is, at the end of the day, [your employees] actually want some kind of structure. They thrive o≠ of it. When they don’t have the structure, they feel like you don’t have the tools to actually achieve something or succeed. AG G : [Cooks] need to learn how to be leaders, not angry parents. G O NZ AL E Z : They need to learn how to communicate, honestly. As a cook, I learned to repress things. Personally, I don’t believe that my cooks have to leave their baggage at the door. If you’re carrying something with you, we can talk about it. Giving somebody a fucking hug is enough to get them

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through the day so they’re not, like, eating their own stress. C O H E N : You hug your sta≠ ? AG G : I hug all my sta≠. MISTRY: There are times when I’ve been too nice. Yes, I also hug my sta≠. But at a certain point you have to decide how much do you care about a person versus how much do you also need to be really clear. Especially being a person who looks a lot younger than they actually are. They forget that I’m actually the owner of this restaurant. AG G : Which is how so much of this shit happens in the first place, too. Not with you, but this is how we get down that road with these blurred lines. And, like, it’s booze! I know

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“We go forward by owning our shit, by having these conversations, by understanding where we’ve erred.”

HOW TO STOP THE ABUSE ONCE AND FOR ALL AMANDA COHEN CHEF-OWNER, DIRT CANDY Sexual-harassment training is expensive. If we had a governing body where we could get resources, I would totally use them. But there’s nobody who’s watching over what we do. In any other profession, if you were abusing your staff, you would get disbarred. You would lose your license. You wouldn’t

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be able to practice. You would also have an actual punishment. Ideally, you would also have places for employees to get lawyers and health insurance—everything that would make it harder for people who have done really shitty things. They would know there are real repercussions out there.

a lot of restaurants are canceling sta≠ parties, and I think that’s bullshit. C O L IC C H I O : Oh, I did that years ago. AGG: Why?! C O L IC C H I O : I mean, we had three restaurants [in New York]. It was a large party. And there was always someone—sometimes several people— who I had to fire after parties. AGG: That’s a good way to find out! C O H E N : I’ve had people show up drunk. M I C H A E L S O LO M O N OV: For the first couple of years, everybody [at our parties] was partying, and there were inevitably fights, and people hooked up, but they do that anyways. C O L IC C H I O : It’s gonna happen. S O LO M O N OV: But it’s weird when you’re liable for that. Like, “Come to this party. We’re gonna buy all your alcohol. Now get home safe!” C O L IC C H I O : Right, good luck. G Q : Have any of you revised your H.R. guidelines in the past year? S O LO M O N OV: We have almost 300 employees, and so we take it very seriously when there’s anything happening that requires us to address it. It always starts with an updated [H.R.] manual. And then we address problems as they come. What I’ve realized is now my job as a chef-owner is basically an H.R. director. AGG: And a psychiatrist. C O H E N : And a plumber. C O L IC C H I O : Does anybody do sexualharassment training? AGG: We have conversations about it, I don’t know if I explicitly follow that. We talk with everyone about it. C O L IC C H I O : We bring an outside firm to do it. S O LO M O N OV: Yeah, we have somebody come in and do it. It’s the Wild West when you decide to open your own small business. There’s nobody that teaches you what is right or wrong, and the H.R. things that we go through are just liability stu≠. There’s nobody to teach you how to behave properly, you know?

So what is the next step in the conversation? Once we’ve figured out what to do with all the bad men, what happens next? AG G : I think we go forward by looking back properly. We go forward by owning our shit, by having these conversations, by understanding where we’ve erred. C O L IC C H I O : I’ve never done the rapey thing. MISTRY: Okay, yeah, but every single freaking chef has rubbed someone the wrong way. Do you just go, Oh, well, they’re fucking overly sensitive? Or do you actually look and think, Oh shit, that was not my intention, and try to grow from it and learn from it? COHEN: I think all of us can only do so much. I can tweet a lot. I can write things. But we each can only do what we can in our restaurants. I place the burden on the media, because you guys are the ones who are gonna continue telling the stories. And at some point these stories aren’t gonna be sexy anymore. You know people are gonna be like, “Ugh, I read that. I read that.” AG G : They’re already so over it. My frustration is that nobody gave a shit until, like, this year. And then when you watch white men get the cookies for the bare fucking minimum—and you happen to maybe know that they’re monsters—that sucks, too. I mean, obviously I want male allies. It’s such a hyper-male industry. And they listen to dudes—they don’t listen to women. So it’s really nice when there are men amplifying your voice. Which is something Tony [Bourdain] was really good about. C O H E N : The next thing is, really: How do we make this industry sustainable? Because it’s not sustainable right now. Financially, we need to raise prices. We need health care. There’s a million little things that go into it. GQ:

marian bull is gq’s Travel & Eats editor.

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Down in deep-red Texas, a fresh-faced liberal named Beto O’Rourke has a shot at beating Ted Cruz . But huge as that would be, the race has grander implications: It helps explain all the giddy hopes and secret fears of Democrats everywhere

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Ted Cruz tells me. Out behind Mama Jack’s Road House Cafe, the most prominent eatery in Kountze, Texas, the senator is hunkered down in the passenger seat of a Texas-size pickup truck, watching through Ray-Bans as his staffers re-arrange vehicles in his traveling caravan. It’s the last stop on a five-day campaign tour—Cruz’s tepid counterpoint to the marathon barnstorming that his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, has become famous for. At hundreds of town halls, in the most far-flung corners of the state, the size of O’Rourke’s worshipful crowds has been growing month after month. Not even well-wishers in his own party know quite what to make of it. This is, after all,

T E D C RU Z I S M I S U N D E RSTO O D ,

Texas, a place where no Democrat has won a statewide election since 1994 and where no Democrat has won a Senate seat since 1988. The psychological impact of such a drought is di∞cult to overstate: For liberals in Texas, the institutional memory of their old party, or even what it feels like to win, has long ago slipped through the hourglass. And yet this has been the summer of Beto—a giddy campaign season during which descriptive clichés like “Kennedy-esque” and “punkrock Democrat” have abounded. O’Rourke’s strengths—his charisma and optimism—are Cruz’s weaknesses, and the hype that surrounds his opponent is not lost on the senator. You might think Cruz would be sweating things. But he isn’t. According to him, the media has this race all wrong—just as it has long gotten him all wrong. In Cruz’s view, he’s been maligned and unfairly portrayed for years as a surly right-winger. That’s a press concoction, he says. “The nature of the modern media world,” he tells me in his methodical style, “is that in di≠erent periods of time, di≠erent narratives take hold. Typically those narratives are overstated or caricatures.” The storyline on Cruz, when he first came to power, was that “I was this wild-eyed bomb thrower,” he says. “That was never accurate.” The truth, Cruz wants me to know, is that he’s always been a more lighthearted fellow than he’s been given credit for being. “I like to have fun. I enjoy life. I like to make jokes,” he tells me. “In 2013, during the Obamacare filibuster, I read Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor. I did a Darth Vader impression. Turned to Mike Lee and

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said, ‘Mike, I am your father.’ During the presidential campaign, I did Simpsons impressions and re-enacted scenes from The Princess Bride.” Politics these days has gotten so serious, he complains. This pivot toward congeniality makes some sense for Cruz, who’s re-emerging from the humiliation of his 2016 loss to Trump—and no doubt looking to improve some dismal favorability numbers. No surprise then that this amiable side of Cruz was on display earlier in the day, inside Mama Jack’s, where he spent nearly a third of his 12-minute speech discussing a well-publicized charity

basketball game he’d played against Jimmy Kimmel. But his constituents had more pressing concerns. When it came time for questions, one of the first, from an older woman, was about a recent viral video showing a man wearing a MAGA hat getting a drink lobbed in his face. It upset her. “All of us are horrified at how divided our society is. How much anger there is. It’s really sad to see,” Cruz told her. The senator, who for years was the most well-known plotter in the reactionary rebellion against President Barack Obama, seemed pained by the rancor of our times. Liberals had forgotten that “we live in a society where we can disagree with each other with civility. We can have fun; we can laugh! You don’t have to take yourself that seriously.” But this crowd was in a pretty serious mood. A man rose and began railing against the Deep State in alarming terms, mumbling something about Ruby Ridge. As Cruz listened, the man reasoned that the FBI was a greater threat to Americans than ISIS, because terrorists could be dispatched with violence, whereas “it’s against the law to shoot the FBI.” Cruz ditched his kumbaya act. “I share your frustration. And it is a frustration that millions across this country share,” he said. He pointed out that the FBI was

↓ A little-known congressman from El Paso, Beto O’Rourke has trailed Senator Ted Cruz by only a single-digit margin for much of the race— inspiring newfound hope among Texas Democrats.

BILL CLARK/CQ ROLL CALL/GETTY IMAGES

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8 kids a day are accidentally killed or injured by FAMILY FIRE. FAMILY FIRE is a shooting involving an improperly stored gun, often found in the home.

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awash in partisan shenanigans that required urgent attention: “I’m trying to do everything I can” to expose the lies of “[former FBI director] James Comey and [former FBI deputy director] Andrew McCabe.” The answer, Cruz said, was “to get rid of partisan players who are abusing their position and to restore the rule of law.” In other words, more purges. He’d help lead the way. For all the talk of image softening, here was Cruz being Cruz. And if there’s one thing that unites those who aren’t fond of him—whether on the right or on the left—it’s the feeling that he’s playing a character, that he’s an insincere opportunist. O’Rourke’s message su≠ers no such authenticity trouble. His approach, while sometimes light on specifics,

the same age—45 and 47, respectively— O’Rourke looks and talks like a much newer model. The fervor that greets him verges on the messianic. (A state representative speaking at the event invoked Nelson Mandela.) He feels like a candidate tailored for the moment. His campaign’s product—what Beto o≠ers—is an opportunity for dispirited Democrats to take part in something hopeful. But as Election Day has drawn closer, the tone has slowly shifted. It’s gotten more urgent and a bit darker. Our country is in peril, he tells the crowd in Hutchins, and if there isn’t a change in 2018, things could get worse: The “slip that we took in 2016, if unchecked in 2018, could become a slide,” he says, and “we could lose the things that have made us who we are for 242 years and counting.”

“There are two Americas,” Cruz tells me: “GQ America” and what he calls “Field & Stream America.”

favors what feels good and right in the moment—an uplifting, improvisational DIY crusade. Cruz, in response, is doing what he has always done, and perhaps what he can only do: reaching out, once again, to the agitated conservative base. His voters have pulled even further right, and Cruz—despite the lighthearted demeanor—is sprinting after them. Polls, though scattered, often report that O’Rourke and Cruz are separated by only a single-digit margin in what is now the most watched Senate race in the country. Should Cruz win big, he’ll likely vanquish some of the humiliation su≠ered two years ago at the hands of President Donald Trump and re-invigorate plans to succeed his old nemesis. If O’Rourke prevails or even does well, such an upset—likely to hinge on suburban and women voters—has the potential to reorder Texas politics and the nation’s, too. T H E D A Y A F T E R Cruz’s rally, O’Rourke is in Hutchins, a small town in Dallas County. Though he and Cruz are roughly

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Time is running out. “No pressure, folks. The entire fortune and future and fate of this country rests on our shoulders,” he says. O’Rourke calls the 2018 election the “moment of truth.” There is not the slightest bit of ironic distance here, and the crowd loves it. Somehow, it’s cathartic. Later that day, in the well-o≠ suburb of Farmers Branch, over a thousand people pack a college gymnasium to hear O’Rourke speak, shutting out hundreds more. Even those unable to get into the rally are excited about the attendance. “Wonderful. Awesome,” one turned-away latecomer says. “It’s so good that people are coming out.” Standing in the shade with me near his campaign minivan after the event, O’Rourke acknowledges the tough road ahead—while noting that much good has already been done. His rallies, he says, are about something bigger than the current Senate race. “There’s so many things going on right now that literally can’t wait until the next election,” he says, still fired up just after having taken selfies with a line of hundreds.

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Win or lose, the fervor brought about by the campaign could be leveraged on other issues, he says. “I feel that judgment of my kids and of history if we fail to do this. I mean, it is going to be on us. They won’t say that Trump [alone is to blame], because they’ll know that this is a democracy that all of us had a chance to participate in. They’ll say, ‘Those pendejos in 2018, they were the ones who screwed this up.’ We can’t screw this up.” C R U Z , F O R H I S P A R T , o≠ers none of that flower-power stu≠; it’s not in his nature. His campaign is keenly aware of the divisions that exist between people, and he says this race features the starkest di≠erence between two candidates of any campaign in the country. He’s probably right, and not just on policy grounds. The two men seem custom-built to oppose each other. Just a few points of distinction: The half-Cuban Ted Cruz—born Rafael Edward—took an Anglo nickname as a kid, while his opponent, Robert O’Rourke, of Irish extraction, took a Spanish one. When O’Rourke was growing up in El Paso, immersing himself in the local punk scene, Cruz was touring with the Constitutional Corroborators, a youth group that discussed the text of

America’s founding documents in front of rotary clubs. When Cruz was securing a clerkship with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, O’Rourke was living in a loft with his bandmates in Brooklyn. Whereas Cruz, as Texas solicitor general, was tasked with upholding a dildo ban, O’Rourke, as a city-council member in El Paso, was pressing to legalize weed. Earlier this year, as O’Rourke was baking in the sun along the Mexican border in the town of Tornillo, assailing Trump’s family-separation policy to a crowd over a megaphone while border-patrol agents eyeballed him through binoculars, Cruz was in Houston, playing basketball with Kimmel. Even the campaign vehicles that the two use are opposites. O’Rourke has been roaming the state in a Dodge minivan, straight out of a youth-soccer pickup line. Cruz prowls it in his muscular pickup. Like the cowboy boots he wears, it seems both genuine and inauthentic at the same time, a part of his persona more than a part of his person. In Kountze, while he slouched in the passenger seat, Cruz again bemoans the somber turn of contemporary politics. “Now no one can take a joke, no one can laugh,” he says. People want to take part in something “joyful.”

↑ Two years after his crushing loss to Donald Trump, Cruz has tried to position himself as a friendlier and more conciliatory politician—with mixed results.

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I ask: Didn’t O’Rourke appear to be running a joyful campaign? “He seems to be having fun,” Cruz tells me. “I will give him that.” Cruz rarely talks about O’Rourke directly, but he grants that O’Rourke appears “genuine,” which Cruz says he appreciates. He likens O’Rourke to Bernie Sanders, whom he calls an “honest socialist.” (In truth, O’Rourke’s political history since his time on the El Paso city council has been pragmatic and generally pro-business.) “That’s refreshing, because it means we can have a real contest of ideas,” Cruz says. Their race, he says, provides a good opportunity for debate, a stage upon which to fight for the “American free-enterprise system.” As for actual debating, Cruz only recently consented to squaring o≠—on five Friday evenings, up against high school football (an old scheduling trick in Texas to minimize the events). What he wants most to do is turn out his voters, not help O’Rourke reach a big audience. The real story of the race, Cruz posits, as with so much else in the past few years, is the vast di≠erence in the semi-sealed-o≠ worlds that the two candidates’ most passionate supporters inhabit. “The Democratic Party, more and more, has become the party of coastal elites,” Cruz tells me matter-offactly. “No o≠ense, but the party that reads GQ—your target demographic—are successful, urban professionals with a fair amount of disposable income. That’s the heart of today’s Democratic Party. That’s the heart, by all appearances, of Congressman O’Rourke’s campaign. But that’s not the bulk of Americans.” There are two Americas, Cruz declares: “GQ America” and what he calls “Field & Stream America.” “The bulk of Texans are working hard to put food on the table,” he says, “and they don’t appreciate being looked down on by people richer than they, in more privileged positions.” There’s something o≠ about this analogy—for one thing, it misstates the demographic coalition O’Rourke wants to assemble across an economic spectrum—but it fits with the bluntforce logic of Cruz’s political project. Though Cruz’s team would love to start repairing his weak favorability numbers across the state, they know that the surer bet is to energize the conservative

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base. Cruz may be a one-trick politician, but in Texas, for the foreseeable future, that’s still the most useful trick a Republican can employ. For all the attention O’Rourke’s campaign has gotten, the most impactful question for Americans might be the one least asked in the race. Assuming Cruz wins re-election, what does his political future look like? Few observers expect him to limit himself to the Senate forever. Cruz has been a loyal soldier for Trump since the 2016 election, but he became one after some pointed out that not doing so could cost him his re-election. What will he do once he’s secured it? No doubt he envisions another run for the presidency—this is a guy who dreamed about high o∞ce as a kid; a political animal who, as a child, sent cash to Jesse Helms. He seems initially reluctant to dwell on 2016. I ask him about Trump’s penchant for starting meetings with Cruz by rehashing the fractious GOP-nomination battle—a war, you’ll recall, in which Trump e≠ectively called Cruz’s wife ugly and implicated his beloved father in the Kennedy assassination. Is it true that he loves to chat about the race, I ask Cruz in his pickup truck. “Yeah,” he says, gazing straight ahead at the parking lot. It is his tersest answer. But then he, like Trump does, returns to the campaign. “We went head-tohead, and I beat him in a significant number of states,” he says. “In virtually every state in the primary, either Trump was one and I was two, or I was one and he was two.” He emphasizes that he had run especially strong in the Republican youth vote—college campuses, he reminds me, had been split between his and Sanders’s campaign. Cruz had to dismantle his presidential machine after Trump won, but he still very clearly hopes to contest the party’s future. And in case things go south for the president, Cruz is one of just a few Republicans with the credibility to attack Trump from the right. surpassed the low expectations that Texas Democrats had for him when he first took aim at Cruz. Whatever the result in November, this is the first statewide campaign in some two decades that the party can feel genuinely good about, and that’s a win of its own. Even if he loses, the questions that O’Rourke has raised in this race ALREADY O’ROURKE HAS

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aren’t going anywhere. Chief among them: Can Texas “turn blue”? The debate over whether the state can swing Democratic often revolves around immigration figures and the state’s changing demographics, since, traditionally, Hispanics tend to vote Democratic. But there’s more to the story. Hispanic voters in Texas are some of the most conservative in the country, and the Republican Party needs only a sizable minority of them to stay in power, provided the GOP continues to dominate the share of the white vote. The conversation among Texas Democrats focuses now on the extraordinarily shabby party infrastructure. In much of the state, the party barely exists and organization remains surprisingly wobbly. O’Rourke’s simple though

help from the party, and nobody in years has been able to jump-start it. The hope among many Texas Democrats is simply that O’Rourke closes the gap and loses by less than ten points, which many would take as an encouraging result, something to build on. It would spur other prominent candidates to jump into more races. It might even help O’Rourke lay the foundations for a future run. Of course, this is the sort of pragmatism that a candidate doesn’t express in the middle of a race. And O’Rourke, for his part, seems completely unfazed by the pessimism that hangs over the party. “I will very often get disappointed at myself or disappointed with our team if I feel like we didn’t reach what we were supposed to reach or achieve,” he tells me in Farmers Branch. “What I never do

At every event, O’Rourke says, he thinks: “Holy shit, there are so many amazing people.”

important decision to tour the state— visiting all 254 counties—has already done a lot to spread the seeds of the party in distant corners. O’Rourke entered the race with significant shortcomings, name recognition chief among them, and is being asked to overcome all of his own problems and then the party’s, too. That’s a tall ask, to say nothing of the fact that the electorate in midterm-election years skews whiter, more conservative, older, and more a±uent than the electorate in presidential-election years. Those are just a few of the reasons why local observers are less optimistic about O’Rourke’s chances than his national supporters are. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here, though, that O’Rourke can help them solve. The party needs a “good loss” in order to really start building its infrastructure—that is, in order to start luring good candidates and donors and volunteers who see winning as feasible. But even earning that first “good loss” takes some organizational and operational

is leave [a rally] like this with anything other than the feeling that, ‘Holy shit, there are so many amazing people.’ ” In the line to meet O’Rourke that day is a woman who had lost part of her foot to diabetes. “She wheeled over to [me],” O’Rourke recalls, “and she said, ‘I have no reason to feel this way, but I am so hopeful right now.’ You meet that person and you’re like, ‘How can I not also be hopeful and make sure that we deliver on the hope that we’re all raising among each other?’ ” He would keep pushing. “I’m very lucky to be a part of that.” He seemed to mean it—O’Rourke is a man without guile. Back into the minivan he went, o≠ to the next event. He is not a guy who agonizes over the construction and deconstruction of narratives and calculates subdivisions of the electorate. History most often belongs to the analysts, but from time to time what’s needed is a person to step up and do the thing. Maybe—just maybe—he will. christopher hooks is a writer based in Austin. This is his first story for gq.


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of action stars tend to disappoint, action-wise. The superhero costume is replaced by swim trunks and flip-flops. The mighty hammer is abandoned for the beer. But when the stakes get truly high, Chris Hemsworth can unleash the Thor within. Such was the scenario on field day recently at his daughter’s school, as Hemsworth and a slew of other fathers prepared for the “dads race.” They assembled like young maidens ready to catch the bouquet at a wedding— all feigning disinterest, all ready to kill for victory. The other dads had dressed to move, but Hemsworth was wearing jeans and boots. There was a big crowd. Hours before, having watched his daughter’s events—the egg-and-spoon race, the 100-meter and the 200-meter dash—he o≠ered his 6-year-old some fatherly wisdom: “I was like, ‘It’s great, honey. It’s not about winning.’ ” But that advice was trash, he realized. Life is about winning, and he must. For his daughter’s sake. At the line, Hemsworth’s heart was pounding. He got a bad start, pulled it together—his Thor muscles snapping to attention. The finish drew nearer until, suddenly, he was the champion. “There was just this wave of nirvana,” Hemsworth recalls. “I turn around, and I go, ‘Where’s my daughter? Where is she?’ And she’s like, ‘Dad, did you win?’ And I’m like, ‘Did I win? You didn’t see it?!’ They gave me a sticker. A first-place sticker.” THE PRIVATE LIVES

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Hemsworth called his wife, the actress Elsa Pataky. Like her daughter, Pataky missed the race. She had been shooting that day, but she heard all about the Running of the Dads—repeatedly. “I’ve never seen him so excited, not even about getting a big job,” Pataky says with a laugh. “It was probably one of the best things that has happened to him in his life, which is funny, right? All the things he has achieved.” The next day, Hemsworth had to hop a plane and fly to London to shoot his next film. He’d been home in Byron Bay, Australia, for a few months, and his daughter was distraught that he was leaving. “She’s normally like, ‘Yeah, see you, Daddy. Cool.’ She was like, ‘Papa! Papa! Papa!’ She doesn’t always call me Papa, either.” Hemsworth found the shirt he had been wearing the day before, with the first-place sticker still stuck on it, and o≠ered it to her. “I wasn’t, like, sobbing, but…” But it shattered him. An actor treasuring his family isn’t especially unusual. But a globally famous star who is as earnest about those feelings in public as he is in private, well, that’s not the sort of action star that Hollywood has traditionally produced. Hemsworth’s openness and warmth when he talks about his family is not lost on fans—particularly female fans, who don’t often hear famous men speaking candidly about the di∞culties of juggling a demanding career with child-rearing. “Obviously women are asked all the time, ‘How do you balance it?’ Men are never asked that,” Tessa Thompson, his co-star in the most recent Thor movie, Thor: Ragnarok, and in the forthcoming Men in Black film, tells me. Hemsworth’s frankness about his fatherly priorities is endearing, she says, because it’s e≠ortless. “It’s so lovable, because it’s really honest.” Back when Hemsworth was first starting out in Hollywood, it was better to be a rebel than a dad. He had appeared for a few years in the Australian soap opera Home and Away—the launchpad that also produced Naomi Watts and Heath Ledger—and arrived in America in 2007, during what might be described as a golden age of the Hollywood bad boy. It was an era when a sex tape or a drug problem was easily excused with a wink, or even rewarded. Back then, the path to stardom seemed clear enough.

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jeans and boots, hoodies and big ol’ aviators. He’s an expert practitioner of low-key, fuck-offpaparazzi celebrity style. So we swapped out his understated offduty kit with sumptuous sweaters, elegant tees, and oversize outerwear. It’s a clean, sharp look that’ll work for you, too—but unless you’ve got the physique of a sledgehammer-wielding Norse god, we recommend wearing a shirt underneath your camel coat.


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“I remember trying to be Colin Farrell. Thinking, ‘People love the bad boy.’ Going out and being sort of reckless. But no one cared,” Hemsworth recalls. “There wasn’t the presence of paparazzi, nor the presence of social media, nor the immediacy of all these platforms.” He’s quick to clarify that he wasn’t doing anything bad bad in his salad days—“just, like, being drunk.” Mild as they were, those days were fleeting. Hemsworth and Pataky met in Los Angeles in 2010. “He was a very mature person for his age,” recalls Pataky. “I could totally feel that he loved kids. And it’s something that just melts you, as a woman.” They married fairly quickly. It was a potentially radical move at the time: There was a sense then that a rising star should be single, a line of thinking that may have doomed Leonardo DiCaprio to a lifetime trapped in a Pussy Posse vortex. Once, a publicist—not his—advised Hemsworth not to let people know too much about his personal life. “ ‘The more they know about you, the harder it is for people to believe your character,’ ” he remembers the publicist telling him. “They want to believe the fantasy that that could be them on the screen in that situation, doing whatever.” Then, as now, Hemsworth looked like the archetypal leading man—he had the blue eyes, the eternal tan, the smirk, and muscles nobody had ever seen before. And he got the archetypal leading-man roles. His breakthrough big-screen job was his 2011 turn as a hammer-wielding Norse god: the self-serious, unflappably macho Thor. From ← which followed a string of simishirt $1,695 larly one-dimensional roles. His turtleneck trajectory seemed ordained. $1,095 Ralph Lauren But to those who knew him well, this all seemed a little pants $1,000 Dior Men odd. “It was quite jarring for belt $248 my family and friends when I John Varvatos was on-screen doing a straight, heroic, sort of overly masculine kind of thing,” Hemsworth says. More recently, filmgoers have finally gotten to see what he is. Having done his time in hunk purgatory, Hemsworth has lately re-emerged as an actor eager to skewer the old stereotypes. He tested those waters as a bimbo secretary in 2016’s female-led Ghostbusters. And last year, in the third installment of the Thor franchise, he played a re-invented version of his old macho character—a hero suddenly less sure of himself, gleefully emasculated at the hands of co-star Tessa Thompson. Hemsworth and director Taika Waititi wanted to create a Thor who could show more vulnerability—they had more Kurt Russell in mind than Clint Eastwood. “Not to say that Kurt Russell has ever been ‘less masculine’ than contemporary heroes,” Waititi explains. “[His characters were] just more flawed than contemporary heroes.” This fall Hemsworth stars in the artsy crime thriller Bad Times at the El Royale—a film that excited him for the same reasons the last Thor movie did: It didn’t feel safe or entirely conventional. As thrillers go, Bad Times is quite fun, like a demented Clue board. “It’s got a kind of Tarantino energy to it,” Hemsworth says. “It’s a thriller and a drama, but there’s some humorous moments—in an insane way. I just want to be surprised. I have a real fear of being bored.” It’s convenient for Hemsworth that audiences have grown bored of flawless, archetypal masculinity at the

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same time he has. And lucky for him, he’s had more to o≠er, anyway. Filmgoers now want characters who feel human and fallible on-screen. They want to connect with what’s real and relatable o≠screen, too. The golden age of the bad boy, you might say, has given way to something else—a new epoch of the hot dad, a species of cultural figure that Hemsworth embodies genuinely and e≠ortlessly.

your attitude toward leading man–dom, Hollywood is Hollywood: It helps still to look the part of the stereotypical star. And contrary to my assumptions about Hemsworth and about those hailing from Australia—where, it seems, everyone looks like they just crawled out of an Abercrombie catalog—it takes a lot of hard work to look like Chris Hemsworth. Today that hard work must take place in a hotel gym in London’s Southwark neighborhood. Though this one can barely call itself a gym. It’s a single room, small and poorly appointed. The only other people here are a pair of women doing gentle cardio by the windows. And then Hemsworth and his trainer arrive, disturbing any peace that a claustrophobic little hotel gym can contain. Hemsworth has brought to London a mini entourage of friends turned employees—vital links, it seems, to home. There’s his trainer, Luke Zocchi, who projects overwhelming goodwill even when he’s screaming about squats. And there’s Aaron Grist, Hemsworth’s assistant. Zocchi used to be an electrician, and Grist once worked as a glazier, but now they roll with Hemsworth full-time. Zocchi and Grist seem to tether him to his proto-self. They do this by merrily mocking him. When Hemsworth wonders aloud who is staying in the hotel’s penthouse, Zocchi quickly jumps in: “Guess you aren’t as famous as you thought, heh?” They’ve all known one another since they were “this big,” and when they walk together—a sun-kissed, chiseled trio—they look like a boy band without the angst. Even if Hemsworth weren’t extremely famous, they would stand out among Londoners, who see the sun three times a year and default to an expression of tight-lipped despair. When he talks to non-Australians, Hemsworth reins in his accent, but when he and Zocchi get going, it’s in a loud patois of “innits” and “mates.” Zocchi starts him o≠ on the treadmill, where Hemsworth begins at an eye-widening NO

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incline, a punishing slant that goes up and up over the next ten minutes. For his current role in Men in Black, he doesn’t need to be Thor-fit, just normal Hemsworth-fit, a specification that’s still very daunting. Nearby, the weights look on nervously. The room fills with manly grunting. The women, on the ellipticals now, glance over every so often, more annoyed than anything else. Hemsworth barely slept the night before. He tells me this while incongruously punching the air a few times, then whipping around to walk backward. Soon he’s on to bear crawls—pawing across the floor and looking, in this tiny space, even more massive than usual. He can traverse the entire room in two bear crawls and one frog jump, and he’s surprisingly light-footed. “You have to move like a kid moves!” he says instructively. For Hemsworth, a 30-minute circuit in his hotel is not ideal. He’d rather be on a surfboard. He favors fitness for function versus for aesthetics. “That’s the way we grew up,” he explains. Recently, Hemsworth’s brother Liam Instagrammed a photo of their parents, Leonie and Craig. His father, Craig, shirtless in the photo, became an instant Internet sensation. He is the patron saint of hot dads. There is no evidence that Craig is not Chris, aged 10 years— 15, max—with some light makeup. But his dad’s physique, Hemsworth tells me, is naturally Aussie-built, not gym-groomed. “He’s always been really athletic, but I don’t think he’s ever lifted weights in his life. It’s a functional sort of strength,” Hemsworth says. “We had maybe a few acres of property, and we lived in a national forest, and he was always trimming trees and cutting paths in case there was a bushfire.” Hemsworth and his brothers, Luke and Liam, grew up between Melbourne and an Aboriginal community in the bush. Craig worked as a social worker, Leonie as an English teacher. Hemsworth started acting after high school, in 2002, and scored a role on Home and Away two years later. In his mind, he had graduated from one idyllic life to another. “I look back at that time, and I go, ‘Man, you were 19 years old, you were living on the northern beaches of Sydney,’ ” Hemsworth recalls. “I was getting paid 3,000 bucks a week, which was a lot of money where I’d come from. I was surfing in the middle of the day on set if I had a break, I was experiencing fame, I was a young single guy.” He wonders now why he spent that time panicking about his career. “Why didn’t you enjoy that? We can wish years by saying, ‘Ah, when I


get here it’ll be okay. When I get here it’ll be okay.’ We just keep moving that bar until we get to that place.” Hemsworth saw life as a series of ladder rungs leading to stardom, and he couldn’t stop climbing. Even if the climb felt stressful. Hemsworth still remembers an early television appearance on an episode of The Saddle Club, a Canadian-Australian co-production, in 2003: “I came in as the young vet, and I remember I was so nervous. And you can see, if you look it up on the Internet, my voice is so high, so tight. I’m, like, pink, red, flushed face, having a proper panic attack on-screen.” Hemsworth was certain that the flop had doomed his career, what with the huge reach of the show and all. “I remember being close to tears, talking to my mum about it and being like, ‘The show gets shown in Canada, so they’re gonna see it, and Canada is close to America, so Hollywood is gonna see it, and I’m never gonna work again.’ That was my second job—no one gives a shit.” That newfound recognition— that mistakes aren’t always fatal and first impressions aren’t always final—was useful as Hemsworth helped push the Thor trilogy forward in Thor: Ragnarok. “The first one is good, the second one is meh,” Hemsworth says. “What masculinity was, the classic archetype—it just all starts to feel very familiar. I was so aware that we were right on the edge.” Where in the first two films he played his hero character straight, in the third iteration he injected more humanity and created a character truer to his own spirit. Confident though he may have become on set, Hemsworth is, right now, very apprehensive in the hotel gym. See, he needs a mat. The women have a mat, but he really doesn’t want to go over and ask them where they found it. For a hard-to-mistake movie star, he’s a master at politely managing civilian attention, but it goes against his better judgment to seek it out. So he stalks the gym, looking for a secret mat stash. He tugs on a mirror that looks like it might be a cabinet. Nothing. He resigns himself and approaches the women, now splayed out on the floor. As Hemsworth appears above them, they freeze. One of the women, on her back on the mat, chooses to play dead. She stares up as he asks about the mat situation, and she does not move until her friend reports that there are no more mats. Hemsworth mutters a defeated “ah” and quickly marches away to discourage further discussion. The women linger for a few minutes more and then abandon their mat and quit the room—but not before one last long look at

Hemsworth grunting and straining and putting in way more e≠ort than they had mustered. Working out in the same room as Thor for too long is bad for morale.

Thor-like proportions—he’s six feet four— Hemsworth can contort himself into some pretty childlike positions. Even in a fancy restaurant. Slumped across the table from me, he’s currently got his right leg folded up almost to his chest, knee level with his chin, his giant desert boot planted firmly on the leather seat. At one point, the server, intent on placing a napkin in Hemsworth’s lap, can discern no obvious lap. Flummoxed, he drapes the linen on the closest (continued on page 165) thigh and hurries o≠. FOR A MAN OF

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THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW THE POISONING OF A RUSSIAN DOUBLE AGENT BECAME THE LATEST—AND MOST TERRIFYING—FRONT IN VLADIMIR PUTIN’S WAR WITH THE WEST

TOM LAMONT


1: and out of consciousness, slumped over and gesturing strangely. Passersby assumed they were high. At a quarter to four, the cathedral clock sounded again. The Skripals’ pupils had shrunk, and they were sweating. They were foaming at the mouth. An o≠-duty nurse was the first to attend them, and a small crowd gathered. At 4:15 p.m., an ambulance was called, come quickly, forthwith. 2: THE NEW KID

District Hospital guessed that this was opioids, that the Skripals had overdosed. They were taken to the intensive-care ward and put on breathing support. Shortly before sunrise on March 5, doctors received new information from London: that Sergei Skripal was not just any patient; he was an old, blown spy. Police arrived at the hospital to watch over the critical pair. Even in those early hours of what would become a worldwide crisis, “the gravity of this,” in the words of a senior source in the British government I spoke with, had dawned quickly. By March 6, national counterterrorism police formally took over the investigation, an initial guardedness about what exactly might have overwhelmed the Skripals (“an unknown substance”) quickly giving way to a blunter charge: “attempted murder by the administration of a nerve agent.” Speaking in Parliament two days later, the home secretary said that any such attack would be “a brazen and reckless act [and] people are right to want to know who to hold to account.” But she asked that her peers restrain themselves from speculating about the culprits—restraint that lasted a few minutes before a backbench minister stood up and said that this was surely an act by the Russian state: “Who else?” DOCTORS AT SALISBURY

FORTHWITH working for the British, he’d been code-named “Forthwith”—quickly—but this afternoon the poison in Sergei Skripal’s system went unhurried, making its way around his body over a period of hours. Skripal was 66, comfortably heavy in retirement, an ex-colonel who’d been cast out of the intelligence services in Russia and now lived in exile in the English city of Salisbury. Neighbors knew the place as “Smalls-bury” and said that nothing too dramatic ever happened here, which would stay true for another couple of hours yet. This was March 4, 2018, a Sunday of sunbacked clouds, the air crisp and glad the way it gets in southwest England after the lifting of snow. A day earlier Yulia Skripal, Sergei’s 33-year-old daughter, who visited Salisbury regularly, had flown in from Moscow. The poison had gotten into Yulia that morning, too, but father and daughter were still unwitting and felt well enough early on Sunday afternoon to plan an outing. Sergei owned a cherry red BMW and they drove into town for a drink in a riverside pub. Maybe they would have a meal together. An ancient cathedral, south of the city center, chimed the half hour: 1:30 p.m. This poison wanted two hours more. Salisbury is a city of spires and rusted weather vanes, a place that is particular about time, the dates of things stamped on buildings and everywhere clocks, clocks, on belfries and over bookshops. Across the water from where the Skripals parked their car, a sundial had been engraved with the adage: Time speeds up until it is nothing, therefore use it before it is gone. At the pub, Sergei and Yulia had a quick drink. When father and daughter were together, they sometimes posed for pictures, raising toasts. The pub was a converted mill that had a display of photographs on the wall, one of these a close-up of a pocket watch, its crystal broken, hands frozen at what appeared to be 1:35 p.m. Next they went to an Italian restaurant to eat. An hour passed. Finally, walking back to their car at around 3:30 p.m., the Skripals began to feel truly unwell and had to put themselves down on a bench, where they drifted in AS

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According to a report released by the Russian embassy, foreign secretary Boris Johnson summoned Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the UK, on March 12. Sta≠ at the Russian Embassy later revealed what Johnson had told Yakovenko, “that according to the UK assessment, it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.” (The Kremlin has denied involvement in the “tragic situation.”) A senior source in the British government outlined for me the thinking in London that first week: “When you look around the world, there are very few countries that could technically do this. Iran. China. North Korea, conceivably? But they don’t necessarily have the means or the motives, and we’ve never had the intel they’ve even tried.” In figuring out where to cast blame, many found the who-else rationale attractive. Sergei Skripal had once been a member of the GRU, the Russian military-intelligence unit now best known for hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, before he was caught selling secrets to the British, in 2004, and imprisoned. But two obvious points argued against Russia’s involvement: First, Skripal had been pardoned by Moscow for his crimes, part of the swap deal that got him out of a wintry prison and over to Salisbury to begin with. And, second, there was an internationally adhered-to rule of espionage that forbade the murder of re-settled spies. Kill them, after all, and it risked future swaps. After assembling intelligence reports they believed put culpability for the Skripal hit beyond reasonable doubt, the British went busily around Europe and America, persuading allies to join them in sanctioning Russia. President Trump was so convinced by what he learned that he somehow overcame his curious reluctance to find fault in the Kremlin’s

INVESTIGATORS IN HAZMAT SUITS TRY TO CONTAIN ANY POISON LINGERING ON THE BENCH WHERE THE SKRIPALS WERE DISCOVERED.


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actions—even the most senior members of the British government were surprised by this, I was told. The president signed o≠ on the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats, after which Russia expelled 60 Americans in reply. London and Moscow swap-expelled 46 of their people. Diplomatic sta≠s thinned everywhere: at NATO headquarters, around Scandinavia, in Australia. Blood samples from the Skripals were sent to the UK’s main chemical-weapons research facility, a campus not far from Salisbury known as Porton Down. Chemists detected the presence of one of a family of Soviet-born nerve agents, first developed in the 1980s and known informally in Russian as novichoks—“the new kids on the block.” These novichoks, which could be deployed in liquid form and absorbed through the skin, work their ruin on a body by stopping the normal transmission of messages between the nerves and the muscles. Lightheadedness turns to grogginess, to strained breathing and collapse. Up until March, there’d been few documented human exposures to novichoks, but back in the 1980s, Andrei Zheleznyakov, a lab engineer in Moscow whose job it was to test the toxicity of this nascent weapon for the Soviet military, inadvertently breathed some in. He later said that straight away he felt his brain had emptied. Colors swam. Before Zheleznyakov lost consciousness, he was taken for a walk out in Moscow, where he experienced a hallucination in which a nearby cathedral began to glow and crumble apart. The military-research program that Zheleznyakov was a part of was so secretive that when he was eventually taken to the hospital, doctors were told nothing of the novichok, only that he’d had a bad meal. The firm conclusion of Porton Down’s scientists, that it was a novichok deployed in Salisbury, was later ratified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a 193-state group run out of The Hague, after it sent out samples of its own to be checked in the labs of neutral countries. The evidence was there in its chemical structure: This was a novichok—the new kid in middle age. On March 14, the U.N. Security Council held a special meeting to discuss the attack, and it was there that the Russian ambassador asked the lingering question: But why? What motive should the Russian state have to eliminate a retired, redundant spy, “who after his prosecution, sentencing, prison term, pardon, and handover to the British authorities no longer posed any kind of threat to my country?” Everybody in the West seemed to have a theory. That the Skripal hit was meant to sow confusion and panic abroad or, no, at home in Russia. That this was really about geopolitics, some sort

of coded message about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. That it was about domestic politics, closely timed and meant to rouse support for the incumbent regime ahead of Russia’s elections that month. Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, told me that “guessing, I would say they would have expected this to be a relatively swift assassination, quickly forgotten, but that the method used would stick in the mind of people back home.... Persuading other Russians, in other systems, to be careful? That’s a valuable aim.” A well-informed source a∞liated with the OPCW, not British or Russian, told me they felt the incident must be about the novichok itself—a lid-lifting on this still mysterious weapon, something like a product unveiling after its 30-some years in development. What connected these theories was the idea that Sergei Skripal was secondary— collateral damage in his own attempted murder. After all, the reasoning went, he was a spy out to pasture, living obscurely in old England. What could he have done to bring assassins to Salisbury?

THE FIRST TWO VICTIMS: SERGEI AND YULIA SKRIPAL.

It emboldened you. And they liked you to be bold if you were to ultimately graduate, as Skripal did, into the GRU. Vladimir Rezun, a defector from this secretive agency, later described in a book of memoirs what initiates were told on arrival at boot camp: that it was not compulsory to join; it was only compulsory to stay, the one way out “through the chimney of the crematorium.” After which, for good measure, Rezun was shown a film of a bound and writhing GRU traitor being fed feetfirst into a furnace. In 1985, after five years of GRU training, Skripal was posted to the island of Malta. He had with him his wife, Liudmila, and

THEY COLLAPSED ON A BENCH AND BEGAN GESTURING STRANGELY. THEIR PUPILS HAD SHRUNK, AND THEY WERE SWEATING. THEY WERE FOAMING AT THE MOUTH. PASSERSBY ASSUMED THEY WERE HIGH.

3: TOWER AND FURNACE T H E Y C A L L E D I T P R Y Z H K I S V Y S H K I —the

tower jump—and when Sergei Skripal was a recruit into the airborne division of the Soviet army, it was the most dreaded part of basic training. He was in his early 20s, an engineering graduate who’d grown up on the western tip of the Soviet Union, near the Baltic Sea. He was squarely handsome, boxer-nosed, necessarily gutsy. When it was your turn to towerjump, you strapped on an open parachute and went to the edge of a platform, 80 feet up. You were taught to ignore every last nerve-ending warning, that this was insane, like readying to step o≠ the roof of a building. Then you stepped o≠. One airborne recruit told me that no subsequent leap from a plane, no later reckless life risk, ever felt as chancy as that first fucking tower jump.

their two young children, Alexander and Yulia. Notionally, Skripal had a role to play at the embassy in Malta, “cultural and sports attaché,” which many years later made another former GRU trainee chuckle appreciatively. “That would be the cover,” said Boris Volodarsky, a Russian-intelligence historian who many years ago relocated to the West after completing his own GRU training. He had since become a leading expert on prominent exiled Russians and their habit of dying in unusual ways on foreign soil. Upon graduation, Volodarsky explained to me, trained-up GRU agents were often given an international posting under diplomatic cover, or they became “illegals,” not o∞cially recognized by the Russian government, who could do murkier work abroad. Skripal had diplomatic cover, and he rose in this capacity

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to become the director of the department of personnel. “Skripal was an H.R. guy within the GRU. And knowing the names of operatives? That’s seen as the crown jewels,” a senior source in the British government told me. Skripal was posted in Spain when, in 1995, he started working with British intelligence. He was o≠ered cash in return for state secrets, later testifying to a Moscow court that “every time I met with members of British intelligence, they paid me a fee in hard currency,” about $100,000 in total. Skripal stayed in contact with his British handlers for nine years, through his return to Moscow and his elevation to colonel, before he was exposed and arrested. His name had allegedly been passed on by another spy in the system. Tried in 2006, at age 55, Skripal was stripped of his rank and sentenced to 13 years, a relatively short term that, the judge said, took into account Skripal’s cooperation with investigators. Most of his term would be served in Mordovia, in a miserable network of barbedwire compounds in the flatlands southeast of Moscow. Thirty-below temperatures. Guards with Alsatians. Even so, this wasn’t a furnace, and to Skripal’s old colleagues in the GRU, those 13 years might have looked light. He was out early, too, in 2010—a fluky beneficiary of the discovery of the so-called Illegals Program, an operation that had placed several Russians undercover on the East Coast of the United States. A spy swap was arranged between Russia and the West, mostly managed by the CIA. I was told by Robert Hannigan, who until last year was head of the UK intelligence hub GCHQ, that the British decided to pluck out Skripal not for intel (after several years in prison, he didn’t have much to o≠er) but instead out of a sense of obligation: “A duty of care to people who’ve risked an awful lot and paid a high price.” When, in the summer of 2010, Skripal was flown to Vienna for the exchange, Boris Volodarsky, the intelligence historian, was there at the airport to watch a stage-managed swap for the media. “Quite a crowd,” Volodarsky recalled, “to watch a group of poorly dressed people switch planes.” Skripal was put on the same Boeing that the East Coast illegals had just left, which then took o≠ and flew west. Quickly he was out of the

public eye, living in Salisbury with Liudmila. The British government managed their security and gave Skripal a pension. In 2011 he bought a semidetached home—No. 47—on a drowsy cul-de-sac called Christie Miller Road. A real estate agent who oversaw the deal showed me the sales brochure: power shower, heated towel rail, all of it a long way from Mordovia and the weekly wash in a communal hut. The Skripals hung a lucky horseshoe on their front door, though if this was a time of good fortune for them, it did not last. Liudmila died of cancer in 2012. Their son, Alexander, who’d grown to be a bearish and amiable man like his father, died young in 2017. Both were interred at a cemetery in Salisbury. Now in his 60s, Skripal cared for his cat, which he told people took instruction in Russian, and joined a social club where by unbendable house rule the rear-room TV always showed the horse races. Yulia spent most of her time in Moscow but traveled frequently to England to visit her father. No great care was taken to hide the location of the Skripal family home, and obviously MI5’s assessment of the threat to Sergei in his retirement was low, because for $4 the website of the Land Registry would reveal his name and address. “Frankly,” Robert Hannigan told me, “you’re not going to hide much from Russian intelligence if they’re keen to find someone, particularly if that person’s still in touch with family back home.” Security-camera footage of Yulia Skripal’s movements through the Moscow airport on March 3, a day before the poisoning, showed a slender woman with an erect bearing, shu±ing through check-in with other travelers. A fold of auburn hair fell over her pale face. That morning Yulia shared a video on social media, a gyrating dog alongside the caption: Dance like no one is watching. According to discoveries by British intelligence, later made public in a submission to NATO, “cyber specialists” working for the GRU had been snooping in Yulia’s e-mails as far back as 2013. Furthermore, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation, Sergei’s e-mails were also under surveillance during that period. “They would have known Yulia was coming,” a senior government source told me.

“FRANKLY,” A FORMER BRITISH-INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAID, “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO HIDE MUCH FROM RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE IF THEY’RE KEEN TO FIND SOMEONE.”

4 : A CITY ON LOCKDOWN L I K E I N K , liquid novichok can transfer by contact from surface to surface, fainter each time; it is colorless, odorless, and deteriorates slowly. Shortly after the Skripals arrived at the hospital, a local cop, Nick Bailey, came into contact with the poison and had to be admitted for treatment as well. Later I would learn that this particular novichok had most likely never been tested on humans. It all meant that in Salisbury, authorities were now trying to cope with an invisible, spreadable, untraceable poison that might be smeared anywhere the Skripals had been on March 4. When I first arrived in the city, I visited the riverside pub where the Skripals had had a drink before their collapse, pressing my face to its plate-glass door as investigators slow-motioned around inside wearing hazmat suits. Three hours later, a public-health bulletin went out, advising anyone who’d been to the pub to disinfect their phones, wash their clothes, and so on. The bench where the Skripals had been overcome was enclosed by ribbons of don’tcross tape. Brightly colored forensic tents popped up like spring flowers. Reporters skulked, and the spook-watchers among them noticed the movements of unmarked cars known to be favored by British intelligence. Over on Christie Miller Road, Skripal’s property had been cordoned o≠, so that neighbors had to wave a special pass at police to come and go. I walked a perimeter around No. 47, as close as possible, in the company of Boris Volodarsky, the intelligence historian and former GRU man, who was spending the day with me in Salisbury. A suited and cardiganed 63-year-old, his face partially obscured by a brushy mustache and aviator sunglasses, Volodarsky was about the most conspicuous man in town that afternoon. But he had no reason to steal around in the shadows, not anymore, and instead he turned an operational eye on the scene, trying to identify the shadows that might’ve been useful to others. This operation would’ve called for a large team, Volodarsky said—Russian illegals, he thought, arriving in the country over the course of weeks to study the local minutiae: “When lights were switched on and o≠, did neighbors look out their windows?” Crucial to any such plan, Volodarsky said, would be settling on a where—someplace they could be certain Sergei Skripal would be—and a when. The application of this poison would have been skilled work, technically complex. “[The nerve agent] will burn through normal hazmat suits,” a senior source from the UK government told me. “You need time and you need cover.” From Christie Miller Road, we drove two miles to a cemetery in Salisbury, a wooded place home to wild ring-necked pheasant,


Volodarsky said there was a part of him, the GRU-trained part, that felt disgust at his carelessness in drinking that co≠ee. Then a sort of fatalism came down. “You think to yourself, it’s either a well-done job or a badly done job. If it’s one, you’ll die. If it’s the other, you’ll survive.”

POLICE SHUT DOWN SALISBURY CITY CENTER AFTER THE NERVE AGENT POISONED TWO NEW VICTIMS.

deer that liked to eat the graveside roses, and for the time being several police cars. Investigators believed that on the morning of their poisoning, Sergei and Yulia had come to this cemetery to visit the graves of Liudmila and Alexander. Police, still guarding the site, took our names and let us through, and when Volodarsky was close enough to Alexander Skripal’s headstone, he read the inscribed dates. He pointed out that March 1 would have been Alexander’s 44th birthday. It felt a fair assumption that this was why Yulia had arranged to visit that particular weekend. (A when.) And if Yulia was due, Sergei would surely be in Salisbury to bring her back to his home. (A where.) According to the UK’s national-security adviser, the highest concentration of novichok was detected on the handle of No. 47’s front door. A senior government source later confirmed for me that it was the outward-facing handle, and that Sergei and Yulia had each taken in the poison through the palms of their hands. Alistair Hay, a chemical-weapons expert, explained that because of the thickness of the epidermis layer here, “uptake through the palm is some 20 to 25 times less e∞cient [i.e., slower] than, say, application on the cheek.” Time—hours, potentially—for any assassins to flee or melt away. At the cemetery, Volodarsky was looming over Alexander’s headstone when a young policeman approached and said uncertainly, “Obviously you know not to touch it?” Volodarsky thanked him—but yeah, he knew not to touch. Volodarsky had left the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, after which he re-settled in Austria and began writing spy exposés for Western publications. Alex Goldfarb, a wellknown Russian dissident, once described Volodarsky as the only ex–agency man “with whom it is certainly safe to drink tea”—a macabre reference to their mutual acquaintance, Alexander Litvinenko, a journalist and sometime consultant for British intelligence

who was murdered in London after drinking from a teacup laced with radioactive poison. Volodarsky attended Litvinenko’s funeral in the winter of 2006. Many well-connected people I spoke with about Skripal mentioned, unbidden, Litvinenko’s ghost—a lingering guilt, inside and outside the British establishment, that his murder had not been properly faced up to. Few in power doubted that Litvinenko’s was a state-sponsored killing, but the diplomatic response from the British government was insubstantial. Oligarch money was splashing through London at the time. Surface relations with the Kremlin were okay. Shrug. And no wonder, people said, that the strange deaths continued. Since 2006, at least a dozen UK residents with strong links to Russia had died abruptly (heart attack, fall, inexplicable collapse), after which their deaths were unimaginatively written o≠ by coroners as unsuspicious (suicide, weak heart). Volodarsky knew many of the deceased, including Boris Berezovsky, found hanged in 2013; and Badri Patarkatsishvili, discovered collapsed in 2008. In the weeks following March 4, another acquaintance, Nikolai Glushkov, had been found dead at his home in South London, the cause of death given as compression to the neck. On the road out of Salisbury, there were more wild pheasant, like in the cemetery, only these had roamed in front of powerful cars and been flattened. Volodarsky and I drove back to London, talking all the way of the men he had known and the means of their sudden ends. “Russia is orientated to eliminate enemies,” he said. “And not foreigners, primarily, by the way. It’s Russians who’ve left.” He said he believed he’d once been targeted himself—a contact he didn’t fully trust, some substance slipped into his co≠ee. His wife told me he was “white as paper” when he came home that day, and had curled up on her lap like an animal.

5: THE POISON SPREADS A T T H E H O S P I T A L , Sergei and Yulia were fed drugs intended to help their systems re-create the enzymes disrupted by novichok. At first the doctors treating them had little sincere hope for their survival. Then, after seeing signs of slow improvement, they began to scale the Skripals’ sedation back. After 20 days, Yulia awoke. It was a di≠erent world, “disorientating,” she would call it. During the weeks she was unconscious, the Kremlin had continued its efforts to sow doubts about the investigation. At the U.N., a Russian envoy speculated that doctors in Salisbury were manipulating the health of the Skripals, and may even have injected this rare poison themselves. For one 24-hour cycle, attention was deflected toward Sergei Skripal’s pets, a house cat and two guinea pigs, unaccounted for since March 4. A Russian statement was typical in its strange, sidelong emphases: “To learn the fate of the animals is important not only from the point of view of Mr Skripal’s property rights, but also as a matter of animal welfare....” In fact the pets had been left uncared for inside the quarantined No. 47. The guinea pigs were eventually found dead, and the cat had to be put down, distressed beyond rescue. It was an extraordinary oversight by authorities at the scene. Even so, the British pushed and condemned, demanding state-size confessions of guilt that were never likely to come. Anybody who recalled the shrinking reaction to Litvinenko’s murder might have identified overcompensation. Certainly there was an irony in Teresa May, the prime minister, and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, leading this Kremlin censure. In their previous jobs as home secretary and mayor of London, respectively, they’d done as much as anyone to create a sense that powerful Russians had a high threshold for misbehavior; that scores might be settled and fortunes laundered in the UK without too close a scrutiny, as long as the rubles kept filtering through domestic banks and the property market. But this time a policeman had been struck down. The target’s daughter, too. Cost to the local police was heading toward $10 million, and great chunks of an ancient English city were behind quarantine lines. As nobody could be certain where the poison had spread, the people of Salisbury kept on playing a frightening game of touch-and-see. That lamppost? (continued on page 166) That trash can?

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FAIR QUESTION: IS THE STEELERS’ ANTONIO BROWN THE BEST PLAYER IN THE NFL? UNFAIR QUESTION: IS HE THE FUNNEST? LET’S ASK HIM

STEVEN PAN

JIM MOORE


superstar wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are three crucial, incontrovertible ways to “drip.” ¶ “You got to have the smile,” he tells me, launching into an extemporaneous free lesson on personal swag. “The first time someone sees you smile, they gotta know you mean business.” Second, “you gotta have the right smell for the drip. When the person first meets you, they’re going to get that fragrance.” (And what, pray tell, does Antonio Brown smell like? “Like Chanel!”) ¶ “You have the fragrance drip and you got the smile drip. That’s two ways to drip. Then you gotta get the fit. You can’t have no basic fit. You gotta have that di≠erent fit. When you got that di≠erent fit, you ’bout to DRIP.” ¶ And does Antonio Brown have that drip, you ask? ACCORDING TO ANTONIO BROWN,

“I got all the drip,” he assures me. The divine-drip trinity. Whatever the 30-year-old Brown has, it’s working. In 2010 he was the 195th pick in the NFL draft, an undersized fivefoot-ten receiver who could maybe scrape out a career as a punt returner. He was selected for the Pro Bowl in his second season, and he’s made five more since, hauling in impossible sideline catches that have earned him the nickname “Tony Toe Tap” for his ability to keep his feet in bounds. His hands have the gravitational pull of small black holes—of the 174 passes fired his way last season, he dropped three. He’s football’s best current player not named Tom Brady, its most electric playmaker since Terrell Owens, and the most drippy since Deion Sanders wore a white bowler in a bubble bath for “Must Be the Money.” “Maaan, I’m having a hell of a good time. It’s a great time to be alive,” he says. “It’s like, if you’re not having fun, what are you doing it for?” In a league that is often hostile to outsize displays of personality, he plays with a rarely seen brio. You could reasonably argue that he’s single-handedly brought the touchdown celebration back from whatever dark place NFL’s tightly clenched executives buried it—and for his troubles, Brown has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in fines, including some $35,000 for “sexually suggestive” twerking/ hip-thrusting. This last fact has caused some domestic distress: “Whatever [my kids] see me do, they do. They try to

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turtleneck $2,160 Louis Vuitton

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hit some explicit dance moves. I told them that’s for Dad only.” Wrist slaps from the no-fun league aside, ask Antonio Brown how business is and his smile will explode—that smile drip—and he’ll o≠er up his signature phrase: “Business

is boomin’!” But a boomin’ business comes with all sorts of added responsibilities. A Nikebacked “Destroy Doubt” tour this summer. The cover of the new Madden (and a 99 rating). A cameo in the music video for Drake’s “God’s Plan.” Those are great, sure, but so, too, is the pressure that comes with it. “Antonio Brown now gets a lot of notoriety, a lot of people watching him,” says Antonio Brown. “A lot of news. A lot of expectation.” And though AB thrives in the highstakes environment of big games, the expansive socialmedia empire he’s built—2.5 million Instagram followers and an additional 1.2 million on Twitter—ensures that the bright lights never really turn o≠. “I just feel that sometimes it can be hard as a player—a targeted player in the NFL—to really express yourself the right way. Anybody could say anything, and that’s what the public perception will be. If ESPN said I was a bad guy, or I was a killer, then that’s what people are gonna believe.… I’m a real person. You just can’t say anything about my name and then show up thinking it’s cool. You gotta put some respect on it.” Of course, there’s already plenty of respect for his name. So much, in fact, that you might wonder what he could possibly want next. “Being my best self every day, being a good leader. Being a good father figure. Being consistent with the kids, the family. Working on being a better boyfriend...but it’s kind of hard to keep it in my pants.” Such is the burden of all that drip.— C L AY S K I P P E R


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FLASH SOME GREEN The season’s ultimate statement coat comes, unsurprisingly, in the ultimate statement color: money green. ← coat $4,810 pants $810 Prada jewelry, his own

TOTALLY TONAL Sticking with one color can make you look like a Power Ranger— unless you do it with fresh sneakers and an oversize shearlingcollared coat. ← all clothing (prices upon request) Alexander McQueen grooming by barry white for barrywhitemens grooming.com. produced by jeff at broder productions

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we’ve been hearing the buzz for a few years now: Houston may, sneakily, be america’s best food city. but when we sent gq food critic brett martin to dive into the scene, we realized that was selling the city way short PAO L A + M U R R AY


Matthew Odam was driving from Austin, Texas, where he’s the restaurant critic at the Austin American-Statesman, to Houston, where he was raised. He had a passenger: a friend of a friend who was moving back to Houston after spending some time kicking around the capital, working music festivals, picking up shifts at a juice bar, and so on. He was a young African-American kid, maybe 21 but probably even younger, and kind of a beautiful art freak. He wore a black T-shirt with some kind of disembodied anime head on it and a spacey expression. He told Odam that he “dabbled in the occult.” “At the time, having grown up in Houston in kind of a bubble, I was pretty skeptical about the city,” Odam says. So Odam asked the kid in the black T-shirt why he’d be moving there from someplace as verifiably and undeniably hip as Austin. The kid shrugged. Austin, he said, was a white monoculture of hipsters, yuppies, and techies. (Odam was telling me this story in a Japanese-fusion spot in East Austin, which made it easy to visualize said culture.) In Houston, the kid said, things were happening. They were already driving through the city’s periphery, which hardly meant they were near their destination. Harris County, made up of Houston and its suburbs, is 1,777 square miles, which is bigger than Rhode Island. “Where do you want to get dropped o≠ ?” Odam asked. The kid directed him to a spot nearby the park outside the main building of the Menil Collection, the art museum tucked into the Montrose neighborhood. “He told me all these kids were down there, hanging out in the park, dropping acid and making art,” Odam recalls. “Later, he was heading downtown to a club that was something out of Stefon. Like, ‘a midget working the door, transients as bartenders...’ ” Watching the kid A Taste of walk o≠ across the Houston Cool lawn, Odam conOpening pages, sidered: In Austin, from left: a smoky everybody he knew barbecue platter at The Pit Room; would be fighting to the casual outdoor get on the guest list vibes at the Axelrad for that club; the kids Beer Garden. in the park would FEW YEARS AGO,

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The Orange Show

be pimping their Instagram bemoaning how much less cool it The temple of outsider accounts; the whole scene would is now than at some point in the art was built over several decades and be born, oversubscribed, and past, usually, by coincidence, the remains a must-visit. spent before it even happened. point at which they arrived. He gripped the wheel and Houston, on the other hand, considered the unspeakable: “Was Houston has remained for many—including plenty of people who were raised there—a kind cooler than Austin? Really?” of empty image. There’s NASA. There’s oil. P E R H A P S I T ’ S U N S E E M L Y to begin with such There’s the Galleria—the 2.4-million-squarea comparison. Houston is America’s fourth- foot shopping mall that is practically its largest city, an international metropolis of own city-state. Beyond that, not much: a great institutions and great wealth. It has sterile, sun-blasted, multi-laned landscape professional sports teams; it has operas and of concrete, strip malls, and glass, the very ballets. Why compare it to a city that is half vision of air-conditioned American anothe size and a fraction as diverse? mie. When the cry went out, on T-shirts and But Austin, as Lawrence Wright points out bumper stickers, to keep austin weird, in his book God Save Texas, is the Texas city part of the implicit message was to keep that is permissible for those who live outside Austin not like Houston. Texas: urbane, hip, progressive, and Texan Then, sometime over the past five or six in all the romantic, right ways (swaggering, years, things started to change. As somebody wild, western) without so many of the wrong who writes about food, I could hardly miss it. ones (conservative, provincial, big-haired). With its mix of exploding immigrant commuAlso, Austin is unimpeachably cool—even if nities and ambitious, sophisticated variations Austinites will spend half of any conversation on upscale dining, Houston had decisively


in its youthfulness, diversity, and explosive growth, houston looks like the american city of the future. shrugged o≠ its reputation as a city of steak houses and chains to become increasingly mentioned as one of the nation’s great restaurant cities. In these pages, David Chang called Houston the next food capital of America. This year, it earned two spots on my annual list of Best New Restaurants, a distinction shared only with New York City and Los Angeles. And as stories like Odam’s showed, there were signs of more afoot. Not only of a cool city but of a city that was cool in a way that wasn’t just another replication of Brooklyn built in some reclaimed industrial downtown (for one thing, Houston doesn’t really have one). Last summer I made plans to head to Houston, to explore further. Then, on August 25, Hurricane Harvey came churning

into Texas from the Gulf of Mexico. As though tired from its Caribbean journey, the storm circled lazily above southwest Texas for a catastrophic four days. The images, on the ground and TV, were otherworldly: water, pushed by swollen bayous and overwhelmed pumps, running uphill; highway signs hovering mere feet above the waterline, the roadways beneath them filled up like giant bathtubs. By the time it was over, the numbers, too, were surreal: Harvey had disgorged as much as 48 inches of rain—a trillion gallons—on the Houston metro area. Some 154,000 homes had flooded and tens of thousands of people had needed rescue. “The takeaway from Harvey is that it expands our understanding of what is possible,” a state climatologist later said, which is precisely the kind of thing you do not

“Shade Tree” Barbecue

want to hear from a The Bookity Bookity Boudain Man is the state climatologist. king of Houston’s I firmly believe pirate barbecuers, that there’s no such who set up shop anywhere—in his case, thing as a city that a Walmart parking lot. has more “grit” or “resilience” than any other; some are just unlucky enough to get the chance to show it. Still, the cracked-open metropolis that the rest of the country gazed upon in the immediate aftermath of Harvey was clearly one of deep communal ties, fierce civic pride, and wells of creative energy. There were the four employees of El Bolillo Bakery who, trapped by rising water, spent two days of the storm baking 4,400 pounds of flour’s worth of bread and pan dulce to distribute to flood victims. There was the Houston Ballet, whose home theater was inundated but who pressed on with its season in makeshift digs all over the city. Something special, it became clear to those who might not have been paying attention, was going on here. In its youthfulness, its diversity (by some measures, the most diverse large city in America), and its explosive growth (an astonishing two decades of 25 percent in the greater metro area), Houston was looking more and more like the American city of the future. Part of the change has been intentional. In recent years, a series of public-private partnerships has worked to develop the kind of amenities and public spaces that cool cities tend to have: bike lanes; downtown attractions; ambitious and beautiful green spaces like Bu≠alo Bayou Full-Spectrum Park, with its crissHouston Grub crossing pathways Chef Chris Shepherd across the bayou turned his James and astonishing Beard Award–winning restaurant Underbelly Cistern—a massive into UB Preserv, a underground resershrine to Houston’s voir now used for art multicultural cuisine. installations—and

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downtown’s Discovery Green, a park and gathering place for Houstonians of all ethnicities that longtime Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook calls “our new town square.” After years of development that involved automatically tearing down anything old in favor of building anew, a preservationist movement has finally begun to take hold, too, leading to victories like the renovated Heights Theater, reopened as a beautiful and intimate music venue. But a good deal of what’s happening in Houston feels more organic and idiosyncratic than what an urban-studies expert might devise in a PowerPoint presentation—an energy that feels born of two major factors: one, the growth that has turned the city’s diverse but discrete bubbles into a series of unavoidable Venn overlaps, allowing cultures to clash, cohabitate, and collaborate; the other, a pervading sense of independent frontier wildness. That trait may not ride in wearing the cowboy costume it does farther west, but it nevertheless feels distinctly Texan. “There are no zoning laws here” is the sentence you will hear more than any other in Houston. This is a key point of identity: the theoretical ability for anyone to build anything anywhere (never mind that it is in part responsible for the kind of development that makes the city so susceptible to damage from natural disaster). People chatter about commercial real estate in Houston with the same mix of envy, romance, and fascination that they do residential real estate in New York or San Francisco: who’s developing what project and where; which buildings are sitting empty, waiting for the price of oil to rise; who’s erecting what glass tower as revenge for Texas-Style Brisket

Get some at Ray’s. And don’t forget to order the oxtails, too.

this is a key point of identity: the theoretical ability for anyone to build anything anywhere. which other guy’s glass tower. “No zoning” turns out to be the urban equivalent of the great western myth of “no fences.” Larry McMurtry once argued that Texas’s cities inevitably sit uneasily alongside its rural, pioneer history: “Imagine yourself as a small hopeful immigrant family, alone on the Staked Plains, with the Comanche and the Kiowa still on the loose.… Elements of that primal venturing will surely inform several generations.” To which I would add only that you can equally imagine yourself as a small hopeful immigrant family o≠ a plane from Saigon, or Michoacán, or Tegucigalpa, or o≠ a bus from flooded New Orleans, in order to understand the feeling of primal venturing that Houston still exudes. And that you can look east, as well as west, for its source, to the special properties of places that line the Gulf of Mexico: Cajun self-reliance, New Orleanian devil-may-care, that sense of extraterritoriality that exists up and down America’s third and wildest coast, wherever the water regularly threatens to rise. The Houston band the Su≠ers, which have been gaining a national profile, have a name for their smoothly powerful mishmash of ska, R&B, country, and more, borrowed from the great Beaumont-raised blues guitarist Barbara Lynn. It works equally as a description of the city a whole. They call it Gulf Coast Soul. As for Houston’s place in the Texas firmament, one businessman with shops in all three of the state’s most famous cities broke them down for me thusly: “Austin is like your young, hip millennial brother who always knows the latest cool thing. Dallas is the metrosexual middle brother that nobody really wants to spend time with. But Houston is the older, cooler sibling—he’s got some miles on him, he’s been through some stu≠, but he totally knows what’s cool and what’s not. “You love all your siblings, but you know which one you want to hang out with.” There’s a T-shirt for sale in Houston these days that was designed by James Glassman, who runs a website about the city’s history and is the author of The Houstorian Dictionary. It is in the same font as keep austin weird but one significant word shorter. It reads keep austin. Houston has it by the square mile. Not Weird™, either. Like, genuinely strange. The only hotel in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood is La Colombe d’Or, a five-room AND ANYWAY, YOU WANT WEIRD?

outfit located in a mansion originally built for an oil magnate. Seemingly preserved sometime in 1979, it is filled with art and sta≠ed by a rotating assemblage of men in suits, all of whom seem to have worked there for decades. I was the sole guest for much of my time there, in a suite that inexplicably included a full dining room set, and I was never 100 percent sure they weren’t ghosts. Montrose is the part of Houston that looks the most like a cool city is supposed to look— dense; green; filled with museums, co≠ee shops, cocktail bars, and other hip independent businesses; at least plausibly walkable (though few seem to do so). Montrose has also been the center of Houston’s food scene, which, as is customary these days, has led the city’s charge into the national conversation in a way that a music or art scene might have done for an emerging city 20 years ago. Nobody has worked harder toward that end than Chris Shepherd, who has three restaurants in Montrose. His empire begins along Westheimer Road, Montrose’s main drag, in the building that was once his flagship, Underbelly, and reopens this month as a cast-iron steak house, Georgia James. That menu (you may want to take notes) began as a one-year experiment at One Fifth, down the street, which Shepherd has given a conceptual overhaul for each year of his five-year lease. (This fall’s iteration, the third, is “Mediterranean.”) Meanwhile, the much loved Underbelly, at which Shepherd won a James Beard Award, has been rebranded as UB Preserv, located in a strip mall that also houses a laundromat, a vape shop, and a clothing store called Guyz ’N’ Style (“Where endless fashion meets”). Shepherd is a large man, partial to shorts, bespoke dress shirts from the venerable Houston tailor Hamilton Shirts, and New Balance sneakers. These conceal the results of monthly pedicures finished with nail polish in the shade Deep Steel Blue, which happens to be the Houston Texans’ color. Born in Nebraska, raised in Tulsa, he came to Houston for culinary school when he was 22 and has never left. “I fell in love with the city,” he says. “Everything I could ever want was here.” On days o≠, he would drive aimlessly and explore, reasoning


in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, Spanish, Korean, and more, begin to look like slabs of Rosetta stone. The light-filled— You pass buildings of exquisite and extra-delicious— strangeness. Cars mounted on environs of Justin poles as 3-D signs. A three-storied Yu’s Theodore Rex, a GQ Best New Italianate villa—complete with Restaurant of 2018. arches, columns, fountains, and statuary lining its circular driveway—turns out not to be a casino or banquet hall but in fact a dentist’s office. Shepherd and I started at Saigon Pagolac, one of the first Vietnamese restaurants to open as the city’s Asian-immigrant community spread out along Bellaire in the late 1980s. Within a few minutes, the table was overwhelmed by platters of food: the crispy egg pancake banh xeo; tight pouches of beef wrapped in betel leaf; spongy squares of banh hoi, the intricately woven pads of vermicelli noodles. Shepherd had recently found a nearby supplier of fresh banh hoi that however lost he got, he could always for his own restaurant, a discovery he talked drive straight in any direction to eventually about as though each weekly delivery arrived reach the I-610 Loop that would get him via reindeer-pulled sleigh. home. When he found something he thought We were joined by Alba Huerta, who came was delicious, he was unabashed about ask- to Houston from Mexico with her family ing how it was made, ultimately transferring when she was 6 and has long been one of the that knowledge to the menu at Underbelly, to city’s pre-eminent bartenders. In addition to which Shepherd gave the tagline “The Story co-owning downtown’s mezcalería The Pastry of Houston Food.” War, she owns Julep Bar, which is devoted to “I wanted to introduce Houstonians to southern cocktails and features a Jacuzzi-size their city,” he says. tub of crushed ice behind the bar, a copper One hot morning, he was doing the same fairy rising from its center. for me. Despite having made this trip hunWe talked, as we ate, about the emergence dreds of times, he grew palpably excited as of the city’s food scene. The turning point, we approached Bellaire Boulevard, the main they agreed, was the annus mirabilis of 2012. drag of Houston’s Chinatown. Each strip Shepherd opened Underbelly that year. mall o≠ered another suddenly mandatory Huerta was bartending at Bobby Huegel’s stop: hand-pulled noodles here, Szechuan Anvil Bar & Refuge, which had opened a few years earlier and was riding the new dumplings there. The most obvious urban counterpart to craft-cocktail wave. One of its founders, Houston is Los Angeles, with its diversity, Morgan Weber, had just opened the gourits car-centrism, its sprawl. Houston is not met Revival Market. A branch of the highbeautiful like L.A., but it is ugly like it: We end sushi restaurant Uchi arrived from drove mile after flat mile filled with parking Austin. A few years earlier, Justin Yu and lots and strip malls, fast-food restaurants Seth Siegel-Gardner, both Houston-born and box stores, new undistinguished con- chefs who had been working in fine dining struction cheek by jowl with older undis- in California and Europe, returned to town tinguished construction. It is empirically and, along with Terrence Gallivan, opened ugly and totally intoxicating. The point a one-month summer pop-up. It was such isn’t that there are beautiful places hidden a resounding success that they were now amid the ugliness; it’s that the ugliness opening ambitious projects in town: Siegelitself becomes imbued with a kind of beauty, Gardner and Gallivan opened The Pass thanks to the thrum of human energy that and Provisions; Yu created a tasting-menu takes root there. The tall multi-paneled restaurant named Oxheart where he, too, signs standing outside each mall, written won a James Beard Award. A Perfect Night Out

A scene was being born—one that, its participants quickly realized, had the potential to invent a culinary identity where there hadn’t been one before. That generation has continued to work together, in various combinations, ever since. And all seem to have reached a natural point of change: Yu recently transformed Oxheart into the less rigid Theodore Rex (another 2018 GQ Best New Restaurant); Revival Market has transitioned into a fast-service

H OW T O E AT

HOUSTON IN 8 DISHES 1. “ALL-IN” CRAWFISH CASIAN CRAWFISH The emblematic Viet-Cajun dish of the new Houston: spicy, citrusy, garlicky, and utterly addictive.

2. BARBACOA HUGO’S Rich, flavorful slow-roasted lamb at the flagship of Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught’s modern-Mexican empire.

3. PASTRAMI BEEF RIB TEJAS CHOCOLATE CRAFTORY Thursday is Pastrami Day at Tejas, but any day is a good day for elite craft barbecue alongside high-end homemade chocolate bonbons.

4. SMOKED OXTAILS RAY’S REAL PIT BBQ SHACK Ray’s serves classic East Texas barbecue, porkier and saucier than its Central Texan cousin: fat spare ribs, ricey links of boudin, and, as a weekly special, these gamy, gelatinous beauties.

5. PARIS-BREST THEODORE REX Everything on Justin Yu’s ever changing menu is precise and soulful, but this simple dessert, funkified by Swiss-cheese cream and honey, is what I’ve craved since I tried it.

6. BRISKET TACO THE PIT ROOM The Pit Room’s brisket shines brightest (and smokiest) topped with cheese, sour cream, and salsa roja on a chewy homemade tortilla made with beef fat.

7. SMOTHERED TURKEY WINGS ALFREDA’S SOUL FOOD There’s nearly as much meat in the vegetables as there is in the meat dishes at this venerable cafeteria—which is how you know it’s legit.

8. CLAM RAPINI PIZZA COLTIVARE

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A touch of sorghum in the dough complements the brine of clams at Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera’s regional-Italian spot. — B . M .


VietnamTown The bounty at Saigon

restaurant; Huerta is at work on a smaller, fancier bar inside Julep; and Shepherd turned Underbelly into UB Preserv. Stu≠ed already, Shepherd and I headed onward for a few pounds of Vietnamese crawfish from Mike’s Seafood, a place that one of his cooks had given him a tip about.

Pagolac, one of It was late in the season, makShepherd wrote down his the first Vietnamese ing the crawfish shells hard to number, inviting Nora to come to restaurants to take peel, but the citrus, garlic, and UB Preserv. He left with a heavy root along Bellaire Boulevard in the butter in which they bathed bag of supplies and a promise to late 1980s. made it worth the struggle. As bring some of his cooks back to we left, Shepherd noticed a sign ask more questions. a few doors down for a Nigerian grocery To many, this scene might as well be the store named DD Vantage. There are more Zapruder film of cultural appropriation. Nigerians in Houston than almost any- Shepherd has heard the critique, but it seems where else in the country, and Shepherd had to genuinely ba±e him. His mission, he says, been anxious to learn more about their has always been to introduce diners to cuicuisine, with an eye toward adding it to the sines they might start out too intimidated by mix at UB Preserv. We walked in, surprising or unaware of to explore on their own and a woman named Nora, who was working then send them to experience the real thing. the cash register. Shepherd walked up and “I want to be the gateway drug,” he says. At down the aisles, asking questions: Which Underbelly, and now at UB Preserv, the check bottle of blood-red palm oil was best? What comes with a pamphlet listing Shepherd’s were the fermented favorite restaurants, suppliers, and other businesses, including those that inspired beans for? “Are you with the his menu. “We’d love to have you back at UB FBI?” Nora asked. Preserv,” it reads, “but we politely request you The Mayor of “ I ’ m a c h e f ,” visit at least one of these folks first.” Houston Shepherd said. The menu, overseen by chef de cuisine Rapper Bun B—one “Oh Lord,” Nora Nick Wong, an alumnus of Momofuku of Houston’s best said, shaking her Ssäm Bar in New York, ranges liberally and ambassadors—gets his hair cut by head. “When you’re lustily among the city’s influences. Many Nicholas Howard, a chef, you get to just of the dishes wear their inspiration on self-styled Barber to play around and call their sleeve: Beef carpaccio dabbed with the Stars. an aioli made with (continued on page 162) it food.”

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FROM ‘TRUE DETECTIVE’ TO HIS MIND-BENDING NEW NETFLIX SERIES, ‘MANIAC,’

CARY FUKUNAGA HAS PROVED HIMSELF A MASTER OF CREATING THE PERFECT TONE ON-SCREEN. NOW THE VISIONARY DIRECTOR HELPS US HIGHLIGHT SOME OF THE SEASON’S KEY STYLE MOVES—CLOTHES WITH A LIVED-IN VIBE, ALL SHOT AT HIS HOME IN UPSTATE NEW YORK

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coat (price upon request) Alexander McQueen sweater $595 Joseph necklace $4,900 David Yurman RIGHT

jacket $16,400 Hermès sweater $895 pants $355 Joseph ↓ sweater $1,075 Giorgio Armani

if he has a reputation for being di∞cult. But it’s something he’s heard from time to time. He heard it in the wake of shooting HBO’s True Detective—a series that became a phenomenon following the fourth episode, which included a virtuosic six-minute-long tracking shot of Matthew McConaughey stalking his way through a robbery that turns into a bloodbath. The show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, thought Fukunaga was being willfully idiosyncratic just for insisting on a shot like that. “Nic wanted to cut it up in post-production,” Fukunaga says over lunch in New York, where he’s currently finishing Maniac, a surrealist Netflix series starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as two patients in a pharmaceutical drug trial. “He did not like that I was pushing for that one at all.” But the show had been a lot of talk, and a lot of philosophizing, before that. Fukunaga wasn’t trying to showboat. He just thought, “Let’s do something fun.” And then there was It, the 2017 adaptation of the Stephen King novel, which Fukunaga wrote and was prepared to direct. He ultimately decided to leave the project two weeks before it started shooting, after the studio started treating Fukunaga like he might go rogue. “I think it was fear on their part, that they couldn’t control me,” he says. And…were they right? “No, they thought they couldn’t control me. I would have been totally collaborative.” The irony, to Fukunaga’s mind, was that he’d actually worked hard to apprentice himself. In 2009, he signed on to direct an adaptation of Jane Eyre. At the time, he was 32 and coming o≠ his first film, Sin Nombre, which had won a directing prize at Sundance. Fukunaga is a romantic, and Jane Eyre appealed to that part of him; it was also a relatively conventional studio film, with movie stars and well-known source material. “There was nothing experimental about it,” he says. “But for me, it was an exercise.” The exercise worked. Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre was taut, glossy, a bit haunted—a success, and a calling card, and almost CARY FUKUNAGA ISN’T ENTIRELY SURE

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t-shirt $40 (for pack of three) Calvin Klein Underwear pants $348 Boss → turtleneck $345 Z Zegna pants $265 Sandro belt $690 Tom Ford

immediately, people called. By the time True Detective made him a household name (in households that pay attention to directors), he was in Ghana shooting his third film, Beasts of No Nation, which Netflix ended up buying for $12 million. As Fukunaga looked around for his next project, he was doing so as one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood. That was nearly four years ago. Then It fell apart, and another project kept getting delayed and he had to walk away from that, too, and all the while he was working to compromise, working to just get something made. He was supposed to be, maybe already was, our next great director. And then: “Between directing Beasts of No Nation and directing Maniac, it was three and a half years of no production,” Fukunaga says, shaking his head. “I was in the prime of my directing life!” Maniac, the series that will finally bring him back to audiences, is loosely based on a Norwegian TV show of the same name. The original is a black comedy that follows the absurd delusions of a man locked in a psych ward. That was Fukunaga’s starting point: He wanted to do something lighter—bright-colored candy, starring a pair of two-time Oscar nominees. But it turns out “lighter” is not exactly something Fukunaga is capable of: “I realized that I have a


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ABOUT THESE CLOTHES Fall fashion has a tendency to get a little too woodsy when it comes to relaxing weekend wear. So we took Cary Fukunaga upstate and left the buffalo plaids and highvis orange behind to discover a more elegant side of rugged style, where subtle texture, muted tones, and justso slouchy fits ensure you are seasonally correct without looking like you got lost on an Outward Bound trip.

tendency to make things harder than they need to be. Because the idea of having fun and not worrying too much about production value went out the door the moment I started conceiving ideas.” The show he ultimately made takes place in a grimy, melancholy New York and focuses on two broken people, in Stone and Hill, trying to connect with their pasts and with each other—when they’re not hallucinating. (And sometimes even when they are.) It’s one of the more delightfully strange projects you’ll ever see executed by a director this talented; the show feels like a John Lennon solo album, or a guided meditation by Terry Gilliam, or both at the same time. Like Beasts, Maniac will stream on Netflix, which has its own surreal development process. “Because Netflix is a data company,” Fukunaga says, “they can look at something you’re writing and say, ‘We know based on our data that if you do this, we will lose this many viewers.’ So it’s a di≠erent kind of note giving. It’s not like, Let’s

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discuss this and maybe I’m gonna win. The algorithm’s argument is gonna win at the end of the day.” Fukunaga treated the process as one more thing to learn from, he says: “I have no doubt the algorithm will be right.” But it also made him want to do what, contrary to popular belief, he hadn’t done yet. “I just kind of want to make something that’s idiosyncratically all mine,” Fukunaga says. He’s been working on a project with HBO, based on Stanley Kubrick’s unproduced film about Napoleon, and another thing about Hiroshima, and yet another thing about Alexandre Dumas. Will any of it actually happen? There is no way to know. But the process, so far, has been amicable. “I’ve only walked out of one project where a producer was like, ‘You’re never gonna work in this town again!’ ” Fukunaga says. “When he said that, I was like, Did he say that? I want to record this!”

boots $1,890 Tom Ford

zach baron is gq’s sta≠ writer.

↑ suit $4,545 polo shirt $1,495 Brunello Cucinelli t-shirt $40 (for pack of three) Calvin Klein Underwear watch $5,950 Omega → sports jacket $8,995 Kiton shirt $690 Salvatore Ferragamo


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A STRANGE THING HAS HAPPENED TO MEN OVER THE PAST FEW DECADES: WE’VE WE MAY LOSE THE ABILITY TO REPRODUCE ENTIRELY. WHAT’S CAUSING THIS MYSTERIOUS


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BECOME INCREASINGLY INFERTILE, SO MUCH SO THAT WITHIN A GENERATION DROP IN SPERM COUNTS—AND IS THERE ANY WAY TO REVERSE IT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE?

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MEN

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Everybody knows this. We’re obviously all doomed, the women too, everybody in general, just a waiting game until one or another of the stupid things our stupid species is up to finally gets us. But as it turns out, no surprise: men first. Second instance of no surprise: We’re going to take the women down with us. There has always been evidence that men, throughout life, are at higher risk of early death—from the beginning, a higher male incidence of Death by Mastodon Stomping, a higher incidence of Spiked Club to the Brainpan, a statistically significant disparity between how many men and how many women die of Accidentally Shooting Themselves in the Face or Getting Really Fat and Having a Heart Attack. The male of the species dies younger than the female—about five years on average. Divide a population into groups by birth year, and by the time each cohort reaches 85, there are two women left for every man alive. In fact, the male wins every age class: Baby boys die more often than baby girls; little boys die more often than little girls; teenage boys; young men; middle-aged men. Death champions across the board. Now it seems that early death isn’t enough for us—we’re on track instead to void the species entirely. Last summer a group of researchers from Hebrew University and Mount Sinai medical school published a study showing that sperm counts in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have fallen by more than 50

lead authors of the study, to ask if there was any good news hiding behind those brutal numbers. Were we really at risk of extinction? She failed to comfort me. “The What Does It Mean question means extrapolating beyond your data,” Swan said, “which is always a tricky thing. But you can ask, ‘What does it take? When is a species in danger? When is a species threatened?’ And we are definitely on that path.” That path, in its darkest reaches, leads to no more naturally conceived babies and potentially to no babies at all—and the final generation of Homo sapiens will roam the earth knowing they will be the last of their kind.

I F W E A R E H A L F A S fertile as the genera-

tion before us, why haven’t we noticed? One answer is that there is a lot of redundancy built into reproduction: You don’t need 200 million sperm to fertilize an egg, but that’s how many the average man might devote to the job. Most men can still conceive a child naturally with a depressed sperm count, and those who can’t have a booming fertilitytreatment industry ready to help them. And though lower sperm counts probably have led to a small decrease in the number of children being conceived, that decline has been masked by sociological changes driving birth rates down even faster: People in the developed world are choosing to have fewer children, and they are having them later. The problem has been debated among fertility scientists for decades now—studies suggesting that sperm counts are declining have been appearing since the ’70s—

almost 60 percent: We are producing less semen, and that semen has fewer sperm cells in it. This time around, even scientists who had been skeptical of past analyses had to admit that the study was all but unassailable. Jørgensen, in Copenhagen, told me that when he saw the results, he’d said aloud, “No, it cannot be true.” He had expected to see a past decline and then a leveling o≠. But he couldn’t argue when the team ran the numbers again and again. The downward slope was unwavering. Almost all the scientists I talked to stressed that not only were low sperm counts alarming for what they said about the reproductive future of the species—they were also a warning of a much larger set of health problems facing men. In this view, sperm production is a canary in the coal mine of male bodies: We know, for instance, that men with poor semen quality have a higher mortality rate and are more likely to have diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease than fertile men. Testosterone levels have also dropped precipitously, with e≠ects beginning in utero and extending into adulthood. One of the most significant markers of an organism’s sex is something called anogenital distance (AGD)—the measurement between the anus and the genitals. Male AGD is typically twice the length of female, a much more dramatic di≠erence than height or weight or musculature. Lower testosterone leads to a shorter AGD, and a measurement lower than the median correlates to a man being seven times as likely to be subfertile and gives him a greater likelihood of having unde-

WE SHOULD HOPE FOR THE BEST AND PREPARE FOR THE WORST,” SAID HAGAI LEVINE, A LEAD AUTHOR OF THE STUDY. “AND THAT IS THE POSSIBILITY THAT WE WILL BECOME EXTINCT.

percent over the past four decades. (They judged data from the rest of the world to be insu∞cient to draw conclusions from, but there are studies suggesting that the trend could be worldwide.) That is to say: We are producing half the sperm our grandfathers did. We are half as fertile. The Hebrew University/Mount Sinai paper was a meta-analysis by a team of epidemiologists, clinicians, and researchers that culled data from 185 studies, which examined semen from almost 43,000 men. It showed that the human race is apparently on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself. Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero? I called Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai and one of the

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but until Swan and her colleagues’ metaanalysis, the results have always been judged incomplete or preliminary. Swan herself had conducted smaller studies on declining sperm counts, but in 2015 she decided it was time for a definitive answer. She teamed up with Hagai Levine, an Israeli epidemiologist, and Niels Jørgensen, a Danish endocrinologist, and along with five others, they set about performing a systematic review and meta-regression analysis— that is, a kind of statistical synthesis of the data. “Hagai is a very good scientist, and he also used to be the head of epidemiology for the Israeli armed forces,” Swan told me. “So he’s very good at organizing.” They spent a year working with the data. The results, when they came in, were clear. Not only were sperm counts per milliliter of semen down by more than 50 percent since 1973, but total sperm counts were down by

scended testicles, testicular tumors, and a smaller penis. “What you are seeing in a number of systems, other developmental systems, is that the sex di≠erences are shrinking,” Swan told me. Men are producing less sperm. They’re also becoming less male. I assumed that the next thing Swan was going to tell me was that these changes were all a mystery to scientists. If only we could figure out what was causing the drop in sperm counts, I imagined, we could solve all the attendant health problems at once. But it turns out that it’s not a mystery: We know what the culprit is. And it’s hiding in plain sight.

T H E S I X T H F LO O R of the Rigshospitalet,

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beginning of the 19th century, maybe even a bit before,” she told me, “and upwards and exploding after the Second World War, when hundreds of new chemicals came onto the market within a very short time frame.” Suddenly a vast array of chemicals were entering our bloodstream, ones that no human body had ever had to deal with. The chemical revolution gave us some wonderful things: new medicines, new food sources, faster and cheaper mass production of all sorts of necessary products. It also gave us, Andersson pointed out, a living experiment on the human body with absolutely no forethought to the result. When a chemical a≠ects your hormones, it’s called an endocrine disruptor. And it turns out that many of the compounds used to make plastic soft and flexible (like phthalates) or to make them harder and stronger (like Bisphenol A, or BPA) are consummate endocrine disruptors. Phthalates and BPA, for example, mimic estrogen in the bloodstream. If you’re a man with a lot of phthalates in his system, you’ll produce less testosterone and fewer sperm. If exposed to phthalates in utero, a male fetus’s reproductive system itself will be altered: He will develop to be less male. Women with raised levels of phthalates in their urine during pregnancy were significantly more likely to have sons with shorter anogenital distance as well as shorter penis length and smaller testes. “When the [fetus’s] testicles start making testosterone, which is about week eight of pregnancy, they make a little less,” Swan said. “That’s the nub of this whole story. So phthalates decrease testosterone. The testicles then do not produce proper testosterone, and the anogenital distance is shorter.” The problem is that these chemicals are everywhere. BPA can be found in water

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all a few floors downstairs—on six, the unit is populated not with new parents but with doctors and researchers hunched over mass spectrometers and gel imagers and the like. I was there to meet Niels E. Skakkebæk, an 82-year-old pediatric endocrinologist, who founded the department in 1990. After walking me through the lab, he showed me to his o∞ce, a cramped, closet-like space—modest for someone who is a giant in his field. Male fertility and male reproductive health, Skakkebæk told me, are in full-blown crisis. “Here in Denmark, there is an epidemic of infertility,” he said. “More than 20 percent of Danish men do not father children.” Skakkebæk first suspected something was going wrong in the late ’70s, when he treated an infertile patient with an abnormality in the cells of the testes that he had never seen before. When he treated a second man with the same abnormality a few years later, he began to investigate a connection. What he found was a new form of precursor cells for testicular cancer, a once rare disease whose incidence had doubled. Moreover, these precursor cells had begun developing before the patient was even born. “He had the insight that testicular cancer, which is a cancer of young men, is something that is actually originated in utero,” Swan told me. And if these testes had somehow been misdeveloping in utero, Skakkebæk asked himself, what else was happening to these babies before they were born? Eventually, Skakkebæk linked several other previously rare symptoms for a condition he called testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS), a collection of male reproductive problems that include hypospadias (an abnormal location for the end of the urethra), cryptorchidism (an undescended testicle), poor semen quality, and testicular cancer. What Skakkebæk proposed with TDS is that these disorders can have a common fetal origin, a disruption in the development of the male fetus in the womb. So what was causing this disruption? To say there is only a single answer might be an overstatement—stress, smoking, and obesity, for example, all depress sperm counts— but there are fewer and fewer critics of the following theory: The industrial revolution happened. And the oil industry happened. And 20th-century chemistry happened. In short, humans started ingesting a whole host of compounds that a≠ected our hormones—including, most crucially, estrogen and testosterone. The scientists I talked to were less cautious about embracing this explanation than I expected. Down the hall from Skakkebæk’s o∞ce, I met Anna-Maria Andersson, a biologist whose research has focused on declining testosterone levels. “There has been a chemical revolution going on starting from the

2010

bottles and food containers and sales receipts. Phthalates are even more common: They are in the coatings of pills and nutritional supplements; they’re used in gelling agents, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents, and suspending agents. Not to mention medical devices, detergents and packaging, paint and modeling clay, pharmaceuticals and textiles and sex toys and nail polish and liquid soap and hair spray. They are used in tubing that processes food, so you’ll find them in milk, yogurt, sauces, soups, and even, in small amounts, in eggs, fruits, vegetables, pasta, noodles, rice, and water. The CDC determined that just about everyone in the United States has measurable levels of phthalates in his or her body— they’re unavoidable. What’s more, there is evidence that the e≠ect of these endocrine disruptors increases over generations, due to something called epigenetic inheritance. Normally, acquired traits—like, say, a sperm count lowered by obesity—aren’t passed down from father to son. But some chemicals, including phthalates and BPA, can change the way genes are expressed without altering the underlying genetic code, and that change is inheritable. Your father passes along his low sperm count to you, and your sperm count goes even lower after you’re exposed to endocrine disruptors. That’s part of the reason there’s been no leveling o≠ even after 40 years of declining sperm counts—the baseline keeps dropping.

W I T H A L L D U E R E S P E C T to Dr. Swan

and the problems of extrapolating beyond one’s data, I wanted to get back to What It All Means. The answer, I thought, might be found at the 13th International Symposium on Spermatology, (continued on page 164)

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to prison for probation violations, and after years of opioid addiction and spiraling legal trouble, the Atlanta-bred rapper Gucci Mane became hyper-prolific even by his standards, cranking out mixtapes in the time it takes most artists to consider dropping a single. A lot of it was amazing; as the work of a troubled man unsure when he’d next see the inside of a recording studio, a lot of it was also pretty dark. “It’s like, ‘Damn, man—that guy was going through some shit,’ ” Gucci tells me. “I was just manic in the studio. I had shit that I wanted to get off my chest. I don’t think it was so much that I wanted to give it to the world—I just wanted to get it out my head.” When he was released two years later, Gucci was a Mane reborn—skinny, sober, and ready to dominate a hip-hop landscape he’d helped redefine. He has become an improbably inspiring public figure, a beacon of serenity and gratitude for positivity-starved times. He’s in a more stable, focused place on his fifth post-prison album, out soon; it’s called Evil Genius, a perfect title for a victorylap album by a once derided Trap God who may have shaped 2018 hip-hop more than any other artist. His endorsement helped break Migos, Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, and Mike WiLL Made-It. He was dumping triple-disc BEFORE HE WENT

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opuses into the mixtape marketplace long before chart-gaming three-hour albums became the standard. And he’s at least part of the reason your favorite Soundcloud rapper has a prominent face tattoo. You get the sense he always expected to be a legend, but not necessarily a living legend. His two-year plan involves tripling his personal fortune and using his passport—his first ever—to see the world. (Already checked off the bucket list: Iceland, where Gucci documented his first dip in a hot spring on Instagram. The video of his journey—“Ya boy Guwop in a lagoon!”—went instantly viral.) “I want to go to Australia,” he says. “I want to go to Africa. I want to see the animals. I want to just ride on out. Take a safari. Just show me everything.”

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overcoat $5,770 Maison Martin Margiela coat $600 Pyer Moss shorts $13 Starter sunglasses $185 Retrosuperfuture jewelry, his own THIS PAGE

jacket $1,650 Prada tank top, stylist’s own pants $2,315 Philipp Plein

beanie $16 Neff jewelry, his own OPPOSITE PAGE

coat (price upon request) Dolce & Gabbana tank top $40 (for pack of three) Calvin Klein Underwear shorts $250 Daniel Patrick jewelry, his own grooming by heather blaine at creative management


MARK ANTHONY GREEN

M AT T M A RT I N


Leave it to the king of sex to re-invent the first thing you put on every day—and the last thing you take o≠

Tom Ford’s new underwear line comes in a range of nude hues—so you can look naked before you get naked.

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Tom Ford for your underwear supply is a bit like going to a vegan’s house for a barbecue. Underwear is a new frontier for Tom—completely. He doesn’t even wear boxers or briefs. In fact, he’s notorious for going commando. (In the fashion world, his wardrobe malfunctions and more, um, voluntary exposures are well known.) But his new “fully developed” underwear line is every bit the Tom Ford we know and love. The underwear is damn soft, but the real draw here is the look. You can pick a pair of flesh-toned skivvies or something more exotic. “Let’s say you’re going on a date,” he says. “When you take o≠ your pants, you want it to be kind of a great moment—which of course it will be when you take o≠ your underwear. But before you get to that point, why wouldn’t you want silver metallic underwear? Or zebra? Or leopard? Or something a little crazier?” ¶ That’s kind of the entire guiding ethos of Tom Ford. It’s how the sex-appeal shaman made Gucci a temple of swank and his own namesake fashion brand a powerhouse for every leading man and woman in Hollywood. Tom Ford makes the tux for the big premiere, the suit for the big meeting, etc. Sure, there are designers who make pricier clothes than Tom Ford. (Not many, though there are some!) But there’s no world as luxurious, mahogany-wood-filled, and plush to the touch T H E S E P A G E S as Tom Ford’s. His name alone is synonymous with underwear (from $60 to $350) the good life. And yet even with Ford being one of Tom Ford the most consistent fashion hitmakers for over hair by thom priano for 30 years, he’s still surprising us. Take as a start his r+co haircare. makeup by not-so-luxurious snacking. fulvia farolfi.

all, I have an incredibly meticulous diet. A plant-based diet. I mean, I eat really, really, really well, but I supplement that with at least three doughnuts a day. Really? Absolutely. I was just eating some Cheetos before this interview. But my lunch is going to be totally vegan, absolute protein. I’m very conscious of my main source of food. But you know the thing that’s like cocaine to me? Those little mini doughnuts covered in the white powder. I cannot see them without having to eat the pack immediately. It’s like, if we have them in the o∞ce, I eat every single one.

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There’s absolutely no elegant way to eat those. Or have you found a way? Oh yeah. I mean, I like to think I can do most things and look elegant. How big is your closet? I have no clothes! I wear the same suits over and over and over to the point they literally wear out, because when that’s all you do all day long—dress other people and design clothes—the last thing you want to do when you have five or three minutes is to order new clothes for yourself. So I don’t. I went to a restaurant the other day, and I was having lunch. I felt a little bit of cold on my butt. I reached around, and my pants had ripped all the way from my waist completely to the bottom of my butt.

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Yikes! And I assume that wasn’t a rare day that you wore underwear, correct? I was sitting there with my butt hanging out at a restaurant. So anyways, I need to order myself some clothes.

It’s di∞cult to celebrate any Tom Ford creation with the man himself. For starters, he’s not much of a smell-the-roses kind of guy. Moreover, by the time we get the new product in our hands, he’s o≠ working on the next big thing. When we spoke in July, he was preparing his women’s

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GQ : Do you eat junk food? TOM FO R D: I love junk food. Well, first of


What better way to celebrate the newest, sexiest part of Tom Ford’s world than with his friends, supermodels Shanina Shaik and Sean O’Pry?

collection, which was due in two weeks. He’s coy about film projects he may have in the works—Ford directed ‘A Single Man’ in 2009 and ‘Nocturnal Animals’ in 2016—but it’s not because he thinks the public isn’t ready to hear about them. It’s to keep the sta≠ of the Tom Ford fashion house from flipping their shit when they hear he’s o≠ in Tinseltown again getting all noir and sexy. His life is mania— powered by ego, purpose, and doughnuts, apparently. But how long can Tom Ford keep on Tom Ford–in’?

Are you worried that all of these collections and films will eventually put you in a creative slump? I never actually stop. It’s a sort of constant thing. So I don’t have time to be in a slump. In fact, that’s a word I think you have to have the luxury to sit around and say, “I can’t think of anything.” I never have that luxury. I’m constantly producing. So if I’m in a slump right now, I don’t know until later. Do you worry about “balance”? My biggest fear is that I work too hard,

and when Jack [Tom’s son] grows up, I’ll think, Why was I doing all that? And that I should’ve spent more time with him. But I think a lot of people who work hard have that same fear if you have kids. Richard [Ford’s partner] is going to be almost 70, and I’ll be 57 this summer, and I’m becoming very aware of time and how much time we have. My biggest fear is looking back and thinking, Did I spend that time well? ’Cause you don’t get it back. That’s it. mark anthony green is gq’s style editor.

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HE’S BEEN THE SIDEKICK-IN-CHIEF FOR LONGTIME COLLABORATORS LIKE WILL FERRELL AND PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, MOVING SEAMLESSLY FROM ONE END OF THE DRAMA-COMEDY SPECTRUM TO THE OTHER.

BUT WITH HIS OSCARWORTHY PERFORMANCE IN THIS MONTH’S WESTERN ‘THE SISTERS BROTHERS,’

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53 -year-old man since I was 18. In my face, anyway. My body has caught up now. This suits me.” Drinking tea and mauling a tomatoand-mozzarella tartine on the patio outside a Los Angeles photo studio, John C. Reilly was explaining how, growing up alongside what looks to be America’s final generation of true open-a-movie-solo stars, he’d crafted a career as Hollywood’s ultimate sidekick. And how he’d managed to find roles in films this fall and winter that let him share center stage: The Sisters Brothers, a Western; Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, his first sequel; Holmes and Watson, another Will Ferrell team-up; and Stan and Ollie, about the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. “In every one, I have a strong partnership,” he said. He’d been wondering: “Why is that? Why aren’t you just a stand-alone movie star? Why don’t you just do that? I know a lot of actors, that’s their thing. They don’t do buddy movies, or they don’t do partnerships. Why aren’t you like that?” By the time Reilly and I sat down together, he had the answers. “Number one,” he said, “things like that don’t generally come my way.” Reilly—rock-solid, mop of curly hair, brow like a bridge strut—has always understood what Hollywood will and will not give to a guy like him, but he’s also spent 30 years figuring out ways to turn looking like a 53-year-old into a basically unparalleled filmography. “I’ve finally come to embrace that: This is the way I look,” he said in his French horn of a voice. “I know I don’t look like Brad Pitt. I love Brad Pitt. I really do—he’s one of my favorites—but I’m never going to be like that guy. I’m never going to walk in that guy’s shoes. This is what I’m like, so I’m here. Some people like what I do, and there’s something freeing about that.” Reilly is given to understatement. “As you get older, this business can kind of typecast you or decide what your limits are for you. So as you get into it, and you’re not some new, fresh commodity that everyone’s

excited to re-interpret for their movie, you start to realize, Well, if I’m going to get more interesting opportunities that challenge me, I’m going to have to start generating them.” He laughed. “It’s an obvious thing that just took me a long time to figure out.” Conveniently, his figuring out the industry coincided with the industry figuring out him. “It’s like suddenly chocolate ice cream becoming wildly popular,” he said. “I’ve been here all along. I’m a standard flavor that’s been available. I’m not a new flavor. Not the flavor of the month. I’m just chocolate. And goddamn! People like me right now.”

a childhood among six siblings on Chicago’s South Side and a spell in that city’s hard-driving, ego-denying theater scene, Reilly jumped to movies—catching small parts, his facility often leading directors to rewrite and expand roles for him. A few pictures in, the Sundance Director’s Lab paired him with a young filmmaker named Paul Thomas Anderson. Reilly played the lead in Anderson’s star-crossed debut, Hard Eight, and made supporting roles iconic in Boogie Nights and Magnolia. “I was as big a fan as you can be of somebody who’d made five movies,” Anderson told me. “He didn’t look like anybody, he didn’t sound like anybody else. And that was really exciting.” They grew close, each letting the other into his career. Anderson credits Reilly with figuring out the ending to There Will Be Blood. One summer, waiting for the financing for Boogie Nights to get settled, they were bored and frustrated. Cops was relatively new back then, and they were obsessed. They’d call each another from their respective living rooms and stay on the phone while they watched. Reilly had a goatee at the time, and Anderson gave him holy hell for it, but when Reilly caved and shaved it o≠, he realized he looked like a cop. The next step was obvious: “If you’ve got nothing else to do, take a video camera and drive around,” Anderson said. Reilly explained: “He got me in an L.A.P.D. uniform from a costume friend, and we would drive around” in Anderson’s Oldsmobile. “We’d call up, like, Phil Ho≠man and say, ‘Phil, we’re coming over. Someone called the police because your music was too loud. Just go with it. You’ll see when we get there.’ ” They had fun. “On the way to Phil’s house,” Reilly said, dropping into his dim, thick cop voice, “I would be like, ‘Apparently’—and I had the Oakleys on—‘this individual thinks they can play their music however IN THE ’90S, AFTER

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loud they want. Well, I got news for them. There’s a thing called the law.’ ” They’d improvise, Anderson catching it all on tape. The footage would eventually yield Reilly’s lonely o∞cer in Magnolia, but at the time, the exercise scratched a new itch. He was improvising seriously, but it was also deeply, stupidly, peeyour-pants hilarious, Ho≠man faking a heart attack before sprinting away cursing. “It was really, really, really, really, really, really fun,” Anderson recalled. And then they made Boogie Nights, and Magnolia, Reilly quietly becoming America’s most reliable character actor. In 2002 he had parts in three of the year’s five Best Picture nominees: Gangs of New York, The Hours, and Chicago, for which he earned a bestsupporting-actor nomination. (Maybe the best measure of Reilly’s enduring legacy of versatility is that the Internet has started uno∞cially giving the “John C. Reilly Award” to the actor who appears in the most best-picture nominees in a given year.) Once he’d firmly established himself in the serious acting world of critical acclaim, something funny happened. Reilly had met Will Ferrell a few times, and then, around 2000, did a table read for Anchorman that has become the stu≠ of legend. “We were like, ‘God, that guy is so good,’ ” Ferrell told me. Reilly wanted to do the movie, but a prior commitment got in the way. “I think I was doing Gangs of New York at the time,” he said with seemingly real disappointment. (Director Adam McKay: “I said, ‘Dude, you have a Martin Scorsese movie. You don’t need to apologize to us.’ ”) So when the opportunity arose to do Talladega Nights, he jumped. And from there, the follow-up was, Reilly says, a nobrainer. Step Brothers, the tale of two 40-ish men-children living at home, cracked $100 million in the U.S. and had the added honor of prompting Roger Ebert to write, in his review of the film: “Sometimes I think I am living in a nightmare. All about me, standards are collapsing, manners are evaporating, people show no respect for themselves.” As far as Reilly is concerned, the two poles of his career—the nervy pathos of Magnolia at one end and the Talladega Nights scene where Reilly’s character imagines Jesus as wearing “a tuxedo T-shirt, ’cause it says, ‘I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party, too’ ” on the other—aren’t terribly far apart. “I’m good at being sincere when acting. I’m good at believing what I’m saying,” he explained, reducing a career of remarkable breadth to a general folksiness. “But I can’t take something and make it funny. If it’s circumstantially funny, or if in relationship to the other people around me it’s funny, I can do that.” But “that” is truly rare—it’s far easier to give a comic actor a six-pack than to find a “serious” actor with Olympicgrade improv chops.

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my one time.” Reilly laughed while he told the story; he’s an other clothes, actor, not a Method his own farter. But while he made his bones with THIS PAGE dramatic parts, the jacket David Saxby funny stu≠ opened vest, new avenues artishis own tically—and made shirt him the kind of guy Emporio Armani at whom people belhat low “Boats ‘N Hoes!” in airports. “I think it’s well known that Step Brothers is one of my favorite movies,” Phoenix said. “It’s a broad comedy and he’s functioning in that space, and yet it feels like there’s such truth to the character. It doesn’t feel like it’s just played for laughs. There’s a real history there for that character.” There’s real history to Eli, Reilly’s Sisters Brothers character, too. Reilly and Phoenix play hit-man siblings pursuing a target down the Pacific coast in the 1850s. While Phoenix’s Charlie is the bu≠oon, Eli gets the romantic scene. He wins a solo gunfight. He also makes brushing his teeth an act of comic genius. The lesson: John C. Reilly’s tongue is a world-class character actor, because of course it is. The film is based on a novel by Patrick DeWitt, a friend and former collaborator of Reilly’s; Reilly and his wife, producer Alison Dickey, optioned the rights before the book was published in 2011 and spent nearly a decade shepherding it to the screen. Reilly always saw himself playing Eli, but only if the director he and Dickey chose—French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, making his Englishlanguage debut—felt the same way. Audiard did: “I knew some of John’s work, and I felt as if I knew and loved him before truly knowing him. John as Eli was a great idea, anyway.” And Eli is perhaps the role of Reilly’s career—the first that feels big enough to contain everything Reilly does best, his overwhelming earnestness pressed in new, satisfying directions. Imagine one of his characters in an Anderson film, weary and good-hearted but now extraordinarily talented with a pistol. “He is one of the funniest people I know,” Phoenix said. “But I think we know that. We’ve seen that in films. What’s unexpected is this other part of him that I think really shines in this film, a real depth and a real sensitivity that I don’t know that we’ve seen before.” Reilly and Phoenix shared a house in rural Spain before they started filming. They’d take three-hour silent walks to build their brotherly rapport, and ride horses and shoot guns to look proficient on film. Reilly’s horse was named Pollito—Little Chicken. He and the horse grew close, too, Reilly stopping by the stables on weekends to feed Pollito apples. (continued on next page) OPENING PAGES

jacket Mister Freedom

So I’ll submit that Reilly was bullshitting me, or at least being modest. Multiple collaborators described him as riotously funny. “Only if somebody hadn’t been paying attention would they be surprised that he was somehow a comedic actor,” Anderson said. Joaquin Phoenix, Reilly’s Sisters Brothers co-star, went further: “He does have a natural ability to just make any moment very sensual. You would find him oftentimes on set just lying on the rocks in a very seductive pose, just sunning. And it was a lot. It was beautiful.”

Reilly likes to align some splinter of his own personality with his character’s. But sometimes darker methods are required. I asked him about a scene in Step Brothers—the one where Reilly’s Dale Doback, 40 and interviewing in a tux for a job at a sporting-goods store, lets o≠ a 15-second trumpet blast of a fart. “I was really cutting real farts,” he said, still a little astonished. But he wasn’t just WHENEVER POSSIBLE,

screwing around, he explained—he was paying homage to John Malkovich. Malkovich was the king of the Chicago theater scene right when Reilly was breaking in, and during a production of Curse of the Starving Class, Reilly explained, “the legend was Malkovich peed on stage in front of the audience every night. All of us in my friend group were actors at the time. We’re like, Oh, my God, how did he do it? Malkovich is so Method, oh, my God.” So when it came time to make Step Brothers, Reilly channeled Malkovich. “Ask Will—I did it a number of times and in a number of scenes,” Reilly said. “But in that one”— the interview scene—“it was not that long, of course. But I was like, Boom, there. I did it. Put that on my SAG card.” Ferrell more or less confirmed it: “I think that became a thing where we would really try to, in the middle of the scene, if you happened to have gas, just let it go and try to mess with the other guy and stay in the scene. John is an expert at it. He was [farting] probably five times to

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All of it, Reilly explained, got him in a ponderous mood. “There’s this beautiful thing that happened where, somewhere in ancient history, a horse decided, I’m going to allow you to ride me,” he said. “I’m going to allow you to tie me to this wagon so you can move these things.” Reilly was struck by the beauty of this sentiment. “Without that decision, and without that cooperation from that animal, we would have nothing that you can see here. Nothing. We would be fucking running around with bones and furs on our back. Really! Think about it! That relationship is the foundation of civilization. There’s no other animal that’s that cooperative and that’s strong enough to do the things we need horses to do.” Cooperative and strong, willing to submit ego to the good of a greater project: You could find hackier metaphors for Reilly and his own career. A year after spending every day with Pollito, Reilly was still marveling about his friend: “Damn, I’m telling you, man. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent much time with horses. But they’re miraculous creatures!”

basically omnipresent at the movies for almost 30 years, but thinks of himself as lazy. And when he’s not working—well, he’d rather not talk about that. He says he doesn’t want to give audiences any conflicting signals. “They don’t know too much what I really think, so they’re willing to accept what I do,” he said. Sure, he likes to roller-skate once a week, ripping o≠ the names of his favorite rinks in the greater Los Angeles area. But even that quirky hobby is connected to preserving his privacy. “One of the reasons I really love rollerskating is because you can be a real social butterfly,” he explained the next day. We were sitting by the pool at an unusually gilded hotel far from Hollywood. The temperature hovered in the high 70s; Reilly wore his preferred Lonesome Dove Takes Hollywood outfit—threepiece chambray denim suit, cherry red cowboy boots, wide-brimmed tan felt hat, and pocket watch on a chain—and lingered over a bowl of New England clam chowder. Skating, he said, was a way to be out in public without dropping the curtain he likes to keep raised: “You can be in contact with someone, and if you just decide you don’t want to be anymore, you just skate a little faster.” It’s disappointing, almost: An actor responsible for some of the strangest, funniest, most crushing performances of the past 30 years is a mellow, sensible, serious man, albeit with a taste for roller-skating. An actor! R E I L LY H A S B E E N

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Lucky for us, then, that John C. Reilly also collects clown paintings. He knows it’s strange, but he thought he might become one, once—his church group trained kids in the art, sent them out to nursing homes and mall openings. And while he traded in clowning for drama class, he retained a love for the art. “It sounds absurd to say,” he admitted, “but I really am a clown. A lot of actors are. Tragicomic. We’re there as a kind of vessel for you to feel something.” And after his wife gave him an amateur painting of a clown for a birthday in the ’90s, something clicked. “I’m sure she rues the day she gave me that,” he said. He started haunting vintage shops. He’s since moved on to eBay, and now he’s got more than a hundred. Reilly has specific tastes in amateur clown paintings—he likes ones made pre-1970, before, he says, acrylic paints became popular and “colors started to get really ugly.” And, anyway, there was a weird boom in clown-painting instruction in the ’50s and ’60s, he said, so that’s the period all the good ones come from. Reilly is generally warm, but when we started talking about clowns, he lit up: “Here’s what you get from an amateur clown painting, okay? You get, first of all, a folk expression of art, which is from a nonprofessional point of view. Someone who’s just putting their heart into it. It might not be the most technically proficient thing, but they’re trying to paint. The second thing you get is the graphic design of a clown.” Clowns, Reilly explained, can spend years finding and developing their characters, a sort of spiritual quest. “Finding your character and what your face is going to be is this deeply intimate thing,” he said, “so there’s the expression that this folk artist made—I want to paint a clown—and then there’s the picture of the actual clown.” He wasn’t done. “And then there’s this other thing behind that, which is if the painting is done well enough, you see the person behind that. So there’s these three levels of expression that are really moving. “They are not allowed to hang in the house,” he explained, “so I have to keep all my clown paintings in my o∞ce. All the walls are covered in clown paintings. I also use my o∞ce as our guest room, so depending on how you feel about clowns, you stay for a short stay, or… “Clowns get such a bad rap now,” he said, right before he wrapped up what had become a graduate-level seminar on amateur clown paintings. “At some point, someone decided that clowns were scary, or could be scary. They’ve been so abused in popular culture.” He knew it was odd, going on about this, but it was so much the thing he preferred to talk about. “It sounds funny—and it is funny, to a certain extent—to stick up for clowns.” Ah. Yes. To a certain extent. As in: It’s not that hilarious to stick up for clowns. For Reilly, clowning is basically acting, only purer—it’s about becoming a vehicle for joy, and for tears, without having to worry about getting recognized at the airport. Clowning is a sacred act, and John C. Reilly is a clown. Nothing funny about it.

sam schube is gq’s deputy style editor.

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cinnamon, star anise, and other spices and covered in Vietnamese herbs is something like a pho minus the broth. Turkey-neck yakamein is a direct hat tip to New Orleans’s own Creole-Asian noodle soup. Is there something slightly absurd about lumping all of these traditions together? There is. Though it should be pointed out that Shepherd did the same with western cuisines at One Fifth, with the theme “Romance Languages,” presumed to encompass French, Spanish, and Italian. Does it always work? It does not. Is it usually delicious? Very. I found myself wrapping bits of Mexican al pastor in the lettuce leaf from Thai pork larb and dragging it through the dank, buttery garlic sauce from Shepherd’s ri≠ on Vietnamese crawfish, which have become synonymous with the deliciousness dividend of cross-cultural pollination. I thought of it as my own edible version of Gulf Coast Soul.

a city cool is tricky business. Cool how? Cool for who? Cool isn’t the same as hipster, and it’s certainly not the same as gentrified, though both seem to fix to it like remoras to a shark. And Houston didn’t suddenly become cool just because outsiders started to take notice. It was cool way back when Archie Bell and the Drells name-checked it while teaching America the “Tighten Up,” cool when Montrose was perhaps the most bohemian and LGBT-friendly neighborhood in the whole South. OF COURSE, CALLING

“Everybody who got famous here did it working outside the system,” Bun B said. “If they had a buzz, they were the ones who created that buzz.” It was cool, certainly, when a brand of slowed-down hip-hop emerged from the streets in the early 1990s. Nobody is better evidence of that enduring cool than Bun B. As one half of UGK, he had helped translate that sound, pioneered by the legendary mixtape-maker DJ Screw in imitation of the dreamy, slurry rhythms of codeine syrup, into the sound of Houston rap. Since the death of his partner, Pimp C, in 2007, Bun B, has emerged as one of the city’s most visible boosters, mingling equally with politicians, millionaires, and younger hip-hop acts. He also still performs and, with his wife,


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produces an exceptionally funny YouTube series of cooking videos called “Trill Meals.” “I think Bun could be elected mayor,” I was told by Shepherd, who once had him collaborate on a comic-book version of tasting notes for the wine list at Underbelly. I met Bun B at his barber, on the southwest side of the city. It had been a typical Houston arrival in that I was convinced, pulling up to what seemed like an abandoned office complex, that my GPS had failed. Eventually I noticed a tiny barber-pole sign on one entrance. Inside, the rapper, who was born Bernard Freeman, was being tended to by Nicholas Howard, selfstyled Barber to the Stars, a title bolstered by photos of athlete and rapper clients covering the wall behind his shop’s single chair. Bun B shrugged when I repeated Shepherd’s comment, sending the faintest ripple of alarm across the face of Howard, who happened to be holding a razor millimeters from Bun B’s nose. “That might be overstating it, but I’ll take it, I guess,” Bun B said. “I try to represent the city with pride.” Howard recovered and proceeded cutting his client’s beard in a line as straight as a West Texas road. As Bun B told it, the rise of Houston rap was another example of the city’s frontier ethos. “Everybody who got famous here did it working outside the system,” he said. “It was a lot of hand-to-hand: going out, meeting people, making connections. If they had a buzz, they were the ones who created that buzz.” The success of UGK, Geto Boys, and others drove the mainstream record business crazy, he said: “New York likes to lay claim to everything, and this was something they couldn’t lay claim to.” Perhaps as a sign of middle age and new civic responsibility, he now downplays the role of syrup in creating the Houston sound: “It was just a reflection of the vibe. Very laid-back.” Another thing we tend to mean when we say a place has gotten cool is “cool for white people.” The sheer size and centerlessness of Houston has spared it some of the gentrification debates that roil other cities, but it is hardly immune. Close to downtown, the Third Ward, a traditionally African-American neighborhood that’s recently seen a glut of highpriced construction, has become a particular battleground and inspired a pushback. “White communities have their co≠ee shops and their bars and that kind of thing. Black communities are starting more and more to invest in themselves,” Bun B said. “It’s a conscious e≠ort to bring black businesses into black neighborhoods. It’s just part of our DIY nature.” Black Restaurant Week started in Houston in 2016 and has since spread to five other cities. The restaurant Kitchen 713 has been one participant in the promotion, serving “Global Soul” food from its location near Rice University. Another is Turkey Leg Hut, a wildly successful late-night restaurant owned by the couple Lynn and Kia Price. Music was already pounding at noon, when I sat at the bar. Behind it hangs a yellow neon sign: when life gives you lemonade, add hennessy. That apparently goes equally for when life gives you turkey legs. The Hut’s signature item is a tomahawk-size leg, smoked until ruby red and ready to fall apart at the slightest touch; one version comes lacquered

with a sweet, slightly spicy Hennessy glaze. (There is also a Cîroc Mango Habanero version that I felt would be too performatively woke to order.) The legs are also available stu≠ed with shrimp Alfredo or crawfish mac and cheese. If that sounds vulgar, consider that it is reminiscent of nothing so much as the signature dish of Montreal chef Martin Picard, who stu≠s a slow-cooked pig’s trotter with foie gras at his restaurant Au Pied de Cochon and in return receives endless accolades, not to mention 60 Canadian dollars.

in di≠erent guises: Sometimes it looks like a pickup truck barreling up I-45 at night, bouncing behind it the blackened tube of a smoker at full burn, smoke billowing down the road like steam from a locomotive. This is the Bookity Bookity Boudain Man, king of Houston’s pirate barbecuers, whose destination is a Walmart parking lot somewhere north of the Loop, I-610, south of the beltway, TX-8. I am being vague because, as Bookity tells me, he’s “down with the underground economy,” a position that somehow doesn’t preclude taking credit cards or having a Facebook page but that has a well-established history in Houston. “We have a long tradition of ‘shade tree’ barbecue,” said J. C. Reid, who co-founded and runs the Houston BBQ Festival and writes a barbecue column for the Chronicle. “Somebody just sets up under a tree and starts cooking. It’s old wildcatter culture.” Bookity wears a chef ’s toque and a T-shirt covered in hundred-dollar bills and the word hustle. He lost his left foot to diabetes last year, so he’s in a wheelchair, and while a younger employee works the smoker, he works the crowd. A steady stream of cars and SUVs, driven by whites, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, head o≠ into the night with fat, ricey links of boudin sausage; slabs of ribs; pork-shoulder steaks pulled, sizzling, o≠ of the smoker’s burn box; and dripping, moist links of deer sausage made from deer that a couple of police-officer customers who are also hunters bring him. “That’s wild meat,” he said. “Not everybody can stand the wild.” Sometimes the frontier looks like The Orange Show, an extraordinary artifact of outsider art in the East End, built over the course of several decades by an eccentric postal carrier named Je≠ McKissack. McKissack was obsessed with the healthful properties of oranges and constructed a riotous, colorful shrine filled with twirling weather vanes, welded birds, fluttering Texas flags, and cryptic mosaic proclamations from Confucius, Aesop, and others. McKissack reportedly felt a keen sense of competition with another monument to human insanity and hubris going up across town: the Houston Astrodome. It pleases me on his behalf to note that the Dome closed its doors over a decade ago while The Orange Show is still open for visitors, administered by a foundation that also oversees a collection of mosaics just down the street named Smither Park, and the annual Houston Art Car Parade. “There’s a wonderful quirkiness that has a home in Houston,” said Rebecca Rabinow, the director of the Menil Collection. Named for John and Dominique de Menil, visionary THE FRONTIER COMES

activists and collectors who moved to Houston from France during World War II, the Menil is one of the world’s great museum-going experiences: Its campus of bungalows and galleries seems to grow organically out of the surrounding Montrose area. Its main lawn has become a kind of public square for picnickers, yoga groups, hippies doing circus tricks, and those just napping under the live oaks. It is also the anchor of a museum district rich with the benefits of the kind of institutional philanthropic art funding that comes with periodic oil booms. The Houston Center for Photography is nearby, as is the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Museum of Fine Art, and, most indispensably, Rothko Chapel, the artist’s last commission and a place (to

“There’s a sense of percolation in the arts that’s very palpable,” Rabinow said. “You have a creative class that can a≠ord to be here and an innate sense of confidence that you can try anything.” me, at least; part of its power is that it means di≠erent things to di≠erent people) of simultaneous melancholy and soothing. Rabinow took me on a tour of the museum’s newest building, the Menil Drawing Institute, proof that sometimes the frontier can come in the guise of the old-fashioned institutional high culture as well. The $40 million building, by the firm Johnston Marklee, is stark white, with overhangs that echo Renzo Piano’s main Menil Building as they extend out into the surrounding area and crisp, folding angles that bring to mind the works on paper it is built to celebrate. We walked through bright, empty galleries, archives, and research rooms as workmen moved past us, attending to finishing touches. Given the fragile nature of paper, the building would be brought to optimal temperature and humidity for six weeks before any art was introduced. That was not the only consideration being made for climate: At key doorways, Rabinow pointed out, there were riveted cuts in the floor, like those on the deck of a boat. These were dams, programmed to automatically rise if water ever breached the already formidable network of pumps and bulwarks designed to protect the collection against the intrusion of weather. Harvey had been an unexpected test, and the dams had not even been called into use. Rabinow spent nearly 30 years as a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before returning to Houston, where she’d spent her high school years. “I came for the Menil, but Houston has been the real surprise,” she said. “There’s a sense of percolation in the arts that’s very palpable. You have a creative class that can a≠ord to be here and an innate sense of confidence that you can try anything. It might work, it might not, but people are going to show up.” These qualities—community and a≠ordability—shouldn’t be underestimated. They’re

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part of what allowed someone like Chris Wise to stay in the city. Wise, 31, is the talent booker for the Day for Night music-and-arts festival (which was headlined last year by Nine Inch Nails and took place in a converted post office), a part-time bartender, and the bassist for the neo-Americana band Buxton. He grew up in La Porte, a town 30 minutes east of Houston dominated by petrochemical plants that nearly every high schooler was expected to go work for after graduation. As a kid more interested in film, musical theater, and art, Wise had other plans, but unlike those of pre-

If there’s anything left in the exposed wreckage of tech utopianism, this is it: The damn phones really do help people find one another. vious generations, that didn’t automatically mean heading east or west. “New York or L.A. never really occurred to me,” he said. Instead, he set up in Houston, where energy may rule the roost (nearly every person I met could quote the current price for a barrel of crude oil o≠ the top of their head), but there’s still room for a young man to pursue talent booking/bass playing/bartending while living with two dogs in a one-bedroom apartment near downtown for $600 a month. Handsome and slender, with a sweep of hair in something approaching a pompadour, Wise appears to know literally every person in town, a condition that grew so comically ostentatious during an evening bar crawl that he felt the need to embarrassedly assure me that he hadn’t set up any of our encounters. Echoing many others I’d met, he said that technology has helped Houston’s scene cohere. Until recently, it was simply hard to navigate the far-flung corners of the city, much less gather a crowd. “There was always great food, but it was 30 miles away,” he said. “There were people who wanted to come see shows, but they didn’t want to drive.” Now social networks have brought people of similar interests together; Google Maps help them find places to meet; ride shares let them stay out later getting drunk and then home safe. If there’s anything left in the exposed wreckage of tech utopianism, this is it: The damn phones really do help people find one another.

the frontier looks like Hipster Brigadoon, as in the sprawling compound of a bar in midtown called Axelrad Beer Garden. In the center of the outdoor space is a large tree covered in neon. Around that totem, when Wise and I visited, was arrayed an entire souk: There was an Airstream outfitted with beer taps. Massage tables. Shelves filled with board games. Someone was selling churros from a folding table. At another, a South Asian man o≠ered biryanis. Couples wound their way through, carrying steaming boxes from the adjacent pizzeria. Along one long side, there was a grove of hammocks hanging from steel racks and swaying in the summer breeze, each as heavy as a seed pod A N D, Y ES, S O M E T I M ES

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with a young, beautiful body, sometimes two; if you ever find yourself asking “Where did all these hipsters come from?” look to the fertile Hammock Fields of East Texas. Axelrad’s owner, Adam Brackman, cut his teeth helping out and providing a venue for displaced New Orleans musicians after Hurricane Katrina. The NOLA trumpeter Kermit Ruffins is an Axelrad investor and plays regular gigs there. (Some 250,000 New Orleanians spent time in Houston after that storm; an estimated 40,000 stayed for good—a small population bump but one that can’t have had anything but a happy e≠ect on Houston’s taste for eating, drinking, and going out.) It was open-mic night, and on a large stage near the neon tree, a bearded guy with a guitar sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” while surf videos played on the wall behind him. He was followed by a young black duo. He, with dreads creeping out from under a bucket hat, started rapping in a kind of mumble while she crooned Fill me up / Fill me up / You’ve got to fill me up in a way that made it clear she didn’t mean with gratitude. The performance threatened to wander o≠ course until the “Ain’t No Sunshine” guy reappeared, strumming, behind them, and suddenly it all came together. It was hard not to think of the Su≠ers’ “Gulf Coast Soul” and of Kam Franklin, the band’s mighty-voiced lead singer. Raised in Houston, Franklin got her first gigs by inventing agents and managers: fake old white guys with fake e-mail accounts. “I used ‘Mike’ a lot. Mike seems like a trusty guy but also tough,” she said. In those days, Franklin could easily have borrowed the Bookity Bookity Boudain Man’s hustle T-shirt: Wednesdays and Thursdays, she sang at open mics at R&B clubs on Almeda Road or Emancipation Avenue, joints where you needed to crush covers of Erykah Badu or Chaka Khan or Beyoncé 50 or 60 times with the house band before anybody even thought of asking about original material. “Late Tuesdays, I’d go sing with a country band I used to mess around with,” she said. “Saturdays, I’d go hang with the punk and ska kids. And the rest of the week it would be studio gigs with rappers, if I could get them.” On the road, people still express disbelief that the band is from Houston. “We get, ‘Are y’all from Austin? Are y’all from New Orleans?’ I’m like, ‘No, we’re from H-Town, Texas. Where we’re going to stay.’ ” The Su≠ers’ new album, Everything Here, leads o≠ with a song called “Intro (A Headnod to Houston).” It features Paul Wall rapping over a background of voices singing: It might not be that pretty / But it looks real good to me / It might not be your favorite city / But it’s really got a hold on me. Maybe it’s that sense of defiance that ultimately defines Houston’s cool—the sense that a city where cool isn’t the primary commodity can a≠ord to lie back and let the world come to it, whenever the world catches on. As Matthew Odam’s passenger put it, before closing the car door and taking o≠ toward the Menil’s lawn and into legend: “Houston is cool because Houston doesn’t give a fuck about being cool.”

brett martin is a gq correspondent.

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which took place in May, on Lidingö, a small island in the inner Stockholm archipelago. A hundred spermatologists in one place: You’d think (incorrectly) that the jokes would be good. Skakkebæk had told me I’d be able to find some dissenters to the conclusions of Swan’s meta-analysis there, but what I witnessed instead was the final vanquishing of the few remaining doubters. At the welcome dinner (reindeer and rooster), I met Hagai Levine, the Israeli co-author of the Hebrew University/Mount Sinai meta-analysis. Levine, who is 40, told me we had reasons to worry. “I’m saying that we should hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said. “And that is the possibility that we will become extinct. That’s a possibility we must seriously consider. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. I’m not saying it’s likely to happen. I’m not saying that’s the prediction. I’m just saying we should be prepared for such a possibility. That’s all. And we are not.” His session the next morning—“Are Spermatozoa at the Verge of Extinction?”— would be the defining event of the conference: It cast a shadow over all the other talks. At a panel discussion that followed his presentation, Levine continued his argument for addressing the causes of the crisis, saying, “My default, if I don’t know, is that it is up to the manufacturers of chemicals to prove that their chemicals are safe. But I don’t feel like I need any more evidence to take action with chemicals already known to disrupt the endocrine system.”

We can glimpse what our low-sperm-count future might look like. It will be arduous to conceive, and expensive—so expensive that having children may no longer be an option available to all couples. The organizer of the symposium, Lars Björndahl, a Swedish spermatologist who had presented earlier in the morning, urged caution. “I have great respect for epidemiological studies, but we should remember that mathematical correlations don’t prove that there is a causative relation,” he said. Questions from the audience—often taking the form of statements—were much along the same lines: Be careful of a bias toward


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the assumption that all these things are connected. Levine nodded with only a hint of chagrin, like a patient professor waiting hopefully for his students to catch up. David Mortimer, who runs a company that designs and establishes assisted-conception laboratories, was one of the only members of the audience willing to question Levine’s study itself. He pointed out that methods for measuring sperm had changed dramatically over the time period of the study and that the old studies were profoundly unreliable. Levine was ready with an answer. “So that’s one of the reasons we also conducted a sensitivity analysis,” he said from the stage, “with studies with sample collection only after 1995—and the slope was even steeper. So that could not explain the decline we see after 1995.” “I’ve never said there was no decline in sperm counts,” Mortimer said, a bit defensively. Levine, who had been so gracious and engaged with his critics, began to look a little tired. He rallied, though, when the group agreed to put out a joint statement about the crisis. The chairs of the symposium called on the world to acknowledge that male reproductive health was essential for the survival of the species, that its decline was alarming and should be studied, and that at present it was being neglected in funding and attention. Mortimer came around and ended up signing the statement. When I caught up with him later, he wasn’t nearly as dismissive of the study’s conclusions as I expected. He agreed there was little question that sperm counts were dropping, and he even embraced some of the direst predictions of scientists like Levine. “The epigenetics are the scary bit,” he told me, “because what we’re doing now a≠ects the future of the human race.” When even the skeptics are scared, it’s probably time to pay attention.

Over the past 20 years, there have been occasional attempts to limit the number of endocrine disruptors in circulation, but inevitably the fixes are insubstantial: one chemical removed in favor of another, which eventually turns out to have its own dangers. That was the case with BPA, which was partly replaced by Bisphenol S, which might be even worse for you. The chemical industry, unsurprisingly, has been resistant to the notion that the billions of dollars of revenue these products represent might also represent terrible damage to the human body, and have often followed the model of Big Tobacco and Big Oil—fighting regulation with lobbyists and funding their own studies that suggest their products are harmless. The website for the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association, has a page dedicated to phthalates that mostly consists of calling Shanna Swan’s research “controversial” and asserting that her “use of methodologies that have not been validated and unconventional data analysis have been criticized by the scientific community.” (Cited critics of Swan include Elizabeth Whelan, now deceased, CAN ANY THING BE DONE?

an epidemiologist famous for fighting the regulation of chemicals from her position as president of the American Council on Science and Health, which has received funding from Chevron, DuPont, and other companies in the plastic business.) Assuming that we’re unable to wean ourselves o≠ plastics and other marvels of modern science, we may be stuck innovating our way out of this mess. How long we’re able to outrun the drop in sperm count may depend, finally, on how good we get at IVF and other fertility treatments. When I spoke with Marc Goldstein, a urologist and surgeon at Weill Cornell medical center in New York City, he said that while there was “no question I’ve seen a big increase in men with male-factor infertility,” he wasn’t worried for the future of the species. Assisted reproduction would keep the babies coming, no matter how sickly men’s sperm become. It’s true that fertility treatments have already given men with extremely low sperm counts the chance to be fathers. Indeed, by looking at their cases, we can glimpse what our low-sperm-count future might look like. We know that it will be arduous to conceive, and expensive—so expensive that having children may no longer be an option available to all couples. A fertility-treatment-dependent future is also unlikely to produce a birth rate anywhere near current levels. Not long ago, I spoke with Chris Wohl, a research materials/surface engineer at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, who spent six years trying to conceive a child. Both he and his wife had fertility problems: Wohl’s sperm count was under 2 million per milliliter—the average count we’d expect to reach, at the current rate, by 2034. “We started in the normal way of trying to have kids,” he said, “and after a few years, we said, ‘Okay, let’s talk to some folks.’ ” They went through several rounds of intrauterine insemination. “And then after that sixth time, we said, ‘This isn’t working. We need to kind of up our technology game.’ So we went to a reproductive endocrinologist and went through several rounds of IVF. And then when that failed, we were going to look into adoption. That’s when somebody came forward and said that they would be a surrogate for us.” Finally, with the surrogate, the process worked. He and his wife now have a healthy, strongwilled 4-year-old girl. So perhaps that’s the solution: As long as we hover somewhere above Sperm Count Zero, and with an assist from modern medicine, we have a shot. Men will continue to be essential to the survival of the species. The problem with innovation, though, is that it never stops. A new technology known as IVG—in vitro gametogenesis—is showing early promise at turning embryonic stem cells into sperm. In 2016, Japanese scientists created baby mice by fertilizing normal mouse eggs with sperm created via IVG. The stem cells in question were taken from female mice. There was no need for any males.

daniel noah halpern wrote about the Singularity in the November 2014 issue.

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Hemsworth’s clinical contentment seems to have started when he and his wife moved near the easternmost edge of Australia—to Byron Bay, a gorgeous beach town perched on steep cli≠s that plunge straight into the ocean. In 2014, burned out from the increasing hassle of paparazzi in Los Angeles, they went in search of quiet. They visited Australia, and Pataky, who is from Spain, wasn’t initially impressed, Hemsworth says. “Both trips we did, it was like pouring rain. And she was like, ‘I don’t know what the big fuss is,’ ” he recalls. “Then I said,

“I really do feel a sense of ease for the first time in years,” Hemsworth says. “I don’t mean that as an assessment of my achievements. I just mean I’m content with what’s going on.” ‘Let’s do a trip up to Byron Bay,’ and we get o≠ the plane and it’s raining. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m not selling it.’ And she instantly went, ‘No, there’s something di≠erent about this place. It is a very special place.’ She went, ‘This could be it. It could be the best decision we’ve made.’ ” The charm of Hemsworth’s life by the sea can be glimpsed on Instagram. That publicist who once told him to be cryptic and withholding about his personal life might be surprised by how the world has changed. “The socialmedia side of it is just trying to work out: How do you keep up with the times?” Hemsworth explains. “You see that Sylvester Stallone has an Instagram account, and you kind of go, ‘This is the world we’re in.’ ” When Hemsworth shares shots of his kids, his 20 million followers go especially crazy. “In the few and rare times that he does, it’s genuine,” Waititi observes. He’s not curating anything; he’s just proud: “It’s ‘Here’s this amazing moment when my daughter was surfing!’ ” Waititi says with a laugh. Still, Hemsworth and Pataky are both careful not to show their children’s faces in photos. He bristles at any suggestion that he is somehow “selling” his life by sharing sweet tidings from his family. “The exploitation is something I’m very wary of,” Hemsworth says. “We’ve been o≠ered things, like ‘Advertise such-and-such and have dinner with your family.’ There’s no way.” Even on a relatively remote bay in Australia, the threats of fame can crop up.

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Recently, Hemsworth was out with his son when he spotted some paparazzi. He tried to ignore them, but then one of his sons took o≠ his bathing suit. “He’s naked, and I look over, and they’re still shooting,” Hemsworth says. “I ran over, and they knew. I just very pointedly and definitely said, ‘Don’t you dare.’ I was close to destroying the camera.”

before us, wondering whether Hemsworth would like a glass of wine with his steak. Moments earlier we had admitted to each other our mutual illiteracy on the topic of wine. That sort of shared ignorance can feel comforting and egalitarian—nobody wants to look like a fool in front of the sommelier. Before the guy arrived, I had joked that the word I use when I’m trying to sound knowledgeable about wine is “nostalgic”—a seemingly vague descriptor for a red wine with long legs and strong notes of bullshit. Hemsworth volunteered that his enological safe word is “jammy.” “We should go on a wine tour!” he’d suggested, looking out the window as though he might spot a vineyard peeking from behind Parliament. “Do you have a Cabernet?” Hemsworth asks the sommelier. “I do have some Cabs,” he says. “Something oaky? Something perfumy?” “Something”—Hemsworth pauses, and I know what’s coming because he shoots me the same challenging look a cat gives you before batting your water glass o≠ the table—“nostalgic.” The sommelier nods once and zips away, presumably to consult whatever tome allows a sommelier to describe a wine as “reticent” with confidence. Hemsworth cackles. The sommelier quickly returns with a glass of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape. “It smells of co≠ee. Chocolate. Roast buns,” he tells Hemsworth, who reaches for his glass and gives it a sip. “That’s nostalgic for me,” he replies. “You know what I’d describe it as? Jammy.” He brings the glass to his lips again. “Someone told me that you’ve got to just sip it and say literally what comes to mind,” he says. “I think it’s a smoky, musty…forest?” “You do like your wines,” the sommelier says with detectable snark. “If we’re going to hire, I’ll let you know.” For now, of course, Hemsworth’s all set career-wise. He’s all set on plenty of fronts, to be honest. “I really do feel a sense of ease for the first time in years. I don’t mean that as an assessment of my achievements. I just mean I’m content with what’s going on and relaxed and open about it,” he says. Gone are those old uncertainties—the occasional feeling that he was a passive player in his own career. Gone, too, are the old assumptions about what it might take for him to thrive. “I came into Hollywood thinking I had to be Russell Crowe. I loved his performances, and because of my physicality and my size, that was the obvious choice. I think I was aware that it could kind of get me in the door,” Hemsworth says. “But it wasn’t me.”

a relative of Yulia’s back home, a cousin, had given interviews to the Russian and British media, pointing out she’d been denied a UK visa to visit her relatives and making a disarming suggestion that echoed right back through the years. What if all that ailed Sergei and Yulia was a bad meal—food poisoning? From London the Russian embassy pushed for consular access to the Skripals, a request that would later be repeated by Vladimir Putin himself. In a brief statement, Yulia politely, very carefully, declined.

A SOMMELIER STANDS

lauren larson is a gq associate editor.

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Midsummer, a 45-year-old British man named Charlie Rowley found what appeared to be an unopened box of perfume and brought it home. A few days later, he gave the perfume to his partner, Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three who was staying in a homeless shelter in town. Sturgess sprayed her wrists with some of the bottle’s contents, which came out “oily,” Rowley recalled afterward, and did not smell like perfume. He quickly washed his hands. Sturgess had to lie down. Rowley was later found frothing at the mouth, and the couple were taken to the same hospital as the Skripals. Samples sent to Porton Down confirmed it was a novichok—the scavenged bottle, it seems, may have been a vessel for the poison carried by attackers back in March. Guards returned to the ward; more cordons went up. After a week, Sturgess died in the hospital. Rowley recovered and was discharged back out into Salisbury, where locals were being warned, firmly now, not to pick up anything they hadn’t themselves put down. As a backdrop to all this, a vigorous information war had broken out between London and Moscow, and their row was coming to represent something larger and more sinister, too—a feud between the Russian Federation and the NATO-anchored West. In April, when the Assad regime bombed a rebel-held Syrian city with what were widely accepted to be chemical weapons, Russia stood by Assad. Afterward, in speeches making the case for Western retaliation, Teresa May directly and repeatedly invoked the Skripals—as if Yulia and her father, who last they knew were out for pizza, were now endorsing air strikes. In the hospital, Yulia’s health improved, delighting those who treated her and—they would admit—perplexing them. “To see the recovery happen and at such a pace,” one of Yulia’s clinicians later told the BBC, “that I can’t easily explain.” The details of the Skripals’ medical treatment remain confidential, though one source told me there was a member of sta≠ at Salisbury District Hospital who also worked at Porton Down, which helped doctors identify the symptoms of nerve-agent exposure relatively quickly. Anxious about overwhelming her, Yulia’s doctors were not sure how much to tell her about what was happening outside the hospital walls. Her recovery, her headlong progress toward discharge, only made the diplomatic situation knottier. Here was a Russian citizen, in a British hospital, under the protection of British police. If there were plans afoot to secretly re-settle the Skripals upon their release from the hospital, the Russian embassy stated, this would be seen “as an abduction.” Meanwhile

6. “Some Analytical Work” knew the world of Kremlin intrigue—and what happened when you found yourself on the wrong side of it—as well as Valery Morozov, a Russian businessman in his 60s now living in the London commuter town of Guildford, where he keeps up a colorful blog about Russian politics. Morozov and his wife, Irina, were now in their sixth year of restless exile in the UK, Valery having once risen fast and high in construction back in Moscow before he made “too many enemies” and had to flee. It was from reading Morozov’s blog posts after the attack that I’d learned of a chance encounter he’d had a few months before—with Sergei Skripal. They had run into each other in December, Morozov recalled when I met him at his home. Both of them were waiting for trains out of London, and they’d stopped in at a grocery store, not far from Waterloo Station, that specializes in delicacies imported from Russia. Shrink-wrapped sausages the width of biceps. Colorful roe in jars. A certain kind of chocolate made from “bird’s milk.” By which was meant (the store owner snickered when recounting this to me later) bird shit. Morozov was stocking up on this chocolate when he found Skripal in the shop, a pinkfaced deda, or grandfather, with a telltale gait. “He looked like military intelligence,” Morozov said. “You behave in a certain way, your posture.” Irina was there in the shop that day, too, and the three exiles fell into conversation, discussing family, cats, the best jarred herring on the surrounding shelves—and also work. Valery had his blog, rich and gossipy and stoked by old contacts back home who kept him v teme—in-the-know—about Kremlin intrigue. Irina took jobs as an interior designer. Skripal (the couple recalled) said something that day about his own line of employment that would only later seem significant. I spent hours in the company of Valery Morozov this April, when the reverberations from Skripal’s poisoning were wildest. I found his bracing, fiercely un-Western way of looking at the world a useful counterweight to all the easy anti-Russian rhetoric in the daily press. Despite his exile, he remained a Kremlin nostalgist to his core; he’d drunk vodka, once, with Vladimir Putin. When I asked him the same questions I asked everybody about the Skripal hit—why? and why now?—Morozov was withering about certain British assumptions. Whenever the poisoning was described as being ordered by Putin, he said, it showed an awful naivety. “Everyone thinks that Putin controls everything. No! He’s controlling only what he controls.” To the Russian mind, the FEW OUTSIDE MOSCOW


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Western impulse to have everything be distinctly this or that—if not the truth, a lie—read as idiotically simplistic. He flung up his hands in frustration when I asked, the Skripal hit in mind, how one might draw the Kremlin’s permission structure. A triangle, I asked, with Putin at the top? Morozov was appalled. “A triangle!” He searched for a less facile description, something that would properly conjure the mass of interconnecting interests: the politicians, mafia, businesspeople, generals, spies, all cross-assisting or at cross-purposes. “It’s not a triangle. It’s the Internet.” He told me he believed that Skripal had been punished for interfering, maybe inadvertently, in the financial interests of a self-contained criminal group. Morozov speculated that Skripal had passed the wrong intel to the wrong people, probably during the course of “his analytical work for some intelligence companies, if I understood what he was saying...” I asked Morozov to repeat this. Yes, during their December encounter in the shop, Morozov said, Skripal claimed to be doing consulting work in “cyber-security, intelligence, some analytical work.” This was a surprise. It made me recall a conversation I’d had with a Salisbury taxi driver, Mehmet Beykanoglu, who said that over a period of about seven years, he’d taken Skripal home from the train station to Christie Miller Road “maybe 40, 50 times”—so often that Beykanoglu knew his address by heart. Beykanoglu’s cab queued with others at the station, taking random fares, which suggested a much larger number of such journeys undertaken by Skripal over the same period. Beykanoglu believed his fare, wearing a suit on most occasions, was returning from employment in London: “I asked, once, and he said he worked for the government. I wish I’d asked which government.” Perhaps Skripal was a why in his own assassination attempt after all. A well-informed source told me that Skripal had given at least one lecture at a British military institution, in which he discussed his GRU background. Had he been trading on his knowledge and his past in other quarters, too? The owner of the Waterloo shop, Mohsen Najim, said Skripal would sometimes drop by after traveling abroad. “He said, ‘Oh, I’m working for a company; they send me everywhere. They need my experience.’ ” In May, responding to reports that Skripal had traveled to the Czech Republic to help instruct intelligence agents there, the Czech foreign minister, choosing his words, said such a visit would certainly

have been useful—“logical.” When I consulted Robert Hannigan about all this, he said it didn’t sound so unusual. Once spies re-settle, “they’re free individuals. They can do what they want. And bear the risks, too.” Boris Volodarsky told me if Skripal had plugged himself into Western intelligence networks, that would have made him a conspicuous point of contact for anybody wavering within the Russian system. Volodarsky recounted that when Alexander Litvinenko first hoped to contact MI6, he sought an introduction through Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB double agent living in the UK. And once Litvinenko was on MI6’s books, a later defector named Vyacheslav Zharko reportedly came to him for a similar intro. Volodarsky imagined an equivalent conversation between Skripal and some old colleague: “Sergei, could we meet?” If it was di∞cult for Volodarsky to explain the targeting of a pardoned, pensioned-o≠ spy, he had less di∞culty in imagining why a roving defector magnet might be worth snu∞ng out.

7. The End of the Cold War and without fanfare, Sergei Skripal left the hospital and disappeared into protected hiding with Yulia. It was mid-May, 74 days after the initial exposure. Later that month, Yulia filmed a short statement from an undisclosed location: In it she said her immediate focus was on caring for her father, whose recovery had been slower than her own. Yulia herself appeared outwardly healthy, despite the breathing-tube scar on her throat—smiling, contented even. But doctors acknowledged that the future health of both of them was more or less unknown. Without giving details in her statement, Yulia spoke of “devastating changes thrust upon me.” After Andrei Zheleznyakov had been saved from the initial ravages of a novichok, back in ’87, he was a±icted by a miscellany of side e≠ects, among them cirrhosis, hepatitis, and epilepsy. He died in 1992, five years after his exposure. The attack this March has killed one bystander, Dawn Sturgess. Her companion, Charlie Rowley, has reported that the novichok has a≠ected his ability to concentrate. Nick Bailey, the cop exposed during the course of the investigation, was eventually released from the hospital but said in a statement that “normal life for me will probably never be the same.” For the Skripals, the future looks, at best, precarious. “I take one day at a time,” Yulia said in her statement. She hoped to go back to Russia eventually, she said, while I N S A L I S B U R Y, F U R T I V E LY

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repeating with delicacy her refusal of assistance from the embassy: “At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” The week of Sergei’s discharge, I sat with a senior government source and asked what was next for father and daughter. “They don’t know,” the source said. “I think that’s the honest truth. Of course there will be o≠ers of deep levels of cover for both of them. But there’s a balance. You’ve got to live.” As to whether this living would finally be done in the UK, elsewhere in Europe, or even somewhere in North America, they hadn’t decided. The source told me, “They’re scared.” By early July, the investigators still hadn’t announced any suspects. The head of counterterror policing, Neil Basu, sounded a note that was very like despair. “I would love to be able to say that we have identified and caught those responsible and how we are certain there are no traces of nerve agent left anywhere,” he said. “The brutal reality, however, is that I cannot.” (Later that month, the Press Association reported that investigators, finally, after scouring hundreds of hours of CCTV, had identified “several” of those who were suspected to have traveled to Salisbury to carry out the operation on Christie Miller Road. The authorities, at the time of writing, refused to confirm this.) Around Salisbury—you couldn’t call it Smalls-bury now—what choice did they have? They continued to touch foreign objects, half in mind of lethal risk while carrying out everyday tasks. Investigators’ best guess was that it could take 50 years for the last of any stray novichok to deteriorate. Tourists didn’t want to visit, and there were businesses behind the quarantine lines that had to shutter. In the window of a bookstore (the Skripals would have driven right by it on March 4), a history book, The End of the Cold War, was put on display. On closer inspection, you could see a new, handwritten note protruding from its pages: “Or is it?” On Christie Miller Road, Sergei’s home had its front door removed. The garden was covered by wooden planks, and steel-fence borders lined the drive. Decontamination was due to last for months; there was a rumor that No. 47 could even be razed. For the time being, the house assumed its position in the history of international espionage, and in the lore of assassinations ventured if not quite achieved. It was a place that had once had its time, its target, its horrible method. The Skripals wouldn’t live here again.

tom lamont wrote about the Grenfell Tower fire in the December 2017 issue.

A DDI TI ONA L CREDI TS Page 98. O’Rourke: Cal Sport Media/Alamy. Cruz: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images. Capitol Building: Getty Images. Cowboys, from left: Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH/Alamy; Hulton Archive/Getty Images; O. A. Fitzgerald/Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Photo illustration for editorial purposes. Pages 118–119. Clockwise from top left: Shutterstock/ Rex; TASS/Getty Images; Matt Dunham/AP Images; VvoeVale/Getty Images; Jay Vallejera/EyeEm/Getty Images; Ivan Sekretarev/Reuters. Photo illustration for editorial purposes. Page 120. Peter MacDiarmid/Shutterstock/Rex Page 121. From left: Gavin Rodgers; Dylan Martinez/ AFP/Getty Images Page 123. Peter MacDiarmid/Shutterstock/Rex

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Revenge Is a Dish Best Served... at a Fashion Shoot So how did we get Pete Davidson, a guy who finds photo shoots totally embarrassing, to pose for this issue? He was motivated by revenge, he says. Revenge against…us. Because once upon a time, in 2016, we made fun of his shoes. It was right after Comedy Central’s roast of Rob Lowe: Davidson appeared on the red carpet wearing a slim navy suit with self-lacing high-top Nikes (a.k.a. “Marty McFlys”). A couple of days later, he wakes up to this shit: “It was a picture of me on the carpet with my McFlys, and the person was like, ‘Those are the coolest sneakers ever. Here’s how to not wear them.’ I was like, ‘Eyy, that’s mean!’ ” But now he gets the last laugh. Two years later, GQ came calling, asking the 24-year-old to appear in a fashion story (see page 79). “It’s just funny how things turn out,” he says. —ALLIE JONES

coat $1,990 Burberry tank top $40 (for pack of three) Calvin Klein Underwear pants $1,295 Giorgio Armani sneakers $450 Adidas by Raf Simons at KITH necklace, his own

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