New Beginnings

Stories from the Masters, Donald Glover, Christopher Hitchens and cancel culture, true-crime scammers and more.

New Beginnings

It’s said that all good things must come to an end. I saw that firsthand, if from a slight remove, as recently, the paper for which I’d come to Wyoming to write for was sold.

It was a weird feeling, getting the news. I was spared the worst of it because, simply, I don’t work for the paper anymore. For that, I’m grateful, and I feel like the timing of my exit was fortunate. But I had something like survivor’s guilt. The friends I’m closest to in the world right now, physically and socially, still work for that paper. There is something deep and powerful about those friendships, which were forged in the relative isolation of Wyoming between strangers not born here. Many people have to differentiate between “work friends” and “real friends,” with the former, often though not always, seen as the inferior of the two. There was no division here for us; our social circle was our work circle, and as a result, I felt a secondhand twinge of fear and disappointment and uncertainty on their behalf.

I was reminded of two relatively recent Atlantic articles which talk about all that’s lost when a town loses its locally owned newspapers. In those instances, the focus of the story was often on the nature of the buyer, either hedge funds or large media companies consolidating newsrooms across the country. This isn’t that, and I pass no judgment on the company that bought my former employer. I wish them well, and I hope they do right by the members of the community.

The negative feelings over the loss of something good was exacerbated by some of the comments from community members, many of whom have never been fans of ours, who said maybe the paper will not produce something of quality and not have a staff made up of communists.

Mostly, I just didn’t like being so close, in time of service and proximity, to this particular changing of the guard. The challenges faced by local newspapers all over the country were exacerbated by the pandemic, and while we did not live through the changes it brought to our newspapers, we lived in its shadow. It wasn’t a daily print publication anymore; when I arrived, we only printed two days a week. That hadn’t been the case just months before I arrived.

The family who owned the paper when I got here had owned it for 50 years, and my boss when I’d worked there was still fighting the good fight on behalf of her readers. She was fiercely independent, and without a doubt, one of the best editors in the entire state of Wyoming. Of course, it wouldn’t do any good to convince those who thought we were all communists of that fact, but it was, indeed, a fact. Her editorial sense was spot-on, and she was a diligent watchdog of the county and city. She loved storytelling, and she went out of her way to get her reporters weekly story coaching sessions with a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from Oregon. She remembered the tiniest of details, the most random of connections, and there is simply no replacing that.

My friends will be OK, at least for the time being. The shakeup will most likely lead to new opportunities for some of them, which can and should be an exciting thing. But I feel as if I can speak for all of them when I say that  it’s a real shame to see a good thing come to an end, and if we had it our way, that end wouldn’t come for quite a long time yet.


Ten Worth Your Time

  1. The past week has been a big one for golf fans. It was Masters Week, a glorious time on professional golf’s calendar that I’ve written about before, but this year felt even more special. Rumors started the week before that Tiger Woods might make his return to competitive golf 14 months after a high-speed wreck left many wondering if he’d ever walk again, let alone play golf. Then the news came: He was in. It was surreal to know he was coming back, and even more so to realize that I’ve been watching him play this tournament for 25 years now. His dominant win in 1997 is pretty much as old as my consciousness of the tournament itself. He was not dominant this year, and he did not come close to winning. But he showed flashes of his old brilliance, and it made it somewhat sadder to think the real challenge was simply walking on a reconstructed leg. But as ESPN’s senior writer Wright Thompson said, it was still a good walk around the grounds of Augusta National for Tiger Woods.

  2. Sports are fun for the spectacle; it’s a treat to see talented and physically gifted athletes do things that we ourselves cannot. Golf is especially seductive in that sense, because perhaps more than most sports, we can walk the same grounds as the pros, we stand over the ball the same way, we face the same distances to the hole. We don’t often face flame-throwing pitchers hurling 100-mph fastballs at us, or try to hit a jump shot over a 6’8” defender. But more than just spectacle, sports fans (and especially sports journalists) are always looking for a narrative. Tiger Woods’ entire existence has been a narrative without equal, and as a result, he’s been covered to the extreme. I remember old-timers, a largely racist lot, griping about his coverage, as if he weren’t blowing a hole in the side of professional golf and absolutely destroying opponents. The 10-year-old version of me that lives on inside this 34-year-old frame doesn’t mind the near-constant coverage of Tiger. It feels warm and familiar, like some things never change (except that I know that they, in fact, do). But Tiger does suck all of the oxygen out of a tournament, and that’s not fair to those left behind. I’m a huge fan of golf, but I find myself susceptible to worrying only about what Tiger’s doing even though I know he stands no chance of winning the tournament. As a result, I think it’s all the more important to celebrate the young phenom who played a week of flawless golf, and none other than Thompson wrote about Scottie Scheffler’s first green jacket.

  3. There were a few ever-so-brief moments in Scottie Scheffler’s Sunday march where things seemed like the race was tightening and Cameron Smith, his playing partner, might have an opening to make a match of it. But all of that pretty much went out the window after Smith dunked his tee shot into the drink on the par-3 12th, the middle chapter of Augusta’s famed three-hole stretch known as Amen Corner. A classic piece of golf writing came from 1990 when Rick Reilly wrote an entire story for Sports Illustrated framed around that “hellacious, wonderful, terrifying, simple, treacherous, impossible, perfect molar-knocker of a par-3.”

  4. Shifting away from the golf content but staying centered in the state of Georgia, the hit FX show Atlanta is back for its third season after being off the air for four years, and it’s like it never left. The show’s creator, Donald Glover, took an innovative approach for an interview with Interview Magazine, by playing both sides of the scene: interviewer AND interviewee.

  5. In the middle of Donald Glover’s interview of himself, he asks himself about cancel culture, to which he responds with a version of, “Ew, can we not?” A recent piece in the Toronto Star looks, indirectly, at cancel culture through the lens of the recent revival of the leftist contrarian Christopher Hitchens. “Hitchens’s ‘contrarian’ brand of radicalism is a glorious and overdue alternative to the Twitter mobs, deplatforming campaigns and other pathologies that now plague the left, or at least what passes for it online.”

  6. Sometimes, when the online discourse over (insert the latest hot topic here) ramps up to a fever pitch, I find myself just wanting to close my eyes and not wake up for a few months in hopes that all will settle down in the meantime. In other words, I dream of hibernation. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, the writer considers what might be learned from bears’ hibernation, not simply to understand how the bears manage to hibernate for months on end but what humans might be able to apply to our own lives. “A better understanding of the process could potentially change our approach to a wide range of human conditions, including stroke, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, and  Alzheimer’s .”

  7. Here’s a truth: I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all tired. We’ve been tired. As we contend with that simple truth, maybe we’re tempted to think, “Hey, maybe those bears have it figured out; I could go for some hibernating right about now.” The remedy for fatigue is often thought to be simple: get more rest. Or, another (seemingly counterintuitive) solution is often suggested: exercise more. In their own ways, they’ll help you feel better, the wisdom goes. What about when those things don’t work? In a New York Times Magazine piece, a doctor recounts the extreme case of a man who, for years, would be so overcome by fatigue so intense that he couldn’t walk or stand or even sit up. What ailed him was, for a long time, a mystery. But then an unexpected answer emerged.

  8. Speaking of mysteries, The New Yorker published a doozy of one being solved by intrepid fans. Stéphane Bourgoin presented himself as an expert on the topic of serial killers, and he cultivated a large fanbase of true-crime devotees. But all was not as it seemed with Bourgoin, and in a story that is part Mindhunter and part Dan Mallory, a wildly implausible fabrication gave way to an even crazier truth.

  9. I was excited for a three-episode initial drop of episodes for a new series on HBO Max called Tokyo Vice. Michael Mann, famed director of Heat and Thief, directed the first episode and produced the limited series, which follows the early career of Jake Adelstein, a young American reporter trying to make his way in Japan as a crime reporter at one of the country’s most prestigious papers. It quickly unravels a bigger and more complicated world of Japanese organized crime. The first three episodes are very good, but what caught my eye was a quick moment in the second episode when Jake receives a care package from home. You see, Jake, a real person who wrote a memoir of his time as a crime reporter in Japan called Tokyo Vice, was from Columbia, Missouri. In his care package from his sister was a Mizzou sweatshirt, which was a relatively surface-level prop but a nice touch all the same. But then he pulled out two bottles of Show-Me Bar-B-Q Sauce, which was invented by a professor at Mizzou decades ago. I tweeted screenshots of the show’s star, Ansel Elgort, licking directly from the bottle, and I complimented the production quality to nail such a small detail as that. While I was reporting for the Columbia Missourian in grad school, early on I was given a story idea by one of my editors, Scott Swafford. He’d heard that something new was developing with Show-Me, that some younger guys had bought the company and were trying to broaden its appeal. I got to write about it, and you can read that little feature I did on the new iteration of Show-Me Bar-B-Q Sauce here.

  10. I made the mistake of sitting down to do this edition of the newsletter not at my desk with a singular focus, but instead, as a reward for a long stretch of other work performed today, I sat with my computer on the couch and decided to write it with something on in the background. The “what” had to be carefully selected though: It couldn’t be too plot intensive or else I wouldn’t be able to focus on writing; it couldn’t be one of the many show’s I’ve been watching recently for the same reason. It was the perfect excuse to put on some tried and true rerun (because I’m old enough to still use that term), but I didn’t. At the last second, I thought, “I’ll put on this Jerrod Carmichael stand-up special I’ve heard so much about recently. I can get the laughs and enjoyment, but I won’t be glued to the screen.” A solid plan if ever I’d heard one, but it was unequivocally wrong. The special, entitled Rothaniel and available on HBO, had been making waves for good reason. It’s incredible. Full stop. I could not take my eyes off of him, sitting on an unassuming metal folding chair in front of an intimate crowd, and masterfully telling stories but few jokes. That’s not to say I didn’t laugh, because I did and quite often. But it’s not that kind of show. If you haven’t seen it or learned of its big reveal from secondhand sources, I’m loathe to spoil it for you here. That makes it incredibly difficult to write about, but it will be a much more impactful experience if you don’t know what’s coming. After you watch it, I encourage you to seek out an episode of The Watch, where Chris Ryan and Charles Holmes discuss the special.


Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been watching in the past three weeks (because it’s been so long since I’ve checked in).

Remember: The legend for my list was stolen from Mr. Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, and Italics is a book. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

3/23: DEEP WATER (Hulu)
3/24: Our Flag Means Death (2) (HBO Max); Abbott Elementary (Hulu); Severance (2) (AppleTV+)
3/25: Atlanta, S3 (2) (Hulu); BATMAN RETURNS* (Hulu)
3/26:TURNING RED (Disney+); THE LOST CITY (Theater);The Dropout (Hulu)
3/27:John Mayer Sob Rock Tour—Denver, CO
3/28:The Dropout (Hulu)
3/29: DEATH ON THE NILE (HBO Max); Minx (4) (HBO Max)
3/30: Moon Knight (Disney+); Abbott Elementary (Hulu); The Dropout (4) (Hulu)
3/31:The Dropout (Hulu); Minx (2) (HBO Max); Severance (AppleTV+);
Slow Horses (2) (AppleTV+)
4/1:GAME NIGHT (VOD); Atlanta, S3 (Hulu)
4/2:
4/3: Winning Time (4) (HBO Max)
4/4: NCAA National Championship Game (Kansas vs. UNC)
4/5: Winning Time (HBO Max)
4/6: Moon Knight (Disney+): Abbott Elementary (Hulu);
Better Call Saul, S5 (2) (Netflix)
4/7:Tokyo Vice (3) (HBO Max)
4/8: Atlanta, S3 (Hulu); Severance (AppleTV+)
4/9: Slow Horses (AppleTV+); AMBULANCE (Theater); APOLLO 10 1/2 (Netflix); ALL THE OLD KNIVES (Amazon Prime)

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