True Stories
5

Ebola Panic in Small-Town New Jersey

The Peasant Grill in sleepy Hopewell, New Jersey, is a popular destination for hot drinks, baked confections, and sandwiches. It's usually packed during lunch hour, but it's been relatively empty since October 9th, when a black Mercedes with a woman wearing black sunglasses behind the wheel pulled up and disgorged a man, who went inside and picked up an order of soup. Some days later, the woman's name, her children's names, and the address of her home—a short drive from The Peasant Grill—appeared on posters hung on the public boards throughout downtown Princeton: HELP PROTECT OUR COMMUNITY FROM: EBOLA NBC TODAY SHOW TV CELEBRITY NANCY SNYDERMAN

1

The Pull

I interviewed Saul in 2011 for a project about sex addiction that never came to fruition, at least in the form I had originally envisioned. A sixty-something native of Bensonhurst, he had the most delicious speaking voice, which I dare describe as a potion of equal parts Jewish, gay, and old-school Brooklyn. But it was his untapped authorial voice that moved me to develop our conversation into a monologue, unburdened by an interviewer's questions, and strung together into a reflection on the intersection of sexuality, religion, and identity in the 1960s and 70s.

I didn’t have sex until I was already out of college, and was a social worker. I [...]

0

A Crazy Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Follow the slope downward, to the east, toward the meadow, to where the earth levels off and there are crocuses coming up through a damp layer of wood chips. This is where the tree is. Behind the tree, the ground rises into a sort of berm between the Botanic Garden and Flatbush Avenue that breaks the siren howl and traffic rumble. A wide asphalt pathway meanders in front of it. On a typical spring day visitors usually pause here to admire the tree, and read the placard with its name and chuckle, because it’s a caucasian wingnut.

The tree’s branches are thick and deeply ridged, twisting out from a [...]

2

The Toilet Man

The toilet man was obsessed with numbers. Like the number of days he had left to live. Ten-thousand five-hundred was about how many days he said he had left, if he lived to be eighty. Thirteen years ago, the Toilet Man said, he turned forty and asked himself, how long is one lifetime? Then he checked the national statistic: eighty. So, forty more years; fourteen thousand, six-hundred days more days, give or take. "And then you die," said the Toilet Man. He lingered over the last world, stretched it. "Dyyyyyyyeee," it sounded like.

Back then, before he was the Toilet Man, he was Jack Sim, a rich Singaporean, running 16 [...]

9

Murder In Los Angeles

I have one spiritual ritual in my life: every morning I check the Los Angeles Times' Homicide Report blog to learn who was killed in Los Angeles County while I slept.1

The Homicide Report addresses two questions every newspaper covering a major metropolis should answer: who was killed last night, and why? But most newspapers don’t do this because the logic of most newsrooms is that not all murders are sexy, grisly, or surprising enough to be written about. The Homicide Report operates on the inverse principal: Every murder gets a story because murder is inherently worthy of our attention.2

The Homicide report is anchored by a [...]

7

Lucky Louie

In the flatlands between Mill Basin and Marine Park, just before the avenue arrives at the golf course and Jamaica Bay, you’ll find VERG South, an emergency hospital for pets. Inside is a dog, which isn’t very surprising, this being a place for treating dogs and cats. Only this dog is famous.

The dog came to VERG—that's Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group—in a roundabout way. First the dog arrived at a vaccine clinic, probably hosted at a PetCo; the story is fuzzy at the beginning. One thing is certain, and terrible: the dog had owners. They brought him to get shots, which they thought might cure him. He was [...]

51

What Is The Real-Real Thing?

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."—Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"

An old friend once told me a story about her son Edison and this other kid he grew up with, Brendan. It seems that when they were really little, like six or so, the boys were on a soccer team, they were playing soccer and Edison fell and was hurt. And everybody clustered round and was all ooh, ahh, to make sure he was okay. Straightaway, Brendan totally faked an injury of his own, thumped to earth and started wailing, so that [...]

1

Men, Makeup, Money: The Boylesque of Rify Royalty

"I really want to work out before my gig tonight," Sharif Abaz said. "But I still have to fix my costume and my makeup is going to take forever. I have no time." He picked up his outfit for the evening—a black mesh bodysuit, tank-top and shorts that cover the groin with a thick strip of spandex—and packed everything into a backpack. As he walked out, he took a final glance in the mirror by his front door, then brushed glitter from the night before from his eyelashes and rubbed his hand through his beard to check for untamed hairs.

Abaz arrived at the downstairs bar area of The [...]

0

A Morning in Isla Vista

I don’t remember much about that first time I drove through Isla Vista, except that it wasn’t what I had expected. Our parents told us that it had a higher rate of STDs than anywhere else in the country, and that it accounted for one percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. Isla Vista, just a dozen exits north on the 101—a shorthand for danger and debauchery. But it was just beachy and grimy, pleasant and closer to whatever I imagined the real world was supposed to be like. There were palms and eucalyptus trees, and I saw a passed out man face down on a beat-up couch [...]

1

The Journalist and the Junta

I met Aye Aye Win a little while ago aboard the Karaweik, a two-story barge on Kandawgyi Lake in the middle of Yangon, Myanmar. The barge, like the lake, is artificial: It’s actually a building made out of concrete and stucco, sunk into shallow waters. Inside was a buffet restaurant with a stage, and on it, extravagantly costumed dancers. I hadn’t been sitting at the banquet table for long when a woman with a kind face and elegant cheekbones asked, softly, if the seat next to me was occupied.

Then she told me some of her life story, beginning with her father’s name.

My father’s name [...]

4

The Tragic Life of Ugly Birds

Outside my third-floor window, in a narrow, leafy lane of Bandra West, a suburb of Mumbai, a crow had got itself stuck in some leftover Christmas decorations that were hanging off a tree. One of its feet was caught in string and the crow was dangling in mid-air. As it became more aware of its situation, it became more frantic, wrapping the string around its foot more securely. I’m not an animal activist and crows are not likable but I could not watch it die a slow, painful, and terrified death.

It was too high up and too far away from my building for me to be able to [...]

2

The Internet Terror Phone

Walk down Broadway, past Canal, past banks and furniture stores, Mr. Fashion and sneaker shops and condos, old then new, brick then steel, until the buildings grow taller and begin to take up entire blocks. Turn right at the unopened Pret, across from the McDonald’s, down Thomas Street, a one-way single-lane. Look up. You can’t miss it: A monolith, brutalist, granite armored, its skeleton colossal slats of moulded concrete. It is said to feature the largest blank facade in the world. The building’s six turrets contain air ducts, a whole mess of ventilation for whatever is inside. Whatever is inside—that’s the question.

There are no windows, there are barely [...]

6

Brooklyn Night Court

Brooklyn criminal courtroom number 105, at 10:43 p.m., Judge Jackie Williams presiding. The room is high-ceilinged, the light fluorescent, the pews so worn most of the graffiti etched into the wood is illegible. Judge Williams is seated far back in the room, high up and centered and staring into a flat Dell computer monitor. Behind her, sagging, the United States and New York flags and above those, on the wall in gold Helvetica, “In God We Trust.” Below and in front of the judge, behind another monitor, sits the court reporter. In front of the reporter, two attorneys and the defendant stand facing the judge at two faded lecterns, also [...]

11

We're Saving Lives!

Due to our invention of a solar-powered, totally portable water desalinator, with an accompanying multistage UV filter system that eliminates 99.9% of all organic material at the microscopic level, The Awl has been named to Fast Company's list of the world's "50 Most Innovative Companies." We did it, you guys! We saved the lives of millions of poor people and made a difference in the world. That was our dream, and here we are. Also we finished building that orphanage that Madonna abandoned in Malawi but we like to be low-key about that.

1

These Boots Are Made for Making

How To Make Boots From Your Garage is not a shoe store; you can't walk in off the street and buy a pair of boots. But you can learn how to build a pair. The shop’s proprietor, Olivier Rabbath, wants to teach you. “The fact is, it is possible to make up to a hundred pair of boots a month, in a space no bigger than a two-car garage,” Rabbath writes on his website, an aesthetic throwback to the days of Geocities.

The workshop occupies the first floor of a three-story brick building on a bare stretch of Hoyt Street, in Brooklyn. When I walked in on [...]

1

Scenes from the New York Tombstone Trade

If you take a train out to the Broadway Junction station, turn onto Conway Street, go up the hill, and keep walking until the patchy Brooklyn sprawl dissolves into a field of gravestones, you’ll find yourself deep in the Cemetery of the Evergreens, one of the vast commercial graveyards established in the outer boroughs following the 1847 Rural Cemetery Act. The bodies of over half a million dead New Yorkers rest beneath the hunks of granite and marble which seem stuck in the ground at random, like a handful pebbles tossed into the grass.

Not a few of the monuments have been supplied by Carbone Memorials, a small, family-owned [...]

1

The Lifespan Of A Band

How are you to know the shape and dimension of your dreams, much less the dreams of those you share a stage with? In the beginning—and we’ll begin with Tom, because this story is his story as much as it is the story of the band; he’s the one telling it—in the beginning he was just playing with people, because that’s what Tom did. He played the guitar and David played the bass and Danny played the drums.

They were all music students in Boston, then, just mixing and seeing what might match. They played together a few times before Danny said to Tom, “Hey, I have a band [...]

1

Slow Ride Around Yangon

The man was sick, or had been for hours. When he rose, finally, it was bright out and hot, and he determined that he would not be making it to the conference that day, and instead he would ride the train that went around the city. The way he figured it was, to sit upright, indoors, and work at looking interested was more likely to bring back last night’s nausea than the train. Getting sick in front of people he knew would be embarrassing. This way, if he did puke, it’d be with strangers he would never see again. And trains calmed him.

He packed a big bottle [...]

5

Jacob And His Mother Are Wanted In Court

Pam has come to dependency court on behalf of Jacob, who is four years old. Pam wants the judge to arrest Jacob’s mother.

Pam is a volunteer in the Court Appointed Special Advocate program in juvenile dependency court in California. These CASA volunteers are independent advocates for the child during any court procedure.

“Children’s lives are ripped apart here,” Pam told me, just before the day’s session.

Jacob’s mother, let's call her Tina, is 28.1 She has a decade-long crystal meth addiction. It's kept her bouncing in and out of court-mandated rehab beds and jail cells.

When Jacob was two, Tina’s probation drug test came up [...]

0

The Bookie After Football Season

Jim is the name he uses as a bookie, not the name he uses at his other job, which is something he’d like to not talk about, because he’d like to keep that job. Jim is broad-chested and bearded and built like the kind of kid who’d have been a good linebacker in high school. Jim didn’t play football, though. Hockey was his sport. Still is. But hockey is terrible for betting. Football is basically perfect, Jim says. The week of the Super Bowl was going to be busy for him, but we aren't there yet. The Pro Bowl is playing on a television way back in the bar and [...]