Found this over at Longform–a 1988 Interview magazine conversation with Tom Waits.
Found this over at Longform–a 1988 Interview magazine conversation with Tom Waits.
Need another reason to love Longform? How about this reprint of Bryan Di Salvatore’s massive 1990 profile of Merle Haggard?
In Hampton, Virginia, at five o’clock one drizzly, cool January morning, Theresa Lane, Merle’s girlfriend (no one addresses Merle as Mr. Haggard, though his friends often refer to him as Hag), summoned me by phone to Merle’s bus. As I walked across the parking lot of the Coliseum Sheraton a half hour later, the Strangers’ bus was the silent, dark one. Merle’s emitted a dim golden glow and rumbled on high idle. Theresa, a tall, slim, attractive woman in her late twenties, with tousled blond hair and muscular arms and shoulders, met me at the door and escorted me through the living room and down the narrow hallway, past a framed photograph of Hank Williams and another of Dolly Parton, into the kitchen, where Merle sat on the floor, his eyes closed and his bare legs stretched straight out under a small table. Naked except for a plaid flannel shirt and après-ski boots, he greeted me with a slight nod. I took a seat at the table, summoning faith in what one of the Strangers had told me months earlier at a Merle Haggard-Willie Nelson concert in Las Vegas—“Don’t knock on his door if he don’t tell you to. Don’t not knock on his door if he does tell you to”—and Theresa stood behind Merle to knead his shoulders, now and again pulling his head up hard, until his neck was stretched taut.
“Goddam, my head feels like it oughta be lifted right outa my skull,” Merle said. He reached for a pack of unfiltered cigarettes and a lighter on the table, where several packs were scattered among cigarette papers, sheets and scraps of notebook paper, cassette tapes, and empty cassette cases. On the counter were a few dirty dishes, glasses, and some silverware.
I asked Merle how they were biting back at Lake Shasta, near his home in Northern California. He has a houseboat there, and has sponsored several bass-fishing tournaments in recent years.
“I’ve hardly fished this last year or so,” he said, in a deep, barely audible monotone. “I been spending my time teaching her”—he motioned toward Theresa—“songwriting.”
I asked about the fortunes of the band’s softball team.
“We hardly play one game a year. The insurance company says there’s a lot of talent out there ready to break a leg.”
I asked to see some of his poems, which he had read on a recent television special. He thought Bonnie Owens, his backup vocal, longtime singing partner, and ex-wife (he has three, and is currently married to Debora Parret, who was in California at the time), had them at her house, near Lake Tahoe.
I asked about the plot of his unfinished novel, “The Sins of John Tom Mullen.”
“It’s about a teenager falsely accused of rape. They find out the rich boy in town done it, and they trace him by his tire tracks. I haven’t touched it in maybe fifteen years.”
I asked if he wanted me to come back later.
He looked up, as if surprised, and his voice rose slightly. “No, no, ask away.” He turned to Theresa. “That’s a lot better, baby,” he said. “You want to make us some breakfast?”
Theresa nodded and took two short steps to the refrigerator. She was shoeless and wore a man’s long-sleeved white shirt and gartered black stockings. Merle folded his legs under him slowly, groaned, pushed himself to his feet like a stove-up yogi coming out of a trance, and walked down the hallway. He returned wearing gray sweatpants and slid into a narrow banquette behind the table. The room, snug as a ship’s cabin, grew hazy with smoke from frying potatoes and Merle’s cigarettes. The hum of an exhaust fan harmonized with the drone of the idling bus.
Merle coughed a deep, rasping cough—and looked at the cigarette in his hand. “I liked these things before I even started smoking,” he said. He speaks in a thick, nasal Southwestern drawl-twang, dropping most of his final “g”s, and turning “think” into “thank” and “thank” into “think.” The trip to put on his pants had seemed to wake him up. “But I believe myself and a lot of people will live to be a hundred years old. My blood pressure is one hundred eighteen over seventy-eight. I got the cholesterol of a twenty-one-year-old, and I can still run a hundred-yard dash and beat most people. I know that because last summer it was one hundred fifteen degrees, and I bought two ice creams and sprinted with ‘em back from the store to the grandkids. That was—oh, eighty, a hundred yards, and I didn’t even have to open my mouth to get air. My grandfather entered an old man’s race—you had to be a fifty or older to enter—and he waxed their ass. That’s when he was seventy-four.”
[Photo Credit: Michael Macor/ San Francisco Chronicle]
Head on over to Longform and check out their reprint of Gay Talese’s terrific 1966 profile of Alden Whitman, the New York Times obituary writer:
“Winston Churchill gave you your heart attack,” the wife of the obituary writer said, but the obituary writer, a short and rather shy man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and smoking a pipe, shook his head and replied, very softly, “No, it was not Winston Churchill.”
“Then T.S. Eliot gave you your heart attack,” she quickly added, lightly, for they were at a small dinner party in New York and the others seemed amused.
“No,” the obituary writer said, again softly, “it was not T.S. Eliot.”
If he was at all irritated by his wife’s line of questioning, her assertion that writing lengthy obituaries for the New York Times under deadline pressure might be speeding him to his own grave, he did not show it, did not raise his voice; but then he rarely does. Only once has Alden Whitman raised his voice at Joan, his present wife, a youthful brunette, and on that occasion he screamed. Alden Whitman does not recall precisely why he screamed. Vaguely he remembers accusing Joan of misplacing something around the house, but he suspects that in the end he was the guilty one. Though this incident occurred more than two years ago, lasting only a few seconds, the memory of it still haunts him—a rare occasion when he truly lost control; but since then he has remained a quiet man, a predictable man who early each morning, while Joan is asleep, slips out of bed and begins to make breakfast: a pot of coffee for her, one of tea for himself. Then he sits for an hour or so in his study smoking a pipe, sipping his tea, scanning the newspapers, his eyebrows raising slightly whenever he reads that a dictator is missing, a statesman is ill.
[Illustration by Jacob van Loon]
Over at SB Nation’s Longform, check out Flinder Boyd’s piece on Chris Copeland:
An hour and a half before the Knicks-Pistons game in London’s O2 arena this past January, Chris Copeland was already shooting around, sweat dripping off his practice jersey, and the squeak of his sneakers echoing off the nearly empty seats. I was in town for the week to analyze the game for the BBC and looked forward to catching up with my old teammate.
Aside from the rare, brief phone conversation, the last time I spoke to Chris Copeland was more than five years ago. He was stuffing whatever clothes he had into a duffle bag in a rundown hotel outside of Santiago de Compostela. We were briefly teammates in Spain before management decided he wasn’t good enough to play for even the lowest of second division teams and suddenly terminated his contract. I still remember his sense of failure and how the fear of the unknown reduced him to an anxious child.
Even at 6’8 it was sometimes easy to forget Copeland played professional basketball. He’s friendly and unassuming, and his round, vibrant face and long lanky arms covered in a layer of baby fat often made him seem younger than he was. When I knew him, there was nothing in his game, at least visibly, to suggest he could ever, even in the most outlandish of clichéd fairy-tale stories, end up playing for the New York Knicks. Yet here he was, a 29-year-old NBA rookie coming off a 22-point master-class performance four nights earlier against New Orleans and in the starting line-up against the Pistons in London. “I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s just what I always dreamed about it.” Sure, I thought. Every boy who has ever picked up a ball dreams of playing in the NBA, but to make it at his age, with a limited basketball pedigree, after spending the last few years in the roundball backwaters of northern Europe, is not only unheard of, but virtually impossible.
It’s not like I really thought I was going to marry Frank Shorter. But when I found out that we would be staying at the same house during the weekend of the 2012 TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K race in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, I thought, well, he’s smart and attractive and accomplished. Maybe I’ll marry Frank Shorter.
Okay, so probably not, but it’s like when you read a book by someone that you love and you want to be BFFs with the author. This may make me sound like, what’s it called? — oh, right, a groupie. For the record, I am not a groupie. It would be ridiculous for marathoners to have groupies. But still, I thought maybe I’d marry Frank Shorter.
Here’s the thing about running. Even the super-famous, the nationally recognized celebrities in the sport, aren’t all that famous. This was not like thinking I might maybe marry Michael Jordan or A-Rod. That would be crazy talk. Runners don’t get spotted at airports or stopped and asked for autographs. They aren’t protected from the public the way other professional athletes are, shielded by barricades and arena walls and large men. Even at the biggest races, we all stand on the starting line together. In a marathon, we cover the same ground. Sure, they run faster and may be showered and dressed in street clothes before the rest of us slog across the line, but we cross the same finish line.
Outside Modell’s on Oct. 3 stood an elderly black man almost entirely dressed up in precisely that blue and orange crap — a Knicks windbreaker over a Carmelo Anthony jersey over a white tee-shirt, and an old-timey New York Knicks cap that actually said “Knickerbockers.” This man’s name was, it happens, Oscar Modell. “No relation,” he said.
Modell lives in Bed Stuy, and always has. “I just took a walk to see [Barclays],” After he did a walk-around of the arena, Oscar said he’d go to Junior’s, in downtown Brooklyn, for a piece of cheesecake.
“This is looking real good here,” he said. “I never thought I’d see something like it. I look forward to seeing the Knicks beat the stuffing out of the Nets here.”
Asked why he, a lifelong Brooklynite, wouldn’t root for a Brooklyn basketball team, he laughed.
“Brooklyn doesn’t have a basketball team,” he said. “Brooklyn’s got an arena. But I read the boys on the Nets don’t even live in Brooklyn. They don’t even live in New York.”
This is true. The Nets mostly still live in Jersey, near their practice facility. Small forward Gerald Wallace remarked recently that he’d never move to Brooklyn; that he’s too frightened of New York City to ever live in it.
“The boys on the Knicks, maybe they’re not from New York, but at least they want to come here,” he said. “Just like people from all over the world want to come here. That makes it a hometown team. But the Nets? The Brooklyn Nets? The Brooklyn Nets is just a logo. Maybe one day it’ll be more than that, but not yet. Not for a long time.”
Here’s the Nets bandwagon: I ain’t on it.
Over at SBN’s Longform, check out this fine piece story by William Browning:
Before the boy passed 10 his parents left the Mississippi Delta for the pine woods farther south, where his mother found a teaching job in the county. They were a young family, renting near the school, when his father left.
The boy felt lost in that new place. To better hide the hurt he whittled away his footprints through the years, turning his back on basketball, the drum line, a job bagging groceries and a place on the school honor roll. When he handed in his football jersey during his junior year there was nothing else to quit. He did it in spring, a few months after the ’96 season. A slow-footed receiver four notches down the depth chart, he thought he would not be missed. He was surprised when the coach sent a note to his English teacher asking to see him. Everyone called him, “Coach.” He was humorless and had a dry voice. He growled through one-sided conversations on the football field but off it he could be inarticulate.
The boy remembers walking the hallway toward his office, telling himself not to give in. He sat face-to-face with Coach, Bear Bryant’s picture hanging nearby on the office wall. Are you sure you want to spend your senior year in the bleachers? Coach said. Full of teenage arrogance, the boy said he wouldn’t be attending any games. He said he had watched from the sideline for two seasons and had his fill.
Coach, always slow to speak, leaned back in his chair and warned him. He warned him that not that season, but in a decade or so, he would come to regret his decision and that once made, it could not be undone.
The boy laughed. A grown man, said the boy, has no business thinking of games he did or did not play in high school. Coach said all right and the boy left. He never called him “Coach” again. Not because he walked away from football, but because that summer the coach married his mother.
And the boy hated him for that.
[Photo Credit: Colorado Springs Gazette ]
Head on over the SB Nation’s Longform page and read Leander Schaerlaecken’s terrific story, ”Out of Bounds”, which details the experience of professional soccer player David Testo, who came out of the closet last year and now finds himself unemployed by the game:
In Vancouver a funny thing happened in the locker room. As David got comfortable with himself his teammates became comfortable with him. The less he hid – without ever being openly gay – the more the bubble grew and the easier life got. They stopped asking and he stopped having to pretend.
Midway through 2007, he was traded to the Montreal Impact – still a USL club at the time – in a lop-sided deal for an old favorite of the Whitecaps’ coach. Suddenly finding himself living in a city with the largest gay neighborhood on the continent, he partied like never before and played well when he wasn’t injured. After a few years, his sexuality was an open secret. Everybody on the club knew. Nobody seemed to mind. For the first time, he became close to his teammates. He could talk to them about his boyfriend and find a sympathetic ear. The locker room, to his surprise, became an easier place to be. Rather than pop, the bubbles joined to form a bigger one.
Opponents knew, too, and at first called him every gay slur imaginable. David was furious, but eventually started deflecting their comments, comfortable as he finally was with himself. He’d realized he could fight homophobia on the field by showing himself to be just as much of a man and soccer player as anyone else. He would help his antagonists off the ground after he tackled them. “I saw certain players change their whole perspective,” he says.
This one is a keeper.
[Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]