Dread & distraction

All tomorrow's parties

I spent most of my career writing really frivolous shit. It was a good living, and I took it extremely seriously, but a few years ago, I began applying myself to somewhat more pressing topics. Given the state of the world—i.e., my belated awareness of the state of the world—I didn’t really have a choice.

Even so, I sometimes do still miss the frivolous shit. After the past year, I’ve been missing it more than ever.

So when my editor at Marker asked if I'd like to write about Soho House and how the global empire of members-only social clubs was surviving the pandemic (believe it or not, the company is plotting an IPO), I not only jumped at the chance, I went deep—like more than 7,000 words deep.

I mean, I really went for it.

"It wasn’t FOMO alone that fueled Soho House’s conquest of New York. For those who made it past reception, the club felt like a boozy cocoon, safe from the color-coded threat alerts, shoe bombers, anthrax fiends, and gas-station snipers that haunted our dreams. New Yorkers needed comforting, and for the fortunate few, Soho House provided it."

Probably overdid it a bit, to be honest. But time-traveling back to the early aughts, when the club first touched down in the Meatpacking District, prompted a psychic return to my glossy roots. Back then, the Internet was an afterthought. The stuff was going into print! It felt weighty. We sweated every word. I had one editor who used to say things like, “Make it a tone poem.” And I was like, “I’m on it!”

Seriously, this is how we used to write.

"It’s an upscale archipelago, a hotel chain, a snug garrison for a pampered urban elite, a restaurant group, a digital play, a celebrity refuge, a coworking juggernaut, a royal love nest, a lifestyle brand, an elitist throwback, a gated community, and a state of mind."

Anyway, here’s a link. Hope you like it. See you at the pool.

xxoo,
Aaron

P.S. I also recently chatted with the amazing Lee Grant about her memories of the Red Scare and her take on a new anti-Trumpist blacklist, and wrote about how a handful of bloggers hatched a plan to take down Stockton’s superstar mayor, Michael Tubbs.

Dread & distraction

Letter from upstate

Hey there,

Diehard readers of this email (haha) will recall that the initial plan was to fire it off monthly, give or take. Then the world got kind of complicated, and I sort of dropped it. I think that was the right call. You had plenty to read.

I moved upstate in July (long story!), and since then, I have been a little preoccupied doing things like clearing old asbestos tiles from the enormous pile of garbage that the former owners were kind enough to leave for me by the silo, and getting stung by a yellow jacket in the eye for my trouble.

Yes, really.

Anyway, I’m doing fine. The yellow jacket is presumed dead. The tiles remain for now. In fact, if you’re one of those diehard vintage cladding enthuiasts who will truly cherish these hard-to-find relics of a bygone era, they’re yours the taking.

Meanwhile, it seems we’re in a fleeting news lull today (these things are relative), so maybe now’s a good time. Here’s what I’ve working on the past few months:

How the Government Is Gutting Our Right to Assembly Our freedom to protest has been systematically dismantled — just when we need it most.

Our Little Town of Bethel How MAGA paranoia fueled a frightening attack on a low-key BLM protest in Bethel, Ohio.

An Anti-Gay Crusader and Her Gay Son Were Making It Work. Then Came Trump. The personal turns political, and back, at Modesto’s “Straight Pride” rally.

Unlucky Charms The Rise and Fall of Billion-Dollar Jewelry Empire Alex and Ani How things went south for the New Age bangle behemoth.

As always, if you prefer not to get these emails from me, you know what to do—just hammer that link at the bottom of the page, yo.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading.

Miss you,
Aaron

[Revised] Health & Gellness

Bonus smoothie edition w/ repaired link

Hello friend,

I’m often asked, Gell, how do you do it?

To which I will generally offer a coy and mysterious smile and nothing more.

As a special gift to readers of this newsletter, however, I hereby reveal the surprising truth: it all comes down to the magical smoothie I drink every single morning, the recipe for which was revealed to me during a life-altering spiritual reverie. Feel free to give it a try, or adapt it to your own needs; and scroll down for links to a few of my recent pieces.

(Please click unsubscribe at the bottom of this email if you prefer not to be on this list.)

The Smoothie

Ingredients

A banana¹
1 1/2 cups², Silk Plain Almond and Cashew Protein Nut Milk³
3-5 large leaves frozen kale³
2 tablespoons, ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon, peanut butter
1 tablespoon, Hershey’s dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup, frozen blueberries

Directions

Place ingredients in a VitaMix blender⁴, blend until smooth.

Notes

¹I do not recommend a frozen banana unless you enjoy tooth pain. ²Don’t even measure, just eyeball it. ³Hint: frozen kale imparts no kale taste whatsoever. ⁴VitaMix blenders are ridiculously expensive (ours is a hand-me-down). But if you do splurge, on your death bed you will feel great peace as you picture the succession of lamer, cheaper blenders you never bought.

The Readings

Why Hollywood Loves Feel-Good Holocaust Movies

This is my methodical takedown of the execrable Jojo Rabbit, with a touch of shade for Anne Frank (not really). See the film it you must, but please read this first.

WeWork Didn’t Invent WeWork

You may have heard the tale of how Adam Neumann ran barefoot from his burning office-space unicorn, leaving it to SoftBank and other investors to sift through the wreckage. Here, the never-before-told story of how he came up with the coworking idea in the first place. (Turns out he yoinked it from a little old lady he met in a business class at Baruch College.)

People Are Seriously Talking About Invading Brazil to Save the Planet

To be fair, the death of the Amazon is now old news—along with the fate of humankind (yawn)—and we’ve moved on to other things, but I swear this headline was briefly true.

As ever, thanks for reading,
Aaron

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Health & Gellness

Bonus smoothie edition

Hello friend,

I’m often asked, Gell, how do you do it?

To which I will generally offer a coy and mysterious smile and nothing more.

As a special gift to readers of this newsletter, however, I hereby reveal the surprising truth: it all comes down to the magical smoothie I drink every single morning, the recipe for which was revealed to me during a life-altering spiritual reverie. Feel free to give it a try, or adapt it to your own needs; and scroll down for links to a few of my recent pieces.

(Please click unsubscribe at the bottom of this email if you prefer not to be on this list.)

The Smoothie

Ingredients

A banana¹
1 1/2 cups², Silk Plain Almond and Cashew Protein Nut Milk³
3-5 large leaves frozen kale³
2 tablespoons, ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon, peanut butter
1 tablespoon, Hershey’s dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup, frozen blueberries

Directions

Place ingredients in a VitaMix blender⁴, blend until smooth.

Notes

¹I do not recommend a frozen banana unless you enjoy tooth pain. ²Don’t even measure, just eyeball it. ³Hint: frozen kale imparts no kale taste whatsoever. ⁴VitaMix blenders are ridiculously expensive (ours is a hand-me-down). But if you do splurge, on your death bed you will feel great peace as you picture the succession of lamer, cheaper blenders you never bought.

The Readings

Why Hollywood Loves Feel-Good Holocaust Movies

This is my methodical takedown of the execrable Jojo Rabbit, with a touch of shade for Anne Frank (not really). See the film it you must, but please read this first.

WeWork Didn’t Invent WeWork

You may have heard the tale of how Adam Neumann ran barefoot from his burning office-space unicorn, leaving it to SoftBank and other investors to sift through the wreckage. Here, the never-before-told story of how he came up with the coworking idea in the first place. (Turns out he yoinked it from a little old lady he met in a business class at Baruch College.)

People Are Seriously Talking About Invading Brazil to Save the Planet

To be fair, the death of the Amazon is now old news—along with the fate of humankind (yawn)—and we’ve moved on to other things, but I swear this headline was briefly true.

As ever, thanks for reading,
Aaron

Shaking the bush

Slack, string theory, and the failure to communicate

Now that I’m working at home, under contract with Medium (well worth a sub!), teaching journalism at Wallkill Correctional Facility, and picking up the occasional freelance assignment, I've come to see my many communications apps—Slack and Gchat and Twitter and sure, when you look at it from a certain angle, this newsletter—as the digital equivalent of a certain length of string that plays a small but pivotal role in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

This 1967 masterpiece has been my favorite film since I first saw it a long-ass time ago, back when the movie was aired seemingly every weekend on Cinemax or whatever premium channel my buddy’s family subscribed to. Over the years, I’ve watched it countless times, and I have a lot of the dialog committed to memory. But in recent years, the string has become the heart of it for me. Not “failure to communicate.” Not “I can eat 50 eggs.” Not “Hey, old man, you home tonight?” Not even Lucille washing the car. It’s all about the string.

You’ve seen it, I imagine, but to recap: Paul Newman at his most Paul Newmanish plays a decorated war veteran, Lucas Jackson, doing hard time in a Florida work camp for a drunken, probably PTSD-related escapade in which he wound up sawing a parking meter off its pole. Despite his incarceration, Luke remains a free spirit, wild, untameable, enduring whatever torment the system directs his way—and often cheerfully upping the ante. He does it for his fellow inmates as a reminder of human freedom, and because he can’t help it, and because the movie is a very on-the-nose Christian allegory and so his fate is essentially sealed.

Luke is what the trusty calls “a hard case.” He goes on the lam repeatedly, but the escape that really matters is the one with the bush. The chain gang is doing road work when Luke—now in a set of leg irons—asks for a bathroom break. The overseer agrees but warns him to “keep shaking that bush, so we know you're there.” That's where the string comes in: Luke’s fragile, attenuated tether, his last connection to that bush, to the chain gang, to the many demands society will put on a person, tugging at a branch even as he’s already halfway gone.

I feel halfway gone myself these days—in a good way, mostly!—but yes, I’m definitely still shaking it.


A couple recent stories you may have missed:

For Medium’s tech site, OneZero, I wrote about a New Zealand startup, Soul Machines, and it’s visionary founder, Mark Sagar, a former special FX wizard for Peter Jackson who has spent the last seven years trying to model the human brain and nervous system in code. Soul Machines’ “digital humans”—chatbots but more realistic—are increasingly being put to work in the customer service industry, including by a major collection agency (gulp). But Sagar’s real goal is to create an artificial intelligence that can learn and act autonomously, and many experts think he’s well on the way to pulling it off.


For GEN, Medium’s new site devoted to politics and culture, I took a deep dive into the world of anti-fascist researchers, everyday folks who spend their free time delving into the fetid storm drains and sewer pipes of online white nationalism in an effort to identify violent racists and expose them to public scrutiny. I was lucky to get one of the most celebrated, a forty-something “Ned Flanders” type who goes by the Twitter handle @AntiFashGordon, to introduce me to this highly secretive subculture, and I was privileged to observe as he trained the members of a radical Jewish group in the secrets of open-source intelligence gathering. Bonus: that keyboard animation is a Russell Gell original. (Wisely, the kid’s got me blocked on Instagram, but because I am now a trained expert in OSINT, I can tell you his company page is here, and I’m sure he’d welcome a follow, especially if you feel like hiring someone to animate illustrations or do 3-D modeling or both.)


And last week, I wrote an essay about how the Global Climate Strike and the planned storming of Area 51—“a desperate bid to preserve life on earth, and an impish stab at proving the existence of a galactic escape hatch”—are happening on the same day (this Friday, see you there!), and what it all means.


Finally, whenever possible, I try to get my students’ work published, and a great piece just went up on Medium’s Human Parts site. “Sweet Feed” is Harold Williams’ remarkable essay about his experience working on the horse farm at Wallkill, caring for retired thoroughbreds, while contending with his own mortality. It’s like Cool Hand Luke but with way more horses. Please give it a read. And congrats to Harold on his long overdue release next week.

By the way, sometimes I just go ahead and add someone to this newsletter subscriber list without asking permission, likely in violation of some critical piece of fine print I really should have read. I do that because like Lucas Jackson I don’t GAF. But if it feels like spam, by all means, unsubscribe. True, I only send it out a few times a year, but there’s an awful lot of email in the world. I get it. Not everyone wants to eat fifty eggs, and that’s okay!

For everyone else, thanks as ever for reading. I really do appreciate it.

Much love,
Aaron

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