The Outsized Life of Muhammad Ali

David Remnick, writing for The New Yorker:

In his early career, when he declared his allegiance to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, rid himself of his “slave name,” and lost his heavyweight title rather than fight in Vietnam, Ali was vilified as much as he was admired. Millions hated Ali; he threatened a sense of the racial order; he was, in his refusal to conform to any type, as destabilizing to many Americans as he was to the many heavyweights who could not understand why he would just not come to the center of the ring and fight like a real man. He was, for many years, a radical figure for many Americans. For years, many refused to call him by his new name. “I pity Clay and abhor what he represents,” the columnist Jimmy Cannon wrote. Even Red Smith, the most respected of all sports columnists, compared Ali to the “unwashed punks” who dared to march against the war. 

If you read one Muhammad Ali piece, make it this one.


Unearthing the Secrets of New York’s Mass Graves

Nina Bernstein, writing for The New York Times:

New York is unique among American cities in the way it disposes of the dead it considers unclaimed: interment on a lonely island, off-limits to the public, by a crew of inmates. Buried by the score in wide, deep pits, the Hart Island dead seem to vanish — and so does any explanation for how they came to be there.

To reclaim their stories from erasure is to confront the unnoticed heartbreak inherent in a great metropolis, in the striving and missed chances of so many lives gone by. Bad childhoods, bad choices or just bad luck — the chronic calamities of the human condition figure in many of these narratives. Here are the harshest consequences of mental illness, addiction or families scattered or distracted by their own misfortunes.

But if Hart Island hides individual tragedies, it also obscures systemic failings, ones that stack the odds against people too poor, too old or too isolated to defend themselves. In the face of an end-of-life industry that can drain the resources of the most prudent, these people are especially vulnerable.

Indeed, this graveyard of last resort hides wrongdoing by some of the very individuals and institutions charged with protecting New Yorkers, including court-appointed guardians and nursing homes. And at a time when many still fear a potter’s field as the ultimate indignity, the secrecy that shrouds Hart Island’s dead also veils the city’s haphazard treatment of their remains.

These cases are among hundreds unearthed through an investigation by The New York Times that draws on a database of people buried on the island since 1980. The records make it possible for the first time to trace the lives of the dead, revealing the many paths that led New Yorkers to a common grave.

Matched with other public records, including guardianship proceedings, court dockets and hundreds of pages of unclaimed cadaver records obtained from the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, the database becomes a road map to unlocking Hart Island’s secrets.

When I got my tattoo of a basic map of the Bronx, I made sure to include Hart Island.


The Green Room with Paul Provenza, ft. Garry Shandling

There's obviously a lot of sadness over Garry Shandling's death (although, I have to be honest—am I the only one who watched his recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and thought: Jesus, Garry Shandling looks awful.) and there have been a ton of pieces and clips and tributes going around, but this has been the one I enjoyed the most.

My favorite is how empathetic he is towards Bo Burnham, which stands out in a group of guys who are otherwise doing the normal you're-younger-than-me-therefore-eat-my-shit routine.

/via somebody Marc Maron retweeted


Still Rendering

Erin Lee Carr, writing on Medium:

Six months ago, I had a big meeting. The kind of meeting that wrenches you awake at 6am in a cold sweat, with the feeling that you hadn’t ever really fallen asleep. I arrived an hour early, naturally, so I went to a nearby cafe. I was prepared, I had my hard drives, and they had great stuff on them, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had forgotten something. As I sat there and stress ate a piece of chocolate fudge cake, I realized I felt off because I hadn’t talked to my dad, a tradition I observed before every big meeting. I wasn’t able have the prep phone-call the night before to go over the words that could win me anything. I just had my own thoughts rattling around in my head. I felt like I had lost my ace in the deck and if you knew my dad, I promise you’d agree.

For some reason, it makes me really happy to know that David Carr was such a good Dad.


When I’m Gone

Rafael Zoehler, writing on Medium:

My mother picked me up at school and we went to the hospital. The doctor told the news with all the sensitivity that doctors lose over the years. My mother cried. She did have a tiny bit of hope. As I said before, everyone does. I felt the blow. What does it mean? Wasn’t it just a regular disease, the kind of disease doctors heal with a shot? I hated you, dad. I felt betrayed. I screamed with anger in the hospital, until I realized my father was not around to ground me. I cried.

Then, my father was once again a father to me. With a shoebox under her arm, a nurse came by to comfort me. The box was full of sealed envelopes, with sentences where the address should be. I couldn’t understand exactly what was going on. The nurse then handed me a letter. The only letter that was out of the box.

“Your dad asked me to give you this letter. He spent the whole week writing these, and he wants you read it. Be strong.” the nurse said, holding me.

The envelope read WHEN I’M GONE. I opened it.

Caution—do not read this if you’re already feeling a little emotionally prickly.


The New Normal

Stephanie Wittels Wachs:

The grief takes up so much space that there’s not much room for anything else. When I’m not thinking about how bleak life’s going to be without you, I’m signing or notarizing or mailing documents on your behalf or explaining to some customer service representative that you’re dead. Most importantly, I’m trying my best to get out of bed every morning, put one foot in front of the other, and smile for my daughter. This is taking all the energy I have. As a result, my ability to think and remember is notably compromised. I constantly say one word but mean another. I hear “I told you that already” constantly.

If you’re someone who has dealt with the unexpected death of someone close to you, you’ll recognize yourself in this piece.

/via Bill Simmons


True Myth: A Conversation With Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens, in a Pitchfork interview with Ryan Dombal:

At worst, these songs probably seem really indulgent. At their best, they should act as a testament to an experience that's universal: Everyone suffers; life is pain; and death is the final punctuation at the end of that sentence, so deal with it. I really think you can manage pain and suffering by living in fullness and being true to yourself and all those seemingly vapid platitudes. 

I read this interview while sitting outside, Sufjan Stevens’ new album, Carrie & Lowell, playing on the stereo. There was a woodpecker intermittently going to town on a tree somewhere in the distance. If I turned to my left, I could look down the hill past my house and almost see the exact spot where my mother was in the car accident that killed her two weeks ago. For me to say that Carrie & Lowell is a terrific album is unfair; there’s too much of me wrapped up in it to be a fair critic. But I’ll suggest you all read this interview and maybe check it out. There might be something for you to find in it.


Reading David Carr

I wasn’t going to post anything on here about David Carr’s death on Thursday, mostly because every single blog out there already did. But when the Times posted this piece on Friday, a collection of his work hand-picked by his colleagues, the most fitting eulogy I could think of for a writer like Carr, I spent the time since reading/watching all of them and I couldn’t help but share it again. It is all worth your time, I promise, but I’ll highlight just one graf, from this 2009 piece, ‘The Rise and Fall of Media’:

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.

Rest in peace, Mr. Carr. You are already missed.


My Life Under Armed Guard

Roberto Saviano, The Guardian:

For the last eight years, I have travelled everywhere with seven trained bodyguards in two bullet-proof cars. I live in police barracks or anonymous hotel rooms, and rarely spend more than a few nights in the same place. It’s been more than eight years since I took a train, or rode a Vespa, took a stroll or went out for a beer. Everything is scheduled to the minute; nothing is left to chance. Doing anything spontaneous, just because I feel like it, would be ridiculously complicated.

After eight years under armed guard, threats against my life barely make the news. My name is so often associated with the terms death and murder that they hardly register. After all these years under state protection, I almost feel guilty for still being alive.

An important, fascinating essay. I imagine that this will be a movie in a couple, three years.

/via NextDraft


Hue and Cry Notice

Ellen Barry:

On average, the police in [New Delhi] register the discovery of more than 3,000 unidentifiable bodies a year — unidentifiable not because they are unrecognizable, but because they carry no documents and there is no one who knows them.

There’s an entire world of pain out there, in which people operate in a totally different sphere of existence. We, here in the United States, know almost nothing about it.