Friday, 17 June 2011

10 Essentials: Ben Gorham

It's safe to say that Ben Gorham is the only guy to go from pro basketball to cooking up fragrances. After a quick stint in the Italian league, Gorham attended art school and, in 2006, launched Byredo, a Stockholm-based line that specializes in scents crafted out of stripped-down, earthy ingredients like juniper, caraway, and leather. Each scent recreates a specific memory—like the smells of mom's hometown in India and the fragrance his father used to wear—some surprisingly sensitive stuff coming from a 6'5" tall guy with inked arms. On the verge of releasing his newest spritz called Mr. Marvelous, we chatted up the renaissance dude about all the things he swears by.

1. The Food Stalls in Bademiya, India

"These foods stalls are legendary! They're located on a tiny street behind the Taj Mahal Hotel and have some of the best grilled foods I've ever eaten. They sell tandoori and tikkas—all traditional Indian stuff. The area has the most amazing scents, both good and bad—all extremes. And if you're lucky, you might even run into a Bollywood star."

2. Dark Double-Breasted Tailored Suit from Bauer & Co.

"I have all my suits tailor-made from Bauer & Co. in Stockholm. They've been around for more than 150 years and they're the only real bespoke tailor left in Scandinavia. The latest addition to my collection is a dark double-breasted summer suit. It's made from a 1950s dead stock fresco fabric that I found at a Scottish mill."

3. Silk Socks from New & Lingwood

"The ultimate dressy sock for a formal event. They work really great with patent leather slippers, the equivalent of male ballerina shoes. It's a little weird when you first put them on, like you're wearing women's stockings, but it all makes sense when you get in the shoes."

4. White Short-Sleeved Shirt by Dries Van Noten

"A super-crisp white short-sleeved shirt made with super-thin cotton—it's the perfect summer garment. Without the jacket, it becomes quite casual with the short sleeves and my tattoos. Still, there are times where I leave it on, because the tattoos scare some people."

5. Generic Boy Jeans by Acne

"Acne's actually bringing these jeans back now. When I heard they were going to discontinue them, I bought three identical ones. I've literally been calling the office requesting them for years to bring them back, so I'd like to take credit for at least part of their return."

6. Moustache Comb from G. Lorenzi in Milan

"Only for serious moustache growers. This beautiful shop located at Monte Napoleone sells you the best hand crafted shaving equipment, combs, and knives. I didn't even know moustache combs existed until I went there. It's in the shape of a manta ray, and using it becomes some type of fixation, like smoking. It's kind of like an afro pick—same idea—except you never leave it in there."

7. Aman Sveti Stefan Resort, Montenegro

"Iconic Montenegro destination in combination with one of the best luxurious get-aways. It has an unbelievably historic feel and impeccable service. They take care of anything you need, whether it's calling concierge for swimming trunks at 4 a.m. or having your eggs boiled a certain way. The island reminds me of the Adriatic side of Italy and the water here is incredibly clear because of the rocks at the bottom. The icing on the cake: they serve great, locally-caught seafood, too."

8. Fish and Chips from Room Service at the Connaught

"I love indulging in simple British food in a luxurious setting after a long day of meetings. Here's the best version of that."

9. Tea Trolley by Alvar Aalto for Artek

"I love the drink trolley designed by Alvar Aalto for Artek in 1936. He's my favorite Scandinavian designer and one who was all about function. Plus, it's just fun to wheel the trolley around and around whenever you're entertaining guests."

Presidential Library: Ronald Reagan

Presidential Library:
Ronald Reagan

"Reagan, however, appears to have undergone a profound shift when he was given a copy of Whittaker Chambers's Witness (1952). Indeed, the work of a former communist spy convinced Reagan that liberalism was even more of an enemy of the West than communism itself."

—from Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History by John Patrick Diggins

Presidential Library: Barack Obama

Presidential Library:
Barack Obama

"See, the book's [Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness] not really about Africa. Or black people. It's about the man who wrote it. The European. The American...So I read the book to help me understand just what it is that makes white people so afraid. Their demons. The way ideas get twisted around. It helps me understand how people learn to hate."

—from Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father

Presidential Library: Bill Clinton

Presidential Library:
Bill Clinton

"Once, instead of paying attention to the class, I read Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. At the end of the hour, [the professor] asked me what was so much more interesting than his lecture. I held up the book and told him it was the greatest novel written in any language since William Faulkner died. I still think so."

—from his 2004 autobiography, My Life

David Simon Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) by James Agee with photographs by Walker Evans

David Simon

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941)
by James Agee with photographs by Walker Evans

A suburban boy's father marks up his English essays, explaining both the wit and weaknesses of leading sentences with gerunds. He tells stories of fierce heroes, word warriors: Broun, who loved the street parade, and Pegler, who sat next to him all those years, despising the common man; Bigart, selfless and understated, or Mencken, who believed in only Mencken. But all of them so gifted, so deft, so able to trick a phrase. Here, says the father, read this transition. Here, look what he does with the second graf...

The father takes the son to a Front Page revival at a D.C. theater. The boy is oversold. He will be a newspaperman, a journalist.

Years later, he is on the metro desk at an old gray rag, Mencken's old paper, the youngest and last-hired scribbler. He prides himself on needing only minutes to bring fifteen clean column inches on anything, to be fast on rewrite when they put him there, to always talk a desk sergeant out of whatever handful of facts are required. It is all easy and good.

Until an older reporter hands him a book. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

So, thinks the young man, something about celebrity.

He begins to read, bored at first, then confused, then with growing alarm at the delicacy of the reporting, the self-awareness of a thinking journalist as he approaches and attempts to represent the love, fear, and sadness of real lives. My God, Agee is feeling this. Feeling what he is seeing. Feeling what he is writing.

And these people, these poor and unguarded sharecroppers, have opened their lives to the monstrous hegemony of reporting. But the journalist—thank God—he's utterly aware of the stakes involved, the dignity at risk. He gathers it all with caution and nuance. Page after fucking page of unmistakable proof of the true human condition.

"If I could do it," Agee declares, "I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art; and I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlor game... As it is though, I'll do what little I can in writing."

After reading Agee, I knew how callow a young reporter's ambitions can be, how small my sense of craft, my dry professionalism was. Famous Men is the book that made me ashamed and proud to be a journalist—all in the same instant. Reading it made me grow up. Or at least, it demanded that I begin to grow up.

Whatever honor can be found in using the lives of others to tell tales is there, in the pages of that improbable book. Along with one final lesson as well: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is now, in retrospect, a classic work, an exercise in pure, declarative humanism. It will read true forever.

And yet, at the time of publication, it sold 600 copies.

But Agee knew. He had to know.
David Simon is the creator of The Wire and Treme.

Patton Oswalt A Boy and His Dog (1969) by Harlan Ellison

Patton Oswalt

A Boy and His Dog (1969)
by Harlan Ellison

I was being my typical asshole self one day in the seventh grade and got sent to detention. I had a copy of They Came from Outer Space: 12 Classic Science Fiction Tales That Became Major Motion Pictures, a collection of stories that were the basis for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Thing from Another World. One of these stories was Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog."

I loved science fiction and, up to that point in my life, was happy to read about spaceships and aliens, robots and ray guns.

Ellison didn't write science fiction in a way I'd read it before. His stories had sex and confusion and no clear-cut heroes. There was violence, but not the violence I'd seen in movies. It was sloppy and sudden, like I'd seen on playgrounds. And there was a vertiginous sense that science fiction wasn't some gleaming antigravity future I'd never be a part of. It was two steps away and might come roaring down on us if someone pressed the wrong button.

"A Boy and His Dog" is about a dystopian future where human scavengers sift through a post-WWIII wasteland, and intelligent telepathic dogs, bred for warfare, use the remaining humans and their opposable thumbs to help find food, open doors and cans, and pull triggers on guns. It was Lord of the Flies, postpubescent and pissed off.

Ellison didn't change my life so much as he changed my reading habits, revealing a dozen branching paths and side alleys where before there seemed to be an orderly road to adulthood. He brought rawness and confusion and awe and real terror, and I'm forever indebted.

Patton Oswalt is the author of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

Anthony Bourdain Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) by Hunter S. Thompson

Anthony Bourdain

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)
by Hunter S. Thompson

I vividly remember my introduction to Hunter Thompson's masterpiece in its original serial form in the pages of Rolling Stone. I was absurdly young (maybe 15?) and in no way prepared for the angry, hallucinatory, and searingly funny prose that seemed to leap off the page and burn its way into my skull. Thompson's savagely descriptive sentences deeply affected my own, leading to a lifelong love for hyperbole. And as a young man just coming of age as it became clear there would be no revolution, no peace in Vietnam, and four more years of Richard Nixon, I responded to Thompson's rage. But it was the sentiment underlying Thompson's story—the heartbreak and disappointment that would peek through between images like that of his dead grandmother crawling up his leg with a knife in her teeth—that affected me most. I became determined not just to write like Thompson but to live like Thompson, too. Probably not the ideal role model for a 15-year-old. But there it is.

Anthony Bourdain's latest book is Medium Raw.

Tobias Wolff The Fire Next Time (1963) by James Baldwin

Tobias Wolff

The Fire Next Time (1963)
by James Baldwin

I became a reader through the books of Albert Payson Terhune, who wrote almost exclusively about collies. At any given time, he owned as many as twenty of these dogs, "the tawny swarm," as he described them, and identified so strongly with his favorites—Lad, Bruce, Gray Dawn—that he was compelled to describe the world from their point of view. These collies were marvels of courage, compassion, and intelligence, infinitely superior to the humans they encountered, but especially humans of foreign provenance, of Levantine aspect or name and "swarthy" hue. He was in fact a terrible bigot, and all unknowing I breathed in his bigotry with his love of dogs.

In fact, bigotry was always in the air around me and in the language I heard and thoughtlessly used, growing up in the South, in Salt Lake City and the mountains of Washington State, and in an eastern boarding school with one black student. The greatest challenge to that reflexive assumption of superiority came in the form of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, published when I was 17. With relentless logic and an unsentimental view of our history, Baldwin held up to his readers the possibility of seeing ourselves as we really were, caught in an officially sanctioned cycle of blindness and fear, giving rise to emotional and physical violence as destructive to the unjust as to those suffering the injustice. "Whoever debases others," Baldwin wrote, "is debasing himself." I came to recognize myself in those words; they stung.

Yet racism was not the only problem that Baldwin explored in this great book. He was concerned with our talent for hiding unpleasant truths from ourselves, particularly truths that would implicate us in the evils of the world and contradict our happy picture of ourselves as innocents—though the evidence of history and of our own lives, our own thoughts, all suggested otherwise.

Baldwin's argument: To live in and profit even passively by an unjust social arrangement must inevitably create a sense of self-disgust unless we invent a consoling counternarrative. And if we are to make ourselves comfortable while others are mistreated and deprived of the rights that we enjoy, only one explanation will suffice—that they are less human than ourselves. To be comfortable, we must build our lives on that lie, spend our souls reinforcing it, and die strangers to the truth and to ourselves.

Baldwin did not wish that fate on us. For all its measured ferocity, The Fire Next Time was written as an act of love, to hold up the mirror and give us the chance to change what we do not like to see. "The most important thing that one human being can do for another," Baldwin wrote, is to "bar the door" to his "spiritual and social ease." He did that for me. And if I am not all I should be, I am at least uneasy.

Tobias Wolff's latest collection, Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories, won the Story Prize in 2009.

John Jeremiah Sullivan No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980) by Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins

John Jeremiah Sullivan

No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980)
by Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins

You can't ask writers to name the most important books of their youth. They cannot hear the question—it passes through a region in the left temporal lobe that changes it into a different question: What would you like us to think were the most important books of your youth? How many authors have racked 300 words recounting the Jove-like descent of Hemingway's Michigan stories into their adolescent world, when what they should have said is Choose Your Own Adventure 91: You Are a Superstar.

I undertook, as an experiment, to suppress that part of the brain responsible for this distortion, and yesterday began to receive the first stray images. Flame-bright reds and oranges. A Jesus-like man, standing: his lithe and shirtless torso draped down the cover. His left areola—flat, dark, and hard, like an old Spanish coin—seems somehow disturbingly prominent.

Rows of tall black capital letters appear: NO ONE HERE GETS OUT ALIVE. Little white ones: The Biography of Jim Morrison. I don't need to see the authors' names. Hail, Hopkins and Sugerman, unacknowledged legislators.

In my memory there's a group of us, the world's most unintentionally humorous gang, who carried this book through the hallways in the eighth grade, always with cover out, like a badge. Signifying what? That we were skaters and people in bands. The strange tale of James Douglas Morrison, a Florida-born military brat who wanted with every cell in his body to be a great English poet but had been so culturally malformed by post-World War II America that he emerged a drug-gobbling sex shaman, canting such verses as

Ride the snake
Ride the snake
To the lake
The ancient lake, baby
The snake is long
Seven miles
Ride the snake

There was an album, An American Prayer: Jim reads his poems over riffs laid down by the other three Doors. A thing positively glorious in its awfulness. I popped it into my mom's car tape deck, when she picked me up from the strip-mall record store. "Her cunt gripped him like a warm friendly hand..." My mother's finger shot out toward the eject button. "I would have been ashamed to play something like that in front of my parents," she said. Exactly, Mother!

No One Here Gets Out Alive does include this one sentence, in which the co-authors address Jim's artistic "lineage," which is apparently vast, comprising "Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Poe, Blake, Artaud, Cocteau, Nijinsky, Byron, Coleridge, Dylan Thomas," and others. The list led me to read some of those writers, at first as a way to know Jim. Inevitably, they were better at their worst than the Lizard King at his best. Not that I won't go to my grave defending "Break on Through," but poetry-wise, there's no recovering from

Lament for my cock
Sore and crucified
I seek to know you
Acquiring soulful

Therein lay the beauty of Jim as a literary figure. His almost unimaginable suckiness made him approachable, and through him you discovered actual writers, eventually shedding him, much as a snake does its skin. A snake does not despise or dishonor his old skin; he just moves on. He's old, and his skin is cold. Ride the snake.

John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead comes out in November.

Roy Blount Jr. The Benchley Roundup (1954) by Robert Benchley

Roy Blount Jr.

The Benchley Roundup (1954)
by Robert Benchley

By the tenth grade, since it is hard to build true greatness on, for instance, a three-inch vertical leap, the prospects of my becoming a three-sport immortal had dimmed. But what else could I do when I grew up that wouldn't demand much maturity? Fortunately, my English teacher, Ann Lewis, liked the essays I wrote for her class. One of these anticipated Marshall McLuhan's insight that the medium is the message: Instead of taking on the assigned topic, I wrote about my pencil. Miss Lewis urged me to write for the school paper, and also to read Robert Benchley.

Benchley had my initials. He had maintained a room in New York's Royalton Hotel—my middle name is Alton. Okay, he drank himself to death, but people really liked him. And The Benchley Roundup included an essay entitled "My Face." It began, "Merely as an observer of natural phenomena, I am fascinated by my own personal appearance. This does not mean that I am pleased with it...I simply have a morbid interest in it." I was a teenager, with pimples. You could earn a living making fun of your own self-consciousness? That got me through high school, and to quote Benchley, "It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous." Or in my case, I had a mortgage and a two-inch vertical leap.

Roy Blount Jr.'s new book, Alphabetter Juice, or The Joy of Text, came out May 10.

Neil Labute The Hardy Boys Series (1927) by Franklin W. Dixon

Neil Labute

The Hardy Boys Series (1927)
by Franklin W. Dixon

Message to Fenton Hardy, Detective

Dear Mr. Hardy:

I know that you don't technically exist, but I wanted to send you a note of thanks all the same for the many hours of joy that you brought me as a boy. I accompanied you and your sons on many daring adventures, and I was thrilled to spend time with you, Frank, Joe, and even their lovable sidekick, Chet. My home life was kind of tricky back then, and I didn't have too many positive male figures, but you guys never let me down. Sure, I enjoyed solving all those mysteries with you, but even more than that, I feel like I learned a lot of important things about being a man and other good stuff like that along the way. I definitely improved my powers of deduction and sleuthing, but I also learned to treat other people with respect (even girls) and how to be self-suffcient and to finish something once I started it. Basically, I always considered you a kind of substitute father and a literary figure that I will forever look up to. Is that okay? Hope so. Thanks again, "Dad."

Yours in fiction,
Neil LaBute

P.S. I always saved up my money so that I could buy each book in the hardback edition. That said, when I ran out of your titles, I started reading a few of the Nancy Drew mysteries. I often felt bad about that and a little dirty for such a literary infidelity, but I feel happier now, getting it off my chest. For the record, yours were better.

Neil Labute's play Reasons to Be Pretty opens this fall in London.

Karen Russell The Sheltering Sky (1949) by Paul Bowles

Karen Russell

The Sheltering Sky (1949)
by Paul Bowles

I read this fever-yellow nightmare of a book during my junior year in college, when I was living in Seville. It was my first time outside the U.S., my first experience with the disorienting and liberating anonymity of travel. In fact, my goal was to become more anonymous—to peel away from my blonde countrywomen with their Fodor's and their Reeboks, the indigestible American lumps in the crowds. Of course I failed at this. All of Spain's real castles reminded me of Disney World; I ordered gazpacho off every menu because the one time I'd deviated I'd been served some kind of ensalada that looked like a plate of eyeballs in mayonnaise. But I held out hope that my accent would disintegrate. Soon, I thought, this world would feel less foreign; maybe I'd even get mistaken for a native. My friend Tim, probably sensing the depths of my delusion, recommended Bowles's famous Saharan gothic.

In The Sheltering Sky, a Western trio's optimistic hubris catalyzes an annihilating event—one of the most chilling reversals I've ever read, in part because it occurs smack in the middle of the book. An American couple, Kit and Port, tour North Africa with a friend. Port considers himself a "traveler," not a tourist—so much an intimate of the North African desert that he anthropomorphizes the sky as a benign entity. Then Bowles repeals this notion of the sky as "sheltering": Port's passport is stolen, which sets a horror show in motion. But Bowles doesn't presume to be the god of his book; he's merely tracking his characters down a warren of consequences. And Port's bureaucratic conniving, juxtaposed against the imperturbably blue sky of the Sahara, makes for one hell of a terrifying picture.

This book changed the way I read. Safer novels had primed me to expect a certain kind of arc—characters were challenged by events but they overcame them; characters were refined by the machinery of plot, they "grew" as people, they changed for the better. Bowles's characters succumb to the desert. If they survive it, as Kit does, they become new creatures that you could not really label "improved" in the conventional sense. By deviating from the arc that I'd expected for Port, Bowles exposed my childlike faith in arcs, in a happier story, a route through the desert. I realized just how pampered I'd been as a reader (and a traveler) and how little trust I could place in my own predictions of what was bound to happen, in my life and in novels.

Most readers probably know all about the gut-drop you feel when you approach a book's final few pages: Uh-oh, how will she wrap this up? But Bowles's triumph with The Sheltering Sky is to craft a narrative with a tragedy so shocking that, after this particular event (page 234 in my edition), you'll heft the rest of the story and wonder: How will this continue?

I've never felt safe inside a book since.

Karen Russell's debut novel, Swamplandia!, was published in February.

John Waters Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1970) by William Inge

John Waters

Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1970)
by William Inge

In 1970, after reading Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff, one of the two novels by Pulitzer-winning playwright William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop), I learned a valuable lesson. No matter how brilliant the writer (and I loved William Inge), trying too hard to be intellectually provocative can be a disaster, especially when you mix lofty intentions with horndog sex scenes in the name of literary honesty.

Could any novel, even in that decade, have been as politically incorrect as this story of Evelyn Wyckoff, a white middle-aged schoolteacher in the fictitious town of Freedom (!), Kansas? Surrounded as she is by closeted lesbian spinsters in her lonely rooming house, Miss Wyckoff's sexual tension builds until she is mounted in her classroom by the young-black-stud janitor. After repeated master-slave sexual encounters with this verbally abusive custodian, she is caught by other cleaning-crew staff in the act, screaming in pain with her breasts banging up against the piping-hot radiator as she is penetrated from behind. I'm not kidding!

This accidentally (one would hope) racist, sexist, very misguided attempt to examine loneliness and racial tension, written without a drop of irony, ends up being an unintentional howler that forever stains the reputation of this great playwright. For trash to be taken seriously, Inge should have first made fun of his own respectability, not his characters'. Otherwise, I realized, there will always be wiseasses, like myself, who will celebrate—for all the wrong reasons—ridiculously earnest attempts at literary transgression.

John Waters's latest essay collection, Role Models, came out last year.

Wells Tower Gringos (1991) by Charles Portis

Wells Tower

Gringos (1991)
by Charles Portis

Sometime after my fifth reading of Charles Portis's Gringos, I stopped worrying so much about death, politics, and getting fat, and I started worrying about my car.

Gringos is a compact, hilarious meander in the life of Jimmy Burns, an amateur archaeologist, junk trader, and shade-tree mechanic eking out a transcendently unexamined life in Mexico's Yucatán peninsula. Burns's anxieties are more automotive than existential, a stacking of priorities that, as the book proceeds, begins to resemble a quietly heroic state of grace. These are the sorts of unassailable proverbs you get from Jimmy Burns: "You put things off and then one morning you wake up and say—today I will change the oil in my truck." Repeat this line a few times. It sticks in your head like the answer to a Buddhist koan.

I put Burnsisms into practice all the time. The other day, I was driving around with my lady friend when, out of nowhere, she yelled, "Look, dammit, there are some things going on between us we seriously need to discuss."

"Okay," I said, "but right now I need to listen to that thumping sound, which I think is a blown sway-bar bushing." I don't know what a sway-bar bushing is, but saying these words made everything get calm and quiet so that all I could hear was the soothing drone of the engine and the tranquil grinding of my sweetheart's molars.

Over the course of the novel, Burns's heroics range past the everyday and into more swashbuckling territory. At one point, he's compelled to blow out the brains of a homicidal hippie guru, but he doesn't let the killing ruffle his composure. "Shotgun blast or not at close range, I was still surprised at how fast and clean Dan had gone down," Burns reflects. "I wasn't used to seeing my will so little resisted, having been in sales for so long."

Most people know Charles Portis only as the author of True Grit (whose comic brilliance both the recent Coen brothers adaptation and the 1969 John Wayne film failed to fulfill), but for my money Gringos is his subtlest, funniest, and most valuable for its depth of inarguable wisdom: If your clutch plate doesn't rust to your flywheel and you get a fair price on that set of used tires, you've tasted as much of life's sweet fullness as anyone deserves.

Wells Tower is the author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.

Colum McCann Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce

Colum McCann

Ulysses (1922)
by James Joyce

The fact is that every book changes our lives. But Kerouac kicked me around when I was 13. I was a suburban kid living in Dublin, and he peeled me open with On the Road. Several years later, when I was 21, I took a bicycle across the United States. I was looking for the ghost of Dean Moriarty. After that it was all Ferlinghetti, Brautigan, Kesey. And then I discovered who I should have known all along—Joyce. Fancy that, I had to go to America to find an Irish writer. I've been discovering and rediscovering him ever since. Ulysses is the most complete literary compendium of human experience. Every time I read it, it leaves me alert and raw. I recently had a chance to look at a rare first edition. When I cracked open the spine, a tiny piece of the page dropped out, no bigger than a tab of acid. Nobody was looking, not even Kerouac. So I put it on my finger and did what anyone else would do: I ate it.

Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin won a National Book Award in 2009.

American Marvel

"chris evans pecs. how do they FEEL? like smooth stone from the souvenir shop?"

…is the instant message that pops up on my computer one Monday morning in April. My friend Kyle follows it up with a link to the gossip pages of the New York Daily News: I am being described as the "mystery maiden" Evans introduced to his mother at a premiere party; we held hands, the paper is reporting, "in a flirty manner," and he even placed "one of them on his chest." Oh.

When I started working on this profile, I decided on a "say yes to everything, try to be cool" approach, with the idea that maybe I'd capture something real about the star of Captain America: The First Avenger—or as "real" as could be hoped for/faked in the time we had together. But in the days since my first interview with Chris Evans, I'd drunk myself under the table, snuck out of his house at five thirty in the morning, bummed a ride home off a transsexual, been teased mercilessly in front of his mother, and now—this bit in the paper.

I don't remember touching his chest, which is too bad.


Let me start with our official interview, which was a little bit professional and somewhat dignified. Chris Evans arrived on time at Sonny McLean's, an Irish pub in Santa Monica chosen for no real reason other than we're both from Boston, and Boston has lots of Irish bars. He showed up in aviators, a red T-shirt, and a backward baseball cap pulled down to his eyebrows. "How aggressive can I be?" Chris grinned. "Shots?" It turned out the bar was beer-and-wine-only, though, so he got a Sam Adams in a liter-sized stein that he said made him "feel like a Viking." I got the first of many white wines.

That night was his last "normal" Saturday night in Los Angeles. Normal in the sense that in a few days he was flying to Albuquerque for preproduction work on The Avengers (in which Evans will join a superhero supergroup that includes Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk). And normal in the sense that he was about to go from being halfway famous but able to walk his bulldog in peace to being a household name—or if not an entire-household name, then at least a household's-teenage-sons name. He was having a good-bye party later on and spent the interview working himself up for the festivities.

Chris Evans is 30 years old and handsome in a familiar way—sort of like if the best-looking guy you went to high school with took really good care of himself after graduation. His teeth aren't off-puttingly white; his clothes aren't particularly stylish. His face is a lot friendlier, toothier, smileyer in person than it is in, say, the smoldery/serious billboards of him and Evan Rachel Wood for Gucci's new Guilty fragrance. Also, and his mother will kill me for saying this, but although on-screen he's titanic, in person he's a normal six feet and takes up a normal-human amount of space. His mom, Lisa, who has a weakness for skimming Internet message boards, said, "Somebody wrote on IMDb that he looked short! And I was like, 'He was standing next to [Thor star] Chris Hemsworth—of course he looked short! Shaquille O'Neal would look short!' Sometimes I get worked up, because I don't want anybody to say anything bad about my child, so I'll call him and say, 'Somebody said you look short!' and he'll say, 'Mom, you've gotta stop that, you've gotta stop.' So I've pretty much stopped." Chris, later, laughing: "She hasn't stopped shit!"

Since we're both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date. Surprisingly, Chris did the same, asking all about me, my family, my job, my most recent relationship. And from ten minutes into that first interview, when he reached across the table to punctuate a joke by putting his hand on top of mine, Chris kept up frequent hand holding and lower-back touching, palm kissing and knee squeezing. He's an attractive movie star, no complaints. I also didn't know how much I was supposed to respond; when I did, it sometimes felt a little like hitting on the bartender or misconstruing the bartender's professional flirting for something more. I wanted to think it was genuine, or that part of it was, because I liked him right away.

Is this the part of a celebrity profile where I go into how blue the star's eyes are? Because they are very blue.


We both drank too much and said too much. I never opened the notebook of questions I had brought with me.

"I don't know a lot of Ediths," he said.

"You probably thought I was gonna be a thousand years old."

"Yeah, I heard 'Edith' and I thought she was going to be like siiixty."

I couldn't quite figure out if he was a goofy, warm, regular dude or just playing the character of goofy, warm, regular dude in order to charm a female reporter. At one point (and I don't know if this proves the real-Chris or the pretend-Chris theory), he did utter the sentence: "I always say that the times in my life when I've been happiest are the times when I've seen, like, a sunset—"

"Wait." Seriously? " 'The times in my life when I've been happiest are when I've seen, like, a sunset.' "

"Yeah, what?"

"That's gonna be the main quote."

"The point is that when I see a sunset or a waterfall or something, for a split second it's so great, because for a little bit I'm out of my brain, and it's got nothing to do with me. I'm not trying to figure it out, you know what I mean? And I wonder if I can somehow find a way to maintain that mind stillness."

"That's what alcohol is for, right?" I said, which was too cute and too prescient.

"Boom." He high-fived me. It's hard to say which he did more: high-five when he was pleased about a joke of his or mine, or make jerk-off gestures when he was sick of hearing himself talk.


At the bar, we did manage to chat about how he went from doing PSAs in Boston to becoming a Hollywood action star. Evans's mother runs the Concord Youth Theatre outside Boston, where he and his three siblings first performed. (His brother, Scott, who's 27 and also an actor, is probably best known for his role as a gay cop on One Life to Live.) Chris is "kind of a big dork," his mother told me. "At 30 he still knows all the words to songs from The Little Mermaid."

Through the children's theater he landed local commercials, and by the time high school was over, he decided to take a year off to see if he could make it as an actor. So he moved to New York, then L.A., and…made it as an actor. He landed his first major role at 20 in Not Another Teen Movie, followed by starring turns in the not tremendously well-received films The Perfect Score and Cellular. He gained tabloid attention for his many-year relationship with Jessica Biel, fanboy attention in Fantastic Four, critical attention in Danny Boyle's Sunshine, and some cool-kid attention in last year's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His character in that, one of the Evil Ex-Boyfriends whom Michael Cera defeats to win his indie girl's heart, is all comically arched eyebrows and smarmy, over-the-top sneering.

"The eyebrows," he said, with his faint Boston accent. "The character's supposed to be this horrible actor and a douchebag, and I get the job and so many people were like, 'You're perfect, you're gonna crush it!' " he continued with feigned anger. "I was like, So I got this role as an asshole actor, and you guys think I nailed it? That I'm a natural and that nobody in town can do it better?" That's his favorite movie he's done: "It's really funny. And I love Michael Cera. I really do. I like that kid."

Captain America calls for a different kind of cartoonishness—a wholesome, almost painful sincerity. "That's the kind of thing that can get really melodramatic and overearnest if you're not careful," says the director, Joe Johnston. "But Chris handled it perfectly, shading it just right, translating the comic character into flesh and blood." Chris plays Steve Rogers, who starts out too scrawny to join the army. At the Marvel Studios HQ in Manhattan Beach, a producer showed me how they used CGI either to hollow out and taper down Chris's face before "pasting" it onto the body of a much smaller man or, using the same effect, to shrink his entire body, thereby taking him from six feet, 180 pounds, to five feet seven, 120 pounds. The pint-size patriot volunteers for an ultrasecret military-science project, and the Steve Rogers who emerges from the experimental pod is a gleaming, massive, and CGI-free Chris Evans. "His shoulders, his chest—it's all him," says Marvel Studios president and Captain America producer Kevin Feige. "He has a comic-book physique."

I don't know what Chris's exercise regimen is, because it's one of the many things I forgot to ask him.

The way he landed the role was its own mini-drama on fan sites and movie blogs. "After the first or second round of official screen tests, my team and I went back and put our hands on our heads and said, 'Let's look at the list again. Who have we missed?' " Feige says. "And I saw Chris's picture. There's something about Chris. Why don't we bring him in?" So they did, and they loved him, but Evans wasn't sure, and they went back and forth for weeks before he finally accepted. How'd they ultimately persuade him to take the role?

"Well, they didn't," Evans said over our drinks at the Irish pub. "I said no a bunch, and every time I said no, I woke up the next morning so happy and content. I kept saying no; they kept coming back. And eventually I was like, 'You know what? This is your biggest fear—this is exactly what you have to do.' " He took a sip of beer from his gigantic glass. "But we'll see. I could be singing a different tune in six months. It's easy to say all this pretentious shit now." He grinned and made a jerk-off gesture. "The problem is, if the movie's bad, that's one set of problems. If the movie's great, here come the sequels, here come the fuckin'…" he said, catching himself before complaining about—what? The action toys? The paparazzi? The attention? "Let's maintain a healthy amount of respect for what we're talking about here," he continued. "This is why I hate myself in interviews. All of a sudden, you stop and you're like, 'Chris, how dare you?' I don't live in Darfur. I have both legs."

"But you can't walk around all the time being like, 'I'm so grateful I'm not in Darfur.' "

"But why?" he asked.

"Because you can't," I said.

And then I wondered whether this whole conversation was a kind of test for him, to see if he could be both the regular dude from Boston and the famous movie star from Captain America at the same time, to do all the goony things he'd do if there weren't a recording device between us on the table, and trust that his actual normal self would be enough to accurately and appropriately fill a celebrity profile. But he still seemed worried that I'd make him look like an asshole. I explained that even if he were the worst idiot, I probably wasn't allowed to portray GQ's cover boy that way. "What if I said I hate Asians?" he countered. "Joking. Joking. That's the quote: 'Chris Evans hates Asians.' "

I reassured him he had nothing to worry about.

"Is it going well?" he asked.

"It's going really well," I said.

"Nailing it?"

"You're nailing it."

"You're nailing it also," he said. "I'm going to write an article about you."


"I'm not a smoker," he said, an hour or two into our interview, "and I don't have any cigarettes. But I've had this forty-ounce beer.…" When he returned with yet another round—a massive stein in one of his large Captain America hands, my incongruous white wine in the other—he'd bummed a smoke off somebody at the bar.

And although no, I don't smoke, yes, I absolutely would join him outside, and can I actually have a drag? Maybe they make cigarettes differently in L.A., but when you share one with a movie star they're amazing. Everyone should try it.


Despite his publicist specifically telling him not to, he invited me to come to his going-away party. "My poor publicist," he said. "She knows I like to drink. She was like, 'Please don't drink too much, please just don't drink too much—you're gonna take this person out, and they're going to ruin you.' "

We were heading our separate ways for dinner first. I said I was going to call a cab, but Chris laughed and insisted on his driver taking me back to my hotel. In the vast backseat, Chris was even more flirtatious than before, touching my arm and my knee. At this point, which was a…number of drinks in, it was easy to forget that it really was an interview, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind that something might happen (and that we'd go to the Oscars and get married and have babies forever until we died?). But there was always the question of how much of it was truly Chris Evans, and whom I should pretend to be in response.

So I pulled back, decided "good reporter" was a smart one to try for at least a few minutes, and burned through the easy questions I had forgotten to ask him in the bar. Would he raise his family in Boston? "Absofuckinglutely." (He's just bought an apartment there.) What's his favorite kind of music? "Classic rock." What was his favorite radio station growing up? "I was a big—" And before he could finish, I said: "JAM'N 94.5?!" (That's the area's hip-hop station, and my favorite, so I was hoping…)

"BALTAZAR AND PEBBLES!" he said instantly in a perfect—perfect—imitation of the station's late-'90s morning deejays. You had to be there, I guess, and you also had to be from Boston and familiar with its radio stations. But still!


A few hours later, I went to Voyeur. The club was dark, it was loud, partially naked ladies in storm-trooper helmets were dancing on a raised stage and waving colorful lances, and perfect-looking people of indeterminate age were lounging around looking bored. I couldn't find him, so I went up to a bartender and said, with what I thought was a "serious" facial expression and which I'm so glad I'll never have to see, "Um, I'm a writer profiling a celebrity who's at this club, and I'm looking for him? Have you seen, um, Chris…Evans? Is there like…a VIP section?" In my mind, apparently, West Hollywood club employees received automatic updates of which celebrities are where when. Anyway, she had no idea and also didn't give a shit.

I wandered around in the loudness and the spinning lights until Chris squeezed out of the crowd. He'd changed out of his red T-shirt into an identical white one, although his black cap was still pulled low on his head. He gave me a big kiss on the cheek and brought me back to the table. His closest friends are from high school, or are people he met in L.A. when he first came out here ten years ago and who have since left the entertainment industry. I sat on the back of a couch and had a smile/nod-off with one of his female friends and her boyfriend. The next couple of hours were spent like that. There was some more yelling of minimal exchanges with Chris's friends. "I'M FROM NEW YORK." "NEW YORK?" "NO—NEW YORK." There were intermittent visits from Chris for enthusiastic hand holding and cheek kissing, which by then seemed less like flirting than an alcohol-exaggerated but instinctual need to make sure people never looked bored and were always taken care of and never sitting by themselves.

Unfortunately for me, it was all downhill from there.

Five days later, in New York, Chris Evans is embarrassing me in front of his mother. "Edith was hammered!" he says. "Hammered!" His friends, family, and I are all piled into a monster SUV, en route from the premiere party for his upcoming lawyer-drama Puncture to its afterparty on the Lower East Side. He has traded in his uniform of baseball cap and T-shirt for movie-star attire of smart blue suit and slim tie, and I'm wedged between him and his high school buddy Zach in the backseat. Even in the car's bright overhead light and after hours of drinking and schmoozing, Evans's skin looks fresh and clear, his blue eyes bright and lively. "Nooo," I say. "Oh, but you were!" he insists. "Please, please don't," I plead, closing my eyes. But he does and, loudly enough for the entire car to hear, proceeds to tell the humiliating story of what happened after the club.

Up until half an hour earlier, I hadn't actually known what did happen. In fact, I had spent the week practicing breezy and reportorial-sounding questions like "For fact-checking purposes, can you give me like a one-or-two-sentence recap of what we did after the club last Saturday?" Except when I finally found myself alone with him in his reserved booth, what came out was more along the lines of: "Oh my God I was such a mess whaaat even happened whyyy am I always so drunk?"

He laughed. "You don't remember?"

(It was around then that we were spotted by the gossip reporter that I didn't know was a gossip reporter, or else I wouldn't have explained to him on the way back from the bathroom that Chris was "soo flirty" and that I had "the biggest crush on him." Haha. Oops!)

So the story of my lost Saturday night, which Chris first told me alone and then to the whole packed car: After the club, he and his friends and I went back to his house. And here is where I'd describe his house, except…I don't really remember any of it. It was definitely…clean. And spacious. But cozy, not too stylish. There were things on the walls. Framed stuff. Pictures. There were…carpets? I'm sorry. I sincerely wish I remembered this better. It definitely had a pool table, because at some point there was a "jump over the pool table" contest, not that I have any recollection of what that entailed. In the car, Chris is enjoying explaining to everyone that at some point I decided to crawl out a window and wander off into the night. "So then my buddy's like, 'I think your friend is having some trouble,' " Chris says, "and I look over, and there's Edith in the gutter!" (Not lying in the gutter. This I remember. Sitting on the curb, trying and failing to call a cab.)

So he corralled me back to his house, put me in a guest bedroom to sleep it all off, and told me he'd drive me home in the morning. In the span of ten hours, we'd fast-forwarded from complete strangers to people who let each other pass out in their houses—except, again, he couldn't really kick me out, because then I'd say, "Chris Evans kicked me out of his house" here in the piece. We were friends, in other words, but not quite. When I awoke at 5:30 a.m., I slipped quietly out the front door, Googling "cabs la," "taxis los angeles," "help me california," on my phone. I was still kind of drunk and had no idea where I was, but there was something peaceful about the heavy, flowery air and the fog and the birds chirping and my heels clicking. No cab companies answered, and no cabs came by. But eventually a very pretty, blonde, possibly Asian transsexual and her much younger male friend pulled up to make sure I was okay and, instead of raping and murdering me, were very sweet and drove me back to my hotel.

In the SUV, Chris says that crawling out windows is something he could see himself doing. His mom calls over her shoulder from the front seat that it's my "initiation."


At the afterparty at the Thompson LES hotel, Chris tells me I should come watch them shoot some extra Captain America footage in Times Square in a few days. I get the sense that this will never happen, and indeed it doesn't. He's moving from group to group, laughing, toasting, making small talk, and perpetually returning to me for…I don't know what. He's still flirting, but if it's manipulative, it isn't insincere, and it's almost come full circle, from feeling genuine to feeling calculated to feeling sort of familiar and comfortable—although it's still a little weird to consider what's been real and what hasn't. But after a certain hour of the night and the whateverth glass of vodka-and-cranberry from the bottle-service bucket, I'm too tired to keep up with him or to figure out what the game is or has been. We hug, and I go.

"Don't be a stranger," he texts the next day. And so we became Facebook friends.


One other thing I should mention about Chris Evans: He is the greatest person I've ever met in my life, which is what I told him I'd say in this article if he gave me back the leather jacket I accidentally left at his house, and he did.

Ryan Reynolds vs. Jack Black: Did We Really Get the Best Green Lantern?

Following news that broke in 2004, fans of the superhero genre united against a grave force that threatened to destroy every ideal and principle they had fought so hard to achieve. Who were the fiends behind it? Their names were Jack Black and Robert Smigel. Together, with Black as the star and Smigel—known for his "Saturday Night Live" TV Funhouse sketches and, most notably, the creator and voice of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog—as the screenwriter, they dared attempt to create a comedic version of Green Lantern. After flirting with director Kevin Smith, Warner Bros. decided to transform the project into a comedy. Enter Black and Smigel. But, fearing backlash from the superhero fan community (and the failure of another WB property, Catwoman), Warner Bros. killed that version. The superhero fan community rejoiced.
This weekend, a serious version of the story about a man with a power ring—who, with it, can create any object that he can imagine—hits theaters with Ryan Reynolds instead of Black playing the title character. After seeing the finished Green Lantern film and reading Smigel's original draft, we compare Ryan Reynolds' reality to Jack Black's what could have been.
Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, who is selected to be Green Lantern because of his bravery as a test pilot.
Jack Black plays Jud Plato, who is selected to be Green Lantern because of his bravery as a coyote-brain-eating reality show contestant.
Advantage: Reynolds √
Ryan Reynolds uses his power ring to create a racecar that saves a falling helicopter.
Jack Black creates a racecar bed to save a falling Jack Black.
Advantage: Reynolds √
Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern references Buzz Lightyear and He-Man.
Jack Black's Green Lantern references Spider-Man, the Green Hornet, the Thing, and Superman.

Advantage: Black √
Ryan Reynolds uses his heroism to impress the woman of his desires, Carol.
Jack Black knocks a window washer off of his scaffold for the sole purpose of saving him to impress the woman of his desires, Corrine.
Advantage: Reynolds √
Ryan Reynolds uses the ring's power to grow as a human being.
Jack Black uses the ring's power to grow his penis.
Advantage: Reynolds √
The general public is not aware of Green Lantern before Ryan Reynolds shows up in his uniform.
The general public is aware of Green Lantern, often citing lines like "you're the eighth most important superhero" when Jack Black shows up in costume.

Advantage: Black √
Ryan Reynolds uses his power ring to fight an evil that preys on his fears.
Jack Black uses his power ring to create a …Baby One More Time-era Britney Spears.
Advantage: Reynolds √
Ryan Reynolds uses the catchphrase, "Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"
Jack Black uses the catchphrases, "Nein," "It's Clobberin' Time," and "Who wants a taste of the green?"
Advantage: Reynolds √
Ryan Reynolds conjures two green jet fighters to assist him in his battle with the film's villain.
Jack Black conjures a green Superman to assist him in his battle with the film's villain.

Advantage: Black √
In Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern, fellow Green Lantern Corp. member Sinestro is a dick.
In Jack Black's Green Lantern, fellow Green Lantern Corp. member Sinestro is a dick.
Advantage: Even
Ryan Reynolds's Green Lantern unknowingly invokes scenes that are comparable to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Jack Black's Green Lantern knowingly rips off the ending to the first Superman.

Advantage: Black √
Ryan Reynolds is trained by Kilowog, a fearsome alien who isn't afraid to fight dirty.
Jack Black is trained by Kilowog, a fearsome alien who becomes a drunk and isn't afraid to order a dirty martini.

Advantage: Black √
Ryan Reynolds utters clunky lines like, "We having a saying on Earth, 'I'm only human.'"
Jack Black utters clunky lines like, "They took my ring, but they can't take away my greenyness."
Advantage: Even
In combat, Ryan Reynolds creates a machine gun and a sword to defend himself against an opponent.
In combat, Jack Black creates a machine gun and a giant stapler for use on an opponent's scrotum.

Advantage: Black √
Hector Hammond distracts Ryan Reynolds with the threat of Carol in jeopardy.
Sinestro distracts Jack Black with the thought of Elmo having sexual relations with Barbara Walters.

Advantage: Black √
Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern movie exists.
Jack Black's Green Lantern movie does not exist.

Advantage: Black √

Winner: Jack Black

The Celebrity Rehab of Dr. Drew

Above Hollywood hovers a gigantic billboard of Dr. Drew. The addiction specialist is wearing a gunmetal gray suit and giving all those who pass below him a tilted look of concern and mild amusement. It's an advertisement for his eponymous program on CNN's sister network, HLN, the newest property in a steadily expanding television empire that includes Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, the VH1 hit that returns for a fifth season this summer, Celebrity Rehab Presents Sober House, Steve-O: Demise and Rise, Sex Rehab, Sex...with Mom and Dad, Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew, and starting in September, Dr. Drew's Lifechangers. He has hosted the reunion shows for MTV's Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant and will do a special on Teen Dads later this year. Every time a star melts down or acts out, there's Dr. Drew Pinsky, making his rounds on the morning talk shows and the afternoon entertainment news, advising us that such tabloid antics are usually signs of deep suffering and untreated trauma.

Unlike Dr. Phil, with his bootstrappy southern straight talk, or Sanjay Gupta, with his numbing self-seriousness, Drew's persona has always been that of reluctant participant, a kind of "Well, since you asked me, I'll answer" stance. Drew would often make references to his twenty-year experience as the head of the chemical-dependency program at Los Angeles's Las Encinas Hospital or to treating psych patients and addicts in his private practice, which always gave the impression that he had more important shit to do than talk about Nicole Richie. Drew gets calls all the time from families desperate to get treatment for loved ones in the depths of an addiction, "and it breaks my heart," but he can't take on anyone new. Last year he just became too busy being a full-time media personality. So what does it mean if he's no longer Dr. Drew Pinsky—only Dr. Drew?

Drew, life-size now, enters the CNN-studio lobby to greet me. He is in a black tee and jeans, armed with three Coke Zeros to pound down before he has to get on-camera. With Dr. Drew, he's expanded beyond the cycles of recovery and relapse to the whole news cycle, and on this May afternoon he'll be talking about the death of Osama bin Laden, its impact on our kids, and the autobiography of Jesse James, Sandra Bullock's cheating ex-husband.

Drew and I sit in his undecorated office, stuffed with suits, his ties dangling from the shelves, and we try to chat as he preps for the show. His producers burst in at least eighteen times. One, wearing a beanie and, for reasons undisclosed, two pairs of glasses, reads over an intro for the September-11-and-your-teen segment. "Good, but too many words," he says. "It won't come off natural, trust me. Come back with less words." Later a brusque veteran who used to work with Jerry Springer pops in: "Could you write me a prescription for this skin thing I have?" Drew obliges.

When we finally get twenty minutes of uninterrupted time, Drew turns out to be charismatic in the traditional sense: theatrical, eloquent, and fervent. When Drew talks to you, his eye contact is direct and unbreaking. He cusses like a polite teamster—a lot of "shit," but no F-bombs. When you're talking to him, his face creases, his lips and eyebrows curve. When you say something he agrees with, he'll pound his hand on the table and point a finger at you and say, "You're totally right!" It's ridiculously easy to take Drew at his word.

As a preteen, I obsessively cherished Loveline, the late-night call-in radio show he has co-hosted since 1984, the way a young boy in the pre-Internet age would his first glossy porn mag. Drew made me feel secure that if I needed to, I could just call; once I even did, about a red bump on my bikini line that I was certain meant I had some life-threatening venereal disease. Because I was still a virgin, Drew explained, it was likely an ingrown hair. It was.

When my intimate, adored little show became an MTV sensation in the '90s, Drew became the media's go-to medical expert and advice dispensary on pop culture's naughtiest pathologies. Today he is better known than the celebrity underclass he is so often called on to discuss.

Drew's CNN studio comes with the usual anonymous trappings: the shiny obsidian floor panels and lightly frosted glass walls, the requisite ceramic mug. Two teens, via remote feed from New York, explain their ambivalent, slightly confused reactions to Bin Laden's death. Drew turns back to the main camera and in a sort of affected talking-head way, says, "And that's okay!" His charisma is cranked down to a more CNN-friendly level, but he is good. He does a lot of what I call the crab claw: spread fingers pointed downward when he wants to emphasize a point. He has the proper ratio of brow furrowing and energetic cadence. He is no less somber—maybe laughably so—when reading a passage from American Outlaw where Jesse James describes how it all went wrong with Sandra Bullock: "I was a kid from the streets and just didn't seem to have much in common with her friends. Some of my hardest moments were going to premieres and awards show. I just wished she was a teacher or something."


After the cnn taping, Drew and I return to his office. He unbuttons his on-camera shirt, strips to his Jockeys, and gets back into his jeans and tee. Drew sees this new phase as his attempt to help heal the strongest, sickest institution in American life today—the celebrity-media complex, which has us all as messed up as benzo addicts. All his shows and appearances, those are our celebrity rehabilitation, our treatment. "The reality—I've always felt this about media—is that it's such a powerful force, and I really want on my tombstone just to say HE MADE A DIFFERENCE," Drew explains. Whether the doctor purposefully cultivates his celebrity stature for noble means or wittingly invites it because he himself likes being in the spotlight, he is operating on the assumption that his empathetic brand of TV will breed empathy instead of the more likely outcome, that it will just breed more TV.

Most of what takes place on Celebrity Rehab happens in the parking lot of the Pasadena Recovery Center. During the twenty-one days of filming each season, VH1 sets up two double-wide trailers in the facility's connecting parking lot, and inside Drew—along with an array of drug techs, counselors, and psychiatrists—does intensive therapy with the (loosely defined) celebrities about their childhoods, their triggers, and the root causes of what Drew identifies as their lack of self-worth. VH1 also rents out a separate wing of the facility to house the celebrities. When I asked the staff at the Pasadena Recovery Center how they felt about the show, I might as well have been asking bartenders at the Boston bar i was based on what it was like to work with Ted Danson.

In his book The Mirror Effect, Drew argues that addiction in celebrities often comes from pathological narcissism, which stems from some childhood trauma. Consider the case of NBA star Dennis Rodman, who appeared on Celebrity Rehab and whom Drew describes as the show's most difficult patient: Rodman's dad not only had twenty-six other kids (not a typo) but abandoned him when he was young; the basketball player struggled with suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse. He once told Drew that he didn't have to participate in group therapy because "first there's God, and then right under God there's professional athletes." Celebrities like Rodman are plagued, as Drew puts it, by chronic feelings of loneliness and emptiness, which compel them to seek the praise of a real or imagined audience.

The upcoming season features such TMZ listers as Sean Young and Lindsay Lohan's dad. If Drew's right, it seems like a contradiction at best and a cruel joke at worst to put these troubled people in front of cameras, which reinforces rather than challenges their narcissism. Drew's heard this criticism before. "Here's the thing: These are unmotivated people who want to be on TV and make money. That's why they're there," Drew insists. "And in spite of that, they end up getting treatment, feeling good about it, being transformed by it." According to his informal data—follow-up calls, e-mails, what you read on Perez Hilton—about 20 percent of Celebrity Rehab cast members stay clean after the program. Obviously the success rate matters less than the ratings, which are excellent.


During the first season, Drew constantly asked the cast if they were okay with being filmed. But then Mary Carey—an alcoholic porn star born to a schizophrenic mother and a father with cerebral palsy—told him, "Drew, I've done just about everything in front of a camera. I understand what this means. Stop worrying." Drew finally understood: "These people live in front of cameras and do all kinds of shit in front of cameras. They really did understand what they were getting into."

Audiences have now seen model Amber Smith puke into a wastebasket from opiate withdrawal, Mackenzie Phillips smash a car with a bat (for therapeutic reasons), Crazy Town front man Seth Binzer smuggle crack back into the rehab center. It's not reality TV, Dr. Drew assures me. It's a docudrama that serves dual purposes: The first, Drew says, is getting these sick people care.

The second is to push back against the celebrity-media complex. "I've made it explicit that the show is the pushback. You're going to laugh at these people? We're pushing your face to the mirror. Look at what you're laughing at, at what pain these people are in, and you've been sitting in judgment of them." This logic absolves Drew of any guilt when treatment fails or proves beside the point. The joke is always on us.

If we tune in to watch attention-starved junkies emotionally gore themselves but they get clean by the end of the season, then we've witnessed Drew perform a miracle we secretly hoped he could not. If Mary Carey relapses and makes a porno called Celebrity Pornhab with Dr. Screw or pill-addicted Grease star Jeff Conaway is taken off life support after two weeks in a medically induced coma or Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr ends up dead from a suspected cocktail of methadone and antianxiety medication, then we can chide ourselves for enjoying their self-destruction but feel safe in the knowledge that Drew did all he could to save them."In spite of telling him repeatedly his addiction would kill him, I could not pull him from the clutches of the pain meds." Dr. Drew told People about Conaway. "Devastating to hear of Mike Starr succumbing to his illness," Drew tweeted, about the bassist. "So very sad."

But things have been done on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House that would usually be vigilantly avoided in nontelevised treatments. Most notably: putting former lovers Tom Sizemore, who appeared in some big-time movies like Saving Private Ryan, and Heidi Fleiss, the infamous Hollywood madam, on the same season. Years ago, Sizemore, a serious drug addict, was found guilty of assault and harassment of Fleiss. Around the same time, she was granted a restraining order against him.

"Both of them had to be willing to do this," Drew tells me when I bring them up. Though the two were civil to each other at first, Fleiss was eventually using her time in group sessions to shit on Sizemore. "The thought of being with you would turn a woman gay," she once said. Things got uglier when both agreed to go to Sober House. Fleiss would needle Sizemore, who would explosively lash out. When I pressed the point about why it was okay to put them together, Drew responded, "It happens all the time that people are in the same treatment center that either were involved in nefarious relationships or were involved in criminal activity together."

"It happens all the time" is a shitty answer I didn't expect from Drew. It happens because mental-health services lack the resources or staff for full-on background checks. But Celebrity Rehab patients have their lives in the public domain, and VH1 has plenty of money.

If I know all this, Drew knows this, which means that by doing this ethically murky stuff (a) he bowed to a network's desire for sensationalism, (b) his judgment as a doctor is tangled, or (c) in this new phase of his career, his choices are one part clinical, the other part showbiz.


I am nestled deep inside Adam Carolla's man cave in Glendale, California: a converted warehouse that serves as a recording studio for his various podcasts on comedy, cars, and home repair, as well as a working garage for his collection of really expensive-looking vintage automobiles. Fries and pizza and leather couches and vintage Playboys and Frank Sinatra iconography are strewn about the place.

Carolla hosted Loveline alongside Drew from 1996 to 2005, known to many of us listeners as the Golden Era. Adam's comedic roughhousing of callers and his unaccommodating advice made him the perfect match for Drew's more conservative manners and Hippocratic concern. I hoped Carolla could give me some insight into his old friend's evolution from doctor to star.

That night, Carolla's guest, by pure coincidence, is Sober House alum Andy Dick. VH1 approached Hollywood's Dionysian forest creature to be on Celebrity Rehab's first season, offering him what he says was a really, really large amount of money that I'm not allowed to disclose, but it was less than a million and more than what the president makes.

"I said no to Drew," Dick says, superfey, overgesticulating, "because even though I totally love him, I didn't want to go on-air to air out all my dirty laundry." He didn't want to stop drinking for three weeks, either. Two years later, Dick was in jail for drug possession and sexual battery, and he called to see if the offer still stood. Nope. But the producers would give him some small fee and a slot on Sober House. "Look, I didn't want to go to a rehab where people are trying to hang themselves or are coming off of crack binges, " Dick says. "Every time I go to jail, I'm kept separately from other people. I'm different from other people, because I'm famous. Dr. Drew understands that, so that's a big reason I was willing to go on the show. I knew he would get it." Tonight the tragicomedian looks taut, groomed, alert. When I compliment his tan, he says, "Well, it's probably because I haven't been drinking, and I've been working and taking care of myself!" Nonetheless, he's only recently been released from jail for getting too drunk at a movie wrap party. At one point, when he and I are sitting alone on a couch, Dick looks down at his phone to read an incoming text message and with what sounds like a genuine note of despair says, "I really hope I didn't fuck this whole thing up."

Dick possesses the fatalism that you see in a lot of addicts, a radical acceptance of their inability to change. Before leaving the studio, he asks me, with the adolescent whine of a kid who knows he broke curfew, to tell Drew that he is fine and for Drew not to be mad at him and he'll be okay. Adam shuffles into the back of the garage in track pants, a flannel shirt, and socks with sandals. It's clear that he wants to go home and that I'll only have a few minutes before he gets off the couch.

Unlike Drew, Carolla isn't big on eye contact, active listening, or even appearing to give a flying fuck about this line of questioning. I ask him why he thinks Drew now dedicates his talent and practice to the treatment of celebrities instead of regular old addicts. "I don't think Drew thinks about it nearly as much as anyone else thinks about it," says Carolla.

After a moment, he adds, "Look, we can always ask for people to do bigger or better or greater things. I always remind people that every job he gets, he pays more taxes, and that's sort of charity work, if you think about it."

Carolla gets up. As he's walking toward the door, I leap up to keep my tape recorder on him. He says over his shoulder: "Yeah, he's not Mother Teresa. He's not a saint. He's somewhere between Mother Teresa and Charles Manson. As we all are. And he's just a little closer to Teresa than Charlie, that's all. But he's not her."


"Everyone's dick is bleeding tonight," says Krysta, the beautiful round-faced blonde who spends several nights a week in her flip-flops screening calls at Loveline's Culver City studios. "Too many dick calls. We need more women callers or else the show gets boring."

Krysta hands me a landline so I can listen in on potential callers. In rapid succession, people are describing their warts, their reliance on dildos for orgasms, the dumb shit their boyfriends are doing. Krysta is merciless and efficient. There is no denying it: I'm giddy. For close to two decades I had imagined a tireless bullpen of call screeners, putting STDs up on the board like some Glengarry Glen Ross wet dream. I'm utterly endeared that it's just one girl, a phone twice the age of Justin Bieber, and a single screen that flashes "19 years old, from Texas, thinks he tore off his foreskin during sex."

It's clear that Drew finds his moral center in Loveline; whenever I ask about the tenuous ethics of his mediacentric work, he refers back to the radio show as a "model." "We want to give that caller something real and something to take home and think about," Drew says. "But we want everyone else to listen and learn." In other words: If people are fucking up their lives but have questions and are willing to publicly broadcast it, Drew will be there. But how this works beyond the Loveline studio is anybody's guess. In the amoral world of mass media that Drew now traffics in, there is little evidence that he can jujitsu what is essentially voyeurism and cheap titillation into a public good.

For the past year, Dr. Drew has been hosting Loveline with "Psycho" Mike Catherwood, a hyperactive, high-decibel carnival of a human being. Drew is a little sluggish, but Psycho Mike's indefatigable energy catches, and by the time the show starts, the doctor's up and talky. The anticipation and electricity in the studio feels like we're playing Russian roulette. There are a lot of blanks in the chamber, dull calls about whether it's a good idea to have a threesome (no), is it normal to masturbate twice a day (yes), is it cool to date a 15-year-old girl when you're a 19-year-old boy (idiot).

Then comes the blast. A 20-year-old woman wants to know how she can get her husband sexually interested in her again.

"What is he interested in instead of you?" Mike asks.

"He plays video games all day," she responds, "for, like, eleven hours a day."

Red flags up. Psycho Mike and Drew slow down. "Has he suffered any trauma?"

None that she knows of, she says, and tries to redirect Drew and Mike back to getting her man to want to fuck her. But the doctor keeps up his line of questioning. Within three minutes, it's revealed that her husband was beaten as a kid and that the young woman's father once tried to strangle her mother. In front of her. Drew attempts, with a steady but dissolving patience, to suggest that maybe she's asking the wrong questions. "Instead of trying to figure out how to get more sex out of your husband, why don't you start asking why he is detaching himself from you for eleven hours a day?"

This is my favorite Drew, the Drew I want to persevere. People here are confused, in pain, desperate, and they call him for answers, which he delivers, this cool disembodied voice of wisdom and care. We see only rare, ineffectual glimpses of this Drew when he's addressing underage, unraveling girls on Teen Mom or sloshing through the histrionics of Janice Dickinson on Celebrity Rehab. The metastasizing growth of Dr. Drew's projects may make him more famous but ever less important.

Psycho Mike cuts to commercials. Everyone agrees that she was "the call of the night"—the one person whose life could possibly be a little better because of the show.

Break's over. The headphones go back on. "Can I give my boyfriend AIDS if I'm on my period?"

"Do you have AIDS?" Drew asks cautiously.

The caller responds that she doesn't but read somewhere that women can transmit the disease through menstrual blood. Everyone in the studio takes a deep breath. And then Dr. Drew adopts the calm, assuaging tone of a physician speaking to an anxious, vulnerable patient within the intimate space of an exam room: "It's impossible to give someone AIDS if you don't have AIDS," he says. "Period or not."

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is a writer living in Los Angeles. This is her first story forGQ.

Yes! You! Can! (Defeat Barack Obama, That Is)

If there's anyone who knows that nothing is a slam dunk in politics, it's Mark Penn. (Remember President Hillary Clinton?) The chief adviser to Hillary and Bill understands a thing or two about winning, losing, and Obama. Here he explains to GQ's Lisa DePaulo how Obama could still end up out of a job next fall.

1. He Takes Another Big Risk—and Flops
"Obviously, he took the biggest risk of his presidency with the Osama operation. He took a huge risk and it completely paid off. He was right. But watch out now for the over-confidence that comes with success. Don't try this again with Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. It's a common thing for presidents to do, particularly on the basis of a risky success. They think, "Well, that went great, let's try something like that again." The next risky mission could end up being a disaster that will be very difficult for his presidency to recover from. I sometimes think Bush got into Iraq because the original Afghanistan mission seemed to go so easily. It was won in two weeks, with very few troops involved. I think that led to a notion that he could have equally quick success in Iraq. Instead he wound up with something that defined the rest of his presidency. See, presidents often have two modes. One is: 'Hunker down, we gotta be careful.' And the other is: 'Things are great, don't worry about it.' It's when they get in that second mode that mistakes happen."

2. He Thumps His Chest Too Much About Bin Laden
"He's already mentioning it in speeches, and he has to stop. Never ever put the Osama mission in political terms. People are going to want him to put this in ads. Don't. Everybody knows he did a great job! This was a different kind of thing for sure, but after impeachment was over, Joe Lockhart had this great phrase: 'We're in a gloat-free zone.' The president's gotta stay in a gloat-free zone."

3. He Makes a Bush 41 Blunder on the Economy
"Obama no longer has national security as a deficit. He's answered the 3 a.m. call. But health care is still a vulnerability. The deficit is a huge vulnerability. Unemployment is a huge vulnerability. The whole economy is a huge vulnerability. If he doesn't get re-elected, it will be because someone really taps into one or more of those four vulnerabilities. And there are still questions about how in touch he is with people out in the heartland. After the Gulf War, I don't think Bush 41 got cocky. He just wasn't mindful of the economy, and then he had the moment with the supermarket scanner. You always watch out for that moment that symbolizes what might be a negative in the back of everyone's brain. So for Obama, this is not the time for another Broadway date. And the period between now and the election is a Martha's Vineyard–free zone."

4. He Ignores a Big Chunk of His Constituency
"Obama has more support from those making over $200,000 than any Democrat in history. So when he makes the fight about the Bush tax cuts for upper income voters, well, he has nearly as many upper income voters as the Republicans! Which is one of the reasons why, when he didn't agree to the tax-cut deal, the congressional elections turned out so badly. Then, after the election, when he agreed to the deal, his numbers soared. Now he is saying, once again, that one of his priorities is to raise taxes on "that group." "That group" is his voters! Believe it or not, those are his people. It used to be that upper income voters were 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 for the Republicans. Obama does best with people who make the least and people who make the most. So if he returns to the class warfare rhetoric of the budget fight, he is going to be recreating the midterms. And that kind of election is a loser for him."

5. He Acts Like a Presidential Candidate Instead of a President
"Which he's doing already, and that's a mistake. In the beginning of his presidency, he got overexposed. The tendency was—and still is—to throw him out there, for an intensive series of interviews. And I think he got overexposed. He does not want to be overexposed now. He has to be careful. One of the big pitfalls that's already happening here is that he's now making himself a presidential candidate again instead of a president."

6. Shit Happens
"Five-dollar-a-gallon gas. Continually plunging real estate prices. More bank defaults. If any of these things happen, it'd be seen as Obama not handling it. He owns all of this now."

7. A Sex Scandal
"I certainly doubt it with this president. But hey, even Al Gore wound up in one."

Florence | June 14, 2011