Swords & Aerostats
Holding their own this week: Dean Kissick, Roberta Smith, Alissa Wilkinson, Alex Brinkman-Young, Joe Bernstein, Madeleine Schwartz, Christopher Shay, Evan Hill, Matthew Zeitlin, Sam Frank, Lucy Sante, Sara Rafsky, Estelle Tang, Hira Ahmed, Maryam Adamu, Naib Mian, Zainab Shah, and many, many more…
January was wildly unpredictable in New York’s media community. The stuff of life ricocheted from unseasonable warmth to arctic frost, from endless layoff cycles to limitless opportunities for solidarity, from archaic aerostats to bug-eating media elites, from weird Catholics to Muslim leftists, passing fidgety art critics and transcendentalist heirs on its merry way.
OUT AND ABOUT
“This used to be an old art bar. I’d come to art after-parties here. It’s since been claimed by a zoomer-young millennial media set who believe they invented it. They did not,” art critic and curator Dean Kissick told The Fine Print in a quiet corner of the Financial District Irish bar T.J. Byrnes before conducting the final installment of his Seaport Talks series on Thursday, January 18. The signifying virtue of Kissick’s year of monthly art world interviews was that the conversations went unrecorded, he explained, “in the hope that it would make people feel free to say whatever they wanted and not worry about having to hold themselves back, censor themselves, whether in terms of saying anything outrageous or even — it’s a small world, so just saying something that might rub up one of their friends or rivals or employers.” The strategy wasn’t an unqualified success. “It’s understandably very hard to get someone who has any professional or social position or even dignity or self-consciousness to really say what’s on their mind,” he said, “in the way they might over a drink with a friend.”
The final night was different. “Do you want to mic me?” Kissick asked the documentary crew that had been trailing New York Times co-chief art critic Roberta Smith, the evening’s interviewee, and her husband, New York senior art critic Jerry Saltz, who was the November interviewee, though the documentarians didn’t make it to that one. “We normally don’t record these talks, but obviously what can you say if it’s the speaker that wants it,” said Matthew Moravec, co-organizer of the Perić Collection, which sponsors the talks. “I also feel like it’s kind of different for this case, because I wouldn’t want to be recorded and then have it on Instagram or something. But if somebody’s making a documentary and it comes out in six months, hopefully people will feel free to ask questions and feel like they won’t be in a documentary.” The producers taped up a “Notice of filming” which read, “When you attend this event, you enter an area where video and audio recording may occur.”
Moravec fretted over how to get an Uber to show up at Smith’s apartment on time. It seemed to go off without a hitch and the cameras captured her entrance to the bar. As the talk got going, November Seaport Talk interviewee and New York Times critic at large Jason Farago fidgeted slightly in his seat next to the cameras. “He works for The Times and he was very clear, actually: This cannot be recorded. We can’t have anyone from the press here. We can’t have anyone reporting on this,” Kissick said of Farago’s November spin. “I don’t think he said anything that would have got him in any trouble. I actually felt like he could have gone a lot harder and I wish he had.” Smith’s talk was, if anything, more tame.
How would Kissick compare the series to other recent experiments in live journalism? “We’re definitely running a loss. There’s not even a possibility of breaking even. But we’re backed by an art collector, which has been good for us,” he said. “It doesn’t cost a lot to do these in the grand scheme of the art world or collecting. For the cost of one painting by a peer of mine, you can do a whole year’s programming.” So why shut it down? “I wouldn’t be surprised if we do another talk or live thing at some point in the future,” he said, “but it was always supposed to be a one year project. It’s doing well, it’s good to cut it before it gets too routine.”
On the freezing evening of Friday, January 19, near the Red Hook Ikea, former Vox religion reporter Tara Isabella Burton hosted a second party to celebrate the release of her novel, Here in Avalon. Behind a large red door, up the stairs, past a coat rack so overflowing that some coats hung sideways, near a table covered with countless wine bottles, Burton explained, “This is Jupiter House, which is run by Ashley who was lurking in the corner, but now she’s over there. She just gave me this space for almost free. The location is in the middle of nowhere, but it’s the end of the world. Have fun.” Accordionist Erica Mancini played in one room, and in another, HarperCollins editor Hannah Long fiddled jigs, Vivaldi, and the theme song from Jeeves and Wooster. Face-painted performers swanned between the rooms.
Taking in the snowbound wonders were New York Times movie critic Alissa Wilkinson, Magic School Buscontributing illustrator Ted Enik (“In the original series, Ms. Frizzle was kind of frumpy. By the end of my run, she was a hottie,” he said. “I got an email from a dad who said, ‘I was going to post this on Scholastic, but I thought it was too iffy. Thank you for giving dads something to look at in Magic School Bus.’”), ubiquitous media type Mark Allen (“I’m very close with Rod Dreher. I made him Catholic.”), Mysterious Bookshop staffer Julia O’Connell, Americas Quarterly staff editor Nick Burns (“I’ve spotted a few people from weird Catholic Twitter,” he said. “Weird Catholic Twitter hit its peak during the Trump years and it’s been on this slow decline. I think the Kryptonite was when Catholicism briefly trended in association with Dimes Square. That was devastating for weird Catholic Twitter because they had lovingly built up this whole aesthetic around being edgy and Catholic, but not in quite so overtly a reactionary way”), fresh New York transplant Michael Salinas (who’d just moved from San Antonio 48 hours earlier), amusingly dressed couple James Marsden(in coat and tails but, as ever, not the actor) and Alex Brinkman-Young (“Do you know Doctor Who? This is the Tardis corset that I made when I was a young master’s student way back in the day and it still roughly fits”), Janklow & Nesbit literary agent assistant Jessica Gitre, and librarian Andrew Weinstein (“I came out from Long Island for this party”). New York Times Styles reporter Joe Bernstein and Nation contributor Atossa Araxia Abrahamian were out while Depths of Wikipedia creator Annie Rauwerda watched their kids. “She’s a media babysitter,” Bernstein said. “She babysits for Naomi Fry and Jess Grose, I think.”
The party contained surreal easter eggs. “If someone offers to kidnap you, say yes. I got happily kidnapped and went on a journey,” said Anastasia Bez, chief operating officer of the blockchain startup Kadena. “They took me to a room where they had a catheter that they put through their nose and then fed me champagne through this catheter. Then this person started swallowing swords.” Photos from the night suggest the sword swallower performed in public at some point, but this reporter was, literally or figuratively, in the other room.
Thursday, January 25, felt like a night when everybody in New York media was obliged to party hop. Itineraries intersected at DSK’s Haus on Hanson in Fort Greene, where The Dial celebrated its one-year anniversary. The globally focused digital little magazine, which adopted the name of a transcendentalist journal founded in the 1840s, was announced in 2022 with support from founding donor Beverly Rogers, who’d pulled funding from The Believer the previous year. Since then, they’ve published a dozen themed issues. The theme for their eleventh had been parties. It featured, in the editor’s note summary, “political parties, parties to disputes, shipping parties, diplomatic factions, and fragile coalitions,” but no parties of the sort they’d organized that evening. How could they omit that? “We choose the articles that we think are the most interesting,” editor-in-chief Madeleine Schwartz told The Fine Print. How did The Nation’s deputy editor Christopher Shay, who was once editor of the now-defunct global affairs magazine World Policy Journal, like the party-less party issue? “My kind of party,” he said.
Cultivating the night’s somewhat less hinged sensibility were The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt author Jon-Jon Goulian (“I reconnected with a cute girl. I met her at a Paris Review party four years ago. She came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, we talked a lot’”), New Republic literary editor Laura Marsh, Nationliterary editor David Marcus, Lux editor-in-chief Sarah Leonard, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, Joe Bernstein, Rolling Stone correspondent Jack Crosbie, Washington Post investigative reporter Evan Hill(“I go on hikes with my buddy Jack Crosbie, who I’m trying to get to go to the Catskills with me. He needs to go to the Catskills ’cause he’s a lazy ass who won’t go on hikes with me”), Mother Jones reporters Ali Breland and Noah Lanard (the latter welcomed a son three weeks earlier and was on paternity leave for six months), Dial executive editor Linda Kinstler, The Economist US news desk editor Annie Crabill, Heatmap correspondent and new father Matthew Zeitlin (“I’ve been watching a lot of Tubi and Pluto, a lot of random exploitation movies. Have you ever seen Rolling Thunder?”), Lawfare managing editor Tyler McBrien, Dial design director and Spy oakling Lucy Andersen (“I was looking at the history of the original Dial. They used to do Dial dinners and the parties were the whole thing,” she said. “I think they should be restarted”), Intercept columnist Natasha Lennard, former Patriot Act news producers Jenna Sauers and Alex Yablon, New Yorker fact-checkers Vera Carothers and K. Leander Williams, New Yorker associate editor Alex Barasch, Atlantic contributing writer Rachel Donadio, New York Timesculture writer Jennifer Schuessler, New York Review of Books copy editor Sam Needleman and fact-checker Dahlia Krutkovich, New York Public Library Cullman Center deputy director Lauren Goldenberg (who, disclosure, is married to The Fine Print’s David Klion), and Dissent co-editor Natasha Lewis.
Logic(s) editor Edward Ongweso Jr. had come to The Dial celebration in a convoy of ride shares from happy hour at The Francis Kite Club. He was considering rolling on to a night of karaoke hosted by Bafflercontributor Gaby Del Valle in Greenpoint, but as midnight neared, his resolve faltered. Maybe two parties would suffice for a Thursday.
Erstwhile Harper’s contributor Sam Frank moderated a debate titled “Planes v. Blimps,” under the aegis of Urbit, a web3 network founded by the neo-reactionary blogger Curtis Yarvin, at the web magazine Triple Canopy’s Chinatown offices on Sunday, January 28. “Sam Frank is paying us to use the space. I feel like this is not a great look for us. I don’t love that you’re here, to be really honest,” a Triple Canopy staffer told The Fine Print. “But it’s not a Triple Canopy-endorsed project. As a nonprofit, it’s good to diversify income streams. We don’t have a subscription-based model, so we take what we can get.”
A jazz trio set a deceptively civil tone as attendees arrived. Anthony Arroyo, the co-founder of BlimpDAO, who would be arguing the virtues of the archaic aerostats, told The Fine Print that the idea for his endeavor had arisen at an Urbit conference set at a volcano in El Salvador. “On the two-and-a-half-hour drive from the volcano to the international airport, we were hungover and bantering. It came to ‘What’s the classiest way to travel?’ And the answer was obviously a blimp,” he said. “It became a meme that we were joking about and then it just got realer and realer and realer.” Was he trying to avoid mentioning the Hindenburg? “That was extremely successful, except for the end of it. Opinions vary in the group, but some are like, ‘It was an inside job. It was sabotaged.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if it was, in fact, sabotaged.”
Arroyo continued mining this vein during the debate, comparing the media ripples of the Hindenburgconflagration to Covid. Arguing on behalf of planes was New Criterion contributor Veronica Maldonado, who cited German nationalist Oswald Spengler within the first four sentences of her opening statement. Their conversation was punctuated by the sound of various audience members’ vapes hitting the floor. In the crowd of just over 20 were artist David Levine, former Mel staff writer Magdalene Taylor, former Wet Brainpodcast co-host Walter Pearce wearing a hoodie that read “Blimp” (“There’s people that are autistic about Nazis. You can get autistic about anything, and it doesn’t mean it’s good. I was on a plane a few days ago and those things fucking suck,” he noted during the Q&A portion. “If you’re a nascent blimp autist, talk to Walt,” said Arroyo), and Mars Review of Books editor-in-chief Noah Kumin. Baffler editor-in-chief Matthew Shen Goodman clarified that he was just hanging out in the Triple Canopy space and was not there for the event.
“It’s very discreet. I can do it on airplanes, everywhere,” said legendary New York Review of Books contributor Lucy Sante of her handy cigarette-shaped vape at The Guardian US’s launch of its new vertical Well Actually at NeueHouse in the Flatiron District on Tuesday, January 30. She didn’t know anybody at the event and seemed happy to chat on an out-of-the-way couch. “I had lunch with my high school girlfriend. She gave me a picture of myself that she took 50 years ago,” she said. “We dated again after college for a while, but she was a serious art history student and I was a downtown wastrel and wanted to take drugs and dance all night. So that wasn’t going to happen.” She fished the photo from an envelope in her bag and posed for a quick shot with her younger self.
“Golly, I’m such a sourpuss,” Sante said. “I have every reason to be happy right now. I have this book coming and things are looking good, but I’m totally on edge. It’s like waiting to go on stage.” At that moment, she was waiting to go onstage for one of the night’s mini-presentations to talk about her transition memoir, I Heard Her Call My Name. What did she do to ease the nerves? “I smoke a lot of weed. I’ve been smoking pot for 55 years. And it’s my transition Xanax, as well. So it’s double duty and it’s not going to fuck up my nervous system. It’s funny because I’m stoned right now. My longtime girlfriend, her uncle was an anthropologist at Columbia and one of the studies was on the effects of prolonged cannabis use among Jamaican men. It’s like, ‘Oh, man, these guys smoked weed for like 30 years.’ 55 years, oh! Maybe if I hadn’t smoked weed, I would be king of the world, but I don’t think so.”
Former CollegeHumor CEO Paul Greenberg had never smoked weed, but he’s taken to treating his depression with ketamine. (Maybe that’s what the doctor should’ve offered Pagliacci.) “It’s in a doctor’s office, very prescribed, though you do get high for real,” he said. “I had ketamine when I got my wisdom tooth out. I didn’t know until afterward,” New York Times information security analyst Sara Rafsky told Greenberg. “I asked for full sedation. When my husband came to pick me up he saw my chart and when I woke up, he was like, ‘Did you know you were on a shit-ton of ketamine?’ I had a great time, but I did get nauseous later. I never get nauseous, so it was really disconcerting.”
These discussions fit right in with Well Actually’s focus on health and wellness. Guests at the event could experiment with stations, including a seated aromatherapy massage, tarot readings, a dance workout, and tapping. Apart from Sante, the night’s presenters included the vertical’s editor Estelle Tang (who took a couple set dressing pillows home with her), Celebrity Book Club podcast co-hosts Lily Marotta and Steven Phillips-Horst (“Is the story within the story that for some reason The Guardian has enough money that they can do a huge event to launch a vertical where everything else is hanging on by a thread and closing up?” Phillips-Horst asked The Fine Print. “I don’t get it.”), Guardian US managing editor Dana Canedy, GuardianUS senior writer Drew Lawrence, and Dear Ugly columnist Jessica DeFino.
In the celebrating crowd were Guardian US top editor Betsy Reed, Guardian US managing director Steve Sachs, executive vice president of philanthropy Rachel White, head of narrative Jessica Reed, as well as The Fine Print’s Gabriel Snyder, who has been consulting for The Guardian and worked on the new vertical. Also on hand were former president and chief operating officer of MTV Michael J. Wolf, former New York Times editorial director of audio Samantha Henig, former Gen executive editor Garance Franke-Ruta(“It’s so unusual that there would be a media party in the middle of massive layoffs. I had to see what it was about”), Adweek senior media reporter Mark Stenberg, novelist and Guardian US senior editor Lauren Mechling, Publishers Weekly senior news editor John Maher, former New York Post investigations editor Brad Hamilton, and Hollywood Reporter special correspondent Lachlan Cartwright.
The night’s hors d’oeuvres included ants and crickets by Brooklyn Bugs, which fired memories. “I actually did have the chocolate-covered ants at the 1964 World’s Fair,” recalled Sante. “What did it taste like? To me, anyway, at that time, Nestlé Crunch.” Some guests rethought their daily habits. “I feel like we eat ants throughout the day by accident,” said Phillips-Horst. Others considered the optics. “Isn’t ‘they’re going to make us all eat bugs’ some kind of right-wing, black-pilled talking point?” said one attendee. “This is exactly what they’re picturing: A media soirée where people eat bugs.”
On the last day of January, a Wednesday, Acacia, the biannual magazine of politics and culture for the Muslim left, celebrated its launch with a party at Babel Loft in Prospect Heights. After months of organizing and marching in response to the carnage Israel has unleashed in Gaza, excitement ran high for a new Muslim left institution that promises to speak not only to this moment but for those to come. “I kind of teared up when I heard about this, because it’s our time now,” said newly minted superfan Hyder Kazmi. “It’s not even a religious thing, it’s just, these are ideas that are familiar to a lot of people, and we haven’t been able to express them in ways that make sense to us and make sense to a wider audience.” Kazmi was hoping to get everyone who worked on the first issue to sign his copy. He pulled aside contributing editor Minahil Khanfirst. “Really? Oh my God,” Khan exclaimed at the request. “If her name’s in the credits, then I need her signature,” Kazmi said. “Do you want me to say something?” she wondered of her inscription. “What if I was like, ‘Thanks so much. Congrats on meeting me.’”
Though the magazine is coming out at a particularly urgent moment, it’s been gestating for about two years. Founder and editor-in-chief Hira Ahmed worked in media before going to law school, and said it was only natural that she’d find her way back. “I’ve always thought that storytelling and journalism are important for social justice work,” she told The Fine Print. “The Muslim American political community has been working and existing and advocating for years before this one,” said publisher Maryam Adamu. “So this magazine is not creating a community so much as acknowledging a community that we already know exists.” They’d planned to release the issue in November, but pushed it back in light of the events following October 7, though they haven’t changed much of the contents. “There were tiny one-line edits that needed to be made to adapt to recent developments,” said Ahmed, “but the whole point is slow journalism.”
Contributors were excited to write for a Muslim audience that didn’t need basic background info explained. “It was an opportunity to flex a little bit of a different muscle for a different audience,” said Ahmed Ali Akbar, who wrote about Muslims in Marvel comics. “Obviously, I could put it on a comic book website, but that’s filled with an audience who might not be receptive to the message. I haven’t worked with many Muslim editors in my career or people who understand the background to the work I did. Here, it was more explaining the comics side of it.” Contributor Sarah Aziza met the founding editor at a backyard poetry reading hosted by Palestinian author Hala Alyan two summers ago. “It’s been a long way to publishing this,” she said. Has anything outside work made her happy recently? “That’s hard. I’m Palestinian, so not really,” she said. “I made cookies recently. That’s the bar right now.”
DJ Zeemuffin kept the crowd — which included The City executive director Nic Dawes, New York Timescontributor Kate Dwyer, Sarah Leonard, The Margins contributor Sophia Tareen, and New York Times opinion editing fellow Romaissaa Benzizoune — dancing and the vibes immaculately joyful. New York Times Magazine contributing writer Rozina Ali was dubious there’d be speeches since the food was already served. “Seriously, I’ve been to weddings where they have to have the speeches before the food is served,” she said. The lights blinked at 8 p.m., seemingly indicating that speech-making was imminent, but that was still some time off. The space was so crowded that it took an effort to get the audience to turn and focus. Arsh Raziuddin, the magazine’s creative director and designer of the cover of Salman Rushdie’s forthcoming memoir Knife, was running crowd control. “I need people who are not getting a drink to go that way,” she said. Others were trying to work around the strict list at the door. “I’ve been trying to navigate getting friends in who didn’t RSVP,” said contributor and former New Yorker union unit chair Naib Mian.
“Look at how many people are here,” marveled New York Times cooking contributor Zainab Shah. “I’m getting text messages being like, ‘Do you have an RSVP? Can you let me in?’ This is the hottest club around.”
Sunday, February 6
➾ 7 p.m. Bomb will celebrate its Winter issue with readings and a party at the Powerhouse Arena bookstore in Dumbo.
Wednesday, February 7
➾ 6:30 p.m. Atlantic contributing writer Bianca Bosker will celebrate her new book Get the Picture with a party at a Chinatown art gallery.
Tuesday, February 13
➾ 7:30 p.m. Novelist Amitav Ghosh will discuss his new book Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories with New York Times editorials editor Jyoti Thottam at the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene.
Wednesday, February 14
➾ 5:30 p.m. New Yorker staff writer Calvin Trillin will discuss his new collection The Lede: Dispatches From a Life in the Press with fellow New Yorker staff writer Mark Singer in the Strand’s Rare Book Room.
➾ 7 p.m. Brooklyn Institute for Social Research executive director and Baffler contributor Ajay Singh Chaudhary will discuss his new book The Exhausted of the Earth with New York Times and New York Review of Books contributor Molly Crabapple at P&T Knitwear on the Lower East Side.
Thursday, February 15
➾ 5:30 p.m. John Oakes, the publisher of The Evergreen Review and a member of an anomalously named branch of the extended Ochs-Sulzberger clan that owns The New York Times, will discuss his first book, The Fast, with writer and documentarian Douglas Rushkoff in the Strand’s Rare Book Room.
Tuesday, February 27
➾ 7:30 p.m. Former Gawker senior writer Hamilton Nolan will discuss his new book The Hammer: Power, Inequality, and the Struggle for the Soul of Labor with comedian Josh Gondelman at the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene.
Wednesday, February 28
➾ 6 p.m. Mediabistro founder and managing director of Supernode Ventures Laurel Touby and former Inc. acting editor-in-chief Jon Fine will host a dinner discussion about the intricacies of climate modeling with Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at their loft near Union Square.
➾ 6:30 p.m. Former Village Voice contributing writer Tricia Romano will discuss her new book The Freaks Came Out to Write: The Definitive History of the Village Voice, the Radical Paper That Changed American Culture with Please Kill Me co-author Gillian McCain at McNally Jackson Seaport.