Vital Moments

It’s Rivalry Week

On deck this week: Susan Matthews, Emily Bazelon, Mark Joseph Stern, Seth Maxon, Hillary Frey, Steve Bloom, Matt “Skip” Kiebus, Damion DaCosta, Tim Rohan, Sophie Haigney, Zach Helfand, and many more…

To fit the theme of the yowling of brawling cats crashing through our office windows and day gaining the advantage over night on Tuesday’s solstice, we’ve got four classic matchups this week: Slate vs. The Supreme Court, High Times vs. BuzzFeed, The New Yorker vs. The Paris Review, and, as always, The Fine Print vs. lassitude.


On Thursday evening, the eve of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, Slate hosted a live show, panel discussion, and drinks at The Bell House in Gowanus. The formal show portion of the night included news director and host of the latest season of Slow Burn Susan Matthews interviewing Political Gabfest host and New York Times Magazine staff writer Emily Bazelon and lawyer Nancy Stearns, followed by a panel moderated by politics director Natalie Shutler. Given the unrelenting bad news coming down from the Court this week, those parts of the night were fairly somber and serious. The overwhelmingly wholesome crowd obliged, dressing conservatively, with collared shirts and khaki combos overrepresented and wearing more masks than at any other event The Fine Print has attended recently.

Off-stage, Slate staff have been having a rough week as well. “Unfortunately, one of my pet parakeets passed away yesterday. She was a very special bird. In 2019, she was found outside a nearby liquor store in the cold. She had just maybe escaped or been abandoned, and I saw a tweet about it, and I took her in,” said senior writer and Court reporter Mark Joseph Stern. “I named her Limoncello because we found her near a liquor store. She was a great bird. She was her own girl.”

Associate editor Seth Maxon has had trouble sleeping, now and always, but lately, he’s been trying to reframe that inconvenience. “I wake up in the middle of the night, and I’m up for an hour,” he said. “I sometimes think that maybe it’s me falling back into segmented sleep. Have you heard about that? There was a series of articles about how in 19th century France, before electricity, people everywhere slept in two shifts. They would sleep until like 4 a.m. and then be up for two or three hours and then fall back asleep. There are all these records of people talking about their first sleep and their second and how in between they would do all this work. People would write in their diaries or whatever, and couples would have sex in that time. There’s all this writing from that time now about how that time between sleep is special.”

Some have had positive turns recently. “I found a new apartment in New York City after a really stressful two weeks of searching,” said operations and editorial assistant Nadira Goffe. She’ll be moving from her current place in Bed-Stuy, where she shares one bathroom with three roommates, to a one-bedroom in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. “I’m Caribbean and it’s right next to Little Caribbean. There’s a pretty good-looking Jamaican restaurant right around the corner and I was like, ‘That’s how you know,’ and when I say good-looking Jamaican, I mean it actually looks very run down and that is how you know the food is good.”

Madison Malone Kircher, the co-host of Slate’s ICYMI podcast, has been enjoying more minor, more aquatic pleasures. “My partner, who’s here somewhere, made an entire head-on fish over the weekend, and that was very impressive and a little alarming. I made her turn it around so the teeth and eyeballs weren’t looking at me,” she said. “It was full-on: fish sauce, lime, sauteed lemongrass. It was like a whole thing. I had nothing to do with this. I just ate it, and it was delicious. And then we went to see Jurassic Park, which was not delicious.”

The Bell House has been on the mind of recently named Slate editor-in-chief and recently engaged Hillary Frey. “The wedding planning is only at the stage where my daughter is rejecting all of my ideas. This is where she would like me to have mine. She wants me to have a big party where people can move around. I want a lunch on a Friday. She’s like, ‘That’s not fun or special, mom,’” she said. “I already suggested Roberta’s. She’s not having it. Where I need to take her is Frankies, because it’s a little fancier. She’s like, ‘Roberta’s is just where you drink beer and eat pizza on gravel.’”

Senior writer Christina Cauterucci has let her mind wander further afield, to northern Italy. “I’m going to Venice and a five-day hiking situation in the Dolomites, which is why I’m really trying not to get Covid right now. I’m sweating in this mask,” she said from behind an N95. She’s also ranged over the waters around D.C., celebrating Pride last weekend with about 50 friends on a boat cruise along the Potomac. “We learned about the boat because my wife and I had our bachelorette party and our friends rented us this boat and then we had so much fun, we’re like let’s just do this for Pride this year, and then we’ve done it three years in a row,” she said. “The Potomac is not particularly scenic, but there’s nothing like being on a boat, and also having a private boat makes you feel like a billionaire.” All that travel’s helped with the darkening mood of the times. “It’s actually been really nice to distract me from what this event is about,” Cauterucci said, “which is the end of Roe v. Wade.”


On Monday evening, East River Park’s fields witnessed the most athletic display of the media softball season so far. Between the traffic din on FDR Drive and the silent gliding pleasure cruisers on the river, the legendary High Times Bonghitters faced off against the on average much younger defending New York Media Softball League champs BuzzFeed for the first time since last year’s playoffs. An atmosphere of serious preparation, and a large yellow crane connected to a neighboring construction zone, hung over the dugouts before the game. Elaborate stretching routines unfolded on either side, and batters practiced their swings. The Bonghitters, in deference to the competition, quit getting high before games a while back, an innovation introduced by former coach and current league commissioner Steve Bloom. “People would hotbox a van right up to the park. I told them, ‘Maybe don’t do that anymore. I don’t think it’s helping,’” he recalled, though he never had a problem with players sparking up once they got in the flow of the game. “Softball’s perfect to be a spacey kind of sport. You’re standing in the outfield for hours, nothing happening, until, ‘Oh my God, here it comes!’ You can’t daydream for too long.”

Captains on both teams framed this matchup as an uphill battle. Though they dominated last year’s season, BuzzFeed has dropped a couple of games this year so far. “Obviously, this is one of our bigger games this season. We have not had the best start,” captain Matt “Skip” Kiebus told his team in a pre-game huddle in front of the little kids in the cheering section. “Just play real smart in the outfield today.” Meanwhile, last year’s playoffs loss hung heavy over the Bonghitters. “Remember, this is BuzzFeed. They have won the championship, defeated us,” said 23-year-team-veteran Damion DaCosta. “We’ve beaten them before, let’s do it again. “

In stark contrast with the non-league teams, as the game got going, players in the dugouts stayed laser-focused on their team’s progress. The Bonghitters came out on top, with a 5-4 victory. They rushed onto the field and started singing: “Take me out to the Bong game/ take me out to get high/ Buy me some reefer not crack or smack/ I don’t want that monkey on my back/ so let’s root, root, root for the stoned team/ everybody get high!/ For it’s one, two, three tokes you’re out at the old bong game!” Then they threw up their hats and thrice shouted, “Hemp hemp hooray!”

The song has its origins in the Bonghitters’ ’90s heyday. “The guy who we wrote this with is David Peel, the songwriter. It’s really his song — it’s ‘The Old Bong Game’ — but we all pitched in a little bit here and there,” said Bloom. “Look up David Peel, he was one of our players, he was considered ‘The Marijuana Minstrel.’ He wrote a lot of songs like ‘I Like Marijuana’ and stuff like that. He was a friend of the whole scene around New York, the old radical scene, the Yippies and all that kind of stuff, so he joined the team.”

After the game, the Bonghitters lit joints, lending lighters to members of the BuzzFeed camp getting in the spirit. BuzzFeed’s captain Kiebus stood alone in their dugout. Asked if he had any post-game thoughts, he simply said, “some.” He added a moment later, “It was a good game, a really good game. We’ll see them next time.” DaCosta was equally gracious. “We got a couple of good hits when we needed it, but it’s gonna be a back and forth thing with these guys. It’s always gonna be that way,” he said. “The old guys showed them a little something-something, but we’re gonna meet them again soon.”

New York Media Softball League Standings
High Times 6 0
Chartbeat 3 1
BuzzFeed 3 2
Wall Street Journal 2 2
Forbes 1 2
New York Public Radio 1 3
Euromoney Insititutional Investor 0 6

On Tuesday, the most heated rivalry in non-league media softball was nearly rained out. “The New YorkerParis Review, I mean, that’s like a bloodbath,” said New Yorker team veteran Tim Rohan. “You never miss this game. You gotta be here.” Paris Review coach and web editor Sophie Haigney had been aggressively recruiting since her team’s loss to The Drift two weeks ago but lost about half her players to the weather’s caprices on their way to Central Park. “Basically, my team turned around because they left the office late,” she said. “It was pouring. Obviously, it made no sense to have this game and my sense was we were not going to play.” By the time she got to the field with a crew of Paris Review softball stalwarts, however, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. “It’s kind of fun to play in the rain,” she decided. “It’s kind of beautiful,” responded Nick Accinelli, though he would come to see the downside as his suede shoes turned soggy. “I made a tactical error,” he admitted.

The New Yorker, as usual, crowded their dugout, attracting around 20 players and supporters. “There’s two things The New Yorker does: Stay dry and play softball,” said team captain and associate editor for Talk of the Town Zach Helfand, “and we’re all out of dry.” There was a mix of experience levels on the team. Some, like cartoonist Johnny DiNapoli, had been playing for a couple of years and proved it with some strong outfield catches. Others, like editor for science and technology stories Daniel Gross, only joined the magazine a few months ago but, relying on ingrained Little League skills, threw out strong pitches. Others, still, had never swung a bat. “I’ve never done it before. I just want to see how it feels,” said fact-checker Fabrice Robinet before clarifying, “I mean, outside of beating people down at my building.” Robinet had a solid first showing. After landing a neat hit, he ran to first, still holding the bat.

Though The Paris Review’s lineup was very different from their previous outing, they had a similar durational mix. “I’m getting ragtag gang vibes from this team,” said advisory editor Dan Piepenbring, who’s played with the Parisians since 2014. When he started out, their seasons were a lot more packed. They’d play teams like the Bonghitters, The Nation, and DC Comics. “I tried to develop these taunts that I’d just recycle, so for DC Comics I would always tell the pitcher that I really like a character but it would always be a Marvel character,” he said, “and then they would still just pitch heat and strike me out, but it made me feel better.” Others were newcomers to the team. “This is my first serious softball season since the really epic poets vs. fiction writers at Iowa, but that was also a decade ago,” said poet Adrienne Raphel. She sighed when asked who won that contest. “Technically fiction,” she allowed, “but who won metaphysically?”

When asked what game between The New Yorker and Paris Review in recent years stood out, veterans of both teams pointed to the same one. “There was one on this very field where The New Yorker won basically on account of darkness. We were up big, sun goes down, can’t see the ball, they start pouring in runs. What do you know?” recounted Matt Levin, who’s played with The Paris Review since 2016. “We’re polite. We love to play the game, that’s right, but that one never really sat right with us.” Helfand didn’t quite see the effect of the darkness the same way. “Actually, it was probably even harder for us to see the pitch coming in,” he said. Besides, he noted, “it’s always getting dark after noon.”

The score was tight for much of the game. While The New Yorkeraccumulated runs steadily, The Paris Review racked them in spurts. “That’s how they do it in Paris!” shouted Piepenbring as Haigney ran home. “We should get an abacus,” suggested one player. Blue ink ran down The New Yorker’s scorekeeper’s notepad in the rain, and there was occasional confusion on both sides. “What’s the situation here? What inning are we in? What’s the score? It’s all very abstract,” said Paris Review reader Owen Park. “We kind of just play by feel in baseball,” Levin explained. “It’s kind of a faux pas to keep score.” Finally, they agreed: The New Yorker won 9-7, and players headed for Tap a Keg.

Non-League Standings*

Vanity Fair 2 0 0
The New Yorker 2 0 1
New York 1 0 1
The Drift 1 0 0
Harper’s 0 0 0
The New York Review of Books 0 0 0
The Paris Review 0 3 0

* as most recently reported by team captains


➾ 4 p.m. Catapult will be hosting the first of The Center for Fiction’s indie press summer Fridays. There’ll be drinks at the bookstore.

➾ 7 p.m. New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe will be launchinghis new true crime collection Rogues with a conversation with New Yorker contributing writer E. Tammy Kim at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights.