It began hundreds of years ago, deep in the Albanian Alps—an unusual tradition where women, with limited options in life, took the oath of the burrnesha. A pledge to live as a man. To dress like a man, to work like a man, to assume the burdens and the liberties of a man. But these freedoms came with a price: The burrneshas also made a pledge of lifelong celibacy. Today these sworn virgins live on, but their numbers have dwindled. Many Albanians don’t even know they exist. What happens when the society that created you no longer needs you? And how do you live in the meantime?
What the two men in this photograph are doing is now illegal in Russia. Amidst an alarming—and frequently violent— government crackdown, being out, or simply supporting gays and lesbians, can now get you thrown in jail, beaten up, or worse. On the eve of the Sochi Olympics, Jeff Sharlet embeds with the new enemies of the state and reports on life in the Russian underground.
This week’s Longreads Member Pick is the first chapter from the best-selling memoir After Visiting Friends, GQ deputy editor Michael Hainey’s story of his father’s death and his search for answers. Hainey was 6 years old when his father, newspaperman Bob Hainey, died suddenly but questions remained about the circumstances around his death.
We’re proud to feature the book. Thanks to Michael and Scribner for sharing this story.
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By day they work as computer programmers and stock boys and academics. But at night they are known as urban explorers. The Brooklyn Bridge, London’s Shard, Notre Dame—each structure is an expedition waiting to happen. Each sewer, each scaffold, each off-limits site is a puzzle to solve. No wonder the cops are after them. Matthew Power embeds with the space invaders and sees a world—above- and belowground—that the rest of us never knew existed.
Some of his friends and teammates remember Anthony Wayne Smith as a strange and volatile guy, prone to paranoia and outrageous lies. Others recall a gentle giant who gave to charity and mentored kids. None would have predicted that he’d retire from football to a life of arson, torture, and murder—but that’s exactly what prosecutors allege. As the former defensive end (57 1/2 career sacks) waits trial for four killings over a nine-year span, Kathy Dobie unravels a life that made his violence on the field seem like child’s play:
On a cool, drizzly February night in 2003, at one thirty or so in the morning, a police officer cruising down Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica spotted flames shooting horizontally out a window of the Simply Sofas furniture showroom. From overhead he could hear popping sounds as the fire leapt up to eat at the power lines in the street outside. Inside, the blaze spread quickly, engulfing upholstery and wood, roaring up through the roof and melting the metal skin right off the loading dock door.
The fire was almost immediately deemed suspicious. Firefighters reported the strong smell of gasoline, and when investigators were able to get inside the building the next day, they found three “firebombs”—five-gallon plastic water jugs cut off at the neck, stuffed with paper and filled with gasoline. The evidence was gathered and sent to the lab.
Five months later, Sergeant Robert Almada, the police investigator for Santa Monica’s Arson Squad Task Force, walked into the interview room at the police station on Main Street with every reason to believe things were going his way. He had motive—revenge—and he had the kind of physical evidence almost never left behind in a fire: thirty pieces of gasoline-soaked mail, each addressed to the suspect or his wife. (In the heat of the blaze, the firebombs had caved in on themselves, preserving the magazines and catalogs and envelopes inside.) That suspect, one Anthony Smith, six feet four inches and over 320 pounds, a 36-year-old former defensive end for the L.A./Oakland Raiders, dwarfed the little table in the room.
The doctor who helped track down Bin Laden is now in prison. Matthieu Aikins travels to Pakistan to investigate:
The Big House no longer looms above the neighborhood outside Abbottabad; the military razed the compound last spring, and in its place lies an empty field. But its presence lingers indelibly on the quiet streets, where residents stop and eye strange cars warily. In the center of the plot, where the living room might have been, a busted water line burbles freely out into the grass, and women from the poorer houses come in their colorful robes to collect clean water from what was once Bin Laden’s personal supply.
As Nader and I neared the site, we saw a black late-model Toyota Hilux with an extended cab idling by the road. I noticed Nader tense as we cruised past it. We drove around the corner, parked on a side street, and then walked down the same path Afridi had used to approach Bakhto and Amna as they waited, over a year before, at the door of Bin Laden’s house.