In the past few years, I’ve bought eighty-one leather jackets. Dozens of boots and leather gloves. I’ve purchased pants that cost $5,000. I own a $22,000 coat. This winter I took a tour of Milan’s Fashion Week (all expenses paid by Gucci, in appreciation of my many, many purchases), where I spent tens of thousands more and began to seriously grapple, once and for all, with a compulsion that could cost me more than just my life savings. My name is Buzz Bissinger. I am 58 years old, the best-selling author of ‘Friday Night Lights,’ father of three, husband. And I am a shopaholic.
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.
The butler did it! That was the tabloid take on the unprecedented breach of security that shook the Vatican last year, when a trove of secrets plucked from one of the most impenetrable places on earth—the pope’s private quarters—was leaked to the media. But why did he do it? And did he act alone? Sean Flynn digs around the Vatican’s strange, cloistered world and unravels a cloak-and-dagger scandal that’s a lot more layered than the Church would have you believe—and that may be just the beginning:
A man was sitting in the chair. He told Nuzzi he had worked inside the Vatican for about twenty years. He professed to be a devout and pious Catholic, which Nuzzi would come to believe because the man quoted Gospel passages and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI from memory. The man was uncomfortable meeting with a journalist, but he said his conscience left him no alternative. There are scandals in the Holy See, he told Nuzzi, hypocrisies and frauds practiced upon the Church, and even upon Benedict himself, that he could no longer abide.
The man said he had documents that would prove the truth. He had collected memos and letters for years, and he would give them to Nuzzi. But their meetings could never become known. They could never speak on the phone or communicate by e-mail. They would meet only in person, on a prearranged schedule. Also, the man wanted a code name.
“Maria,” the man suggested.
Nuzzi smiled. He liked it. Maria, he thought. The messenger above suspicion.
It’s something we’ve all been meaning to do. The father-son bonding adventure. You know: The big fishing excursion, The road trip down Route 66. Last year, Wells Tower took a completely different approach with his dad: Burning Man, the world’s largest chemically enhanced self-expression festival. They went to witness the Slut Olympics. They went to see the art. They went to discover what draws 60,000 people to one of the least hospitable places on Earth. Then they set up camp and took off their clothes.
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.
Every September, a quiet, churchy city in the American heartland undergoes a Technicolor transformation. Art pops up everywhere—paintings, giant insect statues, experimental happenings. Sidewalks and parks turn into open-air museums; taverns become galleries. A huge pot of money is dangled before the artists, $250,000(!) for the grand prize. And here’s the best part: You know who gets to pick the winner? You do. Matthew Power reports:
By September 29, 370,309 votes had been cast, and DeVos held a press conference to announce the ten finalists. The public would have six days to choose the $250,000 winner. Among the chosen: Rusty, the giant found-object puppy; the even more giant welded-steel praying mantis; the Tim McGraw–surfer Jesus mosaic; Gerald Ford; a crying octopus carved out of driftwood; a collection of chain-saw-carved bears; and a living statue of the sort you see in the piazzas of Europe, a dude dressed like a construction worker, covered in copper body paint and standing atop a scaffold.
The general critical consensus was that Rick DeVos’s grand experiment in letting public opinion determine the outcome had yielded up a torrent of kitsch—the “crazy crap” he’d asked for. Twitter was not kind. “Looks like the DeVos family is going to be seriously overpaying for some bad art. #artprize.” “Before announcing the #ArtPrize Top 10, Rick DeVos said it is not about the Top 10. I now understand why he said that.”
I found Paul Amenta in the dark and empty Site:Lab a few days later. Not a single Site:Lab piece had made the cut. “Don’t even get me started,” he said, shaking his head. “I had this moment where I had to switch gears, ‘cause if I didn’t I would go crazy.” He had dedicated months of his life to preparing the space and persuading artists to come exhibit. I asked him if he’d try again, and he laughed bitterly. “I couldn’t get the artists to commit to a thing like this, given what happened with the voting.”
This was exactly what he meant when he talked about the public fucking it up. He told me when DeVos had made the top ten announcement, the skies over Grand Rapids had blackened, and a windstorm with thunder and lightning had swept through the town. “It was freaky. Like God was registering disapproval or something.”
GQ’s Devin Friedman spends a week at Marquee in Las Vegas and reports on the era of the mega-club:
This was maybe the sixth or seventh night I’d been to Marquee. On other nights I would show up before the club opened, so I could observe the hidden machinery and ascertain how the people who run the place go about manufacturing the communal fun-gasm that made Marquee the highest-grossing nightclub in Las Vegas and very likely the universe. But tonight I was with a bachelor party, and in honor of the occasion we’d decided to avail ourselves of a table reservation. A table reservation requires guests to spend between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the night, and among its perks is access to a special line. The table line is the line you’re supposed to see from other lines and think: Why am I not in that line? Or: Why didn’t my boyfriend get me into that line?
A trim woman wearing smart business attire and a clear Secret Service earpiece greeted me as if she had been waiting all night to see me. She had a tiny envelope with my name on it, and into this tiny envelope she deposited my driver’s license and credit card. She then passed the envelope to a man in a dark suit, a VIP host, who shook my hand with similar warmth. All the suited functionaries at Marquee that night treated me as if I were an important business partner in a business where important business partners may or may not be bought prostitutes.
An elevator car with glass walls, lit like a lounge, was waiting. The desperate sounds of human beings begging doormen and imploring homeys to hurry up because I’m waiting for you at the entrance, son, were silenced by the shush of the closing doors. A woman in a white short-sleeve shirt, whom you might call an elevator host, pressed a button on the control panel and then began a speech prepared to last precisely the duration of one elevator ride to the fourth floor.
“Hello, gentlemen,” she said. “My name is Laura. When you step out of the elevators, you will find our Boom Box bar, down the stairs. Upstairs is the Library, our exclusive lounge. And just outside, you’ll find our main level. There is a bar straight ahead, and to our right the dance floor, where your table is. Benny Benassi will be DJ’ing tonight. We have 60,000 square feet of nightclub. Our outdoor space is open. Roam the club. Find some ladies. Bring them back to your table.” The elevator jostled us gently as it stopped. “Welcome to Marquee, gentlemen. Your party starts…now.”
[Photographs by Lauren Greenfield]