A poet's hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prized elsewhere.
W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973), Collected Poems
Thoughts from the pages of New York
Excerpts of pieces up for National Magazine Awards
By Diego Vasquez
New York magazine last year took home five National Magazine Awards from seven nominations, winning for design, general excellence among titles with circulations between 250,000 and 500,000, interactive feature, magazine section and profile writing. The title this year was nominated for nine awards, second behind only The New Yorker's 12 nominations and a record for New York. Besides once again being nominated for general excellence, which it has won the past two years, New York is up for design, photography, photo portfolio, feature writing, leisure interests, columns and commentary, reviews and criticism and personal service online. Today begins Media Life's yearly series on the year's NMA nominees with excerpts of passages from a few of the New York pieces that earned nominations.
One of New York's nods this year was for feature writing for Vanessa Grigoriadis' story titled "Everybody Sucks," about the popular media-themed web site Gawker. The story was originally published on Oct. 15, 2007. Here's an excerpt:
Nearly five years ago, in December 2002, Gawker made its debut under the leadership of Nick Denton, the complicated owner of the blog network Gawker Media, and Elizabeth Spiers, a 25-year-old banker turned blogger who was fragile in person but displayed a streak of dark cunning on the page. They didn't exactly invent the blog, but the tone they used for Gawker became the most important stylistic influence on the emerging field of blogging and has turned into the de facto voice of blogs today. Under Spiers's aegis, Gawker was a fun inside look at the media fishbowl by a woman who was, indeed, "snarky" but also seemed to genuinely enjoy both journalism and journalists-Spiers was a gawker at them-and took delight in putting out a sort of industry fanzine or yearbook, for which she was rewarded with fawning newspaper articles casting her as the new Dorothy Parker. Ironically enough, Spiers craved a job at a magazine. She soon left for a position here, at New York Magazine; two subsequent Gawker editors, Jesse Oxfeld and Jessica Coen, have followed in the past year.
To be enticed, as these writers were, by the credentials extended by an old-media publication is a source of hilarity at the Gawker offices, where, beneath a veneer of self-deprecation, the core belief is that bloggers are cutting-edge journalists-the new "anti-media." No other form has lent itself so perfectly to capturing the current ethos of young New York, which is overwhelmingly tipped toward anger, envy, and resentment at those who control the culture and apartments.
Another of New York's nominations for writing was in the Leisure Interests category, for "Cartography," which is described as a complete road map to New York street food. Here's an excerpt from a piece titled "The Kebab Man of 42nd and Eighth":
Today, Elnagar, an Egyptian-American who emigrated to New York eleven years ago, is at the garage by 10:10, exchanging salaam aleikums with other vendors. The garage, the gutted ground floor of a brownstone that's home to a half-dozen carts, is run by a fellow Egyptian named Abdullah. Abdullah charges $200 a month per cart, and Hakim owns two (he operates one; a partner mans the other). The garage is more than a place to keep carts safe. In back, there's a makeshift wholesale shop where cart men can stock up on their wares before heading out to the streets. A freezer chest is filled with hot dogs, and shelves are piled high with Admiration mustard and Trappey's Louisiana hot sauce. There's also a giant shower booth where carts get hosed down. Abdullah's cousin, Mohammed, lounges at the shop's entrance with a prehistoric calculator and handwritten ledger in which he records the vendors' tabs.
Elnagar operates a stretch version of the basic hot-dog cart, with the dogs de-emphasized in favor of the kebabs. It's eight-and-a-half feet long, close to the maximum allowable size, and includes a hot-water tank for hot dogs, a cooler for ice and soda, a dry shelf for pretzels, and a twelve-by-twelve-inch charcoal grill. It takes two Sabrett umbrellas (WE'RE ON A ROLL!) to cover it. Its front and sides advertise, in peeling letters, SHISH KEBAB-HOT SAUSAGE-BOILED HOT DOG-GRILLED HOT DOG-PRETZEL-KNISH-COLD SODA-WATER-SNAPPLE. Mounted over the grill and facing inward, where only Elnagar can see it, is a price list: "Hot Dog $2," "Hot Sasg $2," and so on. Elnagar wrote it, but he doesn't abide by it. Sometimes he charges $1.25 for a hot dog, sometimes $1.50. "Some people are regulars," he explains.
Elnagar stocks the hot-dog tank with a dozen or so Sabrett franks, enough to get started. The rest he stores in the cooler. Then he glops mustard from a gallon jar into a squeeze bottle, refills his salt and pepper shakers, and drains vinegar from a sauerkraut bag into the hot-dog water. Does that improve the flavor? Prolong shelf life? Elnagar shrugs. He's never thought about it. "Everyone does that," he says.
Columns and Commentary
New York was also nominated in the Columns and Commentary category for Kurt Andersen's column "The Imperial City." Here's an excerpt from his Jan. 1, 2007, entry titled "American Roulette":
A month ago, I was ragging on CNN for presenting Lou Dobbs's hour of pissed-off populism as if it were a traditional nightly news show, and I still think it has a serious truth-in-packaging problem. But (like Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind, with his epiphany about the poor in "Hard Times") I now get Dobbs's and his followers' anger and disgust about the ongoing breaches of the social contract, an American economic system that seems more and more rigged in favor of the extremely fortunate.
I know capitalism is all about creative destruction, that the pain of globalization must be endured and flexible labor markets are good; inequality is endemic; life is uncertain and unfair, sure, yeah, of course. We're all Reaganites now-or at least no longer socialists by instinct. But during the past two decades we've not only let economic uncertainty and unfairness grow to grotesque extremes, we've also inured ourselves to the spectacle. As America has become a lot more like Pottersville than Bedford Falls, those of us closer to the top of the heap have shrugged and moved on.
The asymmetry between the Goldman boss's compensation and that of his average employee-85 times as big-is virtually Ben-and-Jerry's-like these days: An average CEO now gets paid several hundred times the salary of his average worker, a gap that's an order of magnitude larger than it was in the seventies. In Japan, the ratio is just 11-to-1, and in Britain 22-to-1.
This is not the America in which we grew up.
Diego Vasquez is a staff writer for Media Life.