The Killer Named Gyp The Blood

I've spent much of the last few weeks with my head floating around in an imaginary version of New Orleans, editing stories for Narratively's week on the Crescent City. We have some really lovely stories up there, none closer to my heart than the one I spent entirely too long working on, about a Storyville murder that has largely been forgotten. We'll see if I can fix that. 

Ever since the first flatboat sailor came down the Mississippi, loaded with cash and rotgut whiskey, New Orleans has been wary of outsiders. On Easter Sunday, 1913, a trio of New Yorkers learned that lesson well, when they found themselves in the center of a gunfight that forever altered the nation's most famous red light district. Driving the chaos was a man named Charles Harrison, better known as Gyp the Blood.

After the shooting, Harrison got his picture in the paper, under the headline "Harrison Bad Man." The Daily Picayune described him as a cold-blooded killer with a cocaine habit and a sideline in white slavery, but the picture does not match the crimes. About thirty years old at the time, Harrison is shown as soft-featured, with a bulging nose and an awkward smile. In his left hand, this "man of evil days and black surroundings" clutches a small white dog.

"He was spruce," the Daily Picayune would later write, "even dapper in appearance, as far as clothes went, but his pale, smooth-shaven face, bulging at the eyes, caving into sunken cheeks and squaring into a brutal jaw, bore the cold, steely cast of unregenerate impulse to crime."

Gyp the Blood was a hardened criminal of the Lower East Side. Or perhaps he was a fake, a coward who killed a man to prove he wasn't scared. He was a dupe, tricked by his employers into throwing his life away. Or he was a wild man, whose itchy trigger finger caused a bloodbath, and ruined business for hundreds of law-abiding purveyors of vice.

In the photograph, all Harrison seemed to want was to show off his puppy.

If you like that, there's about 5,000 words more. Eat it up—it's juicy.

Embarrassing Dating & Embarrassing Congressmen

And while I'm posting clips, there are two more that I was too busy—read: lazy—to share with you good people. Ze first comes from Narratively, one in a collection of vignettes about the pains, horror and strife that come with dating. It's an incredibly embarrassing story from an incredibly embarrassing time: the middle of my freshman year of college.

It seemed I was the only person on campus not getting laid hourly during my freshman year at NYU. The trouble was a steadfast commitment to a long distance girlfriend whom I loved too much to cheat on.
Long distance relationships are tricky because long distance sex is unfeasible, for now. So I dreamed up a Valentine’s Day surprise to return to her bed as soon as possible.
She expected me back in Nashville late February 14th, but I decided to cut class and go home a day early. I’d tell her to step outside her house, where I would be waiting for hugs and kisses. It would blow her goddamned mind.

You'll never guess it, but complications ensue. While I'm bothered by the Narratively editors insistance on splitting my work up into tiny little paragraphs, I think the story turned out well. They're fun dudes to work for, and I'm hoping to do more of it in the future. 

The second post is another one at Bullett, this time about the already-forgotten controversy over historical inaccuracy in LincolnIt's mostly worth it for the alliteration of "Kushner Krushes Kongressman." At the end, I reach some conclusions about the truth, which I hate.

It’s silly to demand accuracy in film. The IMDB comments section for your average historical drama is populated by whinging history buffs who don’t understand that movies are not supposed to be textbooks. Anything that must be sacrificed for the sake of the story should be sacrificed. When I first heard of Courtney’s ire, I was naturally sympathetic. It seems like such an easy thing to get right, and Lincoln’s grotesque run time turned me against the movie long ago. But Kushner has a way with words, and he talked me into it. If he changed those votes on purpose, then he had a good reason. The historical record is meaningless. Storytelling is king.

Enjoy your Tuesday, you wonderful literate person, you.

At An 'Elf' Matinee, I Must Have Done Something Good

Regular readers may have noticed that, for all its high points, Astor Place Riot is not known for crusading journalism. I'm generally more interested in writing about celebrity Christmas trees and infant thieves. But this month I started writing for the lovely new website Narratively—a longform publication more interested in my reporting ability than my gibberish-typing. "Very well," I said. "You want non-gibberish? I'll give you non-gibberish!"

I'd always been heart-warmed by the Autism Theater Initiative, a program of the Theater Development Fund that has, at matinees of The Lion King and Mary Poppins, specially tailored productions to meet the needs of those on the autism spectrum. It's a feel-good charity that's actually good for everyone involved—producers included—and thinking about it gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling that writing about theater usually does not produce. 

The story went online this morning, along with a spectacular short video by photographer/videodude Emon Hassan. (Whose web series The Third is creepy and excellent, btw.) Here's the lede:

At a matinee of the Broadway show “Elf” on January 5, the audience was oddly restless. When the curtain rose, revealing a rosy-cheeked Wayne Knight wearing a white-and-red suit, a girl screamed, “Hi Santa!” followed by a boy’s cry of  ”Quiet!” During the first dance number, as a line of elves popped off tiny little kicks, a child ran down the aisle and pelted a squishy toy at one of the dancers. Without missing a step, the elf made a one-handed catch. Throughout the first act, the audience grew increasingly noisy, but the actors, impressively, remained locked-in.
“There’s no sound like a theater full of autistic people,” says leading elf Jordan Gelber. “It was non-stop, except when there was music or a song. Then it was like all the sounds died away.”
This audience, made up entirely of people on the autism spectrum and their families, was there because of the Theatre Development Fund, a sprawling charity whose Autism Theatre Initiative has been producing afternoons like this since 2011. Several times a year, TDF turns a normally staid Broadway house into an autistic child’s paradise. Once you get used to the noise, you realize this is the happiest Broadway audience you’ve ever seen.

If you liked those words, there are about 1,300 more of them waiting for you over at Narratively. I'm proud of most of the work I do, but I'd say this is one that I feel extra-good about. Read it! Reread it! Tell your friends! And if your friends don't care...make them listen.

Stupid Stuff I've Done, Illustrated!


A site I've been doing some work for, Narratively, solicited their writers this week for stories about all-nighters. I picked over my brain, looking for memories of all the times in college when I partied 'till dawn, and was finally forced to conclude that partying 'till dawn was just not something I did. 'Till 3, maybe, but seldom dawn.

But then I remembered—all night stories don't have to be fun. In fact, it's better if they aren't! So I sharpened my brain-pencil and got to work telling the story of one of the dumbest things I've ever done, which started with an all-nighter and ended in anguish on the Jamaica LIRR platform.

No matter how neatly they rhyme, don’t trust friends who say, “Early flight? Stay up all night!”
Leaving New York after my freshman year at NYU, I booked an eight a.m. flight and was foolish enough to let my best friend turn my ordeal into a party. With the graceless vigor of those young enough to still have a metabolism, we threw ourselves into an all-nighter fueled by Talking Heads, lamb gyros and the world’s worst Manhattans—an abominable mix of Canadian whiskey and dry vermouth that only a freshman could love. But my friends fell well short of greeting the dawn.
“It’s past two,” they whined. “We’re going to bed.”
Half-drunk and fully alone, I put aside my wistfulness and whirlwinded around the apartment, cramming my crap into any bit of luggage that could hold it. Just before dawn, I staggered out of my dorm for the last time, dragging two rolling suitcases, a three-ton duffel and a Duane Reade bag full of sneakers. Unable to carry my Totally Awesome dorm room posters, I left them behind, and my dorm rooms were never Totally Awesome again. I hailed a cab for JFK and slipped into sleep.

It gets a lot dumber from there. There are nine or so other stories on that page, and they're all doosies. Mine is at the bottom presumably because it provides the kind of moral weight that you want to close a piece with.

The neatest thing, really, is that the good folks at Narratively solicited an illustration from a woman who works at Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop that can only be called a Nashville institution. I fantasize about one day having a play produced in Nashville—Dark Horse theater producers, if you're reading this, call me—and to see my name in Hatch's big, beautiful, blocky letters. Being illustrated by a Hatch employee will tide me over for now.