February 9, 2019 in 3,796 words


to set a mood • • •


‘My whole town practically lived there’: From Costa Rica to New Jersey, a pipeline of illegal workers for Trump goes back years

For years, Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. relied on undocumented workers from Costa Rica. These are their stories.


At his home on the misty slope of Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Dario Angulo keeps a set of photographs from the years he tended the rolling fairways and clipped greens of a faraway American golf resort.

Angulo learned to drive backhoes and bulldozers, carving water hazards and tee boxes out of former horse pastures in Bedminster, N.J., where a famous New Yorker was building a world-class course. Angulo earned $8 an hour, a fraction of what a state-licensed heavy equipment operator would make, with no benefits or overtime pay. But he stayed seven years on the grounds crew, saving enough for a small piece of land and some cattle back home.

Now the 34-year-old lives with his wife and daughters in a sturdy house built by “Trump money,” as he put it, with a porch to watch the sun go down.

It’s a common story in this small town.

Other former employees of President Trump’s company live nearby: men who once raked the sand traps and pushed mowers through thick heat on Trump’s prized golf property — the “Summer White House,” as aides have called it — where his daughter Ivanka got married and where he wants to build a family cemetery.

“Many of us helped him get what he has today,” Angulo said. “This golf course was built by illegals.”


The Matrix Built Our Reality-Denying World

The movie that gave all of us a new way to see (or reject) everything.


Keanu Reeves as Neo from The Matrix.

We Are Living in the Matrix

The Matrix was the first shot fired in what’s now considered a benchmark year for American movies — 1999, the year that brought us Being John Malkovich and Magnolia, The Sixth Sense and Office Space, Fight Club and The Blair Witch Project and Election. And although few would claim it was the best of the bunch, it has worked its way into our thinking — for better and, unmistakably, for worse — as few other pieces of pop culture have done. We may talk about all those other movies. But Morpheus was right. In 2019, we are living in the Matrix.

Or, you know, maybe we’re not. Maybe in 2019, we just like to say things like “We are living in the Matrix” — and that may be the truest and deepest influence of a movie whose high-flown paranoia has insinuated itself into the way we live now. In an era when the president’s lawyer can go on TV and splutter, “Truth isn’t truth!” as if it’s something everyone should know, and endless speculative conversations proceed not from “What is reality?” but from “What if we’re living in a broken simulation?,” The Matrix is omnipresent — amazingly so, given how little we still talk about the actual movie. It’s not that the film was prescient. It didn’t anticipate our world. But it anticipated — and probably created — a new way of viewing that world. And, just as “Madness is the only sane response to a crazy world” fiction like Catch-22 had done a generation earlier, it granted everyone permission to refuse to contend with reality by deeming that refusal a form of hyperawareness.

To revisit The Matrix 20 years later is to make a jolting discovery almost immediately: It’s not that complicated! A lowly computer hacker (Keanu Reeves’s Neo) — a drudge, like so many late-’90s protagonists — is pulled into a pre-hashtag resistance he didn’t know existed against a system he didn’t know enslaved him. The rebels offer him enlightenment, but at a brutal price; he has to lose all delusion and realize he is literally part of an immense, systemic machine, doing the bidding of, well, take your pick: The Man. The Establishment. Corporate Overlords. The Government. The System. And only by knowing can he hope to be rescued from it. The plot is pretty basic, and the politics are alluringly, perhaps dangerously, viable for anyone of any ideology who feels pissed off. Few arguments have found themselves more adaptable to this moment than “You’re getting screwed by a world you didn’t invent and can’t see, but the good news is that the cure is just willing yourself to see it.”


5 Little Mistakes That Had Unexpectedly Huge Consequences

We make little mistakes every day. It’s why all the baristas at Starbucks call you “Dorba.” But sometimes a little mistake can escalate into terrible mayhem — the kind that doesn’t just get you fired from a coffee shop, but sets you, the shop, and its adjoining buildings on fire. For example …

5. A Mechanic Accidentally Blows Up Several Planes


Anyone who’s ever mistakenly deleted a file knows that particular feeling of dread. Now multiply it by about a million, and you’ll still be nowhere near what one mechanic felt when he unintentionally armed a fighter jet and caused $40 million worth of damage in a few seconds.

In a chain of events straight out of a bad comedy, two mechanics were servicing an F-16 at Florennes Air Base in Belgium when one of them brushed the button activating the plane’s Vulcan cannon. Instantly, the 20mm gun exploded in a hail of bullets, obliterating another F-16 parked in front of it. And right when the tech was figuring out how to spackle a million bullet-sized holes before his supervisor noticed, the plane exploded, damaging yet another fighter jet in the process.

At this point, it should probably be mentioned that the price tag per F-16 is around $19.6 million, so if you add up the two busted planes, the full tank of jet fuel, and about infinity rounds of 20mm ammo, it amounts to a big “You break it, you buy it.” The canons and explosions were so loud that the two mechanics had to be rushed to the hospital with severe damage to their eardrums. Which might actually have been a kindness, given how many in the chain of command were lining up to yell at them.

Oops…


Britain’s favourite monument is stuck in the middle of a bad-tempered row over road traffic.

Stonehenge, with the possible exception of Big Ben, is Britain’s most recognisable monument. As a symbol of the nation’s antiquity, it is our Parthenon, our pyramids – although, admittedly, less impressive. Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, recalls that when he took a group of Egyptian archaeologists to see it, they were baffled by our national devotion to the stones, which, compared to the refined surfaces of the pyramids, seemed to them like something hastily thrown up over a weekend.

Unlike those other monuments, though, Stonehenge is more or less a complete mystery. Nobody knows for sure why, or by whom, this vast arrangement of boulders was erected on Wiltshire’s downlands, in the south of England, about 5,000 years ago. Into this void have rushed myriad theories, from the academically sober to the blatantly fantastic. Over the centuries, its construction has been confidently credited to giants, wizards, Phoenicians, Mycenaeans, Romans, Saxons, Danes and aliens. (According to one medieval theory, Merlin had it transported from Ireland to serve as the funeral monument for Britons slaughtered by Hengist, the treacherous Saxon.)

Since Stonehenge slipped into the written record in the medieval era, it has been a place to project our ideas of ourselves. It was said, by the 20th-century archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes, that “every age has the Stonehenge it deserves”.

And so today’s Stonehenge is not William Blake’s terrifying “building of eternal death”; nor is it Thomas Hardy’s “monstrous place”, where Tess of the D’Urbervilles sleeps her last night before being taken to be hanged. Nor is it even the Stonehenge of the counterculture, where peace-freaks revelled until they were brutally routed in “the Battle of the Beanfield” in 1985, one of the most notorious episodes in the history of British policing.

Our Stonehenge has none of this grandeur or pathos. Instead, it is at the centre of a peculiarly modern British circus – one that involves an agonisingly long planning dispute, allegations of government incompetence, two deeply entrenched opposing sides, and a preoccupation with traffic and tourism. This absurdist drama, entirely worthy of our times, is a long and bitter battle over whether to sink the highway that runs beside it into a tunnel.

Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


John Oliver Really Just Wants Last Week Tonight to Be The Muppet Show

Since its debut in 2014, HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver has routinely pushed the boundaries of what a topical comedy show can be. Its deep-dive segments, which now often nudge the show beyond its designated half-hour slot, are famous for tackling the obscure, convoluted, and underreported. Like its host’s alma mater The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight feels like a calming anchor of reason in a sea of news chaos and social-media storms. And at the center is John Oliver, the self-effacing host of a show that’s quickly becoming a late-night institution.

With the show about to enter its sixth season on February 17, Vulture caught up with John Oliver earlier this week to talk about the show’s fact-checking process, the one story he wished he could have covered, and the story behind all those mascots.

• • •

I feel like in interviews you tend to be very humble about the show, and I wondered if you would talk to me about what you think the appeal of the show is.

Who the fuck knows. I don’t know.

The appeal for me is that we’ve built this machine of very talented people working incredibly hard, and a process through which they can end up putting their considerable talents into a story that might be very difficult to handle. So the most appealing thing for us in making the show is kind of seeing what everyone who we work with is capable of, and trying to point their capabilities at something that stretches them. In terms of what’s appealing watching it, I don’t know. [Laughs.]


6 Realities Of Working As A Friend-For-Hire

As we get more and more lonely, the free market has helpfully filled the void. Many websites now offer “rentable friends.” Craigslist has its own somewhat creepy section for general hangouts. This isn’t some obscure niche anymore. Rent-A-Friend alone has over 600,000 professional friends on call.

So what’s it like to be a professional buddy to people who, for one reason or another, can’t find friends the normal way? It’s weird as hell! At times, anyway. “John” has served over a hundred clients as a rented friend, and he shared some war stories with us.

6. One Guy Wanted To Play In The McDonald’s Ball Pit


It’s not that every person paying for friendship is too creepy for normal society, but some of them totally are. “I had a friend match who wanted to go to a McDonald’s … He was in his 40s and had on a parka even though it was in the 70’s,” says John. “As an icebreaker, I asked him about it, and he said it was to keep him warm. It was bad vibes, but I brushed that aside. Maybe he was really cold.”

See, the thing is, lots of people paying for companionship have real trouble getting it otherwise. It often doesn’t take long to find out why. “We ordered and he talked. No surprise, because most ‘friends’ love to talk. It was most about San Francisco, and we shared what we liked about the city. Then he said ‘Let’s go in the playplace.'” You know, the little play area where customers send their kids?

“Before I could say maybe we shouldn’t, he took off his shoes and jumped with a huge belly flop into the ball pit, narrowly missing a toddler. The parents, quite rightly, said he should get out, but he threw a few plastic balls at them. I told him, ‘Hey, maybe we should go back to eating,’ but he tried to get me to join him. The manager came in after a parent complained and told him to get out. He did, and said, ‘You’re no fun at all.’ We walked out and he sat back down, eating as if nothing had happened, even with the manager eyeing us in a way that said ‘Leave now.'”

Well … maybe the guy’s just a child at heart? “When we left, he then suggested that we wear each others shirts. I said no, as kindly as I could, and he said, ‘You’re no fun.’ Then he floated the idea of following around a random person and seeing how long it would take before they noticed and walked faster or ran. I had to say no again, because that is creepy as fuck. Thankfully he said, ‘I know the site said we had a lot in common, but I’m not seeing it.'”

Thus, their friend date ended before one or both of them wound up in the back of a squad car.


The Five Families of Feces

The porta-potty business is as dirty as you’d think. But one man keeps coming up smelling like roses.

Charles W. Howard is the porta-potty king of New York City. The seat of his vast empire is Broad Channel, Queens; from this windswept rock in Jamaica Bay, you can see the lights of Manhattan twinkling across the water. Early every morning, while the city sleeps, dozens of trucks — tagged with WE’RE #1 AT PICKING UP #2 decals — snake through the five boroughs to clean his 18,000 toilets. The company boasts more than $35 million in annual revenue, thanks in part to “salesgirls” who head out each day in the company’s signature Volkswagen Beetles to poach contracts from competitors who are too shy to sell with sex. Charlie himself arrives at work only around midday in a black Cadillac Escalade. Young female dispatchers and clerks cry “Charlie! Charlie!” while men in orange slickers hose down toilets in the yard.

On a recent Thursday, the gleaming Escalade stops at a pizzeria, and Charlie, 53, steps out, a bit heavy and wearing a rumpled purple dress shirt. He’s brought along Kimberly, the star of his company’s YouTube channel. She’s beautiful, blonde, and his wife. Charlie favors superlatives, like another Queens businessman, and speaks with the accent you’d expect from a man so old-school New York there’s a neighborhood named after his family. And now, not far from Howard Beach, he explains why he’s the greatest toilet man in America. “I had different theories about business,” he says, “and they all turned out to be correct.”

Nationally, portable toilets are a $2 billion business. Construction rentals are three-quarters of New York’s market, and as America’s real-estate sector has rebounded over the past half-decade, the industry has exploded. Developers pay $100 a month for a pump truck to visit once a week and hoover up blue-tinged waste. Profits are made by building dense routes: lots of toilets at a stop and lots of job sites close together. Events are a growing corner of the business. Go to Smorgasburg and count the toilets: Daily rentals run about $225 each. Use a luxury restroom trailer with flushing toilets at an upstate wedding? It cost the bride’s parents a few thousand bucks just for the night.

You can’t get denser routes than in New York City, which makes it a major prize. But the market is a nightmare to navigate — traffic, tolls, angry unions, toilets that need to be lowered by crane from skyscrapers. A small group of competitors controls the industry: “the big five.” Mr. John is clean-cut and corporate. Abe Breuer, a wiry Hasidic Jew, runs John to Go from Rockland County. A Royal Flush owns the special-events market and enjoys an enviable 7,000-toilet contract with New York Road Runners to clean up after nervous, caffeinated runners. Johnny on the Spot is now part of a national chain. Over a four-decade career, Charlie’s Call-a-Head has held its own.

But now, Charlie might fall off his throne. More than 1,300 former pump-truck drivers, the men who literally haul his shit, are part of a class-action lawsuit that could put him out of business. The rest of the big five covet his empire.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

City officials in the sleepy West Texas border town of Del Rio arrived to work on January 10th to an ominous situation — their computers didn’t work.

At first, it appeared that the internet wasn’t functioning, but the city’s IT department soon confirmed that their entire system had been encrypted, and hackers were asking for a ransom to unlock it.

Though hard numbers are hard to come by, ransomware, as it’s known, appeared to enjoy a banner year in 2018, with cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina locked out of their data systems for weeks. “People who aren’t computer savvy don’t realize how big of a deal it is,” Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano told VICE News.

As of writing, the city of Del Rio is still locked out of its servers, though Lozano tells us that the town’s insurance successfully negotiated with the hackers to get their data back. Officials wouldn’t say how much ransom was paid, but the town’s IT department is keeping the city offline as a preventative measure until they determine if they should rebuild the system from the ground up.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.


President Barack Obama’s lack of suit jacket in the Oval Office rocked the nation in 2009.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ battle with the National Enquirer and scandals rocking the Virginia governor’s office.


Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joins Bill to discuss his new book, “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics.”


In his editorial New Rule, Bill disputes the notion that both political parties are to blame for the mess we’re in.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.


A year after Dr. Ronny Jackson infamously claimed Trump’s weight was 239 pounds, the President is heading back for annual physical.


Stephen examines the rocky start to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s expected 2020 presidential run in the latest edition of ‘Doin’ It Donkey Style.’


It’s a late night TV host’s dream to see a man named Pavel Fuks in the news.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


In the first episode of Patriot Act, Hasan shared his deepest, darkest secret: that he only got a 1310 out of 1600 on the SAT exam. Almost 16 years later, Hasan is back in the classroom at The Princeton Review for a shot at redemption.

THANKS to Netflix and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj for making this program available on YouTube.


ブラッシングされる音。Sound of the brushing.

Ed. More barely uninteresting at all than listening to the sound of people eating.


FINALLY . . .

A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions

Dan Mallory, who writes under the name A. J. Finn, went to No. 1 with his début thriller, “The Woman in the Window.” His life contains even stranger twists.


At Oxford, Dan Mallory studied Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels, which are about a charming, brilliant impostor.


Dan Mallory, a book editor turned novelist, is tall, good-looking, and clever. His novel, “The Woman in the Window,” which was published under a lightly worn pseudonym, A. J. Finn, was the hit psychological thriller of the past year. Like “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn (2012), and “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins (2015), each of which has sold millions of copies, Mallory’s novel, published in January, 2018, features an unreliable first-person female narrator, an apparent murder, and a possible psychopath.

Mallory sold the novel in a two-book, two-million-dollar deal. He dedicated it to a man he has described as an ex-boyfriend, and secured a blurb from Stephen King: “One of those rare books that really is unputdownable.” Mallory was profiled in the Times, and the novel was reviewed in this magazine. A Washington Post critic contended that Mallory’s prose “caresses us.” The novel entered the Times best-seller list at No. 1—the first time in twelve years that a début novel had done so. A film adaptation, starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, was shot in New York last year. Mallory has said that his second novel is likely to appear in early 2020—coinciding, he hopes, with the Oscar ceremony at which the film of “The Woman in the Window” will be honored. Translation rights have been acquired in more than forty foreign markets.

Mallory can be delightful company. Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, recently recalled that Mallory, as a junior colleague in the New York book world, had been “charming, brilliant,” and a “terrific writer of e-mail.” Tess Gerritsen, the crime writer, met Mallory more than a decade ago, when he was an editorial assistant; she remembers him as “a charming young man” who wrote deft jacket copy. Craig Raine, the British poet and academic, told me that Mallory had been a “charming and talented” graduate student at Oxford; there, Mallory had focussed his studies on Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels, which are about a charming, brilliant impostor.

Now thirty-nine, Mallory lives in New York, in Chelsea. He spent much of the past year travelling—Spain, Bulgaria, Estonia—for interviews and panel discussions. He repeated entertaining, upbeat remarks about his love of Alfred Hitchcock and French bulldogs. When he made an unscheduled appearance at a gathering of bloggers in São Paulo, he was greeted with pop-star screams.

One evening in September, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mallory sat down in the bar of the hotel where he and other guests of a literary festival were staying. Tom Scott, an editorial cartoonist and a screenwriter, was struck by Mallory’s self-assurance, which reminded him of Sam Shepard’s representation of Chuck Yeager, the test pilot, in the film “The Right Stuff.” “He came in wearing the same kind of bomber jacket,” Scott said recently, in a fondly teasing tone. “An incredibly good-looking guy. He sat down and plonked one leg over the arm of his chair, and swung that leg casually, and within two minutes he’d mentioned that he had the best-selling novel in the world this year.” Mallory also noted that he’d been paid a million dollars for the movie rights to “The Woman in the Window.” Scott said, “He was enjoying his success so much. It was almost like an outsider looking in on his own success.”


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?