Nate Green

A Man At His Best: 5 Things I’ve Learned from David Granger’s Esquire

Last year, my friend Kyle was hit by a car while he was crossing the street on his way to work.

It was ass-crack early — six ayem — and the driver of the car had sped up to make it through a yellow light.

Kyle, like the optimistic idiot I’d known for 15 years, didn’t wait for the signal to flash before walking. He stepped off the sidewalk and into the road, apparently anticipating that the car would stop.

It didn’t.

The car hit him and sent him flying into the middle of the crosswalk.

That was a Thursday. Kyle died on Sunday. On Monday I typed this into Google: “How to give a eulogy – Esquire.”

I knew Esquire would have something real to say. Something that would help me think through this shit. Something that would help me cope and proceed with new perspective. Like a man.

I knew Esquire would be there for me in the same way that my dad, my brothers, my best friend Jason are there for me: With understanding. With wisdom. Always.

Me, Jason Lengstorf and Kyle in 2002.
Me, Jason, and Kyle in 2002.

I found an article by Tom Chiarella, How To Give a Eulogy, and printed it out.

On the flight to Colorado, I wrote down stories and memories of Kyle — that summer where we made fake IDs out of plastic cutting boards and a laser printer; the first time he took me to the gym and showed me how to lift weights; the way he’d sit in the driver’s seat of his shitty Toyota pickup and punch the roof of the car in time with the bass drum of the Deftones.

I got into Colorado late. The next morning, I gave the eulogy. It went about as well as a eulogy can go.

Later that night I split a pot brownie with my friend Mike and we walked the streets of Denver, talking, laughing, remembering.

We obeyed traffic signals and looked both ways before crossing the street.

I’ve read the magazine in bathtubs and in public parks, during thunderstorms and after sex. I’ve read it during lazy Sundays on the couch with a glass of bourbon and an hour to kill before dinner.

I’ve learned a lot from Esquire over the past eight years, since I first picked up an issue of the magazine. I’ve grown to trust and admire Editor David Granger and his stable of contributing editors and writers: Tom Chiarella, Mike Sager, Ross McCammon, Nick Sullivan, Stephen Marche, Richard Dorment, Chris Jones, Tom Junod, Scott Raab, AJ Jacobs, Cal Fussman, David Wondrich, John H. Richardson, Colby Buzzell.

Their stories taught me, inspired me, challenged me. They made me laugh and, yes, they made me weep.

The Things That Carried Him. The Falling Man. Every Raab interview, every What I’ve Learned, every Editor’s Note.

I’ve read the magazine in bathtubs and in public parks, during thunderstorms and after sex. I’ve read it during lazy Sundays on the couch with a glass of bourbon and an hour to kill before dinner. The ink always smeared and got on my hands.

I just finished the May 2016 issue of Esquire, David Granger’s last as Editor in Chief after nearly 19 years. Some of his writers (but not all) are leaving with him.

It’s the end of an era.

In honor of him and all the writers that have entertained, educated, and challenged me over the past decade, I want to share a few things I’ve learned from Granger’s Esquire.

I hope you’ll indulge me.

Lesson 1: Be generous with your time.

Eight years ago or so I emailed writer Tom Chiarella and asked him how I could become a better writer. I didn’t know this at the time, but unsolicited emails asking broad questions rarely get answered.

Tom answered anyway. His advice: set deadlines, cancel appointments when the writing is going well, and get a good chair.

His response was great, but it was the fact that he responded at all that blew me away. Having an email from Tom Chiarella sitting in my inbox made me feel connected to something big, like I had a direct line to God. He was (is), in my opinion, one of the best in the world at what he does.

I’m so far from being the best at anything.

But I have an audience now and whenever I get an email from someone who needs some help or just wants to say how much my writing has impacted them, I respond. Because Tom would.

Lesson 2: Steal from the best.

Hunter S. Thompson knew how to steal.

When he was a young journalist, Thompson would sit down at his typewriter and copy great literature, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

When Esquire writer Chris Jones agreed to do an interview with me a couple years ago, I knew I was going to steal, too.

After two hours on the phone, four hours of transcribing our interview, and another four hours pulling out the best snippets of conversation, I had my very own “What I Learned” interview, a style I stole from Esquire’s Cal Fussman, who removes his questions and leaves only his subject’s answers.

Thanks to Cal’s format and Chris’s answers, You Don’t Belong Here is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done.

Lesson 3: Buy simple, classic clothes that will last a long time.

In 2012, I moved from a small town in Montana to Portland, Oregon. Say what you will about hipsters — the flannel, the work boots, the beards — these people had style. Or at least more style than I did.

I remember coming home from the grocery store one day, after spending the better part of an hour watching beautiful people buy craft beer and artisan salami, and looking down at my two-sizes-too-big jeans and my too-long-and-billowy button down shirt.

I needed some new clothes.

I took some money out of my savings account, searched through the Esquire archives, and put together a list of essentials to build my wardrobe from scratch.

Call it what you want — a shopping spree, a waste of money. I call it an investment in myself.

The clothes made me feel confident. Capable. Like I could go anywhere in the world and be taken seriously.

I remember putting on the suit in the J. Crew changing room — my first ever suit, at age 27 — and thinking: Now that is one good-looking motherfucker.

Lesson 4: Choose a favorite drink. Learn how to make it.

The best birthday presents I’ve ever received in ascending order: an Orlando Magic Penny Hardaway jersey, skateboard lessons, and a one-on-one cocktail class at one of the best bars in the country.

That was four years ago.

I showed up to the bar at 3PM on a Saturday, an hour before it was set to open. I knocked on the door. The owner, Dan, let me in. “You’re young,” he said. “I thought you were going to be 50.”

The lights were off and sunlight poured through the windows. There was no music. I sat at the bar and Dan put a series of glasses in front of me: simple syrups, spirits (whiskey, rum, gin, but no vodka), lime juice, and lemon juice.

During the next hour, Dan showed me how to make three drinks: an old-fashioned, a whiskey sour, and a daiquiri.

Not the bar where I got an education. But a bar nonetheless.

He taught me their history and showed me how to stir, shake, and strain. He gave me a list of the tools I’d need to make them at home. He got me drunk and then sent me out the door, stumbling and smiling.

I don’t remember the cab ride home, but I do remember what Dan taught me. Since then, I’ve made an old-fashioned nearly every night. I’m getting pretty good at it.

I can thank my girlfriend for the gift and Dan for teaching me. But I must thank Esquire first: I found the bar in the magazine.

Lesson 5: Take risks, respect your readers, and try new things.

Blogs are like magazines on a rack: they all try to get your attention and stand out. But in the end, most regress toward the average. They start to look and sound the same.

Granger’s Esquire always stood out. Not just the covers of the magazine — with their notes, arrows, and quotes — but the words inside.

Esquire, May 2016
May 2016 issue.

Granger’s Esquire wasn’t filled with predictable celebrity interviews, ephemeral news stories, or vapid commentary on the state of the fashion industry. It was something deeper, more creative, more thoughtful.

Who else lets his writers try to buy a stranger’s dog for a thousand bucks? Or says: “The Olympics are coming. Go to Rio and figure out what to write about. Oh, and leave out the Olympics.

Go read the Exit Interview with Bill Murray and tell me it’s like any interview you’ve ever read.

That kind of risk-taking is inspiring and it takes a kind of pact between the writer and the reader to work. The writer says: Trust me, I’m going to make this worth reading. And the reader, hopefully, goes along for the ride.

I’ll let you in on something: I never know what I’m gonna do next with this blog. All I know is that I want it to stand out and I want it to connect with the right people.

Partly thanks to Esquire‘s influence, I’m always trying new things, pushing my boundaries, thinking of what could be fun and scary to try.

(I mean, hell, I once wrote about taking a shit in a trashcan.)

Last month I started the process of co-creating a book with my audience. We’re gonna write it together and give it away for free, something I’ve never seen done before. (Will it be worth reading? I have no idea. But I’m gonna try.)

And now here I am, writing a love letter to Granger’s Esquire in attempt, I guess, to say this: I’m really gonna miss it.

The interviews. The writing. The people. All of it.

In his last column in Esquire, Scott Raab wrote this: “The magazine means more to me than any teacher I’ve had because this magazine has taught me more — about America, about manhood, and about believing that every man’s work might matter to the world.”

I may not love the magazine the way Raab loves the magazine. But I will say this: When my friend died and I had to figure how to deal with it, I sought the company and advice of the people I trust most: my girlfriend of 8  years; Jason, my best friend of 15 years; my parents; my brothers.

And Esquire.