A story begins with an idea. If it’s a good idea, the editor gets it from the headline and a sentence. A question: “A Thousand Dollars for Your Dog?” That’s simple and funny. Good idea. “Approved.” Go around with $1,000 in your pocket and try to buy shit from people — wallet, cell phone, wedding ring. You have to give it to me now, though. You might even try to buy somebody’s dog. What starts out as a stunt becomes a very profound exploration of what it is that people value.
The best story ideas are those that are imagined, though; they come from the writer’s and editor’s intuitions about how a situation may unfold, rather than events that have already occurred. A writer reads in the news that an abortion doctor in Florida has been murdered, and he wonders what it would be like to be the person who replaces him. So he makes phone calls, writes letters and knocks on doors until he finds the new doctor. The story wins the National Magazine Award for the best feature writing.
A good editor must have lofty goals. He knows that serious stories risk changing something about the writer. If the story risks changing something about the writer, it could possibly change something about the reader. It’s not enough, after all, for a story to be only theoretically interesting.
The best stories, the editor knows, are those with a lot at stake. The writer follows the news as several women’s bodies turn up on a beach in Long Island. Several years later, a woman goes missing from Marietta, the writer’s home town. He wonders, “Why are all these women going missing?” He begins his reporting. He knows that at some point he will have to go into rough neighborhoods to report, so he isn’t in any great rush. The writer asks the editor, “When will it be published?” The editor says,
“When you find the girl.”
How most of us know David Granger is rendered in black and white, wearing a gray pinstriped Dunhill suit jacket with peak lapels, crisp white shirt, black tie with diagonal matte black stripes, white pocket square just barely showing, black jeans and rimless rectangular glasses, his bald head cleanly shaven and tilted a few degrees forward, eyes looking directly into the camera with an expression that if you were not careful you might describe as expressionless. But it’s better described as equanimity. The way you know that is from the other significant characteristic of the photo: Granger grips the right lapel of the suit jacket with one hand while the other arm is fully outstretched to his left. He is either taking the jacket off or putting it on; if you try to recreate it — Jerry Seinfeld once did, when they bumped into each other on the Upper West Side — it’s impossible to tell which.
One may take the liberty, sitting down to enjoy the latest edition of Esquire, to imagine that Granger’s next move after the photo is either to remove the jacket and get down to business as the editor in chief of this classic men’s magazine, or to put the jacket on and go out to a bar for his usual drink, a blanco tequila with a wedge of lime, or to get in his dark gray Mercedes-Benz CLS550 and drive one hour north up the west side of Manhattan and, depending on traffic on the Saw Mill River Parkway — past towns with funny names like Dobbs Ferry and Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow — to his wife and home (his two daughters long since moved out), in Croton-on-Hudson, a ride over the course of which he will sometimes pull off the road into the Met Cloisters, park the car and find a quiet path in Fort Tryon Park where he can take a leak.
Chiarella, 55, he’s at the bar, too. He’s been a writer-at-large for Esquire for two decades. He looks goofier in pictures than in person, where he’s dressed handsomely in a black turtleneck and a blazer. Chiarella specializes oddball celebrity profiles — for his profile of Halle Berry, Berry wrote the profile and he wrote the footnotes — and life advice, including that piece on how to write a eulogy that’s become required reading for funeral directors and for which he has received at least a full drawer’s worth of thank-you notes. He’s a little somber tonight. (“It’s a great party, man, but people are dying here. I’m heartbroken.”) Chiarella used to sell women’s clothing.
And Chris Jones, 42, a two-time National Magazine Award winner for feature writing, first in 2005 for a story about the astronauts stranded in space when Columbia exploded (“Home“), then in 2009 for a story about the return of a soldier’s body from Iraq (“The Things That Carried Him“). He used to be a baseball and boxing reporter; before that he sold scuba gear and underground sprinkler systems. (“One of the reasons we were so loyal is that we feel we were rescued from obscurity, from a less prolific career.”) Jones suggests that maybe Tom Chiarella slept with Halle Berry.
Of course there are others — the whole Esquire editing, writing and art masthead — and not just the inner circle. Jim Nelson, Editor in Chief of GQ, gives Granger a mafia-like embrace. Alan Richman, the GQ correspondent and 14-time James Beard Award winner, knocks an empty highball glass over at the bar. “I’m not drunk,” he says. “It’s my eyes. I’m getting old.” Cal Fussman, master of the “What I’ve Learned” interview, in his signature fedora. Andy Ward, Editor in Chief of the Random House book imprint, just being a plain-old nice guy in the company of Mark Warren, Esquire Executive Editor, John Kenney, Managing Editor, and Peter Griffin, Deputy Editor. Robbie Myers, Editor in Chief of Elle. The authors Lee Child and Colum McCann. Granger’s wife and two daughters. An editorial assistant, who lights a joint before a member of the Porchlight staff strongly suggests that it be unlit.
Around 8:00 p.m. the toasts begin. Ron Suskind, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his work at The Wall Street Journal, wrote five stories for Granger at Esquire. “Dave is, I think, the greatest writer’s editor of this era. That’s clear,” Suskind says.
“After 9/11, Dave calls me and and says, ‘We need to talk. Something is going on. Reporters are being accused of treason for asking the questions reporters ask, by George W. Bush. That’s different, wouldn’t you say?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Definitely. Different. Problem.’ Dave said, ‘I want you to write about what’s happened in this era.’ So off I go to write about George W. Bush, and let’s be clear: George W. Bush has never read a policy paper. You know that from Dave. You know that George W. Bush is a guy who goes on instinct — from Dave. These stories weren’t in The New York Times, they weren’t in The New Yorker. They were in Esquire. Because of Dave. Dave said what Dave says: ‘This is a story that no one else saw.’ Because Dave is self-directed, powerfully, a curmudgeon, and kind of a son of a bitch in all the ways we love. Sons of bitches are what journalism is all about!”
Suskind is referring to two articles he wrote for Esquire in the early 2000s about two of President Bush’s closest advisors, Karen Hughes and Karl Rove. The Hughes article (“Mrs. Hughes Takes Her Leave“) happened to include unusual candor from Andy Card, the White House Chief of Staff, about the dynamics of the relationship between Hughes and Rove, which prompted the administration to accuse Suskind of fabricating some of the quotes. (“We’re going to get a pool of money together to buy Ron Suskind a tape recorder,” Suskind recalled then-Press Secretary Ari Fleischer saying at a press conference.) But it was the second piece, “Why Are These Men Laughing?” that really set off a firestorm. In it, John DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reveals that the administration cares little for substantive policy discussions and coins the term “Mayberry Machiavellis” to describe their power politics combined with their incompetence with policy.
“So after the piece comes out, and another piece, the Bush White House is ripshit. They go after me. But what do they run into? They run into Dave. That mug. You know — a little unemotive sometimes. Just kind of looking at you. He says, ‘We stand behind this story and this writer.’ Basically he’s saying, ‘Screw you.’ That takes courage. That takes cojones. That takes all the things we admire. That’s our guy: Dave.”
Suskind’s point is that Granger and Esquire offered him shelter, literally — office space to work and think — and in speaking to the media on his behalf. Suskind’s toast thus illustrates concerns the writers and editors have about Granger’s departure: that his absence will lead to a serious drop-off in the magazine’s journalistic consequence, and more broadly, that Esquire will lose the editor-writer bond of loyalty that allows risk taking, journalistically or creatively.
Just days after this party at Porchlight, Granger will be replaced by Jay Fielden, the editor in chief of Town & Country, a magazine that focuses on what you might call society, or upper-class, lifestyle. Fielden also ran Men’s Vogue, a brief experiment in men’s fashion from Condé Nast (which publishes GQ) that existed from 2005 to 2008. In a press release issued by Hearst, Fielden is credited with overseeing a period of growth and innovation at Town & Country and, according to David Carey, president of Hearst magazines, “taking on politics, wealth, society, celebrity — all with the tempo and effervescence of the best dinner party in town.” (Carey, who fired Granger and hired Fielden, declined to be interviewed for this story. So did Fielden.)
One Esquire writer called Fielden “the anti-Granger,” pointing to his perceived lack of interest in stories with substance and the writers who pursue them. Whereas Granger is well known for disliking magazines that are “safe” or “responsible” — saying something is a “magazine story” is one of his classic insults — Fielden is considered someone who is quite safe (Town & Country has never won a National Magazine Award; Esquire has received 17 under Granger). Another pulled up Fielden’s Twitter account and asked, rhetorically, whether he’d want to work for an editor who, during a recent Republican presidential debate, tweeted almost exclusively about the candidates’ choices of neckwear. (“One thing Trump and Reagan have in common — the half-Windsor knot. Look at those geriatric silk knots!”) Granger and his writers share a certain blue-collar quality — beyond their former jobs selling bags and shoes — that’s always relatable, even when it reaches intellectually. There is the sense, perhaps unfounded, that Fielden’s milieu is more fashion and celebrity, less journalism.
“I wrote it down, fuckers, because it’s that important to me,” Mary-Louise Parker says, taking the microphone from Suskind. Parker, best known for playing the lead role in Weeds, has been a contributor at Esquire, writing about being a single mother, posing half-nude holding a fruit pie and offering advice on how to get laid on Valentine’s Day. The presence of a celebrity adds dimension to the party. Instead of being the subject of a profile, here, she is just part of the entourage paying tribute to Granger. Colum McCann, author; Colby Buzzell, soldier-turned-writer; Dave Wondrich, cocktail guru; Charlie Pierce, politics whiz; and Mary-Louise Parker in a backless red shirt and snakeskin heels — all under one roof. Tonight, Granger is the one being profiled.
Parker has an image of Granger she wants to share from a Christmas past at the Brandy Library in the Greenwich Hotel. Granger was sitting there in a distressed club chair wearing his usual — a blazer, tie and a white shirt with his cuffs unbuttoned.
“He was holding this cocktail,” she says, “leaning forward with that Granger pose: elbows on knees, rapt interest with a little bit of suspicion, the same way when he sits back in his chair with his hands behind his head, like ‘Show me,’ and you want to show him, because he’s probably the reason you did it, probably the reason you’re doing it for the fourth or fifth time, or at all. I see him sitting there so sweetly, and I say to whoever I’m with, ‘Oh wow, that’s David Granger,’ because I want everyone to hear that I know him, even if they don’t know who he is — because even if you don’t know who he his, you know who he is.
“He’s holding a glass and leaning forward in a chair and making it a better chair because he’s sitting in it, talking about things he’ll actually do, things he’ll make happen because he’s David Granger, and I look at him and I’m like, ‘There it is. Where is it better than that, Man at His Best. There it is.'”
Granger is the last to toast. He isn’t known for his public statements or appearances. Junod likes to say that Granger has a huge interior life that he expresses in a small handful of ways, one of which is the magazine. He didn’t have a frontman style as an editor at GQ; he developed one at Esquire through minimalism. “David became enigmatic, people wondering what he’s thinking, very sparing in his praise or his displeasure,” Junod says. “That’s a style that he developed over the years. His increasing confidence was matched by his decrease in gestures. He’s trimmed it down.”
Granger puts his drink down on the railing. “I’m one of the few people who got to attend his own funeral,” he says, getting a good laugh. “I love you people. The reason that each of you is here is that in one way or another, you made it possible for me to keep this job for nigh on nineteen years. I owe everybody in this room a debt of gratitude. I asked you to come here so I could say thank you. This job made my life as much as any job can make anybody’s life. It had almost nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with what you guys did under my watch. People keep asking me, ‘What do you want to do?’ That’s the absolute hardest question. I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, for the last nineteen years. It’s going to take me a little time. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
He pauses for a beat to think. “For the final time, I should probably say this thing.”
The “thing” he’s talking about is something he started saying as a toast and rallying cry during presentations to sales and marketing people during all of those meetings at Da Tommaso. It’s a toast worthy of printing in a guide to toasting at parties. And during that pause, which maybe lasts for a few seconds as he looks around the room and sees Pulitzer Prize winners, National Magazine Award winners, a smoking-hot celebrity, his family, the editorial assistant who lit up a joint, and more than a few teary eyes, it perhaps crosses his mind that there’s a broader meaning to this phrase he’s about to say. It applies to the writers, editors and readers — but also to anyone who thinks that the stories in magazines have the potential to change the way we understand the world around us.
“Here’s to us,” he says, “which turns out to be a fuckload of people — and fuck everybody else.”
For the writer, it doesn’t always work out as planned. You get the assignment to go profile the frontman of R.E.M., say, and he turns out to be a totally shallow, foppish, inauthentic dilettante and he offers you nothing — no material at all for your story — but you’re on the hook for this, and you’re being paid thousands of dollars for it, not to mention your travel out to Los Angeles and the nice hotel you stay in. Let’s face it: not many writers command that kind of money anymore. It’s not a seller’s market. And you owe the readers a good story. So you make up a story about him eating an entire dispenser’s worth of sugar at a diner and putting pennies on his eyes when he sleeps. You send it to your editor, who loves the story and is quite surprised at how it turned out, given the limited access you got. You tell him you made it up. There’s a pause, a few beats.
The editor says, “Fuuuuuck.”
Granger is the trapdoor master, Junod says. “There’s never been a person better at slipping out of the room at what you think is the height of the moment. You look, and Granger’s gone. You’re like, ‘Granger’s missing this.’ But that’s the whole point. I mean, David trapdoored my father’s funeral. He did. I swear to God.”
Granger insists he missed the after-party to his going-away party because of a dinner he’d planned with the Suskinds.
“But that is my normal method of leaving,” he says. “Who wants to say good-bye? If you’re gonna go, you’ve got to go. I have a deathly fear of staying at an event after its peak. Usually when an event is peaking, that’s when I leave. I don’t want to be a hanger-on. When everybody is at the peak of their experience, when I’ve experienced the best of the party, it’s time to go.”
Granger likes to be underestimated on the course; it’s part of his minimalism.
Now he is gone from Esquire. It’s his third day of unemployment, an unseasonably warm and sunny Wednesday during the last week of March, the sky an Easter-egg blue. He’s standing in the tee box at the first hole of Sleepy Hollow Country Club an hour north of Manhattan, on the east bank of the Hudson River. Beyond the 27 holes of golf here, there are also 10 tennis courts, two swimming pools, four squash courts, four platform tennis courts, a 40-horse stable, two indoor riding areas and shooting facilities for skeet and trap. Even this early in the season, the place is beautiful. A membership here goes for $100,000, plus yearly dues.
Granger likes to be underestimated on the course; it’s part of his minimalism. He plays dated golf clubs and uses a women’s driver most of the time. His golf shoes are well worn, and none of his clothing is made of technical fabrics. The first time you see him swing a golf club it has the terrifying quality of an impending traffic accident. You’re concerned that he may not even hit the ball. Granger once had a lesson with Hank Haney, then-coach to Tiger Woods, who told him that he had one of the four worst golf swings he’d ever seen — and he couldn’t remember the other three.
He approaches the ball on hole number one, a par four that doglegs ever so slightly to the right 417 yards out. His stance is narrow, left toe pointed out a bit dramatically. His swing is reminiscent of professional golfer Jim Furyk: a vertical backswing in which he doesn’t rotate all that much, followed by a brief pause at the top and then a downswing in which the club articulates a sort of looping arc, the hands coming close to the body and his left foot lifting and moving forward when he follows through. The overall impression it gives is more like a baseball pitch than a golf swing.
Granger laces his drive down the fairway.
And then he’s looking at you, like, “Show me” — that mug — on the tee. Just like his writers for all these years, you understand the full meaning of Granger’s equanimity, which includes a combination of the trust that you’ll achieve great things and an implicit promise to help you get there. So when you skull your first shot from the tee, it’s not an especially good feeling.
“Take another one,” he says.
No, you’ll play that one as it lies, you say calmly, chin up. It’s in the fairway. Second shot: thin and hot, but at least not shanked off the hosel. For chrissakes, anything but a shank.
“Chris Jones was practically shaking when he played here, he was so nervous,” Granger says. “He could barely play.”
Your second shot on hole two is blind and from the rough, about 180 yards out. You turn down a fairway wood in favor of a five iron and stick the green, 10 feet from the pin. Granger gives you a pound. “You really melt those irons,” he says.
Hole five: Granger talks about playing with Chiarella. They like to bet, usually following the classic Nassau formula, also known as a “2-2-2” or “Best Nines.” The way it works is that there’s money on the front nine, the back nine and the overall 18. Scoring is match play, meaning that each hole is simply won or lost (as opposed to stroke play, which is a cumulative total of every shot). A player who is down by two holes or more may “press,” which is a double-or-nothing bet on the remaining holes. In the Esquire editor-writer Nassau bet, you may also “air press,” which is an additional double-or-nothing bet, made while the opponent’s drive is in the air, presumably heading for trouble.
Does Granger want to bet? He does not. He would rather just have fun, which he seems to be, though he doesn’t pump his fist when he rips a drive down the center of the fairway or saves par with an up and down from the rough or the trap, which he does often. Granger seems to derive his fun from being engaged in the language of golf. Hole seven is not a par three that slopes down to the right; it is a reverse Redan and if you hit it left and allow it to funnel down right toward the hole you’ll be in very good shape. Granger sticks the green 10 feet to the right of the pin. You hook it well beyond the Redan.
“Okay,” Granger says, teeing up on hole 10, a downhill par three protected by a water hazard in the front and a bunker on the left, about 170 yards. “We’ve only got nine left so we’ll do a half Nassau, presses if you’re down by two. Ten bucks? And what do you think, Marcian,” — his caddy — “give him four strokes? Not on this hole, though.”
You pass on the strokes and Granger doesn’t argue. He’s not the kind of guy to protest when you’ve made up your mind about something like not taking strokes or picking up the tab. You lose 10, tie 11, then go down by two on 12. Press on 14. Granger is a master of the short game and maniacally consistent. Bump-and-runs, flop shots, anything inside 100 yards is deadly accurate. Press again on 16, then again on 18. Looking to win anything, you bet one final dollar you can chip in from the rough, but you catch a bit too much turf.
“Another dollar, with ten to one odds?” Granger asks.
In the clubhouse, a white-haired bartender named John keeps the otherwise empty bar open for Granger, who orders a vodka soda in a water-sized glass and suggests the “Summer’s Evening,” a cocktail he sometimes serves at his home to guests, with rum, tonic and pineapple juice. It’s served in a very large Chardonnay glass but is delicious and refreshing, like a summer’s evening, as promised. It’s a nice consolation for losing $32 on the back nine.
You get the sense that Granger is still processing his forced retirement, but it’s not the first time he’s thought about job security. During his first few years at Esquire, he thought he might be fired at any moment. “Hearst used to have this policy where they wouldn’t fire anyone between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” he says. “I was just sure when I got back from the holidays I was going to be fired. I remember being in my yard — two and a half years in — doing some kind of manual labor and just resolving that if I didn’t get fired on January 4, I was only going to do things that would make me proud.”
He doesn’t complain about Carey’s decision to let him go, or run through scenarios of what he could have done differently to avoid it. Besides, like most things, the obvious answer is usually the correct one, and in this case it seems that his passion — richly reported stories — is inconsistent with Carey’s vision of growth for Esquire and Hearst, which will mainly happen through increased web traffic. (With the exception of a few writers, the web team is an entirely different staff from the print team at Esquire, and they don’t report to Granger.) That’s not to say that Granger didn’t embrace the Internet. Esquire.com launched under his watch in 1998, as did the iPad edition and the first-ever magazine to use e-ink on the cover. But the language of production has changed. Black hired Granger because she was looking for “blockbuster journalism.” In interviews, Carey describes Hearst as “a content company, operating with a platform mentality.” Granger doesn’t use the word content — ever. He talks about “stories,” “ideas” and “writers.” Carey talks about “content” created by “content producers” and “content teams.”
Granger’s proud of what he’s accomplished, but he isn’t an especially nostalgic person, recalling the past as facts of record rather than emotional vestiges. He doesn’t talk about the awards he and his team have won. He does not believe in legacy; what we do is ephemeral. He is, maybe, the faintest hint bitter about this whole thing. He’s not happy that his firing also means that others will lose work. Peter Griffin and Ross McCammon, a senior editor, have both been fired. Raab, Jones and Junod all decided to move on to other projects. But this is familiar territory. When Granger joined Esquire, he let go a significant portion of the staff to bring in his own.
Granger admires men who navigate the world gracefully, and this is what he’s doing. He’s engaged in the present, taking meetings with a few media types working on a model whose success isn’t purely based on web traffic (he doesn’t know what that looks like yet). He’s heading down to Rio to do a preview of the Olympics for Golf Digest. He’s concerned that he’ll get in his wife Melanie’s way around the house. Plus, he’s got a wager with Bill Murray, who along with George Clooney is on the cover of his last issue. Whoever takes work before September owes the other $500. He was concerned that he’d be restless, but now it seems a few weeks off wouldn’t be the worst thing.
That will give him some time to leaf through his final issue of Esquire, May 2016, which reads as an homage to his career at the magazine. It’s a good way to go out, complete with bylines from his whole crew; not by accident, it’s almost preposterously filled with stories that matter, about war, road trips, fighting and women who go missing. And on the last page, where Raab writes an homage to the magazine, there’s a photograph of Clooney sitting on a motorcycle with Granger in the sidecar, a studio backdrop of an empty two-lane road ahead of them. Both guys look back into the camera — Clooney with a half grin and a furrowed brow, and Granger, this time not with a look of equanimity, but wearing a pair of sunglasses and a big smile.
A version of this story appears in Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 286 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Subscribe Now: $35