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Image for Walter Kirn: A Hollywood Writer’s Crazy Idea to Bring America Together

Walter Kirn

A Hollywood Writer’s Crazy Idea to Bring America Together

The bestselling author of “Up in the Air” is risking it on a longshot business. His reasons say a lot about the state of speech, truth, and life in America today.


What's the craziest business idea you could imagine succeeding today, in the year 2024? What would seem to have the most difficult path to success, with the most insurmountable obstacles facing it?

It's hard to come up with an answer better than: a newspaper.

So who would be so crazy as to try to launch a print-only newspaper today, in our digital age?

The answer is our guest, Walter Kirn.

Walter is the best-selling author of several books, including "Up In The Air," which became a smash-hit movie by the same name featuring George Clooney.

Walter's latest venture is called County Highway. It's an old-fashioned, ink-and-paper newspaper published six times per year.

The paper reaches readers either through subscriptions or through a network of small businesses and other supporters scattered throughout the country.

The goal of County Highway is to treat America as one giant small town. During our interview today, Walter explains why this viewpoint allows County Highway to tell stories that most mainstream publications might otherwise miss.

He'll also share why framing America this way - as a small town, where people are forced by proximity to get along - might be the solution to the contentious, counterproductive tone of so much of our national discourse today.

Walter is a fascinating man. In addition to his writing, he's a non-partisan political commentator who appears regularly on TV and in podcasts, including one of my personal favorite shows, "America This Week," which features Walter alongside investigative journalist Matt Taibbi.

In a society where algorithms decide what we do and don't see, and which feed us more and more of the same material, Walter is helping people discover new topics and viewpoints. I'm excited that you'll discover a little more about him through this interview.

As a "thank you" for listening, we're offering the opportunity to win one of 20 year-long subscriptions to County Highway for free.

Sign up here for your chance to win.

Photo by Max Savage Levenson/Montana Free Press

  • Walter will explain why he launched his newspaper County Highway, and why it treats America like "a giant small town." (12:59)
  • He'll talk about what it's like to work with George Clooney - and the good turn that the actor did for him while he was on the set. (43:55)
  • He'll share the backstory of one of his books, "Blood Will Out," which is the true story of how Walter got bamboozled by a con man. (22:05)
  • He also shares an incredible crazy good turn that a stranger did for him - it's probably the best answer we've had yet. (36:05)

FRANK BLAKE: Okay. Walter, welcome to the show.

This is a great treat and privilege to have you on Crazy Good Turns. Let me start just by asking, where do we find you? Where are you?

WALTER KIRN: Livingston, Montana. 50 miles north of Yellowstone Park in Western Montana.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, thank you for joining us from Montana.

And I've got to start by asking ... And I didn't realize this until yesterday, getting ready for the podcast that you did a live stream with Matt Taibbi about the New Hampshire primary.

And so I just want to start with what was your take on the coverage, the process itself? Just what was your take on it?

WALTER KIRN: Well, the way Matt and I do it, we do a weekly podcast together, and this was a special edition.

We put up on the screen some of the cable news coverage, and at the same time we'd comment both on the primary itself and the coverage.

The coverage left something to be desired if you ask me. Without a script, the cable news people often don't know what to say.

As the primary results unfolded, they had about three different party lines that they wanted to push depending on the political angle of the particular channel.

I thought it was mostly incomprehensible, to be honest with you, this coverage.

In general, they talk a lot of nonsense and they tend to agree with each other about things that aren't particularly coherent.

So by the end of the night, I didn't think they knew what to say.

So once again, I think we have a news media in this country, and I've been a part of it since I was 24 years old, that puts storylines above facts and simple analysis.

They're always looking for a game to narrate. They want everything to be a contest and a suspenseful conflict that they can draw viewers from.

But I don't know that there was much suspense.

FRANK BLAKE: So they were struggling to come up with their story.

WALTER KIRN: I think they were struggling and you saw them doing that.

You look at MSNBC where they have the former White House press secretary as a correspondent now. She's changed hats.

But she was reading memos from the White House on the air.

And one of my big problems with journalism in general now, especially political journalism, is that it's a revolving door between cable channels and the powers that be themselves.

And the people who used to work for the White House, they continue to push the line that the White House might.

They don't really change much when they become "journalists".

And I think it's lowered the quality in general to have people whose loyalties really aren't to the viewer ultimately, but to their former bosses.

FRANK BLAKE: Oh, that's an interesting point.

I highly recommend for all of our listeners the podcasts that you do with Matt Taibbi.

And one of the things that I enjoy about it is it feels to me like you're very politically unaligned.

That you're not taking a particular point of view one way or the other, but just responding to some of the stranger things that are happening in our environment and that you can be on the "right side or the left side" of an issue really in lots of different and interesting ways.

WALTER KIRN: I grew up in an extremely rural environment and politicians to us were strange creatures. They were like grizzly bears are to urban dwellers.

You had odd sightings of them and they didn't seem to be the kind of people you hung out with or saw every day.

So I've continued to have a distance on the political scene that I think people who make their careers in Washington and New York don't.

I don't see these as my friends. I don't see them as my tribe. I don't see them as my enemies.

I look at them the way a theater critic might who comes to a Broadway show.

I'll tell you if they're singing well or poorly or acting well or poorly.

Matt and I both have our private political views I suppose, but we conceive of the job as channeling the spectacle and interpreting the spectacle to our listeners.

Not as pushing you to vote in a certain way or to conceive of America in a certain way.

FRANK BLAKE: It comes through. At least to me, it comes through very much.

Although I would say there is one consistent theme, which is the political class, however you define it one way or another, trying to control information and control thought seems to be a regular theme in what you and Matt discuss.

WALTER KIRN: It is a regular theme because it's an actuality.

The fact is that over the last few years, probably particularly since 2016, there have been attempts to control this thing called the free and open internet and social media in ways that I think the political class used to control network news.

And once it lost that grip on power and interpretive authority, it tried to get it back through all sorts of schemes.

To censor, suppress, and manage the conversation that America has through the internet.

And both of us are pretty strong free speech advocates. We really believe that the marketplace of ideas should be free.

That people should be able to be wrong, be opinionated, even be outrageous.

And that through the dynamism of American free speech, we will discover something like the truth ultimately, but maybe in a very messy fashion that other societies would find ... I don't know.

Absurd or whatever.

But we make a lot of fun of the fact that this class wants to not just spend our money and not just launch our wars and do things like that, but control how we think about them.

And that's a bridge too far.

And so we are close monitors of all the attempts, many of which I think are unconstitutional just on the face, to shut people up, push them out, and also advance other points of view that aren't necessarily organic but are laundered through the system to appear as though they are the opinions of real people, but are actually puppet shows for power.

FRANK BLAKE: Do you think your observations of that or your ability to observe that is heightened by the fact that you don't live in one of the power centers of the country? That you're out in Montana?

WALTER KIRN: Absolutely. It definitely is.

I've never really lived for long in the power centers. There's something about them that doesn't agree with me personally.

I grew up on a farm in Minnesota. My idea of a big city was a town that had a Dairy Queen in it. We didn't.

I went out to Princeton University and lived for a short time in New York.

But other than that, I've lived in small towns.

And my line on this is that you get the best view of the baseball game from the bleachers, high up in the stadium, far away from the pitcher's mound.

You can see the whole game. And that's how I think Montana operates for me. As a bleacher's seat.

FRANK BLAKE: That's great. That's great.

So one of the things I hope our listeners just connect with ... And we're doing a special.

We want to give away 20 subscriptions to your newspaper.

But as backdrop, I want to say you look at what you've done in terms of eight books, two movies, any number of articles, your podcast, you're a regular panelist on Gutfeld's.

You're doing a lot of things and yet last year you decided you're going to start a new paper.

And I think both the concept of the paper and how you've executed it are so brilliant and such a crazy good thing to do for this country.

I'd love it if you describe a bit for our listeners why and what it's about.


Well, it's called County Highway, and it's distinctive for several reasons.

Number one, it appears only in print. We don't distribute our articles on the internet.

The reason for that is when you are looking for clicks, likes, retweets and posts, et cetera, you tend to slant your headlines and even the writing of your articles toward the unnecessarily attention-getting or controversial.

We don't want to have those distortions in our minds when we write and edit. So it appears only in print.

You have to subscribe to it.

We think that's a wonderful thing in a world that's fading into electrons, that we make a stand for reality and physical objects.

One great thing about a newspaper is that it can sit on your coffee table and somebody else can pick it up and look at it.

Another great thing is that the front page of a newspaper will have several stories at once.

When you read on the internet, you read only one thing at once. You're in a tunnel, so to speak. You have blinders on to everything else.

But I'd like you to look at a front page, see a story on the Kansas wheat harvest, say, and then glide over and see another story on another aspect of life in America and read them both, even though you hadn't planned on it.

Now, the real concept of the paper editorially is that we treat America as a giant small town.

The beauty of small towns for me is that all kinds of people live in them and are forced by proximity to get along. They have to find common ground in order to walk down the street.

And we wanted to reproduce that feel of true diversity in a newspaper.

And we also wanted to de-emphasize Washington, DC, New York City and Los Angeles.

It's not that we won't cover things that happened there, but we will put them on the same level as stories out of Topeka, Kansas and St. Cloud, Minnesota and Minot, North Dakota because we think there are stories everywhere.

And in fact, we suspect that in the smaller places, the stories are even better.

Because people who are making it up as they go along out in non-media centers tend to have an individuality and eccentricity that's lacking in places where following the crowd is the norm.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, I want to give you a proof point on your comment about community because at least for me here in Atlanta, to get a copy of your newspaper, I had to go downtown to a record store.

And many of our listeners maybe don't know that I am old and there's nothing cool about the way I look whatsoever.

Everybody in this record store was young and pretty cool looking or pretty different looking.

And in normal circumstances, if I went in and I asked for ... here's the record I want, whatever. It would be, it would be, oh gosh, what's this old guy doing here?

I go in and I ask for your newspaper, and it's like instant bonding with the person.

Honestly, honestly, Walter, it was like I had a friend immediately that I was interested in the newspaper.

And he starts talking to me about the newspaper. He starts talking to me about a back issue. Do I want to see this particular ...

It was so much fun. And I thought, if you need a proof point, there's a proof point.

And then the second thing I'd say ... I'm sorry. I'm now talking. You should be talking.

WALTER KIRN: No. You're making my day.

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah. Well, it's absolutely true.

And then the second thing is to some extent, your newspaper reminds me of ... revealing my age.

There were real disc jockeys. There were people who put together songs that I would never know belong together or kinds of music that I would never have otherwise listened to.

Your newspaper is like that.

I pick it up and I go, I don't know that I'm interested in a lithium mine in North Carolina.

But then when I read it, I go, wow, that's fascinating.

And then the same with all of the different stories.

I don't know who's responsible for figuring out what goes in the newspaper or what doesn't, but a really interesting selection process.

WALTER KIRN: Well, my role in the newspaper, to be very candid with you, is I'm the front man. I'm the lead singer.

But I have a partner named David Samuels who's the editor-in-chief. He probably has more of a role than I do in actually fitting together the jigsaw puzzle of stories, and he's brilliant at it.

He's a writer who's published books. He appears in every issue pretty much. He used to write for the New Yorker.

And the whole idea for the paper was really a collaboration between the two of us.

We came up with it I think during COVID at the beginning.

We didn't know how we would raise money for it. Neither of us are impresarios.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, I was going to ask ... I got to tell you, from a business perspective, I have to imagine that you were told many, many, many times this is not going to work.

WALTER KIRN: We were. But the wonderful thing is we didn't need a lot of money.

And we went to some people who I think could afford to lose their investment in County Highway.

And I'm happy to report that in a couple of months, or really within six weeks of our first issue, we had met our three-year subscription goal.

FRANK BLAKE: Terrific.

WALTER KIRN: There was no way to test the market. You know what I mean?


WALTER KIRN: A national print-only newspaper about all these odd, rather assorted topics. So we had to do it to find out.

In the Army, I think they called that reconnaissance by fire. When you just run out into the field to find out where the machine guns are.

And so we ran out into the field and we found out we had a lot of friends and a lot of customers who we could not have imagined were there.

We had modest expectations and they were exceeded almost instantly.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow. That's great to hear.

And I urge everyone listening to this to go out and find a copy because it's terrific. It's well written.

I loved your thing on Hemingway. Your Pentecostal experience with Hemingway is great.

It's a wonderful newspaper and it's a fascinating idea as I say crazy good turn. Well done.

WALTER KIRN: Well, I was going to comment on what was a very acute observation you made earlier about disc jockeys.

We live in America now, where the algorithms push articles at you because they have examined your previous behavior, decided you're going to like this.

But that is a disappearing up your own backside formula because if you're only reading things that resemble things you're already proven to like you're not learning, you're not growing, you're not changing.

And in the age of the disc jockey and in the age of the real newspaper and in the age of the Book of the Month Club, if you can remember that far back, you had groups of people who were confident that their tastes would become your tastes and were willing to lead you.

And like you say, when I used to turn on the radio as a kid or be in the backseat of the car while my parents played the radio, I would hear a series of songs that I could never have put together, but one out of every three of them or four of them would become a favorite and a discovery.

And so we're trying to push the process of discovery.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, as I say, it's a terrific effort and well done.

I have a couple of other more random questions off the specific topic.

One is I come from Boston, and so I was fascinated that you wrote a book about Clark Rockefeller.

What prompted that?


The book is called "Blood Will Out," and it's a story about my real-life friendship with a character who called himself Clark Rockefeller, who was surprise, surprise, not a Rockefeller at all, but a German exchange student who had come over to the US in the late 1970s and adopted a series of false identities, which had culminated in his Clark Rockefeller pose.

He was a Great Gatsby character, pretending to be an American aristocrat, an art collector.

He was a member of many quite prestigious private clubs, which he got into honestly, so to speak.

They thought he was a Rockefeller, but he did appear before their committees and he did end up in their club rooms.

But there's a darker side, which is that in the early '80s while living in a town called San Marino, California, which is an upscale enclave near Pasadena, he murdered a couple of people and he murdered them in a very sordid, grim and violent way.

He managed to evade being caught until about 2009.

A series of strange events caused these murders to come to light. One of which was someone excavating a swimming pool in their yard in San Marino and finding bags of human remains.

So that's the story of Clark Rockefeller.

The story of me and Clark Rockefeller is that in 1998, I'm living in Montana. My wife at the time was the head of the local humane society, and they were building an animal shelter looking for contributions.

And the internet was there, but not a real sexy thing yet.

And one of the dogs that the shelter was trying to find a home for was a crippled Gordon Setter. A Gordon Setter that was in a wheelchair. It had wheels for back legs.

And so they put this dog up on the internet and said, "Would anybody have it in their heart to adopt this dog? It has special needs."

So this is my wife who's in charge of this effort, and they get a message from a guy named Clark Rockefeller in New York City saying, "I'd very much love to adopt Shelby." That was the name of the dog.

"But I will have some difficulties taking possession of her because I don't drive, so I can't come out to Montana. My private plane is in China with my wife."

His wife was a McKinsey consultant - the big global management consultancy. "And how am I going to get this dog?"

So my wife comes to me and says, "Walter, there's a Rockefeller in New York who wants to adopt Shelby, and who I imagine will make a nice contribution to the shelter fund, but he needs to find a way to get the dog. Can you talk to him and work this out?"

Now, I'd gone to Princeton University and it was thought here in Livingston, Montana, that maybe I'd have the vocabulary or the manner that would allow me to talk to this Rockefeller.

So I get on the phone with him, I ask him what he does, and his first answer is, "I'm a freelance central banker."

He told me that he was the central banker for various Southeast Asian countries, which couldn't afford their own Alan Greenspans, and he provided that service.

Anyway, he turned out to be such an incredible eccentric over the phone that I decided I would drive this dog, because it was crippled, all the way from Montana to New York City and drop it off for him.

As a writer I thought it would be professional malpractice not to meet a freelance central banker. And so I set out-

FRANK BLAKE: And having no idea.

WALTER KIRN: No idea. I took him at his word.

I'd gone to Oxford, and I knew that people of inherited wealth are often extremely peculiar.

And so it didn't faze me that the guy had all these strange stories. He said things like he'd never tasted Coca-Cola.

You'll like that in Atlanta. That there's one person in the-

FRANK BLAKE: That's clearly fraud.

WALTER KIRN: Clearly fraud. Yeah, exactly.

So I started driving this dog out to New York.

I ended up having to fly the last leg of the trip because the dog kept getting sicker and sicker in my car, and I was afraid I couldn't deliver it alive.

So then over the next 10 years, I was friends with this guy until one day the news came on, and it turns out that he has, in Boston, kidnapped his daughter from the front steps of the courthouse where he was having a custody hearing relating to her upbringing.

And when Clark was on the run and was absent and they put out a nationwide amber alert for the child, I thought, oh my gosh, my friend has finally cracked.

I knew he was having problems post-divorce but I didn't think he'd go so far as to kidnap his own child.

And then a few days later, a Rockefeller family spokesman came on the news and said, "We don't know this guy."

And I thought to myself, those darn Rockefellers throwing a family member under the bus because he just committed a crime.

FRANK BLAKE: In his time of need.

WALTER KIRN: In his time of need.

It's not wonderful to kidnap your child. That's true. But they have huge resources.

Anyway, then it came out quite soon after that that he was a person of interest in this cold case murder back in California.

And it occurred to me suddenly in a crashing way, that I had been completely fooled during this long-standing relationship, this friendship.

And when his trial finally started in 2013 in Los Angeles, California, I went to the trial and I reconstructed our relationship in all the ways he'd used to fool me and I wrote a book that is in some ways a memoir of my own insecurities.

Because I realized that he could never have put one over on me or on anyone really if he hadn't played on their insecurities.

When I got to Princeton from rural Minnesota, I didn't exactly feel welcome, but later when Rockefeller befriended me and took me to his private clubs in New York City, I felt like a million bucks.

And that was the game he ran with everyone.

And so imagine going from having this eccentric, wealthy friend to knowing that you've been spending time with a multiple murderer who cut people up and put them in bags.


WALTER KIRN: It's a grim story and not a crazy good one, let's say.

FRANK BLAKE: No, not a crazy good one at all. It's a great story but ... Yeah.

He's very famous in the Boston area, and you're exactly right.

Taking people in who for whatever reason were susceptible to being taken in.

WALTER KIRN: Well, here's the bright side of the story, and here's the moral of the book.

I don't think it's terrible to confess that there's part of us that can be fooled.

And I wanted to forensically examine that part of me, which is a fool.

Because isn't it true that all of us go through life, and whether it's a romantic partner or a politician or a business associate, I don't think there's one of us who gets through unscathed.

We all like to believe we have lie detectors inside us, and we can tell an honest person and so on.

But the truth is, life will always hand you a conman equal to your gullibility.

And I wanted to finally write a book which told the story of a con artist from the point of view of the victim rather than of the perpetrator.

FRANK BLAKE: That's phenomenal. I think it's of a piece with your other work and just the candor, the element of facing things fairly.

Another question about your podcast, because in addition to your observations that you make on the current scene, you and Matt go through a book or a short story in every episode.

And at first that seemed a little jarring and a little out of place, and now it comes across, to me anyways, as a very natural part of the discussion the two of you have.

What's the background? Why did you decide to do that?

WALTER KIRN: Well, first of all, Matt is an intimidating ace reporter.

I think he might be one of the very few best investigative reporters on planet Earth.

He's also an old hand at political analysis and journalism. I, however, am a literature major, so I wanted to bring my expertise to the podcast.

Slot in a little 20-minute discussion of literature there at the end in which I could match Matt's competence as a journalist.

But the real reason was that we wanted to get the above events.

Above the flow of headlines and petty circumstances to a higher, broader perspective on what it means to be part of society, a human being and so on.

And like you say, it was a little bit like jamming a strange part onto a machine at first, but they've welded together over time because we try to choose stories that illuminate themes in the news.

Last week we had a science fiction story about a mad scientist who on a private island, creates a race of tiny creatures that make inventions themselves like an AI will run away with its own thinking.

This microcosmic God story was the story of a scientist who creates a thinking machine in terms of these little creatures that he's invented that themselves become tiny scientists and run away with things.

Now, in the age of COVID and lab leak theory and that sort of thing, a story about a mad scientist is quite appropriate. And so you will find these odd convergences.

Because when literature is truly great, it speaks in a general way to the human condition.

And there's always going to be a crossover with the news if you can find it. But we don't push that. We let that emerge.

And sometimes we just pick a story because it's great.

In drama, there's a theory called comic relief. If you have a dark, intense, tragic story, you need a few scenes of clowning to allow people to relax.

Sometimes I think what we're doing is just allowing a kind of aesthetic relief from the intense, brooding, and sometimes pretty depressing nature of the news, even when the story itself is depressing.

FRANK BLAKE: Well they're also great reminders of ...

I know you've done some on Vonnegut. You've done the Twain story.

At least for me, they prompt me, go read that again or read it for the first time.

And it's fascinating. It's really well done.

WALTER KIRN: And they also remind us that our problems aren't new.


WALTER KIRN: Nor are the reflections on those problems or the potential solutions to those problems.

We human beings have been chewing on the same bones for a long time.

And I think Matt and I are particularly aiming this segment at our younger listeners who may not have read these stories in school, because sadly, I think the education system doesn't do a great job of bringing wonderful literature before young students anymore.

People tend to specialize also when they get to college.

We've got STEM education and science education, and everybody wants to be an engineer or learn to code or get into finance or something.

We're trying to raise a little hand for literature and say, don't forget me.

FRANK BLAKE: Well done.

I ask every one of our guests on our podcast this question. Who in your life has done a crazy good turn for you?

Who did something unexpectedly, kind, generous, thoughtful, that made a difference in your life? Anyone?

WALTER KIRN: Oh, too many to count.

Probably five people have done such wonderful interventions in my life that I almost credit them for me being alive.

This is maybe a morbid story, but I'm a recovering alcoholic. I had problems with drugs and alcohol as a young guy and stopped and had health problems as a result.

And after my mother had died many years after I'd quit drinking and so on, I was in a real depression. And I went to a doctor who gave you a vitamin drip to reinvigorate you.

And you'd have to sit in this chair while you had this IV of vitamins.

And there was a guy next to me, his name was Peter Hassan, and he was sitting there too.

And he had a disease. Hepatitis. The deadly kind. And had really been functioning with a death sentence for many years.

And I started talking about my mom dying, and he was sitting in the next chair getting another vitamin drip, and he said, "It sounds like you're getting depressed. It sounds like you're pretty isolated.

"And you told me that you used to drink, and I think you might be in danger of doing that again.

"I'm going to call you every day and I'm going to make sure you're okay. I live down the street from you.

"And we're going to go to AA meetings and we're going to hang out because I'm looking at you and seeing me at a very difficult time, and I'm hoping I can make a difference for you."

Now, this was a guy who was literally on the verge of expiring.


WALTER KIRN: And he made it his job to make my mental health ...

And I was living at the time in an isolated way in California. I'd been out there for a job, and didn't have a lot of friends.

And the guy just took a look at me, listened to my story, heard my life predicament, and then called me every morning and made sure that through this very difficult aftermath of my mother's death and some other challenges, a divorce, et cetera, that I was okay.

And it went on for years.


WALTER KIRN: Just like a guardian angel, flew in and he'd pick me up and we'd go out and have a bite to eat or whatever, and he said, "I'm just not going to let you get down."

And when I look back after that couple of years of friendship ... Peter then left us.

I thought if I could ever do that for someone, even half of that or a third of that, I would've earned my own respect for a lifetime.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, you have just captured in that story the entire purpose of this podcast.

Thank you, Walter. That's extraordinary. That's amazing.

Is there anybody now, whether it's a public scene or more privately, who really inspires you?

WALTER KIRN: You put me on the spot.

We have a lot of public figures who I think pose as something, and then unfortunately, we become disappointed in them.

But there are private figures in my little town, and I'll call out one guy. He's across the alley from me.

I live downtown in a commercial building that I renovated as a residence and as my office.

And he runs the local hardware store. His name's Dan at Riverside Hardware here in Livingston, Montana.

And the front desk of his hardware store is a colloquium.

The contractors who come through, the customers all gather at the front desk and they ask ... You'll like this because you're in the business.

FRANK BLAKE: I'm loving this.

WALTER KIRN: Yeah. And they ask questions.

So let's say a young woman who lives alone in an apartment just had her toilet back up. She comes into Dan and she says, "Dan, what do I do?"

Well, as likely as not, there will be a plumber lingering in the aisle and he'll come over.

So Dan decided besides the fact that he carries County Highway in his store, that he would install a number of seats around the cash register so that the people who like to come in and talk can sit down.

And so it's a hardware bar now.

Well, the seats have not yet been finished. He's repurposing some railroad seats. We're a railroad town.

And so he's got this ongoing seminar in home repair and just keeping things running at his cash register.

No charge, no requirement to buy anything.

And he's my local hero because after COVID passed and this town sort of came back to life, there were a lot of people in need and a lot of people ...

Just the company that this situation provides is wonderful. But the tips are even more important.

And the contractors, you know they're in the middle of their busy day. They've just loaded up their truck, they're ready to roll out.

But someone comes in with a question and they sit there and give expert advice.

So Dan, in creating this forum and this gathering place, is my current hero.

FRANK BLAKE: That couldn't be more inspirational to me. I'll tell you right now.

WALTER KIRN: Yeah. Your job was to make that at scale.

FRANK BLAKE: That's perfect. So for everybody who's listening to this ...

And I know they're going to want to find out more about you.

Where do they go? What's the best way to keep tabs on Walter Kirn?

WALTER KIRN: Well, I have a vice, which is that I post on X or Twitter all too often.

You can find me there under my own name with my picture. I'm not trying to fool anybody or wear a mask.

I do this podcast with Matt Taibbi every week. America This Week. Like you say, I'm on TV occasionally.

But my greatest hope is that people will go to Amazon or their local bookstore or wherever they buy books, and look up my books and find one that sounds interesting and buy them.

I've also published a couple of eBooks. Both about my late parents.

Both, which have to do with almost supernatural events that followed the deaths of my parents.

I'm a guy who went to Princeton, Oxford. I'm a rationalist. I'm a modern person. But I have to say I'm a spiritual and religious person too, especially as I grow older.

And these two little eBooks I wrote, one called There's a Bear in the House about my father's passing, and one called The Stones, The Crows, The Grass, The Moon, about my mother's passing are stories of how we survive grief and how messages come to us in mysterious ways to console us and to allow us to get through those bereavements.

And those little books, which are practically free on Amazon ... Amazon commissioned them.

They cost 99 cents or something. Are particularly close to my heart and a great place to start reading my work.

FRANK BLAKE: That is phenomenal. I have to ask one ...

This is a small fan question.

What's it like to have George Clooney who stars in the movie that's based on your screenplay, what's it like to have George Clooney up on the big screen talking your words?

WALTER KIRN: Well, the book's called Up in the Air. It was published in 2001.

The movie's called Up in the Air, and it came out in 2009.

I was privileged to go to the set. The movie was shot in St. Louis. Everybody was staying in the same hotel.

I was pleased as hell to be there watching this happen. And I got to hang out with George Clooney as he was making the movie.

And I have a great story about him.

There's a scene in the movie where there's a corporate conference.

He's seated and his boss comes up to him and says, "Your job is now going to become virtual. You're no longer going to fly around going from place to place."

Because in the book, in the movie, he's addicted to flying and to frequent flier miles.

So it comes as a terrible disappointment that they're going to be doing this over the internet.

And while he's receiving this bad news, I'm sitting next to him in the movie.

And while they were shooting the scene, I said to Clooney, "They're only putting me in this scene as the author to butter me up, and they're going to cut it out. It's just the director trying to be nice to me."

And Clooney said, "If you put your head one half inch from my head, they won't be able to cut you out."

FRANK BLAKE: That's great.

WALTER KIRN: And so I have this long cameo in which I have no lines, but I'm sitting there frowning next to George Clooney.

Listen, man, America's a great country. The 21st century is an interesting century.

And to sit in a movie theater and watch the handsome, talented, and quite charismatic George Clooney read lines from a book you've written is a thrill.

And if you don't find it thrilling, there's something wrong, man.

FRANK BLAKE: Right. Exactly right.

WALTER KIRN: And I was able to sit there with a new girlfriend.

Imagine how proud that makes you when you got a new girlfriend on the scene.

FRANK BLAKE: Hard to top that one.

WALTER KIRN: Yeah, exactly. So I'll rate that an 11 out of 10, for sure.

FRANK BLAKE: That's awesome. That's terrific. Well, Walter, I cannot thank you enough. This is terrific.

We're going to give our listeners an opportunity for a subscription on the podcast, but I hope everybody subscribes to your magazine, listens to your podcast, watches you on TV, and reads your books because you're just first-rate and really appreciate your appearance, but more importantly, what you do for everyone.

Thank you.

WALTER KIRN: My sincerest gratitude for looking me up.

And I've got to say, you really have made my day.

You've got some energy here that has transmitted itself through the computer and is going to send me tripping out the door.

I'm really happy that you do what you do too. Thanks.

FRANK BLAKE: Good deal. Thank you, Walter. All right.

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To celebrate Walter Kirn's appearance as a guest on the show, we're offering listeners the chance to win one of 20 subscriptions to his newspaper, County Highway.

Billed as America's only newspaper, County Highway is produced six times a year in print only.

It features reports on current political and spiritual crises and their deeper cultural and historical sources; regular columns about agriculture, civil liberties, animals, herbal medicine, and living off the grid; essays about literature and art; and an entire section devoted to music.

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