Michael Slackman: Planet Sandwich
When I first met Michael Slackman at Columbia University in 2014, he was the epitome of Bronx-born cool: fast-talking, wise-cracking, and whip-smart.
A one-time bureau chief in Berlin, Cairo, and Moscow, and current Assistant Managing Editor for International at The New York Times, Slackman led reportage across the newsroom and oversees bureaus around the globe.
For a kid from MTV News struggling to find his true self, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner struck an impressive countenance.
And for good reason. This is a guy who applied police blotter journalism to reportage on global developments from the Arab Spring to the rise of Putin. He was shot at in Bahrain, and consistently asked hard questions of despots and dictators.
“Qaddafi’s right there,” he tells me of one instance in Libya. “So I raised my hand, and they brought me up on the stage next to him. And I said ‘Brother Leader, how do you reconcile your claim that this is a democracy with a system that puts full power in your hands?’ And one of Qaddafi’s aides said, ‘Can you rephrase the question?’
And so it was as shocking as it was moving when, on a day when my stakeholder map was crumbling, Michael, in full view of the classroom, called me over and gave me a great big bear hug.
“I thought you were somebody who was really working hard at it, you know?” he told me eight years later. “And I respected that.”
What I didn’t know then but have relished in the years since, is that Slackman was seeking some sort of center as well.
“We tend to live lives of suffering in silence,” he says. “We tend to think our experience is unique and that we’re alone. And then you get together with people and you realize that we’re all pretty similar; we’re all wrestling with very similar existential crises.”
The primary of which, Michael might argue, is the imperative to be present for those you love.
“When I was a foreign correspondent, I missed a lot,” he says. “Whenever I was home, I made my boys breakfast. [And then] I started making a lunch. And then one day, the European Union came out with a statement that said, cured meats, cause cancer. And I was like, the one thing I do for my kids, and I’m giving them cancer!”
And so Michael began crafting intricate, healthy sandwiches for his boys’ lunches — and documenting them for his 1000+ Instagram followers.
“My children are embarrassed by my Instagram,” he says. “But they will always remember that throughout high school, Dad, no matter how busy he was, made these insane sandwiches. Their friends knew it. Their coaches knew it. And their teachers knew it because very often they were pungent sandwiches.”