Big Changes Coming to the Mark Twain Hotel, Once a Safe Haven for City's Most Troubled

Categories: Longform

Jennifer Silverberg
Robert Cook, a resident at the Mark Twain, in his room. He was released from prison in 2012 and now works as a warehouse manager.

The Mark Twain Hotel — despite its long and controversial history — is still gorgeous on the outside. Intricate, cream-colored terra-cotta bands wrap three sides of the former luxury hotel, including the entirety of the second floor. Griffins and cherubs stare down at loiterers on the sidewalk in front of the entrance. Above the doors are the words "The Maryland" written in gold foil — the original name when it opened in 1907.

One of the tenants, a stout 45-year-old woman named C.J., sits on a concrete bench across the street from the building. Using two weathered fingers, she drags on the minuscule remains of a bummed cigarette.

C.J. (all the residents are identified by first names or pseudonyms) says she's a former heroin addict, a habit she picked up after leaving the military. She's been living in the Mark Twain for the past three weeks.

"I feel safe here," she says.

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Can St. Louis Be the San Fernando Valley of Amateur Porn? These Guys Think So.

Categories: Longform

Studio Torno
Editor's note: As a condition to reporting this story, Riverfront Times agreed to change the names of the actors interviewed and depicted on the following pages. The story also contains descriptions of sex that some readers might find offensive.

Jenny can't believe what she's about to do. It feels too surreal to be actually happening. But that other-worldliness is what spurs the nineteen-year-old to get out of her car and walk into Utopia Studios in south St. Louis.

Inside the noise is deafening. Several rock bands are practicing behind closed doors in rented rehearsal rooms. Jenny looks around the lobby for direction, but there's no sign, no assistant holding a clipboard — just a mishmash of arcade games and vintage advertisements that look as if they were dug up from a hip thrift shop. It doesn't seem like a place where pornos are filmed, whatever that might look like, so Jenny takes out her cell phone and calls Sam Arcobasso, the budding porn producer she met online.

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Is Ann Leckie the Next Big Thing in Science Fiction?

Categories: Longform

Jennifer Silverberg
St. Louis mother and first-time novelist Ann Leckie has already won two of science fiction's most prestigious awards this year.
Ann Leckie shuffles the stack of rejection letters she has spread across a small wooden table. Seated in an engulfing armchair in the foyer of the Webster University library, the gray-haired 48-year-old peers down at them through a set of bookish, black-framed glasses. She's soft-spoken and almost shy, but there are subtle hints that she is not a typical suburban mother of two — like her glittery, bright-orange lacquered toenails under the table, for example.

"This one's my favorite," Leckie whispers at a library-appropriate volume. She slips out a sheet bearing the all-caps letterhead of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

"'Dear Mr. Leckie,'" she recites. "'Thank you for giving us the opportunity of looking at this manuscript, but I have found it not quite suitable to our present needs.'"

She laughs.

"I'm sure it was just a typo," she says.

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Meet George Essig, St. Louis' Competitive Boomerang Superstar

Categories: Longform

Photos: Tom Carlson
George Essig has represented the U.S. in three Boomerang World Cups.
A recent Saturday morning finds George Essig in one of his favorite spots: a wide-open field at Buder Park in west St. Louis County. In adjacent fields, children play Little League ball and hobbyists fly model aircraft. Essig makes sure they're a safe distance away.

Surveying the landscape from beneath a Mizzou cap, Essig pulls a protective sleeve over his right elbow and slips a work glove over his left hand. He plucks a handful of grass from the ground and lets it fall, testing the wind direction like a golfer lining up a long drive. Nodding approvingly to himself, the 44-year-old father of two opens the toolbox on wheels that he's rolled with him into the center of the ball field.

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