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Above the Empire Wok

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I was hired by Sports Illustrated toward the end of 1996, which meant a relocation from Nashville to New York City. Which meant a new (winter-proof) wardrobe. Which meant a new life with no automobile.

Which meant a new apartment.

My roommate was a pal from the University of Delaware named Russ Bengtson; a generous and gregarious sort who (at the time) was an editor at Slam Magazine. We found a sweet pad located three flights above the Empire Wok on 82nd and Second. It was actually two studio apartments merged into one—so we had multiple bathrooms, multiple closets. The building was owned by a man named Stanley Chin, who also ran the restaurant and smelled of dumplings and steamed vegetables. His English was mediocre. His food was excellent.

I loved that time period, and I loved living with Russ. He was a quirky bird—a couple of dirt bikes leaning alongside his bed, a bushy Santa-esque beard, a pet snake, a love of hoops and late-night cycle rides and all things hip-hop. His typical outfit was a throwback NBA jersey and baggy jeans. His laugh was distinctive. As Blue Hens with a shared college newspaper history we had much in common, but during our two years as roommates we spent quality time laughing at Magic Johnson’s failed talk show and the Chips reunion movie, “Chips 99.”

Ultimately I moved into my own place, as did Russ. He became the editor of Slam, I moved up the SI ladder.

Tomorrow, he’s my fifth guest on Two Writers Slinging Yang.

I’m psyched.

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