Nesting, the Vice Media Way


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Thomas Morton, left, and Hamilton Morris, colleagues at Vice Media, share a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Their bedrooms are side-by-side cubbies built under a plywood loft.

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Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

Hamilton Morris has had some truly terrible roommates: the guy who overindulged on synthetic cannabinoids and covered the apartment with vomit; the one who locked himself out while naked (how and why is still unclear) and broke down the front door; and the Dumpster diver who brought home 50 boxes of crackers teeming with moths, which led to a vicious infestation that Mr. Morris, 28, believes has still not entirely cleared up.

But for the last three years, he has enjoyed relative domestic stability with Thomas Morton, 32, a colleague at Vice Media who needed a place to stay after a divorce and never left.

You can see how they might complement each other. Both men have fearsome gonzo reputations, as befits correspondents at Vice, the multiplatform media empire that now values itself in the billions but still owes much of its DNA to the goofy, adolescent ethos of Vice magazine.

An indie freebie born in Canada in 1994, the magazine has long been beloved by young men for features like the Gross Jar, a column that chronicled the developments inside a jar filled with an ever-expanding, ghastly smelling miasma of urine, hair, mucus and other disgusting items and effluvia.

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Most of the items in the Brooklyn loft of Hamilton Morris and Thomas Morton belong to Mr. Morris (the cactuses, library of drug titles and the reproduction of a caterpillar, for example).

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Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

In fact, Mr. Morton said he owes his journalistic chops to his years tending that jar; a recent story had him hanging out in the kitchen of a crack-cooking trap musician in Atlanta.

For “Vice” on HBO, one of the company’s more recent mainstream partnerships, he has reported on the efforts of the Kurdish militia to carve out its own territory in Syria, as well as on a sex-doll factory in China.

Mr. Morris is also a correspondent for “Vice” on HBO, and he has his own Vice.com series, “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia,” the video version of a column that began in the print magazine. As part of that, he has tracked down the venom of South American tree frogs, visited a Haitian secret society in search of zombie powder and talked shop with PCP chemists.

Since Mr. Morris does research, under the auspices of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, covering the pharmacology and chemistry of psychoactive drugs, his approach is perhaps more scholarly than experimental; more Oliver Sacks, say, than Hunter Thompson. His global forays, however, show he has grit enough to match Mr. Morton’s.

Yet in person, Mr. Morton and Mr. Morris are both soft-spoken, slight and bookish looking (Mr. Morton, an English major, studied Chaucer and Joyce at New York University). You can’t help but worry about their safety.

Mr. Morton, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds, said his nonthreatening physique has actually been a boon to his journalism. “I’m pretty short, not physically intimidating and open to being messed with,” he said.

Their loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is decorated with cactuses that were given to Mr. Morris by the family of Alexander Shulgin, the late chemist and psychedelic apologist who discovered MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy, and a hero to Mr. Morris.

There are photographs of psilocybin mushrooms; molecular diagrams (including one, in a frame, sketched by Dr. Shulgin) and a poster depicting the geological time table.

The enormous, slightly grubby orange sectional sofa was donated by Mr. Morris’s father, the filmmaker Errol Morris (the documentarian behind “The Thin Blue Line” and “The Fog of War”), who had used it on the set of a Cingular Wireless commercial he made.

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The rainbow wall in Mr. Morton’s bedroom predates him; Mr. Morris had many unsatisfactory roommates until Mr. Morton moved in.

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Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

There are also an awful lot of books about drugs: “Elephants on Acid,” “Naturally Occurring Benzodiazepines,” “Confessions of a Dope Dealer,” are just a few of the hundreds of titles. (In typical hyperbole, a Vice representative had described the place as “a drug-addled apothecary meets Frankensteinian lair.”)

Their bedrooms are cubbylike spaces carved out under a plywood loft. In Mr. Morris’s room, he was drying mushrooms he had gathered from Central Park; on a large scrap of paper pinned to the wall, he had sketched molecular diagrams.

Mr. Morton’s night stand sported a crocodile skull wearing a toucan-feather headdress he bought from an Amazonian tribesman, a vole skull and a rubber fetus from an assignment about fake abortion clinics. The fetus, he explained later, had been a handout to young pregnant women by anti-abortion protesters.

The kitchen — a few shelves on a stainless steel counter, a refrigerator, a stove — is mostly storage for various supplements, herbs and nootropics (or smart drugs), including a vial of selegiline. It is an antidepressant and a treatment for Parkinson’s disease created by Joseph Knoll, a Holocaust survivor and neurochemist who was interested in the brain mechanisms of the concentration camp guards, Mr. Morris said.

There wasn’t much actual food. Mr. Morris said he is a fan of Soylent, the powdered meal replacement designed to fuel Silicon Valley’s young tech workers and named for the ’60s-era sci-fi novel that inspired the ’70s-era dystopian film “Soylent Green.” Mr. Morton prefers the offerings of Seamless.

Mr. Morton began his career at Vice 11 years ago while he was still at N.Y.U.; he wrote the editors a fan letter and was offered an internship one summer, taking out the trash and running errands. His first writing assignments came out of his stewardship of the Gross Jar, which he likened to “an Eraserhead version of parenthood, or the home economics assignment where you have to care for an egg.”

It taught him to write concisely and gave him a sense of responsibility and purpose, he said. He had to figure out what new horror to add each month, and to document the changes: Brewer’s yeast, a dead rat and radioactive cat feces are just some of the items he provided (the latter came from his Persian Silver, which had a thyroid condition and was treated with radioactive iodine).

The charm of the column, which is impossible to read without gagging, can be elusive. But Mr. Morton loved that jar, he said; he once took it on a road trip to the Love Canal, and was nearly fired for bringing it inside during a fashion shoot at Vice’s Williamsburg offices. (The jar’s stench was so potent Mr. Morton kept it on the roof.)

In high school, Mr. Morris was an avid follower of the Gross Jar’s fortunes. His first article for Vice was a roundup of emerging psychoactive drugs, which he wrote under a pseudonym, D.H. Ticklish, while he was studying at the New School and for which he was paid nothing.

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Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

“I was a sophomore in college, so it seemed like a lot,” he said.

For his next article, a story about young Hasidic men who had broken away from their families and traditions and were converting, as Mr. Morris put it, to rituals involving psychedelic drugs, he was paid $500. A column soon followed.

Mr. Morris said his knowledge of chemistry has endeared him to his subjects; when PCP chemists and drug kingpins have an opportunity to talk shop, he pointed out, they open up. “I think clandestine chemists in general are misunderstood,” he said.

The two would-be roommates met on an office cruise around Manhattan, bonding over an ultrapotent, amphetamine-based psychedelic named Bromo DragonFly (Mr. Morton had once taken it; Mr. Morris was curious).

On his first season on ”Vice,” Mr. Morton slept at home only nine times between Labor Day and New Year’s, a travel schedule that made him an ideal roommate. That, and the care and attention he gives to Mr. Morris’s cactuses.

For the last few months Mr. Morton has been battling a tropical disease he picked up in Venezuela called leptospirosis. Since he was there on Vice business (reporting on Bitcoin enthusiasts in Caracas), you are not surprised when he tells you that its primary vector is dog urine.

Mr. Morris travels as well. Mr. Morton recalled that when he first moved in and Mr. Morris was away on assignment, he was startled by “four or five very powerful alarm clocks” that went off during the day.

Mr. Morris ducked his head. “It’s hard for me to wake up,” he said. “I also have a tri-sensory alarm clock for deaf people, which vibrates under the mattress. Even though I might be working until 5 a.m., if you sleep until noon, you feel like a slob. There’s a lot of shame. But I’m getting better.”

Mr. Morton looked worried. “I’m sorry to bring this up,” he said.

While Mr. Morton recalled their early adventures, Mr. Morris tended a coffee press filled with a viscous greenish-brown liquid; Yerba mate, cacao and hemp, as it turned out, a coffeelike stimulant. When he offered it to a reporter, she shuddered and demurred.



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