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Empty Suits


The stench first hit me on US 80, just past the catfish feed mill and the processing plant next door. It was late March in Uniontown, Alabama, a whistle-stop thirty miles west of Selma, but even on that mild day last year the odor was inescapable. What began as the smell of manure ripened into the fetor of something dead and mildewed as I drove through the heart of town — an eerily quiet strip of brick storefronts, many of them abandoned. In Uniontown, I would come to learn, the smell functioned the way the weather does in most places. Its vicissitudes were a regular topic of idle conversation, and the local citizenry studied its moods.

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is a senior reporting fellow at ProPublica. He lives in New York City.

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