Vapefest

Dan Zak: The scent on the breeze is — what? Guava, with a hint of lion’s mane? Or maybe a cocktail of vanilla and cherry menthol and jungle juice. Past the hotel lobby, the haze thickens. Smells sharpen, then muddle, then sharpen again. It’s smoky, except it’s not, because it is vapor that’s being expelled in great white plumes in the ballroom, which is clogged with vapers, because this is Vapefest. An announcement is being made.

“Meet Beefcake the Mighty,” says a young vaper in a teal polo shirt into a microphone, referring to the large man dressed as some kind of mythic warlord from hell. “He will autograph your juice for you.”

Where to begin.

With the haze, yes, and the smell. But then?

Start simple. Vapefest is a convention and fundraiser for users and vendors of electronic cigarettes. Users of electronic cigarettes are called vapers. Vapers vape vapor. Beefcake the Mighty is a member of the thrash metal band Gwar, whose albums include “This Toilet Earth.” You may remember the song called “The Obliteration of Flab Quarv 7.”

Okay.

Death Of A Racehorse And Captain Waskow

Fascinating stuff from Paul Coover:

Hey Ben,

I was recently reading through some old Ernie Pyle stories because A) I graduated from a journalism school that bears his name on its main building, and was embarrassed about not having read more of his work and B) I want to continue to try to understand the best writing about the military for my current job. I came across something I think is pretty interesting.

I know “Death of a Racehorse,” by W.C. Heinz, is a much-loved piece of sportswriting among the Gangrey crowd. I love it, too — I’ve memorized some of the lines, and it’s what I return to when I need a reminder about how such tight writing can be so powerful. (I tend to get wordy, as you know.)

Anyway, “Death of a Racehorse” was written in 1949, and Ernie Pyle’s most widely-read column, “The Death of Captain Waskow” was written in 1944. The similarities are uncanny, and it seems unlikely to me that Heinz wouldn’t have been familiar with Pyle’s work, seeing as he was a contemporary and practicing a similar style of newspaper writing.

I’d love to see more established writers read the two pieces – do you think it could make for a Gangrey discussion? Not so much better/worse, but maybe they could break down the strengths of each and what we can take away?

I noted the following similarities, to start:

“Waskow”: “One soldier came and looked down and said out loud, ‘God damn it.’ That was all he said…”
“Racehorse”: “‘Aw —-’ someone said. That was all they said.”

Pyle uses “a low stone wall” nearby as a way to illustrate death’s indiscriminateness. Heinz used a loose pile of bricks in the exact same way (which Chris Jones expertly wrote about here.)

Finally, the length and rhythm are similar. Both eschew traditional quotes in favor of short bits of dialogue, often unattributed. And the titles, obviously, make me think Heinz was tipping his hat to Pyle, who was killed in action in 1945.

Read both. Thoughts?

Tales From Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Life’s Small Moments Loom Large. From the WSJ (thanks TLoh): As night fell last Friday in Kuala Lumpur, businessman Philip Wood hurried to gather his bags for a trip to Beijing. He had confused the dates, but his girlfriend in China texted him to make sure he got on the plane.

A group of Chinese artists capped off their exhibition at a local cultural center in Malaysia’s capital city with a day of sightseeing and a banquet lunch of duck soup, fried shrimp and pork in brown sauce.

Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest

From Mayborn and the Dallas Morning News:

In an effort to foster narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across America, The Dallas Morning News is sponsoring the second annual writing contest conducted by the Mayborn Conference: Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest.

We’re inviting submissions of extraordinary long-form narrative nonfiction previously published in a daily U.S. newspaper or a U.S. newspaper website. Writers and editors can submit one to five narratives, including narratives that are part of a series. The Best American Newspaper Writing Contest jurors will select three winners and three runners-up.

First place winner will receive $5,000 and free registration to attend the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference July 18-20, 2014 in Grapevine, Texas
Second place winner will receive $2,000
Third place winner will receive $1,000

Star-crossed Love in Afghanistan

Rod Norland (thanks, Mark): BAMIAN, Afghanistan — She is his Juliet and he is her Romeo, and her family has threatened to kill them both.

Zakia is 18 and Mohammad Ali is 21, both the children of farmers in this remote mountain province. If they could manage to get together, they would make a striking couple.

She dresses colorfully, a pink head scarf with her orange sweater, and collapses into giggles talking about him. He is a bit of a dandy, with a mop of upswept black hair, a white silk scarf and a hole in the side of his saddle-toned leather shoes. Both have eyes nearly the same shade, a startling amber.

They have never been alone in a room together, but they have publicly declared their love for each other and their intention to marry despite their different ethnicities and sects. That was enough to make them outcasts, they said, marked for death for dishonoring their families — especially hers.

Zakia has taken refuge in a women’s shelter here. Even though she is legally an adult under Afghan law, the local court has ordered her returned to her family. “If they get hold of me,” she said matter-of-factly, “they would kill me even before they get me home.”

The ‘Boys’ In The Bunkhouse

Dan Barry: WATERLOO, Iowa — A man stands at a bus stop. He wears bluejeans, cowboy boots, and a name tag pinned like a badge to his red shirt. It says: Clayton Berg, dishwasher, county sheriff’s office.
He is 58, with a laborer’s solid build, a preference to be called Gene and a whisper-white scar on his right wrist. His backpack contains a jelly sandwich, a Cherry Coke and a comforting pastry treat called a Duchess Honey Bun.

The Route 1 bus receives him, then resumes its herky-jerky journey through the northeastern Iowa city of Waterloo, population 68,000. He stares into the panoramic blur of ordinary life that was once so foreign to him.

Mr. Berg comes from a different place.

For more than 30 years, he and a few dozen other men with intellectual disabilities — affecting their reasoning and learning — lived in a dot of a place called Atalissa, about 100 miles south of here. Every morning before dawn, they were sent to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant, in return for food, lodging, the occasional diversion and $65 a month. For more than 30 years.
Their supervisors never received specialized training; never tapped into Iowa ’s social service system; never gave the men the choices in life granted by decades of advancement in disability civil rights. Increasingly neglected and abused, the men remained in heartland servitude for most of their adult lives.

This Dickensian story — told here through court records, internal documents and extensive first-time interviews with several of the men — is little known beyond Iowa. But five years after their rescue, it continues to resound in halls of power. Last year the case led to the largest jury verdict in the history of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission : $240 million in damages — an award later drastically reduced, yet still regarded as a watershed moment for disability rights in the workplace. In both direct and subtle ways, it has also influenced government initiatives, advocates say, including President Obama ’s recent executive order to increase the minimum wage for certain workers.

Precious Memories

Tommy Tomlinson: CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Dean Smith doesn’t watch the games anymore. The motion on the screen is too hard to follow. Now he thumbs through golf magazines and picture books. Most of the books are about North Carolina basketball. They seem to make him happy. He turns the pages past photo after photo of himself. Nobody knows if he knows who he is.

Music seems to make him happy, too. About a year and a half ago, a friend named Billy Barnes came over to the house to play guitar and sing a few songs. Barnes played old Baptist hymns and barbershop quartet tunes — Daisy Daisy, give me your answer true. Music he knew Dean liked. But nothing seemed to get through. Dean was getting restless. Barnes asked if he could play one more song.

After every basketball game, win or lose, the UNC band plays the alma mater and fight song. The Carolina people stand and sing. Barnes knew Dean had heard the song thousands of times. He started to play.

Dean jumped to his feet. He waved at his wife, Linnea, to stand with him. He put his hand over his heart and sang from memory:

Hark the sound of Tar Heel voices

Ringing clear and true.

Singing Carolina’s praises,

Shouting N-C-U.

Hail to the brightest star of all

Clear its radiance shine

Carolina priceless gem,

Receive all praises thine.

I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’m a Tar Heel dead!

So it’s rah-rah Car’lina-lina, rah-rah Car’lina-lina, rah-rah Carolina, rah, rah, rah!

“It was just pure joy. That uninhibited joy in the music,” Linnea says. “It’s one of those moments that you know there’s more there, or momentarily there, than sometimes you’re aware of.”

This is what she hopes for now. A moment of joy. A moment of connection. A moment when Dean Smith is still there.

Grace Through Grief

Missed this when it first came out, but I’m impressed so far.

Jackie Valley: In an older, one-story home at 1016 Robin St. lives a family of five — six if you count the puppy.

They have chores to do, places to go on this Saturday, April 14, 2012.

This will be the family’s last day together.

My 13-Year Effort to Save a Boy in Haiti

Jonah Ogles: The cinder-block school has no windows and no doors, just a string of incandescent lightbulbs hanging down the center of the ceiling like the spine of a great whale. It’s hot and humid, and the room throbs with the voices of 200 Haitians who have paused from fishing, gardening, or painting the sides of handmade wooden sailboats to come see the special visitor who has traveled 1,500 miles to Île de la Tortue, an island where the hills are green and lush and the sand is sugar white and the small children play with shells that line the shore by the thousands.

They have been waiting all day under this tin roof, watching one local man set up his old Casio keyboard and another tune the heads of his bongos, so that they can see the blan, the white man, the first ever to visit the school on this nearly roadless island five miles north of the Haitian mainland. In short, they have come to see me. And I have come to see one of them: Ervenson, the Haitian boy whom I have been sponsoring for 12 years.

Every month since the fall of 2000, I’ve sent roughly $35, or about $5,000 in total, through a Christian organization called Compassion International. Compassion funnels money to children all over the world to pay for things like tuition, schoolbooks, clothes, food, medicine, and sneakers. I sent the money to give him a better life. And I’m here to see if it actually made any difference.