More On Access

Feinstein is known best for his sometimes long, padded, sappy books, but he does know a thing or two about access — and, like in this story, how to use small details to show bigger stuff: Last Saturday night, as has become tradition during this remarkable NCAA tournament run, the George Mason basketball team was having night-before-a-game dinner at an Outback Steakhouse. This wasn’t just any dinner or any game: The next afternoon the Patriots would play Connecticut for a spot in the Final Four.

Liz Larranaga had happily ordered a salad, a small steak, a baked potato and a soda. Then she happened to notice that several people had ordered lobster tails to go with their steak.

“Jim, you think it would be okay if I had some lobster?” she said to her husband of almost 35 years. “It looks pretty good.”

“You want lobster; you got lobster,” Jim Larranaga answered.

When the lobster arrived, the man who was about to become America’s Coach turned to everyone at the table and said with a smug grin, “I think Liz is enjoying being on scholarship.”

To which, without missing a beat, his wife replied: “Don’t you think I deserve it? I’ve been a walk-on for 35 years.”

A Quest To Deliver Mom’s Gift

I go back to this piece once in a while for a reminder of the power of brevity. I remember watching Steve work on this story. He listened again and again to a tape of Charlie speaking and tried to write with Charlie’s voice.

Here it is: Charlie’s walking through the graveyard in his new sneakers. Gray New Balance with red and black laces. First ones he ever bought.
He’s wearing his new watch. Silver and gold. From Wal-Mart.
He wants to learn to tell time. He’s working now, packing nail polish, first job.
Charlie keeps walking past the headstones. He must find his mother. Emily Nessi. He has something to give her.

A New Coach

I could give flip about Mizzou basketball, but this is why people know Wright Thompson’s name: Truman the Tiger sat in a darkened hallway, mascot head by his side. A small crowd had gathered inside Mizzou Arena, some to see Mike Anderson be named head basketball coach, others for the circus.

There was certainly going to be a news conference Sunday afternoon. Everyone knew that. But as the appointed hour approached, no one was sure what would happen. A hiring? A firing? Both? Forty-five days after Quin Snyder had been shown the door, 45 days of increasingly weirder news coming from Columbia, the strangest was saved for last.

The day began with word of a new coach and of an emergency Board of Curators meeting, called to discuss the future of Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden. It was a meeting Alden himself didn’t learn of until he arrived home Sunday morning from walking his dogs. The smart money said he was gone.

Inside the arena, a stage was erected. Every so often, the PA announcer would make an announcement to the small crowd, which let people know that Alden’s fate was unknown. “We’re waiting for the end of that meeting,” he said.

Cheerleaders took their places again and again, returning to their seats after each false alarm. Women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein walked into the building, smiled and shook her head. Athletic department employees joked about hitting Shiloh, a local bar, for a round.

Plagued By Fear

Read John Mangels’ seven-part series, Plagued By Fear: Dr. Thomas Butler was the government’s go-to guy if you were worried about a plague attack – and in the hair-trigger months after Sept. 11, 2001, a lot of federal officials were. For parts of three decades, he had treated the Black Death’s bloated victims in the Third World. He’d plumbed the bacteria’s dark secrets in university labs in Cleveland, and later in Lubbock, Texas, searching for better ways to blunt its lethal kiss. After Jan. 11, 2003, none of that mattered. (Thanks, Mark.)

The Love Of His Life

I meant to post this a few days ago. Please read Jeff Klinkenberg’s story about a man who won’t give up: Through the open door Freddie spots the Cadillac, looking for parking space among the pickup trucks. Perfectly coiffed, smelling of after-shave, the driver glides into the building. Freddie comes forward and wipes his hands on the back of his dungarees and extends a hand still dirty from harvesting pole beans.

“Do you own this land?” the stranger asks, giving Freddie’s hand a shake.

“Yes, sir,” answers Freddie, who has tabbed the guy as a developer.

“It’s worth a lot of money,” the developer says. “Ever think of selling?”

“No, sir.”

“Are you sure? You could retire right now. You and your wife could afford to travel. Maybe go to Europe. You could get you a real nice car. Your wife, too.”

Freddie – who was born here 68 years ago and likely will die here – tries to be patient. He says he has no desire to be a millionaire. He lives comfortably. He says his 15-year-old pickup truck is still going strong.

Commuters and Gangsters

Read Doherty’s story on commuting gangsters: “Mobsters are just like everyone else – it’s simple demographics. The money is moving to the suburbs and the Mafia follows the money,” says Selwyn Raab. For years, Raab covered the Mob for the New York Times. His 2005 book, “The Five Families,” traces the Italian Mafia from its beginnings through the first years of the 21st century.

“Another reason these guys move to the suburbs is they think they’ll be harassed less,” Raab says. “The FBI isn’t as deeply entrenched there.”