Wednesday Reading

Sorry for the malfunction this morning. Not sure what happened, but we’re back. Don’t miss Tomas Alex Tizon from Hawaii, Lydia Polgreen in Darfur, and Andy Newman following some animals through New York:

And the great beasts came down from the mountains and crossed the seas and descended upon the cities — the hind and her fawn, leaping fences in the southeast Bronx; the black bear, stout but fleet of foot, stealing through the streets of Newark; the seals of the harbor sunning themselves by the score upon the hospital ruins of Staten Island.

And the coyote prowled the West Side and took up quarters in Central Park. And the dolphin beached itself on the Turuks’ sandy yard in Throgs Neck. And the she-moose, 21 hands high, strayed within 30 miles of the city gates.

And the wise men stroked their beards and scratched their heads, and they finally declared, “This is not normal.”

Sob Stories

Keith Goldberg passed along this piece from AJR about the frequency of long narratives devoted to harsh disease afflicting young people, and the author explores a few good questions: When does a news story become less about providing information and more about manipulating emotions? When does it become more voyeuristic than revealing? At what point does an effort to elucidate slide hopelessly into pathos? And are such stories as much about reinforcing cultural and religious beliefs as about shedding light on medicine’s triumphs and limitations?

Gay Talese On Sportswriting

There are gold nuggest throughout SI’s Q and A:

SI: (On his DiMaggio profile) Your friend David Halberstam called the piece the best of sportswriting of the 20th century. Did you think afterward that you had captured DiMaggio honestly?

Talese: I never think much about that when I’m doing it. I don’t write about the straight-on main guy. It’s not DiMaggio. It starts off with the Fisherman Wharf, which is the tradition and the history of the immigrant DiMaggio family, which made its living as fishermen. And at the Wharf I see this blonde. I don’t know her name. She’s good-looking. What was she doing? She’s probably a tourist and looking at the beautiful body of water that is near the DiMaggio restaurant. And then I go into the restaurant, as I described, and some people didn’t know it was me in the story. But it is me, obviously. I went third-person because I didn’t want to intrude. It’s not Garrison Keillor pluming into this or some first-person Jimmy Breslin goes to the circus or Norman Mailer goes to the Pentagon. The first person with those guys is natural. But I’m a quiet intruder with good manners, and I go into the restaurant and see to my surprise that it’s DiMaggio looking out of a window and standing there, smoking a cigarette. I didn’t move in at first. I didn’t have an appointment. I had a letter exchange with him. The reason I got to DiMaggio was that there was an old-timers game some months before. I met DiMaggio through a photographer name Ernie Sisto. DiMaggio said I could come out when we were in the locker room. So [in the restaurant] then he kind of walked away and I never talked to him. I went back into the entrance where I had entered the restaurant and I ran into this guy. I didn’t know it was a DiMaggio relative. I said, “Is Joe going to come back?” He says, “Joe who?” I’m like, Jesus Christ, how stupid do they think I am? What’s going on here? I saw DiMaggio. I know what he looks like. Then I leave and DiMaggio comes back, and all that stuff is in the piece. I was walking to my rented car and this damn car pulls up and the window goes down and there’s DiMaggio’s face. “Do you have a car?” “Of course I have a car,” I said stupidly. He says, “Well, I would have given you a ride.” Then he drives off. Oh, Christ. Here’s an opportunity to be in a car with the guy who I flew across the country to see and who is not known for being open for interviews. I built my way back. I hung around with people who knew DiMaggio: Lefty O’Doul, the old manager and baseball player, and Reno Barsocchini, who was the guy at his wedding when he married Monroe and who after the breakup of the marriage helped DiMaggio pack in L.A. and come back to San Francisco. I went to the bar and hung around. I was beseeching these guys to build a bridge from DiMaggio to me. The allowance was made that I could go around a golf course with him. You have to be well behaved if you are around people who don’t know you and give you the benefit of the doubt. And I am. I was raised in a store and I had parents who had a sense of decorum.

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Swords and Shouts

Read Corey Kilgannon’s story about the Samurais: “You’re looking for the samurais?” said the girl sitting in the hallway. “They’re up there.”

She pointed up a staircase to a small gym on the top floor of Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. Inside was a startlingly surreal scene, especially to someone stepping off the streets of the Upper East Side, where people were picking up dry cleaning and lounging at sidewalk cafes on a Saturday evening.

Upstairs, the old church gym resembled an ancient Japanese battleground. Some 50 people in Japanese warrior dress — dark robes, heavy chest armor and helmets with fearsome face-cages — hurled bloodcurdling screams as they beat one another over the head with poles.

No Home, Bad Rep, Big Heart

Read John M. Glionna’s story: For 16 years, Dane Johnsten has been a pain-in-the-neck panhandler in this city’s Castro district.

On some days, the gangly 39-year-old in the filthy Army fatigues and torn motorcycle jacket can make people smile with his reality-of-the-streets comedy rap.

“Having a bad day?” he asks. “Well, I’m having a worse one.”

But his mood can change, almost between breaths.

“One misplaced word will trigger him,” said Ray Powers, owner of the Welcome Home restaurant. “He’ll go bananas and haunt you for a week. He’ll walk by and stare at you.”

Johnsten has been booted from churches for being too loud. He’s unloaded on people for taking up too much sidewalk, tying up the pay phone or suggesting there might be medications for his brand of in-your-face anger.

Hank and Halle

Read Stuever’s story: We are 50 floors above Central Park on a recent afternoon, and wouldn’t it be great if this serene, impossibly gorgeous actress jumped up, kicked out the window, leapt out into the sky and landed like a lightning bolt in Columbus Circle? She’s dressed for it: dark curls spilling down her shoulders, over a black, very low-cut hand-knit sweater, with tight indigo jeans and shiny, silver stiletto boots. Sorta like Ororo Munroe (code name: Storm), the mutant she plays yet again in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which opened yesterday. Or like Catwoman. (We are allowed to say the word “Catwoman” in this interview, right? Without, like, a $1,200 manicure suddenly raked across our cheek?)

An assistant knocks on the door: “Excuse me, Halle, did you want hair and makeup to come check you out right now?”

“Nmmh-mnnh,” Berry, 39, gently answers in the negative, but the implication hangs in the room: What foolish mortal is this who wants to know if Halle Berry needs more makeup?

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Fun. Just Fun.

William Booth:

CANNES, France — Richard Kelly looks not good. His face is the color of a mollusk. He is as clammy as a gym towel. His eyes are these little itchy, red-hot BBs. He confesses that earlier he almost passed out.

This is his story.

(Perhaps young filmmakers should look away.) The wunderkind director of the indie cult hit “Donnie Darko” is making his first appearance in the rarefied competition category at the Cannes Film Festival with his new work, a political, apocalyptic farce called “Southland Tales,” about the end of the world, set in Los Angeles in 2008.

The director of the festival, Thierry Fremaux, described it as “an audacious, musical, poetic and political futuristic film about the United States of tomorrow — and therefore of today.”

It is the worst-reviewed film at Cannes.

This portrait of dystopia is 2 hours 42 minutes long. It stars (believe me, this isn’t easy for us either) Dwayne Johnson (the TV wrestler formerly known as The Rock), Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Seann William Scott (Stifler from “American Pie”) and Justin Timberlake, who sings.

Plus: cast members from “Saturday Night Live.” Did we mention the film is about the end of the world? And alternative energy, and the Patriot Act, and war, and porn, and stop.

Catching Gators

Could’ve been one of those quick and ridiculous ride-alongs, but this one is much more. Turns out not many people know what happens after they take the gators away.

Read Tom’s story: The seduction begins on the shoreline, in the decaying blue of late afternoon, when a man in a cream-colored cowboy hat readies his weapons and calls to his prey.

Eow-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo. Eow-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo.

He says the call can mean one of two things to an alligator: Defend Your Territory, For I Am Invading It; or The Time Has Come For Breeding, And I Need Your Crocodilian Love.

Either way, it works. A green-black shape slides toward him through the rippling murk of a water hazard on this New Port Richey golf course, and Mickey Fagan casts a juicy beef lung into the water. It is a Trojan horse.

The flesh hides a barbed steel hook, and the alligator that swallows it has already lost. A line runs from the hook to a pole in Fagan’s hands, and he can reel it in with relative ease. Armor and sharp teeth notwithstanding, it is hard for an alligator to fight back when steel shreds its insides with every move it makes.

A rare stamp

Theresa Vargas on a stamp’s story: In the stamp collecting world, often the tiny square on the outside of an envelope is all that matters. It is the commodity that is coveted and traded and sold. But for some, there is the draw of the story behind the stamp — where it came from, the time it represents, the printing mistake that alters it just a bit from others like it.

And so it was with the Alexandria Blue Boy — a stamp that carried a love letter in 1847 between a couple that for many reasons should not have been.

They were second cousins. He was Presbyterian; she was Episcopalian. Relatives were watching.

One of the rarest stamps in the world, the Blue Boy sold for $1 million in 1981 and is estimated to be worth many times that now. Still, many wondered why this stamp — an Alexandria postmaster provisional printed on blue paper before U.S. government stamps were commonplace — survived when all others like it were lost or destroyed. If the envelope had been saved for sentimental reasons, did the letter also exist? If so, what did it say?