Kennel Trash

Read Kelley Benham’s story: It got dark. Out came flashlights. They still hadn’t gathered all the dogs. They didn’t know what to do with them all, and they didn’t know how many they would have to kill.

The property reached down into the woods, where thick weeds made it hard to walk. The ground was scattered with chewed-up deer bones – spines and splintered femurs. They kept backing into dogs. So many eyes in the dark.

They carried bags of dog food and syringes of something called Fatal-Plus.

The officers and investigators worked deep into the night, all the next morning and into the afternoon. They examined every dog. They numbered each one with a plastic collar and a metal tag.

They counted 139.

Some Reading

Hank Steuver on “Who Wants To Be A Superhero?”; Michael Brick on a police shooting; and if you missed it, Dan Barry reviews Springsteen doing Seeger: THIS is what you would do. Close the bedroom door to the quiet indignities of childhood. Unclasp a small but hefty box to reveal a now forgotten device called a portable record player. Plug it in.

Make a selection from the albums your parents bought when they used to listen to music. No, not Mitch Miller and his Gang. No, not Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Where’s the skinny guy with the reedy voice, always singing about freedom? Here. Pete Seeger.

Place the needle down on a disc now spinning in promise, catch the groove, and allow old words and ancient melodies to seep in until they could never be removed. The skips and hisses on the scratched records are as ingrained as the choruses in memory.

You did not listen to be cool; in this age of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, you were unlikely to impress a girl by singing the opening lines to ”Erie Canal” (”I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal ”). Not that you ever summoned the nerve to speak to girls, much less sing to them.

No, you listened because you found something affirming in songs that honored hard work, struggle and standing up for what you believe. You felt connected to your immigrant roots, to your African-American neighbors and to your country, of which you sang with innocent pride. You felt connected to your father, to your mother.

In the era of King and Kennedys shot, you would sit beside the record player and sing, ”Oh Mary don’t you weep don’t you moan, oh Mary don’t you weep don’t you moan. Pharaoh’s army got drowneded, oh Mary don’t you weep.” And feel the consolation.

In the era of Vietnam and civil rights battles, you would sing, ”We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday.” And believe it.

Then you grew up. Vietnam ended like an unfinished sentence, and King and the Kennedys settled into the abstraction of history. Your mother died and your father stopped singing. The albums went to storage.

Nearly 2,800 people died a couple of miles from where you worked; for weeks the smell of the pyre wafted through your Midtown office window. Your country went to war. Hurricane Katrina crushed one part of the South, and Hurricane Rita crushed another.

You sensed the unimpeded march of Pharaoh’s army.

The other night you went to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden. Some celebrities sat a few rows behind you, and a group of older women, including the singer’s mother, sat beside you. You feared your own presence constituted a security breach, but the lights dimmed, no one tapped you on the shoulder, and so you stayed.

Cover Me

A buddy asked the other day for advice on cover letters for job applications. I haven’t written cover letters for my last three moves, so I’m not the best person to comment. Besides, back when I was an eager beaver, I don’t know what I was thinking.

“I would be greatly moved if you would consider me…” is how I started one of them I found in my Hotmail Drafts folder. “Motivation is my main asset,” I wrote, and the rest is too damned embarrassing to put up here, but it included goodies like “unquenchable desire” and “dreams of becoming a newspaperman” and “tenacity, determination and strong writing skills.”

Before you laugh, something must have worked.

Anyone have advice?

There Goes Sunday

It does my heart good to see so much good long work in the newspapers today. I’m sure I’ve missed a hundred others, but it’s because I’ve been wrapped up in these. Michael Levensohn’s 15,000-word, ridiculously well-reported Teflon Don (Now that’s a photograph); Vanessa Gezari’s 6,500-word Trapped In The Safety Net; and tiny by comparison is S.I. Rosenbaum’s 2,100-word Santa’s workshops, which brought us fantastic stuff like this: Surrounded by more experienced Santas, Jim is a little intimidated. Compared to them, he’s an amateur. He has only one Christmas under his big black belt.

He was working in sales for a tech company. Growing out his beard was his little way of sticking it to corporate. People told him he looked like a street person. Then, one night, his granddaughter Edie told him he looked like Santa.

Wow, he thought. Maybe so.

He hired a seamstress to sew him a custom velvet suit. He tried on the suit and discovered a gift for jolliness. He felt free. As Christmas loomed, he found Santa jobs at schools and private parties.

The work was exhausting. Sometimes he performed at four parties a night. But he loved it, especially when parents and teachers told him about the difference he made to their children.

Then, in February, he lost his job at the tech company. Downsized. He started to think about making a living from Santa.

That’s why he’s spending the weekend in Branson, among the professionals. He wants to network, make connections, get discovered. He has visions of acting in television commercials, modeling for print advertising. He’s even contemplating a gig as a mall Santa.

His resume reads:

Jolly Demeanor

Warm, Twinkling Eyes

Communicates well with a diverse population

Mature, compassionate, dependable and responsible individual

Professionally educated in the Santa craft.

The Boy In The Chimney

Mark Johnson spotted this story on Thursday: Inside the chill of the county coroner’s office, the detective and the forensic anthropologist stood over soot-covered bones arrayed on a metal table.

Over two hours, Elizabeth Miller provided a running dialogue for each bone. She picked up one rib after another, studying them for knife scrapes.

The bones were those of a boy, perhaps 12 to 15 years old, found in the chimney of an abandoned building in South Los Angeles. The boy wore faded and stained tan jeans and a white shirt, but no shoes.

“I’m sure if we had a photograph, we’d be able to recognize him,” Miller said.

More than once, Los Angeles Police Det. Chris Barling asked: Was he killed?

There was no sign of trauma, Miller said. No self-defense wounds on the finger bones, no scrapes or damage to other bones. The jaw suggested major dental work to repair an injury, but that was it.

That was March 28, 2005, and the homicide detective and the anthropologist had hunches, nothing more.

Lincoln Land

How do you make a feature about a car shop come alive with drama and tension? Take a lesson from John Barry’s story: Let’s say that back in the day, you were hell on wheels. But you’ve been around the block a time too many. You’ve picked up some rust. Let’s say they drag you to Lincoln Land at the end of a tow hook.

The preserver has a look at you. If you’re lucky, he sees something he likes. He’s European, freshly shaven, wears a spotless blue uniform. He could make you good as new, or better than new. He could make you immortal.

But if you’re very unlucky, the destroyer calls your number. He’s a Jersey guy, wears a gray Fu Manchu and blue bandanna and waves a big, greasy adjustable wrench. If he gets his blackened hands on you, he’ll slit your carotid artery and watch impassively as your green antifreeze drains all over his boots.

There are but two ways to go at Lincoln Land.

Resurrection. Or death.

Second Look

We talked a while back about Doyle Murphy’s idea for the Greeley Stampeed, the annual rodeo that draws the same boring coverage year after year. Doyle wanted to try something different, something like Brady’s 300 Words. It’s a risky venture. It takes a good reporter and photographer to pull a short set of stories like that off without the cheese and ridiculousness.

I think Doyle did a nice job. Check out his series, Second Look. Links to the others are found at the bottom.

Here’s some interesting reader feedback on the Tribune’s website: “I thought the stories were a good break from the usual. The man or woman (or horse in one story) on the street who attend, volunteer or work in the Stampede are often overlooked. The stories were on the whole well written and would be a good addition to the paper. Murphy should be commended for his idea and efforts.”

Another: “I liked it — a unique departure from standard journalism. But rather than quick hits, I’d really like a deeper look into someone’s life, rather than just a look into their day. These were fairly short-sighted in terms of content; leaving perhaps too many questions when I finished reading.”

And this: “Honestly, I think you are going to make yourself look foolish if you continue in this manner. If you have a talent for writing, don’t ruin your chances to be well thought of as a journalist by continuing with these sappy, embarrassing stories.”

Here’s one of Doyle’s stories:

The night finds the young couple sitting in the grass.

They’re two teenagers, not charmed, not rich. Above them, the lights of the Ferris wheel sparkle against a dark sky. She of 16 years with brown hair falling past her shoulders. He of 15 years with tanned shoulders and arms. They have a single cigarette between them and little to do but sit here together and talk quietly.

“It’s enough,” he says.

She teases. He smiles shyly and dips his head behind an arm. This night marks one and a half weeks of a young romance.

They walk now. Past the pleas to throw a dart, shoot a basketball, win a puppy. They each swing their arms separately. They glance at the workers and slide by the other couples brought out by electric lights, a cool breeze and something to do.

Money went to rides in the nights before. They walk now only to walk. She slips behind, jumps and pushes down on tanned shoulders. Brown hair falls toward his face as he leans forward and carries her. She hops down. They laugh.

He sees a friend. He fidgets and shuffles a half step away from her. The friend is gone. He and she walk together again. She bumps his hip with hers. Now their hands. His left. Her right. They walk past the booths, the end of the blacktop. The crowd has thinned to a few. The noise softens, and the glow of light bulbs sharpens against the dark.

Above them, others spin wildly and scream. They are the only two standing in the quiet corner of the carnival for a moment. She hooks her arm around his waist. He drapes his over her shoulder. She leans in close, and they look up at the spinning, flashing night.