Get A Room

Amber Mobley on love bugs: They’re the couple next door in desperate need of drapery, the eternal newlyweds, the definitive PDAers.

Kind of sweet.

Extremely gratuitous.

Perpetually connected.

Meet The Love Bugs.

Technically termed plecia nearctica, those orange-and-black bugs are known for their immodesty — mating midair, linked junk-to-junk.

Indiscreet

Konrad Marshall, who sort of took my old job at The Florida Times-Union, comes out of nowhere with a beautiful, haunting character study disguised as a story about a man crapping in public : A disheveled man shuffles into view, sets his drink on a planter, looks to either side, and begins to take his pants down.

Monique Brown walks by as his slacks fall. She turns back and lets out a little scream. Tom Broadus looks up from his desk across the street and sees a bare butt sticking up in the air.

The man pulls his T-shirt forward as he bends, squatting like a downhill skier. He strains, and does his business.

A Mercedes pulls up carrying a woman and her daughter on their way to the library. Hemming Plaza is alight with activity in the pixilated background. This is downtown Jacksonville on an otherwise pleasant Friday afternoon. Specifically, this is Laura Street at 3:55 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2006.

And maybe the man in the video finally senses the time and place, because he ties the drawstring on his pants, picks up his drink, shuffles across the frame and exits.

What he doesn’t sense is that he is caught on tape.

He also doesn’t sense that this tape will be posted to YouTube, where his digital version of “Everybody Poops” will be viewed more than 10,000 times in the next three months, where his business will become everybody’s business.

And he certainly doesn’t sense that three months later I will stand on the spot where he crouched, wondering how I can find him and what I might learn – just by looking for him – about shame, indignity, indigence, mental illness and what leads someone to perform man’s most solitary and private act in the most public of places.

***

I love stories like this, where the frame is the author’s search for something or someone. Excellent forward motion here. And I can’t exactly tell you why, but the ending hit me harder than any story has in quite a while. Let me know what you think.

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Pomp And Whatever

This is great, and I don’t have all the details, so correct my mistakes somebody: An editor somewhere in the northern portion of TimesLand put some money down for a contest to spice up the high school graduation coverage this year. Best story, as I understand it, wins, what, $50, or a gift certificate to Olive Garden or something?

Great idea, right? Here, then, are tops of the stories I could find. Please, please post others that I didn’t see, if there are more out there.

And you be the judge.

Tom Lake: NEW PORT RICHEY – Many years from now, when they are not so young, when they are gray at the temples and sagging at the hips, when they have scattered up the coast and into the heartland, when they are climbing the ladder or walking the streets, when they are wounded from battle or selling used cars, when they are mothers and fathers and Hollywood stars, the 302 members of Ridgewood High School’s Class of 2007 will remember their days in orange and blue.

No two will see the same thing. But if you could take each memory from each mind like the film from a camera and take it to the one-hour photo, and you mixed up a multisensory album as thick as a room and then you opened to some random page near the middle, here is what you would find.

Three girls stealing out to the parking lot for one last Camel Light. Royal blue gowns rippling in the breeze. A cigarette crushed on the heel of a shiny black pump.

Some kid doing splits on the gym floor, some other kid mooning the whole school, that time T.J. wore the sexy little Speedo.

The smiling face of John Reppert, the charisma of Freddie Quijano. Principal Randy Koenigsfeld crowd-surfing during Senior Countdown. Alex Papadopoulos whaling on his trombone.

Dangerous chemical experiments. Flights from campus for early lunch. Clandestine text messages. Girls in ball gowns and boys doing sit-ups. That time what’s-her-name went on stage wearing a whale’s tail. Jarred Caputo pushing 50.

Jodie Tillman: HUDSON – Nearly two months ago, she began to practice.

Rise. Shake with the right hand. Reach with the left.

Once she dreamed of college and maybe law school. But those dreams seem luxuriously abstract in a life now built around more immediate and specific goals.

Rise. Shake with the right hand. Reach with the left: All Sarah Klein-Malarik wanted Friday night was to get her diploma like every other Hudson High School graduate did.

Junior year, 2004, she was a chatty blonde cheerleader who jutted her hip out and blew kisses in photographs. But one afternoon, driving out of the school, she pulled in front of another car.

Doctors told her family to say goodbye before the first operation. The brain injury was too severe. No one thought she would make it. She did. Then they told the family she’d never move her right arm again. She did.

David Decamp: It’s packed.

Theater’s packed, too.

Parents find seats or just stand. Students stare, thoughts going everywhere.

Could it have really been that long since they dodged water balloons in the eighth-grade parade at River Ridge High School? Since they became the first freshman class to beat the seniors at powder-puff football?

Could it really be like this, after being so cool was so important:

Nice shoes, shirts and ties on this final Friday, an orchestra playing to thousands of people in a gym and overflowing into a theater? Just to see one face?

Wait till you get in front of people.

Eyes in the stands are watery. So are a few eyes in converging lines of 412 young men and woman in purple robes and caps.

I’m already starting. I’m not going to be able to see out to see where I’m going.

Molly Moorhead: Pasco High School’s graduation really began in the gym parking lot three hours before commencement ceremonies Friday.

Graduates in shimmering red and black gowns made their way into the gymnasium, past cars with messages like “Bye PHS c/o 2007″ painted on the windows.

They greeted each other not like people who have seen each other every day for four years, but like ones who won’t be together this way again.

They mentally rehearsed for the ceremony: grasp diploma with left hand, shake with right.

Inside the gym, the 232 Pasco Pirates talked and texted and hugged and high-fived.

Tabitha Heath, Kalee Burchfield, Elizabeth Garcia and Demara V. Marbra, all friends since middle school, sat on a bench together. They’d had manicures and pedicures and done each other’s hair ahead of the big night.

Tabitha was excited and sad at the same time. Kalee felt like dancing, but not with heels on. Demara was just glad the buildup was coming to an end.

High school was cool, Elizabeth said, but with “way too much drama.”

Michael Kruse: TAMPA — You think you’ll never forget your high school graduation, and the names of your classmates, and what it felt like, but you will, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly it happens, so here, members of the Land O’Lakes Class of 2007, is something maybe you can clip and keep and bring back out and look at 10, 20, 50 years from now.

You graduated on a hot and hazy Saturday morning.

The ceremony was at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida, where it cost five bucks to park and the air conditioning inside was very, very cold.

There were 475 of you. Biggest class in Land O’Lakes history. Until ’08.

Big digital scoreboards up in the corners told you congratulations as you walked in to Pomp and Circumstance. The processional started just after 11 a.m., and first there was a little applause, then there was a lot of applause, then folks were standing.

Teachers and administrators sat on a big stage decorated with ferns in front. You sat in rows and rows of folding chairs set up in the middle of the wide concrete floor.

Brittney Williams sang “Love Is All That Matters.”

Lauren Healey sang the national anthem.

Short speeches were given by Class of ’98 grad and current state Rep. Will Weatherford, student body president Aysha Malik, senior class president Julia O’Keefe, valedictorian Sara Ippolito, salutatorian Korey Lane, International Baccalaureate valedictorian Paula Te and International Baccalaureate salutatorian Chirag Kulahalli.

They told you to set goals and dreams and to find something you love doing and to do it for a living and to get back up when you get knocked down and to make your own reality and to make it a good one.

O’Keefe harkened back to the “massive food fight” freshman year.

Lane started his speech like this: “Wow, y’all.”

Salvation Of Newspapers

Remember this two-parter from Thomas Curwen at the LA Times? He shares a bit about his experience and some of the feedback with Nell Lake: He wrote us that the online story package received more than 533,000 hits. The print version ran in the Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times and six other papers. And: “I have received nearly 400 emails from readers. One was disappointed that the time sequence in the story jumped around so much. Another did not like it that the Times chose to publish the story 18 months after the attack itself. The rest were over-the-top with praise.”

Tuesday Reading

Cindy Lange-Kubick’s mom was so not cool.

Andy Newman takes us beneath the Cyclone.

Lane Degregory with another Encounters.

Stephanie Earls on The Force in Albany.

Kruse and Erin Sullivan profile a dreamer.

Inara Verzemnieks at the sheep dog trials: On this particular weekend, obsession looks like a wet border collie, pressed up against a fence, staring at a herd of sheep on the other side with such longing in its amber eyes, you feel ashamed of your own silly human passions: husband, job, family. These almost seem like frivolous diversions compared to the intensity of this dog’s gaze.

Two From Sara

Real men sweat and wrestle: Arthur Breur pressed down on the other man’s back, cradling him in his arms.

“Wrestle!” the coach barked, and then Breur’s only thought was domination, pinning the other man down, forcing him to submit.

New spin on the ‘burbs: Here comes DJ Neo, 22 years old, stack of CDs in one hand, cell phone in the other, striding toward the doorway of Club Quench.

He is late. Club employees have already left him voice mails to the effect that he should drop whatever unmanly pursuit he is no doubt engaged in and get his posterior here, pronto. He was stuck in traffic, he claims.

He glides through the doors and into his occasional kingdom. It’s a big, plush space, almost like a big-city nightclub except for the neon Brandon landscape outside: Arby’s, Wendy’s, Applebee’s.

A Story In A Box

Another Encounters: Susan Zaffater has been to enough garage sales to know when something is junk. The trunk was special. She didn’t even need to search inside it to know that.

The lid was open. It was Army green, rusted, made of particle board. What got her was the folded American flag, each corner neatly tucked, on top.

The seller wanted $20. Susan’s husband, Joe, reached into his pocket.

Let Me Explain

No, these aren’t newspaper stories. But I submit the following two passages as standards toward which to strive as we try to explain the world. They both appeared in The New Yorker. The first, from “Struts and Frets” by Burkhard Bilger (May 14, 2007), is about how a guitar works. The second, from “The Bakeoff” by Malcolm Gladwell (September 5, 2005) is about the magic formula of a good cookie. Both seem like simple subjects, but read carefully. There’s some real insight here. This sort of reporting is harder than it looks, and it’s the kind we should do more often:

1. A guitar isn’t an especially hard instrument to build — “Try a harpsichord,” Parker said — but it leaves little room for error. The mechanism is simple: six strings, stretched taut across an open chamber, vibrate when struck. This sets the top moving, amplifying the vibrations, turning the guitar into a pump that pushes sound waves out through the sound hole. The strings along make almost no sound, so everything depends on the wood’s resonance. There’s no bow to keep the notes from dying, no mouthpiece or bellows to sustain them. The player makes the smallest of gestures — “You whack the string and that’s it,” Parker said — and hopes the guitar will turn them into music.

To resonate well, the wood has to be thin. To withstand the strings’ tension, it has to be strong. Things don’t always work out. Even if the neck doesn’t bend, the bridge doesn’t pop off, the strings don’t buzz, the guitar may respond poorly to playing. Its wood may vibrate well only at certain frequencies, so some strings sound weaker than others. It may have dead spots or “wolf tones” that sound muffled or unpleasant. In some guitars, the neck and body, top and bottom, produce sound waves that are out of phase: their peaks and troughs flatten one another when they collide. In others, the sound builds up, wave on wave. “A good guitar is in agreement with itself,” Parker said.

2. As everyone at the table knew, a healthful, good-tasting cookie is something of a contradiction. A cookie represents the combination of three unhealthful ingredients—sugar, white flour, and shortening. The sugar adds sweetness, bulk, and texture: along with baking powder, it produces the tiny cell structures that make baked goods light and fluffy. The fat helps carry the flavor. If you want a big hit of vanilla, or that chocolate taste that really blooms in the nasal cavities, you need fat. It also keeps the strands of gluten in the flour from getting too tightly bound together, so that the cookie stays chewable. The flour, of course, gives the batter its structure, and, with the sugar, provides the base for the browning reaction that occurs during baking. You could replace the standard white flour with wheat flour, which is higher in fibre, but fibre adds grittiness. Over the years, there have been many attempts to resolve these contradictions — from Snackwells and diet Oreos to the dry, grainy hockey pucks that pass for cookies in health-food stores — but in every case flavor or fluffiness or tenderness has been compromised.

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Anyone else have a good example of this kind of writing? Maybe it’s something you’ve done yourself. Let’s take a look.

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