The Witch Of L Street

Cindy Lange-Kubick: Her neighbors filled the courtroom, the air heavy with hate and dread.

The alleged witch sat before them on the witness stand, shrunken as an old apple.

Tillie Lauber opened her mouth to show her long yellowed teeth.

The mob of mothers and housewives listened, hushed, waiting to hear the case of Matilda Lauber vs. Anna Small.

“We live down there right next door to each other,” explained Lauber of 615 L St., in the bottomland west of the city.

“This morning I threw some ashes and dirt out in my own yard and she got mad about it and struck me in the face.”

A Life Resumed

We all read the AP briefs. Here’s the rest. Wright Thompson: POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. — Genarlow Wilson is lounging on his bed, watching a college football game. An old high school buddy has come over to watch it with him. They don’t talk about prison. They talk about much more important matters.

“I really don’t think any team is gonna go undefeated,” Genarlow announces. “I think the team that had the best chance was LSU. They have a lot of talent.”

His cell phone rings. He has had it for only, like, half a day and already everyone seems to have his number. He talks quietly for a second, promising to call back later.

Who is it?

“A friend,” he says, grinning.

Watching A Man Die

Richard Lake is scheduled to watch a man face death tomorrow. Naturally, he’s apprehensive. He’s looking for advice. Anyone ever do this? Any tips? Any examples of when it was done right?

I like this one, from Rick Bragg:

With the sting of a needle in his right leg, Timothy J. McVeigh was sedated, injected with poison and executed today by the government he so despised, a quiet end for the man who sent 168 people to their deaths in screams, flames and crushing concrete.

Mr. McVeigh, who was pronounced dead at 7:14 a.m. in the execution chamber of the federal prison here in Terre Haute, died unrepentant, without offering one word of regret for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. In fact, he did not say anything at all.

Relatives of his victims, both in the viewing room in the death chamber here and in a closed-circuit television broadcast of the execution in Oklahoma City, searched his gaunt, hollow-eyed face in his final minutes for some kind of apology or answer for the worst terrorist attack in United States history.

The Bionic Reporter

A couple years back, my sister Liddy and I were driving up I-95 in a rented Chevy Cavalier on our way back from a Seven Mary Three concert in the Florida Keys when we got to talking about how to create the Perfect Rock Frontman. I’ve forgotten some of the conversation, but we agreed that he would have the fingers of Jimi Hendrix, the torso of Lenny Kravitz, the head of Jim Morrison, the hips of Elvis, the voice of Chris Cornell, the soul of Bono, and probably some other things.

Anyway, what with Halloween coming up, it might be fun to try the same thing with our trade. What attributes, and whose, would you combine to create the perfect reporter-cyborg?

(And no, you can’t just pick Katherine Boo and have done with it.)

Why I Write

Adam Bosch is working on an essay for grad school and he’s looking for some help.

He’s taking George Orwell’s essay “Why I Write” and comparing it to the persuasions of current-day newspapermen and other writers.

Orwell contends there are four motivations for writing:

I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

So Adam wants to know: “Why do you write?”

The Inside Job

Neil Swidey (thanks, Mackson): Just after 4 o’clock, when John Ferreira was looking the other way, a prankster pushed him into his pool. It’s a gorgeous pool, rimmed by smooth boulders and an elaborate waterfall, and surrounded by golf course-quality turf, all set against the backdrop of 120 acres of his private forest. Still, it’s no fun being tossed into the water fully clothed.

But Ferreira emerged a few seconds later, flashing a big grin. Standing on the patio, a puddle forming around his feet, he pulled off his yellow T-shirt and wrung it dry, as 500 of his employees and their families looked on, smiling.

Outside of his circle, few people know the 47-year-old Ferreira, who grew up poor on a dairy farm in southeastern Massachusetts and never went to college. But he’s a notable figure in New England’s construction and landscaping world, as well as in every corner of Rehoboth, his tiny farming hometown that has turned into a bedroom community dotted with trophy homes, many of them built by Ferreira. He’s the definition of a big fish in a small pond. Yet even after his net worth swelled into the millions, even after he was elected chairman of the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen, he never departed from his daily uniform of a T-shirt, jeans, and work boots.

An hour after his unplanned swim, Ferreira, with sunglasses in his dark hair, walked several acres to get to the far end of his lawn. There, an inflatable kiddie land that would rival any small amusement park’s had been erected for the day. There was a “Bungee Run,” a mechanical bull, and a gladiator pit, which Ferreira stepped into and began jousting with the police chief from a neighboring town. After about 10 minutes, with the police chief sufficiently vanquished, Ferreira stepped out of the pit. He walked by his oversize garage where he stores his helicopter, and then he headed for the patio behind his white, crushed-marble house, to watch the party’s second musical act, a raucous R&B band.

Through the evening, right up until the dazzling 22-minute fireworks show, Ferreira shook hands, slapped backs, and made sure his guests were having a good time and that their cups never ran dry.

The party on this muggy July day was Ferreira’s 2006 summer bash. When he and his wife began the annual tradition of opening their home to his employees and their families 18 years ago, he had a much smaller home and a lot fewer employees. This year, 989 people had accepted his invitation, and there were security checkpoints, guest lists, and bracelets handed out so the crashers couldn’t slip in like last year.

Ferreira is popular with his people. He’s a hard worker who demands the same of his employees, but he’s always run his operation like a small family business and always enjoyed sharing the spoils. Yet, after a decade of his business’s runaway growth, finances had become strained over the preceding year. Ferreira couldn’t understand why, even as his sales volume grew, his profits fell. As he pushed his managers to find ways to pump up the bottom line, he came to the conclusion that his enterprise had simply gotten too big. So he began to reverse course. At Christmas, he cut way back on his usually generous employee bonuses. In January, he began downsizing his front-office staff . In February, he closed two of his landscape supply stores.

But by the time his party rolled around in July, Ferreira and every one of his remaining employees could explain the mystery behind his company’s cash-flow problems with a single word: Angela.