Spirals

Steve Persall: She wanted to be a dancer or an actor and was lovely enough to be either. Instead, she became a newspaper reporter and a damn fine one.

But she looked nothing like the woman I once knew as she sat next to me the other evening at the Hub, the inveterate bar in downtown Tampa; puffier, sadder, disheveled, speaking in jumbled threads of thought that only another drug addict or a patiently sympathetic ear can understand. She fumbled in her purse for lord knows what, knocking over the rum and Coke.

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At The Mercy Of Her Mind

Shari Roan (thanks, Raja): It’s been a rough week. A few days ago, at UCLA’s Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, 6-year-old Jani toppled a food cart and was confined to her room. She slammed her head against the floor, opening a bloody cut that sent her into hysterics. Later, she kicked the hospital therapy dog.

Jani normally likes animals. But most of her animal friends — cats, rats, dogs and birds — are phantoms that only she can see. January Schofield has schizophrenia. Potent psychiatric drugs — in doses that would stagger most adults — seem to skip off her. She is among the rarest of the rare: a child seemingly born mentally ill.

This Is Their Story

Eli Saslow (thanks, Mara): He heard the familiar whine of a Metro train approaching the platform, and Tom Baker decided to run for it. The next train was scheduled to arrive at Takoma Station in two minutes, another in six minutes and yet another in 10. But it was the first Monday of summer, and Baker had left work early with a weightlifting routine to complete and an overgrown garden to tend. A doctor at Walter Reed with an emergency pager affixed to his waist, Baker had learned to schedule and protect every minute of his free time. This was his train.

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Jacko Reader

On his life and death:

Geoff Boucher and Elaine Woo: Michael Jackson was fascinated by celebrity tragedy. He had a statue of Marilyn Monroe in his home and studied the sad Hollywood exile of Charlie Chaplin. He married the daughter of Elvis Presley.

Jackson met his own untimely death Thursday at age 50, and more than any of those past icons, he left a complicated legacy. As a child star, he was so talented he seemed lit from within; as a middle-aged man, he was viewed as something akin to a visiting alien who, like Tinkerbell, would cease to exist if the applause ever stopped.

Hank Stuever and Matt Schudel: … That particular weirdness eventually led Mr. Jackson back to court in the spring of 2005, after the boy accused the pop star of molesting him. Mr. Jackson’s fragility was never more pronounced than in that Santa Maria courthouse. Here at last was the daily, up-close look at a withered man in a mirror, under the courtroom’s fluorescent lights. He was always polite, and always sad. Mr. Jackson was acquitted and spent the rest of his days on the move, on jets and in hotels, dodging bankruptcy proceedings, as if he were on the run from not only what he was, but what the world made him.

Sean Daly: … Over the next decade, there was a sense among the general populace that it wasn’t cool to praise Jackson — at least not out loud. But I was at more than a few clubs where, when the clock struck midnight, that hip-thrusty beat of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ would kick in, and people would smile and move and sing in the dark, willing to forgive — or at least forget — because it was irresistible, life-affirming even.

This brings us back to his legacy and its endurance. Jackson recently embarked on a comeback, or at least planned one. He sold out 50 shows in London’s giant O2 arena, and he sold that sucker out fast. His fans, a lot of fans, still cared — and this time, they cared out loud.

John McWhorter: The question, which he never even ventured an answer to, was why. Who was this personnage supposed to be? White? Gay? Perhaps we were to allow that he was just being “him.” But leaving unanswered just who that “him” was supposed to be was, most charitably interpreted, too far ahead of our times. It left him a faintly gruesome cipher.

Joe Gross: There will never, ever be anyone like Michael Jackson again.

Let’s start with the numbers, which are almost beyond comprehension.

Thirty-seven Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Twenty-nine U.S. Top 10 singles, 13 of them No. 1′s, nine of them platinum sellers, 16 gold.

Thirteen Grammy Awards and 750 million albums sold worldwide.

Seven-hundred-and-fifty-million.

Owning a Michael Jackson record is a bit like having a phone or a stove.

From the archives:

Gerri Hirshey, 1983: Run this down next to the stats, the successes, and it doesn’t add up. He has been the featured player with the Jackson Five since grade school. In 1980, he stepped out of the Jacksons to record his own LP, Off the Wall, and it became the best-selling album of the year. Thriller, his new album, is Number Five on the charts. And the list of performers now working with him ? or wanting to ? includes Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg, Diana Ross, Queen and Jane Fonda. On record, onstage, on TV and screen, Michael Jackson has no trouble stepping out. Nothing scares him, he says. But this….

“Do you like doing this?” Michael asks. There is a note of incredulity in his voice, as though he were asking the question of a coroner. He is slumped in a dining-room chair, looking down into the lower level of the living room. It is filled with statuary. There are some graceful, Greco-Roman type bronzes, as well as a few pieces from the suburban birdbath school. The figures are frozen around the sofa like some ghostly tea party.

Michael Goldberg: The seven dwarfs are singing. Their voices are floating out of speakers hidden among the trees and lush flora surrounding Michael Jackson’s mansion, in Neverland Valley — his 2700-acre, $22 million oasis in the Santa Ynez Valley, an hour north of Santa Barbara, California. “Michael’s very own Xanadu,” as his friend director John Landis puts it.

At Neverland Jackson has created a secluded and secure environment far from businessmen, attorneys, managers, music-television-channel VIPs and even members of his immediate family. Here he can stand in front of his house and the only sounds to hear are the birds in the oak and sycamore trees and, of course, the Seven Dwarfs. And if he chooses to gaze past the expansive lake that stretches out in front of his three-story Tudoresque country home, past the lush green lawns and neatly manicured flower beds, the bronze statues of young boys beating tambourines or playing toy accordions, he sees simply a peaceful hillside dotted with oaks.

Stuever, 2002: Stray thoughts, unfinished paragraphs and meandering ruminations on the frightening, fascinating and ultimately unsatisfying subject of Michael Jackson, 20 years after his album “Thriller” first began to climb up the pop charts.

1. Michael Jackson: He makes the Weekly World News seem true, every page of it.

2. Michael Jackson: The tawdriness involved with just looking at pictures of him, the leering and uncomfy feelings, the what now? of Michael Jackson. People will look anyhow. He is powder and synthetic hair and paint and so much frailty. Where the nose used to be, there is now an exposed piece of plastic that looks like part of a tiny, tiny ice cube tray, revealing the architecture of his proboscidean desire — the upturned nose of the pretty starlet. It has eroded away. If supercelebrity facilitates the creation of a family of those who adulate and those who are adulated (the other uneasy family Michael Jackson belongs to, aside from the one to which he was physically born), then he is like a relative we cannot help. We are LaToya to him. We seethe like Jermaine. We surpass him like Janet. He rejects us even as he needs us. There is the urge to intervene, to understand him as a celebrity, to contemplate his very success and failure and existence. But to do any of that, you have to first see him, on some level, as a human being. This is where it all goes wrong.

3. Michael Jackson: Dangling his shrouded baby from a hotel balcony! Stop that!

Who else? Post ‘em.

The Freedom To Trivialize

William McKeen on the impact of information overload on a new generation:

Novelist and social critic Tom Wolfe is among those who arch eyebrows over the time and labor-saving devices granted us by technology. Such things as iPhones and Twitter “waste more time than anything else in American life,” he says. “The computer and the Internet are the contemporary versions of knitting and badminton in the backyard, except that they have nothing to show for it afterward, the way knitting does, and lead to atrocious sedentary posture and sloth, unlike badminton.”

Wolfe’s social criticism has marked his journalism and his fiction, most notably in his satirical novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. As the man responsible for tagging those who achieved adulthood in the 1970s as “the Me Generation,” Wolfe’s antennae are alert to any new examples of silliness and narcissism. Tweeting one’s most mundane activities is high goofiness indeed.

(Pramod) Khargonekar (outgoing dean of the University of Florida College of Engineering) agrees with Wolfe. What’s most important, he says, is how we use technology. It’s easy to fall in love with each new device and development. “There is euphoria with any new technology,” he says. “Of course, there are excesses that happen, but in time these things will take their place in the scheme of things.”

But critics such as Wolfe worry “these things” that are supposed to make life better could make things worse. He uses Thomas Jefferson as an example. He had at least eight careers in addition to his job of creating American democracy. “Today,” Wolfe laments, “two-thirds of his life would be consumed answering inane e-mails.” If Jefferson had a Twitter account, we might all still be foreigners.

More Than Case No. 09-01458

Ian Shapira: YaVonne and Erwin DuBose stepped outside the D.C. medical examiner’s office yesterday to take in the fresh heat. They needed a reprieve. They had just seen a photograph of their 29-year-old daughter, Veronica DuBose, one of nine people killed in this week’s Metro train crash, her face yellowed, bruised and swollen.

Asked to identify her body, they pinpointed the mole on her lip and her finely arched eyebrows. Their daughter’s life was now boiled down to a bureaucratic moniker — Case No. 09-01458 — on a Proof of Death certificate.

“Unbelievable to see that,” said Erwin, 56, a procurement specialist at the National Institutes of Health, standing on the morgue’s steps. “It didn’t even look like her. I asked if she got burned, but they didn’t know. I can’t remember. Was there a fire on the train?”

Withers

Mike Anton: An hour before dawn in the camp of last resort. Dozens of men and a few women are asleep in the beds of pickup trucks, in the back seats of cars or on flattened cardboard boxes in the dirt behind the Toro Loco market. The air is cool, but the terrible sun is close at hand.

Martin Zavala is wrapped in a blanket, his head resting on a Scooby-Doo pillow, a pack of Marlboros under his neck. Thieves prowl at night and will snatch what is not secured. Drunks and meth-addled tweakers tease the dozing grape pickers, poking them with knives or guns. Zavala, his brother and four friends positioned their vehicles to form a protective perimeter — modern-day covered wagons on a wild frontier.

The Truth Rundown

Wow. Wow. Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin: Part ONE of THREE

The leader of the Church of Scientology strode into the room with a boom box and an announcement: Time for a game of musical chairs.

David Miscavige had kept more than 30 members of his church’s executive staff cooped up for weeks in a small office building outside Los Angeles, not letting them leave except to grab a shower. They slept on the floor, their food carted in.

Their assignment was to develop strategic plans for the church. But the leader trashed their every idea and berated them as incompetents and enemies, of him and the church.

Prove your devotion, Miscavige told them, by winning at musical chairs. Everyone else — losers, all of you — will be banished to Scientology outposts around the world. If families are split up, too bad.

To the music of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody they played through the night, parading around a conference room in their Navy-style uniforms, grown men and women wrestling over chairs.

Thoughts?

Lawrence Weschler: I want to get rid of the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. The class I teach at NYU is called “The Fiction of Nonfiction,” and it is less a class about reporting methods than it is about the fictional methods that can be applied to nonfictional writing. It presupposes that the writer will try to be fair, but also acknowledges that there is no such thing as objectivity, and revels in that fact. Then we get down to business and talk about all the stuff that’s interesting: form, freedom, irony, voice, tone, structure.

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