Collar Bomb

This may be the strangest crime story I’ve ever read. It’s told in a straight chronology, for the most part, with few visible narrative devices or stylistic flourishes, and I was spellbound to the end. Is there such a thing as letting the story tell itself? No. But when you’ve done the reporting to get material this stunning, it’s not such a bad idea to get out of the way.

Here’s Rich Schapiro: At 2:28 pm on August 28, 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had a short cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt. Wells, 46 and balding, passed the teller a note. “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000,” it said. “You have only 15 minutes.” Then he lifted his shirt to reveal a heavy, boxlike device dangling from his neck.

My New Year’s Resolution

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed with mystery.

–From The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

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What’s your New Year’s writing resolution?

Looking At The Yule Log

Michael Kruse: Turn on your television on Christmas Eve at 8 and flip to Bay News 9. What you’ll see is four hours of a burning log set to Christmas carols.

This log is the local version of a holiday tradition that dates back to 1966 and since then has been seen many times by many millions.

Was The Yule Log the first music video? Was it the first reality show? Was it a postmodern adaptation of the age-old custom of villagers in distant cultures and centuries felling seasonal logs for warmth and light?

It aired in the beginning only in New York. By now, almost half a century later, it can be seen in Philadelphia, Seattle, Miami, Denver, St. Louis and so on. It can be seen in high-definition, in 3D and on DVD, with titles like Just Logs, Just Flames and Visions of Tranquility. The Associated Press has called it “one of television’s oddest yet most heartwarming holiday habits” and the San Francisco Chronicle has called it “one of the two or three best ideas in the history of television.”

But the seeds of the story of the log, believe it or not, start right here, in Florida’s sandy soil.

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Naked

Libby Copeland: We are more naked, as a nation, than we’ve ever been. We are forever baring our souls, revealing the mundane and the sacred. We are naked in our curiosity about the semi-famous and the strange, we are naked in our aspirations (to be semi-famous, even for something strange), we are naked online – or, at least, considerably more exposed than we tend to realize.

All of which may help explain why most Americans seem unconcerned about those full-body airport scanners, the ones that see under your clothes. In an existential sense, we are used to this sort of thing. Go on, take a gander, we seem to be saying. We have nothing to hide.

The Runaway Doctor

Buzz Bissinger: His hair is longer than it was in his former life, the life he left behind like a snake shedding its skin. A yellow bandanna wraps around his forehead, and reflective dark glasses cover his eyes, giving him the look of a ski bum trying too hard to hide middle age. Married and divorced three times, he has found serenity in his latest relationship, with an Italian woman named Monica, who runs a small grocery store. It is she who has taken the picture of him after a day in the mountains of northwestern Italy, just outside the storybook ski resort of Courmayeur.

There is a thin smile across Mark Weinberger’s face on this sunny day in 2009. The smile suggests contentment—a contentment distant from the driven, fanatical years he spent marketing himself as “TheNoseDoctor” in a small midwestern town, his local celebrity buoyed by a first-rate pedigree that includes the University of Pennsylvania, U.C.L.A. medical school, and a prestigious fellowship. There is something wry about that little smile in the mountains, something smug and self-congratulatory. Or maybe it is just that he looks so relaxed, at ease, not a care in the world.

He has done it.

Letters To God

Lane DeGregory: TAMPA

They expect the letters to Santa.

So far this season, about 1,000 pleas to St. Nick have arrived in the Suncoast District of the U.S. Postal Service, which serves more than 4 million addresses from Brooksville to Fort Myers.

But this year, postal workers had to add a new bin: letters to God, and other folks up there.

“In the 10 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen maybe two or three letters addressed to heaven,” spokesman Gary Sawtelle said. “This year, we’ve already had more than 30.”

They come addressed to “Highest

For 74 Years, He Was Good

Alex Zayas: TAMPA — Vickie Bruce saw so many police officers when she pulled up to her West Shore Boulevard garden shop that February morning, she thought someone must have been murdered.

She never expected the alternative:

That her 73-year-old husband, a retired Air Force veteran who had never been in trouble with the law, had robbed three South Tampa banks.

That reporters would stake out her home and label James Bruce the “Grandpa Bandit.”

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She Has Neither Forgotten Nor Forgiven

Dan Barry: CARLISLE, La.

A daughter of Plaquemines Parish, her camouflage outfit the color of the forest, checks the oil. She checks the steering, the coolant, the gas. She makes sure that everything is tied down or stored away, so that nothing loose will fly into the fanlike propeller at the rear of her airboat. “Maintenance,” she says. “Maintenance.”

Then off she roars, a singular woman named Albertine Marie Kimble, guiding her airboat across the grass and into the precious marsh waters, where she is most at home. An honor guard of green-winged teal ducks rises to greet her, the only resident of this southeastern Louisiana spot called Carlisle.

“Wow!” she shouts. “Whee-e-e-e!”

Eric’s Last Wishes

Don’t miss this, either. From our friend Reid Forgrave: Early one summer morning in 2006, Eric Jacobs awoke with a start.

In bed beside him lay his wife, Heather, three months pregnant and barely starting to show. It wasn’t yet 5 a.m., and Heather was fast asleep. So were their four boys, ages 1 through 6.

Eric was scared, confused. He’d just had a terrible dream: That he died too young. That he left behind a wife and five children, and so many unfinished things. And that he needed to do something about it before it was too late.

He got out of bed. He crept past the boys’ bedrooms, down both sets of stairs of their split-level home in Ankeny, and into the basement toy room. He was surrounded by Legos, board games, cars, trucks, a plastic kitchen. His blond hair, or what was left of it after 31 years, was askew.

Then Eric Jacobs — a father who devoted every Sunday to family day, an evangelist who’d handed over his soul to Jesus Christ, a man whose life was filled with joy and promise — turned on the lights, sat on the floor next to the furnace closet, looked into a camera mounted on a Dell laptop, and clicked record.