Turkey Hand

I’m up in the Panhandle chasing a good one and creeping myself out. I’m staying in this bunkhouse on a private campground where a man went missing seven months ago. Tonight I drove into town, a little place called Ponce De Leon, to get some eats. Saw a barbecue place half lit and pulled up. In the parking lot sat a single muddy pickup with two men inside. I killed the car and climbed out.

“They still serving?” I asked the passenger.

“No,” he said. “They closed.”

He draped his arm out the window, gently, comfortably, and at the end of his sleeve where his hand should have been was the hand of a turkey. Three tiny blackish-gray fingers — or two and a thumb. I shit you not.

If it was a joke — a means of frightening out-of-towners, say — he played it smoother than any ever played. He didn’t smile or flinch. Just sort of rested his fowl tentacles on the lip of the window.

I slung shale for Defuniak Springs, goose pimpled and questioning. A few minutes down Highway 90 I caught a sign for Vernon. Vernon! You’re welcome for the link.

Tom Lake: VERNON – Nothing binds a town together like a powerful story: the Giants win the pennant, for example, or a mother wolf rescues twin boys from the riverbank, or a silversmith and a borrowed horse conspire to foil the Redcoats.

In this town, the story is broken.

The characters are not heroes. They are not even villains. They are merely conniving mercenaries with a tolerance for gore.

If you have heard of Vernon, population 780, an old steamboat port between the red hills of Alabama and the white shores of Florida’s Emerald Coast, there is a good chance you have heard this story. To the outside world, it has become Vernon’s master narrative.

Poor country folk get desperate. Poor country folk get an idea. Poor country folk buy insurance. Poor country folk fire guns at selves, blowing off hands or feet, and poor country folk get rich.

There are many strange things about this story. Here is one of the strangest.

If you go to Vernon today, you will find that it has nearly been forgotten. Most or all of its limb-deprived protagonists are dead, replaced by able-bodied workers and entrepreneurs who have quietly written Vernon’s sequel: Small town outlives indignity, finds something like prosperity.

But there is one more strange thing about the old story.

It has stayed alive.

Why You Should Care About Cricket

Wright: DHAKA, Bangladesh — The guy walking across the parking lot is famous. That’s easy to tell from the reactions. Crowds part for him. Security guards mirror his every step. Other cricketers who made this same trip to the locker room tiptoed around the puddles. He strides over them, head up, confident. I am following an Indian cricket superstar, but I don’t know who he is. That’s the kind of trip this is going to be — one of constant confusion and mystery.

He’s not a big man, but he’s got a big aura. Fans climb the stadium wall, cheek to cheek, pressed against openings to catch a glimpse. The player looks up at the apartment buildings crowding the other side of the street, like a zoo animal in reverse, all the residents leaning over to get a peek. He waves his bat at the kids on the wall. The kids scream with joy. I grab a photographer and point.

Who is that?

He looks at me like I’ve got three heads.

Sachin Tendulkar.


Operation Wrong Exit

Take a look at this one, by Joe Kovac Jr.: The big-city gal had just spent her Friday night in the Twiggs County jail.

Saturday morning found her out on bail, on the phone with the tow-truck folks who’d hauled her car to wherever they haul cars in, at least in her eyes, this God-knows-where Podunk.

At dusk the evening before, she and three passengers heading east in a late-model Dodge Charger bearing Massachusetts plates, a rental from up Atlanta way, had, for reasons known only to them, pulled off Interstate 16 at a sleepy exit that is home to farmland, a Baptist church and a cemetery, but nary a store or street light.

It is a good bet that their choice of off-ramp had been influenced by the flashing signs near the exit that declared, “License Check” and “DUI Checkpoint Ahead.” That and perhaps the 2 pounds of marijuana in their trunk.

He Do What He Do

Yes. Mooney: Ron Washington is not happy to see me. I wasn’t supposed to come here. Not to New Orleans, the place where he was born, the place he has called home his entire life. Not to his neighborhood in the notorious Ninth Ward, where he and his wife, Gerry, have lived for more than 25 years. And certainly not to his front door, which, after a knock, is opened wide enough for him to peer out, but not so wide that I can see in. The usually jubilant, smiling Texas Rangers manager looks tired, worn down. Behind his wire-framed glasses, his normally bright brown eyes appear sunken, shot with flecks of yellow. His hair—the ring of what’s left of it—is disheveled, his mustache ruffled.

He doesn’t give interviews in New Orleans, I was told. This is his safe zone, his off time, a respite from the game he’s been a part of for all but a few of his 58 years on this planet. But I’m here to learn about Ron Washington. About the man. About what created the force that propelled the Rangers to the greatest season in franchise history. So I had to come to this neighborhood. And I had to knock on his door.

He looks like a grandfather just roused from a postprandial Thanksgiving Day nap. I tell him who I am and ask if he has a few minutes to talk.

“I’m not interested,” he says. His tone is apologetic but firm. He looks around to see if there’s anyone with me, and he squints in the sunlight. He sees I’m alone.

“Can I at least ask about what’s carved into the sidewalk over there?” I ask.

The Endless Game Of A Lifetime

Dan Barry: FORT MYERS, Fla. — Our planning went no further than to meet at the ballpark. Simple in theory but madness in practice, given the thousands of others with similar plans. My only hope was to find a white-haired man exuding boyish wonder; who looked as if he was about to see a baseball game for the 10,000th time — and for the first.

There! In the red shirt and sunglasses: Joe Morgan, the former Boston Red Sox manager, whose baseball credentials date to the 1940s, when wily pitchers in New England’s old Blackstone Valley League would snap off 12-to-6 curves to teach the college kid not to be too impressed with himself.

Hey, Joe!

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One Stroke At A Time

Michael Kruse: One wet, raw day last April, at the Broadmoor public golf course in Portland, Ore., Dan McLaughlin stood in the center of one of the greens. He wore running shoes, blue jeans and a yellow rubber raincoat. He wrapped his frozen fingers around a two-buck putter and hit one-foot putts, and he did that for two hours straight, stopped for a cup of hot, decaffeinated tea, then did it for two hours more. That’s how this started.

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”

The idea appealed to Dan. His 9-to-5 job as a commercial photographer had become unfulfilling. He didn’t want just to pay his bills. He wanted to make a change.

That Smell

Stephanie Hayes: Several cases at a St. Petersburg CVS were stocked Wednesday with ridiculous celebrity perfumes.

Malibu by Pamela Anderson. Queen by Queen Latifah. Fancy by Jessica Simpson.

There among the riff-raff stood the chairman.

White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor.

Along The Creek

Roy Wenzl: COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS — Scientists along Buttermilk Creek north of Austin, Texas have found flint knife blades, chisels and other human artifacts lying in a soil layer nearly 16,000 years old — a discovery they say will re-write a major chapter of ancient human history.

For one thing, it is now the oldest and arguably most credible site of human occupation in North or South America; but there’s more.