Ringmaster

The NBA lockout wasn’t exactly a diamond mine of writing opportunities. Nevertheless, Brian Phillips found a riveting way to put it all in context:

In the past 15 years or so, the NBA has been haunted by a specter, one that began to coalesce around the advent of Allen Iverson before fully emerging in the wake of the Palace brawl. The specter is, to put it simply, the Red State Fan. To put it a little less simply, the specter is “the guy who boasts about preferring college basketball to the NBA without examining the reasons why,” or “the suburban dad who wants to take his kids to a game but can’t because Stephen Jackson might go on a rampage and kill them.” There’s a very distinct form of punitive desire that tends to well up in sports fans who see young men living lavishly on their nickel, and it’s not always related to race. As the lockout showed, though, it’s practically impossible to separate race from the tangle of fan/player and player/management relations in the NBA. Stern, who is almost certainly not personally bothered by hip-hop, gave the Red State Fan what he wanted by handing down a lot of petty decrees that — whatever the intention — came off as an attempt to make the NBA more palatable to white fans.

What Ben Wrote For My Wedding

photo by Jennifer Morrison

He was walking east. She was walking west. The ribbon of sidewalk was only so wide.

They’d seen each other a few times before, at the cafe where she worked, the new place downtown where he’d park with his newspapers to drink coffee and maybe make a friend.

He’d been feeling old and unconnected, living the lonely existence of a workaholic newspaper man. To compensate, in recent weeks, he’d been shopping for a BMX bicycle. He wore baggy pants and was growing quite a collection of colorful, unworn, outlet-mall sneakers in the closet of his tiny apartment up the street. When the cafe opened, he saw an opportunity to reconnect with humans that don’t live on the pages of his books and magazines.

She knew none of this. Not even his name. She knew only that he needed a new haircut and was probably into computers and took his caffeine without cream or sugar. She and her girlfriends had taken to calling him Black Coffee.

But there was something about him she found appealing. So on that chance late-night sidewalk passage, as their shoulders missed by inches, she drew in a quick breath and growled and the noise that escaped her lips hung in the hubbub of a Central Avenue Saturday night.

Opportunity presents itself in many ways, in high school halls and bathroom stalls, at festivals, in vestibules. It finds the aimless and beer-buzzed lovesick in the Florida night and spins him right ’round, makes him follow a stranger with a tattoo sleeve, makes him order extra courage in a jug the size of his face and sway in her direction.

East meets west. Boys meet girls. Some stories start and never end.

What happened next? Heat lightning.

He asked her to a wedding. In North Carolina. What color should I wear? she said. He thought maybe she was joking. “Guest: Lauren E. Bernard,” she texted. “What does the E stand for?” he asked. “Electric,” she said.

He suggested maybe a date first. Saturday, she said. She read his story. He wore a sweater vest and new Nikes and drove her home without questions. He smelled of Old Spice body wash and she of smoke and vanilla. They fell against the furniture. His sweater vest was lost.

He followed her to the cafe the next day and drank a barrel of coffee just to see her fill his cup.

When can we hang out again? he asked.

Tuesday, she said.

He told her he couldn’t wait until Tuesday, and so they didn’t, and then there was no longer a need for silly questions.

I think I’m falling in love with you, he said on Thursday, as they sat beside her swimming pool and talked of how strange the week had been.

She felt like he balanced her, tamed her, and he was genuine.

“Why do you love me?” she asked once.

“I care for you more than I care for me,” he said.

Love? Love looks like a college reunion in North Carolina, our rational man alone, earnestly telling old friends that he’s in a serious relationship with a woman he just met. Love looks like our logical man, who folds his dress socks down and reads with a red pen, trying to explain that he can’t explain why he feels the way he feels. Love looks like a $50 change fee for a Delta flight that puts him home two hours earlier, because two hours is too long to be without her. Love looks like a man who has lived in Florida for five years feeling like he’s flying home – home – for the very first time.

“Be with me forever,” he said some months later.

“Of course,” she said.

And here they stand, in love in the sawgrass, sidewalk beneath their feet, footfalls from another chapter.

We Were . . .

Wright Thompson: STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A light glowed in the long front window of the last house on the left. It cast a soft yellow halo on the drapes. The mood on this chilly Sunday night felt somber, and people kept exiting the front door crying. A group of Penn State cheerleaders left in tears. Two other women did the same: deep, heaving sobs disappearing into the shadows of McKee Street. In the window, Sue Paterno’s face filled the glass. She watched them vanish and turned away. Her husband never appeared. It was impossible to know what he thought about all that had fallen apart in the past week, and if his Catholic upbringing led him to believe he deserved it. “He’s home,” a pilgrim standing outside said. “He’s just resting.”

Where Turkey Picks Up The Bill

Kim Severson (thanks, WWT): OZARK, Ark. — Brenda Farmer and Willie Blanscet have sat across from each other on the Butterball bagging line for 17 years, 102 cold, raw turkeys sliding by in front of them every minute.

“Me and Willie look at each other and say, ‘How in the world can anybody eat this much turkey?’ ” Mrs. Farmer said.

For $11.40 an hour, the women, both in their 60s, cull the good from the bad.

Faces Of The War Generation

Dan Zak: BAGHDAD — On a bright October day in this city’s Tahrir Square, Muhammed Asaad tried to make some noise. He announced his cellphone number to a group of 50 protesters at the weekly Friday demonstration. Text me your message, he said, and he would amplify it through a scratchy-sounding speaker on wheels.

“If you don’t demonstrate, you’re not a man,” chanted Asaad, 26, glancing at his phone, trying to rile up young men in polo shirts and football jerseys. “We are not going to die or give up our rights.”

Liking Is For Cowards

Jonathan Franzen:

A COUPLE of weeks ago, I replaced my three-year-old BlackBerry Pearl with a much more powerful BlackBerry Bold. Needless to say, I was impressed with how far the technology had advanced in three years. Even when I didn’t have anybody to call or text or e-mail, I wanted to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.