Sense Of Place

From Mark Johnson:

I’ve been rereading Angels & Demons by Tom French. I know many gangreyers are familiar with the story, maybe the finest newspaper narrative ever. I was stopped cold by this paragraph near the beginning. I’ve never lived in Florida but I wondered if there has ever been a better summary of the state than this single paragraph:

“Even then, they were not merely crossing state lines. They were slipping over to the other side, entering the isle of eternal youth, dominion of the sun, temple of the mouse who devoured the world, paradise of glistening beaches and murmuring waves and hallucinatory sunsets and oranges dripping with ambrosia and alligators smiling jagged smiles and snowy-haired seniors who play shuffleboard as they
wait cheerfully for their collect call from God and intrepid astronauts who climb aboard gleaming spaceships, launched with a roar into a heavenly blue sky.”

I remember a features editor telling me about the importance of having a story provide a sense of place. In one paragraph Tom gives a better sense of place than I’ve ever given in an entire story or series. Cormac McCarthy is very good at this too. Any other writers you can think of who do this well?

Anatomy Of A Homicide

This is like reading about some forgotten pocket of America. Here’s Doyle Murphy covering a gang trial: WHITE PLAINS — John “Tarzan” Maldonado spent his final hours in what he must have thought was a safe place.

An FBI video camera recorded him standing, a drink in hand, on the corner of William Street and Benkard Avenue as it grew dark on March 12, 2010. Even then, Luis “King Luch” Tambito testified on Wednesday, the Latin Kings were laying plans to kill him.

A 20-year-old named Jerome “Rude Boy” Scarlett had died in a shooting the night before. A memorial of lit candles shined in the video as the Kings wandered in and out of the frame.

The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever

Mike Mooney: When Bill Fong approaches the lane, 15-pound bowling ball in hand, he tries not to breathe. He tries not to think about not breathing. He wants his body to perform a series of complex movements that his muscles themselves have memorized. In short, he wants to become a robot.

Fong, 48 years old, 6 feet tall with broad shoulders, pulls the ball into his chest and does a quick shimmy with his hips. He swings the ball first backward, then forward, his arm a pendulum of kinetic energy, as he takes five measured steps toward the foul line. He releases the ball, and it glides across the oiled wooden planks like it’s floating, hydroplaning, spinning counterclockwise along a trajectory that seems to be taking it straight for the right-hand gutter. But as the ball nears the edge of the lane, it veers back toward the center, as if guided by remote control. The hook carries the ball back just in time. In a heartbeat, what was a wide, sneering mouth of pins is now—nothing.
He comes back to the table where his teammates are seated—they always sit and bowl in the same order—and they congratulate him the same way they have thousands of times over the last decade. But Fong looks displeased. His strike wasn’t good enough.


To follow up on Ben’s excellent post, here’s a picture of my first newsroom, at The Press-Sentinel, in Jesup, Georgia, circa 2001. I’m on the right, covering my face, exhausted. The news editor, Drew Davis, is in the center. The photo was taken by Hank Orberg, our sports editor, the only other member of the editorial staff. If you look closely you can see a wire-mesh tray on my desk where they placed handwritten columns from old ladies in tiny towns like Odum and Madray Springs. “Miss Lala Winston had as her guests this weekend her cousin and cousin-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gordon, of Uvalda, Georgia. Ice cream was served and fellowship was had.” My job was to decipher these columns and, if possible, type them for publication.

Music In The Dust

Caitlin Johnston:


Ukulele and smoke filled the heavy air of the Tennessee hotel room. For $58, the members of the Applebutter Express had themselves two beds with cigarette burns in the comforters and a chair dotted with brown stains.

“You don’t come here to mess around,” said fiddle player Joe Trivette, 25. “You come here to smoke meth in a cheap hotel room.”

Or you come here because you’ve landed the impossible gig — the one that puts you in front of not tens or hundreds of fans, but some 80,000 music lovers. You come here because in two days, this remote town in Tennessee will become, for the duration of the Bonnaroo festival, the seventh most populated city in the state. You come to the burned beds and the stained chairs so you never have to again.

But for now the room offered what the four members of the Tampa band needed: a hot shower to wash off last night’s grime and a mini fridge to keep the beer cold.


Joan Garrett: It’s Sunday morning, and Matt Nevels is at home again.

From his front yard, he almost can see the white steeple of Red Bank Baptist Church. Less than a mile down the road, he knows, the church parking lot is clogged with members. Traffic backs up onto Dayton Boulevard. Crosses dangle from rearview mirrors. Bibles slide on dashboards.

Matt, 78 now, with wrinkled knees and sagging cheeks, was once minister of education at the red-brick church. His babies grew up there. Stephen, his middle son, sang tenor in the choir. Vicki, their only girl, played in the youth softball league. Keith, the youngest, went to backyard Bible club.

Every Sunday for nearly three decades, Matt put on a crisp shirt and tie, trained Sunday school teachers and glad-handed newcomers. But it was more than that, more than just tradition.

From the Southern Baptist church he drew his purpose, his worth. The calling had come when he was in his early 20s, fresh out of the Army.

But that all ended 17 years ago.

These days Matt watches recent reruns of Red Bank services on a television in his kitchen while his wife, Frances, putters around the house. Sometimes he’ll move his lonely worship into his study and read through the Bible again. The only sound in the background is the dull hum of an air conditioner. On the wall, a hand-sketched portrait of Stephen reminds Matt of all that’s gone. It hangs over him.

He carefully reads the red letters in the Word, the phrases Jesus spoke. Books like Leviticus, he skims.

Leviticus, with its hard words about abominations and detestable sin, just doesn’t speak to him anymore.

Daddy Blues

Tony Rehagen: I don’t read manuals. But when my wife was pregnant last year with our first child, she studied every so-you’re-expecting book she could find. I scanned the sections she assigned, sat through birthing classes, watched the self-help VHS on swaddling and shushing, and viewed a tutorial on infant care she pulled off Netflix—but mostly just to show solidarity with the woman who, five months pregnant, followed my job from our home in Indianapolis to Atlanta last August. I smiled and nodded at the unsolicited advice from my parent friends. This is between my child and me, I thought. I talked to Abilene, the girl we had named years before she was conceived, in my wife’s belly like the intelligent being I knew she was. We joked about how her grandparents would never let her feet touch the floor. She was a baseball fan, of course, and I dutifully reported the daily Cardinals scores. When our team came from behind to even a playoff series against the Phillies, I felt a nudge from the womb that could only be interpreted as a celebratory fist bump. And at night, I’d sing her to sleep, usually Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” We had a bond, an understanding. I figured that when the moment came, my little friend would provide me with all the revelation I’d need.