Jake LaMotta’s Curtain Call

Alan Feuer: Jake LaMotta was standing in his kitchen on the East Side of Manhattan the other day, wedged in front of his refrigerator, puffing on a Marlboro in the dark. He was blowing smoke out the window and tapping ash into a small bowl of water. LaMotta, 90, is the onetime middleweight champion of the world, a boxing Hall of Famer who retired with 30 knockouts; but his soon-to-be seventh wife, who is nearly 40 years his junior, will not let him smoke in his own apartment.

Golden Girl

Robert Sanchez: On a cool January night, more than a dozen preteen girls crowded a staircase above a hallway that led to the Olympic-size pool inside the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus. The girls were clutching T-shirts and swim caps and black markers as they prepared to swarm a 16-year-old swimming prodigy named Melissa Franklin. The high-schooler, who lives in Centennial, Colorado, had just finished her second day at the Austin Grand Prix, one of several warm-up meets that preceded the early summer Olympic qualifying events in Omaha, Nebraska, where Franklin hoped to become one of the youngest members of the United States Olympic swim team bound for London.

Among the grand prix headliners was Michael Phelps, the 14-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the sport’s wealthiest and most prominent athletes. There was Ryan Lochte, a two-time Olympian and seven-time college champion; there was the out-of-retirement Olympic veteran, Janet Evans; and there was Laure Manaudou, nicknamed the “French Mermaid,” whose most popular images can be found by removing the parental block in your Google search settings. The most anticipated of the group, though, was the Regis Jesuit High School junior who held two world records, three world titles, and wore a purity ring on her left hand. To her coach, she was “Miss”; to her father, “The Missile”; but to everyone else, she was “Missy,” as in: “Missy, can you sign my shirt?” or “Missy, can my daughter get a photo with you?” or “Missy, will you endorse our product?” Newspaper headlines from Boulder to Berlin had referred to her by her last name, and generally modified it with words like “record” or “gold medal” or “star.” But she was never simply a “swimmer,” because to call Missy Franklin that would be like saying Picasso was just a painter.

Petra’s Story

David Montero: Aurora, Colo. » Each morning for the past few days, Austin Hogan has carefully pulled out his clarinet, put in a reed and played music in the hospital room. His audience, lying on her back, is quiet and lets it wash over her. The first day he did it, Hogan played something from Mozart. The next day, she asked for something faster. For Petra Anderson — whose survival is nothing short of a miracle, says her doctor ­— the music delivers something the tubes snaking into her arm from the IV drip simply can’t.

It feeds her soul.

Before July 20, the 22-year-old was known by those in the music world and by family and friends as a gifted composer and violinist whose tendencies leaned toward modern composition and who told her sister on at least one occasion that “Bach was boring.”

But then the shooting happened. She was struck in the arm and face by shotgun pellets by a gunman who attacked the crowd during the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

One pellet entered her skull, traveled with a slight curvature on its trajectory and managed to miss any vital areas of the brain. In the last seven days, she has had brain surgery, been visited by actor Christian Bale and recovered enough to walk around, scold her mother for trying to help her with putting toothpaste on the brush and asked for a meal of steak and broccoli at the Aurora Regional Medical Center.

(thanks, Bill)

A Chance To Come Out And Go Out

Robert Samuels: Usaam Mukwaya realized his American dream at a bar that reeked of sweat and stale beer, where a hunk of a bartender doled out Heinekens and whiskey sours. Men danced and freely kissed other men under strobe lights while a Rihanna track wailed through the loudspeakers.

But when Mukwaya looked out the window, he got nervous. He saw another type of blinking light: the red, white and blue lights of police cars. Too many times, he’d seen officers on the hunt for places like this, looking to lock up people like him. Then he remembered that he was not in Uganda.

Seven Days, 79.9 Miles, Walkin’

Ben Montgomery:

The sun beat hot and the humidity hung like plastic wrap. The blisters on my heels and toes had grown so fat it felt like I was stepping on cherries. I’d been on the road, on foot, for 11 hours, walking from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, to … to what? I had no idea.

The project I had pitched to my editor seemed simple enough: For one week I’d shun my car and walk everywhere — to work, to the grocery store, to the park with the kids. I’d set off on a quest for answers.

Is it possible to live a normal life on foot in a car-centric place where so few walk? Can the walker survive — thrive even — in the second most dangerous place for pedestrians in the nation? Are there experiences in the city that can only be had on foot?

Even more elemental: Why don’t we walk anymore? And what have we lost?

The Long Road To Theater 9

Brady Dennis: AURORA, Colo. — In the darkness of Theater 9, smoke began to rise. Stephen Barton saw flashes and heard loud pops coming from near a front exit.

Fireworks, he thought at first. Kids playing a prank.

But then he felt the molten buckshot of a shotgun blast pierce his neck and face. His left arm went limp. He collapsed onto the floor in front of his seat as chaos unfolded around him.

As he lay bleeding, Barton heard the sounds of the movie yield to more primal sounds of terror. The screams of the wounded and dying. The desperate pleas of people calling 911. The rattle of gunfire — rhythmic, methodical, endless.

“This might be the end. I might die here,” thought the 22-year-old, who had arrived in Aurora for the first time that afternoon. He decided that he would not die in this place on this night.

“There’s no way it’s going to end here,” Barton kept telling himself. “There’s no way I biked 3,000 miles to come to this theater and get killed in it.”

Why Noah Went To The Woods

Had the privilege of being in the same building as Mark this past weekend at Mayborn. Take a look at this wonderful story:

Mark Sundeen: VERN AND DONELLE KERSEY aren’t the type of parents satisfied with hauling their kids to a national park and pitching a tent beneath the floodlights of someone’s motor home. Native Montanans both, when they go to the great outdoors they get all the way there. In the summer of 2010, when Vern’s only week of vacation was pushed into September, the couple were not cowed by the threat of early snow. Along with their two youngest kids, 16-year-old Shelby and 11-year-old Trevor, they set out to hike 30 miles to the Chinese Wall, one of the most magnificent and remote features in the country, a 1,000-foot-high, 26-mile-long spine splitting the Rockies of western Montana.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex—known in these parts as the Bob—is 30 miles wide by 80 miles tall, accessible only by foot and horse (and, in dire circumstances, plane), population zero during winter, then inhabited July through September by five fire lookouts perched like lightning rods on isolated vantage points. At night the lookouts find their only human conversation over the airwaves, their tiny voices crackling in static beneath black skies and swirls of clouds close enough to touch.

The Kerseys bought mummy bags, raingear, and overnight packs, as well as a four-person tent, rain tarp, lightweight stove, and water filter. They weighed out nine days’ worth of freeze-dried food. The Bob is one of the few places in the lower 48 with a robust population of grizzly bears, so the Kerseys packed pepper spray and a 9mm handgun. With no cell coverage, a minor injury like a sprained ankle or hypothermia could be serious.

And that’s why it was strange when, on the fifth evening, shortly after setting up camp and heading off to collect wood, Vern and Trevor came across a man who looked simply unprepared. He wore army fatigues with a nylon poncho over his backpack. He knelt on the trail, filling a plastic milk jug where water trickled through the rocks, pouring it straight into his mouth. The men exchanged hellos. Vern sensed that the stranger wanted to be left alone, so he kept moving, but just to be safe, as the man entered the Kerseys’ camp, where Donelle and Shelby were firing up the stove, Vern lingered on the rocks and listened.

“How you doing?” Donelle sang out. She was vivacious and fit, with a hint of country in her throaty voice.

The man smiled and made a motion to the holster on his hip. “Just to let you know, ma’am, I’m packin’. ”

Big man! Donelle thought to herself. Her own 9mm lay on the log in plain view. But as she studied the man’s face, he looked less dangerous than hungry, thin in the cheeks, maybe as young as her 22-year-old son.

“How long you been on the trail?” she asked.