The Rise And Fall Of Epic Beard Man

Thanks to Doyle for passing this along.

Lauren Smiley: On Feb. 15, Thomas Bruso’s already unpredictable life took an abrupt detour. It was the day he ceased being Thomas Bruso and became Epic Beard Man, Internet sensation.

That day, Bruso pulled on his custom-made “I am a motherfucker” T-shirt, snapped on his fanny pack, and met the pot-smoking buddy he calls Ugly Bob at the bus stop at Fruitvale and MacArthur in Oakland. They boarded a San Francisco–bound AC Transit bus, planning to buy some weed in the city.

The two sixtysomethings sat near the front of the bus, where Bruso announced his plans to get his Stacy Adams shoes shined by a “brother” for his mom’s funeral in Michigan. The driver would later tell police that Bruso had said that black people are good at shoe shining, but whatever the wording, it surely came out in Bruso’s loud and gruff Chicago tones, and got people to pay attention. As Ugly Bob recalls it (though he says he wasn’t wearing his hearing aid that day), an intoxicated black passenger named Michael Lovette said, “Why don’t you get your own ‘brother’ to shine your shoes?”

Article About Lonely Man Results In Birthday Party

Today I came across a hidden gem of a story, an unbylined piece that ran on page 6A of The Anniston Star in Alabama on October 9, 1972. I present it here, in its entirety, until the Star makes me take it down.

Article About Lonely Man Results In Birthday Party

T. W. Laine was not alone on his 67th birthday Sunday. Nineteen people attended a birthday party for the man whose profile in The Star Oct. 1 revealed him to have been lonely and almost friendless since he moved to Anniston.

Sue Freeman, Linda Carmichael, Ann Williams and others organized the party, and the American Host Inn donated a party room for the people who expressed concern about Laine.

They brought gifts — socks, handkerchiefs, groceries, a painting, a basket of fruit, a wallet , a plant, a rug, magazines, some money, candy, stationery, and a season ticket to the Anniston Little Theatre.

A woman from Laine’s hometown of Turku, Finland, attended, and a group of children sang for him. Others furnished a cake and punch. Miss Carmichael said Laine was told by the partygivers, “You are not alone. People do care about you — now that we know you are here.”

“Fantastic,” she said. “He was so sweet. He was really, really touched.”

“The tears just came, rolling down,” Evelyn Pope said.

Laine may not have to worry about feeling useless and lonely again. There is a possibility of a job offer, and Mrs. Pope says she intends to get him involved in local senior citizens’ activities.

Laine said he got so many birthday cards from Baptist churches that now he considers himself a Baptist and plans to attend church.

During the party Sunday, Laine was quoted as saying, “I never thought that anyone would think this much of me.”


The Stories At City Hall

From the mailbag:

I was wondering if you could suggest city hall reporters with strong writing chops. Headed there soon and I love narrative-style writing, and I’m fearful that I’ll end up writing dull process stories all the time. Looking for folks who take a different approach.

Thoughts? Links?

Vanishing Springs

Craig Pittman: North of Gainesville, a church camp once attracted thousands of visitors because it was built around the gushing waters of Hornsby Springs. Then the spring stopped flowing and the camp had to spend more than $1 million to build a water park to replace it. The old spring site is now so stagnant that it’s frequently declared unfit for humans to swim in. In Silver Springs, where the water was once so clear it was as if the fish swam through ­air, there are now goopy mats of algae so thick that alligators can perch atop them. And in the Ocala National Forest, the gurgle of fresh water pouring out of popular Silver Glen Spring is slowly growing saltier. Deep beneath the ground we stand on, below the strip malls and the condos and the lush green of the golf courses, runs a river of water that makes life in Florida possible. The underground aquifer rushes through Swiss cheese caverns, its hidden flow bubbling up to the surface in Florida’s roughly 1,000 springs — the greatest concentration of springs on Earth.

A century ago Florida’s gin-clear springs drew presidents and millionaires and tourists galore who sought to cure their ailments by bathing in the healing cascades. Now the springs tell the story of a hidden sickness, one that lies deep within the earth.

27 Things

T Lake:

1 A hailstorm in Colorado, summer 1993. A mother and her son were riding bicycles along the edge of Horseshoe Lake, in the town of Loveland. They were three miles from home, a mile above sea level, and the mother wished she had not led them so far. But they had only one choice. “Pedal through the pain,” she told the boy. And he did. The path was rough, and the hail stung their faces, but three-year-old Collin Klein would not quit. The whole way home she heard him talking to himself. Pedal through the pain, he was saying. Pedal through the pain.

2 Other sayings attributed to Klein include “Gosh,” “Golly,” “Jeepers,” “Oh, heck,” and, at least once, when a high school basketball teammate complained about the required running in practice, “Don’t get bees in your bonnet.”

3 In September, for a segment on ESPN’s College GameDay, Scott Van Pelt visited Klein on the Kansas State campus. Klein has scored more rushing touchdowns (46) in the past two seasons than any other quarterback in any two seasons in Football Bowl Subdivision history, and he has done so on an astounding 471 carries, which means he has taken a pounding that is extraordinary for a quarterback. So Van Pelt asked Klein about his toughness, and Klein dodged the question, talking instead about how tough his teammates were. Van Pelt relayed an encouraging text message from Tim Tebow, to whom Klein has been favorably compared, and Klein said, “I respect the heck out of him.” As they walked off the field together, Van Pelt said, “For a tough guy, Collin, you have an artistic side, too. If only we could find a stage with a giant piano.” So they found one, and Klein played a fine rendition of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” as Van Pelt danced a little jig.

That’s what you saw on television. The rest of the story is this. Bill Snyder, the Wildcats’ ancient and venerated coach, releases as little information as possible on the injuries of his players. He has his reasons. For one, dark and terrible things happen in the pile on the field, and if the other guys know you’re hurting in a particular place, they just might grab you there and make it even worse. Well, Klein had, in fact, been hurt in Kansas State’s 52–13 win over Miami on Sept. 8. But he couldn’t tell Van Pelt. Sure, he could have responded to the piano request with “No, thanks” or “I don’t feel like it.” But Collin Klein has always quietly done what was asked of him. And so he banged out the “Maple Leaf Rag” without complaint while his right hand throbbed with the pain of a broken finger.

4 Violin, mandolin. He plays those too.

When A Chocolate Puck Tasted Like America

So much good in here. Dan Barry: There was a time; admit it. There was a time when, if given a choice between a warm pastry fresh from a baker’s oven and an ageless package of Ring Dings fresh from the 7-Eleven, you would have chosen those Ring Dings. Not even close.

After opening the tinfoil or cellophane wrapping with curatorial care, so as not to disturb the faux-chocolate frosting, you would have gently removed the puck-shaped treat and taken a bite deep enough to reveal crème — not cream, but crème — so precious that a cow’s participation was incidental to its making.

You did not care that this processed food product in your trembling hand was an industrial step or two removed from becoming the heel of a shoe. You already knew that not everything is good for you, and this was never truer than with a Twinkie, a Sno Ball, or a Ring Ding — the Ding Dong equivalent in the Northeast.

To you, they all tasted like, like: America.

Standing Up

Two Parts.

Molly Hennessey-Fiske: After the nightmares started, Davien Graham avoided his bicycle.

In his dreams, he pedaled his silver BMX bike through his neighborhood, heard gunfire and died.

If I stay off my bike, I’ll be safe, he thought.

He placed it in a backyard shed, where it sat for months. But Jan. 12, 2008, dawned so spectacular that Davien decided to risk it.

He ate Cap’n Crunch Berries cereal, grabbed the bike and rode a half-mile west to Calvary Grace, a Southern Baptist church that was his haven.

Davien lived with an unemployed aunt and uncle, a former Crip, and five other kids in a cramped four-bedroom house in Monrovia, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles.

Yet as a 16-year-old junior at Monrovia High School, Davien earned A’s and B’s, played JV football and volunteered with the video club. He cleaned the church on Saturdays for minimum wage.

If I live right, God will protect me.

(Thanks, Mark)

On A Quest To Preserve History in Pelham, Texas

Dave Tarrant (paywall): PELHAM – The 50-year-old tree growing near Catherine Porter’s front porch sags from the weight of pecans the size of golf balls. The clusters of green husks are so heavy, they’re breaking the branches that are brittle from lack of rain.

The drought has been as wicked as any she’s seen, including the Texas drought of the ’50s and the Dust Bowl of the ’30s.

At least $100 worth of pecans are ripe for the picking. All she has to do is gather them in a barrel and take them to Corsicana, 25 miles away. Just climb a ladder and knock them down with a stick. But Catherine is 93, and she’s not getting around as easily since her hip started bothering her. Her husband, J.B, a year older, doesn’t stir much from his easy chair these days.

There was a time when Pelham, a rural enclave just a 90-minute drive south from Dallas, seemed nearly to burst with people – brothers and sisters, cousins, neighbors, and everywhere you looked, boys and girls sprinting here and there like jackrabbits.