The Big Why

Last night on Twitter, emboldened by a combination of Pamela Colloff and Woodford Reserve, Ben was moved to declare, “All you sports folks, I love what most of you do, but there are innocent people on death row. Redirect your energy.”

He has since retreated from the statement. (Most of us, including myself, have tweeted something we wished we could un-tweet.) But I think it brings up several important questions. Why do you do this work? How often is it just a job, a series of tasks in exchange for money and a byline, and how often does it feel like a calling? When thinking about what story to pursue, how often does the question of “HOW WILL THIS MAKE THE WORLD BETTER” come into play? Is it enough to do an honest night’s work for an honest night’s pay? Or do we all need to find a way to right a wrong with our work?

American Sniper

Michael J. Mooney: There’s a story about Chris Kyle: on a cold January morning in 2010, he pulled into a gas station somewhere along Highway 67, south of Dallas. He was driving his supercharged black Ford F350 outfitted with black rims and oversize knobby mudding tires. Kyle had replaced the Ford logo on the grill with a small chrome skull, similar to the Punisher emblem from the Marvel Comics series, and added a riot-ready aftermarket grill guard bearing the words ROAD ARMOR. He had just left the Navy and moved back to Texas.

Two guys approached him with pistols and demanded his money and the keys to his truck. With his hands in the air, he sized up which man seemed most confident with his gun.

Kyle knew what confidence with a gun looked like. He was the deadliest sniper in American history. He had at least 160 confirmed kills by the Pentagon’s count, but by his own count—and the accounts of his Navy SEAL teammates—the number was closer to twice that. In his four tours of duty in Iraq, Kyle earned two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor. He survived six IED attacks, three gunshot wounds, two helicopter crashes, and more surgeries than he could remember. He was known among his SEAL brethren as The Legend and to his enemies as al-Shaitan, “the devil.”

He told the robbers that he just needed to reach back into the truck to get the keys. He turned around and reached under his winter coat instead, into his waistband. With his right hand, he grabbed his Colt 1911. He fired two shots under his left armpit, hitting the first man twice in the chest. Then he turned slightly and fired two more times, hitting the second man twice in the chest. Both men fell dead.

Kyle leaned on his truck and waited for the police.

When they arrived, they detained him while they ran his driver’s license. But instead of his name, address, and date of birth, what came up was a phone number at the Department of Defense. At the other end of the line was someone who explained that the police were in the presence of one of the most skilled fighters in U.S. military history. When they reviewed the surveillance footage, the officers found the incident had happened just as Kyle had described it. They were very understanding, and they didn’t want to drag a just-home, highly decorated veteran into a messy legal situation.

Kyle wasn’t unnerved or bothered. Quite the opposite. He’d been feeling depressed since he left the service, struggling to adjust to civilian life. This was an exciting reminder of the action he missed.

That night, talking on the phone to his wife, Taya, who was in the process of moving with their kids from California, he was a good husband. He asked how her day was. The way some people tell it, he got caught up in their conversation, and only right before they hung up did he remember his big news of the day: “Oh, yeah, I shot two guys trying to steal my truck today.”

Mark Prior In The Present Tense

Doug Miller:

The sun is hot on top of a hill in San Diego and the house is white, so white that it looks perfect. A late-model 1990s sedan stops in the middle of the quiet street in the old neighborhood lined with Spanish-style super-casas, mid-century modern showpieces and other glittering fortresses of privilege.

The men in the sedan, who are probably in their 40s, are not close enough to the house to see the sculpted tufts of grass or the doormat marked by the letter P, but they gaze with curiosity through the open garage door and get a good look at the folks who have just exited the family Range Rover. The father is a tall, athletic-looking guy with sunglasses resting atop his brown hair. His wife is a pretty, fit blonde. The two little girls and one little boy who are rustling about look more like their mother — light hair and blue eyes. They’re smiling and laughing and waiting for the next bit of fun in a busy day. The mom ushers them into the house for snacks while the dad lingers.

“Hey,” the guy riding shotgun calls out. “Can I ask you something?”


Be Of Good Cheer

Chris Jones: For as long as anyone can remember, Monday night has been Manly Night at the Playboy Mansion. A little after five o’clock, nine or ten of Hugh Hefner’s best friends — invited guests, holders of inner-circle memberships that will be good until death — start pulling up outside the front gate. They talk into what looks like a big round rock, and a disembodied voice questions and admits them, sometimes sounding surprised about it—”Oh, hey, you can come up” — and the gate swings open, revealing a hedge-lined driveway and two yellow warning signs: BRAKE FOR ANIMALS and PLAYMATES AT PLAY. The Mansion soon looms at the top of a rise, a Gothic pile with leaded glass windows that overlook immaculate grounds tended by men in green work shirts, each with the familiar white rabbit stitched on the chest. The guests ease up next to a marble fountain topped by a cherub molesting a dolphin, and then they head through the Mansion’s thick wood front door and into the appropriately named Great Hall, where there are several large portraits of their host watched over by a full-sized statue of Frankenstein.

Ray Anthony, the ninety-one-year-old trumpeter and bandleader, is usually the first of the men to show up, with either a hat or a toupee on his head. Fred Dryer, the former football player and actor, also arrives, still looking capable of feats of strength, his hands the size of dinner plates. Johnny Crawford, the former child star (The Rifleman) and teen idol (“Cindy’s Birthday”), wanders in, as does eighty-four-year-old Keith Hefner, the younger brother and only sibling of the more famous of the Hefner boys. More ordinary men join the gathering as well — a retired kindergarten teacher named Mark Cantor, a movie-memorabilia expert named Ron Borst, a producer named Kevin Burns. The youngest and newest member, Jeremy Arnold, is a film historian and writer. He’s been admitted to Manly Night for only a year or so, after spending ten years in the less-exclusive Movie Nights’ farm club — Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays — and he still walks around with a bemused smile, as though he’s not quite sure how he ended up here or doesn’t believe he has. All these men somehow drifted into Hefner’s orbit, and for whatever reason he decided to snare them, the way a planet collects satellites. Now they will never escape his gravity. They will never try.

Return To Little Lake Nellie

Remember the classic Gary Smith story on the boating accident that killed two big-league pitchers?

Here’s Anthony Castrovince with the next chapter (thanks, Doug):

The cloudless sky, the shining sun and the still waters betray the truth of what happened here.

This is where the world lost you, Tim, and you, Steve. On Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Fla. This is where you boarded a black power boat shortly after sundown on March 22, 1993, hoping the bass would be biting on that overcast evening. This is where you saw the headlights flashing from the shore, alerting you that the rest of your friends had arrived. This is where you hit the gas, Tim, not knowing that, in the blackness of a night with a new moon, the 18-foot, open-air Skeeter had drifted out toward the unlit dock on the opposite shore — a 185-foot-long wooden structure that extended far into the water. This is where the boat slammed, head-high, into the end of that dock.

Mean Streets

Evan West (thanks, Tony): I was walking the cracked and crumbling sidewalk along the street where I grew up, on the near-east side of Indianapolis, with my dog, a basset hound named Roscoe, when we heard two muffled claps. Someone in the neighborhood occasionally sets off makeshift, window-rattling bombs for fun, at odd intervals throughout the day. So we’re used to bangs. But this clap-clap was different, as if a pair of heavy wooden doors had fallen flat on a bare floor. The dog stopped, perked his ears a little, and then walked on.
It was just after lunchtime on a cold Wednesday in December 2009. I had moved back into my old neighborhood a little more than a month before and had already settled into a fairly regular routine. Self-employed and working from home, I often walked Roscoe after lunch through Spades Park, a serene patchwork of grass and trees that flanks Pogue’s Run creek west of Rural Street. Or, as on that day, we would go up the street to my old house, the one my dad and mom bought nearly 40 years ago, and Roscoe would sniff around the backyard, where the sandbox and swing set used to be.

When we arrived at Dad’s, he was in his garage, rummaging around in boxes and coffee cans. My neighbor from across the way, a longtime friend named Maciej Zurawski, was there, too. A few days earlier, Maciej’s home, a quaint Arts and Crafts bungalow atop a steep hill, on an enviable double lot obscured by soaring pines, had been burglarized. He was going to install a new steel security door and came to my dad for drill bits and screws. We chatted as my dad dug through hardware. This, I thought, this is why I moved back to a neighborhood otherwise plagued by blight and crime. I had family on this street, and friends, the kind of neighbors a guy can pop in on, hit up for hardware, and, from time to time, crack a few beers with.

The Execution Of Andrew Allen Cook

Joe Kovac Jr.: BUTTS COUNTY — After hours of waiting, Andrew Allen Cook’s execution moved quickly to conclusion late Thursday once the process began.

Cook was guided into the death chamber on the back side of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center about 10:45 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 11:22.

In his final statement, Cook seemed remorseful.

“I would like to apologize to the victims’ families. … I apologize. It was senseless. I’m sorry,” he said. “I know y’all cannot forgive me. I’m not going to ask y’all to.”

Deer, Re-Purposed

Robert Samuels: The field was barren, all dead grass and half-frozen mud until two weeks ago, when copious amounts of yellow corn mysteriously started to appear on the ground. Fairfax County police poured it there, creating an oasis of food for herds of hungry deer.

Now, as dusk descends, Master Police Officer Bob Swartz appears, dressed in camouflage and carrying a .308 sniper rifle. When he shoots, he rarely misses.

Two Bloodstains On The Rocks Below

Mike Mooney sent me the link to this story by Michael Graff. Please read it, and then let’s talk about it. I was riveted.


You think you know them. You’re watching from home. You were raised on Terrapins basketball, and you’ve followed this group for four years. They’re your age, about 22 at the time, and they’re winning. On the television broadcast, the announcers have already started wondering whose name will be tied to the final basket. They talk like they have a secret wish. But you share it with them, and so does everybody else in the state. The perfect person, the storybook ending, would be him.

He’s listed at 6 feet tall. But he’s actually only 5’9, something you’ll learn later while reading his autopsy report.