Funeral

Konrad Marshall: Christopher Ryan Lane should not be present at this mournful event, on this mercifully mild winter morning. He grew up here but he does not belong in this place. Not in this moment.

He should be over there, far away, across the pacific and beyond the rockies and past the bronzed expanse of southwest, ensconsed in the hospitable warmth of a cornfed small town in Middle America.

Restaurants Were His Life

Liz Robbins: The tales of Colin Devlin’s generosity sound like fables. Once, though he was nearly broke and working as a bartender, he pulled $1,000 out of his sock and gave it to a friend starting a restaurant.

When Mr. Devlin opened DuMont, the first of his three pioneering restaurants in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he offered free meals to loyal customers and new friends, whom he made instantly. He adopted the ugliest, most unwanted dogs; his favorite was Remy, a mutt with a backward paw.

“Everyone fell in love with Colin,” said Dr. Michael Conroy, 41, his best friend growing up in Philadelphia. “We had him as some demigod.”

Before dawn on July 25, Mr. Devlin was found 38 miles south of his Pennsylvania farmhouse in the cemetery of Chestnut Hill Church, outside Allentown. A worker restoring the steeple spotted a white BMW sport utility vehicle on the private road inside the cemetery, and then, upon inspection, a body, face down, by the far woods. Mr. Devlin had shot himself in the head, the police said; he was holding a .38 revolver that belonged to him.

(thanks, Stephen)

The Match Maker: Bobby Riggs, The Mafia and The Battle of the Sexes

Don Van Natta Jr.: … All of the vaudevillian hoopla made it easy to forget the enormous stakes and the far-reaching social consequences. King was playing not just for public acceptance of the women’s game but also an opportunity to prove her gender’s equality at a time when women could still not obtain a credit card without a man’s signature. If she were to defeat Bobby Riggs, the triumph would be shared by every woman who knew she deserved equal pay, opportunities and respect. Equally sweet, King would cram shut the mouth of a male chauvinist clown who had chortled that a woman belonged in the bedroom and the kitchen but certainly not in the same arena competing against a man. For Riggs, the $100,000 winner-take-all match offered big money and a perfect launching pad to a late-in-life career playing exhibition matches against women.

It seemed a certain payday for him. Four months earlier, Riggs had crushed Margaret Court, the world’s No. 1 women’s tennis player, 6-2, 6-1, in an exhibition labeled by the media as the “Mother’s Day Massacre.” Court’s defeat had persuaded King to play Riggs. Nearly everyone in tennis expected a similarly lopsided result. On the ABC broadcast, Pancho Gonzales, John Newcombe and even 18-year-old Chrissie Evert predicted Riggs would defeat King, then the No. 2-ranked woman. In Las Vegas, the smart money was on Bobby Riggs. Jimmy the Greek declared, “King money is scarce. It’s hard to find a bet on the girl.”

But by aggressively attacking the net and smashing precision shots, King ran a winded, out-of-shape Riggs all over the court. Riggs made a slew of unforced errors, hitting soft returns directly at King or into the net and double-faulting at key moments, including on set point in the first set. “I don’t understand,” Cosell said after a King winner off a Riggs backhand. “He’s been feeding her that backhand all night.” Midway through the third set, Riggs looked drained and complained of hand cramps. After King took match point, winning in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, Riggs mustered the energy to hop the net. “I underestimated you,” he whispered in King’s ear.

Several hours later, Bobby Riggs lay in an ice bath in the Tarzan Room of Houston’s AstroWorld Hotel. Despondent and alone, Riggs contemplated lowering his head into the icy water and drowning himself.

“This was the worst thing in the world I’ve ever done,” Bobby Riggs later told his son, Larry, about his defeat before the whole world. “The worst thing I’ve ever done.”

The Line Of Fire

Katy Vine: Although the city of West sits just off Interstate 35, on a stretch twenty miles north of Waco that is saturated with harried drivers, the town itself is tranquil. A couple of blocks from the highway, past the public elementary school and the 1912 yellow-brick city hall, a set of raised railroad tracks offers a view of West’s small, historic downtown, where on late afternoons the city’s relaxed rhythm is apparent. At Sam’s Barber Shop, Sam Pinter is usually sweeping the hair off the floor and tidying the combs and clippers. Around the corner, the night-shift bakers at the Village Bakery are starting to make kolaches in the cavernous back room, while locals begin to trickle in at the Czech-American Restaurant (“Home of the original Czech fries”) and Nors Sausage and Burger House, where they know to order the spicy link with a side of sauerkraut.

At the Old Corner Drug Store, where residents of West have had their prescriptions filled since the late 1800’s, closing time means finishing up a few last orders. This is what pharmacist Kirk Wines was doing on Wednesday, April 17, before heading out into the balmy spring evening. A robust 59-year-old with short white hair, he had served the town’s 2,800 people as a pharmacist for thirty years, and now, at 5:30, just like every other evening, he set the alarm, locked the doors, and walked out to the back alley, where he’d parked his silver Ford truck. Turning on a sports radio station, he pulled onto a wide road and headed east to a well site where the local water co-op board, of which he was a member, had scheduled a brief meeting. As he drove, Wines passed homes with tidy lawns and porches, which eventually dropped away to reveal lush farmland.

After the meeting, Wines returned home to the one-story brick house he shared with his wife, just north of downtown. A little before 7:30, their son, Brad, stopped by to help his father fiddle with an old lawn tractor. The two were in Wines’s workshop when Wines heard his fire department pager go off. As a member of West’s all-volunteer force, he carried the battery-operated device at all times, and he was used to hearing the telltale beeps at inopportune moments. In the years since he’d joined, around 2000, he’d had to respond to emergency calls more than once a week, sometimes leaving the pharmacy in the middle of the day to put out a brush fire or spray down a car that had burst into flames.

Crossing A Bridge Where A Sniper Waits

Our old friend Raja Abdulrahim: Battoul makes her way around the smashed bus full of sandbags and steps into sniper territory. A man balancing a large box of produce on his left shoulder, cilantro peeking out, is close on her heels.

“Hurry, hurry,” he says. “This is not the time to walk slowly.”

She tries to blend into the crowd making its way over the 300-yard stretch of no man’s land that divides the two Aleppos: one held by the rebels, one by the government.

Every day, a government sniper holed up in City Hall picks off at least a few people. On good days, no one dies.

People call it the crossing of death.

Once, Battoul and her sister saw a 4-year-old boy pleading with his mother not to take him over the bridge that spans the Queiq River, the scariest part of the crossing.

“I don’t want to die,” he said, crying. The boy continued to beg his mother, who was holding a baby in her arms, until Battoul’s sister scooped up the boy and carried him, crying and screaming, across the bridge.

The first time Battoul crossed, she kept replaying all the terrifying stories she had heard. But once across safely, her fear slipped away.

“Life has to go on,” she says. “People cross and someone gets shot and they pick up the martyr and keep going.”

Through The Fire

Dave Tarrant and Sarah Mervosh: He sat alone in the dark, the tip of his Marlboro glowing red with burning ash.

After the fire and the explosion and the mushrooming black cloud that spread over the town like a shroud, C.J. Gillaspie found himself in his office. It was the one place in all of West where he could be alone.

It was several hours after he and the other firefighters had responded to the most dangerous call of their lives. Gillaspie didn’t want to see anyone. He didn’t want to talk, or explain what he’d seen.

Gillaspie, who is West’s public works director and a captain in the fire department, had been a commander at the scene of the fire at West Fertilizer Co. that night.

He thought about the men who were like brothers, volunteers who made up West’s fire department. Its 30 members include the town’s constable, a pharmacist, repairmen, city employees and insurance salesmen. Across Texas, 8 in 10 fire departments are volunteer.

Each of West’s firefighters wears a pager. When the dispatcher calls, they drop whatever they’re doing. And they go. Most of the calls are for brush fires. Sometimes it’s a two-car crash on a back country road at 3 a.m. Whatever it is, they show up — without pay — to keep their town safe.

Because somebody’s got to do it.

‘I’d Like To Have Everything, You Know, Nice.’

Good question from Roy Peter Clark: I’ve been thinking a lot recently of the famous piece — about 1,100 words — that Jimmy Breslin wrote 50 years ago this November for the New York Herald Tribune on the burial of the assassinated president JFK. What stands out — after a half century — was Breslin’s focus on the gravedigger.

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

When Pollard got to the row of yellow wooden garages where the cemetery equipment is stored, Kawalchik and John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, were waiting for him. “Sorry to pull you out like this on a Sunday,” Metzler said. “Oh, don’t say that,” Pollard said. “Why, it’s an honor for me to be here.” Pollard got behind the wheel of a machine called a reverse hoe. Gravedigging is not done with men and shovels at Arlington. The reverse hoe is a green machine with a yellow bucket that scoops the earth toward the operator, not away from it as a crane does. At the bottom of the hill in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Pollard started the digging.

Leaves covered the grass. When the yellow teeth of the reverse hoe first bit into the ground, the leaves made a threshing sound which could be heard above the motor of the machine. When the bucket came up with its first scoop of dirt, Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, walked over and looked at it. “That’s nice soil,” Metzler said. “I’d like to save a little of it,” Pollard said. “The machine made some tracks in the grass over here and I’d like to sort of fill them in and get some good grass growing there, I’d like to have everything, you know, nice.”

Thousands of journalists have been inspired and drawn practical lessons from this piece, which made me wonder if this isn’t the most influential “mentor text” of all time. Thought it might make a good question for your Gangrey readers. If the answer is no, there are more influential stories, would would they be?

A Stranger Took A Life, And Justice Took Its Time

Louis Hansen: Manuel Montez walked with a Colorado sheriff’s deputy into a small room.

Two Norfolk detectives entered and closed the door.

Montez, a weathered man in his mid-50s, sat in a chair, unshackled, wearing prison clothes.

“I know exactly why you’re here,” Montez said. He added to himself, What took you so long?

Detective Rick Malbon took the lead. The investigator had worked more than 100 cases, tracking killers for weeks, months, even years. But never had he pulled a case like this one.

Malbon handed Montez a waiver of rights – a written Miranda warning – and went over it line by line. Montez reached the part about giving up his right to an attorney. The inmate looked up. “Am I going to be charged?”

“Possible,” Malbon said. It was September 2010 and Montez had a few months left to serve in a state prison in rural Kit Carson County. His wife and children needed him to get out and back to work. He didn’t want new charges.

“I’m going to roll the dice,” he said.

(Thanks, Mike)

Chronic Crisis

Take a look at this four-part series from Meg Kissinger.

Part 1: San Francisco — Rob Sweeney sucked on an unlit cigarette while his mother stood at the car rental counter, trying to negotiate a better deal.

His legs twitched. His eyes darted right and left. His head bobbed to a beat no one else could hear.

After two airplane flights, he was antsy.

“Want to get some vodka and watch movies in my hotel room?” he asked the stranger sitting next to him.

Rob, 25, has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a catch-all term for a brain disease that causes a combination of delusions, paranoia, depression and mania. He has spent the past six years churning through Milwaukee County’s troubled mental health system, cycling week-to-week from house to hospital to homeless shelter.

Now he and his mother, Debbie Sweeney, have come to California in a desperate search to find a safe place for him to live.

Rob does things that make his mother sick with worry.

He walks into traffic, spits on people’s cars, yells racist slurs out bus windows, writes suicide notes, puts cigarettes out on his forehead and cuts his arms to make himself feel better.

He imagines people are trying to kill him.

Who Is Nick Beef?

Here’s Dan Barry: FORT WORTH — In a corner of the Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery, close to a chain-link fence that separates the living and the dead, a patch of ground has been worn free of grass by all who come to stare at one particular gravestone. With just a surname, the marker says it all: OSWALD.

But in the half-century since a slight, sallow man named Lee Harvey Oswald killed President John F. Kennedy, so much continues to be said about the assassination that the various conspiracy devices and theories are nearly as familiar as the tragic event itself. The Magic Bullet theory. The Zapruder film. The Umbrella Man. The Mafia. Jack Ruby. Fidel Castro.

And, of course, Nick Beef. Or, more accurately, NICK BEEF.

For the last 15 years, this curious name has vexed the obsessive assassination buffs who make regular pilgrimages to the Oswald plot here in Fort Worth. That is because a pinkish granite marker suddenly appeared beside the assassin’s grave sometime in 1997. And all it said was Nick Beef.