Cut Short

Jacob Jones: Enclosed in the broken glass and crushed steel of a crumpled 1969 Plymouth Fury, Margaret Nordhagen sits next to the love of her life. Both of them are dying. For more than 68 years, Floyd had held her steady. Together they carved out a simple life near Chattaroy, raising four children and scores of cattle on 80 acres of hayfield and black pine.

In his 92 years, Floyd boasted of few things except a strong heart and Margaret. A child of the Depression, he worked the Bremerton shipyard during World War II. He later logged, ran a salvage business, and for nearly 50 years farmed the land his parents tended before him.

While Floyd left school after eighth grade, Margaret, 88, graduated as valedictorian of her high school. She worked most of her life as a bookkeeper for both Montgomery Ward and her church. She insisted on managing the family’s checkbook as well as the kitchen.

Never apart for more than a few hours at a time, the Nordhagens held together through good years and bad years, anniversaries and Alzheimer’s, growing old side by side. She would follow him anywhere, and together they set out on a sunny October afternoon for a quick errand just 10 miles down the road. It’s there on Newport Highway, north of Spokane, that the couple’s car collides with a Ford pickup, cutting their trip short.

How do you say goodbye to such a man after such a long time together?

We can never know.

What is certain, though, is that as sirens close in on the crash site, Margaret reaches across the front seat. She grabs Floyd’s hand.

Not to be left behind, she is still holding on as emergency responders check Floyd’s fading pulse.

Saving Bobbi

Pam Louwagie: Opening the door, he paused to let his eyes adjust from the bright light of the summer day outside before he could see her.

The girl was huddled with a friend on a grimy mattress on the floor, lolling in a methamphetamine haze.

Instruments of modern-day bondage lay scattered about: A drug pipe keeping her in a meth-induced stupor, willing to do almost anything for the next high. A prepaid credit card. Three cellphones, tethering the girls to pimps and johns 24/7.

Dressed up in white lingerie and thick eye shadow, Bobbi Larson was just 17 and a long way from home.

“What’s going on?” she yelled when she heard people in the hall of the Minneapolis bungalow.

Then a man about her dad’s age walked in, shirt untucked over faded blue jeans, head shaved bald, a stubble of beard on his face. There was nothing unusual about that. Bobbi had learned to expect all kinds of men to show up. Rich professionals and blue-collar johns. Men from rough parts of town and those who drove in from posh suburbs, buying sex with girls as young as their own daughters.

He was careful about the tone of voice he used, aiming for compassion. “I’m Sgt. Snyder, Minneapolis police,” he recalled saying. “I’ve been looking fo you girls. You guys OK?”

The Book Of Tebow

T Lake: He arrives early, wearing a white T-shirt and red cotton shorts, and during the handshake he reaches out with his free hand, as if to say, I’m open to hugging, but I’ll leave it up to you. You would like him. He would like you. You would like Tim Tebow because he actually looks at you, instead of the floor, or the cars rolling past on Santa Monica Boulevard, and his mind seems nowhere else but here, with you, in this conference room at a law firm in Los Angeles, at 2:25 p.m. on a Tuesday in late October. He asks how your flight was, and are you hungry, or thirsty, and when you take a glass of water he asks would you like some ice, and you say no, and he says yes, of course you would, and pours ice in another glass.

This meeting has taken five months to arrange. He apologizes for having declined several previous interview requests and having told his close friends and relatives to do the same. Tebow loves to talk, with anyone, anywhere, about things both trivial and profound. But his fame has overshadowed his football career, threatening to destroy it, forcing him into seclusion. Football executives who consider signing him fear they will also be signing the Tim Tebow Circus, an unnerving combination of satellite trucks and fan-sponsored billboards, and Tebow cannot afford to appear to be seeking more attention. A note to those executives: If Tebow and his advisors had their way from the outset, this story never would have been written.


Dan Barry: PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The last full-time employee in the tallest building in Rhode Island has grown accustomed to the 26 stories of emptiness. He doesn’t even hear the absence anymore — that silent roar of business not transacted.

“At first it was very weird,” says Paul Almeida, the chief engineer and resident optimist for a 428-foot Art Deco skyscraper that has defined the Providence cityscape since 1928. “Then, all of a sudden, it was nothing.”

Just another job. Single-handedly maintaining a skyscraper that once announced Providence as a Gotham of industry, but whose soaring hollowness today only nags at the city’s sense of self-worth. Like a chastened Ozymandias, it whispers: Now what?

Inside The MMA

Matthew Stanmyer: At 11 o’clock on a Thursday night in August, the thermostat inside George Sullivan’s apartment is cranked to 90 degrees.

This might as well be hell.

Over the next 20 hours, Sullivan, a professional mixed martial arts fighter from Brick, must lose 13 pounds. If he fails to shed the weight — 7 percent of his 184 pounds — he will jeopardize a full payday for his fight two nights later in Atlantic City.

Sullivan steps into his small, white-tiled bathroom and slathers his muscular body with Albolene makeup remover. The cleanser opens pores and makes it easier for sweat to flow. Next, he puts on a rubber sauna suit to raise his body temperature and draws a hot bath he will fill with 8 pounds of Epsom salts and 10 pints of isopropyl rubbing alcohol to draw moisture from his body.

“This smells,” Sullivan says. “It makes you light-headed. You’re miserable. Plus, the alcohol is burning every cut.”

Sullivan strips and eases into the scalding water.

“Ahh!” he howls. “It burns!”

(thanks, Jackie)


Peter Cooper: On Nov. 10, 1973, Tex Ritter stood on the Ryman Auditorium stage and brought David “Stringbean” Akeman to the “Grand Ole Opry.”

“Stringbean, like Grandpa Jones, since the ‘Hee Haw’ shows is playing a lot of colleges,” Ritter said, “he’s playing all over the country, and he doesn’t work for his old price anymore. Give a hand to Stringbean!”

And they did, and the scarecrow-looking banjo player shuffled his way into view of the Ryman crowd. He told a joke about informing a curious ticket-holder that he was part of the show and the woman responding, “Lord help the other part.” Then he said, “Let’s have a sing-along!”

And they did, with Stringbean’s voice at the forefront.

“When you live out in the country, everybody is your neighbor, on this one thing you can rely,” he sang.

And perhaps you could. But it hasn’t been that way in Middle Tennessee for 40 years. On the chilled morning of Nov. 11, 1973, Stringbean Akeman, 57, and his wife, Estelle, 59, were found murdered on their Goodlettsville property, out in the country. The killings were cause for grieving, anger and paranoia and marked the end of country music’s innocent era.

(thanks, Bret)

Bridge Day

Jeremy Markovich: Cody Adams takes a drag off his cigarette, and looks over at Andy Smith.

“You scared yet?” he asks.

“Definitely scared,” Smith tells him. “I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not.”

“It’s good to be scared,” Adams says.

Adams and Smith stand in the fog in the middle of the 3,030 foot-long New River Gorge Bridge, in the dark blue of an October dawn in West Virginia, 876 feet above the water below. Adams is skinny, with a gray hoodie, a shaved head and camouflage pants. Smith wears his long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. He flashes a nervous smile through his beard. Both of them rode down from Pennsylvania with a group of 10 people. They drove six and a half hours to be here.

“This is definitely a BASE jump,” Smith states, with a tense laugh.

“Yes. It is,” Adams says, dryly.

Around them, the other BASE jumpers are setting up metal barricades, staircases and everything else they’ll need to make Bridge Day work smoothly. Next to them is the flatbed truck that holds up the platform they’ll jump from later. A photographer looks at the bucket he’ll be standing in all day — it’ll swing out over the edge so he can get shots of jumpers coming right at him. His will be one of four cameras that capture every jump, generating about 25,000 images in six hours.

Smith has already looked over the side of the bridge 10 times. Adams puffs on his cigarette. This will be Adams’s second BASE jump. It will be Smith’s first.

Adams was here the year before he went to basic training at Ft. Sill. The first time he jumped from the bridge, in 2011, he threw his pilot chute before his feet flew over the edge. This year, he wants to do a backward somersault. A gainer.

“Kinda cold out here,” Adams says, and lights another cigarette.

Andre Dawkins Has A Story

And Brandon Sneed tried his best to write it, even though he wasn’t sure he should. This brings up a good question that Brandon wrestled with during the reporting and writing process. At what point should we give up and walk away from a story? When you have an unwilling subject, what are the compelling reasons that make you write a feature story anyway? (Yes, “My editor made me” counts as an answer.)

The Girl In The Closet

Scott Farwell: Lauren is alone in the dark.
She’s naked, sitting cross-legged in her own filth, eyes focused on a sliver of light.

It’s all she has, that light.

It glows from underneath a locked closet door, and Lauren’s discovered if she stares at it long enough, her mind will open a portal to another place.

Doctors say that’s how she survived all the years of starvation and solitude and sexual torture. They call it disassociation — the psyche’s ability to float away from the pain.

Lauren calls it her “escape hatch.”

(thanks, Nigel)

A World Away, The Seventh Game

Dan Barry: The Protestant minister and the Roman Catholic priest had a $10 bet riding on the 1946 World Series. The minister, a Lutheran from Missouri, went with the St. Louis Cardinals, naturally. The priest, a Franciscan from upstate New York, was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, but he went with the Boston Red Sox to make things interesting.

These men of the cloth had earned this minor vice.

For the last 11 months, they had served as the chaplains at Nuremberg prison in Germany, offering spiritual counsel to the first Nazis to be tried for war crimes in the rubbed-raw wake of World War II. Among their flock were architects of genocide, responsible for the murder of many millions, most of them Jews.

Now it was mid-October, and this initial phase of postwar judgment was nearing its climactic end in a courts-and-prison complex called the Palace of Justice. The pastoral work of the Lutheran, the Rev. Henry Gerecke, and the Franciscan, the Rev. Sixtus O’Connor, was almost done.