Into The Black

Charles Anderson in New Zealand: He awakes alone in the black at 12.03am. He does not look at the clock but he knows the time. He cannot see their faces but he knows who they are. The silhouettes surround him in silence. He is not afraid. He closes his eyes and remembers their story. It is his too.

He remembers the taste of salt, the smell of gasoline, the constant slap of water against his skin. He remembers what absolute loneliness feels like.

He will say he was ready to die. He will say his entire life led up to the moment when he decided not to.

There were nine, including him. They had set out together on a boat called the Easy Rider. The only difference in their story is that he is alive and they are not.

Expos Nation

It’s been 10 years today since Montreal’s beloved baseball team played its last game. Adam Gopnik attended every Expos home opener from the very first, in 1969, until he left for New York in 1981.


I shut my eyes, and I think, God help me, that I can actually summon that opening-day lineup from forty-five years past. Let me try (no googling or post hoc emendation, I promise): first base, Bob Bailey; second base, Gary Sutherland; shortstop, Bobby Wine; third base, Coco Laboy; right field, Rusty Staub; centre field, someone like Don Hahn; left field, Mack Jones; catcher, John Bateman; pitcher, Mudcat Grant. How did I do? Let me see…not too badly, though it is strange I forgot it was Maury Wills—the only original Expo who had any kind of shot at the Hall of Fame—who actually started at shortstop. Strange and perhaps significant: I edit out their small chance at excellence, because we didn’t really ask that the Expos be excellent. They were merely special, in ways that I suspect the far more successful teams—I almost wrote “franchises”—were not.

When they died in 2004, ten years ago this October, and found a new life as the Washington Nationals, the part of me that took its identity from baseball died too, and left me with little love for the game.

‘Do you find sentences fascinating?’

Dinty W. Moore of Brevity Magazine, in The Review Review: I have a standard answer for folks who ask me, “Do you think I should be a writer?” Or “Do you think I can succeed as a writer?”  My answer is, “Do you find sentences fascinating?” That’s what it comes down to in the end.  It is a good thing to live a rich life full of experiences, it is a good thing to have boundless curiosity about what drives people, it is a good thing to be disciplined, it is a good thing to see the world from interesting angles rather than straightforwardly and predictably, but after all of that — and all of that is important — you are alone in your room, changing and changing and restoring and reversing and starting sentences all over again, trying to decide “How do I capture this thought, feeling, scene, action on the page so that it pierces the reader’s awareness?”  If you find that latter process – at the level of word choice, the phrase, the sentence — fascinating, addictive even, then you’ll get where you want to be as a writer, eventually.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it is what I believe.

This is pulled from The Unslanted Truth: a Conversation With Four Editors of Today’s Premier Creative Nonfiction Literary Magazines. The four editors were Moore, Hattie Fletcher of Creative Nonfiction, Donna Talarico of Hippocampus Magazine and Sarah Wells of River Teeth Journal.

Lost Orphans

Scott Atkinson: FLINT, MI — Ermina Hagerman could not have known she was sending her children to die.

It was November 1885, and it was a desperate time. Her husband, Charles, had died just a month before. He had enlisted in the Civil War at 14, lying about his age, and had survived it all. But now at 34, he was gone, leaving Ermina — or Minnie, as she would be known all her life — alone with their four children. It would have been impossible in such a time for her not to think of how she should have had five children, had they not already lost Leo, one of her oldest twin boys, when he was small.

Minnie was 33 years old. The year 1885 was not a time when you would expect a woman with four children to work, and anyway, the village of Constantine, where she lived, was not one of great opportunity. “Nothing spectacular about it, other than the St. Joseph river flowing through it,” as one local historian said.

Minnie applied for government assistance. She had family in nearby Three Rivers, but they could offer only so much help when it came to her children. Rice and Grace, her two youngest, twins, were deaf.

In this, at least, there was hope. In a city called Flint, halfway up the state, there was a new school operating under what was still a radical idea: Perhaps the deaf and blind could be taught. Perhaps they were capable of learning like the rest of society, capable of learning skills, contributing to and participating in the world, and communicating with it. Her children would have a chance at a future, a trade and a voice.

It was also a boarding school. Minnie’s child-rearing load would be halved. And so she traveled with them, one after the other, to the Michigan Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, and returned home.

She could not have known that she was sending them to their deaths, nor could she have known that in time, her two youngest children would come to be called orphans, lost to history and forgotten for more than a century until someone came to find them.

Harvest of Change: Virtual reality journalism

The Des Moines Register has a new piece up. It looks like a video game, informs like journalism. They partnered with all kinds of people to put this thing together, combining photos, reporting, standard and 360-degree video and audio recording into a 3D rendering of an Iowa farm. The full package includes text, photos, video and the virtual reality environment. Learn more about how they did it and why.

Sharyn Jackson and Christopher Gannon (Part 1 of 5): 

On the lawn of a ranch house abutting rolling acres of emerald pasture, a red-haired girl, almost 7, leads a calf in circles with the help of her family.

It’s early July, and Jillian Dammann is getting ready to show her bottle calf, Olaf, at the Page County Fair. Her parents, Justin and Jennifer, are teaching her how to lead him, and her little brother, Jayden, is helping.

Named after a character in Disney’s “Frozen,” this calf from the Dammanns’ livestock breeding operation lost its source of sustenance when its mother died. So Jillian helps rear it, feeding Olaf milk from a bottle that’s bigger than the pink cowboy boots she wears, here in the southwest Iowa county where Jessie Field Shambaugh founded 4-H clubs more than a century ago.

Get the little details

Rob Rogers: By the end, they had just eight pieces of bread and a half tank of gas left.

It was Sunday night, Nov. 3, and Mark and Kristine Wathke, missing since Oct. 28, were sitting in their Kia Forte trapped in a foot of snow above 10,000 feet on the Beartooth Highway. They had come to the realization that probably they weren’t going to be found, that this was likely the end.

It had dropped to 7 degrees below zero that night; Mark’s water bottle, sitting in the back window, froze solid in a matter of hours.

Three from Bloomberg

Our pal Tim Loh, who left papers in Connecticut for Bloomberg News, graciously passed along three enterprise stories from the outfit better known for its bread-and-butter business coverage. Take a look.

Alex Nussbaum and David Voreacos: Even in the underbelly of North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields, the murder of Doug Carlile stands out, a tale of a Matt Damon look-alike felon, an Indian tribal leader and an accused hit man with a check list that included items like “practice with pistol.”

There’s even a voice from the grave: “If I disappear or wake up with bullets in my back, promise me you will let everyone know that James Henrikson did it.”

Those were the words Doug Carlile spoke to his family about his business partner before a masked gunman cut him down in the kitchen of his Spokane, Washington, house last December. Police say that Carlile’s murder was probably motivated by a series of complex business transactions that “went bad” in North Dakota’s oil fields.

Spurred by breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, North Dakota now produces more than 1 million barrels of crude a day, surpassing OPEC members such as Qatar and Ecuador. The Bakken’s output, along with surges in Texas and elsewhere, has the U.S. poised to overtake Saudi Arabia next year as the world’s biggest source of crude. Where Teddy Roosevelt once hunted bison, drilling rigs and work camps now crowd the horizon.

Along with oil prosperity has come a spasm of crime unlike any before on the prairie. Where farmers once sealed deals with a handshake, authorities now contend with drug gangs, meth labs, violent crimes, prostitution and investor fraud, all with the same aim in mind: making a quick score.

Tom Moroney: Holy moly!

Marc Gill, the big, bald, bearded genie at center stage, yanks a smorgasbord of heavenly treats from the Ronco Ready Grill.

Here comes the lollipop lamb for Dad and sensible salmon for Mom, and now hot dogs and chicken fingers for their curly-haired girl and two boys. Has our hungry crew stopped for a bite at their favorite all-you-can-eat joint? Better than that, this real-life family of five has landed supporting roles in one of the most anticipated infomercials of the fall season.

But wait, there’s more! Out of Gill’s furnace of fun — an oversized silver toaster-thingy –- emerges a rack of potatoes and asparagus. Gill looks into the camera and pauses to recover from what appears to be a bad case of wide-eyed astonishment.

“Are you kidding me!” he booms as he begins serving the hot goodies. “Who wants to be first?”

Ken Wells: “Let’s go shoot Savannah,” Tom Galjour says as we bounce along in his vanilla-colored Dodge Ram pickup. He’s at the wheel. We’re on a sleepy blacktop road meandering through a sprawl of sugarcane deep in bayou country outside of Houma, Louisiana, where Galjour lives.

It’s an adventure riding with Tom. An oxygen machine pings from his cluttered back seat, supplying the clear-plastic cannula looped over his head and fixed to his nostrils. He soon trades it for a nebulizer, giving himself a breathing treatment as he steers one-handed.

In case you’re wondering, Savannah isn’t a person. It’s Galjour’s affectionate name for his gun and, well, not just any gun. It’s a single-shot, bolt-action ArmaLite .50-caliber rifle. It weighs 35 pounds and is almost 5 feet long. Equipped with a scope, it shoots a projectile that breaks the sound barrier.

Skilled military snipers have used .50 calibers to pick off enemy combatants from more than a mile and a half away. It can penetrate 6-inch concrete walls, no problem, and pierce light armor. Galjour is supplying these data points with deadpan glee. He paid $4,000 for Savannah back when he had money and every shell he fires costs three bucks, but so what?

Last Review Of A Local Yelp Legend

Lori Kurtzman: Paul F. once gave a gas station a five-star review for its hot dogs. He tore into a breakfast restaurant for charging him a quarter for jelly. He wrote of an enjoyable lunch at an Indian buffet, though he noted, “I don’t have the foggiest idea of what I ate.”

He reviewed hospitals and auto repair shops, tailors and bakers. He ate pan-seared foie gras (“If I had it to do over I’d have skipped this one”) and fast-food dollar burgers (“And they weren’t too bad”). He reviewed a lunchtime trip to Kohl’s: “I was looking for underwear believe (it) or not. And they had just what I was looking for and the price was okay.”

Paul F. had opinions. He didn’t keep them to himself.

With Interest

Lane DeGregory: He got the letter in July, at his mom’s house in Seminole. She never would have believed it.

Not after everything that had happened.

Dakota Rockwell, 20, had applied to the University of South Florida as a long shot, hoping — but never dreaming — he would be accepted.

Then the admissions office emailed. He could start in August, in the business school.

All summer, he sweated cleaning pools, painting condos, hacking vines off fences. He hauled boats at the marina, moved furniture at an auction house, caught ladyfish to sell at the flea market: $1 per pound. Working seven days a week, he saved $700.

He would need more than that just to buy books.

A $5,000 Pell Grant would cover about half of his expenses; a Rotary Club scholarship gave him another $750. But if he was going to take classes full-time, he would have to lose some of his jobs. Then he wouldn’t be able to pay his bills, or earn the extra $5,000 for tuition and fees.

After working so hard, after defying everyone’s expectations, Dakota decided he wouldn’t be able to afford a degree from USF.

He hung the acceptance letter on his wall.

And emailed the financial aid office, sharing his story, explaining why he couldn’t enroll.