One of the strangest stories I ever covered was the disappearance of industrialist Joe Derr in Acapulco, Mexico – and the ensuing tug of war between his prospective benefactors: Donald Baggett, his albino bodybuilder lover and accused killer, and the small Pennsylvania town that exiled him for being a homosexual when he was a boy.Continue reading “The Perfect Murder? Prologue”
This is a true story. It must be. It was in the newspaper. I put it there. So. One evening in 1987, someone called my newsroom to tip us that the tiny town of Benton, Pa., had inherited something close to a million dollars. It was bequeathed by a man no one in Benton atContinue reading “Chapter 1: Red Room”
I’d like to say that Cy Ruthenburg’s rich tale of Joseph Derr’s rake’s progress, which hinged, in part, on the unexpected but not unwelcome debut of Oklahoma oilfield gambler Titanic Thomas in Evansville society, wafted on a fuzzy atmosphere of scotch above a spreading Ohio River sunset just over his shoulder, but since Cy’s clubContinue reading “Chapter 2: Titanic Rising”
By the early seventies, Joe Derr’s need for deception had ebbed. If he needed to pass at a reception at the governor’s mansion up in Indianapolis he had a willing cadre of faded debs to take his arm and help him find his keys. Otherwise, if you wanted Joe Derr, you got Donald Baggett, too.Continue reading “Chapter 3: Enter the Albino”
Unfreeze the frame and Donald Baggett and I are standing on a desolate Evansville street at 2 a.m. If he’s gone to all the trouble of killing his paramour, making his body vanish and confounding the Mexican Federales, the FBI, Interpol and Detective Clay Stinson of the Evansville P.D., I don’t really expect Don toContinue reading “Chapter 4: Hijinks at the Paradise and the Last Man to See Howard Hughes Alive”
So there we were, Jorge Camps and I, greeting gray daybreak with a couple of bottles of Negra Modelo after completing a strange and most unholy carnal via crucis along Acapulco’s notorious Condesa Beach. We’d chatted up transvestites, prostitutes, pederasts, boys on leashes, bondage buddies, sadists and masochists (like love and marriage, you can’t haveContinue reading “Chapter 5: The Final Footfalls of Joseph Derr”
Comes now, courtesy of HeGetsUs.com, a Jesus rebranded as a neurotic millennial for a generation swimming in angst, tangled up in technology, and feeling hopeless about the future.
The fire mine fire that would eventually consume Centralia, Pa., started in 1962 in a garbage dump, ignited a coal seam, and slowly but inexorably spread. Smoke began to pour from spreading fissures and occasionally a sinkhole opened up and swallowed a child.
In the late 1980s, my shooter buddy Keith and I traveled to D.C. for what would become the largest public demonstration in American history to that point, far bigger than Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. The occasion was a pro-choice rally. Hard to beat a gorgeous spring day in D.C. with a story that was gonna write itself.
Stuart looked behind him. But there was no one there. He looked at me but I quickly looked down. There was only one Stuart. And it was him. And he was fucked.
The map imposed upon us by Siri is utterly foreign to our own humanity, a rigid amalgam of GPS coordinates and heartless algorithms.
In popular culture, youthful freedom begins when one is handed a set of car keys (or today’s far-less-romantic equivalent, a fob). But those of us of a certain age know that the car is only a promotion: Our first real taste of freedom had only two wheels.
With the exception of Pittsburgh, where inter-generational families cling to each other like refugees in a lifeboat, a preponderance of Americans, particularly the college-educated, eventually leave their hometowns behind. You can find no end of sociological studies (and lamentations) online about the decline of the geographically proximate extended family.
Cash grew up poor and never lost his workingman’s sensibility. He sang songs about the lower-crust: the thwarted factory worker, the soldier home from war with crushed limbs and broken spirit, the Native American stripped of his land and his pride, the highway patrolman who chases his law-breaking brother to the state line and is relieved the law compels him to turn back.
The Nachez Trace Parkway is a miracle. So is finding it with your phone’s GPS. Since the Trace doesn’t have a route number, Siri sent me to and fro, to this side and that side of Nashville. Finally, after two hours of tracing and retracing interstates to the east, west and south, I got off the highway and asked an old farmer how to get there.
Last week, I swept across the American South like the needle on an old-time radio dial – tracking west from about AM 650 to 1500. Starkville, Ms., to Amarillo, Tx. Nine hundred miles in one throw. That’s an adult portion. Whew.
Yellowstone is spectacular – so much so that waiting in line to enter it can be like idling on L.A.’s infamous I-10. And, when you do finally get in, you experience all that splendor with 75,000 or so new friends, many crawling along in RVs with tiny cars in tow.
When I moved a bit farther out into Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs just ahead of the 2016 election, a fair number of my new neighbors’ yards sported Trump/Pence signs, with one lonely Clinton/Kaine sign holding down the corner. Eighteen months later, as the special House election between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone looms, campaign signs have sprouted in many more yards and Lamb is definitely leading in my very unscientific sign poll.
Some people can’t let go of the past. Many journalists can’t let go of the future. The election brought not so much as a pause in their prognostications.
I recently scored my first senior discount. When I casually informed my wife I’d pay only half-price on an outing to Kennywood with our nephew because I’m 55, she made an incredulous huffy breath and said, “No you aren’t.”