From the archives: 25 great Washington Post Magazine stories

December 1, 2011

The Washington Post Magazine has compiled 25 years of compelling journalism. Here are 25 favorites for your reading pleasure.

Born to Run (9/28/86)
By Walt Harrington
I was invited to Walker's Point, the Bush family compound in Maine, where Bush, his wife and their children and families were vacationing. They worshiped at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, ate hot dogs on the deck at Walker's Point, sang "Happy Birthday" to a Bush grandson. But George Bush and I also sat in the old caretaker's cottage and talked about what I had learned of his life and its two recurring themes -- great ability and great privilege.
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Jeffrey Levitt Stole $15 Million (10/26/86)
By Tony Kornheiser
Jeffrey Levitt stole and misappropriated a grand total of fourteen million, six hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred forty-seven dollars and fifty-eight cents. He stole all that. It was the largest single white-collar crime in Maryland history, almost bringing down the state's entire savings and loan industry. About 35,000 depositors in Levitt's own Old Court Savings and Loan had their accounts frozen. And the cost to Maryland taxpayers to clean up the mess would run into millions of dollars.

During the period when they were ordered to spend no more than $1,000 per week, Jeffrey and wife Karol continually overspent their limit. Indeed, they casually wrote checks to cover their country club dues, to feed their racehorses, to buy jewelry ($7,857) and bathroom fixtures ($4,781). Once, before the troubles began and after a full dinner, in front of witnesses at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, they each ate six desserts.
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Growing Up Suburban (6/10/90)
By Steve Coll
Montgomery County is a terrible place to be from, never mind belonging to it. Although I lived there for 17 years, I have trouble thinking about the place as anything besides lines on a map, an uneven parallelogram affixed to the broken diamond of Washington, D.C. I imagine that for many people the very mention of their old home ground conjures sensual memories -- the smell of smoking sausages, for instance, or the sounds of city or countryside awakening, the angle of summer light through shade trees beside a house, the wet bite of a winter fog. The Montgomery County that I grew up in evokes other recollections. Cement comes to mind. Telephone poles. The smell of tar where they're widening the road again. The angle of light through the steel girder skeleton of that new office building on Rockville Pike.

Memory usually arises from something fixed, something tangible, but Montgomery County is possessed by an ethereal transience. We didn't live in neighborhoods; we lived in developments. Everybody used that word in high school, as in, "I hear there's a kegger Saturday in your development." The word implied a kind of progress -- here was a notable development where before there were only mud and trees -- but also impermanence. In real estate as in life, one development usually led to another, overtaking what came before.
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'Is He Happy? Is He All Right?' (1/13/91)
The strange saga of Larry King and Sandy Koufax
By David Finkel
It takes King more than 10 minutes to tell the entire story, and when he is done the ovation is loud and long.

"Every inch of this story is true," he says. "It seems like it's not, but it's true. I swear to God."

But there's a problem.

"This is Sandy Koufax," the man on the phone says a few days later. "I've never been in New Haven, not to this day."

Furthermore, he says, he and Larry King have never been friends. In fact, he says, even though they grew up in the same neighborhood, he didn't get to know King until long after both had left Brooklyn behind. King was on the radio by the time they met, and the Carvel story had already become a part of his life.

"I asked him about it," Koufax remembers.

And?

"He just laughed."
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Pumping Hype (6/23/91)
Arnold Schwarzenegger's recipe for happiness
By Peter Carlson
So there we were, me and Arnold Schwarzenegger, sitting in the Jacuzzi, talking about movies and the meaning of life.
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Divided We Stand (12/21/91)
So what could go wrong with the '90s?
By Marjorie Williams
We're still waiting for the '90s to start, that good, green, family-centered decade we've heard so much about. No doubt the vaunted post-'80s altruism will be along any day now. But in the meantime, all we have is this strange transitional twilight, this year-by-year struggle to determine our whereabouts, as we bid a divided goodbye to 1991.
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Get Outta the *%? Way! (9/27/92)
Taking the jam out of traffic
By Tom McNichol
But for most of the rest of us on the ground, driving in Washington is life in the slow lane, a horror movie perpetually stuck on half speed. Oh sure, New York and Chicago have many more cars on the road, Atlanta has its famous "Spaghetti Junction" northeast of town, Philadelphia has its murderous Schuylkill Expressway, fondly known around town as the "Sure-Kill Expressway," and Los Angeles has the added thrill of sniper fire. But Washington, it could be argued, is a uniquely rotten place to drive.

Where to start? The failure of L'Enfant to foresee that hundreds of thousands of motorized carriages would one day fill the streets he designed for horses and pedestrians, and that maybe diagonal streets and traffic circles aren't such a good idea? The explosive and largely unplanned expansion of the Washington suburbs into teeming "edge cities" with woefully inadequate road systems? The area's many river crossings, resulting in continually bottlenecked bridges? The more than 50,000 federal employees who receive free or discounted parking at their workplace, removing any incentive they might have for taking public transportation? More traffic-snarling VIP motorcades per capita than any other city on the planet? An unusually high percentage of cabdrivers hailing from countries that don't regard traffic laws with the same reverence as we do here in America? An unusually high percentage of natives who don't regard traffic laws with the same reverence as do Americans "Outside the Beltway"? And what about that Beltway anyway? Is it someone's idea of a bad joke? Could that someone be . . . Satan?
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The Wiz(6/13/93)
The trouble with being the smart girl
By David Finkel
The moment, surely, is sweet, but vanishes in an instant. This seems not to surprise Elizabeth either. She is in her second year of this class, of being the girl among the boys, and by now she knows the pattern. The discussion resumes, voices again overlap, and Elizabeth says nothing more, not until long after the bell has rung, when she tries to explain why the class, once her favorite, has lately made her feel uncomfortable. She says, "All last year I loved it, and for most of the beginning of this year I did, and now sometimes I'm just scared." She says, "I feel like 'The Girl' in the class. It's something I'm very conscious of, almost every minute in there." She says, "I have a certain fear that somehow when I'm in that class, I'm this impostor who doesn't really understand."

She does understand, though. She gets nothing but A's in the class, and the teacher, Harvey Alperin, says if she isn't the best student, she is one of the top two. Her discomfort, it turns out, has nothing to do with studying the forces that rule the universe. Those she can figure out. Instead, it comes from forces far more puzzling, the ones that rule the life of a 17-year-old girl who happens to be smart.
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Silence in the Killing Zone (1/16/94)
Never taunt men with machine guns
By Steve Coll
"It's all right," Ron said. "Come ahead." An army captain in fatigues and a T-shirt stood near a barbed-wire bunker. He had a pistol in his hand. Soldiers with assault rifles and shoulder-fired grenade launchers joined the group. They were chattering in rapid Sinhalese and still laughing. Ron, now in full salesman's mode, had his arm on the captain's shoulder to express collegial intimacy.

"The captain says this is our lucky day" -- really our lucky day, Ron said jovially. "He thought we were the enemy. He was this close"-- Ron squeezed his thumb and forefinger together together -- "to ordering his men to open fire. Then I heard him shouting and stopped the car. They had machine guns and grenades trained on our headlights. He was about to yell 'fire' when we stopped. He says this is really our lucky day."
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Group Portrait With Television (1/16/94)
By David Finkel
At the Delmars', there are six TVs, counting the old Sony console that is now in the guest room, and plans are to refinish the basement and add two more. At the Delmars', not only is TV always on, it is virtually a member of the family, part of nearly every significant moment in their lives.

Bonnie remembers her honeymoon. "The cable went out," she says. "It wasn't out for long, six hours maybe, but I was pretty mad."
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'This City Is Nothing Like the Planet Earth'(8/14/94)

By Dave Barry
Dee Dee Myers is the White House press secretary, which means her primary responsibility in the briefing is to never reveal anything remotely newsworthy to the press. The press, for its part, is responsible for repeatedly badgering Myers with questions that she has already refused to answer, until the hostility level in the room reaches the point where the smoke detectors go off. It's a ritualistic, decades-old dispute carried on by whoever happens to be the White House press secretary and whoever happens to be in the press corps. It reminds you of an elderly married couple who are still arguing about a remark one of them made at a cocktail party in 1953.
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Critique of Pure O.J. (3/19/95)
In search of the juicy parts at the trial of the century
By Joel Achenbach
When the prosecution finished its opening statement, I felt that it had been so powerful, so overwhelming, so startlingly thorough, that I wouldn't have been surprised if O.J. had suddenly stood up and said, "Would anyone entertain a crime of passion defense?" But then Johnnie Cochran had his turn, and he was dazzling, and the prosecutors were almost literally having heart attacks, and for a few days the zeitgeist of the trial was inverted. Then the prosecution resumed what, to me, looks like a slam-dunk. Of course sometimes slam-dunks clang off the rim and bounce back to the half-court line.
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For Better or For Worse (6/11/95)
The business of vengeance
By David Finkel
This is what he does. All day long, he's either in court, or in his Mercedes, or in his very nicely appointed office with the photograph of the Doberman, dealing with the messiness that is another marriage's demise. Bitterness. Grief. Despair. Hate. Revenge. These are the emotions of his day. What he gets for dealing with this is $275 an hour, and what his clients get is someone who is sympathy and sarcasm and expensive shirts, who goes into court one afternoon and, in the process of cross-examining a particular client's wife about her expenses, zeroes in on the costs she has listed for chemotherapy. He asks, because he thinks it is in the best interest of his client: Are all the charges essential? He asks:

Is the chemotherapy for preventative purposes? He asks: Is it absolutely necessary? She looks at him. "How can you be so cruel?" she says. "Have you no heart? I'm not trying to fake this." And with that she reaches up and removes her hat and shows him her bald head, and there is nothing for him to do but turn to her lawyer and say, very quietly, "Nice move."
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The Scandal in 13 Acts (12/13/98)
The saga of Handsome and Clutch
By David Finkel
April 5 was the day Lewinsky was told to leave the White House.

By then, she had been there for nine months. Her mother was old friends with Walter Kaye; that was the connection that got Monica Lewinsky to the White House in July 1995. By mid-November she had made the jump from intern to paid staffer, and by the end of the year she had flirted with Clinton by showing him a bit of her underwear, and had brought him the infamous pizza, and had begun calling him "Handsome" rather than Mr. President, and had been tagged by co-workers with a couple of nicknames of her own.

One was "Clutch."

"It's a slightly derisive term for somebody who, whenever he or she sees the president -- or any of the principals, let's put it that way, not even the president, any of the principals -- would want to be around, or would hover, or be close," is how Evelyn Lieberman, one of Clinton's deputy chiefs of staff, would explain the term to the grand jury.

"Stalker" was another.
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A.K.A. Frank Sinatra (3/7/99)
J. Edgar Hoover did it his way
By Jeff Leen
The FBI director's response was not merely a polite bow to wartime hysteria. His bureau used the letter about a bunch of girls cheering to open file #62-83219 "for the purpose of filing miscellaneous information" on a subject the bureau would refer to over the next 40 years as "Francis Albert Sinatra, a k a Frank Sinatra."
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The Hillary Dilemma (3/21/99)
What's the reward for standing by your man?
By Liza Mundy
In the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the first lady's national poll ratings are higher than they've been at any time since the 1993 inauguration. She's now ranked as the woman Americans most admire. Her popularity has, in turn, started a frenzied political conversation in which she's being hyped as the runaway favorite in a New York Senate race, should she decide to run.

What has she done to bring about this national change of heart? Nothing, apparently, except stoically endure.
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The Other War (1/9/00)
By Steve Coll
Two hundred yards up the slope, they reached a school driveway. Before a metal gate stood a tall, thin rebel wearing black jeans, a black T-shirt and a red bandanna. Drug strips covered his face. The others called him Tommy. He held an ax.

A neighbor the boys knew as Sheikou went first. As rebels trained assault rifles at his head, he stretched on his stomach on broken concrete before the school gate and extended his arm.

Tommy raised the ax high above his head and slammed it down. Once, twice, three times, four times. Sheikou's severed hand seemed to jump away from him.

The line shuffled forward. Alpha, weeping and shaking, watched his younger brother Amadu, 17, stretch out his right arm.

As Tommy raised his ax, Alpha closed his eyes.
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Sex & Sensibility (7/16/00)
Ratcheting up the peer pressure
By Liza Mundy
Morning brings the invitations. The casual ones. So routine are they that she hardly thinks about them, just waves them away like gnats. Today, for example, a boy came up to her in the hall and asked, "When are you going to let me hit that?" "That means, like, intercourse," the girl explains, with a sort of gum-popping matter-of-factness. She is 13.
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Absolute Truth (5/13/01)
Tom DeLay's family secret
By Peter Perl
When I first asked Tom Delay about his rift with the Delay family, he simply shook his head and pursed his lips, suggesting no words would be forthcoming. Then, he said: "It's never pleasant. You would like to have a family. But my family is Dani and Christine, and that is enough for me."

. . . After my first visit to Sugar Land, DeLay and his staff knew I'd been unsuccessful in trying to interview his brothers. When I located his sister, Tena DeLay Neislar, a registered nurse in Michigan now married with three children, she had never given an interview about her brother. Now she spoke extensively about her love and sadness for him.
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Hustling for Souls (8/26/01)
The Rev breaks bread with the Crew
By Peter Perl
The church ladies cooked up a particularly fine Saturday supper for the drug dealers. The Rev. Anthony Motley had told them he wanted things fixed up especially nice , so they put out clean white tablecloths, and now the ladies were parading from the kitchen with paper plates piled high with barbecued chicken wings, macaroni and tuna, green beans, salad, sweet iced tea and cakes.

Four young gang members, part of the South Capitol Street Crew, took seats along with five church men at the large rectangular table. They sat silent, expressionless; cornrowed hair, a shaved head, baggy pants, a gold chain here, a gold watch there, black T-shirts with the arms cut off. Terry, Anthony, Terronce and Snoop. Ages 23 to 27. The South Cap Crew looked like many other young men in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast Washington, except they were the ones responsible for much of its persistent traffic in marijuana, PCP, crack cocaine and, occasionally, heroin.

After a prayer, Motley stood and opened his Bible, choosing an obscure Old Testament passage from the Book of Nahum: "Ah, city of bloodshed, all full of lies and booty -- no end to the plunder!" Motley interrupted himself. "When he says 'booty,' he doesn't mean 'booty' like you do," he said, with a mischievous smile, " 'Booty' meant jewels and money back then. Y'all know I had to break that down for you." The crew members snickered.
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Why Not the Worst? (12/2/01)
The Armpit of America
By Gene Weingarten
My little puddle jumper begins its descent into Elko, a charmless city of 20,000 in the northern Nevada desert. Eighteen seats, all filled. This is not because Elko is a hot tourist attraction; it is because almost everyone else onboard belongs to a mariachi band. These guys have identical shiny blue suits and shiny blue shirts and shiny blue ties and shiny blue-black hair, like Rex Morgan in the comics, and they seem embarrassed to have accepted a gig in a place as tacky as Elko.

Compared with my final destination, Elko is Florence during the Italian Renaissance.

When I tell the Elko rental car agent where I am headed, she laughs. Elkonians, who proudly sponsor a yearly civic event called the "Man-Mule Race," consider their neighbor 70 miles west to be an absolute clodhoppy riot.

"Don't sneeze," snorts the rental car woman, "or you'll miss it."

Yeah, I know. I went to Battle Mountain five weeks before, to see if it was dreadful enough to be anointed, officially, "The Armpit of America." I was exorbitantly convinced.
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Growing Pains (4/21/02)
Kwame Brown's dilemma
By Sally Jenkins
Kwame Brown knows more than he should about some things, such as certain aspects of human nature, and less than he should about others, such as nutrition, how to treat a good suit and when to throw the lob pass. What Brown knows and what he doesn't is a consequence of his age, newly 20, and where he's from, the saw grass lowlands of Georgia, where crook-armed silhouettes of shrimp boats move against the horizon and misshapen oaks draped with gothic-gray moss line the melting tar streets, so sticky-hot that the children, Brown until recently one of them, hitch up their pants and hop from patch of grass to patch of grass.

Brown's route to the National Basketball Association has been a similarly awkward hop, from an overcrowded home with a sagging porch in Brunswick, Ga., to the $11.9 million patch of grass offered him by the Washington Wizards last June, when Michael Jordan made him the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and gave him a three-year contract. The presumption behind this investment is that Brown will become another Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, the next great young thing. The truth is that, in practice, the hop is too big: Turning a teenager from a sleepy shrimp port, not long out of puberty, into a multimillionaire NBA professional is a traumatic process. And not just for Brown, either. For the adults, too.
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Forward Motion (9/15/02)
Dan Snyder can't stand to lose
By Peter Perl
We'd been talking about playing racquetball since I'd first met him six weeks earlier in his office at Redskins Park to propose writing an article about him. He'd had decidedly mixed feelings. "You're gonna trash me. The media always trashes me," he'd said, eyeing me skeptically over the rims of his eyeglasses as he sat, swigging a bottle of water, his shiny black shoes propped on his large, handsome rosewood desk. He seemed convinced this story would be like others that he said have portrayed him as brash, arrogant, aggressive, greedy, meddlesome. I assured him that trashing him was not my intent.
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'I Don't Think They Deserved It' (11/30/03)
Let the bodies hit the floor
By Peter Perl
Nothing had been going well for Joshua Cooke for a long time. Failure after failure. School. Jobs. Girls. Never been on a date. No close friends. Nothing was right. His mind, he would later say, was a blur. His head was full of thoughts, yet somehow empty. Josh stuffed his portable CD player in his pocket and clamped on the earphones, choosing a song called "Bodies" by a favorite heavy-metal group, Drowning Pool. He cranked up the volume to the max. The sounds pounding in his ears were relentless drumbeats, a blaring bass crescendo and a series of anguished, screamed lyrics:

Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor

Josh took the loaded shotgun out of his closet and stuffed extra shells into his pockets. He headed out into the hallway, down the stairs to the family room, holding the 48-inch Remington 870 Express Super Magnum in front of his chest. It all reminded him of "The Matrix."

One -- Something's got to give
Two -- Something's got to give
Three -- Something's got to give

Now!

He descended the stairs toward the basement, and his mother stood up and turned toward him. He pointed the seven-pound shotgun at her, squeezed the trigger and blasted her in the chest. She staggered but didn't fall. Josh turned to see his father, who was 6-foot-3 and nearly 250 pounds, dive under his computer table.

Josh walked toward his father's computer table and stuck the gun barrel under it, firing several more blasts. Then he walked back upstairs to reload.
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A Job for Sarah (4/18/04)
Being the most average you can be
By Michael Leahy
Twenty-six-year-old Stephen Kaldenbach, whose IQ scores would rate him as mildly mentally retarded, has worked for Lowe's since early November. When he got the job, he celebrated by leaping around in the company parking lot. His tasks at Lowe's are basic. He retrieves shopping carts and helps customers load their vehicles. Depending on the week, Stephen's performance has been judged from satisfactory to very good, earning him a modest raise to $9.32 an hour.

He is ambitious, animated, scattered, emotionally scarred and adventurous. His childhood and early adult years could scarcely have been more tumultuous, leaving him happy that he has been living with roommates in a Melwood residential home these last four years. Domestic turmoil, he indicates, was the constant of that period. His parents split, and he has a sister in jail, he says. "I just want to be here," he says, meaning Melwood, "and getting my chance." The chance, he says, is "to have peace and to have things. I want to be able to do a lot and have a lot, be successful. Yes, I do."
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The Origin of the Species (7/25/04)
The law of the political jungle
By David Von Drehle
Once upon a time in america, there was a political party that believed in a strong central government, high taxes and bold public works projects. This party was popular on the college campuses of New England and was the overwhelming choice of African American voters.

It was the Republican Party.

The Republicans got started as a counterweight to the other party: the party of low taxes and limited government, the party suspicious of Eastern elites, the party that thought Washington should butt out of the affairs of private property owners.

The Democrats.
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Blog Interrupted (8/15/04)
Jessica Cutler gets trapped in her own web
By April Witt
The instant message blinked on the computer at Jessica Cutler's desk in the Russell Senate Office Building. "Oh, my God, you're famous."

Before she could form the thought -- "famous, cool" -- or puzzle how she, a lowly mail clerk, had escaped obscurity, a second instant message popped up on her screen. Startled, Jessica recalls, she began to curse.

"Your blog is on Wonkette," the message said.

Jessica's blog was the online diary she had been posting anonymously to amuse herself and her closest girlfriends. In it, she detailed the peccadilloes of the men she said were her six current sexual partners, including a married Bush administration official who met her in hotel rooms and gave her envelopes of cash; a senator's staff member who helped hire her, then later bedded her; and another man who liked to spank and be spanked.
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Boots on the Ground (11/14/04)
Picking up the pieces in Baghdad
By Andrea Bruce Woodall
I can't get the bombings out of my head. Not just one, but the aftermath of them all. The metallic smell of blood. The stains on the roads. As if each victim was blown up individually, from the inside out, or maybe dropped from the sky. Razor wire collects flesh like torn pieces of clothing . . . I saw one police officer go mad in Baghdad recently, obsessively picking up stray pieces. I thought, maybe for burial -- but it seemed more drastic, more urgent. U.S. Army and other Iraqi police tried to stop him with force. But he yelled back, shrugging their hands off his shoulder, never losing sight of the ground, the razor wire, the pieces, quickly filling his plastic bag -- until the bag was full and he had to pile the pieces into his hands, gloved in plastic, intestines hanging through his fingers.

People always want me to take pictures of every last piece. Like proof. I have to do it -- we won't use the photos -- but it makes them feel better. An eyeball. Teeth. A finger swept into a corner. Piles of bloody shoes. Brains. Other things that I don't recognize but I know by the smell. Pieces stick to the bottom of my shoes.

No one cries at these scenes. We all -- Iraqis, U.S. soldiers, journalists, family members -- walk from the bombing to the hospitals to the morgue. We are all sleepwalking. Numb. A nightmare. It happens almost every day.
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Family Vacation (6/19/05)
A sperm donation pays unexpected dividends
By Michael Leahy
His name is Mike Rubino, but until recently none of the women who bought his sperm to get pregnant had ever seen him or known him as anything other than Donor 929. Now he is standing inside the Los Angeles International Airport, staring at an arrivals gate, awaiting the appearance of two children he has fathered but never met, along with their single mother, a Massachusetts psychotherapist named Raechel McGhee.

At that moment, 44-year-old McGhee and her children are descending toward him in blackness and rain. "It is kind of unbelievable that this is about to happen, but I'm relaxed," Rubino says, not looking so relaxed, fidgeting with his brown hair, anxiously surveying an airport monitor until he's found a status report on the McGhees' flight. "On approach," he reads, craning his head toward the arrivals door. "I think their mother said she'd have the kids in slickers," he says, "and she said that she would be in a raspberry slicker." He falls silent. "Maybe this is going to take awhile," he says, but then he glimpses a sliver of a raspberry-colored garment moving amid a horde of travelers, spotting a tall woman. He mutters, "There she is -- there they are."
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A Year on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1/08/06)
By Dave Barry
Women got crazy in 2005. Consider some of the year's more disturbing stories, and look at the names connected with them: Martha Stewart. Judith Miller. Valerie Plame. Jennifer "Runaway Bride" Wilbanks. Paris Hilton. Greta "All Natalee Holloway, All the Time" Van Susteren. Harriet Miers. Katrina. Rita. Wilma. Michael Jackson.

Of course not all the alarming stories from 2005 involved women. Some of them involved men, and at least one of those men was named "Scooter."
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Eric understands the importance of that book. Without it, the Great Zucchini would cease to exist, and all that would be left would be Eric Knaus. And so he carries it with him everywhere. He won't leave it in a car, in case the car is stolen. When he goes out of his house, if he absolutely must leave the book behind, he hides it in a special place no burglar would think to look.

The sight that I could not get out of my head was the Great Zucchini hunched over the craps table, lost in that flagrant illusion, flinging dice with his right hand, his left hand pressing that book hard to his chest, white knuckled, like a man holding on for dear life.
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Showing the Way (6/11/06)
By Wil Haygood
The men in little Andre's life:

We call his father big Andre. He's short and compact. Once he hit Fashun, and little Andre, 4 years old at the time, rolled toward him like a bowling ball. A boy will try to save his momma. Big Andre left.

His uncle Juan -- my sister Geraldine's son -- is in and out of jail. Around my friends, especially my white friends, Juan likes to mention having read The Autobiography of Malcolm X -- "while I was away." He makes it sound like he was away on vacation, in Rio; he really means the Orient Correctional Institute, not far from Columbus.

Harry, my brother, is a ne'er-do-well, a one-time resident of Los Angeles's Skid Row, off and on heroin for two decades now. He is mostly estranged from his own children, but he loves little Andre in bunches. Last year he gave Andre a $50 bill. Andre looked at it quizzically, and simply handed the thing to a nearby adult.
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The Great Zucchini (1/22/06)
By Gene Weingarten
The Great Zucchini's tattered loose-leaf appointment book is filled with the names and dates of his scheduled parties, months and months into the future. He keeps no backup -- no other notes, nothing on a computer disk, nothing anywhere. If he were to lose that book, he'd have no idea where he was supposed to be, or when. For months of weekends, preschool children would be waiting expectantly in homes across greater Washington, and the Great Zucchini would simply never show.

Pearls Before Breakfast (4/08/07)
By Gene Weingarten
Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
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Terminated (5/25/07)
By T.M. Shine
Our company has not been impervious to layoffs. Positions have slowly been eliminated in our branch, but the usual MO involved the doomed employee getting a call at home to report to our main office on Green Road, a.k.a. the Green Mile, where one would be disposed of quietly.

But today is obviously a dimension beyond. Human Resources has come to us and literally set up shop in a tiny unoccupied office. Managers don't have time to be subtle anymore. They are not concerned that an employee will make a scene or set off the fire sprinklers on the way out the door. No, this time the cuts will be swift and multiple, consequences be damned.
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Fatal Distraction (3/08/09)
By Gene Weingarten
The charge in the courtroom was manslaughter, brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia. No significant facts were in dispute. Miles Harrison, 49, was an amiable person, a diligent businessman and a doting, conscientious father until the day last summer -- beset by problems at work, making call after call on his cellphone -- he forgot to drop his son, Chase, at day care. The toddler slowly sweltered to death, strapped into a car seat for nearly nine hours in an office parking lot in Herndon in the blistering heat of July.

It was an inexplicable, inexcusable mistake, but was it a crime? That was the question for a judge to decide.
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All the King’s Men (3/14/10)
By Eleanor Herman
Peggielene Bartels, 55, has been a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana for more than 30 years. She is separated and has no children and lives in a one-bedroom condo.

Bartels had never even lived in Otuam, but was born and raised in Cape Coast, a large city in Ghana about 90 minutes away. Bartels's father had been a railway engineer, her mother -- the late king's sister -- a shop owner. True, Bartels had visited her Otuam relatives from time to time, even after she left Ghana, in Western Africa, in 1975. But she had become a U.S. citizen in 1997. Nothing had ever led her to believe she had the slightest chance of becoming Otuam's king. Going back for centuries, all the kings had been men.

Bartels's uncle had been the king of Otuam, and when he died in 2008 at the age of 90, Otuam's elders consulted genealogical records, discussed which of the king's relatives had the characteristics required to rule, and came up with a list of 25 candidates. Bartels was the only woman. Then the chief priest poured libations of schnapps to the ancestors, intoning each of the names. When Bartels's name was called, the schnapps, instead of sinking into the ground, steamed up -- a clear indication of divine approval.

A relative of Bartels's called her in the middle of the night with the news. "Congratulations!" he said. "You are the new king."
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Fighting to let go of the past (6/10/11)
By Brigid Schulte
Tony Suggs knows his son is a better boxer than he ever was. Little Anthony is quick, with “wicked” fast hands. He’s controlled where he, Suggs, was so out of control. Little Anthony Suggs could have it all, Suggs thinks: the Olympics, a pro boxing career, money, fame. All the things Suggs himself wanted so badly and came so close to getting.

That’s why Suggs, who for 15 years has worked detailing rich people’s luxury cars instead of driving one of his own, is pushing his son so hard tonight at Henderson Hall on the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, the one boxing gym in the area where Suggs is still welcome. If he can secure Little Anthony’s future, he thinks, perhaps that will lift the ache of his own past. “I burned so many bridges, I let so many people down, I feel indebted,” Suggs later explains. “So now I feel that is my job and my mission, to help someone else make it to the Olympics.”
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