The genre of story that I’m starting off today’s blog with has, sadly, become almost a cliche: Small-town American city, otherwise unremarkable, has survived for decades on tight-knit community, strong sense of family, and businesses hanging in there through all different kinds of economic conditions, laid completely low by the scourge of drug addiction.
Sometimes it’s painkillers, sometimes it’s heroin (which certainly is a “painkiller” in every sense of the word), sometimes it’s other drugs. But there have been SO many stories written over the past decade of towns filled with good people and good values go completely down the tubes, that I thought there was nothing that could surprise, or impress me, about yet another tale.
Happily, I was wrong. Juliet Macur, a remarkably gifted writer for the New York Times, visited Madison, Ind. last summer while reporting another story.
“On a reporting trip in July, I learned this in the unlikeliest of places: at Horst’s Little Bakery Haus, a doughnut shop with just a few tables, not far from the river.
A waitress had overheard me interviewing someone at the bakery earlier, and asked if I was a journalist.
She checked over her shoulder to see if anyone was listening. There was an urgency in her whisper as she said: “I lost my son last month. He hung himself from a tree in our yard and shot himself in the head. I cut him down myself, with my own hands. So many suicides.”
She wiped away tears.
“We need your help,” she said.
From that wonderfully-written beginning, Macur weaves a devastating tale of a football team, the town’s struggles with drugs and suicides, and a coach who’s desperately trying to make a difference. This is a phenomenal, important story that I urge you all to read.
I don’t know what will ever stem the tide of the scourge of drug addiction, and mental health, in this country. I do know we need more school counselors, more trained and better-funded mental health clinics, and a whole lot more compassion and help for those trapped in addiction’s maw.
**Next up today, OK here’s a palette-cleanser from that last story. A Los Angeles filmmaker and astronomy enthusiast named Wylie Overstreet decided to bring his fancy telescope out on the streets of Southern California, and film random strangers’ reactions to looking at the moon.
A really simple idea, but wonderful expressions and thoughts from people. The world really is a freaking beautiful place if we stop to take a look around every once in a while.
**And finally today, as promised, I’ve spent a couple days now breaking down the NCAA Tournament bracket, and my lock-solid, guaranteed to be correct or your money back Final Four picks.
I’ve got Virginia coming out of the South (although De’Andre Hunter’s injury scares me), Gonzaga out of the West (I don’t love top two seeds Xavier or UNC, and there’s something about the Zags having finally broken through last year that takes the pressure off them), Purdue out of the East (I really wanted to be different and not take Villanova, but also I saw Purdue live a few times in the Big Ten Tournament and they’re really, really good) and oh yeah, Duke out of the Midwest (the draw is brutal but if Duke can get past Michigan State, I like their chances.)
So Virginia, Gonzaga, Purdue and Duke. I don’t feel great about those picks but I never do.
Other trends/upsets/teams on a run that I like:
— Nevada is really good, they got some NCAA Tournament experience last year, and their draw is decent. I like them going all the way to the Elite Eight, beating Cincinnati along the way, before losing to Virginia.
— My other big sleepers I like: No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago, a veteran team with terrific guards, going to the Sweet 16, beating Miami and Tennessee to get there. I like Houston, seeded sixth, also to get to the Elite 8, beating Michigan and Providence (the Friars will upset North Carolina), and I like College of Charleston, a 13 seed, to get to the Sweet 16 by beating Auburn and then New Mexico State, who’ll have beaten Clemson.
Got all that? Good. Now go fill out your brackets. And if any of this wrong, no worries, this blog post will disintegrate five minutes after the national title game.