Author Archive

Gay Talese has a funeral

January 12, 2008

Gay Talese

Gay Talese was getting ready to pack when a telephone call interrupted him.

His longtime friend, the mobster Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, had just died of a heart attack in Tucson on Jan. 1. He needed to pack; his flight would be leaving New York soon.

So he didn’t have time to talk to me, a student reporter. Even as I begged him to give me a few minutes for an interview, the sound of another telephone could be heard ringing in the background.

But finally, we talked.

Well, sort of.

He talked; I listened. And then he hung up the phone before I could tell him that I would be at the funeral, too.

The next time I saw him, he was leaving SS. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church. He wore a blue pinstriped suit, a crimson-red handkerchief and a fedora. I walked up to him to introduce myself, but it took me a few seconds to get his attention because he was chatting with another man. He remembered me, but said he didn’t have time to talk.


So he shouted, “Call me at the Sheraton in Tucson,” then disappeared into a car.

But there was no time to call him because The New York Times called me. They wanted Bonanno’s story to run in the paper.

Tomorrow. My story. In The New York Times.

I felt so good after writing. It was unbelievable. I was going to have a byline in The Times.

Foolishly, I thought Talese would be willing to talk, so I searched for his hotel. The good news: there were only two Sheratons in Tucson. The bad news: the phone would never ring when I called him at his hotel with the tape recorder on.

It took almost an hour before I finally got through, and Talese remained the elusive interview.

“I have to go in five minutes. Can we talk tomorrow?” he asked.

Apparently, third time wasn’t the charm with him.The next day was different, but not in the way I could have expected.

The tape recorder didn’t work, again. He didn’t answer at the time we had scheduled our interview. And he said I had made a mistake in my Times article. It said that he had collaborated with Bonanno on the book “Honor Thy Father.”

“I don’t collaborate,” he said.

I thanked him for pointing out the mistake and for reading the article. I understood where he was coming from; good journalists think for themselves and are responsible for their own work.

And then came the most surprising thing of the entire week: he complimented me. He had liked the details in my story, especially the quotes included from Bonanno’s children that no other newspaper got. It felt as if he’d recognized me as a journalist.

And finally, after I had chased this man for a week, he said the magic words: Ask me anything you want.

— Yolanne Almanzar

‘The mac and cheese of Mexico’

January 11, 2008

After a week of cold cuts and fast food, we devoured some home cooking: Martha Rosa Pacheco’s chicken soup and April Thompson’s enchiladas, which she calls “the mac and cheese of Mexico.”

One of our editors, Diego, wanted to take a pan back to New York, but since airport security seemed an obstacle, April gave us her recipe, instead.

She said she learned to make them at the elbow of her grandmother, Sofia Castillo. Sometimes, for breakfast, Nana would give April a fried egg on top of her enchiladas. April savors the memory: “You cut into it, and the yolk drips into it.”

When she was just 3 or 4, after the breakfast things were put away, April and Nana would begin to prepare the main meal of the day. April would stand on a chair at the kitchen counter, and Nana taught her by example: “Hand me this, give me that.”

When April got older, Nana would ask her to prepare the chile sauce or the enchiladas, while she made the chicken or the beef.

The enchiladas start with the chile sauce. “We make a ginormous pot once or twice a year and freeze it,” she said. “Then we can take out what we need.”

The enchiladas can be dressed up with cooked chicken or carne seco, eggplant and peppers, or just about anything else. Or they can be served as a side dish with steak and papas or chicken.

“Meals were a big ado,” April said. Family members would drop by, and the tray of enchiladas would grow so there was enough for all. Finally, around 2 p.m., when everything was ready, Nana would announce: “Ven a comer!”

April’s Chile Sauce

4 big bags of large dried red chiles, stems removed, or some big strings of chile (“But make sure they are not shellacked!”)
1 t. vegetable oil
1 t. salt, or to taste
1 T. cumin, or to taste
1 – 2 T. cilantro, fresh or dried, to taste
2 T. oregano
1 large onion, chopped
Several cloves of garlic, minced
To add later: canned El Pato tomato sauce

Fill a large pot with the chiles, crowding in as many as you can fit. Cover with water and boil for 10 minutes or so, until the chiles are soft. Drain and put them in a blender until they are the consistency of very thick applesauce. Strain the chiles into a bowl, keeping the seeds and any larger chunks, and blend again.
Add the spices, salt, onion and garlic and blend again.
For those who want a less spicy sauce, remove as many seeds as possible before blending.
Freeze in 6-cup portions.
To use, thaw and warm, mixing in an 8-oz. can of El Pato Mexican tomato sauce

April’s Enchiladas de Queso

6 cups of chile sauce, with the tomato sauce included.
A dozen or more corn tortillas
2 16-oz. bags of Fiesta Mexican cheese mix
1 round of queso fresco, about a pound
2 – 3 bunches of green onions, chopped

Heat oven to 250 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the cheese mix with crumbled queso fresco.
Heat the chile sauce in a wide pan on the stove. Heat the tortillas on a tortilla stone or in the microwave, wrapped in a towel, for 20 seconds or so.
Dip each tortilla quickly in the sauce and turn over. In a baking pan, fold a sprinkling of cheese into each tortilla and turn over, so the folded part is facing down. Repeat until you have a full layer. Sprinkle the layer with some cheese mix and some chile sauce.
For a larger crowd, build another layer. “Whatever runs out first, the sauce, the cheese, the tortillas – that’s when I’m done,” April said.
Top with cheese, chile sauce and onions and heat in a low oven, around 10 to 15 minutes, so the tortillas are warm and the cheese just melted, but not long enough for the edges to get crisp or brown.

— Nancy Sharkey

In headline writing, spreading the news is only part of the game

January 11, 2008

“Nothing’s hard if you know how to do it,” my mom always says. “All you have to do is learn how.” She told me that when I struggled with reading, having fallen behind my classmates in first grade, and if I shared with her my headline-writing woes today, she’d say the same thing.

Headline writing is the poetry of journalism, requiring careful attention to accuracy, cadence, word choice and concision — all at once. And if you don’t make the concoction with the right ingredients, you risk losing your readers, disappointing the reporter (who may have slaved for hours over the piece) and, well, looking like a baboon.

When I try to write headlines, I feel like my brain is devolving. Solid, hard-working words disappear, and I come up with gibberish. Take, for instance, the night I had to come up with a headline for James Wagner’s article on people named Hitler. In my quest to do his story justice, I came up with this mishmash, all scribbled on a piece of scrap paper:

“How People Grapple With Hitler Name”
“When Hitler Enters the Room”
“Prank Calling Hitler”
“Hitler Name”
“Horror of Times”
“This is Hitler. Can I Help You?”
“Living Hitlers Share Daily Tales”

“Hitler namesake”
“Hitlers Roam With Weary”

“The Life of a Hitler”

“Hitler Lifestyle”

“Hitler namesake makes for interesting challenging lifestyles.”

Then, in one corner of the page, “No, We’re Not Related.”

I turned to Jen Balderama, of The New York Times, in desperation, who suggested I think about situations — how these people converse or interact with other people in their lives. She had a good idea: “Mr. Hitler, I Presume?”

That’s when it clicked: “No, I’m the Other Hitler.”

It was a hit, and up it went on the Web site.

Here at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, I’ve gathered a toolbox of tricks from Jen and Don Hecker, the director, to deal with headline writing.

From Jen, I’ve learned to approach headline writing like a game rather than like a trip to the guillotine. She says to start with a handful of keywords that capture the story’s essence. And when you consider how to string them together, avoid clichés; avoid overdone phrases that will make people groan. Keep in mind where the story is placed, too, so you don’t repeat the same words or ideas in multiple headlines on a page. But most of all, I learned that headline writing is part skill, part art, and it develops not overnight but through years of reading and paying careful attention to the English language.

From Don, I’ve learned to slow down between the story and the headline, to let the reporter’s work soak in my brain first. Don says to skip the first three grafs of a story and hunt for the story’s heart. More than once, he would prod me with questions about the article, as if I had written it, forcing me to summarize it to him in a simple six- to 10-word sentence. Once you have a sentence, you can chop or substitute words and play with the structure.

While I can’t say headline writing feels completely intuitive yet, I can say I’m on the right track. After all, I’ve spent more than 10 years writing — and that didn’t develop overnight, either.

— Lauren LePage

Border Fence (A Close Up)

January 11, 2008

Border Fence at Sasabe, Ariz. 


<–USA Side Mexico Side–> 

 — Elizabeth Perez