Category Archives: Dispatches

Strokes of Genius

MADISON, WI––Chris Johns anxiously circles his thumb around the rim of an empty Corona as he explains how his business partner in the remote-sex startup he hopes to showcase in January — at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas — stopped returning calls just days before Christmas. Now, on the 10th day of silence, Johns slowly comes to terms with the revelation that his partner — whose promises he staked much of his company on — may have defrauded him. He lights a Newport and reaches for his phone. “We’re talking less than three weeks to… Continue Reading

Urban Oasis

Fred and Nancy Risser in their ‘urban oasis’ MADISON, WI––The uneven gravel driveway points toward the interior of a residential block squeezed between East Gorham and East Johnson streets, where distressed concrete and indifferent weeds accent the real estate holdings of absentee landlords with all the charms of a cinder block. “This way,” directs Nancy Risser, a retired high school Spanish teacher. As instructed, I follow her and her husband, Fred, America’s longest-serving state legislator. The senator has anticipated rain on what has, until then, been a sunny Friday afternoon. He has brought along umbrellas for everyone just in… Continue Reading

Guns for Everyone

But even a beefed-up background check system won’t keep the plunderbund of felons, spousal abusers, drug addicts, and the violently unstable from exploiting loopholes to avoid checks. Waukesha, WI––In early February, I found a man willing to sell me an Italian submachine gun with a fifty-round magazine, no questions asked. The 9mm Spectre M4 was one among thousands of weapons up for grabs at a February 6 gun show in West Bend, Wisconsin. A particularly fearsome firearm with pistol and forward-vertical grips, it is capable of firing up to 150 bullets per minute. Used by Italian special forces, the M4… Continue Reading

They Believe: 9/11 Truthers Spin Shadowy Conspiracies

This article originally appeared in a June 2006 issue of Isthmus newspaper.  Madison, WI – David Hammond is articulate, well-educated and seemingly thoughtful. He is also paranoid. And the harder he works to convince others that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the more paranoid he becomes. “Thing is, I’ve received e-mails,” he says, without further explanation. “And I accept the fact that my phone is probably tapped. I have to think very carefully about what I get behind in a public way.” In Madison, like numerous other places, the 9/11 Truth Movement has coalesced into a… Continue Reading

Are Police Becoming Too Militarized?

Image by Kim Herbst This investigative work, written by yours truly, originally ran in the Aug. 13, 2015 issue of Isthmus, one of the best alt-weeklies in America. Gregory Humphrey was mowing his lawn on June 16, when, just after noon, four police officers wearing military khaki and armed with assault rifles cut purposefully across his yard. “It happened extremely quick,” recalls Humphrey. “I swung the lawn mower around when I reached the edge of the property…and there they were.” As Humphrey, 53, tried to make sense of it, more heavily armed officers began to spill out of the rear… Continue Reading

Cheated by God

It’s around 3:30 a.m. and this guy gets into my cab. He sits up front. He smells like crack smoke. Everyone knows you can buy crack in this part of the city. That’s not any kind of secret. I ask how his night has been and he tells me, which somehow leads to him noting that I seem sad and stressed. I ignore the comment because I don’t want to get into it, but he continues to prod, telling me I needn’t be afraid, that my secrets are safe with him. I roll down the rear windows so the air… Continue Reading

Honoring the Dead New Mexico-Style

Less than 24 hours after Annette Gonzales, 39, and Emily Baca, 29, were killed while waiting for a green light at Riverside Drive and Fairview Lane, in Española, New Mexico, two crude crosses had been put there in memory of them. “In our family tradition they say the person doesn’t rest in peace until you place a descanso,” said Gonzales’s daughter, Ileen Gallegos. “We did it immediately, the following day.” For thousands of New Mexican families, the crosses, or descansos, are monuments to fallen loved ones whose deaths were tragic and unexpected. Gonzales and Baca, for example, died… Continue Reading

Fiddling Like Nero

The crash shift a wall, knocking the door from one of its hinges. Southwestern, North Dakota—It was a cold gray, quiet, day—until a woman crashed a car into Room 135. It happened around 3:30 p.m., when a thunderous bang! tugged me from the ether. It sounded as if someone had punched the backdoor, or the door in the office, so all what-the-heck-like, I tottered to see who or what was to blame, but wind-strewn litter was all I saw. No sooner had I returned to bed, where I was happy, when my girl dashes in exclaiming the lady from Room… Continue Reading

A Wife’s Revenge

A woman battered this truck after finding it parked outside a motel late one night. Western North Dakota—Night has fallen on a particularly grueling, but otherwise unmemorable rainy day. A man who assembles the steel skeletons of soulless commercial space each day beginning at sunrise decides tonight he’s going to kick it with a couple of bro-ish co-workers before returning home. He tails the bros to the motel they’ve called home for over a month now. Six-packs in hand, they plod up the wet stairs in mud-caked boots, to Room 143. After soaking up some warmth they sip eagerly from… Continue Reading

No Respect for Small Town Cops

Motel guests get harassed by the K-9 cop, who didn't locate any narcotics on the couple. Dickinson, North Dakota—Small town cops always get a bad rap, and rightfully so. Unlike their urban counterparts, small town cops receive far less training. And because small towns tend to have low crime rates, police tend to spend an inordinate amount of time enforcing traffic laws and responding to small disturbances, like people setting off illegal fireworks. Sometimes small town police seem averse to police work all together. Last month a man was stabbed on the property. The police wanted to view our security… Continue Reading
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