Charlie Crist stood on one side of the pool, and almost all of the rest of the people stood on the other, the glittery Florida portrait between them. The former governor who wants to be governor again had spent the past hour or so at this house of a lawyer on a golf course in Bradenton. He gaped at family vacation photos on the walls, telling the host and his wife, "Show me all your pictures, please." He walked outside to the yard to toss a football with their 11-year-old son, taking off his jacket and handing it to an aide, loosening his pink tie but only slightly, lobbing reliable spirals in the early evening heat, showing no sign of sweat, his pressed blue shirt staying impeccably tucked into the slender waist of his charcoal slacks. One of the guests asked, "Governor, do you ever have bad days?" And he answered, "It hardly ever happens! How can you have bad days? We live in Florida!" He made his way back inside, gliding past an aquarium filled with pretty, flitting fish, past the bar stocked with Crown Royal and Michelob Ultra, past the trays of shrimp and cheese, popping into his mouth a niblet of tuna on a tiny piece of toast. He floated through the crowd, asking for their names, asking about their jobs, thanking them for coming in his pleasing, polished patter, but never lingering for long, before ending up on his side of the pool and calling this state "the prettiest place on the planet." The people had paid up to $500 a head to attend. Now Crist asked them for more.
A sheep was dead.
A bighorn sheep.
Perched in a clearing cut from the woods, toward the top of a slope north of downtown, Asheville's Grove Park Inn is a grand stone jigsaw with a clay-colored roof that looks like a boast. To write about this city in the 1920s, North Carolina's mountain capital in America's enduring era of excess — that was my charge, and so I came here. The Inn was finished in 1913, but it was built for the '20s — erected in just under a year "with an unstinted expenditure of time, labor, material and money," in the words of early promotional gloss, "a hotel unlike any other," with "every convenience and comfort," from pure down pillows to hand-hammered silver to rugs from France, and a spacious lobby called the "Big Room," "one of the most wonderful rooms in the world," the blue vista filling the wide wall of windows like a mural, the yellow light inside from the copper chandeliers reflecting off the ceiling so as to not be too harsh, and the luring, lulling warmth wafting from the two huge hearths. It was a Sunday afternoon. I sat by the fire.
Mr. Happy had terminal brain cancer.
The Tallahassee medical examiner unzipped the body bag. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male with white sneakers and gray boxers and gold Florida State shorts. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male with white sneakers and gray boxers and gold Florida State shorts and a tube up his nose and a tube down his throat and IV needles in his arm and his neck and automated external defibrillator pads still stuck to his chest. Here, cinched to his left wrist, was an emergency room bracelet. Here, on his left upper arm, was his only tattoo, a cross and three words: THE BLESSED ONE.
Here was Devaughn Darling.
He died after a winter offseason workout in a hot second-floor gym on the Florida State campus. The school said it didn't do anything wrong. The family said the school didn't do everything right. They settled before a trial for a payout of $2 million. The school paid the family $200,000. Florida law said the remaining $1.8 million would have to come straight from the state. The family is still waiting.
Devaughn Darling died more than 13 years ago.
Next: Other than Times stuff, of course, I'm working on something for the Davidson Journal and I'm working on something for Grantland.