The Times has produced another intimidatingly pretty story this morning, in the "Snow Fall" vein. This one concerns a low-rent mixed martial arts fighter in Michigan, and unlike with "Snow Fall," you will actually read this and enjoy it immensely and not merely pretend to.
The story's about Charlie Rowan, a bad fighter and the titular tomato can, who has few prospects and a bad debt after running into trouble with a local convict who has gang ties. Mary Pilon reports:
Now, Rowan owed money to impatient people. He tried to lie low, but in January, a group of men beat him up behind Shopko, leaving him with two black eyes, broken ribs and blood on his baseball cap, he told friends at the time.
Rowan was desperate. Then, while he was watching TV at his girlfriend’s house, a show caught his attention. It was on the Investigation Discovery channel, something about a guy who staged his own death so he could start his life anew.
As with all great ideas in life, this one quite possibly came from an episode Deadly Women. Rowan decided to fake his own death—and nearly everyone bought it, including his own mother. It "broke" Rowan's heart "to think of his mother picturing him dead," Pilon writes, "but he saw no other way." The plan goes well enough, until he decides to hold up a local gun shop and nearly kills the beloved elderly owner. The police catch up to him; the fake death plot is felled; and Rowan sits in prison, where he apparently feels bad enough about what happened that he willingly, and to our benefit, talks to a Times reporter.
How'd they find this great yarn? Jason Stallman, the Times sports editor, told me that the "AP moved a short story back in March. We instantly sent Mary Pilon to Michigan to poke around. She reported it out over the next few months, while working on a lot of other stories."
"Her first call was to Mr. Rowan's lawyer, who said there was no chance he'd let Mary talk with Rowan," Stallman continued. "A while later, Mr. Rowan called Mary's cellphone directly from jail. He wanted to tell her everything, blow by blow."
Read the whole thing, as they say. The comic-book illustrations are cool, and Boardwalk Empire actor Bobby Cannavale does a story-on-tape voiceover for the piece—which is maybe one flourish too many (these are still real people, after all). But the story alone is all you need.