This week, I logged into Facebook and noticed something that was pretty funny: “Thomas Alsgaard shared BACKSTREET GIRLS’s status update.”
I’m not really sure what or who the Backstreet Girls are, but perhaps I should back up, because you might be wondering: How did that dweeb Nat Herz get to be Facebook friends with Thomas Alsgaard?
It all starts four weeks ago—last Saturday, the day before the New York City Marathon.
I was hoping to interview Thomas before he participated in the race, since I figured he wouldn’t be too busy during his time here—I’d e-mailed him way back in early October when I learned he’d entered, and he’d agreed not only to an interview, but also to a rollerski tour through Central Park with me and the three other members of the Manhattan Nordic Ski Club. We were excited.
As the date approached, I e-mailed Thomas to fix a day and time for our excursion…and, I heard nothing. So, I e-mailed him again. Still, nothing. There was a phone number under the signature on his e-mail, and I thought about calling, but I also had a ton of work to do that weekend, so I figured that Thomas and I just were not destined to meet, and that it was for the best for me to focus on school.
That morning, November 5, I woke up at about 7:00, and checked my e-mail. Among the new messages in my inbox was one from the NYPD’s media distribution list. I thought about pasting the whole message below, for effect, but I’m worried that I might get arrested for doing so, so instead I’ll just say that the e-mail said that a guy in the Bronx neighborhood I cover had been shot one (1) time in the chest early that morning. He was rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced DOA (dead on arrival).
One of the reasons I moved to New York for journalism school is because it would occasionally present me with opportunities like these. This was the third guy that had been killed in the last eight days on my beat; I decided I should probably head up there and check it out, even if I had some other stuff to do. (Plus, there is a Mexican restaurant up there that supposedly makes really good tamales, but only on the weekends, and I wanted to try them. Having now tried them, I can state for the record that they are awesome.)
Reporting on cross-country skiing is one thing; reporting on gang violence is quite another. I took the D train up to the Bronx and spent the morning trying to figure out what had happened. Nobody was really interested in telling me anything, but through a somewhat absurd series of coincidences (recognizing a guy who I had seen once at a meeting who happened to live on the block who happened to be the vice president of the local police precinct community council; running into an outspoken local pastor on the street), I ended up with a pretty decent story, and I even got some confirmations from my sources deep within the NYPD. (Kind of a joke, kind of not.)
As I’m getting ready to head back to my home on the Upper West Side, I check my e-mail to see if I’ve gotten a response to the request I’ve sent the NYPD for an interview request. Instead, there’s a message from Thomas that says his e-mail hasn’t been working, that he’s not running in the race, but that he’s still happy to meet with me—just send him a message on his phone. So, when I get home at 1:30, I do. Still, for two hours, I don’t hear anything, which is actually okay, since now I’m trying to write up this story as quickly as possible so that I can be really important and pitch it to all the big New York City newspapers like the Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Then, at 3:39, this exchange ensues:
Thomas Alsgaard (who, yes, is now in my cell phone as “Thomas Alsgaard): “I stay at 96 st and Broadway. We could meet some place there?”
Nat: “That’s great—I am at 115 and Broadway. There is a Starbucks coffee at 95 and Broadway—when is a good time for you?” (Subtext: tomorrow? Later this evening?)
Thomas Alsgaard: “As soon as possible?”
Right. Well, given that this is Thomas Alsgaard, and I am Nat Herz, we agree to meet at 4:15, which gives me approximately half an hour to get myself 20 blocks downtown and come up with whatever questions I possibly can. I do wish I’d had a little more time to prepare, but I think it ended up okay—Thomas seemed to be in a very good mood despite his having to pull out of the marathon, and he was incredibly accommodating…although he did let me pay for the coffee. (Topher, you owe me like $5 for that, by the way.) Things that didn’t make it into the interview: he was wearing skinny jeans, which I think is hilarious; he was entirely anonymous in the diner (Starbucks was too packed); but yes, Olympic champions still do have a pretty intimidating aura. (Nonetheless, we are now Facebook friends.)
That’s about all, except for one other story that I think is worth relating. So, I’m sitting at school last week, working on some stuff, when my phone rings. The caller ID says “private,” which is what my mom always shows up as. So, I answer the phone:
Me: “Hi mom!”
Phone: “Uh, hi. This is Rabbi Katz—I’m looking for a Nathaniel Herz who left a message for me earlier today.”
Me: “Yes, hi…”