Sunday, September 09, 2007

New Chapters in Summer’s Tales, From Paris to New Jersey

A Purple Heart design that Roger Baker mowed
in Orange County last month is being kept up.
Photo: Chris Ramirez for The New York Times



Published: September 9, 2007

As summer fades to black, three updates — plus a late-breaking sports report — to summer tales from this space.


Leroy Varga, alas, didn’t make it.

The 80-year-old marathon man from Dover, N.J. (Our Towns, July 12), failed in his attempt to become the oldest person to complete the grueling Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur, in which contestants have to bicycle 750 miles through the French countryside in 90 hours.

He had figured he needed almost everything to go right to finish the trip. Instead, he ran into the Randonneur’s worst weather in memory, which inspired a newspaper headline reading: “Never as Cold Since 1970, Never as Wet Since 1950.” Cycling through 35-mile-an-hour winds, in a relentless downpour and temperatures around 50 degrees, shivering uncontrollably and weathering a bout of heart arrhythmia, he packed it in after going about 200 miles in 18 hours. As a reward, he got to pedal the 200 miles back to Paris.

It turned out he had plenty of company. About 28 percent of the cyclists who entered failed to finish, the highest rate in memory and about double that of most years. Back in New Jersey, he’s now on a much more leisurely cycling regimen, 50- or 60-mile trips instead of the 130-mile-a-day trips he made while training for the Randonneur.

Before he left for Paris, he figured this was his last shot at the Randonneur, held every four years. He says his responsibilities at home make it very hard to consider trying again. Still, sounding like a potential presidential candidate, he said he can’t imagine doing it. But if he were able to find the time to train, and if he felt as good as or better than he does now, well, who knows? “I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s not likely,” he said.


With the stakes much, much higher, Richard Lapointe didn’t make it either. Mr. Lapointe (Our Towns, July 15) is the mentally impaired man in Connecticut serving a life term for the 1987 rape and murder of his former wife’s grandmother. Over the years, a loyal core of supporters, saying he could not have committed the crime, have championed his innocence. Mr. Lapointe is now represented by Centurion Ministries, which has had enormous success in freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners.

Despite new testimony backing up his alibi from his ex-wife, who did not testify at his trial, a long-awaited hearing in July came to an abrupt end when Judge Stanley T. Fuger Jr. agreed to consider a prosecution motion to dismiss efforts for a new trial.

He rejected the request for a new trial in a stinging decision on Aug. 2 that said Mr. Lapointe’s petition was an abuse of the legal system that failed to document claims of constitutional errors. His supporters plan to appeal and continue the fight. But they face the hurdle common to similar cases: Absent slam-dunk DNA evidence, an argument for innocence, no matter how compelling, is not necessarily the same thing as a compelling case for constitutional errors that would merit a new trial.

Things went much better for Roger Baker, the Leonardo da Vinci of the lawn mower, whose 850,000-square-foot Purple Heart medal mowed into a field in Orange County, N.Y. (Our Towns, Aug. 5), ended up having an extended run. Usually he does his creations (Elvis, Albert Einstein, Jimi Hendrix) and they are soon given over to the ravages of bugs, wind and growing grass. But this piece of field art was done on county land, and county crews are keeping it mowed according to his directions. They plan to keep the image well into the fall.

Meanwhile, Mr. Baker is already thinking ahead. A huge fan of Luciano Pavarotti, whose music is often playing in his studio, Mr. Baker is already poring over photos and trying out sketches in hopes of cutting a giant Pavarotti next September on the first anniversary of the tenor’s death. His ideal canvas would be Central Park. But he’s open to whatever options present themselves. “It would really be a challenge to get it right, because of who he is and what it is , but I don’t know. Hudson Valley? Modena, Italy? Anywhere it’s supposed to be, that’s where I’ll do it. I just mow the lawn. It’s what I do.”

Oh, and the lost boys of summer, the Can-Am Grays of the Can-Am League (Our Towns, July 26), finally got to go home. Despite playing a full season of just road games from late May to early September, they delighted spouses, moms and any other fans with an impressive 24-23 record for the second half of the season. But it wasn’t enough to join the North Shore Spirit, Atlantic City Surf, Nashua Pride and New Jersey Jackals in the Can-Am playoffs.

Best wishes for a few more weeks of summer to the game-but-tired Grays, and to us all.

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com



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