October 29, 1990
By Guy Friddell
The Virginian-Pilot

By now, this newspaper's readers have learned that feature writer Mike D'Orso's byline guarantees a story that will engross and move them. Whatever he's writing about, whether or not it lies in their fields of interest, the story is rewarding. Hampton Roads Publishing Co. Inc. offers 29 of his profiles in a 268-page soft-back book priced at $8.95, titled 'FAST TAKES, Slices of Life Through a Journalist's Eye.''

Because D'Orso puts all he's got into every subject, the only burden for the editors must have lain in trying to find any chaff among the grain. They could just as well have pulled out, at random, 29 other stories from his files for an equally bountiful harvest of the same excellence. Every one is a winner.

The book's catchy title is a bit misleading. That business of 'Fast Takes,'' for instance. They're fast takes, all right, for the reader. He or she won't look up until the story's done. So it's fast reading, but that was assured by the writer's hard work in crafting the stories.

There was nothing fast or slapdash about D'Orso's labor of love. So much of good writing is rewriting, and D'Orso's stories flow seductively because after the heat of the first observation and inspiration, he persists in finding the right word and phrase to convey what he has seen, heard and felt. It's not just the journalist's eye at work, either. All five senses and his mind and skills have been fully engaged. Especially the ear. Pace, pattern and idiom of each character's talk are distinctive.

The first portrait is of Moses Malone, the child-giant who went from high school in Petersburg directly to pro basketball. A high school teammate discloses to D'Orso that Moses socialized on his own terms: "After high school games, all the guys used to get together and just drink beer, you know, and hang out with the ladies. Everybody would put in money to buy the beer, and Moses would always put in money to help, but he didn't drink. He would go and buy a little box of cereal, some milk and get a bowl and eat his cornflakes. I will never forget that.''

Moses inserted, at 14, two pledges in his grandfather's Bible: to become the nation's best high school basketball player by his junior year and the first to go straight to the pros. "I had people telling me what to do, but I made up my mind. If Moses was going to fail, it was going to be Moses' fault,'' he says. D'Orso went to the roots to talk with friends and and kin, and his view of Moses is the best among many. And that's how he enriches every story. He doesn't skim; he dives deep, submerges himself in the subject. Moses is a natural as a topic. D'Orso takes the tough ones, too, the sort some writers shy away from: the feelings of parents upon learning that their son is dying of AIDS and how they and the youth confront his fate. By writing of their tragedy from the heart, he wins you into reading it.

There are so many memorable ones: the master war-time sniper who confides about his first kills: "They would roll in a ball and flip-floppy on the ground just like rabbits. . . . I didn't enjoy the killing. What I enjoyed was the thought of pitting myself against another living, breathing, human being.'' And for humor, especially if you saw the movie 'Bull Durham,'' read about the world of the Virginia Generals, 'arguably the worst, possibly the most woeful, and certainly one of the wackiest organizations in professional baseball.''

At game time one night, a total of 25 people were in the stands at the War Memorial Stadium in Hampton. "As a tribute to their loyalty,'' D'Orso writes, 'the management introduced each one over the P.A. system, which, that night, was working.'' D'Orso introduces the reader to one fascinating world after another. Most of them are close by, but the odds are the reader may have missed them. He is a grand writer and guide, and, in person, an engaging companion, which you will discover if you drop by the J.M. Prince bookstore in Norfolk's Selden Arcade at 11 a.m. Nov. 10 where he'll be autographing books.