Monthly Archives: October 2010

What I Did Yesterday

Now Playing: The Rain Song, by Led Zeppelin. “It is the springtime of my loving – the second season I am to know. You are the sunlight in my growing – so little warmth I’ve felt before. It isn’t hard to feel me glowing – I watched the fire that grew so low.”

“What did you do yesterday?” my lovely wife asked me this morning when she read the teaser for this post on Facebook.

Which probably tells you that she doesn’t get this free-lance thing I’ve been doing. Turns out I wrote a 1,000-word story on a flower/gift shop in Clover, S.C. – don’t ask – and edited a story about economic development in Fayetteville and tried to talk to a couple of the top lawyers in the state and talked to a technical-writer recruiting company and reassured an editor about another story and took my sweetie’s dress to the alterations shop. But none of those are what I plan to write about.

I also didn’t do something, for the first time in three days. That was go to the Verizon store in Matthews. And yes, I know there are closer Verizon stores in both Indian Trail/Stallings and Monroe. But I like the one in Matthews. For that matter, I like Verizon as a carrier. The service is pretty good, usually available – as long as you’re not in a Target – and the prices aren’t too bad. I’m still waiting on our refund for the phony data charges – turns out the boys were telling the truth about not using data services. But I really didn’t have too many complaints about the company.

You can tell there’s a but coming, can’t you? And here it is.

After much soul-searching and thought (believe it or not), we agreed to let Austin replace his old decrepit phone Sunday. With a Droid X. It’ll be the lion’s share of his Christmas this year, and he’s going to start paying for his data plan when he gets a job.

Anyway, at halftime of the Panthers game Sunday – I’ve vowed not to let the Panthers run my life the rest of this football season – I took him and Garrett to the Verizon store to do the deed. Everything was going smoothly, we got the deal we expected and we didn’t have to wait too long to do it. End of story, right?

Uh, no. The first time Austin turned the Droid off, it wouldn’t turn back on. He took the battery out and put it back in. No go. He called the store. They told him to take the battery out and put it back in. No go. They told him to bring it back, and they’d replace it.  So we did. Only they didn’t. The sales guy, Jim, took it in the back, took the battery out and turned it back on. It worked this time. He said they just need to be reset sometimes. End of story, right?

Uh, no. Later that night, Austin turned the Droid off again. It wouldn’t turn back on. He took the battery out and put it back in. No go. Lather, rinse and repeat. No go. After about six times, it came back up. With the date set to Dec. 31, 1969. Not surprisingly, it had no service. He kept trying and finally got it back on. He didn’t turn it off again that night. I told him we’d take it back again Monday.

We did, and the really nice greeter, who recognized us from the two trips Sunday, steered us to a repair person. We told her our problem – I’m not sure she listened – and she took it in the back. We’re pretty sure she took the battery out and put it back in. A few minutes later, she came back and said she’d restored the defaults and that it should work now. End of story, right?

Uh, no. When we got to the car, Austin shut it down. It didn’t come back on. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t go back in. But I could. To her credit, the really nice greeter met me at the door and said, I’m going to get our Droid expert. He took it in the back. But when he came back in, he said he’d never seen our problem before and told me he’d switch it out for a new one. Which he did. He even gave us a new screen protector.

When we got back to the car, we turned it off. It powered back up. End of story, right?

So far. Stay tuned.

But I told Karen Tuesday morning that I didn’t care what happened that day, I wasn’t going back to the Verizon store. And I didn’t. (The Droid, by the way, is way cool. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want one. I’d also be lying if I said I needed one. Not that Austin did, for that matter.)

So that’s what I didn’t do yesterday. What did I do? I early voted.

But as hard as I looked for Nancy Pelosi, I couldn’t find her on my ballot. Despite all the stupid Republican TV ads.

This has been the worst election ad campaign I can ever remember. The Republican ads are dumb. They’re running against Nancy Pelosi, the stimulus (as if the country would be better off if the banks collapsed and even more jobs disappeared), health-care reform (as if the existing system was/is sustainable). The Democrats ads are reprehensible, too. Whenever Democrats think they might be in trouble, they haul out the Social Security scare ads to rile up the old people. That’s what they’re doing this year.

Why? The real issue this year is the economy. And the truth is, neither side has a clue how to make it better. My opinion, Adam Smith’s invisible hand will correct it sooner or later.

Not the dolts and nitwits that are on the ballot this year. I held my nose and voted for Elaine Marshall in the Senate race. Certainly not because I like her.

I couldn’t even bring myself to vote in my congressional race. Much as I dislike Sue “There’s a Muslim Terrorist in Every Shadow” Myrick, I couldn’t vote for the Democrat, Jeff Doctor, who had never voted until this spring.

I voted for prohibiting felons from running for sheriff even though it’s a stupid notion – I give people enough credit not to elect criminals (even though they did elect Richard Nixon twice). I voted against expanding the Union County Board of Commissioners from five to seven members. It’s hard enough to find five who won’t do something stupid. I might vote for the expansion if they’d guarantee the two new ones couldn’t be from here.

So that’s what I did yesterday.

Let’s see what today holds.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein


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High Times at UNC

Now Playing: Pretty, by Micky and the Motorcars. “I was ridin’ on a one way ticket to an early grave. My path of destruction has long been paved. If not for you, I might have never been saved. But you caught me at a bad time.”

I started at UNC Chapel Hill in August 1975. The day I moved in was my first step on campus. Of the 20,000 people there, I knew one other student – Sam – and we were friends in high school but not close ones. We hadn’t hung out together in high school, and we wouldn’t at UNC.

So I had to find a new circle of friends. Quickly.

The first place I looked was right around me. The fourth floor of Hinton James on South Campus. As south as you could get at the time.

My freshman roommate was a guy from Kinston named Taylor Koonce. He was a great roommate: He walked on in football (played for the JVs), so he was gone every afternoon. He went home every weekend. Even though he was a freshman, he had a car (which he parked illegally but never got ticketed). And he was a pretty nice guy besides. We didn’t really hang out (he’d gone to a private school in Kinston and he spent a lot of his time on campus with his buddies from home), but we did go to Raleigh a couple of times to look for trouble. Mostly he was just gone. Which meant I essentially had a single room.

But I quickly met and became friends with a bunch of guys on the floor:

Bill and Bill were two of the most unlikely roommates ever. Bill Eagle was rail thin and had a nose like an eagle’s beak. He loved David Bowie. And most unlikely of all, his dad was a colonel in the Marine Corps. His roommate Bill was a doctor’s son from Myers Park in Charlotte. He was a hard partier and a good guy, who later became a dog trainer in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. They got along OK, though.

Greg and Willie were equally unlikely. Greg is my longtime friend Greg Mercer. He was from Eastern North Carolina and talked a mile a minute. Which came in handy when he became an exec at a Charlotte marketing company. We were both from small towns, liked Southern rock and got along right from the get-go. Willie was the son of a professor, and I say without question, was the biggest pothead I ever knew. (And I knew quite a few – draw your own conclusions.) Nice guy, slept a lot, partied hard, fun to be around, but I never quite trusted him.

Bruce and Gary were upperclassmen. Bruce claimed to be the son of a Johnson & Johnson exec in New Jersey. But then Bruce claimed a lot of stuff. Some of it might even have been true. Regardless, I liked Bruce. We hung out a lot, because he’d often sit on the balcony and play his guitar, which of course was a chick magnet. He was a lot of fun, too. Gary was a nice guy from Burlington, and I liked him OK, but he was really boring. Not sure what happened to either of those guys.

But just so you don’t think I hung out with a bunch of losers, there were also Ben and Big Ed. Ed worked for many years at the Brunswick nuclear plant near Southport (I think he might have been a nuke engineer, might still be one there for all I know), while Ben went on to become a plastic surgeon (I won’t say where). They ranked right behind Willie on the pothead list.

There also were Steve, Walt and Chris, who would be my roommate for the last three years at the University of the People. Lamar, a great guy, was our RA. And there was even another Arthur on the floor. Last name ‘o Schrum. (I swear I’m not making this up.) Who went by the name of Pod (get it – Arthropod). So we called him Prod, Probe, Prong, etc. He was crazy, so much so that he eventually joined a fraternity – a no-no among our group. We really disliked the Greeks, which wasn’t that uncommon an attitude at the time.

We all did a lot of things together, like going to Troll’s, at the time a new bar in Chapel Hill. It remained my favorite all through school, even though I don’t think it ever changed its jukebox during that time. But it had good pinball machines and a foosball table you could get to without much of a wait. And cold, cheap beer. It was run by a guy named Sam (and I swear I’m not making that up) who’d gotten tired of being a lawyer.

We’d go to football games as a group and smuggle in liquor – it wasn’t hard in those days, as long as you didn’t wave it in the face of the ushers. And I can still remember the drunken walks back from seeing Animal House and Monty Python and the Holy Grail and other movies. We’d shout lines from the movie and fall down and laugh and shout more lines. We’d make giant vats of spaghetti or chili and pull massive all-nighters together in which some measure of studying even got done.

What did we have in common? We all loved Carolina, of course. And we all lived on the Fourth Floor of James. And we all had at least a little bit of a crush on Janis.

Janis High also lived on the fourth floor. She was a freshman (freshwoman?) from Dallas. The one near Gastonia – the hellmouth of weird – not the one in Texas. She’d been a high-school cheerleader, and she often stood arms akimbo. She was famous in our crowd for saying, “Are You Making Fun of the Way I Taaalllllkkkk? (If you couldn’t tell, she’d draw out that last word for about a minute and 17 seconds – I counted one time.) She was a brunette, with a nose that was a touch too broad and a chest that was a touch too small – not that I ever touched it. She wasn’t as dumb as she sounded, and she managed to get us to do just about anything she wanted with a modest amount of flirting.

Most of us got over the crush thing after a few weeks. I think I got over it after meeting her friend Hazel (but that’s a tale for another time, and, once more, it’s not what you think). There were, of course, other girls on the floor who also became our friends: Janis’ roommate Peggy, Doris, Candy, Kathy and Verna, among others. But two of  our number didn’t get over it – Bruce (the guitar guy) or Walt (who was in Air Force ROTC). They competed for Janis’ attention for months, and finally it looked like Walt had won. They started dating – Bruce seemed pretty OK with it – and things kept going smoothly into the spring semester.

Of course, there’s a “but” here. A big one (Not Janis’ – her’s was just right). All of us – including Walt – eventually found out that Bruce and Janis had been seeing each other behind Walt’s back.

Things were never quite the same after that on the fourth floor. Bruce fell out of the group altogether. We all still liked Janis, but not the way we used to. Seems like we saw less of her after that, and eventually we didn’t see her much at all. Even among those of us that were left, a bond had kind of been shattered. We still partied together and hung out and had a good time. But I’m not sure we ever completely trusted one another again the way we had during those first months. We got together in smaller groups. New people floated in. And we met people from other parts of campus. It was just different.

I guess it was a momentary low point after all the High. Though rest assured, there would be plenty of lowercase highs after that.

“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” _ Bob Dylan


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What They’re Really Saying

Now Playing: Christmas in Washington, by Steve Earle. “There’s foxes in the hen house, Cows out in the corn. The unions have been busted, Their proud red banners torn. To listen to the radio, You’d think that all was well. But you and me and Cisco know, It’s going straight to hell. So come back, Emma Goldman; Rise up, old Joe Hill, The barricades are goin’ up, They cannot break our will. Come back to us, Malcolm X And Martin Luther King. We’re marching into Selma, As the bells of freedom ring.”

I often play translator in my house for Karen and Austin. As in, I translate his teen speak into English. It’s not that he uses teen slang or anything like that. He just speaks quickly, sometimes softly and sometimes in a mumble, and his mom doesn’t always catch everything. (Like any good translator, I don’t always translate word-for-word – giving him and his mother a break.)

But today I’ll use those talents to translate political commercials, particularly those being run by Richard Burr featuring two old geezers in rocking chairs on a porch and their cute – but not too cute – young woman, possibly a granddaughter or niece or nurse or … who knows?

It starts off with the standard disclaimer: I’m Richard Burr, and I approve this message. Here’s what he’s really saying: I’m Richard Burr, and I’m too wooden to tell you this stuff and have you believe it, so I’ve hired these geezers and this young and cute – but not too cute – young woman to do it for me. Yeah, they’re the same old coots who said bad stuff about my party member Elizabeth Dole last election, but who cares? They’re just actors. They’ll say whatever they’re paid to say.

Then it goes to the geezers, with one complaining that Elaine Marshall wants to authorize $6 trillion in new debt, the other chiming in that the new spending is on top of the $14 trillion we already owe, and the cute – but not too cute – young woman saying, look what that got us, high unemployment and a bad economy. Now here’s what they’re really saying: Richard Burr doesn’t care if you don’t have a job. He didn’t care if the financial system crashed – at least as long as it crashed after his wife got all the money allowable out the ATMs before the general public knew about the financial crisis. And if it takes a lot of people losing everything until the bad economy turns around, so be it.

Bad as that is, there’s the Big Lie that comes next, as it addresses Elaine Marshall’s support for cap-and-trade energy taxes. “I’m for a clean environment,” one geezer says. “But her plan costs jobs,” the cute – but not too cute – young woman says. “And raises utility rates,” the other geezer says. Here’s what they mean. “I’m for a clean environment, as long as it’s not inconvenient, as long as I don’t have to pay any more for it, as long as someone just poofs it out of thin air.

I’m not big fan of Elaine Marshall, either, by the way. I’m suspicious of the UNC agent investigation she launched. I suspect she launched it to get on the front pages, since she didn’t have the money to spend on her own misleading campaign ads.

There’s a pretty big lack of leadership in this state and country right now. It’s hard to find any politician who stands for something other than themselves. Instead, we’ve got a bunch of Larry Kissells and Heath Shulers and the like, and their only challengers are equally flawed.

Come back, Woody Guthrie.

“So come back Woody Guthrie, Come back to us now. Tear your eyes from paradise, And rise again somehow. If you run into Jesus, Maybe he can help you out. Come back, Woody Guthrie, to us now.” – more Christmas in Washington

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Tips From the Notorious

Now Playing: It Don’t Come Easy, by Ringo Starr. “Peace, remember peace is how we make it, Here within your reach, If you’re big enough to take it.”

In my 53-odd years (and many of them have been odd), I’ve had eight jobs. That’s counting working in tobacco for my Uncle Dan – the less said about that, the better – until I got old enough to do something else. That something else ended up being working in a clothing store in SoBo. I liked it, but I can’t say I was a great salesman. I showed people what they wanted, didn’t really try to upsell them, and told them if something didn’t work for them. But I was good enough, and reliable enough, to work there on and off during high school and the summers and holidays during college when I was back in SoBo.

Speaking of college, my next job was as a clerk in the financial-aid office at Carolina. Actually, I did a little more than just be a clerk. There were never enough counselors in the office, so they gave me some work other folks should be doing. For instance, if you got food stamps at Carolina, you didn’t get them unless I signed off on your application. I’m sure this constituted about 50 violations of privacy rights, but that’s what they told me to do. The job paid OK money, it was flexible, meaning I could work it around partying, studying and occasionally going to class.

After I graduated, I started my journalism career, which spanned three newspapers over 21 years. Then I left newspapers for the magazine, where I spent 10 years.

During a previous downturn in the economy, the magazine cut back to four-day weeks, with pay cut accordingly. I was pretty nervous, so I looked for  a part-time job to fill the day I wouldn’t be in the office. And to give me a little pocket money.

What I found turned out to be probably my favorite job of all time – making sandwiches at the Jersey Mike’s restaurant in Matthews.

Here’s why: I like being around food (big surprise there), I liked the kids I worked with and I really enjoyed getting to know the regular customers: the old couple that always wanted extra  jalapenos on their sub; the family that came every saturday morning, right after we opened; the folks from the Lowe’s across the street who rushed over on break; the woman with the daughter who couldn’t have even the hint of a pepper on her cheesesteak.

Which brings me to The Notorious.

As a reporter/editor, I’d been in on covering or supervising lots of crime cases: a Marine accused of deserting in Vietnam, the kid accused of killing three family members and the twins accused of killing their parents and accidentally shooting their sister, just off the top of my head. (And that’s not including anything in Gastonia, perched as it is on the hellmouth of weird.)

But over the time I was at Jersey Mike’s, I encountered the Notorious in a different way – as customers.

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner used to come in the restaurant quite frequently. Let me say that I despised her and her ex, Jim Bakker, feeling that they had bilked thousands of elderly people out of their savings. In particular, I always thought that she had gotten off too lightly from the whole PTL scandal. When I saw her in line at the restaurant, I was determined to make her sandwich to specifications but little more.

Turns out she really was a delightful person. She was relentlessly positive, without a hint of the phoniness you detected on television. She was always gracious and quite funny. I couldn’t help but like her, against all odds. Some days she obviously wasn’t feeling well, because of the cancer that caused her death in July 2007, but she always was upbeat.

The other notorious character was Jim Black, at the time the speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives (in addition to being a Matthews eye doctor).  He was an ass. Always distracted. Never looked at you, as if he considered you beneath him. Ordered his club sandwich (a No. 9, turkey and roast beef – we even had turkey bacon primarily for him after he requested it a couple of times) and couldn’t wait to get out. On the few occasions he spoke, he was always dismissive. And he never tipped. Ever. Just couldn’t be bothered, I guess.

Because, as it would turn out, he surely had lots of money, having been paid off over the years to advance various causes. Often picking up the payments in restaurants, for that matter. Not ours, though – as I said, he couldn’t be bothered to speak to anyone. When he was convicted of political corruption, I figured he’d finally gotten his just desserts. He got out of prison a few days ago, humbled, I hope, in addition to being broke, according to most accounts. He’ll serve another six months in a halfway house or under home arrest. I read  a column the other day expressing sympathy for him. I don’t have a lot – he really disgraced state government with his actions. And I still resent that he was a bad – make that nonexistent – tipper.

I don’t remember whether Tammy Faye ever threw money in the tip basket or not. But I know I always felt better when she dropped by. And that’s even better than cash.

“One does evil enough when one does nothing good.” – German proverb




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Second Helpings

Now Playing: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult. “All our times have come, Here but now they’re gone. Seasons don’t fear the reaper, Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain. We can be like they are …”

Today I’m going to tie up a couple of loose ends from past entries, concerning holidays and restaurants, and maybe cast a little light on my ambivalence, at best, for Darryl’s.

To recap, Monday’s post was about my favorite restaurant, which ain’t Darryl’s. I got a lot of comments on Facebook from folks who liked Darryl’s and a really nice response on the blog from the owner of the last Darryl’s standing, the one in Greensboro. He invited me to come to Greensboro and eat there and told me I might change my mind. Fair enough. I plan to take him up on it sometime.

But it occurred to me that I didn’t really explain how I feel about Darryl’s and how it has nothing to do with the restaurant and everything to do with a certain situation.

In another previous blog, I talked about eating holiday meals at convenience stores. That’s one of the byproducts of working so many years in newspapers – which don’t shut down for holidays or disasters or pretty much anything. Well, it turns out I’ve eaten a couple of holiday meals at restaurants as well.

One was when I was at the Gastonia newspaper. I had to work Thanksgiving, which meant going in around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Which meant Karen and I wouldn’t have time for a traditional holiday meal at our apartment. We went to a now-closed Charlotte restaurant and had a pretty good turkey and fixings meal before I went in. No problem.

The other also was a Thanksgiving meal. It was at the Darryl’s in Durham. I was off this holiday, and I’d gone to be with my family for the holiday. But my family wasn’t home. It was gathered at Duke University Medical Center, where my dad was hospitalized again for what started as tongue cancer. By this time, it had spread to his lungs and spine. He could walk. He couldn’t eat. He wasn’t getting any better, and this was when they told us he wouldn’t.

There’d be no more radiation or chemo, no more treatments designed to make him better. Just to ease his pain.

So we didn’t have a lot to be thankful for that holiday. But we had to eat.

We went to the Darryl’s in Durham. I’d eaten there several times while I was in college. The food was always good.

On this day, though, it was hard to choke down, through no fault of the restaurant. I’ve never eaten at a Darryl’s again.

My dad died a couple of months later. Time has eased the pain, though not the sadness.

I think I’m ready to give Darryl’s another try, thanks to a nicer-than-he-had-to-be owner of the Greensboro restaurant.

Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” _ Saul Bellow

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Darryl’s Is Nice …

Maybe I’ll be changing my favorite restaurant. A strong contender placed a claim Friday night. More on that later.

A lot goes into picking a favorite, of course. The company has a lot to do with it. As does the occasion.

So you’d think my favorite might be the restaurant where Karen and I ate after we got married.

We’d decided to go to Regas, in downtown Knoxville, which is where we got married. Why Knoxville? We’d spent some time there (a story for another time, perhaps) and really liked the city. We were going to be married in one of the little chapels in what’s called the Old City there. We’d decided on the drive over to ask whoever helped us at the license office – which was in a mall – for a suggestion of where to eat after the ceremony. I was skeptical – big surprise there – and said, “She’ll probably suggest Darryl’s.”

After we got the license, we asked the clerk, a perky youngster, our question. “Darryl’s is nice …”

It was another of those moments that we choked back our laughter. When we were able to talk, we explained we were looking for something upscale, and she suggested Regas. We took her up on it.

And it was pretty good, though the only thing I can really remember from the meal was the red velvet cake they gave us for being newlyweds.

But to tell you the truth, Karen and I had been married in all the ways that count long before we went through the ceremony. So my real favorite comes well before then, while we still lived in Jacksonville. Actually the restaurant was called the White Oak River Cafe, and it was in Swansboro.

What made it special? It just had everything. It was small and dark and played Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett while you ate. The menu was printed on a sheet and it was different every night. You’d get stuff in there I’ve never seen anywhere else. And it was always excellent. Karen and I only ate there two or three times, but we loved it, much as we loved each other.

Of course, we still love one another. And we love that restaurant. But all we have now is our memories. It didn’t make it. But we always stack the good places we eat up against it.

Friday night, with Austin at a friend’s house and Garrett at Carowinds, we wanted to try something different. We went to an Italian place in Matthews, called Fontanella’s. It’s in a crappy shopping center. But man, was it good.

A couple of weeks ago, we’d eaten at a snooty Italian place in Piper Glen and not really enjoyed it.

But this place was really quaint. The decorations were cool, the people were nice, our waiter Juan took great care of us and we were there by ourselves, in the middle of a crowded place.

We’ll go back, of course. And I hope it’s as good as the first time.

It might not ever top the White Oak River Cafe. Because it’s hard to top a ghost. (I’m pretty sure one of the things that has kept the WORC foremost in our minds is the fact that we can’t go there anymore.)

But we’ve got a new No. 2.

Even if it isn’t Darryl’s.

The ghosts you chase you never catch.” – John Malkovich


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