Thursday, December 20, 2007

The best of '07

Here's a list of the 10 things that stuck with me this year:

1. "Once." It's not a musical, even though the characters sing -- it's a movie about music, with characters who break into song in real-life situations. It's small, intimate, and unbelievably powerful. It played only a couple of weeks in Charlotte, but it just came out on DVD. See it.

2. Stevie Wonder at Bobcats Arena. Beyond all expectations. And worth it just for the country version of "Signed, Sealed & Delivered."

3. Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark at Ovens Auditorium. Four guys with acoustic guitars sitting around and trading off one brilliant song after another.

4. Joe Posnanski's blog. The UNCC grad and former Observer sportswriter supplements his prizewinning work at the Kansas City Star with this blog, which is mostly about baseball but a little bit about everything. Full disclosure: He's my buddy. He's also the best sportswriter in America.

5. Elvis Costello at the Blumenthal Center. Another acoustic show -- just Elvis and keyboardist Steve Nieve. Two-and-a-half hours and I could've listened to twice as much.

6. "Stardust." Another one of those low-expectations moments -- I went in not knowing much about it and came out charmed. For all those people who still watch "The Princess Bride" at least once a year.

7. "Cross-X," Joe Miller. I was a high-school debate geek, so this book is right in my wheelhouse, but I think other people will love it, too -- it's a study of brilliant, profane, infuriating and uplifting kids trying to blossom in an inner-city high school.

8. "The Simpsons Movie." My wife had no idea she liked the Simpsons until she went to this movie. Now she's a fan. "Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, does whatever a Spider-Pig does..."

9. "Terry's Song," Bruce Springsteen. I didn't even know the name of this song until I just now looked it up -- it's a hidden track on the "Magic" CD. (It's the one with the chorus "When they built you, brother, they broke the mold.") Apparently Springsteen wrote it for his longtime friend Terry McGovern, who died in July. It's old-school Bruce -- simple and clear and wraps both its hands around your heart.

10. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32. I had to work that Saturday; on the way to the office, I found the game on the radio and discovered App State was ahead. I came to the office and found my boss. "Did you hear about App State and Michigan? It's 28-17!" I said. "Wow, that's great," he said. A few minutes later he walked over to my desk. "Wait," he said, "you mean they're AHEAD?"

The game wasn't on TV and we couldn't go to a sports bar. So five or six of us at the office went online and logged on to the ESPN GameCast, which shows a little cartoon field and an update after every play. It was like finding out about the World Series via Morse code. But somehow that made it all the more exciting as App State lost the lead, then got it back, then blocked a field goal at the end for the huge upset. We ran around the room high-fiving and basically acting like goobers.

Sometimes the best moments are the smallest.

What's your list of favorite things from 2007? Let's see 'em below.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Panthers -- what a deal!

I'm not technologically advanced enough to copy the whole thing into this post, but I got an e-mail from the Panthers that shows just how much they have their fingers on the pulse of the Charlotte sports fan.

The e-mail offers a "rare sports experience" for the Panthers' game against the Dallas Cowboys in two weeks. Here's what you get:

One ticket in the corner of the upper level -- basically, the worst seats in the stadium.

A pass to the hospitality tent with free food, beer and wine for two hours before the game.

Appearances by the TopCats and Sir Purr.

So how much do you think the Panthers are charging?


(nope, higher...)


This great deal can be yours for only $285.

That's right. TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE DOLLARS for an upper-deck ticket, some chicken wings and a quick peek at the TopCats.

I'm not sure I'd pay $2.85.

So here's my question: What, at this point in the season, would motivate you to pay $285 for a Panthers' ticket? Somehow I think the chance to see Matt Moore throw a pass -- and Keary Colbert, possibly, catch one -- doesn't quite cut it.

Oh, I almost forgot the best part -- it's $20 extra for parking.

Friday, December 07, 2007

More on the sheriff's race

I would not classify the reaction to my column today as "overwhelmingly positive." The word "idiot" has popped up several times in my e-mail -- OK, that always happens, but today even more than usual. Jeff Taylor, in his always-interesting Meck Deck blog, has pretty much the same reaction in a more nuanced way.

So let's look at some of the criticisms of how this all played out.

It wasn't a vote of the people. Well, it wasn't a general election, but it wasn't a bunch of politicians either. The 300-some people who voted were mostly precinct captains -- their main job is keeping polling places straight on Election Day. I saw a couple of people I knew at the meeting last night, and I had no idea until that moment that they had anything to do with local politics. Believe me, by and large, they're not insiders.

Also remember this: Jim Pendergraph got this ball rolling by leaving his job with three years left on his term. This process, screwed up as it was, was already in place. If we want to change the law to require a general election to fill unexpired terms, fine. But this was a fair and clean vote under current state law.

(By the way, if the sheriff had been a Republican, the same thing would have happened on the other side -- Republican elected officials and precinct officers would have picked the new sheriff. Somehow I think they wouldn't be so upset with the process then.)

Mackey's not qualified for the job. He's clearly not as qualified as Chipp Bailey was. And if we want to start appointing the sheriff like we appoint the police chief, fine with me.

But people vote for (and against) candidates for all sorts of reasons -- party affiliation, positions on one or two key issues, unfounded rumors, good hair. For example, Pendergraph took a strong stand against illegal immigration, and Bailey promised to carry out his policies. If you're in favor of fewer restrictions on immigration, wouldn't you have to consider Mackey?

And if qualifications for office were the sole factor, how would Bush v. Gore have turned out?

Mackey's crooked. This is the part that's hardest to shake -- he clearly was in some trouble when he was a Charlotte cop. The Observer went to court (and lost) in a fight to see his personnel file. You can expect us -- as well as all the other publications, TV stations, talk-show hosts and bloggers in the area -- to be watching him like a hawk. No sheriff in this county has ever been under the microscope that Nick Mackey is about to be under.

It's all about race. I'm not sure that's true -- as I said in my column, I talked to black committee members who planned to vote for Bailey and white ones who planned to vote for Mackey. The process was so confusing that I'm not clear even today if we'll be able to parse who voted for which candidate, which would make any racial breakdowns more clear.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that Mackey and his supporters worked the system to make sure a candidate of one race got this important job, and the candidate from the other race got shut out.

Where do you think they would have learned such a thing?

Have at it in the comments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Some thoughts on Bruton, Slick Ric

I'm not sure I've ever seen a better "you write the caption" photo than the one on the front page of today's paper:

"My name is Bruton Smith. I just whined and threatened my way to 80 million bucks of government incentives. I'm gonna make a ton of money and the taxpayers are gonna foot the bill! It's great to be a billionaire! Whee!!!"

Three quick things before this story mercifully goes away:

1. Ronald Reagan used to talk about "welfare queens." So does Bruton qualify as a welfare king?

2. When Mecklenburg County spent millions of bucks on the Bobcats Arena, it was against the will of a lot of voters. But at least they got to vote.

3. How, exactly, is what Bruton did any different from what George Shinn did?


This might be the saddest paragraph I've written in a month. Ric Flair wrestled on the WWE card in Charlotte last night. He appears to have a comb-over.

Go here and skip to the second photo. On second thought, don't. It's too depressing.

My dad and I bonded many an hour over Mid-Atlantic Wrestling on TV. My athletic role models growing up were Hank Aaron, Dr. J and Ricky Steamboat. Which probably explains a lot. I never loved Ric Flair -- mainly because he was always the bad guy -- but even as a kid I understood how special he was. No one in has ever been so good on the mic AND in the ring. Ric Flair is, without a doubt, the greatest wrestler of all time.

So it is with love and respect that I say this: I hope he retires. Soon.

Last night he came to the ring in a suit, supposedly to announce his retirement in front of the hometown fans. But instead -- wrestling is full of swerves -- he vowed that he'd NEVER retire. Then the evil CEO Vince McMahon came out to say that the next time Ric loses, his career is over. Then he had to face WWE champ Randy Orton. Of course Flair won (although it wasn't for the title). He finished Orton off with a bolo punch to the gonads, then pulled the trunks for the pin.

I have the 3-DVD Ric Flair collection, so I can say this with some authority: It was a horrible match.

In the spirit of the season, I'll throw out this out there for free -- a storyline that will let Ric go out with dignity and style.

He announces that he's going to make one last run for the world title. Evil Vince McMahon makes him start at the bottom, wrestling the worst of the roster. He has trouble beating even those guys. (Remember, one loss and his career is over.)

But he works his way up the ladder, getting stronger with every win. Every so often we see a training video of Ric getting into peak shape for this one last run and talking about how much the title means to him. Through all the obstacles -- interference from the champ, a hand-picked thug brought in to stop him -- he keeps winning.

Finally, on pay-per-view, Flair gets his last title shot. And at the end of a grueling match, after escaping sure defeat half a dozen times, he locks in the Figure Four for the improbable win. (Wrestling is full of improbabilities.)

The next night on TV, he comes out to a standing ovation. He gives a tearful speech. And then he hangs it up, retiring as champion.

After that he can wear his hair any way he wants.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give thanks here

This is sort of an open thread to say whatever you're thankful for this year. I'll start, briefly:

I'm thankful for Alix, my favorite wife of all time. I'm thankful for Fred, the best dog there ever was. I'm thankful for all our family and friends -- we both hit the lottery on those.

I'm thankful for the Tosco Music Party and late-night omelets at the Landmark and cool summer mornings on the front porch.

I'm thankful for readers.

And I'm thankful for Charlotte, which used to be the place where we lived, but over the years has turned into our home.

I'm thankful for about six million other things too, but the rest of this space is for y'all. Jump in and fill it up. And have a great Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

First impressions of the Lynx

This morning the Charlotte transit honchos had a media day so newsfolks could ride the Lynx train and, of course, give it some publicity. Because you probably didn't know that we had a new light-rail line about to open.

In other breaking news, the Panthers are pretty bad this year.

I'll have a column Sunday that takes more of a big-picture look at what light rail means to Charlotte. But in the meantime here are some quick first thoughts:

-- They're going to be working on the line right up until opening day a week from Saturday. We couldn't go all the way uptown today because crews were still doing electrical work.

-- The seats are comfortable and roomy, although a few spots -- at the front end of the car and right by the doors -- might be a squeeze for the big-n-tall among us.

-- There are 15 stops, so there's not much room to pick up speed, but the trains can go 55 mph and there's some open space on the south end of the line. I was surprised how fast the train was moving in a couple of spots.

-- Dress warm. The stations are open-air and if the wind's cutting -- like it was this morning -- there's nowhere to hide from it while you wait.

-- CATS must have outsourced the recorded voice that announces the stations. As we approached the Tyvola Road station, the friendly voice told us we were approaching "TIV-uh-luh." (In case you just moved here, it's "ty-VOLE-uh.") Within seconds, one of the honchos was calling the office: "Car 103 is still saying 'TIV-uh-luh.'"

Maybe we should just leave it. Great way to confuse the tourists.

So here's a quick poll about light rail. Are you inclined to:

1. Ride a lot to commute to work
2. Ride a lot for pleasure (Panthers games, etc.)
3. Ride sometimes
4. Ride occasionally
5. Never ride because you don't need it
6. Never ride out of principle (we're spending too much money on it, etc.)

Have at it in the comments. We'll have much more on the Lynx in the paper and online this weekend. Click here for a downloadable Lynx station guide.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Do election calls work?

It's 5 p.m. on Election Day and the phone rings -- a very nice woman named Patricia, who is supporting the school bonds and just wanted me to know I still had time to get out and vote. This marks the last of approximately 62,584 phone calls we got at our house this election season. I'm starting to hear Robin Hayes' voice in my sleep. Believe me, of all the voices I would like to hear in my sleep, Robin Hayes' does not make the list.

That was on top of the vote-for-me cards we got every day in the mail -- an identical pair for each candidate because my wife and I were on the mailing lists separately. If we'd stacked all the cards they would've been three feet high, or nearly half as high as the stack of cards begging us to get Time Warner digital phone service.

We'd listen to a couple of the calls on our answering machine early on, but there were so many toward the end that we deleted the message as soon as we heard a recorded voice. It's possible we won $10 million in a sweepstakes and deleted the call. We can live with that as long as we don't have to hear the mayor checking in with us again.

I do give props to City Council candidate David Romero, who at least called in person. We chatted for a good 20 seconds. I wanted to get off the phone before he offered to come cook us supper.

Here's my question: Does any of this stuff work? Did you learn anything about the candidates or the issues from the phone calls and mailers? Did any of this stuff make you vote a different way? Or do you wish there was a do-not-call list for politicians? Opine in the comments below.

(And by the way, if you're reading this before 7:30 p.m., Patricia's right -- there's still time to vote.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Your best Halloween story?

I've always loved those round-the-campfire stories people tell at Halloween (or in other dark and scary moments). Ever since mankind figured out it was kind of fun to be scared, we've passed down these stories. I'm sure the Neanderthals spent long nights talking about the legend of the Headless Mastodon.

For me, the shortest stories are often the creepiest because they let your imagination fill in the blanks. I still get a chill when I think about sitting in the library in high school and watching the short film of Shirley Jackson's horror masterpiece "The Lottery." (The story itself is even better.)

So for this Halloween, here's what I want from you: Your best Halloween story, in 50 words or less.

My favorite ultra-short horror story is one I ran across in the preface to a Stephen King collection -- it's part of the story "Knock" by Fredric Brown. The story goes like this:

The last man on Earth was alone in a room.

There was a knock on the door.

There's only one story I can think of that's more scary:

The Panthers have to choose between a backup quarterback with a bad back, or a third-string quarterback with a bad foot.


Post your tales of terror below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vegas, baby. Vegas.

Spent a little R&R time in Las Vegas last week. This was my second trip and so far I've managed to come back alive, unindicted, and still able to pay the mortgage. This time I even came back a little ahead, not because of any skill on my part but because of a lucky royal flush on video poker.

(That's my Official Gambling Tip: If you can draw a royal flush, by all means do.)

I'm not a big gambler but Vegas is still one of my favorite places because of the unparalleled people-watching and the five-star eavesdropping. (I overheard two conventioneers at a blackjack table seriously discussing whether they should hit a strip club or see Celine Dion.)

So I've been wondering what Charlotte could learn from Vegas, assuming that we're not going to install slot machines up and down Tryon Street anytime soon. Here's a few thoughts:

1. Create a central spot people HAVE to see. Vegas is a huge, sprawling city -- much like Charlotte -- but if you visit there you have to hit the Strip. There's nowhere here that people feel like they have to see. Uptown is a lot more lively than it used to be, but it's still spread out. We need an entertainment district that draws in tourists and locals.

2. Give people something to do when they get there. There's a lot to do in Vegas even if you don't gamble -- you can ride rollercoasters, play carnival games, even pose with terrifyingly lifelike wax figures. In uptown Charlotte there's not all that much to do, unless you're a kid at Discovery Place. We need stuff for people who like to do more than watch. (If there's not some sort of driving simulator at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, those guys are morons.)

3. Make parking easier. Time and time again I've heard people from the Charlotte suburbs say they don't come uptown for events because it's too hard -- and too expensive -- to park. In Vegas all the casinos have free parking decks. Maybe that's an option for our parking decks after 5 and on weekends.

4. Provide options at every price level. In Vegas, you can buy a $50 steak or a 99-cent hot dog. You can play the slots for $500 a shot or a penny a pull. Charlotte isn't as accessible across the board. It's harder to get cheap tickets to good events. We maximize our dollars -- a Charlotte virtue -- but we lose out on a little funk and fun. Plus, Vegas understands that a cheap meal (and a free parking space) is a loss leader.

5. Don't be afraid of shameless commerce. In Vegas, the glitzy billboards and flyers for various, uh, services are part of the scenery. In Charlotte, street musicians have to get permits and they won't even allow ads on city buses. Sometimes a little selling out is a good thing.

6. Wayne Newton. I don't really have anything to add, just, Wayne Newton.

Any other ways we could learn from Vegas? Or do you just have a good Vegas story? Add your tales of woe and blackjack in the comments.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Friday Five

Some links to take with you this weekend:

1. The best commercial I've seen all year. You will never hear Phil Collins the same way again.

2. Seeing Elvis Costello the other night led me to this Elvis wiki with enough to satisfy a fan for days. (Here's the setlist from the Charlotte show.)

3. Scott Price is one of the best writers left at Sports Illustrated. In his college days, he wrote sports at UNC Chapel Hill at the same time a kid named Michael Jordan played there. This piece for the Oxford American talks a little about that, and more about what it's like to be a writer, especially a sportswriter. Mighty fine work.

4. I'm doing some work on a story about the Spongetones -- the Charlotte pop band that was huge here in the '80s and still plays to devoted crowds today. Their MySpace page is incredibly detailed -- it's like an encyclopedia of the band, complete with music and video.

5. Those of us who follow SEC football are obsessed with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, one of the most hyped QB prospects ever -- it is quite possible, although he has never done so in a game, that he can simply vanish from the field and materialize in the end zone. I went to Georgia -- Florida's hated rival -- so of course I want to hate Tim Tebow. But he's making it really hard. This New York Times piece reveals him to be an interesting and (it hurts to say this) decent guy.

If you've run across cool stuff you want to share, link away in the comments. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Elvis review: Do lyrics matter?

Last night we saw Elvis Costello (with his longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve) at the Belk Theater. Tremendous show. Elvis is mellower now, even sort of charming, although the angry Elvis came out in the antiwar comments he sprinkled in between songs. Most of the crowd cheered, but he did get a few boos -- possibly the first boos in Belk Theater history.

Pretty cool to see that he can still stir people up.

But for most of the night I was thinking about lyrics. I'm a former music writer, and I will be sent straight to music-critic hell for saying this, but here it is: Most of the time, lyrics don't matter to me.

What moves me about music is the melody, the groove, the arrangement, the way the sounds blend and clash. Lyrics are part of that, but mostly for how they sound, not for what they mean. I was on my fourth R.E.M. album before I could understand a word Michael Stipe said. But that mumbly voice, paired with that music, was perfect.

Bob Dylan, on the other hand, is overrated. (Definitely going to music-critic hell now.)

I bring this up because Elvis Costello is an exception. He's such a gifted writer that you can parse his songs like a poem, but they also fit in with the sound of the song. Plus he has one of my two favorite couplets in rock history, from "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes":

I said "I'm so happy I could die"
She said "Drop dead" and left with another guy...

My other favorite couplet, from the Ramones' "Teenage Lobotomy":

Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em
That I got no cerebellum

As you can see, I'm not exactly an intellectual when it comes to this stuff.

Got your own favorite lines? Reviews of the Elvis show? Or any Dylan fans out there who want to defend their guy? Fire away in the comments...

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Dot, and a Pearl

It's a busy Friday but I wanted to point y'all to a couple of things:

-- On Sunday I'll have a story in the paper about a momentous day in Charlotte history -- the day Dorothy Counts (now Dot Counts-Scoggins) integrated Harding High School. As of now (2 p.m. Friday), there's a slideshow on that serves as sort of a preview. On Sunday we'll have a story in the paper, plus photos, video and other extras online.

We'll also be running other stories this month about the events of September '57, including updates on the other three black children who integrated the Charlotte schools that day.

-- On a different subject: Back in 1986 I wrote a story on a guy named Pearl Fryar, who lives in Bishopville, S.C., and does amazing topiary work with the trees and plants in his yard. Pearl is one of my all-time favorite people. Well, now there's a documentary about him -- "A Man Named Pearl" -- and it's showing in Charlotte this week at the Regal Stonecrest 22. Larry Toppman, our movie critic, reviewed the movie in today's E&T (three stars!) and wrote about the filmmakers for Wednesday's paper.

I've seen the movie. It's great, and you will love Pearl Fryar. Go check it out.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

School overcrowding -- old news

Lately I've been combing through a bunch of old Observers from 50 years ago. (It's for a project that will show up in the paper in a few weeks; that's the reason I haven't written as many columns lately.)

The front page of the paper from Sept. 4, 1957, has a story with the headline "Area Schools Expect 52,000." That's less than half the size of the Char-Meck school system today.

Here's a couple of paragraphs from the story:

"Five new schools and additions at 13 other schools are now open or will soon be completed in an attempt to relieve pressure of the ever increasing pupil load.

"Despite this, double sessions and staggered sessions will still be necessary at some schools both in city and county."

School overcrowding in Charlotte is a lot of things -- divisive, contentious, frustrating, damaging, painful.

The one thing it's not is new.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

It's so hot in Charlotte...

On Monday I was down in Columbia to hang out with some of the fabulous folks at The State newspaper. We talked a lot about the heat.

As many of you know, Columbia is the hottest place in the South and one of the hottest places not located directly on the surface of the sun. Today in Columbia it was a balmy 102 degrees. The good news is, there's also humidity. You can leave a live chicken and a can of Crisco on the sidewalk and come back to find an 8-piece box.

So in honor of the heat (and in tribute to Johnny Carson) The State asked readers to finish the sentence: "It's so hot in Columbia that..."

You can see the results here. And although a couple are fairly funny, I have to think the intelligent and sophisticated residents of Charlotte can do better.

And it was 100 degrees here today, so you don't want to be going outside, right?

So let's hear it in the comments: It's so hot in Charlotte...

Bonus points for local references, of course.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Time to make some trades

If you follow sports you know that this was a big week for trades. In the NBA, the Boston Celtics traded half their team -- and, I think, the old Boston Garden parquet -- for superstar Kevin Garnett.

The baseball trading deadline was also this week, and a bunch of deals went down -- the main one being in Atlanta, where the Braves traded one hard-to-pronounce player for another.

It's always fun to fantasize about sports trades. But here's your challenge for the day: Come up with a Carolinas trade that DOESN'T involve sports.

For example: We went to Baltimore a few weeks ago. I'd trade uptown Charlotte for downtown Baltimore in a heartbeat. Baltimore has a harbor, a fabulous aquarium, a neoclassic baseball park, and the beautiful and disturbing American Visionary Arts Museum.

Our uptown is a lot better than it was 10 years ago. It's an up-and-comer. But downtown Baltimore is a proven veteran. I'd make the deal.

Sports trades have two unofficial rules:

1) You trade value for value. Nobody's going to give you Paris if you're offering Pineville. Sometimes you have to throw in a little extra -- if we're swapping downtowns with Baltimore, maybe we have to toss in SouthPark to sweeten the deal.

2) Having said that, you want to get the best of the deal, but you want the other guy to think HE got the best of it.

So that's the idea. Would you trade our mayor for some other leader of roughly equal value? Our trees for some other city's nightlife? Would you give away a great Carolinas barbecue joint for somebody else's crab shack?

Start dealing below. And justify your trades. The commissioner (um, me) has final authority over all transactions. Don't make me start testing for steroids.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dying in threes?

Every newspaper I've ever worked for, or known much about, subscribes to the same legend -- that the deaths of famous people always come in threes.

Whenever a couple of celebrities die on the same day, somebody in the newsroom always wonders who'll be the third to take the fall. (Newspeople have the same strain of black humor that you find among EMTs, social workers, cops -- folks who see the dark side of life up close every day.)

So when I checked the news Monday morning and saw that Ingmar Bergman and Tom Snyder had died, my reflex thought was: "Who's next?"

Bill Walsh obliged.

(That's an interesting group, by the way. I'm not highbrow enough to know much about Bergman, except that one of his famous scenes was ripped off in one of the "Bill & Ted" movies. Tom Snyder I knew a little -- mainly because the theme to his show was the flip side of one of the first singles I ever bought, the Brothers Johnson's immortal "Get The Funk Out Ma Face." And I hated Bill Walsh when he coached the San Francisco 49ers because they CRUSHED my then-beloved Atlanta Falcons for, like, eight years straight. Plus he trained George Seifert, who later led the Panthers to a 1-15 season. Maybe we should just move on.)

I'm sure that those of you who are statistically inclined could say that famous people die all the time -- especially if you're willing to stretch your definition of famous people -- and so we've just conditioned ourselves to notice them in groups of three.

Can't argue with that.

But I think life is better when there are mysteries. One of my old college roommates swore that there was some weird electrical pulse in his body that made streetlights go out when he walked by. And, in fact, I saw this happen at least half a dozen times. Of course, I've seen streetlights go out at least 100 times when he wasn't around. But I'm still gonna go with that pulse thing until I hear different.

Noticed any interesting stuff that you can't quite explain? Speculate away in the comments. (But stay away from UFOs. I mean, at this point, who hasn't seen a UFO?)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shed a tear for Bat Boy

Sad news from Florida -- the Weekly World News is going six feet under.

If you don't know the Weekly World News, clearly you have not spent any time over the last 20 years in a supermarket. The WWN used to sit in the rack near the checkout of every grocery store and Jiffy Mart in America. It had the eerie ability to leap right off the rack and into your hands. I swear, sometimes I'd get home and unload my bags and find it hiding in there, next to the Wheaties.

Sample headlines:




As you can see, the Weekly World News held itself to the highest journalistic standards.

The WWN actually had a Charlotte connection -- Eddie Clontz, who was the editor for years, grew up here. His brother, Derek, also worked for the paper. Eddie died in 2004 -- devoured by the Loch Ness Monster, I'm guessing.

The Weekly world News' greatest story was the continuing saga of Bat Boy, a (duh) half-bat, half-boy who was discovered in a cave in 1992. He turned up every year or two -- in fact, people who didn't read the WWN might not know this, but Bat Boy led U.S. troops into Iraq in the War on Terror. He also became the subject of an off-Broadway musical.

(Believe it or not, that last sentence is true.)

The paper also checked in regularly with a space alien who endorsed presidential candidates. The alien endorsed George W. Bush in 2004. So there's still hope that aliens might not be smarter than us after all.

Apparently the Weekly World News will remain on the Web -- good news for the people who need a regular dose of columnist Ed Anger. But it's easy to see why the print edition is shutting down. The WWN had to compete at the checkout rack with People, Us and Entertainment Weekly.

And frankly, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are battier than Bat Boy ever was.

Got a favorite tabloid story? Add favorite stories, UFO sightings, etc., in the comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Which sport do I watch now?

When I was a kid, I wasn't sure what I was going to be when I grew up, but I had it narrowed down to three things:

1. Professional baseball player.
2. Professional football player.
3. Professional basketball player.

OK, so my worldview was sort of narrow when I was a kid. (Actually, my real dream was "Professional kickball player," but I never could find a kickball game on TV, not even on "Wide World of Sports.")

Even then I knew that sports weren't all pure and beautiful -- I think a couple of the pitchers in my Little League years were already paying child support. But when you were watching a game -- or, especially, playing one -- you could escape the real world for awhile.

So let's take a look at my childhood dream jobs.

-- In baseball, the home-run record -- the most important record in sports -- is about to belong to a guy (Barry Bonds) who almost certainly took steroids to pad his stats.

-- In football, one of the game's best and most popular players (Michael Vick) is accused of setting up a dogfighting operation -- and killing the pit bulls that didn't measure up.

-- In basketball, a referee (Tim Donaghy) is accused of betting on games and giving big gamblers key info to help them beat the odds. It's a small step from there to the idea that he changed the outcome of games by calling fouls -- or not calling them -- at key moments.

I really try not to be one of those fogeys who talk about how much better life was back then. Mainly because I don't think it's true.

But July 2007 is a crappy time to be a sports-loving kid.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Harry Potter confession

This will probably not do much for my street cred among writers, book lovers, and especially the folks chewing their nails waiting for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to land in their hands at 12:01 Saturday morning.

But here goes anyway.

I haven't read a single Harry Potter book. Not one page. Not one line.

My wife loves them, and we've been to see the HP movies together, and I like those just fine. But I can't quite make myself crack open one of the books. Even though roughly 171,000 people have told me how great they are and how my life will not be complete without them.

I can't explain how a professional writer has managed to miss out entirely on the most popular books in the last 50 years. I have three lame excuses:

One, I tend to resist things that people tell me my life will not be complete without. (I've never watched "Lost," either.)

Two, we're always bringing home books -- from work, bookstores, the library -- and I always find something I want to read just a little bit more. (This week's diversion: "Can I Keep My Jersey?", a smart and funny tale of life on the fringes of pro basketball by journeyman Paul Shirley.)

And three, the Harry Potter books are so popular that they're floating around in the ether -- they're in the news all the time, part of the chatter at the office, etc. You know all the basics without even picking up the books. They're so much a part of daily conversation when a new one comes out that millions of readers spent this week trying to AVOID hearing about it, lest they hear spoilers.

(Where did that "lest" come from? I'd never use "lest" in a real conversation. But it seems right for wizardry chat.)

Anyway, we've got the books, and we'll be acquiring the new one this weekend, so I'll probably take a vacation sometime and tackle the whole series end-to-end. But this leads to a question:

Is there some cultural touchstone that you've just never gotten around to touching?

Never seen "The Wizard of Oz?" Never listened to "Sgt. Pepper" all the way through? Never read any of Oprah's picks?

'Fess up in the comments.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What did you walk out on?

Generally, I'm a stay-to-the-end guy. Doesn't matter if the game is boring or the movie makes no sense or the lead singer can't hit a note with a tennis racket. Sometimes it's more fun to watch bad stuff than good stuff. Sometimes you might leave just before something great happens. And I've never cared about beating traffic.

Still, this Chicago Tribune blog post about walking out on movies made me go back and remember. I can think of two things I walked out on.

-- When I was in high school, the movie "Tess" came out. Here's the description: A young strong-willed peasant girl, becomes the affection of two men, in the end tragically falling into the arms of one.

Just the kind of movie your typical teenage boy would love. In hell.

Best I can remember, I went for two reasons: 1) I had a crush on a girl who worked at the theater, and 2) The movie starred Nastassja Kinski, and I thought there was a chance she might get naked. I never found out about 2) because I fell asleep about 15 minutes in. When I woke up, men in Victorian wear were giving long speeches. So I left.

-- The other event I walked out on was in 1995, when my beloved Georgia Bulldogs played our hated rivals, the Florida Gators, in Athens. It was a special event because the teams usually play on a neutral field in Jacksonville. It turned out not to be a special event when Florida went up 35-0 in, I think, the second quarter. By then I was already halfway to my car. The final score was 52-17.

It hurt just to write that.

So... Have you ever been to something that was so bad you walked out? Or did something make you walk out for another reason (too scary, too loud, etc.)? Add your candidates in the comments.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Go see this movie

My wife will testify to this: I don't cry at movies. (Maybe "Brian's Song," but hey, I was 10.)

Sunday night we went to see "Once." I misted up about a third of the way in. By the end, we both had to just sit there for a few minutes before we could breathe. And I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

I've seen movies that were more polished, better-acted, probably even movies with better music. But I can't remember another movie that hit me this hard.

The plot is simple. An Irish street musician acquires a fan -- a Czech immigrant girl. It turns out she's a musician too. They play together and discover a connection that goes beyond words -- and beyond their complicated personal lives.

It's a musical, but not in any traditional way. The characters don't suddenly, artificially break into song; they're musicians, so the songs rise naturally out of whatever they're doing at the moment. The lead actors (Glen Hansard of Irish band the Frames, and Czech singer Marketa Irglova) wrote and sing the songs.

And the past two paragraphs don't even come close to describing how powerful this movie is.

To me there's no stronger artistic force in the universe than a great three-minute song. "Once" is full of them, and as they unfold in the movie -- as you get to know the characters and root for them -- every chord change matters.

It's rated R, which blows my mind. The characters know and love the F-word, but I promise you, there is nothing else in the movie that's offensive in any way. The lessons from the movie are so rich that, if I were a parent, I'd take my teenager in a heartbeat.

At work today, those of us who've seen it have formed a little cult. "And then the scene at the music store..." "And then the scene with his dad..."

Now that I've read all this I realize it sounds like a mushy love letter. Sorry about that. But after "Once" was over I went home, read about it online and downloaded the soundtrack. It's on my iPod right now. I can't recommend the movie highly enough.

Go see for yourself. Then come back here and tell me what you thought.

In the meantime, here's a YouTube of the two leads playing a song from the movie at the Sundance Film Festival.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Disappearing Charlotte icons

This month marks 18 years since I started at the Observer. (I was 7 when they hired me. Labor laws were different then.)

I was thinking the other day about how many Charlotte icons from back then have already disappeared. Charlotte has always been Churn City -- we do more reinventing than a plastic surgeon -- but when I started writing things down, I was amazed how much has vanished in less than two decades.

I'm not even talking about the big stuff, like the Coliseum or the PTL Club. I'm just thinking about little touchstones that meant something to me for one reason or another.

Here's a quick list:

10. The Bootery and Bloomery

When I got to Charlotte, if you headed out of uptown on Independence Boulevard, you came to a hard left just past the John Belk Freeway. Right in front of you as you made the turn were two stores -- a Krispy Kreme and the Bootery and Bloomery.

Krispy Kreme you know about. The Bootery and Bloomery had display windows that featured lots of lingerie and fishnet stockings. Let me tell you, there were no stores like that where I grew up. At one time they apparently had live models in the display windows. I always wondered how many teenage boys wrecked their cars in that spot.

9. The Scoreboard

This was a giant sports bar further out Independence, almost to Matthews. It's been about eight different things since the Scoreboard closed. When it opened, it was the first sports bar I'd ever been to with little speakers at every table that you could tune to whatever game was on. Plus the seats at the bar swiveled so you could check on five or six games at once. It was like I had ordered the place direct from heaven.

I was with a group of buddies at the Scoreboard in 1992 for Duke-Kentucky, the greatest college basketball game ever played. I didn't have a dog in the hunt -- I went to Georgia -- so I decided to root for Kentucky, my fellow Southeastern Conference school. A Duke guy across the bar picked up on this and started talking trash my way. Actually, he was talking trash everybody's way. It's possible, based on Duke's demographic statistics, that he might have been from New Jersey.

With 7.8 seconds left, Christian Laettner made two free throws to put Duke up 102-101. The Duke guy jumped up in his seat, screamed for joy and flipped me a bird. But then a Kentucky player made an absurd running bank shot with 2.1 seconds left to put Kentucky up 103-102.

Duke called a timeout. Duke Guy was distraught beyond words. He silently got up and left the bar.


You probably know what happened next: Laettner caught a full-court pass from Grant Hill, took a quick dribble, and drained a fallaway at the buzzer to win the game for Duke.

I think I would have given the contents of my checking account at the time ($27.63) to see the look on that guy's face when he heard the screams from inside the bar.

8. Hello Henry

Henry Boggan was the evening talk-show host on WBT radio from 1979 to 1996. He was moderate, folksy and kind. He listened more than he talked. He would have absolutely no shot at a job in radio today.

7. Random wrestler encounters

As Tom Sorensen wrote Tuesday, Charlotte used to be a pro wrestling town. Some wrestlers still live here -- led by Ric Flair, of course -- but you used to see them everywhere.

One day in Rock Hill I was getting gas, a blue Cadillac pulled up to the next pump, and Ivan Koloff got out. I stalled a little when it came time to pay so I could walk in behind him. I craned my neck the best I could, but I never could see if IVAN KOLOFF was stamped on his MasterCard.

Once he was the most evil of all the evil Russian wrestlers.

These days, Ivan does weddings.

6. Newsstand International

OK, this is getting long so I'll pick up the pace. Newsstand International used to be the only place in town you could get out-of-town papers and obscure magazines (I mean in the non-pornographic way, but if I remember right they could help you out there too.) The first place I found it was in a shopping center tucked into an apartment complex off Providence Road. Then it was on Independence for awhile, then it moved to East Morehead, then it closed. Too many Barnes & Nobles.

5. Andersons

We wrote 372 stories on Andersons when it closed last year, so I won't linger on it, except for two things:

-- I met Peter Gorman for breakfast there after he had been in town a month, and the waitress already knew what to bring him.

-- A Starbucks is going in there. Then again, a Starbucks is going in everywhere.

4. The Shrine Bowl

This is a high-school all-star game, North Carolina vs. South Carolina. For years they played it at Memorial Stadium next to Central Piedmont Community College. The Carolinas always have a few major-college prospects, so going to the Shrine Bowl was always a fun way to blow a Saturday.

In the early '90s I saw a Spartanburg High running back named Steve Davis fly past N.C. tacklers. Years later, as Stephen Davis, he starred for the Carolina Panthers.

They still play the Shrine Bowl but now it's in... Spartanburg. Steve Davis must have REALLY impressed the Shriners.

3. Repo Records

Not only was this the coolest record store in town, not only did it have the weirdest cashiers, not only was it the place where I first heard Southern Culture on the Skids, but it was also the place where I sold some used cassettes for gas money before I got my first Observer paycheck. So I'll always be grateful.

2. Kenny Gattison

I know it's hard to believe, with all the yawning empty seats at Bobcats games, but Charlotte was absolutely insane about the Charlotte Hornets. Lots of people loved Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues. I loved Kenny Gattison.

In his NBA career (including six years with the Hornets) he averaged 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 personal fouls and approximately 19 scattered bodies a game. It seemed like every time he went up for a rebound, the opposing forward went down to the floor. Which explains all those personal fouls.

He was not blessed with a lot of natural gifts, but he worked and hustled and bulldozed his way to success. Which is pretty much the way I think of Charlotte.

1. The Pterodactyl Club

I went there all the time when I first got to town. Some of those nights I don't remember. Some I didn't recall even as they were happening. The Pterodactyl was over at Morehead and Freedom Drive, and there were always sketchy characters in the parking lot, and since this is meant to be a tribute, we won't talk about the bathrooms.

But it had lots of room and cold beer and great bands. I saw They Might Be Giants in there one night and it changed my life.

Geeks like me, dancing.

OK. This was a long list. I'm whipped. What Charlotte icons do YOU miss?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Back at the paragraph factory

So how y'all been?

I'm back at work today after taking a few weeks off to relax, visit family and friends, do some quality porch-sitting with Fred the hound dog, that sort of thing. I also spent a few days in Memphis, checking out the great Stax Museum and playing cards with the brilliant sportswriter Joe Posnanski, who... well, let him tell it. And buy his book.

Toward the end of the vacation I got a little antsy and spent a couple hours redesigning the blog. You should have seen it -- cool green palette, funky fonts, the whole deal.

It turns out this was a very bad idea.

Along the way I erased some of the code that our Web staff uses to count visitors, display the logo, send you spam from Nigeria, etc. It is also possible, this being the Internets, that I might have unintentionally launched a nuclear missile. Sorry, tech folks, and sorry, North Korea.

I did keep a new photo and blogroll and such. Of course, now that I've done all this work on how the site looks, I guess I should actually POST now and then.

So to get things started, a few links that I browsed while on vacation:

-- This guy does astonishing things with an Etch-a-Sketch.

-- This guy is my favorite author in the world right now, and his latest book kept me up until 2 in the morning last week.

-- This guy knows the (unfortunately) true secrets of a lot of journalism these days.

-- And these guys just put out a really good record. Go buy it. (And they're playing Ovens on Wednesday!)

One more thing: I'm still looking for folks who were students or teachers in Charlotte when Dorothy Counts and other black students integrated the schools here in 1957. Give me a holler at 704-358-5227 or

So what's on your mind these days? Comment below. It's good to be back.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Where were you in '57?

OK, a lot of you weren't around in 1957 -- I wasn't either -- but if you were in Charlotte back then, I'd like to talk to you for a story I'm working on. Specifically, I'm trying to find people who were in the school system when Dorothy Counts and other black students integrated Charlotte schools.

If you were a student or worked for the school system, I'd like to hear from you. If you were on the scene the day that Dorothy first came to Harding High, I'd REALLY like to hear from you.

I'm taking some time off and will be out of the office for a few weeks. But if you pop me an e-mail at, I'll be sure to see it. Or just leave a message at 704-358-5227 and I'll be in touch.

And feel free to add your memories in the comments.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Keyshawn, half off

Noticed this, via the DC Sports Bog: you can get a Keyshawn Johnson Panthers' jersey for pretty much half-price.

Which makes sense, because the Panthers bought their own discount version of Keyshawn in the draft.

That leads me to wonder: What else would you take the plunge on if the price was right? Would you buy Bobcats tickets if good seats were $30? Would you try the porterhouse at Morton's for $9.95? Would you support light rail if it cost only $300 million?

How much would you pay? And for what? Add your eBay fantasies below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Imus: crazy like a fox?

Let's play pretend for a minute.

Pretend you're a 66-year-old shock jock whose ratings have tanked in the past couple of years, who is ranked as only the 14th-most-important radio talker, and who hasn't generated any national buzz in, well, forever.

Pretend that your zeppelin-sized ego can't take not being noticed.

Pretend you're so rich that getting suspended for a couple of weeks won't put a dent in your bank account.

Wouldn't you think it might be savvy to spout off something racist and stupid, hoping you would start a national firestorm, get your name back in the news, and have millions of listeners tuning in to see what fool thing you might say next?

Let's put it this way: Two weeks ago, were you even sure Don Imus was still alive?

We're all sure now.

I'm not saying he thought all this out in advance. I'm just saying he's not exactly broken up at how it's turning out.

So what do YOU think would be the proper punishment? If any? Let your imagination run wild below.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A day at the opera

On Saturday we went all highbrow and took in the live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera at the Regal Stonecrest movie theater. That day's offering was "The Barber of Seville," which was perfect for me -- I already knew the music from one of the greatest short films in history.

As a guy who watches way too much sports (especially during the NCAA tournament), I could not recommend the opera more highly. It's ESPN Classic with violins.

The opera itself is the musical version of the NBA slam dunk contest. One insanely talented star takes a solo, then there's some shuffling around, then another insanely talented star tries to top it. The plot is just there to mark time between the solos. I kept expecting the screen to show judges' scores after every aria -- "Well, the soprano gets a 9.5 for expression, but only an 8 for technical skill..."

They even do the intermission like a halftime show -- previews of upcoming shows, backstage interviews with the stars. (The opera is set in Spain, sung in Italian, and the guy who played Figaro was from Sweden. It's a small world.)

But my main overall impression was this: Outsized characters, big conflicts, tight-fitting costumes and lots of yelling.

Now it all makes sense.

Opera is the high-class version of professional wrestling.

Too bad Ric Flair can't sing. Then again, I doubt Pavarotti could get out of the figure-four leglock.

One last thing: I counted at least seven times when cell phones went off in the theater. If we'd actually been at the Met, I suspect ushers would have calmly removed the offenders from the audience and quietly thrown them down the back stairs.

But can that many people be that forgetful? And if you're not a doctor, or if your daughter is not on a date at that very moment with a member of a biker gang, is there any reason to keep your cell phone on in the theater? I had no idea there were so many important people in this town.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A thought on John Edwards

John and Elizabeth Edwards are the most fascinating couple in politics, even more than Bill and Hillary.

John has all the current qualifications to be president -- good hair and charisma and XY chromosomes. That doesn't mean he's not a sharp guy. He is. But every time I see them together, Elizabeth comes off as smarter and funnier and more genuine.

In a better world, we'd be sad about Elizabeth Edwards' cancer because we might be losing a great candidate for president.

If I were a James Carville type, I might've told John to suspend the campaign -- partly to be with his wife, partly because he would get a HUGE wave of sympathy. Then he could ride that goodwill back into the race next summer. Campaigns start way too early anyway. Voters are tired of everybody by the end. A fresh face coming in late might steal the whole thing.

I'm sure John Edwards' campaign people at least thought about that. So in some ways, continuing the campaign seems more real to me, less calculated.

I know that sounds weird.

Politics are weird.

I guess the real question is this: what would John Edwards have done if this was 20 years ago, and he was just an ambitious young lawyer?

Are all your decisions different if you're running for president?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"It's the most wonderful time of the year..."

Thursday and Friday. The first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. The two best sports days of the year.

Not only that, it's 80 degrees outside. OK, I'm making the call, these are the two best DAYS of the year. Christmas and Thanksgiving have always been seeded too high.

I have three rules for brackets:

1. One bracket only. I hate to check the standings in a (non-gambling, for amusement purposes only) NCAA pool and find out I'm behind Joe Shmoe #5. Either you believe in your picks or you don't. Only weenies minimize their risk. This is not a mutual fund.

2. Pick some upsets. If you don't have at least three crazy picks in your Sweet 16, you're the type of person who reads the end of the book first.

3. Swoon for the hometown underdog. It's OK if it's the town you USED to be from -- just as long as it's a team that has no right to win the games you're giving them. As Calvin Trillin once said, if you don't think your hometown hamburger joint is the best in the world, you're a sissy.

On to the picks.

First round:
UNC over E. Kentucky, Michigan State over Marquette, Arkansas over USC, Texas over New Mexico St., Vanderbilt over George Washington, Oral Roberts over Washington State, Boston College over Texas Tech, Georgetown over Belmont.

Ohio State over Central Connecticut, Xavier over BYU, Long Beach St. over Tennessee, Virginia over Albany, Louisville over Stanford, Texas A&M over Penn, Nevada over Creighton, Memphis over North Texas.

Kansas over Niagra, Villanova over Kentucky, Virginia Tech over Illinois, S. Illinois over Holy Cross, Duke over VCU, Pitt over Wright State, Gonzaga over Indiana, UCLA over Weber St.

Florida over Jackson St., Arizona over Purdue, Butler over Old Dominion, Davidson over Maryland (homer pick #1), Winthrop over Notre Dame (homer pick #2), Oregon over Miami of Ohio, Georgia Tech over UNLV, Wisconsin over A&M-Corpus Christi.

Second round:
UNC over Michigan State, Texas over Arkansas, Vandy over Oral Roberts, Georgetown over BC.

Ohio State over Xavier, Long Beach State over Virginia, Texas A&M over Louisville, Nevada over Memphis.

Kansas over Villanova, VA Tech over S. Illinois, Pitt over Duke, UCLA over Gonzaga.

Florida over Arizona, Butler over Davidson, Winthrop over Oregon (I know, SUCH a homer), Wisconsin over GA Tech.

(That's two crazy picks -- Winthrop and Long Beach -- and two semi-crazy picks -- Vandy and Nevada -- in the Sweet 16.)

Sweet 16: UNC over Texas (best game of the tournament), Georgetown over Vandy, Ohio State over Long Beach, Texas A&M over Nevada.

Kansas over VA Tech, UCLA over Pitt, Florida over Butler, Wisconsin over Winthrop in double OT.

Elite Eight: UNC over Georgetown, Texas A&M over Ohio State, Kansas over UCLA, Florida over Wisconsin.

Final Four: Texas A&M over UNC (sorry, Heels), Kansas over Florida.

Title game: Kansas over A&M, 76-68.

Feel free to ridicule.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Your craziest airport story?

It's important, in journalism, to make your biases clear when you're doing a story. So in the interest of full disclosure: I hate flying.

I'm not scared of flying. I just hate everything about the experience: riding the shuttle bus, undressing at the security checkpoint, waiting at the gate, squeezing into the seats, getting that pressurized-air headache, bobbing through turbulence, sprinting to make the connection, dragging my weary butt through the concourse on the way to the rental car.

My wife and I flew last week, out to Kansas City and back. Everything went fine. If the trip had been a few days later, and we had ended up waiting five freaking hours at the kiosk, it's possible I would be on the 10 Most Wanted list by now.

Two things I noticed on the trip:

-- The sports bar in the A concourse at the Charlotte airport has six clocks out front, showing the time in different time zones. As of last Wednesday, five of the six clocks were wrong.

-- There's a display in the Kansas City airport showing items you can't bring on the plane. One of the items is a chain saw. Now, I know some people don't keep up with the latest federal regulations, but is there somebody out there who needs to be told it's not OK to bring a CHAIN SAW on the plane?

I'm trying to imagine some guy at the ticket counter, calling back home: "You won't believe this, Myrtle. They won't let me bring the dang Poulan on board. It's like we're not in America anymore."

So what's your most infuriating airport story? Vent away below.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Friday Five

Five things that made life a little better this week:

1. "Sex Devil" by Jack Pendarvis. The funniest short story I've read in years (despite the title, it's PG-rated). Plus this version comes with hidden tracks! (Don't click on them until you've read the whole story.)

2. This story about an unfortunate turtle from the St. Petersburg Times. The only thing this week that made me laugh more than "Sex Devil."

3. This story from the New Yorker about the creators of "24" and how some military interrogators seem to think it's a reality show. My wife and I are both hooked on "24" -- it's the only show we both love -- but we almost gave it up a couple weeks ago when one of the bad guys tortured a good guy (poor Morris) with a power drill. Supposedly they're tapering off on the torture scenes for the rest of the season. They better.

4. A shameless plug: My buddy Joe Posnanski (who grew up here and went to UNCC) has written a wonderful book, "The Soul of Baseball," an account of his travels with Negro Leaguer Buck O' Neil. It comes out on Tuesday but you can order online now. Trust me, it's great.

5. The wonder that is the Morristache. Bow down in awe. And there's a T-shirt!

Dove season

This is our new pet, although we didn't adopt her -- she (we're assuming it's a she) adopted us. She set up shop last week on top of one of the corner posts on our front porch. It's not a big perch and she's jammed in there a little bit -- that's her tail sticking up there in the corner.

I believe this is your basic mourning dove -- we've been hearing that distinctive HOO, hoo-hoo, hoo call every morning. The nest is about 10 feet from our front door, and nothing seems to rattle her -- she watches us, the dog, and passers-by with the same placid expression. (Although she did blink a couple of times when I took this picture.)

So any tips on what we should expect here? Anything we should do? How long before we see a baby dove or two?

The one thing I'm noticing as I look at this photo is how smooth her head is. I think we're gonna call her Britney.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Friday Five

Five things that made life more interesting this week:

1. Web 2.0 in less than five minutes. This is like watching one of those evolution-of-man videos -- fascinating and a little scary. Plus it's a good reminder of how fast technology is moving. Five years from now, this'll probably be a relic.

2. UNC beats Duke. I've got no dog in this fight so I just root for a great game, and this one delivered. Now that football's over it's time to start developing a sports crush on some teams and players in preparation for March Madness. Right now my favorite is the Tar Heels' Ty Lawson. At the end of the game, he was the best player on the floor.

3. Van Morrison does "Comfortably Numb." This is apparently from a Pink Floyd performance of "The Wall" from Berlin in 1990; it turned up again last year on the soundtrack to the movie "The Departed." I've never been much of a Floyd fan but this is just astounding.

4. Jack's evil dad on "24." How could the gentle farmer from "Babe" turn into an arms dealer who killed his own son (not Jack, the other one) at the end of the last episode? Hollywood magic.

5. "Love is a Mix Tape" by Rob Sheffield. Shy indie boy marries loud punk-rock girl, girl dies, boy mourns -- and, eventually, gets his life back -- through the tapes they made. Will make you want to dig out your old cassettes.

Monday, February 05, 2007

He's Prince, and I'm old

I'm a big football fan but the best part of the Super Bowl was Prince rocking the halftime show.

In 20 minutes he touched on a bunch of his hits, covered snippets of "Proud Mary," "All Along the Watchtower" and the Foo Fighters' "The Best of You," and unfurled a big white curtain that turned his guitar into a giant phallic symbol. (Take that, Janet Jackson.)

But then I started thinking about it. The first Prince show I saw was in 1986. Children conceived that night (and I'm guessing there were a few) are halfway through college now.

And then I realized that Prince is officially an oldies act, or they wouldn't have put him on the Super Bowl halftime show. (Billy Joel did the national anthem, and I'm proud to report he left the field without his walker.)

And THEN I remembered reading that Prince has jumped around on stage so much that he might need... a hip replacement.

Good Lord.

Anybody else have a moment like that lately? Write in and make me feel better. Until then I need some warm milk and a nap.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Friday Five

Five things that moved me this week:

1. "About Alice," Calvin Trillin. A spare, sweet, funny book about Trillin's late wife. You can read it in an afternoon. The last line is still ringing in my head.

2. "David and Mamet," directed by Alex Rose. Everything you need to know about Mamet's rat-a-tat style -- in 91 seconds. "Glengarry Glen Ross" minus the steak knives and F-words.

3. "The Randall Knife," Guy Clark (on the CD "Dublin Blues"). Last week we saw the best concert I've been to in awhile -- Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark at Ovens. It was in the guitar-pull format, where they took turns playing and came together for a couple songs at the end. Clark didn't play "Randall Knife," but the show made me go back home and listen. One of the finest songs ever about what bonds a father and son.

4. Bill Dance bloopers. We watched so many fishing shows growing up that I don't know how I missed this. If you value expensive fishing rods, prepare to wince.

5. Molly Ivins. Raise a glass to one of the funniest, hell-raisingest columnists there ever was.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A YouTube moment

I'm always looking for strange little moments of beauty and grace in the world, and some days the best place to find them is YouTube.

Here, a musician from Wilmington plays Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" at an assisted-living center while people walk around in the background. Something about this reminds me of a David Lynch movie.

I'm sure a lot of y'all have plumbed the depths of YouTube more than I have. What's the best stuff out there with a Carolinas connection? Send me the links and I'll post one here every so often.