Sunday sampler

Most papers featured stories about school openings. Papers connected to the USA Today News Network — Kinston, Jacksonville, Hendersonville, New Bern, Fayetteville, Asheville, Burlington and Wilmington — published what they declared as the 10 most influential women of the past century, tied to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Smarter people than I can debate the choices.

Wilmington: In 1898, white supremacists took over Wilmington’s government – a coup – and shot dead at least 60 Black people. So, if anywhere, reparations would be justified in Wilmington. And it’s being debated, sort of. The president of the local NAACP: “She also doubts New Hanover County and the city of Wilmington is ready to have a productive conversation about reparations. ‘We can’t even get a mural up and you’re talking about getting reparations written? Come on,’ she said.”


An apology to my students

It’s too late now, but I’m sorry I started teaching in-person classes last week. I apologize to my students for putting them in danger in a classroom, however slight.

I want to teach students in-person. I want to look at them in the eye when I talk to them, and sit with them to go over their stories. I want to have those idle few moments before class starts where we share a laugh or a story. And I want to have the 15 minutes after class when several of them line up to talk about assignments. I’ve written about my plans for this semester here and here. I wanted to do what my colleague Andy Bechtel described here.

I met in person with my classes this week. Carroll Hall, where I teach, was a virtual ghost town. Over the course of seven hours, I saw two other instructors, and only one other class besides my two. (I’m sure there were others.) Normally, Carroll is full of students wandering the halls, lurking outside of classrooms and offices, and sitting in public spaces, it was eerily quiet.

Because there are 30 minutes between classes – there were normally 15 – I could get in my classroom and prepare with no problem. And I could linger if I wished.

Wearing a mask was uncomfortable because it got hot and fogged my glasses. Listening to soft-spoken students wearing a mask was difficult at times. Keeping a six-foot distance from them was constraining because I am used to walking around the class. In one class, where the students work in five-person teams, social distancing was next to impossible.

I could have managed all that. But by Wednesday it didn’t seem worth it. And I woke up to this today, which may or may not have been at a UNC gathering.

I’m going to start next week with remote, online classes. And I want to apologize to the students who want to learn in person. I will do everything I can to make this semester valuable and worthwhile.

UPDATE: Thinking about this now, I want to make clear that I make no judgment about my peers who are teaching in-person. This is just me. I trust them to know what is best for themselves and their students.

Doing good by doing nothing

One of my former students made me a meme last month. Who knew there were so many goofy photos of me out there? It was frightening and embarrassing at the same time. I had to unfollow the site because photos of me kept popping up on my own Instagram feed!

The Instagram site was created anonymously at first. Some people thought I created it, which shows they don’t really know the intense introvert that is me. Others correctly saw the merry prankster Caroline Bass behind it.

When Caroline saw the meme take off, she realized that she could use it to raise money for pandemic care. She asked for a donation of $1 to create a personalized meme from one of my photos with the donor’s name on it. She told me yesterday that some people contributed more than a dollar, and that others, who had gotten the meme before she began asking for donations, circled back and Venmo’d her money.

$100 later she sent a check to Healing Transitions, an organization that provides help to COVID-19 patients. Thank you, everyone, who gave money.

I love it when something good happens in my name and I don’t have to do a thing!

Sunday sampler

Greensboro: The Wyndham golf championship starts Thursday in Greensboro and will be played without fans lining the fairways. It is a strange time here in Tourney Town. The News & Record previews it, looking at its strong field. “As we all know and saw (in 2015), Tiger brings another level of stardom,” tournament director Mark Brazil said Saturday. “But I think this is probably our second-best field that we have seen in probably the past 20 years.”

New Bern: The New Bern police department is the proud owner of a bullet-proof, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle. Mine-resistant. It was built for the military, of course, and originally cost between $500,000 and $1 million. When people talk about defunding police, they aren’t talking about getting rid of police departments; they are talking about this. “It is not an offensive weapon,” he said. “We’re not using it for that purpose at all. If they’re stranded in their car in a flood and see that vehicle coming, they’re going to be happy to see us.”

Wilmington: The Star-News (and a few other Gatehouse newspapers) asks, Did N.C. underestimate Hurricane Isaias? Pretty much, yeah. “Holden Beach was one of only a few communities along the coast — one of the others being the neighboring town of Ocean Isle Beach — to order a mandatory evacuation of non-residents as Isaias approached the Tar Heel State.”

Raleigh: Dennis Rogers was my friend. We weren’t close; we were work acquaintances. He was a bigshot columnist known around the state. I was a young beat reporter. But you couldn’t tell it by the way he welcomed me. His passing is on the front page of his home newspaper, the News & Observer, as it should be. “Jerry Allegood, a 35-year roving state desk reporter for the paper, often rolled into small towns on assignment, introduced himself as being from The N&O and was immediately asked, ‘Do you know Dennis Rogers?’”

The calm before the storm at UNC

I went to campus yesterday. It was six days before classes start, and the campus was virtually empty. The sky was clear, the campus green, and everything looked serene and, well, normal. I passed one or two students — all masked, as was I — and a few UNC yard crews, some without masks, which was unsettling.

I went into Carroll Hall, the building in which I teach. Signs tell me which door to use for entering and exiting, and that I must wear a mask. Inside each entrance is a pump bottle of disinfectant, and out of habit, I squirt some on my hands. Decals on the floor  show me which direction I’m supposed to walk. Seats and tables in the hallways where students used to work between classes have been removed; congregating is discouraged.

In the classrooms, decals are on the floor designate where students can sit; six-foot distancing is the rule.

It’s unsettling.

I didn’t encounter a single person but I walked around with a mask on to get the feel. I imagined myself in a classroom talking. My glasses fogged, and the mask was hot. I’m worried I won’t be able to understand students because the mask does muffle voices, mine included. And it takes more energy to speak up; I’m worried discussion will be blunted.

That’s unsettling, too.

Because some students chose to be taught remotely, my workload increases, effectively meaning that I will teach some students in person and some separately on Zoom. I’m worried that the additional time and work will get old quickly, though. (No, our pay didn’t increase even as the work has.)

Still, I left campus excited about the possibilities. It’s an interesting pedagogical challenge. How can I adapt to the pandemic and changing teaching and reporting modes and be effective? How can I keep nervous students (and myself) safe, and energized to learn? It’s been fun to think through new methods that will breakthrough the obstacles.

Then, I see this, posted last night:

I wonder how many students, staff and faculty will have to get sick before the Board of Governors decides to close the campus.




Sunday sampler

Raleigh: I have the feeling people will be outraged if they watch the videos of what led to the death of John Neville in Forsyth County jail. “Martin listened to her father cry out ‘over 20 times’ that he couldn’t breathe. A detention officer told him that if he could talk, he could breathe, she said. ‘I can’t breathe,’ Neville would repeat. Martin said at some points her father was gasping for air so much he could barely get the words out.”

McDowell: Given everything President Trump and Republicans are doing to hinder voting — can you imagine the president of the United States trying to undermine an election? — the McDowell News front page features a story on the need for more poll workers. “These local heroes will protect democracy, learn about the elections process, serve their communities and get paid in the process. …Election workers often consist of retirees and older members of a community – groups at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.”

Greensboro: The News & Record introduces us to some of the 147 people who have died of coronavirus in Guilford County. “The faces attached to those numbers include a 70-year-old former secretary for a Board of Education, a 48-year-old supervisor at a lumber company and a 66-year-old city of Greensboro maintenance worker, along with more familiar ones, like Frederick Brown Starr, who died early in the pandemic on April 1, at the age of 87. The former president and CEO of Thomasville Furniture Industries had most recently spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to bring a major league baseball team to the Triad. And Ronald “Gene” Petty, a cousin to NASCAR great Richard Petty, who grew up in Guilford County.”

Sunday sampler

Raleigh: The N&O reveals the lengths some will go to avoid accountability and scrutiny. “But Neville, 56, of Greensboro, was still alive after being rushed to the hospital. And in the two days he laid unconscious, the jail persuaded prosecutors to release him from custody. That made it an out-of-custody death that did not need to be reported to the state agency that oversees safety and supervision in county jails.”

Morganton and Jacksonville: Different sides of the state, but I’m glad the News Herald and the Daily News are keeping the debate about Confederate monuments on the front pages.

Charlotte: The Observer takes a step back to look at the PPP program in N.C. and how its reporting problems are, well, problems. “Several businesses said although they were listed in the database, they did not actually receive funds through the program. Others said the number of jobs the database says they retained by receiving the loan was either too large or too small. Over 2,100 businesses in North Carolina retained zero jobs as a result of the loans, according to the database.”

Look, Mom! I’m a meme!


This is what happens on Instagram when one of your former students is bored. It goes on and on as you see below. (I have a lot of photos out in social medialand.)

It’s flattering as hell. And it gives me just the energy I need going into the challenge of the fall semester! Thank you, anonymous Instagrammer!

Being cool in high school; it’s the music

In high school in Tulsa in the late 60’s, football was king. Players at my school, Edison, were the coolest. Or it seemed that way to a 15-year-old boy. One classmate, Mike Fanning, played for Notre Dame and then went in the first round of the NFL draft to the L.A. Rams. But…

Musicians were on the rise. They were still on the outside, kind of nerdy, but in the time of rock ‘n’ rock’s adolescence, in which the Beatles, the Stones and the Who ruled the radio airwaves I listened to (KAKC), high school musicians were their own caliber of cool.

And when David Chatenever introduced a sitar, a la George Harrison, into the Screaming Eagles, Edison’s stage band, music became the coolest thing ever.

I didn’t play football; I played baseball. I played music, but it was the lamest instrument ever — the clarinet. I would wander into the music store at Southland shopping center and look at the guitars hanging on the wall, fantacizing which I’d buy. Of course, I was 15. I didn’t have the money for one of those monsters. (They cost more than Bruce Springsteen’s $18 “junkie” model from Western Auto.)

This all came back when I read that Jamie Oldaker died last week. He was a drummer, an A-list drummer who played with Clapton, Frampton, Russell and Seger. He was also in my class at Edison. We knew each other, but only in a passing, nod-in-the-hall kind of way. He was cool, but not in the football player swaggering way. He was cool because he had that cool vibe.

This is how cool: “Rowan said Oldaker talked about how, during teen years, he and other young musicians would play local gigs then head to north Tulsa to listen to (and play with) blues and jazz performers late into the night. Rowan said Oldaker picked up on the groove in Black clubs and was made to feel at home.

“Oldaker received this advice when sharing late-night barbecue with a performer at one of those clubs: ‘Son, you got to ease off on the potato salad and bear down on the meat!'” (From a wonderful appreciation in the Tulsa World.)

This is how cool, from Eric Clapton: “he is as solid as rock and I could listen to him talk all night long, many times I have, his knowledge is a wink and a sparkle in his eye, which says everything…

“I listen to ‘Slowhand’ now and then to try and remember what it is I’m supposed to be doing. and I end up listening to Jamie and saying to my wife “did you hear that ?”

“What more can I say…”

That time at Edison was pretty special for developing and nurturing musicians. Maybe it began in the early 1960’s with the Tulsa Sound. Maybe it was nurtured, at least at Edison, by the band director, Ashley Alexander. I mean, Leon Russell had a studio there for god’s sake.

I don’t know, but Dwight Twilley had a single that peaked at 16 on the Billboard charts. He was a year ahead of me in school, and I actually remember him as the artist who drew the cover of the Edison High School student directory. (It was in the Peter Max style.)

And there are others in my class: Tuck Andress, now playing jazz with Tuck & Patti. Scott Musick who played with The Call and later, with Kris Kristofferson. And I’m likely leaving several out because, it’s been 50 years.

But you know the thing about being cool in high school? I remember all of these guys; I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the football players other than Mike Fanning.

Sunday sampler

The North Carolina News Collaborative is at it again. The coalition of 22 N.C. newspapers has published a story about finding child care in the midst of Covid-19. Written by Brian Gordon of the Asheville Citizen-Times, it is featured on the front pages of Burlington, Fayetteville, Kinston, Jacksonville and Hendersonville. Greensboro, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Hickory published the story with local anecdotes.

The key: “By April, more than 40% of child-care centers — deemed essential businesses by the governor — shut down. Despite millions of dollars in public relief to child care centers, more than 1,500 North Carolina programs — one in four — remain closed, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Others now operate at reduced capacity. The shortage arrives at a moment when many parents return to work as their unemployment benefits run out and desperately search for placements.”

More Covid news: Both Morganton and McDowell feature stories about the number of people who have died in their communities. And they report it directly: “Another Burke County resident has died due to COVID-19, and the county added new positive cases to its virus count.” And: “The McDowell County Health Department said Friday a third person in McDowellas died due to COVID-19.”

And not to be underplayed in this blog post or in newspapers, most of the front pages had at least a mention of the death of John Lewis.