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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Dream leaves the mind spinning

My brain confronted me with a puzzle the other night.

I dreamt I was with a large group of people in a restaurant’s side meeting room, one of those wood-paneled spaces that groups can rent for private functions. It was a casual group of people who seemingly all knew each other, though I don’t remember feeling I knew much of anyone other than my wife, who sat next to me at a small table.

On a low stage at the front of the room, everyone watched a game a little like “The Newlywed Game” in which a couple would be called forward and questioned or presented with facts about themselves.

I was called up — but not with my wife. The woman I was paired with was someone I apparently had once been seriously dating. I say apparently because I had no memory of her. None at all. Yet everyone, including my wife, knew us as a former couple and saw nothing unusual about the pairing.

I hesitated when our names were called, staying seated and uncertain I should go forward, but finally I followed this woman to the front and sat beside her.

In the dream I could see her quite clearly, yet hers was a face that did not and still does not remind me of anyone I can recall. She seemed nice and pleasant, average height and weight, round face, a nice smile, light-brown hair with tight curls.

I looked at her and tried to remember, but I also tried to act as though I did remember.

As the game began, an older woman in the front and to my right, a relative of my former significant other, stood and said something about quitting. The room erupted with laughter. The implication I gathered was that we had simply quit. My former girlfriend laughed self-deprecatingly, acknowledging the nugget of truth in the cutting joke. Her eyes shined. She was not angry or bitter.

I woke around that time.

What in the world was that dream about?

Don’t say, “Quitting.” Perhaps “quitting” is part of it, but quitting what?

I once read a theory of dream interpretation that said every person in your dream is actually you. Any significant person in the dream represents something about yourself, so you should look for the quality that the person represents. Looking at dreams that way has often helped me find a meaning.

But this time I’m a bit stumped.

What would that woman represent about me? Aside from being pleasant, she was a brief cipher, not a force. She never spoke or did anything but walk to the front.

What about myself do I feel I’ve “quit” so much that it’s a forgotten part of myself?

And what’s going on in my life now to make me feel this way?

Or, to use a different dream-interpretation theory, maybe my focus should be on the feeling the dream produced. Maybe the dream means I’m afraid there is something about me that seems obvious and funny to everyone else, including those closest to me, but I’m blind to it. That feels like a possible answer, but it also feels so universally true of people that it’s too easy an answer.

At 3:18 a.m., I rose from bed to begin writing this. That awakened my wife, who has trouble sleeping anyway, and she went downstairs to heat some coffee. I listened to the clank of her mug on the counter, the thump of the coffee pot and the beep of the microwave oven as I stared at the computer screen and tried to remember details of the dream.

Struggling with the dream and unable to make sense of it, I thought hopefully that maybe it was just an effect of a couple of pepperoncini peppers I ate with my beef dinner. I thought of Scrooge telling the ghost of Jacob Marley, “There is more of gravy than of grave about you.” It took three more visions before Scrooge not only recognized but accepted what he was being told about himself that night. Perhaps I’ll get three more cryptic dreams that will line up.

But I doubt that’s it either.

The one thing I know for sure that I quit was that night’s sleep.

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Sitting under a tiki-decorated patio umbrella in the early evening heat Wednesday at downtown Lenoir’s Hogwaller Stage, my wife and I chatted with a 50-something Caldwell County native as we waited for the sun to drop behind the county office building and a band to begin playing.

This is the third summer that you can find outdoor music with your dinner and drinks one or more evenings a week at Hogwaller, which is on Church Street directly behind 1841 Café, but our friend said he wasn’t even aware there was a stage there until just a couple of weeks ago.

He had a friend he had asked to meet him there. While we were talking to him, she texted him a question: Where is Hogwaller?

She had never heard of it either, though the name “hogwaller” in relation to that spot downtown long predates either of them.

In fact, this man — born and raised here, never lived anywhere else, and active in the community — had never even heard of 1841 until that first trip. He didn’t know that right across Main Street from it was another restaurant, the Side Street Pour House, with 40 beer taps and full bar.

We didn’t talk about it, but I would wager that if he didn’t know about all that, he didn’t know that a couple of blocks west is Loe’s Brewing, serving craft beer with gourmet burgers, pasta and sometimes a few other things, or just a little farther west Joan’s Sourdough Bread (fresh bread plus lunch), or Essie and Olive (known for popsicles but also serving lunch), or the Corner Creamery (ice cream!), or J&A General Store, or the soon-to-open Fercott Fermentables (home brewing supplies, beer and wine). I could go on.

I’ll assume he knows of the downtown antique stores, as well as Piccolo’s Pizza, which has been downtown since he was a young man.

This is something I keep encountering.

A few years ago a woman who grew up in Happy Valley and lived here all her life said she had no idea what was in downtown Lenoir or even what the streets were — she had never been.

When Lenoir had its first-ever beer garden at a street festival a couple of years ago, a woman who lives in Lenoir was irritated to find out about it only after the fact.

Last year a man who moved to Gamewell a number of years ago from another state said he didn’t even know how to get to downtown Lenoir — even though he had been to the U.S. Post Office there many times. He just went straight to the Post Office and then straight back out again. After I told him to just go another block or so farther west than he had before, suddenly he discovered Piccolo’s, his new favorite pizza place.

“Love the layout,” he wrote to me, “feel like I’m on a set for the TV show American Pickers!”

Similarly, the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s program “Hired Education,” in which a set of 30 local teachers get a three-day immersion in the local economy, consistently prompts expressions of surprise among its participants: They toured companies they never heard of before, or saw machines they never dreamed existed in buildings they pass every day, and involving jobs they had no idea anyone in Caldwell County held.

A man walked into the lobby of the News-Topic a couple of weeks ago and asked if there’s a shoe-repair place in town. Yes, about three blocks from our office.

Need I point out that all of these places and businesses have been in the newspaper within the past few years?

No one is more acutely aware of how much smaller newspaper staffs are than they used to be, and how much less they are able to cover than they once could, than a newspaper editor is. But there still is a lot of local knowledge missed by people who don’t regularly read the paper, whether on paper or on our website. It doesn’t cross their personal experience or their Facebook feed. It’s information that won’t seek you out. You have to look for it, without knowing for sure what you’re looking for. That’s one thing the newspaper is still good for, and it’s not a small thing.

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People who ask me where I grew up sometimes then ask, after hearing my long answer, whether I’m an Army brat.

Those people may not be aware of where military bases are, or maybe they can’t think of any other reason for someone to have such a nomadic history.

I was born in Columbus, Ohio; when I was 2 my family moved to Blacksburg, Virginia; when I was 5 we moved to Greensboro, North Carolina; when I was 9, after my parents divorced, we moved to Durham; when I was 11 we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. For college I moved back to North Carolina. After college my jobs took me to Lenoir, then to Wilmington, to Florida, back to North Carolina in North Wilkesboro, to Winston-Salem, to Virginia and back to Lenoir again.

I’m not rudderless, but my rudder shudders.

So the past four a half years here in Lenoir, the same place where my first job was, from mid-1987 to early 1988, has been a bit of a revelation to me. For the first time in my life, I am learning what it’s like to have a personally experienced sense of history in a single place. It’s much different than the sense that comes from just visiting a place where I used to live. When I visit, I don’t feel a part of that place, I feel apart from it, like I stepped into the frame of someone else’s photo.

So on Thursday after work, as the News-Topic newsroom staff lined up in downtown Lenoir for a group photo on the next-to-last day at work for one of our reporters – Briana Adhikusuma, who is getting married in two weeks and moving to southeastern Virginia – I felt pangs of memory. I looked back at a similar photo from nearly 30 years earlier, and I found myself thinking about the lives of not just the people in the photo but people here in Caldwell County who grew up here and every day are confronted with reminders of their past, what has changed and how they fit into it.

In the 1987 photo, seven members of the News-Topic’s newsroom staff stand atop a stone wall in downtown Blowing Rock in front of what used to be Tijuana Fats, where we sometimes went on Fridays after work. I’m on the far right, the most junior reporter on the staff, just a few months out of college. Second from the far left is the editor, Lee Barnes. I have long hair, combed to the side but hanging down over my forehead. It’s a black-and-white photo – our press couldn’t print color, so the staff photographer shot only black-and-white film – but if it were in color my beard would be rust-colored. I’m skinny.

In the 2017 color photo, we stand near the square in downtown Lenoir. I’m on the far left, now the editor of the same newspaper where I started. Everyone else in the photo is at least 25 years younger than I am. My hair isn’t as long (I need a haircut), it’s graying, and it’s swept back from my forehead. My beard is gray.

Looking at the two photos together, I feel the presence of the many dozens of people who have passed through this newsroom during the intervening 30 years, though I never met most of them.

I think about where the people in the 1987 photo have gone – Lee to Florida; the sports editor to far western North Carolina; the city reporter to the Charlotte area; the city editor to South Carolina; the lifestyle editor to New York; the photographer, who took that photo but wasn’t in it, also to New York. The education reporter died a few years ago. Most have changed careers.

I think about where the people in the 2017 photo might be in a few years. One just left and drives off Saturday with her fiancé, and I already miss her.

Reflecting on it too long, as I write this column about it, I feel a creeping sense of mortality that blends with the permanence of this place, like standing waist-deep in the ocean as the rushing current pulls at you. It takes effort to hold your place, and though where you are is the same as when you got there, everything about it is moving, swirling, shifting, even the grains of sand under your heels.

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What was it about May 9, 1917, that made Zenith Wilson tuck the day’s copy of The Lenoir Topic away in a box and keep it for the rest of his life?

There are too many A1 headlines to list, but the ones at the top of the page:

Mr. Cilley Volunteers

The Tunnel Method of Keeping Sweet Potatoes

Give the Children Some Patches of Their Own This Year

STRONG EVIDENCE / Is the Statement of This Lenoir Woman (this was on an ad for kidney pills)

TAX LISTING

Notice of Sale

Perusing the local items, presumably written by editor W.M. Moore, because none carry a byline but are written in a personal style, again nothing much stands out. Perhaps this one, which has some history:

“Mr. Frank Osborn, of Mortimer, visited our home the other night. He made the trip in a very short time as it was the first automobile that ever visited this section.”

But it’s not circled, and it’s on an inside page. If that’s all he wanted, he could have just cut it out, or saved just the page.

Other local news is more pedestrian:

“The bond issue for road improvement in Caldwell lost yesterday by a small majority. Watauga is reported to have voted for good roads by a majority of about 400. All the counties adjoining Caldwell have either already built good roads or have arranged for their construction at an early date. This leaves our good county temporarily alone in the mud.”

Under the all-capital-letters headline “FREE TYPHOID VACCINATION”:

“A matter of very great importance to the people of Caldwell was passed upon Monday by our board of county commissioners when they decided to wage a campaign this summer against typhoid, offering free vaccination to everyone for thirty days. The date of the campaign will be announced later. In the meantime, every one is asked to co-operate heartily with the authorities in their efforts to prevent the ravages of this terrible disease which costs many lives and much sickness every year.”

Maybe it was page 6, which was entirely wire service stories about preparations for World War I, including the new military draft. One of the stories described “the first war army organized under the selective draft bill,” more than 528,000 men.

Another dealt with Congress’ war preparations, including the U.S. House passing “an omnibus emergency war bill carrying nearly $3,000,000,000” that doubled the pay for enlisted men from $15 a month to $30.

Or maybe it was nothing at all, just a personal aversion to throwing anything away. There’s evidence for the latter – Mr. Wilson folded the paper over to one-sixth its full, open size and tucked it inside an old wooden box containing many other kinds of papers. Over time more and more accumulated – an 1854 property deed, receipts for over 30 years of subscriptions to the Lenoir Topic (one year’s subscription in 1904 cost $1), a century-old sheriff’s office burglary report, the user’s manual for a circa-1920 water pump, an 1898 copy of North Carolina road rules, a 1918 car registration, and the minutes from 1888 to 1950 of the Caldwell Baptist Association, to name a few.

That box of accumulation was but one small part of a lifetime of accumulation, and all of it came up for sale last May. That’s when Gary Wieland came across it at an estate sale.

Wieland, who moved to Lenoir in late 2015 after retiring from a job in Texas, bought the old wooden box almost on a lark. It was $50.

The box turned out to be a field desk from the Civil War era. Wieland has since sold it.

He has also sold other items. Now he’s going through what’s left and giving them away to people who might appreciate them, such as the burglary report, which he took to the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office, and the May 9, 1917, newspaper, still fairly supple and not nearly as yellow as you would expect, which has been in my drawer the past two weeks but soon will make its way to the Caldwell Heritage Museum. So too may the plastic bag of Lenoir Topic receipts, the oldest of which is dated April 16, 1904, for a subscription sold to Monroe Wilson by George Kincaid of the Topic.

Wieland said it has been entertaining to look through all the old papers that were in that box. But Wieland lacks Mr. Wilson’s instinct to hold on to things.

“I figured all they’re doing is sitting in a drawer now,” he said.

He bought them, he read them, and then he felt he had an obligation to share them.

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The fashion world seeks my input


I no longer get press releases about medical research in Scotland, but I still get some from far-flung places where I have trouble believing anyone even knows where Lenoir is.

On Friday one came from a fashion designer in Leicester, England. I’m sure your first thought is that this designer clearly recognizes that whatever the upper crust in New York, London and Milan might say, fashion isn’t fashion until the Lenoir News-Topic says so. I’ve heard it many times.

She wanted me — or presumably anyone anywhere in the world on the massive list of email addresses swept up by computers maintained by whatever public relations hacks she is paying — to interview her about “athleisure.”

I’ll give her this: She increased my word power.

Without the context of the press release, I might have thought “athleisure” was the sound of a complicated sneeze. Or it could be a term for a type of seizure common among athletes.

Instead, athleisure is defined in this press release riddled with punctuation errors as “modern comfortable sport’s inspired” clothing. In other words, leisure clothing that is vaguely athletic-looking. In the case of this press release, that would be leggings.

Leggings came to be in the news recently because United Airlines refused to let two girls who were traveling on a free ticket board the plane because they were wearing leggings rather than pants.

The English fashion designer argues that leggings ought to be allowed not only on planes but in a great many places: “As more people are becoming interested in healthy living, it is increasingly acceptable for dress codes to be relaxed in order to facilitate popular on-the-go lifestyles.”

My mother used to talk about how people once dressed up to travel because going on a plane was a big deal. Now, as Norm in the old TV show “Cheers” might say, it’s just another darn reason to put your pants on.

It’s not just air travel, though, it’s everywhere. Go to your local courthouse and see what some people wear when they have to plead their case before a judge.

There are places you shouldn’t arrive looking as though you either just rolled out of bed or are about to mow the lawn.

But I digress.

Curious about what athleisure — or, another term this designer used, “sports luxe” — looks like, I went to the designer’s website, www.okayla.co.uk. There on the home page it was: a young woman in a gray hoodie, her face pale, her heavily painted eyes closed, her head tilted slightly, her dark-purple lips parted, her shoulders slouched, hands hanging limp. She looked like a corpse in rigor mortis having been stood upright.

I wouldn’t want her on a plane either, but mainly because I’d be afraid she’d try to eat my brain.

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Let’s be honest: No one wants a camera and a hose shoved up his rear end.

And the very idea is why so many people are resistant to getting a colonoscopy, a procedure in which a doctor snakes a tube up inside you to see what business you have going on down there. Or up there, I guess.

The idea gave me the willies.

Turns out I was just being stubborn, ignorant and childish. If you’re worried about it too, don’t be. Here’s why.

When I was 49, the doctor brought up the topic as a suggestion.

No, I don’t think I will, I said.

When I was 50, he brought it up again.

Eh, I said.

Then last fall I had some sudden, severe abdominal pain. Frighteningly severe.

The pain passed, but the doctor now had allies in my wife and every relative. I lost the ability to choose. The colonoscopy was on the calendar.

I had to reschedule once. I hoped I would again.

No luck.

Last Monday, I went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription liquid you have to drink to clean your system out, which means exactly what you think it does. The pharmacist talked to me about the process and what to do and said the box had not just instructions but IKEA-like picture instructions.

Then, as I was about to leave, she said, “I hope everything comes out OK.”

Of all the pharmacists in the world, I get Lenoir’s answer to Henny Youngman.

I chuckled.

As I walked away, she said, “Have fun.”

You stop eating solid food about two days before your procedure. My instructions said that I could have breakfast and lunch, but after that, for the rest of the day and the entire next day, I could have only certain liquids. The most satisfying of these was broth.

Broth.

Just broth.

Surprisingly, though, broth is pretty tasty as long as you don’t get the low-sodium kind. You can keep your stomach full and stave off hunger pangs, and it tastes really, really good.

But even if you feel “full,” you won’t feel full. A belly full of broth, water, 7-Up and Gatorade feels like someone stole your stomach and replaced it with a water balloon.

So by the evening before your procedure, when you are supposed to take the medicine, you may feel like a monk. You have been abstaining. You yearn for the sensual pleasure of pizza, or cheese, or a little meat. You look forward to the procedure just to get the whole thing over with and begin feasting.

Now, the medicine: It will clean you out. That sounds scary. You may remember bouts of stomach flu when you got cleaned out. You will dread it.

Don’t.

Remember: You have ingested nothing but liquids for well over 24 hours. And there are no cramps like there are with stomach flu.

In the morning you will take more of the medicine. But that morning is the hardest because after drinking the medicine and prescribed amount of water, you are now done. No water, no broth, no nothing, for hours. Time has rarely moved as slowly for me as those five hours did.

By the time I reached the gastroenterologist’s office, I was eager for the procedure, because once it was done I would be free. I could eat. I had fantasies of food like prisoners and castaways have. I plotted my lunch with the eagerness of a first date.

And my eagerness was rewarded: It was the shortest wait in a doctor’s office I have had in my entire life.

They took me back to a room. There were a few questions. Did I have any questions? I did not. I put all my clothes in a bag and put on the ties-in-the-back gown. Shortly, a nurse came back, told me to lie down and covered me with a warm blanket.

When another nurse came back and took me to the room for the procedure, the anesthetist greeted me and in a cheery voice explained what she was going to do. One thing she said was the name of the drug propofol, which triggered a memory, and when she paused I said, “Wasn’t it propofol that killed Michael Jackson?

“Yes,” she said, “yes it was.”

From across the room a nurse called out, “It was a cardiologist who killed Michael Jackson!”

And on it went.

I was just joking, but the anesthetist explained aaaaaaaaaaaalll about propofol and what went wrong with Michael and his doctor.

Then they had me turn on my side, get in a certain place.

And then I was asleep. It’s almost as if I was snatched by aliens, because my memory in that room simply ends at that moment I situated myself on the bed.

The next thing I knew, I woke in a different room with Mrs. Lucas.

I was groggy. It felt a bit like being drunk, except it wore off faster.

So much worry over so little. And on the bright side, I learned a lot about propofol. The whole thing was a win-win.

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nora
I don’t remember who told me I should write about Nora McGee.

I remember it had something to do with the 81-year-old woman’s woodworking, that she had taken it up as a child in an age when grown women rarely did that work. Among other things, she built several floor-to-ceiling cabinets for her kitchen. I remembered the feminist gist of what she told me about growing up as a tomboy in the early 20th century, but until re-reading the story not the wonderful phrasing she used.

“Back in my day, women weren’t supposed to do that,” she said. “I just decided, instead of knitting when I didn’t want to, I would hammer when I wanted to.”

I liked doing stories of women striking out into men’s territory. Around the same time, 1987, I wrote about the only four women in Lenoir who were criminal defense attorneys. It’s still a men’s field – I think I have seen more women at the Caldwell County Courthouse working as prosecutors than defense attorneys in the past three years.

Until a relative of McGee’s sent me a photocopy of her story recently I didn’t remember her name, but when that relative mentioned McGee’s name to me a week or so earlier I wondered if that was the woman I wrote about who did the woodworking. It sounded familiar.

When the photocopy arrived in the mail I recognized it, and yet it differed from my memory.

I shot the photo the News-Topic ran of her moving wood on a saw, but I remembered shooting it at a different angle. I remembered she wore a dress at the time, and I would have described it as sort of dark and plain, yet when I saw the black-and-white image I could tell it must have been gray or, more likely, light blue with a simple floral pattern. As I sat at home Saturday morning thinking about writing about the difference between my memory and the photo, I thought her hair was darker and longer than it actually is in the photo.

We all like to think of our memory as a video recorder. Everything that goes in is played back reliably and the same way every time, unless it gets erased. Then it’s just gone. But what we recall, that’s what was. That happened.

With rare exceptions, though, we have fluid memories. Even in the events we remember, details change. People change. Some things fade out, while new details may emerge.

I remember from that group of women defense attorneys just one name, Nancy Epstein, maybe because that stood out as not a local name. I remember I thought she was attractive. Maybe that’s the only reason she’s the only one I can remember – or maybe I have told myself she was attractive because hers is the only name I remember, and I can’t think of another reason I would forget the other three.

Or was her name Nancy? Google can’t find her.

Were there really four women in that group? Maybe there were three.

I don’t have the newspaper clipping of that story, only the memory of the photo I shot, the women standing together somewhere in front of the courthouse.

Maybe I was meant to work as a reporter because even as a teenager I knew that memories weren’t always reliable. I often said when telling people what I recall, “If I remember accurately …”

In a poetry writing class in college, one of our assignments was to describe our earliest memory. Mine has always been a few moments in a medical setting when I must have been an infant. I wrote my description of it as best I could but couched all of my details with qualifiers, saying that this is how I remember it, and pointing out the gaps that I didn’t remember. The professor read each student’s submission without telling who wrote it, and after reading mine he told the class he knew exactly the procedure being described – one that, as he talked about it, I had no idea existed. Then he declared that the careful insistence that the memory’s details might be flawed clearly indicated that the entire thing was a work of fiction because no one said things like that when describing a memory.

No one knew I had written it, so I could not feel humiliated at being called a fabulist (I should note I got a good grade in the class – lies in poetry are not a bad thing, apparently). Mainly I wondered: Had I learned about that procedure at some point and forgot about it? Had I seen it on TV and internalized the imagery? I’ll never know.

The memory feels as real as my interviews with “Miss Nora” and Nancy Epstein. That’s why I have to couch my words. That’s why we all should.

NOTE: After this was published, a reader emailed me and said I probably was thinking of Nancy Einstein, who now practices law in Morganton. She was correct.

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