I had two choices today, the last day of human civilization.
I could burn a lot of bridges and tell everyone I know exactly what I think of them … OR, I could listen to “end of the world”-themed songs and list my Top 7 favorite.
I choose the latter, because I simply don’t have enough time to alienate everybody during their final hours. Happy Armageddon, everyone!
One of my favorites from U2. A little Irish band few of you have heard of.
To hell with it. The world’s ending. Put on your favorite purple shiny coat and party.
The tune is older than human life on Earth. Frakkin’ A.
“Throwing Copper” is still one of my favorite albums, and Chad Gracey’s drums in this song have always done it for me. “As the final sunset rolls behind the earth, and the clock is finally dead. I’ll look at you, you’ll look at me. We’ll cry a lot. And this will be what we said.”
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” It may not be about the end of the world, but it’s still good last words should we all go down in a flaming shitball Friday.
If I could get a version of the Bible sung by Johnny Cash, I’d be a Biblical scholar.
Def Leppard: Armageddon It
Creedance Clearwater Revival: Bad Moon Rising
Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
Blue Oyster Cult: Don’t Fear the Reaper
The Doors: The End
Soundgarden: Black Hole Sun
Europe: The Final Countdown
Thank you for the kind words and the not-so-kind words on what I wrote yesterday.
To clarify a few things … it wasn’t written solely on emotion. I’ve always felt this way and am ashamed it took a bunch of first-graders getting mowed down for me to express it. Second, there are exceptions, but the majority of clear-headed people who want “gun control” (and yes, I consider myself clear-headed) don’t want to “take your guns away” and leave you defenseless. We want items like lightweight semi-automatic rifles that are as easy to shoot as paintball guns taken off store and pawn shop shelves.
And to those who say the Second Amendment was created to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government (which is true) and thus, gives us the right to any firearm we please … I say this, it would take a garage full of scud missiles and tanks to stop our government. It’s what we have an Army for, and if our Army “turned” (as I assume is the scenario in this argument), we’re toast.
I’m all for increased security in schools and highly trained police officers in every hallway. But training and arming our teachers? A: My 70-year-old kindergarten teacher, Ms. Sharp, comes to mind and the idea of her “strapping a sidearm” while teaching us our ABCs is insane. Teachers are human and they’re capable of bad things as well (I can start posting links if you wish). Giving them guns will certainly stop a madman. I don’t doubt that. It will also eventually lead to arguments with students that end with a bang. Or even the threat of a bang.
I love this country and what it was founded on. And for 200-plus years, it’s been going pretty damn well, save for a civil war, a few assassinations and tons of racism. But for the past 15-20 years, this new evil has emerged. The mass killer.
And our society makes it really easy for this person to exist and succeed.
There’s an episode of Family Guy where Brian discovers he has a son and goes on to annoy Peter and his friends because he begins over-reacting to potential scenarios that would harm his son.
“Ohhh, no no no,” he tells a sympathetic Quagmire while talking about plane crashes. “Until you have a child. Until you have a child. You do not understand. OK?”
Sigh. I just quoted Family Guy.
But damn it, if I don’t feel the same way right now.
Had it happened five years ago, I would have shared in our nation’s pain and suffering over the news of 20 first-grade students and six adults gunned down in a Connecticut elementary school last Friday. Like the Batman movie theater shooting earlier this year or the Arizona congresswoman assassination attempt and mass shooting last year, I would have reacted to the news much like everyone else – with great sadness but eventually (and too quickly) an attitude that these things tend to happen and we’re all just trying to make it through life beating the rare chance we’d ever be a victim in these random acts of violence.
It sounds harsh and selfish, but if you weren’t directly affected by the theater shootings, think about how long you “mourned.” Aside from a few links you may have posted or a few comments on guns, it was all likely forgotten within days.
Life goes on.
You know, as it should.
But then I had kids. A beautiful, smart little girl who loves pink and purple and Santa Claus and dancing and singing and Disney movies. An equally beautiful little boy who waves at trucks, loves dogs and rarely doesn’t have a huge smile on his face.
They are 3 and 1. To my wife and me, they are our life. The moment they were born, our goals in life changed to simply raising these children to be happy and loving of others.
And to be safe. Most importantly, to be safe. To not live in fear.
The odds that our children will be gunned down in a horrific act of violence are so rare, you would think it’s something that should never cross my mind.
But it did this morning.
Moments after seeing the pictures of children who on Friday were shot numerous times while huddled in a corner feeling unimaginative fear that no child should ever experience, I said good-bye to my two children as my wife drove them to their preschool/children’s center.
I thought about the fact that you need a password to enter that facility … that as far as those types of places go, it’s secure as it needs to be.
From what I understand, though, so was Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.
It’s not a very comforting thought.
In fact, it all makes you feel completely helpless.
I know that feeling will go away with time. As will our sadness … at least those of us who, again, aren’t directly connected to this tragedy.
Eventually … far too quickly, perhaps … life will return to normal until the next massacre.
Rinse and repeat.
But I’m not going to just jump back into normalcy without, in some small way, trying to make a difference. For the past 15 years, I’ve been a writer, so it’s my hope I can make a difference with my words.
Maybe it’s because children were involved in this one. And maybe or maybe not that should make a difference in our reaction to this.
But what’s different about me now and me before now is I’m a parent. And, I guess like Brian would say, “Until you have a child. You do not understand.”
So hear me out. This is my only wish in this life – I want my children and your children to be safe. I want to be able to drop my daughter off at kindergarten in a few years and feel like she’s going to be fine. I want to take them to a Disney movie without jumping in my seat when someone pops their head in through an exit door in the middle of a dark theater.
Above everything. Everything. The goal for our country should be the well-being and safety of our children.
And as a country, we do a pretty good job of trying pretty damn hard in many areas of child safety. We track sex offenders mercilessly. We hand down multiple life sentences to football coaches found guilty of being nothing less than a monster. We require car seats. We don’t allow people to smoke in public buildings.
We even monitor the toys in their Happy Meals so they don’t choke.
Yet, when it comes to guns.
We’re on our own, there.
I grew up in Texas.
And not just Texas. East Texas.
Rural East Texas.
Kids came to school wearing camouflage in the winter often because they’d spent the hours from sunrise to first bell in their deer stands. In the early 90s in high school, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see rifles on gun racks in cars parked in the parking lot.
My stepdad had a bunch of guns … pistols, hunting rifles, etc.
And they scared the shit out of me.
It wasn’t that I was afraid someone would use them to harm me. I was more afraid of the accidents often associated with guns in the home. A pistol in a young man’s hand is surprisingly heavy and surprisingly powerful. And if that young man is me – someone with no gun training whatsoever – there’s absolutely nothing good that can come from holding one.
So that day I snooped and held it … I set it down (barrel away) seconds later and decided at that moment I wasn’t a “gun person.”
But being from Texas, I know a lot of gun people.
Hunters. Enthusiasts. Police officers. A few people, also, who according to the stuff they post online, probably shouldn’t have guns.
Many of these gun people are the first to respond to a national tragedy with one of those half-compassionate, half-“don’t you dare talk about taking away my guns” posts.
You know the ones ….
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
The shooter wouldn’t have killed anyone if the principal was armed.
And so on. And so on.
I’m not saying they lack compassion. Most of them are parents and likely, like me, shed a tear this weekend as the names and the pictures of the 6- and 7-year-old victims were released.
But many of them are equally passionate when the idea of gun control is brought up. They get angry and condemn those who “politicize” the shooting. They point to an insanely out-dated Second Amendment that, in their eyes, guarantees us the right to own guns that can fire off a dozen rounds a second.
Note: I’m only assuming those guns exist. I’m not a gun person.
To quote President Obama – a president I’ve not agreed with on many issues the past four years – Monday night from his speech in Newtown …
“Can say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days. If we’re honest without ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change. We all know what he means.
And he’s right.
It’s time to make some changes.
Some of them even I won’t like.
When my daughter knocks my son over the head with a giant wooden spoon in our kitchen, the first thing I do is take that giant spoon away.
The wooden spoon is useful for many other things … stirring, uhm … I’m not much of a cook, so I imagine there are other good uses for it, too.
Point is, in her hands, with a 1-year-old around, it can be dangerous. As a parent, I should have known this before letting her hold it in the kitchen, but I didn’t see the harm in her using it to pretend to cook brownies for her grandparents who’ll be in town later this week.
But when she conks the boy on the noggin’ … she loses the right to play with the spoon.
I don’t sit there and wait for the 25th smack on the head before I realize something in this scenario needs to change.
It’s a simplistic comparison, but one I think fits.
How many mass shootings are we going to experience before we start enacting laws that take dangerous automatic or semi-automatic weapons off the streets?
The Bushmaster .223 rifle the shooter allegedly used in Newtown Friday is the same type of weapon used by the infamous D.C. sniper in 2002. The North Carolina company that produces the rifle also made rifles used in at least four other high-profile mass shootings since 1999, including a 2009 shooting spree in Alabama that killed 10 and a 2010 spree in Virginia that left eight dead.
According to an article this week in the USA Today, the weapon delivers bullets “designed in such a fashion (that) the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullets stay in.”
I believe in the idea of the Second Amendment. I believe we should be able to protect ourselves. I don’t like guns, but if it means protecting my family …
But to say our “right to bear arms” means we have a God-given right to automatic rifles that are lighter than air, easy to use and can gun down 15 “ducks” in mere seconds.
This is where we disagree. Big.
The guns allegedly used by the killer in Newtown were legally purchased by his mother.
The weapons used to mow down little children were purchased legally in this country.
Let that sit in for a second.
And I know the arguments that will come my way …
* Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. … My answer: People with legally or illegally obtained guns kill people.
* A bomb would have killed everybody in the school. … My answer: You’re right. I’m glad he only killed 26.
* A guy in China injured 20-plus this week with a knife. … My answer: Keyword is “injured” and second, are we really going to use this as an argument?
Some have suggested arming teachers or using the type of marshals we use on planes Post-9/11. Who is to say a teacher can’t snap? Is the answer really putting more guns in the school?
The answer to all these questions is there is no clear-cut answer. Yes, if you ban assault weapons, people will still murder people.
We’re a sick, sick world. I get this.
But we can’t use the excuse “it’s gonna happen no matter what” as the reason for decision or non-decision we make.
We have to start somewhere. We have to make laws that both sides can agree on.
These rifles have been legal for a long time, but like my daughter and the spoon, our society has shown we just don’t know how to handle them.
It’s time to take them away.
It’s a start.
And while we’re at it, it’s time to look at video games, television and movies. I’ve spent a lifetime defending the First Amendment with much the same passion many have defended the Second … but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think first-person shooter games and episodes of The Walking Dead (my favorite current TV show) don’t glorify this sort of violence in some way.
The answer there? I don’t know. But again … our society just can’t seem to handle it.
I will fully support any attempts to make this country safer. I’m sorry to all victims of mass violence that it took the lives of 20 beautiful children and six brave adults for me to speak my mind sooner.
If you agree with me, share this … or don’t. Share something else written by someone who doesn’t quote Family Guy or better yet, get off your ass and demand change.
I firmly believe those of us who want gun control aren’t asking for this because we’re evil and communists and we want to take away the rights given to us by God and bald eagles.
We want it because we want our children to grow up in a country where lightweight semi-automatic rifles aren’t available at your nearest historic-theater-converted-into-a-pawn-shop (my hometown has one of these, though I haven’t checked if it sells these weapons).
Address: 1609 S. Horner Blvd. Sanford NC
My Dish: Shrimp and Grits
The Rundown: There are some really great places to eat in Sanford, North Carolina. And there are some really awful places to eat in Sanford, North Carolina. I suppose this is true anywhere. So I don’t really know where I was going with that.
I will say there are some very average restaurants in Sanford that people swear by. I’d heard good things about the new Oyster Bar on Horner Boulevard, so my curiosity was there. But would it be good or “good” …? Know what I mean?
I’m going to stop this intro before I sound like a snob.
My wife and our two very young and very picky children went to the aforementioned Oyster Bar a few weeks back … our expectations low. Our first surprise was the atmosphere … linen table cloths, black-tied servers, nice bar. I suppose with a name like Oyster Bar, the look and feel can be anything.
The menu reflected the look. If you’re going to order lobster or filet mignon, you’re going to pay handsomely. Items like shrimp and grits ($14) and the crab cake sandwich ($10) are affordable, however (so are oysters, but I have a rule … don’t try oysters from a place you don’t trust yet, even if it’s called an oyster bar). So I ordered the shrimp and grits, and my wife ordered the crab cake sandwich.
Before all of that came out, we got hushpuppies. And they were great. They aren’t fancy, but hushpuppies rarely are. My wife liked the jalapeno butter that came with it, and I dug the honey butter. We went through two baskets of them (they’re a hit with the kids).
But then came the entrees. And because I’m by no means a food critic, I won’t go into the intricacies of my shrimp and grits. I will say that they were good. Great, even. A little heavy on the oil (as shown in the photo above, though when you mix it in the grits, it’s quite good), the dish was a hit for me and my wife. The shrimp is outstanding, and the extras (a citrus taste, diced cherry tomatoes, green onions) were very good. The andouille sausage was average, but I’m nit-picking here. I devoured it.
And the crabcake sandwich, according to my wife, was an A. Not over-fried, big chunks of crab … made her want to order the crabcake entree (which is $20 … which is why we went with the sandwich).
If I sound surprised, it’s because I was.
Like I said earlier, Sanford does have some fine places to eat. For my money, nothing beats the Steele Pig (which has amazing shrimp and grits). But I’ve eaten at a few places others have sworn by and came away feeling kinda “meh” … or worse.
Not so here. The food was great. The service was great. And they had a nice little crowd that night … which is great for Sanford. I hope more quality restaurants choose us for business.
Price: Like I said, there are some items I’d have to take out a small loan for, but there’s enough on the menu to please working stiffs like me.
Verdict: It gets an A. Atmosphere, service and food were all pleasant surprises. We’ll be back.
A year ago this week, I stopped working for newspapers. Since 1999, I’d been a journalist. I started out a cops reporter, soon started covering sports and by 2003, I was editor of a weekly newspaper outside of Houston.
The hours stunk, the pay stunk and the stress stunk … but it was a hell of a ride. I loved my job and I loved putting in the effort to be good at my job.
In 2009, my wife and I had our first child. Suddenly, getting home at 7 and staying “on call” well into the night (often editing front pages and updating websites from home around bedtime) didn’t make sense anymore. Not that it ever did, really. But I’d never had a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job before, so I knew no other life.
In 2011, when we learned we had a second child on the way, I decided to start planning my exit strategy. In June of 2011, I was hired to work for Campbell University doing many of the things I loved about papers – writing, designing, editing, etc., etc.
So for a year, I’ve had weekends off (except one or two Saturdays). I’ve gotten home before 6. I had four days off for Thanksgiving last year. Five for Christmas. I had the Fourth of July off for the first time in over a decade. I’ve discovered what the big deal was all about with three-day weekends.
I bring this up not to bash the newspaper industry or my many peers I’ve gotten to know and truly like over the years. I, personally, was burnt out (or is it burned out? … must consult a journalist).
A friend of mine – also a former journalist who’s been out of the industry two years now – posted a link today of a thread where former sports journalists answered four questions about their decision to leave. I’ll end this with those questions and my answers.
Before then, I’d like to tip my hat to my fellow “dead journalists” … Jon, Gordon, Alex, Brooke and now Chelsea … as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our chats this past year about newspapers and why we’re glad to be out.
1. What do you miss most about journalism?
Several things … the camaraderie of the newsroom, the adrenaline from covering big news or breaking news, the thrill of producing a great newspaper that day, the creative outlet, Election Night, the perks and parking passes. It’s a career I was and am passionate about, and that will never change.
2. What do you miss least?
What the industry has done to once-great journalists. Either they lost their jobs through budget cuts or were left holding the bag and expected to produce a quality product with half the resources. I had a newsroom of 15 at The Sanford Herald in 2007, and by 2011, it was down to 7 1/2. It’s 6 now, not counting a news clerk.
I don’t miss the hours – there was no start and stop to the day. When I wasn’t in the office, I was editing from home, updating the webpage and social networks from home, or getting phone calls while out with my wife about press issues or deadline issues. It followed me everywhere I went.
I don’t miss that.
3. What do you do now?
I run the social networking and printed publications (including three magazines a year) at Campbell University, a growing university 30 minutes from my home in Central North Carolina.
4. Are you happier with your new career?
I not only still love what I do, but I have a home life now. Even if that home life consists of chasing two toddlers and always being exhausted, I can’t imagine what it would have done to me and my family had I been trying to do this while running a newsroom.
Address: 200 E. Martin St., Raleigh NC
My Dish: Crawfish Etouffee, BBQ Shrimp for Appetizer
The Rundown: My wife is a born-and-raised Cajun from Lafayette, Louisiana. Needless to say, the first time we noticed a fleur-de-lis in the window of Battistella’s in downtown Raleigh, we were intrigued.
I lived in south Louisiana for nearly five years and in that time, became an Honorary Cajun. I even have the shirt. I grew to understand the importance food has on the Cajun culture and, more importantly, the difference between true Cajun cuisine and imitators. Typically, if the restaurant isn’t located in Cajun Country, that’s cause for concern. Chains like Razzoo’s and Ralph and Kacoo’s – while not necessarily terrible – don’t quite hit the mark when you’ve immersed yourself in the real thing.
Even when the owner of a Cajun or New Orleans style restaurant has his or her roots in south Louisiana, there’s usually still something missing. It’s hard to replicate the atmosphere of a Olde Tyme Grocery in Lafayette … a little corner store with the best shrimp po-boys on the planet. Or the French Press in downtown Lafayette, a newer (more modern) stop with the best Louisiana breakfast you can dream up.
So we weren’t expecting the world of Battistella’s. Anything resembling South Louisiana (within driving distance of our new home in North Carolina) would be a pleasant surprise.
So did it measure up?
The atmosphere has an up-scale Louisiana feel to it. It didn’t hurt that it was a muggy, rainy summer evening when we tried it … weather you’ll find in New Orleans 9 months out of the year. The bar as you enter highlights a large picture of the Crescent City, centered by the Superdome. The beer on tap is Abita … a positive sign for Louisiana folk.
And the menu certainly looks like New Orleans (which is different than Cajun on many levels, though similar) – fried seafood platters, crawfish cornbread-stuffed quail, blackened catfish, etc. We opted for the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp (toasted garlic, rosemary, lemon, peppery butter sauce) as an appetizer and both ordered crawfish etouffee as an entree.
The shrimp was good, not great. It was served swimming in a thin pond of barbecue sauce that had more of a teriyaki flavor than anything else. The sauce served as a better dip for the French bread that came with it than as a friend to the shrimp.
But the shrimp wasn’t our purpose. We wanted crawfish, which we hadn’t had since gorging ourselves during our last trip to Louisiana in April. (Pictured above), the etouffee looked a little soupier than what we typically had back home, but the smell (a mixture of seafood and roux) was dead on.
We were pretty excited.
The rest of the experience was a mixed bag. First, the pro’s … the crawfish itself was very good. As was the rice. Both were plump and filling. The other ingredients (which I won’t pretend to know all of) were very good as well. Battistella’s etouffee appeared to have a tomato base, which didn’t ruin it for me (but led my wife to say, “It basically makes it not even etouffee.”
In fact, the dish would have been amazing had it not been for the over-abundance of black pepper … an ingredient that almost managed to ruin the entire dish. Yes, it sounds odd for an Honorary Cajun like myself to complain about a spice, but the real Cajun at the table thought it was too much as well. A misconception about Cajun food is that it has to be hot and spicy, causing your eyes to turn into slots (which land on red peppers before steam escapes from your mouth and ears).
That’s not the case. To me, anyway. It’s all about flavor. And this etouffee dish hit on nearly all of those flavors, except the black pepper. Beads of sweat formed at my hairline. Our stomachs ached for a few minutes. It was simply too much.
Not enough to ruin it entirely … we DID bring some home and had it for lunch the next day. After reheating it, it lost some of its soupiness (and a bit of the fire, actually) and was a better meal the second time.
We passed on dessert, as our fire tummies couldn’t handle any more and were on our way.
Price: Pricey, but it won’t break the bank. About what you’d expect in similar restaurants in Louisiana.
Final Grade: Battistella’s earns a C-plus (the “plus” because it came close to a true Louisiana experience, which isn’t easy to do). The grade would have gone up had the etouffee not caused us to breathe fire for the next half hour. But for any transplanted Cajun or N’awlins native in the Triangle, it’s not a bad trip home. Just beware of the black pepper.
I’ll begin with a confession. I think Christopher Nolan is tops. He’s the bee’s knees.
From Memento to Inception and all three of the Batman films, he can do no wrong in my eyes.
So take that little grain of salt while reading my thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises,” which I half expected to be a dud after reading several reviews (even positive ones) before seeing it Friday.
It’s a film that doesn’t quite hit the iconic status of its predecessor, thanks to the lack of a show-stealing performance (Heath Ledger’s Joker) and a slight exit from the “reality” both “The Dark Knight” and “Batman Begins” were steeped in.
“Rises” feels much different than the first two in that it feels like a comic book movie, complete with villains who insist on letting the hero survive so he can suffer more (the lesson here is just kill him … it’s never a good idea otherwise, as was pointed out in Austin Powers). The fights are little more ridiculous (the Wall Street scene where Bane at the Bat clash). And there’s a nuclear bomb … always a good comic book foe.
These amount to my few gripes. The rest of the nearly three-hour ride is thrilling. A motorcycle chase through Gotham is the best chase I’ve seen on film in recent memory. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is the best take on the character I’ve seen, and I loved her role throughout. Bane is no Joker, but we’re working from source material here, and he’s a great take on the comic Bane (billion times better than Schumacher’s Bane origin story). And Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake character is vital to the plot … a character I was scared would be forced into the script, yet one that is surprisingly likable.
A friend of mine wrote about a problem he had with the general plot, which began with the end of “Dark Knight.” In it, Batman kills Harvey Dent, who’d of course become Two Face and raised hell after Rachel Dawes’ death. Batman tells Commissioner Gordon to blame him for Two Face’s murders and to blame him for Dent’s death.
Telling the world that Dent became a villain would crush Gotham, was the idea. This is what sends Batman into exile for eight years. “Rises” begins with the notion that in those eight years, organized crime has been thwarted because of the Dent Act, passed in honor of the “white knight,” an act that I assume makes it easier to prosecute the baddies.
My friend says, “Why not just say the Joker did it?” Doing that still hides the truth about Harvey Dent. It still makes “Harvey Dent Day” a lie. Doing that makes Batman needed … something Bruce Wayne no longer wants. The second movie drove home the point Wayne doesn’t want to be Batman if there’s someone like Dent to carry the torch. Even a dead Dent with a clean legacy can manage that.
So I bought that plotline, and I enjoyed the way it led to Catwoman’s arrival, and Wayne’s eventual interest in donning the suit again.
I won’t get into the political overtones. Some say the strong words against the upper class represent Christopher Nolan’s left-leaning views, while others insist that because a billionaire is still the hero (and the villain is promoting socialism and anarchy), it must be right-leaning.
Nolan used rich vs. poor because it made for a better story. Why not use class warfare in a movie where the hero is the richest guy in Gotham? Where one of the villains only targets the super wealthy … almost more for revenge than the actual goods she nabs?
It made for a great story. I didn’t feel like right or left wing anything was being shoved down my throat.
As for the ending, I’m not going to spoil anything. I will say only that one of the twists I saw coming a mile away, another twist I was mildly surprised by, another twist I was completely surprised by … and the actual end was both emotional and, for a huge fan of not only Nolan’s Batman films but Batman in general, rewarding.
Simply put. I liked it. Loved it.
It’s not the genre-changing film “The Dark Knight” was … and heck, even that one had its flaws (the bombs-on-the-barge scene and overall ending was a bit much). But “Rises” lived up to the hype and the anticipation.