Blogging… blogging?

27 Sep

Dearest reader, I apologize.  It is a truth universally accepted that a grad student in possession of application materials must be in want of even a moment of personal time.  Hopefully, this marks the return of the regular blog posts, as I try to beat back the waves of application anxiety and focus on the here and now.

Due to a scheduling mix-up on my part, I ended up with an “extra” class today.  Of course, the “extra” class is a lot like the “free” lunch — not real.  Still, I wanted to try something different, so we took a whole day to work on drafting in class.  I didn’t offer them the option of leaving this time, and, frankly, they didn’t do anything that made me think they wanted to leave.  I’m sure that no more than two students were at some point watching a football game, and that is progress.  It probably didn’t hurt that they’d gotten their first round of grades back; the realization that they were no longer in high school was sinking in.  The amount of growth that happens in that first semester is really incredible; I forget how sink or swim college can be sometimes. 

I started the class by asking them to submit questions about the assignment to me, and then I turned them loose on the assignment at hand.  We’re working on a researched argument right now, which, as far as I can tell, looks like

TITLE PAGE
INTRODUCTION
LIT REVIEW
THEIR CONTRIBUTION
CONCLUSION

It’s modeled after APA style articles in the social sciences, so the form is a little odd for me.  Particularly problematic is that I’m in constant contact with social science articles that look nothing like that.  Often, this generic subversion is linked to an ideological point that the author is making.  It’s a little troublesome, then, to prescribe this format for my students, but it keeps the focuses of the assignment (locating and responding to academic sources) front and center.  A friend recently pointed out that they are not going to fail at life (or just at being decent human beings) because of something I do or do not do; similarly, their success is really not a product of my efforts.  Somewhere in focusing so intently on how I was going to operate under an emphatically student-centered paradigm, I lost sight of my relative minuteness in their lives.  Partly, I would attribute this to “growing up” in the humanities; humanities folks are constantly called on to justify themselves and their roles in the educational system.  It’s no huge surprise that we have a tendency to overstate that, and it may be par for the course that, eventually, we internalize the rhetoric we use to justify our day-to-day to the people with the dollars.  

But back to class. 

So, as they wrote, I let the left side of my brain go nuts organizing their questions into groups and analyzing common themes, and I realized that there were some serious holes in their understanding of the purpose and form of their assignment.  So, every 20 minutes or so, we stopped writing for 10 minutes or so and did a mini-lesson.  Some of their questions:

What exactly do I need to have in my introduction?

So, do I put my opinion in the literature review at all?

Can we draw out the way the paper is organized?

What do you mean when you say “dissenting voice”?

Big questions.  Important questions.  Questions I could have sworn I went over, but, given the current state of my life (and the level or retention in any classroom), I think these safety-net activities are probably going to play a lager role in my teaching from here on out.  It boils down to admitting that my students and I are all terribly busy people, and some of the minute details of rhetoric that come up in the ENG 101 classroom don’t stick with us through our busy days.  And, really, I think that may be a complement to all of us. 

SWRVE Regular Belgian Wool Cap

11 Feb

I cannot put on swrve’s Belgian cap without thinking of that night I spent curled up inside my tauntaun, fighting the bitter Hoth winds and impending hypothermia.  Does anyone else smell intestines?

swrve lays out the basics of the Belgian cap on their website, describing it as “a traditional Belgian cut winter cap with fleece fold-down ear flaps! made of thick knit 70% wool, 25% Nylon, 5% spandex, this cap will keep your noggin’ warm on your chilliest ride. wool naturally resists odor and insulates even when wet.”

See that exclamation point after “fleece fold-down ear flaps?”  That, my friends, is a well-deserved exclamation point.  I know I’m starting at the finish here, but the fleece ear covers are easily my favorite part of this hat.  This might be because I have ears like the sails on a 12 foot yacht, but having my sound-holes covered makes my morning ride so much more enjoyable.  Plus, they do a great job of muffling the profanities people scream at me on my commute!  (Not true.)  The flaps also roll up (and stay up!) nicely, which is just one less thing to worry about.  I have to tilt the cap slightly farther forward to put the roll above my ears, but, again, ears like Clark Gabel.

As far as fit is concerned, the cap is snug without being too small, and I wear an XL helmet.  It’s definitely a little bulkier than your typical summer-time cap, which makes it a little tricky if your helmet is already a tight fit.  Then again, it’s been proven that the effectiveness of safety gear is inversely proportionate to the “cool” factor for that item.

(The safest helmet on the road.)

Now, if you’re from North Carolina, you’re probably thinking “When has he had to wear a wool cycling cap?  It’s still 70 degrees outside!”  Truth be told, I couldn’t really argue with that before until mid-January.  Halfway through a long ride across the triangle, my feet were numb.  My hands were numb.  My face was numb.  But, because swerve’s wool cap had kept my brain nice and toasty, I had the cognitive faculties to register just how uncomfortable I was.  Thanks, swrve!

Over the past three months, there have been some chilly early mornings where I’ve legitimately needed something warm on my head, but it’s been pretty mild.  It has been, I must confess, something of an accessory on most of my rides.  Don’t let the names of the colors fool you; “brown rust” isn’t nearly as grating as it sounds.  Simply put, this is a great looking, super classy cap, and I like being seen in it (on the bike.  Follow the rules!).  There.  I said it.  And this brings me to an important point.  As I’ve been doing a lot of warm-ish weather riding, I’ve done a lot of sweating in this cap.  And it still smells like a cap.  Wool: 1, Sweat Stank: 0.

So, another excellent product by swrve.  It’s not cheap, but it’s definitely quality.  It may be made in LA, but I feel like it’s treating my noggin to some serious Southern hospitality.

All photos not of ridiculous hat-mets courtesy of the illustrious Vincent Stemp, friend, photographer, and Tech Editor for IronWorks magazine.

Cyclist, Masochist, Hot Dog.

15 Jan

I come to you as a man with a PBR in one hand and a Food Lion brand cupcake in the other.  If that makes me the wrong kind of author for you, now is your chance to get out.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

I come to you as a masochist, which is not a new development by any means.

I come to you as a cyclist, a title I’ve adopted to different degrees over the last four years as a commuter and recreational rider.

Finally, I come to you as a hot dog, which is simply how I was born.

For most cyclists, winter is a dark time.  The length of the usable day shortens.  The temperatures drop.  And drop.  And drop.  You bundle up in layer after layer, and those laser-cut tan lines that you worked so hard for this summer begin to blur.  You begin to look human again, despite the fact that, as the wind whips around your cheeks and you lose the feeling in your fingers, you feel anything but.  It is a cold and lonely time for a cyclist, huddled beneath pounds of unbelievably expensive wool clothing.  It is a time to rethink what it means to be a cyclist, a time to reconsider the logic of tossing your little pink body into the glistening fray of steely automobiles, gas, grease, broken glass and headless pedestrians.

For some, a cyclist is a person who desperately wants to take a beautiful spring day and turn it into an opportunity to be in excruciating pain.  This category of cyclist is easy to spot, their shaved legs glistening in the sun, making a scene outside of the local coffee shop because they finally got their first varicose vein.  They use phrases like “HTFU,” “sufferfest,” and “n+1.”  They, like me, are the masochists, the limits of their body the only restrictions on the suffering they’re willing to endure.

Typical hardman behavior

We are not talking about that sort of cyclist tonight.

No, we are talking about the cyclist with more than 2% body fat, the cyclist who is just trying to get to school, work, the grocery or the doctor’s office.  We are talking about the everyday commuter, the urban (or suburban) warrior brandishing fenders and racks as xe plows through walls of car exhaust and bites xer tongue as xe rides over a particularly jarring piece of concrete.  Whistling through the winter mornings on mixtes, fixies, mountain bikes, and old Peugeots, these people are cyclists.   More denim than lycra.  More Lance crackers than Lance Armstrong, though that might be a poor comparison given the amount of unnatural chemicals found in either.  Zing!

Some would put these cyclists in the “masochist” category, but I am here to tell you that we are anything but.  It’s not the masochist in me that gets me through the cold winters.  It’s the hot dog.  As I am standing in Food Lion and deciding whether or not I can spring for name brand peanut butter this week, I can see that I have caught your attention.  With my messenger bag and my helmet, it’s obvious; I rode here on a bike.  And as I make eye contact, I can see what’s going on inside your head.

It’s twenty degrees outside.  It’s sleeting.  It’s eleven o’clock at night.  This guy is an absolute idiot.

Is this actually what you’re thinking?  Maybe.  Or maybe you’re thinking, “Is he ever going to leave so I can get my peanut butter?”  I don’t know.  I don’t care.  I choose to think the former.  I may be a masochist in the spring, but, in the dead of winter, I am a hot dog, because I have a taste for the finer stupid things in life.  I show up on my bicycle while everyone else is dashing out of their climate-controlled automobiles and into their destinations, and I know they think I’m crazy.  It’s selfish.  It’s narcissistic.  It’s eccentric for the sake off being eccentric.

It is harmless fun, and I love it.

Here is the secret your cyclist friends don’t want to tell you.  It’s not that bad.  Put simply, cycling is a lot of work.  Unless you only ever ride downhill (and, please, get in touch with me ASAP), you will get hot.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll get sweaty too, which really confuses people in January.  Hell, it confuses me.  Cycling is a hot activity, and don’t get me started on multiple meanings there.  We are not subjecting ourselves to the nightmarish landscape of the concrete winter.  We are having fun.  We are making eye contact and smiling weakly, lips too cold to make discernible words.  We are woven together in a camaraderie of mild unpleasantness far outweighed by the joy of feeling pedals beneath feet.  We are silly, silly, so often happy people.  So, let me end this post as I feel every post about cycling should end.

Today is January 15.  And you can ride a bicycle.  You may never have considered cycling as a mode of transportation.  And you can ride a bicycle.  You may own a car for every person in your family.  And you can ride a bicycle.

And the best part?  When you ride your bicycle, you might meet someone else riding their bicycle, too.

Cycling blogs I read, or Happy Links-giving!

23 Nov

I am going to be busily stuffing my face over the next few days, but I will try to get back to you with a ride report or something on Friday morning.  In the meantime, here are what I believe to be the very best cycling blogs going right now.  Whether you follow singletrack through the woods or carve out your own path in the urban jungle, one of these blogs will have you covered.

http://fatcyclist.com/ has an immense amount of material available, and the “top posts” section has some of the best tips on being a likable cyclist I’ve ever come across.  She’s a longtime bearer of the burden of popularity, as seen by Bicycle Magazine’s current reader’s choice survey.

( https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5FBBQT2 )

http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/ , her main competition in this poll, is also worth following, especially if you’re into cyclocross, grumpy old men, and shaking your head at the ridiculousness of roadies across the globe.

http://www.bikeblognyc.com/  I’m not really sure why two of my favorite bike blogs are in NYC.  I’ve only ever been there twice, and I didn’t ride a bike either time.  I did almost get hit by a bike one of those times, so I guess that counts for something.  Tons and tons and tons of content.  Extra special if you’re actually a part of that community.  Extra extra special if you’re one of those fixie fools.  The rest of us will just have to ride vicariously.

http://www.dirtragmag.com/ is pretty self explanatory.  It’s a magazine about bikes that are usually dirty.  I wish Bicycling magazine were anywhere near this much fun, though they are a valuable resource in their own respect.

http://cyclocosm.com/ exists for those of us who are hung up on all the lycra-wrapped glory that is professional cycling.  Upcoming or past races?  Check here.  Race videos?  Oh yah.  The latest on how your (new least) favorite rider is caught up in a doping scandal?  To quote a woman who could’ve been VP of the United States of America, “You betcha!”

SWRVE Regular Cut Denim (a review)

22 Nov
Comfortable?  One time, I fell asleep in these jeans.  On.  My.  Bicycle.
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Durable?  I crashed in these jeans and got fined for vandalizing the roadway.
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Sexy?  Please.  You bike enough to buy cycling-specific jeans.  Your legs would look good wrapped in scabies-infected hyena pelts.
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If you’re looking for some sort of balanced, vanilla review of SWRVE’s regular cut cycling jean, look elsewhere.  Good luck, though; there’s a reason that everyone writing reviews about these jeans sounds like they’re on SWRVE’s payroll.  Simply put, they’re an excellent product.

Always cautious, I decided to buy the regular cut jeans instead of the skinnies.  I’d never bought anything from SWRVE before, and the definition of “skinny” varies widely from designer to designer.  Since buying my pair, I’ve heard from several different people that the skinny jeans are more like “regular person skinny” than “hipster skinny.”  That is to say, they don’t appear to be painted on.  The regular cut is currently the most generous jean I own, a looser fit than Levi’s 511 jeans, and definitely a world away from the 510.  I would point the more slender among you toward the skinnier version, but if you’re more Mark Cavendish than Andy Schleck, the regular cut provides plenty of room for your powerful pistons/wintertime burrito baggage.  Both versions have high-rise backs, which will undoubtedly improve your relationship with the drivers behind you, and the front is cut nice and low to keep the waist comfy for those cyclists who are still human shaped.

Aside from the articulated knees, gusseted crotch, and quality construction, my favorite part of these jeans is the dark wash.  They definitely have the look of high quality denim, dark enough to look black in low lighting.  Also worth noting is the consistency of the wash over the entirety of the jean; while I’ve had several pairs of Levi’s that had runs or weird fades, the SWRVE denim is absolutely uniform.  It gives you the feeling that they really love the things they make.

I really cannot say enough good things about the knees and the gusseted crotch on these jeans.  Fantastic.  I feel like my clothing is working with me when I’m on my bicycle; there’s no sense in fighting your jeans while you’re dodging traffic downtown.  It might be an overstatement to say that these jeans actually make my commute safer, but it does eliminate at least one painful distraction.

The jeans also come fully equipped with reflective material on the inside of the leg and what I think is a pen pocket.  Honestly, I couldn’t care less about these things, but they aren’t hurting anyone.  It’s still a good-looking pair of jeans, and, even if the pen pocket never actually carries a pen, it might serve as a conversation starter one day.

As a point of reference, I’m living car-lite in Raleigh, North Carolina, and my weekly commute + errands generally puts me at 50-60 miles of transportation-driven cycling each week.  While I can’t comment on the jeans’ durability just yet, everything else about them screams “quality.”  In short, I’m not worried.

Check out SWRVE Regular Cut Jeans at http://www.swrve.us/.

The Landmark, or “Slow down, baby girl!”

21 Nov
     My friend T had a birthday this weekend.  I believe she’s 24 now.  Old enough to vote.  Old enough to drink.  Old enough to rent a car in most states.  So, I can understand why she was less than thrilled when, after bumping shoulders with a man at the Landmark Tavern in downtown Raleigh, that man exclaimed, “Slow down, baby girl!”  I am almost certain that he did not actually mistake T for an infant, as, at least in Friday night’s heels, she wasn’t far short of six feet tall.  That is a baby girl tailor-made to make some volleyball coach really happy one day.
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That said, there is something in the chicken these days, so I suppose the idea of a 5’8” toddler isn’t absolutely inconceivable.  Let’s give this guy the benefit of the doubt and even allow for the few, stiff drinks that may have been in his system.  T still has noticeably longer hair than any toddler I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a few!), and, as our new friend soon found out, she’s much more articulate than your average kindergartner.  So, between the hair and the talking and the height, and the fact that she was in a bar on a Friday night, I think it’s fairly safe to say that she was definitely not giving off the, “I really enjoy playing with colored alphabet blocks” vibe, and the bro in question decided it was OK to address a full-grown woman as a child.  As it turns out, it is not OK to use language designed to infantilize and subjugate women.  It is especially not OK to do this to a strange woman in a bar, which can be a threatening environment.  And when you yell at that woman, you are just piling not OK log after not OK log onto the giant fire of not OK you are fanning in the not OK furnace.  And finally, when you dehumanize that woman by waving your hand and telling her to “shoo,” you are basically sending up a giant barrage of not OK fireworks.  So, long story short, not OK.
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But, somewhere in here, I was supposed to say something about the Landmark, which probably doesn’t have a higher ratio of neanderthal misogynists to human beings than any other bar in downtown Raleigh.  I decided it was a one-drink evening for me, and, much to my delight, I spied a Knob Creek logo behind the bar.  I wish more places had Knob Creek, as it’s everything Maker’s should be, and it’s usually just a dollar more.  Service was prompt and friendly, despite the elbow to elbow busy-ness of the place.  We made like sardines for about 15 minutes before discovering a patio out back, which, despite the cold, was definitely an improvement.  I need to figure out what those giant heat lanterns so many places have on their patios are called.  I love them.  Imagine not knowing the word “chocolate.”  It’s kind of like that.  In any case, the patio was excellent, and the bar cleared out a little bit at one.  We found a table that could seat all eight or nine of us, a somewhat rare feat in downtown Raleigh.  The Landmark is definitely big group friendly, which is good to know.  Overall, excellent bartending, a relaxed atmosphere, and the pleasantly surprising Knob Creek make the Landmark a bar to go back to, even if the odd patron is still dragging his knuckles.
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The Landmark Tavern
117 East Hargett Street  Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 821-9865

Players’ Retreat, or Don’t Shoot the Messenger

18 Nov

The third time the waiter came back to our table, wearing the apologetic grimace that seemed to have been tattooed across his face just before we arrived, we should have known that there was no more scotch.  At least, that there was no more of the scotch we wanted.  Our motivation for coming to Players’ Retreat (or “PR’s,” but explain that possessive to me) was printed on the back of their beer menu- a whole page dedicated to whiskeys, whiskys, Bourbons, and scotches.  A whole page for P, scotch connoisseur and abstract math extraordinaire, since it was her birthday.  She sat contentedly in her corner booth, surrounded by a gaggle of graduate students from the math department, swilling scotch of choice after scotch of choice from the tiny, tinkling glass.  We were not so lucky.

I’m not sure if it’s the overwhelming popularity or unpopularity of fine scotch, but it seemed like PR’s only had about a third of their scotch menu available.  Our waiter walked back to our table again and again, that same grimace plastered on his face, the same bad news in his mouth, and each time, there was that delicate dance of apology, absolution and re-(re-re-)negotiation.  One, two, three.  One, two, three.

Finally, he broke down, perhaps from fatigue, and recommended us several scotches that he knew they actually had available.  Here, I use “us” loosely; I was having a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  From a bottle.  There are so few things in this world which, quite simply, cannot be messed up.  This pale ale is one of them, and a personal favorite for when I find myself in situations altogether too complicated, hectic, or dubious for fanciful drinking.  Here’s to the pale ale.

In any case, the scotch finally came out, and our table had the pleasure of feeling, however wrongly, that we were under the immense scrutiny of nearly every other patron in the establishment.  Such are the dangers of sitting in front of the big-screen TV.  Behind us, the Tar Heels where taking an immense beating at the hands of a clearly superior Virginia Tech team, and I reaffirmed myself as a fair-weather fan.  “When does basketball season start?” I thought to myself.  Turns out, it already has.  A fair-weather fan indeed.

My non-watching of the Heels’ systematic breakdown was regularly interrupted by the same apologetic waiter who finally found us a scotch in stock.  As I had pulled a chair into an aisle, we enjoyed many a curious dance, the steps to which typically involved me sliding my chair back into a corner nook and praying that the large platter of food balanced above my head didn’t come tumbling down.  Flying colors, all around.

In all earnestness, though, the waiter was really patient and helpful and the wait staff there seems to be pretty top-notch.  It’s not much for big groups, as the seating is somewhat limited, particularly on game day, and the atmosphere is that of a typical dive bar.  From past experience, I can also say that the bartenders, in all their grizzled grumpiness, know what they’re doing.  On any given night, there are patrons from three or four different generations, and the prevalence of older men might explain the enormous (albeit somewhat deceptive) scotch menu.   Not that scotch is exclusively a boys’ club drink; just ask P.  And while you’re at it, get the lady a cigar and some cufflinks.

Players’ Retreat

105 Oberlin Road  Raleigh, NC 27605

Back from the dead. There are no puppets in this one.

17 Nov

Hey y’all.

So, something over a year after I gave up on this deal, I’ve decided to give it another shot.  But this time, things are going to be a little bit different.  For starters, I’m going to make more than three posts.  For the thing that comes after starters, I’m going to focus more on the two-wheeled aspect of things, chronicle my life sans auto, and continue giving you those restaurant and bar reviews that all 42 people who have ever visited this site may or may not have loved so much.  Also, sentence length will vary terrifically. Expect new content before the weekend!  I see a reviews of Player’s Retreat, the So-and-so poetry reading, and some sweet new denim in the immediate future.   Mind your limbs as you flail about in the throes of your unexpected excitement.

 

Puppets?

12 Sep
Animal (Muppet)

Image via Wikipedia

Paperhand Puppet intervention is dedicated to bringing many styles of  puppetry and artistic expression to the Triangle area and the world… or at least that’s what they say on their website, paperhand.org.

Yeah, they’re a .org.  Official, huh?

Don’t worry, though, they’re not “.org”-level stuffy.  In fact, I don’t think they’re stuffy at all.  They’re just really serious.  About puppets.

So, for those of you who are still lost, PPI is an organization located in Durham, NC that puts on giant puppet performances.  Think less like Muppets and more like The Lion King on Broadway… but eco-friendly.  Friday night I took some time out to go see this season’s performance at the NC Museum of Art (which has a great film series AND has just completed remodeling/expanding in the last few months), and, skeptical as I was, I did not leave disappointed.

The performance can only be described as performance art with a flexible (but definitely secondary) narrative arc.  Puppets ranged from performers wearing enormous paper-mache squirrel heads to a two-story-tall dragon.  Stilt-walkers abounded, and a great number of dubious paper-mache-faced men with equally dubious paper-mache mustaches served as one of the many obstacles that the play’s nameless heroine had to overcome.

At the end of the night, the moral seemed clear.  After battling a giant trash monster who’s mantra was simply “more”, the fragmented Earth was reassembled as a glowing geometric-type ball thingy on-stage.  If you don’t like your art with a healthy side of propaganda, or, more optimistically, with “a clear message” go elsewhere.  It tasted a bit of antique “morality plays”.  However, I can forgive the fact that my head hurt from three hours of being batted around by neo-hippie-recycle-your-pets ideology because all of the sound effects and musical scores for the performance were done live.  This, to me, was the most interesting part of the performance.  The “orchestra” was seated just off stage and was comprised of six or seven black-clad individuals and about 500 instruments.  These included 480 percussion instruments,  a keyboard, a guitar, and a string section composed of all sorts of western and “world” instruments.  I found myself watching the band as often as the action on-stage, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

So.  Go check these guys out.  They’re nuts.  They’re also done for the season, which makes me behind the times and this post outdated.  Already.  Still, they perform several different times during the year.  I think their next production is a rock opera entitled “Love and Robots”.  Yeah, I’m serious.  And so are they.  About puppets.

Bikes, beers, Battlestar Galactica.

1 Sep

The second week of August found me rummaging around in a desperate attempt to get ready for my last fall semester here at UNC.  I was absolutely positive I had everything I needed until one fateful evening I went to Carrboro.  For those of you who don’t know, Carrboro is immediately both adjacent to and worlds away from Chapel Hill… and everyone there owns a bike.

Naturally, I wanted to own a bike too.  How else could I get to class on time every day?  How else could I get to work?   How else could I keep up with all of those cute hipsters?  The search was on.  Well, one thing led to another led to another led to a Raleigh M50 mountain bike, about the furthest thing from a retro “fixie” as you could imagine.  So much for those hipsters.

So I left Carrboro, and I went to the trails of Carolina North Forest.  Carolina North offers a variety of single track and double track for the enthusiastic (or perpetually anxious) walker, jogger, and biker.  Online reviews say that it is a network of easy to intermediate trails.  My knees, shoulders, hands and shins disagree.  Shows what I know.  Still, the people are always friendly, and it’s not crowded on the weekdays.  Most people you run into will be jogging, but you meet the occasional biker or dog-walker.  On the whole, it’s a great way to escape from the bubble that is Chapel Hill.  The triangle is noted for being biker friendly, whether you’re on the road or in the woods, so expect more exploits, shenanigans, and maybe even the odd story in the coming months.

And if you do go to Carolina North and see some idiot sprawled out in a ditch… come give me a hand, won’t you?

TOMORROW:  Jack Sprat has a jazz night and a free tasting sponsored by LoneRider Brewing Co.  It’s for my health! http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2014332,00.html

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