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Showing posts from 2021

FIELD NOTES: Merry Christmas! You're Fired.

Last week, the CEO of online mortgage company made headlines, and not in a good way, by firing 900 employees on a Zoom call. My initial thought was, if that’s, I’d hate to work for, but then I reflected upon the whole idea of hiring and firing during the holidays and realized my hands aren’t entirely spotless, either.   Growing up in a distinctly blue-collar household, there was always a sense my family’s fortunes were tied to the whims of management at U.S. Gypsum, where my father had worked since returning from France at the end of WWII. The local plant made paint and wallboard for residential construction, the demand for which varied considerably with the ups and downs of the housing market. Although it was an era when temporary layoffs were often used to right-size the workforce during slow times, my father had enough seniority built up that job actions rarely impacted him directly. Still, the idea that on any day, management could send a group of em

FIELD NOTES: Starting a deep compost garden

I read an article over the weekend that suggested the fixins for a typical Thanksgiving dinner cost 15 percent more this year than last. For most of us, that meant an additional $15 to $20 out of our packets. While that extra Jackson, in and of itself, may not be a tremendous burden on most families, those same higher food costs, when extrapolated over a year of grocery buying, represent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Coincidentally, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a great time to start a new garden.  Wait, you can start a garden in the dead of winter? Yes, you can. In fact, for certain types of no-till growing, this is the very best time to launch your 2022 garden. We’ve discussed a kind of no-till gardening called Square Foot in the past. One of the many advantages of Square Foot is that you can start it anytime. You could, in theory, build the raised bed in the morning, fill it with soil in the afternoon, and plant it that same evening. Most no-till techniq

FIELD NOTES: All corn is Indian corn

There's a good chance that when your family gathers (or gathered, depending on when you read this) around the table this Thanksgiving, one of the dishes set in front of you will be corn. Corn is arguably the most traditional Thanksgiving food, as it is one that we are sure was served at the original Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621. But the corn that the Wampanoag shared with the Pilgrims that day was very different from what you will put on your table.  Corn was cultivated by the indigenous peoples of North America for more than a thousand years by the time the Pilgrims arrived.  Originally a type of tall grass called teosinte with a dozen kernels no larger than the ball of a ballpoint pen, it was selectively bred over hundreds of generations until a handful of varieties resembling what we today call "Indian corn" were created. Technically, all corn is Indian corn since all of the varieties we grow today trace their roots back to those developed by Native Americans.  The

FRIDAY MATINEE: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (🍺🍺)

I was surprised by the raucous crowd in the theater last night for a showing of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The original Ghostbusters was always a perfectly okay movie to me. I liked it, didn't love it. The tone didn't resonate with me. It wasn't quite funny enough to work as a comedy, and it definitely wasn't scary enough to work as a horror film.  I first realized that other people had different ideas about it as a cultural touchstone when the 2016 remake, featuring an all-female cast, was received with violent rhetoric usually reserved for religious extremism and SEC football. It seems that a relatively significant group of teenagers from the 1980s consider it one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, right up there with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Our Town Cinemas was packed with those die-hards, their children, and (gasp!) grandchildren last night.  Apparently, they got what they came for since they gave the movie a standing ovation at its completio

Economic Development in Anson County Just Took a Huge Step Forward

Yesterday, Governor Roy Cooper signed the North Carolina budget into law. This was important for every resident of the state, as we have been operating without a budget since 2018. Teachers and government employees will receive much-needed raises, the personal income tax rate will drop, and a slew of necessary infrastructure projects will finally be funded. A strong argument can be made, however, that no county benefitted more, in relative terms, from the signing of this budget than Anson.  As noted in our post last week, AnsonEDP worked with Representative Brody and Senator McInnis to include two critical line items in the budget. One provides $4 million toward the construction of a sewer line extension connecting the new Atlantic Gateway Logistics Park to the existing pump station at Hailey's Ferry Road and making upgrades to that station to handle the increased flow. This sewer line, which we anticipate will be finished by the end of 2022, will allow for a more diverse mix of te

FIELD NOTES: OCD in nature; good luck with that

A couple of weeks after my wife and I moved onto our first home, an old farmhouse midway between Bowling Green and Perrysburg, Ohio, I got up, went to the kitchen, poured myself a glass of juice, and put two pieces of white bread in the toaster. As I reached to depress the lever to begin toasting, a brown object the size of my thumb scurried from under the toaster, across the counter, and out of sight behind a cabinet. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing in the mousetrap aisle of the Bowling Green ACE hardware store, looking for answers.   Someone had clearly taken the old adage, “build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a  path to your door,” to heart, as there were dozens of different ways to rid your home of vermin. Since we had just acquired a beagle puppy, poisons were definitely out, but that still left a bewildering array of traps, both “humane” and much less so. In the end, I opted for a two-pack of the traditional spring-wire on wood base but hedged my bet with a ha


The summer of 1977 was the summer of "Star Wars." It was everywhere, from Top-40 hits to tee-shirts to catchphrases. I saw the movie at the Clinton Theater in my hometown of Port Clinton, just after school let out in early June. Like many other impressionable youths who saw it, "Star Wars" had a profound impact on me and how I perceived science fiction. When I returned to school in the fall, one of the first things I did was ask my English teacher, Mrs. Dunham, if she could recommend any books like "Star Wars" for me to read. She told me I should check out a book called "Dune" by Frank Herbert. I went excitedly to our school library that same day, checked the book out, and immediately began reading. I got maybe 20 pages in, lost interest, and dropped it in the RETURN slot a few days later. Herbert used a style of writing called, "just throw a bunch of nonsensical words and phrases out there and get around to explaining them later," whic

FRIDAY MATINEE: No Time To Die (🍺🍺🍺)

The first James Bond movie, Dr. No, appeared in theaters two weeks after I was born, but my first recollection of 007 was hearing my older brother mention the character Pussy Galore from the movie "Goldfinger" sometime around 1968 or 1969. At that age, I didn't quite understand the joke, but I got that it was pretty hilarious and a little bit naughty. I am fairly certain I saw some of "From Russia with Love" on TV in the early '70s, but the first Bond film I saw all the way through was "Live and Let Die," on television, sometime around '78 or '79. Suddenly, I got the joke and spent the next several years searching out other Bond films on the small screen. During my HBO years in college, I added a few more titles, including the horrible "Moonraker," which turned me off to the whole affair for several years.  The first James Bond movie I saw on the big screen was "Skyfall," and that experience convinced me to tune back in

FIELD NOTES: Very superstitious?

Late night, a week ago Sunday, I watched game three of the American League Division series. The Boston Red Sox, a team I have been a fan of since Carlton Fisk's epic homer in game 6 of the 1975 World Series, played the Tampa Bay Rays. The teams split the first two games of the five-game series, and the team winning this game would be just one win away from advancing to the league championship. The Red Sox had gone out to an early 4-2 lead, but the Rays fought back and tied the game in the 8th, and although both teams put runners in scoring position in extra innings, it was still 4-4 in the bottom of the 13th, and I was beginning to wonder whether anyone was ever going to score.  
I was also getting hungry, so I walked over to our pantry and started rummaging for a snack. The pickings were slim, but I did find a bag of in-the-shell peanuts that had been part of a Christmas gift basket from my economic development partners at NCSE tucked behind the canned goods. I returned to my seat

FIELD NOTES: The Dreaded P-Word

I use an online tool called Grammarly to help me with my writing. It checks my work for grammatical, spelling, and usage errors as I type away. It's not perfect, but it catches many of my more egregious mistakes. The other thing it does is check my work for plagiarism. It does this by comparing what I write to its index of everything else on the Internet and offering a percentage assessment of how "common" my text is. Almost anything I write will score three or four percent since all writers tend to use certain words and phrases. I don't get too concerned until that number pushes up around ten percent.  This article, by the way, scores out at 2%, with Grammarly noting that it shares some common verbiage with an article titled "Fellow Catches Big Fish That Is Then Caught By Something Else," and another called "I Didn't Get My Law Degree from a Cracker Jack Box."  Yeah, not going to lose a lot of sleep over either of those, although I am kind of

FIELD NOTES: Fear itself - Movies

What are you afraid of? It is a question that has haunted our kind since we first began gathering around communal fires in hopes of keeping the unknown at bay. As a species, we like to scare each other, and ourselves. It’s a weird concept if you think about it; purposely subjecting ourselves to stressful situations to get our hearts beating and our blood pumping. And this time of year, especially, we tend to push ourselves to the limits of dread in search of that deeply unsettling feeling that a good horror novel, movie, or TV show engenders.  I thought about this recently as I watched all seven hours of the Netflix horror extravaganza “Midnight Mass.” It is one of the better horror movies I’ve seen over the past few years, right up there with “IT,” “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.” You can check out a full review on my blog, but suffice it to say it’s not for the faint of heart.  I haven’t always had a taste for horror, but it does go back a ways. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I bou

FRIDAY MATINEE: Midnight Mass (🍺🍺🍺🍺)

I held off writing this review until I had seen all seven episodes of the new Netflix limited series “Midnight Mass.” I’ve been burned in the past by shows that start out well and then devolve into silliness as they progress. While “Mass" doesn’t completely stick the landing, I think even the East German judge would give it a solid 9. Taken as a whole, I think it is as effective a piece of horror as the combined “It” movies from a few years ago, and right on par with “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.”  The story revolves around a man returning to his childhood island home after a prison stay for a drunk driving accident that killed a teen girl. Coincidentally, it is the same day the island’s beloved elderly priest, Monsignor Pruitt is supposed to return from a trip to the Holy Land. Unfortunately, the priest has taken ill and is being treated on the mainland. A temporary priest arrives to take his place.  The story takes a little while to get going, and anyone who’s familiar with the g

FIELD NOTES: Joe in the snow

Considering this column is published in a coffee house newsletter, it is perhaps a little strange that I have never written about coffee. The truth is, I’ve never felt like I had anything clever or interesting to say on the topic, until today.   My personal history with coffee goes back a long, long way. My father started nearly every day of his adult life by brewing a pot so strong it could loosen the lug nuts on a ’57 Chevy, pouring himself a cup, and adding a generous portion of cream and sugar. On workdays, he would fill a large thermos with that concoction to take with him, and on the weekends he would sometimes prepare a small cup of it for me.   Despite my early start, I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker through college. A cup here and there in support of an all-nighter, or a cup with the rare breakfast “out” at a Waffle House of Cracker Barrel. In those days, I drank it like my father, with lots of cream and sugar.   I came into my own as a coffee drinker when I started working a

FIELD NOTES: Be careful what you Wish for

In the Frasier episode “A Tsar Is Born,” Martin, Niles and Frasier get into an argument (what are the odds?) about which television show to watch. Frasier and Niles want to watch a highbrow PBS presentation, while Martin wants to watch a game show. It takes them a few minutes to realize they are talking about the same program, “Antiques Roadshow.” There are similarly mixed opinions about my favorite online comedy show, which streams live daily and is watched by millions of people, many of whom believe they are visiting a shopping site.  I love “The Onion,” and the comedy specials on Netflix and Amazon Prime are often hilarious, but for my money, is far and away the funniest thing on the internet. Whether consciously or not, the site combines humor, sex, violence, mystery, and gambling in one neat package. It is effectively the Las Vegas of online shopping: You can laugh at the ridiculous products, peruse hundreds of highly innovative X-rated goods, buy a variety of means to hu

FIELD NOTES: Not so much the heat as the humility

Five years ago this week, I interviewed for the job as economic development director for Anson County. It was a hot day in Uptown Wadesboro, even for late July, with the temperature sneaking into the mid-90s and an unrelenting sun beating down on the asphalt of Wade and  Greene streets.  My interview was scheduled for late afternoon, and I arrived in town 30 minutes early, not knowing for sure how long the drive would take, and determined not to be late. Since I had a little time, I parked on Greene Street in front of Lacy’s and strolled around town, ducking briefly into H.W. Little Hardware and Parson’s Drug Store. I was wearing a dark blue suit, which was great for an interview, but a little uncomfortable pounding the pavement on a sunny July day. I was just a little sweaty by the time I crossed the street to the Chamber of Commerce for my appointment.  The interview was conducted by what seemed like half the population of the county. I brought six copies of my resume, which I mistak

FIELD NOTES: Don't sell yourself short

At lunchtime the other day, I went through the drive-through line at McDonald’s, pulled up to the speaker, placed my order, and paused a beat waiting for the inevitable follow-up question:  “Would you like to short-sell that?”  “No. I just … wait … what?  “Would you like to short-sell your number 2? You borrow a Big Mac, fries, and Coke from us today in the hope that the price goes down, then you can buy them from another store at the lower price and give them back to us tomorrow, pocketing the difference.” “Yeah, I know what short selling is; I just wasn’t aware that the Golden Arches was involved.”  While that may sound far-fetched, is it really? A year ago, my decade-old SUV gave up the ghost, and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to get to replace her. I located precisely the vehicle I wanted – a used midsize truck – at a nearby dealership, took a test drive, and was prepared to write them a check for the purchase price. They literally would not take my money. Over the next

FIELD NOTES: A ship on dry land, with its own golf course

A couple of miles east of the sprawling rail and shipyards that make up the port of Superior, Wisc., the sole relic of a brief but fascinating era in maritime history sits incongruously in the middle of a grassy field, flanked by a putt-putt golf course, playground and ice cream shop. To the casual observer, the whaleback steamer Meteor resembles a submarine more than the surface-faring freighter she was; her white superstructure mounted awkwardly atop her 380-foot long rounded black hull.   The late-19th century was a bustling and occasionally weird time in naval architecture. The centuries-long era of wooden sailing vessels was drawing to a close, and while it was clear that steam-powered steel ships were the future, it wasn’t entirely clear how the design of those ships would shake out. The most obvious answer was to convert existing wooden designs to  steel, and install boilers and engines. Steel, though, is an entirely different building material that offered both challenges and o

FIELD NOTES: In praise of the gofer

This past weekend, I was browsing through some posts on a Facebook page dedicated to Ohio’s Lake Erie Islands. I grew up on the nearby mainland and visited the islands frequently as a kid. While I find many aspects of “island life” fascinating, a particular post on Saturday drove home one specific challenge of that lifestyle that would be a non-starter for me. The poster asked whether anyone on Middle Bass Island had some polyurethane sealant they could sell to him. He was trying to finish a project and had run out. Sounds familiar. More often than I like to admit, I will begin a project, then discover midway through that I lack the nut, bolt, screw, wire, paint, or tool I need to finish the job. Fortunately, my local hardware store is just a few minutes away, so while I may grumble about having to get into the truck and drive all the way there and back, the whole trip is maybe a half-hour. I can’t imagine that trip being, as for the island resident, a half DAY. Or perhaps I can …  Nea

FIELD NOTES: Putting the fun back in fungible

As a writer, I have a more intimate relationship with words than, say, the average accountant or software engineer. Right now, I am having an intense dalliance with the word “fungible.” It’s a curious word that sounds a little like a mashup of ”fungi” and ”sponge,” which evokes a pretty disturbing mental image, or perhaps ”fun” and ”gullible,” which is closer to the truth. The dictionary definition of fungible is “able to replace or be replaced by another identical item; mutually interchangeable.” The word is currently enjoying its 15 minutes of fame as part of the phrase Non-Fungible Token, or NFT for short.  What’s an NFT? Well, no one actually knows, but people are apparently willing to pay outrageous sums of money to get them. The other day, I saw that an NFT for a short YouTube video originally posted in 2007 called “Charlie Bit My Finger” sold for $761,000. Now, you are probably saying, “wait a minute, if the video has been available to watch for free for more than a decade, what

FIELD NOTES: QuackRNaut? You decide.

The offices of RS Byrnes Associates, the firm where I worked as a consultant from 1998 to 2004, were located in a two-story office building near the intersection of Carmel and Pineville Matthews roads in south Charlotte. We shared the ground floor with an insurance agency, and the upstairs cycled through a variety of different tenants, including a masseuse, a computer repair shop and an architect. Our suite had previously been occupied by a dentist’s office, which explained why there was occasionally the faint odor of burning enamel. Sometime around 2002, a hypnotherapist set up shop in one of the upstairs office suites, and I struck up a conversation with her one evening on my walk to the car. She handed me a business card that listed the maladies and addictions she claimed to cure through her hypnosis sessions; smoking, overeating, fear of flying, etc. She said if I was interested, the first session was free.  While I didn’t have any of the issues listed, I was kind of curious about

FIELD NOTES: The Green Bang

You could make the case that fall is the most aptly named season, what with leaves and temperatures both falling, but from where I sit, calling the season we are now in “spring” is just as appropriate. One day things are brown and gray, and then, BOOM, everything springs into shades of green – the Green Bang. Of course, that green is accompanied by an eighth-inch thick layer of yellow pollen on everything, but that’s life in the Carolinas. The first time I ever visited Charlotte was around this time of year, late April or early May, and I was amazed at how green everything was. In Ohio, things green up more gradually, starting in late April and continuing throughout May. For those who love the outdoors, spring in the Carolinas is a beautiful – and frustrating – time of year; frustration born from the realization that the wonder of the season carries with it multiple responsibilities and that those responsibilities are time-sensitive. Over the next few weeks, homeowners will need to a