Simple Life

For the Time Being

To count the hours . . . or make them count


By Jim Dodson

My office over the garage, which I fondly call the “Tree House,” is a place where time stands still, in a manner of speaking, something of a museum for dusty artifacts and funky souvenirs that followed me home from six decades of traveling journalism. Among them is a collection of wristwatches that accompanied me most of the way.  They’re part of what I call Uncle Jimmy Bob’s Museum of Genuine & Truly Unremarkable Stuff.

Most unremarkably (if you know me), many of the watches are broken or simply worn out from the misfortune of being attached to my person. Suffice it to say, I have a history of being tough on timepieces, having cracked more watch crystals than I can count, and either lost or damaged half a dozen of these loyal beauties by various means.

I suspect that a good shrink could have a field day with the fact that all these defunct watches are the same model and brand — the famous Timex Expedition models, an outdoors icon known for its durability and rustic beauty.

You can blame black-and-white television for this unholy devotion.

See, when I was a little kid and the TV world was not yet in living color — I was a highly impressionable son of a successful advertising executive, it should be noted — my favorite commercial was a spot for Timex watches in which suave company pitchman John Cameron Swayze subjected Timex watches to a series of live  “torture tests” in order to prove that the durable timepiece could “take a licking and keep on ticking.”

To this day I remember watching slugger Mickey Mantle wearing his Timex during batting practice. Other favorites included watches freed from solid blocks of ice by a wielded hammer, also dropped to the bottom of fish tanks for hours or put through the washing machine cycle, even attached to the bow of a roaring speedboat!

In fifth grade, I actually wrote a research paper on Timex watches, learning that the company started in 1854 in Waterbury, Connecticut, producing an affordable six-dollar clock using an assembly line process that may have inspired Henry Ford to do the same with cars half a century later. The company made its name by selling durable pocket watches for one dollar. Even Mark Twain carried one. During the Great Depression, they also introduced the first Mickey Mouse watch.

I received my first Timex watch for Christmas in 1966 and wore it faithfully everywhere — to bed, to baseball practice, even to Scout Camp where I took it off to do the mile swim and never saw it again, the start of a tradition. 

The next one I owned was an Expedition model purchased for about 25 bucks with lawn-mowing money. I wore that sucker all the way through high school, occasionally losing and finding it in unexpected places while putting it through the kind of personal abuse that would have made me a natural for Timex TV spots.

For high school graduation, my folks gave me an elegant Seiko watch, a sleek Japanese quartz model that never needed winding and kept perfect time but never felt right on my wrist. 

I have no idea what happened to that lovely timepiece. Or at least I ain’t telling.

By the end of college, I was safely back to Timex Expeditions, the cheap and durable watch that would accompany me  — one lost or broken model at a time — across the next four decades.

I mention this because a month or so ago, during a particularly busy stretch, I misplaced my longest-running Expedition and, feeling it might be the end of time or at least civilization as we know it, impetuously ordered a replacement model from the internet with guaranteed 24-hour delivery  . . . only to discover, the very day the new watch arrived, that the missing watch was under my car seat all along, keeping perfect time.

God only knows how it got there.

But the message wasn’t lost on me.

Why do I need anything delivered within 24 hours?  Instead, perhaps it’s time to slow down and pay attention to what is already happening here and now, to pause and take notice of the simple things that give my life its greatest purpose and meaning. 

The start of a new year is a time when many of us pause to take stock of how far we’ve come this year and may be headed in the year to come.  After a certain age, the question of how to make use of whatever time we have left to do the things we still hope — or need — to do is also on our minds.

Yet in modern America, “where time is money,” most of us live by the silent tyranny of the ticking clock, obsessed with achieving deadlines and keeping schedules. With no time to waste, we put everything on the clock or at least mark it down in the Day-Timer, making helpful “To-Do” lists and dinner reservations, planning holidays a year in advance, booking flights to warmer seas, appointments with the decorator or therapist, paying the mortgage on time, picking up the kids at 3 —all of it shaped by, and subject to, the hopeless idea of saving time.

Someone, my late Grandmother Taylor liked to say, is always waiting beneath the clock for a child to be born, a life to pass on, a decision to be made or a verdict to be rendered. A proper Southern Baptist lady who knew the Scriptures cold but enjoyed her evening toddy, she often told me, “Child, for the time being, you’re on God’s time. This is heaven.”

A nice thought, but just to complicate matters on the planetary scale, there’s the shadow of the infamous Doomsday Clock to contend with, the symbolic timepiece created by the world’s concerned scientists that chillingly charts the steady devolvement of the planet’s environmental and nuclear climates. In 2019, the minute hand was moved forward to two minutes to midnight.

So what happens next?

Presumably, God only knows that, too.

When it comes to contemplating the passing of time, I often think about the month “out of time” my wife and young son and I spent following our noses through rural Italy and the Greek Islands with no firm travel agenda or even hotel reservations. We met an extraordinary range of unforgettable characters and ate like gypsy kings. We swam in ancient seas, probed temple ruins and disappeared into another time, discovering a race of people who happily ignore the clock if it involves the chance for an interesting conversation about life, food or family. For the time being, it really was heaven. Somewhere along the way, I managed to lose yet another Expedition watch — but failed to notice for several days.

To us, a siesta between noon and 3 p.m. would be unthinkable in the heart of an ordinary work day, generally viewed as either a costly indulgence or colossal waste of time. Yet in Italy, Spain and many Arab cultures, the idea of pausing to take rest and recharge batteries in the midst of a busy day is viewed as a sensible restorative act, a way to slow down and keep perspective in a world forever speeding up.   

From the mystical East, my Buddhist friends perceive time as an endless cycle of beginning and ending, life and death and rebirth, time that is fluid and forever moving toward some greater articulation of what it means to be human. Native American spirituality embraces a similar idea of the sacred hoop of life, a cycle of rebirth that prompted Chief Seattle to remark that we humans struggle with life not because we’re human beings trying to be spiritual, but the other way around. A version of this quote is also attributed to French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, proving great souls think alike, even in different languages.

How ironic, in any case, that a booming West Coast city that is home to time-saving megaliths of commerce like Amazon, Starbucks, Costco and Microsoft is named for a man who lovingly presaged, decades ahead of his time, that we humans essentially belong to the Earth and not the other way around, and that, in time, when the last tree falls and final river is poisoned, we will finally learn that we cannot eat money or replace whatever is forever lost in time.

Fearing his own time brief on this planet, Transcendentalist Henry Thoreau went to live by Walden Pond “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I hold a similar desire close to my own aging heart, though in the short-term I sure would like to finish a trio of half-written novels I’ve been cobbling on for years, write a few more books about subjects that greatly interest me, and maybe — if there’s any time leftover — build a cabin in the Blue Ridge like the one my late papa and I always talked about “someday” building together.

For the record, just for fun, I’d also like to learn to speak Italian, play the piano and spend a full summer exploring the fjords and forests of Scandinavia with my wife. 

So much to do. So little time to do it.

That seems to be our fate. At least mine.

On golden autumn afternoons and quiet winter days, however, I swear I can almost hear Chief Seattle, Father De Chardin and Grandma Taylor whispering to me that we are all living on God’s Time, wise to wake up and slow down and live fully in the now as we journey into a brave new decade, hopefully appreciating the many gifts of time and its precious brevity. 

For the time being, I now have two fine Expedition watches that can take a licking and keep on ticking.

Though how long I can do the same, goodness me, only time will tell.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

The Omnivorous Reader

The Unforgiving Arctic

Story of the perilous Lady Franklin Bay Expedition


By Stephen E. Smith

In July 1881, the USS Proteus set sail from Newfoundland for Lady Franklin Bay in the Canadian Arctic. On board were the expedition’s commander, Lt. Adolphus W. Greely, astronomer Edward Israel, photographer George Rice, and 21 men chosen from the U.S. military. Their stated purpose was to establish a meteorological observation station as part of the First International Polar Year. But Greely had a personal objective: to reach “Farthest North,” an achievement claimed by the British Navy decades earlier.

A month after departing Newfoundland, the Proteus anchored off Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Circle, where tons of supplies were unloaded, a substantial building constructed, and the expedition’s work began in earnest. The four years that followed were to be the most harrowing and terrible of all recorded Arctic voyages.

Buddy Levy’s Labyrinth of Ice is the latest and most comprehensive popular history of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (the undertaking’s official designation), recounting in detail the travails that befell men subsiding on meager rations and caught in continuous sub-zero temperatures — sometimes 50 degrees below — during extended periods of total darkness. Their suffering notwithstanding, Greely’s men fulfilled their scientific obligations and maintained meticulous records that are useful today in our analysis of global warming. And during the first year of his Arctic sojourn, Greely also achieved his personal objective: Two of his men established Farthest North. Then the expedition settled in to await resupply ships that never arrived.

What befell the Greely Expedition is what doomed many of the Arctic and Antarctic voyages of the 19th and early 20th centuries: extreme privation. Without resupply, the expedition had to abandon their camp and head south, first by boat, then by sled and finally on foot, hoping to link up with relief ships headed in their direction. They were constantly impeded by ice — mountains of ice, jagged blocks of broken ice, icebergs, massive ice floes, ice in every possible configuration — making forward progress almost impossible, and denying the explorers sustenance and subjecting them to the unforgiving elements.

Relying on Greely’s notebooks and the personal dairies of expedition members, Levy writes in measured, almost journalistic prose, describing the quirks of personality and the details of the inevitable conflicts that arose when the expedition’s men were confined in life-threatening conditions. Greely was able to mediate most of these squabbles, but when rations grew short and shelter increasingly insubstantial, the conflicts grew more intense: “Pavy grew incensed, and when he started yelling at Whisler, the dutiful military man drew and leveled his pistol at Pavy to show there would be no more talk.” Disagreements between Greely and the Expedition’s doctor were a constant source of unease, and the growing tension among the starving men eventually led to the execution of Pvt. Charles Henry, who had confessed to stealing food, which he continued to do after numerous warnings.

In 1882, the relief ship Neptune was blocked by ice and forced to abandon its mission, leaving much-needed supplies in Newfoundland, thousands of miles south of the expedition. The Proteus attempted a rescue in 1883 but was crushed by pack ice and sank. The expedition would surely have perished but for Greely’s dutiful wife, Henrietta, who had political and journalist connections. She lobbied constantly for her husband’s rescue, and much of the book is given over to her unrelenting efforts. She had to contend with a Washington bureaucracy that was painfully slow to act. There were boards of inquiry and much finger-pointing concerning failed relief efforts. But Henrietta’s persistence yielded results, and a third rescue mission was finally mounted, despite Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln’s reluctance to waste resources on “dead men.”

By the time Greely and six of his surviving crew were located on the barren shores of Cape Sabine, they were hours from death. “Greely is that you?” a rescuer asked. “Yes — seven of us left — here we are, dying like men,” Greely replied. “Did what I came to do — beat the record,” meaning he’d obtained Farthest North.

Readers are left to decide if the suffering was worth it. The survivors may have thought so when they were received as heroes. Celebrated and roundly lauded in the press, honored with a parade, promoted in grade and awarded medals, they basked in the limelight. But not long after they had settled into their new lives, rumors of cannibalism materialized. Greely and the other survivors denied any knowledge of such an outrage, but a medical examination of at least one of the corpses revealed that flesh had been removed from the bones with a cutting implement.

It may be that our general lack of knowledge of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition is the result of these lingering accusations — after all, we’ve never forgiven the Donner Party — and only in recent years have books on Greely’s Arctic adventure seen publication. Three of these books, Ghosts of Cape Sabine, Frozen in Time and Abandoned, have helped raise awareness among readers of popular histories, and a PBS American Experience documentary, “The Greely Expedition,” has attracted attention, but we live in a moment when yesterday’s news is ancient history and the majority of Americans can’t tell you where the Grand Canyon is located.

A plethora of recent books detailing other desperate Arctic and Antarctic expeditions have come to constitute a “desperate polar rescue” subgenre. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, a beautifully written history of a 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole, has received much critical attention, and the lifeboat Shackleton used to navigate the stormy waters from Antarctica to the Falkland Islands has toured museums around the country. But Shackleton’s Expedition had a happy outcome; every member of the Endurance crew survived. Nineteen of Greely’s command died in order to achieve the most ephemeral of objectives.

If you have a grim fascination with self-inflicted suffering in inhospitable environs, you can always revel in TV’s Life Below Zero, Ultimate Survival Alaska, Dual Survival, Naked and Afraid, or, this reviewer’s favorite series title, Dude, You’re Screwed. There’s no denying that the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition suffered unimaginable horrors — and there was no “tapping out” when they found themselves trapped in the Arctic. How silly and shallow reality TV programs seem when compared to the real reality of the Greely Expedition. OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press awards.

January Poem 2020

Musings on Fitness

Do I dare to eat a peach?

  – T.S. Eliot

Calculating carbs and calories,

logging laps in the pool, miles on the bike,

my walks in the woods.

Examining family photos,

genetic code for metabolism that screwed up

our capacity to eat ice cream with impunity.

Questioning the processing of wheat,

golden staff of life,

meant to sustain, not kill us.

Thinking about endless revolutions

on a stationary bike, or the treadmill,

going nowhere but into looser pants, if I’m lucky.

Thousands of folks doing the same, spinning

away, all over the nation. What if we spent

that same energy raking leaves for those

too old to scratch the dirt themselves?

Or building something — a giant calorie-burning

skyscraper, or tap-dancing or waltzing

to make ourselves smile?

Sometimes I am jealous, of my grandparents,

never thin, never fat, farmers

who ate eggs, bacon, and biscuits with molasses,

and never once logged their work in the fields.

I miss their apple pie, MaMa’s light yellow pound cake.

Most of all, I miss not fretting about it.

  Laura Lomax

To Hair Is Human; To Give, Divine

The Big Hair Ball is January’s mane event

By Waynette Goodson    Photographs by Lynn Donovan

“Higher the hair,
closer to heaven.”
— Parlor Salon


It was 2002, and my country needed me. I got the call from the World Championships of Hairdressing, known as the “Hair Olympics,” to join the U.S. team to model for their stylists competing for the gold. (Yes, this is a true story. Think of the Indie hit movie Blow Dry.)

Before I could say “shampoo,” I was on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, positioned amid rows upon rows of salon chairs and numbered mirrors, with 10,000 spectators looking on in anticipation. Three-hundred stylists from more than 40 countries had gathered here to hair off in events like “Classic Cut & Style” or “Hair by Night.”

When the judges announce “Start!”, my stylist, Stephanie Loy, begins furiously pinning layers of my hair to the top of my head. As if we were performing surgery, she barks at me “Water!”, “Wax!” or “Freeze!” and I pass her the right products (this is a timed event, of course).

“Stop! Step away from the models! Do not touch the hair!” The battle of the bouffant is over. The result? It looks as if I’m wearing a sleek, futuristic orange helmet — neon orange. One alfalfa sprout springs from the top of my head. And the shape in the back looks like a “V” at my neckline, which is dyed a plum purple color.

Out of the 100 competitors, we would place ninth in the world. Not bad for my then 23-year-old junior stylist who also took home the highest honor: the Grand Prix Master Alexander de Paris Trophy.

True, the World Championships of Hairdressing can’t be compared to the physical contests of the Olympic games. Still, these brave stylists’ javelins and shot puts are their blow dryers and curling irons, which they use to create modern interpretations of hair designs that epitomize the art of hairdressing.

Yes, hair is art.

And there’s no better place to enjoy the craft of coiffure locally than the annual “Big Hair Ball.” The eighth annual event will take place January 25 at Grandover Resort. The theme: 20/20: A Landmark Vision.

Be forewarned: This affair is no pixie cut. The 2019 Big Hair Ball attracted more than 1,000 revelers and helped raise more than $315,000 to help fund the Greensboro programs of Family Service.

Proof positive that hair is power.  OH

For more information, go to

Waynette Goodson enjoys “Club Level” membership at Blasted Blow Dry Bar where she gets her long locks washed and styled twice a month.

Life’s Funny

Waves of Kindness

No man is an island — especially one who walks five dogs


By Maria Johnson

The first time I saw the canine wave, a bubbling tide of blonde fur about one foot high, it was rippling down a sidewalk near Lake Brandt Road and Lawndale Drive.

A powerfully built man in a windbreaker walked behind the swell. In one hand, he gripped a massive stick that looked like it could be used to greet or beat, depending on what the occasion called for.

From the other hand, a twist of leashes fanned out to his charges. How many? One, two, three, four . . . Wait, was that one or two dogs? EYES ON THE ROAD!

It took several more sightings — and the realization that it would be easier to count leashes than furry heads or tails, all roughly the same color — for me to be confident in the number of pups.


He was walking five dogs. Not a record number, by the standards of professional dog walkers, but enough to make for a memorable sight. Big guy, big stick, big team of little dogs.

Somehow the scenario balanced. It also suggested to me a gentle strength and confidence on the man’s part. Whereas a lot of tough-looking guys seem to enjoy marching around with equally threatening-looking dogs, there’s something touching to me about a strong guy with a delicate pup.

It takes a big man to walk a little dog.

Over time, I noticed something else: The man had a loyal audience in motion, the drivers who hailed him with a steady flurry of beeps and raised hands. From far away, the man lifted his walking stick to acknowledge his public so steadily he looked like he was waving away mosquitoes.

He reminded me of Ralph Vaughn, who used to sit on his porch, near Lake Brandt Road and Kello Drive — in the very same area trod by the man with five dogs — and raise his hand every few seconds to the drivers who sounded a symphony of beeps as they passed his house.

Ralph died in 2006, but sometimes I still catch myself looking at his concrete porch, ready to see the cigar-chomping former Marine, ready to punch the center of my steering wheel and throw up my hand for a quick, “Hey.”

I’m sure I’m not the only driver who has transferred my beep-and-wave skills, honed by years of greeting Ralph, to the man with five dogs.

Sometimes, I ask myself why I bother with such a small gesture toward someone I really don’t know.

I suppose the answer is the need to connect.

We all like to be noticed, known, remembered even in the smallest ways — by the cashier who recognizes us and waves us over to her empty register; by the waiter who asks if we want the red curry with tofu, as usual; by the postal clerk who smiles at all of the packages going to our sons in New York.

These are the silky strands of belonging, the barely perceptible filaments that lift our hearts, bind us to a place and weave the shape of home.

The feeling sticks on both ends of the exchange.

Ralph Vaughn, a gruff-voiced teddy bear of a man, told me so. After open heart surgery, he took to his front porch to recuperate. The passing sparks of affection warmed him as much as much as his honking admirers.

“It seems like there’s one big family driving around out there,” Ralph said.

Mark Hunt would understand. He’s the man with the dogs.

Recently, his daughter, Cynthia-Mae Hunt, wrote a book, The Man Who Walks the Five Dogs.

In the book, Cynthia-Mae, whose family moved here from New Jersey, reveals that the dogs are shih zhus: Sir John and his mate Duchess Robyn and their three pups, Duke Turner, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, the last two named for eldest children of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Typically, Cynthia-Mae writes, her father walks the dogs three times a day, shooting for 10 miles overall.

She writes how surprised and happy he was when a passing driver stopped to give him an umbrella in a sudden downpour.

She tells about a woman who once ran out of a subdivision, chasing down her dad to hand him a wooden walking stick that she had carved so he could protect himself and his tsunami of Shih Tzus.

Cynthia-Mae, who studies neuroscience in college, writes that she admires her father, who has multiple sclerosis, for his dedication to healthy living.

And she thanks the people who, in fleeting seconds, throw her father the faintest tethers of attachment, which he gladly catches and tosses back.

“Greensboro is a special place because people here show acts of kindness without any incentive,” Cynthia-Mae recently told the hosts of a local TV morning show. “I hope it shows the world and the people of Greensboro how special of a place it is.”

Sometimes, those silky strands weigh more than you think.  OH

For more information, see the Facebook page for The Man Who Walks Five Dogs. Paperback and digital versions of the book are available on

Maria Johnson can be reached at



Illustrated by Grisel Montes for The Man Who Walks The Five Dogs

Almanac January 2020

January is fresh linens, heightened awareness, infinite possibility.

Like a dream within a dream.

Last night, I dreamed I was flying through a thick forest of pine, a holy swirl of stars like pinholes to the heavens in the winter sky above me. Cassiopeia the Queen was dancing west of Polaris, and my breath became a living veil, the Big Dipper disappearing and reappearing with every exhale. Suddenly, in the midst of all this magic — flight, the crisp night sky, the dance of breath and starlight — I realized that I could plummet to Earth at any moment. And yet the thrill of the alternative ignited me. This is my dream, I thought. And to claim a dream requires faith.


As the Big Dipper rose above the North Star, I began pumping my legs, swimming through the air at what felt like the speed of light, weaving between trees, between realms, between worlds.

January is here, and with it, a world of infinite possibility.

A seed of hope.

A bulb, cracking open beneath the soil.

A field of daffodils in the making.

New beginnings, new rituals, new dreams.

All that is required is faith.

Rabbit, Rabbit

Every New Year’s morning in the first blush of light, I bundle up, go outside, and listen to the deep quiet. As Earth begins stirring with unseen critters, silhouettes dance in the periphery. Often, one of a rabbit.

On such occasions, I’ve wondered if there was some correlation between rabbits and New Year’s, but settled with my own belief that it was some sort of good omen. Only recently did I discover the quirky superstition of saying “Rabbit, rabbit” on the first day of the month for good luck. Have you heard about this?

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the first written record of this strange rabbit habit traces back to a 1909 British periodical called Notes and Queries

I think I prefer my New Year’s tradition, and how the language of nature seems to transcend words. But, for what it’s worth: Rabbit, rabbit.

Rabbit, rabbit, and happy New Year!


In the Garden

Bare branches against bright sky in every direction, and yet a closer look reveals flowering witch hazel, camellia and daphne, hellebores, apricot and winter jasmine.

In the garden, now’s the time for preparation. Prune what’s asking to go. Fertilize beds with wood ash. And when the soil is dry enough, plant asparagus crowns for early spring harvest.

Soon, a sea of spring vegetables will grace the garden. English peas, cabbage, carrots, radish, turnip, rutabaga. But now, patience.

Patience and faith.



Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them. — Vincent A. Simeone

Wandering Billy

Tonys and Tigers, and Rhinos, Oh My!

A backward glance thrusts us forward into a new decade


By Billy Eye

“The past is always tense, the future perfect.” – Zadie Smith

With the start of a brand-new year, let’s take a merciless look back at some of our city’s “Memorable (And Farcically Forgettable) Milestones of 2019.”

You Snooze, You News

Maddie, a UNCG co-ed living off-campus, had come to believe over a period of weeks she had bats in her belfry or perhaps a restless spirit haunting her apartment. Shirts and pants were going missing, mysterious handprints began appearing on the bathroom wall, along with a vague rustling sound seemingly nearby, and yet with no one in sight. One Saturday afternoon, with more indistinct commotion accompanied by a stench emanating from her bedroom closet, Maddie cried out in hopeless frustration, “Who’s there?” An answer came, “Oh, my name is Drew!” Throwing open her closet door, to her horror she discovered that 30-year old transient Andrew Swofford had been residing in there, fully attired in the co-ed’s wardrobe right down to the socks and shoes, clutching a book bag filled with unwashed unmentionables. Talk about your tiny houses . . .

The Mr. Congeniality Award Goes To . . .

When Danny Rogers sprang from behind to defeat B.J. Barnes for Guilford County Sheriff, the guy who calls himself B.J. was less than congratulatory, characterizing Rogers’ approach to crime-fighting as something akin to “hug a thug,” as opposed to Barnes’ more straightforward, shoot-from-the-artificial-hip methodology. What followed was a slew of catty internet posts and faux-concern media trolling from the former sheriff. “I’m a little bit concerned about the security of my folks going into this particular thing,” Barnes mock-confessed to WFMY. Asked point-blank if he believed Rogers would make a good Sheriff, “No, I don’t,” the ousted lawman replied. “I wish him luck. But, to be honest with you, I don’t.” Now that Barnes has been elected mayor of Summerfield, maybe he’ll move on other targets.

Today’s Lesson: Save A Nickel A Day, 41 Years Later You’ll Have $750

In June an anonymous Greensboro Public Library patron returned an overdue book, Symbols of Magic Amulets and Talismans, that was due back in 1978. One wonders, before he dispatched that manual on how never to pick up girls, why this mystic-minded delinquent didn’t use the book to cast a spell over librarians before running up a pro-rata fine of over $750.

Gate City Theater Nerds Conquer The Great White Way

Go ahead and call our fair city Greensboring but consider that in March of 2019, UNCG alumnus Deon’te Goodman joined the ensemble cast of Broadway’s hottest ticket, Hamilton. Another UNCG grad, Beth Leavel, was nominated that year for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for The Prom, her third nomination. Leavel brought home a Tony Award in 2006 for her role as a “strutting, martini-swigging vamp” in The Drowsy Chaperone. Her portrait hangs at Sardi’s, ya’ll.

Meanwhile, Greensboro’s own Isaac Powell landed the role of Tony in the highly anticipated Broadway revival of West Side Story. As a middle-schooler, this dreamy-eyed romantic lead honed his acting chops in Community Theatre of Greensboro productions and years later portrayed Nikos in Barn Dinner Theater’s 2013 production of Legally Blonde.

Little House On The Pavement

Sitting unnoticed for decades, surrounded by the various fast food joints and big-box grocery stores that make up the retail corridor of West Market Street, was a farmhouse dating back to the 1930s, schoolteacher Rosemary Barker’s lifelong home. Her house fronted 4 acres, one of the most beautiful horticultural habitats in the state, with an impressive array of indigenous plant represented. Over time it became Greensboro’s own Grey Gardens where Barker and her sister spent the last couple of decades in a futile attempt to maintain this paradise lost. For the most part unattended, the azaleas and fruit trees continued blooming during the summer between Barker’s passing and the sale of the property in 2018. A lone pine tree from this botanical wonderland is all that remains, towering over the parking lot of our newest Biscuitville.

For Engaging In Public Heavy Petting . . .

Entertainer Jessica Mashburn launched the Guilford County Furr Frames Project in 2019, digital picture frames featuring shelter pets available for adoption, strategically positioned in businesses all around the county like the Carolina Theatre, Smith Street Diner, 1618 Midtown, Sticks & Stones, AMC Cinemas, and Potent Potables in Jamestown. These furry friends seem to enjoy having their pictures snapped in a photo booth that Jessica fashioned out of a portable kennel, complete with green screen backdrop to highlight just how adorable these critters are. By year’s end, thanks to this vivacious vocalist who performs with Evan Olson every Wednesday evening at Print Works Bistro, more than 200 cats and dogs found their forever homes. Furr Frames Project is on Instagram at theshelterpetsofguilfordcounty.

If Only Cordelia Kelly Could Bake Us A Cake . . .

WFMY turned 70 years old last year, which, coincidentally, is about the same age of their core demographic.

I’ll See Your History and Raise You One

In 2018, furniture executive Jason Harris and his wife, Jennifer, paid $2.4 million for Adamsleigh, an exquisite 11-bedroom, 17,000-square-foot, 90-year-old brick Tudor-style mansion, featuring panoramic views of the 12th, 14th and 15th holes of Sedgefield Country Club’s golf course. Besides the two swimming pools, distinctive features included stone fireplaces, a gazebo, plaster-molded ceilings, Ludowici tiled roof, and a sumptuous library adorned in hand-carved wood. Last year, the Harrises had Adamsleigh demolished, hauling away the remains like yesterday’s garbage.

We’re No. 1! (Which Explains A Lot)

Collating evidence from FBI crime statistics, CBS News declared Greensboro the 39th most dangerous city in America (neighboring High Point came in at No. 25). That CBS report didn’t indicate whether it was largely due to Lime Scooter wipeouts, contracting an STD (we’re high up on that list too), or folks tumbling drunkenly out of their vehicles. That last example isn’t so far-fetched, based on over 1 million data points. Greensboro topped QuoteWizard’s list of the “25 Drunkest Driving Cities in America.” And we thought this was before B.J. Barnes reduced crime by 65 percent!

Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Trader Joe’s (or Hey Joe, Where You Goin’ With That Plum In Your Hand?)

When Trader Joe’s at long last descended upon Greensboro, you’d think our alien masters had returned to Earth judging from the crush of humanity pouring through the doors on opening day. Last time Brassfield Shopping Center’s parking lot was this packed was decades ago, in the late ’80s when Fatal Attraction was playing at the Brassfield Cinema Ten and Eye screamed like a stuck pig when they pulled that toddler’s pet bunny out of a boiling pot.

Let Your Fingers Do The Walking Through The Mellow Pages

Citypost digital kiosks popped up around Hamburger Square this fall so that no matter where you are downtown you’re never more than a block or three away from one. Like a smartphone transported from Land of the Giants, these interactive Citizen Engagement Platforms assist visitors in locating events, scheduling public transit, searching for nearby restaurants, nightclubs and businesses, even providing free Wi-Fi while serving as a photo booth. About the only thing these information portals can’t help you find are your car keys.

Where The Wild Things Are / Were / Will Be

Construction got underway in 2019 on Greensboro Science Center’s Revolution Ridge, a major expansion to their wildlife menagerie, home with all the creature comforts for our first Malayan tiger, a male named Jaya. Concurrently, the zoo also added several new breeds of goats and chickens which, if I’m not mistaken, would make a Malayan tiger feel mighty welcome at dinnertime.

On the subject of exotic wildlife, work began last fall restoring the Rhinoceros Club to its former 1990s’ glory, polishing and faithfully refurbishing as many of the original fixtures as can be saved, including those ornately carved hardwood booths and that anachronistically antiquated overhead mechanical fan system. Look for the new Rhino this spring.  OH

My column last month, because of an earth-shattering act of editorial malfeasance, was credited to “writer” Billy Ingram. No one regrets this error more than Eye.

True South

All Peopled Out

Introverts of the world unite — separately


By Susan S. Kelly

Not long ago I said to some pals, “Heavens, tell me about Duncan. I heard he had four shunts put in.”

“Where have you been?” someone replied with incredulity.

“You know I don’t go out,” was my lame, weak, but honest answer.

Well, there’s the rub. At the core, I’m an introvert. Pause, for clamor claiming otherwise. But as my children like to say in millennial shorthand: “Truth.”

I do not fit the old-school definition of introvert: retiring, withdrawn, uncomfortable in social situations. “She’s just shy” was the old expression — or, as my mother excuses people, “She’s just insecure.” I am not shy. I veer toward that other old expression: “She’s as strong as train smoke.”

Nowadays, anybody with a penny’s worth of psychiatry or Myers-Briggs familiarity knows that “introvert” means someone who gets their energy from being alone, and that extroverts get their energy from being with other people. The old definition of introvert is no longer relevant, has gone the way of Greta Garbo’s famous utterance, “I vant to be alone.”

Take my sister. She so needs to be with people that she can hardly go to the bathroom by herself. In her 20s, she developed polyps on her vocal cords, and had to communicate with a pad and pencil for weeks. When I join her on the beach, unfold my chair, sit down and take out my book, she says, “Oh no you don’t.” She wants to talk. When her children came home from boarding school, she always said, “Let’s have a cookout!” Meaning, invite people over! Yay! “Let’s have a cookout!” has become an oft used, eyeroll mantra in our households now.

We lived in Larchmont, New York, when I was a small child, and my mother says she could put me in a stroller, go to the city and spend all day — shopping, eating, going to museums — without a peep from me. On the other hand, she claims that she’d put my sister down for a nap, open the door an hour later, and the room looked like a bomb had gone off. This could be attributed to undiagnosed ADHD, but I suspect my sister was just rebelling at being left alone. I guarantee you she has never played a hand of solitaire.

Looking back, my childhood strategy of asking a playmate, “When do you have to go home?” instead of, “When are you going home?” was just another way of getting back to my self-entertaining self. Back to playing with Steiff stuffed animals, alone; back to singing along with musicals, alone. Back to reading, alone. All my early, handwritten stories with plotless plots about someone running away to live in the woods and eat squirrels were another symptom. The introvert indicators were all there — I just hadn’t realized it. (There was that one day when I called three or four people to see if they could come play, and when I called the fourth, I opened with, “Can you come over? I’ve called everyone else.” Could be that the fact that I had to call four people to come play and no one could — or would — was an indication of something, too. Hmm. At any rate, my mother made me call the friend back and apologize.)

During a trip, any trip — Europe, the beach, a long weekend somewhere — I unfailingly have a moment when I’m desperate to go home. “I want to be home,” I’ll say to my sister.

“Yep,” she replies, nonplussed. “Been waiting for that.”

“I want to be home,” I’ll say to my husband, who’s lying in bed, reading
a guidebook.

“I know,” he mildly answers, and turns a page.

Once, when all my children were small, my husband asked, “Just how much time do you need alone every day?”

“Two hours,” I said.

“That’s too much,” he said.

Still, he knows me well. “What’s the matter?” he’ll ask me of a Sunday morning, “All cuted out?” This is shorthand for my extrovert quota having been depleted. Also, a hangover.

My husband is the reason, as a matter of fact, I know about the Myers-Briggs introvert definition in the first place. When he was senior warden at our church, all the officers and spouses were (gently) required to take the test. Trust me, I’d never have done it on my own. I ventured, once, into a Sunday school class, well aware that we might have to “break into small groups” — an introvert’s nightmare — but nevertheless interested in the topic. The minister caught sight of me (at the back of the room) and called out, “What are you doing here?”

I never went back. This, as opposed to my friend whose wife claims that the main reason he goes to church is that he’s such an extrovert he can’t miss a party.

Existential question: If I post on Instagram, does that negate being an introvert?

Often, introverts are mistaken for aloof snobs. They are not aloof snobs. They’re just all peopled out. I’m an expert at the so-called “Irish exit,” when you leave a gathering without telling anyone you’re going. To all those hosts and hostesses of parties past, I apologize. I had a wonderful time and appreciate having been invited. A friend of my mother’s eventually sold her beach cottage because she couldn’t bear to be away from her yard. Oh, sure. Right. A fellow introvert told me that she hates having her hair cut because she can’t stand all the chatter. So she goes to no-name salons and shows the operator a card she made that reads, “I am a deaf mute. Please take an inch off the bottom.” A friend on the board of Outward Bound offered me an Outward Bound trip at no cost. “You’re the perfect person,” he said. I suggested he find another adventurer for his freebie. Whatever I don’t know about myself by now, I don’t want to know, and I certainly don’t want to find out through shudder-inducing group collaboration and cooperation.

My worst introvert nightmare was the summer Friday I made plans to go see When Harry Met Sally on its opening day. By myself, of course. There, I sit in the quiet darkness, waiting for the movie, eating my popcorn, contentedly alone and anticipating, and . . . three dozen members of the neighborhood swim team troop in. Talking, laughing, jostling, scrabbling to see who sits beside whom . . . nightmare.

On the other hand, as I was all by myself waiting for another movie to begin, a little old lady shuffled in, took a seat, and proceeded to unwrap carrot sticks from a baggie as her movie snack. Was this an omen for a future nightmare? Because it’s common knowledge that whatever you are — punctual, talkative, forgetful — gets more pronounced with age.

I deliberately quit writing novels to go out and be with people again. Because I’m not an irredeemable recluse. Essentially I’m a high-functioning hermit with intermittent FOMO.

Let’s have a cookout!  OH

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

Top Notch

Johnny and Karen Tart’s downtown penthouse perch

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Nancy Herring

How do you know when a downtown has arrived?

Maybe when people who live on the outskirts of town also keep “a place in the city,” an apartment with easy access to the thrum of center-city life.

If that’s so, then downtown Greensboro is headed for success because at least one local couple maintains a leafy suburban residence, as well as an urban getaway.

Johnny and Karen Tart’s permanent address is a modern stucco-and-glass home on the golf course at Sedgefield Country Club.

Their citified roost is a penthouse atop a newly constructed building that hugs the Eugene Street overpass on the southern skirt of downtown.

“It’s our home away from home,” says Karen Tart. “It’s mainly a weekend place.”

The Tarts own the three-story brick building, which also houses the headquarters of their business. Johnny is president of J.T. Enterprises, which holds the franchises for 16 McDonalds restaurants sprinkled across Greensboro,  Reidsville and southern Virginia.

Fittingly, the Tart’s new building is a stone’s throw from Hamburger Square, the downtown intersection that was once home to steamy diners and grills.

The new building’s proximity to Hamburger Square is coincidental, but Johnny, who’s nearing 70, has fond memories of the district from the 1950s.

Every other weekend, he and his dad would grab lunch at the California Sandwich Shop while his mom shopped at the A&P grocery store across the railroad tracks.

“I’ve seen downtown in its heyday, and I’ve seen it in its worst days,” Johnny says. “It’s come a long way.”

The idea to live downtown was born several years ago, after the Tarts moved back East from California. They lived on a pastoral spread in Johnny’s hometown of Pleasant Garden, about 10 miles south of Greensboro.

The couple often came to town on weekend nights to wine and dine at their favorite downtown restaurants, then drive or Uber home. They started mulling the idea of a downtown crash pad.

“We thought, ‘Maybe we’ll get a little condo or something,” says Johnny.

At the time, they owned an office building on Oakcrest Avenue, off Battleground Avenue, in an area known as “drill hill” because of numerous dentist and doctor offices.

“I was the only guy who had a car in the parking lot on Friday afternoon,” Johnny says. “All the doctors were gone.”

One day, Tart was approached by the wife of a doctor who practiced in a nearby office. She said they were interested in buying Tart’s building.

“I said, ‘Well, it’s not really for sale,’ and she said, ‘Here’s how much we’ll give you,’ and I said, ‘When do you want us to move out?’” Tart recalls, laughing.

The Tarts leased office space. They also downsized from their Pleasant Garden homestead to slightly smaller digs in Grandover. But the siren call of downtown, still 9 miles away, remained strong on the weekends.

Johnny had an idea. Why not combine business and pleasure in one building?


He sussed out a parcel on a triangle of land bound by the Eugene Street overpass, Eugene Court and Spring Garden Street. The wedge, home to a bail bond business, a vape stop and a billboard advertising lawyers, would allow for a new building with wide balconies facing the crane-studded vista of downtown.

Architect Grant Fox, of Elon, drew a 6,000 square foot building flecked with enough classical elements — see pilasters and pediment — to harmonize with the neighborhood. The first two floors would be dedicated to business. The top floor, a two-bedroom penthouse crowned by a deep cornice with down-lighting between brackets, would be devoted to leisure.

Fox introduced the Tarts to several builders, and they picked Jason DeBoer of Burlington.

All that remained was the interior.

The Tarts’ homes had always leaned toward traditional/transitional styles, but they knew they wanted a sleeker vibe for their new living space.

“We wanted an urban feel, but not industrial,” says Karen, a native of Thomasville.

“We were a little outside  our comfort zone,” says Johnny.

For the first time, they sought help with the decor.

Johnny Googled designers in Greensboro. He liked what he saw on Marta Mitchell’s website. He called the number.

“Her husband Peter picked up,” Tart remembers. “He had a nice voice and was very helpful. I thought, ‘Well, maybe we just found a designer.’”

Their hunch was confirmed when they met with Marta.

“I knew it was going to work instantly,” says Karen. “The ideas she was throwing out — I was like ‘Yes, yes, yes.’”

Mitchell helped them to create a refuge anchored by blacks and grays, glass and iron. For warmth and verve, ambers and ochres play with blues and greens. Conversation pieces wink at visitors.

Take the Elton–John–worthy eyeglass frames, purely decorative, on an end table in the living room. Or the two metal hands that protrude from the wall near the elevator.

They hold keys, dog leashes and cell phones.

Nearby, a skinny hall table, sold by Phillips Collection in High Point, is fronted by a slab of polished wood from a decayed fallen tree. Knotted by swirls and pits, the plank is boxed by a black metal frame. No doors or drawers in this piece; it’s chiefly a tone note.

The central kitchen/living/dining area features more flavors of axe and anvil: a live-edge stump as coffee table; walnut shelves propped on black iron pipes that jut from walls; and a black rolled-steel wall with a recessed fireplace and a motion-sensitive TV screen that displays a photo when it detects movement.

On a recent afternoon, the screen showed a black-and-white photo of a zebra, which fit nicely with the decor and with the Tarts’ love of all things equine; both of them used to ride, and they also raise Quarter Horses on a farm in Climax.

The neighs have it, judging from a crystal horse head that rears atop a sideboard bar.

Reidsville cabinetmaker Richie Alcorn built the kitchen and bathroom storage, as well as floating nightstands for the master bedroom, and a custom dresser with a motorized lift for a TV screen that vanishes into a pocket at the back of the dresser.

He also added geometric fretwork to the rolling barn doors that separate  master bedroom and bathroom. The deluxe bath includes a glassed-in shower stall that measures about 6 feet by 8 feet.

“I told Johnny that was about the size of the nursery in our first apartment,” Karen says, referring to a unit in the former Colonial Apartments on West Market Street.

The couple has moved 27 times in 47 years of marriage, including pre-McDonalds stints in Phoenix and Los Angeles, when Johnny was working for Golden State Foods.

They are happy to be back home. Whenever possible, they pick furniture and accessories made by North Carolina artists and craftspeople.

The black rolled-steel wall around the fireplace was built by Brian Wilkinson of Winston-Salem. He also welded the base of the dining room table, which resembles an X-shaped truss under a nearby railroad bridge.

Charleston Forge, of Boone, made the weighty dining room chairs, framed in wood and iron and padded with rust-colored leather cushions.

The rippled glass tabletop — from Andrew Pearson Glass in Mount Airy — looks like ice cut from a frozen creek.

Side-by-side abstract panels, painted by Charlotte artist Jenny Fuller, finish the space.

A few steps away, the kitchen, which is equipped with Wolf appliances, harbors what amounts to a midair sculpture — a cluster of pendant globes suspended inside geometric frames.

Below sits an island topped with leathered grayish granite; glossy black granite countertops line the walls. One plane spans a tall picture window, creating a bridge and knee-hole for two stools.

“It’s a good place to have a cup of coffee, and read the paper, and watch students going to UNCG,” Johnny says.

“Lots of scooters go by,” says Karen.

Being within the city’s Downtown Design Overlay, which requires new buildings to amass points tied to aesthetic features, the Tarts notched a point for including a “wayfinder,” or landmark, on their property.

Johnny hired local sculptor Jeffrey Barbour to make a sculpture to stand outside the building, at the corner of Eugene Court and Spring Garden Street.

“Whaddya want?” said Barbour.

“Be creative,” said Tart.

Barbour thought about the project for a couple of days and called Tart.

“I got it,” he said.

Barbour had been raking leaves in his yard when — as artists who are engaged in yard work are wont to do — his attention wandered to an interesting form in nature. He noticed a carpet of spiny brown balls dropped by a sweet gum tree. But instead of cursing the underfoot wobble-makers, he wondered what was inside them.

He cut one open and found out: lots of seeds.

That was it.

He would make for the Tarts a brown metallic sculpture bursting open to reveal seeds, a symbol of downtown Greensboro’s rebirth. In this case, the seeds would serve double duty: the turquoise orbs also would reflect Karen Tart’s love of the western gemstone and her affection for Santa Fe, New Mexico, a favorite destination.

The sculpture’s metallic shell would signify the neighborhood’s industrial history, visible from the back of the Tart’s building, which overlooks active railroad tracks and affords glimpses of a former lumber yard and the street art commissioned by developer Marty Kotis.

That side of the Tart’s building, parallel to the sidewalk along Spring Garden, actually looks like the front — until you climb steps to what appears to be a double-doored entrance and notice there are no handles on the doors.

The real entrance is tucked into a courtyard on the city-side of the building.

From their broad balcony facing the same direction, the Tarts can see most of the city skyline, including a new Hampton Inn rising a block away. Were it not for the faces of the personal injury lawyers on the billboard, they would have an unobstructed view of more hotel and office space under construction near the downtown ballpark.

“Maybe someday, if we hit the lottery . . . ” Karen muses.

Still, the Tarts treasure the covered space, which Johnny also refers to as the “smoking room.” Amply furnished as an outdoor living room, complete with gas-fed fire table, the space is a good location to sip morning coffee or after-brunch bubbly while soaking up the swish of traffic on the bridge below.

“It’s like Karen says: ‘If we were in Pleasant Garden or Sedgefield, we’d be complaining about the noise,’” Johnny says.

Instead, Karen, tests herself by trying to identify, according to the diesel roar, how many engines are pulling a train passing on the other side of the building.

“I call it the sounds of the city,” she says.

The downtown loft was finished in March of last year. The couple lived there full-time while they moved their main residence again, this time from Grandover to nearby Sedgefield, within walking distance of grandchildren.

“We have a habit of moving, but I think we’ve stopped,” says Karen.

“The next house,” joshes Johnny, “will be the poor house.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at


Keep Your Eye on the Sparrows

Dark-eyed Juncos return to these parts in cold weather


By Susan Campbell

“The snowbirds are back!” No, not the thin-blooded retirees — you won’t see them until spring. But you will see the little black-and-white, sparrowlike birds that appear under feeders when the mercury dips here in central North Carolina. They can be found in flocks, several dozen strong in places. And, in spite of what you might think, they are far from dependent on birdseed in winter.

Dark-eyed juncos are a diverse and widely distributed species, with six populations recognized across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Some have white wing bars, others sport reddish backs, and the birds in the high elevations of the Rockies are recognized by the extensive pinkish feathering on their flanks. Our eastern birds are known as “slate-colored juncos” for their dark-brown to gray feathering. As with most migrant songbirds, their migratory behavior is based on food availability, not weather. Flocks will fly southward, stopping where they find abundant grasses and forbs. They will continue  traveling once the food plants have been stripped of seed.

Dark-eyed juncos can be found throughout North America at different times of the year. During the breeding season, juncos are found at high elevation across the boreal forests nesting in thick evergreens. Our familiar slate-colored variety breeds as close as the high elevations of the Appalachians. You can find them easily around Blowing Rock and Boone year round. Watch for male juncos advertising their territories up high in fir or spruce trees. They will utter sharp chips and may string together a series of rapid call notes that sounds like the noise emitted by a “phaser” of Star Trek fame.

In winter, flocks congregate in open and brushy habitats. Juncos are distinguished from other sparrows by their clean markings: dark heads with small, pale, conical bills, pale bellies and white outer tail feathers. Females have a browner wash and less of a demarcation between belly and breast than males. They hop around and feed on small seeds close to ground level. Some individuals can be quite tame once they become familiar with a specific place and particular people. Juncos do communicate frequently, using sharp trills to keep the flock together. They will not hesitate to dive for deep cover when alarmed.

So the next time you come upon a flock along the roadside or notice juncos under your feeder, take a close look. These little birds will only be with us a few months, until day length begins to increase and they head back to the boreal forests from whence they came.  OH

Susan would love to hear from you.  Send wildlife sightings and photos to