True South

The Great Divide

What stays? What goes? Only Heaven knows

By Susan Kelly

William Faulkner freaks will tell you that a seminal scene in The Sound and the Fury is the basis for all that follows in his famous novel. A little girl named Caddy falls into a puddle. When she climbs a tree, her brothers see her muddy
drawers and predict their mother’s fury that Caddy
has gotten dirty.

What, you might fairly ask, has this English-majorish observation to do with downsizing?

Downsizing necessitates decisions, divesting and division, tasks that are, by turn, hilarious, tedious and heartbreaking. Never mind the big stuff; this weekend, we — myself and my two sisters — were merely dealing with the contents of our mother’s chests and closets and shelves. And so we find ourselves faced with What Goes, What Stays, What We Want, and What We Can’t Bear to Think About piles.

“Sentiment,” I quote from a past writing teacher who was quoting someone else, “is giving something more tenderness than God intended it to have.” We’re staring sentimentally at three pyramids of toys that defined each of us, certainly then, and kind of now.

My Steiff stuffed animals — brought from NYC by my father in the “rag trade” — and with which I made up endless stories. The writer. Save.

Her Barbies (and Kens and Midges) as well as their clothes, exquisitely made, with labels sewn in the collars, and tiny buttons and buttonholes, and real zippers. The clotheshorse extrovert. Save.

Her Tonka trucks. A big, shin-high pickup truck, a horse trailer, a hook-and-ladder, an earthmover. The tomboy. Suppressed sob … Sell. Because not a daughter or daughter-in-law alive would ever permit the no-doubt lethally leaded paint and sharp, semi-rusted corners of the metal vehicles in the sanitized, only-eats-non-GMO-avocados fingers of their helicopter-parented offspring. Tears blinked back.

We let the Barnabas Network guy have the Schlitz beer can lamp (he had a collection of beer can lamps, I kid you not.) We kept our Stokes County grandfather’s lapboard with the inlaid checkerboard where, if I could get a single king, I won. (I never did.) I sat on the radiator cover and watched him eat a hundred pieces of watermelon — cut not in wedges but in rounds, like a doughnut — on that lapboard as we watched “Jeopardy!” together.

At one point, after we’d unhesitatingly pitched the homemade afghan we remembered being sick — red measles to the vomits — beneath on the den sofa, the three of us laid flat on our backs on the floor to rest. “Get up and look at me,” I told the youngest. “This is what I’d look like with a face-lift.” At another point, my mother said, “I want to watch this part,” as we prepared to divide up table linens, from Italian damask to exquisite lace hems to monogrammed satin-hemmed napkins the size of small tablecloths to, well, tablecloths. We were made to understand that each set had its story: wedding present, purchased in France, etc. We counted, chose, caressed, chose, hovered, chose, thought silently and disloyally about drawer space and lifestyle. “This is boring,” my mother announced, and left.

But about those underpants.

“Where’s my Joy of Cooking?” she asks.

Exchange of panicked glances. Her Joy of Cooking was no longer a book. It was a chunk composed of a single frayed, faded, fabric-covered cardboard whose visible spine was stitched with what looked like kitchen twine holding clumps and singles of thin yellow pages with 6-point-font printing. And no pictures.

“It’s falling apart,” we object. “Do you think you’re going to be cooking recipes from The Joy of Cooking?” we ask. “We’ll get you a new one,” we offer.

“The new one doesn’t have the same recipes,” she says.

Like what? I think. Chilled beef consomme? No loss.

“I want it,” she says. This, from the same woman who threw out decades of travel pictures, even her wedding album, without a twinge.

“It’s in the car,” I say, cool as Melanie Wilkes lying to the Yankees. “I’ll get it.”

My mother’s Joy of Cooking was not in the car. It was buried somewhere in a black plastic bag in the Dumpster squatting in the asphalt parking lot of an elementary school. Which is how I came to find myself folded at the hips like a hinge over the sharp, rusty, Tonka truck-like Dumpster edge, fishing, digging, clawing, groping and tearing at bags of cafeteria refuse, supply room cast-offs and restroom detritus (Is that a book spine I feel or a box of rotting fish sticks?) in 100-degree heat while my sister stands behind me saying unhelpful things like, “I hope they don’t have closed circuit cameras to catch people illegally throwing stuff away.”

If so, kindergarten show and tell can be the film of my drawers and backside as I’m trying not to fall into the dark, stinking, super-heated, steel-walled abyss of a Dumpster interior. Although at the very least you should be in high school to really appreciate The Sound and the Fury. And you need to be 86 to really appreciate your original Joy of Cooking. Because I recovered it.

My sister recovered, too. The Tonka trucks sold instantly on consignment, for a lot of money. Plus, no one came down with lockjaw. OH

In a former life, Susan Kelly published five novels, won some awards, did some teaching, and made a lot of speeches. These days, she’s freelancing and making up for all that time she spent indoors writing those five novels.


Party Line

Telephones have come a long way — even if our politics and sense of civility haven’t

By Clyde Edgerton

A red rotary phone recently ended up in our house.
It had been used in an elementary school talent show. Some of you remember the pre-push button, dial telephone once in many homes. The phone itself, about the size of a brick, but a little taller, usually sat on a table or shelf and was plugged into the wall via a cord. My 13-year-old son wondered if people used to walk around holding them when they talked — receiver in one hand, phone in the other. I said that early on the cord wasn’t long enough and then later very long cords became fashionable and people could walk around with them if they liked. A phone was about the weight of a laptop, but with significantly fewer functions.

For younger folks: On the front of the phone is a round disc — about the size of a CD (remember those?) with 10 holes in a circle — counting counter-clockwise. Inside each hole is a number, 1 – 9, and then the final number, 0.

A phone number is dialed, one number at a time, by sticking your finger into the correct hole on the dial and pulling around one number at a time until it reaches a little metal stop. The 1 is nearest the stop. Our number in Durham County, North Carolina, when I was a child, was 6-4558.

As I write, I realize that perhaps the 0 should have preceded the 1 rather than follow the 9. That’s off-topic, though.

But to continue off-topic: Back then when you called the operator to say the number of — and ask her to place — a long distance call, you had to dial 0 to get the operator — meaning the dial had to be cranked from the 0 spot all the way around to the stop and then released. The 0 took longer to finish dialing than any other number. An enormous amount of time was wasted over several decades while people waited for the 0 to finish dialing.

Sorry, I just did the math: Every billion long distance calls collectively wasted about 30 years.

The phone had a receiver which rested atop the phone. The receiver, about the size of a banana (actually a sender/receiver because you talked into one end and listened from the other), while resting on the phone, pressed down two buttons which did not work independently. When you pressed one button, they both went down. When you lifted the receiver from its cradle, the buttons came up together and the line was open for you to make a call. There was a dial tone that I’m sure I can’t describe to one who’s not heard it. To one who has: You are probably hearing it in your head now.

While explaining things to my son, I remembered this:

In the early 1950s, our phone was on a party line, shared with seven or eight households, not a private line; and there was a skillful way to secretly listen in on neighbors’ phone conversations. I probably learned the technique from watching my mother, though I can’t be sure.

Usually, if you were talking along and somebody on your party line lifted their receiver off their phone, you would hear a click and then you could hear breathing or whatever was going on in their house, and then they’d hang up since the line was in use. If they continued listening, you could say, “Sorry, I’m using the line.”

But if you wanted to listen in on another conversation, you lifted only one end of the receiver and pressed the exposed button (so that both buttons stayed down), and then kept holding them down as you lifted the receiver to your ear. Next, you slowly lifted the button that was depressed, stopping just before the click. Then you heard the talkers, but they couldn’t tell you were listening in. If you lifted that button too high, a click would sound and your presence would be known. Of course, you couldn’t do something like this in our day and age as you might get banned from the county park system or the courthouse or county school grounds by vigilant officials.

Thinking back on all this led me to what may be a naive realization:

Let’s assume we are in the 1950s and that today’s political climate exists: many people despising fellow citizens because of “political beliefs.”

Let’s assume further that because of your new neighbor’s bumper sticker, you’ve never spoken to her/him. But, you happen to overhear a phone conversation that neighbor is having with a friend on a neighborhood party line.

You hear no political talk, but you learn that your neighbor likes dark roast coffee like you do. I mean, really likes it. His mother has dementia, like your mother. He likes Dr. John’s music, like you do.

When you next see that neighbor in person, the chance for friendship is greater than before. The possibility of being civil, of seeing beyond the spirit of bumper-sticker-like cable news, of showing some Southern hospitality — is not so far-flung.  OH

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and a new work, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

A Vote for Books

October surprises with election-themed books

Don’t despair, voters. Interesting times are fodder for interesting books, and throughout history both elections and political movements have led to some of the world’s greatest reads. Some candidates are voracious readers, others, barely literate; neither has stopped anyone from writing books about them. We can’t wait for the exposés of the 2016 campaign; for now we’ll look back at some historical perspectives on the political process.

Think the upcoming election is tumultuous? How about taking a look back to the founding of our country? What a wild ride! The 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Hamilton, is a great place to start. Hamilton: The Revolution (Grand Central Publishing, $45) includes the full libretto for the show annotated by creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reflections on the production process and cultural magnitude by both Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, former New York magazine and News week cultural critic. The show follows the life, love and political climb of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and his untimely demise at the hands of his former colleague, Aaron Burr.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons provides unerring proof that not much has changed during the last 150 years in the way politics and political movements function — and the crazed motives they inflame. Set in a provincial town in Russia around 1871, Demons mercilessly dissects not only the strait-laced politicians of the time and the devious radicals, but also the machinations of the levels of society supporting each political movement. Yes, it’s long, and yes, it’s Russian, but it’s brilliant, complex, funny and heartbreaking. Think of it as a new Netflix series.

Twentieth-century books on the American process include a couple of classics on the 1972 presidential campaign. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (Simon & Schuster, $17) includes a new introduction by Thompson’s successor at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi, and while it begins to expose the limits of the Thompson style, it also contains enough no-holds-barred truth-telling to sustain interest. The better book on Nixon’s eventual landslide — and on journalism as it’s practiced even today — is Timothy Crouses’s The Boys on the Bus (Random House. $15.95).

Of course, fear and loathing pretty much sum up the 1968 election. Who better than Norman Mailer to chronicle both party conventions that saw the anointing of Richard Nixon among Republicans and a deeply divided Democratic party haunted by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy? In Miami and the Siege of Chicago (Random House Trade Paperbacks $18), deemed “terrifying” by The New York Times, Mailer is both eyewitness and participant to America’s political future on the brink.

No doubt Mailer would have had a field day with the “fraud of the century,” the 19th century. Michael F. Holt’s By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 (University Press of Kansas, $22.50) examines the contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, which saw the largest voter turnout ever (82 percent) and Hayes’ razor-edge victory — of a single electoral vote.

The wackiness and inspiration of the 2008 race seems like only yesterday. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Harper, $16.99) goes beyond sound bytes and teleprompters to reveal the sordid details about the candidates and their campaigns: the screaming, the cussing, the infidelities (and not just among the Clintons, but the Edwardses, McCains and Giulianis, too); how woefully unprepared vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin was — and in the minds of some, then-Sen. Barack Obama. But is anybody ever qualified for the job as Leader of the Free World? Try not to think about it as you cast your vote.

New Releases for October
October 4: My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Simon & Shuster, $30). The notorious RBG lays down some tracks.
October 11: The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, by Sebastian Mallaby (Penguin Press, $35). A much-needed critical biography of the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve who oversaw the economic collapse.
October 18: The Secret History of Twin Peaks, by Mark Frost (Flatiron Books, $30). A well-earned break from the madness of politics and a good preparation for the upcoming new Twin Peaks series.
October 25: A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $22). This new nonfiction collection comes on the heels of this much-loved writer’s death in March.  OH

Scuppernong Bookshelf was written by Martha Adams-Cooper, Shannon Jones, Steve Mitchell and Brian Lampkin.

The Omnivorous Reader

On the Lookout

A fascinating first novel, a talk of ecological disaster

By Gwenyfar Rohler

Upstairs in the UNC Wilmington Creative Writing Department is the publishing laboratory, where the Literary magazine Ecotone matured, a small press, Lookout Books, refines their books into existence like a oyster begeting a pearl. Until recently, Lookout’s carefully curated and award-winning catalog included two collections of short fiction, a memoir and even a book of poetry, but no novel. But now, Lookout and writer Matthew Neill Null have both dipped their proverbial toes in the water of novel-writing by debuting their first novel, Honey From The Lion, last year.

In the book, set in and around a logging camp in West Virginia at the turn of the 20th century, Null brings us characters that many people would cross the street to avoid. He slowly pulls back the curtains and, with a flickering gaslight, breathes life into these unwashed, violent and desperate people who then become the source of great empathy.

Honey From The Lion is not a hymn to strong men who control other people’s destinies, though the first chapter and the title (an allusion to Sampson from the Bible) might hint at that. For Null, the real story is the struggle of the hundreds of working men to realize their own destinies within their private lives and a system with the singular purpose of exploitation of resources — natural and human. He takes a microscope to look as closely as possible at individuals who, in most circumstances, would never be anything more than statistics: ledger columns, payroll, accident reports. These moments, teasing out the backstories of each character, no matter how minor, are reminiscent of David Foster Wallace.

Echoes of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove reverberate as well. The introduction and development of the uber macho world are built around a strict code and the appearance of outsiders unprepared to understand the code. But where McMurtry’s men have developed their own code and live outside the dictates of a world they reject, Null’s are trapped inside the code as the least powerful players in their ecosystem.  

The care and adoration lavished on a Lookout book is obvious. The physical product is a beauty to behold in an age where book design and production are sidelined for bargain prices and expedient content delivery. Not at Lookout. French flaps, beautiful graphic design and tailored page layouts are the hallmarks of a book that someone cares about. (On the rare occasions that you see a book this carefully created from a big publisher, you know it was the pet project of someone in the office who went the extra mile.) At Lookout, each book radiates that level of care. Perhaps that is the best argument for smaller presses: Because each book takes so much time and effort, they put out few in a year (Lookout produces only one or two annually), and each book is almost a sacred experience. Any author would swoon to have his or her work treated with such reverence, especially for one’s debut novel.

Curious about the selection process for Lookout’s first novel, I reached out to Emily Smith, publisher and co-founder of Lookout. Smith writes, “Null evokes the virgin forest as a fully realized character we grieve deeply by the end of the novel. He implores us to care about the ecological tragedy in West Virginia through story . . . it presented a rare opportunity for our publishing entities to better align our missions and to showcase a book in which place and the natural world feature prominently.”

Ecotone, the sister imprint, place-centric magazine, published Null’s story “The Island in the Gorge of the Great River” in the spring 2014 issue. Null, the then-emerging writer, had not published a book, which appealed to Lookout, whose mission states “seeks out emerging and historically underrepresented voices, as well as overlooked gems by established writers.” In manuscript form, Smith was attracted to this novel’s “nuanced and lyrical descriptions of the natural world, its expansive and cinematic pace.”

Lookout has enjoyed success with previous publications, like their first one, Edith Pearlman’s story collection Binocular Vision, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011. The following year, Lookout published Steve Almond’s story collection God Bless America: Stories, which won the Paterson Fiction Prize. They know how to pick a winner and how to present one.

I can only imagine the stunned grin that must have spread across Null’s face the moment he received his first novel in Lookout-form. But, from reading Honey From The Lion, I am certain he would recreate the moment in stunning, captivating, undulating prose, drawing the experience out for paragraphs if not pages, intensifying the moment to something epic in contrast to the momentary sensation of pages in hands.

A part of the Creative Writing program at UNC Wilmington, Lookout ensures that the art of bookmaking continues to live hand-in-hand with the art of writing. It may be one of the most valuable lessons to impart on to the next generation of writers. Because, as in Lookout’s new novel, each page holds moments experienced in-depth that draw and enlighten the darkened corners of each character’s soul. Value the written word (and the well-designed book) as something sacred, for it will out live all of us.  OH

Gwenyfar Rohler spends her days managing her family’s bookstore on Front Street.

Life’s Funny

Mazed and Confused

Corny but true

By Maria Johnson

Thereís something about this time of year — maybe it’s the golden light of evening, or the first kiss of frost — that makes me want to wander around in a corn maze for a couple of hours until the sweat trickles down my dusty, bug-plastered face and I start to cry.

OK, I’m exaggerating.

I didn’t cry.

But I did go through the Maize Adventure at Kersey Valley in Archdale, thanks to owner Tony Wohlgemuth, who allowed me to bring a friend and try out his 10-acre corn maze before this year’s official opening.

My meandering companion was someone who, as it turned out, has a sense of direction that rivals my own: my friend and colleague Cindy Adams.

Perhaps we should have taken the clue when we got lost while driving to the maze.

“Wherever we are, it’s pretty,” said Cindy as we toured southeastern Guilford County.

We pressed on. Finally, we arrived at Kersey Valley, an adventure park that Tony has built on the 60-acre farm where he and his parents, immigrants from Switzerland, landed in 1979. Tony was 9 years old.

He planted the seeds of his business at age 15, when he and some buddies made a haunted house out of a former caretaker’s quarters.

Today, Kersey Valley has grown to include year-round attractions including nature education for school kids; a ropes course; a zip line; a laser tag venue; and escape rooms (locked rooms that challenge groups to find the clues to escape).

Spooky Woods — including the original haunted house — runs full steam this time of year. So do the low-scare attractions: a pumpkin patch; giant inflated jumping pillows; and trampolines with bungee harnesses.

Then there’s the corn maze, which Tony added 16 years ago.

In case you’ve been living inside a crop circle and don’t know, corn mazes are labyrinths carved into cornfields by tractors using computer programs linked to satellites. The mazes can be intricate and artistic.

From the air, Kersey Valley’s design this year looks like butterflies and flowers.

From the ground, it looks like . . . corn.

Tony briefed us at the maze entrance.

The challenge, he said, was to win a game inside the maze.

He handed each of us a scratch-off card. When we found six checkpoints inside the maze, we were to insert the cards into a template and scratch off to reveal points. The person who finishes with the most points wins.

Tony showed us a map of the maze and encouraged us to memorize the 3.4 miles of trails. Cindy and I stared at the whorls.

Cindy whipped out her phone to take a picture of the map.

“That’s kind of cheating,” Tony said.

“No,” Cindy corrected him. “It IS cheating.”

Tony told us other ways that scofflaws have tried to beat maze — by taking shortcuts through the inner walls and by breaching the outer walls.

Cindy and I nodded gravely. Cheating bad.

Tony pointed out two bridgelike observation decks high inside the maze. If we needed to get oriented, we could climb up on the bridges and look around.

How long would it take us to get through the maze?

“If you’re fast, maybe an hour,” Tony said. “But we’ve had people in there as long as three hours. We really don’t know this year. You’re the first ones to go through.”

As the sun dropped toward the tree line, Tony recounted how they used to open the maze at night, but they stopped having evening hours for the general public because it would be time for the employees to go home, and there would still be customers’ cars in the parking lot.

“Well,” said Tony. “Have fun. Watch out for snakes.”

“What kind of snakes?” I asked.

“Corn snakes and green snakes, usually,” he said.

“Usually?” I asked.

“Call me when you get out!” he said.

I want you to know that Cindy and I tried to do the maze honestly. We really did. We trudged around full of virtue for, oh, two or three minutes.

Then we began parting stalks and taking short cuts.

We used the map on Cindy’s phone.

We used the compasses on both our phones.

We climbed the bridges to reckon where the checkpoints were relative to the bridges.

After an hour-and-a-half, we stopped. It was getting dark, and Cindy had told enough snake stories to scare the bejesus out of both of us.

We’d found five of the six checkpoints, and I’d amassed 870 points.

We don’t know how many points Cindy collected. She “lost” her card before we got back to the car. This much we do know: She kept scratching off negative points, denoted by a boot symbol.

“Shucks!” Cindy said every time she got the boot.

She didn’t really say that. But the word she used was similar.

In the end, we agreed that going through a corn maze was a little like shopping with a friend: You walk down lots of aisles. Some are fruitful, some are not. The point is to go with someone you enjoy, and get the hell out before the place closes.

Back home, we told our astonished husbands that we’d set the record for best time and most points scored at the maze so far this year.

A kernel of truth goes a long way.  OH

Maria Johnson is the corniest contributing editor O.Henry has ever had. Find out more about Tony Wohlgemuth’s adventure empire at


On a Roll

For cyclist/bassoonist
Mark Hekman, life is
a wild ride

Among the good-natured barbs that Julliard professor and violist Toby Appel once delivered in his comical “Irreverent Guide to the Orchestra” on NPR was the following: “Bassoon players like to give the impression that theirs is a very hard instrument to play, but the truth is that the bassoon only plays one or two notes per piece and is therefore only heard for a minute in any given evening.”

The ribbing elicits a hearty laugh from Mark Hekman, second bassoonist for the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, which continues its inaugural Masterworks concert on the first of this month with “War and Peace Re-imagined.” Hekman’s instrument, a double-reed woodwind is, to be sure, difficult to play, and he actually appreciates that it’s not one of the flashier instruments. “I enjoy being part of a group,” Hekman says. “I’m there to add a layer of color.”

It’s a modest statement, considering that five years ago, the musician was honing his competitive chops as a professional cyclist. After completing his Master’s in music at Ohio State in 2004, Hekman chose to defer one dream for another: racing. “I didn’t touch my instrument for five years,” he says. Lured by the mild North Carolina winters, which lend themselves to year-round training, the Michigan native landed in Winston-Salem with a housesitting gig and soon discovered the tight-knit community of cycling enthusiasts. Before long he was competing on eight-man teams in criterium races across the United States. He placed third in the United States National Criterium Championship, the highest level of pro racing, in 2008, and went on to win the USA Crits series in 2009. Hekman has pedaled his way through Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, but his fondest memories are of the nighttime laps through big North American Cities in Crit races, “with people coming out of bars” cheering him and his teammates on — much like the festive scene in Twin Cities’ Arts District during the Winston-Salem Classic each spring.

These days, the applause is coming from appreciative audiences at the performances of the GSO Symphony, which Hekman joined for its 2012–13 season. And the transition from cyclist to bassoonist isn’t as big a leap as one might think: “A lot of musicians are into cycling,” he observes. Both pursuits require self-discipline, and, Hekman adds, “Exercising is like practicing: There’s a good sensation afterward.” Practicing since the fifth grade, when he chose the bassoon “because it looked funny and sounded great,” Hekman is also working on his doctoral degree at UNCG and teaches at HPU in between concerts. “Performing with the Greensboro Symphony has been a lot of fun,” he says, citing the thrill of working with Dmitry Sitkovetsky, “one of the all-time great violinists.” And, he adds, “the programming has been superb since I joined.” In addition to October’s program of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, he’ll be “adding layers of color” to the likes of Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven and Mendolssohn later in the season. “It’s crazy how much great music is out there,” he marvels.

As for the cycling?

“I get out when I can,” he says, adding that it’s harder to find the time for sport while raising a family. But Hekman isn’t one to complain, noting, “ I’m really blessed with the way life has gone.”   OH

— Nancy Oakley

Short Stories

Hong Kong House Memories

Hong Kong House Cookbook is a nostalgic gastronomical journey rooted on Tate street, a how-to manual for re-creating the tastes that sustained scores of students, musicians, hippies and just plain folks for nearly three decades. The menu is the delicious soundtrack of a generation served with great affection by Hong Kong House owners Robert and Amelia Leung. The cookbook was a six-year-odyssey for author Karen McClamrock, longtime Nightshade Cafe door person and rabid HK cuisine fan, who coaxed the recipes from Amelia.

Adapting her menu to accommodate regulars like Bobby Kelly, creating a breadless version of her Wok chicken sandwich with rice and cottage cheese called the Brown Bob, and the healthier Green Bob with broccoli substituting for rice, Amelia quite literally nurtured musicians. It’s a feast for the eyes and the stomach, plus tasty time-travel fare for body and soul. — G.B.

Praise for Papadaddy

Let’s hear it for Clyde Edgerton, who, along with crime novelist Margaret Maron and poet Carl Sandburg will join the ranks of O.Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green, Doris Betts, Lee Smith, John Ehle, Fred Chappell and a host of other Tarheel literati as inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 16, at the Weymouth Center for Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines. The author of ten novels, including the ever-popular Raney, Walking Across Egypt and Killer Diller, Edgerton has been a Guggenheim fellow and is currently a Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNC-Wilmington not to mention being regular contributor to this magazine and its sister publications, PineStraw and Salt. We think a laurel wreath is quite becoming on ol’ Papadaddy — as long as he doesn’t rest on it.


Whose woods these are? If you’re referring to Woods of Terror (5601 North Church Street) the answer is owner and impresario Eddie McLaurin. Celebrating a quarter-century of scaring the living daylights out thrill-seekers, McLaurin offers twenty-five reasons to visit his haunted attraction, including a new Hell-evator, the parade of monsters, tracking your heart rate on your FitBit and perhaps most important, a new escape room. Info:

How Do Our Gardens Grow?

One is never too young to learn the delights of green and growing things. Thanks to Greensboro Parks and Recreation, and Guilford County Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Division, garden field trips are available on October 25 and 26, November 1 and 2, to elementary school children. At the Gateway Gardens (2924 East Gate City Boulevard), kindergarteners, first- and second-graders will explore sound, weather and life cycles. Students in third through fifth grades will learn about ecosystems and the connections between plants and animals at Tanger Bicentennial Gardens and Bog Garden (1105 Hobbs Road). Excursions are a mere $5 per student, with a maximum of 60 allowed per trip. Info:


Patting ourselves on the back again, you say? Guilty as charged! If you haven’t picked up a copy of the Fall/Winter issue of our sister publication, O.Henry Seasons Style & Design, please do! In this edition, we continue our fascination with all things related to home and garden in the Triad, go Christmas-shopping in Old Salem, reveal hidden gems . . . and the secrets to making droolworthy pies. You can find Seasons at the usual O.Henry distribution points around town or online at

Green Acres

There was a time when more of the country’s population dwelled in the country on farms than in cities. Exploring the importance of the farm in American culture and history is Grant Wood and the American Farm, which started last month at Reynolda House Museum of American Art (2250 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem) and continues through the end of the year. Through the paintings of Wood, Childe Hassam, Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew Wyeth and others, the exhibition looks at farm life between 1850 and 1950, and offers perspective on current “farm to table” trends of today. Tickets: (888) 663-1149 or

Greensboro Gothic

A small Southern town, revenge for a crime . . . and its consequences. Such is the stuff of Southern gothic, a genre perfectly suited to the season of chills and thrills, and all the more hair-raising when adapted to film. This month head to Community Theatre of Greensboro (520 South Elm Street) on October 21 at 7 p.m., and check out an alternative to the usual monster flicks with Lake of Fire, produced by Highway 29 Films (owned by Greensboro filmmaker Les Butchart and his family) and starring O.Henry’s own Billy Ingram. In between biting your nails, you’ll get a kick out of identifying familiar shooting locations in Rockingham County, Ramseur  and, of course, the Gate City. Tickets:


Meaning our idea of a “throwdown,” and we’re doing it up right: To celebrate O.Henry’s fifth anniversary and Preservation Greensboro’s 50th, we invite you to don your hippest Rat Pack duds and fly yourself and anyone else to the moon, by way of Blandwood Mansion (447 West Washington Street) on Thursday, October 20th, from 7 to 10 p.m. In addition to the thrill of Chairman sound-alike John Love and the Doug Burns Big Band Orchestra, craft brews, among other libations, abound as do tasty eats (oysters Rockefeller, anyone?). Raise a glass to the magazine that loves Greensboro, while benefiting the organization that helps preserve its history. Tickets: (336) 272-5003 or

Ogi Sez

After the scorching, oppressive summer we’ve had, don’t you think we deserve October? Sure, September was tolerable, but now is the time to truly enjoy the seasonal changes. It’s also time to enjoy the plethora of live music choices in our backyard. Some things never change.

• October 15, Carolina Theatre: When I heard that Jimbo Mathus had put the Squirrel Nut Zippers back together, I literally jumped out of my chair. There are few bands that I’ve loved more in my life than the Zips. And if you need proof, I’ll show you the gold record their label sent me for giving them so much press back in the day.

• October 15, Greensboro Coliseum: Greensboro has become a regular stop on every tour that Jason Isbell goes on. There’s good reason for that — he packs the Coliseum to the rafters every time he shows up.

• October 20, Blandwood Mansion: I’m not kidding; this is a once-in-a-lifetime show. It is a song-by-song re-creation of the Vegas show that Frank Sinatra performed at The Sands in 1966. John Love is Frank and the Doug Burns Big Band Orchestra is the Count Basie Orchestra. For real.

• October 22, O.Henry Hotel: The bar seems to be continually being raised for the burgeoning local jazz scene. And one of the prime bar-raisers is monster jazz trumpeter Benjamin Matlack and his quartet. I swear, the kid channels Miles Davis.

• October 30, Huggins Performance Center: Last year two Greensboro College profs, Dave Fox and Ted Efremoff, put  together the Healing Blues CD, featuring all the stop-shelf talent in town, to benefit the Interactive Resource Center. So well received was it, that
Dr. Drave (Fox) decided to do another, and is launching Vol. 2 with a live concert on the GC campus.

Simple Life

Dark Clowns

By Jim Dodson

I was deep in the country at twilight, heading home with the radio on when I heard about the dark clowns. The BBC presenter sounded skeptical, even amused by reports out of Greenville, South Carolina, where people dressed as clowns were reportedly trying to lure children into the woods with candy and money.

“So . . . is this just a hoax or something people there are really concerned about?” the host asked a local reporter covering the story, his tongue half in cheek

“I can’t say it’s a hoax,” she replied, “because the police are taking this very seriously. They have warned parents and doubled patrols. This really has a lot of people really freaked out.”

So-called “after dark clowns” have been spooking America quite a bit lately, it turns out, most recently in Winston-Salem and Green Bay, Wisconsin, where a photograph of a dark clown roaming early morning streets carrying black balloons set the Internet on fire. Two Octobers ago, residents of Bakersfield, California were spooked by photographs of “evil after-dark clowns” roaming their streets after hours, showing up under lampposts and frequenting kiddie rides. Since then, reports of dark clowns have cropped up in a dozen other places around the country.

The police don’t know whether the stories are coming from the imaginations of children or something sinister is afoot, but panicked residents seem to be taking the law into their own hands,” The New York Times noted about this latest outbreak of clowns in South Carolina, adding that shots had been fired into wooded areas where the sightings occurred.

Whatever else may be true, clowns occupy a peculiar space in American popular culture, somewhere between what’s perfectly innocent and downright terrifying. My September issue of Smithsonian notes that clowns have been with us since man’s earliest days in the guise of everything from mythologized tricksters to painted medicine men. Pygmy clowns entertained bored Egyptian pharaohs, and Medieval court jesters were entitled to thumb their oversized noses at the king without fear of losing their heads.  Ancient Rome had professional clowns whose job it was to pacify unruly crowds at festivals, peacekeepers who kept an eye out for troublemakers. “Well into the 18th and 19th century,” writes Smithsonian’s Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, “the prevailing clown figure of Western Europe and Britain was the pantomime clown, who was sort of a bumbling buffoon.”

Once, standing in a crowd of camera-wielding tourists next to my young daughter on the main drag in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, awaiting a parade of local rodeo riders, I spotted a mime working the crowd and approaching us.
My daughter was delighted. But I wasn’t.

Mimes have always made me uncomfortable, a modest phobia I trace to a powerful moment in my early childhood in Mississippi, where my father briefly owned a small newspaper. One evening in the late fall he took my brother and me to a political rally in a cornfield just outside town. A group of strange people showed up wearing white robes and hoods and stood around a bonfire. We didn’t stay long, just long enough for our father to get a quote or two from the mayor and the hooded figures to frighten the bug juice out of his sons. We asked our dad why those men wore hoods. “Because people who wear masks are weak people often up to no good,” he replied. Our mother gave him holy hell when she found out where he’d taken us just to harvest a quote.

Forty years later, picking up on my post-Klan jitters, the mime paused right in front of us and attempted to make me smile. He made a huge happy face followed by a tragic sad one, rubbing away imaginary tears when I wouldn’t yield. The crowd ate it up.

“Thanks,” I said through gritted teeth. “Feel free to move along now.”

Clowns were everywhere in the America where I grew up. Most were fun-loving and perfectly innocent in those faraway days — Clarabell the Clown on “Howdy Doody” and Bozo the Clown with his internationally syndicated show — which according to Smithsonian had a 10-year waiting list for tickets.

There was even a clown I liked on my favorite weeknight TV show, Red Skelton’s eponymous Clem Kadiddlehopper, a bumbling painted-up fool who was only tolerable only because he often broke up halfway through his skits. In my bedroom I even had a harlequin desk lamp. I attended Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus about that time, exactly once, on the other hand, feeling bad for the animals and truly bothered by the clowns. Only the acrobats appealed to me.

“So the question is,” Smithsonian’s McRobbie wonders, “when did the clown, supposedly a jolly figure of innocuous, kid-friendly entertainment, become so weighed down by fear and sadness? When did clowns become so dark?”

The truest answer is, long ago and far away.

Classical operas and Shakespearean dramas, after all, have long used clown figures as sinister messengers of mystery and intrigue. But in the modern American context it may well have been an evil clown named Pogo who established the motif of the dark clown around town.

His real name was John Wayne Gacy Jr., a friendly chap who entertained children in the Chicago suburbs for years during the middle 1970s before he was arrested, tried and convicted of killing 33 young men. “You know,” he reportedly told investigators, “a clown can get away with murder.” Before Gacy faced execution in 1994, America’s Crown Prince of Killer Clowns spent his time in his cell painting pictures of clowns and self-portraits of himself as Pogo the clown.

After seven years of writing about dark things for my magazine in Atlanta, I officially swore off watching horror films after writing a piece for Boston Magazine about a reclusive teen in western Massachusetts, whose mother allowed her son to gorge himself on the Friday the 13th films only to have her troubled son don a hockey mask one Halloween night and slash several kids before hanging himself in the woods. The psychologist who’d been treating him for years told me that “his identification with Jason seemed pretty harmless.”

A toxic flood of even more ghastly films continues to flow into your local Cineplex, feeding our insatiable desire to terrify ourselves. Heath Ledger’s brilliant if disquieting Joker in the 2008 Batman remake The Dark Knight seemed almost too real and sadly prefigured the gifted actor’s own demons rising to the surface shortly before he died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose.

I sometimes wonder if we aren’t simply hardwired to value a good harmless scare in a world that appears damaged beyond repair and full of very real dangers, providing new purpose to whatever bogeyman has always lurked beneath the bed. In another age, after all, fairy tales and fables of trolls loitering beneath bridges and witches in the woods were meant to instruct children on the dangers of straying too far beyond the light or down a road of ruin, real or imagined. “Always keep a-hold of Nurse,” goes a famous ditty by French writer Hilaire Belloc, “for fear of finding something worse.”

Once upon a time, Madge the beautician and Speedy Alka Seltzer were icons of commercial television spots. The pharmaceutical companies peddling expensive drugs for maladies whose side effects may kill you; security firms eager to surveil your home against intruders who are just waiting to ponce; identity theft; Internet and investment firms that torched your 401-K plan a few years back while reminding you that you haven’t put aside nearly enough for a “happy” retirement. 

Perhaps this explains why Americans can’t seem to get enough of Halloween’s faux gore and fright wigs, projected to shell out a record $7 billion or $75 per ghoul among those celebrating the holiday this year — rivaling Christmas retail.

It’s all part of the funhouse ride that thankfully isn’t real. Every town larger than the hips on a snake seems eager to cash in on phenomenon with its own haunted corn maze or woods of terror peopled by chain saw–wielding psychos and evil clowns, bless their dark little hearts. 

In a broader context, all our lives are challenged by Dark Clowns of one kind or another and things that go bump in the night — a sick child, a worrying diagnosis, a lost job. The worry list is endless.   

Maybe the way to fight back is to simply make light of such darkness the way John Candy did in the 1989 John Hughes’ classic Uncle Buck. In one of my favorite scenes in a movie, a drunken clown shows up to entertain at a children’s birthday party where Uncle Buck Russell, good-natured loser — played to perfection by the late great Candy — is babysitting his nephew and two nieces. Upon discovering that the clown is drunk from an all-night bachelorette party, Uncle Buck suggests the clown’s behavior is inappropriate for children. Offended, the clown snarls, “In the field of local live home entertainment, I’m a god.” At which Uncle Buck points to the clown’s rodent-eared VW and firmly says, “Get in your mouse and get out of here,” and proceeds to flattens the clown’s big fat rubber nose to drive home the point.

According to Smithsonian, only two percent of grown-ups suffer from excessive fear of clowns, technically a phobia called coulrophobia. 

But don’t try telling that to the anxious parents of Green Bay, Bakersfield and Greenville anytime soon.

Truthfully, I’m more worried about some of the dark clowns we’ll have to decide between in the voting booth a few days after Halloween.

Bottom line, if a dark clown is foolish enough to show up at my door on Halloween night, don’t be surprised if I give him a shot of John Candy to remember me by.  OH

Contact editor Jim Dodson at