Tuesday, September 30, 2014

30 Days of Might (Be Dead)

Fall is upon us. The nights are longer, the days are shorter, all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray. Whatever metaphor you choose to use, the summer is over, and around these parts (by which I mean here, in my apartment) the fall has gotten off to a strange start, as I spent large portions of the month grappling with a mystery.

One which really only existed in my head.

It's an intriguing little tale that I like to call...

Thirty Days of Might (Be Dead)

I don't know my neighbor's name. He knows my name, because he introduced himself to me in the parking lot back in June when he came over to ask if my wifi network was "Computo the Conqueror". I wondered if I should pretend not to know what he was talking about, because I didn't know him and because, you know, what kind of person would think that was an appropriate name for a wifi network? Where would someone even think of a name like that?

Adventure Comics #340

Circumstantial evidence, at best.

Anyway, he was asking because he wanted to know if he could pay me to use my wifi, so that he didn't have to get cable in his apartment. I told him I would think about it, then promptly drove away and never spoke to him for more than waving and saying hi again.

Even though we didn't talk ever again, I know things about my neighbor. I know he has a cat, because I see it in the window sometimes. I know he has a lady friend who sleeps over sometimes, because they're sitting out on the porch in bathrobes having coffee when I leave for work sometimes. I know that he has friends in the apartment complex, because I see them walking over and onto the porch sometimes when I am walking to the mailbox. I know that he's lazy sometimes, because once I saw him and a friend drive from his porch to the pool in our apartment complex, a distance of less than 500 steps. I don't know his name, but I call him Guitar Man, because he sits on the porch singing and playing the guitar while having a beer or two sometimes.

I give all of my neighbors nicknames, because I don't know any of their names. Someday, if I actually become friends with Guitar Man, Sexy Ginger, Golden Retriever, and Smoking Doctor, I might apologize, but I probably won't have to because they'll never know I gave them a little nickname in my head. Neither will Gramma Jogger, Pecs-y Galore, Stroller Dad, Henna Rinse, Rescue Dog, The Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian, or any of the other people that I pass regularly on the Greenway.

Anyway, for the entire month of September, more or less, I thought Guitar Man might be dead inside his apartment.

It all started with the last time I saw him on the porch. He and Ichabod Crane, the tall, very skinny neighbor that he drove to the pool with that time, were on his porch, breaking rocks into smaller pieces with a hammer. I waved, and they waved back, but I didn't ask what they were doing. When I went out again later they were gone and so was Guitar Man's Jeep, so I assumed he or they had left to go do something else, possibly related to breaking rocks in the hot sun. Perhaps they went to fight the law? And the law won? I didn't really give it much thought, but the next morning when I left for work the blinds in his living room were up, and there were still little fragments of rock all over the porch. Guitar Man usually walks around on the porch barefoot, so I thought it was kind of weird that he would leave little broken pebbles all over.

They were still there when I came home.

And the next day, too.

And the blinds in the living room stayed up. If I came home after dark, I could see as I pulled in that the lamp in the living room was on, and the lights and ceiling fan in the bedroom.

And then the Jeep never came back.

I saw the cat in the window a few times, but not Guitar Man.

"It's been twelve days since I saw my neighbor," I mentioned to my friend Meghan.

"It's weird that you know that."

"It is?"


The absence of the Jeep continued.

The rocks were still strewn across the porch.

The blinds were still up and the lights were still on.

The cat stopped showing up in the windows.

"It's been twenty-two days since I saw my neighbor."

"I can't believe you're keeping track."

"But it's weird!"

"No, you knowing the exact time that you last saw your neighbor is weird."

"But the last four little notes that they stick up on our doors are still stuck to his! And the lights have been on for twenty-two days! What if he's dead in there?"

"You think his cat ate him? If he was dead in there for twenty-two days you would smell it."

I didn't smell anything, but he might be dead. After all, the fan was on. That would help with the smell, right?

Finally, on Day 30, I left my apartment to go to work and noticed that his porch was clean. And the blinds were down. And the flyers were all gone from the door. Still no Jeep, though, and still no Guitar Man.

Until I saw him today.

Getting out of his new car.

Which has been parked in the parking lot for the last thirty or so days.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Pants

I got new pants this week. Five pairs of new pants, to be exact, and I wore them every day this week. Monday? New pants. Tuesday? New pants. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday? If you answered, "New pants," then you are correct.

The new pants are exciting for two reasons:

First, I had to buy new pants because my old pants are too big. Remember that time that my shorts fell off in public? My pants started falling down, too. Not in public, mind you, because I always go out with a belt on, but if I got home and took my belt off and then tried to walk across my living room, the pants were on the floor. It didn't matter if they were still buttoned and zippered, either. As soon as the belt was gone and I wasn't standing perfectly still, BAM! PANTS ARE DOWN!

This stops being funny the first time they trip you.

I have a glass-topped coffee table, and I'm not Heather Chandler. I would prefer not to be the white whale that drank some bad plankton and splashed through a coffee table.

By the way, the pants I have on in the picture in that blog entry? They're too big. So are the jeans that I bought for Alternative Spring Break in 2013. I wore them today and had to belt the hell out of them.

With my brown belt.

Which now fits again.

That means that I can wear brown shoes to work again, with my new pants. I had to stop wearing brown shoes when I got a bigger black belt last year because I was raised properly, and understand that belts and shoes should match.

A couple of friends, who admitted that I desperately needed new pants, asked why I didn't just wear the ones that I've outgrown over the past few years, and I explained that I didn't have them anymore. I didn't explain that the reason that I don't have them anymore is that, over time, my thighs destroyed them. All of my old pants eventually wore out and were replaced because the friction caused by my thighs rubbing together made the inner thighs of the pants get thinner, and thinner, and thinner, and when you took them out of the dryer to fold them you could see light through them but most people couldn't tell when you had them on, because really, who looks at your inner thighs unless you're sitting across from them playing "Basic Instinct" games? Eventually, every single pair of pants I had surrendered to the unending stress and friction, and the inner thighs ripped out.

Usually this happened in the washer or dryer, but once it happened in my office. I was coming back from lunch, sat down, and heard the inner thigh of my pants split. I went home for the rest of the day, allegedly because I needed new pants but also because I was sad inside that I'd gotten so fat that my pants exploded when I sat down in them. I probably coped with that by laying on my couch without moving and eating a family-sized bag of Doritos, which didn't really solve the problem.

But now I have new pants.

The other reason why the new pants are exciting?

This is, by my estimate, the first time I have bought new pants that are not the same size I'm currently wearing or larger in over a decade.

Think about that. What were you doing ten years ago? The freshmen in the class that I teach on Wednesday nights this semester were looking forward to turning ten years old. Facebook went live. Seriously. I haven't bought smaller-sized pants since before Facebook was invented. I hadn't moved to Tennessee yet, or finished my master's degree. The last time I bought smaller-sized pants, Julia Child died.

I'm hoping there's no causality on that last one.

But now I have new pants, and I wore them with pride all week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Special Dinner

I've been looking forward to my special dinner tonight for at least a couple of days. I purchased the ingredients days ago, but I had already planned my weekend meals, and I wanted to be sure to eat it when I had time to really savor the experience. I described my special dinner to my friends Phyliss and J-Dobbs (I don't think anyone else calls her that, but I even have her listed that way in my phone) at lunch today, and their response (since they know me and expect these things) was amusement.

"Please tell me you're going to post about this," J-Dobbs laughed.

"Of course I am!"

What's so special about my special dinner?

Poppin' Pebbles 1

It explodes in my mouth.

Sort of.

I saw these at the store the other day when I was picking up bananas (I've been eating a yogurt and a banana every morning for breakfast, and enjoying it a lot more than drinking a Slim Fast shake; same calorie count, but I feel full longer and I get to chew something) and was immediately intrigued. How did this work? Was it like a box of Fruity Pebbles with a bag of Pop Rocks mixed in? How bad could it be?

I'll be honest: Fruity Pebbles are almost the worst of the overly sugared breakfast cereals. They might be the worst, actually. I can't think of one more useless and consistently disappointing. I've thought this ever since I was very little because Fruity Pebbles are not special. They live in the shadow of their more glamorous sibling, Cocoa Pebbles. Cocoa Pebbles make the milk into chocolate milk. They are transformational. What do Fruity Pebbles do?


They go limp after about a minute in the milk, and then you have a bowl of fruity slop that doesn't even taste like fruit.

When you look at it like that, they have nowhere to go but up, and being the only exploding breakfast cereal on the cereal aisle might be their ticket to redemption. They have nothing to lose. Nothing.

I leaned over the bag, poised to inhale, as I tore it open. Poppin' Pebbles smell like artificial grape. The smell was pretty strong until I poured milk into the bowl, and then it vanished entirely.

Appearance-wise, the colors are definitely a different pallet from the Fruity Pebbles:

Poppin' Pebbles 2

The smell I identified as "artificial grape" might actually be "artificial mixed berry", based on those colors.

The bright green blobs are the Poppin' Pebbles, in the... flesh? Is that an appropriate word to use for food this unnatural?

Whatever the word for them, they made no sound as I poured the milk over them. I stirred for a moment (like most normal people, I demand that every piece of cereal be wet with milk before I eat any), and then eagerly took my first bite, being sure to spoon up a few of the green pebbles as I lifted the cereal to my mouth. As I bit the green pebbles, I felt them crackling a little on my tongue.

The first bite was the only bite that did.

The milk dissolved all of the other crackers as the pebbles turned directly from cereal to mush, just like I thought it would.

My special dinner wasn't really all that special.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Hold On Be Strong 5K

I hope you want to hear about the 5K I walked today, because I want to talk about it for a minute.

Because I did a 5K today.

Here I am before the race:


Many thanks to my friend, Meghan, for taking the photo for me. She also drove, and even though she jogs and is faster than me, she was also kind enough to walk at my pace today so that I would have someone to talk to. I won't taunt her at work for not knowing obscure 80's movie quotes for at least a week, as a show of thanks.

I can't promise more than a week, but I'll try.

I'm kind and generous like that.

Before I talk about the race, though, I want to talk about something that struck me while I was uploading the photos. I am wearing a 2XL shirt in that photo. I was also wearing a 2XL shirt back in late June and early July when photos of myself and my declining health spurred me to change. Let's take a moment to compare.



June 21:

Team 5

The shirts are both the same size, but I am not.

That feels fantastic.

I think the Hold On Be Strong 5K ended up on my radar because I get mailers from Second Harvest because I donate to them and the race benefits them, but it's also possible that I saw the poster somewhere and just can't remember. Either way, I convinced Meghan that we should do it. It's the second year of a memorial race organized by the Cedar Grove Baptist Church in honor of two congregation members who died in an accident, and the race starts and ends at the church:

Cedar Grove Baptist Church

It's a bit far out in the country, but that made for a really pretty race course:


Not only did they host the event, but the church also provided a meal of beans, corn bread, and sweet tea after the race (I just had the corn bread, because I baked wheat bread yesterday and wanted to make French toast when I got home for dinner), and a lot of water and cold towels for people who wanted them. They also had a prize raffle, where I didn't win anything but Meghan did.

During the race, I felt like we were moving at a pretty good pace. We passed some people, and I even encouraged another lady during the last mile who was loudly telling her daughter that she couldn't do it. Mostly, I was shocked that I was able to encourage her, because by Mile 3 I wasn't out of breath.

Yay for progress.

Then we reached the finish line:


and it turned out that we actually were moving at a good pace: 51 minutes. That's about a 16.5 minute mile.

Last time I did a 5K was the 2011 Race for the Cure, three years ago. And what was my time then?


59 minutes.

I am making progress.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Everybody Talks

Since I started talking (or, more accurately, writing) about my weight loss journey, people have wanted to talk about it with me. I'm fine with talking about it, especially if you want to talk about my steps. You could even say that I invited people to talk about it by being so open and sharing it with the internet, which is the same as sharing with the world. Despite all of the talking, though, I've discovered over the past few weeks that some of my friends (I'm not naming names, because I hope we're still friends after I write this) are still a little unclear about why I am dieting and exercising.

One friend said to me just yesterday, "This is really a lot of effort just to wear smaller clothes, isn't it?"

Another said last week, "You wrote this blog entry about how you're big and fat and now you hate yourself and I think you might need to talk to a therapist because you're obsessed."

This is partially true. I did write a blog entry about being big and fat, and in that entry I mentioned being depressed about my weight and about not fitting in chairs and having to buy a lot of bigger shirts and using the seatbelt extender on an airplane (which may be the most humiliating thing that's ever happened to me, at least from my perspective; I felt completely without dignity and fully ashamed even though the flight attendant was very nice about the whole thing), but I realize now in rereading it that I didn't talk enough about what else is going on, so I wanted to take a moment to clarify.

In July, when I wrote that first blog entry and started all of this, I weighed 295 pounds. I was leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle where I spent most of the day sitting down and, based on the first day I wore my Fitbit, walking less than two miles over the course of the entire day. I was using less than 2000 calories a day, total, including the number of calories that you burn just sitting and being alive, but eating between 5000 and 7000 calories a day based on the food diary I kept for a few weeks last spring. Just to help you conceptualize what that looks like, 5000 calories is about 16 Dunkin' Donuts Boston Kreme donuts.

Occasionally, especially if I was stressed or sad, I stopped at Dunkin' Donuts on my way home from work (after eating breakfast, candy all day, and a lunch that included a 32 ounce non-diet soda) and picked up a half dozen of those and ate them for dinner over the course of the night while I lay on my couch reading and playing video games.

Back to the point, though, I was eating about 3000 calories more a day than I was burning, which is how I ended up weighing 295 pounds.

And I was still gaining weight.

I mentioned in that first blog entry that I was having trouble just walking across campus. Walking up the flight of stairs into my apartment was leaving me short of breath if I was carrying something. I haven't been hiking in the Smokies in over a year, because I no longer had the stamina to walk the distance required for any of the trails. (I probably do now. I need to try that.) At the end of the day, my feet and ankles were swollen to the point that I could not see my ankle bones, and every night I had to put my feet up so that the swelling would go down. And then there's the thing with my shins:

my shins

See those brown spots? Those are not freckles. That's venous stasis. It means that my heart can't pump blood down to my legs and then back up to my heart. It's an early warning sign for diabetes. It can also lead to ulcers on your legs, slow wound healing, and amputation.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I let myself get so fat that I might have to have my feet cut off someday because my heart couldn't circulate blood to them.

I say "let myself" because I do not have a medical condition that makes me gain weight. I do not have physical limitations that prevent me from exercising, other than my weight. I just didn't feel like exercising. I was lazy. I enjoyed being lazy, and making jokes about it, and this is what happened. I didn't talk about a lot of this because no one wants to admit that they partially destroyed their own health through sloth, and also because my mom has a nursing license and I didn't want her to worry about me more than she already does. Everything in that first blog entry was true, but I left out discussion of the actual health issues and focused instead on the self esteem. This has, as I said at the beginning of this entry, apparently led to some misconceptions about what's going on here.

So, in July, I weighed 295 pounds.

I was presented with four options:

1) Become eight and a half feet tall. My doctor said this in jest as an option if I wanted to stay at my current weight. The height is actually a guesstimate, as most human height and weight charts top out around seven feet. I'm obviously done growing, so this option was off the table.

2) Die. Maybe I was going to finish developing diabetes. I'd already started, and people hate a quitter, right? Why not go all the way? Or, maybe I was going to have a heart attack. Or a stroke. Maybe I might even get my feet cut off. Or I could go blind. Something was definitely looming on the horizon, and it was a tombstone. I was eating myself to death, and it was only a matter of time before that caught up with me.

I haven't turned 40 yet. I want to go to Venice someday, and when I do I want to walk around and take photos and eat Italian food. I want to outlive several people.

In short, I'm not ready to die.

I reject Option 2.

3) Lap-band or gastric bypass surgery. I am not judging anyone who has done this. If it worked for you, and it was the best choice for you, then I salute you in doing what needed to be done. I rejected this option immediately.

Doctors scare me. Surgery carries risk. There are a number of frightening possible side effects.

Mostly, though, I rejected it because I was horrified by the idea that I was eating so much, and possibly so incapable of changing my habits, that the only way to keep myself from eating too much food was to surgically alter my body to physically prevent it. Coming to a point where that wasn't just an option, but was apparently considered my best option, was frightening and filled me with shame and disgust. I did this to myself.

When I said no, my doctor offered to put me in touch with patients who had the surgery and could "help with some of your fears and concerns", and I realized that my doctor did not believe that I would be capable of Option 4:

4) Serious commitment to diet and exercise. If you've been reading this blog for the past couple of months, you know how that's going. I am walking about 7 miles a day on an average day, and last week I was down 35 pounds. Part of that weight loss is the exercise, but part of it is also that I am on a 2000 calorie a day diet, which has been a struggle for me. I am now confined to a fraction of what I used to eat in a day, and I am extremely careful about my 2000 calories and where I allot them. I say things that sound terrible to other people, because I am focused and, many times, because I have to say it out loud to myself to remind myself that a 750 calorie milkshake from Cook Out is almost half of what I am allowed to eat for the entire day.

"I can't eat that. It's too many calories."

"I can't go to lunch. I want to have dinner tonight."

"I had a Slim Fast for breakfast."

"I wish I could have that donut, but I'm fat."

Five of my friends in the last month have accused me of developing an eating disorder.

I would like to reiterate that I am eating 2000 calories a day. I am not starving myself. I haven't cut out everything I love to eat. I have been to McDonald's. And Pizza Hut. I've even had the potato skins at Calhoun's, which are stuffed with pulled pork and then topped with melted cheese, bacon, and sour cream, and I have enjoyed every bite. I can stick to my diet without denying everything I enjoy about eating, but I have to make wise choices. At McDonald's I had two cheeseburgers, but only a small fries. If I get a personal pan pizza and breadsticks, I don't get a brownie, too. At Calhoun's, I put half of the potato skins in a carryout box, and when I ordered the banana pudding afterward I only ate half of it. I still get to eat things I want, but I have to plan my entire day around it if I really want something, and sometimes I get a much smaller quantity.

Last week, for example, I explained very excitedly to a friend that I had eaten half of a single serving ice cream cup one night with dinner, and then I ate the other half the next night. I got to have ice cream, two nights in a row!

My friend was horrified.

Let's look at this, though. See this ice cream?

single serving

That little tiny ice cream cup is 310 calories. That's more than I give myself most days for breakfast. That's three average sized apples and some calories left over. Ice cream is nice and all, but it's not worth 300 calories to me when I only get 2000. It is worth 150, though. After dinner, I got to have five spoons of ice cream. It was cold, and sugary, and sweet, and good. I carefully spooned out each bite and let it melt on my tongue, and thought, "Jesus, this is awesome."

Am I aware that obsessively counting calories and creating elaborate rituals to eat my food are warning signs for an eating disorder?


So let me reiterate, again, that I am eating 2000 calories a day. You can get a lot of food out of 2000 calories, and feel very full, if you are careful about what kind of food it is. And I have to be careful, or I am going to die. I have to change a lifetime of eating habits, or I am going to die. If I choose the ice cream over the apple, that's fine, but I have to understand that the ice cream is an indulgence rather than something I can sit with a pint of and eat directly out of the carton with a spoon, or I am going to die.

And I don't want to die.

I want to go to Venice some day.

I've come a long way in two months. I've walked over 500 miles. I've increased my walking speed from a thirty minute mile to a twenty minute mile. I've lost 35 pounds. I can do this, but I'm not even close to finished. The 35 pounds I lost? I have to lose that much weight again. And then some more weight on top of that.

I'm going to Venice.

Even if I have to walk the entire way there with a Goddamn rice cake in my mouth.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Two Months

Two months ago, I weighed 295 pounds, and resolved to lose weight.

One month ago, I let you know how that was going: I weighed in at 273.

Today, I have another update: I weigh 260 pounds. Since July 3, I have lost 35 pounds through strict adherence to a 2000 calorie a day diet and walking 5-7 miles a day. I have logged 824,403 steps on my Fitbit. That's 522 miles.

Things that are 522 miles from my porch:

Kentucky. All of it.


All but a corner of Illinois.


West Virginia.




Both Carolinas.


All but a corner of Mississippi.

All but the easternmost tip of Lake Erie.

Last month I was measuring my walking in terms of distance that cities were from me, and now I'm measuring it in states. I've already covered a small part of Canada and reached the Gulf of Mexico. Today, states; tomorrow, countries.

There are still things that I'm struggling with. I'm still fat. I've written several entries over the past couple of months detailing highs and lows, and may write another one soon because I'm having trouble dealing with some of the discussions that I've had with people over the last few weeks, but right now I'm letting that simmer, and tonight I want to focus on some positives:

1) I destroyed a pair of shoes.

My mom bought me a new pair of sneakers in late April. This is what the bottoms look like now:


I've walked the tread off of them. See the dark spots about an inch below the toes? My sneakers are about a quarter of an inch thick in that spot, which means I can feel every rock and twig and whatever else is on the ground. I have more or less taken an extremely comfortable pair of sneakers and melted them, by walking them to death. Sorry about that, Mom.

2) I got new shoes!

I picked up these in North Carolina at the outlet malls this weekend:


They are comfortable, they are school colors, they are designed for distance running and walking, and they were on clearance for $30. I look forward to walking the soles off of them.

3) I registered for a 5K next weekend.

"You realize how far that is, right?"

Yes, supportive friend. It's a trip and a half around the Greenway. It's less than I walk every single day.

I can do this.

I won't be fast, but I will finish it.

4) I conquered the treadmill.

I explained before that walking the treadmill is like falling into the Twilight Zone, where one minute in the real world feels like three when you are on the treadmill. It didn't matter that I can (and do) swivel the television to face the treadmill, either. If you can see the clock, you can see that the clock doesn't move. It's agony, and adding insult to injury, my treadmill doesn't have a book or magazine holder, just a cup holder and a space for the television remote.

Fortunately, my friend Leonor sent me a book for my Kindle, and I realized that I can put the Kindle in the spot for the television remote, increase the size of the print so that I can read it without leaning forward, and that it's just tall enough to cover the clock.

It's worked out so well that I went through my Amazon wish list and marked all the books that I'm ok with reading in Kindle, so that I can just purchase and download as I finish, and so that any random friend or loved one who wants to buy me one and aid me in my fitness journey knows what I'd like to read.

(That was subtle, right?)

I'm about to finish my second book since I made this discovery, and have already downloaded a third.

5) I decorated my wall.

Now that I discovered that the treadmill is not an adventure in agony, I've struggled a little with the view:


I'm not staring ahead most of the time, since I'm reading, and when I look up it's usually to glance over at the television and see whatever has pulled me out of my book, but still, that blank wall across from me needed something. It was a prime space for something motivational, but what does that mean?

How about a mirror? I thought. You can look up and see how fat you still are, and that'll make you keep going.

I realized immediately that was a terrible idea, just like the day that I put the scale right in front of the refrigerator door. There's motivation, and then there's self-abuse.

What about a calendar? Maybe something with a hot guy on it?

Not a bad idea, but for some reason Chris Hemsworth has a shirt on for all 12 months of his calendar. Look, he's pretty and all, but a significant portion of what I like about Chris Hemsworth is between the neck and the waist.

Tom Daley probably has a calendar, and his shirt is probably off every single month.

Tom Daley is the same age as my students, which would be "old enough to be my child". If I'm going to hang up posters and calendars of a 20-something year old then I might as well get a red convertible and a hair transplant.

So, what to hang, then? What could I look at that would represent a visual goal, something to strive for? Something that would say, "I am the pot of gold at the end of the treadmill rainbow"?


I bought that shirt in 2004. I've never worn it in public because when I bought it, it was really tight. I could button it, but not sit down in it while buttoned, and I hung it in my closet, thinking, "Oh, I'll just lose a little weight."

In 2004.

In 2006, I packed it with the rest of my belongings, moved to Tennessee, and hung it in my new closet.

It's now 2014.

I'm going to wear that shirt.

Probably in 2015, but still.


Monday, September 1, 2014

New Bern, North Carolina

It's my last night in North Carolina, and Kristin and I are spending it watching the "Saved by the Bell" movie on Lifetime. We didn't totally waste the day, though. After I finished blogging this morning, we hopped in the car and drove to exciting New Bern, North Carolina.

You're excited, right?

You should be, because New Bern, North Carolina, shaped American society as we know it.

Historic Birthplace

New Bern, North Carolina gave Pepsi Cola to the world, and gave a choice to a new generation.

Or something.

That wasn't why we went, though. I wanted to go so that we could visit Tryon Palace, the home of the first governor of North Carolina:

Tryon Palace (1)

It was a really nice afternoon. We toured the main house, kitchen office, and the stables:

Tryon Palace (2)

Tryon Palace (3)

Tryon Palace (4)

Tryon Palace (5)

Tryon Palace (7)

Tryon Palace (8)

Tryon Palace (9)

and then toured the grounds:

Tryon Palace (11)

Tryon Palace (12)

Tryon Palace (13)

Tryon Palace (14)

Tryon Palace (15)

Then we had lunch, stopped at an antique mall, and headed home.

It was a nice day to end a nice trip.

Midnight Clock Clown

On Friday morning Kristin showed me around the East Carolina University campus, pointing out buildings and campus sights and such things. When we were near the library, she casually mentioned that "a pirate clown pops out of the clock every night at midnight and yells things."


"A pirate clown pops out of the middle of the clock at midnight, and yells things at people or something."

"What? Can I see this clock?"


We drove past the clock tower, and it looked like a clock tower. No pirate clown, no yelling. On the other hand, it wasn't midnight.

I thought about this for a day or two, especially after Kristin produced a Youtube video. There definitely was a clown head in the middle of the clock, and flashing lights, and it seemed to be saying something, but you couldn't quite hear it over the people talking. The clown's mouth wasn't moving, so was it saying anything at all? Or was that just more people talking?

What the hell was going on inside that clock?

Intrigued, we scheduled last night as our time to go see the midnight clock clown, and have our questions answered.

After watching the Vols destroy Utah State in the season opener, we puttered around the apartment a little to stay awake (that was more for me than for Kristin, who stays up pretty late most nights), and then headed to the library plaza to await midnight, and see the pirate clock clown.

Sonic Plaza (1)

While we waited, people began to gather:

Sonic Plaza (2)

and soon there was a crowd of about thirty-five, and only a few minutes until midnight. During the wait, Kristin looked up the pirate clock clown on her phone, and informed me that the clock tower is part of ECU's Sonic Plaza, an art installation commissioned in the early 1990's under a state law that said a certain percentage of every new state building had to have some kind of art deliberately included in the design. The steam cloud in the center of the plaza was part of the design:

Sonic Plaza (3)

and off to the side there was some sort of wall fountain that didn't seem particularly exciting. There was supposedly also a set of tones that plays when people enter the plaza, but it either didn't play or we didn't hear it. The last element of the installation is the clock, and different things pop out of it at different times of the day. At sunrise there is a rooster, at noon a steam whistle, and at sunset a cannon, each accompanied by sounds and lights.

And then, at midnight, there is clock clown.

"He sings a song," a student on one side of me said, as we gathered closer in front of the clock.

"No, he tells a poem," one of his friends countered.

"It shouts at people," the girl on the other side of me said.

"It tells the future," her friend argued. He'd been in a lengthy break-up conversation with his boyfriend on the phone the entire time we'd been waiting, so I wondered if maybe he'd come for guidance.

It was 11:58, and clock clown was going to appear and do... something.

As the clock reached 11:59 (but Kristin's phone said no, it was actually midnight), the doors in the center of the clock opened:

Midnight Clown (1)

Midnight Pirate Clock Clown! You appear! Impart us your wisdom! Shout at us! Sing us a song! Tell us the future!

Midnight Clown Clock, clearly a harlequin and not a pirate, did none of those things.

We moved closer.

Midnight Clown (2)

Midnight clown clock silently retreated, and the doors closed.

"That's it?"

"The clock still says 11:59. Maybe it's not done?"

"My phone says 12:01."

"Sometimes it doesn't do anything."

We drifted off through the mist at the center of the plaza, no more enlightened, amused, or educated about the future than when we'd arrived.