Fact-checking used as a remedy to help cure fake news epidemic

By Luke Bollinger

“Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide.”

This is the headline of a story published on Dec. 11, 2016. The story was published on abcnews.com.co. If this controversial executive order sounds unfamiliar, it’s because it is absolutely false.

The promulgation of fake news like this has gotten out of control. After the 2016 election, Buzzfeed used Facebook’s monitoring tools to collect data and determined that the top 20 fake news stories outperformed news from mainstream outlets. Data collected included views, likes, comments and shares on Facebook.

The diminished value of truth in the past election and the difficulty of identifying fake news has posed a new challenge for journalists and media outlets – combating the fictitious information that diminishes the value of truth in our society and undermines the effectiveness of media that promotes accurate journalism.

Complicating the job of journalists even further is the way politicians have wielded false information and how President Donald Trump demonized the media during his campaign and continues to do so in the first weeks of his presidency. With the truth absent from many of the narratives in our country, journalists must do some soul searching to figure out how to be more effective.

The website for the fake ABC News is strikingly similar to ABC News’ actual website, abcnews.go.com. Anyone who is familiar with the real ABC News would notice the logos of the websites, though the same format, hold some noticeable differences. The ABC emblem in the top left hand corner of the fake site is an oval, while the real logo is a circle.

The story includes quotes from now former President Barack Obama.

“I am willing to rescind my decision here today and allow the Pledge of Allegiance back into the schools if we can all agree on the creation of a new Pledge, something that is includes everyone’s beliefs and not just the belief of one nationality or faith,” he is quoted as saying.

According to the story, Trump responded by calling Obama an “illegitimate Muslim traitor.”

To the trained eye, the warning signs pointing to the falsity of this story are easily discernable. Yet, this story garnered 2.2 million interactions on Facebook.

Not a new problem

This type of fake news outlet is not an anomaly, and recognizing false news on Facebook feeds is not always easy.

The prevalence and magnitude of fake news implies that many people have problems differentiating between the accurate and inaccurate. And contrary to what some believe, young people are not immune from being enticed by fake news. A recent study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education shows that students, ranging from middle school through college, have a very hard time recognizing fake news.

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there,” the study said. “Our work shows the opposite.”

The main incentive for the creation of fake news is simple: money. The writers of fake news earn money from advertisements on their sites, and Facebook has proved to be a very hospitable platform, especially in a country so deeply divided down partisan lines. In order to gain more clicks, fake news readily appeals to hyper-partisan Facebook users. This strategy proved effective during an election with a hyper-partisan electorate and a Trump campaign often criticized for its dissociation with the truth.

Facebook and Google have stated they are taking actions to monitor and regulate their platforms to minimize the damage, while many fact-checking websites and groups are developing strategies to restore trust in the news.

Dale Blasingame, a journalism professor at Texas State University, said the problem of fake news is not new.

“It’s important to take a step back and realize that fake news has always been around,” he said.

Tabloids and outlandish stories, produced for entertainment value, have always been a part of media culture. What is different about what we are seeing now is the way fake news has exploded, aided by social media platforms, Blasingame said.

The role of social media

It’s no secret that people seek out and interpret information in a way that verifies their beliefs ­– a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Social media’s ability to amplify the reach of information has made this phenomenon very apparent.

Tracy Dahlby, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said many people only get their news from sites such as Facebook and Twitter and often fail to expand their scope of information inputs. He describes this as being trapped in a bubble.

“We have to fight the bubble, right?” he asked rhetorically.

Dahlby said social media users tend to believe information shared by their friends and families, and people often share a story after only reading the headline because it reaffirms what they desire to be true, despite the story being false. Once the false information has been shared, friends and family may take the headline at face value and fail to do fact checking of their own.

Dahlby said the lack of media literacy has diminished the value and usefulness of social media. The idea of a newspaper is for a community to have a conversation with itself, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have expanded this conversation. Used correctly, these platforms allow users to have a broader conversation and access to information they might normally miss out on.

“If we allow ourselves to get trapped in that feedback loop of only listening to those people who agree with us, then it is a danger, and that’s probably what made fake news a factor in the last presidential campaign,” Dahlby said.

So, what does this mean for journalists? How do news organizations and social media companies “fight the bubble?”

The rise of fact-checking

One tool that came to the forefront during the election and has carried over since is fact-checkers. Alexios Mantzarlis works with Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network, and he said the role of fact-checkers is more important now than ever.

Mantzarlis said fact-checking entities often spring up right before an election season before seeing a significant decrease in traffic once the election is over. However, he said so far in this post-election period, traffic to fact-checking entities, such as PolitiFact and Storyful, has remained steady.

A big step for fact-checkers came when Facebook recently began working with them to monitor its newsfeed. In addition to working with fact-checkers, Mantzarlis said it was heartening that Facebook begun efforts to monitor its newsfeed. The company has also worked to alter the algorithms that promote trending stories to be more sensitive to news that may be fake.

“I don’t know that this will be necessarily be the final solution,” he said.  “I don’t think they think that either.”

For reporters such as Will Doran, the PolitiFact reporter for The News & Observer, fact-checking has become a part of their daily routine. Doran’s job represents the changing role of reporters, a role that is different from that of the fact-checkers who monitor Facebook’s newsfeed.

It is also different than traditional journalism.

Doran said one side of his job is practicing traditional journalism ­– repeating claims made by politicians while presenting both sides of the story ­– while his role as a PolitiFact reporter includes vetting the claims and researching the context and history surrounding the issue.

“It’s definitely made journalist’s jobs harder,” he said.

PolitiFact added a reporter for North Carolina because of the state’s ability to swing an election, Doran said. PolitiFact guessed correctly that more attention was needed in North Carolina politics at every level, as the races for senate and governor proved to be some of the closest in the nation.

Doran said part of his job that some traditional journalists may feel uncomfortable with is adding the analysis required when fact-checking statements made by politicians.

He said incorporating analysis into his writing helps readers understand the whole situation, but the writing does take more time because he still tries to remain objective. Writing for PolitiFact is not just calling out politicians when they lie or bend the truth, he said, but also writing about when politicians were right and used accurate information when speaking on an issue.

Dahlby said he has heard a lot of discussion about how news organizations should function in what some are calling a “post-truth era.” For him, the answer is simple.

“What we need is to get back to the old-time religion of journalism, which is to hold officials accountable as a matter of protecting the public interest,” he said.

He added that journalists should focus on the facts before thinking about the debate.

This is really an opportunity for journalists to strengthen their ability to produce quality accountability journalism, and it is more important now than ever to always be right in your reporting, Dahlby said.

Reporters such as Doran certainly have their work cut out for them, but he said he is optimistic about the future.

“I don’t think morale is too down because of people’s acceptance of fake news,” Doran said. “It’s a great time to be a fact-checker. Anytime you’re bringing light to an issue, even if you’re not reaching a whole lot of people, but you’re influencing the way they read the news, then you are doing a good job. Change happens incrementally.”

Edited by Matt Wotus

Signs at the Women’s March on D.C. show more than a simple message

Signs ranging from political to comical displayed unity and commitment to women’s rights in D.C.

The initial reaction

As I emerged from the Metro tunnel onto the street, I was stunned by the sight of thousands of people flooding towards downtown Washington D.C. to march in favor of women’s rights. The air was filled with excitement and conversations buzzed around me. Glancing at my surroundings, I found people in different outfits including t-shirts with feminist slogans, pink knitted hats and most importantly, tennis shoes to prepare for the miles they would walk that day. Their clothing choices might have varied, but these people all had one thing in common: they were carrying signs. Men, women and children held mass-produced signs, homemade signs with original content, signs with famous quotes, political signs and humorous signs.

There was a three-year-old child perched on her mother’s shoulders with a sign covered in crayon scribbles that symbolized her expression and involvement without words. There was a man holding a sign that said, “Weak men fear strong women,” which symbolized his understanding of the importance of the movement, casting off the idea that supporting this movement indicated a hatred of men. There was a sign held by an elderly woman that read, “I can’t believe I’m still marching for this,” that showed the exasperation felt by her generation. There was an eight-year-old holding a sign that said “In ten years I can vote,” that portrayed the next generation’s stance. These were just four signs out of hundreds that caught my eye as a sea of people flooded the roads leading up to the Capitol on the way to the White House.

The people

There were hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington D.C. to march for women’s rights and they took various roads to get there.  Some were motivated by different causes, but in that moment they were unified. A large factor in that unification was the thousands of signs made and carried by marchers.

For a country struggling with class, racial and gender divides, the march was a place for people in all walks of life to come together and stand up for a cause they not only deemed worthy, but necessary. At the march, the signs were an external indicator of the intentions of participants and served as the glue that bound these differences together. Signs bridged the gap with a visual communicator by eliminating the possibility of misconception and replacing perception with reality.

Lee Mueller, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, traveled eight hours by bus to attend the march.  She said, “The group that I was with, including myself, were all white, and so the signs were a visible identification that you were with the march. You knew everyone with a sign was on your side and it created a sense of community.” She acknowledged the anger felt by some of the participants because of the number of white women who voted for Trump in the election and stressed the sense of relief that holding the sign brought her. “I really feel like it showed those around me that I was fighting the same fight as them.”

People all around the world participated in the march for different reasons. For some, it was reproductive rights, for others it was gender equality and still more for the general fear felt in response to the changing government in Washington D.C. The signs gave marchers a chance to vocalize that reason. It united people, it sparked conversations and it broadened people’s mindsets. Signs were also a way to convey a message to many people without stopping to converse. It was possibly a way to voice more uncomfortable opinions that marchers wouldn’t normally voice in their daily lives. Instead of speaking with each person you encountered, you could quickly glance around and understand why this march was important to the people there. The signs also presented a way for participants to forge connections with fellow marchers. Kayla Seigler, a student at UNC-Charlotte, carried a sign specific to her university. “I actually found a couple other people who I go to school with because of my sign,” she said. “I had never met them, but we exchanged numbers and planned to keep in touch after the march.”

The effects of signs

Additionally, the signs were a symbol of commitment. Not only did marchers take time out of their day to attend the march, they also felt compelled to make a sign specifying their hopes of long-term results. Sarah Lerner, a resident of the D.C. area said, “It was thousands of voices expressing themselves on cardboard, which is more action than just simply showing up.” She mentioned that because of her geographic proximity, attending the march was not a huge effort to make and so she wanted to show other marchers that she was passionate about the cause in another way — by making a sign.

There was some debate over the long-term effects of the signs. Mueller did admit that she believes that the primary purpose of the signs was an outlet for the personal purpose of each marcher, rather than a message to political figures. “I think the true message that was received was the sheer number of people behind the signs,” she said. However, Tucker Morgan, a senior at Trinity College said, “I think signs do make a difference to political figures as it gives them some insight into the issues people feel strongest about.” Lerner held a third opinion. “I don’t really care if my sign sent a message,” she said. “The important part is that it allowed me to use my voice to express my opinion.”

Signs and social media 

The fact that this march took place in the 21st century, where social media was able to come into play, only adds to the importance of signs. Thousands of photos of signs surfaced in the days after the march, constantly providing visual evidence of the sheer number of people who attended the march. Morgan from Trinity College said, “The fact that, through social media, the signs could be quickly circulated and turned into memes, tremendously increased the impact they had.”

Unfortunately, the presence of social media also opened the event to criticism. One downfall of the signs was the lack of gender inclusion felt by the transgender community. The repetitive visualization of female reproductive organs that were displayed across hundreds of signs alienated a significant number of marchers that consider themselves intrinsic to the women’s rights movement. The appearance of the signs on social media also allowed the images to be altered by those who opposed the movement. The Internet was able to analyze signs over an extended amount of time and eventually twisted the meaning of signs produced with pure motives into harsh and judgmental phrases.

What now?

Now that the march is over, most participants have gone back home to return to their lives. However, what remains are the thousands of signs lining Pennsylvania Avenue, sending every message the protestors deemed worthy of carrying throughout the streets of Washington DC to the new president. Seigler from UNC-Charlotte compared this to how one would leave a memento or bouquet of flowers at a grave. “I got that impression because I think that many women did feel like they lost something after the election.” She went on to compare her view of the neatly and strategically placed signs to a compilation of art in a museum. This comment was a foreshadowing of what was to come, because on Monday morning, many universities and art institutions began collecting the signs as pieces of history to preserve for decades to come. So although the march was over, the messages placed on the signs will be safeguarded for future generations to see and remember.

Each participant in the march came as an individual, but they left with a sense of community. Mueller from UNC-Chapel Hill said, “I can’t say enough positive things about the march. It gave me so much hope and was easily one of the most memorable weekends of my life.” The signs were the messages voiced by thousands every day across the world. The march allowed people to put faces to those holding the messages.

Looking forward

Just as an exit sign on the highway signals a new town, the signs at the Women’s March signaled a promise to fight for change, a promise to be an ally and a promise to not forget where this country has been and where it needs to go. At the end of the day, the signs were more than a piece of poster board with words scribbled on it, but they were a symbol of the future, of what is to come and of promises left up and down the streets of the Capitol. The Women’s March on D.C. produced images that will be engrained in history for years to come and will serve as a source of hope for the country as it adapts to the new administration.

Edited by Avery Williams

A new norm of perfection: Women find meaning in makeup

By Cinnamon Moore

Opening the door of a Sephora store is like opening Pandora’s box.

Normally built within its partner store, J.C. Penney, the cosmetic giant stands in sharp contrast to the relatively relaxed and neutral-colored department store.

Bright, white lights draw the eye’s attention to a space filled with a kaleidoscope of colors. Black and white-striped walls lend a Mad Hatter feeling to the space, beckoning those passing by to drop in just to have a look at the creatively controlled chaos. As planned, many women succumb to the not-so-quiet calling.

After taking the necessary seconds to adjust to the sheer magnanimity of a cosmetic store, one can marvel at just how many products are actually sold in this one relatively small space.

At least 50 mini-aisles fill the store, with a cosmetic company claiming either a side or a whole aisle. In these islands of small, packaged products, one can find every shade of matte, gloss or colored lipstick (there’s a huge difference between the three), makeup primer — a foundation that meets your skin tone and chemical preference — concealer, about a hundred different shades of brown eyeshadow, lip liner… The list goes on.

Urban Decay, first mini-aisle to the right, has a hundred different shades just in its Vice Lipstick line.

With each row of products color-coded and spotlighted, the effect of the cosmetic store can be dizzying. Mirrors adorn every possible surface so there’s never an excuse not to try on that shade of Nighthawk matte lipstick.

All of these products cater to the new, makeup-savvy woman of 2017.

With the growth of the cosmetic industry as proof of the world’s obsession with makeup, any curious person may wonder at the reason behind the boom in beauty products.

A survey funded by Renfrew Center Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to the education and prevention of eating disorders, found that 44 percent of women experienced negative feelings when not wearing makeup. That means nearly half of women in America feel uncomfortable in their bare skin and pressured to put on a mask.

Many have begun questioning the world’s reliance on makeup. A movement was even started by singer Alicia Keys promoting #NoMakeup and encouraging women to feel comfortable in their own skin — no makeup necessary.

Yet, in the midst of two warring sides telling ladies what to do with their face, a group of women journalists, bloggers and social media users have voiced their disregard for the opinions of others. Instead of a social obligation, these women emphasize that wearing makeup is fun and an expression of personality.

An artist with a new, blank canvas every morning.

With all these voices showering women with opinions, it begs the question of why the average young woman wears makeup: for men, for her peers or simply for herself?


“I’m drawn to stylish, classy, sophisticated women. How they carry themselves, the clothing they wear…and I think makeup is definitely a part of that. It adds a bit of mystery to who they are.” – Amiel Elbitar, 24


Using makeup is not a novel concept. Throughout history, women of all eras have applied makeup to conform to the flitting trends of the time. From the infamous dark kohl lining in ancient Egypt to the shaved eyebrows and ghostly pale powdered faces of the Elizabethan era, women have been altering the look of their faces for centuries. But while cosmetics were previously used as an aspect to make women stand out, now it helps women blend in.

“I feel like everyone is staring at me if I go out barefaced,” said Nicole Gonzalez, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In today’s culture, blemishes should be quickly hidden and the natural attractive aspects of the face enhanced. We live in a society of perfection.

A 2013 study by financial website Mint.com revealed that the average woman spends $15,000 on makeup in her lifetime.

Gonzalez admitted that she spends around $100 a month on cosmetics and watches various YouTube tutorials on how to use them. Her cache includes an array of eyeliners to make her deep brown eyes pop, highlighters and contour powder to make her face more angular and her cheekbones more pronounced, and a dizzying array of lipsticks to reflect whatever mood she’s in that day.

Alyssa Lashway, a recent UNC-Charlotte graduate, said as an individual with naturally oily skin, she often feels self-conscious about her face looking shiny.

“I don’t mind going out without makeup,” Lashway said, “but I do find myself thinking about how shiny my skin is probably looking.”

Because first impressions are very visual, Lashway said, she often feels pressured to make sure her face is powdered and absent of its natural shine.


“It’s definitely on a case-by-case basis, but I usually prefer women with makeup. It enhances beauty to a certain extend.” – Matthew McDonough, senior at St. Lawrence University


As a society frequently reprimanded for its obsession with perfection, it’s not surprising that a flawless face would be added to the laundry list of considerations toward the ideal individual.

“I wear makeup because if I don’t, I feel like I have no life in my face … and lots of imperfections,” Gonzalez said.

“Society has stigmatized women who don’t wear makeup,” said Amiel Elbitar, 24. “Women want to look good and have others see them as put together. Makeup is now a nuance of what and who they are.”

The United States is now the biggest cosmetic market in the world, with just above $60 billion in cosmetic revenue. From highlighters to mascara, the average woman is building up an impressive collection of beauty products. Essentially, makeup has become the norm of our society, a fact that cosmetic companies are both profiting from and exploiting.

In 2015, L’Oréal spent $2.2 billion in advertising and was rewarded with a $3.5 billion net profit. While not inherently mandatory, makeup products are simply seen as a way of life now, even bleeding into the professional realm.

“I feel like if I don’t have makeup on then I am not professionally presentable,” said MaryKate Frisch, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A study funded by Procter & Gamble in 2011 found that when given a choice between women with and without makeup, a majority of participants, both men and women, judged women with makeup as more competent.

Like a pair of pressed slacks or a button-down blazer, cosmetics have become a way for women to look simply more put together and qualified.

“Makeup is sort of expected,” said Phillip Love, a 22-year-old student at Palmer University. “It’s become part of a woman’s outfit.”

Cosmetics to a woman are equitable to a haircut on a man — just a bit more expensive. And like a great haircut, women who have mastered the art of makeup, more often than not, receive high commendation.


“I think women without makeup are more easily approachable, absolutely. But I still find myself drawn to women who are wearing it, even if it’s just a little bit of makeup.” – Phillip Love, 22, student at Palmer University


Over the last few years, women and feminists have begun embracing the idea of makeup as both a creative outlet and a tool, instead of a necessity.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, if you got dressed up, it was simply to please men, or it was something you were doing because society demands it,” Nancy Etcoff, a psychology professor at Harvard University, told the New York Times in an interview. “Women and feminists today see this as their own choice, and it may be an effective tool.”

Matthew McDonough, a student at St. Lawrence University, said makeup can make women look either professional or sexy depending on the situation or their mood.

“On an active basis, I find the women in my life wear makeup more for themselves than for others,” he said.

Makeup makes them feel not only more attractive, but also more in control.

Essentially, many women are embracing makeup as an avenue to curtail how the world sees them. They’re taking something that the world deems mandatory and using it as a tool in their arsenal.

Makeup is now, whether we like it or not, an integral part of our society. While strongly dependent on it, women have the choice to use it as a crutch or use it as a means of personal expression. From eyeshadow colors to choice of lipstick, makeup can be a fun and creative way to add dimensions to one’s image and a flare of personality— like choosing an outfit for the day.

But, with this creativity comes an underlying understanding that makeup shouldn’t be determinant of self-worth. This means that while it may be more expected in certain circumstances, like business casual attire, it isn’t needed for every endeavor out of the house.

“I feel like people expect you to be looking fresh-faced all the time, which is not always the case,” Lashway said.

With a busy life, she said, there are simply things that are more important than a perfectly put-on face.

While it’s easy to get lost in the endless aisles of a Sephora store, it’s equally easy to get lost in the need for makeup. The key is to remember that everyone is trying to be a perfect human in an imperfect society.

Edited by Sara Salinas

Wife of a different mold: how Hallie French defies the role of Army wife

By Alexandra Blazevich

Hallie French lies in bed at her Carrboro, N.C. apartment, her back to the pillows set up to feel as if her husband sleeps next to her. It’s six months after her marriage to Taylor Peele, and he’s deployed in Iraq.

Her cat, Max, lies at her side and purrs along with the humming of the computer as she types her honors thesis. Max lives with her most of the time and goes with her to visit her husband on the weekends he’s not deployed.

From down the hall, her roommate, Nicole Vandiford, sends her a political meme from Facebook. Simultaneously, laughter erupts from their bedrooms.

Before she falls asleep, French gets a call from her husband. The connection is rough. It’s their first phone call in weeks, and the conversation gets emotional.

When he is not deployed, Peele lives in his own apartment in Fayetteville, N.C., about ten minutes from Fort Bragg, where he works as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. The couple has never lived together.

“She’s very independent,” French’s friend and former Navy Corpsman, Jeremy Zollars said. “She gets a lot done, and makes very good grades. She has an old-person mindset. She is very mature – she’s not the typical 23-year-old going out and getting smashed every night.”

Wife of a different life

After a simple Google search on military wives, a long list of articles like “How Military Marriage Screws Up Your Career” and “How Long Will Your Military Marriage Last?” show up. There’s a popular belief that military couples typically revolve their lives around their husband’s career. The wives cook, clean and take care of the kids, while their husband serves the country to pay the bills. Zollars said about 80 percent of his friends in the Navy were married to women with this traditional lifestyle.

French, however, falls in the latter 20 percent. For starters, she kept her own name after marriage.

“Changing my name wasn’t going to magically make me love him more,” she said. “We’ve always talked about being individual, well-paired partners – not the same person.”

While she feels that changing her name and lifestyle for her husband’s job isn’t necessary, she still supports all that he does.

“She has been nothing but supportive of my decisions throughout my military career, and that is something you can see take a serious toll on people,” Peele said.

French’s roommate has lived with her longer than her husband ever has. Because many military wives live either with their spouse on base or at home with their kids, French’s situation is unusual. She said many people are surprised to hear she has both a husband and a roommate.

French said traditional gender roles are popular in the military, but she thinks they’re old fashioned. She strives to be an individual – something that keeps her strong and independent of her husband and marriage.

“The majority of military wives stand out as very entitled, complacent, and complaining – they don’t do a whole lot, as far as work goes,” Zollars said.

French is definitely not like that – and her husband respects her for it.

“She goes to school and doesn’t complain about my work life,” he said. “She understands that I had this job before I had her and that it is very important to me, just as I understand how important her school is for her.”

French fills her time with a full load of classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, a work study at the Center for the Study of the American South and writing her 40-page honors thesis – a completely different lifestyle than the stereotypical military wife. So in comparison to other Army wives, she said she often doesn’t fit in.

When introducing herself to other military couples at a marriage retreat, French said the other women referred to themselves as wives first, then mothers and lastly their individual selves.

“All of the wives were stay-at-home-moms or sold Avon or something,” French said. “I was the only person there that even remotely fit into my category.”

When it was their turn for introductions, she asked her husband to introduce her simply as, “Hallie, my wife.”

Staying unpressured

Feeling like an outsider isn’t easy, but there is one thing Hallie has in common with many other military wives – her age.

According to the United States Department of Defense’s 2014 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, 23.5 percent of military spouses are 26 to 30 years old, proof that about one-fourth of military couples get married relatively young. A lot of military couples are even younger than this bracket, including French and Peele, but, they do not fit this stereotype entirely.

There’s a popular stigma that young military couples rush to get engaged within a few months of meeting. There’s an expectation to revolve every aspect of their lives around the military.

In basic training, the first two to four months of military training, recruits cannot reach the outside world, with the exception of letters. After graduation, they have access to phones, the internet, and resources off-base. Basic training is typically the hardest part for couples due to the lack of communication, and the pressure to get married young is felt throughout the whole military environment.

“You see a lot of people who get married young in the military for all the wrong reasons,” Peele said.

One of these reasons is for the money. A married person in the Army gets a $60,000 bonus when they finish A-school, compared to $12,000 for a single person.

Zollars said he almost married a friend from home so he could use the extra money to pay her bills. It is a very real option for those in the military, and the pressure is certainly there.

French said she did not personally feel a pressure to get married from the Army, but since the marriage, she’s been pressured by family to have kids. She said her father-in-law asked what her 5-year plan was for having kids – to which she told him to leave and ask again when he’d accept a 10-year plan.

French and Peele got engaged after a year and a half of dating. They were married on their second anniversary – the day after Christmas – a fact that would make any hopeless romantic tear up.

When her family heard news of their wedding after a short 6-month engagement period, French said they seemed more suspicious than happy for her.

“Everyone thought I was pregnant,” she said. Other family members thought she was going to drop out of school to go live with Peele at Fort Bragg.

French said she didn’t appreciate her family’s intrusive questions, but she didn’t let that change her plans.

“It sucks, but it’s also just the price I pay,” she said.

To the chapel

Soon after the engagement, the Army told Peele he was going to be deployed to Iraq. Duty was calling in less than six short months, and French was impatient.

“Our plan was to wait until I finished Carolina,” she said. “That was always our plan.”

But she just couldn’t wait to marry her best friend.

“As long as he was there with me, everything was fantastic – I was on cloud nine,” French said. “As soon as he left though, I was like ‘This is ridiculous. What are we doing?’”

When she picked up her husband from the airport after he spent a month in Texas for the Army, she told him she had a surprise. Peele said he had a feeling she was planning something when she started driving into the city, so he asked her if they were going to the courthouse to get married.

“No, we are not going to the courthouse to get married,” French told him. “What kind of woman do you think I am?”

She was driving him to get their marriage certificate. French referred to herself as the initiator in the relationship, and this action indicates why.

One week later, they were married in the mountains of North Carolina.

“We had been engaged for about six or seven months, and I knew she was the girl for me, but it scared me,” Peele said. “It was such a huge step at such a quick pace, but looking back I don’t think I would rather have done it any other way.”

While French and Peele have not had the traditional relationship, engagement or married life, they still manage to make it work. Living apart is not easy, but they have an understanding when it comes to being together while living separate lives.

When asked if he had any regrets, Peele said without hesitation, “Not a single one.”

After a few moments deep in thought, French said, “The only thing I regret is not wearing shapewear under my wedding dress.”

Edited by Paige Connelly

The opioid epidemic remains a problem especially among women

By Lauren Tarpley

Meet Karen Cook. She is a 53-year-old wife and mother of one. She is an X-Ray technician. She is a Breast Cancer survivor. And, she is what doctors call a “physician assisted opioid addict”.

What is now the worst drug crisis in America—the opioid epidemic disproportionately targets middle-aged women, with 48,000 women dying of prescription pain killer overdose between 1999 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Easy access leads to addiction

Cook has endured a variety of chronic illnesses and surgeries from a very young age and still struggles with chronic pain along with depression and anxiety. As a result, Cook is very familiar with the treatments doctors typically prescribe—opioids.

“I don’t think anybody really thought I was going to live, so there was a time when I could get anything. Painkillers. Tranquilizers. Anything. All I had to do was ask,” Cook said.

Cook has been taking Klonopin, an opioid with sedative effects similar to Xanax, for fifteen years to combat her anxiety.

“When I first got them and started taking them, I was wound so tight I would take three a day. I would take Klonopin before breakfast. In X-Ray school I made A’s, but I was taking Klonopin before class,” Cook said. “I know I’m dependent on it now because I’ve tried to get off it.”

Impact of widespread drug addiction

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death within the United States, according to the CDC.  Furthermore, the number one cause of death in opioid overdose is “respiratory depression” which is essentially when one’s brain has a reduced urge to breathe. In other words, the opioids cause the back portion of the brain to fall asleep and in turn, the individual’s brain is literally put to sleep. This makes sense considering that opioids are the most addictive pain medications, according to Harvard Health Publications.

Andrew Kolodny M.D., founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said the high opioid users receive is identical to that of heroin. The need to experience this high can become an addiction for opioid users and could lead to an accidental overdose.

Juan Hernandez, 20, a Chapel Hill resident, said, “I can say that Xanax has placed an immense hold on my life due to the decisions I made while under the influence of them.”

The destruction caused by opioid addiction is not limited to opioid users. Friends, family members and loved ones can also suffer in the wake of addiction.

Olivia Huneycutt, 21, recalls what it is like living with an addict:

“With any drug addiction, you’re very wary of the person. You do things like count your pills even though you’ve already hidden them away. You think they might steal your money. You become very aware of how they act whenever they’re high.”

So, if doctors know about the potential risks of opioid prescriptions and their damaging effects, why do they continue to prescribe these drugs to patients? Simply put, opioids are cheap and easily accessible for both doctors and patients.

Opioids are also a proven treatment method for chronic pain—if you disregard the opioid addiction epidemic.

In a blog post for the Huffington Post, Director of Public Policy for the Society for Women’s Health Research Heather Boyd said approximately 50 million American women suffer from chronic pain associated with endometriosis, fibromyalgia, or other conditions. But, the effectiveness of opioid painkillers on chronic pains is also quite problematic considering that women are more likely to have chronic pain. Consequently, women are also more likely to be prescribed prescription pain relievers, be given higher doses, and use these drugs for longer periods of time than men, she said.

“I have chronic pain,” Cook said. “I have taken myself off of many pain medications and weaned myself off many drugs because, like I said, at one point all I had to do was ask. That’s it. I can’t sleep? I get a sleeping pill. I’m stressed? I get some Xanax. That’s it.”

Cook’s story of physician assisted opioid addiction is one that reflects that of thousands of other American women. According to Kolodny, older Americans are developing opioid addictions through medical use. Once these people are addicted to the strong high provided by opioids, they don’t have to search for “street drugs” like heroin. They simply complain of pain to their doctors who increase their dosage, which can be deadly. The American Society of Addiction Medicine found that 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010 and the frightening statistics don’t end there.

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) has conducted studies on why the opioid epidemic in America largely targets women. Between 1999 and 2010, prescription painkiller overdose deaths among men increased by 237 percent. However, among women, the number of deaths increased by over 400 percent during this period. Perhaps this is due to the fact that women experience more frequent and intense pain than men. In terms of treatment, the SWHR found that women are more likely to be treated with prescription painkillers, like opioids, as compared to over-the-counter pain relievers. In addition, women are often given much higher doses for longer periods of time—often leading to dependency.

Looking forward

The attack on women’s health is of epidemic proportions, but legislatures as well as independent organizations are beginning to step up and combat the problem. For example, Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016 during his presidency.

Boyd said in her blog:

“This legislation requires the Department of Health and Human Services… to review, modify, and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication and examine and identify the need for, development of, and availability of medical alternatives to opioids.”

That’s quite a mouthful. Simply put, the legislation promotes research of alternatives to opioids considering the epidemic at hand. Medicinal marijuana, for example, is significantly less addictive than opioids, but there are not enough research studies providing evidence of its medicinal qualities. The CARA legislation directly addresses this issue and therefore promotes research.

The opioid epidemic in America is disproportionately targeting women and while steps are being taken to minimize the effect these drugs have on our nation, there is still a long way to go. Through research, new legislation and support from loved ones this epidemic can be stopped.

Edited by Luke Bollinger 

 

Surplus Sids: the home of Carrboro’s most eclectic cast of characters

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For over 30 years, Surplus Sids has been the go-to store for costumes, toys, military memorabilia and odd furniture in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

Two young men, college students by the look of it, walk by the store, eyes wandering over the array of furniture out front. One pauses. He looks intrigued. “Is it a junk store?” he asks, like his friend might have the answer. His question can be heard inside. The scratched and faded black door that marks the entrance is old and doesn’t do much to keep sound out. I notice that Sid pretends like he doesn’t hear him. He knows what people think about his store at first glance. He laughs about the elderly woman with blue hair who came in a few weeks back, looked around for a little bit, then turned to him and said, “God, there’s a lot of shit in here.”

She’s certainly not wrong. At first glance, the store seems a bit overwhelming. Every square inch – the walls and cabinets and shelves and floors – is covered in stuff. Stuff that, without really looking, seems like just a whole bunch of junk, the kind you find in a yard sale exclusively featuring odds and ends, or in an older relative’s attic that really needs to be cleaned out. There’s a strong connection to the latter, for the store smells like the mix of mothballs and worn leather one often associates with the elderly.

It’s not simply junk here, though, or “a lot of shit.” You would need to do some serious browsing, but there’s plenty to be found. There’s a suit of armor from the 1500s next to a collection of old rifles fixed on the wall. In the back, there’s a room full of costumes. Not to mention all the military items, including multiple displays of military buttons, a whole cabinet with helmets worn by soldiers in wars past and rare, old uniforms hung up around the store.

However, it isn’t just the items that make Surplus Sids interesting. Carrboro’s own military surplus store attracts a plethora of characters.  Everyone from the owner Sid and his “sidekick” Gary Messenger to the wide range of customers that walk into the store is a character. Sid’s story, the story behind “the junk” and the stories that happen when a place has been around for so long are what makes Surplus Sids so special.

The man behind the store

If Surplus Sids took a human form, it would be Barry Keith. Barry, otherwise known as Sid, seems like the type who’d own a military surplus store, simply based on his appearance. His staple clothing item is a brown leather jacket with a skeleton pin on the lapel and the word “infidel” written in orange on the front. He has long, slick-backed hair with a full moustache and beard that are fading from a reddish-orange to white, betraying his age of 62. He wears glasses that rest low on the bridge of his nose and folds his hands when he talks, completing the look of a slightly younger Santa Claus who also happens to be a biker.

A native North Carolinian, Sid went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and became the first person in his family to earn a university degree, studying political science and history. He graduated in the mid-‘70s and spent the next three to four years as a “soldier of fortune.” He doesn’t reveal a lot of details from these years, but he will mysteriously divulge that he worked for the “intelligence community.” He did a lot of traveling during this time to Central America, West Africa, the Far East and Europe. His love of foreign cultures is reflected in his language skills – he’s fluent in Spanish and Russian and can get by in Arabic and Dari Afghan – and in his choice to marry Tatiana, a beautiful Russian woman 15 years his junior.

This love of the foreign cultures can also be seen in the items in his store. Sid likes to get military surplus from all over and he prides himself in knowing exactly where everything is from.

“Look at this shirt,” he says, pulling clothing on a rack to the side to reveal a blue and white striped shirt hanging amongst a few others like it. “These are Russian.”

He walks to another part of the store, “These are Yugoslavian military pajamas.” Then he nods at a red, leather jacket, “This here is from the Italian Air Force.”

He continues to make his way around the store and point things out to me: “These khakis are the from U.S. Foreign Service. The red tunic hanging there is from the Irish Guard. That hat over there with the stripes on it is Hungarian. And this one with the lighter green is Swedish.”

It’s easy to see his passion for history as well. In a locked glass case in the back of the store, Sid keeps his most valuable military memorabilia, which belonged to what he likes to call “quasi-famous people.” In it you can find everything from General Patton’s riding crop to a hat that belonged to the first Russian to shake hands with the Americans at the Elbe River in 1945.

After his years as a “soldier of fortune,” Sid tried to settle down. He was in the restaurant business for a few years in South Carolina, but eventually decided to sell his restaurants. He came back to Chapel Hill in 1988, the year he started Surplus Sids.

The beginning of Surplus Sids

To understand how that happened, it’s important to know that Sid worked for a surplus man named Richard when he was in college. Sid had a hobby of collecting hats, a lot of which he got from Richard.

“I’m not talking like baseball caps or anything,” he said. “I’m talking real, honest-to-God hats, like bowler derby hats and fedoras and other military hats like that.”

By the time Sid returned to Chapel Hill, Richard’s health was failing him. He was retiring and closing down Poor Richards, his warehouse.

“Well, if you’re going to retire,” Sid told him, “I’m gonna take off where you left off.”

So, he bought the warehouse, cleaned it out, kept the good stuff and started his own military surplus store. He knew what and from whom to order from working for Richard and dealing with different militaries, so he started ordering.

“That was 1988, and I said I figure I’ll do that for about five, or six, or seven years,” he tells me, but Surplus Sids passed the 30-year mark on May 15, 2015..

For all that time, Surplus Sids, with its eclectic mix of outdoor gear, “Frankenstein furniture,” thrift items, toys, costumes and military surplus, has catered to every customer imaginable.

“A lot of people in retail say you have to narrow down your demographic,” Sid says. “I’ve never been able to do that. Mine’s been ages 6-76 and whatever else in between. Rich, poor, indifferent, otherwise, black, white, blue, yellow, green. It’s whatever’s in this universe.”

Visitors from every walk of life

Often, it’s college students. Surplus Sids does a lot of business with theater and film, and there’s always students looking for costumes for parties or Halloween. Savannah Putnam, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, came in last year to buy a cowgirl hat.

“I actually went during a torrential downpour and the whole back of the store was flooded,” she said. “But Sid was very helpful and welcoming.”

Sid likes to point out how his store attracts bizarre characters. There’s Steven, a young man with schizophrenia who loves coins and brings in a bag every day to trade with Sid. There was the 12-year-old boy a few years back who bought a real Egyptian sarcophagus from the store because he wanted it in his room. Gary Messenger, the 68-year-old character who’s worked alongside Sid for the past six years, likes to recall the story of the old couple that came to the store in 2012 looking for survival stuff “back when the Mayan calendar said the world was going to end.”

Kenny Azecusky, a bartender at Krave in Carrboro, decided to stop by Sids before his shift started at the bar down the street because he was “looking into stuff recently for the concept of a character.” I discovered that Kenny is into LARPing, or live action role-playing. According to Kenny, a lot of the items in the store, such as the molle vests and old license plates, would make a great post-apocalyptic look for his upcoming zombie LARP.

Celebrity customers

Surplus Sids has also had its fair share of celebrity customers, who can be seen on the “gallery of famous visitors” sign at the front of the store. Tyler the Creator, Robin Williams, Steven Colbert and Kirsten Dunst are just a few names written on the little white board.

Sid has stories about all of them. Robin Williams came into the store in 1998 when he was shooting “Patch Adams,” because the film crew bought camouflage netting from the store to use on set. Sid says, “He was on the whole time he was in here,” trying things on, making comments and cracking jokes.

Sid shows me a photo of Kirsten Dunst taken right outside of the store. She’s wearing a blue dress and smiling. “Sid, love your store,” is written in pen on the photo. The actress was in town because she was dating a guy in a band who was playing at Cat’s Cradle. She came into Sids with her boyfriend and bought a jacket. A little while later, Sid says, he turned on the TV and saw her wearing that same jacket at an event during fashion week in Paris.

I no longer wonder why this place has lasted as long as it has. There’s a lot of history and culture amidst “a lot of shit;” and there are the customers, who always bring something new to the table. Sid has yet to grow tired of it. In my time with him, I never asked about the future of the store, or when he thinks he’ll give it all up and retire, because he seems like the type of person who doesn’t like to think about that kind of stuff. At some point, though, he gave me an answer: “If it ever stops being interesting, that’s when I’m gonna stop doing it.”

Edited by Molly Weybright

Chapel Hill’s ‘noise’ subculture chooses Nightlight over limelight

By Janna Childers

Rosemary Street in downtown Chapel Hill is eclectic, for sure. It’s the home to some of Chapel Hill’s highest-rising apartment complexes, the ever-vigilant student-run newspaper office of The Daily Tar Heel, magnificent historic homes, shady college bars, tiny nonprofit and law offices and, of course, you can’t forget the deep-fried Southern delicacies of Mildred Council’s restaurant, Mama Dip’s.

But down an alley nestled between the candy-pink cement of Tonya’s Cookies and the mood lighting that oozes from Northside District, it can be easy to miss a small music club.

The venue isn’t very big, and it’s tough to imagine a sell-out show of more than 300. The low ceilings keep the stage at a height that barely distinguishes artist from audience, and although red paint lines the walls, the club’s ambiance is far from bright.

Scarce lighting casts shadows on dingy furniture and tangles of cord, making anyone unfamiliar with the place second-guess a whim to wander in from the street. But it’s here that the misfits of Chapel Hill’s music scene find their sanctuary.

Because of Chapel Hill’s quintessential college-town status, the music scene is multi-layered, ever-shifting and sometimes perceived as lacking an edge. But for the past 10 years, a small-but-steady vanguard of artists and music lovers has cultivated a space for experimental and alternative music. And that crowd has come to call this music venue, Nightlight, their home. These champions of the weird and different have ushered in a host of new amorphous music genres, most of which fit under the label “noise music.”

Noise is a term that has been used nationally to describe a type of experimental music developed from the punk wave and dada art movement that pushes the boundaries of sounds and techniques that are traditionally considered “music.”

A dying scene

For many critics, Chapel Hill’s music scene peaked in the ’90s, when the town’s indie and punk bands drew in major record labels in search of the next Nirvana. In 1989, Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance — members of Chapel Hill’s indie rock band Superchunk — fled from major record label pursuit — and, in true “do-it-yourself” punk fashion, formed their own independent record label.

Merge Records went on to sign artists such as Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel and She & Him. But, when the label moved to Durham in 2001, Chapel Hill was left in a sort of punk-rock vacuum.

“In a lot of ways, music in Chapel Hill is totally dead. In the ’90s, Chapel Hill was like a huge indie-rock Mecca.” said Sam Higgins, a Chapel Hill musician who performs under the name SMLH. “The scenes were Seattle, New York and Chapel Hill, oddly enough. I feel like, nowadays, the legacy of those bands is supporting this notion that music is still thriving in Chapel Hill when it’s not at all.”

Last November, SMLH released an 11-track digital album and cassette tape called “Occoneechee Haunts + Staring Thru The Wall,” which features tracks riddled with an ethereal concoction of dissonance and melody, delving listeners into a sleepy yet strangely outraged state.

Going underground

Higgins may hold a cynical attitude toward the Chapel Hill music scene, but artist Ryan Martin disagrees.

“I feel like there are a lot of parallel scenes that don’t really overlap so much. Like, for instance, bluegrass is a real thing, and I know nothing about that,” he said. “The stuff I’ve been involved with is sort of more marginal. Kind of weird experimental type stuff.”

Martin performs under the name Secret Boyfriend. His blend of genres produces a dark, lonely sound whose minor chords and bursts of unorganized cacophony can be hard on some ears. His most prominent recording is “This is Where You’ve Always Lived,” a digital and vinyl LP released in 2013 under the London-based label Blackest Ever Black.

But Martin doesn’t seem too concerned with the success of his recordings. He prefers to promote the projects of his fellow musicians.

Martin also books a lot of the shows at Nightlight. Shortly after Martin made the move to Chapel Hill, he started volunteering at Rosemary Street’s clandestine music club because he wanted to find out more about the scene in his new town.

By the end of the year, he was running the whole venue with a friend. Now, since club ownership has changed hands to Ethan Clauset and Charlie Hearon, Martin books shows at several venues, including, up until last year, his own house on Hannah Street in Carrboro.

“I lived there for about 8 years and we had a shit ton of shows. Like, so many. I couldn’t believe we got away with it for that long,” he said.

But there’s not much difference in booking for a house show or a bigger venue, he said. Martin is plugged into a vast network of local musicians, and whenever one’s in town, they come to him for a place to play.

This grassroots approach to performance is what sets the underground scene apart from the mainstream. For musicians to survive in the commercial industry, they need to have an agent, a manager, a tech crew, publicity and ceaseless touring and producing. Stewart Kingdon, social media manager for WXYC, a student-run radio station at UNC, thinks the underground scene is underground for a reason.

“I think part of that is just the way people want it,” he said. “Like, I know a lot of my friends don’t want to play in a lot of big venues or anything, or it’s just a hassle or it’s hard to coordinate a show or you need to open for someone, and it’s just not as easy to coordinate.”

‘The hype machine’

Martin, like other artists in his genre, thrives in scenes that stray from the limelight.

“I think I’ve always just had sort of a weird mistrust of mainstream music,” he said. “It’s really exciting hearing something so good, and it’s made by people who aren’t trying to promote themselves — they just like to play shows. It’s just like they’re sort of ignored because they’re not putting themselves into this hype machine,” he said.

Although Martin tries to avoid the “hype machine,” he still wants underground music to be accessible for those who seek it. That’s why he finds all sorts of artists for Nightlight, people who play everything from “techno, harsh noise, sort of weird scrappy improv,” to “people doing weird, solo pop projects.”

Clark Blomquist is a regular at Nightlight — not only to listen to shows and find new artists, but also as a performer. Blomquist’s latest project is called Tegucigalpan. His 2016 album “The Fifth of She” is particularly noisy and dense.

“I write and record songs on my own by multi-tracking — laying down one track, listening and playing along with another instrument to lay down the next, until the song is complete,” Blomquist said.

Both Blomquist and Higgins had a hard time describing their music. They rattle off lists of subgenres to try to give context, but in the end, Higgins said, “I don’t know if it’s as much as I actively play a certain type of music as it is (that) I write music and it turns out to be this type of music. I’m thinking about my influences and my aesthetic choices that I’m making when I write music, but I don’t think that dominates my process.”

A home for contradictions

The freedom to write without a formula is appealing, and that’s why Nightlight has become such a home for musicians who don’t fit the traditional categories. It’s a place where you can be weird. Unlike going to a folk concert where the majority of the audience is dressed in flannel and worn boots, an audience at Nightlight hosts people who dress in all black and have dirty hair. It has people who wear tight leather corsets and short skirts and people guys who are just in jeans and graphic tees. The differences are what bring the community together.

“There are so many contradictions,” Martin said. “There’s so much stuff in that scene that is comforting or soothing, and then there’s stuff that’s pleasing in this sort of deeper, mellow level. There’s stuff that might poke your brain and make you excited or make you head bang.”

Granted, the music might not be to everyone’s taste, but the people you find in this scene are genuine. They love music. They respect one another’s creative endeavors. And they seem to have found their niche.

Edited by Danny Nett

Out of the attic and into the spotlight: the little yellow tuba house

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By Molly Weybright

The bright yellow house holds thousands of feet of tubing, tens of thousands of dollars worth of materials and more than 130 years of history.  Inside, it smells faintly sweet and metallic – the smell of brass.  Soft orchestral music with tuba features plays in the background.  If Seuss and Sousa combined their talents to create something beyond a musician’s wildest imagination, the V & E Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection in Durham would be the result.

Different shades of gold, brown and silver overlap, creating a metallic, musical camouflage. Light dances off the lustrous, lacquered tubas and seems to be absorbed by the dull, matte ones. Some of the tubas are simple – designed for function and sound rather than visual appeal. Others are etched with intricate designs, like ivy climbing a wall, and look so wonderfully crafted and delicate that it’s hard to believe they were made for anything other than admiring from afar.

Standing in the main room is like standing in a forest. A metal forest made of curves and loops rather than straight lines and angles. A forest where every facet can be used to create deep, heavy, melodic sounds.  The curves blend together and connect until it feels like one massive instrument rather than 300 individual ones.

But every instrument works. Every instrument is functional and serves a purpose. As if Sousa stepped into Seuss’ madness and said, “This is pretty good, but here’s how I can make it better.”

Covering much of the floor, walls and ceiling is one of the most magnificent tuba collections in existence, and one man’s lifetime of stories and treasures.  Three hundred and five brass instruments belonging to the tuba family fill the small space. Vince Simonetti sits on a small chair nestled between many intricate and unique types of his favorite instrument – the tuba.

He talks about the instruments in his collection with fervor.  The stories of where they came from, the lives the instruments lived before they were his, flow as easily as water over smooth stones.  His passion is evident.  When asked about his own history with the instrument, his smile widens.

A lifelong passion

Vince first played the tuba in the 1950s as a high school student.  In fact, he was a trumpet player until he entered high school.  He approached the school’s band director and asked if he could play trumpet in the band.

“We have zillions of trumpets,” the director told Vince.  “But I don’t have a tuba player.”

The band director then gestured to this massive instrument, this tuba, and Vince remembers thinking it looked like it had been hit by a truck.  But he decided to give it a try, and that was all it took.

“I just became obsessed with it immediately and have been obsessed ever since,” he said.  “I used to draw it in study hall.”

That obsession persisted for more than half a century as Vince played with and conducted many orchestras in North Carolina.  He founded the Durham Symphony in 1976, conducted the North Carolina Symphony, the Raleigh Symphony and the Raleigh Concert Band.  In 1984 he founded The Tuba Exchange, a Durham business that supplies individuals and school bands with brass instruments.  But, his pride is his tuba collection.

The collection began in 1965 while he was touring the United States in the orchestra for Russia’s Moiseyev Ballet Company.  He found the first tuba in Boston, a 1910 Cerveny helicon, and the Historic Tuba Collection was born.

The collection grows every year as people call Vince and tell him of an instrument they have that he may be interested in.  According to Vince, many people have rare instruments that have been passed down from grandparents or great-grandparents simply sitting in their attic, and he is more than happy to take them off their hands.  The museum’s newest acquisition was added as recently as January 27.

“Vince is pretty well-known in the tuba community,” said Betty Black, co-owner of The Tuba Exchange, when asked about how people find Vince when looking to sell or donate an instrument.

He and his wife, Ethel, opened up their collection to the public on March 5, 2016 in the little yellow house in Durham.  Almost 200 people showed up at the grand opening, to the couple’s surprise and delight.  However, only 15 to 20 people can comfortably experience the collection.  Vince laughs when he remembers giving tours that day for more than three hours straight.

The collection has been featured locally in The News and Observer and Indy Week but also received some national recognition when it was featured on NPR’s “Unsung Museums.”

Community

Peggy Schaeffer, a former scientific librarian living in Durham, called the museum a “local oddity;” and after passing it many times, she finally went inside and was shocked at the sheer volume of instruments inside the small building.

“I had no idea that they had so many tubas and that they varied so much,” she said.

Vince has been pleased with the public’s response to his collection, and visually, it’s easy to see where the fascination comes from.  The size of the collection is incredible, but the real beauty is in the stories.

Rhonda Cohen, a volunteer at the Durham Literacy Center, visited the collection with her husband Jay Cunningham, who plays in several music groups in the Triangle.  The Literacy Center is only a few buildings away from the little yellow house and Rhonda often walks past it.

Rhonda said that what truly impressed and delighted her about the experience was the passion that Vince has for his collection, which was evident when describing his many instruments.

“He was like a father glowing about the talents of his children,” she said. “Unlike a father, he definitely has his favorites – whether because of their rarity, sound quality or brilliant design.”

The exuberance with which Vince tells the stories of his tubas is enthralling.  It truly is like listening to a proud parent brag about his children – showing off their talents, assets and accomplishments.

“Almost every one of these instruments has a unique story to it,” Vince said.  That’s more than 300 backstories and histories, and he knows how to tell them all.

Even if he may not admit it, it is clear that he does, in fact, have favorites; and they’re not always the tubas one would expect.  While some of the instruments are grandiose and intricate, his favorites are often the more battered tubas, worn down by years of use.  These are the tubas with the stories he likes telling – the tubas with history.

A special collection

He has a tuba that is over 5 feet tall and when placed on its stand, is over 7 feet tall.  It was designed for upright string bass players.  The musician would play the string bass standing, and when the music called for it, he would switch over to the tuba simply by stepping from one instrument to the other, without having to sit or adjust his positioning.

This type of tuba is incredibly rare because it was only made in the 1930s.  Vince has two in the collection.

He has one of the first types of sousaphones, or marching tubas, nicknamed the “rain catcher,” designed by John Philip Sousa himself.

Modern-day sousaphones have the bell pointing forward, so that the sound is aimed at the audience and can be clearly heard.  But Sousa designed his original instrument with the bell facing upwards because he wanted the sound to “go over the top of the band like icing on a cake.”

It almost seems as if there is some force driving Vince and the tubas together.  As if they are moving on roads parallel to one another for decades only to intersect at the perfect moment.

For example, he has two tubas in his collection that are identical – the only twins in the museum.  He usually doesn’t buy duplicates because he says he simply doesn’t have the space to display them.  But, when he discovered the second tuba he had to buy it.

Why?  Because these two tubas, both made in 1916 and purchased years apart, are one serial number away from each other.  These tubas were created back to back and then circulated separately, only to find themselves reunited in the V & E Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection.

For more than 100 years craftsmen have made the instruments Vince Simonetti has in his collection.  Each instrument is different, but fits within the museum like a perfect puzzle piece.  The museum is heavy with history.

Vince says he wants to keep the collection on display for as long as he can. When the time comes he wants to pass it on to his son John, also a musician. But until that time comes, Vince will continue giving the instrument traditionally found in the back of the band, its time in the spotlight.

Edited by Bridget Dye

‘Don’t call me cool’: Bull City hip-hop artists craft their own sound

By John-Paul Gemborys

Soxs pulled up to the studio on 112 Hunt St. with his friend Raheem Royal, better known by his stage name, Defacto Thezpian, riding shotgun. After they parked, the pair stood outside the car for a moment. Defacto Thezpian spat a few bars a cappella while his girlfriend sat in the driver’s seat, the scent of lit marijuana drifting down the block.

Defacto Thezpian is a local Durham hip-hop artist. The self-proclaimed, “schnozy” emcee was there to put the finishing touches on his latest project, “burgundyskylines,” and had invited me to come and observe the process.

But in the recording booth of GMMc Digital that day, the rapper got stuck behind some bars.

The rhyme scheme was simple enough, matching multisyllabic jewels, such as cummerbund, mumbling, sustenance, humbling, scuffling, buffering and so on. But there was a snag. The issue was at the center of this sophisticated multisyllabic rhyme scheme. The word “sustenance.”

“SUSTENANCE!” he cried out comically at one point, heard only through the microphone in the isolated recording booth. “SUSTENANCE!”

So he did another take. And another. And another. The same beat played again and again, the same lyrics, the same booming bass. At attempt number six, he could have been satisfied, but he wasn’t. At seven, the delivery was less muddy but still sounded weak.

“It doesn’t sound as strong as the rest of the track,” he said. It wasn’t until attempt number eight that the “schnozy” rapper was satisfied, content to move on to another verse, another sample, another ad-lib.

Durham is home to many artists like Defacto Thezpian: rappers who take pride in the craft, who eschew the modern obsession with image and marketing and continue to put the art before all. With such festivals and opportunities as the Beats and Bars Festival in 2016, Moogfest, which came to Durham in 2016, and the DURM Hip Hop Summit, which began in 2012, the Bull City hip-hop scene is on the come up.

Being a native of Durham myself and a hip-hop geek to boot, I decided to explore this burgeoning subculture, interviewing local artists to find out about their latest projects, hear what inspires them and discover what it takes for small-town Southern artists to break through in an already oversaturated market.

‘I’m an artist’
Uncertain of where to start, I went to the one expert I knew, my old running mate Michael Jones, aka Jones Michael, aka DJ Know Question.

Jones is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the culture. When I asked him what he does, he said, “Basically I create products. I’m an artist — I create clothes, I create posters — any sort of visual art.”

He’s also “a DJ and a producer and a rapper and a singer.” Even his sweatshirt was emblazoned with one of his illustrations, a graphic of a man with bulging eyes and a ridiculously wide-open mouth — a hallmark of Jones’ unique drawing style. The piece, he said, is called “Brain Melt.

Jones told me that he’s been making music seriously for eight years but that his real start was much earlier. “I recorded my first rap in third grade,” Jones told me. His dad, who played jazz in college and is currently a music teacher at Culbreth Middle School in Carrboro, helped him along the way. “I was like, ‘Dad I got this song,’” Jones said. “And he was like, ‘Oh you wanna record it?’ So he gives me this generic beat — like it’s not even a rap beat — and I hopped in my dad’s studio and recorded it.”

By the eighth grade, inspired by the likes of Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, he told his dad he wanted to start making music, so his dad threw him a Casio keyboard and a drum machine. Today Jones makes music in his spare time, posting a new song to his SoundCloud almost every day, along with original artwork for the month he calls “Jamuary.” He also DJs under the alias DJ Know Question at such venues as DaNu’Gen Entertainment Cafe and Bull City Cigar Co.

When I asked him why he does music, he told me it’s for the love. “I’d rather just create, man — and then create enough so that people like it and that people want to pay me for it. I don’t need to be on the cover of a billboard. I don’t need a world tour.”

To break through commercially, he told me, the answer is simple. “You really gotta be yourself because that’s the only thing that’s gonna sell,” he said.

“You’re not going to get anybody with artwork like this. You’re not going to get anybody else that has this sound.” His next project is a record called “New Clear Energy.”

‘You gotta learn tunnel vision’
The next artist I met is a relative newcomer to the game. His stage name is Ducee’ DropTop, and he welcomed me to his home with warmth and a Backwoods cigarillo.

Describing his style as “mellow-hype trap,” he released his first record, an eight-track project called “#BoostUP,” in December. One of the singles he put out for the tape, “Wit It,” has over 11,000 views on YouTube. When I sat down with him, he told me a key to success in the game was keeping a tight circle of like-minded individuals and focusing on his goal.

“You gotta learn tunnel vision, stay focused on what you do and at the end of the day, let the haters hate,” he said. “You can’t get strung up into that negativity. Negative people, I don’t want you in my life. I practice positivity.”

The next artist I spoke to is a veteran on the Durham scene, a rapper and producer who recently moved to Charlotte. He goes by Alex Aff.

He told me about his first tour this past December, the “Aff & Friends Tour,” a five-stop circuit through Raleigh, Wilmington, Virginia and New York ending with a show at the Pinhook in Durham.

When it came to advice on how to succeed in the industry, Alex talked about being organic. “I think the problem with a lot of artists is that they try too hard. I understand the mentality as an artist. You want it so bad, and you’re trying so hard to get people to pay attention. When I think from the fan’s perspective or the person’s perspective that isn’t an artist, you can see that they’re forcing it, and that makes you more resistant to gravitating toward their brand, their craft, whatever they do,” he said. “How I get attention is by being as natural as possible and being as myself as possible. I think that’s really the only way I can stand out.”

His latest project was an album called “Forever.” He recently put it up on iTunes.

‘Don’t call me cool’
Defacto Thezpian was the fourth artist with whom I was fortunate enough to spend some time. A lyricist and wordsmith, he explained the meaning of “schnozy” to me in the studio. “When I was in high school, dog, I made up words all the time. That was the word I stuck with the most. I used to tell people, simply, I wasn’t a cool dude. I was that person everyone knew, but I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t a jock,” he said. “But I like that I can still be cool and not be those people. Don’t call me cool because ‘schnozy’ fits me so much better.”

Being around him, it’s obvious that Defacto Thezpian is a natural showman. When he attended Hillside High School, he was an actor. It’s where he gets his name. At Hillside he was in 12 school productions  and took on roles such as Chad Danforth from “High School Musical” and Willy Wonka. He started taking music seriously in 2012, although he began recording songs his freshman year of high school in 2006.

“It wasn’t until after I got out of high school and I started doing open mics and seeing that I had a platform to perform that made me start wanting to take it more seriously,” he said. In 2013 he had his first headlining show at the Pinhook in Durham. He told me that he didn’t start doing music as a full-time gig until June 2016. He estimates he’s done about 200 shows. He’s also played at festivals like A3C in Atlanta, the Beats and Bars Festival in Durham and Youbloom in Los Angeles. On April 11 he’s opening for Alex Wiley at Kings Barcade in Raleigh.

‘Music chose me’
The final artist I got to chat with was 26-year-old Danny Blaze, native son of Durham, N.C. One of the first questions I asked him was how he got into the game.

“I started playing with it when I was 14 in the ninth grade. I would kind of write little things here and there. I would hear J Dilla instrumentals and try to freestyle. I was horrible,” he said. “I didn’t take it seriously until 2010. I was in this group with Dinero P. We were in a group called The Koolest, and I was in that group literally until June of 2015. So I’m pretty fresh out of that. And, yeah it was weird, man. It was hard kind of starting over — I was almost afraid to give it another go.” But he did and is currently working on his next album, “Punk Ass Dan,” which he anticipates will drop either this fall or summer.

When asked why he does music, Danny Blaze said, “Man, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at, to be quite honest. Like I’ve been decent at everything else in my life as far back as I can remember. I kind of feel like music chose me. I don’t feel like I have much other choice. And I love it.”

When I asked him if there were any issues that his music addressed, he said, “Yeah man, ‘Punk Ass Dan’ is going to be a really dark tape. It’s not really like anything I’ve put out so far, and it’s definitely going to address pretty much everything wild going on these days like police brutality to this wild election. I wouldn’t consider myself an artist if I didn’t. Hip-hop is being the CNN of the hood, as Chuck D once called it, and I feel it’s our duty to uphold that. And it’s not even the hood anymore. It’s the world, period. We have social media, so the world is so much broader than the hood these days. So I definitely have to address those things. It’s very important to myself.”

Edited by Alison Krug

Hazing, the perfectly natural, boys-will-be-boys abuse

By Jacob Hancock

The putrid stench of sweaty bodies cramped together in the hottest room in the entire school, the whip of towels, the maniacal laughter of upperclassmen and the shrill of freshmen – it’s all a bit intimidating when you first walk into a varsity boys’ locker room. It’s a hazing culture and it happens in every sport.

You’re getting ready for football practice in the middle of the season. Normally, you run straight to the locker room after the school bell rings, but today you had to stay a few minutes after class to talk to your teacher. You walk in to the locker room and all of the seniors immediately stare you down – it’s open season. You do your best to change quickly, but it’s too late. They start grabbing you, pinching your nipples and yanking at your boxer shorts. They pin you to the ground and the fat guy (you know which one I’m talking about: the big hairy one who could pass for a middle-aged man) sits on your face. Everyone is laughing at you. You’re completely humiliated.

But it’s all perfectly natural.

Ask almost any guy who played a varsity sport in high school and they’ll tell you that something like this went on in their locker room. Some of them will even admit to partaking in hazing freshmen. Most would write it off as “typical locker-room behavior” or “boys will be boys.”

But why?

In what other setting is this kind of behavior tolerable – let alone expected? According to a study conducted by Alfred University, 79% of NCAA athletes admitted to being hazed in high school. Why is hazing in varsity boys’ locker rooms so commonplace? Is it even a real problem? If it is, how can we fix it?

Is it natural?

Gaston Sanders, a 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, played soccer and baseball in high school and graduated at the top of his class. The son of a strict teacher and regular church-goer, Gaston never thought of hazing anyone when he was an upperclassman. While he didn’t get picked on much when he was an underclassman (he was bigger than most of the seniors), he admitted that some of his peers were harassed, often in very odd ways.

“I always thought it was a little weird,” Gaston said. “Overly-masculine guys that throw around homophobic slurs as insults during the school day are suddenly grabbing at a dude’s junk, sticking their thumb up their butt and dry-humping each other in the locker room before practice. It doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.”

But not everyone thinks it’s weird. Jace Lawrence, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, says that the football locker room helped make him the confident young man he is today.

“Yeah, I got hazed,” Jace said. “But I wasn’t a little bitch about it. That kind of stuff happens everywhere. That’s life.”

Jace grew up with three rowdy older brothers and a big sister with a mean right hook (she played basketball at Meredith College as a center). When his siblings picked on him, he couldn’t count on his parents to make them stop. Tough love is the only kind of love he knows. When he first stepped into that locker room as a freshman, he wasn’t intimidated – he was prepared.

“Locker rooms are the first time you really see the world. You are stripped of everything in addition to what you’re wearing. You’re thrown in with a bunch of savages, and you either sink, or you swim.”

It certainly seems like Jace was able to swim. But what about those who may be sinking?

Is it harmful?

Sammy Eubank, a junior at Appalachian State University, was a varsity soccer player and wrestler all four years in high school. He finished his senior year as the school’s third all-time leader in wins in wrestling and was an integral part of the school’s first ever soccer conference championship team. He had friends in every part of town, he got invited to all the big parties, everyone knew his name and at one point or another he had probably made every single one of his classmates laugh.

The early years of high school weren’t so great for Sammy. As a freshman, he stood at 5’6” and weighed 115 pounds. His bright red hair was messy, his shorts never matched his shirt, and his pallid complexion was covered in blemishes. He wasn’t the most popular kid, especially in the locker room.

“Some days were rough,” Sammy said. “I seemed to get picked on a little bit more than everyone else. I usually just tried to laugh it off, but it wasn’t always easy. I seriously thought about quitting.”

Sammy was lucky to be able to get past the bullying. He was brave enough to speak up and tell someone what was going on.

“Eventually I felt like I had to say something to the coaches,” Sammy said. “I asked them to keep me anonymous, and they held a team meeting and told the guys that some people were starting to feel singled out. Things started to get better after that and I was able to move on from it.”

Things turned out well for Sammy, but there are many kids who experience similar bullying who aren’t so fortunate.

“I was lucky that my coaches were willing to step in, but I don’t know what would have happened to me if things had kept going the way they were. It could have ended badly,” Sammy said.

A literature review by Vanderbilt University Medical Center revealed that suicide is the third-leading killer of student athletes. Student athletes are also more likely to have mental health problems. Often, this is explained by the stress of balancing school and sports. It can also be caused by hazing.

Many athletes who were hazed don’t actually think of it as hazing, but rather as a sort of bonding moment, according to the review.

Jack Amoroso, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, played baseball in high school and said that he thought the locker room behavior was perfectly healthy.

“I feel like for the most part guys are just kind of joking around with each other,” Jack said. “Yeah, we messed around with each other, but I don’t think anyone was traumatized or anything.”

In some cases, maybe nobody gets hurt. But that certainly isn’t the case in all locker rooms across the country. And if we wouldn’t let kids behave this way in a classroom, why would we let them do it in a locker room?

What should be done about it?

Kids that experience hazing are often encouraged by their parents to “tough it out” and “pay their dues.” Parents want their kids to be accepted by their peers, and fear that taking action will turn them into outcasts. Some kids even beg their parents not to get involved because they don’t want to be embarrassed.

What’s even more troubling is that many coaches and school officials don’t take hazing incidents seriously. A lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Lake Zurich High School in northern Illinois. The suit alleges that both coaches and school officials, including the principal, were complicit in allowing athletes in multiple sports to commit acts of hazing involving sexual assault.

The lawsuit came about after reports of an incident in which a student on the football team was forced to strip naked and stand in the shower while teammates peed on him.

Chad Beaver, an assistant coach and dean of students at the time, told the student’s parents that what happened to their child was “no big deal.”

Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana and author of multiple books on hazing over the last couple of decades, said in an interview with Al Jazeera America that hazing incidents today are more brutal than years ago.

Many people will tell you that sports teach kids toughness, and help them learn to overcome obstacles. They’ll also say that playing sports develops good character. But is a bully someone with good character?

Charles “Donnell” Johnson, a junior at UNCW, played basketball in high school. He is named after his father – a retired member of the U.S. Army – and he certainly takes after him. Donnell is about as clean-cut as it gets – never a hair out of line. He’s a straight-A student and the last person you would expect to get into any trouble. He wasn’t the most talented basketball player in high school, but he definitely worked the hardest, and he demanded that his teammates do the same. And he wasn’t going to put up with any crap – especially hazing.

“I know that on some teams that stuff probably went on,” Donnell said. “But that kind of stuff didn’t fly with us. We were a team, and we all had the same goal. If you weren’t focused on winning, then you got the hell out. We didn’t put up with bullies looking to make someone feel bad. It’s called being a good teammate.”

That’s what people don’t realize: sports don’t teach us anything if we allow kids to be bad teammates. Allowing hazing to happen in varsity locker rooms doesn’t help kids form healthy bonds, and it’s not a healthy way to develop toughness. Some kids may be able to shake it off, but others may develop mental health problems that can persist throughout the rest of their lives and even drive them to suicide.

Taking a stand against hazing isn’t being “a little bitch” – it’s being a good teammate. Sports are supposed to teach kids to be good teammates, not bullies.

If parents and administrators want to create a safe environment for children to grow and develop, they need to take hazing more seriously.

Edited by Jordan Thomas Wilkie