Assignment Week 10: PR Package

Contact:

Paul R. Cardillo
ITS Digital Services
(919) 962-7880
pcardillo@unc.edu
ddigitalservices.unc.edu

Modular Theme Q&A

UNC Modular WordPress Theme available to campus users in February

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 14, 2020

Download or print a copy of this press release.

Chapel Hill, NC – Members of the UNC community who work on departmental websites will soon have access to a new custom WordPress theme. The UNC Modular WordPress theme incorporates a simpler editing interface than current themes, meets current digital accessibility guidelines and meets the University’s identity and branding standards. ITS Digital Services will introduce the new theme on Monday, Feb. 3.

The UNC Modular Theme moves campus websites closer to meeting UNC’s Digital Accessibility mission and meets all WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines for digital authoring tools.

Web architect lead, Michael Triplett said, “UNC Modular will be an accessible and user-friendly option for campus web designers and web developers as they await the release of an accessibility compliant version of the WordPress Guttenberg editor.”

According to Triplett, UNC Modular offers academic departments an easier authoring experience and a more modern approach to layout than the traditional WordPress editor used in the current Heelium custom theme. “Modular requires less reliance on writing custom code for custom fields,” said Triplett. “Users don’t need to have extensive HTML mark-up knowledge since page layout is handled by interchangeable modules.”

The new theme is built using WordPress Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) and mirrors the look and feel of the newly redesigned unc.edu site.

Kim Vassiliadis, Digital Services and User Experience Manager, wanted to “give departments something that would mirror the University’s identity and branding. The Modular Theme has a consistent look and feel to the main UNC website using the same typefaces and a similar layout.”

“The initial design of UNC Modular was piloted in February 2018,” said Vassiliadis. “We are excited to release it to the University after a full year of development and testing.”

A handful of University sites began using the Modular Theme in September 2019 and the success of those sites opened the way for a full release of the theme in early 2020. UNC Modular can be seen in action at:

User documentation and support for UNC Modular is available at uncmodular.sites.unc.edu or by contacting ITS Digital Services.

About UNC ITS Digital Services: ITS Digital Services offers central WordPress-based web development and hosting for the university. Digital Services staff draw on experience in universities, government, non-profit agencies, publishing, design firms, and more. ITS Digital Services is connected to key central campus IT services such as database support, middleware, analytics and the help desk making it a great choice for you to quickly get the support you’ll need.

# # #

UNC Modular WordPress Theme Q&A

Download or print a copy of the UNC Modular Theme FAQ.



The UNC Modular Word Press Theme offers many benefits to users:

  • Consistent branding and identity with other UNC websites
  • Layout, typeface and color options that meet WCAG 2.1 standards
  • Modules designed using the most-used templates and views on UNC academic web sites
  • More options for customization with less reliance on custom code
  • No need to know HTML mark-up
  • Flexible and easy to use
  • Easier to for Digital Services developers to customize and support



In the Modular Theme modules are blocks of content such as page headers, text blocks, photo templates and image sliders. These modules can be used throughout the site and moved around on the page in an easy wysiwyg (drag and drop) editor.


The new theme will initially be available to UNC Departmental Publishing customers on the sites.unc.edu platform. We plan to rollout the Modular theme to Self-Service Publishing customers on the web.unc.edu platform in August at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year.


You may continue to use Heelium as long as your site meets all requirements of the Americans With Disabilities act and WCAG 2.0 guidelines.


You may use one of the supported WordPress themes available in your native editor, but we recommend switching to Modular!


No. Older themes are being deactivated since they do not meet accessibility standards and UNC Branding and Identity guidelines. Please upgrade to Modular, or at least Heelium.


ITS Digital Services offers theme and site customization for a fee. Contact us to discuss your options.


WordPress is addressing accessibility concerns surrounding the Guttenberg editor. The current release does not meet WCAG 2.0 guidelines or UNC Digital Accessibility standards. When the accessible version of Guttenberg is released, ITS Digital Services will make it available to campus users.

UNC Modular WordPress Theme – Social Media and Multimedia Options

Social media posts will be sent from the general ITS account on each platform.

Facebook post:

UNC WordPress users, Modules are coming!

The UNC Modular WordPress Theme lets you:

  • Customize your websites more quickly
  • Meet accessibility guidelines
  • Share brand identity with other UNC Sites
  • More quickly and easily edit your web pages

[Screenshot image of the uncmodular.sites.unc.edu front page linking to news article about the Modular Theme on modular.sites.unc.edu]

Twitter tweet:

Bring your UNC website screaming into the second decade of the twenty-first century with the UNC Modular WordPress Theme! #uncwebmasters #uncwordpress

[Screenshot image of the modular.sites.unc.edu front page linking to news article about the Modular Theme on modular.sites.unc.edu]

Multimedia Options

I would create a short Adobe Spark video to include with this packet. The video would be about 1 ½ minutes and would alternate between live action shots of someone using the Modular theme in the WordPress editor and text slides very briefly explaining the benefits of the Modular Theme. Reporters could embed the video or a part of it in their stories.

The Facebook post could be made into a short (10-15 second) square-formatted text-based video with either voiceover or background music for an Instagram post.

In addition to the short video there would be instructional documentation in the form of web pages and .pdfs that would live at uncmodular.unc.edu if a reporter wanted to delve deeper into the details of the theme.

Assignment Week 8: Digital Journalism

An earlier version of this story appeared on the UNC Finance and Operations website.

SCE Mentoring Program Completes Successful Second Cohort

The Finance and Operations Service Center of Excellence Mentoring Program (SCE-MP) committee honored five pairs of mentors and mentees at a luncheon on September 19 after the successful completion of the second cohort of the program.

2019 SCE Mentoring Group participants: Devin Williamson, Marcus Wooton, William Lunn, Donald Hamm, Carly Perrin, Christine Shia, Cathy Hatley, Collette Brown and Bill Stockard. Not pictured: Alan Forrest.

The SCE-MP originally met as a staff-led club in the Fall of 2017 to “foster a strong sense of community, provide professional development opportunities for SCE Employees, and improve employee retention,” according to program coordinator Devin Williamson.

A club becomes a committee

SCE executive directors chartered the club as a full committee in October of 2018, after the completion of the program’s first cohort. Williamson along with committee members Justin Case, Joanne Filley, Bea Muganda, Allison Reid and Donna Stelzenmuller expanded the focus of the Mentor Program and secured funding through the SCE clubs and committees budget at that time.

Mentors and mentees meet once a month during the six-month program. Participants drew on materials provided by the SCE-MP committee and from other successful mentoring programs at places like UNC School of Medicine and Kenan-Flagler Business School. Some mentoring pairs met more frequently.

An opportunity for growth and development

Williamson spoke to the growth and development he has seen in participants, “I’ve seen more and more growth and engagement in the colleagues that have participated and I’ve witnessed those participants develop a stronger connection with the rest of the office.”

“I’ve seen more and more growth and engagement in the colleagues that have participated and I’ve witnessed those participants develop a stronger connection with the rest of the office.” — Devin Williamson, SCE Mentoring Program Coordinator

Via a post-cohort survey, the current group of mentees almost unanimously characterized their participation as a success. According to Williamson, participants said that they “felt more satisfied with their job, more certain of their career path at UNC, more comfortable in the workplace, more socially connected, and that their skillset had been improved.”

Williams also said that all respondents to the survey said they would recommend the Mentor Program to their colleagues in the SCE.

Mentors speak to success

Accounting technician, Donald Hamm, said the mentor program was not a large time commitment and that six months went by very quickly. Based on initial recommendations and introductions from his mentor, Carly Perin, executive director of finance, Hamm continues to meet regularly with colleagues about career development goals.

 

William Lunn, a technology support technician, looked for help developing goals and finding a plan. Lunn said he read the book “The Inner Game of Tennis” at the recommendation of his mentor, systems programming specialist Alan Forrest. Forrest also encouraged Lunn to look into continuing education opportunities at UNC.

“The book alone was great, but I did a very detailed one-year, three-year and five-year plan and identified multiple steps and deadlines for personal and professional goals I wanted to achieve,” Lunn said.  “It helped me tremendously with my self-confidence.”

Develpoment despite departures

Joanne Filley, committee member and senior training and documentation analyst, touted the professional development aspect of the group’s mission. Despite the departure from the SCE of five employees affiliated with the program, Filley considers the program a success in terms of career development.

“Three of the five [departees] went on to pursue advancement opportunities at UNC for which they were better suited. That shows the benefit of this type of program for the University as a whole.” The other two staff members who left went on to pursue career advancement opportunities in the private sector according to Filley.

Mentors learn too

Mentors interviewed for this story also had resoundingly positive experiences with the program.

Mentor Collette Brown, executive director, Continuous Improvement, Staff Development and Engagement, unofficially mentors two other proteges outside of the program and continues to meet with her Mentoring Program protégé, Christine Shia.

Brown said she was drawn to be a mentor in the SCE-MP because of the resources available from the program committee and the support of other mentors who were participating.

IT manager, Marcus Wooton trained professionally in management and career development at his previous job. Wooton participated as a mentee in the first cohort of the program with mentor Bill Stockard, executive director of Human Capital Management and Shared Services.

“People talk about a Mentor being one of the best ways to grow yourself and your career,” Wooton said. He likes to ask mentees to identify a list of the five things that are most important to them. “You are often approached with ‘how do I get to the next level of my job?’ and a mentor should ask ‘Is that really what your goal is, or is the goal to have a better quality of life at home and at work?’”

Get involved

If you are an SCE employee interested in participating as a mentor or a mentee in 2020, please fill out the interest survey before January 17, 2020.

Assignment 5: Headlines and Push Notifications

Headline/push notification:

“September 12, 2019: You-Know-What At The NCGA.”

Source:

Chapelboro.com, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019

URL: https://chapelboro.com/the-aaron-keck-show/on-air-today/september-12-2019-you-know-what-at-the-ncga

Solutions:

GOP overrides Gov’s budget veto in NCGA surprise vote” (headline)

“Rep. Meyer,  WCHL’s Keck discuss GOP override vote of budget veto” (push)

Headline/push notification:

“Short time, long list of priorities for new police chief”

Source:

UNC University Gazette, Sept. 17, 2019

URL:

https://gazette.unc.edu/2019/09/17/short-time-long-list-of-priorities-for-new-police-chief/

(after 9/23) https://thewell.unc.edu/2019/09/short-time-long-list-of-priorities-for-new-police-chief/

Solutions:

“Chief Perry provides priorities pronto” (headline)

“In first 15 days new police chief talks, priorities, approach” (push)

Headline/push notification:

“There’s another expert player warming up to online election interference. We should worry.”

Source:

Washington Post op-ed, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.

URL:

https://wapo.st/2VeO5R9?tid=ss_mail

Solutions:

“Chinese election interference? We should worry.” (headline)

“Why we should worry about China’s potential election interference” (push)

Assignment 4: Revision

Mal’occhio: How an automotive curse saved my life.

The Accident

At 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, November 29, 1992, my Concord-grape Hyundai Sonata caressed the rear bumper of a rust black 70s era Chevy sedan in front of me. At the same time, a brand-new silver Dodge minivan completed the wine-press equation, crushed the rear-end of my car, and sent most of my collection of vinyl LPs tumbling through the Hyundai’s back seat into my lap.

This accident happened while traffic was moving at  eight miles-per-hour on the congested middle lane of the west-bound side of the now-replaced Tappan Zee Bridge. The Tappan Zee spans the Hudson River between Tarrytown and Nyack, New York.

My involvement in the accident was the fault of a restaurant owner’s grandmother in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I had relocated seven weeks earlier, and to where I was returning from a family Thanksgiving gathering at my childhood home in Silver Lake, New York.

Where I’m from

Silver Lake was and still is a heavily Italian influenced town. From April through early October roving packs of withered septuagenarian widows, dressed in black, tight white curls covered by black lace scarves, bent by the side of the road to harvest what we called “chick-KAWteeya,” the leaves of the abundant dandelions that grew curbside and in highway entrance ramp medians.  It wasn’t until I recently visited New Orleans that I realized the actual word I was hearing was “chicoria,” the Italian name for chicory. The rolling “r” gave it its exotic sound.

Parishioners at St.Anthony’s murmured “Strega Nona” about these widows, who knelt by the altar rail throughout the entire Sunday service as the widows nervously counted laps around their clacking rosary beads.  Children were warned to behave lest a Strega Nona give you the mal’occhio and put a curse on you.

The mal’occhio that was thrown at me in front of the Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill on Saturday, October 10, 1992, came from someone who looked like a Strega Nonna, but was miles removed from Silver Lake and was likely from somewhere further south and east on the Mediterranean Peninsula than Italy.

Since the passing of my mother in March of 1991, I was failing at adult life. I was drinking too much, fighting too much and crying too much. My abandonment of my apartment in Port Chester to move back in with my father was further avoidance of dealing with my issues.

When my dad moved on and found a new girlfriend who visited our home often, it was a sign that I had to make a drastic change.

How I chose Chapel Hill

A seven-inch record from a band named Superchunk planted the seed of Chapel Hill in my mind. Soon I was seeing articles about the Chapel Hill music scene in national magazines like Details, Spin, and even Rolling Stone.

Jeff Loh, propietor of Port Chester, NY record store, The Vinyl Solution. ca. 1990
Sonic Youth had written an infectious song about the town. Albums by bands associated with Chapel Hill like Flat Duo Jets and Southern Culture on the Skids would blare from the turntable at the Vinyl Solution, the unfortunately named small record store where I had a part-time job. When Polvo oozed out of the store’s speakers I was ready to consider moving to Chapel Hill.

The name Chapel Hill seemed to be calling to me through the ether.

When I received a Cat’s Cradle rock club schedule and saw the list of national bands that were playing there at a fraction of the cost of the same shows in New York City, I made the decision to quit my job and leave New York for a few years.

I was cursed when I arrived

I had driven into Chapel Hill from Silver Lake for the first time on October 8 in my pristine Hyundai packed with my entire wardrobe (which neatly filled a duffle bag at the time) a Hagstrom III electric guitar, and a small Roland Jazz Chorus amplifier.

I wound up sleeping on a friend’s couch for my first few weeks in town. It was frightening and I was no longer the little brother with eight older siblings nearby to make sure I succeeded.

Chapel Hill’s FestiFall Street ca. 2015
On the fateful Saturday I referred to earlier, I was enjoying Chapel Hill’s FestiFall street festival, with my friend whose couch was serving as my temporary bed.

The tiny and, as I learned, recently opened Mediterranean Deli set out a feast on the West Franklin street sidewalk. A small table was prepared with food samples being delivered to passersby by large friendly men with larger friendlier mustaches. Bouzouki music, not unlike the opening theme from “The Third Man,” blared from a boombox behind them.

The smell of spices filtering off the table was more than I could resist and I said “yes” to every taste of falafel and kebab and Turkish coffee and baklava proffered as I prevented other fair-goers from progressing. I caused a small traffic-jam on the crowded sidewalk. I eventually took a napkin and decided to say “no” when offered a fresh menu by the black-clad withered woman seated at the far end of the table.

“No?!” she cackled, “You ate…”

Sun glinted off her headscarf. More colorful than black lace, a thin sheer floral-patterned wrap allowed her blue-tinged white hair to peek out over her severely arched eyebrow. She squinted at me and then past me at the line of people I had delayed.

“Yes, thank you, it was delicious,” I responded.

“Then you take menu?”

“No, thank you.” And I loped off.

The curse

The witch’s floral headscarf remains vivid in my memories as well as the low growl that sounded behind me. I turned to see the Stregga Nonna of the Mediterranean Deli conjuring her right hand into a goat-horn symbol, twisting it in my direction, and contorting her face into a single-eyed grimace. She crumpled the refused menu in her left hand, barked “Feh!,” and spat on the ground.

In the next couple weeks, I blamed my car trouble on bad luck and stupidity not with the curse that accompanied the witch’s mal’occhio.

When my car began roaring like a nitro-fueled drag racer on I-40 and my muffler receded from view in my rear-view mirror flying sparks illuminating the late-night stretch of the Great Smoky Mountains behind me, it was nothing but bad luck. The temporary repossession of my Hyundai brought on by my stupidity in contacting my bank and giving them my address and a promise of payment soon. The witch with the floral headwrap never entered my thoughts.

The accident revisited

I attributed my post-Thanksgiving accident on the pull of my family; on my inability to make my way in Chapel Hill; on my wrong-headed notion that pursuing life as a musician was a good idea.

When a tow-truck deposited me and my crumped Hyundai in a holding lot on the edge of the Hudson River, I was ready to give up.

I called my oldest brother Len in Tarrytown, New York from the roadside phone booth. He and his wife picked me up. We shuffled my record collection and the other possessions I had picked up from home that weekend into their Nissan. I cried the whole ride back to Tarrytown.

I was exhausted and in a state of shock. I told my brother, “I’m not going back. This was all a bad idea. I can move back in with dad and find a new job here.” My family and Silver Lake were more comforting than dealing with my new problems like an adult. I slept hard for a few hours.

My brother Len woke me at about 9 p.m. and pressed a bus ticket at me.

“Rosie and I are going to drop you off at the White Plains bus station and get you back to Chapel Hill by tomorrow morning.”

I protested, “No way. I can’t afford that bus ticket. They won’t miss me at the new job. I’m not going back.”

My brother Len was about the size of a middling adult black bear. He also did not have a mean bone in his body.

When he smacked me and pulled me off the couch, my shock wore off.

“I will fight you, Paul. If you do not take this ticket and get back to North Carolina, I won’t forgive you. And you won’t forgive yourself.”

This was coming from the man who had taught me how to play guitar and who had never raised his voice in my presence. He walked me through his garage to his car.

I noticed my LPs from the accident, crated and piled neatly in a corner of the garage with everything else that had come out of the Hyundai earlier. Len saw me going for them and said, “you come back and get those at Christmas. Let’s go.”

“Straddled a greyhound and rode it toward Raleigh…”

I slept on the Greyhound as it made its way through Southern Westchester County to the Port Authority bus terminal. At Port Authority I switched buses and boarded the midnight Southern Express to Raleigh.

As the Southern Express filled with what seemed like hundreds of passengers the driver implored passengers to leave room in adjoining seats and share space. I found an open space next to a beautiful woman I noticed on the bus in White Plains.

I asked how far south she was travelling and by some stroke of luck, she responded that she lived in Chapel Hill. She would have a ride waiting in Raleigh and offered to get me back to Chapel Hill when we arrived the next morning.

As we rode south on the New Jersey Turnpike through sulfur stench and arc light glow, we exchanged stories.

She was an actress with a theatre company in Raleigh, and worked at a coffee shop in Chapel Hill. She was originally from Poughkeepsie, but had been living in Chapel Hill for five years. She liked Chapel Hill, but wanted to move someplace bigger. I told her about the car accident and the bus ticket.

She asked how I liked Chapel Hill so far. And she asked if I had done anything fun since moving there.

The floral headscarf rushed back in my memory. I told her about FestiFall and the Strega Nona of the Mediterranean Deli. She asked if I believed in curses.

“Not really I said.” She  arched an eyebrow and crinkled her nose, skeptically registering my answer.

We slept on and off as the bus crawled south on I-95. We would awake and share more snippets of our stories.

She told me about her boyfriend who would be meeting us in Raleigh. I told her a little bit about my mom’s death, and my troubles afterward and my move. I started crying.

“Do you believe in curses?” she asked again.

I replied again “No.”

The curse explained

As she looked at me again, piercing my brain with her deep blue eyes, she said “sometimes bad things happen and there’s no reason. Sometimes, someone gives you a push. A curse can be something very small, like car trouble. But curses are real and they’re manageable.

“The big stuff is harder, but if you manage the small curse, the larger problems sometimes fall in place.” Sadly, I do not remember this wise woman’s name.

We arrived in Raleigh about 9:45 a.m. Monday, November 30, 1992. Her boyfriend’s Toyota Corolla was waiting there for us. The boyfriend and I exchanged pleasantries. He was in the same theatre company; they were working on a production of “The Seagull;” I should come see it.

“Where would you like to be dropped off?” he asked.

“The Mediterranean Deli,” I said.

I had a Turkish coffee and a piece of baklava. I took two menus with me when I left.

What I learned

The Mediterranean Deli as it appears today.
If I am travelling further than Raleigh to the east or Greensboro to the west, I eat at the Med Deli a day or two before the trip.

Over the years, other cars have stranded me in Fredericksburg, Virginia or caught fire on Franklin Street. When these mishaps happen I realize, “I have forgotten to eat at the Med Deli recently.”

If I had not had the accident on the Tapan Zee Bridge; If my brother had not forced a bus ticket in my hand; If a stranger had not explained that a curse is what you make of it; would I still be in Chapel Hill? Would I have met my wife and best friend, a native of Durham, North Carolina?

I don’t know.

But if a withered Strega Nona had not placed a curse on me that made me crash my car on the Tappan Zee bridge, I may have given up on happiness sooner.

Assignment 3: Critique

A critique of Sara Campanelli’s “Price’s Mom: The story of how a new pup shaped me.”

Sara,

“Price’s Mom” is a heartwarming essay. You’ve done a great job conveying the fulfillment, excitement and responsibilities of pet companionship. Price is a very lucky pup.

I particularly like the short paragraph bursts in the middle of your essay explaining who you are now that Price is your charge and responsibility. I also really like the description of Price’s tail wagging and his attempts to stop it with his nipping.

A few recommendations I would make to improve the essay:

  • Add the tagline directly to the headline to draw readers in, e.g. “Price’s Mom: how a new pup shaped me.”
  • Consider breaking the opening paragraph into multiple shorter paragraphs for easier reading on digital and mobile devices.
  • Give me some details about the people and places you mention in this opening paragraph:
    • Where was the house where you picked up Price?
    • Did you find Price through an ad? An adoption agency? A breeder?

“He was so small and he was shaking with nerves and fear – he had just watched all his brothers and sisters leave him one by one and he was the last.”

    •  Was he the runt of the litter? Was the pups’ mom there? How many pups were there? Did you get to choose a pup specifically or was Price chosen for you?
    • Who are your friends? Are they classmates? Roommates? How many went with you?
    • Why did you drive two hours to get Price?
  • Try to replace some of the pronouns with more descriptive phrases or names. There is a lot of reference to “he” before we really get to know Price. Who is “he”?
  • Toward the end of the article, a shift in perspective from the personal may strengthen the relationship between you and Price that you are describing and help you avoid some passive-voice construction.
    • Consider changing:

      “I am greeted every day by a sweet, teddy bear face with round eyes and ecstatic grin…”
      To something like:
      “Price greets me excitedly….”

  • Tell me a little more about Price. What is his favorite treat? Where does he like to go for walks? Consider writing some from his perspective.
  • Referring to Price as “something” seems a little impersonal. “Someone” may be better or pick a trait to describe that embodies Price’s personality in this section.
  • Try breaking the final paragraph up into shorter paragraphs. The final line, “I am Price’s mom.” could be its own paragraph.

I look forward to hearing your critique of my article.

Mal’occhio: How an automotive curse saved my life.

The intended audience for “Mal’occhio: how an automotive curse saved my life” are readers of personal essays on sites like Longreads or The Morning News.

Abstract: The author blames a car accident in New York on a mysterious grandma in North Carolina and learns to deal with life’s problems from his eldest sibling and a beautiful stranger.

Keywords: mal’occhio; evil eye, curses, automotive problems, Italian-Americans; West Harrison, NY; Silver Lake, NY; Tappan Zee Bridge. chicory; chicoria.

 

At 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, November 29, 1992, my Concord-grape Hyundai Sonata caressed the rear bumper of a rust black 70s era Chevy sedan in front of me. At the same time, a brand-new silver Dodge minivan completed the wine-press equation, crushed the rear-end of my car, and sent most of my record collection tumbling through the Hyundai’s back seat into my lap. This accident happened at about  eight miles-per-hour on the congested middle lane of the west-bound side of the now-replaced Tappan Zee Bridge, which spanned the Hudson River between Tarrytown and Nyack, New York. My involvement in the accident was the fault of a restaurant owner’s grandmother in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I had relocated seven weeks earlier, and to where I was returning from a family Thanksgiving gathering at my childhood home in Silver Lake, New York.

My college roommate, Louis Bono reveled in taunting me  by telling new friends, “Dillo’s got a big family. And there’s a lot of them too!” He was not wrong on either count. I am “Dillo,” the youngest of nine children born in Silver Lake to Angelina and Joe. Technically, I was born in West Harrison, New York. West Harrison’s tiny local post-office was marked “East White Plains” and squatted next to an even tinier Italian delicatessen. The deli served the most delicious egg and potato sandwiches for breakfast and was crowded with rows of salamis and stinky cheeses hanging from the ceiling. “Silver Lake,” was the erroneously nicknamed outcropping of the Kensico reservoir near the center of the downtown. The lake, on maps from the early twentieth century, is called “St. Mary’s Lake.” I am still confused by all of it.

Silver Lake was and still is a heavily Italian influenced town. From April through early October roving packs of black clad septuagenarian widows, their tight white curls covered by black lace scarves, bent crooked by the side of the road to harvest what we called “chick-KAWteeya,” the leaves of the abundant dandelions that grew curbside and in highway entrance ramp medians.  “Chick-KAWteeya” is a phonetic approximation of the word. What I heard as a child could not be spelled. It clearly contained a “Q” and maybe a few “Ds” but no “U.”

What were they doing with all that roadside greenery? Clearly, it was whipped into potions to be used for dark magic. Parishioners at St.Anthony’s murmured “Stregga Nonne” about these chick-KAWteeya-picking widows, who  knelt by the altar rail throughout the entire Sunday service. “Strega Nonne” is literally “grandma witches.” Children were warned to behave lest a Strega Nonna give you the mal’occhio and put a curse on you. I was certain that when (not if) I was given the evil-eye, it would involve having to eat “chick-KAWteeya.”  It wasn’t until I recently visited New Orleans that I realized the actual word I was hearing was “chicoria,” the Italian name for chicory. The rolling “r” gave it its exotic sound..

Well, the mal’occhio that was thrown at me in front of the Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill on Saturday, October 10, 1992 came from someone who looked like a Strega Nonna, but was miles removed from Silver Lake and was likely from somewhere further south and east on the Mediterranean Peninsula than Italy.

I had driven into Chapel Hill from Silver Lake for the first time two days earlier in my pristine Hyundai packed with my entire wardrobe (which neatly filled a duffle bag at the time) a Hagstrom III electric guitar, and a small Roland Jazz Chorus amplifier. I knew one person in town, Jon Whaley, and he was a generous host, providing me a couch to sleep on while I looked for a place of my own. It was frightening and I was no longer the little brother with eight older siblings nearby to make sure I succeeded.

On the previously mentioned fateful Saturday, Jon and I were enjoying Chapel Hill’s FestiFall street festival. The tiny and, as I learned, recently opened Mediterranean Deli set out a feast on the West Franklin street sidewalk. A small table was prepared with food samples being delivered to passersby by large friendly men with larger friendlier mustaches. Bouzouki music, not unlike the opening theme from “The Third Man,” blared from a boombox behind them.  The smell of spices filtering off the table was more than I could resist and  I said “yes” to every taste of falafel and kebab and Turkish coffee and baklava proffered as I prevented other fair-goers from progressing. I caused a small traffic-jam on the crowded sidewalk. I eventually took a napkin and decided to say “no” when offered a fresh menu by the black-clad withered woman seated at the far end of the table.

“No?!” she cackled, “You ate…”

Sun glinted off her headscarf. More colorful than black lace, a thin sheer floral-patterned wrap allowed her blue-tinged white hair to peek out over her severely arched eyebrow. She squinted at me and then past me at the line of people I had delayed.

“Yes, thank you, it was delicious,” I responded.

“Then you take menu?”

“No, thank you.” And I loped off.

The witches’ floral headscarf remains vivid in my memories as well as the low growl that sounded behind me. I turned to see the Stregga Nonna of the Mediterranean Deli conjuring her right hand into a goat-horn symbol, twisting it in my direction, and contorting her face into a single-eyed grimace. She crumpled the refused menu in her left hand, barked “Feh!,” and spat on the ground.

In the next couple weeks, I blamed my car trouble on bad luck and stupidity not with the curse that accompanied the mal’occhio. When my car began roaring like a nitro-fueled drag racer on I-40 and my muffler receded from view in my rear-view mirror illuminating the late-night stretch of the Great Smoky Mountains behind me, it was nothing but bad luck. I attributed the temporary repossession of my Hyundai to my stupidity in contacting my bank and giving them my address and a promise of payment soon. The witch with the floral headwrap never entered my thoughts.

I attributed the post-Thanksgiving accident on the pull of my family; on my inability to make my way in Chapel Hill; on my wrong-headed notion that pursuing life as a musician was a good idea. When the tow-truck deposited me and my Hyundai in a holding lot on the edge of the Hudson River in Nyack, I was ready to give up. I called my oldest brother Len in Tarrytown, from the roadside phone booth. He and his wife Rosie picked me up. We shuffled my record collection into their Nissan and all my other possessions I had picked up from home that weekend. I cried the whole ride back to Tarrytown.

I was exhausted and in a state of shock. I told my brother, “I’m not going back. This was all a bad idea. I can move back in with dad and find a new job here.” My family and Silver Lake were more comforting than dealing with my new problems like an adult.

Since the passing of my mother about eighteen months earlier, I was failing at adult life. I was drinking too much, fighting too much and crying too much. My abdication of my own apartment in Port Chester to move back in with my father was further avoidance of dealing with my issues. When my dad moved on and found a new girlfriend who visited our home often, it was a sign that I had to make a drastic change.

A seven-inch record from a band named Superchunk planted the seed of Chapel Hill in my mind. Soon I was seeing articles about the Chapel Hill music scene in national magazines like Details, Spin, and even Rolling Stone. Sonic Youth had written an infectious song about the town. Albums by bands like Flat Duo Jets and Southern Culture on the Skids would blare from the Vinyl Solution’s turntable.  The name Chapel Hill seemed to be calling to me through the ether. When Polvo oozed out of the store’s speakers I was ready to consider moving to Chapel Hill. When I received a Cat’s Cradle rock club schedule and saw the list of national bands that were playing there, at a fraction of the cost of the same shows in New York City, I made the decision to quit my job and leave New York for a few years.

But I was back in Tarrytown. Silver Lake was a mere eight miles away.

I slept hard after the car accident. My brother Len woke me at about 9 p.m. and pressed a bus ticket at me. “Rosie and I are going to drop you off at the White Plains bus station and get you back to Chapel Hill by tomorrow morning.”  I protested “No way. I can’t afford that bus ticket and I need to deal with my car. They won’t miss me at the new job. I’m not going back.” My brother Len was about the size of a middling adult black bear. Remember, “I have a big family.”

Len also did not have a mean bone in his body. When he smacked me and pulled me off the couch, my shock wore off. “I will fight you, Paul. If you do not take this ticket and get back to North Carolina, I won’t forgive you. And you won’t forgive yourself.” This was coming from the man who had taught me how to play guitar and who had never raised his voice in my presence. He walked me through his garage to his car. I noticed my records from the accident, crated and piled neatly in a corner of the garage with everything else that had come out of the Hyundai earlier. Len saw me going for them and said, “you come back and get those at Christmas. Let’s go.”

I slept on the Greyhound as it made its way through Southern Westchester County to the Port Authority bus terminal. At Port Authority I switched buses and boarded the midnight Southern Express to Raleigh. I found a window seat near the rear where I could prop my head on my backpack and sleep. While drifting off, I noticed a beautiful woman from the bus in White Plains boarding the bus along with what felt like hundreds of other passengers. As the bus filled the driver implored passengers to leave room in adjoining seats. The beautiful woman sat a few rows ahead of me, and there was an empty seat next to her. I abandoned my seat and sat there, thinking it would be a more pleasant ten hours in her company.

I asked how far south she was travelling and by some stroke of luck, she responded that she lived in Chapel Hill. She would have a ride waiting in Raleigh and offered to get me back to Chapel Hill when we arrived the next morning. As we rode south on the New Jersey Turnpike through sulfur stench and arc light glow, we exchanged stories. She was an actress with a theatre company in Raleigh, and worked at a coffee shop in Chapel Hill. She was originally from Poughkeepsie, but had been living in Chapel Hill for five years. She liked Chapel Hill, but wanted to move someplace bigger. I told her about the car accident and the bus ticket Len forced on me.

She asked how I liked Chapel Hill so far. And she asked if I had done anything fun since moving there. At that moment the floral headscarf rushed back in my memory. I told her about FestiFall and the Stregga Nonna. I told her I remembered the mal’occhio. She asked if I believed in curses. “Not really I said.” She looked at me and crinkled her nose and furrowed her brow trying to look serious.  She had long dark hair, very pale skin and blue eyes. We drifted to sleep for a while.

When we awoke again at a Greyhound station somewhere south of D.C. we, resumed our conversation She told me about her boyfriend who would be meeting us in Raleigh. I told her a little bit about my mom’s death, and my troubles afterward and my move. And I started crying. “Do you believe in curses?” she asked again, and I replied again “No.”

As she looked at me again, piercing my brain with her deep blue eyes, she said “sometimes bad things happen and there’s no reason. Sometimes, someone gives you a push. The curse can be something very small, like car trouble. But curses are real and they’re manageable. The big stuff is harder, but if you manage the small curse, the larger problems sometimes fall in place.” Sadly, I do not remember this wise woman’s name.

We arrived in Raleigh about 9:45 a.m. that Monday morning, November 30, 1992. Her boyfriend’s Toyota Corolla was waiting there for us. The boyfriend and I exchanged pleasantries. He was in the same theatre company; they were working on a production of “The Seagull;” I should come see it. “Where would you like to be dropped off?” he asked. “The Mediterranean Deli,” I said.

I had a Turkish coffee and a piece of baklava. I took two menus with me when I left.

If I am travelling further than Raleigh to the east or Greensboro to the west, I eat at he Mediterranean Deli a day or two before the trip.  Over the years, other cars have stranded me in Fredericksburg, Virginia or caught fire on Franklin Street. When this happens I realize, “I have forgotten to eat at the Med Deli recently.”

27 years later, I am still in Chapel Hill. I am married to my best friend, a native of Durham who I met at one of my bartending gigs while music was still my job. She is the smartest, funniest person I know. I have good friends. I have a good job. I don’t know if I would have any of these things if a withered Stregga Nonna had not given me the mal’occhio and placed a curse on me that made me crash my car on the Tappan Zee bridge.

The Old Ballgame

“There were two men down, and the score was tied, in the bottom of the eighth, when the pitcher died.” – Paul Simon

Mighty Casey waited

On a dark and stormy night

For the next pitch to arrive.

But he could have waited until his face turned blue.

The next pitch would never come.

The pitcher had shuffled off this mortal coil.

He left it all on the field.

He had followed the game plan

And gave all thanks to God for his talents.

He was a good man,

But in the end, he had ceased to exist.

He would not get the last big out.

Mighty Casey waited.