Monthly Archives: June 2011

Greetings from Petersburg, Va.:Tales from the road. A stunning Federer defeat. And the butter sculpture lady dies

I am writing to you from Room 104 of the Quality Inn in Petersburg, Va., and I’m pretty exhausted.
With my father riding shotgun, drove 650 miles from Daytona Beach to Petersburg today, as I start my journey to my new life in New York. Since I’m the kind of person who thinks odd things anyway, spending 11 hours in a car driving up the East Coast filled my head with things like this…

— There must be a lot of pressure on gas station attendants who work at stores that boast on highway billboards that they have “extremely clean” restrooms. Do you think if a customer stops there and the toilet is filthy, they come out yelling “But back by Exit 254 it said they’d be clean!”
— Speaking of billboards, anyone who’s driven I-95 in the Carolinas knows there are an inordinate number of signs promoting “South of the Border,” that bizarre shopping/entertainment complex in S.C.
Well, I actually counted the signs Wednesday. There are 51 “SOTB” billboards between Fla. and S.C. Fifty-goddamn-one. That’s too many.

— I know I can’t prove this, but North Carolina has the friendliest waitresses in America. I believed it when I lived there for a few years, and was reminded of it again tonight at dinner. Just love N.C. Although they did give us Jesse Helms…

— For the first time since August, 2002, I’m unemployed. Feels weird to say it or write it. But as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, I’m just a full-time grad student. Odd.

— Finally, I achieved a major victory in my family Wed. My father is a notoriously cranky passenger; the man loves to drive more than Tiger Woods likes to … well, you know. And yet he relented when I insisted, and he let me drive 2/3 of the way Wednesday. If you are in my family or know my Dad, you know what a huge deal that is.
I was proud.

**Since I was in the car all day I didn’t see any of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga’s stunning five-set comeback win over Roger Federer at Wimbledon. I’m glad that I didn’t see it, and annoyed I didn’t see it: glad because I’m sure it would’ve been painful as a huge Federer fan to see him get steamrolled the last three sets, as he blew a lead he’d never blown in a Slam before. But annoyed because apparently it took an incredible performance by Tsonga, a Frenchman who’s always had all the strokes needed to be a Top 5 player, but mentally would crumble at key moments.
This is two straight years Fed has lost in the quarters in Wimbledon. Man, that’s hard to believe just looking at that sentence. The writing on the wall gets louder and louder: Fed may never win another Grand Slam.

**Finally, a few words of praise for a woman who achieved excellence in a very strange field.
In the state of Iowa, she was known simply as the butter cow lady, and she died Sunday at age 81.

Norma “Duffy “Lyon got famous over the past several decades for creating these incredibly life-like, ornate butter sculptures of famous people and animals.

Sure, it might not be your cup of tea (or cream, to be dairy-appropriate for this story). Sure, you may think it’s a little bit creepy to see a buttery version of Elvis Presley (above).

But I love that Lyon worked so hard on these sculptures, making them beautiful. She was absolutely the best at her chosen craft, and that is always something to be admired.
Wonder if anyone ever walked up to one of her masterpieces and dubiously said “Is it butter? I can’t believe it’s not butter!”
OK, that was bad. But I couldn’t resist.

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Announcing: TV you can smell. Slam dunks in beer pong. And a classic MLB manager tirade by Jim Leyland

There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to new technology. At least that’s what I think. Sometimes, the people who make new stuff for us in their labs and factories need to step back and say: Do we really need this?

I refer to you to this recent story I saw about the fine folks at UC-San Diego and Samsung, who are trying to develop a way for TV viewers to be able to smell things through their TV.
That’s right, instead of just seeing flowers in a garden, or pasta primavera cooking on the stove, you can smell them right in your living room!
Apparently the way it works is, Samsung and UCSD are developing a component where a current passes through wires that are in a water based solution. The solution heats up and builds pressure. There is a tiny hole in an “elastomer” that opens, which releases the odor.

Fabulous. For all the great odors we could get (what does Michelle Pfeiffer’s perfume smell like in “The Fabulous Baker Boys?”) we’d also get terrible ones, like raw sewage.
So on behalf of TV viewers everywhere, a message to Samsung and their colleagues: We’re good, thanks. We don’t need to involve every sense when watching mindless programming.

**I’m a big Jim Leyland fan. Thought he was a great manager of the Pirates back in their glory days of the early 1990s, and always was amused how he tried to sneak cigarettes in the dugout.
Well, Monday night the man now managing the Detroit Tigers went on one of the great tirades I’ve seen in a while. Enjoy.

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**Finally, this amused me greatly. The greatest slam dunk in beer pong you will ever see:

What I won’t miss about being a sportswriter. R.I.P., Lorenzo Charles. And ordering a lawyer like pizza

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So yesterday in this space I wrote about all the things I will miss most about being a sportswriter. And believe me, there’s been plenty of wonderful things about my career.
But you know, it hasn’t all been peaches and ice cream, as a famous philosopher once said.
Here are some of the things I definitely won’t miss:

–Obnoxious parents. Of high school athletes. Who call or email or better yet, accost you in person and want to know why you favor Team X or Player Y instead of their perfectly wonderful child who oh by the way averaged three points per game last year. I was once told by a Mom that I’d “ruined her daughter’s life forever” when we didn’t pick her kid for player of the year. Somehow, I think the kid has survived.
— The awful feeling when your story changes right before deadline. An Auburn kicker named Wes Byrum once ruined my entire night by kicking a game-winning field goal against Florida in the final seconds. I’d already written my column and was about to file it. Then the dude hits like a 49-yarder and I’m cursing him and furiously re-writing at the same time.

— Athletes who are so not big-time acting like they are, and treating you like scum for daring to invade their space to ask a few questions.

— Getting locked inside stadiums. When you’re the last one to leave because you’re working while everyone else is driving home, it happens. At least three times, it happened to me. One time I had to call the cops. He was chuckling as he got out of the car, I swear.

— The “hurry up and wait” parts of the job. We rush down to the locker room, only to twiddle our thumbs for 20 minutes while the players spent an eternity hiding in the showers.

— The awful feeling when you wake up in bed at 3 a.m., bolt upright, and think “Dammit, did I call him Kelly instead of Keith in my story?” And knowing there’s nothing you can do about it.

Ah, the 3 a.m. sweats. I take it back; I will miss those.

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**There are some athletes who have only one truly memorable moment in their careers. But their moments happen on such a huge stage, that one moment is all they need.
I’m talking about Larry Mize in golf. Timmy Smith in football. And Mr. Lorenzo Charles, former power forward for the 1983 N.C. State basketball team.
He was on the other end of the most famous alley-oop in college basketball history, dunking in a wild shot from teammate Dereck Whittenburg in the ’83 NCAA title game and giving the Wolfpack the national title.

It was, of course, followed by the iconic image of Jim Valvano dashing onto the court and looking for someone to hug. Charles, who I always remember looking a little confused after his winning shot, died Monday in Raleigh, when the bus he was driving crashed on I-40.

From all accounts, he was a warm, generous man who will be sorely missed.
But he’ll always be remembered for one glorious moment in ’83.

**Finally today, this story left me brimming with questions. A new service called Lawyer Up Now guarantees its subscribers that if they get into a jam and need an attorney, one will be delivered to you in 15 minutes.
First of all, it takes 30 minutes for Domino’s to get a pizza to me (not that I eat their swill; I much prefer Papa John’s), but you’re telling me I can get a dude to advise me in half that time?
Secondly, what, are there lawyers for this company just manning a call center, waiting for a call and then dashing off across town? I picture them as, like, low-rent superheroes in suspenders and a tie, just waiting for that legal emergency.
My guess is the only people using this service are drunk college kids at 3 a.m. on the weekends.
Come to think of it, there’s a lot of those around. Could be a lucrative business.

After 14 years, here’s what I’ll miss about being a sportswriter. Mitt Romney, whitest guy in America. And cool hockey puck tricks

I have two days left in my career as a full-time professional journalist. So naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about what I’m going to miss. Unlike most people, I’ve had a job and a career that I’ve loved, almost every day that I’ve done it.
Here are a few things I will miss about this wonderful ride of being a sportswriter:

— The adrenaline rush of deadline. Nothing like it. Hard to explain it to people who haven’t experienced it. But when you’re covering a game and it’s close and you’re writing furiously and the clock is ticking and you’re not quite sure you’ve nailed the lede… but then you do and hit “send” on your story and you make it by three minutes, it’s an incredible surge of energy.

— Meeting famous people. I’m never been the starstruck type, even when I was first starting out. But a few people left me in awe, and had me nervous as I approached them for the first time: Billie Jean King and Dean Smith are legends in their field, but they couldn’t have been nicer to me. Martina Navratilova, ditto. There were a few jerks I met along the way, too (I’m looking at you, Andre Miller and Sterling Sharpe), but for the most part the famous people I met were nice.
And gave me stories to tell my friends (my buddy Andrew liked a particular story about Derrick Coleman in the locker room, for example. Let’s just say I saw more of Derrick than most fans.)
— Getting a tip on a great story, and then doing the interviews for it, and it turns out even greater than you’d hoped. That’s happened to me a few times, and you just sit there thinking “Man, this person is doing such a great job telling me their story. I just hope I don’t screw it up.”
And honestly, that’s a lot of what writing is sometimes: Getting out of the way of the material when it’s incredibly good.

–Free food in the press box. Can’t overstate it enough: Feeding the media is the No.1 thing teams can do to make us happy. I’ve had some great free meals over the years at games; a lunch at a football game at Navy one year was maybe the best one I ever had.
— The lucky feeling when you know you’re at a huge game. Thousands of people would’ve liked to have been in my seat at a few Duke-UNC basketball games in the late 1990s, sitting courtside. I never forgot how fortunate I was.

— Really nice parents of athletes you write about. Ninety percent of them are great; I once met a guy on an airplane in North Carolina who couldn’t thank me enough for a story I wrote on his son, like two years earlier. I felt terrible that I couldn’t even remember writing it, to be honest. To have such an impact on people’s lives is something that journalists don’t stop and think about often enough. You write a story about someone, it takes you a day.
They’ll remember it for a lifetime. And I thought that was always kind of cool.

OK, I’m sure there’s more but you have things to do besides read this blog all day.

Tomorrow, a list of the things I won’t miss.

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**So Mitt Romney continues to get all kinds of attention as the front-runner in the race to be the Republican presidential candidate that gets slaughtered next fall. And ole’ Mitt’s idiotic comment last week that “I’m unemployed, too” while speaking to a group of possible voters reminded me why I love the phony so much.

So I thought I’d bring back one of Mitt’s greatest hits: This was from the 2008 election, as Romney hung out with a bunch of African-American kids in Jacksonville, Fla. Yes folks, this is the whitest man in America:

**So this is pretty impressive. Tomas Jurco is an 18-year-old hockey player who was just taken in the second round by the Detroit Red Wings in last week’s draft.

Check out the wicked-cool moves young Mr. Jurco can do with his stick. It gets really good about the :50 mark:

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A glorious day as marriage equality comes to New York. A crazy soccer celebration. And the shot of Wimbledon

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“New York made a powerful statement. Not just for the people of New York, but people all across this nation. We reached a new level of social justice this evening.” — Governor Andrew Cuomo

Today is a glorious day for those who believe we really are all created equal.
A glorious day for the opponents of intolerance and bigotry, and hatred.
Just before 11 p.m. Friday night, the New York state senate passed a law that will finally allow gay couples to marry in the state.

The third-most populous state in these United States has made it legal for gays and lesbians to do the most simple and time-honored tradition known to man: get married.

It was a spectacular, spine-tingling moment, hearing the roll called, then the vote total announced, followed by whooping and cheering and chants of “U-S-A!” going up in the New York state capitol building.

Major kudos to the four Republicans who voted for this bill, though I continue to fail to see why this is a left/right political issue. The Republicans who voted for it deserve a lot of credit.

And young Governor Cuomo is quickly establishing himself as a serious political force. He’s gotten NY’s unions to agree to concessions, is on his way to balancing the budget, and had a major role in getting this legislation passed. Maybe we were just one generation too early, expecting a President Cuomo.

It’s a wonderful day for all who believe in equal rights. Take it away, Sam Cooke…

**Couple quick videos to entertain you on this Saturday. First a very cool shot by Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon the other day. He lost the match, but this was an incredible play:

And then a very cool celebration by a soccer player for the Seattle Sounders after he scores a goal. Watch the replay starting at 0:58 to see a pretty cool move:

The saddest bank robbery story ever. A crazy-weird motorcycle crash. And the Manning boys get a new TV “show.”

This has to be one of the saddest things I’ve heard this year.
A 59-year-old man in North Carolina named James Verone walked into a bank and asked the teller to give him a dollar, and said it was a robbery. He had no gun. He just wanted to be arrested and taken to jail.

Where he could receive health care. Verone had several serious medical problems, and was uninsured. And though he’d never been in trouble with the law before, he was desperate, and figured this was the only way he could get seen by a doctor and be able to pay for it.

What does that say about us as a country? And how in the WORLD can anyone hear this man’s story, and be against universal health care?

**This might be the strangest motorcycle crash I’ve ever seen. Watch what happens when the two bikes collide in the middle of a race, and watch the helplessness of the poor guy trying to get his bike back. Just bizarre:

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**Finally, just about any commercial Peyton Manning does amuses me. I still love the “Cut That Meat” ad from a few years ago.

Eli Manning isn’t as funny, but he was great in this: A trailer for a new (fake) show called “Football Cops.”

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Obama’s disappointing troops withdrawal plan. A closed restaurant makes me sad. And incredible photos of the sun

Tennis fans: Check out my Wimbledon blog here, featuring a soon-to-be infamous clip of Dick Enberg accidentally saying something dirty. Also, I played my last tennis match as a Floridian Wednesday night; pulled out a tight 7-6, 6-4 win. Was it important to me that I leave on a triumph? You bet your ass it was.

So President Barack Obama went on television Wednesday night, and said that we would withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, and that the rest of the 33,000 troops who went over there as part of the “surge” would be coming home by the end of next summer.

Great! Terrific! Fantastic! Except, you know, that means there will still be close to 70,000 troops in Afghanistan. They’ll be brought home, Obama said, sometime in 2014.
Which means by that point we’ll have been in Afghanistan for 12 years. TWELVE YEARS.
Sigh. This president has become a full-fledged war president, hasn’t he? Twelve years in Afghanistan, a place that has become the 21st century Vietnam.
Things ain’t changing over there. They’re not going to change no matter how many American troops are on the ground.
Once again, Barack Obama takes the slow, incremental approach. Once again, those of us who believe this war should end immediately are told to be patient, he’s doing the right thing, etc.
Wrong. Bring the damn troops home now. Enough is enough.

**So there’s a restaurant in Daytona Beach that I pass every day going to and from work.
It’s called Billy’s Tap Room, and in its heyday it was a pretty popular place. It was one of those pubs where regulars met to discuss their lives, have a few drinks, and eat some food.
Anyway, it went out of business last June, and people were sad, stories about it were written in the paper, the passing of a landmark, yada yada yada.
And yet, 12 months later, the sign for the place is still up. Every day, people are reminded that what used be a great place no longer exists.
Why is the sign still up? Who knows. Shouldn’t someone take it down? Probably. But it just makes me a little sad that people who loved the place have to constantly be reminded that it’s not there anymore.  It just lingers as a memory of better times.

**I think I’ve pimped the way-cool Boston Globe feature called The Big Picture before; they basically take an event, or series of events, and run some incredible, large photographs.
The latest installment is about the summer solstice, and other great photos of the sun setting since early June.
No. 7,  No. 23, and No. 26 are just breathtaking, but most of them are really beautiful.

The two men who are the typo police: my heroes! A way cool hula hoop video. And the man who stopped paying his fellow gov’t employees

I have two new heroes. Their names are Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson, and it is their life’s mission to fix typos on signs and restaurant menus.
This is an enormous pet peeve of mine. It drives me crazy to see how many mistakes there are on marquees, on printed materials, and especially on restaurant menus. (True story: I once stopped eating at a good deli in NYC because even after I pointed out the typos on the menus (hand-written every day, fresh, mind you!) to the owner, they never would fix them.
Call me a spelling snob, I don’t care. It shows me, as a customer in your establishment, that if you don’t care enough to spell things correctly and check them over, how much attention are you paying to other areas of the business, like service?

Anyway, I love what Jeff and Benjamin are doing. I’d buy them a tank of gas or two if they asked me to.
Typos are a scourge on the fabric of this country, because people just don’t care anymore. They don’t care about accuracy, about professionalism, about spelling things right.

Rock on, Jeff and Benjamin. Keep fighting the good fight.
(Update: I must come down from my high horse a little. I had a couple of typos in my post about typos. They’ve been fixed. Insert your own joke here.)

**This may either creep you out and make you dizzy, or like me you’ll think it’s really cool. This is the view of what hula-hooping looks like, from the point of view of a hula hoop:

**Finally, this story stopped me in my tracks Tuesday night. The Controller of the state of California stopped the paychecks for all 120 state lawmakers, after he determined they failed to meet a voter-approved law that gets the Legislature to approve balanced budgets on time.
The Controller, John Chiang is quoted as saying  “The decisions we make in this office are incredibly difficult, but we call it straight. In many senses we view ourselves as a neutral umpire. We call balls and strikes.”

This is fascinating to me. Here’s a government worker basically holding politicians to a state-mandated promise: balance the budget. And to hopefully stop all the bickering and arguing, he stopped paying the legislators.
Of course, both sides of the aisle are pissed at Chiang.
Which means he probably came up with a great idea. Maybe it’ll catch on.

The Obama opponent I fear most jumps in the race. Venus Williams’ hideous new outfit. And Jon Stewart, thoughtfully, appears on Fox News

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We’re only about 16 months away from the next presidential campaign, and up until now I’ve been pretty uninterested.
Seeing the complete lack of serious candidates on the Republican side (Santorum? Gingrich? Really?) had me feel pretty comfortable. Even if Sarah Palin jumped in, I wasn’t really worried. Mitt Romney is a phony, Tim Pawlenty keeps making one mistake after another, and I saw no one in the field who truly could look, act and talk presidentially. If Barack Obama was to lose, it’d be a self-inflicted wound that killed him, I thought.
Until Jon Huntsman got in the race, which he apparently will do today. Jon Huntsman scares me a little bit, I have to tell you.
He’s a former governor of Utah, so you know he’s conservative (Utah likes Democrats about as much as kids like lima beans). He’s not a nut-job, which immediately puts him in the upper-tier of candidates.
He’s smart, not nearly as conservative as some GOP primary voters will want him to be (he supports civil unions), but from what I’ve seen he’s a very smooth speaker who can get his point across without shouting or browbeating the audience.
Of course, the fact that he worked for the Obama administration as the Ambassador to China will hurt him in GOP circles. But as this NYT story points out, it also helps him in a lot of other ways.

I don’t know enough about Huntsman to be truly frightened of him. But he’s certainly the most electable Republican I’ve seen so far this cycle.
So yeah, I’m a little worried as a Democrat. 

**OK, I’m no fashion expert. It was until I was in my late 20s that I really learned what “matching” meant, and there are still some sweaters I was forced to throw away by women that I still will fight to the death for.

But even though I ain’t no Tim Gunn, certainly I can’t be the only one to wonder what the hell it was Venus Williams was wearing on Centre Court at Wimbledon Monday.
Seriously Venus, it looks like something a “Star Wars” character would wear on the spaceship. Or maybe it just looks like a frock of some kind. Either way, it’s really, really bad.
Isn’t there someone who could’ve told her that?

**Finally, I’m always fascinated with how Fox News treats people who call them out. Jon Stewart, of course, has been taking shots at the Roger Ailes propaganda machine (very warranted shots) for as long as he’s been hosting “The Daily Show.”

Sunday, Stewart went on Fox to have a sit-down with Chris Wallace, one of Fox’s more toned-down idealogues. It was really fascinating television; watch the whole thing if you have time.
The false equivalency of Wallace baffles me; watch how he continues to try to say Fox News is just like the NY Times and CBS, while Stewart keeps trying to show him that they’re not.
Really entertaining stuff. (For the full, unedited version of the interview, click here.)


Goodbye journalism, hello grad school: Details on my new life adventure. And a baseball team pays tribute to “Weekend at Bernie’s”

I first walked into a professional newspaper newsroom in June, 1996. I was 20 years old, in between my junior and senior years in college, and I had a summer internship at the The Tennessean, in Nashville, Tenn.
On my first day, I walked through the lobby, up the stairs to the newsroom, and completely fell in love.
Keyboards hummed. Phones rang. Editors yelled for reporters. Reporters yelled back. Eleven different channels of news came out of the TVs. It was glorious and chaotic and intoxicating. I took a moment and just smiled.
This is where I belonged. This is what I want to do with my life.

I’d had a pretty good idea over the previous few years that this, going out and seeing stuff happen, then writing about it for everyone who hadn’t, was what my calling was.
But that first day in Nashville, I was certain I was making the right choice.
I’ve been a professional journalist for the last 14 years, starting with my first job in Wilmington, N.C. in June, 1997. And it has been awesome. I’ve seen amazing things, had fantastic experiences, like hanging out with the Laker Girls for a day (hey, I was on assignment, can’t you tell in the pic above?) and covering the NCAA Tournament and interviewing some incredible people.
Next Wednesday will be the last day of my journalism career.
I’m making a pretty radical change in my life starting in two weeks: I’m leaving the writing profession and moving from Florida to New York. I’m enrolling in graduate school, at Queens College, to pursue a Masters Degree in secondary education.
Basically, I want to become an English/writing teacher, at either junior high or high school level. Eventually, I’d love to teach journalism, if there still is such a thing.
Why am I doing this? Bunch of reasons. For one, this has been a year of major change in my life. Some of you already know this, but in October I asked my wife for a divorce, after 3 1/2 years of marriage. It was difficult and painful but very necessary.

Even before that, though, I knew a change was coming. My journalism career hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped; absolutely nothing wrong with my current status, but I wanted more, and thought I’d be at a bigger place doing bigger things by now.
So I’d been frustrated for at least a year or so, tried to move into PR as I saw the newspaper world I love so much shrinking and shrinking. Couldn’t land a gig in PR, and so I thought about teaching.
My parents were both teachers. My wife was a teacher. Many of my friends and their parents are teachers.

It’s a field I’ve long resisted, but I think it’s something I will enjoy. Teachers have been so instrumental in my life, and I hope I can one day be an instrument of learning to others, to pay back what I’m so grateful for.

I also love kids; I think it’s incredibly important to work in a profession you feel can do some good in the world, and hey, it’s a new challenge. I literally have NO idea if I’ll be any good  at this, or if I’ll like it 1/10th as much as I’ve loved journalism.
But you gotta take risks in this life, and so off I go into a brave new world.

**A couple other notes: I fully expect to keep writing this blog, and am so grateful for your support of it the last two years. The only thing that will change is instead of stories from the sportswriting world (like riding with a NASCAR driver at 130 miles per hour) I’ll probably have stories of a mid-30s dude returning to school, and the hilarity and fear that ensues there. And then hopefully stories from the classroom, if I’m fortunate enough to find a job doing something I hope I’ll love as much as the career I’ve enjoyed.

Also, expect a few nostalgic posts here over the next few weeks, about what I will (a whole lot) and won’t miss (also quite a lot) about journalism, and probably a farewell to Florida, a strange land where I’ve lived and surprisingly enjoyed greatly over the past 5 1/2 years.

So there you go. A whole new direction in my life begins in 2 weeks. No idea how it’ll turn out.
But isn’t that part of the fun?

**And on another note, this cracked me up. The University of Texas-Arlington baseball team is a big fan of the classic 80s movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Specifically, the scene where Bernie dances at a party. Enjoy.