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Tar Heel (red, white and blue)

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He had the wide-eyed look of a child maybe one-third his age. Stepping out of the portal into the cavernous expanse that comprises the heart of the Dean Dome, he exhaled and stood still, soaking it all in. Nearly 90 minutes before tip-off, the sight of a mostly empty basketball arena seemed to resonate with him in a manner that even diehard fans will never appreciate.

"This is my first time here," he said. His casual attire, neat mustache and close-cropped hair did little to distinguish him from the thousands of fans who would soon fill the building.

"I drove up from Charleston, South Carolina, to be here," he continued. "I just got back from Iraq."

Without having to say it, the inference was clear. He obviously was a Tar Heel fan, as evidenced by his knowledge of the incoming class of recruits for 2006. This was the type of reward that soldiers often promise themselves if they survive a harrowing experience. "When I get home, the first thing I'm going to do is...."

"Welcome back," I told him, before pointing out some of the details of the jerseys, banners and stadium features I've come to take for granted over the years.

He seemed genuinely appreciative and took pictures to savor the moment. I wished him a good night as he left in search of his seat.

Perhaps Jesse Helms and the Pope Foundation don't believe that a supposedly liberal institution like UNC would welcome a war veteran like this young man, but they'd be wrong. We are just as patriotic and supportive of our armed forces as any other institution of higher learning.

We still stand in honor of, as the public address announcer says, "our country and those who serve to protect her" at the playing of our national anthem. In case you didn't notice, those are ROTC cadets bearing the stars and stripes. I can't even recall the last time I saw football coach John Bunting on game day without a red, white and blue ribbon pinned to his shirt. Liberal? Perhaps. Unpatriotic? Absolutely not.

I hope that young veteran felt right at home amid a light-blue sea of screaming fans. He deserved to enjoy his 225-mile pilgrimage to this secular cathedral of athletic competition. For just a few hours, perhaps he was able to forget the hardship of serving overseas under hostile conditions and relish in being a normal human being enjoying a simple pleasure.

I didn't catch his name, but despite obvious differences in ages and experiences, we bonded over our appreciation of a university basketball team. How democratic is that? Go Heels!

--

One flu over ...

Have you had "it" yet? Everyone I know has "it." I, personally, just recovered. What is it? First it's just a tickle in the throat. No big deal, you think, I'll do a little Zicam. So, you do a little Zicam. Then, your eyes start itching, your nose starts running, you start coughing, and you've been to the pharmacy so many times they've hung your picture behind the counter as a possible Zicam junky. But, the Zicam isn't working, so you heave it into the woods while in the first delirium of fever.

Then, you crave your bed. You start to ache--not like when you've just been to the gym, and not like when you fell off the ladder trying to replace the motion-sensor lights on the garage roof (please, like I've ever done that!)--but like everything you own hurts: You can't cough because your chest aches ... you can't smile because your cheeks ache ... you can't pull the comforter up because the weight of it hurts your legs ... you can't shoot yourself because your fingers ache too much to pull the trigger. You lie there, unmoving, praying for death.

Sure, you can go to the doctor, but there's really no point. He just looks at you like you're a moron to think there's a cure for the flu, because if he had that, he'd be on Oprah instead of just being an incredibly wealthy doctor. He wears a mask and asks you questions from the hallway, and if he must touch you, he uses gloves, or if possible, a robotic arm. He says go home, get plenty of rest and fluids, and if you aren't better in two weeks, let him know. And you're thinking, Did he just say two weeks? He's got to be kidding; what does he think I am, a moron?

Eventually, with what you believe is your very last breath, you call your lawyer to update your will. You get better the next day.

One might think, then, that one could simply stop the flu by calling one's lawyer on the first day. One would be very wrong. The flu is crafty, my friends, as well as vicious, because here's the worst part: When you are finally up and around and telling everyone how your particular illness would have killed a lesser human being, suddenly "it" will, I kid you not, strike again.

However, there is one thing that's worse than the flu: My daughter called to say her husband had come home sick three days earlier, went to bed and was still there. Two-year-old Charlie got it the next day, followed by 5-month-old Georgie. Three sick males--isn't that the seventh ring of hell?

She called me from the pharmacy last night, where she was getting a prescription for Chuck--her first trip out of the house in three days. I told her to enjoy it, maybe take in a movie, but she was in a hurry--all her men were sleeping--she just had one question: "So, Mom, is this Zicam any good?"

--vicki wentz

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