Lincoln

Farts are Funny; Censorship is Not.

Some truths that I hold self-evident:

  • Googly eyes are inherently funny.
  • A well timed fart (or fart noise) can be a source of amusement, especially if the associated odor is minimal.
  • Vandalism is a crime.
  • Our First Amendment right to free speech is a cornerstone of democracy.

How do these seemingly random things come together?  Let’s find out.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has represented Nebraska’s 1st congressional district since 2005.  He is also a lock to be reelected today (fivethirtyeight.com predicts Fortenberry has a 99.8% chance of winning).  Despite his strong likelihood of victory, he has numerous campaign signs and billboards around Lincoln.

One of these signs was recently vandalized by an unknown perpetrator.  They placed two large googly eyes over Rep. Fortenberry’s face and managed to change the “o” in his name to a different vowel.

For reasons I’ll get into below, I am not comfortable sharing an image of the vandalized sign.  Thankfully, State Senator Adam Morfeld has provided an image that a) pays homage to the vandals’ efforts and b) comes with a built-in liability waiver:

Now, you may be asking yourself why I’m not comfortable sharing an image of the vandalized sign.  My response is this:  I like my job and I don’t want elected officials, their staff members, and/or supporters coming after me if I am amused by flatulence and googly eyes.

While that probably sounds like a ridiculously unnecessary overreaction, there is evidence to suggest that some within Representative Fortenberry’s staff are very sensitive about the vandalism.

As the Lincoln Journal-Star reports, Fortenberry’s chief of staff – William “Reyn” Archer – called UNL political science professor Ari Kohen after Kohen “liked” a Facebook post containing a picture of the altered sign.  When Kohen did not immediately return Archer’s message, Archer escalated the issue to Kohen’s boss (the Poli Sci department chair), his boss’s boss (the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences), and his boss’s boss’s boss (Chancellor Ronnie Green) via email.

When Kohen and Archer spoke via phone last week, Archer appears* to try to link Kohen’s “like” of the image to an implicit endorsement of criminal vandalism and scolds him because of the message it could send.

*In fairness, I’m basing my opinion off of a seven minute snippet of the 50+ minute conversation that Kohen posted to YouTube.  You can listen to it here.  It is quite possible that Archer was a complete gentleman for the other 40-some minutes of the call.  Frankly, I don’t want to know.  Dr. Archer, please do not call me or my employer.

At best, Fortenberry’s chief of staff is attempting to censor the free speech of state employee.  At worst, Fortenberry’s chief of staff is threatening to make Kohen’s life very difficult through political pressure on UNL officials, and attempting to stifle what faculty members can say and do.  Most concerning is Archer’s suggestion that he may utilize “a First Amendment opportunity to put you out there in front of everybody,” which I take as a not-so-thinly veiled threat to unleash a wave of partisan outrage at Kohen.

Once that train leaves the station, who knows where it stops?  As Kohen speculated on Twitter: “In the past, such efforts have directly resulted in weeks of threatening letters, voicemails, and email messages to faculty members who found themselves publicly called out in this way (including several of my colleagues at UNL). These have included death threats.”  This is a good time to mention that the conversation between Dr. Archer and Professor Kohen took place the day before the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which is likely why all of this has hit the fan.

This entire thing is equal parts ridiculous and infuriating, which is why the way the issue was handled by Rep. Fortenberry’s staff angers and concerns me:  It is warning shot fired across the bow of anybody who dares to laugh at an elected official.

And let’s be clear: this is not a cruel personal attack on Fortenberry or his family.  It’s not libelous or slanderous.  It was not part of a calculated attack in a toss up Congressional race.  It is pair of ridiculous googly eyes and a piece of tape used to transform Fortenberry’s name into crude 7th grade humor.  The person on the receiving end of these threats had no hand in vandalizing the sign, nor did he post the picture to Facebook.  He merely clicked “like” because, like I (and probably you) think, googly eyes and fart jokes can be pretty damn amusing.  Kohen’s position as a professor at a public university is presumably all the leverage Fortenberry’s office needs to try to intimidate and impose their will.

And that is what scares me.

You see, my work – in intentionally vague terms – serves employees across various levels of government (city, county, and state) from coast to coast.  As such, it is theoretically possible that some of my work may directly impact departments and agencies in areas within Nebraska’s first congressional district, or led/impacted by Fortenberry’s political allies.

Look:  I know that out of respect for my employer and the customers we serve, it is important to have a very strong filter on what I post here and on social media.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to chime in on a topic, but held back out of extreme cautiousness.

I’ve long subscribed to the social media theory that if you wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, then don’t say it on Facebook or Twitter.  But here’s the thing – I would have no issue with telling Jeff Fortenberry – my Congressman for the past 12 years, and the foreseeable future* – that I thought the picture of him with googly eyes was hilarious.  I’d also ask him how many times he was called “Fartenberry” as a kid, because I’d wager the cost of a campaign billboard this was not the first time.

*As thin skinned and petty as Fortenberry looks in all of this, until the Nebraska Democrats can find a viable candidate to truly challenge Fortenberry, the gig will be his for as long as he wants it.  I’ll be shocked if this incident makes a noticeable dent in the support Fortenberry receives today.

I don’t think it is too much to ask that I retain basic First Amendment rights without feeling paranoid that somebody is going put unnecessary pressure on me.

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A Nebraska 30 for 30? Careful What You Wish For

Over the last few years, Nebraska fans have been asking for ESPN to produce a “30 for 30” documentary on the “glory years” Nebraska teams of the mid 1990s.  I lost track of how many times I saw this idea come up on radio shows, message boards, or Twitter.  Finally, those requests have been heard as a film covering the 1994 and 1995 teams is being created.

Just be careful of what you’re wishing for, Husker fans…

On the surface, I understand the appeal.  The majority of 30 for 30 films are excellent.  They provide a great insight into people, places, and moments in time that make up the sporting landscape.  The unprecedented success of Nebraska between 1993 and 1997 (three national championships, with a missed field goal and a team wide flu outbreak standing in the way of five titles in a row) is certainly a memorable time for many college football fans.

What if I told you…

Then there are a personalities from that era:  the consummate winner Tommie Frazier, the beloved backup Brook Berringer, the passionate leadership of Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, the hard-working in-state walk ons, the list goes on.  And never forget legendary coach Tom Osborne transforming from the guy who couldn’t win the big one to one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

In the eyes of some fans, the documentary would (if not should) be a 90 minute love fest for all things Nebraska.  It would be like those silly hype videos K-State used to produce after they beat Nebraska – just with better production values.

But that assumption is wrong.

There is no drama or national interest in exploring why NU’s walk-on program and a large crop of in-state players were a vital part of that run.  Any discussion of how the 1995 team shut up Steve Spurrier and the ESPN talking heads would probably be left on the digital editing equivalent of the cutting room floor.  Yes, the 1995 team is likely the greatest team of all time, but don’t expect to watch a highlight video.

Instead, a Nebraska 30 for 30 will likely focus on the things that darken that period.  Lawrence Phillips.  Christian Peter.  Tyronne Williams.  Riley Washington.  The tension between Tommie and Brook.  Tom Osborne becoming a “win at all costs” coach.  CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg.  Scott Frost campaigning for a title after Osborne’s retirement.  Where Scott Frost was rumored to be the night Phillips was arrested.  The decline of the program after Osborne left.  Who knows what other skeletons and whispered rumors may come to life that would cast a permanent shadow over an era that Nebraska fans consider sacred?

In 2014, BTN produced “Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer“, a beautiful and moving documentary on the life and playing career of Brook Berringer.  I’m guessing that film inspired a lot of the desire for a 30 for 30 film.

Best case scenario, the documentary is made by a film maker with Nebraska ties or who bleeds Big Red.  The film is a 90 minute highlight reel of the championship teams, with little to no mention on the player arrests during the championship run, and fades to black as Tom and Nancy Osborne walk out of Memorial Stadium the day after the 1998 Orange Bowl.  But do you really think ESPN would make that movie – let alone air it?  I don’t buy into the perception of an ESPN bias against Nebraska, but that film probably goes straight to the Watch ESPN app.

More realistically, expect a 30 for 30 on the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhusker teams to open with the embarrassing losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, and Osborne’s realization that he needed more speed – especially on defense.  Nebraska gets those players – by taking advantage of Prop 48 rules and taking guys with questionable character.  The film likely spends a chunk of time on Phillips and Osborne’s decision to reinstate him while trotting out the old narrative that Osborne was focused more on winning than helping a troubled kid.  The arrest records of other Husker players are discussed, possibly with more information coming to light on how things were swept under the rug.  Who knows what other skeletons will be found in the closet when people go in with bright lights and high def cameras?

Remember:  a lot has changed in the last 20 years.  The influence of Osborne and the football program – both within the University and in Lincoln – no longer exists in college football.  Crimes by athletes, especially those against women, are handled differently – and usually much harsher – than they used to be.  Things that we accepted as a price of success in 1995 may seem outrageous in today’s climate.  The average viewer is likely to come away from the film thinking “Wow, Nebraska was a great program – but at what cost?”

Will you and I watch it?  Absolutely.  Heck, ESPN will probably never have better ratings in the state of Nebraska then when this thing airs.  Will some fans be upset or disappointed by it?  I’d bet on it.  Will it be a good reflection of Osborne, the program, the University, and an era that fans consider sacred?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Bottom line:  You asked for a 30 for 30, and you’re getting one.  I just hope you know what you asked for.

Thought of the (Snow) Day – 2/4/2015

With snow continuing to fall in beautiful Lincoln, NE, today is the second snow day of the week for local students of public and parochial schools.  But it raises the question:

Do home-schooled kids get snow days too?

When the snow flies, do they get a one-day reprieve from tests and homework?  Do they get to hang out in their jammies and watch The Price is Right* the way we did when we were growing up?  Or is it just another day for them?

*Even if The Price is Right is just not the same with Drew Carey.

Regardless of how one feels about the pros and cons of home school, I would hope those kids get to experience the unbridled optimism that a few flakes of snow can lead to instant vacation, as well as the Christmas morning-like excitement that comes from hearing/seeing your school’s name followed by the word “CLOSED”.

Top 10 Things Harder Than Being A Pelini in Nebraska

On Wednesday, it was reported that former Nebraska defensive coordinator (and fired Florida Atlantic head coach) Carl Pelini had expressed interest in coaching a high school football team in Des Moines, Iowa.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Pelini explained his interest (he wants a job that allows him to be relatively close to his children in Nebraska).  He also gave some insight into the recluse-esque lifestyle he’s led since being fired from FAU:

“I came back to Lincoln (Neb.), kept to myself. I don’t even go to restaurants,” he said. “I spend (almost) 100 percent of time with my children, I teach school at the community college here. For about 15 months, I just have lived liked a hermit.”

Jokes aside, I do feel for the guy.  Say what you will about some of the choices he has (allegedly) made, it still sucks to not be able to do the thing you love and want to do.  Plus, it would be really hard to live in a city like Lincoln and not enjoy some of the wonderful local restaurants (Honest Abe’s, C. Berry’s, Lazarri’s, Sebastian’s Table, and Lazlos, to name a few).

But there was one quote from the interview that left a bad taste in my mouth:

“It’s hard to be a Pelini in Nebraska.”

Setting aside the obvious fact that nobody is forcing the architect of Carlfense to reside in the Good Life (or whatever we’re calling it this year), the simple fact remains that there are things harder to be in Nebraska than a Pelini.

Without further ado, I give you the Top Ten Things Harder Than Being A Pelini In Nebraska:

10.  Being an (alleged) adulterer and drug user trying to write a children’s book in Nebraska.

9.  Being a Jaysker in Nebraska.

8.  Being a liberal democrat in Nebraska.

7.  Being a fan of consistent, moderate weather in Nebraska.

6.  Being a fan of Iowa Hawkeye football in Nebraska.

5.  Being a flamboyant homosexual in Nebraska.

4.  Being a homosexual in a committed relationship in Nebraska.

3.  Being a hater of Nebraska football in Nebraska.

2.  Being unable to find work when your last job didn’t pay $472,500 a year in Nebraska.

1.  Being a Cosgrove, Pederson, or Callahan in Nebraska.

Chicken Dance of Joy

It was with great joy that I learned that chicken sandwich giant Chick-fil-A will open their first Lincoln location sometime this year.  I love me some Chick-fil-A.  I love the chicken, the waffle fries, the sweet tea, and their sauce.

Oh that sauce…it’s one of those magical condiments that makes anything else taste better.

Plus, it will be a nice upgrade from the other chicken-only chain in town:  Raisin’ Canes.  This may be sacrilegious to some, but for a place that only does chicken fingers, the chicken at Canes isn’t all that great.  Heck, I’d argue the chicken is middle of the pack in the food they do serve:

  1. Cane sauce.  It’s an odd BBQ-ranch hybrid, but it works.
  2. Fries.  A good mix of crispy, crinkly, and salty.
  3. Sweet tea.  Until Chick-fil-A arrives, it’s the best sweet tea one can get in Nebraska.
  4. Texas toast.  Good, but not great.
  5. Chicken fingers.  It’s not that they’re bad, but they’re definitely not a standout.
  6. Cole Slaw.  I’m not a cabbage and mayo sauce guy, but the Cain’s version is not very good.

Don’t mind if I do.

The biggest challenge will be getting to eat there.  The location particularly close to home or work, and given the way Lincoln loves its chain restaurants, the place will probably be packed for months and the drive-thru line will be 15 cars deep – even on Sundays.*

*Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.  Get it?

Like anything else, there is some bad that comes with the good.  Aside from a dramatic spike in Chick-fil-A commercials, we’ll also get a front row seat whenever the next political controversy involving the chicken chain arises.  The conservative Christian company leadership will be favored and respected by many Nebraskans.  Personally, I just want to enjoy a #1 combo without having to weigh the sociopolitical implications of my lunch choice.

Husker Hot Takes – 7/28/2014

Before we turn our attention to the flood of coach speak and clichés from Big Ten media days in Chicago, let’s review some of the things in the news recently:

1. College Football country is in a Watch List warning.

July is the time when every college football award puts out their preseason watch list.  The Huskers were well represented with Ameer Abdullah, Randy Gregory, and Kenny Bell (among others) making a list.  Personally, I’ve always thought watch lists were rather silly.  The lists aren’t exactly exclusive:  do we really need to watch 53 running backs for the Doak Walker Award?  That is over 40% of the starting running backs in FBS.  Nor is the award limited to the preseason candidates – Jameis Winston won the 2013 Walter Camp Award, but he wasn’t on the watch list.  And there are the curious or obligatory choices:  no disrespect to Mark Pelini, but I’m pretty sure it is a Rimington Award bylaw that Nebraska’s starting center be placed on their watch list.

About the only good thing watch lists do is help pass the time until the season starts.

2.  Attention recruits:  Nebraska is not one big cornfield (and the people are nice too!)

Nebraska recently put out a new video aimed at recruits:

I don’t follow recruiting very closely, but I know a lot of recruits and current players start out under the impression that Memorial Stadium is in the middle of a cornfield.  Before kickoff, they have to shoo the cattle off the field and everybody drives a tractor to class.  You and I may think that perception is silly (and an indictment on our nation’s social studies education) but it exists.  Even if a recruit doesn’t believe that himself, he’s probably hearing it from his buddies – or from coaches at other schools.

The other major theme is that we have nice people in Nebraska.  I’m not sure if that is relevant because people are jerks everywhere else, or if saying “you will be recognized and treated like a celebrity here” is an NCAA violation.  Regardless, I like hearing nice things from Nebraska’s student-athletes, and hopefully the peer-to-peer message hits home.

I really like this video.  It addressed a major issue  head on.  Break down the cornfield myth and show that Lincoln is a vibrant city with more to do than many other college towns.  Best of all, it shows that somebody in North Stadium is listening to the concerns of recruits/parents and is doing something about it.  This video probably won’t be what sways Johnny Fivestar to put on the Nebraska cap at his hat ceremony, but it won’t hurt NU’s chances.

3.  Pat Fitzgerald thinks Nebraska is “boring”.

First off, let’s keep in mind that Fitzgerald’s remarks were a) said at a booster event, and b) meant to inspire Wildcat fans to not allow another Nebraska takeover in October.  As booster function smack talk goes, Fitz’s “boring” comment is pretty mild.  Tim Miles says worse things about Creighton in most of his press conferences.

And let’s address the elephant in the room:  Nebraska, as a whole, is kind of boring.  That’s not a slap at The Good Life, it’s just acknowledging that many parts of our great state do not have round the clock excitement – especially once you get west of Lincoln.   It is what it is, and I believe that most Nebraskans wouldn’t have it any other way.

But back to Fitzgerald…Now, I’m assuming that for his comparison, he is considering Northwestern as a part of Chicago, and not as a part of the suburb of Evanston (population 75,430) or the rest of Illinois.  Because having traveled in and through Illinois many times over the years, I can attest that Illinois west of Chicago looks identical to Nebraska west of Lincoln – a lot of farmland, open spaces, and other things that some consider “boring”.  Heck, I’m not even sure Fitzgerald would Evanston itself up against Lincoln.  I haven’t made it to very many Big Ten campuses yet, but from what I know, I’d put Lincoln up against many of them in terms of things to do.

Here is a completely off the top of my head (and probably wildly inaccurate) list of B1G campus towns.  I’m talking about the actual town itself, not the metro area or any cities within a 50 mile radius (i.e. Minnesota gets St. Paul, but not Minneapolis).  From sizzlin’ to snoozin’.

  1. Columbus, OH
  2. Madison, WI
  3. St. Paul, MN
  4. Lincoln, NE
  5. Ann Arbor, MI
  6. Bloomington, IN
  7. Evanston, IL
  8. Iowa City, IA
  9. East Lansing, MI
  10. Champaign, IL
  11. College Park, MD
  12. Piscataway, NJ
  13. West Lafayette, IN
  14. State College, PA

Obviously, we’re looking at the 30 mile radius from campus, Northwestern is probably at the top of the list.  But Nebraska would still be closer to the top than to the bottom.

Bottom line:  If you were truly offended by what Pat Fitzgerald said, the best way to get revenge is to be wearing red in Evanston (or better yet, inside Ryan Stadium) on October 18.

4.  When will Nebraska play dress up?

There is all sorts of speculation on if Nebraska will wear alternative uniforms in 2014 (of course they will), when they will be revealed (likely in the next 10 days), and what game they’ll be worn (my guess is at Wisconsin).  For me, biggest drama is if this is the year they put something besides the sans-serif “N” on the side of the helmet, and if adidas will give Nebraska something truly unique and beautiful, or if they’ll give them a cookie cutter alternative like they have done in the past.

While we’re on the subject of messing with the traditional uniform, I wonder if Nebraska would ever replace the red elements on the helmet with pink for breast cancer awareness month?  We’ve seen a lot of players sporting pink accessories the last few Octobers, a pink “N” and pink stripe would certainly be bold and attention-getting for a program that seems to embrace viral buzz.

5.  A skeleton from NU’s mascot closet is unearthed for the Internet’s amusement.

A picture of one of Nebraska’s old mascots has been making the rounds on Twitter.  The picture is usually accompanied by some joke about the nightmares that will follow viewing this image.

Still better than some of the old Herbies.

Admittedly, that’s not exactly the pinnacle of mascots, even if it was 60 years ago.  (Haters of Lil’ Red or polo shirt Herbie Husker can insert their own jokes here).  But I don’t mind him.  If you check out this page, you’ll notice that cob headed friend is better than some of the other mascots in school history.  Besides, this guy (what was he known as?  Kernel Husker?) is still better than either of the paper mache Petes (Purdue Pete or Pistol Pete at Okie State).

Feit Can Eat: Sebastian’s Table (S)

What if I told you that I went to a new restaurant and the best thing I ate was the brussels sprouts?  I’m guessing you would take that as a sign to never, ever eat at that restaurant.

But, in the case of Sebastian’s Table, a Spanish tapas style restaurant in Lincoln, that would be a very big mistake.  The sprouts, like just about everything else these serve is eyes rolling back in your head, want to lick the plate good.

Sebastian’s Table is one of the latest ventures of Ground Up Restaurants, a Lincoln group that is bringing kick-ass food to a city with an unhealthy love for chain restaurants.  First, there was the GUP Kitchen food truck, the must-try Honest Abe’s Burgers and Freedom, and the delicious Sasquatch! bakery (as well as the recently opened Sasquatch Cafe, located in a glorified coat closet in the Well Fargo building downtown).

I'm guessing he's related to the Dos Equis guy.

I’m guessing he’s related to the Dos Equis guy.

Sebastian’s is not a true Spanish tapas restaurant where most of the food is traditional (or derived from) Spanish dishes.  The best example of a true Spanish tapas restaurant in Nebraska is another favorite:  España in Omaha.  Instead, Sebastian’s is probably best described as a tapas style restaurant (i.e. small plates of food) with cuisine that may not necessarily have Spanish influences.

For those unfamiliar with the tapas concept, it’s very simple:  select one, two, or three items per person.  These dishes are meant to be shared with those at your table.  The items come out as they are prepared, so it is not like a standard restaurant where somebody’s food sits under a heat lamp while the rest of your order is finished up.

The Food

Simply put, the food is excellent.  Sebastian’s menu isn’t huge, but the flavors certainly are.  Let’s start with the aforementioned sprouts:  They are quartered and mixed with hazelnuts, piquillo peppers, and an orange gastrique.  Then the works is cooked until the brussels get a caramelized char.  And now my keyboard is covered in drool.

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Trust me, my poorly lit cell phone phone does not do them justice.

Another favorite is the beef skewers.  Thin pieces of fork-tender tenderloin grilled to perfection and topped with chimichurri, all resting on a smoky romesco sauce.  My biggest gripe is you only three in the serving, which invariably means Mrs. Feit Can Write and I have to battle over the last one.


20140329_204407_Android

Heaven on a stick

 

As I mentioned earlier, not everything is Spanish per se.  One of the more popular items is their version of a spinach and artichoke dip.  The Sebastian’s version has rich smoked Gouda, parmesan cheese, spinach, and herbs and is served with some delicious bread.  It is rich, gooey, and packed with flavor.

In our two visits, we have only had one dud.  The Risotto Espanola, a risotto with a definite paella influence, has shrimp, chorizo, scallops, and chicken mixed with a tangy sauce.  It’s not that the dish was bad, it just wasn’t what we were expecting.  To her credit, our server recognized this and offered to replace the dish with something else.  We ended up with the Chorizo and Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese, and were as pleased with the fine service we received as much as we were with the bowl of creamy comfort we received.

Sebastian’s Table also does desserts, with a mixed assortment of seasonal items, a daily pie special from Sasquatch! bakery, and a rotating bread pudding.  I come from a long line of bread pudding connoisseurs, and the chocolate peanut butter bread pudding from our first visit certainly held its own.

The Drink

For Mrs. Feit Can Write and myself, one of our favorite parts of going to a Spanish restaurant is a glass (or three) of sangria.  In this regard, Sebastian’s Table does not disappoint.  There are two house made sangrias (a red and a white) on tap at the bar.  Both are very delicious and pair nicely with the various dishes.  Additionally, they have a monthly rotating sangria that features some unique flavor combinations (the March version, “Gusts of A Thousand Winds” combined pineapple, peach, pomegranate, ginger, and Sriracha into a delicious glass of sweet and spicy heaven).

Sebastian’s also has a vast wine list, local craft brews from Nebraska Brewing Company on tap, and a menu of unique craft cocktails, including the Dead Man’s Wallet, which takes rye whiskey, ruby port, lemon, and house made cinnamon syrup to create a one of kind flavor profile.

The Atmosphere

The vibe is laid back, yet classy.  Sebastian’s Table is located in an old two level building.  The smaller main level contains the bar and kitchen.  The individual tables are up a single flight of stairs.  You’re not going to find a TV turned to ESPN, and in our two visits, we have not seen very many kids.  Sebastian’s Table is perfect for date night, a night out with friends, or a fun change of pace.

Check, Please

Prices at Sebastian’s Table are reasonable to slightly above average.  Some folks may balk at paying $8 for three steak skewers (“especially when I can get a big ol’ sirloin and sides at Applebee’s for the a few bucks more!”) or $9 for my beloved brussels sprouts, but the prices aren’t bad considering the quality and taste (not to mention supporting a local business).

To be sure, you can get a bad case of sticker shock if you order a bunch of tapas, drink several glasses of sangria, and generally live it up (been there, done that, spent over $100 for two people).

But you can also have a very good, and very unique meal, a delicious cocktail or glass of sangria for less than $20 per person – especially if you go on Tuesdays when the sangria is bargain priced at $2 a glass.  Even in a chain-friendly town like Lincoln, that’s pretty good.

*   *   *

(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Dear Tim Miles

An open letter to Nebraska Basketball coach Tim Miles

Dear Tim,

I was wrong.

When your predecessor, Doc Sadler, was fired I used this platform to lay out my thoughts for who Nebraska’s next coach should be.  In that piece, I was strongly against hiring a guy like you:  the “no-name” coach from a mid-major program who lacked dynamic recruiting ties.

When you were hired, I was (to say the least) underwhelmed.  The coach from Colorado State?  Really?  Despite my Wyoming buddies telling me that you were the “real deal”, I was all but convinced that Nebraska was falling into the same trap of the mid-major coach who would not be able to recruit and/or compete in one of the nation’s best conferences.  I actually started a piece expressing my frustration and lack of enthusiasm for the hire.  Thankfully, that one never saw the light of day.

But if you read that link above, you may have noticed that I also wanted a coach like you.  Notably, I called for a head coach who is:

  • A top recruiter.  The jury is still out, but I like that you were in on star forward Terran Petteway out of high school.  You couldn’t land him at Colorado State, but were able to get him to Lincoln.  The visit from the highly touted “Chicago 5” recruits made some noise, and now it comes down to being able to land that talent.
  • A dynamic personality who can sell the program and inspire the fans“.  Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but that is you in a Twitter-length nutshell.  Your personality, media savvy, quick wit, and use of social media is, frankly, more than I could have ever dreamed.  Fans believe in this program for the first time this century.  I like to say that you are “undefeated in press conferences”, and I suspect that will be the case for a long, long time.
  • Somebody who can coach.  The overriding opinion is that you know the x’s and o’s, and several of Nebraska’s wins are directly related to your game planning, adjustments, and ability to lead your team.  Your team has a clear identity, the players know and embrace their roles, and it is apparent that your team will go to war for you and for each other.

The transformation of this program in two years is astounding.  As I write this, Nebraska is 8-1 at home in Big Ten play, with the lone loss coming by 1 point to the #12 team in the country.  Sure, some of the credit for the turn-around must go to the new Pinnacle Bank Arena – the atmosphere is so raucous that the blue hairs are writing letters to the editor to complain about the noise.  But we both know that a Doc Sadler or Barry Collier team would not be as beloved in the new arena.

You have given the fans something to cheer about.  The talent level is notably improved.  Nebraska has their first legitimate NBA-caliber player in years.  Defense and floor burns get bigger cheers than breakaway dunks.  Heck, you even have players proposing to their girlfriends at half court.

It’s only your second year in Lincoln, and your team has done things that nobody thought was possible at Nebraska:  finishing in the top half of the league, dominating your home court, knocking off two top 10 teams, earning a first round bye in the conference tournament, and all but guaranteeing Nebraska’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1998.

I’m impressed by how handle things.  You know exactly when to be hilariously funny, aw-shucks humble, brutally honest, and when to take jabs at Billy Bluejay*.

*Sure, there is something to be said for taking jabs at your in-state rival two months AFTER the game (especially when they run you out of the gym), but this is a great time for Miles to establish Nebraska as the dominant program in the state.  Seriously.

If Nebraska and Creighton’s basketball programs were stocks, I would be buying Nebraska and selling my portfolio of Creighton.  I don’t know if Creighton maintains (or even approaches) their 5 year level of success without Doug McDermott.  Big Red is poised to become the dominant program in the state.

Most importantly, you refuse to let the wretched history of this program be a crutch or an excuse.  All of the years of finishing 10th or 11th in the conference are irrelevant to you.  You have done this before and you are doing it again.  And it is a blast to watch.

So allow me to say it again:  I was wrong.  I did not think you would be a good fit, and you would keep Nebraska mired in the same muck of mediocrity that the die-hard fans have known for years.

Please accept my sincere apology.  I am a believer in what you are doing, and will be standing in support of your team as you continue to rewrite the history of Nebrasketball.

I have never been so happy to be this wrong.

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Restaurant Yin and Yang

About a month ago, Mrs. Feit Can Write and I found ourselves with the opportunity for a mid-week date night.  As any parent of young kids will tell you, when these opportunities arise, you need to a) seize them, and b) maximize them.  In doing this, we saw a strange dichotomy between how two different establishments function.  What follows is a case study in restaurant extremes – how to do things, and more importantly, how NOT to do things if you want to be successful.

Even though it was a date night, our evening actually began with a familiar parental errand – taking a kid to a practice/class for one of their activities.  In this case, it was a gymnastics class that our four-year-old takes.  Normally, one of us gets her there, makes sure the class gets started, then run a quick errand (Target, grocery store, etc.).  But with both of us taking her, we decided the best thing would be to drop into the nearest establishment for a drink and an appetizer.  This led us to our first stop.

Restaurant 1:  Skeeter Barnes

First off, Skeeter Barnes is not a restaurant owned by the 1980’s standout of AAA baseball (at least to my knowledge, anyway).  It is a barbecue/steak place with three locations in Nebraska that claims to have the “best beef and BBQ around”.  While it’s never been a place I crave, they’ve been around for 10-15 years and appear to do a nice business even though the restaurant is kind of tucked away in a nondescript industrial park on the southeast corner of Lincoln.

We walked into Skeeter Barnes around 5:45 on a Thursday.  We stood, alone, in the reception area of a mostly empty restaurant for five minutes waiting for somebody to greet/acknowledge us.  There were one or two full tables and a two people sitting at the bar, but otherwise, their large space was all but deserted.  Strike one.  While we’re standing there, I notice they have a grease board saying that Long Island ice tea is on special.

We sit down in the bar area and order drinks.  My wife asks if their margaritas are good.  To her credit, the waitress responds honestly and states that they use a bottled mix, so their version is nothing special.  My wife opts for a beer.  I ask for a Long Island.  We also order an appetizer to share – one of those fried onion blooms.

A few minutes later, the waitress returns to tell me that they are out of the mix they use for their Long Islands.  Aside from questioning why they need a mix for a Long Island (it’s a bunch of booze, some sour mix and cola), I cannot fathom why they list a special if they are incapable of making it.  Remember, it’s 5:45 on a weeknight, and the place is almost empty.  It’s not like they’ve already made three dozen and used up all of their ingredients.  Strike two.

Our onion arrives, and it is less than spectacular.  Slightly burnt on the outside, lukewarm to cold on the inside.  Strike three.  We paid our bill and left to pick our daughter up from her class.

After we dropped our daughter off with the sitter, we headed out for dinner – and a complete reversal of what we had experienced earlier.

Restaurant 2:  Blue Orchid

We walked in and were immediately greeted and seated.  Blue Orchid does not have drink specials, but they do have a good menu of unique drinks made from scratch – no bottled mixes here.  I ordered a Thai Bloody Mary (house infused lemongrass and Thai chili vodka, yellow tomato juice and yellow curry paste) that was one of the best bloodies, I’ve ever had.

My wife loves their spring rolls – little rolls of deliciousness perfectly fried and served hot.  For my entrée, I ordered the yellow curry – a rich, warm, bowl of comfort with potatoes, carrots, and beef covered in a mildly spicy yellow curry.  It was outstanding.  My wife loved her dish, a spicier red curry with salmon and vegetables.

Even though we were both a little full, we each made room for two desserts that we love.  My wife loves their ginger creme brule – a rich custard flavored with ginger and topped with burnt sugar.  I got the young coconut cake, which is a white cake with a light and creamy white chocolate frosting, speckled with pieces of young coconut.  This isn’t the shredded stuff that comes out of a bag and smells oddly like sunscreen, this is the flesh of a unripened coconut – a sweet, slightly chewy delicacy.

*   *   *

Postscript – Not surprisingly, about three or four weeks after our visit to Skeeter Barnes, they closed their doors.  I read that they lost their lease, but I have to believe that their lack of business was probably the biggest culprit.

Nebraska Movie Roles Rejected by Matt Damon

The city of Lincoln, NE is abuzz with star-struck awe.

Matt Damon has been in town this week.

Supposedly, he is here with his nephew who will be a freshman at the University of Nebraska this fall.  There have also been reports that his nephew will try to walk on to the Nebraska football team.  But frankly, I’m not sure I buy any of that.

I mean, it’s not like Damon is the first famous Hollywood movie star to visit Lincoln.  Harrison Ford (allegedly) checked out one of our gentlemen’s clubs.  Wesley Snipes rented a loft in the Haymarket* while filming a movie.  And let’s not forget our movie star next door, the star of Oscar contenders like Witless Protection and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Nebraska’s own Dan Whitney (aka Larry).

*My wedding reception was in the loft Snipes rented.  The loft had an attached master suite where we stayed on our wedding night, so technically I’ve shared a bed with Passenger 57.  But I’m pretty sure they changed the sheets after Willie Mays Hayes left town.

So why was Matt Damon really here?  And why did he spend all of his time on campus?

Clearly, he is researching is next movie role.

What movie, you ask?  I’m not sure yet.  According to my University sources, the following ideas were shot down by Damon.

The Osborne Ultimatum*
Damon plays Dr. Tom Osborne, a straight-laced, tea totaling football coach by day and a profane, hard-drinking, rogue double agent for the Enforcement Division of the NCAA Compliance Department by night.  The year is 1983, and Osborne faces an impossible challenge:  guide his Cornhuskers to a National Championship, or allow Miami to win the title, setting in motion a carefully choreographed series of events culminating in the “Death Penalty” being handed out after booster Nevin Shapiro corrupts the school beyond recognition.

Late in the championship game, (which is illogically played on Miami’s home field), Osborne’s Husker trail Miami, but they’re driving down the field.  Turner Gill’s pass is inexplicably dropped by a wide open Irving Fryar, but then back-up I-Back Jeff Smith rambles in for a touchdown, putting Nebraska down by 1 with very little time left.  What does Osborne do?  Kick the PAT and bring glory to himself, or go for two and set the diabolical Operation Hurricane in motion?  Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger (played by Ben Affleck) cannot believe what comes next.

*Initially, I was going to do the Osborne Identity, but today I challenged fellow No Coast Bias writer Chris Hatch of Burnpoetry to do a take on that title.  I figured he’d do one of his Photoshop movie posters (like this one) and that would be end of it.  But no…Chris went above and beyond, creating this masterpiece.  Since there is no way I can improve upon that, I’m stuck with one of the other Bourne trilogy titles.  I chose Ultimatium mainly because I couldn’t remember the name of the other one.

Good Bo Hunting
Matt Damon co-wrote this script about Bo Pelini, a humble janitor from the south side of Lincoln.  Bo is cleaning up in the football offices when he sees a seemingly unsolvable problem on the board – how to stop spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks using lead-footed defenders.  Head Coach Frank Solich is stunned by the revelation and decides to bring Bo on to his staff.  Bo has a mild anger issue, so he must also meet with a school psychologist (played by Carl Pelini) to get in touch with his true self.  Ben Affleck co-stars as Pelini’s buddy, Barney Cotton.

Delaney’s Eleven
Jimbo Delaney (George Clooney) is just released from prison, but wants to plot the heist of the century – stealing Nebraska out from under the Big XII and transplanting it into the Big 10, while sticking it to the pompously smug Notre Dame.  Delaney arranges a team to infiltrate the Big XII, and a complex web of scams, tricks, and bogus media reports is constructed.

A large ensemble cast stars in this movie.  Damon plays Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.  Ben Affleck appears as Texas blogger Chip Brown.  Julia Roberts plays Nancy Osborne.  Rave reviews for Woody Allen’s performance as Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Delaney’s Fourteen
In this sequel to Delaney’s Eleven, Jimbo Delaney wants to add to his vast empire, by pulling one more big heist.  His team is reassembled, and are ready to go.  But instead of pursuing big, worthy targets like North Carolina, Florida State, Georgia Tech, or Notre Dame, Delaney sets his sites on Rutgers and Maryland.

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez (once again played by Damon) wonders aloud why the team was gathered, when this caper could have been “pulled off by the same see-no-evil idiots who ran Penn State during the Sandusky years”.  The film is a dud because the projected numbers from the D.C. and New York markets never materialize (that and not even Scarlet Knight alumni want to endure 108 minutes about Rutgers).  Ben Affleck makes a cameo as the ghostly spirit of Joe Paterno.

Tommy Lee Goes to College – The Movie
Surely you remember 2005’s hit “reality” series Tommy Lee Goes to College, where the Motley Crue drummer “enrolls” at UNL and finds himself in all sorts of zany (yet totally realistic) scenarios – like trying out for the Cornhusker Marching Band and studying with the coed known solely as the “Hot Tutor”.

In this feature-length film, the part of Tommy Lee is being played by Tommy Lee Jones, and Damon stars as his nerdy, yet lovable roommate Matt Ellis.  Tommy’s is working in the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, and may have found a way to reverse the damage caused by concussions in football games.  Unfortunately, Tommy suffered a concussion while practicing as Taylor Martinez’s backup, and the research may be lost forever.  Can Ellis and the Hot Tutor help Tommy Lee recover the research (and win the big game) in time?  Ben Affleck co-stars as Taylor Martinez.

Legend of Pat Tyrance
Damon plays Micah Kreikemeier, a career backup linebacker, struggling to make a contribution to the team.  He forms an unlikely bond with the sage Pat Tyrance, a star linebacker from the 1980s.  Through a combination of hard work, perseverance, and luck, Micah learns the keys to being a feared linebacker.  In the Big Game, Micah uses the knowledge Tyrance gave him to lead Nebraska to an amazing, come from behind victory.  Ben Affleck appears as Linebackers Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Recruiting Coordinator/Bus Driver/Lunch Lady/Hot Dog Vendor/Assistant to the Regional Manager Ross Els.

Saving Sam Cotton
In this military drama, oldest brother Ben Cotton is brutally attacked by Texas A&M’s Tony Jerod-Eddie.  Middle brother Jake suffers a torn ACL.  Persistent message board threats have forced their dad Barney Cotton into hiding.

Not wanting to deliver the dreadful news that her whole family is gone, Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst instructs a select team of grad assistants and student managers to bring youngest brother Sam Cotton (played by Matt Damon) back home to his mother before it is too late.

Warning:  the first 20 minutes of the film – featuring footage of Nebraska’s loss to Barney Cotton’s Iowa State offense, Jake’s mangled knee (played by Ben Affleck), and ultra slow-motion shots of Ben’s cotton balls being tugged – may be too gruesome for some viewers.

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