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I usually really look forward to HBO's Hard Knocks, a documentary series where they follow an NFL team through training camp, lagging a week or so behind actual events. The quality of the show can vary greatly depending on the drama on the team and what the team allows them to show, and so far this year looks to be one of the worst.

You know how watching the Olympics used to be about actually watching the events, but how over the last couple of decades it has turned into a treacly series of soft-focus athlete bios occasionally intercut with those athletes actually participating in their sports? That what this season feels like so far. They spent far too much time profiling the players outside of the training camp, and we didn't really get any raw, uncensored conversations from the film rooms or the practice field.

The team they're covering this year is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it's clear that the team wants to use this as a way to make a bigger star out of its second year quarterback Jameis Winston, who was their first round draft pick a year ago after winning both the Heisman and a national championship a Florida three years ago.

When the show is great, it's because you feel like you're getting a relatively uncensored look at the interpersonal drama and organizational dysfunction of a team (although it's still pretty tightly controlled). This is so bland and boring that it feels almost scripted, but scripted by a writing team whose goal is to either make you fall asleep or quickly change the channel.

We'll see if it gets any better as the season progresses—they often do a lot of scene-setting and character introduction in the first couple of episodes—but there don't seem to be any big characters who are making it onto film, and the coaching staff to a person seems as dull and unremarkable as a bag of rocks. Whether that's because the team wants them portrayed that way or because that's how they really aren't doesn't actually matter in the end—whatever the reason, it doesn't make for good television.

It was around 4:30 by the time we got back to Carrboro and walked over to the Cat's Cradle, where my friend Kirk was having his party to celebrate his recent marriage to Jody. The party was officially supposed to start at 5 or 5:30, but there wasn't any setup left to do when we go there, so Tom and I walked up to Franklin Street and got a bowl of noodles for lunch/dinner (we hadn't had anything to eat all day).

The way Kirk's party worked was that the back room of the Cat's Cradle had it's bar open (not free, but open for business) and the local bands who were playing the celebration played on that stage, while the main room of the Cat's Cradle was where the potluck buffet was set up. The live music started around 5:45, and each band would play 30 minutes or so and then there'd be a 20 minute break while they got their gear offstage and the next band got set up.

The bands were mostly local bands that played a lot of classic rock covers and rock/blues originals, all of whom were regular performers at Kirk and Jody's bar, the Kraken. You could wander in and listen to the bands or sit outside on the deck and chat with people, which is what Tom and I mostly did after watching the first three or four bands. I didn't get to spend a ton of time with Kirk because he was the man of the hour and there were at least 100 people who stopped by over the course of the night, but I met some new folks who were good current friends with the couple and also got to spend a lot of time with another friend from high school, Marc, who still lives in Carrboro area and hangs out a lot with Kirk.

Around 1:00 everyone started to drift back to their hotels or homes, and we were headed back to ours, but then one of Marc's friends convinced us to come with her for a final drink at a social club a couple of blocks away. We found a big table on the patio out back and were soon joined by two more of Marc's friends, and then a few minutes later by Kirk and Jody themselves, who had also decided to come out for one last drink before heading to their hotel.

We left around 2:30, and since Jody and Kirk were also staying over in the same hotel as Tom and me, we walked with them and said our goodbyes in the elevator. It was a really great evening, one that I'll remember for a long, long time—I just wish I still lived close enough to Kirk where I could see him more often than once every year or two.

Around 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, my friend Tom arrived from Richmond, and we ended up spending the afternoon over in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

I hadn't been to the museum in many, many years (certainly not since Will was born, but probably for many years before that as well), but they have a Georgia O'Keeffe that I'm particularly fond of, and I also have great nostalgia for the museum building itself, as it's the first proper art museum that I ever remember visiting.

It has changed A LOT since the last time I was there. There's a giant new building that now houses their entire permanent collection, which has grown significantly since the last time I was there. It unforunately looks like a big temporary steel shed from the outside even though it's actually made of glass and inside it's all white walls and hardwood floors with huge ceilings and lots of muted natural light like you would expect from an art museum.

The original building is still there, but now it is home to temporary/traveling exhibits, and there wasn't much to see there when we went—they were getting the larger spaces ready for the fall season's exhibits, but there were two photography shows downstairs (including an excellent series by writer Eudora Welty) and an installation above the central staircase that was pretty cool—hundreds of mechnical butterfiles suspended from the ceiling that collectively looked like a fighter jet with its exhaust trail. Each butterfly was also hooked to a power source in the ceiling, and a computer program would randomly have them flap their wings, so the whole suspended sculpture was constantly shifting and flickering.

I forgot that they had some lovely Impressionist pieces, including a few Monets that were my first exposure to that artist and which I'd completley forgotten about. There was also a painting by an artist whose name I've now forgotten and I can't find on the museum web site (Google image search is proving to be of no help either) that features birds in flight over a landscape, as if you're looking down from the birds' point of view that I've always loved—it was made before we actually had midair photographs of what landscape looks like from above, so the aerial view was entirely from the artist's imagination

Tom and I were both quite taken with a painting by Frederick Carl Frieseke of two ladies sitting in a garden under an umbrella. It was just such a weird painting—the supposed subject is the author's wife (one of the women in the painting) and her irritation at having her afternoon of reading interruped, but it's clear that the giant sun parasol is the real star of the canvas.

It dominates a full quarter of the painting, and the distorted perspective is way off—even allowing for an odd angle, the shaft is clearly not straight and the umbrella itself is cramped and not drawn correctly on the upper edge. It's like the artist painted it without regard to either perspectival accuracy and without knowing what else would go around it, and then ignored the former and just put a scene with a largely blue-green palette (in contrast to the umbrella's wild oranges and reds) to fill up the rest of the canvas and give a background to the parasol. It was pretty wonderful.

Their 20th century collection had expanded quite a bit from what I remember, including a Hans Hoffman that I hated even though I love that artist, a huge piece by Anselm Kiefer that Tom spent quite a bit of time explaining to me, and a Gerhard Richter painting that I liked quite a bit. Unfotunately my beloved O'Keeffe was not on display—some of the newer galleries were being rehung, and that particular piece was with the curators.

After we spent an hour or two in the museum buildings, we went on the extensive art trail around the museum, which was also new since the last time I was there. We ended up walking across a pedestrian bridge that goes over the interstate that I'd driven under many times but never knew how to get to on foot, and then we circled back around to the parking lot and headed back to Chapel Hill.

A very close friend of mine from high school celebrated his wedding last weekend, and I decided to drive up to NC to participate in the festivities. He actually got married up in New York in his wife's hometown on July 1, but this was a big party for all of their local friends to toast their union.

He and his wife are bar owners (they bought the bar just under two years ago), and they've made a point of bringing a lot of music acts to the bar and revitalizing its reputation as a live music venue. Their bar wasn't big enough for the party, and I had never been there (I've only been to the Triangle area once since they bought it), but as I was driving in to my hotel on Highway 54, I saw the sign for their establishment and decided to pull in and see if there were there.

They were, so I hung out for a few minutes with them and met some of their other out-of-town friends who happened to be there as well. They wrote down the name of the place they'd be having dinner/haning out in later that evening, so I went to check into my hotel with tentative plans to meet up with them later.

I also had vague plans to meet up with another friend from high school who lives in the area for drinks later in the evening, but by the time I got to my hotel and got checked in, I was hit with a wave of exhaustion, so I didn't end up going to meet anyone. Instead I walked around Carrboro a little bit, got something to eat, and then headed back to my room to get to bed early.

It was kind of a lame way to spend that first night of the weekend, but man, I don't think I've slept so long or so soundly in ages. I had a big day the next day—not only was there Kirk's party, which I expected to be at for at least five or six hours, but I also had a friend coming down from Richmond on Saturday morning—and a long night's sleep combined with a pretty leisurely Saturday morning waiting for my friend to get into town meant I had all the energy I'd need to get through the rest of a very long (but very amazing) day.

Last Thursday, Julie and I both took the day off to take Will to Six Flags, which we also did last year the week before school started (although thankfully it was a bit cooler than last year). We go there right at 10:30 when the park opened, and Will wasted no time in getting to the rides he wanted to do the most.

We went on all his favorites from last year—the haunted mansion, the old timey car racetrack, the log flume, and the giant swings—but I also convinced him to try a rollercoaster that he was too small to ride last year that had three loops on the track. He's been talking about wanting to ride a rollercoaster that goes upside down for a couple of years now, but he's always been too short, so I thought he would be excited. Curiously, though, as he's gotten older, he's gotten a bit more cautious, so even though he's still pretty adventurous and unafraid, I do see more moments of anxiety or fear when it comes to big new things.

That definitely happened in this case—he started to have a mini freakout as the ride started to make its way up the first hill (which really wasn't that big), and he was still kind of freaking out during the ride itself, but it was over pretty quickly and he started to recover his confidence and talk about how it wasn't that bad as the day went on. I couldn't convince him to ride it again, though, and even though he got onto another similar coaster a little later in the day, he also decided to get off before it left the boarding area, so he and Julie waited for me to ride it.

Although I love rollercoasters now, I never would have ridden on one with loops when I was his age, and it wasn't really until high school that I started to warm up to those kinds of coasters and then to really appreciate and enjoy them. So he's still way ahead of the game as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure that he'll get more comfortable with them as he gets a little more mature.

There was one new ride there that they were in the process of building last year—a 4D superhero-themed ride where you got to shoot bad guys and rack up points while helping the Justice League. That was the longest line we waited in the entire day, but it was pretty worth it—Will had a ball and it was nice to be in some air conditioning (both for the ride itself and for much of the waiting in line).

We unintentionally ended the day the same way we did last year: riding on the train that circles the park and has two stops that take you to one side or the other. Last year we got on the train for its very last trip of the day just before the park was closing, but this year we decided to use it to get to the other side of the park around 5:00 (the park closes at 7:30). As we were riding, it started to rain, so we just decided to stay on the train until the rain stopped.

But eventually it was coming down so hard that they even stopped the train from running (all of the other rides had been shut down a little bit earlier), and it became clear that because of the time of day (it was close to 6:00 by then) and the fact that it didn't look like the rain was going to let up anytime soon, none of the rides were going to reopen that day. So we walked to the parking lot in a light drizzle in between major downpours (the radar on the weather app helped with that). Will was a little bummed out, but we let him get a toy from the store on the way out of the park, and they helped ease the pain.

Game of Thrones is killing it this season—I feel like there have been very few scenes (or even sentences) that haven't been crucial for moving towards the end we know is coming. Part of this is the same thing that made last season so great—the show has moved beyond the books, so every scene is new content rather than a rehash of a scene or episode from the books.

But this year is even more intense than last season—now that the series has been given an endpoint (next year's season of seven episodes will be the last), there's a real urgency to the show, and not only does every scene feel vital, every episode ends with a major revelation/cliffhanger that in previous years might have been reserved for a season finale. I've rarely gone back and rewatched Game of Thrones episodes within a week of watching them for the first time, but this season it feels like you have to do that just to keep up because so much is being thrown at you that it's easy to miss the nuance and importance of so many of the scenes.

I think knowing that we are now watching the final 15 episodes of a show and characters that we have spent years of our life with also makes us regular viewers savor it all a bit more—as eager as we are to see the narrative concluded, we also realize that there won't be another show that's made so well and hits such a large segment of an increasingly diversified television audience for a long time. There aren't many shows out there at this point in the media landscape that so many people watch at the same time, and it's woven its way into the fabric of our pop culture hive mind in a way that few shows have been able to since the end of the four channel network television era.

Julie has again taken off the last week before school starts again, reprising her "mommy camp" from last year. She and Will spent yesterday at one of Will's favorite places, Legoland, in the morning, and then went to the Emory outdoor pool in the afternoon.

Today they're headed to a science camp that's about an hour drive, and then tomorrow they'll do the school orientation, where Will will get to see his classroom and find out who his teacher for the year will be. I'm joining them on Thursday for a trip to Six Flags, which Will earned a free ticket to through a reading program in his school district, and then Friday, when I will leave town for a trip to a friend's wedding celebration, there will be a final as-yet-undetermined outing (Will is trying to choose between several options).

It's nice that Julie has been able to do this with him every year, and it works out well because our school district goes back to school a week later than many of the school districts around Atlanta, so a lot of the kid-friendly activities they do aren't nearly as crowded as they are the rest of the summer.

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