There were two primetime spectacles Monday evening. One was the first presidential debate between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The second immediately followed the debate, when John and Jane Q. Public took to their smart phones and computers to spout their political opinions, many of which seemed as if the couple ran out onto their front yards across America, ripping off their clothing in a state of madness and confusion, pounding their chests and howling up to the heavens, in hopes of being loud enough that the neighbors would hear, turn on their porch light and say, “What the hell is going on over there?”

Say what you will about Clinton and Trump, there isn’t much left that hasn’t already been plastered or dumped onto the world spotlight. Watching the debate, Clinton resembled Tracy Flick from the film “Election,” poised and ready for any curveball thrown at her, but also seemingly perfect and untouchable to a fault, something voters can’t seem to swallow when deciding who to cast a ballot for.

For a week I’ve been thinking about what to write in this week’s column, and very little clarity came until today. Traditionally, I love writing about anything. A new business in town, my son’s homemade Halloween costume, a great book I’m reading, the crispness of orchard apples, an upcoming trip.

When I was 16 years old — going on 17 — I had a poster of Stevie Nicks, the mystical, utterly bewitching lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, on my bedroom wall. I sometimes tell people that she was my first schoolboy crush, but that is not entirely true.

By Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have their liabilities, but his are so much more numerous and serious than hers that the race should not be nearly as close as it seems to be. 

If you’re for Trump because you agree with what you think he stands for, or if you just can’t bear to vote for any Democrat, or if you simply admire his chutzpah, or if you sympathize with his bigotry, so be it.

When it comes to HB2, our state’s Republican leadership will eventually prove to be on the wrong side of history. Just give it some time.

Until then, however, the fallout from the so-called “bathroom bill” continues to reverberate around the nation and the state as hundreds of millions of dollars — perhaps billions — are sucked from the North Carolina economy. Our citizens and our communities are being forced to pay a steep price for this legislative intransigence at the same time we are beginning to work our way out of this stubborn recession.

We drove through the small town of Clyde on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 11, right in the midst of the commemoration for the 9/11 attacks. Patriotic music was playing while firemen and law enforcement officials were at attention. Unsurpri-singly, I caught myself choking up a bit.

Similar celebrations were happening across the country, people recalling the countless acts of selfless heroism that were on display that day 15 years ago and the senselessness of the terrorist crimes that at the time were so new to most Americans.

When we got out of the car on Sunday at the parking area in Jackson County at the end of Fisher Creek Road, it was cool, perhaps high 60s or low 70s. Fall is coming, I thought. Despite the favorable temperatures, the walk up the trail toward Black Rock and Pinnacle Peak soon had all of us bathed in sweat, feeling winded and wonderful at the same time.

I’d been on the trail before. That was on a cold April morning a few years back as a pack of crazy trail runners took part in the annual Assault on Black Rock race. The sheer exhaustion I suffered during that run erased any real memory of the trail, and so this time it might as well have been my first time maneuvering up the rocky path.

Beware, gentle readers. This story is not for the faint of heart. It is a story of betrayal, corruption, and greed. If you have ever read Dante’s classic work, “The Inferno,’ you may still have nightmares remembering the Nine Circles of Hell. Since the poem was written in the 14th century, Dante could not have anticipated the 10th, and most vicious circle, the one you enter when you call a major corporation to request a change in service, as my wife tried to do a couple of weeks ago in a noble attempt to save us a few dollars per month by disconnecting our landline.

If you don’t think there is an affordable housing problem in the mountain region, you’re just not paying attention.

In last week’s cover story in The Smoky Mountain News (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/18291) and in a subsequent story in this week’s edition, we looked into several issues related to affordable housing. But it’s the simple numbers concerning income and pricing that tell the story in the most easy-to-understand terms.

There are only a handful of life experiences that result in a definitive before and after. I now know that losing a parent is one of those. 

My mom passed away on Sunday, Aug. 14, after a three-year battle with cancer. While she had been sick a long time, her death was unexpected and sudden. The week before she passed, she took my two little boys to the North Carolina Zoo. We knew she was getting worse, but she was fighting and still responding to some of her treatments. We thought she had much more time left in her. 

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