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Knock on wood, chiefly speaking 

Chief Blue tells his small audience that Nov. 1, although weeks away, is a date he's waiting for with happy expectation. It's the party the night before, the one no one is throwing but which perhaps 40,000 will attend, that has him concerned. He raps his knuckles on his wooden lectern, hoping to draw good luck from whatever fortune this piece of furniture might provide, but admits he's having trouble sleeping well lately.

Chief Blue shows a slide with downtown Chapel Hill divided into five zones, each a different color, each with a command post and each assigned its own radio frequency on a device he calls "the 800 MHz." He seeks metaphysical help from his lectern once again, saying nothing serious has happened at these parties under his command. He puts his hand on his chest and says his heartburn is acting up.

Chief Blue draws a diagram on his easel where circles represent cops, double circles represent motorcycle cops, rectangles large and small represent police vehicles of varying sizes. He points to where the mounted police used to be positioned before horses priced themselves beyond the police budget, then hovers his hand over the diagram and says it represents the helicopter overhead. Again, he taps his knuckles on the lectern, then points to his chest and says his blood pressure seems to be elevated nowadays.

Chief Blue has decided the party will end at precisely 11:30 p.m., and his diagrammed phalanx, made real on party night and put in motion if necessary, will be his way of turning on the lights, opening the front door and telling everyone it was great seeing y'all, have a safe trip home. This street-clearing maneuver has worked without incident in the past, he says, his knuckles expressing his hopefulness for 2011.

Chief Blue will patiently smile as several partygoers come up to him, point to his CHPD uniform and shout, "Oh, I get it! You're dressed up as a cop!" and then laugh all over themselves as if they're the first ever to think of this joke.

Chief Blue is worried about his 40,000 guests, for he is responsible for every one of them. Reports of every incident and accident, of every broken bone or window or municipal bench, will land on his desk. Every bonfire-jumping failure, lamppost acrobat, moonlight arborist, sidewalk stripper and Spider-Man wannabe will appear in his late-night reading material. Favorite party games at this yearly event, Chief Blue sighs, always seem to involve playing with fire, defying gravity, baring it all or some combination thereof. Firemen quickly extinguish the bonfires, he continues; thus—he knocks on wood—he's had no celebrants aflame so far.

Chief Blue's physical well-being and his sound sleep pattern will return, as he said they would, on Nov. 1. Five months later he'll see a newspaper's bold headline—"Tar Heels Make It To The Final Four!"—and he will, among other preparations, take to knocking on wood once again.

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