low-relief steel horse
Monday, June 16 2008
setting: Scottish Inn, Crossville Tennessee 35.9107N, 84.5820W
West to East, Tennessee is a huge state, stretching from the Mississippi River all the way to Virginia. The mileposts on I-40 in eastern Tennessee have numbers well in excess of 400. Our goal today was only to drive from east-central Tennessee to west-central Virginia, but it was a trip that could easily take seven hours.
Road dining today included a stop at a Subway, where the woman who added veggies seemed taken aback at the absence of meat in our sandwiches.
Our destination this evening was my childhood home south of Staunton, Virginia. I took the Greenville exit from I-81, driving past my old high school and then northward up US 11, marveling more at how little things had changed on this route (my old bus route) than at what was new. There were only one or two new McMansions, the house of my childhood best friend had changed from yellow to white, and there were a few new businesses specializing in the sale of materials best transported in wheelbarrows. We bought some gas station beer (Icehouse) and drove through familiar bucolic scenery to my childhood home.
I wasn't long at my parents' house before I'd been put to work debugging and fixing their telephone line, which is used more as an always-on internet connection than as a land line (dialing their number nearly always results in a busy signal). Meanwhile Gretchen and my mother developed dinner plans: vegan chili, to be served across the road at the Creekside doublewide, the place where we'd be spending the night.
Eventually I'd repaired the phone system, so went over to Creekside to see what was happening there. I'd expected it to have accumulated more clutter since our last visit back in January, but it seemed nearly unchanged. There were a couple new tables, one serving as a dining table for dinners such as we'd be having tonight and another serving as a craft table for my mother's latest art projects. Since we'd last seen her, she'd taken a welding class at a local technical school. She'd been the only woman in the class. Tiring of the various welding exercises, she asked her instructor if it would be okay if she made a steel sculpture instead. He said sure, so, using a plasma torch, she'd cut out two full-body horse profiles from sheet metal and then, using a wire-fed MiG welder, welded them to either side of a narrow strip of sheet metal that would serve as the sculpture's dorsal and ventral surfaces. The results was an ingenious piece of art, a sculptural horse whose low-relief was suitable for hanging on a wall. Its welds were the rough, imprecise ones of a beginner, but they worked well in the piece. I was impressed, as everyone else who had seen it had been. Hearing me go on and on about the sculpture, Gretchen noted that it was unusual for her to hear me praising anything.
Soon after we'd arrived at Bonnaroo, a mild case of poison ivy I must have picked up from the dogs at the Secret Spot peaked, and I'd been so uncomfortable I'd set off in search of Jewelweed, the only antidote (natural or otherwise). But it turns out that Jewelweed does not grow in south-central Tennessee (at least near the site of Bonnaroo), so I'd had to wait for the rash to subside on its own. Meanwhile, after several days' delay, patches of poison ivy rash had bloomed in several places on Gretchen's body. These places included such places as the inside of her upper arm and the side of her face, suggesting that she too had been contaminated while hugging a dog. By the time we arrived in Stauton, Gretchen's rashes had become much angrier than mine had been. At least now we were at a place where both Jewelweed and anti-itch ointment were available. Responding to the need, my brother Don harvested several Jewelweed plants from the streambank and brought them in for Gretchen.
Part of whatever is wrong with my brother is an obession with a fantasy image of himself, one with a variety of superhuman attributes such as immortality. It's his way of coping with his various neurological handicaps as well as the fear we all have of mortality. Still, in the past this obsession has made him insufferable. For a time, for example, he would never pose for a picture without putting one of his hands in his jacket like Napoleon. Over time, though, it's been interesting to watch Don gradually abandon this fantasy as the reality of aging shows it for the foolishness it is. Today I heard Don say something surprisingly self-aware on this subject. He said that he's gradually losing his interest in science fiction and horror. To Don the appealing nuggets of fantasy in these stories: the blood-sucking immortality of Dracula, the superhuman strength of the Terminator, seem increasingly foolish. He finds himself drawn instead to DVDs about nature and animal life instead.
Back in the early 1990s, I became friends with a local lad named Josh Fυrr whom I'd known in high school. At first he'd befriended my brother after passing him numerous times during my brother's frequent five mile hikes into town. In constant conflict with his own parents (one of home owned a major local cattle stockyard), he gradually came to be something of an additional adopted son for my parents. During the years when I wasn't in Oberlin or Charlottesville, he was my closest thing to a social life. We'd get together and play horrible-sounding thrash metal (me on guitar, him on drums). We'd also watch heavy metal videotapes and pornography, go on inevitably ill-fated bar adventures, and cause trouble on the CB radio. For me it was only a couple hours per week, but it was the kind of young adulthood experienced by millions of rednecks throughout the United States. More recently Josh found himself in a series of misadventures that placed him first in an insane asylum and then on probation. For the last several years he's had a relatively stable life as an employee of the Staunton Department of Sanitation. I've only seen him once in the last eight years. Tonight my mother called him and tried to convince him to come over for dinner, but apparently his truck was on the fritz and, what with the rain and imminent nightfall he didn't want to drive his motorcycle. So I volunteered to go pick him up. My brother Don came along for the ride, spending most of it marveling at all the car's high tech gadgets (these were nothing special: a dash-mounted CD player, an improvised CB radio, stock Honda color-coded ventilation controls, and power windows).
Josh lives in an dingy low stucco building on the north side of US 250 between Staunton and Waynesboro. The front of his house was a sparse colonnade of four doric columns, and beside it was the ruins of a store. On the drive back home, he apologized numerous times for not driving himself out, going on and on about his fear of hitting a deer on his motorcycle. He also provided some interesting gossip about the recent histories of vaguely-known kids from high school, one of whom had been killed in Afghanistan. He also told me some interesting things about the girl who used to sit next to me in biology class. I was surprise when he revealed that she had had something of a crush on my awkward skinny selfness back in 1983. More recently her husband had committed suicide, and, based on what Josh was saying, it sounded to me like he was trying to, you know, get with her. The last time I'd seen Josh it had seemed like he was overly medicated and not the really the same guy I used to know, but this conversation reminded me of the Josh Fυrr of old: paranoid, confessional, deferential, tolerant, inquisitive, and politically knowledgeable on the local level.
During dinner, conversation focused on one of my favorite Josh Furr stories of all time: the body found in the basement at the house where Josh was temporarily staying. My mother, who normally has a very weak stomach when she is eating, was surprisingly indulgent as Josh retold the particulars of how Raymond O. Fauber's had been shot and had his corpse curled into a fetal position to be buried under many bags of Sakrete.
Josh is hesitant with new people and doesn't really have a lot of practice with mental procedures for interacting with women of a certain age, so he didn't converse directly with Gretchen much at all.
After awhile I drove Josh back to his place and he gave me the tour. It was much larger than I had suspected, with each room opening into one slightly larger, culminating in a massive unheated back room and basement, isolated from the rooms Josh uses with abundant quantities of spray foam (he once saw a snake in the back room and doesn't want it to slither into bed with him). According to Josh, the building used to house a flea market. Now it's owned by his Uncle Peck, who rents it to him cheap. Josh has filled most of the back rooms with the sort of free treasures only a sanitation worker has the privilege to find. Josh also directed my attention to an ominous pile of dirt his neighbor has been piling up against the fence outside his window. As I drove away, Josh and I conversed a little over CB channel 20, him warning me for the nth time about the speed trap at the bottom of the hill near Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center.
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