the payday loaners of Staunton
Monday, April 4 2011
location: five miles south of Staunton, rural Augusta County, Virginia
Perhaps because of the somewhat unpleasant visit I'd had with my father yesterday, I found myself experiencing insomnia early this morning. Insomnia is not something I suffer from very often, so I don't have many coping strategies beyond masturbation. Sometimes, though, you just can't masturbate any more. So I decided to try watching more of the Black Swan, the campy ballet-themed psychodrama by Darren Aronofsky, the most famous filmmaker after Mel Gibson with a pathlogical mortification fetish. I thought if anything would put me to sleep, it would be that movie. Somehow, though, I watched the whole thing. It was probably the least-watchable movie I have ever watched.
The day was beautiful and warm, the first such day I'd experienced since those random couple of freakishly-warm days back in late early March. It was enough to make me shed my shoes and go about barefoot, giving my winter-tenderized feet a first round of warm-weather toughening.
Last night I'd realized that simply using Windows Internet Connection Sharing for the household computer network would never work as a way to provide roaming internet access for laptops (such as the one I'd brought for possible use by my father). The reason was that in order to use Internet Connection Sharing requires special configuration on client computers, configuration that renders that same computer unusable on a conventional DHCP WiFi network (such as one encounters at a coffee shop). And I knew there was no way a conventional user (let alone, say, either of my parents) would ever be able to change those configuration settings on their own. I needed a way to make the intranet of my childhood home more like that at a coffee shop. The thing I was lacking was a Windows DHCP server. I had a DHCP server in the wireless router, but it was assigning the wrong gateway to client computers.
So last night I'd used dialup to download a freeware DHCP Server for Windows called DHCP Turbo for Windows and I spent this morning getting it working (deriving a mild masochistic rush from all that barefoot walking up and down the gravel driveway as I kept returning to the Shaque to change one thing or another). DHCP has never been anything I'd paid much attention to, but when you find yourself setting up a DHCP Server, you realize how powerful it is. In addition to setting client IP addresses, a DHCP server can also assign client names, host names, host domains, and name servers. These were the things I needed to set to get Internet Connection Sharing to behave like a conventional coffee shop hotspot.
During yesterday's hunt for the deer stand on Pileated Peak, Josh had been acting a little crazy. But he'd put the idea in my mind that perhaps there was another deer stand up there somewhere, so I found myself scanning the treeline looking for anything out of place high in the canopy. At one point I saw something up the steep escarpment above the ruin of Bob's Body Shop, so I climbed up there to have a better look. But it was just an especially large squirrel nest. So I climbed back down and went on another archæological expedition through the remains of Bob's Body Shop. Hoagie keeps the building locked, but it's gradually rotting from the outside and it won't be long until there are holes in the roof and walls. There's a semi-outdoor section in the back that used to be covered by a tarp whose tattered remains fleck the soil with blue. I went back there and had another look at the old firewood pile, which may have given its last contribution to indoor heating at around the time of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. I hadn't paid close attention in the past, but today I made an alarming discovery: someone (probably Bobby Shipe, our old nemesis and the proprietor of the auto body business) had cut pressure-treated lumber into stove-sized pieces and piled them up with the other wood. Chalk that up as yet another reason to be happy my childhood home was upwind. It makes you wonder if arsenic poisoning is one of those things, like Cheez Whiz, abortion waiting periods, lottery tickets, Creation Science, furniture rental, Toby Keith, and payday loans, that keeps the white trash trashy.
Speaking of payday loans, Hoagie had been telling me about all the trouble her across-the-road neighbor (a cancer patient, grandmother, and Target employee) had been having at the hands of businesses that make their money by strip-mining the poor. The idea was a little jarring to me, because I'd never remembered any such businesses in this area when I'd lived here. I remember seeing them in the seedier parts of San Diego and Los Angeles, but that time and place is now so remote it was as if they'd been a feature of a foreign country (like being accosted by shoe shiners or breathing second-hand smoke in restaurants). But according to Hoagie, payday loans have come to the Shenandoah Valley. I saw this for myself today when I drove into Staunton. I went an unusual way, taking Old Greenville Road to Route 871 (Crockran's Mill Road) and then Greenville Road (US 11) all the way to downtown. That gave me a full appreciation of just how crudded-up this worst-possible approach to Staunton has become. Between Statler Blvd. and downtown, I passed at least four different businesses that make their money by charging high interest to the poor: check cashing places, payday loan places, and a business where you sign over your automobile title in exchange for a temporary pittance. It seemed so sad and desperate, making a part of me wonder if perhaps this area has descended (through religious fundamentalism and libertarian extremism) into a kind of third world malaise. Is Staunton just an English-speaking Guatemala? Mind you, things aren't so good in Kingston, NY, either, but at least it hasn't been allowed to descend to such brutal ugliness. I found myself taking offense at these payday loan places in the same way I'd taken offense at the hunter who built a deer stand on Pileated Peak. Who told them they could come in and crap up the place where I spent my childhood? I think I have my answer: the rural south just doesn't care about æsthetics. If there's money to be made turning a cow pasture into a third world toxic waste dump, well that's growth and automatically that means it's good. Let's have VDOT build a five lane highway through the middle of it and let's have a grandson of a Statler Brother sing "God Bless America" at the ribbon cutting!
At least once you're in Staunton the crud lifts away and you're surrounded by a semi-functional Victorian city. There are pedestrians, there are dog walkers, and there are cafés where people drink good coffee. There's also that anomalous Shakespeare Theatre thing, which is about as different from a payday loan as a human institution can be.
I needed some cash, and, not being a paycheck-to-paycheck Target employee, I had better means at my disposal than payday loans. I went to an ATM at the frighteningly-named SunTrust and gave it my debit card. I haven't tried to pull money out of a bank other than my own in awhile, so I expected to pay a fee of maybe a dollar fifty. When it told me the fee would be $2.95, I was thrown into a rage. Do the same people who allow payday loan places to line the approaches to Staunton also write laws permitting cash machine robbery? I canceled the transaction and walked to a different place, one that used to house a savings and loan where I used to have an account. They wanted to charge me $3 to pull money out of my account. I accepted defeat and clicked okay. Perhaps this is part of the blowback from credit card reform.
Then again, maybe all these disturbing changes in the human-engineered landscape aren't any more dramatic than the natural changes it is embedded in. When I was a kid, there were no geese or beavers in Folly Mills Creek. But about ten years ago, beavers began to completely re-engineer the hollow, building dams and cutting down trees. The Wood Ducks left and Canada Geese and Mallards moved in. Now the local beaver population is extinct, but the Canada Geese and Mallards persist. This thought actually gives me some comfort, which is important as I observe all the aspects of my origin fray, mutate, and collapse.
In the past it was an easy thing to ignore but now it's hard not to think of the future, against which my nose is now firmly pressed. My father obviously doesn't have long, and my mother is maybe a decade or so behind him. And then what? Huge bonfires? Bulldozers and ditches? What becomes of my brother? What becomes of all these ugly paintings of horses?
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