omens in the Shenandoah Valley
Tuesday, April 5 2011
location: five miles south of Staunton, rural Augusta County, Virginia
Last night there was plenty of wind and rain as a strong cold front came through. By this morning, spring had been rolled back four or five weeks. I wouldn't be doing much barefoot walking on gravel today.
I'm not a believer in such things, but when I'm down in Virginia, the world often communicates to me in omens. He's an example: when I'd been down here back in August while my Dad had been suffering through his first nursing home phase, my Subaru had been suffering from a fuel leak from the pipe connecting the tank to the fill hole. I'd hadn't been able to fix the damn thing except by taking the fill pipe off and using epoxy to apply metal patches over the rust spots. But that fix had held until, well, now. Last night I noticed a slow drrrrrrr-iiiiiii-pppppp had started from the bottom curve of that pipe. It felt to me like an omen. abr>
A second omen today was more difficult to interpret. On the drive into town this morning past the old abandoned Sheets Farm (protected forever from subdivision by a conservation easement), I came upon an old scruffy skunk walking down the road. His walking was encumbered by something hanging out of his mouth that at first looked like his own entrails. That would have been a pretty messed up omen. But as he drew closer I saw that the material hanging from his mouth was green, perhaps the remains of a Bull Frog. It was either stuck in the skunks throat or teeth, but in either case it didn't seem to be making him too unhappy.
visit dad with coffee he asleep but wake up. When the skunk took notice of me, he assumed one of those aggressive skunk stands (one that was several threat levels below the one where chemical warfare is deployed). I rolled up my window and drove on, soon coming upon my brother Don walking back from The Meating Place (the nearest store). I warned him to watch out for that skunk.
When I see my father at the nursing home these days he's either not feeling good, he's feeling really bad, or he's feeling terrible. Though he might be one of the most physically and mentally capable patients there, he's also one of the least happy. He's Mr. Crankypants on the floor. His roommate, by contrast, seems almost cheerful as he cuts cardboard into little pieces. He has an application for what remains of his life while my father has none. Still, my father was delighted that I'd brought in a thermos of coffee for us to share.
On the way home, I stopped at Young's Hardware for furnace cement (which I'd been unable to find yesterday at Lowes) and fiberglass drywall tape. I need to repair a leak in the Subaru's exhaust system.
At Coffee on the Corner today, I became more aware of the scene that gathers there every day to do whatever it is they do. The majority of them are connected either with Mary Baldwin College or the several theatre-related establishments nearby, including the Black Friar's Theatre and the Staunton Performing Arts Center. Staunton was never a performance Mecca when I lived just outside it, but somehow it's become one in the years since I went on to bigger or better places. Much of the conversation I overhear in Coffee on the Corner is theatre-related, and when men are speaking, there is often a nasal lisp (of the sort one doesn't hear on construction sites or at NASCAR events) that suggests a certain absence of gravitas in the loafers. Come on, don't tell me you don't know what I mean. It's theatre, after all, and when you have theatre, you have to have plenty of gay people. Perhaps the emerging theatre industry is simply tapping into a long-present gay infrastructure. You see, though it's surrounded by some of the most redneck countryside in America, Staunton has always had a well-developed (if repressed) gay scene. When I was a kid, it was an open secret that the bar in the Stonewall Jackson Hotel was actually a gay bar. (It's got "Stonewall" right there in its name!) And Mary Baldwin College has been known for some time as a hotbed of southern belles (suddenly free of their plantation overseers) going lesbo-wild. Back in the early 1980s when he and my mother used to go out regularly on Friday nights, my father would tell us about the many butch-and-butcher lesbian couples he'd seen at the Stonewall Jackson bar.
I could tell I'd been coming to Coffee on the Corner a lot when I realized that I'd figured out who its annoying customer was. You know what I mean: the guy whom everyone knows and who knows everyone, who walks up to each and every one and regales them with the dull particulars of his day (much as I do you), and you can tell from the looks on their faces that they consider themselves trapped. The Coffee on the Corner guy wears a trenchcoat and a fedora and looks superficially cool, but there's an oddness about his face, stature, and voice that suggests retardation or trauma in utero. He wants to be part of something but because of what he is he can never fit in, so he tries extra hard, and in so doing only isolates himself more.
This evening I made another Italian-style pasta-and-marinara dish, though this time I used tempeh, not tofu, and I boiled it in water for ten minutes, a technique Gretchen started using recently to make it tender and morselly. I also made two boxes of pasta instead of one because I wanted Don to be able to eat himself sick. As I was getting ready to serve dinner, Don ran across the road to fetch his beverage of choice: a gallon of whole milk. I'm used to watching him gulp down milk, one of the many things he started doing as a baby and never stopped. But today it finally occurred to me how messed up it is to be an adult human drinking whole milk. I asked if he'd ever had his cholesterol checked (because milk isn't the only artery clogging thing he eats in massive amounts). His response was that he drinks grape juice and that he'd heard somewhere that grape juice is good at combatting cholesterol. It sounded like a bit of faith-based dietary rationalization to me. Despite his love of artery-clogging foodstuffs, my brother did make a surprising statement: "The only way I'd ever be vegan is if I moved in with you and Gretchen and you cooked for me." I hope it doesn't come to that.
Communications with Hoagie had been sporadic since autumn, when, for some reason or another, her email stopped working. I investigated and found a couple things wrong. Her client software (Outlook Express) was pointing to a server called mail.netellus.net instead of mail.ntellus.net. (Pay attention, stupid corporations coming up with stupid corporate names, now that you're people, you should learn how to think like a person.) That was easy to fix, but there was still a problem on the server side with a large email wedged in there like a sideways turd, blocking access to everything behind it. Hoagie said she'd called about that problem and technical support, perhaps sensing that they were dealing with a little old lady, assured her that nothing could be done on their end. Since her email address is tied to her ISP (never a good idea), I suggested she set up a Yahoo mail account and transition to using that. My father had used a Yahoo account successfully for years so it seemed possible my mother would be able to use one too. The Shaque computer was running such an old copy of the Mozilla (not Firefox) browser that Yahoo mail refused to open on it, but it opened just fine on a similarly-ancient copy of Internet Explorer 6.0. So I initiated a download of Google Chrome (for some reason Firefox 4.0 repeatedly croaked during installation).
Tonight I stayed up late watching Evan Almighty, the squeaky-clean Steve Carrell vehicle with marketing hooks for both the evangelical Christian and suburban environmentalist demographics. At first I didn't think I was going to enjoy it (particularly when it became clear what a stiff straight role Carrell's wife, played by Lauren Graham, was going to be), but Wanda Sykes got off some hilarious lines and by the time Carrell stuffed himself into a business suit while wearing a bronze-age cloak, I was having a good (if somewhat brain-dead) time. According to Wikipedia, most of the filming for Evan Almighty was done in the Charlottesville area, with some in Crozet, Waynesboro, and Staunton as well. The producers also had a real ark constructed; that thing wasn't entirely CGI. The use of the word "Almighty" in the title, by the way, has nothing to do with powers bestowed upon Evan (the Noahesque character played by Carrell) but is only there to suggest that the movie is somehow a sequel to Bruce Almighty. 200 million dollars went into this movie, yet when it came time to name it, the responsible parties just phoned it in.
The skunk I saw today on Stingy Hollow Road near the old Sheets Farm.
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