July 19 1998, Sunday
setting: under an overpass beside I-77 in Beckley, West Virginia
was actually fairly cozy wrapped in my cardboard covers as I awoke under the overpass beside the whoosh-whoosh-whooshing interstate.
I struggled to my feet and found the air still had a nip of the nighttime chill. A coldfront must have passed through the area with last night's thunderstorm.
After a little useless thumbing, I went to the nearby Little General convenience store, ordered up a meatball sub from the integrated Subway, got a cup of coffee, and bought some belated sunblock, SPF 25. I also got some tape to put up some musings promotional flyers, not that Beckley is the kind of place likely to host a receptive internet readership.
I spilled my coffee soon after I returned to the ramp in a frenzy to show my sign, which now read simply "64."
The ride I eventually got was a short excursion around the southwest corner of Beckley and east via I-64 to Beaver, a desolate little plateau community dominated by a small airport and a number of churches. The vehicle was a newish truck and its driver was an earnest young man on his way to church on this Sunday morning. He tried to interest me in coming along with him to service, something I obviously had no interest in doing. I did my best to convince the driver that I was a good Christian in a hurry to get home, but you can never be Christian enough for these people. He said that his church was extra-special and particularly blessed with "the spirit." He even made the claim that the pastor was a prophet who had foreseen the imminent return of Jesus Christ. I know it would have done wonders for these musings if I'd actually gone to church with this wingnut, but seriously, I just wanted to go home.
The Beaver exit is especially lonely. I knew I'd simply starve to death if I didn't do the illegal thing and solicit rides from the Interstate itself. So I gradually walked the whole length of the exit complex, thumb extended to all who passed me. I ended up on the eastmost end of exit. Cars on the interstate were blowing by at incredible speed and there was no place for them to pull over (for some reason I-64 lacks a shoulder in this region), so obviously my wait was to be especially long here. But I was richly rewarded. The 40 something year old long-haired dude who finally picked me up was going all the way to Culpepper. He ended up driving me all the way to the Corner in Charlottesville.
We had a lot to talk about on the way. He said he used to run a business waxing floors for Food Lion, but that recently he's been working in the "tree care industry." (Those are the bastards who lop beautiful trees into unnatural shapes in yards throughout Redneckistan. No, trees don't actually grow that way.) Next job, said my driver, would be working as a manager of a rental outlet in Harrisonburg.
We got to talking about drug policy when it came out that he'd once lost a good job due to a busybody who tipped off überlings who then ordered a piss test. Suddenly I realized a whole new negative dimension to drug policy in the workplace; it creates new avenues for co-workers to fear one another. How can this sort of anxiety possibly help productivity? Remember, folks, false positives happen right along with false rumours.
We got to talking about beer, Budweiser particularly, and it made us crave the stuff. I tried to buy us a six pack in a convenience store in Covington, Virginia, but there's a crazy law in that town that says you can't buy beer until noon on Sundays. I'd like to haul off and bitch slap (in the most humiliatingly effeminate manner) whoever came up with that law. By the way, this wasn't the last stupid law I was to encounter today.
was pretty drunk on the three Budweisers I'd had by the time I found myself stumbling across the University of Virginia grounds towards Clemmons Library to check my email. When I got to the Wertland Mansion, no one was home, so I headed by bike to the Downtown Mall. I had a cup of coffee in the Mudhouse. The place was overrun with flies, especially on the black leather couches by the front windows, the place I usually sit when the lone cybercafé workstation is being used. You know, back when the Mudhouse first opened in 1995, no one knew what the computer was there for, and it only got sporadic use from the especially geeky element. Now, in 1998, after the web has doubled in size six or seven times, there's always a line of people waiting to get on. I went off down the Mall to possibly track down Jen Fariello.
here at a little iron table sat Krazy Thom and Patrick (Freedom's boyfriend), both of them hand-colouring "housemate needed" signs in the hot sun. I joined them and lent a hand. Patrick was being very creative with his use of colours, making bushes into trippy multi-coloured striped entities. Thom said he'd just been in Minnesota serving as a counselor at a camp for children with skin diseases. He says he's looking for a non-smoking housemate who's tidy and considerate. He needs a healthy environment to keep from being continually tortured by allergic eczema rashes. Thom also said that the landlord at his old place flipped out while he was gone, evicting him without notice and piling all his possessions out in the street where they were destroyed by rain. I hear such horror stories about Charlottesville landlords all the time, but of course my experience with them has mostly been good.
The Downtown Artspace was locked, so I walked up and down the west part of the Mall a couple times wondering what to do next. I came upon Annette the Reluctant Aries working the front desk at the Jefferson Theatre and asked her if she knew Jen's phone number. After telling me that there's a teenage girl who looks exactly like me living somewhere in Charlottesville, Annette pointed out the buzzer system that goes to the apartments above the theatre. Jen Fariello lives in one of those apartments, but which one? They panel of eight or ten buttons was uselessly labeled with the names of famous jazz musicians. Thom and Patrick came upon me in front of the Jefferson as I pondered the buttons. Those boys are a bit more impulsive than me; Patrick's solution was to systematically hit each button rapidly, each time shouting "Jen!" And it worked; soon I heard her voice telling me to come on up.
en Fariello was just then eating from a pot of black beans she'd made; she offered me some and I greedily accepted since I was starvin' like Marvin. They were really good, spiced as they were with peppers she'd grown on her rooftop patio. No, she doesn't grow any marijuana, and I surely wouldn't say so even if she did.
The main impetus for my recent hurrying back to Virginia (and out of the arms of the girl of my dreams come true) was a photographic project. Jen Fariello has been given the task of taking my picture for an upcoming publication. She was all enthusiastic about it, wanting to do some interesting innovative things. We went to the basement Artspace and posed for lots of close-up pictures which she took using infrared film. Posing wearily in that hot, bright light, I felt sort of like a rock star. It wasn't quite Warholian fame we were shooting for, but it was close enough.
Fame is a double-edged sword, of course. As Jen and I were walking past the middle of the Mall to pose me for some outdoor photographs, I heard one of the ineffectually unimaginative street toughs holler at me "Watch your ass Gus!" I clawed my way to fame by ridiculing those idiots, you know, and does it ever feel good!
Angry silent rehearsals of a witty response coloured the next few shots Jen took. She hadn't heard the street toughs and she had no idea what was wrong. "Don't look so angry!" she advised as she posed me among weeds and above hot air conditioner exhaust.
We both had iced caffeine at the Mudhouse and then continued shooting pictures up on Jen's rooftop patio. I don't know that I responded well to the situations she was setting me up in, but I tried to be a good sport. There was a wilted sunflower in my mouth for one series of shots, and for another I stretched out my tongue to a high-voltage power line.
By the time we were done, after some seventy photos, I was hot and sweaty. Jen fixed me a piña colada made with vodka (not rum). I was glad the ordeal was over with.
e decided to go downstairs to see Bulworth, the movie about the suicidal politician who starts telling things like they are in rap rhymes. Jen gets free movies and popcorn as a side benefit of living where she does. I get free movies too, but that's because I'm good friends with one of the girls running the place: Jessika. She was working tonight, but I didn't recognize her at first. She looked the same, but I think something about me had changed in the time since I saw her last. What used to look like effortless allure suddenly seemed unremarkable and just a little forced. It was a sad realization. There was also something keeping me from communicating clearly with her. I tried to tell her about my hitchhike home, but her response was unsatisfying, as if she was made out of wax and melting slowly in the desert. The grace was still there, I suppose, but I couldn't stick around to be sure since I had a movie to watch.
Bulworth: It was an okay movie I guess, refreshingly devoid of special effects and a little less shy about race issues than usual. But there was something really unsatisfying about it. For example, the heroine was a black woman, but of course she had to conform to white standards of beauty. And the white hero (we're breaking no stereotypes yet) is just a little too easily embraced by his black constituency, and there is no realistic process of discovery as he dives into their fried-chicken-eating culture. I guess it's a comedy and gets to break the rules here, but it failed me because it didn't intrigue me. It didn't make me think. Worst of all, the movie lacked psychological drama and obviously tried to make up for its Hollywood predictability by a few seconds of weirdness at the end, when somebody marches up and shoots our hero and he falls dead. There, I spoiled it for you, ha ha ha! I'm a sneaky little bastard, ain't I?
Tickets to see movies at the Jefferson are always $2, but (as Jen pointed out) there's a reason they're so cheap. The film had to be stopped and realigned twice during the viewing, and Jessika wasn't even the one operating the thing.
When the movie was over, I thought maybe I'd try talking to Jessika, but by this point she had a good cluster of unknown boys (all of them black, by the way) hanging out across the counter, macking on her. I didn't feel like elbowing them aside to get a pleasant word in edgewise, so I told her I'd see her later at her house. I bid Jen Fariello good night and returned to Wertland Mansion on the Corner hoping to find Deya. But no one was there.
was hungry again, so I headed out to the commercial core of the Corner hoping to find calories of some description. I knew my situation was dire when I found Hot Tomatoes (my favourite Corner pizza place) closed. So I headed over to Espresso Royale, the new Corner coffee franchise. It was either there or Espresso Corner, dork central USA. One of the reasons I decided to go to Espresso Royale is that Wendy works there and she's a cool chick. It wasn't that I necessarily even wanted to talk to her; I just wanted to bask in the setting of so many of her journal entries. I find myself thinking of other online journal keepers a little like personal rock stars, wanting to experience the real version of the world I keep seeing described in print. It's like going to merry old England just to cross Abbey Road barefoot. Do people still do that, by the way?
I asked the guy working the counter (this was probably not the as-yet-unsung potential hero of her journal, "Jack the Buff Boy") if he could recommend any food. Owing to the hour, there were no sandwiches any more, but he did offer me a pesto bagel and cream cheese. It was good, but of course it was kind of stale and was destined to be eaten by Wendy had I not come along.
I found myself flipping through the Washington Post being, as often happens, enraged by the opportunistic antics of right wing lawmakers. Their latest plan is to pass a law that makes it illegal to spirit an underage girl across state lines in an effort to avoid repressive local anti-abortion laws. Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I thought these were the guys who wanted the government off the backs of the people, or was it just off the backs of the rich people, the kind I saw spreading like cancer in gated communities to the west of Detroit? Do I really have to wait for the emergence of a nuclear unabomber?
Wendy suddenly sat down with me, noting my severe sunburn. (I wonder how that's going to look in Jen Fariello's black and white photographs.) You know, Wendy is a lot cooler than she thinks she is. She's been deluded into thinking she's some kind of irrepressible dork (to the extent that she even takes offense when I bust on dorks). But in truth she's actually rather fashionable, in that late 90s retro-understated kind of way. I wanted to tell her all about the travails of life on the road with a laptop but no sleeping bag, but of course she was rather busy and friends (well, at least one friend) kept popping by. She's always the same to me, but I always have the feeling that she thinks I'm more arrogant and less down to earth than I actually am, so tonight I was doing my best to compensate conversationally for her prejudices. It wasn't difficult; I was in pretty good mood. And Wendy even fixed me a yummy free mocha iced something or other. Everything is yummier when it's flavoured with freeness.
Wendy admits that she doesn't really read journals; she mostly skims. I'm the same way. There are only a few I read from start to finish. Interestingly, Wendy's is one of them. She conceals her good nuggets so well that you're forced to read.
Read Wendy's "musings on the Gus."
bought a six of Beast Ice and returned to the Wertland Mansion. No one was there yet, so I drank a beer and eventually fell asleep on a big white leather couch on the porch. White leather is a definite no-no, as Jessika tried to instruct me when I last hung out with her well over a month ago. And as Suckmahoochie (the Division Street Girls' band) sings in one of their heavier songs, "No... White.. Leather!"
I awoke briefly to the sound of Jessika coming home from work at the Jefferson. She had at least one other person, a stranger, with her. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn't. My mind was full of thoughts. The most pleasant thing I could possibly do was think of Kim, but then I'd wonder if maybe it was my social obligation to say something to Jessika, who I haven't really seen since way back in June. But she had those boys with her macking on her and I just didn't want to have to deal with that.
Eventually Deya appeared, and later she and Jessika came down the stairs and put a blanket over me. Shortly thereafter I decided I needed to get the hell out of there.
But as I put my bike away and prepared to start up the Dart, I could hear voices up on the second floor balcony. So I grabbed a beer and went up there to at least touch base. If it had been Deya and Jessika, that would have been cool. But it was just Jessika and one of those boys from the theatre, alone under the Christmas lights, drinking 12 ounce Mickeys Big Mouths. I suddenly felt really uncomfortable and wanted to leave, so I lied and told Jessika my Dad expected me back in Staunton by morning, and I turned and left. That was it: the first time I'd seen Jessika in a month and we barely exchanged three sentences.
But you know, Jessika and I have been growing further and further apart for some time. It all began in late March with a terrible war of silence over my musing that I had nothing in common with her. Then it resurfaced when I mused that I couldn't possibly go on a road trip with her. Now she's apparently become indifferent, the worst insult of all. She never sends me email anymore, she probably doesn't read these musings. It's different now. She's someone else, or else I'm someone else, or perhaps now we're both completely different people than anything we both ever were. Or perhaps nothing is different at all and it's all in my mind, but then it's my mind that is different, and that's what really matters anyway. This was never clear until today.
I hope she gets around to paying me that $26 she owes me.
he drive back to Staunton was uneventful. My Windows 95 machine was acting up after a failed Norton Utilities installation I'd done weeks ago, and I found myself playing around with Regedit.exe when I should have been checking my email. The eastern sky was glowing distinctly by the time I finally fell asleep.
one year ago
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