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June 12 1998, Friday



he night spent in the Dart hadn't been especially comfortable. The need to stretch out one's legs is pretty fundamental. That first stretch after I woke up this morning was almost as rapturous as an orgasm. I haven't had many orgasms lately, by the way. But that's nobody's fault but mine.


fter a morning spent in Cocke Hall, I went over to the Wertland Mansion, thinking the girls would be up or whatever. You know how it is, I'm homeless more or less and I don't have lots of places to go, none I'm expected to be in, certainly none to call home. But I felt kind of funny when I ran across Jessika and Deya just now getting out of bed a little past noon. I got the impression that maybe I was a problem for them, like they wondered how long I was going to be around. I could be completely wrong about this, but I didn't feel like interacting with them. I went outside and sat on the balcony and stared for a long time into the streets where the residential seas lap against the business district of the Corner.

Down below sat my Dart. It looked to be holding itself at a weird angle, like it had a flat tire. I decided I should investigate. It did have a flat tire. Lucky for me, it was the worst of the tires I drive on. I took the flat tire wheel off and looked at it. I'd driven over a little screw, the kind used to hold appliances together.

Eventually Wacky Jen came over. She'd been having trouble getting her car to pass inspection, and one of her problems had been the baldness of her tires. She'd been driving on one tire fully aware that metal was protruding from the rubber, and she'd been evidently unconcerned about the risk she was taking. But the other day she finally got around to buying a replacement, a used tire for $20. That's the kind of money I like to spend when I buy a tire, so I asked her where she'd gotten it and she said it was a place called Fitzgerald's down in Belmont and that it had been reccommended originally by her older and wiser housemate, Paul.


e four sat around together chatting for awhile in the room Deya and Jessika share. None of us had a thing we needed to be doing all day, so Deya suddenly said, "Let's do something!" I had an idea. "Let's go to Belmont and get me a new tire!" I suggested.

That's what we ended up doing, even though it was all based on my singularly selfish needs, a fact which I found mildly embarrassing. But, at least as Deya seemed to view it, "anything to get us out of the house." And Belmont, a quaint little town absorbed wholesale like a dignified Texas or Georgetown into the south side of Charlottesville, has always attracted a strange fascination from most of my friends, particularly Jessika (but also folks as diverse as Joanna Road Rage and Wacky Jen).

The tire took only about a minute to be replaced by the mullet-sporting garageman at Fitzgerald's Wholesale Tire. I got a used tire, which may or may not be such a good idea. The treads were good, and the fact that its basic structure had been tested by use also seemed to be a good thing. The only trouble was the drink machine, which was all too willing to take my money but was reluctant to cough up the promised Mr. Pibb. Both when giving me my tire and when fishing out my Mr. Pibb, the mulletized garagemen handed the items to me saying, "There you be."

The girls had wandered off into "downtown Belmont" where something like six streets come together in a very complicated series of adjacent intersections. We all ended up in a dingy little grocery store looking over the icecream selection. The girls picked out various kinds of frozen sweets that matched their hair colour.

We continued on foot, touring Belmont to look at unoccupied dwellings in the neighborhood. Wacky Jen is always on the lookout for such places and knows where most of them are. One was very close by, a Victorian house at 800 Hinton Street. The corner of the yard was being used as big dog bowel evacuation zone, but other parts of the yard were attractive. Unfortunately there was no way inside the house itself (Wacky Jen had tried all the doors already).

Belmont has a number of undeveloped alleys that run along the backyard boundaries between neighbors on opposite sides of blocks. We walked down these alleys, always on the lookout for houses for rent, and we eventually found one, but the mulberry tree in the front yard produced disappointly flavourless berries.

This was all well and good, but what Jessika really wanted to do was go visit "Jen's House," an abandoned house in a neighborhood to the northwest of Belmont off Elliott Avenue across from a cemetary. It was kind of far away, so we decided to drive.


en's House" was in good condition, and, from outward appearances, nothing seemed to be wrong with it at all. It was in a fairly normal mostly-black middle-income neighborhood of well-kept dwellings with nice porches that, on a day like today, were occupied with people. Jen had been to "her house" several times before, so she was getting to the point where she knew "her neighbors." To give a patina of legitimacy to our explorations today, Jen wrote a note expressing interest in purchasing the house and put it on the door before we entered. She had, of course, snuck in on a previous visit through a basement door and unlocked the front door to expedite future visits, such as today's.

Inside, the house was anything but normal. It looked as if it had been suddenly evacuated as if to escape an oncoming army. Everything, and I mean everything, had been left behind. The oldest paperwork and calendars seemed to indicate it had been occupied until 1995. But a house sitting unguarded for three years is just asking for repeated waves burglarly as well as whatever lesser form of burglary we were committing. Looters had gone through everything, tossing it over and combing through it for anything of value. It looked as if a tornado had picked up the house and given it a good shake and then put it gently back upon its foundation. The chaos and funk that had settled into it all gave a sense of an enormous amount of time having passed, though, as I mentioned, only a few years ago people had lived here for better or for worse.

We fanned out and explored the rooms. I quickly deduced that a fairly religious black family with many financial problems had lived here. Copies of Ebony magazine lay strewn on the floor, while on the walls were all kinds of cheesy religious decorations, including a frayed masonite plaque engraved with the Lord's Prayer. The furniture had mostly been left in place and the contents of most of the drawers were largely undisturbed. As I flipped through the paperwork, I saw lots material surrounding the death of an elderly matriarch and numerous envelopes bearing the ominous words "FINAL NOTICE." It was a little like being privy to the bureaucratic debacle that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs (Paper evidence of a debacle is seldom left in the fossil record!). You're weird, Gus.

I didn't really find anything I wanted among the things that remained un-pillaged. I found a good trash sticker, an old walkie-talkie, a broken 110 camera, and a variety of medication, all of which I put in my pockets to take with me.

Meanwhile the girls were going through the kinds of things they like to get in places such as this: clothes. Jessika particularly was finding many things she wanted, though she was also interested by the themes in the various rooms. One room contained an older religious person collecting a pension, while another room contained a young boy who wore cut-off tee shirts. At least one of the residents had been a proud Aquarius.

Eventually we had to get going because Jen had to go to work. By this point I was sick of the place and was sitting on a plastic chair yawning repeatedly, but I think Jessika would have been pleased to stay there until dark.

Of course, when it comes to this sort of thing, we always go too far and spoil a good thing. We'd stayed way too long. As we were about to leave, we saw a shiny white car park out in front and a middle-aged black man get out and come our way. "Can I help you?" he asked. It was the owner of the house! Good thing we had Wacky Jen along to smooth everything out and explain how interested she was in purchasing the place, and good thing she'd put up a sign expressing such interest before we'd gone in. Otherwise we might have ended up spending the night in jail.

Unfortunately, we had to leave all the loot we'd intended to take with us; we couldn't be witnessed looting a house by its owner, of course. Fortunately for me, everything I wanted fit nicely in my pockets. The others intended to go back later to get the bulkier things they wanted.


sociology of the mainstream




ack at the Wertland Mansion, I put on my "new" tire and worked up a good sweat. The day had become amazingly hot and humid, in great contrast to cool conditions that had prevailed for well over a week. Jessika headed off to get "a forty" on the Corner, so I decided to come along and get myself a forty as well. As we waited in front of the Corner Market for the hippie cashier to get off the can (he locks up the place when he needs to use the bathroom), a stranger passed us on the sidewalk and gave Jessika and me a knowing look that made Jessika remark, "He must read the musings."

We both got 32 oz. Mickeys, what is usually meant these days by the term "forty," though Jessika seemed disappointed by the missing 8 ounces, no matter how impossible-to-drink those final eight ounces usually are.

Jessika and I sat on the front porch drinking our Mickeys and talking about I don't really know what. "This beer tastes exactly the way it should," she remarked. A burrito she'd had earlier today, on the other hand, had tasted somewhat unexpectedly bad.

Jessika showed me one of the crumpled Miller Lite beer cans that one of her frighteningly normal housemates had evidently drunk. Until I looked at this can, I never considered that something as ordinary as a brand of beer could be specifically designed to appeal to a distinctly alien social circle. By "alien" I mean "alien to me." To most people in this country, of course, it's the likes of Jessika and me that are the aliens. Anyway, the beer can was covered with lots of unnecessary writing and labeling specifically geared to please someone with a frat-boy's idea of funny. Here are some examples:

  • At the top of the can were little upward pointing arrows with the words "this end up."
  • Near the top of the can were the words "This beer belongs to" followed by a line that could be filled out.
  • Down the side of the can was a scale with the number of calories consumed going in inverse proportion to the amount of beer left in the can, from zero to 96 calories. It is a lite beer, after all.

This is not the only product-based evidence of a "frat boy culture" that has been singled out for target marketing by American industry. On the refigerator in the kitchen is one of those magentic-poetry sets, the kind where words can be combined to form arbitrary phrases. The particular set that the housemates have is evidently geared towards the bland middle-american college student. It has magnets inscibed with words like "Trig," "Sorority," "Totally," and "Chug." Jessika says she's been frustrated on several occasions by an inability to formulate any satisfactory sentiments with the possibilities afforded by the available words.

Some of the Jessika's housemates passed back and forth as we sipped our beers on the porch. They're uncomfortable around us, and usually only give us the bare basics of expected social protocols. But today we were firmly in space they intended to use for their weekly Friday evening porch-based barbecue. They had to do more than the usual. So they made a point of noticing the Mickeys (which we drank bum-stylee, still in their increasingly-wrinkled brown paper bags). How many Mickeys had we had? How many more did we intend on having? Did we want a burger? Sure, we each wanted a burger. But then the boys discovered the propane tank was empty. I gave them three dollars as a token of goodwill and off they went to get more.

Meanwhile Deya had begun working on getting a lime green three speed working. It's a familiar bike, one that spent about a year in neglect on the Kappa Mutha Fucka front porch. Now, though, things seemed to be coming together. There were still a few things that seemed to beg for my knowledge as an experienced bike tinkerer, so I jumped in to lend assistance. It struck me, though, that my cocksure attitude and other indications of conceit might well be oppressive. I know Deya well enough to know she hates me when I'm like this, I'd caught myself being like this several times today. I felt kind of embarrassed all of a sudden and tried to make an on-the-fly resolution to be more humble in the future. This is just one of several things that increasingly made me feel like damaged goods throughout the day.

The burgers, ah, they were good, especially with all the fixings that the housemates had on hand. We didn't talk much with them or the several friends (including a very very shy girl) they had over. Jessika was quizzed a little about her newly-red hair, of course, but interesting questions that I'm sure they had were never asked. Maybe if they'd drink just a little more of that Miller Lite...

That one burger only had me hankering for more. I knew Burger King had an ongoing 99 cent Whopper special, and I wanted one bad. Jessika had been talking about wanting to go on some sort of field trip to K-Mart, and the prospect of hitting Burger King on the way had me excited. I rarely get this excited about food, mind you, but I don't think I was entirely myself today.


eya, Jessika and I all piled into the Dart and I set off. I wolfed down my Whopper in front of the K-Mart while the girls went on ahead of me. I was intending on eating the burger in the K-Mart, but I hadn't figured on the plastic artificial smell with which all such stores reek. I really enjoy Whoppers, I don't know why, but I'm not a big fan of the Whopper aftertaste, which reminds me of corn on the cob.

I bought a few things with which to repair chronic Dodge Dart problems, along with a tin of Kippersnacks, since they were only 69 cents. I haven't had Kippersnacks since that time back in the eighties when my Dad decided smoked fish was an unnecessary cancer risk. A song came on the overhead K-Mart speakers, something from the mid-seventies. It was horrible then and even worse today, especially in this environment in which it was reappearing, like a mishap aboard a time machine. But it still gave me a sudden nostalgic pang. "They used to play that song when I was a kid," I told Jessika. She said the wrong thing, that she was sure glad they didn't play that kind of music when she was a kid, that instead they played "Video Killed the Radio Star." Her saying this made me feel sad and alienated.

Back at Jessika and Deya's place, all that beef, along with a cheese product sandwich I failed to mention, was doing a number on my system. We'd bought a 12 pack of Schlitz, but I could only choke one of these down, and then I just wanted to stretch out and relax. Eventually I fell asleep. As I was waking up I could hear Jessika expressing concerns that maybe I'd want to sleep in their room again. That was just the kind reluctant-hostess thing I've been waiting for.

Wacky Jen had earlier accidentally referred to "the drunk boys" as "the boys of summer." Tonight that little slip of the tongue proved inspiring, and Jessika tried to sing a version of the old Don Henley tune by that name with the words changed to fit the drunk boys.

    But I can see you, your whiskey bottle shinin' in the sun
    You got your hair spiked up and your combat boots on, baby.

Jessika wanted to sneak up Carter's Mountain to the drunk boys' squat house and spray paint "The Boys of Summer Have Gone" and maybe do something else stalkerly, like hang up several jackets from "Jen's House."


y the time I'd awaken from my nap, my gut was acting up and I was feeling pretty miserable. I didn't have much interest in whatever was going on this particular Friday Night, and nothing of special interest was happening anyway. I went out to my car and tried to go to sleep. Wacky Jen was just then arriving from her shift at the Tokyo Rose, but I was determined to call it quits for the evening.

A party raged within earshot for and time and there were occasional loud fireworks. I was hot and uncomfortable, but somehow I fell asleep.



one year ago
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