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May 28 1998, Thursday



he thing hanging over my head today (not entirely like a Sword of Damocles) was the fact that my Dodge Dart was still packed with the dregs of what I'd owned in Charlottesville. Since I'd probably be needing that Dart for the drive today up to Nancy Firedrake's place in Bethesda, it seemed prudent to empty it out. While I was about things, I also did some minor repairs on the Dart, replacing the baldest of the tires and fixing the heater fan subsystem (by shorting around a defective "feature"). My cleaning was more thorough than ever before; for example I finally got around to vacuuming out the trunk, which still had wood ashes in it from the time over a year ago when Matthew Hart and I stole a wood stove from the old Big Fun farmhouse (that stove got left behind in the Kappa Mutha Fucka garage, by the way).

To make room for my stuff, I had to do lots of reshuffling both up in the Honey House attic and in my Shaque. When I was done, I was sweaty and exhausted (but familiarly pleased with myself for having accomplished a necessary goal). I called down to Robby's Import repair to see if the Honda Accord he'd suggested I buy was in yet, but it wasn't. It looked like the Dart was going to have to do its thing. It's never really let me down so far, though it's come close a few times.

My Dad cooked up some fish for lunch. The honeymoon of my presence is still on, and my folks are treating me mostly like an extra-special guest, "killing the fatted calf" as my Dad so eloquently puts it.


nce my car was unloaded and fixed up, it was ready for the road trip. Or almost so. With its badly-expired inspection sticker, the Dart is far from street legal. Since it is subject to break down and expedient shoulder-side repairs (like every car I've ever routinely driven), I feel more secure driving it if it's not going to land me with a ticket the moment a cop examines it. So I decided to try again to get it inspected. I took it down to the Farm Bureau auto service center, a place I've had mixed luck in the past. The guy said I'd have to leave it there and he'd get to it in about an hour. That was fine with me; I can always find things to do, no matter the environment. The environment in the vicinity of the Farm Bureau, near the junction of of US 250 and I-81, is an emerging strip-commercial zone, increasingly populated by Walmarts, fast food joints and gas stations, many of them cut rudely into the base of magestic Betsy Bell. Betsy Bell is a tall conical hill of Beekmantown limestone and is the most prominent geologic feature in Staunton. I once wrote a satirical letter to the editor pointing out the gradual destruction of Betsy Bell, and from the quickening pace of the earthmoving, I can see that my letter was frighteningly prescient. Along with Walmart, Lowe's Hardware is particularly guilty of devouring Betsy Bell. Lowes has moved twice to various parts of Staunton and is now moving a third time, to a massive new wasteland of mud near the new Walmart. Insurers take note: it's common for the old Lowes location to burn down under "mysterious circumstances" following each move. Beware the sudden increase in fire coverage.

While on a mission to waste time, I occasionally go on "vision quests," even (and perhaps particularly) in the tacky sans-soul consumer wonderland. It's a chance to feel like a more highly evolved life form, if nothing else. I set off for Walmart, set high in a commanding notch dug into the flesh of Betsy Bell like a commercial ulcer.

Once inside the massive building, I went directly to the electronics center, where dust-covered boxes containing 120 MHz Pentium processors could be bought for $99. As I've said before, Walmart can't afford to track the prices in the volatile computer electronics markets, and as a result, their prices for the things I'd like to buy are always far too high.

Then there were the people, the customers and the haggard overworked staff. It's always instructive to walk through a Walmart just to see that the average American is such a poor specimen of humanity, very safe from the prospect of being mounted as a trophy to a space alien's living room wall: the bad posture, the laboured walking, the pasty television-induced complexion and the sagging, oh the sagging. Gravity is not kind to these people. If they were any smarter they'd eagerly be anticipating the day when we glorious Americans finally colonize outer space and get to live out our lives in zero G.

I walked all the way around the outside of the Walmart, in hopes of finding adventure in the back. There was, unfortunately, no adventure to be had. I did mark my territory, however, pissing on the south west corner of the building. Anyone who hasn't marked territory with urine is missing out on an effortless and deeply satisfying primal rite. When I was a kid I used to urinate around (and even sometimes upon) setting hens in the bushes to keep predators from sneaking up and grabbing them in the night.

Back at the Farm Bureau, my Dart had flunked yet another inspection. The guy who'd done the inspection had been pretty thorough and had even noted that my car has four different-sized tires. Whatever, with its rejection sticker, my car is now street legal for another 14 days. Off I set for the land of off c e n t e r.


he drive was relatively uneventful. The car ran kind of hot, but it was a pretty warm day. I made sure not to push it too hard. I use the temperature gauge to set my "physical speed limit" (as opposed to my "legal speed limit"). I don't like the heat gauge to rise much above the one third mark; after that I am gentle with the accelerator. Climbing some hills (such as the Blue Ridge, which is a relatively low wind gap on I-66), I only drove 45 miles per hour.

I stopped for gas and coffee in historic New Market (site of a famous Civil War battle and also one of my longest-ever waits for a ride while hitch hiking). Coolant was running out of the over-pressure valve, causing some concern to a couple of country music-blasting locals but I've seen that sort of thing before and know it's no big deal.

Once I got on I-495, the beltway passing north of Washington, D.C., everything came quickly and I soon found myself pulling into several wrong driveways in the vicinity of Nancy Firedrake's place. A little back and forth, and I was finally in the right place. It was a neat little cottage set back far from the road, behind it, beyond several rows of bushes, lay a school.


ancy and her husband Brian were both there. Nancy was still in biking gear and Brian was on the phone. The house was an orderly place, full of books and bikes. Somehow Nancy and Brian had managed to fill their house with just the things they use and admire. There was none of the useless clutter that characterized Kappa Mutha Fucka. And things seemed to be largely in their rightful place, not inaccessible at the bottom of piles. Forgive me, but my brain has recently undergone a revolution in the way it looks at schtuff. It's struggling with the tension between wanting to have things and wanting to have space.

Brian works for the post office. My first impression of him is that he's shy, intellectual and businesslike, holding back lots of emotions. We all sat around watching yet another Fox show, When Cars Collide or somesuch, featuring the same reshuffled footage from all the other shows with similar names. It gets old after awhile, and soon we'd completely switched to watching an international spelling bee championship. It must have been considered a sport since it was on ESPN. I have no idea how these kids could have spelled so well, since the words asked were all so very obscure that I'd only encountered a few of them.

The whole time we watched, we were eating shrimp finger food. Additionally, Nancy and I were drinking classy beers. I had three in total and was feeling kind of drunk as the evening wound down to its logical conclusion. I would have brought my own beers, but the end of the trip had come too suddenly, and the drive from the Beltway hadn't passed any stores.

Nancy has a very logical mind, sensitive to capturing and flagging ideas. At a certain point in the evening I said something that sounded to her like an "idea" and she reminded me of an earlier one I'd had since arriving. Here they were:

  1. If you examined historical crime statistics, you'd probably notice crime increased dramatically as air conditioning and television were widely adopted in America. Without people sitting on porches, the burglars went about their business unhindered.

  2. Uh.. sorry.. think as hard as I can, I forget the second one; I wonder how many times Calculus was invented before someone thought to write it all down.

Nancy and I surfed the web on her computer, checking out various stops we both like to make on the Information Super... oh god please! When I got bored with the usual places, I started typing random words into the URL address window (sort of like dialing 1-800-BIG-DICK) and frequently ending up at a concern that has apparently bought up lots of domain names and is holding them for resale. It's disgusting. Another disgusting thing is that a concern called Real Name, an offshoot of Altavista itself, has a bunch of misspelled words (such as "Louinski" and "Damaclese") pre-loaded into the Altavista database such that a hit to one of their pages always comes up first in results returned in searches for those misspelled words. This relatively new development has left me questioning the objectivity of the Altavista search engine itself.

Nancy's tools for web design are relatively primitive: Notepad.exe for the HTML, Paintshop (whatever that is) for images. Good thing she's a good speller; there's no spell checker. This next week and a half should be an interesting period as I struggle along with no spell checker and no Nancy (to tell me via email when I've fucked up big time).

I slept on the couch while the various cats tried to claw their way into Nancy and Brian's bedroom, the door to which is normally left open at night.

Read Nancy Firedrake's account of today. The mirrors are facing each other; stare thee down the curving tunnel!


one year ago
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