Truth be told, I applied a smidgen of artistic license to those stories in the interest of the symmetry of discomfort they created.
Well it doesn't sound like you had a very good time.
Not true. Although I haven't talked about it much, the fall leaves were turning, the air was cool, and even the foggy, misty days were a wonder. And let me tell you a story...
I met a wonderful woman there as I was walking down an alley coming back from a courtyard that had caught my attention. The alley was narrow and covered. It was dark. The courtyard (which turned out to be a parking lot in the middle of the block) was behind me, and ahead of me the alley opened thru a double archway onto a bright street.
She came from that direction, walking towards me. I think she was carrying something, but I can't be sure, so taken was I by her flowing silhouette framed against the archway where the alley let out to the street.
We met there in the dark with the light of day at the other end of the alley. The light of a thousand suns was in her eyes.
The warmth of her smile radiated thru me. Her hand touched mine. We kissed. We spent the rest of the afternoon together.
And as the day got late, we walked to my car, which of course was her car, too. And we drove back to my room, which of course was her room, too. And we went to sleep content that our day with each other had been full.
Oh for heaven's sake.
Asheville, North Carolina
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We got the map of the Asheville Urban Trail at the art museum and followed the bronze feathers embedded in the sidewalks.
Trudy read descriptions as we arrived at each sculpture, explaining its interpretation of some particular aspect of the city's history. We only followed the Gilded Age portion of the trail, since by the time we reached the end of it we were both thinking more about eating than sculptures.
Downtown Asheville is very pedestrian friendly. Maybe it's that the buildings don't tower over the streets. Maybe it is the folks milling around outside and the sidewalk cafes here and there. Or maybe it was just that we stumbled on The Mellow Mushroom pizza place just as we were beginning to really need a meal.
We sat outside, watching folks walk by watching us watch them. It was late in the day, and we sat in the deep shade of an arbor with blooming wisteria growing in profusion overhead. Having just left 90-degree weather, we were happy to have our jackets with us. And we were particularly happy when our sandwich and calzone arrived.
The Mellow Mushroom is a very groovy place. For me it felt like college in the 70s. For Trudy, it might have not had the same memory lane appeal, but she got a kick out of the T-shirts the were selling inside. And did I tell you how happy we were when our sandwich and calzone arrived?
The funny thing about this place was that something about the inside made me uncomfortable. When I walked in to wash my hands, it felt like I didn't belong. Here were people one, two generations my junior, looking like they had come out of my own past. But I was a one, two generations their senior, and clearly not part of their present. I felt like a gawker. I felt like a geezer. I felt like I just had to walk back to the bathrooms, wash my hands, and return to my table outside.
Given my discomfort in Black Mountain earlier in the day, you would be right to roll your eyes.
Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
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The warp and weft of the carpet were both wool and the lanolin soothed your hands. We decided to buy it. The saleswoman rolled it up and took it to the front of the store.
When I walked up to the register a few minutes later, Trudy was putting her charge card back into her wallet, and the saleswoman was finalizing the order. I asked Trudy how much we got charged, and she didn't know for sure.
So how much was the carpet? Trudy asked.
Two hundred and eighty dollars, the saleswoman said.
Trudy looked at me with a question mark in her eyes. I scowled (maybe to myself, maybe not) and shook my head.
I thought the tag said $240.00, I responded.
Oh no, the saleswoman said from the other side of the counter.
It was $280.00 marked down from $700.00.
I rolled my eyes to myself about the markdown.
I saw the markdown but thought the tag said $240.00.
No, it said $280.00, she responded in a confident tone looking directly at me.
The tag said $280.00? I asked as I began to unroll the carpet to look for it.
Oh yes, the saleswoman said, making no attempt to show me.
As it happened, all that remained of the tag on the corner of the carpet was the little plastic tie. The tag was gone. I looked up.
Do you have the tag? I asked.
Yes, she said, making no motion to actually produce it.
May I see it? I asked, thinking I was about to look like a total jerk.
Sure, she said, walking back to the register where she had rung up the transaction. It took her a few moments to find it, and when she did, she walked back and handed the tag to me.
I looked down preparing to apologize for my dirty bifocals, and then I did a double take. I held the tag back out to her.
It says $240.00.
She was silent for a moment. The salesman by the other register who had been watching us was also silent. The saleswoman took the tag and looked at it.
So it does, she said with either nervous or embarrassed laughter.
My eyesight must be failing me.
An afternoon walking tour and shopping trip into Asheville, North Carolina.
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On our first morning at The Inn, we were treated to Dave's maple eggs (baked in little ceramic ramekins), generous slices of ham, blueberry muffins (with just-crunchy-enough edges at the top), real butter and fresh squeezed juice — a little sweetness and (more importantly) plenty of protein to keep me civil during the day.
After breakfast, we drove out of the woods, down the winding one-lane gravel road, marvelling that the forest seemed to have more color than just the day before. We started our day in Black Mountain.
Black Mountain is a small artsy/shoppy town in the mountains just outside Asheville. It has places to eat, fancy and plain. There's a hardware store which caters to the tourists in the front, with the real stuff in the back. It has shops with crafts and shops with local art. That wasn't what we really came to the Blue Ridge Mountains for (Trudy might disagree), but I confess it was quite pleasant.
After a while, however, I noticed something was making me uncomfortable. Folks that go to an artsy/shoppy place like Black Mountain in the middle of October in the middle of the day in the middle of the week ... how shall I say this? ... have their working years well behind them. Most of the people we saw were elderly women with name tags hanging from their necks, gathered in small groups with confused looks on their faces, trying to decide where to go next. And every once in a while, there was a elderly man sitting forlornly on a bench outside a shop.
Mind you, it's not that I have anything against confused women or forlorn men (I expect to join that club soon enough), but it just felt like a science fiction movie. It was as if we were in an amusement park for elderly retirees. No kids. No young adults. No families. Just a homogenous bunch of old folks milling around ... and the two of us.
Call me callous. Call me a fool. But it just gave me the willies. I felt better when we were done with lunch and on the road to Asheville.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
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I awoke puffy and stuffy, horrified at the balloon man that stared back at me from the bathroom mirror. An hour before, Trudy had popped out of bed (in her customary fashion), taken a shower, dressed and set off for the promised 7:30am Brewing Of The Coffee. I ignored this and slept another hour, awaking to the morning busy-ness (as is her customary fashion) of a just-returned, caffeinated Trudy.
As I looked at the balloon man, I began to regret my decision, thinking that perhaps caffeine might have reduced my allergic response to the long-unfamiliar feel of fall in the forest. But it's what we came for — turning and falling leaves. And it's what we got.
Just a week earlier, they told us the forest had been fully green, but a few days before our arrival at The Inn on Mill Creek, the leaves had begun to turn. The trees on the hill were beginning to turn, and the pond outside our room was doubling our viewing pleasure.
Fall color was just beginning, and our week had only begun. Trudy's plan was coming together well.
A much belated summer vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, NC.
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There's an orange football lying unattended on the kitchen floor.
There's an empty spot on the couch where he usually sits.
It's quiet in the house, no clicking of tags or barking at passers by.
He's gone to doggie daycare, where he'll be while we're gone.
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There's a light on in the house next door. It's shining in thru the window making it seem like it's day, which it's not. It's too early in the morning -- too early to be awake like this. And he was so tired last night.
But his raincoat woke him up, that blue and black nylon thing with the zipper up the front and the breathable flap in the back. It was the raincoat he'd always wanted, and now it's nowhere to be found: the day before they leave for the mountains.
So he lies there in the darkness with the light of the house next door streaming in thru the bathroom window, and he runs thru the places he's been, wondering if he left it in Houston or left it in Virginia.
How crazy is that, that he's lying there worrying about a lost coat, of all the problems perhaps the easiest to solve?
We'll get another one when we get home, she says to him, seeking to reassure him, that they might sleep.
But that's part of the problem, part of what woke him up. They'll get another one, and the problem will go away. Buy a coat, lose a coat, buy another, lose another, run down to the superstore and let your troubles run down the drain.
Why couldn't he just keep track of his own stuff, instead?
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The sky was blue today, and a luscious breeze blew thru the living room.
If you walked up close enough, you could hear the buzz of hundreds of bees humming in the wildflowers towering over the faucet on the side of the house.
A crescent moon hung in the sky as the last evidence of day glowed dimly in the west. The heat of the day subsided. Cricket began to sing.
I shudder to think of a weekend without this. It is only this that keeps me going: the sky, the bees, the flowers, the breeze, the moon, the sounds of night. I need this: a slow day, a seat outside, and these things around me. I won't make it long without them. I think there's something wrong with me.
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I'm partial to yellow and black. The colors of the school I went to in junior high were black and gold, and I had a pair of basketball socks that I dearly loved, not so much because of the socks themselves but because of the black and gold and black color bands at the top.
And so it was with great joy that I found that Monarch caterpillar the other day. I've already told you about the disappearing blossoms and leaves and the rainstorm that came, so let's just move on, shall we?
The following day as the noon sun was beginning to hit the Cowpen Daisies, a yellow and black Zebra Longwing flew by and landed on the yellow blossoms. It was wary of me, fluttering off whenever I moved but returning as soon as I stood still.
It was a perfect counter balance to the yellow and black Spinyback Orb Weavers that have taken up residence on the side of the house, making us do the limbo in order to get to our garbage cans.
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She helped me straighten out my timecard, and she explained something odd on my last paycheck stub. And then we started chatting.
She's going to Arkansas soon, to see a football game. Her son will be in it. And she said she's a big fan. I mean she said she's a real big fan, and she always gets on TV.
Do you get ESPN-2? she asked.
No, we don't have a television, I said.
She was silent for a moment and then asked,
We don't have a TV.
She was silent again and then asked in dry, drawn out sarcasm,
Do you guys have toilet paper?
I laughed very hard.
If you get ESPN-2, maybe you'll see her on Thursday night. She said she'll be holding a sign and waving to the camera.
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The other day, I was outside looking at what the rains of spring and summer had brought:
Purple Trailing Lantana
and a bee in the Milkweed.
That last one made me particularly happy, as it was a gift and seems to have drawn butterflies to our yard where there were none before.
Later that day as I was admiring the Milkweed, I noticed the leaves were being eaten, and some of the blossoms had been chewed. Bending over and looking closely (because you never see what's important until you bend over and get real close), I saw a
SwallowtailMonarch Caterpillar hard at work destroying the Milkweed, which of course is the purpose of the Milkweed.
Oh what joy, to be seen from the sky as an oasis, as a destination, as a place to land.
But the next day, the rains came again. The skies darkened. The wind whipped the branches of the trees furiously as the front advanced. And the rain came down in torrents, beating the leaves of the trees and the bushes and that Milkweed plant playing host to that
After the rain let up and only a few drops were falling, I walked out to see what remained. The
SwallowtailMonarch was still there. Evidently, they know how to hang on.
Update: Annie in Austin gracefully corrected my caterpillar identification.
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It's late, and he's out there in the living room still, sitting in the recliner under the bright white light. I walk out there to see why he's still up.
He's got his knees bent, an arm wrapped around his head, and he's holding a card of some sort to his forehead to shade his eyes from the brightness of the lamp only inches away.
When he was little, at a time like this I might find him rolling around on the rug in the middle of the room with his hind end in the air — a fool-proof indication that he was tired.
I sit down in the rocking chair across the room from him.
What're you doing? I ask.
He flips up the card without moving any part of his body, and he looks at me with those brown eyes. He mumbles something inaudible.
Thinking about ..., and his voice trails into another mumble.
Oh... college and what I'm going to do and life.
It's late, that's true. And you can see the tiredness in his eyes. He should go to bed. Or then maybe he should just think those thoughts a little while longer.
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AT&T wants you to watch what you say about them, or you'll get disconnected. Verizon tries to tell you what they'll permit you to say. The cable company wants to sell you a telephone. The phone company wants to sell you their television programs. Pfizer has a drug they think you'll want to buy. Blackwater whispers a few words in the back halls of Washington, and politicians go mute.
Congressional Democrats celebrate their return to power by inviting the corporate fat cats to come on back across the aisle. Candidates compete for who can be the toughest on terror, babbling meaningless platitudes as the pabulum-digesting press scribbles their words faithfully.
Children sit glued to the television with jiggling potbellies and complain about being bored on a sunny summer day, unable to concentrate on anything, unable to speak a coherent thought, unable to see the world around them. Their parents won't let them go outside, ride their bikes around the block, walk to school.
The Constitution lies trampled on the floor with unitary executives lusting at the chance to repeal the twentieth century while whimpering progressives are unable to complain much less to act. Habeas corpus is gone. Due process is short-circuited by scowling men hidden behind tall walls. America the beautiful is choked by the smog of hatred, as its people sit speechless, shaking in the corner, paralyzed by fear, watching everything they love running down the drain.
Starving, drought stricken people hold up their arms to shield themselves in the desert while the armies of death and destruction ride over the hill and descend upon them. Punks, hoodlums and mobsters take the helm in Russia. A clown speaks to shouting crowds in Venezuela, crowds desperate for something other than what the system has been giving them. And another clown halfway around the globe revels in the glow of attention heaped on him when he posits that perhaps we need to do a little more research into that theory of the holocaust. And the torn saffron robes and blood-stained flesh of monks lie rotting in the jungle.
You ask me why I've been quiet lately. You ask me what's got me down.
I cannot speak. I am simply dumbstruck.
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