Saturday, July 7, 2001

Flashback Friday: July, 2001

The hillside by the reservoir

This is the first chapter of "The Girl Who (owned a house, yet) Slept In A Mustang."

The Girl Who (Owned A House, Yet) Slept In A Mustang
Xanna was one of the sweetest girls that I ever have had the pleasure of knowing. At first.
I was working the "graveyard" shift at a gas station in Charlottesville, Virginia, sitting inside a little booth ringing up "A pack of Newports and a Philly blunt, and the rest on pump 10" a lot; when I met her. 
I didn't really believe in ghosts.

Chapter 1
How Did I Wind Up Here?
By happenstance.
July 7, 2001
I was driving south on Rt. 29, thinking that I was going to Roanoke, Va. in a 1983 Honda Civic which had a cracked windshield, one door a different color than the car, darkly tinted windows all around, 286,000 miles on the odometer, no insurance on it and with a tag affixed to the back, which could be traced to a sky-blue Cadillac, from Augusta, Georgia. I had paid 350 dollars for it, off of a guy in Jacksonville, Florida. 
Rather than stick around that city long enough to make it legal, I opted to flee that city, leaving behind the smouldering rubble and ashes of a (failed after one year) relationship.
Angela, as that was the girls name, had locked me out of the apartment in the middle of the night as a thunderstorm approached, after misunderstanding something I had said on my way out, to throw away some trash. I was barefooted and wearing only light clothing. I had my car keys on me.
I slept uncomfortably the rest of the night in the Civic, in a K-Mart parking lot, beside the Caddilac which looked like it had been sitting there for some time, resolving in my mind to get out of town at daybreak and start a new life elsewhere. A life with a lot less misunderstanding in it.
I had figured that slapping the Caddy's plate on my car, while illegal was better than trying to drive hundreds of miles with no tag at all, something which would be fairly noticable to officers of The Law. At least the Caddy was the same color as my Civic
Roanoke became my chosen destination.
This, a result of some online research which I had done at my mothers house in Massachusetts, which had been my "first stop" after an 1,100 mile drive away from Angela.
I used 12 different criteria in a database search, such as "climate and geography" (in which my tastes ran similar to Goldilocks' not too high, not too low, not too hot, not too cold), the presence of a University, health food store, gym, public transportation and ethnic diversity, to mention some. The search yielded Roanoke, and Athens, Georgia in the top ten that best matched my criteria. The other eight were in California.
I was tired of driving, as I neared Charlottesville, and especially tired of the constant looking in the rear view mirror for cops and the turning off onto side streets, or into parking lots, every time one got behind me. I had driven all the way up the east coast to my mothers house like that and, after spending about 10 days there, resting, and researching, I was back on the road, feeling like only 10 minutes had past since I had last been behind the wheel. The same ass cheek was falling asleep, and my back was aching in the same spot. The scenery seemed to be crawling past.
I then blew off the Athens idea (500 miles further) in favor of Roanoke, which was less than two hours ahead.
Charlottesville did, though, look very nice to me, as I drove the tree-lined corridor of Route 29, with its gradually descending hills, like a 20 mile long roller coaster which comes to rest in a valley where the University of Virginia campus was nestled. I later learned that Dr. Seuss had written his classic "Horton Hears A Who," while gazing down into this same valley...Route 29 had recently been paved, and the ride was smooth as butter, also.
Dixie Land
On the outskirts of town, I stopped at a Wendy's for a salad.
I had worked at a Wendy's in Jacksonville. It had actually been fodder for one of the many arguments between Angela and I, as she had wanted "better" for me/us.
I said to no one in particular: "Wow; this is set up just like the Wendy's I worked at in Jacksonville!," whereupon, a thin lady with short dark hair, wearing a tag which denoted her as a manager and as being named "Dixie," turned to me and asked: "Oh, really? What can you do?"
"I can run the grill, do fries, work the register...wash dishes, of course..."
"Well, I have an extra shirt in the back; do you want to clock in? We can do all the paperwork later," said the first person named Dixie that I had ever met in my life.
About five minutes later, wearing a medium sized Wendy's shirt, I clocked in, and started washing dishes. 
A radio was playing on a shelf above the sink, and every time I heard mention of Charlottesville weather, Charlottesville traffic or sports, I had to shake my head and think: "How did I wind up here?!?"
Where Do You Live; The Woods?
At the Public Library, I used Mapquest to draw a circle a two miles radius around the Wendy's. Within this circle, I found a wooded area near a reservoir -a reservoir formed by the damming up of a river. A road, which was maintained by the state, ended at a water treatment plant, near the dam.
Off of this road, I found the entrance to what had once evidently been a logging trail. It was overgrown with foliage and trees no bigger than a couple of inches in diameter, and discernible from the woods to its left and right.
Using a spade and a hatchet, I was able to reclaim enough of it to be able to back the Civic off the road. I then stacked a pile of brush across the entrance, hiding it as well as what had once been a logging trail.
I continued to work at the Wendy's. 17 days, I would work before I saw my first paycheck.  
I slept in the car those nights, living on baked potatoes and whatever else I was able to take with me from work.
Every day I put in time with shovel and spade, clearing more of the trail, then backing the Civic a few feet further into the woods, until I eventually cleared the way to open area about a tenth of a mile off the main road, which was large enough to turn the car around in. Here, I stretched a tarp between trees, as a makeshift carport, and parked under it. I slept a little more peacefully there, especially on the pitch-black nights when the moon was new.
My first paycheck of about 420 bucks came and gave me the means to buy foods of my choice, just as I was getting a little tired of cold baked potatoes and overdone meat.
I decided to dig a fire pit.
I slashed my way into the most dense and formidable patch of vines, thorns and spider webs that I could find on the hillside, an entangled mess that no one out hiking would even think of trying to penetrate. 
I soon learned that, to the above deterrents, could be added poison ivy.
I cleared the vegetation from an area of about 10 feet by 10 feet. In this spot, accessible only by having chanced upon the path that I had carved, I dug a fire pit -just a couple feet deep and four by four feet square.
My Nights were now spent sitting on the edge of this pit, cooking meals consisting of things such as fish and steamed vegetables and mushrooms fried in olive oil over the fire and drinking a quality of wine, fit for a man with a full time job and no real bills to pay. 
I'm sitting by a fire on a hillside, I  am surrounded by a tangle of vines and thorns and even poison ivy so thick that I feel safe from intrusion.
Looking overhead I see the undersides of myriad leaves, illuminated and dancing in the hot air that my fire is sending skyward. I recognize many of them as maple leaves, maple-green suffused with fire yellow; the sunlight which the leaves captured day after day and photosynthesized into the wood that I am burning is being released back, not as sunlight, but as firelight, and the leaves are capturing it and photosynthesising it into more wood; their undersides doing by night what their topsides do by day: catching sunlight...the heat from the fire having originated at the sun, 93 million miles away...Virginia did I wind up here?!?
Some stars were visible through little openings in the foliage, here and there. Their light has played a tiny role in cooking my fish, too, I thought.
As August approached, I began to widen and deepen the pit a lit more each day. This would further conceal the fire from the sight of the people in the houses atop the hills on the other side of the reservoir. And, since the heat would, within a couple months time, become something nice to lie next to and stretch out besides, I was making room for doing just that.
So, I dug daily into the red clay with spade and pick ax, throwing the rocks of mostly granite that I extracted -the biggest, the size of a breadbox- into a pile. 
This clay is sediment made from the completely decomposed remains of sea creatures, some which lived millions of years ago, and whatever else sank to the bottom of the sea; a sea which formed when waters rushed in, filling the divide where two continents had seperated, waters carrying sediment, dredged from hundreds of surrounding miles and deposited here; here in central Virginia. 
The granite boulders I am unearthing are crumbs torn from the face of the Smokey Mountains, dragged here by the departing continent which is now called "Africa"
...There are emeralds along the west coast of that continent around the place where it broke from North Carolina...At least one huge emerald has been found in North Carolina...I'm in what is called "The Piedmont," a gradual slope of clay, which descends to the Atlantic Ocean, 80 miles to the east...emeralds...maybe I'll find one...How did I wind up here?!?. 
By the end of July I was able to move out of the 1983 Honda Civic and into the firepit.
I hadn't met Xanna yet, that would happen after my being fired from Wendy's; and I really didn't believe in ghosts, either.
August 8, 2001
The Bread Stick Incident
My employment with Wendy's came to an end.
After narrowly avoiding being suspended from my job after having an outbreak of what my mostly African American co-workers called "poison ivory" (the concern being that poison ivory might be contagious), I was accused of biting off the end of a bread stick and then dipping the end which I had bitten into the large pot of chili in the kitchen. There was a witness.
What I had done was dip the end of a breadstick into the chili then, gripping that end with my teeth, I pulled from the other end, making the stick rip apart in the middle. I then dipped the exposed bread from the middle, which never touched my mouth, into the chili.
I couldn't get the manager to accept that explanation; this was worse than poison ivory.
I was summarily dismissed from the position of French Fry Man.

There was an East Coast gas station next to the Wendys.
I had gassed up there on those carefully chosen occasions when I drove the illegal Civic on the streets of Charlottesville, such as driving the two miles to a laundromat, hauling a duffel bag full of clothes and blankets (I was a clean homeless guy) and once -near the end of the 17 day wait for my first paycheck- to the labor pool.
Often, after work, I would go there for cigarettes or and energy drink and wind up talking at length to whomever was in the booth.
I talked to the manager the night that I had gotten the ax.
He was a black man from The Ghana, Africa, who often complained about the African Americans in this country, calling them "niggers" and "all teeves (thieves)"and saying that he would never hire one of them -funny, hearing that from a black man. "They tink dat everee ting is owned by white peepool and dat it's OK to steal it, and that's wrong!" said Modou Lamin Manga, as that was his name.
I told him about my being fired, amusing him with the bread stick story. "They are so ignorant!" was his conclusion.
He hired me, at a dollar an hour more than I had been making frying potatoes, and put me on the graveyard shift.
I was then in a position to meet Xanna. I didn't believe in ghosts, at that time.