|The hillside by the reservoir|
From Cold Springs To Hot Tubs
Through November, I worked to complete my dwelling, making it warm and dry and comfortable.
December, 2001I deemed it complete on December 10th, which was also the last day that I took a bath in the dammed up stream. The air temperature was 65 degrees, that day -about the same as the water.
I was spending a lot of my free time playing the Ibanez guitar which Xanna had given me for my birthday, passing the wee hours of the morning in the booth with it, using the security camera to make videos of myself playing my compositions, and would then make copies of them onto VHS cassettes.
Xanna continued to visit me in the booth after she got off work. We continued to have long conversations, before she went off to park her Mustang somewhere and sleep in it. She always seemed to lost in thought during those conversations, as if trying to solve a puzzle. She didn't visit my house in the woods again.
I learned that she had an ex-husband, with the same name as the abusive ex-boyfriend: Tom. They had one child together, a boy named Emory, who was 14 years old, at that time. Tom, the ex-husband had custody of him.
Xanna saw him only on weekends, which they would spend at the house in the country. I later learned that these were the only times that she would sleep in her own house.
One of my co workers at the gas station, Brenda -a single mother herself- mentioned, upon hearing about this arrangement, that it was highly unusual for a judge in Virginia to award custody to the father, in a divorce settlement -"99% of the time, the mother gets the kids...unless there is something really wrong with the mother; like she's mentally ill or a drug addict, or something..."
It turned out that Xanna and I, in addition to both being musicians, were both pretty big football fans.
My favorite team, The New England Patriots had made the playoffs, and were scheduled to play in the first round on January 19, 2002, against The Oakland Raiders (in what would go down in history as the "tuck rule" game).
She informed me that she had booked a room at The Marriott Hotel, for the occasion, inviting me there to watch the game, and also giving me a chance to meet Emory.
When I met him, I jokingly introduced myself as "Tom," before saying "Just kidding!" ...What's this thing that mom has about guys named Tom?
We watched the game, but not before Xanna insisted that we visit the indoor swimming pool and especially the hot tub. I remembered her having told me that she had installed a hot tub at her house and couldn't help thinking that she was trying to get me to like the idea of lounging in one.
I then enjoyed sipping red wine and watching the game. Emory was thrilled to see that it was being played in a snow storm. He called it "The Snow Bowl."
The Patriots won.
Xanna told me afterwards that Emory had thought that I was "cool" and fun to be around.
The next round of the playoffs the following week would have The Patriots playing against, coincidentally enough, Xannas favorite team, The Pittsburg Steelers. She would book another room in an equally nice hotel, with an equally nice hot tub.
I See Xannas House
The Patriots advanced to the Superbowl. Xanna chose this occasion to invite me to watch the game at her house, and to see it for the first time.
She brought me there, along with Emory, who was on another weekend visit.
Half of it had been built in the early 1900's, and another part attached in the 1970's.
It sat on 3.19 acres, most of it wooded. The driveway circled around what looked like might have once been a flower bed, now overgrown with trees.
The side which faced the dirt road, had what looked like a front porch, but the walkway leading it it was also overgrown with vegetation. Xanna used the side door, closest to the driveway, where ex-boyfriend Toms black Monte Carlo sat in a state of disrepair.
Prominent in the kitchen as we walked in was a wood burning stove, with a plate bearing the manufacturers name and a date of "1788."
"You have to be careful, because if you put too much wood in it, it will set the wallpaper on fire," said Xanna, showing me the blackened wall a couple feet away from it as proof.
The house was, as advertised: drafty.
The heat wouldn't go very far, she added, before it fell prey to the drafts down the hall.
The kitchen was part of the old section of the house.
Past the stove, to the left, began a short hallway, which had been attached in the 70's, and which led to two rooms; one full of junk, the other with a couch and an entertainment center, apparently where Tom, the ex-boyfriend had drank his Crown Royal, cranked Metallica and played video games.
On the couch lounged two cats, that Xanna introduced to me as "Mr. Mercury," and "Mr. Falls."
Mr. Falls had gotten his moniker by virtue of being white and having fir running down his front side which looked like a waterfall.
Mr. Mercury, had been rescued by Xanna from an animal shelter. "He was supposed to be free, but I wound up having to pay fifteen dollars for his shots...he was a rip-off!" she said, as she petted his grayish brown head. I was glad to see that she had a sense of humor.
Along this hallway, were placed a small wooden table with two wooden chairs on the left, and a wooden bookcase on the right, which was populated with, among other things, candles, incense and books about witchcraft, I noticed. "Those books and stuff were left behind by a guy that I was letting stay here for a while. He went to California," Xanna explained, when she noticed me noticing.
At the end of the hall was another door and, through the quartered panes of its window could be seen the hot tub, sitting upon a concrete slab.
"I keep it at about 90 degrees when I'm away, to save electricity, but in a few hours it can be up to a comfortable temperature," said Xanna and then pressed her lips firmly together -her common gesture- as if to drive home the point or imply "...despite what anyone says!".
Down the drafty hall of the "old section," which she seemed to "keep" at about 40 degrees, there was a music room on the right, where resided Xannas Baby Grand piano. Its mantissa supported a book of sheet music which was opened to Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," published in 1899.
Along that hall, past some rows of shelves on the left, which held mostly towels and which had been positioned as if to bar the entrance to another room, there ran a staircase which ascended to an unfinished second floor (she called it "the attic"). The upper aperture of the staircase had been sealed off with plastic sheeting, secured with duct tape, and a probable conduit for some of the drafts which seemed to swirl everywhere.
At the end of the hallway was what looked like was intended to be the front door. It too had been sealed off with plastic and duct tape. To each side of it were doorways, leading to bedrooms.
The main bedroom was on the right, where sat a kerosene heater on the hardwood floor, in between a king sized bed and a mahogany dresser. The bed was covered by a heavy quilt in autumnal hues. Atop the dresser sat a jewelry box next to a display rack which was adorned with an onyx necklace. "I like onyx, always have!," she said, before pressing her lips together, as if to imply "...despite what anyone Else's opinion is!"
There was a small antiquated looking couch against the far wall near the foot of the bed, and a small antiquated looking wooden table near the head of the bed, with a phone sitting on it. Its touch pad being one of the few "modern" touches in that room. ...So this is where she hardly ever sleeps...
Across the hall was another bedroom -the one where Emory slept during his weekend visits.
A woman had purportedly "gone insane and killed herself" in that room, long ago, when the old section was the new section.
A Super Sunday
After this tour of the house, the three of us repaired to the TV room to watch the Superbowl.
I had to do some fiddling with the rabbit ear antenna and eventually place it outside the house after running its cable out a window, so that we wouldn't be watching another Snow Bowl.
We enjoyed good food (I had grilled T-bone steaks over hickory wood, which was plentiful in the yard) and wine (soda for Emory) and a great Superbowl, which came down to a last-second field goal.
Sitting there together with the cats by our sides and the kerosene heater blazing like a hearth, felt like a "family" atmosphere. There was a lot of laughter and kidding around.
"Yes! Can there be any doubt that The Patriots are the greatest team that is; ever was; or ever will be?!?" I exclaimed every time they made a good play, to the amusement of all.
Then, "They are the worst bunch of ragtag, pathetic losers to ever don a uniform, they're horrible; horrible!" whenever they had a miscue, to the amusement of all.
Emory giggled as we wrestled on the couch, recreating tackles made on the field.
We all seemed to get along great and it felt like I had everything that I needed there.
I had grown to love being out in nature, living as I did. I loved feeding animals, tending a fire every night and cooking over it. I liked the peace and quit.
There we were, 29 miles out into the country, surrounded by miles of woods with two cats, a wood burning stove inside and a grill outside.
My spring water fed tub could be replaced, quite amply by the hot tub.
I could have a music room to play and record in, adding a piano to the mix, if I so desired.
Then there was the entertainment center, hell, I could drink Crown Royal, crank Metallica and play video games all the time...
By the time the game had ended, the hot tubs thermometer was reading 100 degrees, a temperature that Xanna assured me would be just about right; and I found that she had been right, as I sunk into the water. I happened to notice that she had a lovely shape to her body, once out of her work clothes and into a one-piece bathing suit.
As we soaked in the water, watching the stars in the February sky above, she invited me to spend the night, adding "I don't really feel like driving all the way to Charlottesville."
I realised that I could have it really well there, surrounded by creature comforts, Xanna included.
Yet, I still balked at agreeing to move out there. I had worked hard on the life that I had made for myself in Charlottesville, with a comfortable place to stay and a steady job within walking distance of it.
"We need to see about getting you a car," Xanna said; apropos of nothing, as she stared up at the sky.
She seemed to be doing everything in her power to get me to move in with her, but I continued to resist. She even told me that I could dig out a dwelling in the clay of her back yard "if you feel more comfortable living underground..."
Soon though, other irresistible powers would come into play, and Xanna would get her way.
A Voice In The Forest
February 19, 2002
Two weeks, to the day, after we had watched the Superbowl at Xannas house, I was at my dwelling, after having gotten off work.
I had just opened a bottle of wine and was letting some red snapper marinate in a dish.
I had chosen white wine that particular day -the first time I had done so since the previous summer. It was the first day of the year forecast to reach 80 degrees. The spring-like conditions made me feel like I had come through to the other side of winter with flying colors, and that things would now only get better. I had gotten the white wine (a "summer thing" for me) to celebrate having staved off the elements, and to toast my bright near future.
I had just gotten my fire started.
I closed my eyes and was in the middle of offering up a prayer of thanksgiving, when, just as my mind was letting go into it; I heard a voice.
It was muffled slightly, and I thought that I might have imagined it, or that the Lord may have audibly spoken to me; like some people claim to have happened the them.
Sticking my head up through the trapdoor, I caught the sight of a man about 100 feet away, along the path which lead to where my car was parked. He was headed away from where my car was; towards the road.
I realised that it had been his voice that I heard after he added something which sounded like "You're not supposed to be burning out here!"
Had he come down the path far enough to have seen my car?
What transpired the next few minutes is something that I have often replayed in my mind. Had I the opportunity to go back and do things differently, I surely would have.
I decided to catch up to the guy and try to explain my situation -that I was just a guy who came into town almost broke and homeless, but who now had a job and was just trying to make the best of things -hoping that he wouldn't call the police to report me "burning out here."
Leaving my fire smouldering, my fish marinating and my bottle of wine uncorked, I set off after him.
When I reached the road, I saw a white truck parked in front of the pile of brush which I had dragged there to hide the entrance of what used to be a logging road. The name of a tree cutting service was emblazoned upon the side door. The man that I had seen in the woods was standing on the passenger side, speaking through the window to a skinny man with a scraggly beard, who was sitting behind the wheel.
I introduced myself and attempted to explain as best as I could about my situation, from my arriving in Charlottesville, my getting a job, and the fact that I was just trying to make myself comfortable. "I'm not one of these homeless guys who sleeps on a piece of cardboard in front of a business at night, trying to get someone to pity him and throw him some money..." I was trying to put them at ease.
They were there to survey; preparing to cut down some lumber, they explained. They also pointed out that I was not quite upon the "city property" that I originally thought that I was on; having missed by about 25 feet, "-just to let you know..."
They were polite and seemed to sympathise with me.
The one that I'd seen in the woods actually told me that he too was once "down and out" and had to sleep outside (I would have thought it of the one with the scraggly beard) and that he didn't hold it against me. He glanced at the guy behind the wheel who shook his head, as if to say that he didn't hold it against me, either.
"There's only one problem, though" said the guy from the woods. "I already called the landowner, and he's on his way out here." He was holding a cell phone.
The owner of the land that I had built my dwelling on had the apt name of "Mr. Woods," I was informed
"Well, let me at least go pick up some trash, and make it more presentable," I said, before walking off to return to my place.
I really didn't envision Mr. Woods having any great problem with my being there (apart from the fact that I was trespassing). I was kind of proud of my dwelling, having put about a hundred hours of work into it, and a part of me wanted to show it off. I guess the "cat was out of the bag," and I might have to move on, but, who knew; maybe he would let me continue to live on his land...
I had managed to save almost four thousand dollars, working at the East Coast station, investing in the stock market and living like I had, and I thought that, at worse, the free ride was over; maybe I would be able to move down a couple hundred feet and rebuild, this time on city property, where nobody would be coming to gather lumber.
I waited at my place for him to arrive. I didn't think about going through all my possessions, tossing out anything which might reflect negatively on me. I didn't pour my wine out; rather; sipped it, and was considering putting the red snapper on the grill. Maybe he would be hungry.
He soon arrived, flanked by the two tree surgeons, as if for protection.
"This is unbelievable," he repeated more than once, as he looked at my handiwork.
I started to fill him in on my recent history and what had lead me to constructing a dwelling in the woods. I showed him pay stubs from my full time job at the gas station. I told him about my investments in the stock market, and even offered him some investment advice, based upon my hours of pouring through issues of The Wall Street Journal during the wee hours of every morning.
I told him how I had actually stood in my dwelling, hair all mussed up and sweating from having shovelled and swung the pick ax, and arranged stock transactions with someone on the other end, who was on Wall Street and probably wearing a three piece suit. "Imagine if he could have seen who he was dealing with!"
"You even have a cell phone! This is unbelievable!" repeated Mr. Woods.
He seemed to calm down and become understanding, eventually saying: "Well, we all have to do what we need to, in order to survive and get by. If this is all you're doing is just living out here, I'll be more than willing to let you -I'll give you a certain amount of time, maybe a week- to move your stuff out of here -I really can't let you stay, there's insurance considerations -if you got hurt out here, you could probably sue me; you know how all that goes, but...and, I'm going to have people out here knocking down trees, and a bulldozer, so it could be dangerous...I'm getting ready to sell the land, and, well..."
I had the impression that Mr. Woods, landowner, never had to do whatever he needed to do, in order to survive, but I seemed to have garnered some respect from him, as I spoke to him; some of the incredulity went out of his voice, at least.
I remember thinking: I've had had a good little run here, living for free -just erred a bit with the location that I chose- all things must pass.. I've got a few thousand dollars saved...that'll help me to relocate to somewhere else...
Then, he said something that would alter the course of my life.
"Um, I'd kind of like the police to come out and just run a quick check on you, just to make sure you're not doing anything wrong out here, you understand...other than that, I'm fine with you just picking up and moving on...I'm not going to press charges on you, or anything..."
Coming Next Installment: The Police Freak Out!
The police freaked out as if they had found another uni bomber. They seemed convinced that I was on the run from something because, as one cop said: "Nobody lives like this unless they're on the run from something."
This was shortly after the "9/11" attacks on the World Trade Center, and....