Thursday, July 26, 2012

Green Acres: slacker in springtime

Some of what I grew took off:

Beets. I chose a variety of blood red Russian beets. I had never actually eaten beets before, but I figured they couldn't be that bad --and they looked cool, like the internal organs of some very weird animal.

Red leaf lettuce. I chose that because I buy it. Red leaf is my favorite, and I figured if I grew lettuce, I wouldn't have to buy it at the store, which would literally save me pennies a day!

Spinach. I eat a lot of that. I cook with it, use it in salads and when I can't find anything more appropriate to snack on will stuff my mouth with that --not because it's sweet, but because a handful of spinach typically kills any desire to eat --and sometimes live.

Zucchini. That stuff is going nuts. I can't keep up with it and nobody wants it. I've tried giving it away. People just glare at it. I've frozen a few pounds of it, will dehydrate some more and may see if I can make a few dozen loaves of zucchini bread.

Pumpkins. Also doing well. I have half a dozen already on the vine, a couple almost the size of a volleyball.

Tomatoes. The jury is out on them. I haven't harvested any, but I have tomatoes on the vine so that goes in the "win" column.

A lot of what I planted did not:

Carrots. Technically, they grew. I picked some variety that was supposed to be able to grow anywhere, but the roots never dug down more than two or three inches.

Eggplant: That flat out failed.

Peppers: I planted four different varieties. What the zucchini plants didn't outright crush, the fucking deer devoured, along with my beans.

Okra --Oh, that's a funny story.

The patch of ground I chose to begin my garden was completely overrun with weeds, mostly poke weed. Back in the winter, on a warm day, I'd spent hours hacking my way through them, digging up roots and filling plastic bags with vegetable matter that smelled like the corpse of a three-day-old possum.

It was lovely.

I'd tried to get rid of as much of the weeds as I could, even though I knew the only way that was possible was by spraying the ground with gasoline and setting it ablaze for several days.

I planned on weeding --the only problem was with my limited experience growing things, I was sure what constituted a weed and what didn't.

With the carrots, lettuce, spinach and the beets, I got a leg up. They liked cooler temperatures and sprouted in neat little rows and by the time other plants started cropping up, I could figure out which was which.

Now, some of my garden (the tomatoes, the eggplant and the peppers) I started indoors, but that left a lot of other things I had to try and feel my way through and as the weather warmed up, everything began to sprout. It started getting confusing as to what was what.

The worst of it was the okra.

I eat some okra. I like it fried and I like it in my chicken stew. I don't buy it often, but I thought I could grow enough to freeze, use all winter long, and it would be a  nice little reminder of what I'd accomplished.

I planted my row, followed the directions on the package and hoped the weather would be warm enough to encourage the plants to grow, to thrive. I babied them, because they seemed like a very southern vegetable. I wasn't sure if they'd actually take, but I kept them watered, weeded devotedly; and made sure the other plants didn't crowd.

By the early part of June, I had a nice row of hearty looking green plants, but they had a funny smell --like cheap perfume, kind of oily and they also seemed to have spread to other parts of the garden, in places they really couldn't be.

At some point I'd pulled all my okra plants up and cultivated an entire row of ragweed.    

My father says every year you gardening is a learning year. Nature is a school.

Apparently, I need to repeat a grade.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

shit sandwich with the crusts cut off -part three

Early afternoon I hit the road for Lewisburg with an audiobook on positive thinking playing in the background. I do that sometimes, particularly when I'm nervous and road trips alone tend to make me nervous. It's soothing to have someone in the background telling me to imagine the best, not the worst. I need to be reminded.

With the air conditioning blaring and Rhonda Byrne giving me advice about imagining a better outcome, the drive was pleasant, far more pleasant than spending much time at the house, which was still without power and beginning to smell like a barn.

Sometimes it's nice to just not go home. I was looking forward to this.

Following my directions, I took the White Sulphur Springs exit. I didn't need to, my instructions for getting credentialed at the concert were pretty specific, but I figured checking in with the media center at The Greenbrier was a good idea --besides, there would be food, which had been described to me in near pornographic terms. Since the power outage, I'd lived mostly on peanut butter sandwiches and ravioli straight from the can; washed it down with warm mango Kool Aid.

Things went south almost immediately after I got off the interstate.

A series of signs led me down a winding, narrow two lane road that seemed to be going nowhere, but this seemed to make sense. The Greenbrier was a resort. Why would you want your four star luxury hotel located propped up right next to the interstate like a Motel 6?

So I followed the signs which led me inexorably back to Lewisburg.

The signs had been meant to lead people from the resort to the concert area. So much for checking in with the main media people, but that was fine. I still had plenty of time to get to the show. All I had to do was get to the fairgrounds, find Old Powell Road and the media tent. Everything would fall into place after that.

The locals had gone fairly nuts about the Classic. Like with the state fair, many had embraced the fun-loving flea market part of their souls. Young women and surly looking black men waved scalped tickets on street corners while fat mothers lounged on chairs in the shade, offering up their lawns as premium parking --meaning parking away from the throng of cars going into the fairgrounds that would eventually all try to leave at the same time at some point before midnight.

In parking lots, a few vendors had set up, selling sandwiches of pulled pork, beverages and snacks. In the air there was the celebratory feeling of "Hey, Rube."

The plan was simple: I'd do my little interview with the concert producer then watch Toby Keith be Toby Keith in all his redneck glory. After the show, I'd grab some space at the media tent and write out the review before finding a place to crash or maybe just go home.

But first Old Powell Road.

I did a lap around the fairgrounds. The concert, it turned out, wasn't being held on the actual fairgrounds, where I'd seen a couple of shows before at the track, but in the vast grassland where people usually parked and often camped like some kind of middle-class hillbilly army. A fenced concert area was set up at the bottom of a hill.

I didn't see a sign for Old Powell Road, just the entrance to the main area. A couple of state troopers with buzz cuts were busily waving vehicles through, but it wasn't where I wanted to go. I passed it by and kept looking for the road.

Pretty quick, I wound up where I'd begun; on the other side of the fairgrounds.

Not a problem, I thought. I must have missed the sign --and there would have to be a street sign, I thought. A lot of energy had gone into putting this together. It was an important detail that people know where the hell they were going.

I drove around again. Saw nothing and completed a lap.

It occurred to me that maybe Old Powell Road was on the other side, down the opposite direction from where I'd turned onto the road in front of the concert. I went further down toward Lewisburg and turned back.

Nope and I noticed the streets weren't marked very well. I began to panic. This wasn't just me dicking around. I was on assignment.

At the main entrance, I rolled the car window down, waved my press pass at a state trooper and said, "Hey, I'm with the newspaper. I need to find the media tent. Do you know where Old Powell Road is?"

He shrugged, disinterested, pointed me in the direction of the dirt road leading in and told me, "Ask one of the volunteers."

I asked just about all of them all the way up to the top of the hill. They were a friendly lot: big, beaming smiles and necks loaded down with lanyards and tags. Some of them had radios in their hands or flags or both. Over and over I stopped, going from polite to pleading, saying, "I'm looking for the media entrance. I'm with the newspaper."

They passed me down the line like a joint at a Ziggy Marley concert until finally, one of them said, "Hey, talk to security at the top of the hill. They'll get you straightened out."

The short, old guy at the very top of the hill did not smile when I explained who I was and what I was doing. He seemed to genuinely hate being bothered.

"You got a pass?" He asked.

I shoved the badge and necklace at him. I tried to hand him my instructions.

He wouldn't touch any of it.

"Well, that's a pass, alright... but it ain't the right one for parking."

"Okay," I said. "How do I get go the media tent where I can straighten this out?"

He had no idea.

"Look," I tried. "I just need to find Old Powell Road. That's where I'm supposed to go."

Again, I tried to show him the instructions.

Without so much as a glance at them, he said, "You're going to have to head back down that way and go around."

He wanted me to go back down the hill and get back on the main drag.

"But where is it?"

He sighed, impatiently. "You'll need to go around."

The black shirted troll told me to turn around; not exactly an easy feat, but back down the  hill I went.

I did another lap around the fairgrounds, returned to the same cops waving cars into the same entrance.

I drove back around and headed toward Lewisburg and stopped at the first gas station I could find.

A lumbering young guy in a greasy, sweat-soaked t-shirt stood near the curb, guarding the ice machine. I must have looked pretty frantic. I was barely out of my car when he asked, "Mister, you ok?"

He stepped slightly toward me, but not too far from the ice machine and crossed his arms. Curious and arcane signs and symbols decorated his beefy, exposed forearms. The words "white power" were etched very clearly, along with a few other lines about the master race, but he seemed genuine and also, I'd recently cut my hair. I looked like a skinhead.

I explained that I was looking for Old Powell Road.

"I think that's the back way into the fairgrounds," he said and I could have kissed him full on the mouth. "But I'm not a hundred percent sure how you get to it."

My stomach lurched.

"Tell you what," the polite young hatemonger said, "Go inside and ask for Dave. Dave knows where all the back roads are. I'd tell you, but I'm afraid I'd get you lost."

He was incredibly helpful and I had nothing to lose.

Inside, the convenience store was doing a brisk business, selling chips, soda and beer. A retired carnie with honey blond hair and a scattering of bad tattoos over leathery skin ran the register and shuffled people out the door with surprising efficiency.

"You keep a hold of that receipt," she told the man in front of me. "Give it to the guy outside and he'll get you your bag of ice."

Apparently, with the power out, we'd reverted to savages. People were now willing to steal ice and the machine needed to be guarded by a friendly racist at all times.

"Can I help you, sweetheart?" She asked me and everything I needed to say came out in gush.

"The kid told me to come find Dave."

The nearly mummified woman frowned then said, "Dave ain't here."

My heart sank, but she looked over my shoulder at some sweaty, pale man three bodies behind me.

"Do you know where Old Powell Road is?"

She never said his name, but it only took half a beat of staring at the ceiling before he nodded and slowly gave me vague directions on how I might get there.

"You want to take a right at the second, maybe third light..."

I only got lost once and not for very long. His directions, while imperfect, were good enough to give me a general idea of what I was looking for, which in this case was a back road branching off from the end of another road and sure enough after about ten minutes, up ahead were a couple of bored state troopers standing underneath a sign that said, "Buses" and "Media."

I'd finally arrived.

Turning into the lot, I rolled the window down and started to ask about the media tent. The cop, not at all interested, waved me through and said, "They'll take care of you at the top of the hill."

Good enough, but then I didn't see what would be considered a media area and the road leading up the hill seemed to be going past the backstage area and instead brought me right back to the grizzled old security guard who'd sent me on this same trip.

He'd been standing in front of Old Powell Road the entire time.

Luckily, another security guy approached the car, and I started in on who I was, what I was doing and how this needed to get fixed now.

"Have you got a press badge?"

I waved it at him and he seemed puzzled.

"I don't know," he said. "Let me call someone."

He got on his radio, asked a couple of questions and waited for a response.

"Sorry," he explained. "I don't know who to actually ask. The people running things are all using code names. I need to find someone named Bam-Bam."

Seriously, Bam-Bam?

"You'll need to move your car off the road," he said. "You're blocking traffic."

That was the traffic coming down the hill, the traffic the other security guy didn't seem to be all that interested in.

But I moved over to the side of the road, discovered I had a cell signal (very weak) and began texting, complaining and ranting at my editor, my girlfriend, at our Lord, Jesus Christ. After a couple of minutes, a middle-aged volunteer approached the car and asked me if I needed help.

The other security guy had abandoned me.

She told me her name was Lynn and I told her who I was, why I was here then I showed her the badge.

"I don't think I know who you are," she said, which didn't seem especially relevant, but still kind of hurt. "Let me check with somebody for you."

While she wandered off, I sat in the car and fumed. This had turned to shit. I just wanted to get out of here, but Lynn came back and told me, "You can just park over there and go in."


"Just park anywhere you can and go in," she repeated. "Your badge is good here."

"What about the media area?" I asked. Where was the media tent? Where was the wi-fi and what about the food and beer?

She shrugged.

"WJLS is over there." She pointed toward a radio station remote tent. "You can go hang out with them if you want."

As best I could manage, I said thank-you and found a place to park about a hundred yards from the main gate. I hung the media badge around my neck, grabbed my notepad, a couple of pencils and started for the main gate.

Other than being asked to put my very dangerous (and dull) Swiss Army knife back in my car, there were no more problems with getting inside to the concert.

Nothing had gone right, but at least I was there. I could get the review done and the rest would work itself out.

My phone rang.


"Where are you?"

"What?" It took a second for me to place the voice. It was the concert rep who'd emailed me the paperwork, who'd started this mess in the first place. I took a breath, then said, "I'm in the venue."

"You're where?"

"I'm at the concert and looking for a place to sit so I can review the show."

"But Lionel Richie is here."


"For pictures and media."

She thought I was here to interview Lionel Richie. This entire thing was about me getting a picture of Lionel Richie, something I hadn't asked for. 

"I'm not here to take pictures," I told her. "I didn't bring a photographer. I was hoping to talk to Gary about the repairs to the stage, but..."

"But Lionel Richie is here," she repeated.

"I'm just going to review the show. Thanks."

I hung up on her.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

shit sandwich with the crusts cut off --part two

It didn't seem like that big of a deal to find someone to talk about what the storm had done to the stage. All that was needed was about ten minutes with someone saying, "Well, it was pretty fucked up right here and right here, but we all pulled together and..."

No one would ever call this a think piece. It was straight up filler.

To get the ball rolling, I called the number I'd been given, explained what who I was and what I was coming to do.

"That's no problem," the voice on the other side said then added, "but I'm not overseeing that. Let me get your number and I'll have someone call you."

My stomach made a quick bow knot. I didn't like being handed off, not on the day of the show.

The call came about an hour later. A chipper woman told me she'd heard I wanted to do a piece on the stage. We talked for a minute. She gave me the name of the producer and asked if I wanted to talk to him on the phone or in person.

"I'm headed down today," I said. "I'd love to just talk to him for a couple of minutes before the show."

I promised to stay the hell out of the way.

"Hmm," she said. "He's really busy today with the show."

"Just a couple of minutes," I repeated. "Real easy stuff."

She committed to nothing in particular, but said, "I've got to send you some paperwork for you to get your credentials for photos and stuff."

Credentials? I already had credentials and I wasn't bringing a photographer.

"Uh, OK."

The rep got my email address and told me to reply just as soon as I'd read the terms, conditions and instructions.

A few minutes later, a two page document arrived in my "in" box. It told me to turn onto Old Powell Road where there'd be a media tent. There was information about parking, about getting into the show and oddly, about meeting and photographing the performers. There was also a note about locking my gear up in the car while I was in the concert.

I yelled over a the city desk, explaining that I'd just received a lot more than I expected.

"I think with this I can take pictures of Toby Keith."

I didn't have a photographer, but I did have a cheap, point and click in the car. I am not good with a camera.

My editor just looked at me.

"Just say thanks, Bill." 

So I told her I'd received the packet, reminded her about the show producer and promised I'd see her in a few hours.

I left mid-afternoon, thinking this could be pretty cool. There was a certain amount of drama here. The Greenbrier had brought in a major act (Keith) and a former major act (Lionel Richie). Keith was red-meat mainstream country music, a guy with a bouquet of flag-waving country songs and an unrepentant corporate shill, but... he's also strangely authentic.

Toby Keith is probably the closest thing to a modern-day Waylon Jennings there is.

People forget that people don't go into pop (country) music because they're looking for pure artistic expression, because they want to speak to the hopes, dreams and despairs of the average person. Nah, they want to get rich. Finding a way to speak to those hopes, dreams and despairs in a way that's novel to the average person is just the way to do it. 

Waylon was a corporate shill, too. People forget but, arguably, his biggest hit wasn't any of the outlaw country stuff, but that theme song to a CBS television show --you know the one.

"Just some good ol boys..."

You wouldn't believe how many contemporary country singers have cited that song as major inspiration for going into country music in the first place. It kind of boggles the mind.

Anyway, Richie was the weird side dish on the menu. He'd done a well-received country record, but I didn't see much indication that he was touring as a serious country act. He was straight up Motown funk, soul and 80s pop.

My high school band director, I remembered, had a huge woody for the guy. We must have played half his catalog in the three or four years I was part of the marching band.

Hell, I liked him. Like everyone at the time, I had the "Dancing on the Ceiling" record.

I thought chicks would dig me if I listened to sensitive pop music.


It was an odd pairing, but not impossible. The 80s have never gone out of style in West Virginia. Mountain Stage could probably sell out the Culture Center simply by hosting reunion shows with people like Flock of Seagulls or Simple Minds.

This is not a suggestion.

Anyway, I was fascinated with how the whole Toby Keith, 'Good ol boy' on the Fourth of July with special guest aging-former-hit-maker-turned-Cherokee-casino-regular Lionel Richie might play out with this crowd --plus backstage, the hustle, the bustle, people serious about getting shit done on the Fourth, while a lot of people were watching. It seemed like an awesome opportunity and a great setting for my interview with the producer, who might just be distracted enough by all his responsibilities and concerns to be honest.

I could hardly wait to get there and... I'd been brainwashed. For days, maybe weeks, I'd heard about the media room, the media tent for the Greenbrier. I'd heard they kept it well larded and well-stocked. Dreams of fried green tomato sandwiches, sweet potato fries and cold bottled beer danced in my head.

After a couple of days of sweating at home with no power, living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as choking down overstuffed ravioli straight from the can, the mere hint of properly prepared meals and ice cold, tasty beverages was like the promise of sexual favors and free HBO.

It seemed magical. 

My entire plan was I'd do the interview, catch the show then write about it at my leisure in the media tent while everybody piled out during the fireworks at the end of the show. Traffic would be snarled for at least an hour, which was plenty of time for a review --not that there was a big hurry to get it turned in.

After that, we'd see. Maybe I'd find a place to crash --I'd been told we had a room somewhere --or maybe I'd drive home and finish the other assignment back at the office.

Time was completely on my side.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

shit sandwich with the crusts cut off -part one

The assignment was straightforward: go to the Greenbrier, watch the concert, write about what I saw. But just going to the show was a huge investment of time: two hours down, two hours back. I'd bill for mileage.

My editors wanted a second story out of me, which seemed fair, and we agreed I'd talk to some of the people who'd helped put the concert series together about dealing with the aftermath of a series of storms which had blown through a few days before. Thousands were still without power --yours truly, included --and the Greenbrier golf course had sustained damage. The wind uprooted trees, downed lines and made a huge mess of things, which was a problem with the PGA coming to town.

But a couple of hundred volunteers lent a hand. They cut trees, dragged debris, raked and swept and restored the course in not much more than a day. It was a feel good kind of event --ordinary people pulling together to help millionaire athletes play a televised game at the state's most posh resort --uniting for the common good.

Repairing a stage, on the other hand, seemed more complicated. Dealing with sound and light would tend to require more technical knowledge than how to hold a chainsaw.

We agreed this was a pretty good story for me to do.

But there were problems right off. Something was up at The Greenbrier with getting my credentials. Weeks before, my name had been part of a list submitted for press badges. The badges came in a week before the Greenbrier Classic --mine was not among them.

An oversight. Not a big deal. The sports guy overseeing our coverage said he'd already talked to someone at the resort. They were sending it.

A few days passed, he said he wasn't sure what happened, but they were supposed to be sending it. He told me he'd check.

Still nothing.

Calls were made. Assurances given and my press badge was going to be FedExed, then they said a courier would bring it to us. Neither happened, then the storm hit and I began to think I wasn't going anywhere, which didn't seem like such a bad thing. Power at my house was out and my planned interview with Lionel Richie had tanked. His publicity people had gone from being encouraging to being evasive.

They'd been proper passive aggressive assholes about the whole thing, stopped returning e-mails and phone calls and really just refused to give an answer.

Finally, another reporter brought the badge back from The Greenbrier after she'd gone down to do an advance story. It arrived the night before I was supposed to leave.

Just to be on the safe side, I was given a contact name and number.

"If you have any trouble, give them a call."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4

Happy 4th of July.
Blogging will resume once the power kicks back on. Otherwise, I guess I'm back to leaving cryptic political and vaguely sexual messages in restrooms.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Scene for a roadside death

A short woman sat on the guard rail sobbing; her face as bright as a raspberry. Leaning forward, gasping for air, her swollen, over-ripe breasts were just shy of tumbling out of her nearly invisible bikini top.

She probably shouldn't have worn the swimsuit in the first place. She wasn't a small woman and later on, the details of the afternoon might come back to her in electrified flashes --but she didn't mind be stared at. Men like curvy women and what was wrong with liking being stared at on a sunny day by the river? Why not be looked at? What was wrong with feeling warm all the way through?

The woman's hair was wet and hung down the sides of her head, flat and oily. A friend, a sister maybe, had an arm latched around her shoulder. She held her stiffly, even fearfully, as the woman gasped out of grief and horror. The friend, the other woman, her face grim and ashen, her head turned away, mumbled something like prayers: things of no use to the living, things that could not be heard by the drowned.

A small crowd clumped around them, some, like the women, perched on the guard rail, near their vehicles. A few milled around in a schizophrenic shuffle; rocking one step here then one step there but never really going anywhere.

This was just the waiting around for news already lying on the doorstep.

The deliverers of that message, a small army of uniformed professionals, waited in the wings. They stood by polished, red trucks, leaned out the door of predatory police cruisers and watched with curiosity the drama unfolding without their help. They're only apparent purpose, the bulk of them, seemed to be to  separate the crowd of family and friends, soon to be mourners, from those working unseen, underwater, looking for a body.