This is a video James made with his helicopter. I like it because it captures the hovering feel of the song. Plus, I like the scenery of West Virginia. It is so green here that sometimes I get green overload. My new hobby is walking around parking lots, in fact, because their crisp flatness provides a nice contrast to the the crazy, plant infested hills I am usually contending with. Plus, the parking lots are beautiful, because they are surrounded by green mountains in every direction. In addition, they are interesting, because the average parking lot contains about 3 gambling establishments, all of which have names like “Nel’s Coffee” but inside they are filled with slot machines. People here like to gamble, I suppose. They also like Jesus, family, sports, guns, and exercise.
My favorite thing about these mountain folk is how friendly they are- it is hard to buy a bottle of shampoo without finding out what a stranger had for breakfast. And if you have anything you’d like to get off your chest, the person in front of you at the gas station will be happy to listen. If the mask of New England is to appear high-brow, moral, and intellectual, the mask of West Virginia is to appear down-home, simple, and guileless. But I have already been here long enough to realize this is just a projection- the people here have just as much guile as they do anywhere else. Sometimes, I feel truly shocked by the amount of guile humans have- would it be possible to overestimate how tricky and deceptive we are?
Just last night, for example, I discovered that a friend who died a couple year ago, actually faked his death! But why should I be shocked, when my own favorite book in high school was “How to Disappear and Never Be Found” a book about how to fake your death and assume a new identity?
It is hard to blame people for being deceptive, when it can feel like the whole world is set up to punish people for telling the truth, and to reward those people who claim to feel what they don’t feel, to think what they don’t think, and to be something they aren’t.
My plan was to spend the summer lying on a yellow striped towel, reading on the beach. I had my doubts about this plan, because, after all, books can strain your eyes and fill your mind with horrible ideas, and beaches can be cold and windy (at least in New England). Still, it was the best idea for how to spend my summer I could think of, because I wanted to take a break from my regular routine and do something different. And I’ve never read on a beach before, even though reading near bodies of water is a very popular activity in New England.
But no sooner had I started shopping for beach towels, then James decides to take a job in Hurricane, West Virginia. So we drove down for his interview, back up to New Hampshire to pack and load a U-haul, and back down to Hurricane to unload and unpack, and that has been my summer so far. All in all, it has been a more refreshing change than reading on the beach.
So far, I like Hurricane. We live just a few minutes from the Blenko glass factory, and I’ve already been shopping there twice in four days. My last apartment was mostly blue, but this one will be mostly yellow, plus orange, red, pink and all the colors of the rainbow. New England is restraint, and I want my new life to be exuberance. In New England, art is mastery, intellect, sometimes pretension, and I hope that in West Virginia, art will be color, nature, and feeling.
But I always idealize new things in the beginning, and then grow disillusioned when reality starts to come into focus. When I first arrived in New Hampshire, I thought, “Wow- this is amazing! There are no mean people here! (I theorized that the cold had killed them off.) Everyone is so friendly and lives only for the joy of helping others!” But as time wore on, pettiness and narcissism became visible, do-gooding began to seem like nothing more than a path to self-aggrandizement… the golden angels turned back into people, and now I was someplace no better than before, just way colder.
So, I want to avoid placing West Virginia on a pedestal, but still, I have to say it is an enormous relief to be someplace less expensive, where an apartment twice the size, and much nicer, costs half the price. Pepperoni Rolls- the signature food of West Virginia- cost 1/10th (!!!) the price of Lobster Rolls- the signature food of New England. Frankly, I don’t like either type of roll very much, but I’d rather pay $1.50 for a sandwhich I don’t like than $15.00 (although I’ve seen people pay up to $60.00 for a lobster roll!!).
James and I bought two lobster rolls in New England, and both were traumatic experiences.
The first lobster roll happened right after moving there (we had been talking about lobster rolls- which I had read about in magazines- the whole ride up, imaging the rich luscious taste of buttery lobster in a hot dog roll melting in our mouths). We were strapped for cash due to the move, so we stopped at a run down shack thinking we would share a lobster roll for dinner with the few dollars we had left. Their least expensive roll was a shocking $15.00 and it was a tiny little thing, but since lobster rolls had been central to our vision of life in New England, we decided to buy one anyway. As we carried the roll to a picnic table outside, a fly landed on it, and while shooing the fly, some of the precious lobster meat was knocked to the ground. James picked it up and ate it, because the only thing he hates more than germs is wasted money. But the true disappointment was the taste- it really didn’t taste like much at all, except for a fishy, animalistic flavor that left me slightly uncomfortable, especially when combined with the chewy texture that kept bringing to mind images of boiled insects. Still, I pretended to like it for James sake.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m lying sick in bed for the first time in years, probably from climate shock, panicking because I am afraid the autumn leafs will all have fallen before I get a chance to see them. (The autumn leaves are very beautiful in New England, but were also a source of great stress, since it seemed you had only a few days to view them while they were “peaking” before they fell and plunged you into a dark and endless winter. I have many memories of driving 90mph down the highway trying to reach some leaves that were peaking before the sun set.) So James, wanting to cheer me up, spent one of his last 20s to surprise me with a $20 lobster roll. I tried to eat it, but the insect feeling was just too much, and I finally had to admit to James that I hadn’t liked the first one either. So poor James was forced to eat the lobster roll himself, but he cried while doing so, because 1) he doesn’t like lobster rolls either, and 2) he had wanted to cheer me up, not stuff $20 of prestige into his own stomach.
I think there is a kind of psychological pressure that descends on people when things are too expensive. It makes the external environment seem too impressive, and one’s own self feel too unimportant. That’s why I like West Virginia. James and I can stuff ourselves silly on bacon, eggs, biscuits, country ham, coffee and juice, all for less than $10 at Tudor’s Biscuit World. A dazzling hand-blown orange Blenko vase is sold for $15, and the cashier gives you an extra $5 off, just because. Last night, I bought a yellow shirt, and the charge was exactly… Zero Dollars (I am not kidding!) due to all the discounts the salesperson tacked on. Everywhere you go, prices seem lower than you thought they would be, and discounts seem to pop up unexpectedly, the way fees and charges did in New England. Up north, it was kind of expected that you be willing to open your wallet and drop a few twenties for just about anything- a casual meal, a few drinks, an hour of listening to trombone music, a brick that would symbolically support homeless people, a glimpse of a wilted wreathe hung in an historic home… That’s not because everyone was rich, there were plenty struggling to get by, it was just the culture to pay more for less, and to let go of money easily and without complaint. Forget about buying clothes and nice things for yourself, forget about saving for the future, just take out your wallet and dump it at the feet of the man tap dancing on the sidewalk.
Another song from the Odyssey… Odysseus’s encounter with the witch Circe… in the background you may be able to hear the snow plows & I really wish I could run away from New England at the moment… it is not the snow or the coldness that bothers me but the fact that they last forever. Two short months of spring/summer and then the struggle to survive starts all again. Plus, there is the lack of sunlight, which has the positive effect of making the thoughts and judgments of other people seem far away, but the negative effect of making your spirit feel like it is gasping for breath.
The prevailing philosophy on how to handle winter here is “Don’t fight it, embrace it.” When I press people for details, they generally recommend skiing. Which is a costly embrace. I think waging an all out war on winter may be a better idea for me, though I haven’t decided how to go about it just yet. If money were no object, I would buy hundreds of lamps and keep them turned on all day long, turn up the heat to 80 degrees, and fill a humidifier with the scent of ylang-ylangs and grapefruits, so I could live in a sunny and moist paradise.
As it stands, my best winter survival tips are tons of vitamin D and long car rides to ward off the dreaded cabin fever.