Saturday, March 23, 2013

Oy, and the traffic!

     Life in a small town has its advantages; store merchants, restaurateurs, the grocery store manager, even the staff at the power company know you by name.  Mountain folks are infectiously nice and everyone knows just about everyone.  In Waynesville, word-of-mouth is the most efficient method of advertising, and a leisurely trip through town is more preferred than using the “four-lane” to get somewhere twice as fast.  You take your time here, there is no such thing as rush hour.
     We do have traffic issues, probably not as bad as some of your Interstates and demolition derby roadways, but I bet you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to get caught behind a tractor doing 8 MPH or having to wait for two or three cars at stop sign!
     People refer to the relaxed pace as “mountain time.”  At first I didn’t understand, then I had a project that required some hired help.  I found out quickly that mountain time is another way of saying, “I’ll get there when I get there.”  Unless of course, it's hunting season, or fishing season, or the hay needs baling, or a neighbor needs a hand, then they might be delayed.  Oh, and don’t jump to the wrong conclusion if someone asks you to meet them at dinner time, around here dinner is that big meal you eat at noon, the lighter fare eaten at sunset is supper.
     Everything moves “a mite slower” here and with far less stress.  That’s one reason why I never go to McDonalds.  The main thoroughfare that connects Waynesville to Maggie Valley and Smoky Mountain Expressway is Russ Avenue.  This is where all of the banks, grocery stores and fast food restaurants have congregated.  A while back, CVS decided that our bustling metropolis was in need of one more pharmacy.  They bought a tract of land next to McDonalds and built a brand new, state-of-the-art, brick-faced architectural abomination with almost no parking for the few people that actually shop there.  The new construction also ruined the access to the iconic greasy-burger-and-fries merchant, so the restaurant rebuilt, expanded and worsened the situation.  I do my best to avoid that area; it seems like every other day someone turning into the tiny entrance at Micky D’s, gets rear ended.  I’ll stick with Wendy’s.
     In addition to the commercialization of Russ Avenue and a similar cancerous growth across town where Walmart built a supercenter and a suburban-esque strip mall, Waynesville still has an active, quaint, Norman Rockwell-type downtown.  Main Street is the social and literal center of our community; it is where everyone meets for whatever reason.  In addition to a variety of restaurants, taverns, boutiques, clothing stores, art galleries, the bakery, and of course, a Mast General Store, it is the location of the monthly First Friday open house, Art After Dark, various festivals, street dances and holiday parades.  Our downtown is within an easy walking distance to the post office, police station, library, the Justice Center and Court House, our community theater and farmer’s market, plus at least a dozen churches.
     If there is any disadvantage to maintaining a traditional downtown, it is parking.  There is a free parking garage at the Justice Center and several strategically placed municipal parking lots, but the most cherished spaces are the spots along both sides of the street.  With the possible exception of leaf season, when all you flat-landers come up to experience our mountain hospitality and incredible autumn views, it is never too difficult to find a convenient place to leave my truck for an evening in town.  But I, like everyone else, must first drive the length of Main Street looking for that illusive, curb-side spot.  Don’t get me wrong, there is always at least one vacant space, but it will be on the other side of the street and taken before I can get turned around.  Geez, I end up having to walk a whole block or more just to get where I’m going.
From the Burr Studio & Gallery 136 North Main Street, Waynesville, NC 28786  
     So next time you're cussing your bumper-to-bumper commute, remember that even up here in God’s country, we’ve got traffic problems, and if it isn’t a McCrash, it’s the long walk for a cold beer.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Spring Vernal Equinox

     Today the world hangs in balance. Not from political, fiscal, religious, or cultural ideologies, but in the equality of sunlight and darkness. With each new day in the Northern Hemisphere, the duration of light will lengthen and come to dominate our measures of time; below the equator, darkness will rise in prominence. Day and night, balanced in proportion, the hemispheres now start their slide toward the opposing solstices.
     This is the first day of spring, the symbolic beginning of new life, a time of procreation and resurrection, a celebration of the dawn, Eos, Aurora and Eostre. But in America, we observe this solemn nexus with crass indifference. Beginning today, it will be impossible to avoid the commercialization of gardens, lawns, mulch, barbecues, patio furniture and all things outdoors. But I would suggest that you delay the rush to buy your vegetable seedlings, or the need to change the oil in your lawnmower, and put off tilling that sleepy flower bed. Instead listen to the spring.
     Growing up in a subsistence family of hunters and fishermen, living in the rural farm lands of southern New Jersey, I learned from an early age that Nature plays music, an orchestral opus which evolves as her seasons change. Listen to her. Discover her majestic sounds. Her composition is much more than the trill of her songbirds, the trebled lilt of a mountain stream, the wisp in the leaves of the canopy, or the deep rhythm of a distant thundercloud. It is all of this, plus so much more.
     Most people can't hear Nature; her music is overpowered by the ambient noise of people, traffic, television, radio, iPods, and the mechanical drone of civilization, the chaos of urbanization and suburbanization. But she is still singing, if only you would listen. Take a Thoreau-esque walk in the woods, leave all of that toxic noise behind and you can't miss her symphony of sensual stimuli. She will not only delight your ears, but caress your skin, sweeten the taste of air, manifest in aromatic therapy and produce divinely colored vistas. She sings to all of your senses. It is the lure of her song that brought me to the Smoky Mountains, back to the harmonious peace of country living.
     Her music is modulating with the change of the season. Take some time, find a place and listen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Blues in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I wish it were easier to write when I'm in a down mood. I've been battling the blues for about a week. It is not a situational sadness; there has been no tragedy, no catalyst, just a low pervasive depression that occasionally haunts my life. Yes, I know about and partake of the pharmaceutical remedies designed to alleviate most of the profound depths, and I do have a great cognitive behavioral therapist who helps me identify the pathology of my ups and downs. The problem is that the best therapy I have so far discovered is my writing, and as another "somewhat talented" writer once put it, "Therein lies the rub."

I don't write dark stories and I would never want to pen words that might inspire someone's desire to share my maladaptive thought patterns and troublesome moods. The art and craft of my language, fiction or non-fiction, literary, technical, or fun, is meant to stimulate the audience. I want my overt and covert intentions to hesitate in your conscious and subconscious psyches longer than the split millisecond needed for your optic nerve to translate the alphabetic images into a synaptic voltage. When you are finished, I want you to be a little "more" than you were before you read my words; I want to augment your mind, not degrade it. I am not interested in finding company for the misery of my emotional state.

Work is my God-send. The continuous inflow of pages needing edits is routine, automatic and mechanical. The jobs are obligatory and obligations are far more powerful than that inertial tendency to stand still, do nothing and sink deeper. If only I could obligate myself to more of life's activities and duties, I might override the worst of depression's symptomology. But what has this to do with me and you, here and now?

I started this blog because writing the light-hearted letters that accompanied my twice-monthly billing made me feel better. At first, I only wanted to preserve the writing and share it with a wider readership, but as the blog evolved and the site visits grew exponentially, my postings began to be anticipated and expected. The posts became an obligation, and that should be the conclusion: Forget the blues, do it, write! Right?

Unlike storytelling, this blog is a compilation of my observations. I live in an ideal small town environment on the border of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park called Waynesville, North Carolina. (BTW: Don't even think about it. We're getting way too crowded, there's no more room. You can come for a visit but then go home! J) Life is good here and when I see something humorous, ironic or even iconic, I expand that muse, inject a little literary license, limit myself to around 600 words, and hopefully, circulate a smile.

This week the lowlands of my mind have kept me from seeing the majestic terrain of my mountain habitat. Sadly, I could find no rural Appalachian idiosyncratic epitome to infect me with a humorous contagion. But I had to write something, and if you are reading this, then I obviously hit the publish button. I'm not sure I will, but if I did, let me know if it was worthy. Leave a comment below, write back about your own battles, share this confession and my atonement with your friends, please visit one of the advertisers, and check back soon; the sun will surely rise and drive away this darkness. I will find you a smile; I promise.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Take 3

Take Three
    When we moved back out in the country, it was our intention to escape the hubbub of the urban/suburban rat race. It did not take long to realize that Appalachia has a sort of hubbub too, it is just pronounced with a slow rural draw. In our relaxed style of living, I am two days behind in my billing, I don't want to even speculate about the number of pages waiting in my work queue, my truck needs to be inspected and registered, and I haven't been to the gym in so long, that I am afraid they may not recognize my membership number, and that is just the beginning. 
    Yes, it has been another chaotic week. To put it in easy terms, this is my third attempt at getting this written. And this time, hell or high water (translation: snow storms or computer crashes), I am going to finish this.
    The week started with Shirle arriving back home after a two week visit in Florida. She arrived a mere 24 hours ahead of the fore-announced visit of my grandson, Josh, and his beautiful girlfriend, Thao. With guests coming, the house needed a good cleaning (I did mention Shirle was gone for two weeks, right?). The weather forecast was ominous and a trip to town to stock up on provisions was very necessary. The heavy snow was predicted to start about the same time Josh and Thao were scheduled to arrive. They live down in the Sunshine State, and have no experience with driving in winter weather or on mountain roads.
    Now if you think all of that is enough to set the stage for fun, while my wife was off socializing, I made the difficult decision to replace the central hub of my home network because it was less expensive to buy something new than attempt to upgrade the antiquated guts of the old system. I also decided to buy some additional RAM for the old machine with the intention of having backup and a working alternative while I licensed and loaded all of the software I would need for the new server.
    Fortunately, both UPS and Josh beat the onset of winter's (hopefully) last hurrah. The snow settled in overnight and we awoke to the picturesque vista of snow-capped Smoky Mountains and a pure white valley below. Knowing there was no way off the mountain, I secluded myself in the office to begin the necessary work on the computers. I carefully grounded myself, opened the case on the old machine, installed the new memory, closed it up, and booted the system. Everything went as it should right up until Windows began loading the system tray; it shut off (not down, off!). After enough resuscitation attempts that it was obvious that I needed to pronounce it dead, I realized that I had no choice but to begin the arduous task of rebuilding my network on the as yet unopened new CPU.
     Meanwhile, while I'm wearing my "computer nerd" hat, the long, warm rays of sunshine that foretell the onset of spring, melted the snow on the driveway and roads. I was unimpressed because I knew the storm was not over and we were expecting a lot more accumulation; I kept going. I had no idea that down in the kitchen, my thin-blooded relatives were hatching an ill-conceived plan to drive into Asheville for a day of fun and exploration. By the time my workday was over and I discovered them missing, the kids were on their way back, the snow had started falling heavily, and the temperature had dropped so much that my attempt to salt the driveway for their arrival was thwarted by my inability to walk on its icy surface.
Josh and Thao
     Josh made it within about a quarter mile. I could see his car down below but the traction was gone. He parked off to the side and he and Thao set out on foot. Thank goodness for cell phones; I watched and directed him to the easiest path and warned them to walk in the snow and stay clear of the slick pavement. Their short trek encompassed a 150 foot rise in elevation. Out-of-breath and chilled to the bone, they couldn't wait to enter warmth and shelter of my mountainside home.
     The storm is gone and so is all of the snow, the kids are back in Florida, my new server is up and running, the old one slated to be donated to a worthy cause PCs4GED (if you have old equipment consider this:, everything is returning to abnormal. Oh yeah, don't forget to set your clocks ahead, we get to lose an hour of sleep tonight; who needs sleep anyway.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

They shot the Waynesville town turkey!

     In my post a few days ago I made reference to the shooting of the Waynesville town turkey.  I received enough inquiries to dig out the story from the archives and post it.
     It should be noted that long before I started the blog, these musings of mine were used as a cover letter for the twice monthly invoicing of my regular clients.  It was at their encouragement that I began the blog. 
     This was sent on November 22, 2011, approximately one month after the execution of Tom.

Thanksgiving 2011
     It's time to once again to send out the invoices and I was considering writing a sappy heart-felt letter of gratitude for your business and to remind everyone to count their blessings every day and not just on the third Thursday of November, but instead I decided to tell one of my (hopefully) witty (but true) stories.
     I was lamenting with a friend this morning (you know who you are), about a great tragedy the recently befell my little mountain town.  A year or so ago, a rancorous tom turkey took up residence on the east side of our little burb.  He made the parking lot of the Apple Crate restaurant his headquarters, but was not adverse to wandering the nearby neighborhoods or obstinately standing in the middle of the road to stop traffic and peck at the tires of the (mostly) amused drivers.
     No local ever ventured over to that side of town without keeping a close eye out for Tom Gobbles and watching for his ever escalating antics.  It was refreshing to see an icon of Americana, a true soul of wildlife, decide that we, as a species, were not so bad that he couldn't coexist in the same habitat. 
     And then a couple of months ago, the county animal control officers decided that Old Tom was getting too tame and unafraid of humans.  It was stated in the paper that wildlife in town was dangerous and that the avian mascot of Waynesville was becoming a nuisance.  He had to go.  Our government henchmen tried unsuccessfully for several weeks to trap our beloved bird and relocate him to what they thought would be a better home.  These inane attempts were met with the ridicule and animus of the local populace and the disdain of the elusive bearded one himself. 
     Finally in frustration, our duly appointed officers cornered poor Tom in the yard of his favorite restaurant.  One of the county’s agents, our lone female warden, embarrassed by the numerous ineffective attempts to humanely deal with this overly exaggerated municipal menace, reached into her official county pickup and extracted a shotgun from it security rack.  In front of a restaurant full of patrons and a family with small children exiting their minivan, she aimed carefully and shot Old Tom dead.  (There's more news and accounts on Tom’s FaceBook page -- )
     Now I blame our country’s famous founding father, Benjamin Franklin for this senseless assassination.  He, of course, wanted the wild turkey to be our national bird and the symbol our great nation.  If he would have spent less time flying kites and more time addressing the Continental Congress, he might have succeeded, and I'm sure our town turkey would have been protected from the aggression of our runaway government in action.
     Now, if the US icon was a turkey instead of the bald eagle, I'm not so sure we'd eat quite so many fowl dinners, and frankly, the idea of roast eagle just doesn’t sound appetizing.  It might also have led to a tradition of feasting on turkey, cornbread stuffing, and mashed potatoes as a Fourth of July celebration.  But then again, the tryptophan and over-stuffed belt-lines may have put a serious damper on the late evening fireworks.
     One last observation:  Maybe, just maybe, good ole Ben has posthumously won out in his attempt to promote a different US symbol.  I don't know about you, but whenever our Washington DC politicians start to talk, all I can think of is a bunch of turkeys.
     Gobble-gobble.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why a blog?

     I was having an email conversation a while back with someone I consider close regardless of the distance between our homes.  I was lamenting the fact that I was two days behind in my invoicing, somewhat lacking in energetic motivation, and bereft of a writing inspiration for the blog.  Her retort was a simple, “Make it short and sweet.  It’s okay, no one will care.”  I had to explain it is really not okay, and someone will care -- me.
     I would guess that most of you have figured out that I am a writer at heart.  What you may not know is that with VERY few exceptions, it is nearly impossible to make a sustainable living writing.  So instead I ply my talents by helping other writers, researchers, stenographers and the like with editing and proofreading.  But I still desperately seek time to craft my own words on paper (well, computer media), and ease the over-pressure of creative thoughts that haunt my subconscious; hence, I blog.

     Unfortunately when writing fiction, I am one of those craftsmen that must shut down my innate persona in order to animate the characters that inhabit that other world that I write about.  Those characters are both the subject and authors of my stories.  It is their words that end up on my paper, often surprising me by taking the plots onto totally unsuspected paths.  It is a tedious and difficult process of stripping my ego to its bare id; an adventurous sojourn into what I refer to as “the hole.”
     Getting in is a conscious and intentional act; getting out is something completely different.  There is no intentional way to control the length of my stay in the hole.  I have ventured in for as little as a few hours and sometimes for as long as a week.  While there, I am not conversant, generally quiet, keeping to myself; I have been told I am not pleasant to be around, I don’t eat much, drink much, sleep much, do much of anything because I am off living a different life, the life of someone trying to get out and onto the pages of my story.  In case you’re trying to figure out the differences in my personality, I normally eat too much and drink too much; the quiet, introvert that isn’t very pleasant to be around, well, that’s just me.  So by its nature, my writing is not as easy as “stealing an hour or two” to jot down a few pages.

     So back to these posts that you all have to suffer through.  This is therapy for me, a pressure relief valve that vents just enough steam to keep me going.  I get to tell stories about me (no hole needed), and occasionally say something humorous or at least thought provoking.  I can tell when I’ve been successful, or not, by the feedback, or not.  So please indulge my ramblings, and don’t worry that this task was an unnecessary or superfluous addition to my over booked schedule.  Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a good topic (they don’t shoot the Waynesville town turkey every week), but I like doing it.  I hope you like reading it; if you do, please share it.