shiraz and equinox
Saturday, September 18 2004
setting: Hogwaller Neighborhood, Charlottesville, Virginia
Chaser worked! Despite the obscene amount of drinking last night, today's hangover was mild and brief. It was like the kind of hangovers I used to get as a teenager. This morning Jessika and I ate out at the ever-affordable, unapologetically-greasy Foxe's Café at the gateway of Belmont. I had so little cash in my wallet that Jessika paid for everything.
Later I was on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall looking at what had changed since I'd last been here. Someone had written me an email a few months ago saying that it was all Yuppied out and I wouldn't recognize it, but it didn't really seem as if much had changed. The most dramatic transformation appeared to be taking place at the old Apollo Theatre, which has been boarded up for as long as I've been familiar with Charlotteville. Judging from the scaffolding and semi-completed facade, it appears to be undergoing a genuine restoration.
Last night I'd had the intention of getting together with my old childhood friend Nathan, who was supposedly attending some sort of bachelor party (complete with -shh!- a stripper). Well, I'd tried to call him a couple of times and couldn't get anyone. So today I called him again from the mall and there he was. Evidently he hadn't taken any Chaser last night because he sounded like he'd spent the night in a Turkish drunk tank. Nevertheless, he was game for me coming over.
Soon after I arrived, Nathan and Janine showed me their massive attic expansion project. They've taken a conventional unfinished attic with equal sloped ceilings beneath the rafters and made it into a liveable space about two thirds the size of the main floor beneath it. To achieve that amount of space, they had to tear off half the roof and replace it with a massive shed dormer nearly the length of the house. In this space they've put together an upscale suite of rooms, complete with a jacuzzi tub and a room with a massive south-facing window. Viewed from the front (the west) it's difficult to see that the house has changed at all. If anything, it looks like a modest single-story proto-ranch. But in the back it now towers above its neighbors, and in the new attic there are now views of southeast Charlottesville. It's not the most beautiful landscape in the world, since it tends to be covered with strip malls and monotonous tract housing.
The attic project is now at the point where the wiring, plumbing, and duct work has been installed, but the walls are still open and awaiting drywall. Nathan and Janine are doing everything by the book, complete with all require inspections. They even hired an architect before they began, but he proved as useless as his profession tends to be. Had his plans been followed, a support pillar would had had to have been installed a couple feet in front of the first floor's bathroom door. Happily, the general contractor was able to adjust the plans so the new attic loads would be distributed to existing first floor partitions.
In keeping with Nathan and Janine's willfully spartan lifestyle, they don't actually intend to benefit directly from this massive attic upgrade. Their plan is to eventually upgrade and move into the basement apartment (which they are now renting) and charge ridiculous rent to a wealthy tenant who will occupy the first floor and attic as a single unit.
When one is hip deep in household projects of one's own, it's great fun to hang out with friends and swap home improvement stories. It's what childless homeowning people do. Of course, these days I'm mostly interested in basement dampness issues. One of the first home improvement questions I ask my homeowning friends these days is whether or not their basement walls are leaking. Jessika said her basement is dry but there's dirt coming through the cracks. As for Nathan and Janine's basement, it appears to be completely dry.
Nathan and I went to the Downtown Mall in his newest vehicle, a Honda CR-V, which looks a lot like an SUV but which Nathan insists is actually just a "tall car." "It's on the same chassis as the Honda Civic," he's quick to elaborate. But then he concedes that the "tall car" reference has evolved into something of a punchline among his friends, who tend to be bicycle freaks, environmentalists, jaded post-hippies, and others likely to point to SUVs as evidence of the decline of the great American experiment. For Nathan and Janine, though, there is a practical need for a vehicle having so much storage and headroom in the back. Remember, they have two dogs that each weigh about what Sally and Eleanor weigh combined.
We got some coffee at the Mudhouse and then pizza at Christian's Pizza. (That's the pizza joint owned by the guy who used to own Sylvias - he sold Sylvia's and then opened a nearly identical place on the busier end of the Mall, leaving the now-inferior Sylvia's with a customer base comprised of tourists and stupid locals who don't read the local free newspapers.) It was beatiful day, with clear blue skys, bright sun, and air temperatures in the low 70s. According to Nathan, today was the first day of the season lacking the summer's usual heat and humidity. (Up in Hurley, of course, we can expect days like this occasionally all throughout the summer.)
Nathan was dying for me to see one of his new favorite films of all time, Girls Will Be Girls. So he drove us out to Sneak Reviews, that alternative video rental place somewhere off US 29 North. We noted on the way out that they had a whole display of timely leftwing political movies available for rent.
I went with Nathan and Janine when they walked their two dogs on the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College just south of town. As we walked, we were talking about the demise of local communities that has come with increasingly impersonal living spaces, air conditioning, television, security fears, and garage door openers. A perfect example of what we were talking about was a new condo development behind the community college on the other side of an artificial lake featuring a spewing fountain. We walked along a path back to its lake and looked across at its dozens (or was it hundreds) of units, each with plenty of windows facing our way. But chances were that people were staring at a window of a different sort, the electronic kind where scenes are painted rapidly by a brush made of electrons. If even a fraction of the people living in that development had a healthy attachment to nature or even just pets to walk, we should have encountered a few of them strolling down the path. We did encounter one guy with a dog, but we got the feeling he had come the way we had.
Later the three of us went to a block party being thrown by a group of friends who are in the process of buying up several blocks of Belmont real estate. In every respect, the community they are in the process of creating is the exact opposite of the impersonal tract housing we'd seen while dog walking. Compare and contrast:
|Impersonal Tract Housing
|Belmont block project
|Who built it?
|a single developer, recently
|a variety of builders a long time ago
|Who is living there?
|a variety of people who do not know one another
|people who know and like each other
|Are their centralized structures?
|Is access limited?
|more or less
|Is it part of the Charlottesville fabric?
|Is there easy access to nearby businesses?
There is no single word for buying up a group of exisiting homes and pouring a single community into them, although the term "development" is often used to describe the building of homes while claiming there is going to be community associated with them (only to populate them with people who have no interest in one another). Nathan says the folks who bought up the first homes in this community were lucky; they bought them before the recent Belmont real estate boom got underway from an owner who had placed a group of adjacent properties on the market simultaneously. Since then, the community has been steadily expanding. There is now a waitlist to get in. I'm curious about the logistics of selling a home when one belongs to a community like this. Obviously, one of the fundamentals of a community is to keep it a community. But what does it do to the resale value of your house when you can only sell it to people on an existing waitlist? Surely, though, the benefits of living among people who share certain common interests and beliefs has much to recommend it. Politically, you could immediately see what side of the fence these folks were on. Everybody had their John Kerry and Al Weed yard signs out. (The Democrat Al Weed is running for House of Representatives in a district that has been gerrymandered to dilute the voting power of liberal Charlottesville with such redneck stongholds as Lynchburg and Danville).
Of course, with this sort of crowd, things can get a little kooky sometimes. When we arrived a bunch of them were about to go down to the fire and have some sort of woo-woo equinox ritual, something we wanted to avoid. So we headed off to food table to tap into typical potluck offerings. It's always safest to go with the Thai noodles, and that's exactly what I did. Later Nathan and I uncorked a large bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz I'd bought yesterday. Being the designated driver, Janine couldn't drink at all. Apparently Virginia has passed much tougher DUI laws since the days of my habitual drunk driving.
Somehow we found ourselves talking to a couple young women, I think they were a lesbian couple, about... home improvement. In discussing drywall contractors and the cheapest rate at which drywall can be hung, the two women talked about a guy from Augusta County who hung drywall for only $17 a sheet. But he didn't actually do any of the hanging himself - he subcontracted the job out to a family of dirt poor African Americans, one of whom secretly gave one of the women his number so he could be contacted directly for future jobs. Cut out the middle man!
Eventually we made an appearance at the fire sometime after the equinox ritual concluded. An impromptu bluegrass band started playing, but of course somebody in the crowd had an African drum and felt license to join in. That's something I've noticed about people with African drums. They always seem to think music is better if it features an African drum. Even when it's goddamn bluegrass.
Back at Nathan and Janine's place, we three (along with another couple) all watched Girls Will Be Girls. It's a movie about a group of oversexed women doing a variety of revolting, goofy things, none of which I really remember. I do recall one scene where a guy vomits disgustingly and then there's a jump cut and the next thing you see him doing is fucking one of the "girls" doggy style. The odd thing about this movie that distracts from all the action is the fact that all the women are played by men, yet their characters are fully female. I could see why Nathan loved the movie, though it really wasn't my thing.
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