thousands of IOUs
Sunday, July 25 2021
location: room 325, Howard Johnson By Wyndham (a motel), Staunton, Virginia
I went down to the HoJo's depressingly windowless breakfast room and got some coffee, which was surprisingly good, leading me to make repeated trips down there to get more. At some point I went on a stroll around the HoJo's neighborhood. There's a creek (I believe it's called Lewis Creek) that runs north to south right through the center of Staunton, and sadly most of it now under ground. The HoJo itself straddles part of the creek, as does the large parking lot and strip mall to the south. The Creek gets a little daylight north of the HoJo, where its banks are heavily rip-rapped with a kind of bluish boulder. Nevertheless, the creek looks like an inviting parkland, and its apparently so inviting that the people owning property along it have had the need to put up signs saying that it is private land.
Eventually I drove out to the Kroger (near the intersection of US 11, Statler Blvd., and Old Greenville Road) to buy some groceries so I could make my mother Hoagie and brother Don some food when I came out to their house. I bought some bagels, some Kite Hill cream cheese (that's a fancy brand, Gretchen told me later), a single roma tomato, a 12 pack of Hazy Little Thing IPA (for me), and also a tub of Sabra hummus (which neither Don nor Hoagie actually eat). I then drove out to my childhood home via Old Greenville Road, Mill Creek Road, and Stingy Hollow Road.
The double-wide trailer at Creekside is now surrounded with an impressive assortment of weeds, the kind that spring up after a decade or so of field succession. Across Stingy Hollow Road, my childhood home is being swallowed by the trees and (and old boxwoods). The white ashes have all died back after being attacked by the emerald ash borer, which seems to have conferred superpowers on the black walnuts, their chief competitor in lowland environments.
Just inside the door of my childhood home, I could hear my mother Hoagie talking on the landline with her twin sister Barbara, who must've just called her. I knocked anyway and for some reason Hoagie handed me the phone and then I was talking to Barbara (who is much more on-the-ball than my mother). Eventually my brother Don appeared from his room in the back, glistening with sweat as always. The house seemed about the same as it had, though there appeared to be a new wall of clutter cutting off the northeast end of the living room. I told Hoagie and Don that I would be making them bagel sandwiches, which they seemed eager to receive. So we marched across Stingy Hollow Road to Creekside. Don unlocked the door and out wafted the stale, fetid air of the double wide's interior. I knew there would be no preparation of food (or really, anything at all) so long as the trailer smelled like that. I demanded to know how he could possibly live in a trailer that smelled that way, and he just looked at me with dumb resignation. The frog-in-the-frying-pan analogy applies yet again. Out of embarrassment or conflict avoidance, my mother melted away for awhile.
There trailer was full of food, often on the same shelves with newspapers and worthless dust-covered artifacts. Most of it was shelf-stable, probably things brought over by Josh Furr that Hoagie and Don aren't in the habit of eating. But some of things, like rotting fruit, had just been left to run its course without anyone thinking to throw it out, much like all the other items of clutter. But I discovered the source of the stench when I opened the kitchen's main refrigerator (there's another one around the corner in the laundry room). The anærobic gasses from its interior almost made me vomit. I quickly it up and began detaching it from the house so it could be moved outside. This involved going down to the basement and severing the plastic hose connected to its ice maker. I had no fitting to stop the water flowing out of the hose, but it turned out such a hose can be completely blocked by simply folding it over and securing it that way (in this case I used a failed zip tie that could be undone and redone).
Don helped me gradually wrestle the massive refrigerator (and all its contents) to the front door. It wasn't going to fit, of course, so I had to remove the front door from the trailer and then remove the doors from the refrigerator itself. By this point the worse of the refrigerator's internal gasses had already escaped, and it wasn't as bad working with it open as I expected. I had Don push the refrigerator off the front deck and then we righted it again and scooched it far away from the front door so the sun could bake on it. Some of its contents had fallen out, and I began making a pile of that stuff for Don to later bag up and put on the street. (Thankfully, they now take advantage — though not enough advantage — of a trash pickup service.) Interestingly, there had been a bunch of ice cream sandwiches in that freezer, but they'd completely dehydrated into surprisingly lightweight objects in their paper wrapping. I referred to these as "mummified."
With the refrigerator out of the way, I could then clean the floor and de-clutter than countertop, making the necessary room to assemble sandwiches. By this point Hoagie had returned and enough air had circulated for me to work in the trailer without gagging, though there was no way I would have the appetite to eat anything. I ended up making two bagels each for Don and Hoagie, who ate them with gusto (and not all that much in the way of gratitude).
I wouldn't say it was a pleasant first day of my Staunton visit, but it was a productive one. I eventually started drinking a beer that had spent unknown months on a shelf in the trailer. And then I drove back into Staunton to have some much-needed me time. I went to Walmart and used the otherwise-unused charger there to put more electricity into the Chevy Bolt's battery, and then I returned to the Howard Johnson. It was just as dreary and depressing as before, and now there was still the stank of that failed Creekside refrigerator in my nostrils. But I could take a bath, watch teevee, and drink a beverage containing alcohol. Somewhere I'd bought a bottle of white wine, and I poured myself a plastic cup and went down to the HoJo pool to dick around on my phone while drinking in public. There were a couple other people with kids there, and only kids were using the pool. Once I'd finished my drink, I put my phone down and slipped into the water. I'm not a good swimmer, but I was able to swim across the nine-foot deep area a few times. In the process of all this, I managed to lose my key card, but it was easy enough to get a new one from the guy at the front desk. Unfortunately, the hotel's WiFi still wasn't working (it was failing to assign my computer an IP address) and there was nothing that could be done about it. In situations like this I offer to do a bit of ad hoc networking, but the guy at the desk didn't even have access to the equipment.
When I got hungry, I ordered bean curd Szechuan style and broccoli with garlic sauce from the China House restaurant diagonally across the HoJo parking lot. When I walked over to pick it up, I found that the China House people had installed (obviously for the pandemic) a clever system of air locks allowing food and money to be transferred without any direct flow of air between staff and customers.
Before sundown, I got out my electric scooter and used it to zip all around downtown Staunton. It was a great way to experience it, and I had the feeling that the locals had rarely seen anyone on an electric scooter (as there is no system for renting them in the city).
Back in the hotel room, I spent several hours going through various papers and documents I'd taken from drawers I had known to contain important documents during my childhood, hoping to maybe find Don's birth certificate or Social Security card. There were whole sheafs of documents about my Don's early special education, when he attended a school for special-needs children called Lincoln Center (their newsletter was a crude mimeographed document called Lincoln Log. Based on the correspondence I found, it seems my parents were problematic ones for Lincoln, constantly complaining about Don's education either being too basic or ineffectual. I also found evidence that my mother applied for a job as a high school teacher 1969 and was accepted for the position, only to decline it with the excuse that one of her children had health needs (I was only one at the time and perfectly healthy, though it's possible Don's learning issues had already revealed themselves. In any case, that just sounded like an excuse, and it wouldn't've made much sense to become a school teacher with a one-year-old baby, especially when her husband was earning what would've been the equivalent of $150,000/year today working as a senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Another interesting exchange concerned my mother's application to get into grad school at the University of Maryland. When told that a panel had rejected her due to the quality of her work, she wrote back a letter asking how, then, should she get into grad school. She also wondered if perhaps her age had something to do with it (by then she would've been about 35). Eventually she did get her master's degree, but it was from Bowie State, a historically black college.
The most horrifying discovery was a huge trove of IOUs written to her by her erstwhile neighbor Sara L. Kesterson. I'd found a few of these IOUs back in January and had thought they might add up to six thousand dollars or so. Today, though, I found several boxes that were completely full of such IOUs issued over a time period that began in 2010 (as my father's health rapidly deteriorated) until 2017, when Sara moved away. They ranged in amounts from $16 to $700, with most being for more than $100, and for long stretchs of time, there were IOUs with dates for nearly every day. Having a sense of how much was in each "loan" and how many there were, I would estimate that the amount of money they represent is somewhere between 100 and 200 thousand dollars, an amount no person of modest means would willing give to another no matter how strong the friendship. Initially I thought I could photograph them and perhaps enter them all into a spreadsheet, perhaps as part of an art project, since there seemed to be no hope of every recovering any of the money. But the process of going through them all was so tedious and demoralizing that I eventually stopped. Obviously Sara L. Kesterson is a horrible person who took advantage of my mother's unusual fondness for her (she never loaned me, her own son, money under any condition, though I did ask once or twice). But there had also apparently been something wrong with my mother to have loaned her all this money while watching the IOUs pile up and her bank accounts diminish. She couldn't've had that money for herself, but instead she gave it to a grifter. [Later I would tell Gretchen about this, and she would call a lawyer, who would then recommend reporting it to Adult Protective Services. And it turned out Don would know where Sara L. Kesterson is living now, and the fact that she earns $20/hr caring for an elderly person suffering from Parkinson's Disease.]
At around nightfall, some sort of construction began on a lower floor of the hotel, and I could hear the sound of powersaws occasionally all through the night. This was yet another thing I would have to put in the terrible Yelp review I intended to write.
Hoagie at Creekside today. Her friend Joy Tarder recently cut her hair. Click to enlarge.
Hoagie back in the early 1960s when her hair was last this short.
Some pictures I found of me as tiny baby with Don and my father. Click to enlarge.
A small sample of Sara Kesterson's IOUs. Click to enlarge.
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