Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ancient Artifacts, Huntersville Edition

On Saturday, I replanted a flower bed near my garage. I have been trying to grow lavender and creeping jenny there for the past few years and the results have been underwhelming. I decided to pull everything out, double-dig the whole bed, add some peat to improve drainage and replant it. About halfway through the process, my shovel hit something metallic. Looking down, I was able to make out the remnants of some sort of cylindrical object. Believing that I might have stumbled onto a major archaeological find, I proceeded slowly, carefully removing the accumulated dirt and debris from around the object.

Although it was now badly deformed and in two pieces, it was immediately clear to me that the artifact was originally a single tube-like structure, about five inches tall and two inches in diameter. It was made from a light, flexible metal and painted in bright red, green and white shapes. Although the condition of the object made it difficult to ascertain what the design might have originally meant, it appeared to relate some a graphic description of the contents. The size and shape of the artifact suggest that it was probably a vessel used to hold and transport a liquid. The unusual metallic composition along with the bright colors and intricate design of the outside indicate that it likely had ritual or spiritual significance.

Although I am awaiting the results of the radio-carbon dating for verification, my initial estimate of its age places the artifact as mid-90s, a time when this part of North Carolina was mostly virgin forest with only a few scattered outposts of human habitation, mostly semi-nomadic tribes who fled south during this period seeking warmer weather and an abundance of purple and teal. It's fascinating to think about who the original owners of the artifact might have been, how they used it and how it came to be buried deep in a flower bed only a stone's throw from my garage. I guess I'll never know the true story, but I have a gut feeling this artifact is related somehow to the two-by-three-foot piece of foam insulation and the "Bic" firestarting device discovered during a dig in the same vicinity more than a decade ago.

Huntersville is an ancient place, full of mystery and intrigue, strange native cultures and Starbucks. Sometimes on a still night, I can sit out on my back deck and hear the rhythmic thumping and frightening whines of long-departed spirits echoing through the trees. Or maybe it's just the cars on I-77; you know they kind of sound the same.           

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bad Shark Movies and Rumors of Bad Shark Movies

I went to see THE MEG on Saturday afternoon. The wife was out of town and I needed a break from work around the homestead, so mid-afternoon I showered up, put on a clean tee and headed north to Our Town Cinemas in Davidson for the $8 matinee showing. I had every reason to believe the movie was going to be stupid, but that was okay; Our Town has a wide selection of craft beers, the A/C works just fine and the pretzels are soft and salty. 

The movie was predictably bad, so much so that I’m not even going to attempt to review it. Instead, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane to the last time I purposely saw a bad shark movie in a theater (Sharknados on TV don’t count). It was the summer of 1983, my second summer working as a busboy at the Catawba Island Club. I was between colleges at the time, having left Ohio U the previous spring and enrolled at Bowling Green for the upcoming semester. My high school buddy Carl also worked at the club, so our schedules were often in synch and we tended to hang out together. Near the end of a leisurely afternoon lunch shift, we determined that we both had the evening off and decided to head over to the Sandusky Mall and take in a movie. Carl noted that Jaws 3-D was playing and he’d always wanted to see a movie in 3-D. The problem was, we were a little reluctant to go to the movies, just the two of us, because we thought, hilariously in hindsight, that it “gave the wrong impression.” A year earlier, we had, in fact, taken Carl’s older sister, Jo, with us to a memorable drive-in showing of the movie Ghost Story. Neither of us was the least bit gay, but in those days it didn’t take much to be labeled as such.     

Carl suggested we call a female friend of ours that we had hung out with in high school and occasionally still saw around town. For purposes of this story, let’s call her JC. The thing was, there was a backstory that Carl was either unaware or only marginally aware of. I had been infatuated with JC from literally the first time I had seen her, but for a variety of reasons had never acted on those feelings... until earlier that year. Returning home from school that spring, I had finally decided to ask JC out. She readily accepted and I was thrilled. However, when the day arrived, she called and said she had to work late and would take a “rain check.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but decided not to press the point any further and just move on. So, this was about to get a little awkward.

As it turned out, JC was available that evening and we made arrangements to pick her up. Another busboy, Ron, who was a few years younger but an okay guy, overheard our conversation, said that he wanted to see Jaws 3-D and asked if he could tag along. Having no particularly good reason to say no, we agreed. Ron then asked if he could bring “a friend.” Sensing a little apprehension on our part, he quickly added, “... not like a girlfriend or anything, just a girl I’ve known since grade school.”   

We picked up JC first, neither of us making any reference to the earlier cancelled date. We then collected Ron and he directed us to his “friend’s” house. Ron had said he’d known her since grade school, but honestly, she could have BEEN in grade school. Ron was only 16 or 17 himself, but c’mon; I’m pretty sure that girl was playing with her Barbies before we showed up. I seriously started to wonder whether Jaws 3-D was an R movie and if we counted as adult supervision. 

We piled in my old Chevy Malibu for the half-hour drive to the mall; me, JC and Carl in the front seat, and Ron and Lolita (not her real name, obviously) in back. We were halfway across the bay bridge, windows down, WIOT playing on the radio, talking about how our summers were going, basically living the life when I threw a casual glance at the rear view mirror. All I’ll say is Ron’s  definition of “just a friend” was slightly different than mine. 

“You okay back there?”

“MmmHmmm.”

“Not getting too much wind?”

“NnnnHmmm.”

“Well, just let us know.”

“MmmmHmm.”

When we got to the mall, Ron and Lolita suggested they would sit by themselves at the movie, if that was okay. Carl said he thought that would be a great idea and excused himself to go to the bathroom, leaving me and JC standing in the lobby holding Cokes and popcorn.

“So, I thought maybe you’d call to reschedule.”

“I didn’t know... I mean it was hard to tell what was up.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Well, I guess we got our ‘date’ anyway.”

“Uh-huh.”  

The movie was bad. Really, really bad. And 3-D technology back then was nothing like it is today. There was one slightly effective scene where a bloody severed arm was floating toward the audience, but other than that it was just kind of a muddled, grainy mess. The gist of the movie was that a new ocean theme park is opening and through some kind of mechanical malfunction a gate to the ocean is left open and a great white shark swims in. Bloody mayhem ensues and our heros, a young Dennis Quaid and a slumming Louis Gossett Jr., have to find a way to kill it and save the guests, who for reasons I can’t quite recall aren’t free to simply, you know, get in their cars and leave.

After the movie we went for ice cream, laughed at ourselves for having spent good money on such schlock, and silently wondered whether Lolita qualified for the free kiddie cone with adult purchase. I dropped off Lolita and Ron first, then JC. The order was not random. If I’d wanted some time alone with JC, I could have reversed the course and taken Carl home first, but somehow this felt like the appropriate, upbeat ending to a relationship that never was. As she headed up the sidewalk toward her house, she turned and said, “see you guys around.”     

That was the second to last time I ever saw her. A few years later, when I was working as a manager in a department store in Toledo she came in with her one-year-old daughter. We had both married accountants and settled in the suburbs. Ain’t that the way the story goes. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Last Day of Summer

For the first two decades of most of our lives, the beginning and end of summer are easy to define; summer starts when school lets out and ends when it starts back up again. And while carefree months of childhood play would eventually give way to increased household responsibilities and summer jobs, the passing of the seasons was always marked by “back to school.”

For adults, summer is less clearly defined, a little squishier around the edges. I’ll never forget the first time this fact of life dawned on me. I was out for an evening bike ride on a quiet country road the August after I graduated from college. It was the time of year that for as long as I could remember I’d started thinking about the new school year, shopping for school supplies and new “school clothes.” But that year there would be none of that, and as I looked off down that long country road, straight and flat to the horizon, I felt a weird sense of panic at the idea that there would be no more back-to-school, no more sharply defined pivot points, no more opportunities to start over with a clean notebook, a full pen and a new pair of jeans. The sheer length of that road seemed an almost unbearable journey without the way-points and mile markers to which I had become accustomed.

These days, as quite a bit of that road lies over my shoulder, should I care to look back at it, the passing of another summer is marked more subtly. The Hall of Fame football game was last night, and the Panthers first pre-season game is next week. The garden is past its peak and sliding into its long decline toward winking out with the first frost. Stores are placing the red-white and blue knickknacks of Memorial Day and the 4th of July on clearance to make room for the orange and black doodads of Halloween.

For the last few years, my neighborhood has held a summer pool party in early August, a week or two before the start of school, and that has become, for me, the dividing line between summer and what comes after. Here in the North Carolina Piedmont, it will be another 10 weeks before fall is in the air weather-wise, but make no mistake about it, the last day of summer is nigh.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: 1982 Edition

The summer of ‘82 has been in the news as of late — don’t worry, not going there — and as it turns out, that particular window in time wa...