Wednesday, January 14, 1992 Nantahala N.F., NC

Knoxville is a bizarre city by anyone's standards. The Southerners consider it the North, the Northerners consider it the South, and the people who find themselves living there try not to consider it. It is a maze of urban sprawl, a place defined by its freeways and its football team, a town trying very hard to be a city. The inhabitants are a surly lot of weirdoes and jocks unaffected or possibly numbed by the continuous repeating cycle of Shoney's, Kwikoils, Easy Money Pawn Shops, and various other prefabricated sections of roadway strung with telephone line that stretch for 15 miles towards all four points of the compass from the stark and boarded downtown -- a place crossed by seven crystal clear streams each marked plainly: "Toxic! Avoid Body Contact." They are an extreme lot, Knoxvillans, given either to rabid normalness or grasping, reactionary revolution. David's chief complaint was that there were no plain, middle-of-the-road people. The artists are Artists, the ecologists are activists, the sports fans are avid, the religious are firm, the gays are fruits, and the crazy are just plain insane.

While driving across the Gay Street bridge one night I saw one such insane man, though I didn't know it at the time. As I passed him I thought I saw him lift a leg up over the railing -- a 100 foot drop at least to the turgid black waters below. I slowed and looked in the mirror, only to see I had been hallucinating. About ten minutes later, trying to cross the bridge again, our path was impeded by a small number of squad cars sealing off the bridge at both ends. I felt a little ill. The next morning, intent on a cozy day of crosswords and good java but finding the only coffee shop in town closed, we picked up a paper and found the requisite two paragraphs on page four. The man, homeless and of unstable mind, had not succeeded in jumping. He had been coaxed from the rail with a six-pack of beer and wrestled to the ground.

The city notwithstanding, a number of extremely pleasant and/or humorous activities were experienced. Under pleasant I would probably list first a wonderful, scrambling hike up the tumbling waters of Rainbow Creek in the Smokies, hopping and balancing over the rocks, chutes, and pools and thinking as I often have for the past few months: "This would be really great in Summer." Even without the swimming and the warm lounging on rocks that must follow, the Smokies are truly the saving grace of Knoxville.

Under humorous, however, I can only hope to relate the inner mirth of

The American Meal
Occasionally in one's life one becomes attuned to the thoughts and desires of inanimate objects. Often benevolent, these mostly ignored entities can also possess intense and inexplicable hatred. Take, for example, the spaghetti sauce which, for reasons still unknown, conspired with the can opener and the spice rack to ruin a meal I was preparing for a couple of honored human guests. Right from the start I knew something was up -- the can opener, not wasting time with it's opening salvo, bit me viciously on the thumb, drawing blood and requiring still the application of the occasional bandage. The spice rack, too, was forthcoming with its spite, and coerced me into dumping huge quantities of garlic and paprika into the red magmous fluid -- four shakes at least, one shake of which David termed "Extreme". Then, in a fit of confusion and conceptual fervor, I decided that "What's good for the Salad is good for the Sauce" and immediately added carrots and chopped lettuce. The sauce by now was a thick and aromatic affair, visibly dotted with spices and stringy bits of lettuce, tasting primarily of salt. The electric stove, malfunctioning in solidarity with the foodstuffs, suddenly flared its heat, spattering me and the countertop with boiling droplets of the infernal brew. I screamed with the scalding pain.

Eventually the guests arrived and the meal was dished out -- I retiring gladly from the battle. I was rather worried, though, for the culinary shock our guests might experience upon first forkful. The most twisted Zen koan could not have prepared me for their reaction: a deep and heartfelt "Yum" was expressed by all, a reaction in retrospect I should have expected -- that outcome being the nature of excessive worry. And as I sat there, reeling, I noticed the plain beauty of our meal: four white plates, each one resting near the red and white checked centerpiece, each one supporting a small pile of white pasta shells surmounted by a dollop of bright red sauce, its peculiarities mysteriously non-evident, and a small collection of lettuce, tomatoes, and green peppers in a vision direct from the Denny's picture menu. From a tortuous battle with the Objects of the Kitchen had emerged the Archetypal American Meal, and I still stand dumbfounded.

Later that day Highlands, NC

Last night I slept in a Bryson City motel, poorly-heated and with a low ceiling, but cozy nonetheless and equipped with the best motel TV I've ever seen. Ninety-nine channels awaited my weary head, and oh if I could relate the sights I saw... A jambalaya of structured poses, micro-targeted products, contrived expressions and sound effects, and manufactured role models. A tumult of implied social mores, dated fashions, and hackneyed production. A hearty stew of fascinating exploration, worlds unknown, and theses suggested. I wrote a thousand papers last night and today I shall remember none.

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Chez Zeus: Writing: No Simple Highway: Nantahala N.F., NC

Last modified: Wed Feb 18 21:30:52 1998
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