|7-13 August 2005|
|Mon, 8 Aug
South of the Monongahela River, in the steaming forests and ravines where no mobile phone signal reaches, where even the household pets have club feet, and where Internet access comes through an extremely unstable dial-up connection, various Hemlocks assemble in a sprawling, 100-year-old farmhouse. To the occasional visitor, the changes are startling. The obese, mentally dull boy has suddenly become a tall, muscular and extremely witty young man, making adults laugh out loud with his dry comments – always a good sign. With luck, the rather morose and retarded look on his face will fade into a more fitting appearance in time. The young girl, last seen doing a daddy’s-favourite act, has blossomed, as if overnight, into a shapely young woman, rubbing fruit-scented lotion onto her thighs as far up as the hem of her tiny miniskirt, while asking me with jail-bait eyes if I would like to come to a pop concert with her back down in Washington DC in a few days. Consulting my diary, I find I have to take a cold shower that evening.
What else is happening? A woman in the next town has been found collecting dead cats (plus some live ones) in her home. By the hundred. Neighbours were alerted by the smell and the sight of her carrying bulky plastic bags into the house at strange hours. A local doctor is eating raw poison ivy as part of his diet. He says it gives him complete immunity from the effects of the vicious weed. The aroma of bacon and grits wafts into the parlour.
Wed, 10 Aug
“We’ve got to get rid of that skunk under the house. It’s got kids. Old Mr Jepsen says we should soak cotton swabs in ammonia and throw them in there.” AMISH FURNITURE ON SALE 300 YARDS. “The cheerleaders at Robert E Lee High used to be really hot, but now they get kicked off if they don’t keep up their grades. So now all the cheerleaders are, like, the ones that are good at calculus.” THIS TRUCK STOPS AT ALL RAILROAD CROSSINGS. “Fairfax County used to pretend it didn’t have a gang problem, but since the machete thing they’ve started to clamp down.”
Perched atop the eastern continental divide, halfway between the snake-handling heart of Appalachian darkness and the wealthy, sub-urbanized woodlands south of the nation’s capital, we encounter civilization in the form of a truckstop with the Washington Post and broadband Internet in every gold-plated restroom stall. Six Teens Stabbed In Mall. The main rival groups are Salvadoran in origin – MS13 and the Southside Locos. They are well organized, to the extend that the latter commissioned a corporate identity consultant, or maybe Steven Sondheim, to choose its name.
Normally, a kid from a poor rural area leaves for the big city, makes good and becomes estranged from his parents who can’t connect with his modern, educated life and culture. With the Latinos here it’s the other way round. The (single) mother leaves her kids with the grandparents in the village in Central America, goes to the USA, gets a job, learns English, marries a decent, established or even second-generation guy and has an American kid. Then she sends for her illiterate first-born, who can’t handle any of it and joins fellow alienated Hispanic teenagers who find meaning in life by knifing each other in the local Target. No doubt the new Latin Youth Outreach Program will solve all this in no time.
|Sat, 13 Aug
Alert admirers the world over email me to ask about the picture of Robert E Lee HS. Either you are a terrible photographer, they ask, or you have cropped something from the lower part of the shot. I admit to the latter. Who could possibly be interested in the girls’ volleyball team in their scanty T-shirts and tight shorts, their perspiring midriffs glinting in the twilight after their twice-weekly practice? It would be a waste of bandwidth.