Last night around 11 pm, I “put to bed” the message I was going to send you today. As most of the articles from the past few weeks, it was serious, cautionary, and to just cut to the chase, it strongly suggested that in a few weeks, we all might think about getting on with our lives, having our friends and neighbors over for a beer and just maybe…. getting on with our lives and forgetting about politics for awhile. That’s what Pam and I intend to do and, quite frankly, that just might be the best course of action. And so, with that out of the way, I decided to go a little silly, a little weird, a whole lot sweet, and tell you about the very good people in Old Fort.
Didya ever watch the series, Northern Exposure? No? It’s still around and hasn’t aged a bit. Some of the best TV ever. I think I loved every damn character there. Small town in Ciciley, Alaska, and every one of them: a rugged strange individual. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. So…what’s the point? Old Fort, North Carolina, would make one helluva sequel to that series. If my old friend, director and producer out in Hollywood is reading, this place would make a perfect, Southern Exposure. Perfect! Presciently, I had begun a new novel last year, when we came down to buy The Dragonfly, the name of the place we bought here. I’m 170 pages into it. It’s sort of a cross between a Neil Simon play and Northern Exposure. The premise? A seriously failing retirement home where the residents REALLY don’t want to fade away, peering out a window in a wheelchair and being miserable and in pain. These are old boomer-types who want to go out in a blaze of glory.
The title of the book? The First Erotic Art Show…at The Olde Logge Inne. Here’s the working book cover: If you’ve read any of my books, it’s not “Ha Ha” funny. The humor oozes out inadvertently, like the jelly in a peanut butter sandwich that’s been loaded too high. And it bites you on the ass, too….as life often does. But enough about the book. In no particular order, here are things that have happened here in the last week or two, that never in 30 years happened at our last house. BTW, there’s no bullshit here and no hyperbole.
This is how this place really is: Let’s start with Bryan, our mailman, who should be on Broadway. First time we met him, we were on a golf cart, halfway up our steep and twisty driveway, stopped and just chatting with our new neighbor. I hear a Jeep down below backing up FAST. It backs up, around the corner, still fast and screeches to a halt, 6 inches from the cart, while I’m screaming bloody murder, lest we turn into road kill. Bryan hops out…hand delivers the mail and introduces himself, grinning from ear-to-ear, something he seems to do all the time.
Major Hint about life: If you can twinkle when you meet someone, life is just a helluva lot better.
Getting the mail is now fun and exciting! We get a weekly critique of the sculptures I’ve put out and Bryan is spreading the word! He’s come up with a new term for what we do. It’s Field Art and all of Old Fort knows about it now. Day before yesterday, Bryan roars up, hops out and delivers the mail. I twinkle at him, intent on a teeny weeny joke. I say, “Geez, Bryan, I was hoping for some more letters and maybe a magazine or two…” Bryan goes back to the Jeep, looks around and 10 seconds later, returns with some magazines some letters and says, “There ya go!” This is normalcy down here.
Meeting people, Phase One: The Asheville area is roughly a 30-mile radius around the town. Pam and I drive just about anywhere, stop at a shop, get to talking and when we tell them where we live, they’ve already been by, seen the sculptures and about 30% of them have been up on the property to look at them.
Meeting people, Phase Two: Just about every time we take the golf cart down to the sculpture garden/field, someone is pulled over and they’re up and wandering around the sculptures. Their demeanor is seriously polite. They’re artists or know an artist and they have really good questions and comments. Many come up to the house and we have a couple of Dos Equis and swap stories.
Meeting People Phase Three: Locals and Neighbors: Debbie and Rick and their large family are better than about half my relatives. We have a deal: Either one of our families is in trouble, call…or just press S.O.S. on our boat horns. Either of us can be at the others in about 50 seconds on a golf cart.
Comparisons to Northern Exposure: Any bad guys in Old Fort? Oh…YES!!! In four months here, we’ve discovered one character whom everyone agrees is the “bad guy” to steer clear of. Seriously so. Just stay away. Turns out Stella, (not her real name) is about 70 and has lived here longer than anyone and to repeat an oft-heard phrase, “Stella just don’t take no shit from no one. Watchout…” And so, idiots that Pam and I are, we wander into Stella’s shop in town. We don’t get three feet in the door when Pam and I are greeted and apprised of every possible thing we could buy from her. She’s genuinely funny, she’s as my mom used to say, “A Pistol” and she has her stories about the rest of the town. Would I want to mess with Stella? Nope. But, she’s crawling into my novel, one way or the other.
Gibbs Hardware: You have a story about a hardware store? Oh baby… Pam and I just might be the only residents of Old Fort who actually know the correct names for everyone there. Frank, aka Butch, is avuncular, or grand fatherly, depending on how old you are…knows everyone and everything and still manages to find a good word for everyone…except Stella. Derrick: Derrick took the longest to get to know, but he’s like an iceberg. You’re lucky if you get to know him. And then there’s Mike… If you put the actor, Stacy Keech and ZZ Top in a blender…(a bit gorey) you’d have Mike. But I can spend half an hour in Gibbs swapping stories with Mike and come out with tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks. When I go in, mostly Mike and I growl and sneer at each other. Then we laugh.
Again, I promised no hyperbole and there is nary a droplet here, when I confess: Pam and I have made more solid friendships here than in 30 years in PA. Why? I’m still trying to figure it out. I believe life is rougher down here. Mostly, people earn a bit less than Bucks County…mostly. But, it’s beautiful down here and people LOVE to Laugh and they appreciate the smell of the air, the look of the clouds that play on the mountains, the roar of the waterfalls all around and on and on and on. Even the damn crows are different down here!!! Up north they were distant birds, always flying away when you get too close and cawing up a storm. We have two crow couples that literally live in the sculpture garden. One of them is afraid of caterpillars. He’ll walk down the driveway then hop six feet in the air and squawk. When we walk down to see, it’s always a caterpillar that caused it. Are they afraid of us? Nope. We’re learning their language. It’s pretty simple. One caw means: something. Two caws apparently means something else, and it goes up to five caws. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten with the deciphering.
P.S. One annoying thing: With the novel, I’ve had to go back and rewrite entire chapters. The weird people in my book didn’t measure up to the people we’ve met down here and now call friends.