Chapter 1: Berea, KY – 3/6/12
June 17, 2012 Leave a comment
The day before I left was historic, a day that would surely be celebrated with annual parades if I were my own country: I went into work and told my boss that I was finished. I didn’t ever have to return to that cursed job. I was finally done. It was, without any exaggeration whatsoever, satisfying beyond any fantasy I could have ever imagined. Although the responsibility of such an action did give me pause, I felt almost no regret and walked out for the last time with a cool smile spreading over my face: quitting my job was the only possible solution to my (admittedly privileged and rather inconsequential) existential woe:
For almost eighteen months, I was frustrated by my inability to find a way out of my work-life prison. I had a job during an otherwise dismal economic climate and convinced myself I wasn’t at liberty to quit. But I could feel the life slowly seeping out of me: I worked in an office in an industrial park in a pre-fab suburb; in a nameless department at a comically generic corporation, doing a job that bored people even when I explained what it was. The company’s official color was actually grey. For my one year anniversary, I got a shrink-wrapped box with a clock and two cards inside: one card was an unsigned ‘Congratulations!’ card and the other was an instructional card meant for bosses with directions about how to congratulate employees.
I was stunned by the absurdity of my situation. I had never worked before in an office but I figured it had to have at least one redeeming quality. When I started, the first glimpses I had of the office routine did make it seem interesting, entertaining, and even charming. But it didn’t take much time at all (a matter of hours? Minutes even?) to slam face first into the realization that its drudgery and totally demoralizing nature do not possess any of the ironic comedy of its movie or television counterparts. Previous favorites like Office Space and White Collar Blues now exuded only desperation; they weren’t works of comedy but cries for help.
At least no work followed me home when I clocked out, so supposedly I could dedicate my time and energy to anything I wanted when I got home. But when the last moments of the day were fading and I realized that I had to begin work anew the next morning, I would curse that an evening was never enough time. It was the soul-suckingest, blood-suckingest, most evolutionarily-backwards job – every single day I was so profoundly offended by the concept of work that I couldn’t understand how humans had allowed society to develop in such a way.
But no more! As of early March 2012, I had triumphed over the system and my anguish was now a thing of the past. Although I would certainly shudder as I remembered the lifeless small talk in the elevators and the ladder of increasingly inept bosses, I could at least entertain people with my stranger than fiction tales about that time I worked in such a strange environment. So elated was I with quitting that such advice was my answer to everything. “You should just quit,” I responded when my girlfriend complained about her job. “Seriously, nothing feels better than quitting,” I offered again later in the day as I reclined on the couch, obviously pleased with my initiative.
It wasn’t just ennui and frustration that caused me to quit. In the weeks leading up to my exit, I had been thinking more and more about the book-oriented travelogue I had been fantasizing about for the last year. I had already written a proposal and cover letter to send to agents, reviewed books and revised the accounts of travels I had already written, and daydreamed constantly about what was surely the fantastic life of a writer on the road. Unfortunately, nothing has yet resulted from my solicitations. I knew I was the perfect man for the job, but my finances prohibited me from travels of the magnitude I was dreaming about. But at least I had another job lined up, and I realized that if I quit my current job right away, the time between jobs could be dedicated to a leg of the journey. Only when we’ve lost everything are we free to do anything. That realization – and a particularly absurd meeting on what would be my last day of work – decided my fate: I had been given two work-free weeks and would be stupid not to take advantage of them.
Being under these time constraints meant that I had little time to plan the trip. If I wanted to leave on the upcoming Tuesday, I had only the weekend to line up a car, map out a route, and organize places to stay. My only thought initially was that I should go south a few states, with the expectation that it would be a little but warmer. I typed some coordinates into my navicomputer to see what destinations I could find. I found that some genius humanitarian had compiled a (now slightly outdated) list of all known bookstores nationwide, which was then conveniently broken down into specific regions. The existence of book stores and places to stay were cross-checked with destinations that would form a sensible route, and plans were tweaked accordingly. The route began to take shape, and the confirmation that I would have somewhere to stay solidified a city’s inclusion. A day or two later my planning was done, and all I had to do was wait. I was happy to note that my final itinerary included a nice mix of small towns and large cities, beach resorts with towns in the mountains, and a couple of different types of college towns. Six days isn’t really that much to plan for, but the somewhat impulsive decision to quit and the impromptu trip seemed especially poignant, a boost to my sense of self-worth by making me feel like I had some vestige of control over my life.
Anyway, without any further self-congratulations (at least not now), my search for places to visit yielded a place called Berea, Kentucky. The name struck a chord as some of my family and friends are from Berea, Ohio (and who are always quick to point out that many of the buildings of downtown Columbus were built with Berea limestone as proof of Berea’s importance), but I wasn’t aware that there is also a Berea, Kentucky. I wasn’t expecting any doppelgangers or weird mirror existences, but its used book store and manageable distance from Columbus made it as good a destination as any for the first stop of the trip. Needless to say, only cities with used book stores were considered as destinations, but the bookstores were the means but not the end; I figured I would see and learn cool things about an area while visiting and researching.
Case in point: shortly before I left, I was reading a newspaper and saw that a strongman participating in the 2012 Arnold Sports Festival was from, of all places, Berea, Kentucky. The article made much of weightlifter Brandon Lilly’s daily dietary needs, a small fraction of which includes a gallon of chocolate milk, two steaks, and three peanut butter, bacon, and honey sandwiches. (He also once ate 100 pieces of all-you-can-eat sushi.) He can dead lift 750 pounds and bench 810, but this comes with a price. He noted in the article that he “never wakes up pain-free. My lower back is constantly an issue. I have an ongoing hip problem. My left elbow hurts so bad I can’t even straighten it out. I’m probably going to tear my pec in a year or two.”
I’m a big fan of the Arnold Sports Festival for various reasons and was happy to see that there was an apparent overlap in my interests. The article didn’t have much bearing on anything other than it happened to mention a city I was to visit the next day, but as a self-styled writer about to embark on a trip undertaken specifically to write about, I was already looking at everything with an eye for weirdness, attuned to finding bits of interesting information I could integrate into my tales. This sort of thing, the insane dietary habits of a power-lifter and the resultant feats of strength, was exactly what I was looking for. Whether or not it would ultimately be useful for the travel essay wasn’t clear but I was already composing sentences about how it related to my trip. Books on tape and some clean shirts had already been packed, and now I was loading up on information as well. I appreciated that a random detail to write about fell into my lap, like a tacit push to accomplish my goals.
The familiar sights of my neighborhood and the surrounding areas sped by. I drove under increasingly unfamiliar trees and past anonymous groups of buildings as I made my way out of the city and then into its outlying townships. I was blasting into the stratosphere, absquatulating from dull reality into one of my own making. It was one of those rare instances where the fun of the actual event equals the height of its anticipation. My fanciful note-taking began with the usual indulgence before the trip even started, with a prescient note that my exodus “was terribly exciting and, to reveal something personal, prodded me into song. I’m well aware of my zero-percent ability to carry a tune but it’s the impulse that drove me to yell, any melodies made or notes sung correctly are purely incidental.” As always, I cringe when I reread what I imagined would take place, not that it is necessarily incorrect but that I was ascribing to it a poetry slightly more bombastic than what finally makes it to print.
I drove southwest from Columbus towards Cincinnati. This area is much different topographically from the flat expanses spreading away from Columbus, which made it seem like I was officially on the move. Much of Ohio was scraped and scoured by bulldozing, mile-thick glaciers up until about ten thousand years ago, but they stopped short just north of Cincinnati. Cincinnati (or Cincinasty, a name used as both a sign of affection or dislike) is built on and around numerous hills, and roads that go through the area take advantage of the valleys and channels created by melting snow and ice. The deposits of sand and gravel left by this flowing water acted as a filtration system and made the water in the area especially clean, which ultimately led to beer companies setting up shop to take advantage of the quality of the water.
Driving on of the highways that cuts through the city showed what a difference the undulating hills and riverbeds and valleys make in crafting its personality. The erratic elevation creates more secret nooks and hidden elements to the city than may exist in its flatter counterparts. You can see the basement levels of buildings and drainage tunnels going into hills and subterranean roads, like there is an additional society that extends literally into and under the hills. So numerous are the hills that Cincinnati developed a series of inclines to traverse them, which were responsible for the growth of the city and the development of the area’s first suburbs, as if the inability to properly scale them kept the city confined. The city proper expanded as people could travel further from the city’s center; five different inclines operated between 1872 and 1948. Of course, the onset of highways brought about a fate similar to most downtowns: as people were able to travel further from the city with greater ease, the city’s once regal and booming downtown fell into obsolescence in favor of the more tranquil suburbs. This is phenomenon seen all over the country and one that I would bemoan anew as I saw yet again, strip malls and suburbs and more strip malls bought wholesale from catalogs. A trite sentiment, perhaps, and one admittedly felt without knowing the complete history of the area, but a visceral reaction of the sort that is so strong and so immediate that you feel it must possess some element of truth.
I left when it was snowing but the sun soon burned high in the sky with nary a cloud to hinder it. It was the kind of weather that makes you involuntarily roll down your window and rest your elbow on the window frame. Rabbits and butterflies frolicking in the open fields as clouds whistled a cheerful tune wouldn’t have been too out of place. The highway left Cincinnati behind and cut through pastures and farmland, with small buildings and sheep and cows dotting the countryside. It was a series of landscapes so still and unblemished that they looked like the lands of a model train set. The grass covering the hills looked unrolled straight from a spindle and the playgrounds and prefab houses seemed fragile but carefully made, with the beams of the playground equipment appearing no thicker than toothpicks. The apparent smallness of the buildings put the size of the rolling land into perspective. Huge tracts of land, huge farms, huge views from these houses that went straight to the horizon: these sights were purely United States of American. Other countries certainly have farms and rolling pastures but there is something intangible about the area that would always make it feel like home to an American; the lyrics from ‘America the Beautiful’ made complete sense.
Kentucky seemed welcoming, too: a water tower just over the Ohio-Kentucky border proclaimed “FLORENCE, Y’ALL” to everyone that could read its ten-foot letters. Despite the fact that I spilled pumpkin seeds all over everything and I was drinking coffee that was so weak that it literally tasted like tea, it was already an incredible day. (To be fair, I should have known better re: the coffee. I purchased it in a moment of weakness from, ahem, a fast food restaurant. Bad coffee in this instance didn’t augur bad luck, just that I should have made a thermos full of my own before I left.) The ride was uneventful aside from the consistently bucolic sights, and the route gradually scaled down from highway to state route to rural route to city streets. The drives between places were deliberately limited to around four hours. This seemed more than enough, anything more would have been a substantial undertaking for one day, and fortunately my routes abided by this limit without too much effort in coordinating it.
It was the first day of an incipient spring and everyone in Berea was thrilled. Some looked happily shocked and were squinting in the unfamiliar sun and some felt right at home, like the two women in airy skirts who claimed a bench and looked like they were prepared to sit there all day. Even the biggest grouch would admit it felt good to come out of his hovel and stretch in the sun. I parked my car somewhere, not really paying attention to signs or location in my desire to get out and walk around. Dignified college buildings stood on hills and at the ends of lawns. I parked near what was a commercial area of the sort that touted its historic authenticity. Sturdy white buildings housed a series of craft shops that showcase the work of area artisans. One of Berea’s numerous fudge shops opened to the street, and nearby a number of diners beckoned customers with the sound of silverware scraping plates as they ate in a diner next to open windows. I had some time to kill before meeting my host and so decided to find the book store. However, I noticed that I was in the presence of a coffee shop. Good coffee, like always, was of paramount importance, so I stopped in before setting off over the nearby hills.
Keeping with the day’s trend, the coffee shop had opened its doors to the street. I permitted myself a small amount of authorial swagger as I walked in, a reader instead of a gunslinger, a coffee shop instead of a rough cantina, recently out of my car and ready to take notes and collect information. The coffee shop was dim with a smattering of people now able to enjoy iced drinks. It was quiet and felt old, and the waitress sauntered over slowly, giving her time to assess a stranger in these here parts. I stood blinking as my eyes adjusted to the light, though I had also been blinking outside as I got my bearings. Both instances belied my stranger status, which was evidently strange enough to the point that someone pretended like she didn’t hear me when I asked for directions, her headphones the perfect excuse for selective deafness.
No matter; I was soon on my way and found the store I was looking for, Robie and Robie Fine Books. This shop was as good a spot as any for the first shoppe of the trip – huge storefront windows, the inside well-organized but still in disarray, with winding paths to high, tightly packed shelves and back rooms with spilt boxes and unending stock yet to be sorted, chatoyant motes of dust floating lazily through the air. I had to be careful with my purchases as I didn’t fully trust myself to know when to stop looking. It must be noted for the sake of my reputation that I had no intention of hoarding books for the sake of their value as “things” or to prove my erudition. I wasn’t after any first editions and I wasn’t mindlessly buying with a sense of ingrained hypercapitalist material lust; granted, it could be said that building a personal library for the sake of having a great library is the possession of goods merely for the possession of goods, but even amongst staunch anticapitalists books are usually given a pass.
I made headway into completing my Studs Terkel collection by purchasing American Dreams Lost and Found and re-bought a copy of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, as mine had somehow gotten lost over the years. Despite the pleasant age of the shop, I recognized that Terkel’s book would dispel any notion of romance I had about old-timey life being automatically idyllic, as it is full of first-hand accounts of the brutality of capitalism and timeless laments against the myth of meritocracy. On the other hand, should one be lucky enough to have the time for leisurely reading and scholarship, Gargantua and Pantagruel is an immense undertaking. The book is made up of five separate books, one of which is dedicated to debating marriage, as one character is considering getting married. Hilariously comprehensive lists abound, as three entire pages are dedicated to naming every game Pantagruel played as a young man, six pages are given to listing the (fictional) books in a library, four pages list the new professions of personalities of Greek mythology when they end up in hell, three pages are dedicated to insults using the word ‘fool,’ five pages of questions posed to a friar and his monosyllabic answers, two pages dedicated to insults using the word ‘ballbag,’ among many lists of things you’d be hard-pressed to make a pages-long list of. Snatches of theology and philosophy and political commentary are interwoven with scenes of incredibly graphic violence, tremendous streams of urine, and an entire continent of people flourishing in the spaces between Pantagruel’s teeth (his size as a giant changes to accommodate the requirements of a scene, changing from a height of ten feet to whatever size would accommodate a nation of people).
I was told to keep an eye out for Boy Settler on the Cherokee Strip by William Siceloff (spelling uncertain). This book was mentioned to me by a woman who was passing through the town, explaining that this book was written by her great-grandfather. She wasn’t certain of the spelling of his last name but said that she once found a copy of the book in a used book store.
I had a week or so more of this ahead of me, a week to work and relax, though for the first time in a long time the two were actually one and the same. I wondered if I would have enough to create a compelling story out of these trips; not a few people had told me that the premise was flimsy. Years of reading travel books had provided me with a basic rubric for what constitutes entertaining travel essays and I didn’t want to succumb to the amateurish mistake of simply recounting everything I did in the order that it happened. But the reason for the trip was to provide fodder for writing and so I would pursue my own story doggedly. I had been assiduously taking notes throughout the day – “I spilled my pumpkin seeds” and other important occurrences – but I knew that I also had to start speaking with the characters I counted on populating my account.
My first attempt was not a resounding success. The clerk working at the bookstore was a thin man in a sweater who spoke very quietly through his neatly trimmed beard. He sat at the front desk surrounded by the usual fort of books. I began casually but friendly enough, not wanting to seem intrusive but wanting to learn about the store and the profession. He offered only laconic phrases in response, the kind in which the final stop at the end of every sentence denotes an intended end to the conversation. I pushed on and embarrassed myself only a little, receiving the most obvious reply to an obvious question:
“Does working at a book store and the constant organizing and unending flow of books dampen your desire to read?”
“No, it just adds more books to my list.”
Was I an outsider or an idiot, I wondered. A handful of people had already pegged me as either, and this phenomenon would repeat itself throughout the day. I figured that it wasn’t necessarily malicious but evidence of the wariness that townies exhibit towards the student population: students live here but don’t have history enough to think of the city and its actual inhabitants with hometown pride; I had a backpack on and probably appeared as much a student as anyone. This derision was at one point even directed towards my host – who had grown up in Berea – by virtue of the fact that he was of the appropriate age to be a student. We were in a hardware store and my host’s request for various materials was met with obnoxious macho posturing, like he was a nerd asking for muscle car parts. My host seemed unphased, and the clerk’s condescension diminished once he saw that my host knew what he was talking about. As he was townie, I sort of understood the clerk’s guardedness, but considering the bigger picture, as guys who just needed some copper tubing, it was much more annoying and disheartening to see demonstrated, yet again, the arbitrary territoriality man naturally shows to man. No matter where you are in the world, primitive chest-thumping will occur.
But if the students at Berea College exhibit any snobbery, it’s not for traditional reasons. All of the students enrolled receive a full scholarship for their four years of college, and the families of most are in the lowest forty percent income bracket in the US. Moreover, the college has a history of egalitarianism. When it was founded in 1859 by abolitionists, it was the only college to admit black and white, male and female students and teach them all in the same classes. John G. Fee, its founder, developed the institution to be “anti-slavery, anti-caste, anti-rum, anti-sin,” dreaming of “giving an education to all colors, classes, cheap and thorough.” Berea’s students have also been provided with jobs and are paid a decent wage (and are in fact currently required to work at least ten hours a week), which got its start as a way to show that everyone should be compensated fairly for their labor. Fee and his wife Matilda also developed “a plan to buy up large tracts of land in order to resell housing lots to Berea’s newcomers based on a racially interspersed design, such that blacks and whites would have each other as neighbors. While this plan was most prevalent in neighborhoods adjacent to the College Campus, numerous freedmen were able to buy land from the Fees and a few supportive white landowners throughout the countryside.” Naturally, racist filth ran the faculty and students out of town the same year the school was founded, but classes resumed after the Civil War. Undaunted by notions of decency and bolstered by the outcome of a Supreme Court cast in their favor, racist trash passed laws in 1904 that prohibited the co-education of black and white students. In response, the wily founders of the college portioned some of the college’s money to open a school for black students near Louisville.
I met my host (and almost all of the wonderful people who hosted me throughout the trip) through the website couchsurfing.org, which is essentially a networking site for people travelers. You type in the city you are going to visit, anywhere in the world, and up comes a list of people who have a place to put you up for a night. Or, if you are currently stationary, you can reciprocate by listing your place as one that accepts itinerant adventurers. Anyway, through this site I found the profile of my host, and I chose to write him because of his interest in teaching people skills he has learned, like flint-knapping. We bought the materials (the aforementioned trip to the hardware store) and went to BC farm co-op to use some of their tools. (His girlfriend works there.) One end of the tubing is placed into a vise and the other into a drill. The drill spins the hollow tubing into an inflexible pole, which is cut into lengths and placed into a hole drilled into the vertical end of a large dowel rod (or sawed-down broom handle, which is what we used). The exposed end of the copper is hammered into the required shape, which is then pressed against a piece of flint in order to pressure-flake off flakes of rock. After considerable and calculated flaking, you begin to shape the rock into an arrow head, later using a different hammered piece of copper to scrape out grooves where a cord will lash the arrowhead to the shaft of the arrow. We made two pressure flakers using different lengths of handle, as a longer handle can be anchored in the armpit for greater leverage and thus more forceful flakes, while the shorter can be used more accurately to make precise edges. We were using the base of a #60 glass bottle (the carbonated contents of which I proceeded to spill all over myself and the car) because it flakes in a way conducive to making arrowheads. Flint is no laughing matter – it is incredibly sharp, but obsidian is even sharper. Obsidian fractures incredibly smoothly (ie the edges of the fractures are not jagged or angular, a much more clean break down to the molecular level), meaning that their cutting edges are many, many times sharper than well-made steel scalpels, capable of cutting between cells instead of across them.
I had never met him before and was to meet him at the coffee shop. I walked by and must have again looked out of place, as he walked outside and hailed me. He stood over me with a week’s worth of beard and an imposing stature; if you encountered him in the woods, he wouldn’t be a bedraggled and half-crazed castaway but a burly brute bedecked in bear pelts and brandishing a spear. Imagining that you’d meet him in the woods isn’t a libelous characterization, as he currently lives in a yurt in the woods. He is also a man of many talents and skills, which justifies the supposition that he would have hand-hewn a spear shortly after his plane crashed in the wilderness. His worldview eschews surfeit material goods (or at least has little interest in them) and relishes knowing various trades, but without the pedantic hectoring of anti-consumerist rhetoric. (He acknowledges the shittiness of Wal-Mart but shrugs as he can pick up cheap supplies there.) Skills are learned for the sake of being learned, which is why he recently went to go help butcher a pig despite having no previous experience doing so. Most would balk at the thought of shooting a pig and then cutting its throat, but he appreciated the myriad resources that the pig provided and admired the resourcefulness of the butcher, who knew a use for most parts of the animal and even took care to slaughter it on the top of a hill so that the blood would flow down. (It was also mentioned that his friend makes knives out of old saw blades.) To both experienced tradesmen and unhappy guys in suits, there was something romantic in the notion of someone working in the sun, shaping wood to repair his workshop, and then hanging the tools in their respective spots in the tool shed before dusting off and going inside to eat a hearty meal of sausage and eggs, recently slaughtered and recently gathered; this seems refreshing and spiritually satisfying, perhaps in unconscious dismay at the increasingly pre-packaged and hands-off life to which we are growing more and more accustomed, the notion less a romantic back-to-basics philosophy and more a reminder that we are on the wrong track entirely; not an ideology or a critique but an unconscious plea to maximize our happiness by not relying so much on a lifestyle formed by commercials and the latest products.
Perhaps because of its ecumenical background (and consistent with the wishes of John G. Fee), the county in which Berea resides is a dry county. My host lived out in the country and an alternative route to his place took us by a liquor store just past the county line. I got to see more of the area, and I saw that the store is strategically located next to a military base, which explained the miles of razor wire that cordoned off a large part of the nearby land. The fencing boasts signs that allegedly say the base has permission to shoot anyone that trespasses. This is because it is the Blue Grass Army Depot, a storage and incineration facility for chemical weapons and nerve gas. My host and his friend, a wide-eyed and wild-bearded guy who was doing obscure computer programming on his laptop while we were driving around, said that everyone in the town has a zone to go to in case of a BGAD-related emergency. However, the town supposedly won’t evacuate unless the wind is blowing in a certain direction.
This talk led to a story about a guy who was working in a warehouse housing crates of flares that burn at such high temperatures that jets drops them to deflect heat-seeking missiles. He accidently punctured a flare with a nail as he was sealing a crate, and the flare ignited all of the other flares in the crate within “thousandths of a second, heating the area to 20,000 degrees.”
“Wow,” was all I could say, and the three of us contemplated the base for a few moments before we got back in the car.
My host’s yurt is in the woods and has no running water and no electricity and no plumbing. None of this is of any consequence when you sit inside on a bunch of rugs and look up at the crisscrossing beams and wool-like insulation and feel like you are in the midst of some sort of Ghengis Khan campaign, or at least camped out somewhere while on a fantastic quest. Inside of the yurt were bookshelves, tools, non-perishable foods, a wood-burning stove, hiking equipment; a futon, spare boots, more tools, and ‘Magnum’-size condoms sitting unselfconsciously on a nightstand. While thrilled with the lodging for the evening, I felt like an imposter. The discussion of forest axes and high-quality handmade Swedish axes and the prodding to buy an antique axe at an antique store in Berea earlier in the day are not the affectations of people trying to prove their mettle but of people genuinely interested in axes and what they can accomplish with them. I was humbled by the ongoing talk of projects they were working on that spanned many disciplines and I felt silly for feeling cool for buying sturdy canvas work pants. One guy mentioned that kids today don’t know how to build or fix anything or survive on their own, and I nodded earnestly and snorted with them in derision at modern man’s cushy lifestyle, hoping I wouldn’t be asked for my input on roof repair or the ideal anvil. I thought hard about any abilities I may have equal in usefulness to theirs and I wasn’t sure I would be comfortable with the answer.
But this frustration at my various inabilities wasn’t going to color the evening, as another friend arrived and taught us the game Stump. This guy was a cross between a deepwoods country boy and a stoner and provided the infectious good-naturedness of both. “Anything you ever need help with, he knows how to do,” I was told, a true compliment by people who were themselves accomplished handymen. He told me that after a series of unsatisfying jobs during and after the military, he decided that he was going to live for himself. He had two goals: he wasn’t going to shave ever again and he was going to get a dog that would accompany him everywhere. His impressive beard and friendly dog attested to his achievements, and he was happily self-employed as a carpenter/roofer/plumber/ woodworker/etc. He also was an expert Stump player. Stump – the abruptness and germaneness of the name makes it fun to say to people – is a game played on a waist-high tree stump. Each player has a nail that is driven in just enough that it stays upright, and each player has a hammer that they throw into the air, pushing it out and spinning it so the claw end rotates towards you, and is caught on the way down and directed towards a nail. You can’t catch it and cock your wrist back to add power to your smash, you are just allowed to guide it towards someone else’s nail using the inertia of the toss and spin to pound it in. The last person’s nail that remains unpounded (or at least sticks out the highest) wins. There are rules addressing bent nails and accidental injuries, but there wasn’t a consensus reached amongst those I was playing with and so the rules should be left to the players of each game to decide. It was already dark when I was taught the game which made throwing hammers around a harrowing experience. At least two of us were wary of playing in the middle of a forest at night, but our teacher, undaunted, suggested we light the stump on fire to make the playing board visible. This idea was nixed in a way that didn’t seem too parental and we occupied ourselves in various other ways before falling asleep.
 Every ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard about an office is true. People really do talk about how much they hate Mondays and how glad they are it is Friday. Bosses really do issue needless and contradictory directives that change from week to week. There really are countless irrelevant meetings, Garfield cartoons pinned to cubicle walls, workplace acronyms, and “the (insert characteristic) guy” of each department. I was especially vexed by the bad coffee – it came from a large machine that combined boiling water with coffee-flavored syrup dispensed from liter cans.
 First of likely many Star Wars references: “A navigation computer, also known as an astrogation computer, navicomputer, navicomp, or nav computer, was a device that made the careful calculations necessary to navigate through hyperspace. Navicomputers would calculate data like the exact destination, the quickest and safest route to it, and the number of hyperspace jumps necessary. Most starships carried a nav computer of some sort, though some starfighters made do with only the astrogation buffer of an astromech droid…”
 There are also Bereas inBaltimore,North Carolina,South Carolina, andWest Virginia. The name ‘Berea’ is apparently from ‘Beroea’ in ancientGreece and is mentioned briefly in the Bible, where its citizens took quickly to Paul’s preaching.
 “In glaciatedOhio, the surface of the land usually is fairly level or gently rolling. On the other hand, steep ridges, hills and shaded valleys, characterize unglaciatedOhio. One author has estimated that a 200-acre farm in unglaciatedOhio may have as little as 12 acres of land that a tractor can plow and work.” – http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/portals/10/pdf/glacial.pdf
 Gargantua and Pantagruel has always seemed to me to be one of those books that people reference to show one’s well-readedness but that isn’t actually read by most people in its entirety. Certain parts are always mentioned to show familiarity with the work (ie the monstrous exaggeration, the violence and scatological humor, the ‘Rabelaisian’ component) but further questioning yields that this is the only extent to which someone is familiar, having maybe once read an excerpt in class. Other books that this occurs with include Moby Dick (the most common perceptions: it’s really, really long and convoluted, Ahab is crazy, the book is a dark parable about obsession) and Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno (the famous ‘last cigarette’ is often mentioned as the book’s trademark, but those scenes occur in the very first segment of the book).
 It turns out that the book’s title is correct but the author’s name is David Guy Siceloff. I was expecting some sort of completely obscure tome published in 1918 by a forgotten publisher, but this book is a children’s book published in 1964 that you can find online and even download from Google books. Not that this diminishes its value, but I thought that this girl’s family was looking long and hard for any extant copies of a distant relative’s life story.
 A place of particular interest to my host was a local antique shop. My host mentioned a few times that they had a great selection of antique axes, and also told me that as far as he knew they still had a vintage harpoon for sale as well. The harpoon, which spanned the wall on which it was hung, was a grim sight, much bigger than I had imagined and imparted more terror into everything I’d ever heard about whaling. He pointed out various tools for sale that were forged over a century ago and were so well made that they could be used for another hundred or so years.
 “The BGAD is a Tier 1 Power Projection Platform for munitions, chemical defense equipment and special operations support for all of the Department of Defense. On 1 October 1999, Anniston Munitions Center (ANMC) became a subordinate unit under the command and control of BGAD. ANMC is a multi-functional Class V facility. It is a Tier II facility for conventional ammunition and a Tier I facility for missiles…
…The conventional ammunition area consists of 852 igloos filled with ammunition with several tons additionally stored outside. The Depot’s mission of conventional munitions has remained very active since World War II. Located within the heart of this highly secure area is the chemical limited area (CLA), with even more security…
…The Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) is responsible for the safe storage, monitoring and ultimate disposal of its stockpile of chemical weapons. The stockpile at Blue Grass is maintained on 250 acres of land near the northern boundary of Blue Grass Army Depot. As a tenant unit on the depot, the Blue Grass Chemical Activity reports to a different headquarters than the depot and leases 49 ammunition storage igloos located on one square kilometer near the northern boundary of the depot. Blue Grass Chemical Activity uses igloos to store chemical weapons. The stockpile is kept in a secure, restricted area which covers one-square kilometer. The entire area is surrounded by two fences that are topped with coiled concertina wire. The row of tall poles topped by high intensity lights, all pointing outward, not only provides excellent perimeter lighting for the guard force, but also hampers the ability of anyone outside to see into the unlighted chemical limited area.
The three types of chemical agents at Blue Grass Chemical Activity include a blister agent, known as “mustard,” which began arriving in the 1940′s and two nerve agents, GB and VX which began arriving in the 1960′s. The “mustard” blister agent is designed to incapacitate, while the GB and VX nerve agents are deadly.
Chemical weapons are stored in earth-covered bunkers called igloos. These igloos are designed specifically to protect the chemical weapons from external factors such as storms, lightning and other weather-related events. Blue Grass Chemical Activity maintains 49 igloos, 45 of which are dedicated to its chemical weapons storage mission. The igloos are approximately 25-feet high, 15-feet wide and 80-feet long. They are constructed of steel-reinforced concrete and capped with approximately 25 inches of soil. The front wall of each igloo consists of 10-inch thick, steel-reinforced concrete with a vented steel door. The structure is equipped with a rear vent and lightning protection. Each igloo has a number of security features to protect the chemical weapons. These features range from a large concrete block positioned in front of the igloo door to a sophisticated intrusion detection system.
These “igloos” are in a high-security area behind multiple wire razor fences with an around-the-clock armed security force authorized to use deadly force. The three liquid chemical agents are stored in differing types of munitions. The agents are primarily contained in 155mm and eight-inch projectiles as well as M55 115mm rockets. The rockets contain either GB or VX agent and are fully assembled with agent, bursting charges, rocket propellant, rocket motors and igniters.
The chemical stockpile is monitored daily. Each day, emergency response plans are relayed to the Madison County Emergency Management Agency and the state Emergency Operations Center. The plan factors in the location of the work, the type of munitions and the local weather conditions.
Each igloo containing M55 rockets is monitored once a week by sampling the inside atmosphere of the igloo. This sample must be free of any trace of agent before the doors can be opened. On a rotating basis, more thorough sampling takes place as an air sample is drawn from the storage tube of an individual rocket. Chemical detection plays an extremely important part in the monitoring of the chemical stockpile and the sophisticated equipment used can detect samples well below the hazardous level.
The Operation Control Point or OCP is a decontamination point where, in case of a chemical accident, everyone who was in an area of contamination is cleaned after leaving the chemical limited area. It is equipped to handle all types of decontamination and this is where the doctor and his medical staff triage and treat the patients. The operation control point also controls entry to and exit from the chemical limited area during emergencies.
Should alarms sound or Activity chemists report a positive reading, an emergency response team is immediately activated. Workers leave the igloo, which is sealed and an air filtration system designed to remove agent is started. Most leaks of chemicals are detected at a level that is less than the amount that would come from a short burst of bug spray dispersed evenly inside a 2,000-square-foot home…
…Projectiles come in two sizes and can contain one of three different agents. The projectiles shown are 8 inch and hold GB, a nerve agent. 155mm projectiles (identical in appearance, just a tad smaller) may have VX nerve agent or mustard, a blister agent designed to incapacitate. Some of the projectiles contain explosive charges. There are about 30,000 projectiles in the BGCA stockpile. M55, 115mm, rockets have either GB or VX nerve agent. There are about 70,000 of these highly explosive, assembled chemical weapons stored at Blue Grass Chemical Activity. These rockets present the greatest risk associated with the storage of chemical weapons.”
- all of this crazy info comes from: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/blue_grass.htm
AGENT ITEM QUANTITY POUNDS HD-Blister 155mm Projectiles 15,492 181,260 GB-Nerve 8-inch Projectiles 3,977 57,660 GB-Nerve M55 Rockets 51,716 553,360 GB-Nerve M56 Rocket Warheads 24 260 VX-Nerve 155mm Projectiles 12,816 76,900 VX-Nerve M55 Rockets 17,733 177,340 VX-Nerve M56 Rocket Warheads 6 60 Acreage 14,596 Structures 1,207 901 Igloos (852 conventional ammunition) 20 Ammunition/Chemical Defense Equipment Warehouses 11 Maintenance Buildings Warehouse Storage (sq feet) 1,005,062 Ammunition Storage (sq feet) 2,187,218 Family Housing 2 Miles of Road 152 Miles of Railroad Track 40
 Army officials confirmed Friday [12/5/2008] that sarin nerve agent is leaking from a container at the Blue Grass Army Depot. A mobile laboratory conducting a routine check within one of the chemical agent storage igloos tested positive for the nerve agent GB (sarin). The leak was in the same igloo that sprang a leak last August, the Army said in a press release. “It may be the same leak reopening, it’s a high possibility,” said depot public affairs officer Richard Sloan. The igloo, which is a 90-foot-long concrete bunker covered in dirt, contains three GB ton containers and several secondary waste drums. The igloo has been continuously filtered and monitored daily since the leak was identified and sealed in August , and officials stressed that no chemical agents have escaped the containment igloo. “It’s still at the bottom of the detection level,” Sloan said. “It poses no risk whatsoever to the general public or the environment…Along with transparency, safety of environment and the community are our top concerns,” Sloan said.”
 While I can’t confirm the veracity of this story, there are high-temperature jet flares that ignite when exposed to air; puncturing them and exposing them to air while bundled together would lead to “catastrophic” fire.
 Traceless shitting is accomplished by filling a box with ashes from the stove, going into the woods and shitting in said box, dumping the ash-covered item into a hole (the ashes adhere to all surfaces) which is then covered with sawdust and buried.