Monday, October 08, 2007

Memory Lane Is In The Slums

The Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia, is -- a museum dedicated to maritime stuff, I guess. I'm sure I've seen its exhibits before, but damned if I can remember them. The museum grounds are nicely wooded and full of hiking trails. Back in the day you could bike there too, but that's been prohibited since around the time the Berlin Wall fell. That's because of my father.

The morning of Saturday, November 11, 1989, I was doing some extracurricular school stuff, and my parents and brother went biking at the Mariner's Museum. On one of the trails, my father fell off his bike and broke his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life until he finally escaped it too-many years later. I watched the Berlin Wall tumble on the TV news in the waiting room of the ICU at the hospital next to the museum, and morbidly thought, "When the wall stood, Dad did too."

He spent a few weeks in that hospital getting stabilized before moving to the rehab center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he spent about a year. (When ex-Superman Christopher Reeve became a quadriplegic a few years later, he went to UVA too. Hearing about Reeve's accident was the first, last and only time I had an emotional reaction to celebrity news.)

Side note to all the "pro-life" fuckwits who insist that assisted suicide should remain illegal no matter what: I sincerely hope you are one day imprisoned in a body as useless and pain-wracked as my father's was. (Even when paralyzed he could still feel pain. Nothing else, though.) If you stick to your "existence uber alles" principles in that instance, then I'll decide your viewpoint is worth respecting. My father wanted to die and had damned good reasons to feel thus, but lacking usable arms made him unable to kill himself and he refused to let anyone else do it for obvious prison-avoidance reasons.

I drove to the Mariner's Museum today, thinking to scratch a masochistic itch to see where the accident happened or at least point to the "No Biking" signs and wax snarkastic about how they should be called the "David Abel Memorial Bans." But the campus of Christopher Newport University, where I snagged a worthless English degree before moving North, has expanded onto the grounds, and for all I know the actual spot has been paved over. The campus itself is now so large I didn't bother going on it, since any buildings I remember are likely gone now anyway.

I'm now out of the region of Virginia where I grew up; I was going to stay in Charlottesville tonight but had no desire to sleep in the shadow of my father's rehab center, so I kept driving until I reached Staunton (which has the double advantage of being someplace I haven't been before, and close to some of the geological-touristy stuff I want to see tomorrow).

Perhaps in another twelve years I'll have the urge to go back and visit the old neighborhood again, but I doubt it. To hell with Virginia. The only good thing I ever did here was make enough money to leave.


Anonymous smartass sob said...

Did I not tell you a few posts ago that I hope you have a good time on your trip? It doesn't sound as though you are having one tonight (or today.) I could probably think of all sorts of trite platitudes to say to you, if I were to put my mind to it, but sometimes it is better to be quiet. My sympathies to you. And thank-you - most people are not usually so open or unguarded. I will leave you with this though: no matter how much something hurts, it will almost always be at least a little bit better tomorrow. Goodnight.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Open and unguarded nothing. You should see what I didn't write about.

But thanks.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Sandy said...


Lunchstealer and I are from just across 81 from Staunton (pronounced Stanton). We had a rather more bucolic time there, until our dad moved us to South Carolina. By comparison VA looked lovely.

Then again, I never lived down near Norfolk, nor did I ever have much of a desire to. I do like First Landing State Park, though. Saw three red-bellied water snakes having an orgy.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

My only experience with Virginia was a decidedly hellish couple of weeks, running afoul of their nice-in-concept but terribly-broken-in-practice state-supported mental-health program, and the corrupt legal system that developed around it.

Remember, about 7 or 8 years back, when the FBI started raiding and closing down mental-health clinics all over the state (and into the Carolinas a bit, as I recall)? That was me - I started it all.

Furthermore, I had to explicitly lay it out for them - the agent I originally talked to didn't see why it fell under FBI jurisdiction. Once I pointed out interstate wire fraud, insurance fraud, kidnapping & state-sponsored extortion, and a suborned judiciary - with tape-recorded evidence - they kicked it "upstairs", and literally made a federal case out of it...

Unfortunately, not soon enough to help my spouse. The FBI didn't get back to me on that for several months. Instead, I canceled our health insurance coverage, and told the hospital that I wouldn't pay for treatment that we initially stated we refused. Since the state-paid initial three days had expired, they eventually decided it was a money-losing situation, and let my spouse out after two weeks in the lock-down ward.

This, after the head psychiatrist explicitly told me (I recorded it on one of those tiny voice-activated dictation machines) that the symptoms were so severe, it would probably take as much as six months to treat. Coincidentally, six months was as much as our insurance would cover...

I then swore that the dust and grime of that benighted State would never again soil the bottom of my shoes.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I was in Virginia once; I spent nearly a year in Newport News, attached to an aircraft carrier undergoing an overhaul and refueling. I didn't think much of Newport News or Norfolk, but the climate there along the coast seemed nice. I have always been kind of sorry that I didn't take the opportunity to tour Washington, DC or to go see some of the historic sites in the area. I was on half-pay at the time, so... And I am truly sorry now that I never went to see Colonial Williamsburg, though I would not have had much interest in such a place back then. Oh well, spilt milk and all that.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Not to dump more issues at your feet, Jennifer. Every "ordinary citizen" I met in Virginia was a wonderful human being - including (especially) the poor saps wrongly committed in that hospital.

It was just the various "public officials" (law-enforcement, judiciary, and administrative) that were so unbelievably callous and corrupt - and, of course, the Lawyers.

It turned out that there were only three lawyers in the entire state who "handled" such cases in the Richmond area. All others would refer you to them. All three had the same patter: "Its probably just a matter of the right paperwork. We'll get it all filled out and submitted, and they generally release the patient in a couple of days. Ten thousand dollars, up front, to get it started."

Heck, I knew the Doctor's name and address (still know it, in fact - his office sent us a card indicating where his new practice was, after he was ousted as head of psychiatry at the hospital). For ten thousand, I'm pretty sure some more-satisfying arrangement could have been found with the shrink. But, I'm a fundamentally benevolent, law-abiding sort... so I had to solve things legally, but in spite of the law.

Jennifer, I recommend enjoying the lovely people, then heading elsewhere. West Virginia is beautiful, and the Tamarack Center (off I-70, if I remember correctly) is an incredible Mecca of crafts. Not cheesy wood-and-cloth knick-knack, but true craftsmanship. We got a hand-made dagger with a Damascus-steel blade, carved oosik handle, and a mammoth's tooth pommel cap, for under two hundred. I think there are fewer than a score of people in the world that still make hand-crafted Damascus steel.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I think there are fewer than a score of people in the world that still make hand-crafted Damascus steel.

I hate like hell to contradict you, Anne, but you are mistaken - lotsa smiths still make handcrafted Damascus steel and not only for blades. I should know - I'm a blacksmith among other things. Check it out here.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

or here.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

By any chance, Anne, were any of those Virginia hospitals run by the Charter corporation?

And being the one who "started it all" is definitely something to be proud of.

6:10 PM  

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