theresa

I love you, sis.

Theresa. May 13, 1969-May 6, 2015.

You big-headed galoot.

My eldest sister, Theresa, and I were watching Looney Tunes one day, and Yosemite Sam called Bugs Bunny a “long-eared galoot.” We thought the phrasing was hilarious for some reason.

It also sounded like a Robinson-worth insult. Before the day was over, one of us called the other a big-headed galoot. It stuck.

For years and years, we called each other that. Depending on the situation it was the beginning of the fight, the escalation of an argument or a greeting.

On Wednesday, my big-headed galoot left me. Theresa died of complications from multiple sclerosis a week before her 46th birthday.

Although we were 14 years apart, we were incredibly close. She named me while my mother was still out of it and my dad wasn’t at the hospital yet. I was almost always invited to tag along whenever she hung out with her friends. It’s part of the reason why I know so much about ’80s culture and identify more with the Xers. She loved anything that was purple and, of course, loved Prince and his “Purple Rain” — the film, album and song. I co-opted her love of Prince, because I really had no choice, and you can see me on occasion singing Theresa’s favorite song at karaoke.

I proudly crashed her prom photos to the point that, 14 years after I was born, she had a kid and, 14 years after her prom, she drove over to our mom’s house and plopped that kid front and center for one of my prom photos. For us, it never was about winning the battle, it was about winning the war.

I was an exceptional tattler, but I could play being the innocent one. I once slipped and fell into a pond. After being pulled to safety, Theresa got me somewhere to take a shower and all my clothes were washed. The entire time, I swore, I absolutely swore that it was between the two of us. As soon as we got home, I told my mom that Theresa didn’t watch me well enough so I fell in a pond.

I was grinning the entire time I wrote that previous paragraph.

Because of Theresa, I am the silent treatment champion. I can guarantee I won’t crack first because I discovered that she couldn’t bear the thought of her baby brother never speaking to her again.

Because of Theresa, I can be sneaky as all get-out. Ask me how to get down a creaky staircase, out the front door and into the car without making a sound.

Because of Theresa, I can not only keep a secret, but be loyal enough to rub it in your face all day and all night and never tell. She once told me a secret. It will go to my grave.

Because of Theresa, I always had someone there for me.

There were times that you would think we were twins because of how much we thought alike. You would think we already had 14 years of stories and adventures by the time I was 4. But, despite learning every conceivable way of annoying her in the greatest possible way, I considered her my second mom.

She not only saw me off to my first day of kindergarten, she sobbed at the bus stop because her baby brother was growing up. Whenever our parents weren’t around and something happened, she could switch gears in a flash. It was obvious when she was in Mom Mode. Sibling fun and games were definitely over.

But she was also irresponsible enough to think letting a 10-year-old drive her car because she was hungover and wanted some seafood. I promptly steered into a ditch because I didn’t realize you really, really had to turn the steering wheel.

That was another tattletale moment.

One day, Theresa met a boy and moved with him to Maryland and then got married. I was despondent for days because my sister left me. But, thanks to the wonders of 1990s technology, she was only a (short) long-distance call away. I got used to her being the disembodied voice and looked forward to every summer.

Not long after school let out, we’d pack up some of my things and we start the long, three-hour drive up U.S. 17 to U.S. 301 and then to Lexington Park, Maryland. Sometimes, we would meet halfway at the Burger King in Tappahannock to switch cars. After years and years of it at least being a food and bathroom waypoint, it took me until 2002 to take a look around the town.

In Lexington Park, in those apartments that are now called St. Mary’s Landing, it was like we’d only been apart for a day. But, as I got older, it fully sank in that she was an adult and I couldn’t expect her to pause around age 26 until I caught up.

It sank in more when we learned she was pregnant with my nephew Tré. I was there that summer in 1997. I was in the hospital in Leonardtown, Maryland, the day he was born. I held him in my 14-year-old arms.

Although that was a great day, it was the beginning of the end. Unbeknownst to us, Theresa was beginning to show the symptoms of MS. Once we figured it out, we were told not to worry because, although it wasn’t treatable, it was manageable to the point that she could live a long, relatively healthy life. It was helpful that she had the relapsing-remitting form, they said. Never mind that one of the first bouts effectively paralyzed her for a while. So we went about our business: Theresa moved back to Hampton in 1998. My niece Shonda was born a year later. The new family had a house built. My nephew Michael was born. Although I had no idea where I’d go for college and where I’d be beyond that, I began thinking about how I’d stop by one day, watch the kids play and tell my sister about some ridiculous college story as we sipped on beers.

Instead, the disease turned malignant. She tripped and fell one night, breaking her ankle. She was in a wheelchair while it healed, but that night was the last one in which she was able to walk. We still kept our spirits up. It would be nothing for me to stop by while I was in college at Christopher Newport University to push her out of her house on Allison Sutton Drive, guide her into my car tell her some ridiculous college story and head to get cheesesteaks, a Smitty’s Better Burger with cheese, Dairy Queen or, our nostalgia food, Taco Bell.

But, by then, she was losing the ability to use any of her limbs.

Back in the early ’90s, when she got married, I was to keep her from stress eating to the point that she couldn’t fit in her wedding dress. I was still in Fat Elliott mode, so hells yes, let’s go to Taco Bell at 12:45 a.m. She barely fit in her dress.

By the time I was packing up to head to Petersburg, she was effectively bedridden. And her husband was headed to Stafford and then Hawaii with the kids. Theresa wound up at my mom’s house in what was our dining room/den because my mom doesn’t have a first-floor bedroom. One of my first memories is of her celebrating her 16th birthday roughly in the spot her hospital bed occupied.

It was strange. This time, I was the one in a different area code calling the sibling in my mother’s house. She had a custom-made wheelchair by then and my mom had a hard time transporting her for anything more than doctor’s visits because of it unless she made arrangements with someone to haul it. In retrospect, a van wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

That didn’t stop me. When I came to visit, I would sometimes wheel my sister out to my car and we’d at least go for a ride.

Then things worsened again. Not long after Grandma died in 2008, MS struck Theresa’s vocal cords. My sister — who, after fighting, was best known for yelling and cussing — was silenced. After nearly 25 years of feedback, I didn’t know what to say to her beyond idle updates. My time with her was reduced to sitting by her bedside in silence as the TV blared.

For about seven years, my trips home have been to see nearly every trace of my sister disappear into that atrophied shell. I didn’t start mourning her loss when Ma called while I was driving on High Street between Park and Seventh streets in Charlottesville — I’ve been mourning my sister for all those years.

Despite that, I still wasn’t ready for her death. Before her diagnosis, I thought I’d be at least 70 when I had to think about burying Theresa. I hoped for the chance that someone, somewhere would find at least a partial cure. Instead, I’ll see her in person one last time on Thursday, the day after her birthday.

I miss my sister. I’ve missed my sister with every ounce of my being for years, but she’s now free of that damnable disease. And we made the most of the short time we had together.

I love you, Theresa.

You big-headed galoot.

‘imagine your worst nightmare times 15’

Because of the Super Bowl, and “All N My Grill” being in my head for about six months, I grabbed Missy’s first two albums when I went to my mom’s house last week. I have a spindle with some hip-hop and R&B albums I “retired” from my collection after my tastes changed began drifting away from what I considered my jams back in middle and high school, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been reclaiming albums as of late. I’ve been chalking it up trying to cling to my youth after a few years of being well on the wrong side of 25 and attempting to right the wrong of abandoning entire genres of music because I was becoming “educated” and “cultured.”

Thursday afternoon, I finally got around to popping in Da Real World and it wouldn’t play. I was adamant that it wasn’t scratched, so naturally, I started cursing at Nicole’s radio, which I plan on replacing within the next 12 months anyway. I finally inspected it to discover that there was some schmutz on it so I licked my finger and wiped it off, because I’m a grownup now. About a decade ago, I would have licked the entire CD. I was almost at work at that point, so I decided to wait until after work to give it an official spin.

I took a different route home than normal, and I’ve completely forgotten the track order, so the string sample I was looking for started (about 45 second into the video at the head of this entry) when I was less than half a mile from my house. I decided that I’d ride around until the song was over, which led me to 10th Street Northeast and East Market at about 11:30 p.m. While I was waiting for the light to change, a disheveled young man clad in a superb blue blazer, a bow tie, boat shoes, khakis — you know, the whole nine yards — started crossing the street to where there was no sidewalk.

“Where the hell is that UVa student going?” I asked myself as I realized he was walking to my car.

It happens a lot. I have a black Nissan Altima, a.k.a. the black Lincoln Town Car private taxi of the teens. I’ve largely stopped driving down Water Street on weekends, because every time my car is stopped for any reason by the Downtown Mall, I get hailed. There’s been more than one occasion that a drunk person has tried to get in. I’m glad my doors lock automatically.

I turned the music down (I didn’t want to because ALL N MY GRILL) and was about to tell him I wasn’t a taxi when I saw that he was more distraught than disheveled.

“How close am I to the Corner?” he asked.

The Corner, the restaurant-retail strip on University Avenue opposite the University of Virginia, unofficially begins at 14th Street Northwest. The grid starts over downtown, and I’ve long suspected that some wayward UVa students see the numbers going up regardless of which direction they go on Main Street and assume they’re heading the right way until they reach worst combination of them all: dark and unfamiliar.

“Dear God, that’s like two miles that way,” I replied, pointing west.

“Isn’t it just another left up here?” He was standing by the front passenger-side door. I could smell the booze on him.

“No, you keep going that way and you end up at the river.”

“Oh my God, how did I get this far?” In an apologetic way, he eventually asked if I could drive him to the Corner.

I cleared off the stuff I piled in the seat and told him to get in. I wasn’t worried as was obviously a student, waifish it wasn’t the first time I’ve given a stranger a ride since I’ve had my license.

My wife is going to yell at me about that.

I headed down Water and the student mentioned that the Corner was just to the left, which would have been his right a few moments before when he said it was another left. At this point, “left” was the railroad tracks and the Belmont-adjacent neighborhood that has been renamed the Strategic Investment Area because it’s about to be gentrified by way of bulldozer.

I pointed out that we were passing the bus station and the Downtown Mall was to our right. He calmly freaked out while texting. He told me he though he was on his way to a friend’s place in the Flats @ [sic] West Village. I asked if he wanted to be dropped off there, but he was adamant about going to the area of the Jimmy John’s on the ground floor of what is about to be The Graduate Hotel.

“This is bad. I’m not even that drunk. This has been a bad year.”

“What’s been going on with you?” My first thought was that I had a suicidal student on my hands.

“It’s been a bad year,” he repeated. “You know, with everything that happened. I live in Kellogg. Hannah lived with us.”

He was referring to Hannah Graham, a second-year UVa student who authorities say was abducted and murdered by Jesse Matthew Jr. after wandering from the Corner area to the Downtown Mall a few months back.

“They never gave us all counseling, just the people who lived with her and her friends,” he continued. “We were just … we needed someone. … They never told us how to get back and now here I am. Thank you for taking me back.”

“No problem. It happens. If I had a dollar for every time I wondered how I got back to my place in college …”

“No, this is really bad. Oh God, I know where I am now. I was so far off. … You’re not a taxi, are you?”

“No, I work at the paper, I was on my way home from the newsroom and just happened to take the long way.”

“Oh God, that’s even worse. This is a nightmare. Imagine your worst nightmare times 15. That stuff happens with Hannah and I have to get a ride back to the Corner … no offense.”

None taken.

I pulled over at a loading zone on Main between 13th and 14th Northwest. I asked if he was going to be OK. He said he was going to be fine now that he was back, apologized again and insisted on giving me his last three bucks. He eventually headed into the 24-hour convenience store on the block tapping away on his phone. There were some cops nearby. I hoped he’d be OK and set off for home.

I’ve been home about two hours now. Although I’m certain one of his texts before he got out of the car was “He dropped me off near Boylan,” I’m a little worried. I also feel a little queasy.

If I had a dollar for every time in college I’ve wondered where I was or barely know how I got home, I’d be a wealthy man. I wandered around Savannah, Georgia, drunk and alone about seven years ago. It was my first time there. It wasn’t a problem.

Nine times out of 10 nothing bad happens. Drunk twentysomething Elliott wandered home or back to where he was staying. Sober thirtysomething Elliott drives Drunk UVa student back to UVa Adjacent.

But.

I now really, really want Charlottesville to rename the northeast numbered streets.

I can’t stop thinking about what could have happened to that kid if I didn’t want to hear some Missy. I can’t stop thinking about how numbered streets ascending in both directions in an entertainment district could lead to huge problems. I can’t stop thinking about how something as simple as NE or NW on a street sign might have contributed to Hannah Graham’s demise.

I’m sure that guy’s vomiting into a friend’s toilet right about now or will be in about eight hours, but I’m still fretting a little. We don’t think about the consequences of something bad happening when we’re wastefaced when we’re feeling invincible in our undergraduate years. I guess I’m concerned because of all the “Dude, you were so drunk and stupid” dollars I would have amassed from my time at Christopher Newport University.

When I posted the abridged version of this on Facebook, one of the comments was, “You’re officially a grownup.”

I guess I am.

Stay safe out there.

down in nashville, tennessee

I want to live in a place (again) that has a song people were familiar with at some point in history.

For this year’s trip to commemorate Renée’s birthday, we decided to head south. Ultimately, we went to Alabama to go to her parents’ house, but, officially, this was a trip to Nashville.

Because I wanted an excuse to post this song.

Since the vast majority of my travels have been along the East Coast from Boston to Miami, this is only the third time I’ve been outside of this time zone. For shame, I know. I never got used to Central Standard Time, so I got up at about 8 a.m. every single day of this adventure.

It wasn’t an enormously action-packed trip, but I made a point to take notes. I’m toying with making this one giant post; it took me a decade to realize turning trips into miniseries makes them populate in reverse chronological order. We’ll just see what happens when I get to the end of being in Nashville.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Dec. 26

Traffic in Tennessee is weird.

I know, I saw that about every driver I encounter whenever I go out of Virginia. I even say that about Virginians. I have no idea who I managed to get through biking and driving in Hampton Roads alive.

But, seriously, it was odd as we headed down Interstate 40. It appears that people there take the left lane being the passing lane seriously and take it upon themselves to enforce that rule.

I hung out in the left lane because I run about 9 mph over the speed limit nowadays, especially when the speed limit is 70. I call it “keep it under reckless.” I was passing people all over the place, but if I camped out there too long, someone would tailgate me so I yielded.

Next to no one passed me when I did that.

They’d get behind me and fall back. Like way back.

Then I’d catch up to someone in the slow lane, get in the passing lane, pass four cars in rapid succession and then someone who doesn’t pass me pulls up to my rear again.

The last time something like this happened when I was in the Further South, I sped up instead of holding my ground or getting out of the way. I got a speeding ticket for my trouble.

Aha. I see what you’re trying to do there.

I may not be from ’round these parts, but fool me twice …

Also, outside of Knoxville, I wound up in near-standstill traffic for miles. Once I got to the scene of the action, it was a single cop who pulled over three bikers.

Ugh.

Surprisingly, we arrived at our hotel (we made a left at the strip club at the end of the exit; it was like I was back in Richmond) precisely when my 100-song playlist ended. The night before, I screwed up the booking and had to call the front desk.

Apparently, they screwed up as well when I changed the date to the correct one.

We got a pretty sweet suite for the same price. I wanted to live there. All that was missing was a stove. We had complimentary cookware, but there wasn’t even a hot plate. (I’ll add photos later.)

After we got settled in, we walked a few blocks down the curiously named Demonbreun Street (apparently, it was de Montbrun at some point) to a Puerto Rican restaurant, Salsa. Since ’twas the night after Christmas, we were the only ones there. The food was great and, obviously, so was the service.

We nearly went out that night, but Renée was tired. I swore that I wasn’t, but I didn’t make it to 2 a.m. Or maybe it was 1 a.m. Who knows.

Dec. 27

I woke up at 8 a.m. to discover that Renée was already at breakfast on the ground floor. We both got up as if we were going to work. As I was getting myself together, I checked my phone. My heart then skipped a beat.

I had an allergic reaction. Come downstairs.

My biggest fear in the entire world is that I bring some allergen home or she eats something by accident, she has an allergic reaction and then I’m a widower. She swears she’s fine if I eat certain things, but the two times I ate fish in Charlottesville, I took a shower afterward. I stayed on the other side of the house and scoured my face and teeth the two times I ate pecans.

I threw on a shirt and my shoes then ran to the lobby. Her eyes were extremely irritated and some other minor issues that weren’t life-threatening.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

The front desk apologized profusely, bought her eye drops and offered to change the sheets. We were heading out that day anyway, so that was unnecessary.

Since we had a few hours before checkout, Renée tried to sleep off her troubles.

I decided to get a haircut.

I had meant to get one before we left, but Shaunelle visited the day I was going to go. As we were going to my in-laws, I decided I needed to look more presentable. I’ve fallen out of my habit of getting my hair cut every two weeks because of my No Shave Till Wedding campaign in January, and I was definitely overdue.

Through the power of Google Maps, I blindly headed a few miles north of the hotel in the dreary day. After cruising down a street with an unusual number of barber shops that were all closed, I spied a squat, brick building with a sign saying it was open.

According to the name painted on the window, this was Craighead Barber Shop. It looked like it was where old men got their hair cut. I like older barber shops.

I was right on the money.

The was a lone old man cutting hair. As I walked in, I could smell the ancient wood paneling. Hits from the ’70s were playing on a boombox propped a few feet above the worn red and black tiles on the floor. There was organized chaos on the back counter.

The wait was two old men deep, so I sank down in one of the red pleather chairs below faded hairstyle guide posters. The only sounds were an early Saturday local news show on the 13-inch TV in the rear, the buzz of the clippers and Midnight Train to Georgia.

The sun appeared, we reached the warmest part of this trip. I played Git It Awn on the way back to the hotel as I checked myself out in the mirror.

When I returned, it was time to check out. The front desk apologized yet again for something in the room causing an allergic reaction. Then they comped the room. I still can’t believe it. I mean, it wasn’t the Ritz-Carlton or anything, but it was the most I’d ever shelled out for a room. Because of how attentive they were, I would totally stay there again … but it probably would screw up Renée’s face again.

We were going to meet one of Renée’s sorority sisters for brunch later, so we did some sightseeing. By happenstance, I almost got to where Dave and I crashed last year when my friends Tim and Cathy lived with some of The Wooly Mamas. I couldn’t lead you to that house for $1 million, though.

Renée was a right as the rain that began to fall by the time we arrived at Noshville, followed by a trip to one of the area malls and an order of hot chicken to go. After that it was a long slog in the rain to Alabama.

I was filled with trepidation. Renée’s reassurances notwithstanding, this was my first prolonged period with them. This was Do Not Screw This Up. They’re really relaxed. It was fine. Mr. Walker’s like a sillier, more outgoing Renée.

Considering how ridiculous I am, the world should fear the precocious creature(s) we eventually set out into the world.

I have no idea what to call my in-laws. I’ve mastered the art of not using people’s names. I can keep this up for years.

Once again, we considered going out. To do what in northern Alabama, I do not know. Instead, I watched a college bowl game with my father-in-law, and then, when Renée all but went to bed, watched an episode of Archer.

If at any point in my life up until this weekend you told me that visiting my in-laws’ house for the first time would entail snickering at Archer with my wife’s father, I would have called you a liar to you big, fat, lying face full of lies.

I went to bed with a sigh of relief. Then woke up at 8 a.m. again because that’s what we do now.

At this point, 9/8c is less than eight hours from now. I better not. I better not.

Dec. 28

The next day, I continued my unhealthy food tour with Bojangle’s. Eating horrible-for-your regional foods or fast food I can’t get at home is a road trip tradition. Sometimes, it’s the sole point of the trip.

Afterward, Mr. Walker ferried one of Renée’s sisters, Joy; her beau; Renée; and me to a local mall.

In a minivan.

“We’re going on a double date with my dad,” Renée said with a laugh.

After some sightseeing, Renée was down for the count with her second migraine of the day. I went down for dinner and hung out with the family for a while. I had two long conversations with my mother-in-law. She means well and her beliefs are unshakable. As a whole, they are not supplementary family members I gained on June 22. They are undeniably complementary. Like with my mom, I kinda wish they were a little closer.

Once again, I tried to hang with the family late into the night, but I’m an old man now and I had a long drive ahead of me. Again, I’m still surprised I’m awake now. That Mountain Dew I had in Bristol is probably the culprit.

I do not want to know how many typos are in this entry. If I had a Mortal Kombat-esque energy bar over my head, my editing skills would be one more punch (or PBR) from FINISH HIM!

I’ll fix them in the afternoon when I upload the photos.

Dec. 29

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

RockCity. RubyFalls. Fireworks.

RockCityRubyFallsFireworks.

ROCKCITYRUBYFALLSFIREWORKS.

ROCK CITY

RUBY FALLS

FIREWORKS.

ROCK! CITY!

RUBY! FALLS!

FIRE! WORKS!

ROCKFALLS! RUBYWORKS!

¡FIRE CITY!

G!E!

O!R!

G!I!

A!!!

TEN!

NES!

SEE!

!

I refuse to link to those attractions.

Our goal was to get home by 9. We got home at 10:30.

The Volunteer State struck again.

Other than the ubiquitous ads for the two main Lookout Mountain attractions that began near Scottsboro, Alabama, and sundry pyrotechnic supermarkets that drove Renée crazy, there was a massive traffic jam in Chattanooga.

We tried to select an alternative route, but Google Maps’ navigation kept insisting we get on I-24 in the middle of the jam.

Finally, at a traffic light, I took matters in my own hands and created my own route.

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. I timed the distance between an imaginary place in my novel and a real place someone had less than 30 minutes to reach. It’s impossible in 2007 without going over 80 mph. I’m going to adjust that to 35. I did it in 38 at about 78 mph and a few slowdowns. I think 35 is doable on a dry day with light traffic.

And here we are. It’s now after 3 a.m. and, if you don’t count this as Tuesday yet, I have two vacation days yet before the big, fantastic changes in 2015.

This certain has been a ride, figuratively and literally.

Here’s to this year going out in style, and hopefully, a lot of hours of sleep before it’s back to the newsroom.

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

there will be photos

Our story starts in Richmond on Friday, because of course my wedding had to involve Richmond in some form or fashion. I headed back to my old stomping grounds in Church Hill to have my favorite, formerly friendly neighborhood, barber cut my hair. He went out of his way to make it into the glorious beard you can see in the photo I posted yesterday. It was the most intense barber visit I’ve ever had. Ben having to work his way through more than four months of unbridled hair growth probably aided in that.

Afterward, my destination was Craig’s house. My mom’s bus arrived in Richmond on Saturday and I figured the easiest way to do everything was to just be in Richmond already. Also, I had no idea exactly how any sort of bachelor party would happen so I thought being in Richmond one day and Charlottesville the other would be the best course of action.

It would have helped if I remembered to charge my phone.

While my phone was dead, Craig and I went to Friday Cheers downtown to see St. Paul and The Broken Bones. I needed a good concert in my system. Of course I have their album now. We got drinks afterward with some friends. I would have grabbed more people but my phone was beyond doornail at this point. After that, I got a pretty good night’s sleep. I’m glad I did because I needed it Saturday.

Where do I start with Saturday? Would it be me slightly fretting over not getting a refund back yet from the University of Virginia? Would it be me being in Richmond way, way longer than I expected? Would it be getting to the reception hall late and the Fry’s Spring Beach Club’s coordinator freaking out because there was miscommunication? Would it be that we never got a chance to map out moving the wedding entirely there? Would it be at 6 a.m. Sunday, when I thought everything was fine until the food arrived entirely too early?

I think some people will talk about how stressed out I was for quite a while.

But it all worked out. At UVa, the trees in the garden contracted fire blight, a disease that makes them look like they’ve been burned. The best plan of action to save the entire tree is to aggressively cut the portions that were stricken. It’s currently a lovely promenade of half-dead sticks. Additionally, the forecast varied wildly from high 90s and incredibly humid, like some days in the middle of last week; mid-80s and stormy, like some of the later days last week; and a what seemed like an impossibility: times of clouds and sun with a high of 78.

That was exactly what we got.

Despite the torrential rains, dead trees, panic and literal last-minute changes, our wedding was outdoors with living trees on the second most pleasant day so far this June. The first was 75 and partly cloudy on June 1, this blog’s anniversary.

Much of the day is a blur, obviously. But it was such a great day in Fry’s Spring. Some people I have known for years mentioned that until Sunday, they hadn’t seen me smile that much. Or ever. Of course I was: I told myself 12 years ago I was going to marry that woman and here we are! It was the happiest day of my life thus far.

And I had a pincord suit with a matching hat. And white shoes.

The next day, yesterday, was my birthday and it was more of us starting to catch our breaths. We’re continuing that today. I can’t remember the last time I hadn’t done more than go out on the deck by 2:40 p.m.

Well, I bet you’re looking for photos. As I said in the title, there will be photos. A ton of them are on Facebook and I’m giving people a day or so to send me their favorites to the wedding email before I go through them all and post some. Also, I should have some from Ryan next week or so.

Other than that, I need to get that typewriter fixed so I can start sending out thank you letters.

And get ready for work Thursday.

the less than epic adventures of elliott and dave

A few years ago, I promised Falyn’s future siblings-in-law, Tim and Cathy, that I would visit them. They lived in Manassas at the time.

Years passed. They moved to Nashville.

It may take me a while, but I make good on my promises.

I hit the road last Friday with Dave, who was a coworker until earlier that week. He lived in Nashville before and offered to come with me. I was looking for someone to come along, as I figured one person wasn’t going to make it and another said he couldn’t (but swears I never asked him because he’s full of lies).

I was a sub-supervisor of sorts to Dave. I got to direct his work at times but he was in theoretically in another department in the same newsroom. If I were inclined, I could draw an organizational chart but I’m making an effort to not be as boring as I am. It’s not going so well. If you know me, you know I’m not only drawing this chart in my head, I’m choosing the typography.

But I digress.

Somehow, Dave and I became friends. It was probably our mutual love of music and hatred of everything else. And everyone.

On the way down, we passed through the area that’s the setting of my novel. Since we didn’t take U.S. 58 through Grayson Highlands State Park, this doesn’t fully count as the final redo of that trip. I had forgotten how beautiful it is down there, though, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing it up.

Hours later, we were in Knoxville. We waited until Tennessee to get lunch because I needed to be out of Virginia before I stopped. That took a lot of effort since I’m more that 200 miles northeast of Bristol.

Ah, the joys of living in a deceptively large triangular state.

Dave led us to some place downtown and we wandered around on foot to find food. We wound up at a gastropub. Stevie Ray Vaughn blasting. ESPN deconstructing an injury. Ham and cheese sandwich with an unexpected over easy egg tucked inside. Charming accents.

We then went to the Sunsphere. On the way there, I wondered if having the World’s Fair was like having the Olympics as far as decaying remnants an a hit to the municipal budget. Knoxville did a good job of redeveloping the area but I did expect the sphere to be a bit more prominent. I did the touristy things and took a few photos from the top, which were nearly the only photos I took. I made a point to use my phone sparingly and I have noticed that people are beginning to experience things but staring at their phones the entire time.

Surprisingly, there wasn't a wig to be found

I was going to fix these photos to compensate for the gold window tint and such but, no.

Since it's in the Great Valley, I think you can typically see the Great Smoky Mountains.

Apparently, one of the Sunsphere’s selling points is that, on a clear day, you can see the Great Smoky Mountains.

Finally, after about eight hours and another time zone, Nashville. It was my longest drive since my four-hour retreat from Jacksonville last summer.

It was fun.

Especially after I purchased this

Later, I had it aged in an oak barrel and it was delicious.

It tastes like sweat and regret. Don’t ask what the spice is.

BECAUSE HOW COULD I NOT BUY THIS?

Later that night, I was in an airport, as Cathy was coming back from Mississippi. I should not have been in an airport at that time.

Even later, we headed to Five Points and I met up with a friend from Richmond who was visiting his sister. Because you should understand how my life is a closed loop at this point.

I may as well point out now that, because Dave is the type of person I hang out with, I’ve explained this weekend to a good chunk of the staff already, including taking a brief nap in a Subway/gas station. It’s a good thing that journalism is the least professional profession.

The next day, I had Nashville hot chicken from Prince’s, which is apparently awesome. Hot chicken was great and, due to my fingers being greasy, the photos never happened.

If you don’t know what hot chicken is, it’s fried chicken with a spicy breading. I presume it is marinated in it because it’s spicy through and through.

You know how I love my spicy food. I need this shizz in Virginia, like yesterday. Or I need to move to Nashville because, by this point, I totally had a mancrush on the city. It’s now my third favorite city after New York (2) and Richmond (1). Sorry, New Orleans.

Anyway, I just discovered there is Nashville hot fish and I now wish I had it since Renée is allergic to fish and SHE HAS NO IDEA HOW MUCH OF A SACRIFICE I HAVE MADE TO NOT EAT FISH SO SHE DOESN’T DIE. THE DEGREE OF HOW BADLY I WANT A CATFISH, TROUT, WHITING OR SALMON RIGHT NOW IS LITERALLY MAKING ME TWITCH.

But I digress.

Later in the day, Tim and I headed to a brewery to see 2/3 of his roommates play. They are called the Wooly Mamas. They’re pretty rad and from Manassas, hence why Isaac and Tim know them. Remember: My life is a poorly written Charles Dickens novel.

The beer here is delicious.

Another example of my lack of desire to take great photos this weekend.

Afterward, we headed to a house party since it was one of the band members’ birthday. We were supposed to start there and bar hop but the cabs never came. Eventually, we worked our way back to the house and, the next morning, it was time to head back to Charlottesville.

I would say the weekend went too fast but it was basically a day longer than any trip I’ve ever taken to New York and New Jersey. Speaking of that, I haven’t been to Newark or New York in more than a year. I used to say a year without being in New York is a year wasted. I should visit some of my Jersey brothers on an extended weekend and head into the city. Also, I really need to head up to Boston one of these days. It’s a nine-hour drive. I now regret promising my mom I would spend an upcoming five days off in and around Hampton Roads. I do have three vacation days left though. …

But I digress.

I kinda wish I named this blog “but i digress” back in 2004.

The ride back was uneventful. Much like going to New Orleans with Joseph, Dave offered to drive part of the way. I declined. He did bring up another aspect of the weekend.

“Ready to move a couch when we get back at midnight?”

I had purchased Dave’s couch as we never got around to buying one, didn’t think one would fit and would like one when we have a full-sized house toward the end of the month.

I don’t know how I still had the strength to haul the couch out of Dave’s house and into my apartment. It managed to fit. It was in an odd spot until earlier this week. I was going to make it less awkward today — along with doing the dishes, cleaning the house and doing laundry — but only laundry happened. Today was my first true decompression day since the trip; the remainder of the chores have to wait till Sunday.

As I mentioned a couple of times before, Dave is heading to Oregon. I didn’t exactly know when he was leaving.

“Well, this probably is the last time we’ll see each other,” he said after we got his couch into my place.

He was right. I’m not going to Oregon just to visit him and he won’t come all the way this way to visit me. Since we both are degenerate transients, we’ll probably cross paths again by happenstance.

I did hope he wasn’t leaving so soon. I wanted a couple more evenings on his porch before I faced the reality that, despite having a handful of friends here, I don’t have a go-to person in Charlottesville at the moment.

“I’ll probably continue to harass you electronically,” he continued.

Ah, technology.

At least there’s that.

And then that was it. I grabbed the rest of my stuff out of my car. His station wagon rounded the corner and disappeared from view. I went inside.

If anything, last weekend showed me that, regardless of how long or short the relationship is, it is easy to have a profound effect on someone’s life. My innermost circle of friends consist of people with whom I know I could take a road trip or people I’d take a road trip to see.

Something will happen. Dave and I will cross paths again. For now, it’s time to focus on what adventures lie ahead. For starters, all this wedding stuff needs to be nailed down and this bachelor party in Cheyenne, Wyo., need to be planned.

Yes. Cheyenne.

I wonder if they have hot chicken.

RIVER NIGHTMARE

I just saw that as a headline (on a TV new outlet, of course). My first thought was that it was just … well … awful. We’re talking about real people’s lives, not some Sci-Fi (pardon, Syfy) original movie here.

Obviously, I’m feeling surly and I’m also trying very hard to pick and choose where I focus my malevolence. Where’s Pete when I need him?

That said, if you’ve been following this blog long enough, despite its lack of updates lately, I’m feeling normal.

I meant to update sooner. I mean it. I actually had things worth writing about but they’re no longer timely. I did see Bill yesterday, though. He finally had enough leave to come to Virginia and we decided to hang out for an entire afternoon and then get as many people together as we could that evening. It was up in the air for a while, as his grandfather just died, I had to beg to get Saturday off and we both had things to do today. But it was amazing. Absolutely amazing.

I think being away from Richmond makes going back there feel so much better. Either that or it’s just the act of going out and doing something. I can’t wait to have a larger space so I can have a party. As I get older, I’ve realized that I can be pretty quiet like an introvert but I need the recharge of a massive social situation like an extrovert. And I need road trips.

Last week, I drove to West Virginia for absolutely no reason. It was the first time since moving back from North Carolina last July that I’ve personally driven myself out of the state. Other than, I think, between getting my license at 15 and turning 18, that year had to have been the longest stretch I’ve ever had of not personally taking myself out of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I can’t do that again.

I’m taking my largest road trip since New Orleans in September. I’m driving to Nashville, possibly by way of North Carolina. I’m beyond excited and it’s mostly for the ride itself.

A year ago today, I was wandering around Richmond on foot, anticipating getting my life back together. I still had a few months ahead of me then.

Do you have any idea how odd it is to not feel like yourself for more than a year? That’s what made Saturday so great. I was cruising along Interstate 64. It was a beautiful day. I had all the windows down. I was wearing a seersucker blazer. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Renée was there but she’s about to go to Orlando for fun and, while she’s there, I’m vacuuming the floors, beginning to pack up the apartment and working. At some point we’ll get this whole having vacation days at the same time straightened out. It could have been earlier this summer if I knew I was going to have the surprise 10 calendar days off from work.

Well, it wouldn’t have been a surprise then, now would it?

I can’t remember why I started writing this entry in the first place. I think it was to vent some anger but I’m old enough to know better than to go full rage mode on the Internet. I think the act of writing itself was enough of a catharsis. And using 10¢ words like “catharsis.” And using a cent sign.

I still don’t know the source of my current writer’s block (despite this entry, I’m still calling the well currently dry). I haven’t been taking a lot of photos nor have I been posting to Facebook or Twitter regularly. This has been going on since before January, back when, if I went to a doctor, I probably would have been told I was clinically depressed. That’s a whole ‘nother entry entirely that I put off  because I didn’t want to talk about it then and, when I felt better, didn’t see the point of bringing it up.

But I digress.

Is it even possible to digress in this disjointed mess?

Anyway, I need this to stop. I miss writing, especially since I spend more than 40 hours a week surrounded by paper and ink. I lost track of the outline of the final change I need to make to my novel (remember that I was writing one? and have been since 2007 or so? and it’s still not completed but, in a way it is?) and I really want to get that done. I keep thinking about tricking myself into writing a killer query letter so I’m forced to finish because my future agent is waiting for the full manuscript. But that wouldn’t help anyone.

Especially one of the main characters in it.

For those of you who have read this far, I’m going to share something with you.

I created a character on Dec. 17, 1998. I named him Lorenzo Santiago Williamston because, when I took Spanish classes up until 10th grade, we had to pick a Spanish name to go by in class. I originally picked Santiago but changed to Lorenzo and stuck with it. I fancied an alter-ego of sorts named Lorenzo and I though I coined the last name of Williamston until I saw it was a city in North Carolina.

I first created a universe for all of my writing in 1993 and I ditched it all in 1997. I destroyed every single short story I had then and even considered being a business major instead of an English major. Then Lorenzo appeared and all but the “Asunder” story I wrote a couple of three weeks back have been in his world. Although Lorenzo has become an old friend, I had no intention of him being in my novel when I began it, which may be obvious when you first read it not that I’ve told you. When he did appear, I did decide that it would be the final time I wrote about him. I do wonder that I’m stalling to hold on to my friend a while longer.

But, even when the book is on a shelf somewhere, the story of Lorenzo Williamston isn’t over.

If and when I have a son, his middle name will be Wilson as an homage to my Uncle Wilson. That’s been settled for years. His first name will be Lawrence.

Over the years, Lorenzo has mentioned consequences of being named Lorenzo Santiago and not being Hispanic. I figured anglicizing his namesake was the least I could do as a parting gift.

I think that’s it. Once I hit save for the final time, that 15-year-old kid who grew up with me and became a journalist with me will no longer be mine.

But that’s the point. Unlike this blog, I created Lorenzo for you, not me. The absolute best thing I could do is share his universe.

After 14 years, 7 months, 12 days — 5,338 days and counting — it’s truly the least I could do.

It only took me 1100 words to get to what this entry was about.

it’s about durn time

I am beginning to feel my writer’s block break. I’m happy about that because I nearly said with all seriousness earlier this week that my novel was over, that I wasn’t going to do anything with it because I just wanted to write out a story and didn’t care if anyone actually saw it. That was a funny statement because it came not long after I dug the notebook in which the final revisions I scribbled out at 1 a.m. one night this winter reside.

For those of you who have been following my spotty updates about Brown River Blues since it began as a 25-part short story in December 2006 (that was set in the summer of 2007), this thing has gone from that short story to an expanded version of that short story to  novel-length short story that had no real plot to warrant it being so large to me weaving a plot into the holes to me now reaching the final phase of reconciling the actions of the actual plot with the spirit of the original short story.

Overall, it was (is?) a fun thing to write. At one point, I created a companion piece for my own edification (that I regretfully deleted) to help me flesh out characters. There is an entire universe for this book, especially for Lorenzo Williamston, that dates back to Dec. 17, 1998. I drew a map of the city Blues is adjacent to back then. There are landmarks, civic buildings, historic sites, people and items fixed in our own global narrative that have everything and nothing to do with Blues. One of Lorenzo’s closest friends lives in San Francisco and plays the violin as a hobby. None of that is mentioned in my novel. Three main characters share a hometown and mention events in a short story I wrote in college and what I wrote out in 1998-99. It feels good to have canon, to know why Lorenzo does what he does in 2007 because I know what he did as 1998 rolled into 1999. It feels good to have great chunks of things that happened before, during and shortly after the action in the current draft of Blues that have been cut from the text that still exist, apply and happen because, although they aren’t there, they’re still there. Although I told myself that this tale of 2007 marks the end of me writing about Lorenzo’s activities (as far as anything that happens to him after August 2008), it’s good to know what he’s been up to for the past seven years. The same for the character of G Scott Smith.

It’s fun to talk about it at times, even if it is one-sided and no one, including those who edited an early draft, have seen what the actual plot is. I vaguely recall texting Mandy what truly happens in the middle of the night once but I might be imaging things.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote a post this long. This block is breaking.

 

* * *

I’m 90 percent sure I know what caused the writing process to dry up within me. Well, there were several things . I know what a large problem was but I’m too polite to bring it up. I do have a modicum of decency left. It’s even been a while since I’ve used a word such as modicum.

I’m musing on what is causing me to regain my power.

It’s been gradual. Back in December, I mentioned that I’ve been in the category of “fake it till you make it” for a good chunk of 2012. That was the beginning of the reawakening; I’m sure of it. As of late, I’ve been feeling the hunger of righteous fury. Lee mentioned today that he liked that I’ve been getting progressively cynical. Angry, cynical Elliott who bangs out blog entries well over 600 words, sends his car screaming into the night with the windows down and obscure music blaring and had delusions of grandeur he can barely call delusion because they’re true is the  Elliott I know and love.

Hanging out with my fraternity brothers next weekend might be exactly what I need right now.

 

* * *

 

I got distracted for a bit here. I don’t think I mentioned it but Sasso works in Monmouth County, N.J., home of Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Asbury Park. During World War I, my maternal grandfather, who possibly was born in what is now Suffolk, Va., was stationed in New Jersey and two of his sisters lived in Asbury Park somewhere between the 1880s, when they were born (my grandfather was born in the 1890s) and the 1970s. I know we Elliotts are from the former Nansemond County and my grandfather was living in Hampton when he met Grandma. At some point, his two sister that I know of moved to Asbury Park.

I have a general idea of when they died and I possibly found relatives still living in Monmouth County. One of the sisters married a man with a very German last name so I think it’s safe to assume it’s my family I just found. When I wake up, I’m calling someone who might remember my Great Aunt Lillie and her sister, my Great Aunt Cora.

I’m visiting Sasso next weekend.

Once I establish these cousins, I’m moving on to tackling Grandma’s parents. Over the years, we keep getting her mother’s and her grandmother’s names confused. We have her father’s and grandfather’s down since her brother’s name is based on his father’s and at least one of my cousins is named after my great-grandfather (we were recycling names for a bit). When I visit my mom, my Aunt Betty says she was able to save some Robinson records from when her house caught fire.

Either way, I think it’s kind of cool that my grandfather was born at the start of Grover Cleveland’s second term and my Great aunts in his first and that George and Cora Elliott were born in either the 1850s or ’60s, possibly later as my grandparents had children late, hence the whole “I’m just turning 30 and my grandfather is way older than your grandfather” thing. My mom can’t top John Tyler’s grandkids with the whole “my grandfather was born in the 1790s” thing but we have three generations where there should be about five.

But I digress.

I need to go to bed so I can figure out a better way to start a phone conversation than, “I’m sorry to bother you, but are you related to? …”

march thirteenth

At some point, I stopped marking this day. I know I had a good reason when I stopped but I felt it prudent to bring it up today.

I’m actually cheating a little, as I’m writing this the night of March 11-12. But whatever.

As I’ve said numerous times before March 13 has been a major date in my life for several reasons. Growing up, I always confused March and May. Theresa’s birthday is May 13. I would always say it was March 13. My younger nephew, her child, was born March 13. I began my journalism career seven years ago on March 13. I inadvertently counted down to Grandma Elliott’s funeral five years ago, which was also the day I changed my name to Elliott in honor of her and my grandfather George.

I’ll never forget getting back in the limo after the graveside service and immediately being handed the signed court order making her surname my first name. It all seemed to come together as, whether she knew it or not, she’s the reason why I’m a journalist. When I’m at my laptop, I can look to my left and see a photo of her. It’s the one that fell down in this post.

It’s been seven years, SEVEN YEARS since I began being a journalist for real money (but, since I’m a journalist, it’s not “real money”). It’s been seven years since an impromptu trip to Florida ended with my first day of work. Seven years since we stopped, on our way to Florida, at Oaklawn Boulevard in Hopewell and I had no idea how right I was when I announced that exit soon being my where I went home. Despite everything, in some way, that is going to be  a home of sorts.

So much has happened in those seven years. It’s hard to believe I was some 22-year-old technically still in college and technically in my 23rd year. Becoming an adult was so much trial and error. Mostly error. Seven years ago, I was a wide-eyed, freshly minted reporter wondering if I made a horrible mistake in becoming a journalist. Seven years later, the hierarchy in a newsroom is Managing Editor > City Editor (when we’re working at the same time) > Me > Reporters. Some days, technically, the hierarchy is Me > Reporters. And this is after three years of somehow keeping a twice- and then thrice-weekly newspaper afloat.

I swear, I’ve seen more in seven years than some people in 17. That explains all the grey hairs sprouting all over the place.

Again, regardless of every awful thing that happened over the past seven years, I wouldn’t have been able to sit in peace here in Charlottesville on Monday morning if things were different. These bumps and bruises, tragedies and triumphs, spectacular wins and crushing defeats over the past seven years not only made me Elliott Robinson but the greatest of all Elliott Robinsons because of Grandma’s flippant response that I took to heart, especially when the chips were down:

It takes more than that to stop me.

I persevered through it all and wouldn’t have anything that happened happen any other way.