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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

An old mountain stream spills through the community of Papermill, TN and it contains a quiet link to an ancient mystery involving the ruined pyramids of Mexico’s Teotihuacan.  This elucidation seems at first to be completely random, however you will see that it is not.  The capitol, Mexico City was once the capitol of Colonial Spain, reconstructed from the demolished capitol of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan, and near Tenochtitlan are the ruins of Teotihuacan where the Aztecs arrived knowing nothing of why the people there had vanished and their existence destroyed.  So they gave it a name to mean, “the place of those who have the road of the gods,” and believed that perhaps the gods first built the city to meet and discuss the rest of creation.

Ashley and I are supposed to be in Mexico City today and we are not.  We rest in the outskirts of Bristol, beside the creek of Old Papermill which once fed a mill and ran beside an inn.  Three hillside churches stand today and old cabins and clapboard houses reach back into ridges going up Bear Hollow.

Ashley and I once climbed the temple steps and the Pyramids to the Sun and Moon which mirror the contours precisely of the mountains that rise behind them.  A people made this, leaving an account of their greatness as well as their tragedy.  It lingers, and as you climb the heights that only a high priest or his sacrifice could have seen, you are awakened to the fragility of wherever you came and whatever you know.

Then walking down the lane, “the Avenue of the Dead,” I committed a most profane act.  I collected a rock and put it in my pocket.  And perhaps even worse, on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, I collected another rock.  Pass your judgements, but do read on.  My argument: there had been obvious reconstruction and my volcanic rock was doubtlessly from a quarry in Mexico City.  Secondly: my momentos were less of a travesty than the peddlers selling keychains along the parking lot.  Archeological kleptomania is not a rare disorder, but it is a disgraceful one and I will tell you truthfully of its penalty.

Back at the hostel in the center of Mexico City, on the plaza of the Mexican capital and the Spanish Cathedral, where a society once forced another to destruct itself and rebuild from the rubble in the name of their new king and savior, we played a game of spades on the roof with our friends, Lyndsay and Joy from Tennessee.  I was getting a chill and went back for an extra shirt.  When I returned, I was shaking with fever.

Cautious that I should rest before our last two days in Mexico, I retired to the men’s dorm early and blamed it on too much sun.

That night I sweated through my sheets and labored to sleep until the girls came knocking.  They went out for the morning and I hoped a little more water and rest would help, but had never felt so strangely feverish in all my life.

In the afternoon Ashley knocked and woke me up.  I was wearing three layers of clothes and had stolen the blankets from every unoccupied bunk.  The girls were headed for the Frida Kahlo Museum, the Blue House, where the artist lived and worked with her husband and famous muralist, Diego Rivera.  It was unacceptable to me to miss this experience with Ashley and so I followed, in a most pitiful state.

It was not a short journey, multiple subway connections and a lengthy walk after that.  My museum pace is always much faster than Ashley’s and I buckled on a bench in the garden.  For a while I waited, wanting to envision the days of two great artists who had shared life in this space.  I had done all that I could.  Never telling the girls the extent of my state, I excused myself and promised I could navigate the way back.

I stumbled out of the museum and reached deep for a mentality to make it to out of this.  Quickly I was lost, confused, and near a feverish collapse on the sidewalks of Coyoacan.   A large market seemed to span everywhere and I asked directions to the subway.  Rounding each corner I always met the market again,  causing my submission and settlement to stop a cab.  In Spanish I asked, “How much to get downtown?”  It was completely unaffordable and I asked about the nearest subway stop.  He smiled and took me two blocks for next to nothing.  I’d been within 50 yards twice.

The subway system relies on pictures and colors more prominently than names, which is due to the large indigenous and illiterate population.  That explains how I made it, and if I’m honest, because Lyndsay wrote it all down for me too.

At the hostel I built myself a cave, filled a water bottle, and set up a prayer vigil to last until I could shudder myself to sleep.  Revolving roommates murmered about the dying American who hadn’t moved since anyone had been there.

There was knocking at some point and Ashley came in.  We were leaving the next afternoon and the bus station trek with luggage was unimaginable.  A 24 hour bus ride was something to remove from comprehension.

The following day the fever was so bad I couldn’t lift my backpack, or really even walk, and the hostel called us a cab for the bus station.  We boarded and Ashley covered me with everything we’d brought.  A day later we were standing on a bridge over the Rio Grande, me soaking wet, waiting in line to get through customs.

We had a very hard time getting across.  It took three hours, we were separately questioned, our bags rummaged, Ashley’s journal was even being read before I cleared my throat.  They kept asking, “So you’re both artists and you just went to Mexico for three months to travel?”   Ashley was carrying 15 small canvases in a plastic bag and I had a guitar, a bag full of books, two others full of fabric, and my large backpack comprised mostly of a colorful, handmade hammock big enough to drag the Tennessee.  We were certainly eclectic and ragtag, but not druglords.  The only threat we brought Texas was the plague I had battled with my soul for three days.

This is when things began to get very strange.  My energy returned and during the day I was somewhat fine, sharing tales with my cousin who lives in McAllen and spends plenty of time in Mexico.  But that evening I caught a fever with such swells that I could freeze my own sweat, see into the future, and ignite matches by having the idea.  Quickly it passed, vanishing like an afternoon mountain shower.

The South by Southwest Music Festival began in Austin, TX the next day.  A  good friend and old bandmate of mine who goes back like a brother was playing drums with American Analog, a band that had been accepted.  They had brought my keyboard from where I’d left it in Kentucky and I was supposed to meet them to learn the set.  Ashley and I left the border at 5AM for Austin, replaying the CD over and over.  A few hours later I was scratching out song charts in their hotel room when my fever came again from nowhere.  I made up an excuse and laid out in the car, wondering what medical explanation there could possibly be.  Ashley drove us around Austin until we found a Whole Foods Market and bought everything detoxing that science has given to nature.  Something worked.  We played that night like rockstar titans, celebrated, and headed our separate ways northward to Kentucky.

Reaching the other border of Texas, we decided to take Arkansas too.  In Memphis we pushed on to Kentucky as our drive passed under a second sunrise.  Later that morning we pulled into my grandmother’s feeling like Jack and Jill Kerouac.  She wasn’t home.  Surprise!

Later that afternoon I resumed my febrility and nothing in my mother’s cabinets could stop it.  I hid myself and let it pass.

We soon drove to Bristol and began working with Ashley’s dad to develop his store, Wired Ride Shop.  It had become my daily routine around 4 o’clock to go away somewhere and burn like a bomb calorimeter.  Ashley’s step-mom works at a hospital and I told her of my condition.  As she questioned me about anything unusual it was the first time I admitted to something out loud that had been in the back of my mind. A joke really, but maybe the only possible remaining explanation:

“Well… I did pick up some rocks from a sacrificial pyramid at the ruins of an ancient civilization which mysteriously reached its demise a very long time ago.”

She stared at me.

Now it was out.  Something I could say to taunt Ashley at the smallest bad news, like when we hit too many red lights.   “It’s the curse.”  She didn’t laugh and Sheila took it up with her pastor.  It had been nearly three weeks of my daily 4 o’clock fevers.  I got tired of it.

It wasn’t that I wanted my rocks so bad, it was the notion of believing it could be their fault and taking action about it.  What action?  Do I throw them in the trash and send the curse somewhere else?  Just drop them by a road or in the yard?  I decided to throw them in the Papermill stream.

I drove out Old Papermill to the little bridge at Bear Hollow Rd.  The stream runs quietly there, maybe a foot deep.  I know nothing of cleansing rites or metaphysical properties, I just didn’t want to possess the rocks. Whatever it was, maybe water could suppress it or wash it out to sea.

I held the rocks and looked at them.  They were reddish black, alarmingly light like frozen sponges and dimpled all over the surface.  This seemed so silly.  I reached back and threw them, one at a time, stood there, and went home.  I told Ashley what I’d done.  She was glad.

I didn’t get a fever that day.  I never got one again.

We stayed in Bristol from April until we could move back into our house in June.  Those days we worked hard to get the shop open, and I recorded in the basement for “Don’t Know How I’ll Eat but I’m Not Picking Your Peaches.”  Nearly every day I took a walk down Old Papermill to the bridge at Bear Hollow.  I would throw another rock each time.  Usually a chunk of limestone from alongside the road.  I would attach a piece of hope, release a fear, make a wish, say a prayer.  It was always a contemplative walk down the two lane highway and by the time I get there, I knew what to say.  I went every day we lived here and every day we’ve come since.  I went today.  It’s a place where I build my faith, a place where I have been changed, and a place that listens.

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