Leverett Butts - Musings of a Bored English Teacher

Occasional web log from Southern writer Leverett Butts.

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Location: Temple, Georgia, United States

English Professor in Georgia. Writer of Southern lit

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Somebody clearly does not want me to finish my Roanoke expose'. Last night I was up until two putting the finishing touches on installment three. When I hit the "save" button, though, my computer crashed, erasing the bulk of the installment.

Sadly, it will be after Christmas at the earliest that I can get back to it. So until then, happy holidays, everybody.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"My God, It's Full of Stars"

Part two


The star motif became even more evident as we stumbled our way throught the first day of the conference.

We had gotten up too late attend the first sessions, and breakfast was no longer served by the hotel restaurant (Who quits serving hotel breakfast at 8:30? Hell even McDonald's keeps serving breakfast until 11:00 but more on food chains in a minute). Besides, after looking at the door menu, I'd die and burn in hell before I'd get breakfast from room service, ten bucks for toast and coffee? No, we decided to explore the grand city of Roanoke before our next session and maybe grab a Mcbreakfast while we were out.

Except that downtown Roanoke has no chains (other than a closed Subway). No Wendy's, no Burger King, no nothing. What metropolitan city doesn't have a Mickey Dee's? Hell, the Golden Arches even loom over Bombay.

You'd think a city with such a prominent star would at least have a Hardee's, nor could we find a coffee shop. Later Jim and I would theorize that the Roanokans feared the restaurant's logo might seem to rival their Star's own power:

And a Starbucks coffeeshop might seem positively blasphemous:

However, Jim and I did not have enough experience with the natives at this point to develop these theories. We simply marked these oddities down as more quaint idiosyncrasies in an increasingly idiosyncratic town.

The rest of Friday was spent running from session to session, learning new techniques for teaching English in a two-year college (me) and discussing the similarities between Joyce's Ulysses and computerized role-playing games (Jim). I also attended a panel celebrating the work of Joseph Blotner and sold books for some Appalachian writer's reading.

It was after the last panel and just before the Appalachian guy's reading that theomnipresent star once again made its presence known, this time as I sat in a public restroom for my evening constitutional.

"I'll be damned," a familiar voice exclaimed from the next stall.

"Jim?" I asked.

By way of answer, a red periodical slid under the partition into my stall. I picked it up and turned it over. It was the current issue of The South Atlantic Review, SAMLA's quarterly journal. It was not surprising to find one at SAMLA's conference, especially since the current issue contains a schedule of events, but what was disturbing was the cover illustration.

"That damn star is everywhere," Jim and I muttered simultaneously. On the cover of the journal was a monochrome low-angle shot of the star in all its illuminated glory.

I tried not to think about the star as I made my way to the reading, but it was like telling myself not to think about pink elephants. I started seeing stars everywhere. The hotel's carpet had a definite star pattern if you crossed your eyes just right and looked at it like one of those Magic Eye pictures. I saw locals sporting star-themed jewelry. Ieven saw one or two sweaters with embroidered stars on them.

I have to admit it was a little disturbing.

I had little interest in the Appalachian guy, so I had brought my own book to read while I ran the book table. It was entitled simply The Holy Grail, and it discussed briefly the role of the Knights Templar in spiriting holy relics away from the holy land and hiding them in theior various shrines around the world for safekeeping. It also mentioned in passing the theory that after their dissolution, the Templars transformed themselves into the Order of Freemasons and continued their pursuits.

All very interesting, yes, but it would prove even more telling later.

"I've been reading about the Knights Templar," I told Jim over dinner in downtown Roanoke. In true Roanoke fashion, though, this, too, proved slightly surreal as we were in a transformed nineteenth century warehouse which had all the ambience of a prime dinner date restaraunt. It had intimate tables for two or three, soft lighting with accent candles on the tables, all very romantic and mood-setting (not that Jim and I were looking for a particularly romantic dinner spot, it was just the only place open with available seating). However, the romantic effect was shattered by the widescreen t.v. at the bar broadcasting a loud ball-game and the heavy-metal music blaring over the speakers.

"You know the Knights Templar became the Masons," Jim yelled over Slayer's "Perversions of Pain".

"That's just what I was going to tell them."

"My granddad had a Masonic Bible the Mason's gave him."

"Your granddad was a Mason?"

"No, but he was related to George Washington."

"Oh." The waitress, wearing a long scarlet eveining dress which did not even pretend to hide her nipple rings and connecting chain, arrived with our chicken salad croissants and tater-tots.

We commenced to eating since the music had reached a crescendo that prevented further conversation.

"You know they have some kind of castle or cathedral around here somewhere," Jim informed me when Motley Crue's much softer "God Bless the Children of the Beast" came on.

"Who? Motley Crue?"

"No. The Masons. Granddad took me to see it once when I was younger. It's where they keep their relics and stuff."

"I bet the Holy Grail's there," I mused, spearing my pickle with my fork.

"Probably," Jim agreed. "The Mason's are pretty big in these parts I'm led to believe."

The waitress brought our ticket. On the back, she had written us a little message:

Thank you and enjoy your visit


Underneath was drawn a pentagram:

"Curioser and Curioser," said Jim.

We saw still more star imagery as we walked back to the hotel. In addition to the previously mentioned stars on the street signs, many of the shop windows had stars in them of varying sizes and colors. The sidewalks in Roanoke also has several small water fountains, many with embossed stars on them. Much of the graffiti we encountered also exhibited the star motif.

The most disturbing star was still to come, though.

To save its patrons the trouble of having to drive into town or walk across busy railroad tracks, the Hotel Roanoke boasts a beautiful overpass connecting its courtyard to the downtown shopping district. It's really quite nice if one can overlook the star spangled benners hanging from the ceiling every five feet. These are not to be confused with The Star-Spangled Banner of legend, our nation's flag, "Old Glory"; no, these are literal banners, each displaying stars bent into unusual contortions.

As Jim and I made our way to the overpass, we mused anew about the significance of the star this strange little town. I posited that it was some kind of cult, citing our recent hostess as evidence of this. Jim remained noncommittal, admitting only that the prevalence of the star was extremely odd and mildly disconcerting.

More disturbing to Jim was the fact that flipping through the yellow pages for a coffeeshop that morning had revealed not a single coffee shop, nothing so much as a Waffle House, yet during the search our attention was grabbed by the heading "Escort Services", not as one might suspect because we were interested in paying for love but because the section was at least two pages long.

Kind of hard to ignore.

"It's just plain bizarre," Jim said as we neared the overpass to the Hotel, "I mean, here we have town without a single cafe, not so much as a Waffle House, but it has no less than thirteen escort services not counting the phone sex lines. Leverett, Atlanta doesn't have that many escort services per capita; how does a town this small support twelve prostitution rings?"

"I don't know Jim, but I can't help but think that it's a symptom of this whole star phenom-" I stopped dead in my tracks.

Jim turned to see what had caught my attentionI was looking at the pavement in front of the overpass entrance. A shape was embedded there with what appeared to be iron rails.

"How did we not see this before?" I asked.

"Hell if I know, man, but I'm beginning to think you may have a point."

We were looking at a ten foot long inverted star.

"We need to start investigating this tomorrow," Jim said.

Continued . . .

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Part 1:

In 1310, the pope formally disbanded the Knights Templar, a pseudo-secret organization dedicated to defending pilgrims on their journeys to the Holy Land and to protecting mystical religious artifacts (such as the Holy Grail and shards of the true cross).


Many believe that the Templars did not actually disband but formed a more truly secret group, the Illuminati, to continue the pursuits of the Knights Templar and to influence world events from the shadows of power. The Illuminati are rumored to be the driving force behind such groups as the Society of Freemasons, CERN, and many local schoolboards.


According to James Frazer, in his seminal study of primitive magic, The Golden Bough, a rowan oak was used to ward off witchcraft by tribal priests, usually magicians themselves.


In 1590, the English colony on
Roanoke Island disappeared without a trace (other than the word "crotoan" carved into a tree). To this day, no one knows what happened.


Today, Roanoke, Virginia is a very odd place.


Every November, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) holds its annual meeting in a prominent Southern city. Since the organization is based at Georgia State University, the conference takes place in Atlanta every other year.

This was not such a year.

This year the conference happened in the northernmost extreme of SAMLA's membership: Roanoke, Virginia.

I had to be there because I was the secretary of the Robert Penn Warren panel this year, and the chair, due to circumstances beyond his control, was unable to make it himself, so I rode up to Virginia on Thursday, November 11, with my good friend and colleague, Jim Shimkus.

We spent the majority of the trip discussing the South, politicis, and the overabundance of condiment shops in South Carolina (jellies, preserves and chow-chow as far as the eye can see). However, in Virginia, things began to get bizarre.

For starters we passed no less than three strip clubs and/or adult "toy stores" in close proximity to prominent churches (everything from primitive Baptist to Seventh Day Adventist). This is the same region, remember, that voted for Bush on "moral grounds." I wondered briefly how much the Moral Majority dished out for a lap-dance and if there were some kind of discount if you kept your eyes closed.

About sixty miles outside of Roanoke, all thoughts of smartass juvenile humor vanished.

"What the hell is that?" Jim asked pointing out the passenger side window.

"It would appear to be some kind of star," I replied moving his arm out of my nose.

Indeed, in the distance you could see quite plainly an illuminated five pointed star apparently floating just over the horizon.

"I can see that," Jim replied peevishly. "What's it for?"

"I don't know. Perhaps Jesus is being born in a barn this night."

We drove on towards Roanoke without giving the star another thought.

That is until we got to Roanoke proper and realized that the star was, in fact, mounted on top of a mountain in the middle of town, and that apparently, the entire town had some kind of symbiotic relationship to the star.

For starters, almost every street sign bears the mark of the star and an arrow pointing the shortest wayto the celestial mountain.

Curiously, you can see the star from almost any vantage point in the city, especially from the Hotel Roanoke, where the conference was held.

A Word or Two about the Hotel Roanoke:

If the star looms over the town of Roanoke, the hotel presents just as imposing a presence on the opposite end of town, perched as it is on a hill that is not unimpressive itself. Do you remember The Shining (either the book, the movie, or the television mini-series)? To get a picture of the Hotel Roanoke, imagine the Overlook during the on-season:

The Hotel Roanoke, Roanoke, VA

You cannot help but be further reminded of King's ghost story when upon entering the lobby of this hotel, the first thing to meet your eye is a grand piano playing itself. It's an electric player piano, sure, but it's still damned creepy after being followed all evening by an everpresent star and faced with the prospect of sleeping in a haunted vacation resort.

However, there were other more insidious signs that things were not entirely normal at the Hotel Roanoke, just little odd occurences which seemed to add up to weirdness. For starters, our room (whose numbers, 508, added up to thirteen, by the way) had no ice bucket, but a half full glass of stagnant water sitting on the bedside table. Now, I don't know about you, but if I'm paying three digits a night for a hotel room, I'd assume the staff could be bothered to at least empty the previous occupant's dirty water.

The absence of an ice bucket, though, was shortly explained by the even stranger absence of both an ice maker and a Coke machine. One would assume that if a local Motel 6 could manage ice and vending machines, a palace of the Hotel Roanoke's caliber would have no trouble in providing such machines; however, Jim and I spent quite some time exploring our floor in a fruitless effort to find these amenities.

Our explorations of floor five led us to an even stranger realization. The floor plan made no sense. Halls led off from other halls and twisted back on themselves in an Escheresque maze. I was sure that the hallway pattern was laid out in the shape of a star, but I couldn't prove it. I've never been much at cartography.

Finally, the staff of the hotel were just downright rude. During our first night there, Jim and I went down to the Hotel bar for a drink with the rest of the Georgia State attendees. We were going to simply turn in and call it a night, but as soon as our heads hit our respective pillows, we found ourselves wide awake and restless.

Our waitress was a very nice English woman who kept Jim supplied with beer, and made sure I had plenty of hot tea (I had developed a sore throat almost upon entering the hotel). We spent a very interesting evening discussing the star curiosity with our fellow attendees from Atlanta until about eleven o'clock when our waitress approached our table with a scowl, and apropos of nothing began taking our drinks away practically out of our hands.

"I'm going to have to ask you to leave," she sighed exasperatedly. "We're closing for the night."

"Can we at least finish our drinks?" one of our colleagues inquired politely.

The waitress sighed again and plopped our drinks back on the table. "I guess so," she whined, "but you make sure you
leave when you're done." She turned around to go back to the bar, got halfway there, and turned towards us again. "We're supposed to be closed."

I honestly thought she was about to cry.

It was very hard to get to sleep that night. Even though our room did not face the star, much of it's luminescence still managed to seep through our window, and while I counted no more than two cars passing the hotel or driving anywhere around Roanoke and absolutely no one walking the streets (the hotel, which as I mentioned sits atop a fairly large hill, affords an excellent view of the city especially at night), the city seems to have more lights going than Atlanta at midnight, maybe even New York (and despite the overabundence of light, the city is uncomfortably quiet. It's like someone filmed Atlanta at night and taped Temple, GA at night for the soundtrack).

Suffice it to say that our room seemed brighter with the lights turned off than it did with every lamp in the room on.

Once we got to sleep, though, it was damn near impossible to wake up until we had missed most of the morning sessions. Both Jim and I awoke around ten or eleven with headaches. Our compatriots from GSU also complained of headaches and sore throats.

Continued . . .

Monday, December 06, 2004

It's been almost a month, so I'm sure that the stardust in Roanoke has settled. Therefore, I feel relatively safe divulging my tale of intrigue and mysticism set among the backdrop of the 2004 SAMLA conference.

Starting tomorrow I will begin serializing the story. It's just too large to try to post all at once, and you people have waited long enough.

See you then.