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

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 . . .