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 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 . . .