Shepherdstown is the local college town. The center of youth culture for miles around. By the time we got there (around 7:30pm), pretty much everything was closed. All three bookstores, the two little ones and the one medium one (where the discussion was taking place) were closed. There was a pizzeria open. One coffee shop. And the movie theater. And, of course, a bar.
After seeing the ladies to the bookstore, Bob, my Dad, and I walked up and down this street. We stopped in front of the movie theater. There was what appeared to be a neon tube outside, a glowing curved cylinder of a light. Except that unlike neon, this thing was changing color. It cycled through the colors of the rainbow. I think my dad was going to advance a theory about what we were looking at, but before he got a chance, the theater owner came trundling out.
He noticed that we were looking at the light. Bob asked if it was neon. The owner said no, actually it was a sort of low-grade fiber optic cable. My dad said he figured there was a light at one end, next to a rotating multi-colored filter. The owner looked surprised--yeah, that was exactly it. I was impressed. I wouldn't have thought of it. How can you hook up all those fiber-optic strands next to one another if they're going to leak signal out the side like that, I wondered. I mean, wouldn't it bleed into other strands?
Addendum: after reading a version of this report, my dad wanted to clear up what was going on with the glowing tube. My dad writes:
The neon-like color changing light at Shepherdstown was (methinks) a single rod of lucite or some such plastic. The impurities in it were enough to scatter the light slightly, thus not reducing its intensity much as it passed through, and enabling therefore an even glow along its length.
My attention snapped back into the conversation. It turns out this guy had moved up to Shepherdstown from the Washington DC area. He had decided to buy the theater because this was a college town--the perfect place for an artsy-fartsy theater. The kind of place where you can show The Seventh Sign and lots of people will come see it--they're students and don't know any better. Well, he didn't phrase it that way. He seemed to like artsy-fartsy movies. And had been very distressed that none of the students felt the same way.
Incoming freshmen got welcome packets--packets full of coupons and goodies from local merchants. So this theater owner had included coupons so that these freshmen could get in to see a movie for a dollar. There were 700 frosh that year, and each frosh got two coupons. That's 1400 coupons floating around out there. In the end, three coupons were redeemed. All by the same student. He maybe had 30 regular student customers. A lot of the faculty would watch movies, but there isn't really a whole lot of faculty. A large part of his audience is made up of "blue-haired old ladies come down from the mountains".
He and his wife had both moved up to Shepherdstown. He had taken over the movie theater. She had taken over a cafe. Between the two of them, I guess they were ready to cater to the intellectual flowering of Shepherd College. I really hope they had some other investments. As it happens, we were going to visit that cafe later that night--it was the only cafe open that late, and was thus the place for us to meet up again with Kelly and my Mom after the book discussion.
There was a music store, with half of its storefront windowspace given over to a P.J. Harvey poster. I guessed she must be getting popular. Or else there's another group of people hoping for the great underground flowering of Shepherdstown. Looking in someone's window, we saw what looked like a sort of dragon's-head mask. "Is that some Chinese thing?" my Dad asked. "I think it's just art," I said. What a terrible thing to say about anything. "Just art." Ahead of us on the sidewalk were three college-age youths. A car drove past. One youth bellowed at the car: "Hey PUNK!" Then they all laughed. They were standing outside the bar. They guy yelled "Hey PUNK!" at another car. That was pretty funny, too. Then they wandered off.
We wandered into the coffee shop. For those of you who might travel to Shepherdstown in the future, I'll let you know that the name of this coffee shop was something like The Old Pharmacy Coffee Shop. But if you show up at 8:30 at night, you'll quickly figure out that this is the only place to be, and will have no trouble finding it. And yet they didn't have very many customers.
I liked it. The coffee was okay, i.e., excellent by local standards. They had sandwiches, milkshakes, ice cream, and beer. I had ice cream with my coffee. It was good.
Linda and Kelly showed up, talked about the book discussion. Apparently in the Robber Bride, there's these three nice women who are done wrong by some evil woman. The evil woman manages to ensnare their husbands and take the husbands away. It's always because the nice women don't understand the evil woman--if they could just understand how alien this woman's motives were, they would have been able to thwart her. The story is apparently based on some Grimm's fairy tale called The Robber Bridegroom. Kelly had asked Bob about the story, and he, being a professional storyteller, had a few insights to offer. Kelly had planned on passing along these insights to the group.
However, at the time of the discussion, one of the other women had said that the story actually reminded her of Another story. Kelly dared us to guess which story. I guessed the Three Little Pigs. It had three good guys and one bad guy who tries to intrude on the good guys. It was kind of a hokey guess--I tossed it out as a joke, hoping that this would get her to stop daring us to guess, and get around to telling us what had come up in the discussion. But of course it had been the Three Little Pigs. Which was sort of disappointing.
I could say something snide about Margaret Atwood's writing. Where you find yourself saying "Well, she could make this happen, but that would be kind of obvious and boring."--and then she does it anyhow. However, this would not be a qualified opinion, since at this time I have only read one half of one of her novels. Uhm, maybe two halves. I forget how far I made it through Cat's eye. It wouldn't be fair to say that. I always get mad at how Piaw will deliver some scathing review of an author, and only later 'fess up that he's read, like, maybe one chapter. Like he was bashing on Amy Tan, saying that she was anti-male. And then when I said, well lots of people say that, but I didn't notice it, could you tell me what made you say that, he said something evasive. And only later did he admit that he hadn't read more than a couple of chapters of her stuff. So my point isn't that there's anything wrong with Atwood's writing. A lot of people with taste I respect like her stuff. But it really struck me how this disappointment in the discussion of the book discussion paralleled my disappointment in other books by the same author.
Talk turned to the Internet. Bob was getting an account soon. You've probably been on one or both ends of a "I'm going to be on the Internet soon, what do I have to look forward to," conversations, so I won't try to re-create it here.
This coffee shop was supposed to close at 9:00. We stayed until, like, 9:45. But that was cool with the people who worked there--they didn't glare at us or anything. Actually, when we had ordered, I wasn't going to order any ice cream "becuase they'll have to kick us out in 15 minutes"--but the waitress had said it was okay if we stayed later.
Hell, we weren't the last set of customers to leave. I was impressed that the waitresses didn't glare at us for staying late. In Berkeley, I think they would not have been so nice. One waitress was wearing a dress that looked like a patchwork quilt--it was made up of squares. It was in that cafe that I saw my first pony-tailed guy of the trip. He opened up the door and one of the waitresses ran over to him. They talked in low voices by the door. A table of customers by the door asked them to close the door so as not to let in the cold air. The pony-tailed guy ducked his head nervously and stepped inside. Their conversation continued a while. I think I caught the guy looking at my pony-tail, but I could be wrong--by this point, I was feeling kind of self-conscious about the tail.
Bob said that the other customers who were staying late were unmarried faculty. They didn't really fit any of my cliches. Sort of low-key high-fiving white guys, if that makes any sense, which it doesn't, really.
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