Allendale: A Shunned House Part 3

Peach Valley Road used to curve closer to the bottom of those slick stone steps and a small pioneer cemetery sat on the other side of the road. When the county decided to widen the country lane and take out the sharp curve, the old families were moved to the Gallatin city cemetery.

What I heard about the house when I was a young man was merely that people died there. A lot of people. That was, I was told, why our family didn’t live there still. It was plainly unhealthy, though whether this was from tainted well-water, the dampness in the cellar, the strange molds that grew up the walls, the general unpleasant smell that permeated the house even when the windows were open, or the draft that seemed to follow visitors throughout the house, or something else who can say? These were each bad enough, and among my family, people had different pet theories for the house’s “true” problems, all of which were quite ordinary.

The files of my antiquarian uncle, Dr. Elias Allen, were the only source for the darker, vaguer rumors which spread among the old-time servants and country folks; stories which never travelled far, and which were largely forgotten by the time Gallatin grew out to the river. If our family knew of them, they never spoke of it.

The truth is that the house was never regarded as haunted by my family or by the good people of Gallatin. There were no widespread tales of rattling chains, extinguished lights, or faces at the window. Some might have been willing to concede that the house used to be unlucky. But what, really, had happened? The people who died weren’t struck down by some common cause. They seemed to die sooner from whatever they had already been sick with than they would otherwise. Among those who did not die, they did seem somewhat weak and confused, which seemed to indicate a mold problem. Even that’s not so unusual in this climate.

That is as much as I knew before I finally compelled my uncle to show me his notes on the place.

The Lone Ranger

The first trailer for the new Lone Ranger movie is out and it is… oh, god, it is not convincing me I could see that movie. We were talking about this some on Twitter and it’s the fake-Indian speak that does it. It’s just so fucking racist that it’s like nails on a chalk-board. And it’s problematic in many ways, not the least of which is that, in Hollywood films, people who don’t speak English well are coded as stupid or Other or at least not someone the audience should identify with. And yes, it’s true that the movie could be toying with that idea, but I just don’t trust enough that that’s the case. I especially don’t trust it after reading this article about how Johnny Depp based his physical portrayal of Tonto on a picture painted by a guy who is not Native American who paints pictures of admittedly made-up Native Americans. I don’t trust that the movie is striving for any kind of accurate portrayal of human beings and not just stereotyped caricatures of wishful thinking.

But here’s the other thing. We, the United States, used to wholesale steal Indian children, put them in schools and teach them to speak only English. For decades and decades this went on, basically coinciding with the advent of wide-spread recording. So, while there’s basis in real-world experience for our ideas about what an adult first-generation, say, Italian speaker of English sounds like, or Russian or Spanish or so on, since we continue to encounter Italians or Russians or Spaniards who are just now learning English, we are not encountering adult Native Americans who are just now learning English. Speaking very broadly, our ideas about what an adult speaker of any of the Native languages in the continental U.S. who learns English as a second language sounds like are based not on the actual verbal characteristics those folks might have, but on white caricatures of that accent, because there are so few, if any, people today or in decades and decades who have ever encountered an adult fluent in an Indian language who is just learning English. (And that’s on top of the fact that mimicking/mocking other people’s accents is a minefield in itself.)

That accent is like Chief Illiniwek. It tells us more about the history of entertainment, of minstrel shows, and what white people would believe about Native Americans than it does anything about Native Americans’ actual lives.

But could you make a non-racist Lone Ranger? That’s what we ended up mulling over in Twitter (sorry I keep using “we” without referring to the other person’s name, but I want to leave it up to her to decide if/how she participates here). The dynamic of a white guy with an Indian sidekick who runs around restoring USian ideas about law and order is always already (hee!) so loaded with bullshit that it is kind of hard to imagine. And even flipping it on its head–where Tonto is the main character–is still a story told to white people about a Native guy who is a good guy because he wants to help a white guy out.  It drops one set of terrible things for another set that still puts white people at the center of the story.

But imagine modernizing it. Imagine a movie about a guy who is in law enforcement on his reservation. And he’s friendly with, hell maybe even friends with, the guy who is the sheriff of a nearby U.S. town. And say the first guy found out that the second guy was running around playing Batman when he felt like the legal system wouldn’t/couldn’t address the crimes and corruption he was seeing in town. and the masked second guy is having a real effect. Considering what “vigilante justice” usually involves for Native Americans and considering whether and if this would have ramifications for the people on the reservation and considering the intersection of local, state, and federal authorities who might have a problem with this, and considering the mixed feelings the tribal police guy might have about all these things, plus considering the tribal police dude’s fondness for the sheriff who may have lost his ethical way here, doesn’t it seem like there’s real meat there?

And there are other approaches. But that one strikes me as a way to mine that vein in a way that recognizes that there are two human beings at the center of the story.

Michael Chabon

S. and I went to see Michael Chabon at Salon 615 and motherfucking Karl Dean showed up to introduce him! I repeat, the motherfucking Mayor of Nashville showed up to introduce an author at a public event, an author who then went on to read a passage from his book all about a couple of teenage boys spending their summer blissfully fucking away.

I am having to revise my opinion of Karl Dean from “Blandy McBlanderson” to “Not-So-Blandy McBlanderson.”

For those of you who aren’t from Nashville, Karl Dean comes across like a guy who only gets enthusiastic about squash–both the sport and the vegetable, I guess. I was aiming for the sport but he also seems like the kind of guy who would, weirdly, run the city and cultivate his own blue-ribbon squash as a hobby.

So, to see him show up and be so loose and at east and obviously delighted? Well, my friends, it knocked me slightly off-kilter. I don’t want to have to take up any of my brain thinking thoughts about the mayor. And yet, this coupled with The Handmaid’s Tale? Fine, I’m admitting, I’m giving him a spot, way down in the bottom land, prone to flooding, where I will let a little stand of “Eh, the Mayor. He’s okay.” bloom.

Anyway, Michael Chabon. He was really good. He read a lovely part of Telegraph Avenue, his new book, and then he answered questions. He was really great at the question and answer part and seemed prepared to jump-start questioning if necessary. And he talked about writing in ways I found really interesting. I was glad to hear him talk about how hard it remained, how he saw himself making the same mistakes he did when he first started out.

And then he stayed and signed books. I was among the last half-dozen people and he was just as witty and charming to me as I imagine he was with the first person. I don’t know, maybe in real life he’s a terrible person. But as a model for the kind of person you should come across as as an author? He’s got that down.

The only strangeness of the evening, and something I still haven’t quite shaken, is that the woman in line behind me, who had been chatting up the woman in line behind her for most of our wait, suddenly started talking to me, which, fine, and launched into a graphic story about her rape, and how the police blew her off. And I still feel like I was completely inadequate to the task of that, last night.

There is something called for in that situation. Not only don’t I have that something, I am not even sure what that something would be. I listened. I said how terrible it was and how sorry I was. But then we were at the table. It was my turn to get the book signed. And she was my mother’s age. Should I have waited? Tried to… what? I don’t know.

I got my book signed. I went home. And the whole way home I was angry. Angry that she’d told me. Angry that I’d failed to respond to her with some skill set I don’t even have.

I don’t know. It’s just fucked up, the whole thing. And, though I know people who can, I am not the kind of person who can respond compassionately to fucked up situations with strangers in ways that are open and generous and actually help that person.

And yet, you know, maybe she didn’t want help? I mean, I don’t know. Since I don’t even know this woman’s name. I don’t even know enough about her to speculate.

Maybe she just wanted to say it out loud, to have someone who reminded her of the people who had raped her hear what had happened to her.

I don’t know.