Strange omens rune the land. A long line, orderly and silent, forms at the P.T.A. thrift storefront before dawn. Across the street observant passersby, puzzled, attempt to augur motive and purpose. The graveled auto repair shop parking lot, always crowded, is strangely empty. Gray daybreak, Causality in question, we can only wonder at the end of days and signs that might manifest beast on a leash, moped riders, and sleepy-eyed crowds of the resurrected. Heated breath and steam fog coffeehouse windows. Conversation speculatively muted, flows in a sibilant hiss of nervous words. Now I’m told it’s $3.00 Bag Day at the P.T.A; late arrivals appear in the waiting room car keys in hand. Banality inevitably marks apocalypse.
A trek to the North Carolina fairgrounds and the weekly flea market on a bright and wind-blown Saturday brought two things to mind: the extent to which these markets represent the debris fields of a post-industrial apocalypse and the place of the “picker” in the American imagination. Traversing the parking lot, passing into makeshift rooms defined by folding tables, we scan arrays of things grouped in categories beyond the reach of reason. Strange celluloid holiday ornaments, bolt-worn rust-freckled wrenches, weirdly obvious knock-offs of Elvis concert posters and Beatles memorabilia, pottery pets with concretized myopia, salt shakers longing for their pepper mates. This is the stuff of emptied houses and ransacked rubbish piles. And somehow it all bears the rhetoric of negotiable value. The cyberpunk eye catches a glimpse of a world in ruin, sifted, assayed, scavenged, sacked, bruised. There is no sense of resilience here, only an endless and remorseless degradation. A truly inspiring place inhabited by a race of pickers—highway nomads in cars with odometers set on infinity.
The spot, a noble fish, still favored by Chesapeake cooks connected to place. Meade and Charles Amory of Amory’s Seafood in Hampton, Virginia, note that the spot was one of the five favored fish in the historic fisheries of the Chesapeake. Conversations with Danny Doughty and Mary “Mama Girl” Onley elicited recollections of fish “fried hard” and served with pan-fried apples, baked sweet potatoes, and “short bread” – the last a variation on baked dumplings.
The spot, claims our friend Pooh Johnston, got its distinctive markings from where Jesus touched the fish and divided them to feed the multitude. Even if it’s fiction, Danny remarked, it should be true. Fried spot would be tasty on this chill and rainy afternoon, but, alas, they have fled to warmer waters not to return until the coming summer. I’ll be ready when they return.
H.M. Arnold, proprietor of the Bayford Oyster House, describes salting spot (and other fish) for winter meals. Click to listen to HM Arnold on salting spot and other fish.
In the blue brilliance of a morning after a turbulent day of storms, Laura Dennis’s family and friends laid her to rest. One of the great cooks of the Eastern Shore, she was eulogized and remembered for caramel cakes, egg salad sandwiches, sweet potato pies, spoon bread, and how as a little girl during the Great Depression she pulled her wagon door-to-door through the streets of Cape Charles delivering her mother’s baked goods. She once sent me a slice of that renowned caramel cake and tasting it was a revelation. Of meaner spirit than Mrs. Dennis, I did not share.
On March 30, 2012, the Acklnad Art Museum at the University of North Carolina will debut a thematic exhibition of Thornton Dial’s first works on paper dating to 1990-1991. The fifty images in the show are accompanied by a full color book that contains essays on Dial’s art and drawings by Cara Zimmerman, Colin Rhodes, Glenn Hinson, Juan Logan, and Bernie Herman.
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