Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snapshots on a snow day

It's been a while since I've just let some picture speak for themselves. And on a snow-carpeted day like this one, I think it's a good a time as ever.

Abandoned church building, somewhere in Independence County

The remains of downtown Ola

Abandoned building in Fort Smith; note the progression of columns (from Doric to Corinthian): an architectural nod to the Roman Colosseum

An old bank in what I remember to be Booneville

A former one-room school, somewhere near Strawberry

Signpost guarding the ruins of Dogpatch USA, Marble Falls

Queen Anne mansion in downtown North Little Rock

Downtown Mt. Carmel, IL; showcasing the burned-out Hadley's Cafe

The Junction Bridge, Little Rock

706 Market Street, today.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Life, Death, Resurrection

Considering the heavy nature of my last post, some of you might think this is a continuation of those sentiments.

But no, it's about theaters. We're back to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

I'm going to talk about three theaters; each in a different stage of being. The first fits into the "Life" category.

The Lyric in Harrison (northeast AR) has one of the most beautiful facades I've seen on a theater (it having been built in 1929 will have something to say about that). Like most of the examples on this blog, it has been shut down at some point in its life (in the 70s through the 90s in this case). But it is alive now, though not in its original capacity. They show classic films occasionally, and otherwise the theater is used as a venue for local artists and musicians. When we visited the Lyric, it was celebrating its 80th anniversary. Note the LED display mounted tastefully atop the neon-adorned marquee.

According to my good friend Cinema Treasures, the Lyric's best feature are its intricate wall murals painted by hobos in the depression. I didn't get to see these, sadly.

I don't think I need to insult the reader's intelligence by stating this theater belongs in the "death" category.

The only information I have, besides its seating capacity, about Augusta's Lura Theater is that its name was typoed to "Laura" in 1935's Film Daily. The last thing this poor husk has left to it is its rusting marquee, proudly but dimly declaring the name of "Lura," emphasized by the single, cursive "L," to the pedestrians of Augusta's main street. On the Saturday I took this picture, we were the only ones.

Actually, if the Lura's marquee were to disappear, I probably wouldn't have even picked out this building as a theater at all. There is no visible ticket booth and only the vaguest indication of where previous owners might have hung movie posters. When I peered through the glass front doors, I saw nothing but piles of overturned furniture. Why is it that abandoned buildings tend to fill up with this kind of offal? It's as if, in death, the shell of the built environment becomes a gigantic trash receptacle. But I digress.

The Lura is nothing more than a death-mask.

Our last theater takes us out of Arkansas and into Illinois. I've noticed the Showtime Theater of Carmi every single time I've driven to Jenna's family home in Albion (and that is a lot of times, let me tell you). Showtime Cinemas (formerly the Carmi Theater) is the youngest of our three examples, having been built in 1940. It falls under "resurrection" mainly because I have seen this theater undergo death and rebirth during my lifetime, each observation occurring during that little snapshot of a glance I would get every time we drove through downtown Carmi.

The theater, like most small American theaters, had already died and been reopened at least once since the 1980s, but by 2007 it had closed again. Fading Spider-Man 3 and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince posters hung on its walls under the marquee's simple message: "closed."

But as of this year, Showtime Cinemas is open again! The little three-screen theater shows current-run films. And that's enough to make this little blogger a happier man.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dara Jones, 1956-2010

In almost every other circumstance I would refrain from posting personal things on this blog (it's not LiveJournal, after all). However, for this I am going to make an exception.

It isn't the best picture of my mom, who passed away around 1 PM, central time, on Friday, but it is from the last time I saw her, on my wedding day (last May).

I know the first question on everyone's lips, whether they admit to it or not, is, "How did she die?" So I'll tell you.

A couple of years ago (let's say around May of 2008), a violent strand of pneumonia attacked her lungs. The doctors thought it might have been tuberculosis, but it didn't turn out that way. The battle was long, and for a while we really thought she wouldn't make it. But she did, with the major casualty being one of her lungs. The doctors considered taking it out then, but for various reasons decided not to.

At the end of '09, close to Thanksgiving, she started coughing up stuff (what she called "green slugs"). She went back to the hospital to discover that a couple of different forms of fungus were growing in her dead lung. Neither of them were cancerous, but they were still causing her breathing problems.

The next thing that happened was a pharmacist misreading her fungicide prescription. That didn't hurt her too much, but another problem occurred when the correct medicine didn't help at all, but still gave her all of the side effects.

She was in the hospital right through Christmas. Elliot, my brother, stayed with us through his Christmas break because my parents would spend the entire weekend in the ward. She got worse and worse right on through January. The pneumonia came back and resumed its attack on her remaining lung. We were told that if she did recover, it would be a very long road to good health. The few times I spoke to her during this period, she could barely speak for the phlegm interfering with her throat.

By January 13th, the pain medication had been increased to the point where she was no longer responsive. My dad set up a couple of phone conversations with us, with Elliot, and with her two older brothers. The doctors lessened the painkillers so she might at least be able to hear us. That evening, we spoke to her for what we understood would be the last time. It was an odd feeling, talking into a cell phone on speaker-mode and trying to envision my unresponsive mother at the other end.

On the 14th, she was on 100% oxygen. My brother flew down to Virginia so he could see her. I decided not to. I wanted to remember her like she was. Her brothers made the same decision.

On the 15th, after my brother saw her, my dad and the doctors turned off the oxygen. He called me that afternoon to say the words, "Mom's gone."

I had actually intended to work through the rest of the day, but I guess I overestimated my thick-skinnedness. I told Mark (my boss) the news and he let me go home without any qualms.

A lot of things, good and bad, can be said for my mom, so I'll say a few of them.

The first thing that should be known, and will be repeated, is that she performed her job as a mother and caretaker with finesse. Both my brother and I were (are) pretty odd ducks, and she never showed us anything but support for our talents and hobbies. None of this "force the kids to be normal" business that we see on Disney-channel movies. And she understood us. She really did. Even if, for Christmas, she would buy us stuff we never used (devotional books, "Life is Good" shirts, etc.), she had a deeper knowing of our personalities that very few on the planet could match.

When I had problems with relationships (girls), I always knew I could talk to her about it. I never really held out for the answers to my problems, but the things she said always were comforting.

She suffered a lot of headaches, drank a lot of coffee, and took a very long time to finish her meals. When she ordered food at a restaurant, she had to dissect the ingredients in each order, combine some from other entrees, and always get the dressing set out to the side. "Make sure those vegetables are steamed and with no butter," was the constant request. One time, during a vacation in Quebec, I had to leave the restaurant and walk once around the block to keep myself from screaming.

She had a small collection of phrases originating from various things Elliot and I said, some from our childhood. Here are two of them:

1. A long time ago, I explained to her the idea of Stage Bosses in video games. She applied that to her life and concluded that Time was her Stage Boss (she had a problem with completing things in a timely fashion, so the ticking clock represented her enemy). So watches and clocks, in their every form, became Time Bosses. When I would sit at the table to eat dinner, she would always say "Luke, Time Boss," which meant I needed to take off my watch. As a result, sitting down for a meal would result in watch removal, no matter where I was. Pavlov was right.

2. During a time when she had to drink cappuccino every night, she would say, "Must Feed!" This was what the Dark Archons would mutter in Starcraft, a game whose sounds were frequently heard in our household.

We always had to take our shoes off inside the house to satisfy her need for cleanliness. When I was a kid, my friends could almost never come over to visit because she was concerned they might mess up her order. I wasn't allowed to get dirty (I still am a bit anal about keeping my hands clean all the time), and I wasn't allowed to bring my toys outside. Later on, she paid me to clean up my room every day.

She homeschooled me. In prehistory, my mom was trained to be an elementary schoolteacher, and actually did this for a while before she had me. I got through pre-K before she yanked me out of Boothbay Harbor's school system and did it her own way. As a result, I was a pretty dang smart little kid who got to go to bed whenever he wanted, but had some serious issues in adapting socially later on. Also, I learned my multiplication tables late. But she did her job, and she did it well. Homeschooling was good for me, despite its few shortcomings.

She was a trooper and a fighter, until the end. In 2004, she fell off her bicycle and broke her hip. It would never have healed so fast if she hadn't insisted on walking as much as possible (fun story: I visited my childhood librarian last year and she referred to my mom as "the woman who walked everywhere"). When she was in pain, she almost always refused medication. She went through childbirth unmedicated. When her hip was operated on, she was given a button that, when pressed, would deaden the pain. She never pressed it.

I was obsessed with Transformers from an early age, and my mom always tried to help me hunt those prizes down. We would go to yard sales, flea markets, consignment stores, you name it, just to find those toys. Star Wars toys, too. And I had this other obsession: I loved to see ruined barns. I called them "Falling-Down Barns." Whenever my mom saw a Falling-Down Barn while driving, she would note its location and we would go back and see it.

And something must be said for my dad here, too. As she became more and more difficult to take care of in the last ten or so years, there was still never any question of the marriage ending. As I saw so many of my friends' families crumble over my life, I never even heard the word "divorce" in my household.

I think, maybe, I've said enough. I could go on and on, tell story after story, but I'll just say one more thing. Because of the nature of her death, she was able to discuss with my dad her postmortem wishes. She will be cremated, and after her memorial service on February 20th, her ashes will be spread over the snows of Maine. Even though my family moved all over the U.S., she always longed to go back to Maine. And that's where she will stay.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Finding Subiaco

I think if you asked most relatively experienced Arkansas-dwellers about Subiaco, they would probably know what's out there. Jenna and I haven't lived in the state long enough to know things like that, though, so when we ran across it, we almost had to scrape our eyeballs off the floor of the car.

Here's how it happened.

As any reader of mine should know by now, the Jones thing to do when driving cross-state is to check the road map and take the smaller highways, the cinnamon-red ones, or, if we're feeling more adventurous, the spidery black ones. Some of them (like Highway 7) are lined with these little purple dots that represent "Scenic Byways," otherwise known as "the scenic route." Others are not lined with anything except one-horse towns, one-light towns, and cow towns. Subiaco rests on one of these.

The town itself is about fifty miles east of Fort Smith and about thirty miles south of the Interstate (O vast enemy of mine). It isn't really fair to refer to Subiaco as a "town," per se, and in fact the thing that distinguishes it actually predates the post office, and therefore the identity, of the town. But I guess I better quit beating around the bush.

While winding through the valleys of nowhere east of Fort Smith, we passed through Subiaco, looked to our left, and saw something like a fortress standing atop a hill. The fortress-thing was titanic, made all the more massive by its location on the hilltop, and was replete with battlements, towers, and medieval ambiance. "Can we turn around and go check it out?" Jenna said, after we finished freaking out.

"Yes. Definitely," I replied.

Subiaco abbey was begun as a little priory in 1877 by some German immigrants. Because really, if you're a Catholic German immigrant in 19th century Arkansas, what else are you going to do for mass except just build a church yourself? The little settlement started out as St. Benedict's Priory, and remained so until about 1910, when the town received its own post office and became Subiaco. By then, the abbey had moved to the top of the hill and had opened a school for boys.

There've been some ups and downs since then, and the end result is that Subiaco Abbey and Academy is a prestigious school (8th grade through 12th). Something like 90% of the kids that go through there graduate college.

The abbey itself is, of course, a gorgeous cathedral (and I've heard it's gorgeous inside as well; we didn't venture within). It's the kind of thing you would expect to see while driving through the middle of nowhere in England or Scotland, maybe, but not Arkansas. Of course those European abbeys would probably have four to five hundred years on this one, but hey, you know. It's America.

The academy even has its own sports teams (not sure who the mascots are). My guess is a lot of the boys here get so, shall we say, lonely, that they forget what kind of rare and awesome environment they get to go to school in. For all I know it's soul-crushingly strict, too. But I just know it's one of the most startlingly beautiful built environments I've ever encountered in Arkansas. I mean, sure, we've got some really pretty churches, even in towns like Tuckerman. But it's the fact that for miles is nothing but rolling hills and little colonies of cattle. No plaster bank-palaces or grinning neon fast-food joints.

And that's another thing. The monks of Subiaco own much of the surrounding farmland, so the abbey is self-sufficient. They even make their own habanero pepper sauce (it's called Monk Sauce. I'm serious).

The whole thing just knocked both of us way off guard. We explored the complex while giggling like fools, taking a moment every now and then to pause and exclaim, "I can't believe this is here!" Sometimes it's hard to love Arkansas, but this was one of those times where it really wasn't.

Here are a few more pictures from the complex.

The cathedral viewed from below

Inside the complex

The cafeteria, complete with giant chimney

It's finds like this that make small-highway exploration so worth it. And the road goes on...