Forgotten Son: The Birthplace of President James Monroe

By Jeffrey Carl

From Legacy Magazine, January 2003

Nearly ten years ago, I spent a college summer as a reporter for the county newspaper in rural Westmoreland County, Virginia. Westmoreland, nestled in the “northern neck” of Virginia between the Potomac and the Rappahannock rivers, is blessed with an enviable surplus of historical sites. 

James Monroe birthplace monument, January 2003

Almost anywhere, the birthplace of a president would be marked as a site of significant historical importance and tourism interest. But Westmoreland boasts the birthplaces of George Washington and Robert E. Lee (both of whom have lavish commemorative historical sites). In a county with an abundance of historical favorite sons, former President James Monroe finishes as a distant third place. In the summer of 1994, I was assigned a story about a barely-noticed granite marker and state historical signpost on a roadside, dedicated to the birthplace of perhaps the most overlooked of America’s founding fathers.

James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758 on a 505-acre plantation near what is today Colonial Beach, Virginia.  He left at age 16 to attend the College of William and Mary, then quit school to join the army when the Revolutionary War broke out. Monroe facilitated the Louisiana Purchase during his time as minister plenipotentiary to France, and as minister to Spain he negotiated the purchase of the Floridas.  In 1817 he was elected to the first of two terms as president, in a time that was later called “the era of good feelings.” He was the author of the “Monroe Doctorine,” which became the cornerstone of American foreign policy for generations.

Access across the fence to the Monroe birthplace monument

We know comparatively little of James Monroe personally. He stood 6’2”, while his wife was a petite 4’8”.  Thomas Jefferson called him “a man whose soul might be turned wrong-side outwards without discovering a blemish to the world.”  We know that he had a fondness for waffles.

After Monroe retired from public office, he fell on financial hard times. He petitioned Congress for back pay, but President Andrew Jackson blocked the funding of his request; in 1831, he was finally given only half of what he had asked for originally.  On July 4, 1831 – five years to the day after the deaths of his friends John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – James Monroe died.

The James Monroe monument alongside Virginia State Route 205

Neither the man or his birthplace knew much peace after his death: Monroe was buried in New York, but was later exhumed and moved to Richmond. The owner of his birthplace site after the Civil War used the tombstones of the Monroe ancestors as weights for his harrow, and then flung them into the creek when the work was finished.  Over time, the land was parceled into numerous plots and sold. 

In 1941, a Monroe Birthplace Monument Association was formed, which acquired the area around Monroe’s actual birth site. An access road was built to the site, but the Association’s plans never progressed beyond that stage and in 1973 the land fell to public ownership. For years, various government and private organizations were approached about sponsoring the development of the historic site, but all refused or were unable to raise the needed funds. In 1993, several chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars were kind enough to pay for a granite marker at the site, nestled among a grove of trees along the side of State Route 205.

When I visited the site in 1994, there was a certain thrill to the lonely and solemn spot, and a feeling that the site was my little secret. With no noise or other visitors present, it was blissfully easy to envision the area as it once was – a luxury almost never available at most historical sites. But there was also a sense of vacancy, a tangible knowledge that something should be there which was not.

The Monroe birthplace monument in its clearing

I returned to the site this past winter and found that the site remained just as it was a decade ago. But in the intervening years, dedicated area residents had continued to push for something to be done, and it appears now that things are at last changing for the better. Plans were drawn up for a memorial site that would include a nature trail, picnic area and historical signage, and the Westmoreland County government has been awarded a grant to begin developing the site. But the work has not yet begun, and today the site remains just as it was.

The lonely granite marker still stands there as a reminder of both the sadness of the neglect of historical sites and the hope that the work of determined and caring individuals can help to bring that neglect to an end.

Horrorscope of the Stars

By the Mysterious Professor Zoltar

The Westmoreland News, August 18 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

Astrologer’s Note: Remember what I said about quitting last week?  Well, I lied.  Partly, anyway.  This week’s horoscope section is actually a “Do-it-yourself” kit to allow you, the reader, to interpret the puzzling signs of the inexorable motions of the stars and stuff like that.  Then, having a guide to all of life’s little omens and portents, you can forecast your future yourself and you won’t have to shell out all 35 cents for a newspaper.


Comet colliding with planet in your astrological constellation: Stay home in bed.  But don’t panic yet; this is only the sixth sign of the seven to signal that the Revelations of St. John the Divine are coming to pass.

Comet colliding with planet in your neighborhood: This means you should have moved out six months ago.

Solar eclipse in your constellation: A time of great change.  Nickles, dimes, and quarters will eerily appear throughout your room, as if by magic.

Lunar eclipse in your constellation: Time to change favorite radio stations.

Strangely reddish sunset: A time of reversal, with great chaos to come: gravity will fail, Hulk Hogan will be dethroned as World Wrestling Federation champion, Russian President Boris Yeltsin will appear as a character called “Spanky” on Seinfeld, and Westmoreland News horoscopes will become funny.

Strangely reddish sunrise: You’re either getting up too early or going to bed too late.

Black cat walks in front of your car: Time to rotate your tires.

Wild turkey walks in front of your car: Time to change bourbons.

Moose walks in front of your car: Time to hit the brakes.

On the eve of the Ides of March, meteor showers are seen, statues weep, and lions and flaming apparitions walk the streets: You will be asassinated the next day on your way to the Senate by Lucius Brutus and Caius Cassius.  Your adopted son Octavian will eventually rule the Empire as Augustus, and you will be deified.  Rome will encompass most of the known world within 150 years, but in time, internal decadence and external military pressures will force the splitting of the Empire.  The city of Rome will be sacked by Alaric the Vandal in 410 A.D. and the last Western Roman Emperor will be deposed by Visigoths in 476.  So you should probably stay home.

Your clothes are stinky: Wash them.

You take stuff that is supposed to be a joke in the newspaper too seriously: Don’t read it.

Ed McMahon appears in your constellation: This is the seventh sign.  It’s all over.

Horrorscope of the Stars

By the Mysterious Professor Zoltar

The Westmoreland News, August 11 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

Astrologer’s Note: Okay, I’m really finished this time.  You won’t have the Mysterious Professor Zoltan to kick around any more.  I’m outta here.  Hey – would I lie?

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): Your money problems can be solved easily: send all of your money to me, and then you won’t have any to worry about.  Remember, that address is:

Mysterious Professor Zoltan

c/o The Westmoreland News

Montross, VA 22520

Cash or money order preferred.  

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22): Share a smile with someone this week.  But don’t share your toothbrush.  That’s disgusting.

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22): You know what?  On the day that they covered Libras in Horoscope School, I played hooky and went to a Phillies game.  Sorry.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Your lucky day for the lottery is June 23, 1993.  I hope you were playing that day.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): Don’t you think it’s weird that you drive on a parkway, and you park on a driveway?  Yeah, well I think that’s weird, too.  Oh, and some stuff will happen to you this week, also.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20): Orion is moving into the house of Gemini, as is Sirius.  That either means that you will have a romantic weekend or that you will grow an extra head.  I’m not sure which. 

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Take some time to relax this week.  Kick back with some lemonade.  Unplug the phone for a while.  Shoot out the televsion if Richard Simmons is on it.  Blame household messes on “those darn invisible muskrats.”  Call up “Judy the Time/Life Books Operator” and ask her out.  It’s okay.

Aries (March 21 – April 19): I predict that if you play for a Major League Baseball team this week, you will go on strike.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): You will discover the secret formula for X-ray goggles that really work.  Flushed by scientific achievement, you will go out to celebrate your discovery and the neighbors’ dog will eat all your research.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): Eat more apples.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22): Have you ever considered just changing your birthday?  

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22): Strive for immortality this week.  You know how Benjamin Franklin said that the only two certainties in life are “death and taxes?”  Well, you can apply to the government for special tax-exempt status!  See if you can figure out whom to apply to to get death-exempt status.

Horoscope Special:

I received a letter this week containing a bunch of green paper with “funny money” written on it and a question.  This is obviously a) a disturbed individual with b) much too much free time who c) should not be allowed access to the Xerox machine.  However, their question was a fair one:  when will “when pigs fly” be?  Here is a quick guide to this type of occurrence:

When pigs fly: April 9, 1991.  I hope you were watching that day, because they did.

When the cows come home: Duh.  At dinner-time.

When Hell freezes over: Next March 7th.

When the Cubs win the pennant: October 12, 2639.

When Westmoreland News horoscopes are funny: Good luck.

Senate Candidate Oliver North Visits Westmoreland County

By Jeffrey Carl

The Westmoreland News, August 1 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

For weeks, the messages arrived to herald the news.  Royal messenger faxes rolled out of the machine, announcing his progress and later his impending arrival.   He – Citizen North, Senate Subcommitte Witness North, Celebrity North, Retired Marine Lt. Col. North, “By golly, vote Ollie” North, Candidate North – Oliver North was coming to Westmoreland County.

He is perhaps the most famous public figure in Virginia.  He appeared on live national television – under the gun like perhaps only two other men, Clarence Thomas and O.J. Simpson have been – and not only survived, but became a celebrity.  He became a folk hero to some, a demon to others.  He faced trial and conviction and then was cleared.  His face has adorned the cover of national magazines and his picture burned in a Billy Joel video.  He was scrutinized over innuendo concerning his secretary, Fawn Hall; he publicly challenged terrorist Abu Nidal to a one-on-one fight; and he was unceremoniously all-but disowned by several major figures of the Reagan administration and the military.  But he had survived.  And he had prospered.  And now he was coming to Westmoreland County.

And now it is 5:10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 27, and the alarm goes off in my apartment in Richmond.  I clean up, shave, and dress in an old suit,  pre-rumpled to achieve journalistic credibility.  It only takes me four tries to tie my tie straight.  Then I drink coffee and ride off into the sunrise to meet Candidate North at his first campaign stop.

It is 7:15 a.m., and I’m standing in front of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Montross.  There are only a few other people there, standing in front of the plant, and they are obviously other journalists.  They wear the standard reporter uniform of rumpled, kinda-nice clothes, armed to the teeth with notepads and vests filled with extra rolls of film.

At 7:28, the Winnebago arrives.  The North campaign staff calls it “Asphalt One,” and it is covered from stem to stern in North for Senate posters.  The tour mascot is on board, an armadillo – North later says that it represents his tough hide, and he jokingly identifies the armadillo as the “state bird” of Texas, where he was born.  North also notes that whenever he is quoted as such, newspapers get letters correcting him that the armadillo is not a bird.

And then Oliver North steps out of Asphalt One.  He is dressed in a light blue button-down shirt, tan slacks, and sensible shoes.  The flecks of gray in his hair and his boyish face, coupled with his outfit, make him look as if he stepped out of a local theater revival of Mister Roberts, playing the title character.  Candidate North has arrived, and he is all smiles and handshakes as he proceeds into the plant.  

He walks through the plant, shaking hands and talking, while the reporters circle him at a distance like moths around a porch light.  They look at the crates of Coca-Cola products piled to the ceiling, they snap pictures of the employees or the bus, and they try to talk to the randomly-selected spectators for some “local color.”

North campaign’s press coordinator for this stretch of the trip, Dan McLagan, bounds out of the bus.  He is accompanied by other soldiers in the cause, armed with bumper stickers and pamphlets, ready to give them to anyone and/or everyone with hair-trigger quickness.  Most of the workers in the factory really don’t seem all that excited about any of this.

I wander over to McLagan – an affable character, casually dressed, who occasionally lights one of his Marlboro Lights while he’s talking to you – and he tells me 

that the North crew is rested and ready, having spent a fine night in the Inn at Montross, a hundred yards away.  The tour begins here, moves to a rally in Colonial Beach at the house of Jeff and Yvonne Kern, and next to the King George Fire Station on Dahlgren Road.  McLagan tells me he’ll try to get me “on the bus” somewhere in between, before the tour heads over hill and dale, all over Virginia – it will be a long day for Candidate North and his retinue.

I talk to two local residents who have come out on this frosty morning to wish North well, Jim and Jean Dundas.  They talk about how misrepresented and misunderstood North often is by the press, and how his sincere stances have earned him a lot of enemies.  

They say it seems that his enemies are unwilling to let the matters of the Iran-Contra hearings rest, and Jim Dundas mention the Central American and Cuban ties of some of the members of the panel that grilled North.  He gives me a pamphlet from North’s campaign committee about the “Four big lies about Ollie North and Iran-Contra.”  

After a few minutes, the tour group packs up to head to the next destination.  The North Winnebago looks like an alien mothership that has collected all its crew – only after leaving behind bumper stickers to monitor the planet while they’re gone – and left for the next solar system.  The press members scurry to their cars like Air Force chase planes.  I’m one of them.

It’s 8:35 a.m., and I park my car and walk towards the Kerns’ house for the rally.  I suppose that Asphalt One drives much closer to a law-abiding 55 miles per hour than I do, since the Winnebago arrives about a minute after me.

There seem to be a about 100 people present, and they clap and cheer and North strides off the bus and on to the house’s porch.  There are signs and banners and pamphlets and doughnuts, and the doughnuts are very good.

North ascends the porch steps and, after a mercifully brief introduction, begins his speech.  

North supporters will probably disagree with you if you say this, but an impartial viewer observing one of North’s campaign speeches for the first time and knowing nothing else about him would probably conclude that Candidate North’s entire platform is anti-incumbency, anti-the current system.  

He pledges to fight the “tyranny of the left.”  He says that the moribund monster of the current bureaucracy must be done away with, and that you can only “cut the budget by changing the process.”  North says that he doesn’t want to see the reserved congressional parking spots at National Airport in Washington, D.C. to be reserved for him or for anybody – with the possible exception, he says, of making them reserved for disabled veterans.  He speaks of getting tough with the criminals that the liberal establishment has mollycoddled.  “It’s time,” he says, “that we turn these career criminals into career inmates.  We need to weld the doors shut.”  

“Some people,” North says, “say I’m not gonna fit in.  And they’re right.”  North cracks that Jimmy Stewart smile of his.  People around me begin to sporadically “Amen” during the rest of the speech.  “I’m not going to be invited,” North says, “to the two-cocktails-before-lunch parties, or the Barbra Streisand concerts.”

North tells the flock that he decided to run on the day after the 1993 Presidential Inauguration “when we elected whatsisname.”  North calls the Clinton (whatsisname) administration “so liberal it’s scary.”  Ollie, being the complete anti-politician, promises to serve at most two terms in the U. S. Senate and then retire from public service.  

Undaunted by such claims, a young girl standing near me is wearing a “Ollie North for President” tee-shirt.

Any film student watching this rally could immediately identify the scene: Frank Capra, directing Mr. North Goes to Washington.  All political rallies have an overt element of campy super-patriotism to them, but North has pulled out all the stops.  The amazing thing about him, though, is that after you talk to the man you become convinced that it isn’t just an act.  Oliver North may be the Jimmy Stewart and Apple Pie candidate, for real.

North identifies his one special interest that he will bow to as the families of Virginia.  He has a grin that he applies to phrases like, “I believe we’re gonna pull this off…” that makes people all warm and fuzzy inside.  Some people are thrilled by his 110 percent All-American traits, and some are frightened by them.  Whether he is right or wrong, he communicates an unavoidable air of sincere belief in what he is saying.

Although this seemed to many unthinkable – it still seems that way, to many – recent polls show Oliver North running neck and neck with incumbent Democrat Charles “Chuck” Robb.  North has gotten an early start on the campaign, with a TV and campaign tour blitz that has left the other candidates in the dust.

I talk to one of North’s campaign team members about the competition.  He says that North has the advantages of an early start and a lot of people willing to donate money to his cause.  What about the renegade-Republican independent candidate Marshall Coleman?  “We make more money before breakfast than he has this whole campaign,” he says.

This statement may not be all hyperbole; the weekend before the tour, a fax arrived from the Oliver North for Senate Committee, declaring that the North Campaign had broken the towering $10,000,000 mark.  North proudly notes that the average contribution is under $30, showing his ties to the individual voter; opponents claim that more than half of the recent contributions have come from California, rather than Virginia.

North closes the speech by asking the crowd for three things.  “First, your prayers,” he says.  “They say that you can’t win a campaign these days by talking about the power of prayer … we shall see.”  More “Amens” are heard from throughout the crowd, but not as many as when he was talking about budget deficit reduction.  “I’m living proof of the power of prayer,” he says, and smiles earnestly.

“The second is your pledges,” he says, adding that it is the everyday voter that provides the campaign with the money and the volunteers to keep going.

“And third, I ask you,” North says, “to reach out and find five people who didn’t vote in the last election, and make sure they vote in this one.”

Having concluded his speech, North opens up the floor to questions for one of his “people’s press conferences,” where the people have a chance to ask the questions and not depend upon the “liberal media” for their information.

One woman asks how people react to his having lied to Congress.  North answers – he has probably only had to answer this particular question about five thousand times – that he did not lie to congress, and that an examination of the facts will show that he stayed true to his duty and followed his orders.  The ghost of Iran-Contra will be summoned forth wherever Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North goes for a very long time.

Jeff Kern, who has been standing behind North on the porch, steps forward and announces that unfortunately the tour is behind schedule, and North will only have 

limited time.  And yet North manages to talk to as many people as he can, smiling and shaking hands.

I ask local resident Susan Wallcraft why she came to the rally.  “I’d heard about it at the town council meeting,” she said.  Is she a prospective North voter?  “Yes,” she says, “we’ve pretty well decided, after we found that he really hadn’t lied to congress.”

Dan McLagan tracks me down amidst the mob leaving the rally, and leads me to Asphalt One to wait for North to finish.  He offers me a coke, or some grapes, even though their refrigerator is pretty sparsely stocked.  I take a Pepsi, and fumble through my notes.

And then North gets in the bus.  He reaches across the aisle and shakes my hand firmly.

The Winnebago pulls away from Jeff and Yvonne Kern’s house, and Oliver North perches on a seat across from me.  The lady in the front passenger seat says, “Wave to the folks, colonel,” and he turns around to the window and waves at the last few supporters who line the road.  

Then it is just me and Oliver North.  I work out the nervous lump that has been building in my throat and I ask a question.  In fact, I ask several.  Here are the results:

What is the last good book that Oliver North read?  “Well, I’m still in the process of reading Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues,” he says.

How does it feel to be a celebrity?  “It would be fine if I were a rock star,” he says, “but it’s not something I intended to be.  I just wanted to be a marine.”

Doesn’t all the negative attention sometimes hurt, like the sharply-barbed recent jabs in the nationally-syndicated comic strip Doonesbury?  “No, you just get used to it,” he says.  “That Doonesbury stuff – well, some of it’s actually funny.”

What did the young Ollie want to be when he grew up?  “I went through all the usual stages,” North muses, “fireman, policeman, cowboy …”  But by the time he graduated high school, he knew that the service was the life for him.  “I’m lucky enough,” he says, “to have been able to do something I really wanted to do for 22 years.”

Who are Oliver North’s heroes?  His father, he says.  Ronald Reagan is named, as is his wife Betsy.  North also cites as a hero “the young machine gunner who saved my life in Vietnam.”  He says that his heroes are also all the people who work hard for themselves and succeed.

What would he have to do in his life, for him to consider it – in the final accounting – to have been worthwhile?  “I’ve already done it,” he says, “by being a good father and a good husband.”  He says that he puts a lot of stock in the Marine motto, semper fidelis: always faithful.

Does he belong to a particular church?  “Yes, we attend the Church of the Apostles, in Fairfax.”  He says that he has not always been as personally religiously committed as he is today, but he was brought up in a good Christian household, and knew what he believed in.

If he could change one thing about himself, what would Oliver North change?  “I’d give myself less pride in being a self-made man,” he says.  “Pride leads to thick-headedness.”  I think to myself that the Bible also says that “pride goeth before a tumble.”

Who came up with the “By golly, vote Ollie” slogan?  “It came from a supporter,” he says.  “Most of them come from clever people who just think them up themselves.”  He produces a stack of bumper stickers given to him by a supporter who dreamed up a slogan and then printed it: a reminder to vote for North, or “Get Robbed.”

What is, at the heart, the essence of America?  “Well,” he says, “I can’t reduce it to a bumper sticker.”  But he does say that America is a nation “blessed with bounty beyond measure,” and founded around one word: “liberty.”

North praises the Bill of Rights, and says that “you get a sense, in the seminal documents of this nation, that we didn’t get these rights from the government; we were blessed with them.”  

“But,” he says, “200 years later – in just the last 90 days – you can see these rights being violated.”  He cites the abridgement of abortion protesters’ First Amendment right to assemble peacably.  He notes the violations of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms by anti-gun legislation.  North says that the Fourth Amendment protection form illegal search and seizure is not being received by poor black mothers in public housing whose houses are invaded by the police.  

He cites the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that the government cannot seize property without fair recompense, and then says that the Environmental Protection Agency can come along and “declare your land a protected wetland, and the value is destroyed.  You can’t build anything on it.”  North warns of the danger of “environmental radicals.”

“You have to stop,” North says, “and say, ‘What happened to these amendments?’”

What about North’s recent statement that drug users should receive penalties nearly as high as those for drug dealers?  Is drug use a moral wrong, or a societal wrong?

“All law is based on moral law,” North says.  “There’s nothing in the Ten Commandments about the 55 mile per hour speed limit,” he says while I think ack to beating the Winnebago to the rally after it had a three-minute head start, “but the moral idea is there – you don’t go too fast, or you’ll hurt yourself or someone else.”

“There is no stigma against drug use in this country,” North says, “and there needs to be.”

How, then, does that idea relate to alcohol and tobacco?  North waves this off on the grounds of alcohol and tobacco not being impairing drugs like drugs are.   “There are laws,” he says, “about how much alcohol you can drink, so you’re not impaired.  And tobacco is not an impairing drug.”

He cites how much more dangerous drugs are than they have been in the more permissive past: “The marijuana people are smoking today has much more HTC [Tetrahydracannabis, or THC, the active narcotic in marijuna] than it did 25 years ago.”  I don’t correct him on the spelling, and the bus slows down as we approach the next rally.  

“Um,” I ask, “could I get an autograph for my little brother?”

“Sure thing,” North says, and writes one: “To Matthew– very best, Oliver L. North.”  I thank him and shake his hand and Oliver is gone and Candidate North is back.

At 9:28, Asphalt One’s door opens and North steps out into the light.  I follow him out the door and am greeted by the sight of a rally teeming with probably 250 supporters, festooned with ribbons and bunting.  From the loudspeakers, John Phillip Souza’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” booms loudly.

As North ascends the podium, the rally begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, led by a local minister.  During the prayer, he adds, “Lord – let this campaign be judged by the facts, and not by the liberal media …”  I notice that, as a member of the news media, nobody seems to be trying to get my vote this election.  

In fact, right now, in this place, I’m probably just about the bottom man on the totem pole in the whole crowd.  Being a reporter for a weekly newspaper, like the Westmoreland News, will get you about zero clout points with the other reporters.  Being 

a reporter at all gets me about zero love points from everyone else besides the reporters and North’s press representatives.  And being 21 years old gets me about negative five credibility points with anybody – you’re less a cub reporter to them than a Cub Scout.

The rally continues with typical patriotic rally style.  A retired Marine general is introduced, who speaks very favorably of North’s military reputation and his abilities.  North makes a speech – quite understandably – almost exactly like the last one he gave.  

I ask a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch how he handles listening to the same speeches all day.  He shrugs.  He asks me if I’m getting off the tour here, and I say yes.  “You won’t miss a thing,” he says.  Behind us, a woman drives by the rally, scowls at the assembled throng, and waves a downturned thumb.

Dan McLagan tells me that I can climb up onto the roof of Asphalt One to get a picture if I like.  I thank him and climb up, until a minute later a hefty man with a few wisps of hair in front sidles over and barks, “Get down from there!”  I bleat out, like a caught third grader, “But somebody said I could just …”  “I don’t care who said what,” he says.  “It’s dangerous.  Get down from there.”  I step down the ladder and secretly wish that I slip and break my neck and boy will he be sorry.

North’s speech finishes, and he spends probably half an hour milling through the crowd, shaking hands, smiling, and answering questions.  He talks on camera with a reporter from a Fredericksburg cable station.  The supporters slowly begin to drift away.  And then North hops back into the bus, and waves at the last 30 or so supporters.  

The Winnebago backs out slowly onto the road, and Candidate North waves again.  Then Asphalt One slips away and on to the rest of its day, which is only beginning.  I’ve only been on the campaign trail three hours, and I’m exhausted.  Oliver L. North has come and gone.  It’s 10:35 a.m., and I need a cigarette badly.

Not Just a Walk In the Park

By Jeffrey Carl

The Westmoreland News, July 18 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

“Westmoreland State Park is a great place to run,” they told me.  “Write up a story about it.”  “But I don’t like running,” I said.  “But it’s a great place,” they said, “You’ll love it.”  That was a couple of days ago.

Right now it’s one of the hottest days I can remember and I’m tired and I haven’t even been running for ten minutes.  A little over a mile, and the sticky heat of the day is drawing the energy out of me like a wall of tiny sponges barring my path.  I pass through the imposing woods along a trail in Westmoreland State Park, and I begin to remember all those reasons why I don’t go running very often anymore.

My friends and I who ran varsity cross-country in high school came to the conclusion after many grueling practice runs that the “runner’s high” is actually just a “bad trip.”  But I keep running.

Last year, 116,000 people came to Westmoreland State Park.  They jogged and they walked and they camped and they swam among other things in its primarily wooden 1300 acres.  They walked on the several scenic trails and saw the cliffs.  They came from hundreds of miles around to rest in the shade and see some of the park’s raccoons, deer, wild turkeys, or even the occasional bald eagle.

They rented a boat or swam and played in the Potomac River, or in the lifeguarded swimming pool that is open during the park’s busiest season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  They stayed in some of the park’s 30 cabins – some of which were built by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps over fifty years ago – or in one of the park’s 118 campsites.  And, judging by the way that this year’s attendance figures are ahead of last year’s pace, many of those 116,000 had a good time and came back.

There are six miles of scenic trails in Westmoreland State Park.  This seems odd because the hill I’ve been running up on Turkey Neck trail seems about fifteen miles long by itself.  Actually, it seems about fifteen miles high, since it’s all vertical anyway.

Sometimes when you’re running, it’s a wonderful relaxant because all you have time to do when you run is think and sweat.  Right now, working my way up the hill, I’m devoting almost all of my time to the latter.  I watch a rabbit pass me, moving up the hill through the leaves that cover the base of the woods.  It’s beautiful, I think, and then I go back to sweating full-time as I near the crest of the hill.

Willie E. Bowen is the Park Manager.  You can generally find him in his office, where he’ll answer your questions with a no-nonsense style.  Bowen treats the job with the earnestness of a man who has spent most of his life in the Park Service, but flashes of personality show when he talks about the park.

Does Westmoreland State Park have a personality?  “Yes,” he says, “I’d like to think it does.”  Bowen calculates that the park’s unique personality is a combination of its sense of preserved nature and the people who flow daily in and out of the park, bringing to the park an endless stream of new experiences, and new friends.  I figure they also bring new cans of mosquito repellent.  

Bowen tells me more as we drive on a tour of the park.  Bowen is administrative chief of the park’s five full-time and 26 seasonal employees.  He lives in a charming-loking house on the park’s property, often visited by over-friendly deer, and not far from where the Park Ranger lives, and his morning commute to the administrative office of the park is about five hundred yards of road through shady woods.  He doesn’t usually have problems with rush hour traffic, either.  Driving along with him through the park, it doesn’t seem like too bad a job at all.

Is there a best part to the job?  Bowen thinks for a moment and decides that it is getting to meet the people who come to the park every week.  Conversely, the worst part of the job is the slow winter months when – although the park is open – it sits in a lonely, quiet white winter sleep.

Winter.  What I wouldn’t give for winter right now.  I’m gliding down one of the park trails, sidestepping roots that encroach on the path’s edges, and imagining how great it would feel to get caught in a sudden snowstorm.  Of course, in a few months I’ll be complaining about how desperate I am for summer heat, but running is no time for foresight.  

In fact, if you did have foresight, you probably wouldn’t be running because you’d realize that you ended the trail at exactly the same place as you started.  Not only did all of this running not actually get you anywhere, you spent a good part of the time that you ran being irritable and making statements calling into question the legitimate ancestry of your local weather forecaster, the persons who built the trail, the persons who built your running shoes, and indeed the entire National Park Service.

Bud Altman is an employee of the park who provides a fairly new service – he is a camping coordinator.  He lives in one of the camping areas with his wife and serves as sort of a general guide and ombudsman for the camping community.  He says that he is thoroughly impressed by how clean and self-sufficient the campers are.  “Most of them,” Altman says, “leave their spots as clean – or cleaner – than they found them.”  Are the campers ever unruly?  Altman claims to have heard an astonishing two crackles of fireworks in the park over the Fourth of July weekend.  This campground certainly isn’t the Woodstock festival.

Altman says that plenty of large groups come camping at the park – that week, there was a large contingent from L.O.W. – an organization of widows and widowers.  “If they start dating each other, or if they get married,” Altman recounts what he was told of the group’s rules, “they’re out of there.”

Bowen notes that the demand for the cabins in the summer is great – he recommends making reservations several months in advance, especially if you want a cabin during July.  The cabins are fairly well furnished, and are affordable at about $300 per week, with the rental periods available ranging from a weekend to a fortnight.  Demand is always highest for the cabins that overllok the spectacular cliffs.

Altman says that there aren’t many complaints or problems with the park’s many campers, because they tend to be very self-sufficient people.  “In general,” Bowen adds, “campers aren’t complainers.”  The most grievous problems reported by cabin dwellers tend to be busted lightbulbs or air conditioning problems.

I don’t have much farther to go on my run.  After about another mile, I will collapse back in the seat of my car, turn the air-conditioner on “sub-arctic,” and shotgun half a case of Mountain Dew.  After you have been running in hot weather for a while, you cease to think about where you are or what you’re doing, and you just begin thinking about where you’re going to be and what you’re going to be doing after you finish being where you are and doing what you’re doing now.

So I’m plodding along and I hear a bird chirp loudly and I grind to a halt.  And I look around me and I’m in the middle of a beautiful wood, and it seems like the forest has accepted me silently as just another tiny flywheel in the intricate machine that a forest is.  The other panting beasts – and I don’t feel so bad, because I figure that raccoon fur can’t be too comfortable in this weather – in the forest quietly go their ways and leave me to go on mine.  As I slowly pick up speed and begin to run again, I feel that – for a moment – I realize why this place is special and why running through the woods is all worthwhile.  Then I go back to thinking of the end of the trail and the Dairy Freeze not too far away.

Down at the beach, the pool is busy and the beach is jammed with picnickers and players in the surf.  Indeed, so many people seem to be laughing carelessly and enjoying themselves that the cynic in you expects to see a shark fin on the horizon at any moment.  But the people play on, and the families charge the picnicking tables and retreat to the water later to cool off.  The lifeguards sit like bronze statues consecrated to the Greek sun god Ray-Ban in their chairs by the pool.  On the far side of the beaches, the sharp cliffs can be seen.

Everyone I speak to repeats the same reason they are here: “The kids wanted to come.”  “The kids wanted to swim.”  “We figured we’d take the kids somewhere to get away from the heat.”  “The kids insisted.”   I half expected to hear someone claim that their kids had kidnapped them and driven the car themselves to come to the park.  But I somehow suspect that the adults there weren’t too averse to the trip.

Terry Sanford wears a friendly smile at the contact station that straddles the road entrance to and exit from Westmoreland State Park.  She says that some people come down the winding road into the park, find out that they have to pay an admission fee – one dollar during the week, and a dollar and a half during the weekends – and turn right around and drive away.  Others drive in to ask directions, often to Lee’s Birthplace or Washington’s.  Some even drive in an ask where the monuments are, expecting that they are at one of the birthplace memorials.

But most of the people who pass through the gates enter and leave the place they wanted to be.  And, judging by the many happy returns to the park, they fell in love with it again.

Horrorscope of the Stars

By the Mysterious Professor Zoltar

The Westmoreland News, July 14 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

Editor’s Note: We here at the Westmoreland News pride ourselves on being responsive to our readers.  We have received numerous requests from our readers to stop making the horoscopes funny.  This aroused some confusion, as we really didn’t think they were funny to begin with.  However, your wish is our command, and this represents the final issue of the Mysterious Professor Zoltan’s tenure as Staff Astrologer.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22):  Well that’s just great.  They’re firing me.  Wonderful.  I hate you all.  Do you hear me?  I’m gonna go down the subscription list and come to everybody’s  house with a bazooka.  Oh?  You want a horoscope?  Here’s your flippin’ horoscope: I’m having a rotten week and I think you should too.

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22): Consider  your business dealings with strangers carefully.  Make your move to let someone know you care.  Eat lots of fruit.  And believe everything you read.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22): There is a great amount of money in your future this week.  Unfortunately, it is somebody else’s money.  Stay alert this week: opportunities are here!  They are bad opportunities, but they’re opportunities anyway. 

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22): Be careful in your business dealings this week: don’t fall for that old “I’ll trade you two tens for a five” trick.  Avoid Tauruses and corrugated aluminum siding. 

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Alright, you didn’t send me any money, so here’s your horoscope: you will die in the next 24 hours.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): This is the dawning of the aaage of Sagittariuuuus!  da-dah The aaage of … that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?  Never mind.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): You should take yourself too seriously this week.  Like me.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): Be sure to recycle this week: cans, bottles, motor oil, unwanted family members, you name it.  Keep an eye open for something which will happen this week and don’t worry about something else, which will not happen.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): Did you send me any money last week?  Huh?  No!  Nobody did!    Do you think it’s easy coming up with horoscopes week after week?  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to cash checks addressed to “The Mysterious Professor Zoltan?”  Well, no money – no horoscope. 

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): This would be a good week to stay home and catch up on soaps.  Avoid Sagittariuses and rat poison.

Fireworks and Circuses: Diary of a Roman Holiday in Washington

By Jeffrey Carl

The Westmoreland News, July 9 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

July 3: A Descent into the Maelstrom My friends and I arrived in Washington about 11 p.m. after three wrong turns, two heated arguments about which direction “North” was, and the Chain Bridge into D.C. being closed after a tree fell on it.  

As a journalist, my obligation was to do what I could to talk to the residents of Washington, to experience the mood and the messages of the masses on the brink of the holiday.  With this firmly in mind, we went to spend the night at my friend’s house in the southwest of the city. My friend attends American University and lives in a large house with several of his Delta Chi fraternity brothers.   

Unbeknownst to us, he and his friends were holding their annual “The Fourth and a Fifth” party and the house was packed to the walls.  Since I had brought along some bourbon – and that is one of the first things you learn in journalism school – we blended in and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to “talk firsthand with plenty of Washington D.C. ‘Generation X’ representatives.”  

Being a “Generation X” representative myself, I can say with fairly absolute certainty that the idea “Generation X” is actually pretty insulting and a wildly inaccurate generic label for twentysomethings.  However, editors seem to love it – and it sounds better than “I interviewed my drunk friends” – so it seemed like a good idea to investigate.  Besides, I owed my friend some bourbon to make up for the last time I came to visit and drank all his vodka and destroyed his computer’s dot-matrix printer.

Looking back on my notes, it didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d hoped: most people didn’t have a whole lot pithy to say besides “Whoooooo!” or “Where’s the bathroom?” and even if anybody had said anything witty and revealing, I certainly wouldn’t have remembered it.  

The best information we could glean was that everybody and their grandmother planned to spend tomorrow on the Mall.  The whole city was gearing up for the celebrations that would climax with the fireworks display in front of the Washington Monument.

July 4: Heart of the Matter We all got up bright and early at the crack of 11 a.m.  I chugged a couple of cans of Mountain Dew (or “starter fluid” as I call it) and my companions and I prepared to check into our hotel room early to watch the U.S.-Brazil game in the World Cup soccer tournament. 

We checked into our hotel and decided to take a stroll to Georgetown for lunch.  Everywhere the city bustled with young people, carrying backpacks and cheap fireworks.  

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.  This was certainly true of all the tourist-trapping vendors selling cheap polyester $3 American flag ties.  I bought one.  It was made in Korea.

Images of the Stars and Stripes were everywhere.  There was even a small American flag in the deli we stopped into for lunch, run by a Pakistani man who prominently displayed autographed pictures on his walls of all the celebrities who had had lunch there.  There were also a couple of pictures of the president in there, but it wasn’t autographed and I think he just had it there in case Mr. Clinton decided to stop by for ice cream and have a pen handy.  I would heartily recommend the turkey club in a pita pocket if I thought that I could ever find the deli again.

We walked quickly back to our hotel to escape the heat. My friends and I scientifically calculated that the temperature on the sidewalk was about three billion degrees farenheit.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but I earnestly expected the hydrogen nuclei in our bodies to start fusing together if we didn’t get back to air-conditioning.

We did return to the air-conditioned environs of our hotel, the State Plaza, just in time to meet another group of friends and settle down for the World Cup game.  Our friends had brought cheap American beer (Miller), cheap American food (McDonald’s), and now all we needed was a cheap, unearned, undeserved, unlikely American victory over Brazil to make our patriotic holiday complete.

In our small party watching the game, we had two foreign elements: Adrian , a British exchange student friend and dedicated football hooligan rooting gladly for the “colonies’ team”; and Maggie, a traitorous element of American citizenship but Brazilian descent who chose to root-root-root for not-the-home team.  

We all became excited as the game progressed and the Americans did not get immediately slaughtered (as had been predicted) by the best team in the world.  The tension mounted, and Adrian – being used, I supposed, to doing civilized British things during soccer games like destroying stadiums and throwing rocks at bobbies – was the most ecstatic and vehement fan of us all.

In fact, Adrian was wildly cheering for the U.S. team with the enthusiasm of a soccer connossieur, while the most spirited thing I could manage to say while watching America’s soccer team players was “Get a haircut, slick.”  

The game continued and the U.S. still hadn’t been eaten alive yet – this was exciting.  The Americans missed an early scoring opportunity, and then Brazilian shot after shot ended as a near miss.  Slowly a great realization dawned upon us: nothing really ever happens in World Cup soccer.  It’s great to play but duller than a barn-raising to watch.

Surprisingly, only two tense moments arose during the game-watching party on this most patriotic of days.  

First was the inevitable debate of nomenclature with Adrian (“It’s football.”  “It’s soccer.”  “I’m telling you it’s football.”  “I’m telling you that the Cowboys play football and this sure as hell ain’t it.”  “It’s football!”  “It’s soccer!” and so on).  

Second came the moment when the Brazilians scored then one and only goal of the game, well into the second half, and Maggie let loose with some Brazilian fervor.  I stood up, leveled a nasty gaze at her, and muttered, “Leave the room.”  A few minutes later we all settled down, but only after heated charges that America was an Imperialist jerk and a retort that Brazil’s greatest contribution to world history was Brazil Nuts.

Brazil went on to win the game and the party was adjourned to forage for food.  Eventually we joined up again and began our walk to the Mall.

The Mall in Washington is enormous – a stretch of grass with the Lincoln Memorial at one end, next the Reflecting Pool and the Vietnam Memorial, the Washington Monument in the middle, flanked by the Smithsonian Institute’s buildings and a carousel, with the Capitol building at the far end.  And the stream of people towards the area was amazing.  

Thousands upon thousands of people drifted away from the other events of the day – the Independence Day parites, the various parades, a noticeable contingent from the Great Smoke-Out marijuna legalization demonstration – and towards the mall to see the fireworks that were to be launched from in front of the monolithic Washington Monument.

It seemed like the whole country had gathered for the celebration.  The whole Mall was covered with people on the grass and even up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; we crammed into a tiny spot near the reflecting pool and spread our blankets.  The tent of a group who had camped out on the lawn to preserved their spot stood nearby; they took it down before the fireworks began, to avoid blocking the view of the other spectators.

There was a man juggling flaming sticks in the Reflecting Pool, and another who waded through and towed behind him a motorized shark fin.  We kicked back and shared a cigar with a State Department official who sat with his family, just in front of us.

The fireworks were set to begin at 9:15, and were expected to be tremendous: the show was to include over 3,000 individual shells, with 1,100 reserved for the finale.  As the sky lit up, we were not disappointed.

The crowd oohed and aahed as the night air exploded in white and blue and red in a thousand different patterns and designs.  Each firework was followed by the sharp crack of its explosion, a half second later.  Several times the crowd bellowed cheers as high firework bursts rained down a multitude of gleaming tiny shells that trailed sparks like shooting stars.  It was like an aerial war fought by armies of dueling painters.

The blazing finish came and went, the assembles masses roared and clapped while about a thousand “early-birds” snuck off into the Metro station at once to try to beat the rush.

The crowd began to filter away, and police helicopters with searchlights scanned the crowd.  Radios in the crowd played everything from Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful” to Lynrd Skynrd’s “Freebird.”  We stopped for a moment in the Lincoln Memorial to look out over the scene, and then wandered back to our hotel.

After seeing some news coverage of the fireworks and a rather lewd game of charades, we walked to a T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant for some midnight snacks.  I won the “Draw on the back of your placemat what America means to you” competition that the restaurant was holding that day.  My entry had a relatively neatly-drawn (you try filling in all those stars with crayons) American flag, and the words, “A bold experiment.  Some successes.  Some failures.  But we’re still the best house on the block.  What can we say?  We’ve got Elvis on our side.”

I won a T.G.I. Friday’s button and a balloon which I proceeded to suck all the helium out of and talk like a chipmunk.  Then we went back to the hotel and to bed. 

July 5: There and Back Again We awoke from our Independence Day festivities just in time to avoid a grumpy cleaning lady.  The headline of the Washington Post read, “Respect for American soccer: born on the Fourth of July.”  

We took with us some dazzling memories and I took with me the Gideon’s Bible from the hotel room, an act which my friends assured me would lead to my going straight to hell.  I assured them in turn that, judging from the rest of my life, this act simply assured that I would get a front-row seat when I got there.

We bade goodbye to Adrian, as he prepared to catch a plane home to Heathrow Airport the next day.  And we bade goodbye to our nation’s capital, feeling that we really had found a nicely rounded example of America at large.  I was proud that I had shared our national birthday with the rest of Washington, and proud also I had bought a really cool flag tie for only three dollars.  

It had been a fine holiday, and we would have driven off into the sunset with a flag draped over the car, if it hadn’t been the middle of the afternoon, when sunsets are hard to come by.

Horrorscope of the Stars

By the Mysterious Professor Zoltar

The Westmoreland News, June 30 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): This is a good week for something, but now I don’t remember what it was.  Sorry.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22): Let me put it this way: somebody up there can’t stand you. Also, this would be a good week to quit smoking, because I’m quitting smoking this week and I want somebody else to be as miserable as I am. 

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22): This week you will reach your highest intellectual peak as you think of a revolutionary new process for printing by putting moveable type on to a reusable printing press.  Then you will realize that Gutenberg thought of that already, about 400 years ago, and feel really silly.  But it’s the thought that counts. 

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s yours this week.  Unless you don’t want it, in which case you’d better sit down before anybody realizes it’s yours.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): Pisces women: avoid Taurus men this week: they are lazy, crude, insensitive, and have one-track-I’m-interested-in-just-one-thing-baby-and-I’m-not-talking-about-Yahtzee minds. Then again, so do all men.  Go figure.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20): Would you like to get a degree at home?  Refrigeration technology?  Gun repair?  TV or VCR repair?  Well, tough luck.  But you can order the do-it-yourself Astrologer kit  from the Westmoreland News.  In twenty-six short weeks, you too can be a fully accredited astrologer, just like the Mysterious Professor Zoltan.  Just send lots and lots of money to:

Mysterious Professor Zoltan

c/o The Westmoreland News

Montross, VA. 22520

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): This week you should do some things.  You should also not do other things.  There are also things which you might or might not do, and these things may or may not be lucky depending upon what you did in the first place.  I can’t tell you any more without spoiling the whole thing.  

Aries (March 21 – April 19): Earnlay a ewnay anguagelay isthay eekway.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): This week you will be contacted by space aliens who will take you to a faraway planet and show you the mysteries of the universe.  You will also be contacted by illegal aliens who will take you to a faraway alley and steal your wallet.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.  Da – dah-da-dah-dah-da – dum -da-dah … the aaaage of Aquaaariiuuuuuuus!

Cancer (June 21 – July 22): It may not be anything serious, but you do look kinda pale.  

Golfing In Westmoreland County

By Jeffrey Carl

The Westmoreland News, June 29 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

Katie Massa Plays Golf, 1994
Katie Massa takes a swing at golf

They say that you never learn to curse until you learn to drive.  For those under the minimum 16-year age, I recommend golf.

Golf is a sport for lazy people and a passion for dedicated people and a nuisance for uncoordinated people and a test of creative cussing for most of us and it’s actually really a lot of fun if you don’t mind how badly you’re doing at it.  At least it is at Cameron Hills Golf Links, in King George.

My friend Katie is a wonderful person – sterling character, nice legs and so forth – but she’s a horrible golf partner.  For one thing – and I’m not making this up – she almost killed us in a golf cart.

Jeffrey Carl Plays Golf, 1994
Jeff lines up for an approach shot

The green of the 18th hole is down beyond an relatively enormous steep hill, and as we wearily rode towards it, our old pal “gravity” started displaying its warped sense of humor, and we began to pick up speed.  

Katie, who was behind the wheel, seemed rather puzzled at how to remedy this, as the only pedal she had used on the cart thus far was the gas.  I thought it over and suggested one contingency politely by screaming “BRAKE!  BRAKE! BRAKE!” at the top of my lungs.  

By this time we were picking up speed and hurling towards our deaths – and believe-you-me, no matter who you are, if you die in a golf cart accident they send you straight to Hell just for being stupid.  Katie slammed on the parking brake, and let me just tell you that if you’ve never laid rubber in a souped-up golf cart, man oh man are you missing something.

Katie Massa Drives the Golf Cart, 1994
Katie Massa Lays On the Horn

But I digress.  The problem with Katie’s golf game was that she was actually attempting to dig for buried treasure or oil or truffles – the theory being, I suppose that if you make enough divots you’re bound to find something.

However, it would be unfair for me to posit myself as having played an entirely superior game of golf that afternoon either. 

Through a mistake at the clubhouse, however, I was given small dimpled wood-seeking missiles.  I suppose that it was the military’s day to test new secret weapons at the  course because some of them were also the rumored F-124 Stealth Golf Balls, which disappear from all known methods of detection as soon as you hit them.  

These charmingly innocuous-looking little demonic terrors managed to veer off into the woods or a stream – and certainly not because I hit them there, thank you very much – and hide themselves in whatever seemed handy.  

I would occasionally wander into the woods looking for a ball and discover some long-extinct species of killer mosquito with a handicap much lower than mine or, if I ventured deep enough into the woods, be asked by a polite dinosaur or lost company from the 13th Massachussets Zouaves if I knew the way back to the fairway.

A Peek Behind the Scenes at The Westmoreland News

By Jeffrey Carl

The Westmoreland News, June 27 1994

Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

We here at the Westmoreland News pride ourselves on being responsive to our readers.  So, we decided to take this opportunity to answer some of the most frequently-asked questions about the newspaper and how it comes, fresh and  piping hot, to your door every week except for those weeks when we really don’t feel like it.  So let’s open up the ol’ mailbag … and trust me, it’s heavier than you can shake a stick at … and answer some of those reader questions.

Q: Who writes the Westmoreland News

A: Well, that is a rather complicated question.  Originally, the newspaper was written by clever trained seals, using special typewriters with very, very large keys. The newspaper won several awards for journalistic excellence, but eventually the rising cost of fish forced the paper’s management to return the seals to the wild.  Later the seals all went to work for Entertainment Tonight.

For a short while in the 1960s, the Westmoreland News was written by human reporters.  While they had certain advantages over the seals – opposable thumbs for using the coffee machine, for example – this strategy was later abandoned in favor of more cost-effective methods.

Have you ever heard the theory that if you had an infinite number of monkeys, typing away at an infinite number of typewriters, that one of them would eventually type Hamlet?  Well, from 1962 to 1976, a full-time staff of twelve monkeys actually did type the Westmoreland News.  While there were small problems – some complained about the overuse of the phrase “going bananas” in the paper – for the most part, things ran smoothly, and the monkeys actually made fewer misspellings and typographical errors than any other staff to this day.

During the late 1970s, the paper’s management decided it would be cheaper simply not to publish a newspaper at all.  Between 1977 and 1986, over 350,000 blank newspapers were passed out, while the populace was told that the paper was simply “written in invisible ink.”  Because nobody could remember whether you were supposed to rub milk or lemon juice or whatever it was to be able to read invisible ink, nobody tried it and hence nobody noticed until the mid-eighties.  

Scandal struck in 1987 when a 3rd grader, working on a science project, discovered the formula for decoding invisible ink, applied it to the newspaper, and discovered that there actually wasn’t anything there.  Mass hysteria ensued, and the paper was threatened with violence by its former “invisible advertisers.”  The newspaper’s owners needed to find a rational explanation for what had happened, and after careful consideration they decided to blame the whole thing on ink-sucking giant killer mutant space wombats.

The public bought the wombat story, but the paper’s management still needed a staff.  Various options – more seals, escaped mental patients, even just xeroxing the Washington Post and sticking a new name on it – were considered.  Eventually, they decided on hiring space alien robots to write the newspaper.  These plucky, humanoid-looking, inhuman mechanized monsters have been writing the Westmoreland News since 1988, and we’re still going strong.  And remember – “To Serve Man” is our motto.

Q: How long does it take to make each week’s newspaper?

A: It takes the Westmoreland News’ full staff of 55 alien robots over six weeks to produce each action-packed newspaper.

Q: But the paper comes out once a week.  How can it possibly take six weeks to make the paper?

A: Look, we’re journalists, not mathematicians.  Next question?

Q: Where do you get your ideas for stories from?

A: Once a week, the newspaper’s writing staff gets together for a story conference.  They get together with a pot of coffee and an ounce of marijuana and gets stoned out of their minds and say things like, “Wow … wouldn’t it be, like, cool, to do a story on if trees can dream?”   Because most of the ideas generated at these story conferences are just as stupid as that one, most of the ideas that actually get used have to come from somewhere else. 

Many of our ideas come from you – the community.  Occasionally someone will throw a rock in through the office window with a note tied to it with a story idea.  Other times, someone will write in to tell us how they think we’re doing.  After we disarm the bomb that comes with it and scrape the flaming dog poo off of the letter and read it, we will sometimes find an idea for a story. 

However, most of our ideas come from the time-honored journalistic tradition of stealing them from another newspaper. 

Q: Does the newspaper take and develop its own photographs?

A: Yes and no.  The Westmoreland News does, in fact, have its own picture department, but they aren’t actually photographs.  Our reporters carry around small boxes that look like cameras but actually have tiny people living inside them.  When the shutter opens, these tiny artistic wonders draw everything they see on a little pad of paper there inside the “camera.”  The public should feel safe in the knowledge that its little newspaper is on the cutting edge of technology.

Q: Is the Westmoreland News famous for anything?

A: Of course.  Aside from the period of social activism when the Westmoreland News led the fight to get the Virginia State Song changed to “We Will Rock You,” the paper is famed for its 100% correctness in its weather forecasts.

Q: But you don’t have any weather forecasts.

A: Mind your own damn business.  Next question?

Q: Are you people actually being paid for this junk?

A: Well, it seems that we’re out of space for the reader mailbag this week.  Remember to keep those cards, letters and small ticking packages coming so we can respond to your ideas and requests, because every letter to the Westmoreland News is opened, read, and considered by the whole staff.  Then, the spelling and grammar errors are circled and the staff gets together and laughs at the person who wrote the letter.  

So long, and we’ll see you in the funny papers.