Letters to the editor

In praise of white-trash ingenuity

It was refreshing to read Jerry Sternberg’s brown-cow theory [Commentary, Jan. 17, “How about a little compassion, folks?”]. I have had a less polite response in mind, considering the way Asheville tends to put out of mind the existence of what is less romantically dubbed the white-trash population. Not necessarily to be found in hospital waiting rooms or on corners purchasing highs — many, like my ancestors, are out there with aggressive spirits to see life move.

The Duryea brothers emerged from a barn behind their home — having put together the first piston engine — and consistently got “run out of town” for such rowdy behavior as racing their invention through the center of town, disturbing the cows. Not only did they invent the car, they also put it side by side with a renegade spirit.

No one wanted that noisy thing in their neighborhood, and these boys had to stay on the run to avoid arrests — eventually creating a need for race tracks, until Ford took the idea to the assembly line, making it available to everyone. A split happened then that made the automobile the forerunner of two decidedly different lifestyles: that of my forebears who found the track the only way to legally challenge the beast, and that of the brown-cow society who had to have the wheels to keep status. Having won the first car race, the Duryeas led the world in aggressive perfection of a machine that the rest of society became dependent on.

It didn’t take long for the car to become a symbol for the rich, or for its history to be switched from renegade roots with a good race in mind to a man who was able to put one in every home. Both had good ideas, and one could not have moved ahead without the other. But history will record the financial genius over the renegade kid.

Asheville seems to want to record history void of the working spirit, full of the status-quo lifestyle. I live on the edge of those choices, as the golf course across the street has managed to zone out the possibility of any white-trash behavior — i.e., trailers, etc. — that may be in their view. I hate to think that barns and all that could possibly take place in them is next on their list to be offensive. I mean, when all is said and done and it is time for the cows to come in from their frolic, where do they expect to go home?

— Sally Duryea

How about a little compassion, Jerry?

Jerry Sternberg’s occasional rants in the “Commentary” section are definitely not the prototype of a local perspective, as he claims that they are. I am sure most of us who are “natives” (including those whose families go back in this region probably longer than Mr. Sternberg’s) — along with everybody else — just ignore him, since what he is saying is so obviously twisted. His insults demonize anybody who does not share his peculiar tastes, rather than rationally expressing his difference in point of view.

A major contention of Mr. Sternberg’s is that all Original People of Asheville, particularly his concept of “working people,” are deprived of their rightful needs and desires by all outsiders, who are all thoughtless, enjoy the wrong things, and [are] rich. I have been offended at times by the stereotypes of this area that recent immigrants express on rare occasions, but two wrongs do not make a right.

In his last commentary [Jan. 17, “How about a little compassion, folks?”] and in those he has written in the past, Mr. Sternberg has often made his argument by referring to the demise of the Asheville Speedway and the formerly proposed Ingles megastore on Charlotte Street. Nobody had the racetrack “taken away,” as if it had been condemned by eminent domain due to the maneuvers of sinister elitists. The obvious fact is that it was sold. It was sold by an owner with private-property rights. Blame the loss of the racetrack on the owner that sold it, period. The purchaser then donated it to the city of Asheville for a park, for the use of everybody, which is in the real world egalitarian, not elitist. If the racetrack is such an essential part of the local cultural reality, why has it been impossible for the last two or three years to find any locale whatsoever that would accept its re-establishment nearby? Not a single place within Buncombe, Madison, Haywood or Henderson counties is willing to harbor a new track. I live five or six miles away from the old one, and I used to be able to hear it quite clearly. If Mr. Sternberg had lived in a nearby neighborhood and endured the noise there like everybody else, I bet he would have become an elitist overnight. The City Council could not have prevented the sale, any more than they could have prevented Mr. Sternberg from selling his property — all to the contrary of Mr. Sternberg’s speculation that all the working people were not able to get to City Council to voice their opposition to the loss of the track, since they were all working every minute the Council met. …

Mr. Sternberg made a great deal in the past of how the poor people of Charlotte Street and the area nearby would miss having a grocery, if Ingles could not establish their proposed huge store complex. But he has never pled for food access in other neighborhoods. He never referred to the dislocation and disturbance the complex would have caused the folks who quietly live there, or to how the boundary of the residential area would have been pushed farther back and affected people living blocks away. …

Mr. Sternberg says that all the newcomers disdainfully isolate themselves, and proposes that they help those in need — specifically naming parts of town where people might be in need. True, many in this and other communities are in dire, troubled situations and not enough is done to help them. But Mr. Sternberg’s examples are generic — probably extrapolated from generally reported, recurring tragedies of our day — which he then attaches to the names of actual neighborhoods. Unless Mr. Sternberg is a social worker, he also probably does not have direct experience in helping these souls. A rhetorical question from the old-time, local perspective: Is it relevant that a family of the same name, Sternberg, used to own and live in the enormous Seely’s Castle on Sunset Mountain — built for the son-in-law of E.W. Grove (of Grove Park Inn fame), and large enough to have once housed Asheville-Biltmore College (1940s through the early 1960s)? Nothing is wrong with anyone living there, of course, even if it was Jerry Sternberg’s family. But in any case, his criticism of a vast number of fellow citizens for being nonegalitarian isolationists is unfair.

Preservation of the best of Asheville’s environment, both natural and built, to the extent that it has been accomplished is what has recently made the city a success. This includes the re-use of old neighborhoods for mixed business and [residential use], rather than the unnecessary displacement of older businesses and of residents for parking, which Mr. Sternberg advocates. The Sayles/Swannanoa River location really was a bad place for Wal-Mart, potentially costing the community a great deal in terms of its effect on traffic in the surrounding area, among many other problems. The Wal-Marting of Asheville that Mr. Sternberg advocates is certainly not “local!” For years now, all over the country, it has been documented that their stores have displaced locally owned businesses.

People, generally — old and new to this area — are comparing differences of perspective and sharing ideas to contribute to the overall well-being of the community. Let us natives and newcomers alike share our enthusiasms. In various combinations, we-the-people should band together to plant trees, save beauty, donate art and parks, or fund such projects with bonds which do not raise taxes. These are things which everybody can enjoy, rich and poor alike. Yea, Mr. Sternberg, I’ll say it: “liveability” for us all.

And it should be said that people will eat what they want to, since Mr. Sternberg has faulted those who happen to like delis and bakeries on Charlotte Street. Gobbledegook.

How about a little compassion, Jerry?

— James Thomas

Serpent and eagle superior to misguided judiciary

Lounging outside my cave one evening, a southwesterly gale began to sweep across the precipice I call home (as well as “nowhere”) … until my serpent slithered outside and murmured something in my ear that was heartily seconded by my eagle. Problem is, the message was basically subliminal and only after some writhing and convulsing could I get it coded into words. Please do not think ill of my snake, for verily he shoots ambrosia rather than venom and always poses peril for so-called dark forces.

Today’s subject: Judge wears panties at wrong time. In Michigan, the mere act of selling a gun can be considered tantamount to murder if that gun eventually ends up in the hands of a homicidal nut. According to a recent report in the Detroit Free Press, one Terry Walker — a cook who lives in Capac, Mich. — has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Oct. 11 death of policeman Christopher Wouters. Officer Wouters was shot to death by Ljeka Juncaj while he was booking the suspect on drug charges at a Warren, Mich., jail. The arresting officers had not searched the suspect, so Juncaj’s handgun went undetected.

Walker was 70 miles away when the crime was committed, but the absence of any connection between Walker and Juncaj did not trouble the judge or prosecutor, who decided that it was not relevant whether the two knew each other, but rather that Walker “put the weapon into the stream of use, so he is responsible.” Somewhere along the line, the judge had evidently assimilated a “stream of determinism” philosophy.

When I witness news of this sort, I am glad to have a serpent and eagle for friends instead of this type of judiciary.

— Charles Mathis

Local movie theaters are short on happy endings

I’m an avid moviegoer. I see an average of two movies per week. Often I go alone, sometimes with my two kids or a friend, and once in a while my husband and I splurge on getting a baby sitter and go together. I’d say I spend around $2,000 a year between tickets, popcorn and other refreshments. Now, I love movies and we have chosen to have a TV-free household, so I really don’t mind dishing out the bucks to see a movie on the big screen. Except … recently 90 percent of the movies I’ve seen were shown on screens that have dirt, holes or scratches on/in them, or the film has lines running right down the middle of the screen during the entire movie. My experience with reporting these problems at two of the major theaters in town have usually been met with a “take it or leave it” attitude. I’ve been told that I could get a refund, but I would not be able to stay and watch the movie (with no guarantee that if I came back another day the problem would be fixed). If I only mentioned it on the way out, well that was just too bad: I’d seen the movie, hadn’t I? Managers have told me that they were aware of technical problems and they would be repaired shortly. Upon subsequent visits over a two-month period, I found the problems remained the same. I’ve also been told that problems with the screen could be due to food and/or drinks that have been thrown at the screen and that they just did not have the time to clean it.

Am I the only person in Asheville who notices this? Aren’t others annoyed to finally get out to see a movie they’ve been excitedly waiting for — then paid $7 for — only to have their movie experience semi-ruined by a green line running down the center of the screen? Or how about a scratch that shows up as a light spot the size of a baseball over the actors? Both of these scenarios have happened this week, when I went to see Family Man and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Has anyone else ever complained about it? It is not right that these theaters get away with this and, on top of it, raise their ticket prices!

To end this rant on a good note, I would like to say kudos to the Fine Arts Theatre — not only for showing great films, but for always being friendly and helpful, and for keeping the place and their equipment clean and in top shape.

— Madhu Schmid

Vagina Monologues was flawed and disappointing

In regards to her recent review [“Seen and heard,” Jan. 17]: Did Marcianne Miller attend the same Vagina Monologues that I did? Her review slathers unequivocal praise on Eve Ensler’s play presented recently at the green door by Consider the Following. While the actresses did a remarkable and praiseworthy job with the script given them, it is that script that was sorely and sadly lacking. Ms. Miller is correct that it was an audience “who not only know these words,” but also know still more words, and know their meanings.

Early in the play, in the piece on hair, I was rapt as Ensler tiptoed to the edge of the abyss of latent pedophilia in American standards of adult female beauty. Then she beat a hasty retreat without looking down. The single post-menopausal character is written as the virginal, repressed, asexual spinster. Ho-hum. Another woman gives a gleeful account of viewing her “vagina” in a self-awareness workshop, and [talks about] how enlightened she feels. I am left wondering why nobody enlightened her that it was not her vagina she was looking at. The show culminates with the eternal female stereotype that breeding is woman’s ultimate glorification.

All so disappointing, given that Ensler wrote herself (the “narrator” or facilitator) strongly; that she was creative and fearless in tackling feminine developmental issues and abuses; and that she rose to art in writing of the Bosnian rape camps. Falling flat from so much potential is a breathtaking plunge. Most glaring was the misuse of terminology; it was distracting from the beginning and maddening by the end. The director defends Ensler. It seems that since we little ladies haven’t proven our comfort level with the word “vagina,” we must keep misusing it as men do, and cannot graduate to the proper words for all of our parts: mons veneris/mons pubis, prepuce, clitoris (which she did use! but so did the South Park movie — not exactly cutting-edge), labia (minora and majora), fouchette, vestibule or, inclusively, the vulva.

Miller writes that words can be used as “incantations of power and redemption.” If so, let us at least try to know what we are saying in our incantations.

— Chrysse Everhart

Here’s the beef

The U.S. Department of Agriculture assures us that Mad Cow disease — or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) — has and never will happen here. But, isn’t this exactly what the British government was telling its citizens between 1985 and 1996, when it had to acknowledge BSE’s link with the deadly human dementia known as CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease)? And didn’t the French, German and other West European governments suffer similar embarrassment, beginning last fall?

The USDA assures us that no cases of BSE or CJD have been recorded here. But the only way we could record such cases is by examining the brain tissues of thousands of people who die each year of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia with CJD-like symptoms.

The USDA assures us that BSE won’t happen here, because we have banned imports of British beef and beef products in 1989 and all European beef and beef products in 1997, and because a couple of months ago, the Food and Drug Administration finally banned the use of animal body parts in cattle feed. But the FDA admits that hundreds of feed manufacturers violate the ban.

Yes, it’s getting harder to trust the judgment of USDA officials and to tell fact from fiction. But I do know what my family won’t be eating.

— Steve Abrego

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