thanks for the idea, but i'd tried that already and it doesn't resolve the problem.
i'm not sure, but i have the suspicion that xfree or something related to that is changing my settings at a more basic hardware level than just the terminal. what's even stranger is that all the virtual terminals have the same problem after running x.
is there some way that i can see how wide or tall the terminal is configured to be? some utility that will probe the monitor and / or graphics card to determine who is writing to the area below the visible screen?