Saturday, April 12, 2014
Back in the third grade my teacher decided that I couldn’t hold a pencil properly so she taped my pencil to my hand for an entire day. No one thinks for a second this would work and it wasn’t designed to work. The intent was to publically shame me for my poor writing skills. I had to eat lunch with half a roll of tape wrapped around my hand with a pencil sticking out of it. From that point on I always considered education to be equivalent to some sort of Concentration Camp where the guards and torturers make damn sure no one gets out with the ability to think clearly.
We had those huge thick pencils for the first three years of Elementary School and there was no good reason for it, really. The larger pencils were supposed to help build our muscles or something like that but I always thought it was wrong to force very small children to use very large writing instruments. As small as I was it was like trying to write with a boat oar. We were not allowed to so much as carry a pen with us, ever. That was one of the things that only adults did. We were constantly being told to stop acting like children but we were forbidden to behave like adults.
What we were required to carry was a three ring binder. Inside that was a little pouch that had a zipper on it and it also had holes that fit the binder. We were supposed to have, at all times, a pencil, an eraser, a compass, and a ruler, and as far as I knew, we never used the ruler. Candy, gum, or some interesting rock you might have found on the playground, all of that was considered an execution offense if they found it in your pouch. The Pouch Police were very real demons to the kids in my school.
I rode my bike to school and one day I found an ink pen on the road. I remember it very well because it had the name of some tire company in Dothan Alabama on it and Dothan was the only place in the Universe where they had movies and really large stories, as far as I knew. Oh we had a rundown theater in my hometown but Dothan…wow. It was an exciting find. It was like finding a dinosaur bone or some relic from a different age. Had I been thinking I would have never told anyone about the pen and likely I would have been able to keep it. But once on the playground I held it aloft like the Spear of Destiny. I had an ink pen. The other kids crowded around me as if I had picked up something an angel had dropped. The rats quickly went to tell. Of course, the teachers descended upon me.
Their rule was this “Anything you have that was not given to you by an adult is something you have stolen”. Clearly, the pen belonged to someone and I had taken it. The fact that it was on the street meant I had been playing on the road. (“Don’t you know you could have been killed?”) It didn’t matter that I had to ride my bike on the road to get there, mind you. The teacher laid out very clearly different courses of actions I could have taken and had I only taken the right path I would not have stolen the pen. I could have simply left it there. I could have placed the pen on the sidewalk so the true and real and deserving owner might have found it. But no, everything I had done pointed towards theft. I had not only kept something that belonged to someone else, oh that was terrible, but I had laid claim to it, and shown it to others as if I was proud of stealing. Even an eight year old knows all of that is just plain bullshit but there was nothing I could do about it.
And she had to tie all of this together to past sins as well. Why on earth would I take a pen, surely if a boy can’t use a pencil he isn’t going to be able to use a pen. I think she said that to everyone she spoke to for a year, “If a boy can’t use a pencil properly why on earth would he want a pen? He’s stealing something just for the joy he gets from stealing!”
There had to be some sort of show. There had to be a public execution. Everyone had to know that claiming to have found something was the same as having stolen it. At the same time, even third graders know that something like an ink pen, a simple push down on the button on top to make the pen appear at the bottom, isn’t really worth that much. In the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t change history. Yet we were also talking about me. The fact that it was me had a lot to do with the reaction. If I couldn’t write properly then that increased the likelihood of me being a thief. After all, it would appear that I wouldn’t succeed in becoming educated therefore I had already begun the turns towards a life of crime.
I just wanted to say, “I found a damn pen on the damn road. Could we not turn this into the fucking JFK Assassination?”
But it had already taken a life of its own. My teacher, who hated me and my left handedness, and my poor writing, was determined to find out who the pen belonged to. She was convinced I had stolen it and she was sure as hell going to tell the world about it. Because the pen had come from a tire company she went around at lunch to find out which of the teachers had bought tires in Dothan. No one had. I’m telling you, the woman was going to going through a lot of effort to pin this on me, no pun intended. Well, no one in the building had bought tires from that business so the teacher called my father, at work, and asked him had I taken the pen from him. Of course, my father who considered every accusation from a teacher against me to be true until proven false promised her that I would not get away with stealing the pen.
When I got home he asked me where I had found the pen and he drove me to the scene of the crime. “What was the pen doing there?” he asked me, and honestly, how do you respond to that question without sounding like a smartass? “How do you think the pen got there?” he asked and really, what answer would have done justice there? And so the next day he calls the teacher and tells her he’ll handle the situation and he’s going to make sure I don’t steal anything else, even though there really wasn’t any evidence at all that anyone had anything stolen from them, no, that just didn’t figure into the picture.
A meeting was called.
So, there we were: The teacher, my father, the Principal, and me. We’re sitting there and I’m going to be paddled for stealing the pen, I’m going a month without television or playing outside for stealing the pen, and if I get caught stealing pens again the police will be called and I will spend the rest of my life in prison for stealing pens. All the while I’m sitting there thinking, “It’s just a fucking ink pen!” I learned to curse at a very young age. There was a lot for me to curse at that time.
The teacher paddled me with a board, my father took me home, and put me in my room without supper and I remember thinking quite clearly that if this was justice I really had as much of it as I thought I needed.
Oh, and guess what happened to the stolen pen? The teacher kept it. I remember watching her use it and I wondered how an object with that much hypocrisy attached to it could still function.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Back in 2001 I walked into a house and wondered if I could ever really talk them into selling it to me. I scolded the Real Estate Agent for telling me there was a pond beside the house when clearly there was no water, well, very little water, in the damn thing. Five years later it flooded and I lost part of my back yard for a year, and I also lost Bert in the water. He grew gills and hunted catfish. That dog loved water more than he liked dry land. But since 2006 we haven’t had as much water in the pond and it has gotten very weedy and even trees have started growing in it. Until now, that is.
Last year was a fairly wet year and the pond didn’t shrink down very much and this year it’s rained a good bit already. Last night we got hit with about five inches of rain in less than twelve hours. The pond is beginning to creep out of the deep spots and starting to invade the low lying areas, like my firepit. It’s a swimming pool right now. There is zero chance of a fire right now, even using thermite.
A couple of years ago the mosquitoes were so bad I was using a baseball bat to knock them down so the dogs could finish them off. There were billions of them and I’m afraid we’re heading back into the billions and billions territory again. On the upside when the mosquitoes begin to swarm so does everything else on earth that feeds on them. It ought to be a good year for frogs and dragonflies. And DEET.
As the water rises I see fewer snakes. Surprised? Think of it like this; snakes who live in or near the water feel safer in or near the water. In dry times they have to come onto dry land to travel and they tend to travel more when there is less water. More water means less time on dry land which means they aren’t around my house. But it was in 2006 the Night of the Armadillo saw me lying on the ground near a smallish venomous snake wondering how I managed not to be bitten.
It’s a thought most people won’t have more than once or twice in their lives but I’ve succeeded in having that thought on a reoccurring basis even though I have given up catching venomous reptiles as proof of life. There are those of us who simply do not believe venomous snakes are all that dangerous in the first place and then there are those of us whose bodies twitch when there’s a photo of a snake in a book or on a computer screen. I’ve been tagged up by a few dozen different species on nonvenomous snakes and so I know how to move when a snake looks like there might be a biting party about to begin. I truly do not consider venomous snakes to be as dangerous as water.
We’re less than two months away from hurricane season. This means that if we get a very wet tropical storm early then I’ll be leaving my truck out beside the road and wading to it in the morning. The pond will fill up, invade my property, then go over to the overflow pond, and then it will head out into the woods. There is as much one man can do about that much water as there is a lot of people can do about a lot of water. Water is pretty much going to do as it damn well pleases unless there is a dam. Half of Georgia was on fire back in 2007 and it didn’t look like anything could put that fire out. A tropical storm came in and basically snuffed out in one day what thousands of people had been fighting for months.
I’ve seen some things. I’ve seen a really big hole in the ground where there was once a bridge. A concrete and steel bridge, mind you, not a wooden bridge. Gone. I mean, really and totally gone. Not a damn trace of it remained on site. Best be moving when the water starts to. It is more serious than most people can believe. You tell a group of people there’s a snake in the house and they’ll all run out screaming like a bunch of first grade school girls who just found out how babies are made. Tell a group of people a flood is about to hit and they’ll want to go out and take pictures of the water. I’ve seen that, too.
You know, honestly, I’m not sure how humans continue considering how much trouble it is for a woman to have a kid. It just looks like it would be a hell of a lot more trouble than it could possibly be worth and meantime guys walk around totally unaffected by the process. A woman can be so sick in the morning she is down on her hands and knees, puking her guts out and making noises like a donkey on meth while carrying something the size of a watermelon in her stomach, and the guy that did his part in this thing could be out running a marathon and getting into shape. Meanwhile, it takes a while for a woman to get over the physical part of childbirth and guys? I mean, you can’t tell if a guy has had one kid or half a dozen because he really hasn’t had any at all, has he?
I kinda strayed there for a while, didn’t I?
But it’s a very similar thing, really, because when a woman’s water breaks you know nothing will ever be the same again. And there is no stopping that water either. No matter if you’re prepared or in a cab going over the longest bridge ever, when the kid comes the kid comes and nothing you say or do or think or scream is going to stop that. I kinda like that sort of thing; the sense of inevitability, the sense of focus, and that sense of proportionality that comes with watching something happen that cannot be stopped.
It’s proof of life.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
My nephew, who was maybe five or six at the time, was amazed and stunned by my ability to put a flaming match into my mouth. It’s not nearly as dangerous as it sounds because the fire won’t burn in a place that fills up with carbon dioxide nearly instantly. My nephew, however, had another explanation. Without missing a beat he explained to us all that someone had come into the house that night and exchanged the real matches for special matches that would not burn Uncle Mike’s mouth.
To my nephew, the event of a flaming match being put into someone’s mouth without harm needed to explained. Matches burned people. They were dangerous, his mother and father had always told him so and this meant it was true. Fire was dangerous. So if fire was dangerous then this must not be real fire. My sister was not amused by the idea of teaching her son that fire wasn’t akin to Plutonium 666 because like all mothers she wanted her children to live long enough to kill themselves by dying slowly of old age.
But back to the mind of someone who is trying to make sense of something that doesn’t. The Special Matches Theory had basis in fact only if real matches would have indeed caused burns in all cases. Given this is true, and it isn’t, then the Special Matches Theory is valid, which it isn’t. But if you don’t know that carbon dioxide will kill a fire faster than it can burn then you would have to believe in the Special Matches Theory.
This goes on. If you believe in the Special Matches Theory then you have to have some event which occurred that brought the Special Matches in place of the regular, Uncle Mike- writhing- on- the- floor- in- agony- from- a- burned- mouth- matches. There were “people” who had brought the Special Matches in. This had to be true because the Special Matches could not have merely appeared out of nowhere, could they?
So what are we to do with this?
Somewhere along the way, my nephew had been taught that people caused things to happen and we did not always know who these people were. Well and good. We really don’t know who keeps the water running and the electricity on, and I would wager than if you had a well-educated adult try to explain the infrastructure needed to provide running water and continuous electrical power it might sound a lot like Special Matches Theorem. Hell, I’ve worked in the field and I must admit I don’t understand it all sometimes.
We live in a world of mysticism where we accept the idea that things work, more or less, the way they do because someone out there does something that causes it to be so. Many years ago a friend of mine bought a brand new truck. The first week he had it the damn thing would not crank. They towed it back to the dealership, ran extensive tests on it, replaced half the electrical parts on it and in the end, gave my friend a new truck to replace the one that even the very best of their engineers couldn’t resurrect. Look at what you’re doing right now; can you explain how my story got to the screen in front of you?
We might smile and nod at children who come up with outlandish ideas as to where things come from but the simple truth is that we, as adults, cannot explain much of the world we live in, and that’s just the human made stuff. There are green Arrowleaf Vines that I have cut back, year after year after year, and each year the same vines will spring forth in defiance of my efforts and will grow again. Why? What source of energy keeps these things alive when I cut them back to the ground each time there is a foot of vine? Are there people who come in and replace the cut vines with Special Vines? Yes, yes, please, do not tell me the roots are still alive, clearly that is so, but why are they still alive after so much little to show for their efforts?
So here you are now, with visions of matches and green arrowleaf vines and water pipes and a truck, a white truck, get it into your mind the truck was white, and it was a Ford, and we can see the white truck parked under some powerlines and the whole concept that as children we think there are “people” who make things happen suddenly turns into the realization that when we are adults, yes us, we think the very same thing. We rent our magic out to outside forces. That’s not a terrible thing, mind you, unless we get to the place in time when we’re renting out all our magic to “people” and there is no room in our lives for that which we create on our own.
There are people who write books, make movies, paint pictures, take amazing photographs, sing songs, play music, and all manner of things we view as wondrous. I remember when I began to write there was this feeling of trespass. I was venturing into other people’s territory. I was writing. My shelves were filled with books that were written by other people and here I was venturing out into the unknown and unknowable without the first damn clue as to what I was doing.
You can do this too.
As children we don’t think to control what comes into our minds. We see nothing as too silly or too playful or too wild. Children do not constrain joy with the realization it won’t last forever. Their minds eat everything that is on their plates and they beg for more. We adults put our minds on diets and hope we can get rid of some of the excess before it drives us mad.
Somewhere out there are some arrowleaf vines growing under some powerlines and not even Special Matches can burn them out forever. You don’t have to know where all the magic comes from, or where it’s going, no. Just know where your own magic lives and feed it. It’s waiting for you to come outside and play, right now.