Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weasels and Smokers and When To Shut Up.






The last real fistfight I was in was back in 1990, and I told the guy if he kept screaming at his girlfriend after midnight I was going to clock him. I did. I thought that was going to be the last fight I got into but then back in about 1994 the deed came really close to being done. I was working out of a trailer and it was one of those projects that had started poorly, gone downhill, and no one was happy with anyone at any aspect of the project. We had called a meeting with a bunch of contractors and subcontractors. Everyone was bitchy.

I had just started the job, I was the most recent hire, and everyone assumed, rightfully, that I didn’t know a damn thing about what was going on. So there was this one guy who loved to ask me questions about things he knew damn well I didn’t know, and he was a smoker. I told him to stay out of our office when he was smoking and he’d stand in the door on the steps. The whole office smelled like cigarettes the whole damn day after he did that. One day he parked his truck right behind mine so I couldn’t move. It was raining and he told me if I wanted to get out bad enough the keys were in his truck. I backed his truck up about a half a mile, rolled down both windows and left it there. That pretty much started some bad blood between us and it got worse the day he showed up for that meeting with a cigarette in his mouth. I reminded him there was no smoking in the office and he told me as soon as he was finished there would be no smoking and then he blew smoke in my face. I took the lid off my coffee cup, which held just short of an imperial gallon, and threw it in his face.

I knew it would take him a full five seconds to react and I knew by that time if I hit him hard enough I had a more then decent chance of coming out of surgery being able to walk, but that was about all I had any hopes for. About the time the whistles blew and his face turned red, his employer walked with his Weasel for a Nephew and with my supervisor’s supervisor. The coffee is all over this dude and all over the floor, which was also covered with grown men, rolling around laughing, did not bode well for the future of either of us.

So they separated us, sent us both home, and when I came to work the next day I was a legend. Everyone had heard what I had done, and it went all the way up to headquarters who decided that I had acted rashly, but in, more or less, self-defense. On the other side of the coin, the man who had been served with karma and coffee made the mistake of telling his employer if he didn’t do something about the situation he would.

The reason we all thought he nephew was a weasel was he went to work with his uncle a very long time ago and it was rumored he had plans to take over the company when his uncle retired. This put uncle’s son out of the equation, but the Weasel had very cleverly taken a franchise of the business, let it nearly go under, and the son had to go rescue it. Meanwhile, the Weasel was back at his uncle’s side, trying to blame all that went wrong on the guy who was the superintendent of that business. He was the guy I hit with the coffee. The Weasel came to me and told me if I wanted to press charges, they would hate it, really, and they didn’t want me to, but if I felt like I had to, here let me buy you lunch, then they might have to fire that cigarette smoking SOB who nearly ruined them at the other plant.

I hate weasels more than I do cigarette smoke. I told him that I would be told what to do by those who paid me but as far as I was concerned it was over. But I do so much love a good steak that is medium rare, thank you, really, ever so much.

So everything sorted itself out, there was no more smoking in the office and no more airborne coffee, but the Weasel tried to get the Smoker fired for another incident and the man had to quit. He got a job with another firm and it went under. It wasn’t his fault, but then the Weasel’s uncle retired and left everything, every damn thing, to his son, and they say the Weasel sat down on the floor and cried like a little girl. He went on to work at a much lower pay with a competitor, but I never heard from the Weasel again.

In business, there’s an old expression, “The butt you try to kick today may be the ass you have to kiss tomorrow” and that’s true.

Smoker is not exactly in a position to have to kiss my ass but he’s working for someone that I work very closely with. His employer has to know the back story on this and if I know the man like I think I know him, he’s going to tell the smoker, “If this is going to be a problem for you let me know right now and I’ll make sure it isn’t.” Because he has a zero tolerance for bullshit. I do too at work. That’s why I never talk openly about what I do or who I work for and I never will. This story is so generic I could be in the bread baking business for all most people know. I do know that everything you do comes back to you so keeping the peace is good for everyone. And good for business.

There’s more than a few people who know the story, I know they know, but no one has mentioned it. I sure as hell don’t talk about it anymore. So Smoker has to drop by this morning and do a few things for me. I hate it for him, really, because considering his talent, he ought to be drawing better assignments. But he got Weaseled out of a damn good job, another folded up on him, and he’s not related to anyone in any family owned business. Now, he’s just trying to work until he can’t and that’s hard to look at in anyone.

He stands in the doorway and his cigarette is long gone, tossed far away from the door, and I remember how he looked covered in coffee. There are two younger guys with him and I can tell by looking at their faces they’ve heard the story. They’re grinning. Smoker and I shake hands and I ask him if he remembers some brickwork he did, might have been ten years or so ago, and that was some of the best brickwork I had ever seen in my life, really, impressive as hell, and I wonder why no one does work quite like that anymore. The time when a man’s work was as good as his name, why those days are gone. Yep, it’s hard to fine craftsmen these days, it is.


Take Care,

Mike

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Coffee, Crows, and Baby Buzzards.

I love to eavesdrop in public because mostly people don’t realize they can be overheard. The most bizarre thing I ever overheard I had to get up and join the conversation it was so totally messed up and weird. A group of high school students were having a party in this huge old house that no one lived in and one of the games they were playing was called “Five Minutes” the guys would draw a guy’s name out of a hat, the girls would draw a girl’s name out of a hat, and the two were put into a closet with no lights in it. No one knew who they were making out with because the girl was led in first then the guy was put in there with her. Five minutes later they found out who they were with.

Because people are evil, some of the students plotted to put a guy and girl in the closet who were siblings. And it worked. The lights go on and the two are caught in an embrace.

I had to get up and ask, really, was anyone shot over this?

So this morning I’m drinking coffee and there’s this small group of people talking about what happened on the way there. Apparently they drove close to some roadkill and nearly hit a vulture. Now, in South Georgia there is this continuing and totally impossible myth that the vulture, or more commonly known as the buzzard, doesn’t have a digestive tract. All their food goes into the stomach through the mouth and the buzzard apparently pukes out the waste material.


I think this originated from the fact that vultures will puke when they’re frightened or angry, as a defense mechanism. Also, there’s a myth that they are bullet proof. I have no idea where this stuff comes from really, but I have heard it all my life. That’s one thing about living in South Georgia; sometimes the ignorance gets plenty loud.

So I’m listening to these people talk about how one of them nearly hit a buzzard and how armadillos are born flat and it’s standard fare for this part of the world. Then suddenly, this very young woman says, “Hey, why is it you never see any baby buzzards?” and the conversation pauses as if everyone wonders the same thing. The answer is that baby vultures, like all birds, are usually pretty big when they leave the nest, they’re actually larger than the adults, in some bird species. Flying will get that baby fat off of you. I’m thinking about saying this to them, I’m about to turn and say this and this young man says, “What about crows?”

Cue sound of record scratching.

Huh?


“Crows are just baby buzzards, right?”


I’m sitting there trying to digest just how ignorant this statement might be. My first guess is plenty. I’m kind of hoping he’s kidding. But then the young woman says, “Really? I didn’t know that.” And then I have to say something. I mean, really. Then the young man says, “Yeah, crows grow up to be buzzards” but he sounds like he realizes that what he’s saying sounds…stupid.

Thank you Google. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for being who you are and there for us, instantly.

The group decides, miraculously, to invest in research and they all have a good laugh at the baby buzzard theory. One of them, a young man who seems to have a head for this sort of thing, points out the two species of bird have totally different scientific names. Knowledge begins to fight back, just a little, but the group is bored of buzzards. One of them sees a squirrel and they all bound away, conversationally speaking, in another direction.

The amount of disconnect from nature, even being saved from certain death by Google, is frightening in the young found here. Do these people not know crows? How can you not know crows? Crows were a very big part of my mythology when I was a child. How could crows not be? I was a generation away from an agrarian society. The scarecrow, anyone? Old Crow? Crow’s feet? How can these people not know their crows? It’s murder. But they only know what Google has told them.


Yet even discounting the crow ignorance, could there really be a class of human beings who believe there is a common gonophore in creatures as advanced as the vulture? This speaks to a staggering amount of ignorance of basic biology. This speaks to a staggering inability to understand basic bodily functions. Honestly, why don’t they just claim that pixie dust and storks cause babies? It makes as much sense.

It would be nice to think that I happened upon the deep end of ignorance this morning, an exceptional lack of education in South Georgia, and some people who are playing in the shallow end of the gene pool. But the sad truth is that there is a tsunami of outright cluelessness out there that is devouring our young. They may be able to Google the facts but they are totally without a basis of understanding when it comes to the truth.

Take Care,

Mike

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Fallen




I’ve always heard that if you fall in a dream you will wake up right before you hit, or you’ll wake up just as you hit. That makes sense because I would think that sudden stop at the bottom of a fall would be really bad. Back in the day we would jump off the bridge over the Chattahoochee River. It was high enough so that you would change your mind about what you just did, but there wasn’t anything you could do. Having time to think about it was odd. There you are in free fall, a place you usually don’t have to think because by the time you realize it you’ve hit, and you do have time to think about it as the water rushes up to greet you.

“Keep your legs closed next time” is the first thing most guys thought right after they hit the water the first time.

In the dream I vaulted over a concrete barrier on a bridge and just knew there was some sort of ledge for me to land on right across the barrier. Right as I reached that point of no returned I remember the ledge had been removed and suddenly I was looking down not at water, but concrete rising to greet me. How should I land? That was the thought I had. I thought about landing on my feet then trying to roll to one side or the other and here it comes. The concrete rushed up to me before I could do anything other than hate myself for jumping. It happened just as fast as you’d think it would. Fifty feet gets eaten up really quickly in a fall.

I landed on my feet but it isn’t like you’d think it is. There was this terrible impact that I felt from my feet to my hips and then I slammed face first into the concrete. There was a curious lack of pain at that point but I could feel the blood in what was left of my mouth. I could see out of my right eye and there were people running towards me. I tried to move but nothing worked. I lifted my head and turned it towards my right arm which was broken to the point the forearm was totally limp and a piece of shattered bone stuck out. I was afraid to look at my legs.  I coughed up blood and teeth. I knew that whatever I could see that was hurt what I could not see was worse.

I saw people running towards me, but they seemed to be very far away, moving slowly. I could feel the blood underneath me, pooling, leaking out of my broken body, and my legs twitched as if they were trying to move on their own, but it wasn’t going to happen. I could feel something that felt very much like pain inside of my head but it was worse than pain. There was something going on inside my skull that felt like my life was being pushed out through the top. The first person to reach me was a Hispanic man and he stopped about ten feet from me. I could see it in his face. He had no idea as to what to do. He knelt down and said, “It’s okay, man, I called 911, help in on the way buddy, just…hang on” and I thought that telling someone who had just fallen to hang on was funny, in a way. But I had jumped. I wonder if he saw it. I wonder if he thought I was trying to kill myself. I didn’t want him to think I had jumped.
I coughed again and more blood came out. The man approached me, gingerly, and kept telling me help was on the way, but he was fading out. My vision was going. I could hear the man as if his voice was just an echo or something on a radio in a passing car. I looked up and the sky was blue, beautiful, but the blue was fading to black.
I tried to fight against it but I knew it was time.

Time.

Time.

The last few seconds were beginning and ending, and I tried to speak, “Make sure, tell, tell, I love her.”

I woke up and knew I was not going to sleep again.

Take Care,

Mike

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Two Hours and All The Air In a Flat Tire



I have no idea who he is, or where he’s from or what he’s doing, or why. He’s older than me, likely in his seventies, and he’s lonely. He’s got a flat tire and I stopped to help him change it because here in South Georgia, that’s how we live. You can’t be on the side of the road for very long without someone stopping. It’s just the way things have always been. I hear about places where this isn’t true and I wonder how things ever got to be one way or the other, different.  Hang onto that thought, please, we’ll be back to it.

So the tire is changed in about ten minutes, even with my questionable skills with any device mechanical. But the man has something he wants to tell me about the government. He has something to talk about and now he has someone to talk to about all this. He starts out by telling me he went to college to be an Engineer but the only job he could get right out of school was being a surveyor for the Feds up in Montana. He had to live in a tent all year long and they would pay for him to go home just once a month.

Then he came down here to live on his mama’s farm and those people across the road from him, well, they broke up their farm and rented it out but they got some of those money people to come down here and get it called a “Historical Farm” and they don’t have to pay as much taxes as he does. The taxes thing is really bad because his mama was in a home and his family paid out a quarter of a million dollars, a quarter of a million dollars, that two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, to pay someone to help take care of her over the years, and for her to have a nice place to stay, then die, and then the government turned around and took a big piece of what was left of her money in taxes.
That guy that bought the land around the back of his property is a crook and those people he bought the land from they’re crooks too, because he tried to buy that land and once he put in a bid they called him and told him he had been outbid and he had to give just a little bit more, just a little bit more, just a little bit, but they wouldn’t say how much, to get the land so he didn’t bid any more on it and that crook got it for less than he had bid.

But that sort of thing goes on all the time and the property that was west of his place went up for sale and he tried to buy it but they called him and told him he had been outbid and if he wanted it he would have to bid just a little bit more, just a little bit more, but they never would say how much so they got that land too, and sold it for a lot more than he had tried to buy it for, and that makes them crooks both ways, you see that don’t you, Mike?

He mows all his grass himself, all by himself he does the entire farm, but that grass up there by the house won’t grow right because it’s too boggy. There’s some springs feeding into his pond and you can’t mess with them springs; you mess with them they might move on you. They’ll go away from where and wind up over there, because that land right there has rock under it and the water can’t get through them rocks so it goes down to the rock and then comes back up and you won’t even know where them springs are coming up again and it might be someplace you don’t want them to be this time so don’t mess with them.

Two hours.

Two hours.

He talked for two hours nonstop. He’s one of those arm grabbers, one of those older people who can’t talk to you unless they have a hand on your arm, to hold onto or keep you hostage. Finally, I just had to back away, telling him to have a good day, and just walking off as he stood there and talked to me as I was walking away.

It scares me to see people in this condition. How did things come to be like this for him? Did he once have friends and family and slowly they died off or he drove them off, or has he been alone forever? I like being alone. I rather be alone. But one day am I going to wake up and realize that the only person I’ve spoken to all day was the guy who stopped long enough to help me change a tire?
Shoot me, someone, please shoot me, if mowing grass becomes an obsession with me. If not being able to mow bothers me to the point that’s all I have to talk about, mother of dog, just shoot me.

Please.

What’s it like to be like this? I’ve never really made an effort to be a part of a church or some sort of organization, except dog rescue, and that’s more dog stuff than people stuff. Is that why people join churches? Is that the only source of people stuff they can find? It’s like drunks going to bars to have someone to drink with while they’re alone. You can sit in a church and be around people and just sit there. But they pass a plate, do they still do that, I have no idea, but churches like people to donate time and money, and I wonder if that’s the same principle that strip joints employ? You have to interact with strippers, give them money, and it costs you. Strip clubs are like churches without the clothes and with better music.

It’s worrisome that I might lose the ability to be alone. I hate churches.  I haven’t been in a strip club in over thirty years.  All my tires are good. What if one day I wake up and the woods, the dogs, and the solitude drive me to tell some stranger my life history because I don’t have anyone else around me?

How did he get there from where he was?

I wonder if people and places are similar in having that ability to easily interact with one another or not? South Georgia has been friendly as far as I can remember, even if people didn’t know you. As long as I can remember back, I’ve never been a social person at all, even if I will stop and help change a tire. But I like it that way. Do the people in places where an older man might sit on the side of the road, tire unchanged, are those places more like me?

It’s worrisome. I wonder what he will do now? He can get a new tire and hold the people at the tire place hostage or a couple of hours, but really, if you just have to talk to someone, where to you go if you don’t know where to go? He was wearing nice clothes, his hair was sort of that pre-comb over thing that tells you if he lives long enough he’s going to do it, but he seemed to be lost. The narrative seemed to be important, much more important than the tire, but he didn’t say anything at all. Like the air going out of the tire, once it was gone, where did it go? There is no evidence of it, just as there will be no evidence of his narrative once he is gone.

What I really wonder about is what would happen if I went to his house and just sat there and listened to him. If the narrative was completed, let’s say in nine or ten hours, would that be like letting all the air out or would be just pump him back up? I cannot imagine going over to a friend’s house unannounced or unexpectedly, and I wonder, how did I get to this point? I once dropped in on people all the time. People dropped in on my place, long ago, before I moved out to the middle of nowhere.

I wonder if they’ll find him dead one day, in his truck, in his yard, on his mower, and the narrative will have ceased. I hope that someone will check on him, make sure he’s okay, or at least not dead. I think the people around here will do that. They are like that.

Take Care,

Mike

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nobody's Crying by Patty Griffin



May the dreams you are dreaming, in a warm soft bed, may the voices inside that feel you with dread, make the sound of thousands of angels instead, tonight where you might be laying your head,

I wish you well.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Boy Who Was Killed By A Falling Limb

One of the strangest causes of death I’ve ever read about was a high school student who was visiting the University of Auburn. He and a group of students were walking along a concrete path between two buildings on campus when a limb fell out of a tree and stuck him on the head, killing him instantly.  Here’s some kid who lives five hundred miles away from this spot, will only be there a fraction of a second in his entire life, and that’s the very moment that he’s killed. One second here’s his brain processing the shape of the young women walking ahead of him and then the limb falls. Everything in his mind that makes him who he is, isn’t, in that fraction of a second, and never will be again. He’s dead, Jim.

The parents of young men lead a hard life for if they know anything at all about young men it’s they’re going to do things that are dangerous to one degree or another. I used to catch rattlesnakes. Other guys I knew were into drag racing. There were those of us who dove off the Chattahoochee river bridge and there were those of us who drank to excess and drove our cars. This young man’s parents had managed to get him through all of that and even got him into the position to get into a University, and suddenly they get the call that a limb fell out of a tree. A limb? Yes, a limb.

Can you imagine trying to process that information? A limb? Yes, a limb. What kind of limb? Uh, I’m not sure, let me get back to you on that. Would you have to know what kind of limb? If your child was killed in a car wreck would the other car’s identity matter to you? But you’d ask where and who was there. If your son was a risk taker or if you were one of those parents who blamed your child for everything that ever happened you’d ask if he was swinging on it. There would be tears from friends and family, a lawsuit, likely, a policy on limbs and many of them cut, there would be flowers and stuffed animals at the site, but a year later, other than less shade, the place where the limb fell would be the same, and the tree would be the same. And the family would wake up one day and realize that it had been a year already.

I saw a car on the side of the road one day and stopped to ask the woman if she needed help. She was sitting there, crying, and because this was the age before cell phones, I offered to give her a ride back into town if she needed one. No, no, she said she was okay, but her daughter was killed at this intersection and she came to visit the intersection every year. She filmed the site each year, she actually got out of her car and began to show me how it all worked, and then I noticed there was a white wooden cross on the back slope of the ditch. The woman took the cross up each year and put a new one in its place. I helped her do both, because a man really can’t bail on that sort of thing, can he? I mean, once that kind of story begins you’re honor bound to ride it down to the point you’re helping take one cross down and put another up. There was something about this part of it, because this was always the last thing she did, that got to her. This part of the ceremony was a release for her and she went back to the car and sobbed as if she had just gotten the call all over again, anew. I’m in that film, of that year, somewhere, and I wonder how that fits into all of it for her. She told me she had been doing it for seven years.


I buried a friend of mine last year and buried his mother a few years before that. Two generations of them I have lain side by side and I hope that his sons, her grandchildren, outlive me. I have my doubts for both his sons, like their father before them, are heavy smokers. The father died at fifty so if a son dies at the same age I will be in my seventies, and likely, if I keep up my own lifestyle, be available with a pressed suit.

Yesterday I lay on the floor and petted my dogs. They all want the ultimate in both hands at one time attention but they realize there are other pack mates. Lucas tries to push the others away unless I make him sit and stay, Lilith sits and stays because she is a polite person, and Sam goes from one side to the other trying to find the shortest line. The weather was cool and the dogs were really pumped up about it finally being good weather. It’s good to see them happy like this and happier still when they realize I’m going to sit there for a while, and everyone is going to get some quality time with their dad. This brings us all together at one time when everyone is feeling loved and being loved, and there is a lot of full body contact between us all. I get jostled and pushed with noses. I get puppy kisses. Everyone has their favorite; Sam’s ears, Lucas’ back, Lilith’s belly. No one is pushing anyone away, everyone is happy, everyone is loved, everyone is being loved.

Often, death is quick, unpredictable, and capricious. Life, however, can be gently guided and enjoyed in the moment, this very moment, if we take the time for it. As certain as death, love happens every instant, every moment, every day, but this is our choice; only Death can stop us.

What’s stopping you now?

Take Care,

Mike

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Character Actors

The character actor, the comic relief, the used car salesman, the Indian Chief.
The famous people who played one D, the people as props, in every movie.
Shot by the thousands, first to be killed, always the clueless, they filled every bill.
Never the main and never co-starred, the man in the corner or the end of the bar.
The woman under dressed and slightly behind, the girl whose photos and heart was all mine.
The Japanese general who was so sharply dressed, could never evolve but only regress.
Our culture defined by heroes and villains, but even more so by those who were willing,
To play the part of that as expected, to be seen and not heard, and always rejected.
The character actor was who we all were, never a purebred and always the cur.

The idea that matters and the looks that is best, defined who was better and who was the rest.