Friday, October 20, 2017

In Motion




I have no idea when it started but at some point in my life I developed the habit of walking when I was drunk. Now, the hard part of this is figuring out when I started drinking, which was thirteen or fourteen, and let’s face it, at that time in anyone’s life they do more walking than driving. I’m probably one of the few people you’ll ever meet who was drinking the first time he drove a car alone. None of this, of course, explains my propensity for motion while inebriated. That’s something I might have to think about when I’m on a walk.


The July of 1980 was hot. Not just hot but hellishly so. I drove past some building with an outdoor temperature display and it was 97 degrees just after nine in the morning. I went to buy a case of beer, just in case I needed more alcohol, and there was a group of people drinking on Jekyll Island that day. It was a three day weekend, not the 4th of July, but time taken off of work to clear the cobwebs and get away from trying to schedule people to work when they really didn’t want to work, and who did? Working in a restaurant is harder than most people can imagine unless they’ve done it. For a lot of very young women it’s their first experience in how truly incredibly weird men can be in public, sober, in front of other people, and for those who haven’t learned to drive yet it’s a lesson that they are never truly safe around men, so it’s best to learn how to navigate around them, never saying yes but never calling them on being assholes, either.


After a few beers, a few shots, I left the group and started walking. I could hear the voices as I walked away. Gladys was a loud woman when she laughed, and she laughed a lot. Kenny had a voice that was very distinct. Linda’s voice was an undercurrent, she was older than the rest of us, thirty-one, but she was a lot of fun. I was surprised that someone her age could be fun because I had never met anyone over twenty-one who was. But the ocean’s waves took over the world of sound and the voices faded. The sand on the beach was littered with seaweeds and vegetation from the marshes. Bubbles appeared and disappeared as some creature that lived under the sand breathed and lived its life, never drinking a beer or walking.

I carried a glass bottle wrapped in duct tape with me when I drank on foot. Straight whiskey on a day when the sun was pounding out triple digit heat and I cannot remember being too warm or hot. I loved the heat. I was wearing a pair of cut off shorts and nothing else, my shoulder length hair being bleached blonde by the sun and my skin turned to leather. But I was nineteen. I had enough money to buy alcohol and I was walking on the beach.


The water isn’t clear on Georgia’s coastline. It’s a salty mix of marsh grass and the muck that comes out of the tidal areas. It’s still a pretty place, but the weeds stick to the skin after a swim and in knee deep water your feet disappear. I always wondered if people would go into the water if they could see perfectly through the water as they do through the air. There are sharks, people know this, intellectually, but as long as they cannot see the sharks then it’s okay. This was only a few years after the movie “Jaws” came out and there was still a lot of hysteria and stupidity in the water.


There were always cargo ships out on the horizon. How big where these monsters? I always wanted to see one up close, find out where they were going, and what they were carrying, and more importantly, who ran these boats? Did they ever wonder who was on the beach looking out over the ocean at the boats? On that day, while looking at a cargo ship, something bobbed out of the water, very briefly, something large and dark, but then it was gone again, leaving me wondering if I had really seen anything. The ripples lasted only a short time longer then there was nothing at all. What did the people on that boat see that would never be explained? I knew there were people out there on that boat, and they knew there were people on the beach, and in between was open water, sharks, and things that we saw for a second or two, and then never saw again.


The waves picked up and I thought the tide was coming in, or going out, I never could figure out what time of day it did what it did, and as long as I had enough room to walk the ocean did what it did and I did what I was doing. I looked back and there was no sign of the people I came with. There was a small dark spot where the shelter stood, and I knew they were still there, smoking, drinking, laughing, and Rachel would be reading a book away from the other members of the group until someone got drunk enough to hit on her and then she would leave.

I started back, watching for the thing in the water, and wondering if next time I should go in after it, to touch it, to put my hands on it, and perhaps lose a few fingers to stupidity and a creature with teeth. Maybe, and I sat down to finish the whiskey and watch for the creature, I would get towed out to sea and one of the boats would pick me up.

My skin was turning red, even for me I had spent a long time in the sun. The afternoon was waning and the light was beginning to lessen. It wouldn’t be dark until after eight, but the group I had come with would be migrating back to Ricky’s house, because that was where we all went to drink at night. As I got closer I could hear laughter, voices, and I saw Rachel leaving with her book. I looked back and there was a cargo ship, on the horizon, and I wondered if there knew there were people on the beach, looking out over the ocean at them.


Take Care,

Mike



Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Targets


Melody Murfin, murder victim, whose body was found buried under serial killer Robert Yates' daughter's bedroom window. 


One of my co-workers is a woman of African descent who has raised four kids by herself. Three of the four are doing well, one not so much, but her daughter who is in college to be a nurse is what she likes to talk about, when she talks at all. A black woman in the world we live in today is pretty much a double minority and she is mistrustful of revealing her personal life to other people in general. She and I have developed a rapport and I have learned to see more of the world through her eyes, and it isn’t always an easy world to see as beautiful.

This isn’t someone who has seen roses and humming birds every morning. There is much I do not know about this woman but I have seen women who have had to fight their way through life trying to make a living and she’s seen, I am supposing, her share, and more, of broken promises, shattered trust, and lying men. When I was her supervisor it was very difficult to be around her when we were alone because I could tell it made her very nervous, at first. At fifty-seven, I’m a lot more harmless now than I ever have been, and at work I always have been. Whereas most saw a woman who was very quiet and very inexperienced, I saw someone who had managed to raise four kids alone, and that takes skill, patience, a knowledge of money, and persistence. A mother of four can do nearly any job on earth, if she has already gotten all four of them out of the house, and she has. I pushed her to try harder, and do more, and she got promoted for it, too.

We had a lot of discussions about current events from politics and crime to the NFL and the state of affairs in Washington. Nearly all the news is bad for those who are already doing without. She sees the world as a card game where she is dealt the cards others do not want or will not take. I beginning to think she’s right, too.

On occasion, she’ll ask me something, out of the blue, as if she thinks I might know, or that I can explain it better than anyone else around. Today, she read me a news story about a serial killer who was about to be executed and she got through with the article and asked me, “Why do you think those people do that?”

In a way, this is a sort of evil this woman can neither understand or, because she’s very religious, begin to get to the point where she could forgive. I think she’s seen men she’s love do horrible things, but I also think in her world that sort of thing is something she grew up seeing, and it’s the kind of thing she can see coming, to a degree. But serial killers strike without warning and they kill without even the slightest vestige of reason. For a poor woman who sees serial killers’ prey usually being poor women, she would like to understand what it is that people like her do to become targets. She would like not to be.


To people like me, white, straight, male, middle class, the list of serial killers who have preyed on my demographic is quite small. But the number of serial killers who went after poor women are the overwhelming majority. Prostitutes are the most notable victims, and also the homeless. If you are white, male, and middle class, then the odds of you being very poor or homeless or a prostitute are very low.

The people that I know, that I interact with when I am not working, the people I drink beer with and talk writing with, are not poor people or prostitutes or homeless. The people I care about are not likely to wind up on the streets. I have a home, pets, firearms, neighbors, and we live lives that are fairly secure. But what about those people who are on the edge, who make less than a living wage, who take odd jobs and work whatever they can wherever they can, and they hope it will be enough? At what point does a job offer turn out to be one step away from making money on your back, or being a target for violence?

Even when I was really broke I was never afraid of what an employer might do to extort sex from me, and I never felt like a target for violence. If I call 911 I’m sure someone will come and when they get here I’ll be listened to and taken seriously.

I wonder if my co-worker could have written those last two paragraphs. I wonder if she would like to live in a world where she could and if she wonders what it would take for her daughter to live in that world.

Right now, I’m having to look around at the world I live in and seriously consider how I got here, and why I am here. In three years I can retire, write, travel some perhaps, and do what I want to do to make a living. I’ve earned that through decades of hard work. I don’t feel like I’ve kept anyone from doing anything they wanted to do to move forward and I’ve helped anyone I could.

But the world isn’t a fair place, and it is becoming more skewed, it seems. The poor are getting poorer. The disenfranchised have less of a voice. Women, who have come a long way, are now staring down a level of misogyny that everyone assumed was left back in the 1950’s. Race relations seem to be at a level they were mired in during desegregation. The Klan is on the rise and people being shot by police seem to be reaching a level that’s hard to understand.

Sometimes, when I am talking to my co-worker I wonder what to say. I wonder if she expects me to do something or say something or react to something, and I wonder, I really wonder, if back in 1936, when the real horror that would become Hitler was just beginning if someone like me had a Jewish co-worker and wondered at what point something had to be done.


Take Care,
Mike






Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Music in the Digital World





The one thing digital music and You Tube have done is eliminate the yearning to hear a song from the distant past, that never gets played anymore on the radio. Hell, digital music has damn near killed off commercial radio and I for one am happy to see it go. Forty-five minutes of music, averaged, against fifteen minutes of commercials and considering that some deejays were just about as entertaining a watching a roach die of poisoning, silence was sometimes preferable. With USB ports installed in vehicles these days even very long trips go by without hating the sound of a bad song or listening to some guy trying to sell cars. I did a five hour road trip listening to Beethoven and got all the way to South Carolina without changing music.

Moreover, if a song is playing and there’s no way to figure out who is it or the name of the song there’s an app for that. I use Sound Hound and it’s never missed. Song title and artist at the tip of my fingers, and no song is no longer that song you try to get a friend to identify for you while all you know is three words in the chorus. I actually went on FB once to get a song ID and they nailed in in about ten minutes. The Hive Mind is strong when it comes to music.

It only gets better, too.

I own two copies of the opera, Aida, one on disk and another that’s an MP3. I like both copies, but I also like the other versions of the piece that are on You Tube. I can listen to one, or the other, or go on Amazon and listen to some other copy, and it’s amazing how the same music and same singing can be so different depending on who is playing, singing, or conducting. There is a wealth of classical music online. Live performances of complete operas are all there.

With music on demand services like Amazon Prime and Pandora I can simply go forever without stopping to change the music. Stations based on my musical tastes will play similar artists, some of them I have never heard of, and I get to explore this new music, like following the branches of a tree, from one type of fruit to another. It’s never ending. There much more out there that I like that I ever imagined. And it is truly wonderful.

Does anyone remember “Columbia House”? They would send you twelve tapes or albums, and eventually CDs for a dollar and you had to buy one a month from them for a year or something like that, and if you didn’t tell them not to, they would send one anyway, and you would have to pay for it. That’s where they made their money. I got in on the CD side of thing and realized there was cheap and good music to be had but if you didn’t go online and click that box that said do not send me the Very Best of Leo Sayer Box Set Christmas Special that was what would end up in your mail box. That seems so incredibly primitive now.

Does anyone remember having those large cases to keep eight track tapes in when traveling? A person could have kept a Thomson Submachine gun on one of those things. I had one that held twenty-four tapes, and that mean that was about eighteen hours’ worth of music. The case was the size of a coffin for a cocker spaniel. The jump drive I’m storing this essay on could fit inside of a matchbox and it’s got enough music on it to last a month, solid, nonstop music on it.

The digital age has changed the way I listen to music and affords me opportunities I never had before. Before the digital age, music was limited by the media on which is was imprinted. A vinyl album had to be flipped over. A cassette tape had to be turned over. An eight track tape would last forever, but it had those annoying click- clunk sounds that went with it. Now, there is a very nearly seamless stream of music. From one hour long piece of music to the next and the next, I can write without interruption. I do not have to stop, there is little interruption, and the music simply keeping playing regardless of anything other than power failure. 

One morning I awoke and while writing decided to listen to Jethro Tull. I stacked my six favorite Tull albums by date of release in Amazon Prime and let it go. One Christmas when driving to mom’s house I had my favorite Yes albums on a USB drive and let them play all the way there and all the way back. The world has opened up to musical experiences that we never had a chance to have before. It’s changed the way we find music, store music, and listen to music, and ultimately, it will begin to change how music is produced.

Back in 1977, I went to a record store, and there were always record stores that could tell you when the next big release was happening, and discovered that Pink Floyd’s “Animals” would be released in a couple of weeks. On the appointed day I skipped school and drove an hour to wait for half an hour before the store opened, and then bought the vinyl album. I drove back home, pretended that I had come home sick from school, and then played the album over and over again. I made bootleg eight track tapes for people and then listened to the album while reading the lyrics. That world is gone now, for everything I ever needed I can get on my cell phone and can get it only as delayed as my internet speed will cause it to be.

It was once glorious, incredible, and delicious to be the first person to have a copy of a piece of work, but those days have been replaced by a world where music is a lot easier to get, and there is more of it, and there is more access to it.

I’ll take it.

Take Care,
Mike