Monday, December 8, 2014
One of the great satisfactions of getting older but at the same time being in decent physical shape is watching those people who are getting older and who are not in decent physical shape decline in a manner in which they will never recover. I do not mean this in a general term and this isn’t meant to be taken as some sort of smugness about my own health or a sense of meanness about the plight of others, yet there were those in my life, when I was very young, who were very cruel to me, and I have watched most of them die slow, and die not as men, but as squirming masses of desperation. There comes a point in time when it is far too late to recover from a lifetime of bad habits and when that point comes all anyone can do is grasp for straws and mouth homilies about miracles and good days.
There was the Oldest of The Old Gods, a man who never thought twice about the harshness of his words or the humiliation he might bestow upon others and he died poorly. At the end he wanted to go outside and smoke but his wife simply refused to allow it. He quit smoking not because he wanted to or because it might slow his decline, but because someone else made that decision for him. He had reached a point far past having any sort of political power anymore. Suddenly, it seemed, all the men who once worked under him were all gone and none could be called to do his bidding. Only his wife remained, she herself in better health than he, and there was a sea change in the way she treated the minions of the Oldest of The Old Gods.
As he slipped in and out of consciousness she chased away those few who remained. She bid them to leave and to never return. She told them that for the better part of sixty years they had taken him away from her, had drank and smoked and stayed out for days with him, and now, at the end, she remained with the wreck. Go! Get out of my house and do not come back. She invited none of them to the funeral and those who went found themselves estranged from the family. To this day I do not think she has ever spoken to any of them again.
It’s odd that these thoughts come into my mind after the dream I had last night. It was a very strange dream, even for me, for the people in the dream were familiar yet they were also very, very different. I was heading to a prison, not as a prisoner, but to visit someone. I was on a bicycle and no one seemed to notice me at all. The guards were all indifferent to me and traffic, although it was heavy, never came close to me. I walked down the halls and realized that everyone in the prison was old. Not just older but aged. Elderly in a way that suggests frailty and infirmity. Little care indeed would be needed to keep these inmates from escaping because it is likely none of them had the mental or physical wherewithal to flee had they so much desired to do so.
Then there she was. It was a terrible thing to see, really. She wasn’t just old, no, oh no, she was ancient beyond all reckoning. This was someone who had lived for more than a century and had lived most of that behind bars. Bonnie Parker had survived the ambush somehow, and they had secretly locked her away forever. There was almost no sign that she was who she had once been at all; there was no evidence that this was the woman I knew. Only her manner in trying to get me to help her suggested that she was the same. She had, over the years, built a primitive gun out of various pieces of metal. She had managed to talk the guards out of several bullets. And now she, at one hundred years old, plus, and I, were going to blast our way out of a prison that held no one under eighty years of age.
I put her on my handlebars and we pedaled out of the front gate without anyone saying a word to us. It was as odd scene for at times it was getting dark and then there were time where it was morning and then it was the full noon of day. We wound up on a balcony and used a garden hose to slip down into the lawn below where a woman tended her plants. She asked us not to trample her charges but seemed unconcerned that there was a one hundred and four year old convict making good her escape through the petunias.
At the same time, there was an odd element about the dream. She delighted in the speed of the bicycle even though it frightened her. We went down a hill at great speed and a dog chased after us. She closed her eyes and I could tell she was scared to the point that I should have done something to stop it all but we had to get past the pursuing mutt and after a while, he gave up the chase after all.
We stopped at a steel bridge were there were sea birds flying underneath it and small boats gliding on the water slowly. We stopped at a point and she asked me if I ever thought about living past one hundred and I told her I did not. She said that days go by like years and years go by like days and then one day, after it is all said and done, it has all been said and it has all been done. She asked me to leave and I did. When I looked back there was no on there at all.
At that point, I was suddenly in a room, and a friend of mine burst through the door, and I could tell she was furious with me.
Friday, December 5, 2014
She wasn’t a stray, she was always too well fed to be a stray, but she was one of those dogs who wander, and I never did know who she belonged to at all. Back then, there were fewer cars, less traffic and people walked more and children all rode bicycles. It was safer for a bridle Pitbull girl dog to walk to school with kids or visit them at lunch. She was one of those odd dogs who learned to bare her teeth not in a snarl but a grin. I never knew her real name but because she was striped, blacker than orange, I called her Tiger.
I remember Tiger appearing one day when we were riding our bikes to school, and it’s odd that so few kids ride anymore. As I’m going to work I see cars parked at the end of driveways, driveways mind you, to drop their kids off closer to the bus. We walked, we rode out bikes, and if we ever got on a school bus all the kids would group together at one place at one time. I see school buses stopping at every other house now. My father would have rather seen me walk in the rain than ride me to school. I thought this was how it was supposed to be when I was growing up. I think that taking kids to the end of the driveway is a bit much, though.
So there was Tiger. Smiling, wagging her stump of a tail so hard her rump swung her around like a comma. I remember a kid telling me Tiger would bite me because she was showing her teeth but that body language told me that she was a kissy dog. I was right about Tiger, kissy dog she was, too, and she loved attention. She trusted strangers which is something I can’t bring myself to do today or ever for that matter.
The need for young male humans to show themselves to be hard or capable of cruelty or wantonly stupid was strong when I was growing up in South Georgia. By High School I learned not to show that I liked something or, heaven forbid, love something, because someone would try to destroy it. I had to be very careful when Tiger came around and she sensed that there were times she should approach me and times when other people might be mean to her. Girls loved her, and that kept most of the truly stupid from trying to hurt Tiger, but she was never save around humans. None of us really are.
It’s odd that even at a very young age I was being taught to hide what I liked. I was being conditioned to conceal what I loved for fear of others destroying it. It was, and it still is, a legitimate fear. Were it not there would be no animal shelters and there would be no pets destroyed by uncaring alleged human beings. At this point in my life I am two different people, at least, to the world. I am Mike Firesmith, foster dog dad and writer. To the rest of the world I am just someone with a job and who owns dogs. My constant need to subdivide my life has followed me deep into adulthood and I am not quite certain how to break the walls down.
I have no idea what happened to Tiger. I cannot remember when I noticed I hadn’t seen her in a while. She came and went at odd times so it wasn’t unusual for us not to see her for a week or so but that day came, when I realized she had been gone for a very long time. I remember a day I saw her in the parking lot and I went out to greet her. We hid between two cars and I shared my lunch with her. In a world filled with cruelty where there were no kind words spoken or heard, Tiger was the only person I could have shared a moment of humanity with at that time.
So there was a Brindle Pit, female, and her last day had arrived. Either someone took her in or she would die. Sam is so totally weird right now I cannot image trying to foster another dog, and who knows how Lilith would react to another female? But there was Tiger looking at me and a small and very scared and very young man inside of me reached out to share a moment of kindness and happiness and joy, and yes, I will take the bridle girl dog and I will save her.
I didn’t make it back into Valdosta to get her today. I was neck deep in work and six was here and gone before I could break away. But tomorrow when the vet’s office opens I’ll get to meet her, at last, and maybe she will be able to sense in me there is a debt I have to pay, in kindness and in love, for a bridle that shared my lunch with me and allowed me, for just a few moments, to be who I really wanted to be and who I really was and am.
I can make this work. I can get Lilith to, at worst, accept Holly into the pack, and get Sam to stay away from her, and Lucas will love her. I can do this. For no matter what else has happened in my life they have never failed me. They have always been there for me. They have always kept my love true.
And maybe, one day, if I save enough of them, and they keep teaching me how to love without conditions or fear or hesitation and without any regard to anything but the heart, maybe I can be just one person, one day.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
I was at a party one night and we were all drinking like hell because that was what we did. And you know, every once in a while you’ll get into a decent conversation with someone and you’ll like them for not taking it over, or being too weird about their own opinion, or dismissing yours, and it’ll be sort of a nice walk through the woods and not a race and not some twenty mile march. So this guy’s name was Carl, and he was friends with the people who owned the house and he told me he had to leave because he was going fishing the next day, and then he paused and said, “Hey, come go fishing with me tomorrow!” and I nearly said yes, even though I don’t fish.
The next day rolls around and I thought to myself, you could start fishing again, and it was nice to think I had made a friend. A few hours later a woman called me to tell me Carl had been killed on the way home. He fell asleep at the wheel at slammed into a tree.
You know, I regret not telling Carl I would go fishing with him. A few hours after he and I sat down in a room full of drinking people he was dead but I still remember how he tried to explain to me how he thought the fish were going to be biting the next day. I thought his theory was unsound, unfounded, more superstitious than anything else, but the man had a way of believing without trying to drag anyone else along with him. I can’t remember a word he said, but he was just a decent sort of guy. I’m sorry he’s dead. That’s all that needs to be said.
Yesterday one of the people who rose to the occasion and donated to Lucas’ operation was nearly in a bad wreck. We’ve stayed in contact, via email, text, photos, and that sort of thing, and she sent me great coffee for my birthday. But she realized, and I do now, that the internet has some flaws as far as communication; if she had been killed how in the hell would I ever know it? We don’t any mutual friends. Would there be any real way for me to find out what happened or how it happened? We’re decided to tell someone, “Hey, if I die, email this person for me” and I hope it goes a lot more carefully than just that, but still, you know what I mean, don’t you?
My life insurance is going to cover the mutts very well and have a lot left over. I’ve made provisions for them. But what about you? There are people I have never met, may never meet, who I have never spoken to on the phone and might not ever speak to in my life, whose lives I’m grown attached to in various ways.
I’ve watched children grow up here, I’m watched parents die, I’ve seen new homes and new pets. People I know have gotten married. People I know have gotten divorced. I’ve met some people live and in person and actually became, uh, intimate, with some of the women I’ve met online. Long distance relationships very rarely work but the success rate for good old fashioned marriage is about 50-50. Besides, there is always something terrible erotic about meeting someone you have no idea who they might be! Unless they’re a fifteen hundred pounds rabid grizzly. Then it’s no fun.
But suppose you wake up tomorrow and your favorite FB person hasn’t posted a photo of her cat sleeping on her head, again. Or some guy hasn’t said a word about the snow, or someone you send a FB happy birthday to just isn’t responding. Yeah, this is the internet and you might discover that the 32 year old mother of two from Cleveland Ohio was a fourteen year old High School guy who loved to write weird things. But what if someone you care about online is actually very much dead in real life? I mean, really, really care about?
There are those people who will tell you, after that first pang of fear, when someone you’ve known for a while online, isn’t answering private messages, or texts, or even pokes, that you cannot care about those who you’ve never met. But you know this person. There hasn’t been a thank god for coffee post in two days, doesn’t that strike you as very odd? But then you notice that other people are trying to get some sort of response and then there’s this trading of messages about someone who knows this person in real life and…
All of a sudden you wonder if you should go to the funeral. “Hi! My name is Mike Firesmith and I traded online conversations with your sons for a few years and I am going to miss his sense of humor and the fact that he loved his cat.”
You know, I think a lot of people would understand that.
I would. I do.
So here’s what I’m going to be asking some of you for in the near future. I want a real time someone who know if you’re alive or dead on a regular basis. I want someone I can send an email to and they can email me back and say, “Yep she’s just totally pissed at you. That’s why she isn’t speaking to you anymore” and that makes a lot more sense than death, really, when it comes to me and women.
The difficult thing here is I’m not sure who to offer you in return. My life is so compartmentalized and I have so many names I’m pretty sure they’ll have to have more than one fire just to cremate us all. But I’ll see what I can do. I just realized there are people who have never met me who know me a lot better than some people who have known me all my life.
I’m not sure what to think about that.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Taking a left turn directly into the sun causes instant blindness and for reasons I cannot explain a flash of memory from over a decade ago. I sat at the end of my driveway in a truck I didn’t really like with a woman I had just begun to really loathe and made a right turn and a decision. I never made the decision to loathe the woman, and really, I tried to talk myself out of it but not nearly as much as she tried to talk me into it. Two people ought not feel stuck with one another, as if neither have a way out or a way forward. There has to be a sense of future, some sort of plan rather than just a day to day to day survival mode that seems like a rerun of last month and last year.
It was a thirty minute drive to the interstate and there was no point in being in a hurry. The drive would last the better part of one thousand one hundred miles. Getting to the interstate meant that there was only one thousand, seventy miles to go. As we made another right turn to get onto I-10 the rising sun caught the rear view mirror and blinded me.
The human brain enjoys being bathed in light. It needs it. The mind operates better when there is an overwhelming sense of brightness. They eyes can allow just so much before they begin to lose their ability to adjust and just so much past that point before damage begins to occur. But the sun rose above the point it was blinding me, and then it followed along side of me, and then it set directly in front of me, and as the sun set, blinding me twice in the same day, we reached the halfway point in the drive, well, a little past it, but there was still a very long way to go.
I dreaded the drive back but this time we started at three in the morning and as Dallas faded into the background of the drive the sun came up once again, as it always had and it always will and the Universe, uncaring and blind, spins and spins and spins even as we remember certain days or certain instances in time, it is much as if there are creatures who remember atoms or molecules or perhaps, the feeling of gravity pulling in each step. None of is any different, all of it is lost in the vastness of the Universe, and none of it matters at all to the spinning earth or the sun as it consumes itself ever so slowly, much as we do with each second remembered and each passing day. Dallas, the sprawling city of street lights and billboards and gas stations with their own galaxy of lights, is where Helena lived, and still lives. We orbited for a while, she fell away from me, and it was odd, to stand in the bathroom at a gas station and know that somewhere in that vast maze of lights was someone who once loved me and one hundred feet away was someone else that would one day be a part of my past. I wondered if Helena slept, or was awake, or was still in love with the man she moved to Texas with, or if she had died. I will never know any of these things.
The sun greeted me head on that day, another time of blindness much like the one created when people meet and they orbit one another. So rigid is the pull of gravitation they cannot imagine it will weaken and end as all things do and there isn’t a Universal maintenance. Bodies fall out of the heavens with regular ease flaming out and being consumed by nothing more than friction and air. There is a form of delight we human have in seeing the bright falling scar of light in the night shy but we do not realize there are no wishes and there will be nothing promised by the destruction we see. We are blind to this during the day but we never think about how many of those object fall in plain sight unseen.
If someone were to ask you to take them to get a gallon of milk, to a store that was a hundred miles away, you might very well balk at the idea but let the road be a thousand one hundred miles long and one hundred miles is a fraction of a day. Seventy, eighty, ninety miles and more on the odometer means little at all. State lines come into view, pass behind the truck, mile markers are eaten like pieces of candy and caffeine is the only One True God. I thought about it, right before the Texas state line appeared, there was a rest area and I thought about pulling in and telling her that I was going to leave there in Texas, but there was no one to come rescue her from me. Odd, isn’t it? You keep someone near to you to keep someone else from having to rescue that person from you. I wonder if she read these thoughts. I wonder if she knew the thoughts before I did.
It was New Year’s Eve and we finally made it back to the driveway and made a left turn into it. One thousand, ninety-nine point seven miles had passed underneath the truck I did not like with the woman whom I loathed. There would be no celebration or fireworks or staying up another hour or two to greet 2002. There would be no popping of corks or streamers flying. The sun would rise in another seven hours but I would not greet this one, no, not this time. That day, that night, that trip, would submerge in my mind, lost in the swirling masses inside my head and only return to me at odd times, when there was so much light, it created blindness.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
The last time I added anything with any real mass to the compost pile someone had given me some really large cardboard boxes and a stack of newspapers. I keep telling people that I don’t compost the slick stuff but they keep giving me newspapers with the slick stuff in it anyway. Today is one of those days I turn the entire pile and I will see what’s dissolved and what hasn’t. What does and what doesn’t go back to the earth fascinates me like very few things do. I would very much like to return to the earth when I die and I hope to have a green burial and maybe even in a compost pile somewhere.
The cardboard boxes are totally gone. Nothing is left of them at all. There was a layer of newspaper covering the entire pile, only a couple of pages thick, and it is gone as well. There is a small knot of paper envelopes and stuff that I didn’t scatter out so well and it’s amazing how intact this junk mail offering to the Gods of Rot has survived. I use a pitchfork, yes, a real live pitchfork, to shovel everything over to one big pile. We have denizens, yes, we have, even in weather this cool.
There are scores of largely immobile earthworms. A lot of small creatures that usually scurry about, but the chilled air has them slowed down a bit, and then there are the fireants. Fireants are what hell will be like if it was twice as evil as we could imagine and there were telemarketers there. They are small, endlessly aggressive, and they pack a venom that hurts a lot more than you’d give credit to such a small insect being able to inflect and they sting until you are dead or they are dead. They are among the few creatures on earth I truly and honestly hate. I would, with no hesitation, cause the total and complete extinction of this species and never blink.
The colder weather causes them to move slowly as well so I am able to dig their entire nest up. Thousands and thousands of eggs are exposed to the cold air and I hope this puts a damper on their usually runaway growth in the compost pile. It’s very difficult to get them out once they get in, but the colder weather helps.
I started this pile way back in 2006. There for a very long time it was a pile of leaves with junk mail tossed into it. It didn’t go very far or happen very fast but eventually, after a couple of years, it began to have some sort of internal process that devoured stuff faster. In 2009, a Loki Mutt arrived and he happily dug through it looking for edibles. A fence was erected around it. And finally, in 2010, I decided to start planting peppers and tomatoes in the soil I had created from junk mail envelopes, used paper towels ( no cleaner on them, thank you) and yard debris. This soil rocks, I tell you!
There have been some lessons learned. The first is this; water. Or more precisely, moisture. The pile has to be kept damp to operate but if it is large enough, there will always be moisture at the lower levels. The second was plastic never rusts. All those junk mail envelops had those little plastic windows in them and each and every one of them showed up and they are still showing up, even though I stopped using them after the first year. If it is plastic it will return to you. The plastic tape on boxes never breaks down at all. Even metal will erode away before plastic goes anywhere at all. Think about it; I’ve been doing this since 2006, tossed in junk mail for just one year, and those little clear plastic windows still pop out of the earth every once in a while. Imagine how many are in landfills not doing anything more.
So the plan today was quite simple; stack everything up, put down a later of newspapers that have been soaking since last week, put down a layer of new stuff, put old stuff on top of it, wet it down, put new stuff down on top of that, put old stuff on top of that, wet it down, repeat until I ran out of new stuff or old stuff. Or I get tired.
Anyway, this is my theory. There are microbes and material in the old stuff looking for new stuff to eat. The new stuff has to be wet, warm, and yummy which is why I make sandwiches out of the old stuff. The activity in the old stuff generates heat and this further breaks down the new stuff. This is all a process as old as…dirt.
Newspaper, kitchen debris, new stuff, water, old stuff, water, new stuff, water, old stuff, water, and call it a day. The fence goes back up and the dogs, who have been watching with disinterest, wag their tails hopefully. It’s rather cool and they rather be sofa mutts than composting out here in the cold. The pile has steam rising off of it now and the sun is going to warm it up a bit as the day wears on.
Deep inside the pile, the colony of fireants is in a state of disarray. I have an odd theory that goes something like this: The fireants leave trails of pheromones so other ants know where food is and where everyone else is, too. There are other creatures, centipedes, termites, worms of a hundred types, beetles, and the sort who live in the pile too. As they walk over, crawl over and slither over the ant trails, they start to smell like ants, too. Sooner or later, there’s a population inside the pile that are no longer noteworthy to the ants. I fear my activity disrupts everything. Life is turned upside down for everyone. But the pile grows larger, the soil inside gets better and my garden will grow too, come spring.
I’m going to get some Carolina Reapers.