Saturday, January 30, 2010

Warm your heart on my hearth

Chainsaw Day

It’s Chainsaw Day, the day the last bit of the tree gets cut up in smaller pieces with a chainsaw, and it’s no accident I’ve waited this long. Chainsaws are dangerous, always, never safe, and no one can tell you they’ve mastered the art of the chainsaw unless they’ve hired someone else to use it for them. There are long pieces to be cut into shorter pieces, bramble to be cut into kindling, and ugly pieces to be cut down to size. I hate chainsaws. Maybe something would happen, I told myself, like a traffic accident, or winning the lottery, or some other form of drama where I wouldn’t have to use the chainsaw again, but this is Chainsaw Day, and so I drag it out of its black coffin, and hope it cranks, sort of, maybe, and if it doesn’t, oh well.
It does crank, on the third try, and I cut some of the smaller, but longer stuff and the chainsaw doesn’t try to kill me yet. The thicker stuff comes next, and I’m careful to stand out of the angle of the sawdust, and watch for the chain breaking, and watch for the kickback of the saw that shortened Tommy Odom’s leg by two inches back in 1981. Chainsaw are ridiculously easy to use, and therein lies the danger. Anyone can start one, anyone can pick one up, anyone can see how easy it is to zip through pieces of wood. Zip! Zip! The noise is terrible, but the wood piles up quickly, and they are so easy to use. Zip! Zip! But the vibration causes fatigue and sooner or later to get tired and get careless and suddenly there is a gusher and your bone has been turned to bonedust, not unlike at all like sawdust, except it isn’t the life of a tree running down your leg.
Odd, how fragile our lives are, yet the tree still lives. Some of the wood is still green, very green, and the smell of a tree’s death please some people, but I know this for what it is. This is my tree, and it’s being rendered for cremation, and it occurs to me my own cremation will be much different. Or maybe, if I donate my body to science, it will be much like this, until the last day of class, when the last of me is wheeled out and slapped into the toaster, never to be burned again.
There’s real life in the tree, even at this stage, and when I toss one of the green pieces onto the ground I can feel the strength in it, I can feel the life in it yet, and there is never a time in a human being’s time there is that much power in a life. This is real, true, energy that is able to hold up thousands of gallons of water, tons of woods, three acres of shade, and do so without breaking a sweat.
The ugly pieces are those that held limbs and branches, and because of this, I have to cut them shorter to be able to split them. I’ve gotten good again, I’ve fallen back into the groove of swinging an axe, and a maul, and pounding the wedges again. My endurance isn’t what it once was, but I’m faster, more efficient, and I realize why they say youth is wasted on the young now. I dreamed there was a hole in one of my gloves, but there isn’t. I know, I know, yes, a hole in one of my gloves is an odd thing to dream, but that’s my life. Dreams blend in, yes, I know, I know, it’s a form of insanity, but that too is my life. My fingers don’t reach all the way to the ends of my gloves, and they never have, really, because I have small hands. “It’s like dating a lesbian again, “ a woman told me once, and then there was this silence as she realized what she had said, and I realized it too, and we lay there in the dark and I almost asked, but I realized she hadn’t meant to say it, so I didn’t, and right at this very moment, no, not back then with her, but right now, while I’m splitting the twisted piece of Oak, I realize that like the wood which I split to reveal the twists and knots and hard places, that night I had split a woman, to reveal her own hidden secrets, and in much the same way, in fact. Much later, a year or so in fact, the woman squeezed my arm and said, “That’s her” and I realized she was talking about the college professor we had been speaking to at a party, and looking back there was that gleam in the eyes thing, but I didn’t ask that night, because she knew I would, and I knew she would be disappointed when I did, and I knew she would wonder why I didn’t, but that is the woman. Women love secrets, and revealing them, and men aren’t supposed to care, both generalizations false, yes, I know, but it fit then, and it worked then.
The woodpile gets bigger with these thoughts, and the analogy pops up but I need to move on. I wonder what this tree looked like the day I was born, and when it got sick and begun to die. It was dying when I got here nine years ago, and I’m dying right now, just as slowly as the Oak, maybe quicker in fact, but I wonder how many more I’ll lose before I go. How many more will I have to burn? Will I bury my dogs before it happens? Will my parents die before I do? Death, death, death, I’m stacking a death into a pile, and using a chainsaw while I daydream, and I hope the two don’t meet.

I split one more piece of wood and it looks impossible but it opens up like a woman who never smiles but secretly wants to be taken, and like a woman who is diseased with some virus, this piece is filled with large red and black ants. This is an eviction notice, and they aren’t happy at all. All these thoughts are piling up like the wood, and the comparison between the Oak and women makes me realize where the term Mother Earth came from, and I wonder if we can ever get back to being who we were meant to be before we’re cut up and burned.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Mike Firesmith Theory on Charmers, Anti-Charmers, and the Song Within.

My friend Ken once made over a quarter of a million dollars in one day. This was back in the late eighties when that kind of money was serious. He paid off his house, put back money for his kids’ college fund, bought a new truck, and drank himself silly for three days. Ken worked for a company that sold farm equipment and one of his clients had moved from South Africa to South Georgia, and needed some hardware for the farm. He and Ken went fishing together, went out drinking, and Ken more or less gave the man and his people the grand tour of all things wonderful in South Georgia for the better part of a week. At the end of the day, the man bought enough tractors and implements of destruction to keep a couple of thousand acres in produce for a very long time. Ken and this guy actually got together two or three times a year to go fishing until Ken and the guy’s eighteen year old daughter were caught smooching in a closet one night.
I’ve always wondered why people like Ken existed. Charmers, I call them, the type of people who seem to be born to sell, or con, or just simply smile and be loved by everyone. You know the type, and maybe you’re one of them. Have you ever wondered if that thing inside of you shuts off, how the hell you would survive? When you’re getting someone to do something for you do you ever wonder if they would still like you if you weren’t a Charmer?

It is a lot like being pretty. People spend an incredible amount of money each year on consumer good designed to make the buyer more attractive, but what about those people who just naturally fit the societal construct of being pretty? They are treated better, they are considered to be good people, and I’m willing to bet if Ken was a four hundred pound man with a wart on his nose and bad teeth, that guy from South Africa would have found someone else to sell him a John Deere. It’s a reward for simply being lucky enough to have what people like. There isn’t an intrinsic value to having large breasts, or blue eyes, or high cheek bones, or being skinny. We’ve invented a system where those phenotypes are valued, but they do not in and of themselves have any more value than traits which might be considered opposite. See where I’m going with this?
I have always had an incredibly difficult time communicating with human beings in person. Most of this stems from the fact I cannot edit my words once they are spoken. The nuance of human ritual escapes me until well after the fact. I am the Anti-Charmer.

Physics. Charm: a quantum number assigned the value +1 for one kind of quark, −1 for its antiquark, and 0 for all other quarks.

Here’s my theory, and it’s a theory based purely on the idea of tequila having magical properties allowing anyone who has drank enough to become pseudoscient. Human Beings, like the particles of matter that make up their composition, have a certain harmonic signal. Compare it to the song people make when they sing a certain song in a certain key. When two people get together and they really like one another, it’s because this harmonious signal is amplified between the two, and they both feel happier for it. It’s the same feeling groups of people feel at rock concerts, or weddings, or any other event where the humans beings there feel a simpatico with one another. The darkside to this is the same feeling can be felt when people are burning books or witches. Did you ever stop to wonder how people who are rioting know which other people are rioting and who isn’t? But that’s another story for another day.
Charmers are those people who have a natural and innate ability to adjust their harmonic signal to whoever might be near them. Every wonder how some singers seem to have a better stage presence than others? Ever wonder how a man like Richard Nixon ever became president? Charmers seem to be able to fit themselves into the heart of a crowd or the soul of another with ease. I would suggest to you actors are people with this ability simply because they can become who you want them to become. You feel sorrow or love or anger when you see their performance, and this goes well beyond simple stagecraft. Even through film and video, Charmers hold us rapt even though they might be long dead, and gone.
We Anti-Charmers are simply screwed. Our harmonic signal is one of extreme dissonance. We can sit alone in a room, quietly reading in the corner, yet somehow piss off someone, for some unknown reason. We’re the ones accused of witchcraft, or worse, and carted off to the bonfire, or banished forever from those we’re supposed to be a part of in some way. We are the eddies that ripple the flow, we are the whistling wind in the quite of the mind, we are the dandelions in the field of play, and we are the stones on the clear path.
Our Song Within is sang to a tune none other may hear. When we bond with others we have no question of why for it is a bond more pure than any other. Some are capable of feeling past the discord. Some are capable, and willing, to go beyond the harmonious signal, and hear a voice deep and true. We are not pretty, perhaps, and we are not soothing, in good sooth, and we are not easy to love, ever. But we are, stripped to the bone, and all alone, more truly ourselves than those who are given what we cannot have, those who do not have to work for we labor for, and those who slip easily into the company of human beings.
In the end, it may be this comfort and none other, which makes all the difference.

Take Care,
Mike





The Mike Firesmith Theory on Charmers, Anti-Charmers, and the Song Within.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Abortion and The Tebow Commercial

Most pressing human issues today are caused by simple math; we human are far too good at multiplying, but we’re a divided race, and we subtract too much from the earth without adding anything back. There are far too many human beings on the earth and when things go to hell, they are going to hell in a hurry and we’re going to deeply regret we didn’t have some sort of plan as to what to do about all the people.
Right now, at this point in history, in this country, it is impossible to do so much as discuss population control without Hitler’s name being brought into it. Maybe by the next generation we will notice that it is impossible to legally drive a car, buy a handgun, cut someone’s hair, or tattoo someone without a license. Yet any moron with an erection can father a child, and any idiot ready and willing to open her legs can get pregnant, and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can say or do about it without being labeled a Nazi.
By the way, in case you’re interested in more math, Hitler’s wars caused more deaths of innocent civilians than any of his evil science experiments, his pogrom against the Jews, or anything else he did to anyone else, yet you never hear about a group of crazy religious people screaming about the military being Nazis, do you?
Abortion is a legal way to terminate a pregnancy. It is not murder. Murder by its very definition is an illegal act and as long as it is legal then the crazies are going to just have to live with it, or kill because of it, whatever their particular god is up to these days. I personally think it ought to be subsidized by the government and there ought to be abortions clinics right next door to every church, just to keep the nutcases close to home. Moreover, they ought to have to take in every child that is produced by their protests. If they stop ten women a day from having an abortion then in nine months that church inherits those ten babies. Get your stopwatches out to time how long the protests would be going on if these people have to live with the results of their actions. I don’t like religious people. More succinctly worded, I do not like people who think their views on religion ought to be made into law, and if those views aren’t, they have the right to kill someone over it.

Oddly enough, I find myself siding with the nutcases in a recent debate.

Tim Tebow is a college football player of great renown. He’s also very up front when it comes to his beliefs. That didn’t keep Alabama from beating the Hell out of him, and set Tim Tebow to crying like a spanked child on national television, but hey, that’s football.
Tebow’s mother, when she was pregnant with him, was told by a doctor or two to terminate her pregnancy, or so the story goes, and she refused to do it, and as a result, Tim Tebow is now been hired by Focus on the Family to air that story during a commercial during the Superbowl. As far as I know, the story is a true story. FOTF paid 2.4 million dollars to air the ad…once.

Let me make a distinction here; I am pro abortion. I think there ought to be more of them. I think they ought to be free. I also think if a woman has an abortion she, and the man who fathered the child, ought to be sterilized, but you know there’s going hell raised when that’s brought up. Anyway, some people are purely prochoice. They do not care if a woman has, or doesn’t have, an abortion, they just think the woman ought to have the right to choose.

These people, the Pro Choice people, are having fits over the Tebow commercial.

I have heard some say it’s inappropriate to show the commercial during a football game. Uh, yeah, I get that, but if that’s true why protest it? Let them show a very serious and hotly debated topic watched by millions, but it will likely be sandwiched in between commercials involving talking cats and another one involving a nearly naked woman selling a sexual lubricant. The overwhelming majority of the people watching this commercial will be men, who have been drinking, and who are likely to remember the nearly naked woman more intensely than Tebow, unless that blonde he’s banging is sitting in his lap, topless.

Here’s my view on this: If it is a true story, if FOTF has the bucks to pull it off, and no dogs are injured as a results, more power to them. They have a right to present their point of view, even though I think they’re morons. They bought the time so let them use it as they see fit, and if that causes some sort of social change then it’s because people like me weren’t smart enough to figure out how to counter them.
Moreover, why the hell would you put a guy in a white lab coat in charge of your life? Sure, if you had cancer you might want to listen to what the man, or woman, has to say, but if they told you they were going to take out a lung, wouldn’t you go get a second opinion? My doctor hates my guys because I won’t take the drugs he wants me to but I say it’s my choice. Choice? Isn’t that’s it all suppose to be about, choice? What? You’re pro choice as long as the woman chooses abortion?

You people screwed this one up, and you’ve got people like me being all snarky at you because of it.

Whether I like it or not, whether the pro choice people like it or not, commercialism is legal, just like abortion. Whether I like to it or not, or whether the pro choice people like it or not, some women are going to choose to have babies. Some of them are morons. Some of them are not going to be very good moms. Some of them simply have no idea what they are getting into. But having a baby is easy, raising that child is not. Raising a baby and being a parent is an act of will and courage, and it is quite simply the hardest job any human can undertake. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it is a choice. Tim Tebow’s mom made that choice, and she seems to have done pretty well with it.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you’ve got to respect the mom here.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, January 25, 2010

Crazy

Peg swears the correlation between insanity and creativity is romanticized and mostly anecdotal. She also suspects the statistics wouldn’t bear out the popular notion creativity and personality disorders go hand in hand, but a lot of this depends on how you define creativity, and for that matter, insanity. Normal is a myth created by the timid, worshipped by the weak, and enforced by the frightened. The idea of there being some subclass of humans who suffer from chemical imbalances that can only be cured and treated with drugs is step one towards a Brave New World. Yes, there are some people who do need some meds but just because someone doesn’t fit into the square hole we’ve constructed in this society doesn’t mean we need to drag out the tranquilizer gun.

I submit to you creativity is a lot like sexuality; everyone has various degrees of it, and in different forms. Passion in any form unsettles some people, and they are unsure how to surrender to it. Some would rather not. It’s immoral, we’re taught, to let yourself be yourself when it comes to sexual behavior, and nothing shadows our sex drive like our desire to create. Is it a coincidence religion has long sought to discourage or control both sexual behavior and artistic expression? Religion is the primary means by which human beings seek to either destroy, suppress, or subvert sexuality and creativity. Drugs come in a close second, but that is usually in the form of self medication like alcohol, because once again, those who are creative have difficulty living in the square hole world. Alcohol anesthetizes that part of the brain where The Muse lives. Normal people, or frightened people, can much better deal with a drunk than they can an artist. It is neither accidental nor coincidental those drugs that are supposed to help those suffering from mental illness also seem to squash the creative. There is damn little commercial enterprise to be made off people who cannot live in the square hole world unless you sell them drugs to cure them from being them.

Mental illness may be a necessary consequence of creativity, and that’s a paraphrase of something someone else wrote but I cannot remember who or the exact quote. If you write, you create people who have voices and lives inside your own mind. If you paint, you create a window into a world that exists nowhere else but inside your own mind. If you are a poet you use language in a way that exists only in your own mind. If you sing, you interpret song in a manner that echoes only in your own mind. If you create, you bring into one world something born from another. Some of us have surrendered to the idea we cannot stop it, cannot prevent it, and indeed, do everything we can to facilitate such birthing. Those who have not surrendered can only fight, or submit to the meds, or suffer the fate of those who cannot, or will not, accept the Muse.



I have not said this is easy because it is not easy. I have not said this will be rewarding because there well may be no reward in what you do. I have not said this will give you peace, for by accepting this, you may well have to accept the idea that in your mind, if you surrender to who and what you are, you will never find one moment of peace in your own head, or your own life, and it may very well torment you, and those you love, and those who love you.

I can only tell you that it is worth it. It is worth the pain, the loneliness, the ostracization, the misunderstanding, the sleeplessness, the fear, and the insanity, oh yeah, the insanity, it’s worth it, too.



It’s worth it, because it is who you really are.



Take Care,

Mike Firesmith

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Doggie Drama: Who's On First?

Sam, Sam, The Happy Hound, will be nine this July, and Bert is already past a decade old. They’ve lived in harmony for the most part, since Sam arrived almost nine years ago, with just a few clashes and pseudo dog fights. There’s never been much blood spilled between Bert and Sam, which is not to say none, but Bert was born the Alpha Mutt, and Sam came along as second, and that was just the way it has always been. Sam hasn’t let Bert have first place without something to say about it, but Bert’s place in the pack has never seriously been threatened.

It’s been brewing for a while now. Lucas seems to think he was a born leader, and other than the normal puppy stuff, he’s also been giving Sam a fit over food, and placement near me, and all sorts of things like that. Lucas hasn’t openly challenged Bert yet, but he’s come close a few times. He will eat out of Bert’s bowl when Bert isn’t looking, and he’ll steal Bert’s chew toys, but as far as facing Bert down, Lucas isn’t insane. He’s clashed with Sam openly more than once, and he’s beginning to stand Sam down, just a little, but so far, he seemed to understand Bert is not Sam. Until yesterday that is.

Yesterday as Peg and I were shedding, we heard the unmistakable sound of a dog fight, and looked over to see Bert and Lucas tying up. Lucas was trying to stand his ground against Bert, who is still a little heavier, still more experience, a lot more furry, and truly pissed.
“Let them go.” I said to Peg, because she had already begun moving in that direction.
It was odd, but Lucas wasn’t giving ground on a run but rather a steady retreat, not allowing Bert to use the weight advantage against him. Sam slammed into him from the side, and right before I was about to say something, Lucas folded. He rolled over and Sam stood over him, as if this was his fight, and Bert came over and snuffled Lucas, but the point was made. It truly is going to take both of the older dogs, acting in union, to keep this puppy in his place. If this single act of battle doesn’t prove anything it does prove the older dogs realize they aren’t going to be able to go one on one with Lucas anymore and hope to keep winning. Lucas as the will to do it. All he needs now is a few more pound and there is going to be serious trouble for top dog.

The Puppy Lucas is sporting a mean looking gash on his left shoulder right now, but the muscle isn’t damaged. All three are sleeping on the bed together, and peace has broken out again. Lucas isn’t a mean dog, nor is he particularly aggressive. But this isn’t a passive individual content with his place in the world, and he is fucking fearless. He stood nose to nose with Bert, something Sam doesn’t do anymore, and he took both older dogs on for a very short period of time.

I like this Luke.

Take Care,
Mike

Done

When Tropical Storm Fay dropped an Oak tree on my shed a couple of years ago I was still able to use it, kinda, because part of it was still standing. It was more or less a sheet metal tent at that time, with two very large openings, front and back, but still some shelter in the middle so things would stay dry. When someone gave me a riding lawn mower I just wrapped it up in a tarp when I wasn’t using it, and life went on. I kept meaning to put up a new shed but kept not doing it because there wasn’t anything propelling me into action.
Enter The Loki Mutt!

Neither Bert nor Sam has any interest in chewing things, or playing with things, or being destructive but Lucas thrives on it. I sometimes wonder if plastic isn’t the natural prey animal of the Canids because Luke seeks out plastic containers. Motor oil, tennis balls, herbicide, lighter fluid, all of these things were inside the wrecked shed, and living in peace and harmony with the world until The Puppy Lucas appeared, and suddenly, like a chemical Johnny Appleseed, Luke began destroying and scattering out anything and everything plastic. It was time to get a new shed, before he discovered the tarp that covered the riding lawn mower.
My friend Peg, who gave me the riding lawn mower, and who is basically my go to gal for all projects that involve the house, offered to help build the shed. She and I painted her house a few years ago, and between the two of us we’ve put many hours in helping each other. This is a tedious and aggravating task, this shed building. We started last year, got delayed, and just got back to it again. One of the beams was installed wrong and we had to reset it. This is only an eight by eight shed, mind you, not a real one but it’s all I can do right now. The half day schedule turned into a three quarters day job, but by three the shed was complete.
Of course, I had to jump the rider off to get it cranked, and of course to do that I had to unplug the electric fence, open the gate, go through the gate, close the gate, jump the mower off, get it into the shed, go back to the truck, unhook the jumper cables, open the gate, go through the gate, close the gate, plug the fence back in, and then start getting stuff into the shed. That’s the kind of week it’s been, that kind of month really, and hell, that kind of year so far. I started working on the tree last Friday, it’s Sunday now, and I haven’t had a day off yet.
There were some interesting discoveries while reloading the shed. I had forgotten about some of the things I had owned, and had stashed back; the old iron bird cage, some of the hand tools in a tool box, various odds and ends I’ve collected through the years. Some of it had gotten wet and was ruined, but by and large it was all okay. I found the bicycle lock I had lost for five years, and ha! I still have the key, yes. I got the shelving in, got all the plastic bottles up and out of the Loki Mutt’s reach, got the push mower in, and finally threw away a lot of stuff that desperately needed it.
I’m doing laundry today, I’m going to write, and I’m going to watch a football game on the television. I’m not going out into the yard for a damn thing, and I’m not doing any more of anything else. I’m tired. My arms hurt. My hands are cramping up from turning a screw driver for six hours yesterday. I’m going to soak in the hot tub for an hour or so and not answer the phone, the door, email, or anything else until I get good and damn ready, unless it’s someone I really care about, or she’s hot, or both.

It has been a really long year so far, and I am really tired.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, January 22, 2010

When Friday Attacks!

Something told me to stay in bed this morning. Okay, it was Sam, and he was lying across me as if warning me that I would be harmed in some way if I got out of bed. Sam weighs seventy pounds. I would be harmed if I let a dog that size lay on my chest for very long. Sam, Sam, the Happy Hound. I shooed Sam away and began my journey into the great unknown that is each and every day.
Someone called the office about some debris on a road and because so many of the men ( and women) who go out and remove debris from roads were up all night during the flooding, I more or less volunteered to go out and remove the debris. How long could it possibly take? I took one other person with me, and a pitchfork, just in case, and off we went. Meanwhile, my W-2 form has taken flight. I am assigned to one office, I’m working out of another, and no one seems to know where the hell I am unless there is some debris in the road. I try to pin someone down who has actually seen the W-2, knows where it is, and will leave it where I can find it if I come get it.
There isn’t debris in the road. The flooding came rushing out of a field’s entrance and the better part of the Sahara desert washed out into the road. I look at the pitchfork and realize only as an instrument of suicide will it be useful, and not really very efficient at that. We call in for some sort of earth moving equipment, and wait. An hour later, when someone with a backhoe does arrive, I flag traffic for the guy. I can direct traffic with the very best of them. It isn’t rocket science here, kids. When you see signs indicating there is work ahead, and there is a big piece of machinery in the road, and there is some guy waving a sign that reads “STOP!” in the air, you might think that slowing down just a little might be the thing to do. Some chick in a Toyota Camry doesn’t. She heads towards me at sixty miles an hour. One hundred feet away I realize she isn’t going to stop and I bail, yelling. I hope everyone else hears me, sees her, and can get the hell out of the way. At the last moment she starts braking, but she’s already twenty feet past where I was standing before I had to exit, stage left. The guy on the backhoe sees all this and he’s looking for another area code to be in. The guy flagging the other end is on the phone to the cops, just in case this is a drunk. The woman, seeing how I’ve gotten off the road, assumes it’s okay and continues on her merry.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch.

I do not have to watch the office very often but no sooner do I step in and explain what a terrible day I’m having than everyone else leaves and I’m stuck answering the phone. One of my co-workers disguises his voice so he sounds like he was rejected from Green Acres for being too big a hick, and calls me. He tells me his goats are in the road and he wants someone to come and help get them off the road, and of course I bite into this and tell him I’ll call someone who can tell him if we can help or not, being there are his goats, I suspect not. The hick giggles and I realize I’ve been had, I hang up, and laughter breaks out in the other side of the office. Ten minutes later a man with a terrible stutter calls and tells me there’s a dead deer in the road. Yeah, right. I recognize this for what it is so I tell him whoever finds the deer has to keep him, and it ought to make great eating, too. Furthermore, if it isn’t in too bad of a shape, he ought to skin it out and make some clothes of it. As I hang up I listen for the laughter on the other side of the office and there is none. I creep back to discover the people who are left are engrossed in looking at some plans and are seriously not playing on the phone. Hoe. Lee. Shit.

Remember the W-2 forms?

Someone picked up my W-2s and took them to the wrong office, the wrong office called me and asked me where I was, and I told them cleaning up the Sahara with a pitchfork, sent someone to District to leave the W-2s there, didn’t tell me they were doing this, so later in the day someone in District was going down to the wrong office anyway, saw the W-2s and in a friendly gesture decided to deliver them, and called me to tell me the forms were on the way, and I assume they were headed for the right office, so when he got to the wrong office and told them he had already spoken with me about it, they just assumed I knew where he was headed but I didn’t have a clue and then someone tried to kill me with a Camry so I didn’t think about again until after the Dead Deer Dilemma and by the time I tracked down where the W-2s were it was too late to go get them until Monday, ruining my chances for filing today, or getting the info to the person who does my taxes until I can go get the forms and drive them around myself for a change.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Memory Of Trees, In Memory of Fire, In Memory Of Us.

It was 1993, or maybe 1994, and my sister and her family were going out of town for the weekend. They wanted me to stay at their house, to feed the dogs, and just to make sure everything was going to be okay while they were gone. There had been some break-ins in the area even though they lived in a fairly remote location. It was a very pretty home site, I thought, with many hardwood trees all over their five acre lot. They left me in charge of the house, and in charge of the enormous pile of leaves they were burning.

There isn’t a lot of respect in my book for those people who use gasoline to build a fire. One match, a little tender, and the fire will grow like any other living organism. The big leaf fire was a lesson in many things and not least among them was patience. One thing I learned was if the fire is hot enough, no matter how much more leaves you put on the fire, the fire will survive, and eventually work its way back to the top. Leaf fires dig tunnels to the surface that resemble hot chimneys. You do know, of course, a fire needs to breathe and the shortest and easiest path to air is where it will go. I wondered if a leaf fire taught our ancestors how to make fireplaces, replete with chimneys. Think of the implications of some caveman, always on the run from predators, contemplating the warmth and glow of a leaf fire. The flame can be channeled, funneled, and best of all, controlled. What if some substance, let’s say stone, could be arranged and made to stick together to form a leaf chimney not made of leaves? From fire sprang many other inventions, including meditative thought, I submit. Fire provided a respite from predators, a chance to sit and know the creatures outside will stay outside. Fire provided the first seconds of thought our kind would ever have to think, truly sit and think, and not worry about being eaten by a tiger. With the first stone hearth the first home was made, and our furry ancestors fought, died, and killed, to protect that spot where their fire was born.

Another thing I learned is leaves make great umbrellas. A storm moved in late and pounded the area with hard rain yet the next morning a thin grey smoke still rose from the leaves. Later in the day, the smoke got thicker and flame broke out before sundown. The stump of the dead tree has to be dealt with because sooner or later it will turn into a hole in the ground. The fireants moved in three and a half minutes after the tree was down, and that more than anything else edged me into setting it afire. If you’ve never heard of the Centralia Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire, then you do not realize there has been an Anthracite coal fire burning underground for over forty years. It started as a trash fire at a dump near an abandoned mine shaft, and everything anyone has ever done as only made it worse. Fire underground seems like an oxymoron, but in great truth, a fire underground can be a monster. The entire town of Centralia had to be abandoned in 1992.

Fast-forward to 2010… After work, I started a small fire in the bottom of the stump and as it got bigger I fed it more debris from the dead tree. Finally, two and a half hours after I started the fire, I loaded it down with leaves from the dead tree, until there was barely a wisp of smoke left. I poked at it as the first raindrops fell, and suspected the fire would be out very soon. Stump fires have been known to dig deep, follow dead roots, and resurface outside of containment. But this stump is fairly green, the rain is moving in, and it’s many hours before I have to go to work. The stump smoldered as the rain fell, and I wondered there would be a pile of wet leaves in the stump in the morning.
Why wouldn’t our forefathers believe there was some hellish residence for the afterlife underground? Stump fires seem to have a life of their own, some preternatural source of life that extends past human understanding. At nine in the evening, after a long steady rain of three hours, a chimney formed in the leaves of the stump fire, and flame opened up; fire from the ground against water from the sky. At midnight, thunder forced Sam, Sam, The Happy Hound into the air, and then back down on the bed, and upon my head, so I got up to check the stump. After six hours of rain there was still smoke rising into the air.

Of course, the fire could not survive the night. At dawn, I stood on the stump and poked dead wet and cold ashes while rain still fell around me. I’m glad the fire went out, but there is some sadness here, a double funeral in the same grave. This spot where I stand, at a stump where a tree once stood, at a stump where a fire once breathed, is a spot where many humans have stood over many stumps, in many rainstorms, at many points in time. Dawn Greeters, Firesmiths, Tree Friends, and Hermits have gathered here. We would be nothing, perhaps not even a memory without fire. Without trees there would be no fire, at least not enough to build the kinds of fires needed, not to mention the homes we would have, the ships we would sail, and not to mention, the leaf fires that would show us chimneys. Here, in the rain, in the half dark, with the corpse of a tree, the ashes of a fire, and with everything we as humans have ever made before me, I consider the implications of fire, and how it has allowed me to consider just that.

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Breath and Taxes

Courtesy is something that is becoming harder and harder to find, and it’s the lack of social grace which drive me further away from people than most any other attribute short of a meth habit of a tendency to listen to country music. People just aren’t very nice animals, as opposed to dogs who generally treat strangers with suspicion but always greet those they know lovingly. Humans tend to greet strangers warmly, at first, but then as they get to know someone treat them with less respect. This is a generalization, and dangerous as such, but because people are not very nice animals I stay the hell away from them, and ask only they give me some distance.

Those who do not…


The telephone is an invention that by its very nature is rude and obtrusive. Yes, as a matter of fact I do realize there are about three people on earth who share this view, and two of them are locked away. However, those few people who do like me, and my family as well, more or less expect me to own a telephone. I check the answering machine once a week or so, and discover there is one call that is an important business matter if I just call 1-888-****. There was an old woman who habitually dialed the wrong number and got me instead. She and I started speaking to one another and eventually we would just talk. I haven’t heard from her in well over a year, and I wonder if she’s like a lot of old people who just don’t have time for this younger generation anymore.

Here lately a woman has been leaving messages for the County Tax Office, which I’m pretty sure has a number unlike mine, or more people would be calling. If she would leave a number I would have called her back, but she hasn’t so I live with the sound of her voice telling me I can’t do math and she has a lawyer friend. Today, at about six, the woman calls and clearly she was thinking of leaving a message.

Me: Hello
Taxen Woman: Oh, hey, I didn’t expect anyone to answer…

At this point she should announce herself, and her business to whoever answered the phone. That would have saved her some trouble and kept me from getting pissed off.

Taxen Woman, con’t…and I can’t believe my taxes this year, I hope you didn’t count Bobby’s shop as part of our home, dammit, because it’s a separate business…”
Me: We did.
Taxen Woman: What?
Me: We more or less own this county and we’ll run it the way we see fit. You whined so much last year we had to find a way to raise your millage and tax the shop, too. Keep bitching and we’ll sell your stuff on the courthouse steps to someone who will be glad to have it.

Me: Hangs up, turns phone off.

Someone’s tomorrow is going to be a little more interesting than they normally like it.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lucas vs Lightning

Back in August, with Lucas being in such bad shape and all, I disconnected the electric fence. He wasn’t going anywhere, that was for certain and I didn’t want to shock his already weak body. Since then he’s stayed in the backyard but he’s beginning to jump up on the fence and he ate one of the plastic insulators. I decided the fire the wire, once again.

Electric Fence: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
Lucas: I AM THE LOKI MUTT!
Electric Fence: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Lucas, grabbing the plastic insulator in his mouth: IT FITS IN MY MOUTH IT IS A CHEW TOY!

Electric Fence: BZZZZZZZZZZZZ ZZZAAAAPPP!

Lucas: DAD! DAD! ITT BIT MY MOUF! YIP YIP YIP YIP!

Electric Fence: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Wood Knot Work

I’m tired. Last night I built a fire even though it really wasn’t cold enough to have one, and fell asleep on the sofa watching it. The only thing I really wanted to do was get rid of a piece of wood with knots all through it, and burning it seemed like the way to go. Wood usually grows straight and the grain is smooth and easy to split, or at least not terribly difficult. Pieces of wood where there have been branches and limb have curved and crooked grains, and the wood is a lot more dense here, in order to support the mass of the limbs. It’s a trade off of time, effort, and exhaustion for firewood, and I decided just to throw the thing into the fireplace and see what happened. A hundred pound piece of wood is not a mistake made lightly, no pun intended, and once I got it into the fireplace, getting it to burn wasn’t easy.
Once the fire was going, and it looked good, I decided to throw a curvy piece in with it, to get rid of two chunks of wood I couldn’t split. They were both too large, really, and together the fireplace looked packed. But tiny flames flickered to and fro, and the next thing I knew it was three in the morning, and there was nothing left but a few glowing coals. The dogs wanted out at five thirty, so I started the fire again, using tiny pieces of wood to get a small fire going, and finally, about the time things warmed up outside, the fire was going good again. Both the curvy and the knotted wood are burning now, and next time it won’t be so hard to get them going.
I recognize both pieces of wood in relation to where they were on the tree, and surprisingly enough, or not, they were fairly close together. The curvy piece was part of the massive limb reaching out towards the eastern sky. The knotty piece was on the west side, a few feet lower than the curvy, and its limb was sheared off by another that Tropical Storm Fay dropped from above.

This is my furlough day, and I’m tired. I could finish the rest of the splitting, maybe, in one day, but I’ve been at this since Friday and have neglected a lot of other things in its wake. Mostly, it’s the exhaustion of it all. Splitting firewood is hard work, and along with the clean up from the tree, I haven’t had a lot of rest since Thursday of last week. I’m way behind in my writing. I’m behind in my housework, too.

For someone to have had five days in the row off from work I can’t say it’s been a lot of fun, but it sure as hell has been interesting.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wood Splitting Made To Look Easy.

For all you City Slickers out there, or for those of you smart enough to rent a mechanical wood splitter, please allow me to introduce to you, Wood Splitting; The Ole Fashion Way. The two photos below show the size of the critter to be split. It’s twenty-two inches in diameter, and thirty inches tall.
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Next, we’ll look at the tools we’ll need. A cross breed between an axe and a sledge hammer called a Maul, and to steel wedges.
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Next, we need to look at the very center of the piece of wood, and let it tell us where it wants to split. Notice the tiny cracks. They say everything.
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Take the Maul and hot the edge of the wood in alignment with the crack in the center.
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If you’ve chosen your site correctly, when you drive the wedge in, you should see some cracking.
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As the wedge is driven deeper, the cracks begin to spread.
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Now, instead of splitting the piece of wood into two pieces, start another wedge near the first one. If you break the piece of wood open, you’ll lose stability. Crack it into as many pieces as you can before pulling any of them out.
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The photo below shows the wood being cut into three pieces, and still standing.
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I separated the cut pieces from the main to show you just how many pieces of wood you could get from a piece this size. The middle piece I could split again.

All in all, I’ve been getting somewhere between ten and twelve pieces of split wood from each piece that came from the tree.

Tomorrow, how to split a piece of wood when it’s knotty, and how to curse severely.

Take Care,
Mike

The Fallen Tree Chronicles

This is day four of The Fallen Tree Chronicles, and I am as tired right now as I have ever been. Yesterday I got most of the rotted stuff cleaned up, cleared most of the debris field, and began splitting the pieces of the tree, starting with the bottom and working my way up. I managed to get two pieces done yesterday before finally subsuming to exhaustion, and this morning I’ve knocked out three more, including the piece that was the largest and the most intimidating. It looked a lot harder than it was because it was so large, but I managed to split it into about a dozen or so manageable pieces. The next section was large, but it was also fairly clean with only one big knot in it. The pile of wood you see below is the product of yesterday afternoon and this morning’s work.

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Below is a photo of what I have left.
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This is the stump
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This is the piece that was cut from the stump. It’s not nearly as hard to split as it looks.
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Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, January 17, 2010

If you only knew how any limbs had already fallen, and if you only knew how many times I warned someone not to park under the tree, and if you only knew how many time I cut the grass with my neck craned up, wondering if this would be the day it fell. Slowly, all the green leaves died, and slowly the tree shed limbs and branches, but all the while, way up top, hanging over my head like a perpetual invitation to make out, was a sprig of mistletoe. Below is the mistletoe outlined in red.

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While cleaning up the debris today, and there is still a lot left if you want to come help, I found the mistletoe. It’s really odd holding it in my hand when for so very long, it hung over my head.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Your Saturday Morning Treesmith

I managed to get in an hour and a half worth of clean up on the tree before the rain set in. It’s so weird it being so warm right now. For two full weeks below freezing temperatures settled into an area that sees that sort of thing, well, never. Mostly what I’m doing now is getting the small branches and smaller limbs out of the way. This is stuff I cannot use for firewood at all, and it won’t make a great bonfire either. This is the tangled mass of still green branches with leaves on them, and they’re impossible to load on a truck because they’re so springy. I’ve got another load or so to go, and then I have to get it all down to the firepit, and then, after all that, I’ve got fourteen or fifteen really large pieces of Oak to split.

It’s a lot like a burial detail in that I recognize some of these limbs. This crooked one was on the South side of the tree, and had a sort of dip in it. This one was from the massive limb on the east side of the tree that was still living and green. This one was the dead limb that hung up in the other tree, and it’s dead, dead, and powdery. I could have named the limbs, like the many branches of a family that has married into other families. There’s a reason they call it a family tree, you know.
Reflexively, I look up every time I step off the porch, to see if that one dead limb is still hanging over my head. The sky is open and empty now, and after looking at the top part of the tree I know I did the right thing. It was dead, rotten, even too far gone for firewood. My fear was well founded, and my judgment sound. There was a streak of dead on the north side of the tree that stretched down, like a cancer, deep into the truck. The stump reveals rottenness and decay at the heart of the Oak. I sound a lot like a man trying to justify himself to himself, don’t I?
There is clarity in exhaustion. Being tired and being focused on manual labor has a tendency to weed out the extraneous thoughts. I feel like a vulture here, not in the sense most people view vultures, but as a part of the chain of life, where death of one serves another in some way. I cannot eat the tree, of course, but it will give me exercise, and firewood, and these thoughts. This isn’t at all something that is a simple byproduct of work, but it is also an essence of the tree itself. How could this not be true? I’m waist deep in the arms of the tree, sorting out the stuff I can warm myself with, chopping the smaller stuff to be able to move it, and all the while I see in the tree as part of my life.
I tend to be, or I was until recently, a bit of a Luddite when it came to the supernatural. Now, I am beginning to blur the edges more, and accepting there is more here than what I can define with what I have. The world no longer is divided into this world and some other that may or may not exist, but rather a place in time where I’m staying for a while, and trying to figure out why. Bonnie is no longer either a manifestation of my madness, or a supernatural creature, but simply an event, or a person, who doesn’t require definition, but perhaps understanding. If I do understand who or what she is, that’s fine, but if I don’t that’s okay too now. I’m not nearly as afraid of Bonnie as I was even a month ago, and I’m okay with that too.
I keep seeing things out of the corner of my eye. It started yesterday morning and it’s sticking with me when I work on the tree, and when I write. It’s like a fourth dog sitting in right edge of my vision. I have no idea what it means, or what it might be, but I really don’t care right now. It is what it is. It’s there for a reason, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe reason isn’t the reason. Maybe reason fails us sometimes because the world isn’t as we have made ourselves believe it is. Maybe in exhaustion, when my brain becomes too tired to fight the forces around it, I can more clearly see, or think, than when I’m able to immediately start labeling and defining and dissecting. When I’m unable to think quickly about something it has a tendency to sit there and dissolve rather than getting devoured.

I’m not sure if this is making any sense at all, and maybe it isn’t supposed to right now. It’s only ten in the morning and I’ve worked myself into a state of near catatonia. I’m sore in a dozen different ways, I’m sad about the tree, and I’ve got a lot of work to do. But in some really strange way, I feel more alive right now than I have in a while, and I cannot explain that either. It’s like something has happened and it’s going to be alright, and for some reason, I feel a deep sense of peace right now I haven’t felt in a very long time.

It’s okay now.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ghosts and Oaks

My online source of coffee has failed me. I ordered coffee last Friday and it isn’t here yet. There is a five pound bag of beans with my name on it somewhere between here and Atlanta. At five this morning Bert decided he wanted to give kisses. Sam decided if Bert was going to give kisses then he wanted to be petted. The Puppy Lucas decided if there was going to be some sort of lovefest, he ought to be on top of me. It’s not as cold today and it was yesterday, and it’s beginning to look all the world that this ice age that has gripped us is on its way out.
I got to the Awuffle House for breakfast because they have coffee, or at least dark liquid with caffeine. I’m off today because the tree people are coming to take down the Oak, and there isn’t anything I can do about it. It started dying before I got here, nine years ago, and since then it’s slowly been shedding limbs and life. Tropical Storm Fay took out most of the green limbs, leaving only three. Two stretch out to the east, long, hale, and healthy limb pointing towards the rising sun. The last is near the top, in defiance of the death all around it, the dead limb and rotting braches below. The main truck is riddled with woodpecker holes, and there’s a piece sticking straight up that looks like it might fall tomorrow. It’s this piece that worries me, because if it fell and hit me, or someone, well, it would be fatal.
I’ve done this before, you know, taken down a large Oak, but my elbow isn’t well. This is my first surrender to old age, to my own physical limitations, and I’m not happy about it, but the tree has to be brought down before it falls on something, and the longer I wait the worse it will be. These are the thoughts I have at the Awuffle House, stirring bad coffee, and wondering about the old man in the booth across the room. He’s white haired and sitting there staring at the menu, and I wonder how old the tree was when this man was born. I think about asking him how old he is, and I wonder if this is something older people get once they reach a certain appearance.
The hyper waitress brings me more coffee, or what passes for it, and when I look back at the old man he’s gone. The menu is lying on the table, right where it was, but he’s gone. I look around, and I’m the only one in the place this early. No truck drivers, no lovers, no writers, and no old man near the window. My life is like this, you know. Reality isn’t as solid for me as it seems to be for everyone else. I drink coffee and think about the Oak tree, and the hyper waitress has lost her new dog. The old one died in the house fire.

I’m more than a little tempted to get the tree people to leave the stump of the tree up about ten feet and putting my anvil on it. Why? I have no idea, but I think it would be neat. They told me they would cut the tree up so I could use it for firewood, and it’s better than having them haul it off, or me trying to turn it into some super bonfire. At least I’ll be warm, and there is very little I do more poorly than handling the cold. If this sounds a lot like a man trying to talk himself into believing something bad has a silver lining it is exactly that. This is the fourth Oak I’ve lost in the last five years. One just fell. One died and I took it down. Fay got one. This one died, like all living things do, but it should have, by all rights, been here when I left, dead, or alive.

The waitress brings a new cup of coffee because it’s faster than pouring, and I’ll look like some old drunk with many bottles surrounding the grave of his sanity on the table. The old man is back, and I don’t realize what I thought earlier until I look over to find him gone again. It’s the shadows and reflections on the windows, part of my brain tells the other parts, it’s just the wind, you know. I get up and walk over to the other table, and put the menu up, and wait for the waitress to tell me someone is sitting there, but she doesn’t.

I drink another cup of coffee and I realize this, what you’re reading now, is what I’m trying not to do. Writing it is the first part of it becoming real, and the tree is going to be cut up for firewood, and I know, I know it has to be, because I cannot have pieces of wood hundreds of pounds massive, to just fall out of the sky, and the tree is dying. Let me take my dog home just one more time, let me hold him again, let me ignore his pain, and the loss of who he is, just to comfort him just one more time, just one more day, it will be easier tomorrow, and I can do it later, but not today, okay?

Today.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, January 14, 2010

He Came In Through The Bathroom Window

Here’s my theory on all of this: The Universe is not going to bless anyone with the love of writing without blessing them with lots of things to write about. I think I got that right. It may be the Universe isn’t going to curse anyone with the love of writing without cursing them with lots of things to write about. You decide. I give you my morning.

At 5:30 AM my alarm goes off and I wander into the kitchen to make coffee, but there is no coffee. The stash in the refrigerator isn’t there. I used it, and forgot that I used it. I have no coffee. I could quit right here. This is disaster enough.
My morning sucks. I have no caffeine. How can I function without caffeine? It it even possible? Can a man call in out of coffee? Isn’t there something in Obama’s health care plan that covers this? Stop smiling, this is serious. Dammit, there wasn’t even any grounds left.
Okay, it is also twenty-seven degrees outside. I take a shower, and I close the door to the bathroom because if I don’t three dogs will fight over who gets to drink out of the shower. They like warm water, it seems. I get out of the shower, towel dry, and try to open the bathroom door. Okay, now I know what you’re thinking, and stop it. I can open a door with the best of them. I’ve opened doors for years now, and not one person has ever been injured. Really, I can do this. Turn knob left, and nothing. Turn knob right, and nothing. Lock door and nothing. Unlock door and nothing. Something inside the doorknob has died. Turn and fiddle with the lock as I might, the damn thing was not going to open.
After a brief moment of trying to jimmy the lock with a Q-tip, Great Truths arrived. I could wait until it got warmer, which meant also more light. Or I could do what had to be done right then and there. I opened the window, took the screen off, and bailed out into subfreezing temperatures totally naked. My feet froze instantly, and needless to say I didn’t have to worry about getting anything hung on the barb wire I have on the gate. Once on top of the gate, hangin out in the middle of nowhere it did dawn on me there are clothes in my gym bag, and shoes too, in the truck, right in front of me. But I was already there so I cross over into the back yard, and onto the deck, onto the back porch, and into the back door, where I was greeted by three dogs who were just freaking the hell out over someone coming in the back door.
Lucas: BARK! BARK! BARK!
Sam: IT’S A GIANT SMURF!
Bert: NO! IT’S A NA’VI!!!!

Anyway, I had to take a screw driver to get back into the bathroom. The piece that turns and causes the tang to move is tripped out. I’ve never heard of this before. So it occurs to me that writers in particular have more weirdness in their lives because they are writers. If we have to carry the burden of literature, we might as well have some fun. Not that this was fun for me, mind you, but I’m sure someone enjoyed it.

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poem: “On My Own,” by Philip Levine, from New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).

Poem: “On My Own,” by Philip Levine, from New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).

On My Own

Yes, I only got here on my own.
Nothing miraculous. An old woman
opened her door expecting the milk,
and there I was, seven years old, with
a bulging suitcase of wet cardboard
and my hair plastered down and stiff
in the cold. She didn't say, "Come in,"
she didn't say anything. Her luck
has always been bad, so she stood
to one side and let me pass, trailing
the unmistakable aroma of badger
which she mistook for my underwear,
and so she looked upward, not
to heaven but to the cracked ceiling
her husband had promised to mend,
and she sighed for the first time
in my life that sigh which would tell
me what was for dinner. I found my room
and spread my things on the sagging bed:
and bright ties and candy striped shirts,
the knife to cut bread, the stuffed weasel
to guard the window, the silver spoon
to turn my tea, the pack of cigarettes
for the life ahead, and at last
the little collection of worn-out books
from which I would choose my only name—
Morgan the Pirate, Jack Dempsey, the Prince
of Wales. I chose Abraham Plain
and went off to school wearing a cap
that said "Ford" in the right script.
The teachers were soft-spoken women
smelling like washed babies and the students
fierce as lost dogs, but they all hushed
in wonder when I named the 400 angels
of death, the planets sighted and unsighted,
the moment at which creation would turn
to burned feathers and blow every which way
in the winds of shock. I sat down
and the room grew quiet and warm. My eyes
asked me to close them. I did, and so
I discovered the beauty of sleep and that
to get ahead I need only say I was there,
and everything would open as the darkness
in my silent head opened onto seascapes
at the other end of the world, waves
breaking into mountains of froth, the sand
running back to become salt savor
of the infinite. Mrs. Tarbox woke me
for lunch—a tiny container of milk
and chocolate cookies in the shape of Michigan.
Of course I went home at 3:30, with
the bells ringing behind me and four stars
in my notebook and drinking companions
on each arm. If you had been there
in your yellow harness and bright hat
directing traffic you would never
have noticed me—my clothes shabby
and my eyes bright—; to you I'd have been
just an ordinary kid. Sure, now you
know, it's obvious, what with the light
of the Lord streaming through the nine
windows of my soul and the music of rain
following in my wake and the ordinary air
on fire every blessed day I waken the world.


My favorite poem. What's yours?

Monday, January 11, 2010

This Socks

As a kid my mother was always bitching about me losing socks. Okay, I’m a kid, there’s a dozen different ways for a kid to lose or otherwise destroy just about anything, and quite frankly, I wasn’t that big a fan of socks, or shoes for that matter, unless it was cold. But you know what? When I was five years old I chased a Cottonmouth into a metal minnow bucket and closed the door behind him with a stick. A few missing socks just wasn’t going to tip my mother’s attention scale that much after I drug home my first venomous serpent. Poor woman. Here she is just trying to raise three kids as best she can and one of them loses socks and brings homes venomous snakes.

Later in life, I had roommates and we would sit and openly philosophize as to why we could go to the laundry mat and come home with fewer socks than we began with. One day, under the influence of great bourbon and a weak epiphany, I demanded the old woman running the laundry mat allow me to look in the back room behind the dryers for my missing socks. Drunk and fearless, I walked into the area behind the dryers without thinking there might be a reason people didn’t go back there in the Summer. It was like breathing hot spider webs. I managed to stay in long enough to realize two Great Truths: One, my socks were not in there. Two, one of my roomies had locked the door behind me, and now two drunk people were screaming at me through a hot dryer, laughing their butts off. Oh, it’s funny now, but for a week I hacked up more lint balls than any two cats alive.

In the Army it was even worse because everyone alive has the same color socks, and everyone alive uses the same washing machine and dryers. If you lost a piece of clothing it was like dropping water in a pool. Good luck on getting that back. That stuff with your name on it was safe, but the rest of the camo? You couldn’t see it. Worse, regardless of what the recruiters might tell you, the Army gives you three pairs of socks for free, and then if you lose one, or if they just flat disappear while you’re drying them, you have to buy more. I was making four hundred bucks a month in the Army and a dollar for a pair of socks was real money. That was beer money. That was 1/400th of my pay for the entire month. I’m telling you a Private in the Army can tell you where every dollar he owns has gone. Hell, he can even give them names and not have to worry about using the same name twice.

When I got married I just assumed my wife was throwing out my old clothes of all sorts, not just socks. A lot of my favorite jeans, old tee shirts, and generally those articles of clothing I loved and cherished were all kidnapped by aliens once I became unsingle. Having a woman move into a house with a man is like watching a badger digging a hole in the ground. There is a nonstop and relentless tossing of dirt into a pile, and there is no stopping it. I just read that last sentence and I have to admit I’m a little uneasy with it, but it does fit.

So it comes to this. I am divorced, which is not the same as being single. No one is throwing my socks away. The Loki Mutt is not eating them. No one is beaming them up to the Starship Enterprise. But I still have missing socks.

I have a theory.

Tonight I found eight quarters, four dimes, seven nickels, and a spattering of pennies in the dryer. I do NOT remember having a pocket full of change. The dryer isn’t eating the socks, the dryer is buying them from us. When you find change in your dryer, think about it; did you really have that much change in your pockets? I suspect all these years of finding change and losing socks, the dryers are actually giving us a pretty good deal. For all we know they’re taking the worst of the lot, like one of those we’ll-buy-your-used-gold-for-cash. Okay, that was a truly bad example, nevermind, but you get the picture. How else can you explain that there always seems to be change you didn’t find in your pockets, and you’re missing a sock?

Take Care,
Mike
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Most Toys






Bert has decided the Loki Mutt has been just a little bit too aggressive as of late. So he took all the toys, and then took the mutt blanket, and then camped out on it, and growled The Growl whenever the Loki Mutt got near.

Notice the injury on Bert's right foreleg. That's where Loki knocked him into a piece of tin and Bert won't let it heal yet,

Friday, January 8, 2010

Smoking, No.

I quit smoking five years ago today. On Saturday, January the eighth, 2005, at five in the afternoon on a Saturday, I stubbed out a small cigar in the dirt at a friend’s house, and began a journey the journey you now see before you. One thousand, one hundred, and nineteen days have gone by, and I must say this is one of my most important accomplishments.
I started smoking when I was fifteen, quit before I left high school, and didn’t start back until I got married to a smoker. Two years after I was divorced, I still couldn’t quit and I was very quickly running out of excuses to try. It’s amazing how many little lies you’ll tell yourself, and how long you’ll believe them. I’ll quit after this pack. I’ll quit after this week. I’ll quit after this (insert excuse). Then you’ll find excuses to go back to smoking. A bad day, a car wreck, a break up, a really great cup of coffee, or worst of all, that ever present support group of all smokers; the smoking friends. The people you take your smoke breaks with want you to keep smoking. They do not want you to quit. If you quit then that means they can too, only they do not want to quit. Well, they do, but they don’t have what it takes and they know it. Smokers are like crabs in a bucket. Anytime one tries to get out the others will try to drag him back down again.
I hated former smokers when I was smoking. I hated their smugness, their success, and the I-did- it- so- can- you attitude. I hated people asking me when I was going to quit. I hated those people who ran restaurants where I couldn’t smoke. I hated myself for hating all this, because I knew I had to quit. I hated the way I felt after smoking, and I hated the way I smelled, and I hated the self-loathing for being too weak to quit.
I tired quitting on my birthday and drank myself into buying a pack. I tried quitting at Thanksgiving and the two hour drive was perfect for a smoke. I tried quitting at New Year’s but drank myself into buying a pack, again, and the day after I was too hung over to quit. A week later I was staring down the calendar of having started 2005 as a smoker. It was really just truly pissing me off.
The day I quit wasn’t any different than the day before, except I quit.

I would be alone on Sunday, with no support group, no cigarette breaks, and no alcohol, so I thought I would be okay. I went to the gym and worked myself into a state of exhaustion, and that helped a lot. Still, by the time the twenty-four hour mark rolled around, I was dying. I found it very hard to get to sleep. I would quit on Tuesday. It would be easier on Tuesday. I drove past the store on my way to work, and that was painful. I would always stop there and buy a little cigar, and a twenty-ounce Pepsi. Man, that combination of caffeine and sugar just could not be beat. When I got to work it was even worse. My day was broken into manageable pieces by smoke breaks. That was my time to strategize and plan. The people I smoked with had seen this sort of thing before and they knew I would be back in a day, maybe two. I kinda hoped they were right.
I started an Excel program to denote the passing of time to mark my progress. After two days the program showed the number “2”. Two? TWO? TWO!!!!!!!!!!! Dammit, I had just spent the worse two days of my life fighting off the strongest habit this side of crack and all I get is a lousy TWO???? I decided to count the hours. There, that’s better! Forty-eight is a lot more than two. By seven that night it would be fifty hours. While I tried to sleep would net me six or seven more. If I could make it to Thursday night I would make it to one hundred. The weekend meant fifty more hours, and each and every one of them screamed for a smoke.
There’s one hundred sixty-eight hours in a week, and that’s only a day or so away from two hundred. Suddenly, I was telling people I quit smoking for a week. I still craved a cigarette, and I was still inhaling deeply anytime I walked past a smoker, but the downright I-would-kill-for-a-cigarette feeling began to loosen. After a week there were some fairly startling effects. My sense of taste began to get stronger. Sweet things tasted sweeter. The flavor of food was more intense. My sense of smell became sharper. Oddly, cigarette smoke began to smell bad. The smell of smokers began to annoy me. I wouldn’t ride in the same truck with a smoker.
My smoker friends, after week one, began to have this odd feeling of desertion. Some of them tempted me with cigarettes, and that just pissed me off. They treated it as a joke, and there I was suffering, bad. After ten days, the feelings of physical addiction were in its last stages. I was running harder and faster at the gym, and breathing better. After two weeks, I felt I had it beat. After three, I stopped sweating it so much, and my quitting became a non-issue.
My original goal was forty-two days. After forty-two days, I was going to go to a local bar that still allowed smoking and smoke a cigar, and drink a few beers. I bought the cigar, and while I was at work, I threw it away. I had this epiphany, and I realized to quit, to totally quit, I had to stop smoking, forever, and never smoke again. On January the Eighth, 2010, at five in the afternoon, that would be 43, 824 hours of no smoking.
Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cell Hell

Instant communication has its benefits, but I still think I was the very last hold out to get a personal cell phone. I do not like them yet. I went the better part of four decades not being readily accessible, and not once did anyone die as a result of this. They’ve become life support systems for some people who cannot stray far from their cell phones. That’s a conversation for another day, however, as this one must take place now.
For you married folk, or for those of you who have managed to have some sort of emotional attachment to one person over a length of time, I bid you to consider the following scenario; your person of interest is in a work truck at work, with a co-worker in that truck, and the discussion being had is work related. If you happened upon this scene, it would be rude for your person of interest not to stop and speak to you, and acknowledge your existence, but would you crawl up in that person’s lap and demand attention?
I was at work today, in my work truck, and with a co-worker and we were trying to tie up a few loose ends before a project starts whenever the hell it warms up. His wife called and he tells her he’s in Thomasville, and I’m there too, and we’re working. She gets mad because she works in Thomasville, and he didn’t call her to tell her he was there. Now, ordinarily I would get out of the truck when this sort of conversation begins, but it’s below freezing outside the truck. Honestly, I think the temperature inside the truck was beginning to drop a bit too. Outside, and I was staring out the driver’s side window as to give my poor co-employee all the privacy I could, and to avoid making eye contact with him, I noticed a large woman walking two Chihuahuas. She was more or less dragging the poor rodent canines against the wind, and it looked more like someone trying to walk miniature naked tumbleweeds.
Here’s where it got weird. This was his side of the conversation, not three feet from me:
“No, baby, no, I do love you, I do, it’s just that we’re working, no, I don’t mind if people see you with me, no, we’re not near there, we’re (long pause) yes, yes, yes but…”

At this point my fellow employee gets out of the truck and instantly realizes this is a horrible mistake. The woman dragging the rat dog accidently breaks one of them into rodent flavored ice cubes. Birds drop out of the sky it’s so cold. I check the clock. I give him five minutes, but he’s back in within three, and at this point, he’s mumbling to her, kinda softly, like he’s trying to baby talk her without me, three feet away from hearing him.

“We’ll go out when I get home, baby, we’ll go get some pizza, no, we don’t have to go get pizza if you’re still on that diet…”

I wince. Never say that word if you’re doing damage control with a chick.

“…no baby I didn’t call you fat…”

“He thinks you’re a whale!” I think about yelling this out, but I do realize this guy might kill me so no, I don’t.
“…I love you just the way you are. Okay, okay, okay baby, I’ll call you later.”

He looks at me and sighs.

“In the name of god man, call her back, right now, you forgot to tell her you love her!” I scream this advice and he realizes at the last moment I’m right, and he fumbles for the phone. Too late. The phone rings.

“I love you baby.” He blurts out, far too loud, and I suppress a snicker. Were there really a god who loved writers this would be the boss, or some male friend, but there is no god who loves writers, and it’s his wife again. The torment goes on now for another lifetime, and in that time, the walking woman breaks the other Chihuahua and drags both frozen corpsified rat dogs back into a house. More mumbles. More babytalk. More torment for the both of us.

Okay, women of the world, is this sort of thing truly necessary? Does he really have to tell you he loves you at the end of each and every conversation? Is it a sign of infidelity to the spirit of the relationship ( this is her words, not mine) if he doesn’t call her as soon as he gets into the same town with her, even if he’s working? Aren’t there times you really would have him focused on something other than how much he loves you and worships you?

Is there a reason I’ve been single all but 989 days of my life?
Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Doggie Drama: That is Enough.

On August the 13th, 2009, which was a Thursday, had I brought home a truck load of chew toys neither Sam, nor Bert would have so much as raised an eyebrow. That entire truckload of chew toys would have sat right there until someone hauled them away, or like a few I tried to interest Sam and Bert with, they would have fossilized in the backyard, unchewed, and unloved.

Oh, but now there’s a puppy! Now there is someone who loves chew toys better than anything else he’s seen since whatever it was that grabbed his attention in the last fifteen minutes. So I bring home three chew toys. I have three dogs. All the chew toys are identical. All three dogs get a chew toy, did I mention everyone has their own gorram chew toy?

Bert walks into my office, abandoning his chew toy in the bedroom, on the other side of the house, and he attacks the puppy Lucas, who for the first time since I’ve been paying attention, tries to defend his chew toy. Lucas hasn’t the mass nor the will to face down Bert yet, and he knows it, but he’s beginning to push back, and push back hard. I, on the other hand, do not give a damn who is pushing whom, or who has what toy, what I care about is trying to write a little fiction, the Sara story, and suddenly there is a dogfight right under my chair. I have a plain old wooden chair, the same chair I’ve had all my life, and I take this chair and pin Bert to the floor with the four legs.

“That is enough.” And the dogs know when I say that magical phrase there will be no more doggie drama. All barking, fighting, rough housing, chasing, jumping, and anything else canine stops. Sam flees the room. Pay attention to that fact, it’s pertinent. Lucas just wants his chew toy, and Bert looks pissed off. I let him up and he immediately jumps on Lucas, who fights back.

Did you just start a dogfight two feet away from the Alpha, who is still holding a large wooden chair in his hands? You didn’t, totally you didn’t. I not only pin Bert with the chair, but I use it to guide him into the hallway. Remember Sam? Sam comes in the other room, fur on his back all ruffled up, and heads right towards Lucas.

Okay. Apparently the English language has failed me. We will revert to stronger and more definite forms of communication. I throw the chair down in front of Sam, and he looks at me as if he just noticed I was there. I’ve seen that look before, and have the scars to prove it. I snarl at Sam, and he retreats from whence he came, double time. Bert and I, on the other paw, are going to have a sit down and shut up meeting. I let the two younger dogs out, and Bert and I go into the office and close the door.

Sit. Lie Down. Come here. Sit. Lie Down. Come here. Sit. Lie down. Come here. Sit.

For the better part of half an hour I drill Bert with simple commands until he’s snapping them off like he’s on fire. When he hesitates I pop him on the nose with a chew toy. Sit. Lie down. Come to me. Bert gets cornered and I drill him from that corner to the next one. Sit. Lie down. Come here. It’s useless to do this with Sam because he’ll cower down and not move at all. Sam got here like that, and nothing I’ve ever done has helped. Hitting Sam makes him worse. He’s been physically abused all he will ever be, if I have a say, and I try not to yell too much at him. Sam learns from Bert, and Bert is learning the hard way there is no lee way when it comes to the command, “That is enough”.

They’re all outside now. They’re all friends again, but the chew toys were taken away, and put on the shelf, within easy reach of all dogs. We’re going to go through a few simple commands here, and we’re going to, eventually, get this right.

One person in this house will start, and end, all of the fighting. Anyone who starts a fight with anyone else, starts a fight with me.
One person in this house decides who gets toys, and who takes toys away. Anyone who takes toys away starts a fight with me.

I will not stand for a munity involving the better part of two hundred pounds worth of tame wolves.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, January 3, 2010

 
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Your New Year's Firesmith

My friend in Nebraska will laugh at my shivering in the 25 degree cold of Sough Georgia but it just doesn’t get cold enough often enough for me to get used to it, and frankly, I have no intentions of trying. I went out in it this morning to work on building the shed, but it was just too damn cold. Instead, I built a fire, and even that was a struggle. Most of the stuff I could use in a fire is wet. The first ten matches went out because my hands were shaking. I finally got a small pile of leaves going, thanks to the Loki Mutt, who had chewed a plastic container of lighter fluid up on the spot.
There’s a couple of rotted logs that can be burned, lots of Spanish moss blown down by the rain, and leaves, too. There are smaller limbs to be burned, and if my arm can take it, an old tree down on the old fenceline. The small fire turns into a less than small fire and it struggles for life in the cold. This isn’t a good morning to build a fire, but I have to get into the cold to get away from being so cold inside the house, if that makes sense. Back in 2004, or maybe it was 2005, the old shed I had was invaded by flood waters, and the… okay, I’m at a loss as to what to call this thing. I guess I should explain what it was intended for, and who made it.
During the seventies everyone, and by everyone I mean everyone I knew, had a turntable. We all had the same music, more or less, and that was what defined us as a group. The turntable was usually connected to two or four speakers, maybe an equalizer, and the whole set of electronic stuff was put on some sort of bookshelf arrangement along with some shelves for the album collection everyone had during that time. A friend of mine had what was likely the greatest collection of what is now know as Classic Rock, and to his, and everyone else’s surprise, his father built a wooden box with shelves in it for his son’s stereo. That’s what we called it back then, “a stereo” or a “ hi-fi”. It was a well built box with shelves, but it was poorly designed. The box was far too deep, and most of the shelf space was wasted because no one was going to push anything that far back on a shelf. It was always one of my favorite pieces of furniture, though, and when my friend offered it to give it to me back in 1997, I took it.
It was a dreadfully heavy thing, and I soon discovered the deep shelving was a problem. Abbi Gale the Cat from Hell loved it, but a hundred pound cat container isn’t very practical. I put it in the shed when I moved to Hickory Head, and the flood waters got to it. When the tree fell on the shed the massive piece of furniture got wet, and I didn’t realize it until it was too late. The back of it rotted, and the bottom began to crumble. This morning I threw it on the slow fire, and as the flames finally began to feed, I realized the nature of the beast.
I always thought this ting was solid wood, Oak, or maybe even Cherry, but it wasn’t. As the flames eat the lacquered surface and dug deep into the bones, I saw some of the spacers and shelving were particle board. The top was made of this same cheap material, and I had never realized it. I would have questioned the workmanship of just about anyone else on earth, but this was made by someone’s father, back during the time no one ever questioned anyone’s parents. The Fallacy of Adult Infallibility still lives within me, and it was surprising to have it brought out by fire. As the flames began erasing part of my past in ill smelling smoke and false heat, I wondered how long I had gone not seeing this for what it truly was.

But this was all part of that time period. In South Georgia, every person over the age of twenty-one was according the titular position of adult regardless of their flaws. By the mere virtue of living two decades plus a year, all children were to assume to you knew what the hell you were doing and saying. Even as teenagers we just assumed the things out parents did were right, or at least well intentioned. Poor designed and substandard materials were not so much as suspected.

We did our share of doubting the wisdom of our parents. We thought them obtuse Luddites who knew nothingt of fun, or sex, or music, and we invented it all from the ground up. We rolled our eyes at their preaching of the future, and assumed they were always old, always set in their ways, and they had never lived as we would one day, when the future was delivered to us, by sheer will alone. Over thirty years ago I marveled at a piece of furniture that now lies in ash, as if it had never existed at all. Most of my past is like that, and there is very little to show of it but moments of warmth, brief and fleeting, and then the remains to be sifted through, to keep some hidden peril from being trodden upon. The music has long since stopped playing, at least as it once did, and all we ever thought would come to past has not. The old ones are now dead, or dying, and we are left with the world to deal with in our own time, and those who come up behind us, won’t even have the fallacies we had, to guide them on their way.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Chicken Murder, The Diving Spider, and The Girl From Bali.

The Chicken Murder, The Diving Spider, and The Girl From Bali.

My once a year investment into a really good bottle of twelve year old single malt Scotch went with me to Sea Pond, for Elbow’s end of the year bash. If I could afford a fifty gallon drum of the stuff I would be dead in a day, but the Gods Of Drunkenness are kind, so I can only afford to drink good Scotch once a year.
I pulled up and let loose a string of firecrackers, just to let everyone know I had arrived, and as I entered Elbow’s newly painted plantation house, I immediately sensed something was wrong. Theo, the ancient black Lab mix greeted me, but the doggie drama that usually portents my arrival was missing. Still, the Wandering Spirits who gather every New Year’s Eve were there, and I had to push my canine misgreetings away.
Were to begin? All these people are interconnected, but not all by marriage or family, just happenstance and college campuses. Both Elbow’s sons were there, the youngest looks very much like a young Abe Lincoln, and eldest who looks a little like a happy Bob Dylan, and Dylan’s wife, the supermodel from NOLA, was there, of course. There’s a couple with three kids who show up every year, and the kids are those types of kids everyone would like to have, but few take the time to actually parent them into it. The woman in this relationship has invited some of her kin to the party, but they are late arrivals so we will speak of them later.
The Asian man with the nice camera returned again, and his skill with the lens last year was demonstrated with some very nice time exposed shots of sparkler writing. It’s good to see someone with a real camera at these events lest my photos, which makes it look all the world like some ghostly gathering of shadows and half light, be our only record of the year’s end. Ah! The Unitarians were there from Boston, and Kansas City, just to the two of them, from both places at once, and that would be Boston Georgia. Elbow’s ex-husband, the father of her sons was there as well, and that completes the party list of people I can remember at this point in time. I reference the first sentence of this missive, to plea away thoughtlessness if I forgot someone, please.

As is customary, the rosemary roasted beast was carved and we consumed it with much good conversation. There was also garlic roasted string beans, a delightful salad, and Scotch. I tried the home made beer which might be hitting the national market soon, and must say I was very impressed. There is something to be said about a man who can raise good kids and make good beer. The background music that the Abe Lincoln son habitually mixes was a blend of old music, and some new, and there were many songs from years gone past I hadn’t heard in many nights.

Elbow and I went to fed the horses, for no matter the party, the livestock must be tended to, and that’s when I learned of the most grievous death of a chicken, by the paws of Frank The Frenetic Border Collie, and Izzy, The Puppy Of Universal Cuteness. Elbow is very fond of her egg producing hens, and the fact no one tried to rescue the poor bird cast a pall over her mood. Both Izzy and Frank were totally cowed by her anger. Yet the late comers would soon arrive, and like everyone who appears that these parties, there would be some interesting tales told.

The youngest member of the late arrivers is from Russian, adopted by American parents many years ago, and they all but had to bribe everyone but Boris Yelstin to get him out, and flew directly into a snowstorm back here in the states, and rented a SUV to drive three days home, in the snow. The brother of this young man is from MIT and did a study on how diving spider can live underwater and carry small bubble of oxygen with them. The Scotch blurred most of the finer points, I fear, so I cannot relate to you most of what I learned. The Last member of the Party was a young women who went to Bali on an exchange program from North Carolina, where she auditioned for a Looney Tune Cartoon in the ice. ( Long story, trust me)


The Spider Diver brought fireworks, and Frank tried to herd them until he was restrained, we played beer pong, and suddenly realized that the year, and the party, was drawing to a close. Champaign was popped, a countdown began, and 2010 arrived with hugs, and fanfare for all, except Frank was still restrained.

I promised to keep secrets, and have, and will, yet I still remember them, as the Scotch allowed. With my last string of firecrackers tossed from the window as I drove into the moonlit night, I said good bye to yet another wonderful end of the year party at Sea Pond.

Take Care,
Mike