Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dancing with the Dead

“Now,” she whispers. I slip out of bed and press down on the mattress with one hand, not allowing the bed to move. She slides over slowly, dancer be, every more she makes, no matter how small or how slow, erotic. I let me hand up as her foot hits the floor and the transfer of mass is seamless. Bert lifts his head and we both freeze. Her finger touches my lip and I relax. Count breaths, Mike, she has said this many times before. I count my breaths, backwards from one hundred, and I feel her cheat in a little, so her leg rests against mine. Moonlight floods into the room and we can see Bert lay his head down again. Sam sleeps soundly, and the Puppy Lucas is dead to the world.
Two finger taps and I move forward and I feel her body touching mine. We’re fused at the shadow, as dark as night ourselves. The blanket thrown over the window creates a window itself, and I slide towards the rifle. Rifle to her, scattergun for me, I take point, and we move towards the door. It is a dance, it’s more than that, it’s a walk of survival. My left foot moves forward and so does hers. My right foot moves and she moves with me, a fluid motion practiced with tequila and the buzz of sex.
“Get it right!” she hisses at me. The lights are on, and I‘ve pushed against her with my buttocks, and she’s not laughing now. “We do this right or we don’t do it at all.” She pushes her hair back and I realize her patience is wearing down. “Don’t drink if’n it’s gonna kill you Mike.” She swears under her breath and walks over to the bottle. “You are either ready to fight or you get ready to die.”
“Get it right!” back to back we slowly walk from one room to the other. Bare feet silent we are able to move from the bedroom to the living room without a break, and back again, too.
“Again!” she demands, and we do it again. And again. And again.
We move like this for an hour, and she tells me there’s a blind spot to the left of the bedroom door, out on the porch, so I better pile some stuff up out there so it will fall and make noise if someone tries to hide there. The blanket on the window kills out silhouette coming out of the bedroom, and the fireplace is a rock to hide behind.
“Go!” we cross the living room floor trapped between the panes of the four wide front window and the four in the back. One, two, three, four paces and we swing around changing directions, changing points of view, confusing anyone looking and then I’m back in front again, five six seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, paces and we swing around again so I’m facing out towards the wide space of the living room with the shotgun, and the rifle covered the backdoor.
“Some woman ought to teach you dancing!” she sighs. “Again!”
“Go!” we cross the living room floor trapped between the panes of the four wide front window and the four in the back. One, two, three, four paces and we swing around changing directions, changing points of view, confusing anyone looking and then I’m back in front again, five six seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, paces and we swing around again so I’m facing out towards the wide space of the living room with the shotgun, and the rifle covered the backdoor. All this, again and again, without waking any of the dogs.
Eleven was the sticking point for a while. We switch postions, but because eleven is where the double doors to the porch and the kitchen island create a squeeze point we have to raise both weapons at the same time or get tossed off balance. She’s ninety pounds soaking wet and the rifle is nearly a third of her mass. It throws her off balance to swing quickly like that so I have to both move forward yet keep enough extra pressure on her rear to help.

“Count shadows, Mike” she whispers to me during a break. My quads are killing me. We’re walking, slipping really, across the floor at a crouch, arms up, slowly, but with quick movements, catlike, and my muscles are screaming. “Don’t worry about a gun being out there because if there is you’ll know it sooner. Worry bout eyes. Worry about who knows what you’re doing, and count shadows. Name’em. Ennie meanie minie moe. Remember the shadows around you nad if’n there’s one not suppose to be there, or one gets fat, you know eyes are there, and you know they see you. What we’re doing can’t be seen in shadow, and those eyes are there they won’t know what they saw. Eyes lie and people know it, in dark, they never tell the truth, and people know it. They see us dancing and they’ll not believe it. They come in thinking we’re all bedded down and we’re stand aside them, nightmares happen to them and we rain shit on them.”
“Again!”

Finally we can do it backwards and forwards, and far more quickly than I thought possible. Two shadows within the shadows, less than three or four seconds, and suddenly, anyone outside is wondering if they saw something, didn’t see anything and not a sound from the dogs yet.
“We get this down I’ll teach you a few things about covering those windows so it don’t look like that’s what you’re trying to do.” She’s happy. She reaches up and puts a hand on my neck. You need to work on your breathing, she once told me, you get excited and let you body wear out too fast. She checking my pulse.
“You teach a mean game for a woman who got killed in an ambush.” I said it before I realized I had thought it.
The sound of the rifle being fired indoors would have been enough to deafen me, it has before, but this was horrific. “She shot me.” I thought as I hit the floor. The dogs exploded into sound, but I couldn’t hear them, except as distance noises. It felt like she shot me in the left ear. The pain was incredible, unendurable, maddening, and I could only half hear myself scream.
“Round that close to the ear teaches a man a few things.” She whispered as she sunk her nails into my head to keep me still. “Don’t you ever speak of those things you nothing about! Hear? She kicked me, hard, in the mouth, and walked away.

I woke up on the living room floor at two. I still have a ringing in my left ear. My lip is slightly cut where I think I bit it, and I’ve been spitting out blood all day.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Full Moon Mutts

Bert and Sam have always let the full moon get the best of them and they are training Lucas to follow in their pawsteps. Sometimes it is worse than others but this full moon has been one for the records books if canines kept records and didn't chew up books. I secretly suspect the government has been conducting experiments on my dogs that involve massive doses of stimulants and psychoactive rawhide treats. The full moon has taken their senses away from them as it's as if they all have been teleported to an unknown and alien world.


 

Remember the plan? The plan was to introduce a younger dog, a puppy, so as to add a little life to the pack. In turn, the older dogs would act as a guiding influence upon their young apprentice and there would be no need for all the training I had to put the first two through, right? This works well up to the point something happens that disrupts the routine. Remember the Owl? A few years back, during a full moon, a barn owl tormented the dogs by landing on the roof and hooting. The dogs, which at that point consisted of two very solid individuals named Bert and Sam, could see and hear the owl on the rooftop. They would then charge towards the house, but once close enough to the house, they could no longer see the owl. They would then run back towards the center of the yard where, oh look, there he is, and repeat as totally unnecessary.

Sam dislikes all things aloft. Bert will also chase flying creatures, and this makes me wonder what exactly are the expectations here; do they really think a buzzard is going to drop out of the sky because they're chasing it? Sam is a little more intense when it comes to channeling for antiaircraft artillery, but I suspect this has something to do with being on their menu for a while. I don't know that buzzards ever took a shot at Sam, but I do know of all the flying creatures in the yard through the years, buzzards are those most likely to draw Sam's attention.

Flying creatures have the most to lose in conflict with earth-based citizens. Yet no one wins a fight with an owl, particularly a large one, and I'm betting a buzzard can inflict some serious wounds with that beak and those claws. Owls, despite the fact they have very large wingspans and truly sharp talons, are not that massive. However, taking one on is like tackling a five year old holding a straight razor in each hand. Without doubt, Sam can kill an owl, or buzzard, if he catches it earthbound, but I'm going to shell out some bucks for the vet bill.

At some level, Sam has to know there are dangers inherit in attacking an owl or a buzzard but the thing that drives Sam to attack overpowers anything telling him it really isn't that big of a deal when a buzzard is buzzing the yard, or there's in owl on the roof. Before you begin thinking about getting a dog, or more importantly, a child, remember that rage and neglect can scar in individual longer than life. Poor sweet and gentle Sam, one of the more loving dogs I have ever kept company with in my life carries with him the burden of truth. The truth is life can be exceedingly brutal, and the truth is food can run out. Why anyone would teach these lessons to a puppy, or more importantly, a child, is beyond my ken, and beyond my skill of healing.

But Lucas knows very little of this, and less of owls. All the Loki Mutt knows is if the older dogs chase something, he should chase it also. I'm not entirely sure he knows he is pursuing a flying object. It's possible Lucas hasn't seen the owl yet, and he might even be bright enough to think, "What the hell are we running after? It cannot be that stupid bird because that would be like totally dumb." I really have no idea. All I do know is the recent full moon has brought to bear all sorts of behavior that ordinarily I do not see in The Three.

Sunday night Bert woke me up so he might walk in the light of a near full moon and of course everyone must go with. Bert the steady, Bert the rock solid creature of habit and the one voice of reason in all things canine, wanted out at three in the morning. He never does things like that. But then he gets into a barking match with some other dog out there, and even the Loki Mutt is sitting this one out. Bark at another dog this time of night? That's not good!

Most dogs have incredibly poor eyesight but great hearing and an even better sense of smell. Sam is a sighthound, and as such, sees as well as I do. Bert is as blind as a bat but he's got a pair of ears on him, and his nose knows. I'm not sure about Luke yet. His Superpower hasn't been reveled unless it is excess energy. When Bert and Sam patrol, Bert usually takes point because in the woods things are smelt and hear before they are seen. Sam takes a position behind and to one side of Bert, usually closer to the fence. Bert flushes game, it breaks for the fence, and Sam nails it before it can escape. With the Loki Mutt along they may as well send in a marching band of drunken Irish sailors the day after payday first.

With the full moon, they've been hitting the back acre with the military precision of the Goths on meth. They run back and forth as if they're pursuing the ghost of armadillos past, and it's like watching the Three Stooges on four legs. They are restive at night, snarly towards each other during the day, and none of The Three seems to be able to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.


 

Oh, and that full moon stuff? Yeah, I hear it's all myth.


 

Take Care,

Mike

Monday, March 29, 2010

Photobucket

Legalize Pot

In my younger years I smoked my share of pot, and if you never tried the stuff, don't worry because I smoked your share of it too. At any given time, between the ages of thirteen and twenty-something, I was almost always stoned. I haven't smoked pot in this decade, and I'm pretty sure I didn't in the last either. I haven't been offered a joint in a long time, but my not smoking pot has more to do with not smoking than pot.

Pot is addictive. You can argue it isn't but there are people out there who just cannot live without it on a daily basis. I have the same problem with coffee. You can argue coffee isn't really addictive but it's the first thing I do every morning and I get really wired on the stuff for about half a day before leveling off after lunch. There are people who are stoned all the time and this isn't a good thing, but at the same time, pot laws have not slowed them down.


 

Let me say something that is of vital importance to my argument here: The laws in affect did not have anything at all to do whether or not I smoked pot. The laws in affect did not have anything to do with why I quit smoking pot. The laws were, are, and will remain, a nonissue as to whether or not I smoke pot, or do not smoke pot.


 

I don't smoke pot because it cuts into my writing time, and despite the fact a lot of really good writing ideas seem to surface, they never quite pan out as well as they seemed when I was stoned. I have a tendency towards junk food when I'm high. Pot makes me withdrawn and edgy, and oh yeah, I need more of that in my life. The stuff is expensive too. Smoking pot leads me to smoking cigarettes. I have no idea why, but it does. Those are my reasons for not smoking pot. Your reasons for smoking are your reasons for smoking. Your reasons for not smoking are your reasons for not smoking.


 

You cannot get into a conversation in regard to the legalization of pot without those silly people who claim if we legalize pot then kids will have more access to it. I have no idea where these people are from, or where they live, but they obviously do not live in America. The easiest time in my life to find pot was in High School. The older I got, the harder it was to find because I knew fewer High School people. Kids smoke as much pot as anyone, they can get it easier, and they are do not give a damn about pot laws. It is ludicrous to assume kids are going to do more pot or less pot, because of what the law says, or does not say.

You cannot get into a conversation about the legalization of pot without those silly people who claim pot is a gateway drug. This is a variation of the kids will have more access to it argument and it is as lame if not worse. Those kids who are going to try drugs are going to try drugs. Those with no interest will not be enticed by the legally of pot or meth, or any other drug, and if they do, see the argument about; the law makes not a single ounce of difference.


 

There isn't a question here about protecting kids because they already have the best pot. There isn't a question here about society advocating to its youth the use of drugs because just look at about half the television ads pounding the airwaves right now. Do a list of possible side effects of pot versus that stuff doctors are peddling right now.

Take those two fallacious arguments and toss them out with the "Reefer madness" argument and just why is pot still illegal?


 

Pot is still illegal because there is so much more money to be made by so many people. For many years it really didn't matter how many small time smokers got busted because there was money to be made there, too. Now in a time of a deep recession we're filling the jails and court systems with people trying to make an honest living selling pot, smokers using it for medical purposes, and suddenly we discover these people breaking the laws aren't nearly the threat to our society as those people making the laws. With drug offenders making up well over half the prison population, and another good percentage being involved in some sort of illegal drug violence, is there anyone here who cannot see the word "illegal" is the problem and not the word "drug"?


 

America was based on the principle that a free people will make enough good decisions to make up for the bad, and that not allowing this is a much great peril than the risk of inhibiting liberty. That is the very cusp of individual freedom. This is the very essence of what it is to be American. Either we trust we can product a society that has more to offer its citizens than for them to turn themselves into mindless zombie with drugs, or we fear the legalization of drugs will produce a stronger appeal than advanced citizenship.


 

Chances are, the laws repel will have zero affect on those who smoke, and on those who do not. The repel of the laws will very likely produce nothing but a serious lack of income for the drug lords. I have a deep seated suspicion the repel of pot laws will actually cut down on the number of people who smoke because the thrill of getting away with breaking the law will be gone.


 

Drug laws produce criminals. That is the function of drug laws. That is what they do, and that is their only product. Drugs may produce addicts, but it is cheaper and easier to treat an addict for ten years than it is to house, care for, and feed this person.

Take Care,

Mike

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Title it? Hell, I’m not sure what it’s about!

It irritated me "Juno" wasn't better because I had heard such great things about the film. Good reviews are sort of a curse for this sort of film because it wasn't made to be a great film just a really good one. But once the buzz starts people have a tendency to get caught up in everything that has anything to do with the film, and people like me who see it long after the buzz is over have no hope of catching it. I never got the whole "Blair Witch" thing at all.

Aside from the nocturnal manifestations which form into the semblance of Bonnie Parker in my bedroom betimes, the supernatural has no affect on me whatsoever. There isn't one of the back-from-the-dead-for-revenge movies that scare me a bit. Zombie movies amuse me for a few moments at best. The idea there is some maladjusted spirit haunting a house so anyone who enters will not only be stricken so stupid as to not leave, but eventually killed, along with the rest of the cast, strikes me as a plot vehicle that ought to work about once every twenty-five years.

Now, I like vampire movies to a degree because I like the idea of vampires, and I like to see people get it right. That happens very rarely and the "Twilight" thing, well, doesn't get it right. I like werewolves but that's usually done poorly as well. But neither scares me at all. Those two critters have been around a lot longer than most fans suspect, but at the same time their longevity also distracts the ability to suspend disbelief. Anne Rice had a good thing going but nothing lasts forever.

The problem here is even if a vampire showed up here one night, replete with turtle neck cape and a Bluh! Bluh! Bluh! I would just assume I was dreaming, or nuts, and go about my business which in case you haven't been paying attention I can do quite well while going nuts and half asleep. If a scaly dozen legged beast with horns rose out of the pond and headed towards civilization I'd take some photos, look at them to make sure there wasn't an exhaust pipe or a zipper to be found on the monster, post them to a few friends to get a second opinion, and then go look for something that might have fallen off of it, like a fake horn or maybe it left a shoe print. But to believe out of hand that it was some monster? I don't see that happening unless the thing tears my roof off while we're inside watching "Lost".

I'm uncertain what it would take to convince me something flashing lights in the sky were from some distant planet, but rest assured it would have to be a lot more than flashing lights in the sky. The bad thing about all this if aliens did knock on my front door I would be trying to tear the mask off one of them and likely cause the first intergalactic incident. Like John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Brutus, Mike Firesmith would go down in history as someone who killed the wrong…person?


 

All that said I'm a man with a decent amount of superstition. I do believe the massive Oaks on my property know who I am, and they know in some way as long as I live no harm will come to them. I believe I am safer, saner, and more in tune with the Universe when I am in the company of dogs. I believe there is something Magical and Holy about writing. I don't believe this because I'm a writer; I have always believed this, and for a very long time, it was part of why I was afraid to write.

Popular culture is a vast and empty wasteland, but there are some films I think transcend the norm and raise the bar for the medium. "The Hours" is one of these movies, and the scene of Virginia Woolf at the train station with Leonard is why. The movie was impeccably cast. I don't care if you love the movie, or hate it, or simply do not get it, but pay attention to the casting.


 


 

I cut the paragraph preceding the one praising "The Hours" and then pasted it back in. I'm rambling a bit here, going from movies to superstition to aliens to writings back to movies, and now this paragraph is some sort of kiosk telling you, "You are here" without the red arrow or the weird smell all Malls have because all their food is in the Food Court where it ought to be sentenced to death.


 

So what the hell here, eh? Our superstitions, our beliefs, our fears, all of that stuff, it's fiction, it's real, and it's all locked up in our heads making us who we are, and the people who make films and write create art that speaks to our own mythologies, and that's why we love them so. Please, don't take it the wrong way when I tell you your beliefs are part of your mythology for I'm using the word to the describe what you have inside of you that makes you who you are. Tree, dogs, writing, snakes, and "The Hours" are all part of what makes me who I am, and the fact the film "Titanic" isn't in there may dismay some people who really liked it, but it's the same, I think, inside all of us, simply because it's something, and it is human.


 

Almost all cultures have vampires, what does that tell you about us?


 

Take Care,

Mike

snakes,banded water snake

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Grill Cook Within

I was as prepared to be on my own at nineteen years old as I was when I was nine, or nine months. I had never washed dishes. I had never washed clothes. I had never cooked food. I had never shopped for food. I knew how to buy alcohol. I could find pot anywhere on earth. But I had never actually been in a grocery store without my mother or one of my grandmothers in my entire life. I had no knowledge as to what it would cost to rent an apartment. I didn't know how to get utilities hooked up. I had a checking account, once, but had never really had to balance it. I had no idea how to get a tag for a car.


 

But I really didn't care.


 

Brunswick Georgia was several times larger than my hometown of Blakely, and to me, it seemed to be a paradise. I was two hundred miles from home, and no one knew me. Back in Blakely I lived in the shadow of my father, and the expectations I would become a carbon copy of his highly respected citizenship. Bankers loved him. The Clergy loved him. The men he worked for loved him, the men who worked for him loved him, and no one could understand how on earth I could possibly be so totally fucked up and still be his son.


 

I could eat in a fast food restaurant and not run into any of my father's friends, or their expectations. I could walk down the street, or rather stagger down the street, and not have anyone call my father to and be scandalized. I went to a truck stop and got a job as a dish washer, and I hoped that I was in some way qualified to have a job like that. I was making three dollars and ten cents an hour, and thought that was an ungodly amount of money. That was a six pack an hour!

When my boss called me in for my first month evaluation I was fairly certain I was going to get fired. Instead I got a raise to three sixty-five an hour, and was promoted to Grill Cook. He told me I was one of the best employees he had ever hired, and hoped I would think about becoming a manager. As high as I was, because I was stoned all the time, I realized for the first time in my life an adult was treating me like an adult. Becoming a Grill Cook in a truck stop had just become the high point of my life.

I remember Old Man Murry, the guy who rented me and my roommate the duplex. I was totally astounded apartments were not rented out by the month. Sign a lease? Who the hell knew where they would be in a year? I was not prepared for the power company wanted a deposit. I had no idea the city was the entity who controlled the water. My roommate got into some weirdness about drugs so he was booted by me and the second roommate who lasted a couple of months. Suddenly, after just three months of having roommates in a strange town, I was totally alone. There were some things that happened with the roomies there were terribly funny, and I'll get back to that some day, but there for a while, after nineteen years of being locally famous for being my father's failed son, I was living the life of total invisibility.

I learned to cook on the job. I remember learning to boil eggs, and how long to leave them boiling. A three minute egg did not cook in three minutes. Because I was broke all the time I ate one meal at work when I got there, and anther when I left. There was never any food at home, and very rarely did I have anything to drink that didn't have alcohol in it. I discovered at the lower end of the food chain, no one gave a damn if you were stoned, or drunk, as long as you did your job.


 

I was already doing to job as manager for a couple of months before they sat me down and talked to me about me moving up the ladder, career wise. I would have to cut my hair, stop drinking on the job, stop smoking pot on my breaks, and stop taking speed on the double shifts. It was weird. Here are two guys and one woman who are the upper management types telling me I have to stop taking drugs to get my next promotion. I promised them I would do anything but cut my hair, and they decided to wait and see.


 

Meanwhile, the man they were going to make hiring, firing, and scheduling decisions was learning how to do his own laundry, learning how to shop for food in a grocery store, and very slowly but surely learning to do those things adults did to keep the bills paid and keep the lights on. I had to keep the heat off because I would rather buy pot than pay fifty bucks a month on a power bill and keep the heat running. There wasn't enough money for a phone once a week I would use a pay phone to call my family. At first my father treated me being on my own as some sort of fit. I was going to come home as soon as I cooled off. Then when he found out I had found a job it was more or less as if I was playing at being an adult, and would get bored with it soon. After a few months he became increasingly worried; I may have actually flown the coop.


 

I remember how terrified I was during this time. Even the booze and the drugs couldn't keep back the rising fear the world would come to an end and there I would be, hanging out in midair. I remember the first time I was in jail and they asked me if I wanted to call my parents, and I told them I'd sit it out. There was this nineteen year old, who looked five years younger, desperately trying to figure something out, sitting in jail, and wondering if this was what life was going to hold.


 

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lying Gil Patrick

It’s raining again and right now we need more rain like Custer needed a few more Sioux. Of course, like Custer, we cannot do a whole lot about it. The rain will fall and I will not get to burn anything today, and because it is raining I can’t wash the mutt blankets. I go to the laundry mat to wash the mutt blankets but when it rains all the poor women go to the laundry mat because they cannot dry their clothes outside. I’m usually the only guy in the laundry mat when I go and it makes me feel a little like I’m in the women’s bathroom or something. Now that I’m off night shift I’ll have to wait until next weekend to wash the dog’s blankets, so along with the rain, the bedroom will smell a little more doggie than normal.

Last Thursday the forecast was for the rain to stop late in the day, and the contractors would have been able to get done. But then the forecast was for the rain to stop in the early evening, which meant they were going to be delayed. So they went ahead and checked out of their motel rooms, loaded up, and waited for the rain to stop. The Weather Channel then upped the forecast for the rain to stop by nine, which meant they were screwed, and had to get their rooms back. Then the Weather Channel said rain stopping by midnight, and finally they threw in the towel and said Friday would be mostly cloudy, and Thursday just didn’t exist anymore.
Weather people are the only form of news we get that we assume might be right some of the time, and might be wrong some of the time, yet we still plan our lives by this information. It’s gotten a lot more accurate, I’ll give them that, but at the same time I miss the good old days when a man dressed in a bad suit would stick magnetic weather indicators to a metal map of the United States and Georgia, and tell us the chances of it raining on the 4th of July.
If you ever want to fit in with a bunch of the old timers in Sowega, just sit down at a table in the local breakfast place and say something like, “I sure do miss Lyin’ Gil Patrick.” Gil Patrick was the guy in the bad suit with the magnetic cutout of a thunder storm that wouldn’t stick half the time. That was part of the entertainment in watching Lying Gil do the weather because you never knew when there was going to be a magnet malfunction. In 1977, he missed predicting the snow storm that hit South Georgia, and in the middle of the weather someone threw a snowball at him in the studio, on the air, and Gil looked mad enough to kill.
Now, Gil Patrick wasn’t really a liar; he was simply wrong more often than most weathermen because he was around longer than most weathermen. Back before technology improved, such as it has, Gil and everyone else had to rely on what they had, which wasn’t much. The one true bad habit he had was not trusting the National Weather Service, and sometimes he would say, “Well, the National Weather Service thinks this but I think…” He did that one time when a hurricane was in the Gulf Of Mexico and he told us the National Weather Service had predicted the storm was going to head right for us, but he thought it was going to go west, and hit Alabama, or Mississippi. The damn thing picked up speed and went straight for Gil’s throat. It didn’t slow him down a bit though. He knew what he knew, and truthfully, Gil Patrick did the weather better than most.

The one thing I liked about Gil Patrick was he would always tell you if he was wrong, and then explain what happened to screw up his predictions. Okay, maybe I know nothing at all about meteorology, and maybe Gil was just vamping his way through it, but at the same time, look at The Weather Channel with all their billions of dollars worth of equipment, and they blew the hell out of last Thursday forecast. And have they tried to explain what went wrong? I think not!

I wonder what happened to those Weather Magnets. Did Gil stash them away somewhere, and leave them to his kids, or grandkids? Now weathermen have touch screen computers that cover an area the size of a wall, yet some of them still wear bad suits. Day in and day out, rain or shine, Gil Patrick delivered the weather with what now looks like primitive tools, the weatherman’s version of making fire banging two sticks together, and yet, for all the things that went wrong back then, it was a part of the evolution of a craft, a part of a science that is still not perfect, and it was a part of everyone’s life, too.
Suddenly, I miss Gil Patrick, which wasn’t where I was heading when I sat down to write. I remember my grandmother’s tiny black and white television, and the smell of the country fried steak, and I remember wondering what it was like to know what the weather was going to do before it did it. I realize now I do not remember anyone else from the news show, and I don’t remember anyone else as a weatherman, and suddenly, Lyin’ Gil Patrick, for all the times we sat around and grumbled about it raining when it he told us it wasn’t going to rain, well, damn, now I’ve gone and started missing him.

I did an internet search for him and there isn’t anything there, except some five second video clip. Gil Patrick and his Weather Magnets are all gone now. All we’re left with is some giant Weather Station that doesn’t even fess up when its wrong.

Gil Patrick, wherever you are, I hope the sun is shining, a warm breeze is blowing, and I hope the weather stays beautiful.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Owl And The Frog

All the cheap monster movies that show some giant crocodilian type critter munching through crowds of panicked humans pretty much have it as wrong as it can get. Cold-blooded animals need very little food in relationship to their mass than warm-blooded animals. This is why a thousand pound crocodile can eat once a month and a thousand pound bear is going to have to keep putting on the fat for winter.
What people who buy exotic snakes, like Burmese Pythons, do not understand is a python can eat just once a month, but will eat as much as you toss into the cage with him. Out in the wild, the odds of a mouse a day running within striking range might not be as high as it is going to be when some seven-year-old kid with access to a pet stop starts feeding his pet snake in front of the other kids for show. Five years later, when the snake is eight feet long, you will have trouble you have not known. Five years after that, when it’s eleven, or even twelve feet long, you’re going to have an animal living with you that is not controllable by any single human being, or any two that you know right now. Another very distinctive difference between warm-blooded pets and cold-blooded pets is cold-blooded creatures, to a species, have no ability to feel empathy. This is actually a tangent of sorts. Go back to the first paragraph and let us get back on track, shall we?
I have frogs now. To say I have a lot of frogs is like saying Custer had a lot of Sioux. They are not causing me the problems Custer had, but then again, I’m not causing any problems for the frogs, either. I try to keep Lucas out of the water as much as I can because wet dogs are not allowed in the house. With the firepit now a very good-sized wading pool, and the weather warming up, it’s going to be impossible. The Loki Mutt has discovered Frog Chasing as a hobby, and this will lead to no good. Yet I cannot help but be amused when he runs around what is now a small pond, forcing the frogs at the edge to flee in terror. They make this high-pitched squeaking noise as he approaches and he will race around the edge of the pond pit scaring the hell out of them and it makes it sound as if it’s the Loki Mutt’s feet making the noise.
I’ve discovered frogs are the mice of the amphibian world. Whereas all the predators in a field or forest will scarf down a mouse or a rat when the opportunity presents itself, in the world of the pond or the flooded fire pit, it is frogs who take the most predation personally. So far, Lucas hasn’t fell to eating frogs or at least I haven’t caught him. I suspect he would get very sick.
It won’t surprise you to hear almost all wading birds eat frogs, nor will it get your attention when I tell you nearly all water snakes make a living eating frogs. What might surprise you is how many times I’ve watched a hawk pick off a frog from a shallow ditch or the edge of a pond. I’m not talking about bullfrogs but smaller leopard frogs and spring peepers and such. There was a hawk near Needmore Georgia who staked out an area around a flooded ditch and several times I saw that one land near the water, then take off again with the silhouette of a pair of frog legs dangling from its talons. So late in the afternoon yesterday, the mutts and I went out for a romp, and we scared an owl up from around the pit, and I wonder if the owl was hunting frogs.
I know a lot more about snakes than I do about hawks and owls so I wonder if the fact frogs are plentiful is why the raptors are after them, or is the predator birds are somehow desperate for food and frogs are easy prey. But this is all predicated on me being right about why the owl was where the owl was. If it was just a misplaced bird of prey due to, let’s say, some recent logging activity nearby then we really don’t have a case for the weaken predator going after the low hanging fruit, do we? Of course there is something to be said about the Needmore Hawk Incident, unless that was a case of some species of swamp hawk who preys on frogs.

That’s the sort of things that spring into my mind when I see animals; is this what they normally do? Is there something we’ve done that might have caused this? Do owls eat frogs? Do frogs ever eat owls, no, I never really thought that, just checking to see if you’re paying attention still. But I question the nature of nature, and our impact upon her. Like the first graying hair, or the first small pain in the chest or the first time a friend mentions you’ve been drinking too much, maybe just a little, we ought to wonder why things are happening around us the way they do. Maybe things are suppose to be this way, and owls and hawks eat frogs, but what if they aren’t supposed to, and we’ve pushed them into behavior that isn’t natural? How long can it be until the same is said for us, or more importantly, how long has it been since has already happened, and we were not paying attention to that either?

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First Kiss Writing

It’s a feeling that’s nearly physical but not quite so. Okay, if you ever smoked and tried to quit it’s like having quit smoking for an hour or two, that feeling you get when you’ve skipped your first smoke break in the morning. Hmmm, not quite there yet, no, that isn’t it. It’s like that feeling you have when you’re with someone new, and she’s a woman you really like and she really likes you. You’re alone together and then you realize this isn’t just making out; the two of you are going to go past that point entirely. You can’t rush it or you’ll ruin it. You can’t come right out and describe what is going to happen because this is unexplored territory between you and your soon to be new lover. You just know something magical and good is going to happen and you just want everything to be right.
Yeah, that’s it.

When someone asks me what I’m going to write they are usually surprised when I say I have no idea. Really, I have no idea. In fact, right now there is something inside my head, waiting to form into an idea to write about, but it has no substance. It’s like when you’re walking down the street with that woman you just met, and you really like this woman, and this woman really likes you, and you both stop in front of the front window of the art gallery to look at a painting there. Neither of you said anything about stopping, and neither of you really noticed you both stopped at the same time, but suddenly your hands meet, and clasp, and for the first time you’re holding hands, and it would be totally bizarre if either of you said, “This is the first step towards us having a relationship that is going to last for the next year or so.”
It’s like that. Writing ideas are indefinable at first. I knew when I down to write this essay I wanted to write about that idea that is floating around in my head somewhere, no, not this idea, there is another but I’m just flirting with it right now, not even holding hands yet.
You go into the gallery to look at more paintings, and that weird looking sculpture that you both make fun of and you toss into the open the first sexual innuendo. “It looks like an octopus having sex with a mop” you say this and the new woman laughs, and you both giggle a little about the poses the octopus and the mop might get into. You are still holding hands and even though the gallery is spacious, you both stand crowded to one another, letting your arms get to know one another, trading comfortable collisions of hips and smelling each other up close for the first time.
There where this essay is now; I like this one a lot, suddenly, and it seems to be a keeper. It is difficult to tell when a few paragraphs are going to dead in on you, like a date that blurts out there is a herpes problem, or someone who announces they think dogs are good to eat or they once was a Satanist who converted to Independent Southern Baptist because the food was better. But the unformed idea hasn’t gotten to the point of hand holding yet, even if this one, who was born of trying to describe the other thought, has moved forward.

The guy who owes the Gallery you and your soon to be new lover comes to speak to you, and both of you wish him to go away, but you feel obligated to be civil to him, and so does she. After all, you want to impress upon her you’re a nice person, don’t you? But after a few moments of nether of you really taking your eyes off each other, he suggests you might want to wander upstairs, it’s not really open to the public, but there are some very nice paintings there. They aren’t going to be shown yet, and a few need a little work, but, yes, behind that door is a stairway, yes, it’s perfectly fine. So you hold her hand up the steep stairs and you both feel like kids again, and there are truly wonder works of art there, and everything is truly wonderful at this moment in time. You suddenly wonder if you should kiss her, and you wonder if it’s too soon, and worst of all, the guy thing kicks in and you wonder if she will have sex with you right here on the spot, and as you look at her, it scares you to think you might totally screw this up from the beginning. You can hear her telling a friend, “…oh dear god he groped me right there in the art gallery…” But the kiss thought is still with you, overwhelming you, and she turns to look at you, because you’ve grown silent, and then you are kissing her, and she is leaning into you, and kissing you back hard, like she was waiting and waiting, and it is just so fucking good. That’s writing.

That’s right now, for this essay, the first kiss part, and I’m thinking it’s good. It’s when you really wanted to make a point, or draw some comparison and suddenly you’ve said what you wanted to say, and it’s where you want to be with it. Anyone who has ever kissed someone new knows this, especially if it was someone special, and if you write, and know this, when something you write is good, and it speaks to you. It’s the same feeling, but without the weirdness when the gallery owner coughs and you realize he’s been there longer than you thought.

The one day, a year later, the woman who has been your lover for a while now comes home after a bachelorette party and she falls into the door laughing hysterically and she tell you that she kissed the male stripper. She pukes on the sofa then falls on top of it, and she curses the day she met you as you’re trying to get her hosed down in the shower. Now her nudity doesn’t mean what it did a year ago, and you realize you are going to be late for work tomorrow because of this, but you have to take care of her because even after this, you do still love her.
That’s editing.
Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ancient City Dream

I dreamed when I shifted around in my bed there was an ancient civilization reveled underneath me. Now this was a serious case of double bilocation as both myself and the ancient civilization were in two locations at once. Both myself and the ancient civilization were in the bed, yet we were both also somewhere else. I’ll try to explain this but you’ll have to pretend you are at the movies, or on LSD.

As I moved around in the bed last night, my movements would uncover what looked like an incredibly old but advanced city, like Pompeii. There were plazas and arenas, and there were narrow streets and vast avenues. Women were hanging their wash out on lines, and the streets were alive with the commerce of human beings. And they were aware of me.

At some level, to them, I was some force that had brought them back to life, and we all knew it was only temporary. As I hovered over the city and watched, the people would glance up and wave to me, and shout greetings to me. I knew the streets, I knew the buildings, and this was a place I had known for a very long time. There, that arch that spanned those two streets, yes, that one, it doesn’t have a shop in it like some of the others because it is cracked, and the city has yet to repair it sufficiently enough for the people to trust it. And there, in the older part of the city is an old building that may be the oldest, maybe even one of the first, and the family who owns it wants to tear it down to begin anew but the building is so old, so terribly old, it is nearly a part of the collective family.

To make things even more strange, I knew but could not see or hear, other dreamers dreaming about other cities, and I knew an entire world was being uncovered. I wanted to take pictures. I wanted to reach down and grasp a piece of marble, or stone from a building as a souvenir. For no matter how much I moved, or how I moved, the civilization was disappearing before my eyes.

As I moved around, and uncovered a new part, eventually some of the parts that were uncovered first began to be covered again. I tried to be still, but even when I just looked around I was losing part of the city. It was happening everywhere, to everyone, and I woke up and started to go get the camera, but I knew if I moved I would lose the rest of it. I went back to sleep and the city was neatly gone now, just a few ruins with very few people, and they looked up and me as if they wanted to say good-bye. I reached down under the covers to pick up some evidence this was all real, that it all wasn’t just a dream, and as I picked up part of a crumbling wall, it was all gone.



Take Care,

Mike

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don: The Woman Who Feared Snakes.

I have a strong fear of heights but on occasion , when such an opportunity presents itself, I’ll go up into a high place, just to prove I can, and will, do it. The last chance I had was when the dead Oak tree was taken down in the yard and the tree people offered to let me go up in their bucket truck to take a few photos. I didn’t enjoy the ride at all but I did like the idea of being able to overcome my fear enough to get off the ground for a bit.

My camera malfunctioned and most of the photos were blurry.

I’ve never met anyone with a snake phobia who ever got any better. Don was the one person I knew who did try to overcome her fear of snakes took a herpetology class and damn near flunked out because she would sometimes realize she was in the same room with a snake and run out screaming. Yes, Don was a woman, but if I stop to explain her name it will take the better part of the day. This was the same woman who held a loaded gun on me while I removed a Smooth Earth Snake from her yard. In case you’ve never met a Smooth Earth Snake they are only as large as your average pencil.

The herpetology class required Don to bring snakes to class and they might as well sent her out for Plutonium, or a box full of Ebola Virus. They were allowed to bring dead snakes as long as the creature was still identifiable, but Don, like most of her fellow snake loathers, was frightened to death of dead snakes as well, which is really a phobia I cannot understand. She called me one day from a farmhouse between Valdosta and White Springs Florida so I might remove a snake from her Jeep. It seems Don stopped to pick up a dead snake, with six foot long tongs,and she put him in a jar. Well, she thought she saw the snake move once she got him in the Jeep, so Don got out and walked three miles rather than stay in the Jeep with a live snake. Did I mention he was in a jar? Did you think this critter had a glasscutter concealed in his pocket?

Don and I had a very strange relationship. She did not trust me any further than she could throw me on a windy day because I was a Snake Person. Yet when it came to all things Snake, I was the first person she called, and Don was usually mad at me when she called, as if were my fault the snake in the jar had moved. The snake in the jar was indeed dead but it rode with me on the way home. Don’s master plan was for me to keep her snakes until she needed them, and in a perfect world, I would go to the college and hand her the snakes right outside the door, or better yet, leave them on the professor’s desk. I tried to explain I worked for a living, and my employer wasn’t going to give me snake days off.

I found a note on my door one day explaining there was a snake in a fifty pound dog food bag on her steps. Don wanted me to get the snake out of the bag and into a more suitable container which in this case might have been the vault at Fort Knox. In the meanwhile, she couldn’t get into her apartment because the snake was on the steps. I went to her apartment, saw the bag, and shook it. Hmmm, there seems to be something inside, but not something deserving of such a large container. I started up the steps, which were quite steep and opened the bag to see what was inside. Out streamed a snake, and it was one pissed off snake at that. There are not many species of snake which can do much damage to a human being, but the larger a snake is the harder that animal can bite, and this one was looking to decapitate something. I managed to get a hold of the head, and out of the bag poured another five feet of snake. It was a Coachwhip, one of the longest, but slimmest of snakes. It wasn’t much of mass, but made up for it by being long and pissed. Did I mention it was pissed? Getting the snake back into the bag while on those steps was a feat, I tell you. I took the snake back to my place and put him into a real snake bag, and explained to Don that she really did not want to take this one to school. I released it back into the world, and everyone was happier for it.

The real clincher of all this came one day when I left a note on Don’s door explaining I had left a gallon jar with three snakes in it on her kitchen table. I had taken a large empty jar, laid it on her kitchen floor, and left the top off. I went home and waited for her to call, and in the meantime, a woman I had once dated came over with a bottle of Scotch, and we began to discuss the good old days. I totally forgot about the jar joke. Don arrived home, read the note, saw the jar, and fled the scene. Of course she came looking for me, but I was not answering the door. I truly do not remember her knocking. This was all in the days before cell phones, so Don did the only thing she thought made sense; she flagged down a city cop, and explained there were snakes loose in her apartment. The cop went to her apartment, examined the jar which had a screw top lid, and then asked Don a very simple question: “Is there any chance this man is playing some sort of joke on you?”

Obvious truths are at their most very obvious when someone points them out to you.



Of course Don truly believed there were no snakes, but she couldn’t bring herself to sleep in the apartment until she knew for sure. She drove an hour to her parent’s house to stay overnight, and the next day, as the sun came up and my company was leaving, I was greeted by the sight of a very angry woman, with a very large jar, storming up the steps to my apartment.



Take Care,

Mike

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Writing Web

Tick- tap- tick- tick- tap- tick
I remember the first time I heard the noise it was cold, very cold, one of those night when the freezing began right after sundown and there wasn’t any hope of warmer weather in sight. It had been cold, it was going to be cold, and winter in South Georgia was a reality for once. There was frost every morning and ice on the pond even in the afternoons. I was wrapped up in a blanket or two on the sofa when I first heard the sound.
My family has a history of audio hallucinations. My paternal grandmother heard noises at night and was certain there were people living in the attic. My father hears things at night now. He has to have 100% silence or he cannot sleep. Tiny noises are enough to wake him up and when there are no sounds around his mind invents them. Dogs barking and music are his two favorite nighttime villains. When a noise wakes me up from sleeping, I’m always terrified it has begun with me. I already have problems hearing normally. For years I’ve heard sounds in the wind no one else seems to hear. There is a song there, in the wind, and when I describe it to other people, they just look at me as if I hear people in the attic, or dogs playing music at night.
I closed my eyes and listened to the tapping, the ticking, and the tick tapping noise. It was too cold to be a click beetle this time. I could hear the dogs breathing in deep sleep. I can tell who is where by the sound they make when they’re sleeping. Bert sleeps quietly, soundly, while Sam snores more often, and dreams. Lucas hasn’t fell into a rhythm yet, so I know it’s him when it doesn’t sound like anyone else. The water heater makes a noise on occasion. The oven when it is cooling down makes a tapping noise. I sighed. I was going to have to get up and look.
The noise had camped out on the very periphery of my hearing. Had the television been on I would have never heard it. I eased towards the back door and the noise was fainter. Towards the front door and I could hear it a little better, but the dogs wanted out so I forgot about the noise for the time being, but heard it again a couple of nights later. I couldn’t hear it in the bedroom or my office, and I really don’t spend that much time on the sofa so I didn’t worry about it.
In daylight, and I remember now when I discovered the source I was watching a football game on television, and it was a Saturday, yes. A leaf had become trapped in what was left of a spider web and was glancing off the windowpane. Ah, I’ll have it down in a second, but the game got interesting, and the wind died down. I forgot about it again, until a few days later, and I actually took three steps towards it when the phone rang and I went back inside answer it.
The spider web is left over from the massive and incredibly beautiful spiders that spring up every autumn. The one who lives on that part of the porch anchors her web, and if it isn’t her every year it must be her offspring, on the window sill, up close to the middle. This is her last capture, her last bit of predation, even though she might be long dead. Amazing, isn’t it? This is an arachnid archeological site, where the past generation left a structure for us to interpret.
After that thought I couldn’t take it down, could I?
Some people have wind chimes but I’ve got the leaf in the spider’s web. It’s the ghost of the spider, typing away at just a few words a minute, trying to finish her autobiography before the next generation takes over the spot, or a human with some housecleaning skills shows up. It’s the ghost of the man who died in this house, using Morse code to speak to me, and I sleep through it. It’s the last evidence of a tree, and a spider, and both are gone now.

Tick- tap- tick- tick- tap- tick

This is not unlike the noise of a keyboard, you know. Somewhere out there is someone making these sounds, and what they have written, perhaps none of us will ever read. The leaf in the web in the wind reaches an audience of one, plays one song, one theme, and one day, either I will be gone, the leaf will be gone, or the web will break. How thin the line of existence is that holds this together. How fragile is this evidence of life, so fragile, for that only with breath can it be expressed.

Tick- tap- tick- tick- tap- tick,
Mike

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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Carved Into

Somewhere near the eastern bank of the Chattahoochee River is a Magnolia tree, ancient and tall, with the crude carving upon its bark, "Mike Firesmith 1974". When I was thirteen, I carved that on the tree at Odom's landing, one of the very few places in Early County where there is a waterfall. The last time I checked to see if it was still there was back in the late 90's, and the markings were barely visible. The river had crept closer to the tree, and I suppose one day someone will discover my name on a tree in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps.

I was the first person I ever knew whose parents were divorced. Back in the early seventies divorce was a word that was whispered, like cancer or oral sex. Good and decent people didn't get divorced, they didn't get cancer, and they sure as hell didn't engage in oral sex. When someone died of cancer in South Georgia back in the sixties and early seventies, it wasn't written up in the obituaries. Anyone without a cause of death listing, well, that was like saying they had died of cancer. I never did figure out why there was a sense of shame or evil connected with dying of cancer. The oral sex thing, I'm pretty sure people in South Georgia would turn to salt if it had been spoken of in public. Divorce? Well, it was pretty damn hard to hide.


 

My two sisters and I knew something was wrong when mom "went on vacation" to grandma's house in Leslie Georgia. Oddly, we suspected grandma was dying, probably of cancer, because granddad had just three years earlier. This hit about the time we moved across town from where we had lived since 1964, and even if we didn't see it coming, my sisters and I were about to live in a very different world in more ways than we knew. While my mother was away my father had begun to take one of us kids each night "riding". He would load one of us into his car and just drive around for hours talking ceaselessly. Because Early County is such a small place, and Blakely is even smaller, there would be times we would pass within sight distance of the house, only to watch it recede again. Our mother would visit on weekends, but no one was talking divorce there for a while. I remember the divorce ride, the night my father asked me what I thought about my parents getting a divorce. I remember telling him if they couldn't work it out that's what they ought to do. I was twelve at the time and had learned when my father asked my opinion he was always considerate enough to have supplied it earlier. Honestly, all I wanted was for the ride to be over more quickly but that plan failed.

I did I damn good job at not telling anyone at school, and divorce was such a terrible and awful event, neither of my sisters were telling anyone either. We had this non-spoken pact of silence as if we didn't say it the divorce might not happen. It was actually a teacher who outed me, and my sisters, when the school had a bake sale I was supposed to take a form home to my mother so she could write down what sort of baked goods she would supply. I didn't have a mother at home, and my father couldn't boil water without burning it. I threw the form away and just didn't say anything about it. The day of reckoning arrived, when the teacher had to have the form, had to know what my mother was baking, and I remember her standing there in front of class, raising her voice, waving her paddle around, and demanding to know what my mother was going to bake. I should have lied and told her cookies, or a wedding cake, or anything, but I just froze up. I was twelve, and my parents were getting a divorce, and my mother wasn't baking a damn thing. I finally told her my mother didn't live with us anymore, and I remember how hard I hoped she would just shut the hell up, and the whole room got quiet, and she advanced on me with the paddle in her hand as if she had quite enough of all this nonsense young man what do you mean she doesn't live with you anymore?

I would have rather she killed me, rather she beat me to death with that board, rather anything at all happened, anything, really, anything, but she stood there in her ugly blue dress and her indignation and her board, and I had to say the words out loud, and had to say the word divorce out loud, and if there had been any justice on earth she would have just shut up, but she didn't believe me, because no one at all had told her about it, and she knew both my parents young man so I have no idea where you get those kind of stories from, So she took me to the front of the class and paddled me for lying about the divorce, and she scolded me for lying about such things, and threatened to send me to the principal's office for lying, and she was going to call my mother that very night. She did call my father, and the next day she announced to the class I had been wrongly accused of lying, that Mike's parent were in fact getting divorced. I was incredibly angry for a very long time. Honestly, I still am.

So my older sister went to live with my mother, and eventually my younger sister did too for a while. But before that happened my mother would visit us on Saturdays, and take us to one park or another. That morning we went to Odom's landing, one of the very few places in Early County where there is a waterfall.


 

Take Care,

Mike

Friday, March 19, 2010

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
- Bertrand Russell
Each day the world gives us evidence that evil has no boundaries.
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Each day we must give evidence to the world, that love has no boundaries, either.
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The First ( and Last) Annual Early County Raft Race II

Amidst the chaos that was the First and Last Annual Early County Raft Race was one shining beacon of hope. No, it wasn’t the Firesmith Float. Six college guys built, and tested, a raft made out of four bicycle frames attached to a deck, supported by steel drums. The bikes were pedaled and that caused a paddlewheel in the back to turn. They cruised around while the rest of us seadogs struggled with such things as staying upright. The Firesmith Float, on the other hand, had a couple of drawbacks. The first was the Styrofoam began breaking apart. We looked like a snowstorm in slow motion. The second challenge was the blocks of Styrofoam were so buoyant we were sitting three feet about the surface of the water, and that made the craft incredibly unstable, and nearly impossible to board. Oh, and how did that sail thing work out? Nary had a breeze rippled the water, nay!
The starting gun sounded, our sail was unfurled, and it looked a lot like we were going to sit right there until the river’s current moved us, which wasn’t going to happen because they had the locks closed at the dam in Fort Gaines, which was upstream of us. That mean we, and everyone else, would have to sail, paddle, or swim to the finish line, which was over five miles away. The sponsors of the event hadn’t taken into account the river might not be flowing. Worse, the wind picked up, and started blowing upstream, instead of down. The raft that consisted of twelve inner tubes lashed together by eleven drunks and carrying one keg of beer looked destined to be at the starting point for the rest of the day, but they did not care. They paddled out to the middle of the river and started singing. I wanted to join them.

My father had brought boat paddles so we paddled away. Want to know what it was like? Take four washing machines, put a plywood deck on top them, then put those wheels that barely turn from shopping carts on the bottom of the washing machines, and then use boat paddles to push it uphill for five miles. That was what it was like. With the wind pushing against them even if the college guys were having a hard time but they pulled away from the pack like a turtle racing a wino uphill in the snow. Incredibly, we were in second place, simple because no one else was trying. After a couple hundred yards, people realized that five miles was a very long way. Without a current in the river, it was going to be an ordeal.

And it was.

Remember the scene in “Ben Hur” where he’s told “row well and you will live” it was like that. My father was convinced we could catch the college raft. I timed how long it took us to get to where they were from where we were and a half hour passed. The next time forty minutes went by. Finally, a boat pulled up from one of the sponsors of the event and they told us most of the other people had quit, and if we wanted to, they would tow us back.
Show of hands from those who think my father took the easy way out. Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.

So we rowed and rowed and rowed, and boats passed us full of ex-rafters going to the finish line to relax a bit, and the college raft gained more speed and distance, and behind us people were packing it in. After five or six hours, we gained the finish line, but the college guys were long gone, and really, no one else was hanging around either. By that time we had left a long stream of broken Styrofoam behind us, and I’m sure some of it is still there today.

The eleven drunks and their beer keg? They refused to be pulled in because they were having a great time, and landed on a sandbar. They drank themselves silly until nearly dark before accepting rescue. In one of life’s great ironies, I would one day become friends with two of the people from that group, and they all commented on how terribly weird we looked rowing the Firesmith Float down the river.
The Firesmith Float sat in our garage for a very long time, and each time my father started talking about sailing, we all ran for cover. To this very day, however, if you go into the garage, you can find tiny pieces of Styrofoam.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Miss Cats

I miss having a cat around. The whole dog person versus cat person argument is misguided if you ask me because I like them both. What a dog brings to a home is totally different than what a cat brings, but the same can be said for the difference between a male child and a female child. What a man adds to a home is very different from what a woman adds to a home. I like the sense of pack, of family and of unconditional love a dog carries with him like the smile on his face. I like the independence of a cat, and their need to be warm. I like the cat’s ability to surprise, and the fact mice will move to another area code when a good mouser takes a home. Dogs are good at laying down the law to human vermin. They fear nothing when the pack is in danger, regardless as to how small the dog might be. Cats teach us to not consider our place as in the family as absolute for they can be demanding in ways a canine would not dream. Dogs accept punishment and scoldings as personal failings. Cats seek revenge for it.

Sam, my kind and loving Greyhound mix cannot be persuaded cats are not prey animals. Sam is damaged beyond my reckoning or my succor. The three months of Sam’s life before Bert found him in the woods has marked his psyche so terribly I cannot bring myself to be harsh enough to convince Sam he’s making a terrible mistake by trying to kill cats. He truly doesn’t understand why something small and furry isn’t on the list of animals he’s allowed to hunt. Sam is good at what he does and he possesses a drive born through deprivation and cruelty. Sam will not make peace with small mammals in this lifetime, but perhaps it is enough he has come to love humans again, and to trust as well as he can.
Everyone I know who I talk to about Sam will listen carefully and attentively, and after I’m done they smile and say, “Mike, you cannot have a cat around Sam.” I know it’s true, and I know they are right, but I miss cats.

I miss the sound of a deep purr. There is something incredibly soothing inherent in a deep purr. Oh the surface purrs are fine but to have an incredibly happy cat lying on your chest making that purring noise coming from the very pit of the cat is narcotic. The rising and falling of that sound is audio contentment incarnate. All of life’s worries and woes can be purred away, you know. It not for free, this sound, but can be bought for the price of a good chin rubbing, use both hands please on either side of the face until the cat leans into it so hard she might fall if you moved your away hands suddenly. You know you’ve done a good job when the drool flows. Cats produce deep purrs to tell us when we’re doing the job people are supposed to be doing when they aren’t feeding cats.

I miss the surprise of cats. I reached for a blanket one night and discovered Abbi Gale The Cat From Hell had slipped into the closet and somehow managed the very top shelf and managed to nest on the blanket. Abbi was the cat I cohabitated with for years before she left me to be a wild cat. Another difference between dogs and cats is people generally will accept a greater level of violence from a cat than they will a dog. We expect better behavior from dogs and cats have taught us we will bleed if we cross certain lines. A dog might growl and not be serious but a cat is more likely to get into a fistfight with you and never announce there is a problem, unless you can read cat body language. Abbi taught me well.
Abbi was beautiful. Not just pretty, not just a nice looking cat, but Abbi was incredible. She was a pewter colored cat with long hair and a white chest. The white under her chin had a thin line that ran down to her chest, as if she had spilled milk while drinking it out of a mug. Oh, everyone thought Abbi was so beautiful. Abbi didn’t give a damn. She did not like strangers touching her, and you were a stranger for very long time.
“Don’t touch the cat. The cat will claw you, and she will draw blood.”

Is that hard to understand? Is there something about those instruction mystic, or deceptive? People would come over and Abbi would sit on the coffee table, just as she always did, or perch on the back of the sofa. She didn’t feel obligated to move so people would leave her alone. That was her spot, dammit, and why should she move to be left alone? Abbi could get that without some change in her geography.
“Oh! What a beautiful little cat!” someone would say as they walked in and saw Abbi sitting there.
“Don’t touch the cat. The cat will claw you, and she will draw blood.” I would say. I knew better than to swat at Abbi to get her to move. I knew if I relocated her because someone was over she’d rake me for it. All she wanted was to be left alone.
“I’m a cat person” the cat person would say and they would coo and baby talk at Abbi and Abbi would just sit there. “I know how to talk to cats, aren’t you precious, come here and let me… IIIIIEEEEEEEE!”
Abbi wasn’t into warning shots. Abbi went from sitting to war in the time it took for her to swipe at a hand. The first three months we lived together people thought I put up barbed wire fence in my spare time. Abbi and I took quite some time to get used to one another.

But you know what? I miss cats. I still miss Abbi.

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Great First (and Last ) Annual River Raft Race Of Early County Georgia

The First and Last Annual Early County Great River Raft Race was held in the Summer of 1979, as I best recall. I used the phrase "as I best recall because it was a long time ago, when I was a teenager, and I smoked a lot of pot. I also drank a lot but because drinking was more or less socially acceptable for any male over the age of ten, no one thought much of it. To his credit, my father tried to find ways to bring the family together, but he was too high strung to really enjoy anything for the sake of enjoying it. Building the raft was supposed to be some sort of male bonding thing for he and I but nothing I did was right when it came to building so he wound up male bonding with the my older sister's husband to be instead, and I'm pretty certain that didn't take. For that matter, neither did the marriage, but that's another story.

The raft was a fairly crude and simple device; four very large cubes of Styrofoam tied to two pieces of plywood. There was supposed to be a sail, and that was my father's secret weapon, but he wasn't much of a sailor having never sailed before. For all the work they out into it, the craft looked all the world like four very large cubes of Styrofoam tied to two pieces of plywood. "Streamlined" was not a word that leapt into the mind at the sight of this craft. "Build for speed" was not one of the comments made about this boat. "Titanic" and "Gilligan's Island" and "Wear life vests" were some of the things that were said. It wasn't very pretty at all, but I was reasonably sure it wasn't going to sink. Dammit.

The night before the big event, someone, and I say someone because I have no idea if there is some sort of statute of limitations on this sort of thing, took down all the signs leading to Odom's landing, where the race was to be held. These drunken and stoned vandals not only took all the signs down but they also stole the events signs that had been put in place the day before. Odom's landing isn't very easy to find if you aren't from Early County, and there were plenty of truly pissed off sponsors of the event who had to rush around and put up signs, and some of the out of town people, I think four or five, who got lost. This was long before cell phone, or GPS, and being most of the lost drivers were men, timelessly, they would not stop and ask for directions.

I was hungover, no, considering I had stopped drinking just hours before, I was likely still very drunk, and wanted to opt out because I had a very busy night but my father was ready to go at the first hint of daylight. It was always like that. No matter where we went or what we did we were always running late. Even if it was just a trip downtown the man acted like Jesus was on fire, and we were the last people on earth with water. The longer the trip, the more time in advance we had to leave, lest someone else get there before we did, or worse of all disasters, we were actually late. Almost always my father got to where we were supposed to be better than an hour ahead of time. I spent most of my childhood waiting for something to happen because we were always early, no matter what we did. Generally speaking, being very early doesn't impress people. It pisses them off. But that too is another story. We were the first rafters to get to the landing, so we watched the others come in. It wasn't pretty. Some people had built very elaborate rafts only to discover getting them to the landing was half the fun…or not. The road back to Blakely was littered with pieces parts of rafts that had blown off and the twenty mile stretch of River Road looked like the world's longest shipwreck.

Building a watercraft that will not sink when placed in water isn't easy. Things that float, when connected to others things that float, sometimes will not float. Things that float connected to things that float sometimes will float while connected but won't float when boarded by human beings. Floating things are not necessarily things a human, or a group of humans, can navigate down a river. Do you see where this just might resemble a flotilla of fools rather than a fleet? One man had tied a bunch of logs together and made a Huck Finn type raft, and it did look good. But he made it out of green logs and they didn't float so well with his little hut on top. Moreover, something tied securely on land will behave much differently when wet and the logs came apart from their lashings. The little hut sank into the waters of the Chattahoochee River and was never see again. Now we had a variety of calamities as each person discovered the lack of seaworthiness of their craft, and to make it more interesting, there were loose logs floating around from Huck's bad luck. A group of middle school kids had conned their parents into making a raft in the shape of a school bus. Long is bad, in water, and the school bus raft quickly became a short bus raft as the pieces broke apart. A man who had welded a metal bathtub to two steel pontoons had the right idea, and he even had a battery operated propeller sealed in a box underneath it. But the Tubtanic partially sank and turned over so all that was sticking out of the water was the propeller, and it spun around threatening to decapitate anyone who got near. Repeated diving attempts to turn the damn thing off failed, and so there this thing was, the Darwinian Device destined to hum along issuing death to any rafter who didn't adapt. The owner finally threw one of Huck's logs into the blade. Pieces of splintered log, broken propeller, and the man's pride and dignity went flying everywhere. But it did stop the spinning death. The starting time was moved as to allow the engineers in the group to try to right their ships, to somehow raise the dead, or merely collect the pieces as they slowly, and sadly, drifted away. It was not an auspices beginning.


 

Arrrrgh! Part two tomorrow, you scurvy dogs!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

DNR

I know that limp. I know the empty ring finger. And that obsessive nature of yours, that's a big secret. You don't risk jail and your career to save somebody doesn't want to be saved unless you got something, anything... one thing. The reason normal people got wives and kids and hobbies, whatever, that's because they ain't got that one thing that, that hits them that hard and that true. I got music. You got this. The thing you think about all the time. Thing that keeps you south of normal. Yeah, makes us great. Makes us the best. All we miss out on is everything else. No woman waiting at home after work with a drink and a kiss; that ain't gonna happen for us. House-2005-DNR


Reality escapes me at times. I would very much like to know how reality exists for other people but I just don’t see that happening. I’ve been told there is medication I can take for this, and I’ll find a little more peace in my life, and I’ll fit in better, but the people I know taking these drugs can’t write like they once did, and they tell me they feel as if there as if some fundamental part of who they are is now missing, or chained. I was like this long before anyone knew there were meds to fix it, and long before I knew I was a writer. I traded off the first three decades of my life for nothing. The last two I’ve traded for writing.

Despite the above quote, I don’t think I’m the best writer on earth. I don’t think I can publish what I have so far. I do think I’m getting there, slowly, and I do think if there is going to be some point in my life when I look back and have regrets, regretting I didn’t write more isn’t going to be that one big regret I have.

Some of you can pull it off, and make it work both ways. You can have that life, the kids, the partner, the sanity, the balance, and all that stuff that some of us cannot get, even if we stopped writing forever. Writing didn’t make me this way and it isn’t reason I can’t be cured, or stilled, or whatever label you feel like using. Creativity is a byproduct of this, and if using it is the price for riding the wave then so be it. For thirty-two years I tired living by rules I didn’t understand. Since then I have come to realize I’m not the only person like this, and in fact, this might actually be more of a natural state than the anesthetized deep sleep of living in a rut.
My biggest problem is I have no idea how much time has passed since I last spoke to the people I care about and who care about me. I keep the ringer on the phone in the off position most of the time, and suddenly I’ll look over at answering machine and there will a message or two from the family and I’ll think about it. Damn, it’s been a couple of weeks already. My parents’ friends are all dying. It’s always the same story; everyone dies of the same thing all over again. These are people who played by the rules, lived their lives in a town of five hundred people, the same five hundred people, and who died the same way the last five hundred people died. I hope I don’t sound callous or cold here but this has been going on for a while now.

I enjoy the company of my family and my friends, but I also like being alone. I like being around people who write. My family doesn’t know I write simply because some of the things I’ve written, like this, would hurt their feelings. Who and what I am is pretty much ignored when I’m around my family, and we pretend because I can hold down a job for a long time, that makes me normal. At least the talk of me procreating has finally died. My younger sister never had kids either, but she never had the burden of being the last male in the family. DNA, as it turns out, is carried by the female side of things, so in the end, it really doesn’t matter what I have done or not done. But really, does even matter at all?
The having kids thing never hit me. I knew a perfectly sane woman who was willing to sleep with me as long as it took to get pregnant. If I married her that was okay, she could live with that, and if I didn’t that was okay, too, as long as she got pregnant before she was thirty. To her, thirty was the cutoff point, that point in a woman’s life, at which if you have not procreated, you were going to be barren forever and ever. The fact safe sex is also sterile sex prevented any offspring but it was odd how she kept pushing , no pun intended, to have a baby with a man she truly couldn’t say she would want to be with otherwise.
See, that’s the thing right there; people seems to find some excuse to stay with someone, or around other people, or to remain a part of some group, and my life operates in the opposite manner; I keep finding excuses not to be with someone, or around other people, or a part of some group. Don’t think I haven’t tried, I have, but do you want to know the moment, the instant, and very second I realized my life was going to be like this forever? When I was five years old. Even then, I was me.

I remember standing on the playground, watching the other kids play, and realizing I was the only one not in a group, or playing some game, or standing around talking to other kids. Somehow, I had managed to drift apart from the other children, and I stood alone on a pile of dirt left over when they installed a gas line for heating. There were the girls playing hopscotch, with two of the very prettiest who would one day lose their minds and be institutionalized. There was a line of boys playing crack the whip and three of them I can remember would be dead within a year of graduation. There was the poor kids lined up beside the brick wall of the school, and one of them would spend more of his life in prison than he has out. The older kids in the other grades had their areas, and they were all screaming and running around, and the teachers were huddled together smoking cigarettes because back in the 60’s everyone did, and then there was me. I stood on the mound of dirt left over from the installation of the gas line, and knew, truly knew, if I lived long enough, this day would come, and it has, every single day of my life.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, March 15, 2010

Snakes And Karma

Over the last few decades I have rescued hundreds, maybe even thousand of snakes. Mostly the rescues are relocations, from out of the road to a more favorable environment, but people have called me to come get snakes out of their yards or houses, and people have called me to indentify dead snakes. I have, in my younger days, waded into a snake killing to rescue the snake, and on at least three occasions bare handed a rattlesnake to keep it from being killed.

I've been cussed at, threatened, had a gun pointed at me on two different rescues, had someone blast away at a snake I just released ( he missed) and have nearly been arrested once. I've been told too many times to count I was insane, and likely it's true just not for the reason the serpent-phobes suspect.

But if you really and truly feel as if there isn't anyone going to get within knife range of you, hold a six feet long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake in one hand and an open bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. They may cuss and scream and call you all sorts of horrible names, but the bastards will be backing up as they do.

I haven't killed a snake since 1979. A cottonmouth took a shot at me while I was holding a shotgun and my reaction was less than polite. Since that day I've stopped and helped every snake I've been able to help, and I will not under any circumstances kill a snake, even if he's loaded and in my yard. I will relocate it. I will flip it over the fence into the pond. But I am not going to kill a snake.

Mostly I believe you ought not kill what you cannot eat when it comes to animals a step up from insects. I believe that we should make more effort to live with nature, and not kill everything that freaks us out. I believe if I live this way, nature won't much give a damn if I do or I don't, and I am as likely to get zapped by a hot snake as anyone else out there, except I can see them better.


 

Honestly, if you believe in any sort of Universal comeuppance I truly have it coming. I beat the Laws Of Averages like a rented mule for a very long time and did things no sane or sober person would do. I've caught rattlers when I wasn't sober enough to stand upright. A man in Lakeland Georgia was bitten by a rattlesnake and when he got to the hospital they asked him how he got bit on his left hand, "I was holding a beer in the right." Most people think that is one weird story. I understand it perfectly.

I quit catching rattlesnakes with my hands about fifteen years ago when they started making faster snakes. Since I quit drinking and driving the opportunity to catch hot snakes while drunk have narrowed considerably.


 

Nature doesn't give a damn about any of this. It isn't good or bad, it simply is. Nature lives the way nature lives and how I live doesn't buy me any leeway when it comes to my fine fanged fellows. But this is the way I have chosen to live. This is the way I have always wanted to live. Long ago, when I asked people why they killed venomous snakes near their homes they would tell me when I got a place of my own I would kill snakes too. I haven't. I won't.


 

I truly and honestly fear one day I'll lose a dog to this philosophy but it is no different than losing a dog to traffic. I truly believe I will not be rewarded by nature, or snakes, or by anything at anytime, and I will get not only nothing out of this but I might lose something in the process. Well, what I will get out of this is living the way I think I ought to live. In 1979 I killed a snake who was trying to kill me, and in the aftermath of that one shot I had an epiphany; we do not have to kill snakes. Left alone, they will mostly leave us alone.


 

Accidents happen. I accept that. I accept one day a tree limb might fall from an Oak and kill me or one of the dogs. I accept my neighbor might accidently fire a gun one day and kill me or kill one of my dogs. I accept one day the risks I accept will harm me in some way, be it living beside a pond with Kitty Cottonmouth, or eating pork. I do what I can to minimize the risks, but I accept there is so much I can, and cannot do.


 

I won't try to explain to you how beneficial snakes are because education is lost on those who are terrified. I won't bore you with the stats that say you are much more likely to be murdered by a family member than even so much as bitten by a snake. Honestly, it's mostly a waste of my time to try to educate human beings when it comes to snakes. I might as well spread the good news about atheism at the next Baptist convention or try to teach Americans the metric system.


 

If I get bit by a venomous snake, or one of the dogs get bit, that is my karma. My life and their lives have been twisted together now for over forty years. There are times I should have been bit, times I've nearly gotten bit, and if it happens now that I've mostly stopped the bare hands thing, I had it coming. My dogs get to run free on the better part of two acres of land and I allow them to hunt as they wish, whatever they wish, and with that freedom comes peril. I think Bert knows this, I'm certain Sam does, and The Puppy Lucas…damn, if I can just get him through this next year.


 

Karma. I have accepted life as it is, and I accept the way I live has consequences.


 

Take Care,

Mike

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Loki did find a snake!

Had I only fretted about The Loki Mutt finding the winning lottery ticket…..

What he did find was this…
snakes,white oak snake,juvenile white oak snake

You don’t see anything? This one….

snakes,white oak snake,juvenile white oak snake

It’s a juvenile White Oak Snake making it’s get away up, appropriately enough, an Oak tree


snakes,white oak snake,juvenile white oak snake

snakes,white oak snake,juvenile white oak snake

Last Fire

Tonight is going to be the last fire in the fireplace, and honestly, it is a bit warm for it. But having a fireplace open means soot and ashes, and there is always a fine film of grey dust covering everything when the wind blows. The house always smells like smoke, and I want to get the wood burned, and close the flue. The fact that I like fire does not play into this at all.

There is still a mountain of debris in the backyard that needs torching but the water level in the firepit is coming up, not going down. The Loki Mutt is having a blast trying to catch frog and it is only a matter of time before he tangles with a Cottonmouth. The Elder Mutts pretty much are a little jumpy when it comes to things popping up around them near the ground, but Lucas hasn't learned. If I can just get him through this first snake season and him come out breathing and with all limbs…

All in all the chances of Loki being bitten are small and if he is the chances he will live are good. He's young, strong, and he's got some mass on him. Cottonmouth venom is designed to kill cold blooded creatures like frogs and fish, and the Loki Mutt is running hot. I'm nearly certain Sam would kill anything that attacked a packmate, and I'm equally sure Bert would, too. Bert is better armored with his thick fur, but Sam is a speed merchant. I've seen small mammals make the mistake of underestimating Sam's speed, but never the same one twice. Still, it isn't speed that's a factor but rather quickness, and Luke for all his puppy energy, doesn't understand how quick snakes go from coil to catch.

Yet somehow Bert and Sam both survived being puppies here. Bert as a puppy was as senseless as any mutt I've met and Sam was incredibly fragile when Bert found him. Still, from early on those two have always worked as a team. I'm at a loss to figure out where Luke fits in all this. Maybe he does better when I'm away because I really thought Bert would kill Sam, accidently, before I could get some meat on his bones. I need to stop fretting and realize I've chosen this path and there isn't anything to do at this point but be thankful for the time I have with them.


 

If it wasn't so damn wet; it all comes down to the fact I loaded the firepit with a lot of debris and it flooded before I could burn it off. If I would have sat down to explain to you how to create the perfect Cottonmouth habitat my firepit in its present form would have been a bright shining example of Cottonmouth heaven if not haven. The wading birds which slurp young Cottonmouths down like scaly spaghetti cannot get near the firepit because of the mutts and even if they could the snakes can hide in the debris. Because the firepit is shallow the frogs love it, and because there are frogs there will be even more snakes. I'm fretting again, aren't I?


 

Writers are, as a class, habitual fretters, and there isn't anything we can do about it, is there? Face it, if you have what it takes to put it all down on paper, you've obviously got what it takes to make the hamsters run on the treadmill of your mind, don't you? It cannot be help, don't fret about fretting or not fretting, or you'll lose what little sanity you have left. Show me a writer with time on his or her hands and I'll show you someone who although they claim to have some sort of creative drought, they're cranking out the fictitious personal disasters in their heads like a Jack Russell Terrier with a Starbucks Gift Card.


 

And while we're on the subject for the perfect habitat for serpents, is there a more fertile ground for all the snakes in a person's head than the mind of a writer? Hell, we hope one day someone will pay us to write down what's going on in the snake pit but in the meantime the people around us have got to get used to the idea some of us are running an enforced multiple personality disorder as a hobby. You think the guy who pumps out cesspools for a living has a hard time interacting with the general public, trying explain to someone how you managed to create a story with a all too plausible serial killer as a main character, but you're perfectly fine. Really.


 

The bad news as far as I can tell is this never gets any easier. You will, if you are a writer, continue to fret. Your mind is already running on overdrive, and it will continue to do so until the day you decided to give in and take the meds, or they bury you. Or you get abducted by aliens. I imagine writers are a lot of fun to play with as far as extraterrestrials are concerned. The good news is this doesn't get any easier. Writing is hard work, or rather, writing well is hard work. But it's the kind of work that farmers do, the kind of honest sweat that only those who produce it can relate to in a manner of speaking. No one ever woke up and decided to be a farmer; you either are, or you are not. Writing is like that. Farmers can do everything right, have everything perfect, but still nothing come of the efforts. Too cold, too hot, too dry, too wet, not enough lime, not enough feed, or whatever, because I have no idea what it takes to be a farmer, all I know is it is damn hard work, and the people who do it love it and you will never find a farmer who throws down his pitchfork to become a used car salesman. If you're a writer, you ought to never consider throwing your pen down just because no one reads you, or you aren't selling your stuff, or someone on the Internet told you that you weren't good, or your mind is giving you fits about that person on the Internet who, as far as you really know, is some knocked up fourteen year old in a trailer park in Lower Alabama.


 

Sorry, I was going to talk about fire and got distracted.


 

Take Care,

Mike