Monday, February 28, 2011

The American Public Education System.



It would not be a good thing, if you follow certain logic, to interview the survivors of the Titanic in order to discover what went wrong, and why. Those poor people, it is presupposed, are incapable of objective judgment due to extreme terror and trauma; perhaps to the point their opinions and views might be considered irreversibly scarred by the event, so much in fact as to be useless. Better to leave the sinking up to those who have theories as to what happened, and to those who built the ship, and to those who might explain that this is an isolated incident, and if we just keeping everything the same, no matter the loses, then it is worth whatever we pay to get people from one point to another, cheaply.
            After all, when it gets right down to it, some of the passengers did arrive safely, in a manner of speaking, did they not?
            When I was eighteen months old I experienced a brain injury that may have caused some sort of permanent impairment to my eye hand coordination. I am nearly useless with hand tools to this day. I have no ability at all when it comes to tasks that involve using my hands to shape things, cut things, paste things, or create from any medium when it involves my brain telling my fingers what to do. Because this happened in the early 1960’s there was no way to discern if there was any damage, the degree of it, or if in fact that was the reason for my inability. This is just my theory, mind you. This is my explanation of events, because I have learned to reject the others.
            Because I was born in November, I started the first grade when I was still five. I could read at that point, and write, some, and was ahead of most children in what I knew academically. My older sister had exploded out of the gate when she started school and went on to be a straight A student for life. My problems began with writing.  The Early County School System demanded that all children in the first through the third grades use these gigantic pencils that were more like small clubs than writing tools. My hands were small, nearly tiny, and I could not wield the giant pencils at all. The instrument that you see above this essay was once used to draw lines on the chalkboards that lined each of the classrooms in our school. The teacher would draw the lines and then tell us what to write, and if you got far enough behind you had no idea what to write on the next line. If I kept up with the rest of the class what I wrote would be illegible. If what I wrote was legible I would be three lines behind, and hopelessly lost. The punishment for bad writing or getting behind was the same; a spanking with a wooden paddle and public ridicule. The ridicule same in the form of the teacher passing my papers around so the other children could, and would make fun of me. There was also the chair in the corner which had my name on it, and there was recess, which I was forced to sit out, and there was the never ending tirade from the teacher who sought out one child in the class to make an example of, and I was that child. This was in the day when the teacher was always right, and my parents were mere bobble headed dolls who nodded and rubber stamped anything and everything any teacher suggested short of decapitation.
            My daddy died when I was ten. My father is still alive today, but when I was ten the man who I so looked forward to seeing at the end of the day was replaced by someone who was going to continue the abused fostered on me by the school system. Beatings and ridicule and deprivation were going to make a better student out of me. They only had to figure out how hard to hit me, how often to hit me, what to take away from me, and who to make fun of me in front of often enough, until I woke up a better person for it. I spent a great deal of my childhood locked away in my bedroom with nothing but books. I spent a great deal of my childhood shut away from the rest of the world because this would teach me to be a better student. I spent a great deal of my childhood avoiding my father because he had bought into the idea that I could be a better student of only he could figure out what form of torment was the key.
            I got drunk  for the first time at school. I got stoned for the first time at school. I gave up on life at school. The American Public Education System taught me I could not learn and they taught me I had no value because I could not learn. The American Public Education System taught me that only certain people would be rewarded in life and I would never, ever, be one of those people. From the first grade until I staggered across the finish line and was given a diploma, each and every school year was filled with physical punishment, ridicule, and deprivation. But I did learn how to drink. I learned how to smoke pot. And I was taught I would never write.
            So! Here we are today, decades later, and someone would like for me not to be so mean and angry about all of this. As damaged as it is, I am told, it is still better than nothing at all. Well as it turns out, that is what I got out of it, and here we are, decades later, and it is I who is writing.
            It is my thoughts that we ought to totally abolish The American Public Education System from top to bottom. We should not spend another dime on it. We should let those who can afford to send their kids to private schools do that, and everyone else has got to find some way to do it on their own.
            For you see now, decades later, this is what I have done, and now, I am the one doing the writing, I have come back to tell my story of a sinking ship. If it is a good tale, told properly, then you must admit there is some truth in my words, regardless of the trauma. If it not, then my words are still true, aren’t they?

You wish this debate with me, well and good, but we shall have it here. You want to know who and what I hate, grab a beer, my friend, because I have not run out of hate in decades. I was on that ship, I was not allowed a life raft, but here we are, and it is I who is doing the writing now.

“I aim to misbehave.”

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pop Goes The Culture

Honestly, I am so out of touch with popular culture it sends me spam email just to keep in touch. All I really know about Justin Bieber is she is some sort of lesbian singer who looks a little like a guy. It’s hard to tell sometimes. I haven’t heard her sing, and I do not want to hear her sing, but have heard Britany Spears sing and wish I hadn’t. Why Ms Spears is still hanging onto her share of the spotlight is beyond me, but if she and Lindsey Lohan ever share the same cell, I for one, will be tuning in.
            I am totally at a loss to explain Lindsey Lohan. All I really know about her is she’s a natural redhead and that would account for most of the other stuff I hear about her. She doesn’t sing, hasn’t been in a movie since she was a kid, has been arrested more times than Snoop Dawg has smoked too much pot, and for some reason, she’s still famous. Where does she get the money to act the way she does? Who is footing the bill for her lifestyle? She’s not a bad looking woman but damn, how good in bed could she be? Nevermind, some guy up north sent two hundred grand to a woman he never met before.
            I do know who Charlie Sheen is. I saw him in “Platoon” back a few years and thought did well in it. He hasn’t really done very well in much big screen stuff since that time but he’s had a show called “Two and a half men” for a while and people tell me it was good up to the point Charlie Sheen went over the deep end. Clearly there is a double standard here. If Lindsey Lohan can still be famous while behaving badly, what on earth has Sheen done to deserve to be de-famed? I would look it up but I just do not have time to care about rich people who throw it all away. There are far too many of them to count.
            The great thing about digital music is I never, ever, have to listen to commercial radio again. Someone at the gym was talking about how some woman named Rhiannon had forgiven Bobby Brown for beating her up and I wondered if she hadn’t heard what he did to Whitney Houston? If he will do it to someone else he will do it to you, and that goes for a laundry list of offences from cheating to beating. Famous or not, a man that will hit a woman on a regular basis will hit any woman he has a relationship with, because unless he is arrested, or has the shit beaten out of him for doing it, mostly the only thing men learn from hitting women is the women will put up with it, time and gain.
            There was a show called “Ugly Betty” but I have never watched it either. I’ve seen the first “CSI” show but none of the spin offs. I’ve never watched “American Idle” “Dancing with the Scars” or any of the get kicked off the island shows. There is a bevy of actors, both male and female, who I have no idea who they might be because I haven’t watched television that doesn’t include the History Channel or the Discovery channel, or Netflix. There is a guy at work who will, in minute detail, whether you want him to or not, describe a television show he likes, so I have heard of some of these programs, but really. A thirty minute show is going to have ten minutes of commercials so everything that happens has to happen in twenty minutes or less. Sound bite drama or comedy is going to be as satisfying as sex that takes that long to perform, and quite honestly, I don’t think you can do anything creative well in less than an hour or so.
            There was something that happened last week that caused a lot of rich and famous people to appear dressed well, or barely dressed at all, and there was a lot of talk about who looked best, or worst, and who looked like they had just been released from the Mother Ship. I am waiting for me to give a damn about this but I think the application failed. Damn not given. I am going to wear the clothes I wear because they function to keep me warm, cool, hidden from the sun, or they have pockets.  That’s about it. No one in Hollywood is going to sell me clothes, unless they’ve got a really cool hat that has a wide brim on it, and it doesn’t make me look that that Barber lesbian in it.
            I’ve more or less given up on sports while I’ve been at it. No one who makes an ungodly amount of money playing a kid’s game ought to pontificating on a damn thing except how lucky they are not to have to work for a living. Yet every season there are those who rape women, do drugs, crash cars, get drunk, and pretty much act like spoiled teens who just aren’t getting their due in life. Yet people still buy tickets, shoes, and anything that is stamped with a name on it so they can have some connection with a person who is going to throw away more money buying off trouble than your average fan will make in a lifetime.


I still think Jodie Foster is hot. I still think Dakota Fanning is creepy. I still think movies are a good way to disconnect from life at times, and I think that the artistic value of a great film cannot be measured in ticket sales. There is, as we speak, a new world of video online waiting to be explored, but is being ignored, because it is free. There is great music to be mined from the net, and there are writers out there who will never beat a woman senseless and then rant about it on television.

You might want to consider the source of your art as well as its quality.

Take Care,
Mike

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mann Oh Amiee Mann

In my life I’ve seen some pretty sad sights. I saw Don MacLean play ‘American Pie” for a couple of dozen bored college students one night in the lobby of a dorm. He was making a couple of hundred bucks a stop, and then moving on to the next gig, playing that one song, and a couple of others, and talking to people about what it was like to have one of the best remembered songs of all time, and then wind up going from small college to small college playing for a couple of hundred bucks a night. Apparently the “One Hit Wonder” circuit is alive and well, and features such famous artists as Tommy TuTone and Meredith Brooks. Forever defined by one song but my what a song, these people go on mini-tours and hope that one day, one night, one more song will come along, and…
            Tina Louise to this day hated Ginger, and it was far later in life than it had to be before she realized the other cast members of “Gillian’s Island” were not to blame for her not being able to get a role in anything that wasn’t making fun of her previous and nearly only role for the rest of her life. The cast of  “The Brady Bunch” and ‘The Waltons” and of course “Friends” have discovered that being well known and well loved as someone can mean you are that person forever. The obits are littered with child actors who were never allowed to grow up or did so and crashed hard, never to be able to reach past that cute little kid everyone loved for so long.
            Of course there are exceptions to this and I am not about to start trading names of those who made it versus those who didn’t. Acting is one thing but music is quite another. This is where the one hit wonder truly has made its way into the language with a vengeance.
            Aimee Mann became famous for a while in 1985 for her song “Voices Carry” She was in a band named “til tueday” and there for a moment in time, Mann looked like the next big thing. But it was that one song, “Voices Carry’ people wanted to hear, and the competition for air space in 1985, as well as video time on MTV was fierce. The big hair and rat tail that was her trademark disappeared, and so did Aimee Mann, at least from center stage spotlights.
           
            I am an unabashed, unrepentant, and undying fan, of Aimee Mann.

Til Tuesday’s three albums are a collection of eighties music but the exception is that most of the songs tell a story of some sort, with very vivid imagery, which would become a trademark in Mann’s songwriting. When Mann broke out solo she continued writing and singing, but with very limited success or exposure. In 1999, Mann sang for the critically acclaimed soundtrack of the movie, “Magnolia” and became somewhat of a cult figure in folk-alt music. Mann’s pure and clean vocals, her ability to tell a story, and the fact that she never quit led a lot of people like myself to become true believers in the woman’s talent.
            I’ve a MP3 player with over eight hours of Aimee Man on it. I’ve all three of the til Tuesday albums on it, and yes this was about the time we all converted to CDs. I’ve got all of her solo stuff there as well as Magnolia. I really like Aimee Mann, believe it or not, and she had provided me with a soundtrack to many a road trip, and to many a memory. Nearly all of her songs are love gone wrong songs, and none are very happy tales, but that is the way life usually is, or at least the way Mann and I see it.
            Her latest CD, “@#%&*! Smilers” offered to us in 2008, begins with “Freeway” a double entendre title for a road and for an inability to accept what is given. Next on the menu is “Star Man” which gives some insight on who inspires Mann, and why. “Star Man: only lasts a minute and a half, but it’s a gripping tale of denial or acceptance. “Looking for nothing” is classic Mann who manages to weave a short story into a song. In “looking For Nothing” Mann tells the story of herself and two friends going to an amusement park, and the results of the trip, all in less than four minutes and the song isn’t rushed at all. “Phoenix” drives in next and hammers home a love lost, but still… “Borrowing Time” reminds that life is short. “It’s Over” is a powerful song, full of incredible images and passion. “31 Today” isn’t supposed to be funny, but I’m fifty. The song has great phrases like, “drinking Guinness in the afternoon/taking shelter in the black cocoon” “The Great Beyond” is a classic Mann song showing off her voice, really. “Medicine Wheel” is a dark and gritty tale of low life loves gone worse. “Columbus Avenue” chides a lover for leaving. “Little Tornado” has one of the best lines, ever…”Little tornado, bane of the trailer park…”  “True believer” is an odd song, but well put together and the same can be said for “Ballentine” which closes the CD out.

            Okay, Aimee Mann and til Tuesday will not be for everyone, and certainly even fewer are going to collect every MP3 every recorded by Mann, even if her version of “The Grinch” really rocks. Aimee Mann is an odd woman, tall, skinny, brooding, and a victim of being the owner of one really popular song, long ago. But Mann is also a lighthouse in the dark for everyone who has never become famous, yet is creative. Neither rich nor famous, Aimee Mann keeps writing songs and singing them because more than fame or fortune, she is her art and her art is who she is. Aimee Mann has a great voice and a witty pen. I recommend her.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, February 25, 2011

If You See Moby Dick On The Path....Kill Him

“We went fishing and had bad luck” is one way to condense Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”. I think the man ought to have cut out a few hundred pages, maybe a bit more, and had a short story without all the details of things that really didn’t have a lot to do with the story, but in this case, perhaps it is the telling of the tale that matters. I liked the book but reading it was like walking one hundred miles to get a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. Even if you are a master at describing the minutia, that doesn’t mean you ought to every single time. I would think that too much is nearly as bad as not enough.
            For those who have never read “Moby Dick” the story is about a fishing expedition gone wrong, but getting there is apparently more than half the fun. Melville’s fish story doesn’t even get near The Great White Whale until the book is nearly finished. Moby plays a bit part in this and his character sits behind stage, smoking and rereading his lines, until he is nearly dead from boredom and a cast of other characters floats back and forth  into action until the story plods along to his part in things. Plods may be too strong of a word, but it was the first that popped into my mind. Thousands of American Lit teachers can’t be wrong, can they? Okay, how many of them have produced good writers?
            The American Public School system is a train wreck. It is day care with tenured employees. The odds of a good writer emerging unscathed from the public school system is pretty much the same as an armadillo emerging from the Interstate without some sort of religious conversion involving a near death experience. It is a quivering mass of jello shaken to and fro by the political will of parents who would rather see their children learn nothing yet receive a diploma than learn something and it cost them a moment of their time away from watching American Idle. Some school systems want to stop teaching science in favor of religion. Some schools systems cheat on tests so their teachers can keep getting raises. Some school systems have a higher pregnancy rate than graduation rate. But the bottom line here is the American Public School System is a train wreck, and it has been for a very long time.
            Things started the slow and execrable decline when teachers began getting degrees in “education” rather than getting degrees in an exact field of study. Once upon a time a person who taught English had to know a few things about the subject, and actually have a love for it, rather than have a degree that allowed them to legally teach that subject. Yet a failed system of education can and will produce failed teachers just as surely as it will produce failed students, even if everyone is issued a degree.
           
I am here to tell you, people, you not only do not need the public school system to teach you how to write, you are likely better off without it.


If you would write what is stopping you? I have a very simple experiment for you, and you can put all your hopes and dreams into this, and by the end of the day you will know if you want to write, or you don’t. Take an index card, a three by five, or a five by eight, or whatever the hell size they come in, or for that matter, get a plain white envelope, get a pencil without an eraser, and write until all available space is filled up. It doesn’t matter what you write or how good it is or if no one else ever sees it. If you can do this you want to write. If you can write because you can, and because you want to write, and because you’ve been given the time to write, and you do write there is no force on earth, not even the American Public School System that can stand in your way.
You may have a teacher who is a good teacher, an honest sort, who knows writing. You will be able to tell if you have it in you, if this person speaks to your Muse. Fear has no place in writing. Hesitancy has no place in writing. If you have a good teacher, and this person speaks to your Muse, then you must, at all costs, tell this person you wish to write, and allow that person to guide you as they may. Be forewarned that writing is never taught, and never learned. You can learn grammar, and you must. You can and you must learn the way your language works. You can and you must learn to write in a manner that is readable to others, but as far as learning how this craft works that will only come if you love it. You must work for it. You have to earn your Muse. It will force you down upon your knees, in prayer or supplication, and from nothing at all but your own will, you must bring forth writing. A good teacher will give you the tools. A great teacher will make you earn them.
The only sure knowledge I had when I left High School with was I could not write. Two years plus the time I spent in the public school system had passed before I tried again. At thirty-two, I began to teach myself writing with no hope of ever anything ever coming of it. I taught myself because I wanted to write. I taught myself because I wanted to be better. I taught myself to write because I owed it to my craft to become a better writer, and I still carry that debt today. Pick up a pen, a pencil, or sit before a keyboard and you will incur that debt also. But know this one thing; no one owes you a damn thing.
You have to work for it.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Fire Hallway

The Summer of 1979 saw my life begin a slow sickening spiral into much worse drug use, and much more alcohol abuse. In July, I was searched by the Sheriff’s Department because the sister of a friend of me ratted on a drug sale I was making. I came within minutes of getting caught with a pound of pot, but they did find me with the money and realized they had just missed. Sarge was beginning to drift away from me because he had finally realized I was truly never sober, and likely stoned. Oddly, he and I got together at his house and played chess once a week, and I always won. No one at work could believe it. This was a mystery that no one could ever unravel. My relationship with my father had always been contentious but after the near drug bust it became downright combative. The only good thing that came of this is I began to mistrust nearly everyone in my life. I isolated myself from my drug buddies and drank more and did more speed.
            One of the tasks we were given by my father was to burn off the windrows, those long lines of dead trees pushed up when the paper mill was clearing land. I liked the fire. I liked the heat. There was something about fire that I understood at a fundamental level. It was alive. It spoke to me. It reached up for heaven and only reached higher when it was dying faster. Sarge was cautious by nature and calm, and once, when we lit one end of a very long windrow, we discovered the other end stretched over a hill and into the woods.
“Oh goddam” I said.
            “Please do not blasphemy the name of the lord when we are about to burn down half of Clay County Georgia” Sarge said very calmly. It took everything we had, and then some to create a fire break in the windrow and as we were setting a backfire, we noticed the wind had shifted, and the fire that was once heading towards us, had backed up on itself, and had gone out.
            There were old houses, sometimes, and we found odds and ends from another era. They pushed down one old house, and part of the side of the house was caught amongst some trees that had been piled up. There was a doll trapped between a piece of wood siding and a tree limb. I couldn’t pull it free, and as the fire came closer I watched the doll burn. I had learned to stay away from the fire, for burning wood can create much heat, but I had also learned my body would adjust. My eyes began to tear up as the face of the doll burst into flames, and fire burned out of the empty sockets. I will remember that image until the day I die.
            It was August, and so hot we almost called off the burn. But it was a different day, a day when the sky was nearly white from humidity and the air so still that even the rising sun seemed to be stuck in place by it. We used firepots to start out fires, and they were metal containers of gas and diesel missed together, and they had a spout that would drip flaming liquid on a meshed in piece of asbestos.  There was a crook in the spout to prevent the fire from backing into the container and causing it to explode, and the mixture we used was mostly diesel which does not explode easily. Sarge began walking down the lee side of a windrow, and I was to walk down the lee of another as to not allow the wind to catch the fire and push it too quickly. We usually set two on fire, waited to see what happened, and then set more as the others burned down. But this was a different day.
            I moved downwind from Sarge, to keep the fire off of him, and I ran as fast as I could down the windward side of a row, spreading the fire as quickly as I could. I was panting when I got to the end, a half a mile away, but the fire had caught, and the still air carried the fire and smoke straight up, but there was an ever so slight breeze. I hit the next row windward, and as fast as I could. The heat from the other fire stoked the second, and created wind of itself. It sucked in air, and as I set the third windrow on its windward side, I could hear the fire as it began to breathe. Fire, when it begins to live, really live, begins to generate air movement. It’s a buzzing, rushing sound that is low like a growl but heavy like a long surf sound. You move, you hear me? You move away from that sound ever you hear it, for that means the fire isn’t of this world anymore, but of its own. You own nothing, not anymore you don’t, for this is fire that isn’t going to stop until it is done with what it is doing.

            I fed it another row, and watched it grow.

            Sarge got to the end of his row, and I am speculating on this, and stopped long enough to see the smoke and flame next to his. He had to realize what I had done, instantly, but just as quickly realized there was nothing he could do. We had talked about doing this, under ideal conditions, and this was nearly what we needed, but he likely stood there and watched, not knowing I was already setting another row, and then another. Finally, Sarge had to realize if I didn’t stop, we truly risked a fire that might not stop.
            The last two rows I lit were raging. Fire will create tornadoes, small spirals of burning air that dancer be between hot spots, and fling burning embers into the air. We had seen these before, but never like the gyres that leapt in the air now. I began the walk between the two rows and realized that there would be a point that I might not be able to go forward, or back. Fire pulled against my skin, and I couldn’t see. I felt my way between the two walls of flame and heard the screaming of wood being torn apart by steam created by the heat. A fire gyre danced in front of me but I could not evade it. The two sides were too close. I felt to the ground and felt fire wash over me, felt the hair on my arms shrivel and die. I stumbled to my feet, and moved down the hallway of fire, trying not to breathe deeply.
            “MIKE!”
I couldn’t hear anything but the roar. I could not feel anything but hell on either side of me. But for the first time in my life, for the first time ever, I was free. Here, in the inferno, was nothing. Nothing! There were no expectations, no demands, no outside world at all, and I, me, the person I was, that was all I had, and all I would ever have, and that moment, if I did not move, if I did not lower my smoking arms which were raised to the invisible and orange flickered sky, and move forward, now, I would not, and it was good, and it was incredible, and I moved forward, with the slight and wispy hair on my face turning to ash.
            “MIKE!”
I opened my eyes and saw Sarge. He was standing at the end of the rows and he was screaming. The heat held him back, the fear stopped him, and he could not believe I was walking down the hallway. I emerged from the fire, and he screamed at me. He took my firepot away from me and just stood there staring. The hair on my arms was gone and my clothes were smoking, but I felt no pain. I felt more alive than I ever had before. I knew they would never let me burn again, and they didn’t. I knew Sarge and I were done, and we were. I knew my father would explode and he did. But I also knew that whatever else may happen, I could, and I would, survive. And I could do it alone, and if I had to do it alone, I would do that too, if that was what it took to survive.

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Fire Hallway: BORT

Have you ever not remembered someone? The Summer of 1979 I remember, and I remember Sarge and his hat, and Spiffy and his nice neat hair and freshly pressed clothes, and I remember Hitch with his flat tone of voice when he was telling truly hilarious stories that snuck up on his listeners like a large monkey with a rubber hammer, but I don’t remember one other minion. I know he was there, and I remember he had sort of an unusual name, but I swear I remember nothing at all about him, except he was snarky before snarly was ever invented. Ghostly, I now dub him, was a lot like my father in he could find fault in everything I did, but he tried to wrap in some smart ass remark that was never funny. “Oh, you finished that task on time for once? Great job in not hurting yourself!” I ignored the hell out of him and maybe that’s why I don’t remember anything about him.
            One of the things my father had tried to teach me for many years was the operation of a standard shift truck. He wasn’t a very good teacher because he was a lot more worried about the clutch on the truck than teaching me how to drive. He acted as if I choked the truck down one more time the clutch would burst into flames and explode, killing everyone in the county who had not already crawled into a bomb shelter once they heard I was driving. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was seventeen because my father told me I was a wreck waiting to happen. Other guys got their licenses on their birthdays or near to it, but there I was explaining to people if I drove I would get into an accident and that was why I couldn’t get a license. Truthfully, nothing made me more nervous than driving with my father in the car. He braced himself for impact at all times and screamed at me if I made a mistake. We went to the beach one time and he harassed me to the point I pulled over and just sat there. He yelled and yelled but I couldn’t move at all. I finally got out and started walking, forcing him to drive. But I was convinced I had zero driving skills and a standard shift, with all those gears and the clutch and all, was just plain beyond me. Ghostly was the one who had to point out, at each opportunity, that I was more or less hobbled in what I could do as Summer help because I couldn’t drive a stick shift.
            One day Sarge and I were eating our sandwiches at lunch and he was sitting n the driver’s seat of BORT, the Big Ole Red Truck we rode out to the various projects we were assigned. He listened carefully as I described my various attempts at driving a stick shift and didn’t say another word about it until it was time to go home. Then he got into the passenger seat and waited. No, I couldn’t drive a stick shift. Then we’ll sit here until you learn, he told me. He sat there as the truck sputtered and choked and died and lurched and smoked, and finally I managed to get it moving forward. Sarge just sat there, serene as a Buddha, and never did more than say, “ I think that might be third, not first, no, that’s second, not fourth, yeah, that’s third, now go up and over, yeah, fourth, you got it, go!” This is the same patient approach I used a few years ago when I taught a nineteen year old how to drive a stick. I told him I was going to get really and truly pissed after he had stalled out fifty times, but he had fifty times before I was getting mad. We started this insane backwards countdown and it was actually funny. At thirty-six, with thirty-five to go, he finally began to get into it. I remembered Sarge at that very moment and whispered, “Thank you “to him.
            It was an odd feeling that day, of riding down the road in the driver’s seat of a stick shift truck. There was something I was told I could not learn, and in less than an hour, I had learned. I was driving BORT down the road, and life seemed incredibly good at that very moment. When we pulled into the yard where the shed was, to unload all the equipment out of BORT, Hitch was there, and he grinned at me driving a stick shift. He liked it. I deftly backed BORT up to the shed door and it was if I had just landed a space craft.
            I was still living in the same house with my father but we didn’t speak if we could avoid it.  I learned never to mention anything that had anything to do with work to him, and had long since learned the phrase “I don’t know” was the safest around. He stomped his way up to my room and said, “Why couldn’t you learn to drive a stick from me?” Not “Gee, congratulations”, or “Glad you learned how” or anything like that, no. He was actually mad about it. He stomped out muttered about me having to pay for the clutch in the truck, but at this point, I realized I hadn’t harmed the truck at all. The next day, Hitch defected away from being a Minion.
            He hadn’t say anything to me about it, but my father told Hitch not to allow me to drive BORT because I would surely wreck the truck. Hitch hadn’t say anything to him, but he and Sarge talked it over, and they decided drive I would. Hitch was an ex-Marince. There was a certain level of integrity that he was going to maintain in his life, regardless, and that was how it was going to be. Ghostly and Spiffy drove up behind us a couple of days later, and that was when things really got weird. Sarge was polite, but reminded them I was an adult, and could drive. If there was a reason for me not to drive, then he would hear it, but if there was not, I would drive. Hitch came up in the middle of all this and told them he had made the decision, and he would take responsibility for what happened, and he would talk to my father. It was the first time in my life anyone had stood up to my father for me.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Fire Hallway: Sarge

My second day of working for the Paper Mill, the Holy Land, The Promised Land, the Land Of Milk and Honey, The Mill, and all those other things that other people called that place where my father worked, started out poorly. They had hired someone else for the same position, so there would be two of us, and more people meant bad things would happen. The introduction of someone else into the mix also meant my father and his minions would either have to co-opt this person into the Grand Scheme of Things and get him to help torment me, or they would have to likewise torment this person, or they could just have this person off somewhere else while I was being tormented individually. The latter of the options was what I was hoping for, actually.
            Sarge had never been in the military but he liked to wear a drill sergeant’s hat, and that in itself was a story. But it soon became clear he was not in on The Grand Scheme of Things, and it was also clear my father’s minions could not treat him the same way they treated me. He was working his way through college as many of the Summer Help men were, and he had already landed a part time job teaching High School during the year. He was far older than I was in many ways even though he was only twenty-three, but he was not that much younger than some of my father’s minions. My father had this very strict code of conduct where I was to address his minions as “Mister” followed by their first name, and I was to only say ‘Yes sir” and “No sir” to them, and I was not to speak to them unless I was spoken to first. Sarge thought all of this was a little too fascist for his tastes and asked me not to refer to him as “Mister Sarge”. My father didn’t like me being on a first name basis with any adult. There are some of his friends who died of old age before I called them by their first names.
            Being outside The Grand Scheme of Things, Sarge’s first clash with the plan was to shake his head at the idea of what they were trying to do in order to get me to build a door for the shed. My father had declared I was to build a door for the shed with the materials and tools found in the shed. The boards were rotted, the nails rusty, and there was an ancient handsaw that Noah had discarded as useless. My father’s minions were used to me saying “Yes sir and “no sir” but Sarge plowed ahead and showed them the boards were falling apart, and the saw, did they want him to bring a power saw from his house, because he didn’t mind if that was the best they could do, really. I think at some point he had to realize something weird was going on, but to try to get someone to build a door with what I had before me was a lot stranger than he felt he could deal with. He brought a power saw from his house, and the minions got us some real boards, and some decent nails. They also decided that trying to use the hinges where the old door was hung wasn’t very smart. In the space of a few moments, Sarge had waded into the minions and produced new boards and I was no longer trying to saw the rotted timbers that had been yesterday’s torment.
            Sarge asked me to cut one of the boards with the saw and I told him I couldn’t. This got a strange look from him, but I explained that power saws were dangerous and I would cut my hand off. This was what my father had told me about power saw, and chain saws all my life. I had never used any tool that plugged in, and I was afraid of them all. Sarge more or less demanded that I use the saw, and to my surprise, it was really fairly easy. My fine motor skills were less than evident, but we managed to get a door built and hung rather quickly. Sarge was the only adult I had ever met who wasn’t a minion. I liked that in a person and I still do. The minions, on the other hand, liked Sarge because he got things done. They had been trained for years to ignore me, and they did, but Sarge never hesitated to tell them that I helped build the door as much as he had.
            I have no idea what was said, or who said it, or when it was said, but after that first day with Sarge things changed a lot around me, at least when it came to The Minions. He was a deeply spiritual man who spoke his mind regardless of who he was speaking to, but he never cursed ( well, there was that once when the rattlesnake tried to get into the truck with us) and he never raised his voice at all. Sarge had a way with dealing with people that was head on without being confrontational. He and one of the Minions, a man named Hitch, seemed to hit it off very well, and Hitch would be our liaison between my father and reason. Much later in the Summer, Hitch would actually flatly refuse to torment me anymore, and my father would get furious with him over it. But Hitch, minion he might be, was also a man who had seen a lot worse than this, and I think the pettiness of it all finally got to him. Spiffy was still in the program, and still liked the idea of the Summer Of Torment, but it would be a very long and very hot Summer, and Spiffy was going to be the least of my worries before it was over with.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Hallway Of Fire: The Shed

A friend of mine walked in while I was getting to go to work, my first day on a new job, and he wondered why I was drinking at seven thirty in the morning. “Never let them see you sober.” I told him. “And they will never know when you’re drunk” It worked pretty well because no other person there ever figured out that I spent most of my time on the job too hammered to do simple math. But I was not required to do simple math. I was mowing grass, painting things, and more or less neck down help. It was great preparation for being in the Army, actually.
            This was a philosophy with a history, actually. I spent most of the time between when I woke up, and the time I walked through the doors of Early County High getting high. I cannot remember a day of High School when I was sober. My senior year is some sort of weird blur, but in the end, I walked across a makeshift stage in what looked like a long black dress and some overweight man whose son would be arrested for sodomizing his own stepdaughter handed me a piece of paper that had my name misspelled on it. Four years of hell for this?
            There was no way I could have ever gone to college at that time. I could barely speak to other people with having this odd feeling the world was about to end. I couldn’t be around other people and be sober. My father’s answer to this was to set me up in the worst possible job he could find, make sure all his buddies could in some way herd me around like a rat in a barrel, and maybe I would wake up one day and realize I ought to go to college. My father’s dream of tormenting me into being a better person was about to be a group effort, a sort of concentration camp style of commercial for higher education.
            The first task I was assigned was to rearrange all the stuff in an old shed into some semblance of order. The paper mill’s forestry division has been using this shed for a dumping ground since the 50’s. There were some old things in there, very neat, but mostly it was just junk. I downed a pint of Black Jack, smoked a joint, popped a hit of speed, and began moving stuff around. There was a burn barrel outside so I torched a lot of old cardboard boxes that had gotten wet, dried out, gotten wet again, and stumbled towards returning to the earth. There were cans and cans and cans of paint that I lined up by color, and these were used to mark trees, and there were of course those neat hand held paint guns that could shoot paint quite a distance. There was a lot of old fire setting and firefighting equipment, but mostly this was where people put stuff when they had no idea where else to put it. I found some nails and a hammer so I hung some of the hand tools up on the wall. All in all, in just a couple of hours I had the burn barrel glowing a nice red color and had a section of the shed totally cleared out. It was time for another joint.
            Whatever else can be said about pot smokers they are terrific workers when it comes to this sort of thing. Throw in a nice alcohol buzz and some good speed, and there wasn’t a shed on earth I couldn’t clean. I stacked five gallon cans of herbicide in one corner, hung old raincoats in another, raked out all the debris from the floor and burned it, and all the while I was working inside a metal shed in June in South Georgia. We didn’t have air conditioning in our home, and I already had spent most of my time outside so I was immune to the heat. The burn barrel belched out thick black smoke, and I imagined it was some sort of conduit from Hell itself, and the more fire and smoke I could bring forth the more evil creatures I was releasing onto the helpless land. At eighteen, I was a very young eighteen. I had no social skills at all, and I was never so happy as when I was off by myself, being left alone, and being able to be buzzed.
            My father sent one of his minions to scold me for my lack of progress. This was a man who as far as I could tell had never gotten his hands dirty in his life. My father’s friends all treated me like I was some sort of ill bred dog, suitable for kicking, and they realized that as long as my father was their supervisor, he could be made happier by their mistreatment of me. Yet even Spiffy, and that was what I called him when he wasn’t around, had to be impressed. He had no idea all the ancient forestry equipment had been stored in the shed, and the marking paint was something they had started to order more of, but here was a goodly supply of the stuff. The hand tools, the shovels, the fire rakes, the axes and bush hooks, were also startling. He had no idea most of this stuff was in the shed at all. Spiffy, even though he was a bit of a weasel, and little more than a fearful little climber in the ranks of the Paper Mill, couldn’t find fault in what I had done. His freshly pressed shirt was getting sweat all over it, and he was going to smell like smoke for the rest of the day, but there inside of that shed was a full days of work done in less than a half. Spiffy wondered aloud if I needed gloves, maybe, and he asked me if I needed any water or anything like that. Spiffy was sweating big inside that shed, and the smoke from the fire barrel was hurting him. Spiffy retreated away from the work, and left me to finish things as I had started. He was very pleased and told me he would come back later with some gloves, and some water. A half hour later my father arrived and berated me for my lack of progress, and wondered aloud at the things burned that might have been some value, and how it was a miracle I hadn’t burned down the shed. This was a pattern that was going to be repeated for the entire Summer, and in the end, my life.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Possession of Stuart Bloom

Stuart woke up and stared at the ceiling. Mary was sleeping at his side and he counted the number of heartbeats he felt in his chest until that number reached one hundred, and then slid out of bed and walked out onto the patio. Mary was pregnant. It seemed too incredible to be true, really, but she was showing, and the ultrasound had floored him. Stuart was going to be a father. Mary was going to have his son, maybe, or a daughter, and there was never a time in his life things seemed to be so perfect and so real. Everything was going as if he was taking part in a fairy tale that had been written to have a happy ending.
            Mary’s father had all but surrendered the day to day operations to Stuart, and Stuart was glad David hadn’t tried to keep control of the company when it was clear to everyone Stuart was much more capable of running the show. The first year Stuart had managed the company had seen profits soar over fifty percent higher than David’s best year. David knew a good thing when he saw it and had started easing out of the big chair and into retirement. Stuart had always dreamed of making a six digit salary for a living and now seven wasn’t impossible. His son would never have to go through the years of hard work Stuart had, and this world would be his one day. Mary had fretted about having enough money to have a baby just a year ago and now, and now, she was thinking of having another in a couple of years, and Stuart wanted nothing less than to give Mary everything she had always wanted. She had wanted him when he was nothing at all but a young man with a big dream and now, and now, he was rising up so fast, so far…

But.

Stuart wondered why no one had seen him, and he wondered why no one had come looking for him. It had been two weeks. He was safe. He had to be safe. David was a lot of things, but the man did set up a decent security system for his family. Their house was no Fort Knox, but at the same time, anyone who wanted to get close would be seen. Wouldn’t they? Stuart wondered how bad it was, and how good his defenses were. His driver was good. The man had been with David for nearly twenty years. The domestics were good people and all of them had been in the family in one way or another for a while now. But the police were of a world of their own, and Stuart wondered if they would take his silence as a sign of he being willing to trade that silence for peace for his family. Nothing had happened yet. Nothing would happen, or it would have by now. Wouldn’t it? Stuart lay back in a lawn chair and drifted off to sleep.
            “Baby?” Mary stood over him, and lump sticking out over her panties and Stuart knew he had never seen any woman so beautiful. “Baby tell me what’s wrong.”
            She knew. Mary knew, and of course she knew, but he could not tell her this. He lifted her up off her feet and she squealed like a little girl, and he took her into the bedroom and laid her on the bed very gently, and he could feel the muscles in his back protesting. She was getting heavier by the day, and Stuart knew he would have to do something about that thing that hung over his family’s head.
            Stuart has never spoken at any length to Marshall, but he was one of David’s oldest and most trusted advisors. He had always gotten the feeling that Marshall didn’t like him, but Marshall never said a word that wasn’t needed, and the man knew his place. Marshall deferred to him in every way, except in legal matters, and his advice wasn’t suggestions to be considered lightly. Marshall never spoke unless he had something to say, and David has seen strong men wilt under Marshall’s glare as if they knew something about the man he did not.
            “Who have you told this to, Stuart?” Marshall looked at him with those dark eyes, and Stuart felt the first feelings of fear, true fear, the type of fear that mattered. Marshall had the mustache of a walrus and Stuart had regretted getting high with Mary and lying in bed with her and making fun of this man. Stuart felt sweat form on his back and soak through his shirt.
            “No one.” Stuart was proud he didn’t stutter. “No, not Mary, if that is what you’re asking.”
            “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to David, this company, or Mary.” Marshall said. “I want you to know that. “ Marshall leaned back in his chair. “You were right to bring this to me. There isn’t a way to know if they saw you. They may be waiting until this has blown over before they…do something. We can’t allow that possibility. I’ll get a team ready and depose you properly, and get Michaels and his people to put some serious security around The Old Man, and get Mary the hell out of the country. We’re lucky I still have some friends up in the capital with the Attorney General’s office who owe me.” Marshall stood up and extended his right hand. “You’ve got a lot more guts than I thought you did. I’m sorry I underestimated you, sir.”
            The weeks that followed Stuart never went anywhere without two of Marshall’s men with him. The other managers at the company treated him like he was a mob boss or some sort of dangerous creature. The word “Sir” was spoken now with more respect than he had heard before. Marshall, who had all but ignored him unless he had some business to discuss, made it a point to greet him in hallways and opened doors for him, as Stuart had seen him do for David. Stuart missed Mary, but she had been whisked away, quickly and quietly, and Stuart was a little surprised she had agreed to go. But now, suddenly, the people around him were not just following his directions, they were obeying orders. Stuart threw himself into his work, as a distraction from the trial, and one day Marshall walked through the door and smiled at him.
            “We got a guilty plea from Charleston” Marshall said. “He’s turned evidence in exchange for a ten year sentence, no parole.”
           
            Stuart sat with his son on his knee and tried to get the lad to blow out the candles. David, named after his grandfather, was more interested is watching the people come and go, and the light of the camera. This was David’s second birthday, and Stuart knew that Marshall had something to tell him. The man was huge, but nearly invisible wherever he went. He blended into the party crowd, and for the millionth time he thanked whatever gods there were, that Marshall was there whenever he needed him. He eased David over to Mary and went out onto the patio. He knew Marshall would follow, and in a few moments, he did.
            “Charleston died in prison today, Stuart.” Marshall told him without any sort of emotion. “A lifer shanked him in a fight.”
            “Wow” it was all Stuart could say.
            “I have something to ask you, and I want you to know that new security system we installed excludes any sort of electronic eavesdropping, unless the CIA is out there.”
            “Yes, Marshall, of course, anything, and you know that.” David couldn’t believe it. Did Marshall have someone killed to protect him from a threat that wouldn’t get out of prison in eight years?
            “Those hack jobs hired by those cops that were masquerading as the defense team where a bunch of idiots, Stuart, but I am not.” Marshall said. “I want you to know that.”
            “I do know that Marshall, what on earth…?” Stuart was floored by the accusation.
            “You weren’t even there, Stuart.” Marshall continued. “You never saw the murders. You and Mary checked out of the hotel on a Sunday, and your credit card receipts and cell phones say that you were back here in Baltimore on Monday.”
“That’s right.” Stuart stammered.
“The murders happened Monday morning.” Marshall said. “You weren’t there.”
“But I saw them, I did, I saw them kill those men.”
“No, Stuart, you didn’t.” Marshall said. “I have no idea how you got all the details right, but you were not there.”



            “I remember those murders.” Colleen said. “Two of those cops got life without.” She stood up and paced. “What are you telling me, they didn’t commit the murders, they were possessed, this guy…Stuart…he was possessed, just what?”
            “You are a detective, Colleen, you tell me.”
            “The cops confessed, I remember that. So they did do it, but if that guy wasn’t there…I don’t understand what you’re telling me.”
            “That is what I tell you.” 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cheap Bastard

You can’t be a cheap bastard and do cocaine, unless of course someone loves you muchly, and wants to give you cocaine. The odds of someone being a cheap bastard and being loved muchly is pretty much zero from what I can tell, and it wouldn’t be something I would pay for anyway, but I’m a cheap bastard. That would explain why I never did much cocaine. I tried it one time and it cost me two hundred bucks, and damn nearly my life. I went with a woman to buy some cocaine for an acquaintance of mine, and the woman and I did all of the cocaine. The only reason my acquaintance did not kill me was to collect the money the following Friday. The experience with the woman and the coke could not negate the experience of knowing there was someone who would kill me if I did not come up with some money. From that point to this day, I am a cheap bastard, and I have not done cocaine since.
            I knew what coke cost back in the 1980’s when it was America’s Drug, and I knew Greg wasn’t making the money it took to do coke. He sold me an aquarium set, with the under gravel filter, hood, lights, air pump, wrought iron stand, and a ton of accessories for twenty-five bucks, but I had to get it out of his apartment. The water was a very thick green color and the water was very thick. What Greg did not tell me was there was a live catfish in there who was about a foot long, and there was also a giant bullfrog in there as well. The frog came out of the thick and terrified me, and the catfish thrashed in the scummy stuff and covered me with green. Both were released unharmed into the wild.
            Greg’s life was measured in units of one hundred dollar increments. I can’t remember how much coke a person could get for one hundred bucks but that was the smallest amount anyone sold. Selling the aquarium was one quarter of the way there, and Greg knew it. He sold his room mates’ television one day and he had to move in with his girlfriend who kicked him out when he sold some of her jewelry. He moved into his girlfriend’s mother’s garage, and I remember the day she kicked him out of there for having a yard sale while the woman was at work. Greg showed up at my place looking for a home, but I told him I could not live with a person who stole and smelled funny. I asked him when the last time he had a shower and he couldn’t remember. Could I loan him a few bucks for a shower? He looked hopeful when he asked, but I wasn’t giving money to a coke head. I am a cheap bastard.
            Greg bounced from job to job while living in an abandoned house. He would work long enough to get one paycheck, and borrow money from the people at work, a five spot here, a sawbuck there and on payday Greg would quit the job, go get some coke and some beer, and he would party until it was all gone. This was usually a day, maybe two at the most. Eventually Greg began to run out of people he knew who would let him into their house or apartment much less loan him money. The local pawn shops stopped doing business with him because everything he brought in was stolen. The end came when Greg stole a car, rammed a local liquor store to break in, and stole a lot of hard liquor. They found him a day later, in a culvert, nearly passed out, and very unclean. I heard he did some hard time, and that was the last I would ever hear of him, I thought.
            He didn’t recognize me, but I saw him one day working for a contractor that was pouring concrete curb. This was a man who was once going to college but decided to major in cocaine instead. He was doing shovel work, getting worn out for it because he was no longer young, and wasn’t doing a very good job at all. The superintendent told me the new guy, meaning Greg, was one of those halfway house people the government would put in jobs trying to get them out of the prison system, but the man was nearly hopeless. Greg’s body was weak from years of drug abuse, and years of living in prison. The fast paced life of a construction job was confusing to him, and frightening as well. He stumbled his way through an hour’s worth of work while I watched, and I wondered how someone got to this point of living.
            I asked the Super how half way house people worked out, and he said they rarely did, and were even more rarely worth the risk. This one, he said as he rolled his eyes, had tried to borrow money from everyone on the site, and finally had to be told to stop. Worse, he panhandled during lunch for cigarette money and the other guys made fun of him. One of the other men had penciled in a “not” by the “will” on his “Will work for food” sign and everyone thought it was funny. Still, the Super told me, it was surprising how much money a man could make in thirty minutes doing nothing but holding up a cardboard sign.
The next day Greg was gone, and the Super told me someone had offered him a job doing some yard work and Greg had rode off with the man, which was a violation of his parole. The Super didn’t report him right away, but when Greg hadn’t shown up for work the next day, he did call the Sheriff’s Office. The project was over in a week or so, Greg was still missing, but no one really cared. He would show up again in a robbery gone wrong, a funny internet story about a dumb crook, or just another homeless person who died in a ditch. There, but for the propensity towards being a cheap bastard, goes I.

Take Care,
Mike 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Snakes Awake

The person I have been working with as of late is a large human being. He is a gentle giant, yet a giant he is. This is the type of person you want on your side in a bar fight, and he’s the type of person most people aren’t going to get into a fight with if they can get away from him. I was a hundred yards away from him and then suddenly he was right up on me.
            “Snake” he told me.

            Ah, just so.

            It’s snake season again here and that means my stock just went up. All winter long people tend to forget the snakes are merely sleeping, not dead. The first to come out of hiding are the semi aquatic snakes and that means the Cottonmouth has arisen. They have a reputation of being aggressive and fast. The truth is they can be aggressive and they are quick. Closer to the truth is they fight hard but generally will slip away unnoticed if given the chance. The Cottonmouth, in my opinion is misunderstood and maligned for few good reasons. I stepped on one last June and if the critter had wanted me dead, dead I would be, or at least bitten. A four foot long Cottonmouth is large enough to deliver a bite that could be fatal. I’m a good forty minutes from a hospital. This isn’t going to be pretty.
            So he let me live. I let him live. People think I’m nuts for walking away from an animal that is that dangerous, and not twenty-five feet from my house at that. This is a conscious decision on my part to live in a world in which I wish to live. This does not mean I will not be bitten the next time I step on this snake. This means I wasn’t bitten this time. This means I won’t kill an animal that had a chance to kill me, and did not, for reasons I cannot explain.
            “Mike, there’s a snake over there.”
            I get that, you know. People call me for snakes. People come to me for snakes. Some of them have no desire to get close enough to a snake to kill it. Some people won’t kill an animal out of hand, for various reasons. Some people care enough about me to allow me a chance to save a snake. People generally do not understand this in me, or anyone else, but they do understand that killing snakes upsets me, and there are kind people who do care about me, and will let me save a snake when I may. I think it odd, the same people who think I am nuts for saving snakes will also facilitate me saving a snake. Not all people, mind you, but a few. So few.
            The Gentle Giant is such a human being. He doesn’t kill the snake not because he doesn’t want to kill it, but because he knows I wouldn’t like it. I flip the snake into the woods near where we are working and he doesn’t say anything about it, except he thinks the snake didn’t seem to mind me picking him up, albeit with a shovel. He believes the snake and myself shared some sort of conversation before the snake’s flight into the woods. This is a man with some education, and intelligence, not a superstitious hick.
            In all good truth, most people who are afraid of snakes are not superstitious hicks, and I’m sorry if I come across as someone who thinks anyone with some totally irrational fear is a superstitious hick who is a matchstick and beer away from burning a witch. Yet just to get here, at this point, where I know people who rather do something nice than destroy a harmless creature out of hand, has taken me decades. In those decades it has been like trying to talk people into becoming atheists, or using the metric system, or telling them their mothers cause warts in newborn children if they say the word ma’am to her. In those decades I have never known one person to die of snake bite.
            Of course people do die of snake bite, but it happens about once a year in the Southeast. People die of lung cancer but you never see a gang of people beating a tobacco plant to death and feeling all manly about it afterwards. People die in car wrecks but you don’t see other people dragging the offending driver out and beheading him, but if that caught on you’d have fewer stupid drivers one way or another.
            There are people out there, and I am one of them, who think Breed Specific Legislation is as stupid as laws get. Pits and Rotts are good people, if they are around good people. Nearly always, 999999 out of 1000000 times a dog problem is an owner problem. Yet people blame the dog. This is like taking a car to the pound after a wreck to see if it’s dangerous. The fear of snakes is very much like this. Give me a pit and I’ll give you a dog that thrives on love, loves to give kisses, and who incidentally, will fight, kill and die to protect his family.
            You would wouldn’t you?
            Snakes are far simpler. They eat. They breed. They try not to be eaten. All you can truly hope for in a snake’s life is to be ignored. If you are not food, aren’t trying to eat them, and aren’t matching profiles with them on Match dot com, you’re not going to get bitten. You can, because I have, live in peace with venomous reptiles and be safer than driving to work with some of the people out there who will swerve trying to run over those snakes.
            I have no illusions about converting the fearful into those who are not. In nearly four and a half decades of effort, I’ve seen more people converted to the Metric System for Gay Satanist Nazis who love Disco than I have snake haters to snake lovers. But there is always the next four and a half decades.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Traffic To Traffic

Me: I wish I had some sort of weapon that would sling a piece of metal through someone’s engine block every time they did something stupid in traffic.
Friend: You couldn’t afford the ammo.


            The highlight of my paternal grandmother’s life was watching the traffic in front of my father’s house in Blakely Georgia. She was from the generation of the early 1900’s who thought a woman’s life was over once she was done raising kids and burying husbands. I remember wondering why she watched traffic, just sat there and stared out of the window at the cars and trucks on the road in front of the house, and honestly, there really wasn’t that many back then, and there aren’t that many these days either, but she would sit there for hours and watch. “Just watching the world go by” she would tell me if I asked what she was doing.
            I saw a woman today who was smoking a cigarette in her car with a kid in the backseat. She had the window rolled down, and I wondered if she had ever ridden in the backseat of a car with a smoker up front. If the smoker flicks ashes out of the window sometimes the ash flies back into the backseat, and it is hot. She was wearing a baseball cap, turned backwards, a lot of make-up, and rocking her head back and forth to thumping music. She likely isn’t what my grandmother was thinking about when she was watching traffic.
            There is a certain breed of people who will put their car in park when they come to a traffic light. These people cannot be defined by age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or blood alcohol content. They simply are. They exist independent of the rest of the known universe. Invariably, they will forget they have done this. Wait for it, wait for it, GREEN LIGHT! They’ll floor it trying to move, realize they are a Parker, and then slam it into drive, I watched a guy in an ancient Cutlass ( is there any other kind) park then freak out, and then nearly wreck trying to drive while looking around to see if anyone had noticed which brings me to….
            The Parker’s Cutlass was missing not only the rearview mirror but the one on the passenger side as well which meant he was going to attempt to kill me in three, two, one…Cutlass The parker looks up where his mirror ought to be and weaves over into my lane where I would be if I wasn’t watching him. The guy with him is bouncing off the ceiling because he did see me, albeit it too late to save them had I not been paying attention. One of the things I wonder if my grandmother learned from watching traffic is this, “If they are missing a mirror then they might as well be driving blind, because they are.”
            Generally speaking, a woman who is pregnant is a sign of a woman who is not a virgin. I can count on my right thumb the number of times the story, “I’m still a virgin but I’m pregnant” story has worked out for the woman involved, and I think that just about ruined it for anyone else taking a swing at it. Now, it could be the woman was artificially inseminated, or she might have been raped, but again, generally speaking, a woman who is six months pregnant has sex six months ago, and it is a pretty safe bet that wasn’t the first, only, or last time. It would have been, but as they say in the doctor’s office, “Not damn likely” So here’s the thing; when you see the car ahead of you, and it’s some backward cap smoking woman who is talking on her cell and drinking Jack Daniel’s right out of the bottle while shooting up Windex, and you notice the side of her Cutlass is all caved in, do not get beside her car with your vehicle. Clearly, she had been in a situation that destroyed that side of her car, and quite frankly, you should consider the idea she might be a repeat off fender. Yes, yes, yes, she might have been blindsided, someone else might have injured her car, or she might have been sitting there and the car just crumbled up. More bizarre stories have been believed, but as they say down at the body shop, “Not damn likely”
People are likely head in the direction they are looking, no matter where they are actually intending to go. If they are looking at some cute chick to the left of the car, the car will lean towards the left. If the driver is looking right the car will have a tendency to go right. That’s a given. People know this. Here’s one you better believe, too; if someone in the car is pointing then it is safe, and prudent to believe the car will veer suddenly in that direction regardless of how safe and prudent such action might be for the people in the car, or where the car is now heading. Do not be there. You will not like it when they get there, and are amazed to find you, or what is left of you, there.
            I wonder how much of this my grandmother saw in traffic. I wonder if she saw idiots and wondered how on earth we ever got past the mule and buggy. This was a woman who remembered the first car she saw, and the first airplane. This was a woman who lived through both World Wars, The Great Depression, and Disco. At some point, after all of that, you have to wonder if she thought that every once in a while, people would simply lose their minds and start a war, or crash the economy, or dance to terrible music. She watched all of this and at the end of her life was content to watch traffic, as if somehow, she might discern some truth in it.

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pink Pants and Freight Trains

Before The Loki Mutt decided to be part of the pack, or rather before I decided to stop and pick a stray off the road, and really, you have to wonder if he would have been just as happy anywhere else he would have found food and shelter, or for that matter, just food. I’m straying myself, I realize that, but I see dogs chained to trees or living in tiny pens or having to stay inside until they’re walked for a few moments each day, and I wonder how truly happy those dogs are, and in some cases, why the hell some people even have dogs. If you can’t treat a dog like he or she is a member of the family why would you take away from that dog the possibility someone out there would?
            Anyway, before I went off on a mutt tangent, I was actually heading in the store to get mutt food something that, Before Lucas, took place once a month. Post Loki, the trip is being made every two weeks. If you get a stray that is hungry that dog will never truly feel at ease about food, and the will totally devote his life to anyone who brings home the biscuits. I’ve got one who is damn near a Nazi about food and one that is merely fanatical. There are some very compelling reasons to keep bringing in that fifty pound bag every two weeks, and to let them know who brings.
            If I time it just right, and nothing goes wrong, and the train isn’t blocking the tracks, and I get good lights, and for some reason no one does anything stupid, I can leave work at noon, go get mutt food, and be back in time to wolf down a quick meal and not listen to people when they tell me going for dog food isn’t an act that requires that much stress. Oh, I could go after work, but the noon crowd is in a hurry, and they have got to move quickly whereas the five crowd might have time enough to screw everything up. The five people think they are in a hurry but the time they spend is opened ended to a degree. The noon people are lethal when you get in their way. Unless you are a train, that is.
            Valdosta Georgia has a mile of train track for every man, woman, child, and goldfish in the city. Every road longer than one hundred feet is required by law to have a train track at both ends. At each major road there are two sets of tracks and you can just about set your watch by the time the trains come and just sit there, not moving at all for hours on end. To be in a hurry is to have ample opportunity to see some really great graffiti on the sides of a train. Liked that one did you? No worries! The people who run the trains, art aficionados all of them, will deftly back the train up so you can see it once again or more, at no additional charge. I got side tracked, I realize that.
            This all got started, three paragraphs or so ago, because as I was pulling into the parking lot there was a woman in pink pants. I’m not a big fan of pink. Pink is just a timid taint of red. Pink is medicinal and it is gooey. Pink is neither a panther nor a singer, really. Houses and vehicles should not be painted pink. This woman is as wide as a house. She is as big as a car. She is also in my way. She has to move quickly to get out of the way, and I wonder how long it’s been since she’s moved like that. How long has it been since she ran? I wonder if the last time she ran she realized she would never run again? I look back at her and the two people she is speaking with and they hand her something.
            I get into the store, find a cart with a few items in it, ditch those items, and get a fifty pound bag of dog food. Everyone in Valdosta who is a Mutt Person, and who runs a cash register, knows who I am. Mutt People ask what kind of dogs the people who buy dog food have, and they smile. “How Lucas?” the woman asks me and I like her for this. She knows my dogs because she is a Mutt Person, and it shows.
            I pass a woman and a young man, and you are not going to believe this, but as I am walking behind the woman, I realize I know her behind. “That’s…” and I’m right, it’s a woman I dated twenty years or so ago. I know she got married, had kids, lived happily ever after, but I haven’t seen her since we broke up. I turned around and steal a glimpse of her and realize the young man with her is her son. She’s wheedling him about something he wanted to buy, and she didn’t let him, and that voice, it is that same tone of voice that made me want to pick her up and shake her until all the irritants were slung out of her body like shaking baby snakes out of a wet sock.
            I walk faster and I wonder if she is watching me and thinking, “Damn, that’s…” But the woman in pink is still in the parking lot, and she approaches me as I’m loading a giant bag of dog food into the passenger seat of the truck. She’s got the stealth of a collapsing statue of Hitler in downtown Jerusalem so I already know she’s coming up on my blindside.
            “Excuse me sir can I bother you for just a minute?”
            I turn and look at her and she has this odd smile frozen in place and she’s clutching a bible in front of her so I can see the title, as if there was a black book of that size in Georgia that might be anything other. I just look at her, not saying a word, and suddenly she breaks down and starts crying.
            “I can see I startled you. I’m sorry.” As she walks off and begins sobbing. She is racked with pain over having startled me, I suppose, and I watch this. She slowly waddles off a few yards and cries loudly. I get into the truck and watch. She heads towards the store, turns around and sees me still sitting there, so she goes inside. I move the truck over to the other side of the parking lot and watch the door. Pinkie comes out, heads for the nest person who pulls in, and starts crying.
             Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Unlikely Baggins

If you were some nearly supremely evil being and you lost your Ring Of Power don’t you think you’d start looking for it the last place it was seen? I mean, if it was that damn important you’d think you would have a few legions of critters designed to find rings, lost eyeglasses, and unmatched socks out by the tens of thousands and not be stumbling about sending out nine dead dudes that have an aversion to fire out on horseback. You wait until they’ve gotten their butts kicked and then you decide to give them wings? Yeah, I bet they were happy about that. They drag in all soaking wet and tried and all the horses are dead and they had to walk all the way back home and then you tell them you’ve got them some flying gear. I mean, what the hell? You didn’t have  the Pterosauria fueled up and ready to go, or were you just trying to save a few bucks or what?
            Okay, I will concede The Lord Of The Rings was so majestic, so incredible, so exquisitely written, that nearly any flaw that can be dreamed up can also be covered up by the mastery of the craft. You are surrendering some reality right off the bat when you open up a book entitled “The Hobbit” and if you start a trilogy that is as thick as most of rap sheets of rap artists ( Rap sheets? Rap artists? Wow!) you know two things from the beginning; One, the book is big and two, oh my dog is it well worth the reading.
            As a writer who is trying to write a novel I find myself written into corners where A has happened, and now B needs to happen, so C can occur. I’m not Tolkien. I’m nowhere near the writer than man was. I have to cover all my bases and everything has to be just right or someone out there is going to review my book and the words “smoked too much crack” are going to appear in the same sentence as the title of my book. I cannot put nine dead dudes on horseback and make it work. I sure as hell can’t put anyone on the back of a stinking flying reptile and hope to carry the day. Incredibly, I find myself in the shoes of Tolkien in that I have to invent something that works without knowing beforehand what that thing might actually be. When you are a reader you have a vast respect of the man, Tolkien, for what he was able to do, but as a writer, you get to thinking the man was a damn god. Oh that was sweet how he pulled all that stuff together and damn he was good.
            I’ve read, and reread sections of that book just to see how he did it, how he played everything out and back together again, and made a new world from Middle Earth. New races were born that had never been thought of before; Hobbits, Orcs, half-Ocrs, and then, as if things weren’t complex and interesting enough, he tosses Tom Bombadil into the tale as if we might need the break. Even the swords had lineage. Man, there wasn’t a loose thread to be found and if if there were no one was going to pull it. Tolkien walked up and threw down, and walked off again, knowing there wasn’t going to be anyone one upping him for a century or longer. He didn’t break the mold the man created it. In his image you’ll write about elves and swords and magic. That’s the standard by which everything else is measured. Tolkien left the bar high.
           
Yeah, I liked the book; I would say that, yes.


            So here’s the thing; we know we are not Tolkien, but when is good enough good enough? When do you just decide that a Hobbit finding the ONE DAMN RING in a dark cave by accident is the way you get it back into play? I think if you write well enough, and you’ve done right by the craft, that is a decent way to get the ONE DAMN RING where you need it to be. Let’s face it; who among us saw that one coming, when Bilbo Baggins found the ONE DAMN RING?
            But as I have already pointed out none of us are Tolkien, and so we have to find some other way to do it. We have to write as well as we can and we cannot take the risks he took because we haven’t got the depth the man had. Or maybe we do. Maybe, like Bilbo Baggins lost in a dark cave with no hope and just a little luck, we can draw out tiny swords, and stride forward, feeling our way along the path, and staring ahead at nothing and everything, with nothing but the shouts of a crazed creature edging us forever forward towards the end, or toward being tore apart and eaten. There are times the end of the first novel seems as likely as being eaten by a weird little creature, really.
            There you are, staring at the name; Bilbo Baggins. This is the best Tolkien could do? Why it sounds like a name taken from a children’s book about a talking sock missing its mate. Yet there he is, all furry footed and fat, and he’s a light year beyond what you can write, and you have no idea what to call your latest character, except you’re pretty sure the name “Bilbo” has been used as much as it is going to be in English Literature. The man invented an unlikely character in many ways, and in all ways he made it work. He really was that good, and you, and I, have to concede neither of us, nor both of us, can equal what he did.
            I don’t know about you, but I’m swinging for the fence on this one. Screw it. There is great writing out there, and if I am going to do anything at all, I’m going to write as if I can do it, too!  I’m going to try. I want to raise the bar higher. I want to write better. I will. I might not ever have nine dead dudes on horseback getting their own flying lizards but you know what? Even that can be done damn well.

Take Care,
Mike