Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Girl from Wylly Avenue







I’m bad with names so it wasn’t a surprise not to know her name when I saw her face again. It was, however, stunning to see her because she belongs to a part of my past that has never resurfaced again, ever. 1980 was a very long time ago by anyone’s reckoning, unless you deal with the birth and death of galaxies, but this woman was still fresh faced and very much alive the last time I saw her. My mind scrolled over the names of people I knew back then and I tried to pin someone’s name to something near her. She wore an uncommon name, something that I had associated with someone else long forgotten. Memory at its worst reminds us that it cannot dig itself out of a hole without making the hole deeper. Memory did know enough to say this woman and I had not left on good terms.

To make matter worse she was out of context. This was one of the few people I still remembered from Brunswick and it took nearly a full minute for me to realize it. There isn’t anyone in my life left from that era and hadn’t been in decades. I can find my old duplex on Google but that’s about all that remains. It’s odd I can still remember my old address from that time period, 3687 Wylly Avenue. The neighborhood doesn’t look like it has improved very much at all. It was a dead end street in so many ways back then and it probably still is.

We slept together one night.  To this day I will never understand why she agreed to it. I don’t think she liked me and she certainly didn’t understand me. She didn’t like my music and she didn’t like my long hair. She wanted a lot more out of life than to be stuck on Wylly Avenue in Brunswick Georgia but to me this little side street in a smallish coastal city was my first heaven. It was the first place I was totally out of reach from my past, all nineteen years of it. I think the idea that someone could just pick up and leave their hometown appealed to her in some way. Perhaps that was enough to spawn some hope that I could alleviate the boredom and tedious day- to- day existence she lived. I was nineteen and underemployed while she was just seventeen and had dropped out of high school in her senior year. Could habitual bad judgment lead two people into coupling?

It was an odd encounter. Have you ever had someone just come along for the ride when you went to a movie or something, and they didn’t really want to be there but didn’t have anywhere better to be? It’s not like she was obligated to me in any way but there seemed to be a certain point in the night she resigned herself to doing what I wanted her to do without knowing why she did it. She never seemed really into the act itself or even interested in what I was getting out of it, yet there she was. “Yeah, okay, sure, why not?” but at the same time she didn’t seem fully engaged.

More than once in my life I’ve had a woman ask me, plead with me, demand of me, “Don’t tell anyone about this, okay?” only to discover the very next day she had told someone. This girl repeated that mantra each time we paused and again when we began again. I remember a woman I loved truly and deeply, who swore me to secrecy upon pain of death if I ever mentioned the fact we were having sex but an hour after we got out of bed she told her roommate. We went from never-say-a-word to guess-what-we-did in less than sixty minutes.



This woman from Brunswick, damn, what was her name? What is her name? She seemed so worldly and mature at seventeen. We had smoked pot and drank beer together and I remember very distinctly being awed by her demeanor. She was pretty, very pretty, with jet black hair offsetting her pale blue eyes. She seemed to have so much going on inside of her head and looked perpetually bored with the world. There, in that tiny duplex, in that smaller bedroom, with the railroad less than a hundred feet away, and the windows nailed shut against thieves, she allowed me to undress her and she allowed me to treat her as if she were mine and I remember thinking this was such a grown up thing to do and that this act, this very act in and of itself, made me an adult in just a few hours which was something I had not accomplished in all of my life. I was sleeping with a stranger, someone whose last name I didn’t know, who didn’t know anything about me, who I had not gone to school with, or knew a friend of mine at all, and this intimate anonymity was everything to which I aspired. Her ambivalence was the only thing left on her body and the fact that she would wear it and still allow me to enter her excited me. Was this not the nature of adulthood? Was this not the essence of the life I sought?    
I remember getting up in the morning and she told me she had never slept with anyone she didn’t know before, and had never slept with anyone she wasn’t in love with, and that I was only the third man she had slept with and again she begged me not to say anything about it. I remember her getting dressed, and she seemed so much older than I, all seventeen years of her and I remember her telling me, as she turned away to put her bra on, “I’m not the kind of girl who sleeps around”


Honestly, I don’t think she was. I’m at a loss to explain why sometimes good girls do bad boys but it does happen. Not that she was that good and not that I was that bad, but her best friend showed up later to explain to me it was an accident. She didn’t mean to sleep with me. It had taken a couple of hours for her to tell someone about it.

Her best friend was one of those girls whose life has been mapped out and plotted on a downward graph. I don’t remember her name either but I don’t care. This girl wanted the man she loved so desperately she was willing to get pregnant before she was eighteen in hopes that the DNA the child carried would be anchor enough. It wasn’t and it wasn’t going to be, and this scene has played out before. But six months before she ventured into motherhood using an unborn as a proxy for matrimony she was explaining to me her best friend wasn’t on the Pill and that was something that did get my attention.

Honestly, I do not remember as much about the night in question as I do the questions about that night. The best friend asked me personal details as if she was trying to match what she was told with what she had suspected. I was much younger at nineteen than I could have ever known.  A nice looking girl had spent the night with me and I was happy. What else was there to worry about? The Pill thing killed the joy a bit. The fact that the pretty girl was mad at me and I didn’t know why seemed to puzzle the Best Friend.

She was a week late that month and the whole of the neighborhood was abuzz at what had happened.  The Best Friend told me and it was like the third grade where you check a box if you like someone for she had written a note asking me what I wanted to do, as if there was something I could do to affect the outcome of one night. It stunned me she might have a baby, my baby, our baby, and suddenly Wylly Avenue became clear to me for what it was and who I was. It never occurred to me a woman, any woman, a girl, a pretty girl, might see me as a way out, and pregnancy as a necessary but inevitable evil. But the seventeen year old was wise beyond her errors and realized that hooking her wan hopes, her low standards, her faded dreams to a man enthralled with the idea of maturity via erection just might end poorly. She moved back in with her parents just about the time the truth of the matter flowed into being and blood. We never spoke again.

Yesterday she caught me staring at her and she stared back, angry that I would stare but then I saw the look on her face. Oh hai. Oh hell. Oh no. There was a moment when we both realized we had known one another a very long time ago. Neither of us moved yet neither of us stopped looking. Time has been much better to her than to me. The face still carried some beauty of the girl. The eyes were the same and that look, that last look over her shoulder as she left that day, yes, that is still there. A much older woman, perhaps her mother, sat down next to her and she looked away. A man that might be her husband joined them. I don’t remember if she had a brother or something like that.
I knew better than to keep staring and finally she looked at me again, and shook her head nearly imperceptibly as she looked away.  How can it be that someone I knew for eight months is here in this place ten feet from me and thirty-two years later? What hellish part of her past had emerged to haunt her, I cannot say.

Yvonne. That was her name. I’m halfway home when I remember.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, November 26, 2012

Merry Damn Christmas





It’s not like I’m going to get any sleep anyway, but having to get up early just to shop is an affront to the intellect. It’s not that there is some compelling sale on that brings me up far before dawn arises, no, it’s the idea of getting into a store and getting back out without fighting the crowds that pulls me into the cold and dark of the morning. The invaders are here and to slip past them at all I must get there before they begin their siege. To venture forth at any other time would be just short of madness.

Like war, Christmas affects each and every aspect of life. Going out for lunch now means having to deal with people who normally would be somewhere else, but because they’re shopping and my favorite buffet is near the Shopping Maul, I have to deal with more and more people in more and more places. The Maul is also between where I work and the Y, and the traffic makes that trip more difficult than it needs to be. If the lights are wrong it can take another ten minutes to get past the crowds.

There is a man in the restaurant who is simply standing in the middle of the aisle, staring off into space, and not moving. He’s an older man and I wonder if he drove here. How will he survive the traffic that has spawned just outside the parking lot if he cannot navigate the inside of a restaurant? But he isn’t alone. There are people who wander around, shuffling and staring, as if they’ve lost the ability to sense other human beings around them.

There was a very young woman who may or may not have been murdered at the local University and the very young woman in the booth behind mine is telling her companions about it. One of them is her mother and the other is, and I am guessing here, the narrator’s older sister. The mother and older sister are terrified that the woman might have been murdered, but it’s not like it was a slasher or some knife wielding fiend. Being strangled, the narrator tells them, isn’t nearly as bad. These are not her words, mind you, but she is less afraid of a murderer who doesn’t spill blood than one who does. I nearly get up and join the conversation. I’m dying to know, no pun intended, why a girl is more afraid of being stabbed to death than being killed any other way.

The local news has downplayed the incident because no one has come out and proclaimed the method of death or any of the details. The body was found on the fifth floor of one of the dorms and if I was a young woman I would be getting my ass away from where someone my age and gender had been killed. I think it much more likely someone gave this girl too much of the wrong drug but until the cops start talking we simply won’t know.

None of this slows down the Christmas rush. In nearby Moultrie Georgia there was a riot at a Mal-Wart and there were two people shot in Tallahassee on Black Friday. The video of the Moultrie riots shows rabid shoppers pushing children and older people away from a phone display. “I maimed someone to get you this phone, that shows how much I love you” and I wonder if people ever associate that empty feeling they have after Christmas with the way they treat people while they shop.

The downside to a cheap lunch is anyone with that amount of money can come through the door and there are some people here I normally would not break bread with. Children are allowed to run wild and you can tell the hostess is at a loss as to how to deal with the problem. Three kids are playing chase while carrying around plates stacked high with food and you know this will end poorly. They belong to a table of people where there are at least nine or ten people and I’m betting this is some sort of uber shopping outing. They’re loud and bitchy and not a one of them pays the slightest bit of attention to the brats they’ve released upon the rest of us. The manager come out and I have no idea what he says to them but one of the women gets up and reins in the kids. It is time for me to get out of this place before gunfire breaks out.

It’s like living in a world of Multiple Personality Disorder. Each and every shop window is festooned with Christmas stuff. Every utility pole has some decoration nailed to it like a body to a cross. There are radio stations that blast out Christmas music twenty-four hours a day. Yet the people themselves are surly, absent minded, and desperate. Murder is a decent distraction to the pressure of shopping and overeating is a benison in comparison to having to think about what can and cannot be afforded. The news tells us this was the best Black Friday ever but two people were shot in Tallahassee.

Look around you can count the number of problems we have and the blame game going on with each one of them. Mostly, people blame the government, the poor, the minorities, the immigrants, the Jews, the Blacks, the people who aren’t quite like the rest of us, but this one belongs to all of us. As a nation, America has ruined anything and everything that has to do with Christmas and turned it all into a Quest to Spend. It’s not a question of how much a person can afford but how much they can spend. It’s like an odd form of sacrifice for something invariably made in China. We sacrifice our financial security, our sense of what Christmas is supposed to be about, our sanity, and our civility.
What are we getting in return?                                                       

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Your November Firesmith




Who knows what Sam thought was up there or knew was up there in the hollow of the tree. But it was one of his favorite places to stick his entire head, claw at the woods, and relentless circle. It’s hard to imagine Sam has a hunter now but he once was in his own way, mighty. If you’ve never lived with an animal that hunts you cannot appreciate how efficient their tactics are. If you’ve ever lived with two animals that hunt as a team you wonder how the hell we lasted long enough to get out of trees.
It was thirty when Sam woke me up this morning and honestly I would have stayed in bed it was so cold but Sam wanted out which means everyone is getting up. A fire would be nice on a morning like this so I pushed part of the old dead tree Sam once claimed as hunting ground into the firepit. There is still a hollow stump there and Sam still noses around it, but he paid no mind to the section of tree I rolled into the firepit. Sam doesn’t keep the stubs of old movies, it would seem.

Small things feed a fire until it can feed on large things. The old tree acted as sort of a cradle for the fire at first. Leaves and twigs and bits of moss then larger sticks and finally a fire formed. I walked around the woods collected dead limbs and stuff for the fire while Lillith played Queen of the mountain in the other part of the fallen tree. Now that part is just far too big for me to me alone and besides it would take forever to burn.

Really?

The larger part of the long is at least twenty five feet long and at the base it is just plain massive. But it’s rotten wood, mostly, so that helps. I use the maul to drive a wedge into the massive end and it break off in chunks. I use four wooden fence posts and a six inch diameter PVC pipe as rollers and use a much longer fence post to lever the long onto the rollers. The shift in mass caused five feet of the end to break off. I roll that into the fire and take a break.

It’s downhill to the firepit but this is a piece of long that might weigh five or six hundred pounds, maybe more even. The thirty degree morning warms up appreciably once I start trying to move it forward, but more forward it does. The ground is uneven so I move whatever roller the terrain frees up to the front and I make sure there is one at the back where most of the mass is. By putting the PVC pipe in the middle I can push the back around and guide the front end towards the fire. I’ve done this many, many, many times before. If a person is to live alone and build large fire then the science and technology that built the Pyramids must be employed on occasion. A lone human being can do much with just levers and rollers and determination. After settling onto the fire a piece of wood that might just weigh half a ton I realize how we got out of the trees and why very little stood in our way when we did.

The large log is far too big to fit into the pile so I settle for it being a cross piece. Hopefully it will burn into two pieces, but this hope soon begins to fade. The piece is just too damn big. The pieces under it burn out first and I’ve got this really large and really long log stuck cross ways into a fire. 




Sigh.


I don’t want a bigger fire but I sure as hell do not want that long piece burning until midnight. I have to get it burned into two pieces so I can stack them side by side and use them to burn one another. This means I am outside for most of the day and I get to see the dogs interact. I like watching Lucas and Lillith play. They’re high energy rock and roll rough and tumble growling and snarling full gear on playing. Sam stay out of the way mostly, but I noticed that if Lucas wouldn’t play with Lillith, she would start pestering Sam. Lucas would rush over and knock her down for it, but that meant that Lucas and Lillith were playing again.

Sam is aging. There isn’t a way out of this any more than there was watching Bert go through this. Today was a good day for Sam and when you see a nice normal cool-ish Sunday afternoon as a victory then you know how low the bar is being set for good versus whatever else there is. Sam dogs a little hollow in the sun to doze and he waits for something else other than me being on the outside to happen. The two younger dogs follow me into the woods as I look for suitable fuel for the fire but Sam sleeps and waits for a deeper hole to lie in.

The fire slowly consumes the log and I go in to the house to write. A over tended fire doesn’t burn as well so I have to leave it for a while. I have left larger fires burning at night and awoken to find nothing but ash in the morning but I do not like doing it that way. No fire has ever escaped me yet, and I don’t want to push my luck with this one. But the fire is like time; it seems to devour slowly but everything consumed never comes back again. The massive log isn’t as heavy as it was this morning and when I go look at it again there will be less of it still. And my time will be less, as I spend it watching the long turn to ash, I am slowly turning into dust.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Open Letter To Lindsey Stone.








Hi Lindsey!

So how are you? I see you’ve disappeared from Facebook altogether. You also got fired from your job. There are a lot of people out there very unhappy with you. Some of those people have been wounded in combat. I’m not talking about a few thousand internet addicts who are going to spam and revile you night and day, but there will be those people too. Mostly the people you need to worry about are those men and women who have worn the uniform and paid the price, the men and women who gave without questioning why, and while you’re thinking about it, which you haven’t, you might want to think about the reaction of a widow who sees you in public “being a dumbass”.

Would you like for to me explain to you what is going to happen? It’s already happened. You’ve lost their respect.

The internet addicts you can live without. They’re just talk and type. But think about some young woman whose husband was blown to pieces in Iraq and came home in a box. Imagine trying to explain to Katherine Cathey how funny what you did was. Better yet, imagine how she feels seeing your now famous photo.

I want you to close your eyes and see her face and imagine how she felt when she saw your photo.  You aren’t in the same class as that woman. Don’t ever think for a moment you are.

Now you know why you and I are having this conversation. I am not just angry, no, that doesn’t cover it. I’m enraged. I feel violated. I feel like someone who couldn’t possibly make it through a week for bootcamp decided to take her own shortcomings and project them in public.

But what I am actually here to do is forgive you. I am here to offer you a way out of your own life. I have something to offer you beyond your current level of comprehension.

Go to a VA hospital and volunteer. Speak in person to those who have served and offer them your help, in any small way you might. Take photos of them with their families, with the staff, with their medals, with their wounds, and make those things public. Understand why these people, men and women, young and old, think who they are is less important than what they have done for this country. Write about it, make it known, show the stories and tell them.

Go to a cemetery, any one will do, and make presentable the last resting site of some soldier whose name has been forgotten. Take a photo and tell the story of this person. How did he die? How did he live?

You want out of this mess you put yourself in? You want forgiveness? You want redemption?
Then give of yourself service. Those who wore the uniform, like myself, will honor you for it and I will forgive nearly anything, if you would but put yourself, in some small way, in the shoes of those who have served, and their families.

Service, Lindsey Stone.  You will never know peace without it and you have never known peace except for those who have offered it in your name and in this name of this country.

Take Care,
Mike