Saturday, December 29, 2012

Canine Excavations Never Take Vacations.




Bert was a Digger. The animal dug whole bunkers into the ground and he would totally disappear into them.  It took half a truck load of dirt to fill in the holes he dug when we moved, and I’m willing to bet if left to his own devices that dog could have dug a hole big enough for a family of five to live in. Sam is a Dirt Hunter. That animal will dig a two feet deep trench that is six inches wide that goes as straight as buttered toast to the carpet. Any mole that had taken that left turn in Albuquerque was totally safe but if some subterranean mammal dug a straight line Sam had him. 
Lillith is an excavator. Lillith is an archeologist. Lillith wants to bring me artifacts.

This is fine as long as what she digs up is an old beer can or a piece of a house that burned down a hundred years ago. But Lillith wants, needs, searches out, broken glass. And this will end very poorly, I fear.

It’s bad enough she is digging up stuff I never knew was out there, but she is also carrying the broken glass in her mouth, to bring it to me. I am not entirely sure she understands why she gets scolded but for the last week or so we didn’t have another glass present. But I did find one of her new dig sites and there was a piece of glass near it.

Europeans invaded what would one day be known as Georgia about 400 years ago. De Soto passed through South Georgia and so did a host of other explorers and trail blazers for genocide. The natives were pushed out long, long, ago, and clearly there have been homes where I live before, even though most of the people I meet cannot remember there being a house where mine is now.

Bert brought me two ceramic insulators one day; both of them identical and whole. I’ve found odd pieces of metal and glass and all sorts of things out here. The strangest thing that I have found so far was a piece of screen and a metal brace of some kind. That in and of itself wouldn’t be weird at all, but these two items came out of a piece of a hollow log that I had burned. I found them in the ashes after a fire and I can tell you, it was a weird feeling to find metal where none ought to be.

Maybe that Oak, before it rotted and fell, was once part of a tree house. Or perhaps there are people, like me, who will sometimes put odd and ends into tree hollows. I took a poem someone had written years ago and put into a corked bottle and set it into the hollow of a tree. The hollow was far above head height and I often wonder what happened to that tree and that poem. I wish I could remember the poem now. This all happened on a road trip to Macon Georgia and I stole the poem from a notebook and my plan was to put the poem into the bottle and toss it into a river or a creek. But we stopped to take a leak in the woods and the tree was there so I left the poem there too. Years ago when I was in the Army I rented a car to go home with but turned up towards Macon to look for the tree but damn. It was too long ago.

A friend of mine climbed into a tree one day and nailed a bronze plaque with his name on it high above the ground.  The tree stood for just another year before getting hit by lightning and dying and I always kidded him about killing that tree. Worse, when the tree fell the plaque was pinned under a massive limb so he never got it back, as far as I knew. Maybe one day someone will build a house there and their dog will dig it up.

I hope Lillith stops digging up glass. I checked her pads and they’re clean, or at least not injured. Lillith likes to dig in the firepit when the ashes cool. There is something about a fire that draws that dog and I cannot understand it, well, yeah, nevermind.

Lillith is unlike any dog I have ever shared time with. She will get off alone and sleep on a blanket in another room and she seems to forget we’re here. It took her a long time before she would come up to me and ask for attention, but in the last week or so she seems to have gotten the idea that it’s okay. Lillith is a very polite puppy. She doesn’t like to make a fuss or push me around to get my attention.  This morning I grabbed her and pulled her onto the sofa with me and she didn’t resist or growl, or even struggle, which is a sign she pretty much trusts whatever I’m doing is okay.

Sam still doesn’t like to be grabbed suddenly. I practice grabbing the dogs so if they’re ever out in public and a child comes out of nowhere and hugs Lucas we don’t have a disaster on our paws. Sam still reacts poorly to this, but Lucas has come to accept it as a form of play and petting.  But the L Hounds are kissy face dogs and are used to me getting nose to nose with them, which is also good for public greetings and meetings.

But this glass thing, sorry, I got distracted. I may have to put some pieces of tin up around the fire pit which I have been meaning to do anyway. Lillith shows no signs of losing interest in the past of this place and I’ve never met a glass proof pooch. Ever it may bring, Lillith is her own dog now, not a puppy anymore, and I have got to understand that and begin to act accordingly.

Take Care,
Mike

Saggy Pants and Saggy Brains

Just the other day a young man wandered up to our office and asked my coworker and myself if he could borrow a phone. Our office is a few blocks from the jail and from time to time we get someone who needs a ride home but doesn’t have the money for the pay phone at the jail. Now this young man, who looked all of eighteen at the most, is screwed. He was wearing a shirt a size too big, pants three sizes too big, the pants were half way down to his knees, and his baseball cap was cocked to one side and up in the air.
My coworker allowed the young man to use his cell phone and the young man called someone named, “Gramma” to come get him. The new releases have been warned not to hang around the area so he started off down the road, holding his pants up with one hand as he walked.

A few minutes later we rode down the road to discover he had not, could not have, made it very far because walking while dressed in that fashion isn’t easy. His pants cuff were getting caught in his shoes, pulling his pants down even further, and I wondered how far it was he had to go dressed like this and why he would.

Of course this set off a conversation about where this young man’s future might lead him. Rightly, my coworker surmised this is someone who is going to go nowhere and he is going to get there much more quickly than he can walk. Worse yet, if this is what young women see has the height of fashion these days, he may very well procreate and a new generation of saggy pants and cocked hat young men will do the same slow walk down the same road.

Get a room full of Southern middle aged whites and start a conversation about someone’s pants down around the ground and you’ll get the standard fare of racist remarks but you’ll also get a few who are genuinely distressed that the saggy pants culture is destroying the futures of people who simply ought to know better than to dress this way if they’re ever going to seek gainful employment or be taken seriously. I will at that point very innocently ask this question, “Why do you think happens when someone within that culture expresses the need for change?”

The conversation turns to the idea there must be someone, or some group of people within a culture who has to speak out, to stand up for what is obviously right, and if only that one voice was raised then others might also be raised and yea! The whole nation of Saggy Pants Young Men would gather to burn their blasphemous britches and be fitted for some nice beige kakis.

Then I ask them what their reaction was the last time we spoke of language skills in The South and how they reacted when I suggested that “We ain’t going nowhere” might actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it were.

Indignation follows.

It seems perfectly fine to criticize someone for the way they dress when it would appear that manner of dress reveals that person is ignorant, but at the same time when the person doing the criticizing couldn’t pass a fourth grade English test, well, that’s just the way we all talk down here.

So the next question seems to be one of those Titanic heading towards the iceberg questions, “What happens when the saggy pants boys become saggy pants adults and the next generation seems to think this is perfectly normal?”

Why, then they are just doomed, I tell you!


So because your father and mother, both sets of grandparents, and everyone else you ever knew could not or would not use the English language to effect, does this now mean that it’s okay to pass the saggy brain down to the next generation?

The way someone speaks usually reflects something about who they are and how much they know. This can also be said about their manner of dress. This doesn’t mean someone who has their pants hanging down around their knees and uses double negatives is a moron. But it does suggest that the person in question is going to have some problems getting past the image their manner of speech and their pants project. This may not be fair but it is entirely accurate.

The same people who decry the Saggy Pants People are the very same people who are absorbed by NASCAR and Honey Boo Boo. Corporate sponsorship of sporting events has become a form of religion in The South. The mere fact that a sports team play in the same geographic region is enough for some fans to become fanatics. Yet other than a warm fuzzy feeling after a few beers and a victory, there is no gain to this whatsoever. These same people attach themselves to those staged “reality” television shows as if each and every moment brings something wonderful into their lives.
Where is there time for some sort of self-correction in such a culture? Where is there some form of educational device that might lend assistance to a people who, clearly, not only cannot determine the value of language skills, but actually think such things are Anti-Southern?

The same people who would describe someone in saggy pants as “stupid” might do so thusly, “ That boy ain’t going  nowhere dressed like that cuz he’s stupid”  Far too many people know at some level what language skills are, and what they are supposed to be, but it’s become a cultural phenomenon to flavor every day speech with ignorance.

And some people think it’s cute, or chic, or “country” to do so, as if the very act of behaving ignorant is in and of itself virtuous. The same parents who want their children to grow up more educated than themselves will invest in a four foot wide television and gaming systems that cost thousands of dollars but complain about the price of school books.

The South is being invaded by Asians and by those people from South of our borders. One class of people work harder than we do and the other not only out work us, but they are better educated. While we more and more become caricatures of Southern Culture, with our trailers decked out with satellite dishes, those people who study hard, work hard, and speak better English than we are slowly reinventing what The South will look like.

We will be there to see it. We ain’t going nowhere.

Take Care,
Mike


Monday, December 24, 2012

BAH! HUMBUG!



Going to the grocery store today was like going to the food court at a Maul. Even my out of the way and safe parking spot was taken. People were swarming over the store like bees at a hive. So very much food was being bought and I would not help but wonder at how much would be wasted, and if not wasted, how much would be eaten past the point of a person being sated. 

Waisted, as it were.

 My big thing is, and will always be, packaging and wrapping paper. Fodder for a landfill and damn little else, this is the stuff that our civilization will be remembered for most. We go to great lengths to produce something that doesn’t do anything at all and is a detriment.

A few weeks back there was a wave of beggars that hit Valdosta and at one time they had both the big chain stores close to the Interstate and the Maul saturated. Two of them closed one exit of the chain store by parking a man in a wheelchair in the middle of the lane and forcing people to stop. I have seen this same wheelchair man walking around in stores. I’ve seen him lift his chair to put it in the back of his truck. The odd thing is what he’s doing isn’t illegal except he’s trespassing and how much time do you think he’ll serve for that?

The gym was nearly empty yesterday except for the kids trying to sneak in to steal stuff. Security is only as strong as the weakest point in the system and that would be those people who will open the door for anyone. I got in about an hour and a half of good solid workout because the place will be closed for two days and in that two days I will blow my diet and exercise regime to hell and back.

Christmas is a time when people socialize until they are traumatized. We travel frantically from one home to another, or host get togethers, and everyone will eat more than they need. There is a lot of cleaning before and after. Then we either will flit over to the next home, or have someone else over. There are presents to exchange, to pay for, or not pay for an put on the card, and it never really ends. Come January we’ll have a flood of folk at the gym who are trying to undo December but by March they’ll all be gone. The credit card bills are likely to stick around a lot longer.

I once worked at one of those short term loan places and the one Christmas I worked there it was like selling my soul at 37% interest. People would do anything, give anything, permit anything, just to get their kids a toy that in all likelihood, be forgotten before the loan was paid off. It didn’t matter the end result of giving would be taking away from those same kids for months. That one morning meant everything to them because it meant so much to everyone else. I loaned a couple with two kids five hundred bucks that would cost them one hundred dollars a month for seven months, plus fees for processing their loan and insurance and a fee for a background check which we didn’t do. What those kids were unwrapping on Christmas morning was a half a year of misery.

People will hurt you at Christmas. Ordinarily it is relatively safe to walk across the parking lot at the grocery store and people will slow down for pedestrians. Now people roar through the lot as if their asses are on fire and their heads are catching. It’s a nonstop attempt at getting enough to be too much. It’s an endless stream of consumption for the sake of having something to do when we’re in a room full of people we see once or twice a year and have nothing to talk about.

I drive faster at Christmas not because I’m in a hurry but because everyone else is. Saturday found me speeding along a back road I had hoped would be spared the madness, but no. It’s a two lane road that one day will be four laned but until that point people jam together like grains of rice trapped in a drinking straw. Give up on any thought people will figure out they’re going  no faster if they are the tenth person behind the tractor traveling at thirty miles an hour or if they’re one space closer. I dropped back away from the pack and got passed so I dropped back again. Yep, some sixteen year old in his daddy’s truck passed me and nearly rear ended the person who had just passed me. These two played a game of who can get killed first for twenty miles.It took nearly thirty minutes to do this and with each passing moment I wondered if either of those two would survive.

I’m not sure who would put a tractor on the road at this time of year but I am certain if the driver had a dollar for every middle finger he saw that day he could buy a faster tractor. If he got to cut them all off and keep them he could plant them somewhere and have a fine field of fingers. Kinda morbid isn’t it, yeah.



If all of this sounds depressing as hell I am sorry. But I go through this every year. Each year I look for some sense of sanity in the holiday mess and I keep not finding it. I want my regular parking spots back, I want my routine back, and I want people to be the way they are when they aren’t shopping til they drop. I want to be able to walk into a store without having to wonder if I really need food this week or should I just wait until it’s safe again? Every year I hope that I can find some way to cope with Christmas that doesn’t involve Scotch or despair but it keeps not happening.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hobbit: A Movie Review








When I picked up a copy of “The Hobbit” from my school library in 1976 the book hadn’t been read in years. No one I knew had even heard of it. My classmates made fun of me for reading it and it would be three more years before the animated version of “The Lord Of The Rings” created a cult following that would one day become a mainstream smash hit monster.
I had a couple of hours to kill and really wanted to see “The Hobbit” so in I went. The movie seems to be on the very verge of taking off right in the beginning and that’s pretty much where it stayed for nearly three hours.

“The Hobbit” bored me.

This all started back in “Return of the Kong” actually, when they seemed to run out of ideas towards the end and the battle for Gondor was resolved with green ghosts saving the day all the way into the city. The elephant battle went on far too long and this was a reoccurring theme in ‘The Hobbit”. There were just some scenes that should have been left on the floor or at least shortened a bit.

And wow! Radagast The Brown. Did you see that one coming? A wizard with bird manure running down his beard? Trust me that was not in the book and the weirdness with the rabbits? Where in the hell did that come from?

The scene with the hill trolls seemed to drag on and it could have been made better by sticking with what happened in the book. But hell, the opening scene between Bilbo and Gandalf could have easily stayed word for word and we would have loved it. The scene of Bilbo being more or less hurried into going ought to have been kept.

Rivendell was a wonder but suddenly main characters from LOTR are discussing stuff anyone who has seen LOTR should already know. That trilogy has already been shown. It was good, very good, but this movie is slowly oozing towards “Aliens 3” territory which is the one sequel of all time that tainted two really good movies connected to it.

The Dwarves escaping from the den of the goblins looks and feels and sounds a lot like the scene in Moria from “The Two Towers”.  And it went on and on and on and on.
There is just so much you can do with Dwarves. In the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman” the sudden appearance of Dwarves nearly killed the movie and ‘The Hobbit” has to deal with them from the word go.  It’s difficult to get past the caricature of Dwarves and this movie doesn’t try hard enough. Instead of reinventing what we know we’re fed the same Hollywood type cast for most of them which makes those who are taken from that mold to seem less like Dwarves.

The Ring scene is held nearly true and for that small mercy I am grateful. Still, even that could have been done better. The Eagles scene, please, someone shoot me now, just getting there was an unexpected journey. And by the time it all ended, I had checked the clock three or four times.

Either this is a serious movie or it is not a serious movie. Either we are expected to suspend belief for the characters or we are not expected to, and it’s all about the show. But ‘The Hobbit” drifts back and forth between very serious scenes, downright goofiness, and all of it is wrapped in a setting that deserves so much more.

Take Care,
Mike

Dune and I






Frank Herbert’s “Dune” was something I discovered quite by accident. Most of the great novels I have read were books I mined out of the school library. I would simply go through the shelves, pick up a book, and start reading parts of it to see if anything leapt out at me. “Dune” was one of those that I picked up and never let go again, ever. If there is any great miracle of the computer age it is that reading books and writing books has become much easier. If there is a tragedy it will be that hard copy books might very well become extinct. 
“Dune” gripped me like a fever. I stayed out of school for two days to read as much of it as I could, day and night, consumed by the desert world that Herbert had created. This was hard core science fiction at its very finest and it still is to this very day. I lay in bed with a towel wrapped around my head to simulate the garb of the Fremen. Nothing mattered in my world but finishing that book and I would have given up breathing to have gotten in one more page a day.
There wasn’t any advocacy at our school for reading, except the classics, of course, which was why reading was invented at all. There certainly wasn’t going to be any advocacy for writing, except for diagramming sentences and underlining the compound complex sentences that someone else had already written. Creative writing was something that wasn’t totally understood. Creative writing meant mimicking something someone else had already written but it wasn’t going to be that good so no one really cared.

There was a teacher who wanted us to use the whole hour to write a story and she told us it could be about anything we wanted to write about. I wrote a story called “2001” which was about a man who lived in a post-apocalyptic world where the rain was made of acid and there were no survivors. Packs of wild dogs roamed the ruins and as far as this guy knew he was the last surviving human on earth. In the final scene, he is trying to move from one hiding place to another, just ahead of another acid storm, when he discovers the numbers “2001” spray painted on a wall, and the paint is still wet.

The teacher thought it was a very stupid story. How could the dogs survive if human hadn’t? How did this guy make it? The paint thing got past her entirely no matter how hard I tried to explain. There were other survivors, I told her, that was the significance of the paint. But the whole post nuclear war thing clashed with her ideas of how the world would end. That was my first experience with someone who wasn’t capable of thinking outside their own box but it wouldn’t be the last.

There’s a song by Jethro Tull entitled, “Rainbow Blues” and the gist of the song is things are not as they appear to be just because people like for things to be a certain way. For an essay in a senior English class I borrowed the line, “...and the rain wasn’t made of water and the snow didn’t have a place in the sun..” because what I was trying to say in the essay was the very same thing and I knew damn well no one in that room had ever listened to Jethro Tull. There, in that one moment, some of the students reached out and wondered. Most were just as befuddled as I thought they would be, but there was a small group who nearly grasped the concept. But that would have meant supporting the idea that I had done something right, and no one was willing to entertain that idea.
“Dune” never caught on at my High School simply because it didn’t fit into the category of “really good books that everyone else had read” and that sort of narrow mindlessness can be found today in music. Today’s successful singers aren’t popular because of their skill but on how well they sell who they are and what they are.  “Dune” never had a chance in Early County not because it wasn’t well written and truth be told it is one of the most well written books I’ve ever read, but its flaw was it didn’t fit in.

There is an awkward sentence in “Dune”. So out of place is this sentence that even to this day, not having read the book in over two and a half decades, I still remember it. “And then he explained about the latent poison” and I won’t Google it to see how close I am either. Herbert should have done more with that part and hell, it would have cost him no more than a paragraph.  But the rest of the book is so flawless I could forgive that one part. The word “betimes” is one I use betimes, and only because of “Dune” is this word one of my favorites. The usage of an obscure word to frame the language of an ancient people is nailed by Herbert perfectly. When you can remember both the gems and the flaws of a story, as well as its soul, the two words “well written” cannot be overused.

Most of my formative years as a writer were stolen from me. There was only a few and choice authors they deemed worthy of emulation, and of course, that was all any of us could really aspire; to be a decent shadow of a greater writer. Any hint of innovation, any spark of true creativity, or any sort of path followed that might lead to originality was savagely beaten out of us. The Great Works were The Great Works and there would never be any others. In their longing for a time passed the teacher of yesterday made quite certain none of us would have a tomorrow, or dare to write about it.

Take care,
Mike