Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Four



All Lucas has left of his tail is about half of it. The rest was “docked” or cut off of him when he was a puppy and I have always hated the idea that butchering a dog makes the animal more aesthetically pleasing. But the same can be said of the surgery humans go through to make themselves fit more firmly into the mold of what we’re been training to consider beautiful. The half  tail Lucas has left he does the very most with and when he’s really happy his tail spins at light speed.
Long tailed dogs wag and short tailed dogs seem to have more of a rotating motion to their tail. I started calling Lucas the “Bee Bee Butt Boi” because his tail moves like a bunch of B-B’s shaken up in a steel can. I think he knows when I’m talking about is tail because he wags it even faster. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know why I’m talking about his tail but Lucas is a happy, happy, dog. If I want to talk tail with Lucas then Lucas is all for it. Lucas is pretty much into any sort of conversation I’m up to having with him as long as it’s a happy conversation.

Somewhere I have a photo of a grayish blur running through the weeds and that would be Lucas after a few days with me. He still likes running around in the back acre when I get home and Lillith chases after him. On the straightaway from the house to the woods Lucas can leave her behind but in the woods where there are trees and stuff to dodge Lillith rules. They play as they run with Lillith making wild dog noises at Lucas and Lucas trying to escape her. Bert put up with Sam pulling on him, Sam put up with Lucas pulling on him, and Lucas puts up with Lillith grabbing his neck or face and pulling with all her might.

Lillith has dug a Girl Cave at the base of a small Oak tree. It isn’t big enough for her to crawl into totally but she can get all but her head and shoulders covered. This is the idea, really, because Lillith likes to pester Lucas and Sam until they give chase. Lillith will get into her cave and fend them off while making wild hippo noises at them. She lets Sam chew on her because he’s an old dog and needs to feel like he’s still got it. The tenderness Lillith and Lucas show for Sam, elderly and bitchy that he is, touches me. No matter how he snarls at her, Lillith will kiss Sam’s muzzle and not react to his snapping at her. Lucas will go ears up at Sam if he gets too loud at Lillith but Lucas isn’t serious about hurting Sam or Sam would be dead. Peace has broken out at Hickory Head and no one really gets mad at anyone else for too long.

Sam is dying. At twelve years old his body is beginning to wear out. Once a Black Torpedo Sam is now a hobbled spindly legged former shadow of his once speedy self and as careful as the L Hound are around him, Sam still takes a shot from one or the other or both, and I can tell it hurts him. Years ago, Lucas and Sam slammed into Bert and all Bert could do was fold down on the floor until the ruckus had passed over him. Last night Lillith and Lucas did the same thing to Sam and it was sad to see it happening all over again. I lost Bert nearly a year ago and I think I will lose Sam before this year passes. He really has not been the same since Bert died and deep down inside, I think Sam lost as much as I did that day.


Each dog I have ever shared my life with has had that one thing, that one form of petting that really was that one thing they lived for. With Bert it was his back. Bert’s eyes would roll back into his head when his back was being scratched hard. With Sam it’s his ears; Sam loves to have his ears petted hard. With Lucas it’s that spot between on his neck where the snakebite scar is. But I haven’t been able to figure out Lillith’s spot, at least until last night. Last night I took both of my hands and started rubbing the sides of her head really hard and I thought she was going to go into a Meg Ryan impersonation.

I am tempted to get another puppy. I want to find out what four dogs are like and if it is as much difference between two and three as three and four, because trust me, when there are two it’s not really that weird but with three you have that pack thing kicking.  Lillith was such a laid back puppy it wasn’t like having a puppy at all. Lucas, like Bert before him, was demonic, but in his own sweet way. Lucas seemed to know as he grew up what I was looking for, and I didn’t realize it until Bert was dead. Lucas was a replacement dog and who he was and how he was found made him the right dog at the right time.

Maybe I’m projecting here and maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about at all. But I really believe Lucas was meant to be with me, and I think he thinks so too. The odds of me being where I was when I found him were nearly zero and he had to be there too. One car too late and he might have been dead. Someone else might have taken him. But no, Lucas and I were united that day and since then he’s acted like he doesn’t want to leave my side.

Another dog; I really like that idea.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, February 25, 2013

Time Flights





Someone once told me the control panel for a 747 was so complex that pilots were trained to check certain areas and certain readings at a time, look up to see where the plane was going and then scan the next area of instruments. I often wondered if they installed them in some sort of order of importance. I would think the altimeter would be one of the most vital and airspeed right up there next to it. The In Flight Movie would be over at the bottom left along with Happy Hour Special at the airport Philadelphia which is also known as the World’s Largest Waiting Room. Morgues move people out faster than does Philly.

For reasons I cannot explain to you I keep up with dates. Worse yet, I’ve developed a spread sheet so I can keep up with more of them every day. It’s OCD with a calendar. It’s an instrument panel with leap years. It’s a form of weirdness that as far as I know, only I practice. And to make matters even worse, if they could be made worse by admitting this addiction in public, I keep up with my very own modeled- after- events- in- my- life Backwards Calendar. As time goes forward on the reality calendar of everyday life I also relive the past with a calendar that runs backwards in time.

I’ve tried to explain the Backward Calendar before and I almost always confuse people when I do. But let me try this method and see how it goes. Let’s suppose you got married on New Year’s Eve of the year 2000 and you decided to throw one huge ass party on January 1, 2020. Now, if you were marking off days on a regular calendar then in a year you’d have twelve months gone, right? But suppose you cranked up a spreadsheet that also marked off twelve months, but in the opposite direction. A year after you were married on one calendar would also be a year before you were married on another. If you had known your beloved for two years then after two years you would also be at a point on your Backwards Calendar two years previous to having known that person. And you might be surprised at the dates you remember. I am.

Usually, I have a vague idea at what was going on in my past; which dog was what age, who I was dating, what I was doing at work or maybe who got married or died during that year, or month. On occasion a day from the past will leap out at me like a wet dishrag flung at a grease fire. I just passed my wedding date on the Backwards Calendar and am now single and living alone again, in the past, and in those times before I knew there was a very real difference between being divorced and being single.

That date was coming up and I knew it. It was going to be one of those benchmark dates, the wet rag dates and one of those dates that will live in personal infamy. Let’s face it; other than your airspeed and your altimeter, is there really anything else the people around you notice very much in your life? No one cares what day you got married when you are married much less when you’ve been divorced for over a decade. That’s like that gauge that measures the amount of toilet paper left on the roll in the bathroom. Far, far, right, towards the bottom of the panel, the one with the suction cup coffee holder stuck to it, yes, that’s the one.

November 28th 1999 is today’s date on the Backward Calendar. Now, in 1999 this day doesn’t fling any rags but back in 1993 it was one of the strangest days I can remember. I was in a hotel room with a young woman who I had a crush on forever. She was a red head. She had the most alluring green eyes I can remember. And she was as beautiful as the day was long and the night was black, at least as far as I was concerned. We had been seeing each other for a while but both our lives were in a state of flux and we both knew it. I had just moved for a job, which brought me to living closer to her, (that wasn’t the specific reason I took it) but she was looking for work in Atlanta, which would move us further apart from one another again. My job required urinalysis so I couldn’t have smoked pot if I wanted to and she wasn’t inclined towards it, but someone had given her a joint. I was highly entertained, no pun intended, by the affect it had on her. She was giggly and very accessible when she was stoned. Her altimeter was maxed out and I was beginning to wonder if this wasn’t a good thing after all. She got invested in telling me how it fascinated her how a few months ago she was pushing a mop in a fast food restaurant but now that she had a Master’s degree she was asking for, and likely to get fifty grand a year, for starters. There was a hospital that needed an assistant administrator and she really like the job requirements and really liked their offering. It was a dreamy kind of conversation for her, she talked with her hands and her eyes and I liked her even more for sharing it with me. She told me an old friend of hers worked there and that was going to help a lot. And while she was telling me this she mentioned her friend, who she had stayed with for a weekend, had a male friend who had asked her out. She told him no because she knew that getting involved with someone new while moving to a new place was problematic at best. She wanted to wait until she knew where she was going to be before she started dating anyone there.

It was one of those cue crickets moments and it took me a couple of seconds to realize what she had just said. I felt her tense up and she rose up on one elbow and looked at me like she had just heard the words come out of her own mouth. I remember how good she looked nude and how in candlelight she looked magical even after my brain kicked in and realized she was already leaving me.
“I uh…” and then she lay down again and covered her face with her hands. I remember how her voice sounded when she said that. I remember looking up at the candle and seeing the flame.
We talked about it and she told me she didn’t want a long distance relationship. She didn’t want to break up with me until after New Year’s, because we had already made plans, but at the same time, as soon as she moved that was going to more or less be the end, she thought. I can remember trying to find something to say and all I could come up with at the time was, “So you’re using me for sex now?” and I thought it was the right thing to say, because we both thought it was very funny. I was young enough to be flattered by the thought and the sex was good. But it created a fundamental change in who we were and how we reacted to one another. The sex was still good but the future was gone now and we both lived more in the moment when we were together. There was no point in checking the fuel gauge because we knew we were running on empty.
We went to see one of her favorite local bands in Athens for New Year’s but it was impossibly loud. We wedged ourselves into a corner table, drank and tried to communicate over the music. It was fun in an odd way yet we were now tourists in our own relationship; we were only passing through, here to see the sights, take a few photos then leave. There were fireworks at midnight, beautiful fireworks fired directly over our heads and it was spectacular. “Kiss me!” she said and I did, picking her up, letting her wrap around me, and then gasping for breath with her one more time. The last time we were together again would be a few weeks later. She came over, stoned, and she drank with me. She offered to do anything I asked her to and I knew this was her way of telling me good bye. The entire relationship was boiled down, reduced by heat, purified and its very essence melted into motion. We drained the night dry of anything and everything left to say and she left.
I thought about for a long time after that and I can remember being fairly aggressive when we began and she told me that it turned her on that I wanted her that badly but she didn’t know what else I wanted. Hell, I didn’t know what else I wanted either and for that matter, I had never asked her what she wanted. She had bought me off with sex on November the 28th and I had accepted payment. For whatever she got for being with me in the two months we had left together I got the only thing I had really asked her for and was hurt when I didn’t get anything else. And now, just right now, as I write this, I wonder what she would have done if I had asked for more, if I had asked where she wanted to go and maybe if I had thought for a moment that those two months, those two months that she gave me, she might have been waiting for me to ask.  I was looking far too low on the instrument panel to see where I was going.

A year later I heard she married a guy named Mike and thought it was amusing.

So now the Backward Calendar has a few years before that date comes up again. But it will come up again because neither calendar stays still for any reason. I thought time would cease or slow or modify itself to bow before some personal tragedy or triumph but no, it never has and it never will. The young woman in the hotel room has been long gone and as one calendar races away from her another races towards her, yet in the end, both will recede away from any event we humans measure by time. The past is still the past, no matter how much we enjoy watching it, and the future, too, will be the past, no matter how far away it might seem right now. The altimeter will read zero, airspeed will reach the stalling point and the flight will end. Or, perhaps, it will begin.


Take Care,
Mike

Friday, February 22, 2013

Life At Exit Five





It is not uncommon to see a man, or sometimes a woman, walking along the road with a backpack, shuffling at a pace meant for motion not speed, and smoking a cigarette. That same person will be signing at an exit with a “Stranded God Bless” cardboard sign made from the bottom of the box he slept on the night before, and he’ll sit there and make enough money for some beer, some smokes, and then he’ll think about food. There is some wisdom here, after a fashion, because beer removes all responsibility for reality, nicotine is a great appetite suppressant, and food a man can live without for at least a week.
No matter how you slice it cigarettes are cheaper than food. If a pack of cigarettes costs five bucks and they last twenty-four hours then you are pretty much spending five bucks a day to live. Now if you are out at an exit signing for change and make a dollar an hour then you’ve gotten all you need by early afternoon. But let’s say you manage to make ten bucks. That’s smokes and cheap beer, too.  Fifteen dollars and you can catch a real buzz on cheap booze and if you hit the twenty dollar range then you can get some crackers or maybe a hamburger.
Wandering Substance Abusers are performance art on demand. It’s high drama acting for immediate pay. Today, I was over by Exit Five in Lake Park Georgia for lunch when a scruffy looking guy came up to me and told me he had run out of gas and needed a couple of bucks so he could get home. I offered him a ride and he already had an answer for that; he had a friend who was going to come get him but his friend didn’t have gas money. He ended each sentence with, “please, just a dollar, please, I’m desperate, I have to get home” but that was at the end of perfectly executed excuses to keep me from buying him gas, taking him to his car, letting him use my cell to tell his friend someone was there who would buy him gas, but all the while, this is a man who was absolutely willing to go to the mat with his story.

I looked in my wallet, pulled out a ten and held it in my hand. “I’ll give you this money but you have to answer a question truthfully, just one question.”
The man focuses on the ten. With a ten that’s a pack of smokes and six pack of cheap beer. This is Final Jeopardy for him. He can’t stop looking at the ten. He licks his lips and nods, “Okay, what?’
“You didn’t run out of gas, did you?” I ask and he starts the story all over again. In the middle of it all I pocket the ten and I can tell he’s heartbroken. He adds to the story now and there’s a medical issue he has so he has to get home soon.
I pull out a five. “Same question, five bucks.”

The stakes are lower now, but dammit, he pulled out the medical story so he’s provided more story and getting paid less to tell it.  Now here’s the odd thing; why doesn’t he just tell me what I want to hear and take the money? The man has an odd little dance, like some exotic bird, where he dips and bobs in front of me as he gets more agitated. His physical reaction mimics his mental state of mind. But he has a story and he’s sticking to it. No, really, he explains, his friend is expecting him down by his car, under the overpass, just a dollar, that’s all there’s a medical issue, after all and… I put the five away and it’s like pulling a knife out of his heart.
“Okay, how about this,” I ask “either I buy you a pack of cigarettes or lunch.” I point at the fast food restaurant just down the block.
The man looks at the convenience store with longing. He glances at the fast food joint, but he quickly looks over to the store again. Money is one thing but now we’re talking drugs. Yet his experience with do-gooders has left him skeptical someone might buy him smokes for nothing at all. Hope that anything might be salvaged from this encounter is beginning to drain away from him. Like an aging lion trying to eat a tortoise, the energy expended is beginning to outweigh the reward. He’s used the stories he had on tap for this working and all he’s gotten are questions and empty promises. The idea that I might be toying with him begins to breed like cats on meth in his head.
“Look, if you ain’t going to gimme the money just say so” he says.
“I ain’t going to gimme the money” I reply. He curses under his breath and walks away.

He looks around for his next audience, but has to get out of range of me, first. This is a bad thing, the worst of all things; interpretive dance for money and the audience isn’t clapping. He shuffles off towards the interstate and yet another five minute stand.

I’ve never given money over to this sort of thing because my experience has taught me that most people looking for a handout with this sort of routine are actually trying to support a substance abuse problem. Some of them are quite good and they realize that most people will pay for peace if the actor just keeps not taking “no” for an answer. They start out with nothing and bargain for less than what they have asked for originally like a used car dealer offering to “save” you five hundred dollars. The principle is very much the same.

After lunch I have to go down to Exit Two and as I head down the ramp I can see the man standing near a car under the overpass. There’s someone with a container of gas putting gas in the car for him. Okay, so that much of his story was true, at least, but I wonder if any of the rest of it was. I wonder if it all was, in fact, and I had pre-read this story into his.


Take Care,
Mike

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rite





The principles of accounting escape those who desire hope. Worse yet, those of us who seek hope will find those of a like mind and bargain ourselves into happiness with nothing more to sell than the need for things to feel better than they are right now. We will find those who will buy this need and sell their own dreams in exchange. Reality strikes discordance with our hearts and we listen to the song whose words we know rather than learn a new one. But now the time has come for the final chorus to be sung and hope lies silent. Death is arrived.

The rituals of Death, our culture’s way of putting into focus a death, memorializing that with ceremony and stone, and all the religious trappings that attend us during these times comfort me not at all. I consider them a false path and even those I have loved I have failed to attend their funerals for these reasons and others also. Yet this time the wound goes far too deep for this to be personalized. The bond I share with three generations of a family call and I answer that call for nothing else is there for me to do. I helped shape the life now ended. I shared the life now ended. For these reasons and for others I have been called and I will answer. There has been honor in this service and for one more time, again.

For my part, I hope for nothing more in Death than to return to the earth and if there be anything at all placed above me let it be a sapling. An Oak would do, or a Hickory, but no metal box, no embalming fluid, no rituals, no ceremony, no words spoken, no music, just a hole filled with dirt and a tree. I will have already been long gone by the time my shell has tasted dirt.

I trust that one day we as a culture will look back at the caskets and vaults and stone markers and permanent places for the dead as archaic and crude. I trust that one day land will be so valuable that the dead will no longer be able to keep it as their own. I see the day coming where the living will detach from the dead more quickly, not the honored memory of the dead, mind you, but the machine that houses the spirit.

Yet even though I firmly believe all of what I have said I cannot escape the feeling of loss, of terrible loss, that fills me, and the need to do something to help those who share this sense of loss, and I see, quite clearly, the need for there to be something, some event, some action, some rite that will propel us forward into doing something about this even if in the long run it doesn’t make very much sense.  


There has to be something that we can do now that makes it better now or at least less worse.


This right now thing, this keening, this feeling of helplessness, this sorrow, this horror, is going to be brought together and bound with those who share it. That is the purpose of what we do. I would give anything to be anywhere else but wherever it is that I go this feeling will follow me and I know, I truly know, there will only be one place where I can go and only one time I can be there and it make a difference. It will make a difference there and at that time to me, but more importantly, it will make a difference to others as well. Three generations of a family will gather and I have to be there to bear witness to a loss that we share and in this… please tell me it will be better or at least less worse.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Death of a Friend



The is waiting over; cancer has once again taken someone from me. Survivors come out of the disease changed people sometimes and in most cases they are better people for having lived through the fear and butchery of the disease and the cure. But sometimes people die and this is the case today.
I built a fire in the very back of the property to have a staging point to get rid of some of the vines and underbrush there. There’s a big Oak limb lying nearby and it needs to be cut up and burned. I got the fire burning hot and got one section of the limb chopped up. I sent a picture of the fire to a friend of mine who was dying of cancer. His nephew called me to tell me cancer had won.
So I’ve spent the last couple of hours putting the fire out and making plans to go to see the family and making plans for the funeral. 

He leaves behind a wife and two sons, his father, three sisters, many nieces and nephews, and a legacy of one of the best unknown musicians I ever knew.

So I’ll be off the net for a while and dealing with reality at its most real.

If you thought about quitting smoking this would be a very good time to stop thinking about it and doing it. I’m going to go bury someone I’ve known for over four and a half decades because as many times as he thought about quitting he never did.

Yesterday someone I know ran a half marathon. Today some I knew is dead from smoking. Today someone I know is enjoying the satisfaction of having worked hard for good health. Tomorrow I go to bury a friend.

Your choices affect not only your life but the lives of those around you, the lives of those people who care about you and love you.

You can choose to kill yourself slowly or you can choose to live, but whatever choice you make, you’re making it for the rest of us too.

Take Care,
Mike