Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Between a Sea Marsh and Dune, a Flat Bottomed Boat and a Flat Refusal.

When I was a very young man I was very young, even for my age. I felt like an imposter in the adult world and I felt like most people saw through my charade. What I really wanted, more than anything else, was to be left alone. The time I spent with myself was the best time of all and when I could take a walk on a very cold day or a moonless night, without anyone else near, well, that seemed to be heaven.

But the human world wasn’t made for those on foot back then and getting around traffic was sometimes a problem. I did realize, however, that if I navigated into a place where foot traffic was problematic at best, I was more likely to be alone. There was a crowded beach in Brunswick Georgia that had a narrow road leading to it. Across the road there was a marsh and where the marsh was furthest from the narrow road were large granite rocks that had been dumped as part of the seawall. A human being had to cross the road, walk in the marsh and then climb on rocks to get there. There was a wide flat rock, suitable for sitting, hidden in the shadow of other rocks there. That was my favorite place at the beach.

The marsh was such that there was no place to wade, no good fishing, just a very shallow tidal place where crabs and sea birds fought for supremacy as they had since the beginning of time. There were traffic noises and the sounds that came from the people at the normal beach, but there were also real nature sounds; birds and waves, the lapping of water against the rocks and the never ending waves. I watched as life and death played out their parts in the tidal pool and I hid a copy of Frank’s Herbert’s “Dune” under the rocks. It was wrapped in a plastic bag, safe from the water and the rain. As far as I know that book might still be there.

Sometimes I would lean back against the rocks, close my eyes, and feel the Sumer heat take me. I could lie there for hours, safe in my stone cocoon, and when I returned to the real world I would tell my drinking buddies that I had met a girl and we have wandered off from the party. No one really cared. I was invisible to those people who knew me. I was far too thin, far too shy, far too far out there and no one really knew what to think of me, including me. I really thought I was insane. I had resigned myself to being committed to an insane asylum just as soon as everyone figured out how far gone I was. The only thing that was holding them back was the last few people around who were playing deep left field a little deeper than I was.

I knew a guy whose brain was so fried he would go out into vacant lots and collect empty whiskey bottles for whatever was left in the bottom of them. He would pick up a dozen or so bottles, mix the remains into one bottle and drink it. That was pretty bad. But then in really desperate times he would dig empty beer cans and bottles out of trash cans and drink what was left in them. That was truly nasty. Everyone avoided him like the plague but every once in a while he turned up with pretty good pot and so he attracted some positive attention. Everyone knew he would steal anything with alcohol in it at any time so no one left beer lying around. The truly stunning part of all this was I met his ex-wife one night and discovered he had two kids. Drink had driven them away from him and when it did he dove into the bottle with every intention of never returning. I figured they’d get that guy before they came for me.

I was on the rock in the marsh one day and it was a great day for it, too. The sun was warm without being overbearing and there was a very good breeze. I was reading “Dune” again and wondering what it would be like to live in a desert when I heard voices. I didn’t think anyone would be climbing the rocks so I just sat still and waited. I was very surprised when a small boat appeared in the marsh with two people in it. Damn. My world had been invaded.

There was a man and a woman in the boat and the boat itself was a piece of work. It looked like one of those homemade flat bottom canoes that are never free of standing water in the bottom. They were popular with the locals for crabbing and shrimping but I didn’t think there was enough of either for anyone to try their luck in this mud hole. But it wasn’t seafood the man was after. He was trying to talk the woman into sex and she wasn’t going to have sex in that boat, in the marsh, so close to the beach, in broad daylight. I stayed perfectly still and waited.

If someone were to shoot a training video on the art of seduction this guy would have made the “Top Ten Ways to Get a Woman to Freeze Up and Say No List” First off, the water craft wasn’t very stable for what he was proposing. The two of them in the same side of the boat made it tip precariously and caused the woman to yelp and complain about capsizing. Honestly, if she had moved to the middle of the boat, hung her legs over the side, and he had mounted her, I still think they would have had some issues. But she wasn’t moving at all. I think she realized as long as she was where she was he had to stay away from her or at least at reasonable distance. He was trying to get her to drink more beer, which she saw though, and he was trying to talk the place up as their own private love cove, which sounded ridiculous, and he was trying to keep his balance while trying to fondle her which was comical. He finally stopped to trying to bargain with her and came up with this, “If we can’t have sex what can we do?” kinda sly way of asking for something else routine and at that point she was ready to jump ship. She said she had to pee and really, there was nowhere around that could happen. The man finally had to admit defeat in all areas and paddle them away from my marsh and his libido.


One thing I’ve learned over the years is that being overaggressive with an indecisive woman has the same effect as rushing towards her with a chainsaw and screaming about Satan living in shampoo. Now, unless you’ve kidnapped her, which means you don’t really get the entire point of dating to begin with, a woman who is with you is thinking about it and your job is to keep you from talking her out of it. If a woman wants to do it in a boat, in a moat, like a stoat, she’s going to help you facilitate that. If she tells you she thinks it’s impossible what she is actually saying is no. If you ask a woman if she would like something terribly chocolate off the dessert menu may get a response that isn’t fully yes or no and you have to figure that one out. But asking her for the seventh or eighth time will assure you that the tab isn’t going to include cake. The same applies for sex. If she’s thinking about it and wants you to pursue her a little she’ll be playful about it. If she says no and looks nervous about being with you then head towards shore; it’s over. Some guys do not get the idea that a woman might be interested in sex but not interested in sex right damn now. It’s actually a compliment if a woman would like to get attached emotionally before she gets attached physically.

I stayed hidden on my rock for a while then got up and left. I was pretty much convinced of my own invisibility at that point in my life so I wasn’t surprised they didn’t see me. Honestly, it startled me when someone did notice me at all. I wonder if I ever saw the woman again if I would recognize her and I wonder if I asked her about the guy if she would remember that day.

Take Care,

Mike

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Battle Of the Mutt Butts

The Battle of the Butts continues and as in any war there has been collateral damage. In this particular case, the collateral damage would be me. This all started out on Sunday afternoon, when I put Sam on his loveseat. Sam has his own piece of furniture because he is old and spindly. Sam tends to snarl at anyone who gets near him when he’s elevated so he has to have a place of his own. I’m not afraid that Sam will actually bite one of the younger dogs but I do have a certain unease as to his future if one of the younger dogs takes him seriously. So Sam gets his own place and I usually cover him with a towel because as an old dog he gets cold easily. There is something very comforting in seeing an ancient dog wrapped up against the cold.

Back in the day, no dogs, no dogs at all, were allowed on the sofa. This rule stayed in effect for well over a decade and the sofa was one place I could lie down and nap without dog snores or gas attacks. His first day here, his very first day here, Lucas wanted to sleep on the bed with me. Of course, it was August and it was hotter than forty hells, but I let him up on the bed which meant that Bert and Sam was going to joins us and I wound up turning the AC down to sixty to survive the body heat.

Then Lucas decided he wanted to lie on top of me when I was on the sofa. This became a humorous thing because Lucas was small and cute. Finally, one day I relented and allowed Lucas to sleep on top of me, technically not on the sofa mind you, and it was a good thing. But that was eighty pounds ago. Lucas is now very large. Lucas also hasn’t figured out that an animal who weighs twenty pounds more than my girlfriend can’t sleep on top of me. That hurts his feelings somewhat because I used to cuddle with him and he misses it. But he found a Place of Honor beside me on the sofa and that was his place.

For the last year and a half or so Lilith has been more than happy to sleep wherever she can, to sit wherever I allow her, and she’s damn grateful for it too. Lilith is a polite little Pibble Princess and she doesn’t like to be a bother at all. There for a while she wouldn’t even get up on the bed or the sofa until after Lucas had taken his spot. I have no idea what changed or when it changed or why it changed but suddenly Lilith wants to be beside me like Lucas usually is.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down on the sofa to watch a football game and Lilith joined me without a bit of hesitation. I knew Lucas wouldn’t be ecstatic about his sister’s trespassing but I never imagined he would just sit in front of us and stare. But stare Lucas did. Lucas sat with his head on my leg, waiting, waiting, waiting, and I was able to video him doing this. It took forever for my leg to finally fall asleep and I had to get up.

Now yesterday I was going to watch “The Godfather” and Lilith sprang up on the sofa right in front of Lucas, right under his nose. Far too late, he reacted by leaping on the sofa and he sat down, half on Lilith and half on me. Lilith hunkered down for the long haul. She wasn’t moving a damn inch. Lucas wiggled back and forth until I was pressed against the side of the sofa, being squeezed like a pimple. He was trying to push Lilith away and he was trying to push me over, and try as he might, nothing worked.

I was being crushed so I got up and moved. Lucas followed which led Lilith to believe she had inherited the Kingdom Of Heaven. She rolled over on her back and all four legs were lifted skyward.

Oh. Kay. Dough. Kay.


Now, mind you there is no snarling, no growling, no harsh words exchanged, no Richard Sherman type bitch slapping done in the manner of Trent Williams, no nothing at all like that. It’s mutt mass against mutt mass, butt against butt, and neither side seems willing to give an inch of ground in the name of peace or sleep.


So at bedtime Lilith springs into action once more, claiming the spot next to me. What am I to do? I don’t love Lucas more than I do Lilith and I can’t tell her that she has to be delegated to the foot of the bed, even though she’s slept peacefully there all her life. Lucas, in a rare display of ignoring the problem doesn’t get on the bed at all. I can hear him snoring away on the floor and I assume that is that. Lilith is now the Princess of the Pillow and the issue has been resolved, right?

Yeah, right.

So I’m nearly asleep when Lucas decided to do a little recon mission. This consists of Lucas, all one hundred twenty pounds of Lucas, putting his front paws on the edge of the bed and staring at the scene of carnage down below; there is the place of honor, invaded, desecrated, occupied by enemy forces, and there are no vacancies. I move over and invite him to sleep where I usually sleep and that isn’t enough. He has to get there and push me even further away. I have well over one hundred pounds of canine nearly sitting on my head. Lilith pushes back. I’m trapped, trapped like a rat, I tell you.

This goes on until I fall asleep but at two in the morning Lucas awakens and steps over me to stare at Lilith. I push them both off the bed. It’s like pushing a piano up a hill. It’s like the Sleeping Dead or trying to move Mutt Mountain. Both of them land hard but I do not care at all. No. More. Dogs. On. The. Bed. EVER!

At three I can hear Lilith and Sam snoring but Lucas is staring. You know, I could break any terrorist on earth if I could just get Lucas to stare at him. Lucas’ eyes bores holes in me through the darkness and I know, truly know, he will be sitting there until I get up or until I surrender. I must stand strong. I must reclaim my own turf here. I am the pack leader. I am the Alpha Dog! I will… then I noticed that it is a lot colder without the dogs on the bed. Damn. A whole lot colder.

So Lucas gets his spot, Lilith gets her old spot, and I get my spot and we all sleep again. I have no idea why this is happening but I do know as soon as it warms up they are both hitting the floor full time.

I hope.

Take Care,

Mike

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Cage and the Rope




There once was a zoo and in that zoo was a cage full of monkeys. There was a rope near the top of the cage and every time a monkey tried to swing on the rope jets of icy water would come on and blast all the monkeys in the cage. So terrible was the water that the monkeys would attack any member of their troop that went near the rope. After a while, as the older monkeys died off and they were replaced by younger monkeys those who never experienced the icy water would still attack those who got near the rope simply because that was the way things had always been.


You have to wonder, after all the water pipes had been removed and the valve had rusted shut, how many monkeys would have come and gone before one of them swung on that rope? Very likely, long after the water had been shut off, if there were monkeys who considered themselves Guardians of the Rope and they were the ones who would keep the rest of the troop from trespassing. After all, we’re talking about animals who are locked away in a cage not those who are wild and free. A wolf ranging free isn’t as likely to get as wound up over someone in his territory as a tiny Chihuahua in a tiny single bedroom apartment. The smaller the world the larger the fear.


I haven’t had access to a computer for the last four days. I put mine in the shop on Monday and now I realize what it means to have to revert to writing by hand, which is slow, laborious, and illegible. There isn’t any way my hand can keep up with my thoughts and it’s a lot like taking a whale for a walk on a dirt road. This isn’t anything new at all. I’ve never had good handwriting and like the monkey who pulled the rope back in the mythical cage, you wouldn’t believe how many times I was beaten because of my penmanship.

The physical punishment was bad enough but in and of itself, I think I could have survived the daily paddling with a board. The psychological torture was much worse and unlike our simian friends who were imprisoned against their will it was my parents who thought that whatever the school system did to me was the best thing for everyone involved. In the third grade I had a teacher who would paddle me every day before class and she would intentionally wait before administering the execution. I would sit and squirm and wonder when it was going to happen and everyone else could feel the tension building. She would get her stuff organized on her desk, get the paddle out and put in next to her coffee, fiddle around with paperwork and the whole class anxiously awaited the implementation of the sentence. I would hope for a reprieve, hope that she might forget, and hope that some miracle would occur but it never did.
When she finally stood up and picked the paddle up a stir of excitement would slip through the room. Finally, the show had begun! She would call me up to the front of the class and make me say that I would do better,  that I would improve my penmanship and then she would scold me for lying to her, because that is what I told her the day before. One day I actually just went up to the front of the room and asked her to get it over with and that really set her off.

Of course, there was a rule back at home if I got a paddling at school I would get one at home, too. Teachers and parents had an aura of Adult Infallibility and as long as a teacher condemned me then my parents felt an obligation to follow suit. It was for my own good. It hurt them more than it hurt me. There were so few items in their bag of tricks and they were willing to use those few items until I magically developed and there was no consideration as to whether or not their means were effective.  My handwriting didn’t improve at all, ever.

The last few days without a computer have given me a chance to think about why I write and how I write. I sat down in a public library at lunch to write this, without any idea as to what I was going to write, but I knew I was going to write something. That urge has always been with me, inside of me, wanting to get out, but how can the mind reconcile the endless torment and proclamations of “You can’t write!” with the inner Muse who says that writing is what you must do? Without a medium of expression, and trust me, my handwriting is nearly illegible even to me, how could I act upon what there is inside?

But all of this isn’t about me, or monkeys, or even the sorry state of public education, past, present or future. At this point what I would like you to consider is why people, particularly young people, are self-destructive and perhaps just plain destructive? Could it be they’re missing their Muse? Could it me the disaffected and disenchanted out there need an outlet for their creativity? Society gears the games and entertainment towards destruction rather than creation. We, as a society, tend to show a disdain for anything that we do not understand so we cannot connect with the values of those who seem to be more than willing to think outside the monkey cage.

When we see young men walking around with their pants down around their knees or walking around covered with tattoos, what ropes are we actually guarding here? Are these forms of expression really a threat to us or do we merely think if we cannot experience the need for this expression, if we cannot connect to it in some way, does that tell us that it has no value? Do we believe that ignoring these people or condemning these people will cause them to awaken one day and see the beauty and wonder of our world, here, inside the monkey cage?

And what of ourselves?

I ask you not as a member of some societal group or some troop of naked apes, but as an individual, what says your Muse? What does that inner calling ask of you? How do you feed it, clean it, take care of it, or do you just ignore it, that rope hanging from the top of the cage? When was the last time you took the time to wonder what it is you do when you do what you do best? When was the last time you looked at something and realized that, actual and whole, you created it? What stands in your way? Who guards the rope?

Is it you?


Maybe, just maybe, if you swing from that rope you’ll be blasted with icy cold water and those around you will, too. You’ll make a mess of things and it will be awful. But maybe those who warn you of swinging from the rope are wrong. Maybe if you grab that rope and swing from it you’ll discover that you can fling yourself out of that cage and only Doctor Zaius knows what you might find.

For twelve years I was told what I could not do. For twenty more I told myself the same lie because I had come to believe it. But the day I grabbed the rope I discovered there was another world.

Encourage that in others.

Demand it of yourself.


Take Care,

Mike

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

REM's Girlfriend



When I met her she was telling her friends and a friend of mine, about a new band, named REM and it was a really great band. She was going to school in Athens, Georgia and had a class with one of the guys in the band. They played local bars and parties and she was very excited about the group. None of the rest of us had ever heard of them, but we listened politely, as did her boyfriend, excuse me, her fiancé, who she wore like an article of clothing. She sat tucked under his arm like a baby bird. She was a tiny woman, very petite and perky and he was a gentle giant, quiet to her loquaciousness, dark to her light, tall to her short, and they were the Perfect Couple.

It was fun watching this woman because she was on the very verge of liftoff. She was going to school for her master’s degree and she knew a great band (even if the rest of us had never heard of REM) and she was full of life.

I saw her again, a few months later, and she had transferred to FSU and it was so cool that REM was playing there the first month that she was there. She had to study and it was a little aggravating that they played so late, but that was something they did.  Sometimes the band, she told me, would play very old songs after their new stuff, and it was all very silly and endearing, but she had to study, and wished they would have stopped at a decent hour.

She transferred again to Valdosta, to be with her boyfriend, excuse me, her fiancé, and they were indeed the Perfect Couple. REM had gotten big, really big, and she felt as if somehow, she was connected to the band in a very real way. Had she not told everyone about the band? Had she not said they were great? Now they were great! She had seen this coming! She knew one of the guys, had gone to a class with him, and the lead singer had waved at her one night before they started playing.

She moved in with a friend of mine when she caught her boyfriend cheating on her. No, now he was not her fiancé and they were no longer the Perfect Couple. She confronted him with what she had seen and heard and to her everlasting horror, he had confessed. But there was no contrition, no attempts at reconciliation, no groveling, how could there be no groveling, had there only been groveling, she thought he would fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness and she would have, eventually, in due time, forgiven him in a saintly way, but no, there was no groveling at all and he seemed content to watch the fire burn. She flitted from friend to friend, and discovered there were people who were his friends, and had been his friends, and they were not their friends and they were not her friends, and she went to a couple, a man and a woman who she thought revered her relationship as much as she had, and the women was supposed to be a bridesmaid  and discovered the dalliance had occurred on their watch, in their home, in fact, and they knew the woman, and the other woman was a friend of theirs. The betrayal went deeper than one man, one woman, and one night, and the population of Those Who Knew grew larger with each revelation. She was left with nothing. She was left with nothing at all but ten years, since High School even, of memories of what was supposed to be.
Her friends, in those ten years, had not risen as fast as she had but now they were having babies and she was not. Her womb was barren and abandoned now. She was still on the Pill. She was now on the market and on the hunt. Her best friend bore a child as she watched and she realized that she was behind in life for the first time ever.

She and I went to Athens one night, to see REM, and we never got close to the venue. Downtown Athens was a mob scene and the local police were turning people around and trying to maintain order. Now, her band had left her. REM had found fame and fortune and this was their way of breaking up with her. Instead of one woman they had found millions but it didn’t matter. We sat in the car and drank beer because the long line of cars was stalled out and she cried softly as there was no way to go forward and no way to turn back.

I was a scrub pad of sorts. If she could do the things that we did together then that would mean she had moved on. By allowing me access to her body and by seeking out that sort of contact she was breaking up with him on a level that meant something. Even two years after the fact she needed to do something, anything, everything, with someone else, anyone else, just to not sleep alone. But meanwhile she had graduated and realized that she was wanted, desirable, hirable, and when she landed the Good Job she had always dreamed of having it was exciting and there was a celebration. Later, naked and drunk, she told me she didn’t want the job. She didn’t want to be who she was anymore but there was no one left to be. All her life, she told me, Guidance Counselors and Professors and her parents and her family, everyone, had told her what a Great Future she had because she was so smart and so good in school and she had worked so hard to become who everyone wanted her to be, but this was not what she wanted.
“What do you want?” I asked.

But she didn’t know. She had always been told what she wanted and now when she had it there was nothing left to do but push the button down the that damn biological clock that kept hammering away at her. By this time REM had gone mainstream, Top 40 music, her friend’s baby was talking and walking and eating real food and her womb was still a nuisance that required a daily dose of preventive medication. She choked on the Pill and the idea that radio stations she loathed were playing a band she felt she had discovered.

The world ended when she turned thirty and still had no children, no prospects for a child, only a friend with benefits that she saw on occasion. It was my fault, after all, that was what I was and she broke up with me, cruelly, viciously, and I could tell that she was going to regret the words that she used, but I could also tell this was her way of burning the bridge between us, forever and ever, so that this part of her life might be amputated from her future, and all that she had told me and done with me, might be allowed to sink into the past, under the blackest water in the darkest night.

I heard a song from REM on a “Classic Rock” radio station yesterday and I wondered how did we get here, to this point in time, and realized that we have always been here, and we would never leave, and behind us, those who saw REM as overrated and old fashioned would stand and listen to what they once knew as magical and new, and realize behind them another generation would do the same thing, and another would line up behind that.

And all the while, we sink a little deeper, into the past, under the blackest water and into the darkest night.

Take Care,

Mike

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Know Why The One Hit Wonder Sings



I remember watching “60 Minutes” several years ago and they had a special on singers and groups that were “One Hit Wonders”. They showed Don McLean, who in 1971, had a hit single entitled “American Pie”. It shot up to number one, stayed there forever, and when it came down, so did McLean’s career. Yet there he was, decades later,  loading his guitar and microphone into his car, driving from college to college, to perform in front of a dozen people or so in a small room, and some of those students had parents who weren’t born when that song came out.

Aimee Mann’s fortune rose with the 1985 hit, “Voices Carry” when she was with the group, “til Tuesday”.  Mann left the band, struck out on her own, and pretty much fell off of everyone’s radar. I personally love Mann’s music and think there have been fewer female vocalists that have had a better sound.  But the number one hit she saw so long ago is reduced now to a memory of what was. Mann’s is over fifty and her voice isn’t nearly as strong or as clear as it once was. I still love Aimee Mann and I always will.

McLean is almost seventy now. His website tells us that he played in front of a crowd of 100,000 last year but they don’t mention that he wasn’t the opening act. McLean, and a legion of other artists who hit it big one time, keep plugging away, year after year, playing that one song night after night.

I think they should.

I write. Nearly every day of my life I write something, even if it’s just some editing or a stray idea that needs to be fleshed out. A good 99% of what I have written is never seen by anyone, anywhere and there’s an even better chance it will not. I really and truly and honestly do not care. That isn’t why I write. I write because I have to write. It’s like breathing or eating or spending time with canines. It’s more of who I am than most people, even those close to me, realize.

Have to ever stopped and wondered how a person might feel when they go into a music store and they find their one hit, that one thing that made them famous for just a short while, in the Bargain Bin and the CD is selling for a dollar? I see music being sold dirt cheap in those great big containers with no rhyme or reason in the pile, and I see the dreams of people who worked hard to get where they were at one point. I see the culmination of a lifetime of talent. Or maybe it was just plain good luck that they were where a person needed to be at the right time that right place in front of the right audience and magic appeared.

There’s a local amusement park that has up and coming acts perform and they also have the Best of the 1980’s play there every once in a while. I won’t go, I can’t go, because I’m younger than some of those people on stage, a lot older than those people in the audience, and I want to remember the music and the artists as they once were. The image of Don McLean, looking every bit as worn and haggard as Bilbo Baggins without the Ring Of Power, is stuck in my mind.

But I still think they should play on.


There is something to be said for art for the sake of art. You and I have no idea, and there is no way of having an idea, of how many people there are right now who are performing flawlessly for their pets on some instrument, or singing angelically to their steering wheels, or typing out the Great American novel on a computer, and none of us will ever know it. Somewhere out there is the sketchbook of a dead artist and the book will be tossed away forever because no one bothered to look and the artist never bothered to show it to anyone, ever.

Right now, someone with a guitar is playing a song that no one else will ever hear. It will come and go like a slight breeze that one person feels but leaves this earth with that sensation. The strings, once they are still, will reach out never again and for this, we all are a little poorer.  Right now, there is a child who is writing but they will never be encouraged to go onward and keep writing, because her parents have no idea what writing is and so they will hope she learns to be a cheerleader or perhaps, learns how to cook fried chicken like her mother did.

Somewhere out there, is an aging rock start, who we know only because of a stay on the charts that made that person famous. They hate, really hate that one song, but the audience is more than willing to put up with five, maybe even six brand new tunes, just to sing along with that one song they know by heart. So the trade is made; I’ll sing that one damn song, and I’ll try to ignore that you’ve heard it so many times you’ve forgotten it isn’t yours, and in return you have to sit and listen to something else I’ve done, and I hope that one, just one person, likes it, kinda, sorta, maybe.

I know why the one hit wonder sings. It has nothing to do with trying to relive the past glory and it has nothing to do with hoping that the lottery can be won twice. It’s what they have always wanted to do, to sing, to play, to experience an audience, be it a sleeping dog, a steering wheel, a dozen bored students watching an old man from the past, or a roaring crowd of thousands. It is art for the sake of creating, performing, and doing something that regardless that it might survive only in a Bargain Bin, or a notebook, or in someone’s attic, is still the stuff dreams are made of.

Edit: Dannielle Spindler Swart has brought it to my attention that the song, 
"Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)" by McLean was also a hit so McLean was NOT a One Hot Wonder.  I apologize to everyone and please disregard everything I said about McLean and that comment about the Bargain Bin was certainly inappropriate to say about a two hit wonder. Thanks. 

Take Care,

Mike

PS. The guy in the photo above? You might not know his name but you have his number stuck in your mind forever. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Oldest Living Pianist, Holocaust Survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer

Mouth Breathing Aisle Blocking Left Turing Sushi Poisoning Day

The first traffic light after I leave work has someone in the left lane that cuts all the way over to make a right turn right in front of a cop. The cop keeps going and meanwhile, the car, which has now cut in front of me as I’ve turned, suddenly makes a left turn from the right lane, and heads back towards the intersection. I get it, you’re lost, but the road isn’t the place to find your bearings.  Why not find a parking lot and turn around there?

But the world is full of people like this.

My smoke detector died last night so I need a battery for it and I might as well change out the other one, too. So in the store there are people just milling about, seemingly just as lost, and blocking the aisles.  Now, this is a grocery store that is one of the better places to get sushi in town. I know how that sounds, but they have fresh ingredients. For the most part, the people working there are great, hang onto that thought; I’ll be right back with it.

Now this is a great day because they’ve got free Sushi samples and  I would really like to speak to the Sushi Chef because I’m interested in how much it would cost to get a few rolls made up special. But wait, there’s this mouth breathing Stuffy Smith overall wearing baseball cap covering a mullet haircut redneck that’s standing there telling the Sushi Chef, “I ain’t eating no raw fish. We call that bait where I come from boy! That makes me sick to see people eating raw shit like that.”

Well why not just go away? Why not go back to your double wide and watch Miley Cyrus? Isn’t there anywhere else on earth your opinion could be well received, like a Klan meeting? I don’t like pickled beets but you don’t see me over in the beets aisles running my mouth.

So Goober goes away, cussing under his breath about the foreigners over here that ain’t speaking American and to my horror I realize that the sushi is contaminated. Instead of getting something that is clean and fresh and good they’ve concocted to put, of all things, French Onions on them. They’ve managed to turn something pure into junk food. It’s a disgusting combination akin to getting Indian food with a side order of fries.

I see Goober in the aisle where the spices are yelling about how salt and pepper was good enough when he was growing up it ought to be good enough for everybody else, too.

The thing that is bothering me the most is I had this idea for something I was going to write and it slipped away before it formed. It was there, right there, about to appear, like the flickering of an old television set and now there’s not even the tiny white dot. My mind is polluted by the people around me who are poisoning my calm.

It occurs to me that throughout history we’ve seen blacks, Jews, Witches, natives, and all sorts of other people oppressed and murdered but there has never been any sort of pogrom against stupid people. There has never been angry mob going from house to housing dragging out the stupid and killing them. Why, if we did, Congress would be reduced to a tiny fraction of those holding office. And Wal Mart would be empty except those who work there.

I’m not kidding you a bit. Remember me making mention of how great the people were at this store? Well, I get up to the cashier and the guy bagging the groceries asks me, “How do you want your groceries bagged?”

What?

I want them put into the bag. So I tell him just to put everything in the same bag.

“Everything?”

No, leave one or two items out, and surprise me. Yes, thank you, everything in the same bag.

“Even the meat?”

Yes, put the meat in the same bag with everything else, when I was shopping everything was in the same bag, you too, can pull this off.

“What about the bread?”

Put it on top over everything else.

“What about the wine?”

Move. Just get out of the way and let me do it. Here, heavy stuff on the bottom, crushable stuff on top, takes about two minutes, yes, I have done this for a living before WHEN I WAS A DAMN KID. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s something Goober could do, but he would rave about the wine not being American. But you’re over thirty. You’ve seen this done before. There are fewer than ten items. How. Hard. Can. It. Be?

But this might be this guy’s bag, no pun intended. Feigned helplessness, clearly, is a great way to get other people to do your job for you. He’s not out anything in this. He gets a free lesson in how to Tom Sawyer someone into working for him while he’s getting paid.

But them I’m out of the store and I head back through the Mall parking lot to keep from having to make a left turn back onto the main road because so many people try this and they wait until everything is clear from where they are to the Florida line. I realize that I spend a lot of time and energy avoiding left turns, avoiding people in the stores that are mouth breathing aisle blocking obstacles and I wonder, really wonder, why it is that I have to be the one who has to navigate around the rest of the world. 


But I have wine. Today has to be better.


Take Care,

Mike

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Miss My Mud Puddle




We have fallen out of touch with what is happening outside our homes. No, this isn’t another rant against the evils of computers and that sort of thing, but rather a longing for how it once was, when the windows that were open led outside, not to another site.  There once was an awareness of the sounds and smells and noises and happenings around a home. Air conditioning has closed a lot of that off in Summer, and I miss Summer muchly.

I lived in an uncooled apartment that had a character about it that defies my skill with words. I kept the windows open nine months out of the year and, because I lived on the second floor, I saw a lot of what happened around the old house where the apartments were.  When I moved out it was one of the saddest days of my life, even if I wasn’t looking forward to another Summer in ungodly heat.

You know one of the things I really miss about that apartment? I miss my mud puddle.

Okay, out in the backyard of the apartment, in the grassy area where everyone parked their cars, there was a depression that held water if it rained; a mud puddle.


Sometimes we’re startled when we finally look outside and discover it’s raining. In the open window world in which I once lived the weather very rarely surprised me. The dreadful Summer heat could be either advanced or mitigated by rain, depending on what time of the day it fell. Too soon in the day and the world became a sauna, but if the rain fell right at dusk the night would be much cooler.

But back to the puddle…

It would take a long hard rain to fill the puddle but once it did fill it would begin to overflow. There was a small channel that led away from it, winding its way down towards a lower point, just like real rivers do, and I liked to watch the rain from my open bedroom window, to smell the rain, and to watch the puddle begin to become a miniature lake. The rain had to fall hard enough not to evaporate on the roof, and then it had to fall hard enough to fill the gutters of the house enough to run, and then that water would head towards the puddle and that was when it began to really run.

I remember wondering if there were creatures that lived in the puddle, just like the brine shrimp of the desert, who never come to life until the rain fills the small depressions in which they have burrowed deep underneath. These creatures that I wondered about, that I invented, would be short lived citizens of water, dying out en masse in drier times, but they would be reborn as soon as the water began to flow once again.

The Puddle People eventually diverged into two separate castes; there were those who lived and died on the very surface of the puddle, and whose offspring would take their place in the limited lifespans they had, and then there were those who spawned only when the water began to get deep enough to run, and they would emerge only when the puddle overfilled and headed towards the creek that was over a mile away.

The surface creatures lived for only one reason, and that one reason was to see that the deeper creatures were guided down the channel and off into the overflow of the puddle, in hopes that one day, at least one of them, would make it to a place they had only heard of in myth, and that was the ocean. They could not hope to live to see that day and they could not hope that a thousand Summer rains would cause this to happen, but one day, somehow, their destiny would be fulfilled, and they would have one of their own reach the ocean.

Of course, the surface creatures knew full well the rain might stop as quickly as it started. The deep creatures they guided to the channel might die within sight of the puddle and nothing could be done about it. The dragonflies that would swoop down to feed upon the dead deep creatures were revered as the vessels in which the souls of the deeper creatures would be returned to the skies, that they might fall again as rain.
The surface creatures, with all their wile and craft and water skill, knew some of them would be washed away in hard rain. They thought, perhaps, that this was so they might reside elsewhere, perhaps, and be used as guides still, but none knew for certain if this was true. How could they? None who was taken by the water ever returned and not a word nor song could be heard. While the creatures could not drown they had very little propulsion and no means to swim against current at all. Those swept away would sing their final song to those left behind and those who stayed would sing back. If the channel dried up too soon the last songs of those who had been swept away could be heard as the sun evaporated their lives away.

There was a hurricane once and I wondered if this might be a form of renewal for the denizens of the puddle world. As the hurricanes do come out of the sea, I wondered if this was some vast wave where the entire population was finally taken up and released from their duties and lives in the puddle, and all would be swept downstream and released from their tiny world. Would there be any left to perform the rituals of their ancestors? I pondered what it might have meant to these creatures to finally have so much water than all could leave and begin some religious journey to the sea.

Well after I moved out, years in fact, I went back to see what had happened to the old apartment and it had been refurbished. The new owners had installed air conditioning and they had torn down the old garage in back, where generations of feral cats had orgies deep into the night. The granite stepping stones were all gone, and I hated that, because so embedded into the ground had they become, they were only visible from above and I could see the pattern of an ancient walkway from my window. But worst of all was the entire backyard had been paved over with asphalt. My puddle was gone forever. The channel forever frozen in time and none would travel down to the sea, ever again.

When I left that place there was an incredible amount of magic there. The windows allowed in all the sights and scents and sounds and life that surrounded us. The imagination is fueled and burns most brightly when the sensory input has no filters and knows no boundaries. Not as a child, but as a grown man did I sit at the window, look out at the rain, and imagine a world that began and ended with each rain, lay dormant until the next, and reached a religious fervor with each flood. Asphalt and air conditioning may take more from us than it gives.

Take Care,

Mike

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dangerous Dogs




Imagine, if you will, a scene of terrible carnage, no pun intended, where an automobile has careened, again no pun intended, down a hill, and has crashed into an innocent human being. Okay, first let’s report the make and model of the car. Then let’s go back into the past and see if any cars just like this one, or similar to it, or hell, kinda like it, has ever been left without its parking brake on, and has rolled down a hill and hit someone.

Then let’s ban the car.

That what Breed Specific Legislation is designed to do.

But if you were a rational human being, and tis hoped that you are, the very first thing you would do is find the owner of the car. Excuse me, sir, but why did you allow your car to be unattended and roll down a hill? Isn’t that the real question here? Isn’t this where all of the questions should be directed?

Dogs are not blanks slates. Some breeds have different traits than others. Some dogs are large and some are small. Some dogs are powerful and others not so much. Some dogs have a genetic propensity to herd while others make good retrievers. As far as I can tell, and I have been paying attention for a very long time, there has never been a breed of dog that has been bred to fight other dogs, bite people, or to hang onto their prey until one or the other is dead.

My dog Sam is part Greyhound and he is part Black Lab. He was also the victim of systematic and terrible abuse as a puppy. Beaten, abused, and nearly starved to death, Sam was left to die in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, that’s where I live. I’ve spent the last twelve and a half years with Sam. There has been damage to that dog I have not been able to undo, but Sam is stable and loving. What we humans do to dogs can be undone but there is a level of abuse that is very hard to heal.

I’ve been bitten by nearly every dog I have ever owned. Play has gotten too rough, training has gone wrong, Sam got twitchy when I introduced a new puppy to the pack, Bert bit me when the vet was drawing blood, but I am here to tell you one thing that is certain; if a large dog means to hurt you then you are going to get hurt. Most bites are meant to back you off the dog. They may not feel very pleasant but somewhere down the line you missed some body language that told you that the dog was stressed out and because you missed this signs you got tagged. Body language, your body language and the dog’s body language mean a lot more than most people know. I’ve never been surprised by a dog bite. Mostly, I had it coming. Mostly, I missed cues from the dog that all was not well.

Owning a large dog means you’ve taken steps into deeper water. Making a mistake with a toy poodle doesn’t have the consequences of making a mistake with a GSD. Letting your obnoxious purse puppy snap and snarl at strangers may seem cute but that same behavior in a Weimaraner is a bit different, isn’t it?

Teach your children well.

It isn’t entirely in the training but by training your dog you train yourself, too. You understand more and more who you are and who your dog is. Your dog begins to know you better as well. The two of you must communicate effectively and you have to get that dog to rely and trust training rather than going over to instinct when he’s stressed.

Set the parking brake, please.

It takes some effort to get a dog heading in the right direction and it takes some time. The same can be said for keeping a car running smoothly or a relationship with a human working. You cannot shut a dog off in a crate or a pen, or worse, chained to a tree, and expect that animal to react well to social situations. When you isolate a dog you are training that dog NOT to be social. You will get out of that dog what you’ve put into that dog and you will not like it.

The larger the dog the larger the responsibility of the owner.

I keep company with large dogs because that is the type of dog I like. I understand there no small mistakes with large teeth. I understand I have to train my dogs and this extends past teaching them not to pee on the floor and sitting when I ask them to do so. It means they have to understand that aggression is bad, always. Well, unless someone breaks in, but I assume they know the difference. Likely, if someone breaks in, they’ll look for treats.

I love Big Mutts and I cannot lie.

If you don’t have time for a dog, and by time I mean hours in a day and years of your life, then get a stuffed toy. If you aren’t willing to train the dog or take the dog to someone who can train the dog, then don’t get a dog. If you live in a small apartment and work sixteen hours a day please don’t get a large dog. If you haven’t a clue as to how to raise a dog then learn before you get one. On the job training can be terrible on the both of you.  Owning a large dog doesn’t make you look like a bad ass unless you do it right. Then you ARE a bad ass, but for reasons you might not yet comprehend. Getting a very large animal in the right place in the right time with the right mind is akin to raising a child that can bite.

You have to live with a dog. You have to live its life with the dog. The dog has to share your life as well. You don’t own a dog you own the dog’s entire existence. Training, training, and more training means you and your dog will be better people for it and the world will be a better place.

Take Care,

Mike

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Bathroom Toll Troll

Shopping isn’t a pleasure no matter where I go but there are places that are better than others. My favorite grocery shopping store has nice friendly people running the show and it has wide aisles. I know where everything is and they have a good bakery. As far as shopping goes, yeah, it’s okay.
One thing about this place is it has a big bathroom. It easily sits three with standing room for two more. The soap dispenser is always full and they have paper towels not the blowers that are designed to make a man revert back to being nine and wiping his hands on his jeans, or worse, walking around with water dripping off his hands.

So I am about to go into the bathroom when this guy stops me and tells me the bathroom is full and he is in line. Full? There are five people in there? He claims there are, and by the way… He’s discovered a new form of panhandling. The man smells like alcohol. No beer or wine or cheap whiskey, but that smell the chronic drinkers develop over time. It’s a body odor thing that can’t be washed away.  I ease away from the man and leave him to the attention of one of the employees who has evidently been watching the man shake down those who have to pee. Or worse.

The cold has a tendency to drive the homeless off the interstate and into the place where there is food and warmth. I cannot imagine having to pee outside when it is below freezing. I cannot imagine how good it feels to pee inside once the body has been outside for hours without end. I had to work outside for a few hours Friday and when I got back indoors I could feel the coldness had soaked into my body. It took a while in a warm building before I felt the cold release me. A hot shower helped very much indeed as well as hot food.

The bathroom toll troll looks like Santa Claus’ older brother who failed at retail. He’s got the same white whiskers but he’s short and stumpy looking. The man could never climb into a sleigh without troubles. I don’t see him able to make a living going into stores and hitting the customers up by blocking the bathroom, and in this I am right. I turn around and look back and there’s someone herding him out of the building. He’s pleading his case, far too loudly, and he’s got nothing to lose by getting arrested. At least he will be inside.

There’s always a stray indigent or two around any store that’s within a mile of I-75. It’s like seeing a shark near a beach; you know they are there but you tend to forget about it as long as you don’t actually see them. They are almost always smoking and if you’ve ever wondered how it is they can afford cigarettes and not food and shelter remember they are living from day to day in an environment where saving isn’t safe or practical. Where would this man put the money if he had some? What’s more, smoking is an appetite suppressant; five dollars for a pack of smokes will last a lot longer than five dollars’ worth of food and where would he store food if he had it?  It’s easy to have all the answers when you’ve a home, a paycheck, and the ways and means to get the things needed for basic survival but what if you do not? If you have five dollars and it’s freezing outside and getting arrested might mean you aren’t sleeping under an overpass, do you think about taking that five dollars and investing it?

Some of the people I’ve met on the road are clearly mentally ill but there are some who just do not seem to get grasp what it takes to make a living in the world we have created. It’s not that they’re stupid or damaged but they just don’t seem to be able to hold down a job, which most of us despise doing to make a living, which most of us think we aren’t really doing. We don’t like the lives we are living but we look down on this who aren’t doing it.
Yet we’ll sit and wonder why there weren’t more slave revolts in history and we wonder why Death Camp prisoners put up with being herded about. Once a mindset is established and people start heading in a direction it is damn hard to stop them. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about picking cotton, being executed en masse or living to support a system of genetically modified food, processed meats, and high fructose corn syrup. It’s humanity being pushed in a direction by a force they cannot control or defend against.

I’m not saying these people have the solution but I am saying they aren’t the problem.

Take Care,

Mike

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013

The Holiday Season was a brutal one. From Thanksgiving until last night there wasn’t a lot of downtime at all, and I need downtime to write. The first part of November saw Lucas go under the knife for cancer and then Thanksgiving arrived. I had to meet many new people this Holiday Season and there was family weirdness that I didn’t see coming.
2013 began when I totaled my truck on January the second. It ended last night with me curling up and going to bed early, sober mostly, and not caring that midnight would come and go without me. 2013 ended as a year that saw a lot of damage and a lot of change in my life and I am glad to see that year go the way of the floppy disk.

2013 was a year that saw resolution in some areas where it was needed terribly. There were issues that lay open like wounds on my soul and like it or not, things happened that burned bridges forever, I suspect. Some people drift away and out of your life forever and some people set themselves on fire and run screaming away from you declaring that burning to death slowly would be better than spending another moment of their lives in the same hemisphere. You can only hand those people cans of gas and matches, and hope in some way, you can warm their hearts.

2013 saw me make a very dramatic change in the way I listen to music and what music I listen to when I do. I started listening to classical music to and from the veterinarians’ offices and pretty much got hooked on music that had songs that lasted over twenty minutes sometimes. The UBS port in my truck was a better perk than I saw coming. The cheap classical music that Amazon sells turns out to be stellar. There is some really great classical music out there and I like it.

2013 was the year I finally attended my first adoption event. I never knew what sort of effort that went into the life of Dog Rescue when it comes to those people who foster and tote the dogs around to see if they can find a forever home for those dogs. These people are the ground troops, the first casualties to stress and despair, and they get almost to recognition from anyone out there for all the work they do. It’s nasty, dirty, expensive, and totally worth it, if you’ve ever helped a dog find a family and a family find a dog.

2013 saw me change jobs, once again, and I think it was the right move, but time will tell. I won’t tell because I never talk about work online. Don’t ask.

2013 saw some good writing, some bad writing, and some new writing on old projects. It also saw me more active in the writer’s group I belong to and I realize that most writer’s live with the same demons I do, but mine are mine and their demons aren’t nearly as scary so there.  But it is really enlightening to see how other people struggle with their craft, and prosper within it. Some people seem to improve with each meeting and others seem to just muddle their way through it. I wonder how I am seen through the eyes of those who write.  I am more convinced each year that writing is what I was meant to do. It feels better each year and I find myself gravitating towards creative people whenever I can.

2013 saw me begin to become a Wine Snob. I have always liked wine but I never realized how much there was to know and how a good wine, yeah, a very good wine, could change the way a man looks at grapes forever. I have discovered that a good Cabernet Sauvignon has to breathe. I’ve discovered the good wine is all about the waiting rather than the getting to it. It’s a lot like foreplay with alcohol instead of alcohol being the foreplay. I like the Cabs. The really good ones are worth what you pay for them if you get to drink one of them with the right person.

2013 saw me drinking less because with wine it’s not really right to drink the good stuff alone and the cheap stuff, well, once you’ve had good wine it’s hard to down back down to the bottom shelf at Wal Mart stuff.  I can honestly say I have never drank wine out of a box and now I never will. I have drank MD 20/20 and if you’ve done that you have seen things that most people will not admit to.  But that was years ago.

Mostly 2013 was just another year. The parameters of the year are arbitrary, not set in motion by Universal events. Even the months are named by long forgotten rulers or gods. Each year or each period of time will bring whatever it brings and we’ll refine it within those restrictions that we have lived by, and therefore we define our lives, and thereby I have now defined mine.

2014 is already better than 2013 by virtue that I am still alive to see it.  Each year we lose some we’ve known and some we’ve loved and we see more clearly each year there are fewer and fewer between us and Death. We march slowly onwards, preoccupied sometimes by the  rules we decide are important yet at the end there is only the end and there is a lot more stuff that is unimportant than we would like to think.  2013 is gone now. All that it took with it will fade a little or a lot, depending on how strongly we feel, but 2015 will come for some of us and we will look back at 2013 like we do all those years that have fallen behind us now.

I hope this year is good to you and I hope your life is good for others as well.

Take Care,

Mike