Saturday, May 31, 2014

Running With A Woman



Running is like a drug for me. The first mile is always a chore because my body and mind are both still fighting to stay in the other world. The world of stress and inactivity and of slow motion moments of the day that devour a person’s life sticks to my shoes during the first mile. But the second mile comes a little easier. And the third mile is a threshold of sorts because past the third mile lies yet another world that is different than the first three miles. Three miles is a short distance to run. After three it becomes something different, a sort of altitude that has more rarefied air. At five miles I know that whatever else has happened during the day this is something that will make a real difference. The blood in by body is rushing through each and every vein like tiny raging rivers. My heart is running with me, step for step, and it is pumping the blood at a heavy metal rhythm.

I watch as people come and go on the other treadmills and wonder what they’re doing or what they think they’re doing. One woman who is clearly struggling within her own body stays for ten minutes at a speed that I can do at a crawl. A very young man pounds out ten minutes of ultra-fast running then stops. Another man runs for thirty minutes but he keeps jumping off the track of the treadmill to rest but he keeps the speed where it is. He’s fooling himself into believing he’s really exercising when it’s the machine that is doing most of the work.

I haven’t seen the Jewish woman in over six months. I have no idea if she was really Jewish or not but if you were going to cast a movie she would be the type you would want to play the part of a Jewish woman, about thirty, just a little overweight, but the kind of curves she carried really well. She had that dark curly shoulder length hair and brown eyes that looks good, really good, on a woman, and she looked like she might have some Eastern European in her somewhere. She also worked out hard while the women she came in with just socialized while walking. This one drove it. She pushed it. I liked watching, not because she was beautiful in her own way, but because she was dedicated.

Five miles is a psychological barrier. I’ve been on the run now for over thirty-five minutes and five miles is my next milestone. My body is beginning to tire and I can feel five miles being a good stopping point. No one who was here is still here and no one who has come in since I began is…wait. A very attractive blonde woman comes in and sets up in front of me. She plugs in her buds, takes a drink of water from her bottle then hesitates, if mentally uttering a pray to the Gods of Fast Things. She puts her water down, and this chick cranks it up. I can’t see the display but this is someone who is serious about mileage. I vow to run at least a mile with her. I try to match her pace and realize she isn’t playing around. I’m doing a mile every eight and a half minutes. I think she’s doing a six minute mile, at worst. And she’s just getting warmed up.

Her pony tail flicks back and forth, as if to ward off doubt and fear and sloth. Her head is up, shoulders relaxed, and those legs aren’t just for show. Somewhere in her is a fire that only distance can quench. She runs as if she really means it. I stay with her as best I can through mile five but I know the end is coming very soon. I have to back down to a nine minute mile and then I walk for another quarter of a mile when I hit the six mile mark. The woman in front of me is tossing down the miles like a drunk doing shots.

I pretend to go up to see what is on the television but I want to see what sort of speed she has. She’s running, and has been running, at nine miles an hour, or about a seven minute mile pace. And she shows no signs of slowing or tiring. Her eyes have that look in them. The world of stress and work and people considering her a cute little thing is gone now; she’s a runner. I wonder what she’s thinking about and I wonder if she notices time or distance anymore. She’s young, really young, and at that age I could run forever and I did.

Someone I know wants to talk and we stand there and for another ten minutes and the woman runs. Sweat begins to appear but she isn’t one of these women who fear it. In ten minutes nearly a mile and a half have disappeared under her. I can see her display from where I stand and she’s smoked a five K in less than twenty-two minutes and she’s still going. I keep the conversation alive and at mile four she hasn’t slowed down a bit. She checks her iPod as if she just noticed it and she keeps on going.

I hang around for a while. This is borderline stalking territory, spying on someone, but this is an old runner watching another generation coming up, and coming up fast. At the one hour mark she slows down and starts walking. She has hammered out nine miles in one hour. Sweat pours off of her and she’s clearly pleased with her workout.

We live in a world where I can’t go up to her and compliment her on her run. I can’t tell her that I’ve been watching her without it sounding creepy. I can’t tell her there are some good running courses in Valdosta because a woman cannot run alone in these places, safely. We live in a world where even the sort of accomplishment of nine miles in an hour fades in front of the societal pressure that she must first think to fend off the advances of someone who might be trying to fuck her.

Take Care,

Mike

Drug Test

If you do this for more than five minutes you're stoned.

More really cool things can be found here. Bits and Pieces

Monday, May 26, 2014

In Us All, A Garden.




There isn’t  anything quantitative or qualitative about my need for more topsoil. I feel like I need more topsoil. The dirt looks too sandy in the garden and it bothers me in a way that I cannot define or resist. I must have more topsoil. I have to pump the tire up on the wheelbarrow and start digging into the compost pile but that’s the greatest source of topsoil I know of on earth. I made this. I created a tiny pile of paper and leaves years ago and now it’s a dynamo for topsoil.  It’s the way things ought to be in a very small place.

How can a person have a compost pile, use the compost pile, turn the compost pile, maintain the compost pile, and still want to be buried in a concrete box, the body human gutted and pumped full of deadly chemicals? In the compost pile all things return to whence they came to be turned into everything that is, naturally occurring. The compost pile has become a megatropolis, where there are thousands of small creatures, each of them hard at work in keeping the pile alive, some eating the leaves and paper in the pile, and others eating the first, but all making soil from their efforts. The giant cardboard boxes I put into the pile a month ago are now remnants. I dig down deep for the black, rich, soil and find clues as to what went in; a paper egg carton, parts of egg shells, paper towels, the cardboard tube of toilet paper rolls, boxes, and a host of other clues as to who I am and what I consume. But it is not enough just to toss stuff into a pile and wait. Oh no, the compost pile needs attention, like any large city does.

I take a pitchfork and turn the pile, all of it, huge as it is, at least one a week. Stuff on top becomes stuff on the bottom. Stuff that is new begins to get scattered out and mixed in with the old. The denizens of the pile go through a Godzilla like attack one a week and they scurry to rebuild their shattered lives. And like their human counterparts, there are always those who seek to prey on the displaced and homeless; toads rush in as I turn, not seeking to flee but braving the pitchfork to snap up small insects that are suddenly in the open and fair game. They love it when termites are turned out and turned over. There is nothing better to the toads than termites.

There are earthworms aplenty in the pile and I see that as a sign things are working well. Remember, this all started out a few years ago as a pile of leaves and wet paper. I carried it all out of the house in one grocery bag. Now, I have my own source of soil that’s already grown vegetables for three seasons.  I’ve been trying to grow the compost pile bigger so that next year I can expand.


The fuel that drives the compost pile is water. Unlike some people, I toss into my compost pile large chunks of rotted wood. These hold moisture very well and as big a pain as they are during turning, I think they are worth it. Every year I’ve set up a sprinkler to keep the pile moist and you wouldn’t believe how dry leaves will keep a compost pile. Every wonder how thatched roofs came to be? Even after a hard rain, three or four inches of rain, I could still find dry spot deep in the mulch pile when I turned it. Without moisture the pile decomposes much more slowly and some places, not at all.

This year the firepit flooded in a very big way so I’ve had free water. Lots and lots of free water and I’ve been using it like there is no tomorrow and one day there won’t be. The five gallon bucket has to be dipped in the deeper parts of the flooded area so I have to wade into the water to get there. Wade in, dip the bucket, wade back out, pour the water on the pile, and repeat until exhaustion sets in. I count how many trips I make until the writing you see here begins to form in my head and distracts me. Gardening is that kind of work; you can write in your head while working the soil with your hands.
A water bug, one of those giant ones, finds himself in the pile and flails until I recapture him and send him home again. The water in the flooded area is rich with floating and nearly floating detritus and I wonder if this isn’t the best water ever, for a compost pile.  I feel like I need The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to help me with this. Bucket after bucket, gallon after gallon, the dry spots become wet, the pile will now be ready for the hot afternoon sun and a process as old as life itself will be kick started into a higher gear.

The muscles are sore and the mosquitoes are hungry. I yearn for some process that after I die I become what I see in front of me in the compost pile. I want to return to the earth. I want to be part of the cycle of life that I keep going around me. I would like to be buried in this pile, to be part of this part of this particular piece of ground. I would like for who I once was to become a leaf in one of these trees, an acorn for one of these squirrels to carry, a home for an earthworm, in some deep dark corner of a compost pile. I have the right, I believe, to be released to the same earth that I arose from, and I think we all should see this as an obligation to return.

Take Care,

Mike

Buying Plants Late in the Season



This one looks like it’s outgrown,
The pot it was put in,
And this one looks like it’s really to die,
Before it’s even begin
This one looks too ragged,
And this one looks too small
We lost the tag on this one
Who knows what grows at all?
I will take that one
Because it speaks to me
The tagless plant it comes as well
And what grows we all shall see
I’ll take the one bent over
The sun will make it straight
The planting season is over

But I can hardly wait! 

Free Speech


Saturday, May 17, 2014

How To Train Your Dog At Three In The Morning



Sleep comes and goes in cycles of deeper than shallower and somewhere in between there are dreams. I’ve learned to ignore dreams as reality. There is a hundred pounds of touchstone sleeping next to me and another fifty at my feet. As long as the dogs do not react to a noise, or a shadow, or some random waking dream, I refused to do so, too. This philosophy has settled my nerves on many a night when sleep was interrupted by those things in the night that haunt the world between dreams and awake.

Lilith slips off the bed as silently as a shadow herself and Lucas lifts his head. I can feel the tenseness of Lucas’ body. Something real has been heard or sensed and Lilith is at the window now. The night is as black as they are ever sold. If I move at all that will set Lucas into motion so I wait and I strain to hear. Nothing. The frogs are singing and there are night noises but nothing… Lilith my sweet little girl dog, lithe and loving, growls like no other dog I have known. It’s an ominous sound and it cuts deep into the blackness. The pitch of the growl is higher than normal. Lucas isn’t as stealthy; he jumps off the bed with a thud and I can hear Sam trying to stand. Lilith growls again. Yeah, it’s over now. She isn’t playing her part as the Cuddle Mutt or the Pibble Princess. I get out of bed as quietly as possible and reach over for the shotgun. I cannot see anything but I can hear Lucas over by the window with Lilith.

There is a sound, the slightest sound, the sound of something scraping against something else, and all hell breaks loose. Lucas hammers down with his voice. It’s a deep houndish sort of thing. Lilith rushes towards the back door yammering away and if there is a person outside they have to know they’ve been had. I swing the barrel of the shotgun towards the widow and it’s pointed less than ten feet from the back gate. If someone goes over that gate I’m going to know it. I won’t shoot them, but I sure as hell want the gun to be pointed in that direction.

No noise outside. Okay, not likely a person, but still. I walk to the back door where the Bark Party is in full swing, even Sam is up and braying now. And I release the hounds. Lilith and Lucas go into the doggie door at the same time, and because the real door isn’t locked, they wind up opening the door with the two of them crammed stuck in the doggie door. They back up which closes the door but they’re still inside.

Any day now, Guardians, while we’re still young, please, take your time.

Lilith flings herself out of the doggie door and Lucas is right behind her. Sam brings up the rear and it is so totally on right now, whatever it is, it is on. If it’s a person they better be armed because my dogs are. They sound incredible. It’s a furious sort of sound with Lilith growling while she runs and Lucas’ voice echoing off the trees and through the woods. Sam yelps as he runs into something and just for a second I wonder if something got him. But what? With that sort of commotion coming out of the door what in the name of Dorothy Parker would dare?

If you’re a human being in the backyard in pitch black dark why would you try to stand down that sort of train wreck bearing down on you? In the dead middle of the back yard those two dogs are going to be there in less than five seconds. Why would someone try it? And, oh by the way, I’ve a shotgun. No, there isn’t a human being out there but there is something. The dogs are positive there is something there and they are not happy.

The weak light from the flashlight reveals Lilith trying to climb an Oak tree near the edge of the backyard, right close to the northern shore of what was once the firepit. My Girl Dog is leaping straight up the trunk of the tree and she’s getting seven or eight feet with every bounce. Lucas has his nose on the ground and is trying to find a scent. The beam of the flashlight reveals…a raccoon on the first real limb of the tree. He is pissed. I take the shells out of the shotgun.

Okay, nothing to see here, move along, move along.

Sam is down with this idea. He pees on a small tree near the floodpit and wanders towards the house on command. Lucas hesitates. Lilith isn’t having anything to do with this. She wants the raccoon. K.

I put Lucas and Sam in the house and come back with the leash. Lilith isn’t having anything to do with the leash, at all, oh hell no. She jumps up in the air trying to pull away from me.

Pop!

I smack her lightly across the nose with the leash and make her sit. She knows I’m serious now. She looks up at the raccoon and I pull her head back around. “Look at me” I tell her. Lilith really wants the raccoon, I mean, really. So we walk around the yard, with Lilith trying to talk me into letting her loose and me trying to talk her into leash training. Walk, stop, sit, lie down, come to me, walk, stop, sit, lie down, stay, walk, stop, sit, lie down… We walk past the tree and she pulls. I make her sit, make her look at me, make her stay, and then we walk. We finally walk past the tree, about an hour later, and she simply walks past the tree. We walk past the tree three times and Lilith doesn’t flinch.
Thirty minutes before it’s time to get up I lie down on the sofa with the Cuddle Mutt. She now understands that the person who brings home the dog food is also the person who decides what to chase, and when.

But damn, did we have to have class at three in the morning?

Take Care,
Mike


PS. I forgot I left the shotgun in the yard until I was leaving for work. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Cow Who Dreamed Of The Sea




It’s a long road but I’ve got music and good, very good, coffee. There’s a low place off the road where someone has cows and this is a site that floods on a regular basis. Mostly it’s a good place to keep cows because there is always water and because it’s wet the grass grows thick. A few years back it turned into a vast inland sea after heavy rains. I wondered then what happened to the cows. Were they herded away and taken care of? Did they remain there and ride it out? Were they swept away downstream to drown and be forgotten, perhaps buried in silt to be fossilized in a hundred million years? I have always wondered what will remain of all of this in a hundred million years.

So as I passed this area, right off of State Route Seventy-six, past the railroad tracks,  and near where the road where the animal shelter is. Aside, I have never known why some of these places are called Animal Shelters. It’s like calling Dachau a religious retreat. Don’t get me wrong here; some of the people who volunteer at high kill shelters are doing all they can with all they have but in poor rural areas people just do not care about their pets the way some of us do. I know people who work their asses off at adoption events knowing that some of these dogs aren’t going to make it to the next one unless they can find more fosters. It’s a very strange world they live in where they try to save as many as they can but they know they can’t save them all. I think the shelter in Valdosta sees six thousand animals a year come into it. That’s more than fifteen a day. That is a lot of pets to find homes for. It gets really weird in there people.

Maybe that’s what kicked off my thoughts about the cow. There was one cow out of the herd in the water. It was down deep, with only its head showing out of the water, and that’s not something you see every day with cows. I wondered why this one cow decided to get submerged and get away from the rest of the others.  We humans tend of believe that no other species is capable of abstract thought but what if this is what the cow was doing, other than cooling off and getting relief from the biting insects? Had the cow suddenly wondered where all the water came from and where it went? Was there a sudden thought in the mind bovine that postulated that there might be, must be, some place where water went, and that place might be filled with all the water that she had seen all her life? Why shouldn’t they wonder about these things?

Of course, if this cow decided to make her journey to find where all the water went she would very likely come to a sudden and bad end. Domesticated cows are top heavy and their legs are not built for treks through the woods, down hills, and over rocks. She could, of course, stick to the river which would lead to another, and finally the sea, but the alligators get much larger as the water runs South.

We’re not so different from this cow, you know. We’re safer, infinitely safer, with the herd, crammed into our muddy little communities where we can find food and water so easily, and to some that’s what we ought to be doing. To others, they try to find a hole in the fence, to brave the waters and to show no fear of what lurks underneath and to try the unknown, to see where it leads.

It goes a little further, too. Most people would like to try the waters and see where it took them, but at the same time, they have others around them who tell them not to do this and how dangerous it is, so they too become the Keepers of the Kept. Do not dive too deeply, do not swim too far, do not try the wild berries, do not talk to strangers, do not express yourself any loudly than a murmuring lo. The herd continues to grow.

Back when I first started to write I didn’t see it as any sort of act of rebellion but since then I have come to realize that is what it can be, sometimes. All human beings have in them latent creativity. Every human mind is geared towards, built for, and ought to be used for, the creative. Yet creativity is not a calm mill pond that knows only serenity and glass surfaces, no. It can be a roiling river with rocks and falls and cows, sometimes.

Coloring books and paint by number scenes are all as masturbatory as art classes that teach students there is but one path to painting. Writing workshops are concentration camps for words. The whole idea that creativity can be taught is similar to teaching someone how to have an orgasm. The process of getting there can be refined but the actual end result has to come from the soul.

In this lifetime I have spent more time being told I could not write than being told I am a writer. More people have condemned me for being unable to conform to what is “normal” than people have praised me for originality. Yet each year brings new ideas and new places and new things to write about. Those who I knew that followed the herd are still there, still behind the fence, still waiting for the comfort and restfulness of surety to lead them back to the barn where they can be safe from all fears.

There may be an ocean from which all ideas flow and where all ideas flow into. I think that I like that idea and I hope I follow the river of thought down to where this may be. Perhaps I am wrong and I will do little more than crash against some hidden rocks are be devoured by whatever monsters that lurk in the deep. But the sound of the herd is getting more frantic and fainter each day.

Take Care,

Mike

Monday, May 5, 2014

Somethings Always Wrong


Another day I call and never speak
And you would say nothing's changed at all
And I can't feel much hope for anything
If I won't be there to catch you if you fall

"Again we fail to meet and mend
The spaces safe between intents
We say too much and long been gone,
Oh but something's always wrong."

Another game of putting things aside
As if we'll come back to them some time
A brace of hope a pride of innocence
And you would say something has gone wrong

"Again we fail to make amends
And wend our way between intents
And looking back, not moving on
Oh but something's always wrong."

"Again we fail to meet and mend
The spaces safe between intents
We say too much, too long been gone

Oh but something's always wrong.

It's A Beautiful Day

The Scribbled Cloud and the Lost Ugarian.




It was an odd looking cloud formation and I thought to myself, “It looks like someone was trying to write with a dying pen, and they just dragged the tip of the pen back and forth, trying to heat the ball up, melt the ink back to liquid, so it would write again.” And that was what it looked like to me, at the time, but I was at work and it’s hard to have creative thoughts when someone is trying to explain something to you that has nothing to do with anything in your head.

Do you realize how weird it must be for the normal people in my life, those people who have no idea that I write, to suddenly find themselves interrupted midsentence, because that cloud formation just kicked off writing thoughts?  Oh, screw what we’re paying you to do, just stop everything at get a shot of that cloud, yes, we’ll wait, no problem!

Yes, in fact you will, but that has nothing to do with this, begone work things!

Here’s the thought I had: so if this cloud, to me, looks like someone scribble with an ink pen, what would it look like to someone that lived three thousand years ago? Or even one hundred years ago? What will it look like to someone a thousand years from now? Surely ink pens will be extinct by then, don’t you think?

You never thought about that did you? Yet here you are, sitting here reading this on a form of writing that did not exist even twenty years ago, at least not to the general population. Now, it’s common, but for the greater part of my life most of what people wrote to one another was written in ink, using pens. There might well come a day when they’re rare and another day might find them gone. I once owned fifty or sixty eight track tapes and I know people who have never seen one.

Suppose you were a metalsmith in ancient Ugarit. You might look up at a cloud formation that looks exactly like the one I saw and think, “Damn, that looks like a_____”  but right now that device or object has been lost forever in history. We will never know that the Ugarian metalsmith used that device or what she might have used it for.

The history of humankind is littered with discard objects; tools, instruments, toys, cooking utensils, and all sorts of things that no one remembers the usage for anymore, or for that matter, even that they existed at all. The clouds remember.

Over ten years ago we put a time capsule into the ground and I put one of my hats in there and a jump drive with a lot of stuff on it. Maybe no one will be able to read that jump in however many years it is that it stays down, but maybe they will. But suppose no one knows what the hat is all about? Well, damn, everyone wears a hat. But what if people stop wearing hats? It’s hard for us to imagine it but once upon a time everyone owned cows. Have you ever stopped to wonder what people had to have in order to have cows around all the time? Maybe a pitchfork? I own one but how many other people do?

Years ago I was working for the forestry department at a paper mill and I discovered an abandoned house in the woods. It was stripped of everything that someone might sell but the house was littered with the remains of the lives of the people that had once lived there. I found an object I had never seen before, a wooden tool looking thing, with wire between bracing and I left it where I found it. I never knew what it was but I keep hoping I will see another one. Maybe it was part of a door to a rabbit hutch or maybe it was something else. It could have been the only one ever made for a purpose unique.

When I read Moby Dick I had to have an old dictionary nearby to look up all the out of use words. So many words have fallen along the way and new ones have popped up. The names for long lost tools have gone with them and I wonder if there were some verbs that went extinct as well. Some survived like “milked” even though very few people have ever milked a cow they have seen someone who has milked something for all its worth. Yet there are words that lie in deep graves, along with the languages that harbored them, and the Ugarit metalsmith, if she were transported here today would never hear her native tongue spoken the way she loved it.

I watched the cloud formation drift across the sky, changing and dying slow. I knew it would die and I knew there would never be another quite exactly like it again, and I knew that somehow, that was meaningful to what I am trying to write now. Somehow, human things are like the clouds we love to watch. We see in them things we know, things we are accustomed to seeing, as if the clouds are verification that even the sky recognizes us. But the very opposite is true; even the sky knows we are impermanent.

The Ugarian metalsmith’s name will never be uttered again for it too fell out of use. But one day she used a tool, a pointer, to carve the space on the tip of an arrow where the metal arrowhead would go. She called it a pointer because her father called it that as did his father and so on. But she died without children and the pointer fell into a crack between the stones of her shop. It was buried in time and three thousand years later a young woman dug it up while tending a garden. She hung in on a string around her neck and wondered what it had once been, as she looked up at the clouds.

Take Care,

Mike

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Porch Flowers




It’s odd that we fret and worry and despair while there is great beauty that returns every year, time and time again, to worship the sky and the sun and simply to be.

After the subfreezing temperatures and the  floods I would have never thought the porch flowers would have returned but here they are, as beautiful as ever, worshiping the sky and simply being…

No Check Please.





It may, or may not be true, but I think I saw in a movie where Dian Fossey had her appendix removed before she went to Africa so it wouldn’t be a bother to her while she studied gorillas. I’m thinking about doing some research myself so an operation might be in order. But I’m thinking about studying shoppers; I may have to have my brain removed in order to blend in with them more effectively.
Usually, I park as far away from the door as I can at any grocery store. Stupidity is like radioactivity; the closer to the source the stronger it gets. I’ve got some theories on why shopping makes people even more stupid than they are on a regular basis. The first is people usually have to drive to get to a grocery store. You can take a person who taught Neil deGrasse Tyson everything he ever knew, put that person behind the wheel of a car in traffic and that person’s head will tilt to one side, drool will start coming out of their mouth, you can hear their IQ dropping, and they will have the sudden urge to text, “OMG r u going 2 d store? LOL!” while driving seventy-five miles an hour through a school zone.

So, it’s actually no surprise once they arrive there is already a certain degree of brain damage. But let’s also look at what’s being sold in grocery stores. Once upon a time there was this small section, usually close to the front, where you’d find soft drinks and snacks. Now both species of High Fructose Corn Syrup Derivatives have their own aisles. Sugar makes a human being hyper and stupid. That’s what you want when you are selling anything; hyper-stupid customers.

And they have certainly got them.

I remember when there were two, count them, two kinds of potato chips. Now there are a few dozen including Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Covered Pickles and Sea Salt Beets Chips that taste exactly like the ice cream that flavored after the potato chip of the same name. All of this has the nutritional value of Plutonium 462.


I cannot help but wonder if we’re slowly poisoning ourselves out of existence. I see people in the grocery stores with buggies loaded down with nothing but junk. The produce aisle is a place they frequent as often as they do a bookstore. I see people with kids and they’ve loaded down with High Carbs, Sugar, Sodium by the pound, High Fructose Poison and damn little else. The human body cannot build what it’s supposed to build with these materials so what will it build instead? Justina Beaver Fans?

Oh, by the way, I’m there for a bottle of red wine. In moderation, which one bottle split between two people can be considered and it’s good for your heart.

So there I am, bottle of wine and I’m blocked in by three people who are totally mystified by the helium canister which suddenly isn’t blowing up balloons anymore. They’re twisting the valve open and closed and they’re pressing the button on the valve but it doesn’t occurring to them they’re blocking an aisle. These same people will stop in the middle of the road, right next to a turn lane, to turn, and not use a blinker. Their heads tilt to one side, drool begins…

I go around them.


Ten Items or Fewer; is this hard to understand? Really, you don’t even have to take your shoes off for this one. Ten:   One more than nine, twice as five, one less than eleven, two eggs short of a dozen, half of twenty, or all fingers including your thumbs. I learned ten a very long time ago, truly, I did. Yet here’s this woman with more stuff piled up on the ten or fewer aisle than the Walton’s ate in a week. The poor cashier, a child of no more than twenty or so, looks overwhelmed, but she’s nearly through with the Marines’ First Division’s supplies so I get in line. Ever have one of those days when you do something seemingly harmless but it turns into something else before you realize you’ve done it? I put the wine bottle on the belt and when the girl starts the belt the bottle tips over. No big deal. I’m not going to stand it up again because it might fall. Without thinking about it I spin the bottle and as my mind catches up with what I’ve just done my hand stops the bottle and it points at the cashier. She looks at the bottle, we both look at one another, and she turns much redder than the wine. Do people still play that? I had no idea. I thought that was something indigenous to my youth. But now I feel awkward and self-conscious.

Meanwhile…

The woman buying a year’s supply of Ten or Fewer asks if she can use a check to pay for her preparations for the Apocalypse.  The cashier, who likely at this point, thinks I’m a depraved old man, tells the woman she can, and the woman digs around in her Biggest Bag Ever for a checkbook. Why not have it out already? WHY? So the woman begins to write the check, stops, and asks if she can write it over the amount. Yes, yes of course, the cashier pleads with her, just write. Okay, how much over can I write it? Twenty. All I need is ten. Ten will be fine. Thank you. Then her pen dies. The cashier, who is still blood red, gives her another pen.  Oh, I have to put this in my register or I’ll forget it. The woman fills out the check for the wrong amount. I can’t stand it. I have to flee and I go across the store to the office counter with one bottle of wine and a really odd feeling that that young woman really thinks I’m a pervert.

Back in the parking lot I pray for a quick escape. It is not to be. There’s a bright young man with a bright white shirt on and he’s wearing black pants and has literature. Ah, there’s nothing like a zealot to make the day seem a little more surreal. Before he can say anything I point and exclaim, “Look! It’s the Pope!” and duck into my truck.

The first contact with my subjects of study has been interesting. I’ve managed to keep my appendix and barely escaped with my dignity. Next week, I’m going in again!

Take Care,

Mike

Hearts and Minds


Friday, May 2, 2014

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). On Liberty. 1869.

We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.
  First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
  Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
  Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.