Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Snapshots from the Interstate and the Leash.






I remember being wine drunk and on a walk one day, looking for someone’s dog who had decided to take a walk of his own, without a leash. Who knows why he did it? Maybe he was bored or maybe he smelled something he couldn’t resist or maybe he heard something he thought needed his immediate attention. He was one of those flop forward eared dogs and had a clunky head to go with it. This was a large but compact and muscular animal who got along well with cats and other dogs, but didn’t like men that much. He liked me, of course, because I speak canine fluently and most dogs appreciate that.
I-75 ran a quarter mile from where he was straying, but there’s a fence up in front of it so that wasn’t a worry. I stopped to listen and the sound of traffic, never ceasing, ebbing, flowing, but never ending, and it was white noise after thirty minutes or so. I hesitated before walking again, wondering if some kid in some car might look out of the window and see a man standing in a pasture a half mile away, standing, not doing anything, maybe it’s a scarecrow, and I wonder now if children these days know anything of scarecrows, or have ever really seen one?

If that child, let’s say about five years old, was to ask a parent about the man in the pasture, seen between billboards advocating one truck stop over another, advertising land for sell in Florida, putting forth the message of one gasoline over another, who’s to say what the answer would be? But then the dog showed up, breaking the daydream up into pieces to be picked up later, or left to spout into other dreams. There was no point in scolding the dog for that would have taught him not to return to me, and truly, he knows better than to run away like this, but something compelled him and he answered. I call his person on the cell, the search is called off, and I decided to answer his call, and walk with him, on a leash, and see where he might have gone. He knew he was in trouble and liked the idea I wasn’t going to say anything to him about it, and he liked even better we were going for a walk, during his walk. He kept looking back and me with that happy dog look on his face as if he had found someone he trusted, and what could make anyone happier?


The dog stops to do dog things that I wonder why he didn’t do in the woods like bears do, but this brings me back to the idea that people on the Interstate, if they were looking out of the window at the right time, might see a man holding a red leash with a black dog at the end of it, with the dog squatted over. Maybe there’s someone who has lost a dog of many years to old age, who sees me out with a dog and wonders if this is my dog, if this is the dog I will lose to old age, and they wonder if I realize how short our time here is with the dogs we love? Maybe there is a child who has always wanted a dog and sees me and wonders if they will ever have a dog to walk with near the road and they wonder if it’s as cool as it looks like it is, and it is, I would tell anyone who asked. The dog finishes and looks back at me to ask if we have to go back yet and we don’t. I don’t feel like handing the leash over to the owners yet, good people that they are, but I want to spend some more time with this dog, because he likes me. I stop to pet him and he tells me he would like to spend some more leash time with me. Sometimes you walk the dog and sometimes you let the dog walk you. He wants to explore the places rodents or rabbit might have hidden recently, and it’s warm enough for snakes so I make sure to keep a good grip on the leash. He’s serious about exploring and I like the fact that he doesn’t tug hard when he wants to go one way or the other, just gentle pressure of direction, civilized animal that he is.

There’s a piece of tin, and what dog doesn’t love a piece of tin, that has weeds growing up around it, and if I was a rodent, or s snake, I would live under a piece of tin and the dog digs around the edges and whines. He looks at me as if he’s asking me to and I have to think about it. I find a stick and tell the dog to sit and wait. He sits but the wait thing… No, you wait. Man, come on! No, you sit and you wait. Dammmit man, you’re killing me! Sit, good dog, now wait. Okay, I’m sitting and waiting. I pry the tin up and he waits and there’s nothing there but the scents! I turn his nose loose on it and he snuffles around with his stub tail wagging hard. The area gets vacuumed. But it’s time to return him to his family.

We cross the pasture and I let him off the leash because his people are coming to meet us. He runs across the grass at full speed and I hope someone on the Interstate sees this dog bolting across the earth in joy, wanting to tell someone what he’s see and smelled. I look towards the road and realize that someone might see us, three people and a dog, and they might wonder what is going on, and maybe some kid will grow up and write about seeing us, and we would never know it, but we would live forever in his memory, like very odd things do.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Pause of a Family.









I get a call from a friend to put an alarm into hibernation until the realty company can find a new tenant, and I already know what that means. The house is now vacant, and the story, however it ends, will end in someone else’s history. People on the fringe of a life drift by, waving perhaps, speaking a dozen words or so, but in the end, gone, and there’s just no way to keep up with everyone even if there was the desire to do so. Yeah, kinda, maybe, but no, there’s too many things in front right now to take care of, so not. 

There was a young couple downstairs from me, twenty-six years or so ago, and one night I was walking down the back stairway and the young woman was walking into her kitchen, without curtains, without clothes, and she never realized I could see her. I missed the last step and nearly broke my jaw which went from hanging open to being bounced shut. That’s a photograph in my mind, of a woman not yet out of her teens, barely pregnant, nude, and in candlelight, and it’s hard to imagine the slight bump being a mother or a father by now. I cannot remember either of them by name now, only they had a GSD, named King that I could howl with, at times.

The house isn’t empty and there’s two men in it, one quite a few years older than the other, he’s the one repairing a smashed window while the other is hauling away boxes full of stuff people used to live. Socks, pans, plastic food storage containers that will be stashed away with leftovers until they are old enough to be thrown away, a jump rope, a roll of string, a few toys, and all of it not at home right now. The man working on the window stops and looks at me, but the other is one of those take charge who- are- you- what- are- you- doing- here- types.
“Just here reset the alarm.” I tell him. He doesn’t offer to shake hands and I don’t offer it either.
“So you don’t know where he is?” the man demands of me, as if I am hiding someone in my pocket.
“You’re her father.” And suddenly I can see it in his eyes. They have the same eyes, the same thinness of face, and the same reckless sense of honesty.
“How’d you know my daughter?” He demands again, and I see now why his son-in-law bolted from working for him.
“Resetting the alarm after a lightning strike, and then again after an X box strike.” I tell him.
“Worthless POS knocked my daughter up, ruined her car, and then ran off, that…” He tells me and I have to admire his ability to curse. He’s a professional. 
The other man stops work to stare in wonder at this outburst. I have to admit, it’s a little startling, but I have a vocabulary of very sharp words that I allow the light of day or dark of night, when they are needed. Bats or crows, whichever the occasion calls for, they will come to flutter or flock whichever is most inappropriate.
“How is the baby?” I ask, and if anything can, and I’m not sure anything will, distract him, but grandparents when asked about their grandchildren, even those sired by the very worst of humanity, will still show you photos.
“He’s fine…” and the man looks at me as if he suddenly realizes that I’m there. He puts the box down and goes into one of the other rooms and the guy fixing the window shrugs at me, as if to say, “Don’t ask me” and then, after a full minute, dad comes back in. “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” With this he tells me who he is, who the guy repairing the window is, and he asks me to forgive him for his behavior. Odd thing here in the South; you’ll find that sort of thing here. To be uncivil to strangers is not something that many people practice as a rule. The guy at the window is Roy, one of the other deacons at his church (uh huh, you see it too) and his name is Carrol. That happens in The South too. Men have that name in a family and live with it.
I ask him what happened to his son-in-law, and I do this with deliberation, for I know now that he’s had one outburst in front of a fellow member of the church he isn’t likely to toss another so soon. We sit on the floor with bottled water and scattered toys, and the remains of a dining room table, a quadruple amputee.
“He done run off.” Carroll repeats. “Says he’s going to join the Marines but they won’t have him.”
“Is he from here?” I ask.
“Naw,” Roy finally speaks up, “they met on that Facebook. He’s from up north, Atlanta or someplace.”
And then there’s a litany of events that led to the young man’s eventual exit. Pot, alcohol, X-Box, getting caught doing things they ought not be doing in the pool, (TMI dad, you’re straying) and a general sense of hatred for the man who knocked his daughter up. But as he tells the story it keeps coming up that Connie, the daughter, was led astray by this guy, but it was she who went to pick him up in her car, and it was her idea they get married, and she was the one that fronted the money for the rental house, and now, incredibly enough, Connie isn’t back home with her parents. She’s staying with her sister about twenty miles west of here.
“What if he makes it?” I ask. “What if he makes it through boot camp?”
Carroll laughs but Roy looks at me, as if he has wondered the same thing, and I notice he hasn’t said very much at all in any of this.
“Roy, what do you think?” I look at Carroll when I say this and he looks startled.
“If’n Connie’s worth it to him, and that little one, he’ll pull through it.” Roy says and suddenly I realize that this is what Roy has been wanting to say, perhaps for a while. Roy nods after he hears his own words as if he agrees with Roy, and agrees Roy should have said those words out loud.
“You two related?” I ask.
“That’s my half- sister’s boy” Roy laughs. “Don’t hold that against her.” And both laugh.

It’s a reckless sense of honesty, I think to myself as I leave. The family charges forward with their thoughts and their feelings, and that scares some people, intimidates others, and endears them to a few. What little I know about the woman the young man might do well to join the Marines to keep her and his son. A woman like that would appreciate it and wait for him, and follow him around the world, because he did. I wonder if that young man is, right now, doing push- ups or running on a track, or looking in the mirror, wondering if he has what it takes to be a Marine, and perhaps, a father, and a husband.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won: Holes and Hair, and Bear.



This morning I had to kill some red wasps who were building a nest on my front door. There is no making peace with these creatures and I have to wonder why in very late August they’re homesteading on my door. The end is near for them, all of them, and somehow, I wonder why there isn’t some mechanism that ought to tell them this. Yet at the same time, perhaps this is nature’s way of telling me the wasps know something I do not. Last year there was an active nest deep into November and that nest was one I didn’t knock down when it got cold. This year another set of wasps built very close to it and then incorporated it into their new nest. The wasps never attack me when I’m mowing the lawn and I wonder if it’s the dust or the noise or both?

Mowing the backyard has now become an exercise in strategy and upper body strength. I have to weave around the holes and pits the Black Plague have dug, and I have to keep the mower mostly off the ground while this is going on. It occurs to me there are no mounds, only holes. I think this is because the Labs eat dirt and it turns into hair which is shed on the floor. After the hair is tossed out of the house it turns back into dirt where they dig holes into it again. It is an endless cycle.

This week there is dust, as well as holes, and the dew has been eaten by the plants before I begin just after dawn. The endless Summer afternoon rains have slackened and now it’s drying out to the point of being a detriment. There’s a cloud of dust that follows me and even with a mask and safety glasses on it’s a lot like mowing in the Mojave. Add the dodging I’m having to do to avoid the dens of the Cousins and it slowly eats up fuel and time. Yet the grass and weeds are not as thick as they were back in June and July. It is, after all, late August now, and the grass is beginning to thin, just a bit.

I’m rewriting a story that I began last year, finished, and then returned to visit to see if I could play with the gender roles just a bit. If you have a lead character who is female, and is the only person in the group who suspects a male in the group is evil, it’s easy to make a reader believe she’s being paranoid if the other characters are willing to go along with the idea of the hysterical female. The other side of the coin is that the guy in question is icky as hell, but does that make him evil? And the reader is left guessing. The woman in question has nightmares and is prone to be snarky. The guy in question is a pathological liar who doesn’t tell the truth until he’s trapped in a lie. The others are more or less trying to figure it all out as to what’s going on and then bear.

Really, what else do you need if you want to terrorize a few people in the woods? You don’t need witches or demons or any sort of evil force and you don’t need a supersized prehistoric bear when an average grizzly will do everything you want. If the people are secure in a place but they have to leave for food or water sooner or later and then it’s them and Smokey… What else do you need for terror and desperation? Nothing supernatural comes close to the idea that sooner or later you have to walk sixty miles to the nearest paved road and there’s a bear outside. Toss in a guy with a knee injury and suddenly two of the three survivors look bad for realizing he’s going to be the first taken and maybe they can run. How closely bonded are you to other people when bear? There’s a lot to think about when the food chain doesn’t look the same as it did the last time you went to McDonald’s.


I have to refuel when I switch from the Holey Land to the front yard. It’s taken much more time than usual and the air filter has to be hurting by now. I watch as a stray breeze pushes the last dust cloud over the pond. That’s a lot of dust, I tell you. Even in the drier part of August with the sunlight decaying a little more each day, the grass is sparse. There are spots in the yard where even after two weeks of not mowing it’s still not overgrown like it would have been a month ago. The fence that borders my neighbor’s land and mine has a fury of Autumn vines growing on it and soon there will be purple, white, and red flowers covering everything that the vines can climb. The wild grape vines are sporting golden leaves as they die. The deep dark green of Summer is less intense and there are bare splotches and golden brown leaves showing up more frequently each week.

There are still no days at less than 90 degrees and still no nights in the 60’s forecasted for this region but it cannot be long now. Gone are the upper nineties although there still might be a day or four, but triple digit heat seems to have slipped away quietly. Summer is alive and well, certainly, but it is less intense.

I might mow again in two weeks then again in three. And then once more? We’ll see. But the wasps who are trying to make a living this late in the year aren’t going to have much time to build or breed. The year is drawing down, like a Summer day in late August, where the intensity is giving way to a wistful feeling of ending sooner than later.

Take Care,
Mike