Tyger Linn and Prison

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Tyger Linn is not an overly needy dog so I was surprised when she got up on the bed and tucked herself quite neatly against my body with her head under by chin. This is Tyger’s way of letting me know she wants to be held, like a puppy, and even though I want to nap, and it’s going to be hard to get to sleep with Tyger nestled against me like this. There’s some reason inside of this little girl that caused her to come to me wanting comfort. So the nap can wait, and Tyger gets petted on her ears as she dozes in and out of sleep, pushing me with her nose when I stop.

 

In an alternative universe, Tyger Linn is an only dog with an older person as an owner and I think she would be happier that way. But then again, there is no way of telling what is reality except that one we’re sensing right now, clouded by prejudices and desires, perceived poorly by soft machines that are tragically flawed. One beer more and I might not have cared about the person of a striped persuasion, or perhaps, one less and I would have been more reasonable and not tried to rescue the violent little street dog.

 

 

Very few of the dogs I have rescued have been abuse cases, and Tyger arrived in good health, physically, but clearly she was accustomed to fighting for food, space, attention, and for her life. Every disagreement was a fight and every fight was to the end. The reality Tyger Linn lived in there was very little love or affection and no comfort. Sleeping on the bed was something that Tyger delighted in the first time I allowed her. She had to learn not to sleep in the middle, so there would be room for others, and for me, and her was taught not to growl at me, or the other dogs once she was on the bed. But there is something to be said for a bed. It beats the hell out of sleeping on the ground, in the open, or in a cage.

 

While in reasonably good health, Tyger did arrive with a great deal of food aggression. She ate very quickly, scarfing down mouthfuls of food as quickly as she could, growling at me if I got near, and then she was off to do battle for the food of other dogs. Tyger learned very quickly that no one is allowed to steal here, and no one will ever starve under my roof. It took some doing, but in the end, Tyger learned to sit and wait for her bowl to be filled, and she learned to stay away from other dogs while they eat. Comfort and food go a very long way in getting a dog to settle into a pack. Love helps a lot, too.

 

When we see this, and if you rescue dogs you do see it, we assume it’s a natural thing. We assume that if we do the right things the right way, no matter how damaged the dog might be, we can pull it back from the edge, and wind up with a mild mannered lap dog. It’s true, it’s possible, and while Tyger is not exactly perfect right now, the little girl has come a very long way. The clashes are less frequent and far less violent now. Tyger isn’t interested in prolonged conflict with anyone for any reason now. She has her bowl and she has her place. And when need arises, Tyger gets to get up on the bed and curl up beside me, and be comforted.

 

 

It’s odd. As many people who might applaud this rescue of a street dog destined for the needle, there seems to be a blindness when we speak of rescuing human beings. If you can agree that love and comfort will heal the violent street dog and guide her into being a trusted member of a pack, why is it we jam human beings into cages and expect them to be released in a better form? We cringe at the idea of high kill shelters churning out dead pets as quickly as they can be brought in and put down, yet we have become so accustomed to prisons being the only answer to crime and criminals, that we do not wonder any more that they do more harm than good. If prisons work then why do we keep having so many criminals?

 

 

 

It’s difficult to rehab a dog, especially one who is violent. It’s got to be even harder to rehab a human being. Yet with all the millions we spend, are we actually making things worse? I can point to Tyger Linn and tell you that she is a success story, that people can pet her and hug her, and she’s okay with other dogs, but can you take someone out of prison and feel comfortable letting your kids live next to that person? The perception is there, even if it isn’t true. We do not trust our system of punishment to produce favorable results. We use a system to damage human beings and then we blame them for that damage.

 

 

No, I have no answers. I cannot tell you that allowing criminals to sleep on beds and be petted will solve the world’s problems and we’ll all sleep with our doors unlocked. If there was an easy answer here then the world would beat a path to my door and we would all live happily ever after. There is no cure here.

 

 

What this is, in the end, is a question. Why can we do no better? Why is it that we have the wherewithal to seek the retraining of dogs in need yet there are over one million of our citizens in prison right now without any hope of doing more than sitting and waiting for their time to be up?

 

Tyger Linn stirs in her sleep, sighs, and then returns to slumber. This is a damaged being, mistreated by humans, and mistrustful still, at times of their intentions. But it has been worth all that I have done, and it will be worth all I will do.

 

Take Care,

 

Cup And Plates

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When I had served my sentence in the Unites States Army, I rented an apartment in Valdosta, Georgia and began my life anew. I had decided that I was going to do two things in life that I had always wanted to do; I would learn to cook the food I liked, and I would learn to eat spicy food. The former is a very reasonable talent to be desirous of, and the latter merely a function of both curiosity and bravado. As the military is not conducive to keeping household goods, as soon as I ran out of paper plates I ventured forth to find “real” plates.

 

There were other items that were on my list; a measuring cup, a set of flatware, and some glass drinking glasses, as the red solo cups become brittle after a few washes. I ventured forth on foot to a local K-Mart, some two miles away or more, because gas was more expensive than the wear and tear on my feet.

 

You are never really fully aware, or fully appreciative of how good food is until you have to cook it yourself, and it’s a product of your own investment in time and skill. I could afford salt and pepper, but that was bout all in my spice rack, and I didn’t own one of those, but like most people who start out poor, there’s a lot to be said for being forced into doing well with what you have. Baking was out of the question, but I did learn that simple meals can be prepared to be better than the sum of their parts.

 

Believe it or not, I was shocked to discover rice takes forty minutes to boil. Rice is one of those dishes that there is just so many ways to flavor it that it might be considered a spice of sorts. I was surprised that it took chicken as long as it did to cook, too. I baked a whole chicken once and followed a recipe that required nearly one and a half hours of cooking, and some stuff inside of the chicken. It came out perfect.

 

But the journey to get plates became a surreal thing because once at the store, I realized that a man cannot simply walk into a store and buy plates. Each set of plates came with tea cups, tea cup saucers, and bowls. None of this stuff survived the many moves between here and then, but two of the original four plates did. But it took a while to pick out a pattern. I finally went with the cheapest and was done with it. I also bought a plastic measuring cup. This was in January of 1985. I still have that plastic measuring cup.

 

 

In 1985, grocery bags and shopping bags were still paper, and I began the journey back. One thing the Army teaches you is to walk. You walk everywhere in the Army, so two miles or four miles, or even ten miles meant nothing to me, even while carrying a bag that had plates in it. It was a very cold day, and I shifted the bag from one hand to the other to keep at least one hand warm. Left, left, left, right, left, the steady four miles an hour walk had me and the plates home in less than half an hour.

 

There are things that define how you intend to live. If you are going to cook then you are going to need pots, pans, kitchen utensils past a spoon and fork and a large knife to cut with. I greedily accumulated these things, one or two at a time, and I learn that you do not have to have a certain instrument, such s a bread knife, but if you bake bread then having a bread knife is a wonderful thing. You don’t have to have a collider or a strainer, using a plate, one of the new plates, to block the spaghetti from escaping the pot while the water is drained is perfectly fine, if not a little dangerous, but it will do.

 

It took me a while to understand how to boil pasta perfectly. It took me a while to understand how much salt to add to the water, and how much butter to put on the noodles, and how much time to allow them to boil. I ate my mistakes, because food could not be wasted. I still yearn for crunchy spaghetti sometimes.

 

 

I bought a jalapeno pepper and it nearly killed me as I tried to eat it. But I did begin to understand how to cook with hot peppers, and I did understand that past bragging about being able to eat hot food, there was some very serious flavor to be had in the heat. Learning to cook, and learning to cook spicy food went hand in hand, and I began to understand why people bothered to seek heat. It would be years before I started looking for, and being able to fine, really hot peppers, but the desire to look within them, and past the heat, never left me.

 

 

The plate I washed this morning after breakfast is older than a lot of people I know. I stopped, looked at it, saw the fissure that had begun, and realized that over the last thirty-three years, many meals have passed over that piece of porcelain.  Friends, roommates, girlfriends, a wife, and many dogs have likely had a meal on that plate. Its days are numbered, and eventually it will crack and fail, and the pieces will find up in the trashcan, and this post is likely to be the last reminder it existed at all.

 

 

Yet there was a time when that plate was one of a dozen things I owned that belonged in the kitchen. I had a set of flatware, four glasses, and a wooden spoon. (Bert chewed the wooden spoon into pieces.) I couldn’t cook, but I wanted to. I didn’t know how to do the things I wanted to do, but I learned. That’s how life goes, in the kitchen, or anywhere else.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

Rage in the Rain, on the Road, and Windshield Wipers

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It’s a strange life to lead when getting off work just after midnight is getting off early. The rain started right after work did and a light rain doesn’t kill things off, but a light rain that doesn’t stop, and gets harder, does. The bottom fell out of the sky right after it was called off, as if to punctuate the demise of the day. By the time I pointed the truck westward the rain was down to a heavy drizzle but the damage had been done.

 

Mile Marker 8 exists just west of I-75, and I try to ramp my speed up to fifty-five by the time I get to it. True enough, the speed limit is forty-five, but it is late, and there’s very little traffic. Up ahead of me, there’s a white serial killer van in the inside lane, directly ahead of me, and to his right is a car. The serial killer van and the car aren’t side by side but they’re damn close, and I see now I’m going to have to slow down until one of them decides to turn, slow down, go faster, or stop to kidnap some schoolchildren while offering free candy.

 

As far as I know, the white serial killer van is an urban myth with no real serial killers actually using the vehicle and if one or two did, remember that Bundy used a VW Bug to kidnap women. I had a friend with one, many years ago, and I never really saw them as creepy until the internet started calling them out. I wonder what else the internet has done for us, other than that?

 

Suddenly, as I’m getting closer, the white serial killer van speeds up, and passes the car, a little too closely, and the car responds by changing lanes, and moving in front of me. It’s like they traded places, but the car was forced to slow down, so when it changed lanes, it cut me off, and I had to slow down. The white serial killer van makes a right turn, seeking some lost soul to prey upon, and is gone.

 

Somehow, what just happened was my fault in some way. The car, which is in front of me, slows down dramatically, and I change lanes. The car speeds up and changes lanes, and the driver flicks a cigarette out of the window straight up into the air.

 

Really? This is supposed to, in some way, enrage me?

 

So another car appears behind us, and as it passes me, I fall in behind it, and the Enraged Car speeds up, as to not let me escape his wrath. As he gets beside me, I speed up to about sixty, then drop down to fifty very quickly, and he has to brake to keep from overshooting me to the point his point hasn’t been made yet. He slows down and I speed up. A big rig truck shows up behind me and I speed up, knowing the car of rage cannot fall in behind me because of the truck.

 

Really? Is any of this truly necessary?

 

We get to Mile Marker 4. Yes, all of this has occurred in the last four miles. If you really want to know how weird things can get, there were four people burned to death in an accident about ten years ago. They were pulling out of Exit 18 and by the time they had nearly reached Exit 16 two miles away, four people were dead. They cut someone off and that person eventually rammed them. At three in the morning. There were a half dozen cars within a mile of that event, maybe.

 

 

But now he’s lost track of me and I drop down in speed and get over into the slow lane again. A few minutes later he passes me, slows down, so I do too, but there’s more traffic on the road behind him and he’s losing interest. He speeds up and I watch him slowly gain ground. Soon, another car passes me, and another, so by the time we get to the County Line, he’s too far ahead of me for me to tell who is who up there.

 

The rain begins again, harder, and I have to turn on the wipers. There’s a certain ethereal quality when it comes to windshield wipers. They appear from nowhere, disappear instantly, and the water on the windshield is gone, but then it returns, and the wipers come back, and so it goes, for miles and miles and miles. No one can really say how many times they’ve watched this, and to a point it’s just background scenery, like the lines on the road, or the rain itself. We don’t really see wipers, until they go to hell on us, leave streaks, squeak, or break. And most streaks occur right in front of the driver’s field of vision.

 

The mile markers reverse at the line. I went from eight to zero, and now go from seventeen to twelve. At twelve I’ll be in Quitman, and eleven is on the west side, and I’ll head South. In Quitman, there’s a line of traffic caused by the train catching people, I just missed it, and lo! The car of extreme anger is trapped at a traffic light two cars ahead of me as I pull up.

I wonder if he sees me back there and there’s some trigger that’s pulled and he wants to play tag in traffic some more? I mean was it really that big of a deal? Does it mean so much to people that this person did that or someone in some car did something that caused that much anger?

 

I make a left turn as the car of rage heads due west. Somewhere, his version of the story is different, but I made an effort to disengage. I don’t do road rage in any form. I keep the hell away from human beings when I can, and I can. One day, he’s going to pull up beside someone can catch a bullet for his troubles, but those are not my troubles. The rain ceases and I turn off the wipers.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

The Dream of Burning Houses, and Being Hunted.

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Last night I dreamed I was working on some sort of road crew, and part of the process was a dump truck that was dumping something, it wasn’t gravel and it wasn’t asphalt. But I would grab the side of the bed of the dump truck as it lifted and ride it into the air. It would go up ten or fifteen feet, really not that high, but there were men on the crew that would laugh and others that would call for me to stop that sort of thing because it was dangerous.

During a break one of the men told me I better stop because one of the crew members had taken a video of me doing it and posted it on FB.

 

This is the first dream I’ve had where FB was mentioned by someone in the dream.

 

The dream continued. There was a house I recognized as being familiar. Not in reality, but as in the dreamscape. I either had been there before, at either a party or visiting a friend. There was a pool in the backyard and a friend’s daughter had been there. She was much younger than I and I watched her in the pool. I had my sunglasses on and it didn’t matter than I stared but she got out of the pool and came over and spoke with me, and asked me if I thought she ought to get a tattoo. I remember the conversation vaguely, as if it had happened a long time ago, but I still remember the electric blue bikini she wore.

 

That’s an odd detail for the dream to add and the young woman seemed familiar in real life, but I can’t place her.

 

It was getting late, darkness had begun to fall, and I walked forward of the worksite with a young man who had offered to give me a ride to my truck. He was impressed that I had ridden the truck bed up, and he told me that he had to go right by my truck to get home, so it wasn’t going out of his way to give me a ride.

 

There was a very nice home with a small pond in front of it, and the young man grabbed my arm and pointed. There was fire inside of the house. We could see it through the windows and he said he was calling 911. As he pulled out his phone, and this house was a good three hundred meters away, the fire in the house suddenly turned into a white mist for a second, then there was more fire, and I said to the young man, “Boom!” and something in the house exploded, shattering the windows as pieces of it were blown through them. A split second later we heard the sound and he said something about us driving over to the house and trying to rescue people. I liked him a great deal for this. I thought it was a brave thing to want to do. But just as we were about to get into the car, we saw a trail of smoke, with fire at the head of it, snake towards the house from the road. It was a missile. But instead of streaking towards the house, is wound its way to the house snakelike and slowly, but when it hit there was a flash of light, more fire, and then we heard the explosion. We stood there in shock and horror and he looked at his phone to make the 911 call and told me his phone was dead. A vehicle of some sort came down the road with its lights on, and we both knew it was the car or truck that had launched the missile. We hid between his car and another and he took his keys out and told me if something happened one of us ought to get out. The car stopped and a light, a very bright white light illuminated the inside of his car and the one next to it, and I looked under the car to see if anyone got out, if anyone was going to come look for us, but no, the light went out, and the car continued down the road.

 

“Wait,” I told him, and we stayed hidden. Suddenly, there were noises, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and we heard the sound of men screaming. Then, there was silence, and I could hear my breath rasping.

 

I was on the run. The young man was gone. I was at the home of a friend of a friend, and she was a little older than me and trying to figure out if I was in more trouble than she wanted to invest in. But we were drinking, and she was interested in the trouble, and interested in the excitement of the trouble, even though she had no idea how terrible the trouble might be. She asked me if I could find some hash, and I called a friend and hinted around at what I was looking for, and he caught on, and told me he would call me back. The woman asked me if I had heard about a house being burned down, and the people inside being killed. I told her no, and pretended to be shocked. I knew they were hunting me. I knew I had seen too much. And I knew that if I was to stay alive I would have to use this woman, and she might die for it.

 

I woke thinking they might already know where I was.

 

Questions:

 

Who are “they”?

What happened in that house?

What do they want?

Did you notice how tech heavy the dream was?

 

 

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

 

I Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won.

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In my defense, I did try to pull the old tree down a couple of times but it refused to yield. Chainsawing a derelict tree is iffy, even to professionals, because rotted trees fall in odd ways and in odd places. Yet, still, when it crashed into the front part of my shed I wished I had done more and even as I had the thought I should have done more, I went into full procrastination mode, and did nothing about the stuff in the shed. My reasoning was sound; the front end of the shed was wrecked, but the roof was still relatively intact, and the stuff inside was still dry. It was cold at the time, and I didn’t need the mower or the hand tools, or for that matter, the chainsaw at that point in time, so I just left it. Until I got another shed I would just leave it like it was.

 

Then I started night work, and that drained my energy down to nothing, and I knew I would have to mow, one day, and I knew the longer I let it go the worse it was going to get, but night work, exhaustion, and dread got the best of me. I decided to go into the shed today, and get the stuff out I could, put it on the porch if I had to, and mow the grass. It was time. I was looking to see where Lilith was earlier in the day and lost her in the backyard.

 

Yeah, I know, I know, don’t say anything, I know.

 

First, there was still part of the tree on the shed. I got the axe out and started chopping and Budlore Amadeus began barking at me. Every time I hit the tree with the axe, it made a deep resounding boom from inside the shed, like Grond was hammering away at it. This made for interesting tree removal, true, but it was a little funny. Once the tree was removed, I hard to unbend the shed as best I could, and say what you will about cheap metal sheds, but cheap metal is easy to bend. I got lucky; my metal rake was wrecked and the handle on the mower was a little misshaped, but all in all, most of the stuff was okay. Now, would the mower run? Yes, indeed, it would and it did. I was in business, except the grass was forest tall, and it was hot as hell. And I had been using an axe for the better part of an hour.

 

It was already one in the afternoon when I wrestled the mower into the front yard. I’m a push mower guy, yeah, really, because I don’t like the idea of being as out of shape as I am and paying five hundred bucks, or three times that much, or more, to sit and mow. Sure, this thing has gotten out of hand, certainly it’s going to be a bitch, but it’s going to be one hell of a workout. I decide to push, pull, and finesse this thing until I run out of gas, in the mower, and then take a thirty minute break. Usually, a tank of gas will nearly do the front and back yard, and I can get both done in two hours if I hurry, three if I do all the detail spots.

 

One hour later, I have an area mowed the size of my first apartment, minus the living room and kitchen. True enough, it’s the thickest and hardest part of the front yard, but I’m making zero progress at this point. Push, pull back, lift up, push, lift up quick as the mower nearly stalls, and the gnats are just about to carry me off like the Flying Monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. The tank runs dry shortly afterwards, and damn, this is going very slowly.

The first break I feel okay, but I can tell that my legs and back are getting a workout. I’ve got a good strategy in going slow, sectioning off the yard, cutting less than half the width of the mower, moving back and forth through the roughest part, and truly, I haven’t had to mower quit but once or twice. It’s slow, damnably slow, but I knew it would be.

Two hours later and I’ve got about half of the front yard done, with a patch that I’m going to have to attack with a weed eater to start it. There’s a pine tree there and there’s a billion cones, broken branches and a lot of debris. Fine. I expected that also. What I didn’t expect is to be two hours deep into this thing with just this to show for it. True, the thickest and hardest is done, but barely, and my body is beginning to protest. Still, after two hours, I still feel okay. During my break I take two aspirins and drink a lot of water. I may very well have two more hours to go just in the front yard. It’s not impossible, and I am running out of hours in the day.

 

Push, pull, lift, wait, and the grass is being cut and the hours are going by. My first real job was in the fields so there’s really nothing I will ever do that compares to that at all. This is bad, but it’s on my own terms. My back and legs are beginning to ache, however, and I can feel over half a decade of life hanging off of me. My making progress and can tell it down, driving deeply into the yard, narrowing the uncut area, and I wonder when we Americas lost the ability to appreciate hard work. There was a time everyone worked hard at something and now it seems nearly no one does. People don’t force their kids to take Summer job in the fields anymore, and you never see a kid pushing a mower. I’m sweating and it’s pouring off of my body, but it does feel good, this does. I can feel my body’s strength out here in the heat and the dust, and the tall grass, and it is a good thing. Do kids understand this feeling these days? Have they ever been pushed to the point where the work seemed endless, the days never-ending, and pay laughably low?

 

Three hours, and there’s a thin strip left. I have to refuel and take a break. It’s after five and I think I can knock this out before sunset. About ten minutes into the break the thunder kicks in and I go outside to make sure I can get the mower on the porch in case of rain. As I am pushing it the rain begins, hard, unrelenting, and incredibly cool. I’ve had more than my share of outside jobs where a rain like this was a benison. It feels good to be drenched to the bone, all the clothing wet, all the sweat swept away, and now, the day is done because of the rain. Put the tools away, go inside, and strip down in front of the washer, and then take a shower.

 

The day is done, even if there is still grass to mow. It doesn’t matter because I knew this would happen and it would be this way. I will likely sleep better much later on in the night, and feel good when I awake.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Last

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There was a football game on television, and it was the last game of some famous player. After the gun had sounded, the man stood on the field, and other players shook his hand, but he stayed on the field, even after that. The announcer, a former player himself, said, “He realizes this is the last time he will ever wear that uniform” and I think the announcer was right. The player likely went into the locker room and undressed for the last time as a professional ball player. It was over. He knew it would be one day, and that day was today and that moment was now.

I cannot tell you the last game of hide-and-seek I played. When we were kids we played this game hundreds of time, and there were only so many places to hide, but it was always exciting to look for those who were hidden, and it was even more exciting to hide so well you were not found. One day, many years ago, I was in my last game of hide and go seek. I never realized that I would never play again. There were no handshakes or goodbyes. I simply never played again.

 

There was a group of us guys who played tackle football from the time we were kids until long after High School graduation. But again, I cannot tell you when the last game I played. We were already feeling the effects of aging, even in our twenties. The human body was not repairing itself as quickly. We were larger, and had more mass, hit harder, fell harder, and it was still great fun, but now everyone had a job, or a family, or both. One day, I walked off the field and never went back. There is no record of me every being there except for what you are reading.

 

As a child, one of the big events was to go to a store with your parents and be allowed to wander the toy section. That’s pretty much gone now, with cell phones and laptops, and Amazon. Kids can find anything they want without leaving their rooms. They will never have their moment in time where they find some hidden gem in the back shelf of an old store, and they’ll never have to ask a clerk how much something costs. We had rabbit’s feet and steel canteens. We had cowboy hats and metal toy guns in leather holsters. We ran and played even on the hottest Summer days because we had no idea that it was “too hot”. There was no such thing. It never occurred to us.

 

There was a spring day, not even a warm one, but we went to Sowhatchee Creek in Early County to look at the raging flood waters. There had been several days of hard rain and the creek at the old mill was well out of its banks and the water was roiled by the rocks of the old mill. There were dares and counter dares, but no one really wanted to or thought it was a good idea, to swim the creek.

I went in suddenly, and one of the girls yelled my name, and the second I hit the water I knew I was swimming for my life. But I was a teenager, and panic didn’t know my name, and I knew if I swam as hard as I could I could beat the creek, and slowly, I did. It pushed me back, but I kept enough going to make the other side. I could see the other guys looking at me with that look; they weren’t going to try it. I had to get back, of course, and that was a little scarier because I knew what was there, but I did it. Back at school, the story spread quickly, but one of the boys who had been there said the water wasn’t really that high. His girlfriend, of all people, said, “I didn’t see you out there in it” and that was like getting a trophy of sorts, when a girl would complement you, especially over her boyfriend.

 

I haven’t swam in a creek in years. Honestly, with the chemicals they put on crops these days I would be scared more of what’s in the water than the water itself.

 

What we don’t realize as kids is that one day we’re going to wake up and realize that we’ve grown apart from people we once saw as part of our everyday lives. The Temple brothers, the Cleveland’s, the Kelly’s, Stan and Phil, and all the other kids I spend years with are now scattered out like seeds from a dandelion. Even if we were all together in the same place at the same time, what would we talk about? How long could we keep a conversation going about the way things once were?

 

I remember a young girl I fell for, and fell for in a big way. This was way past the time of hide and go seek, or was it, really? We get behind the wheel of a car and we do not realize that only a decade or so separates this rite of passage from all of our games and playing and friends we loved as small children. The first time the key is turned the world turns with it. All the miles that we put on bare feet and bicycles are gone now, forever, the tracks no longer existing in the soft earth. Now, the line of demarcation is clear and undeniable.

 

We kissed for the first time in a car, she and I both very young, and we made love in that car for the first time, and suddenly, we were adults, in an adult world, and there were consequences to our actions and feelings. Sex was great but what happened when there were kids? She and I broke up and one day I found out she was married and had a daughter.

 

I don’t remember the last time I kissed her. I don’t remember the last time she and I held one another. It was decades ago, really, and I’m very likely a photo in a school yearbook, and the feelings that once burned like a signal fire, now play hide and seek with my heart.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Lost in the Swamp

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How long had I been lost? The swamp of the Okefenokee was endless but human life is not. I went in to photo the variety of life in the Cypress Cathedral and snuck my kayak down to the landing to keep from paying the landing fee. This was acerbated by my departure from the known trail, my forgetfulness towards my compass, and finally, I had lied to my girlfriend and told her I had to work. I had told work I was spending the weekend with Anne. A rotted tree fell silently and clipped the bow off my boat and shattered my knee. After three days it was clear no one had thought to look here for me. The watercraft was wrecked, my cell phone was tucked away somewhere in the ruin, and I could barely move my leg without a scream rising from my throat.
“You are dying,” the creature said, and I knew he was right.

“Hey you wanna go get a grits bowl,” said a co-worker.
“No,” I replied, “I’m good.”
I parked nearly a quarter mile away from everyone else. I have less than half an hour for a break and an idea for a new short story has wandered in. But this proves my theory that nothing attracts humans stronger than another human trying to catch some solitude.
“You don’t want no grits bowl?” And he asks this in a tone of voice that suggests I’ve refused to admit desire for Helen Mirren in her prime, and she always has been so.
“I don’t like grits,” I say and instantly regret it. The conversation will now continue to the incredible heights of deliciousness of a food with no taste of its own. The proponent will be forced into confessing that grits needs, at a
Minimum, salt, pepper, a lot of butter, and a full breakfast mixed in with it to make it palatable. In the meanwhile, my break is dissolving like a ice cream scoop of butter on a tasteless gloop of ground corn with the nutritional value of seasoned cardboard.
Oddly, the Grits Cheerleader then begins a soliloquy on why he never eats breakfast at McDonald’s.
Splendid! Why not pick a subject at random with some superficial effect on your life, set it ablaze with an anecdote, and shall we warm our souls on the dying moments it consumes?

 

The story looks up at me like an ailing pet. I’ve kept this thing alive with merely one hand, one finger, tapping away at the phone keyboard, in Notes, because that is how strong the desire is to write, yet the moments that remain to me before I go to work wither and die, like the last moments of a dog’s life before the sharpness of the needle slips in and away goes a mortal soul, and nothing remains but to remember and to mourn.

 

 

“You think Carrie Underwood’s face is going to be messed up, you know, really bad?” he asks solemnly, and somewhere out there, in the infinite Universe, filled with infinite Universes, through billions and billions of years of time. Carrie Underwood’s face, whoever Carrie Underwood might actually be, might have some impact on my life.

“You think she got beat up and is just trying to cover for him?” He asks, and he looks around, as if there might be someone who might turn him in for this thought, or might care. I get out of my truck and start walking towards his, which is some distance away.

“Mostly,” I tell him, “women will defend their abusers if there’s a pattern of abuse in the past, and who knows, he may be beating the hell out of her in a drunken rage right now for all we know, but in the end, she has the resources to break the pattern of abuse but she must choose to do so.” And with this I tell him I forgot my phone and double back to get it has he heads out.

 

I sit down and watch his figure recede into the night, and look at the clock. It’s over. Thirty minutes have been devoured and now I am frustrated and hungry. There is no way to recover the time lost and the story must wait until the light of day. I wonder if the time between start and restart will hurt the essence of the tale, and I wonder if there’s some way to regain a few moments to try to put it back together sooner?

 

The truck pulls ever so slightly to the left, and I know this truck well, its quirks and its patterns of drift. I can use details like these in another story of a man in a truck, nothing is wasted when it comes to writing, like the bones of the lion’s prey being bleached out on the plains of the Serengeti. Perhaps it will be covered in some flash flood, to be found millions of years later, and in some way, live again. The story needs someone, Anne, the girlfriend, and suddenly I realize that nothing is wasted in writing, and that all stories need something in them that is buried, like the bone of a kill millions of years old, and I have an idea on top of an idea.

 

The work has begun again, and as I pull up my co-worker has information for me, factual and empirical, and he’s surprised when I get out of the truck with a bag. “Grits bowl, extra butter and hot sausage,” I tell him. “So, you think microsurgery will be enough to save Carrie Underwood’s face or will she be messed up, you know, real bad?”

 

I had forgotten the basic needs of a writer, and that is to be human, to experience humanity, and to live the lives of people who are not fictional. This is nothing new, and I’ve forgotten this lesson before, and I will always forget it again, for that is my nature, to be alone and to write. But I must return my people to learn again, this lesson, and others as well, for without that humanity, without the breath of other people, writing is simply the echo of one man’s thoughts, and that is never a good thing.

 

“You don’t know who Carrie Underwood is,” he is stunned, but eating grits, “she’s got like a billion number one hits, she’s married to that guy, what’s his name, that was married to that girl…”

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

The Nest of Moccasins

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This may be one of those urban myths that gets passed around so often that it seems true, simply because it has been heard again and again. Odd thing this creature, when I was a child I heard the story of a young girl who was water skiing and she fell into the water. As the boat came to pick her up, they discovered she had fallen into “a nest of moccasins” and some of them were still attached to the dead body. As I grew up nearly everyone had heard this story, and nearly every lake of any size had this event happen there, but no one could ever come up with the victim’s name, a date on which it occurred, or even so much as an idea of what year it had happened. But because it was repeated it was believed. The story I refer to is the story of Anne Rice’s novel, “The Interview with A Vampire”. I have heard it sold very poorly at first, but the book was passed around from person to person and simple word of mouth kicked off a worldwide fascination with vampires, once again.

 

 

In stark contrast, and in an unusual cohabitation, I grew up with both snake myths and among people who read. My first real stand against one, using the strength of the other, failed, and failed miserably, and I wondered how a society that loved to read could still hate snakes. I still wonder how knowledge is kept in less respect than fable, but considering the success of religion there has to be some genetic source for it.

 

 

I had friends who read, and read as if their mind devoured books as a means for survival, and considering the state of rural South Georgia, I will allow this might have been true. Books were hardbound and heavy, but a burden that we bore without complaint, for what was there to be done about it? Libraries were gold mines, they were buffets for the brain, and they were the first and last, and sometimes only, refuge from the world where people believed in Hoop Snakes and talking snakes. We never considered ourselves a network of any sorts but once a book was deemed a good read it would be passed around like a joint, to affect the mind of each person that held it, and inhaled it. To sit down with a new book was like kissing a woman for the first time. I can remember going through every page before the beginning. When was the book copy righted? How many printings? Were there notes? Was there a name on the inside cover? I had a ritual for books that required certain knowledge and investigation before the beginning. It was foreplay of the foreword.

 

 

I was a fool. I admit that now, now that it is too late to do anything about it. When computers became ubiquitous I assumed that knowledge would follow. I assumed that given the tools to disseminate information, that we humans would share our thoughts and would share our abilities, and just like my network of readers back when a pocket calculator was a scientific achievement, I thought that we would use this tool to sharpen the mind, not blunt it. What I should have seen was how we were, when given books that told us, very specifically, which snakes were venomous and which were harmless, yet we still blasted away with guns and in terror, that the internet would take its form from superstition and fear rather than that of the intellect.

 

 

As a child, when television first became a household item, and color television became a luxury that no one could live without, I saw that it was a bad idea. There was no way to control the content, and there was no way to control the scheduling, and viewers would be held captive by the whims of those who did control these things. Yet even when these obstacles were overcome, television remained, for the most part, an intellectual wasteland. What made a program a success could be guided by an algorithm and each new program became a clone of the last which had finally run out of even the most outlandish, yet trite, ideas.

 

 

The internet, I first believed, was different. There, at anyone’s fingertips, was information and knowledge. I did not foresee opinion, opinion screamed at a volume where content is irrelevant, becoming how people were educated, or de-educated as it were, on nearly every topic of conversation. I never thought people would submerge themselves in echo chambers and listen to nothing but the sound of their own thoughts, magnified and blasted back into their brains.

 

The myth of the Hoop Snake might have foreshadowed all of this, actually, but it is one thing to underestimate simple ignorance, and yet is it downright perilous to underestimate stupidity, and willful ignorance.

 

 

I’m not sure how to begin this. I’m not sure it will make a difference, or if this is just my way of being one of the last dinosaurs, shivering and alone, wandering a world I no longer recognize. Yet I still believe in the power, and the magic, and the value, of reading. I may not be able to stem the rising tide of sound bite philosophy and high volume screaming politics, but I can promote the one thing that I think makes the most difference in how a human being thinks and trains to think; reading.

 

The Mike Firesmith Nomadic Library and Book Exchange, will henceforth begin. I will send books to people and maybe other people will, too. If I can get others to join me we will become The Nest of Moccasins, a group of readers who will send book off to ensnare other human beings into becoming readers. I have no real idea how to begin this, except I have a lot of books, and I have to believe there are other people out there who still read. At some point in our history, there was a person who first shared a book, and the reason was love for reading. If this must begin somewhere then, happily, let it begin again, here, and now, with me.

 

 

 

To Dream

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There has to be some function that dreams perform, I think. Maybe, and this is something to think about, the various parts and regions of the brain, which make up the human mind, get bored when we’re asleep, and they create fiction to be entertained. It’s four in the morning and about an hour or so ago I had a really vivid dream where a cop shot this guy in the face for playing his music too loud while we were all stuck in traffic. It was as real as if it really happened. When I woke up the first thing that startled me was it was night. The dreamscape had been daylight.

 

Right there, is one clue as to what was happening, somewhere. The process involved decided to change night into day. Then there was the location, Saint Augustine Road in Valdosta, near the mall, approaching Gornto Road, and across from Lowe’s. That’s all from my memory. The process went into my memory and decided to use that location as the backdrop of the dream.

 

 

Does location tell us anything about intent? I’m not fond of the mall, and that particularly intersection can be a bitch, especially the right lane where vehicles try to pull into traffic, and it’s made worse by those people who allow people in. Yes, I know. I know that it’s a nice thing to do, but it’s nice for the person who does it, and it’s nice for the person who is let in, but for the twenty people behind that person who has to sit through another traffic light change it isn’t nice at all. It would be mitigated if there wasn’t this odd delay between the person allowing someone in and that person actually pulling into traffic. The exchange takes too long and there is nothing to be done for it. It’s best just to let that one person sit through the natural progression of traffic and be done with it. I realize I am a minority when it comes to this thinking.

 

 

Next, the dream is populated with an antagonist. He’s a young guy, maybe just old enough to drive, and he’s driving an older model car that’s had a lot of work done to it; shiny wheels, lots of chrome, tinted windows, all that stuff that kills the older cars’ character. I’m not a car person. I’ve never loved a car or a truck any more than I loved a stove or a pair of socks. It would be really interesting to get a real image of the car and find out if it’s a model that exists or if my mind cobbled one together. How much of a dream is imagery and how much is merely emotions hung on ideas? What’s the difference in a dream? I’m not actually “seeing” anything. I’m experiencing emotions based on fiction my mind had derived from memory.

 

 

Or it is memory? Who is this young man? Who is this cop? I can’t see the young man clearly, only is face in his side mirror, just barely, but I see the police man quite clearly. Are they people I know who I feel a certain way towards? Do I, subconsciously, think a cop would fire seven shots into the face of a young man for having wretched taste in music? Is it in me, somewhere in my heart or mind, that I think people who play this song that loud ought to be shot? None of these thoughts occur to be during the nightmare, but after I am awake I wonder what this says about me, and if there is more here, or simply less.

 

 

One day, I wonder if I will meet a young man and think to myself, “Damn, that’s him!” or if I will meet someone who looks like the cop, but I doubt it. I’ve never met anyone in the real world who has inhabited a dream, unless they were already someone I knew. I’ve met some fairly memorable people in my dreams, mostly women, and no, not mostly sexual encounters. The closest any two people have ever come to matching, from dreamscape to real life, was the young girl I met in a dream where she was explaining her dragonfly tattoo to me, while she was in a bikini, and a young woman at a Wendy’s who put some pot in an order for a friend and accidently gave it to me at the drive through window. She realized her mistake instantly and came out of the drive through window and into my truck window to retrieve the goods. We had a very brief, but very interesting conversation while she was all but sitting in my lap, and she reminded me very strongly of the girl in the dream. Were she ten years older and I ten years younger at the time I might have driven off with her and the pot.

 

 

After the young man was shot I could smell the gunpowder from the cartridges in the air. Rarely, have I met someone who can tell me what they smelled in a dream, and I wonder if blind people dream of scents that sight people do not? Do deaf people have more acutely visual dreams that those who can hear? Did you accept the idea of being able to hear music in a dream yet slightly balk at the concept of the smell of gunsmoke?

 

I can see this nightmare being part of a short story. Someone witnesses a murder and it turns out to be a mafia hit or a revenge killing. The video shot by the person who witnessed the shooting realizes there are subtle clues in the video, reflections in the rearview mirror, reflections in the windshield, that might give his identity away. But the video is viral now, and how long before someone discovers who he is?

 

 

The things my mind does when I am out of the driver’s seat disturb me, betimes. Yet I have to remind myself that I am asleep when this occurs, and that I have no control over what happens on the screen when I don’t pick the movies.

 

But seriously, that song is going to drive someone to homicide one day.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

Late Night Drama of the Dogs

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Having totally deprived me of sleep, Budlore is at rest.  

After one beer I was trailing smoke and spiraling down. This is a sad state of affairs but working night shift will do that to a body. Eventually, I awoke to discover that it was still early, and I needed to get a few things done before tomorrow, and things went smoothly. No one was crying and no one was putting beans in their nose. I did some writing, no, not this writing, and then after midnight, I decided go to bed. After all, everything seemed very normal. Why would I expect for there to be anything different or surreal?

 

I turn the lights off and reality slips quietly out of the room.  She sobs softly, leaves a note  on the table about not being able to take this sort of abuse, and runs.

 

 

Budlore Amadeus, who clearly has never lived in the woods before, hears something in the dark. His plan of action is to bark loudly and charge towards the back door, where I assume he will stop, come to his senses, and return to sleep. I could not be more wrong. The entire pack lifts itself out of slumber to join Bud, and it sounds like they’re trying to tear the back door down.

 

 

There is a couple of issues here. One, I’ve been drinking, albeit a while ago, and only one beer, but I have an aversion to picking up a shotgun when I’ve been drinking. My senses tells me that this is Bud gone wild, and the others have joined him in this misadventure, but there is a chance, a small chance, that Bud might be onto something. I reach over for the shotgun and ease into the living room where there is total darkness and chaos to match it. I get to the backdoor and open it, and the pack pours out into the night, loudly, and I listen. Bud is the loudest dog, Wrex has a distinctive voice, Lilith Anne is pounding away at the night, and…where is the Person of the Striped Persuasion? I listen and wonder; has Tyger charged out deep into the woods on her own?

 

I go back to the bedroom and can still hear the bedlam outside. I sit down on the bed to put jeans on and almost sit on Tyger Linn, who has sat this whole thing out. She has not moved. Tyger has decided all this excitement is made entirely of the nope and she isn’t having anything to do with going outside in the wet and making barking at nothing. If Tyger Linn heard nothing and is doing nothing, perhaps it is time that I reeled the pack back in. I get everyone inside but Bud is still keyed. I hold onto his collar and make him lie down. Bud slips into sleep and I’m drifting off.

 

Suddenly, and without warning, Bud is off and running again, barking like hell, with Wrex and Lilith in tow, again. In the darkness I reach over to discover that Tyger Linn is of the nope. She has not heard anything that would convince her that wet feet and a raised pulse is worth anything that she hears going on.

 

I get Wrex in, and Budlore follows, still agitated and barking. Lilith is wound up at the fence barking at the night. She refuses to come in for a very long time and finally I go out and yell at her, and Bud barks at this, too.

 

Bud is totally shocked when he gets put in the crate. The door is locked behind him, and he’s sleeping in there, or not sleeping in there, I shall not care, but we’re done with this barking thing. I get the squirt bottle out and Bud lies down and remains silent. Wrex doesn’t understand why Bud is crated, but he does understand the squirt bottle.

 

Silence descends upon Hickory Head.

 

 

Wrex gets up, once and charges towards the door, but not barking. The backdoor is closed and Wrex is stymied. I remind Wrex the crate sleeps two, perhaps not comfortably, but two dogs will fit into it, yes, Wrex.

 

Silence descends upon Hickory Head.

 

 

By this time, about an hour or so has passed. I’m tired, sleepy, and peevish at the dogs for being stupid. I open the bedroom window and I don’t hear the multitude of frogs that were going last night. Did the dogs silence the frogs? Or was whatever the dogs barking at the reason the frogs are not singing? But whatever is out there, it is not human, and therefore not nearly the threat Bud might think it is. He does not know how to judge threats or how to temper his reaction. From inside the crate Bud whines softly but he does not bark for fear of water.

 

 

When Bert was alive this never happened. Bert knew what to bark at, when to sound the alarm, when to sleep through it, and we never had this sort of late night drama for no good reason at all. Sam and Lucas had good judgment as well, and even the Cousins didn’t do stupid things late at night. But Bert was the best when it came to being a guard dog. He hammered the hell out of humans with his voice and he had a big booming bark. He would bark at deer or other dogs, but when Bert laid it down it was always important.

 

I miss Bert in times like these. I miss having a Great Dog. I miss his stability and the way he was part of management and knew it. I miss the security that he provided and I miss his leadership with younger dogs. There really was never a reason to fear people with Bert asleep on the end of the bed, and there was never a time he got fooled by some odd sound in the darkness.

 

 

The sun comes up and the dogs want to be fed. I need to sleep but I’ll put it off for a while, again. I’m supposed to write today, and this won’t be all of it, but I also have to go into town.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

After Midnight

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After midnight, things slow down because most people are heading home, already home, and snug in their beds, or someone else’s bed, you have to think about that every once in a while, after midnight. Friend of mine, who never was very good with women, stopped to help a woman change a tire, they went to a bar and drank together, and he wound up in bed with her at her place. He was working out of town and didn’t know the place very well so when the husband came home and chased him out of the house, naked, he simply walked down the road in the buff, waiting for someone to call the cops, and they did. The bad thing is they had taken her car back to her house and he had a hell of a time remembering what her house or her car looked like, but they settled on the only house with lights on and people screaming at one another.

 

People with guns, I am here to tell you, put them down when the cops get there because cops react poorly to your second amendment rights, after midnight. They aren’t interested in your NRA lifetime membership pin or the fact that you considered going into the military to be a sniper before you decided that factory work was so incredibly similar that you decided there was no difference after all. My friend retrieved his clothes and his wallet, while one of the cops stood over a recently disarmed and soon to be divorced man.

 

I can stand in the back of my truck and feel the weird coming off the asphalt like the residual heat of a Summer day. The sun leaves hot energy in the pavement and so many people going by leave their strangeness here too. After Midnight, those left around to feel it absorb it, and alcohol just makes it sink in that much deeper. It’s in the air like a mist. If that sounds strange it’s because it is. Yeah, baby. Midnight.

 

It peaks around three. Between Midnight and Three, sex, drugs, alcohol, music, and the road are going to bear witness to some story someone will tell about all of the above in some way. I got into the back of a pick up truck when I was nineteen and rode all the way from Yulee Florida to Jacksonville with a young woman whose name I still cannot remember. It was late, we were drinking, we were young, we were stoned as hell, and now I wonder if anyone saw us and tells the story about two people in the back of a truck going down the road having sex on I-95?

 

The next time you’re out that late, if you aren’t creating the story yourself, with some help from someone you might have just met, if you still do that sort of thing, and wonder what you’re seeing in those cars and trucks passing around you. Why are they up this late? What on earth are they doing? After Midnight, you are either doing, or wondering abut the doing.

 

Some guy who never gets out of the house decides to go with a friend of a friend to go get a women out of her house, all of her stuff in the back of his truck, two cats, and a guitar, while her husband is at work. He pulls up, backs in, the woman and his friend of a friend get everything loaded in less time than it takes to think about dying of gunshot wounds, and suddenly there he is going down the road listening to the sound of two unhappy cats in the back seat of his truck and the woman tosses her cell phone of the truck at a sign. Her name is Robin and she’s escaping a truly bad marriage and no one who knows her knows where she is going and who she is going with. She filed for divorce this morning and now she wants to be a state away by the time the sun comes up. Small talk fills the cab of the truck, and Robin tells him she’s really grateful that he’s doing this, and she was afraid her soon to be ex would kill her cats, and they talk about why one of the cats is named Houdini, and the other is Fuse Box. Four hours later they’re making a transfer, at a truck stop where she has to go do something before she is handed off to another friend of another friend, and the woman and the cats are gone, forever, because past this point they will never meet again, and he realizes they shouldn’t. He stands back and watches the pickup truck disappear and the cars around him zoom past and no one thinks he might be standing there wondering who he just never met.

 

I watch traffic go past and I wonder if someone has just found love, or if someone is leaving, or if someone who just found love is being left by someone on the run. A woman I know lived with a man for five years then married him and had the marriage annulled after a week, and moved in with an ex-boyfriend who had no idea she was serious about someone else or getting married, and damn, you know, it’s hard to guess that sort of thing when you see a car go by, isn’t it?

 

 

There’s a truck that weaves in and out of traffic, a man driving hard, and he’s trying to track down a woman who left him, and he’s got a device on the collar of a cat, but a semi-truck has that device duct taped to his bumper, and the driver doesn’t know it. He’s hammered down on I-75 going north, heading towards a loading dock in Indiana, and in two hours a pick- up truck will cut him off in traffic, and his loaded truck will go right over the top of it as if it weren’t there at all. The cat collar will be destroyed, and the truck driver will always wonder what the hell that guy was thinking.

 

The crazy sounding guy on the side of the road that no one really sees is actually an emissary the one true god, who only wants people to paint more. Yeah, odd thing for a god to want, but you’ve heard stranger shit in church and never batted an eye. We never stop to think the people on the side of the road are aliens, come from faraway places, and this is the best way to be ignored no matter how weird you look and sound.

 

It’s after midnight. The normal people have fled the scene. They’ll get eight hours of sleep, wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. Coffee is not a ritual of desperation for these people, no. They’ll never sit down at a park bench with a cop who just disarmed an eight year old walking across town with a .22 rifle in his hand, mad at his dad, going to mom’s house in his pjs and a hunting cap.

 

It’s after midnight.

 

Take Care,

Mike