I went to a flea market today, a rather large one, and went early to avoid the rush. It was cooler than was comfortable, the wind was blowing, and the feeling of being out of place cut deeper than the cold.
The older woman selling honey growled the price out, her tone of voice suggesting anyone who wanted the honey badly enough would somehow discern the price, perhaps telepathically. Dressed for the Artic as she was, perhaps she feared a transaction might somehow weaken her defenses against the soon to arrive blizzard or distract her while a polar bear ambushed us both. Her gray hair was pulled back and stuffed into something that mostly resembled a hat, and her face was crinkled with deep grooves that spoke of poverty and bad choices with men who came into her life like trees falling onto a house. I moved on.
It’s a covered flea market, with a few enclosed shops, but mostly just a roof, with nothing to slow the wind down. Smokers with their cigarettes can be smelled a mile away, and some guy selling cheap tools is talking loud enough to be heard over the smoke.
“They ain’t gonna do it,” his voice rising with the power of his opinion, “I bet they ain’t, com’on, you bet me, they ain’t gonna do it,” and he takes his white cowboy hat off and waves it at imaginary betters in the air. He’s one of those big hat, big belly, big belt buckle men, with a shirt that’s red and white checkered, like someone stole a picnic tablecloth and tortured it with a sewing machine. The tools on the table, still in a package, are lightweight, no steel or iron, and they’ll break during hard work. But this is a man who is putting on a show, advancing on the would be customers like ants at a campground, who brought their own picnic tablecloth. Meanwhile the three guys he’s talking to, slowly back away, not gambling against his info. One of them gets far enough away to turn around and make a break for the next stall, and the other two now have an excuse to follow. Cowboy Hat Man snorts, and looks around for his next audience, but I’m on the move.
I was once good at this, navigating crowds, weaving in and out of people effortlessly, a shadow barely seen or heard or felt, but it’s been too long now. The Plague has sapped me of my invisibility. Stopping, sidestepping, waiting for people to move, my glide is gone, the people moving the wrong way at the wrong time, and collisions nearly occur.
Another shop is selling confederate flags, but near the back, in plastic packages, not on the wall like they once did. There’s a flag from the old Soviet Union, hammer and sickle, and it’s not being flown either. More cheap tools, but this time power tools, deeply discounted, in case you need a power saw for one project, you’d likely get it. Machetes, two for ten dollars, or five-fifty for one, thin, cheaply processed metal, and you couldn’t hack your way out of your 70’s girlfriend’s pubic hair with that thing.
Used clothes, more clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes for sell, dresses, jeans, shoes, and even hats for sale. The jeans are going for twenty bucks, a green down jacket for twenty-five, and this morning that’s a bargain, and I wonder who owned that jacket, and why they sold it, and how the jacket came to be here.
A teenager, young girl, is sitting in a chair at a small table, not seeing me, not seeing anything at all. She’s the daughter or granddaughter of the shop owner, and if this girl was holding a gun on you it would be your last moment on earth and you would be certain.
Her eyes are boring a hole through the air, through everything there, the people, the used clothes, the treason rag, the flimsy machetes, the parking lot, the hostile honey salesperson, and nothing from the outside world can break through that stare.
I want to sit down next to her, and ask her why the stare. With someone who is a young teen, it could be social media, or it could be she’s trying to figure out why her body and mind are going through what they’re going through. It could be the cold boredom, endless, dirty, smokey, cold boredom, of used retail, cheap clothes off dead people sold to the dying. Or it could be worse, much worse, as she found a hidden camera in her bedroom, and her new stepfather is creepy. Tell her Mom about it? Not tell Mom? Tell social media, tell no one, silence encourages aggression, she already knows that, and that stare is trying to decide if she walks away right now, into the abyss of the world, would it be that much worse than what awaits her in her own home? The stare lazars its way through me, past the greasy food stands, past the shop selling boom boxes, past the used CDs, past the next state and the next country and into deep space, but she will find no help anywhere anymore.
Moving quickly now, the mojo is returning, and I dodge those who are milling around like cattle in a pen, grazing on anything that might be slightly interesting in the cold stockyard of the flea market. It’s time to go, time to get away from this place, and as I leave the old woman with the honey calls out, wanting my money, even though she rather not speak to me again. I pull out, another car pulls in behind me, and someone will buy fleas here today, I think.
The dream began with a group of us high school students still in Early County High working on “the final project”. Steel boxes, no, not coffins, nothing that obvious, but the boxes were thin and flat, like security cases for cookie sheets. I didn’t understand how we could be in post-graduation mode and still have this “final project” but that made as much sense as having a teacher scream at us about acting like adults but not letting us go to the bathroom when we had to pee.
In the dream I walked home, and one the most enduring memories I have of the high school was this: a cow pasture with cows in it sat next to the school, and if you think the coffin metaphor was cliché’ imagine the cattle comparison. But right next to both the school and the pasture was a cemetery, so there is that, too. The sidewalk beside the pasture was my path to and from school, and I grew up thinking concrete fence posts were common, because that’s what was holding up the fence around the pasture. As I left Early County, and Blakely, and got out into the world, I never saw another concrete fence post.
In the dream, the pasture was already gone. In Blakely Georgia, the cycle was for someone to build a new “shopping center” that had a new grocery store, everyone would leave the old one and it would close, then in another seven or eight years it would happen again. There was the Piggly Wiggly when I was a kid, then the IGA when I was in high school, and finally, there was the cow pasture strip mall, where they paved over the cows’ home, built a new store, and I think it’s closed now. I haven’t been back for over a decade and won’t unless someone else I care about dies.
I was looking for one of the concrete fence posts in the dream and couldn’t see one at all. The shopping center was in ruins, and broken concrete pillars were half buried in the dirt. The ditch that had run like a scar across the field, and across the cemetery, had drainage pipe laid in it, and buried, which seems stranger than anything else for some reason.
Reality began to set in when girls I knew became pregnant and dropped out of high school to have babies. Their boyfriends, or husbands, which were usually the same guy, would get some menial job, they would put a trailer in the backyard of her daddy’s house, and live there until they could afford to move. In due time the baby would grow up, go to the same school with the same teachers, and be taught no to have to pee until class was over. They would be taught not to be tardy, and they were told to just say what the fuck ever to drugs.
No one wrote, no one painted, a few people played piano or guitar, and I did know a trumpet player. But by and large, no one left, no one did anything but produce the next generation of students, unless they died young.
I woke up from the dream wondering about the fence posts, and what the symbolism was with the cookie sheet steel security boxes, with their heavy-duty rivets, and hinged flaps in the front. I wondered if they ever fixed the electrical outlet on the north side of that room, where we dug out the granular insulation, a small pile each class period. I wondered if all the teachers I once knew, and hated, were all dead now, and if former students came to the funeral, and were sad.
I wonder what happened to those concrete fence posts, dozens of them, now remembered by only a few people, maybe just one. A day will come when that school is torn down, another built, and someone will send me an email, telling me it’s gone, just like the other schools I went to as a kid, yes, all gone. The lesson they never taught us, for they themselves did not know it, is this ends, this all ends, everything, and one day, nothing will remain of the world we once knew, and we certainly will not survive it.
The cows, the kids, the teachers and the posts, the building and the final projects, yes, even those, will simply cease to be, except in dreams.
“Remember that party at Beth’s, you walked up and we cracked up laughing?” she asked in the early morning darkness, the chill of the morning slain by our bodies.
“Yes, neither one of you would tell me what you were talking about, and you turned a very lovely shade of red,” I replied. She and I had been friends for a while, and recently decided to date. We went to the beach with some friends, spent time together and enjoyed it, walked by ourselves and talked. On the ride home, we were sitting next to one another in the backseat, and I reached over, held her hand, and she squeezed mine back in reply. It’s odd how two people can wake up one morning alone, and then the next morning they are together, and perhaps in more ways than just physically.
“So are you now going to reveal what you and Beth were talking about?” I asked, and she laughed again, and again, turned red.
“Before we started dating I had sex dreams about you, three or four times, and honestly, I’ve never had sex with a guy I didn’t know. I’m not easy,” she said with a smile.
“I can attest to that. But if you were already thinking about having sex with me, why make us both wait?” I asked.
“Men allow their dicks to make decisions for them, women are more prone to ignoring the advice given by their vaginas. Not that it doesn’t happen; we are hormonal creatures, after all,” she sat up and looked around.
“So were the dreams, uh, specific?” I asked, feeling that this conversation was leading somewhere.
“All of them were us on the floor,” she said grinning, “right there.” She pointed beside the bed.
“I can make your dreams come true,” I said tossing a pillow overboard, and she grabbed a blanket.
Apparently, there was four dreams involving two different positions. There was nothing earth shattering about acting out the dreams, there was no astral choir or trumpets, I think that would have been a distraction, but it was different. Later, she told me the beach trip was set up so the two of us could spend time together, but she wanted to make sure we were compatible before she started flirting seriously with me. I’ve always thought women had the hardest part to play in dating. In my life, I’ve had two women ask me out, and one of them told me she had never done that sort of thing before. That sort of thing, like asking a guy out is akin to soliciting sex or sending him a nude out of the blue. Women seem to think that asking a man out is too forward, while I think it’s culturally backwards for the channel to only run in one direction.
The first time we were making out, and it was very clear things were heating up, she suddenly stopped me, put her bra and shirt back on, and just seconds before, I thought more clothes were coming off. Later, she told me she wanted to make sure I would stop when she asked me to, and she wanted to make sure if she was ever in a vulnerable position, I wouldn’t simply overpower her and keep going, unless that was what she wanted. How, I asked, was I supposed to know? She said if I knew her well enough, I would know, and that’s one of the reasons she stopped me, was because neither of us were at that point yet.
All of this is way past what I was going to write about this morning, but pertinent because last night I dreamed I was sitting in a coffee shoppe, drinking coffee with a woman I know only from Facebook. Sharply dressed, in a black outfit and her make up expertly done, for some reason I thought she was going to a job interview, or something work related. Florence and the Machine was playing in the background. We were talking about if snakes could survive in a zero gravity environment, or if catching prey would be too difficult.
“I’ve got to go,” she said, and putting her purse on the table, she pulled out a Glock, aimed it, and shot me in the chest.
People screamed, as I fell over backwards, and hit the floor. It felt like I had been kicked by a mule and the pain flared like a supernova.
She walked over to where I lay on the floor, pointed the gun, smoke still wafting from the barrel, at my head and said, “Don’t bring that up again, okay?” And fired.
I’ve been awake since then.
As far as odd, and detailed, dreams go, this one went on for a while. It started with me talking to my girlfriend, and we were both excited about being at the beach for a week. She was pretty, blonde, great smile, and we were standing outside a nice restaurant waiting to be seated. The sun set in about half an hour, with hopes of getting a table on the patio. It was perfect.
Let’s call her Mary. In the dream no one said her name, or I don’t remember it, and so Mary sees a motorcycle parked near the restaurant and wants to take a photo of it. She walks over to the bike, and at that moment, the hostess steps up to speak to me, and her nametag reads, “Devvin” as her name, and underneath it someone has written, “by the sea”.
Devvin and I exchange greetings, I look over and see Mary talking to the guy that owns the bike, a tall, skinny, and long bearded man, she looks at me, looks away, then she gets on the bike with him, and they ride away.
I tell Devvin to hang on for a minute, walk over to where the bike was parked, and wait. I call Mary on her cell and there’s no answer. I send a text. Nothing. We’ve been dating a while, and this was our first real vacation together. A week at the beach during off season. But now she’s . . .? Gone?
After waiting a bit, I go back to the condo and wonder what to do next. Call the cops? No, she wasn’t kidnapped. I call again. No answer. But this is a dream that takes place in current time, so there’s one answer to every problem: social media.
I walk out to the beach, take a glorious photo of the sunset, post it on FB with the caption, “a fitting metaphor for today” and change my relationship status to “single”. It’s the most passive aggressive form of communication ever invented because you can get other people to do your dirty work for you, and the mutual friends of Mary and I quickly react to what’s happening, whatever that may actually be.
I get a call from her best friend who is freaked out. I tell the woman what happened, and she tells me I have to call the cops and report Mary as missing. If something goes wrong, and it might, then I was the last person she was with. What she says makes sense. If the biker kills her, then I’m left trying to explain her disappearance. I call the cops, they arrive, and tell me there’s nothing they can do, but get the video from the cameras around the restaurant, but they understand me making a report.
More calls, FB explodes with WTF, but no one has heard from Mary. I call the person who rented me the condo, tell him I want to check out, and he tells me this happens more than you’d think. A newlywed couple checked out after fifteen minutes when the bride bolted. She changed into her street clothes and walked away while her husband was in the bathroom. He tells me if he can rent the room the next day I will only be charged for that time, but if he can’t, I’m still on the hook for the entire period. I tell him to hold that thought. I might stay.
There are two suitcases, some clothes hung with care, and Mary’s purse. Truly, what are my responsibilities here? She’s left me, I think, and there’s no reason for me to pay for a condo just to keep her stuff, yet she made the decision to leave, so what do I do? I decide to spend the night drinking, and then drive home the next morning.
Three hours after all this has started, I get a call from Mary. Yes, she left me for a biker she had met and was overwhelmed by the moment, that was how she put it, and she left me. The problem was, and is, for her, is that he was meeting his group of friends in another town to take a tour of Florida. He’s got his stuff to carry on the bike, he’s sharing a room with a friend of his, who isn’t thrilled about either giving up his half of the room to Mary, or having to rent another room, and there’s little room for all of Mary’s stuff. She has no riding gear, and apparently her new found love has a history of picking up women on road trips that aren’t road savvy. Worse, she has no money because all her belongings are in the condo. I lie. I tell her I left right after she did, and I’m two hours out, on I-10, heading home, and I left her stuff beside the door of the condo where she could find it.
“In your suitcase.”
“Seems one of us will be.”
And she ends the call.
Mary finds herself in a hostile environment, and the group of riders tells her new love this is his issue to solve, and he can catch up with them. Mary freaks out and asks him to take her back to the condo, and he calls Uber to drive her back, and is done with her. Meanwhile, Mary is texting her friend to come get her, her friend is texting me to please go back and get Mary, it’s a five hour drive one way, and I’m kicked back on the balcony being a terrible person for dragging this out, and lying about it.
I go across the street to a store that sells mixed drinks to go and bring back a quart of Margheritas. I take Mary’s credit cards, all three of them, and call the numbers on the back and tell them I found them lying on the ground, and they kill off the cards. I also take her cash, and I make it look like someone went through her stuff. I sit in the hammock on the balcony and drink, and wait.
Mary calls in a couple of hours, she’s at the front door of the condo, and her stuff has been plundered, could I buy her a plane ticket home?
“Greyhound would be much cheaper,” I tell her.
“You want me to get on a damn bus?” Mary is furious. “Don’t be petty about this.
“You could always ride a bike.”
Her friend sends me a text, and tells me it’s going to take over a thousand bucks to get a plane ticket this soon, and would I please turn around and go get her? I tell her I’m nearly home now, an hour or so out, and if I go back, I’ll have to find some place to stay, and I’m sure as hell not spending the night with my ex. I recommend greyhound. A couple of hundred bucks and it’s a done deal. Mary gets an Uber ride to a bus pick up point and is on her way back home by midnight.
Okay, it wasn’t really this detailed, but the gist of the story was what I’ve written. Then the dream shifted into an even more surreal adventure.
I get a text message that seems all the world to be some sort of scam. A guy saying his name is Mark texts: “I got a great idea for a book but I can’t write good, you wanna help?”
I ignore the text and keep going. The phone rings, the caller is Mark Smith, and I let Robokiller handle it. Mark leaves a message, “Hey boy, call me, I got a great idea for a book. You gonna love this shit.”
Then I get a call from a friend who admits she gave Mark my number. Mark is into science fiction and has started trying to write.
Sorry, no. I’m the last person on earth a new writer ought to talk to about beginning writing. They need someone who has been in the education field, not someone who just writes.
“I’ll buy you lunch if you just talk to him, okay?”
Will give writing advice for food.
I call Mark and it takes a good five minutes to get him to shut up long enough to have a conversation. Most of my questions about what he’s done, and how he’s gotten to this point are answered with, “I ain’t worried about that shit, just listen to me.” And then he goes on with the narrative of his story which isn’t at all science fiction.
Mark’s Great American Novel is the story of an CIA spy who has to get into Russia to stop a nuclear bomb from going off that will destroy all life on earth. The Russians have built this device, and are going to set it off in Russian, then blame the Americans. The Russian will then attack the Americans and move into their country and live happily ever after.
Mark sees no plot holes. Of course, he doesn’t know what a plot hole is.
After another five minutes of nonstop jabbering, Mark finally answers two questions I find pertinent; one, how much has he written in regards to this story, two, how much has he written in his lifetime? The answer to both questions is zero. I ask Mark what books he has read. Incredibly, Mark doesn’t read, and he has never written anything. Ever.
He tells me the spy is going to rescue Maren Morris from the Russian and he’s going to get Maren Morris to play Maren Morris in the movie. I have no idea who this person is.
“Write the first chapter,” I tell Mark. “And email it to me. I’ll make some suggestions and we will go from there.”
“I ain’t writing shit, that’s your job, you’re the writer,” Mark says as if it’s a given I’ve bought into this thing. He then goes into the scene where the hero of the story kills one hundred guards using nothing but a broken bottle.
“Is this a cartoon?” I ask.
First off, Mark, no one is going to do the writing for you. It’s the hard part. A narrative, no matter how compelling, is the easy part. Everyone has an idea. Ideas are easy. It’s telling the idea that makes it work, or not work, or give the reader the idea that someone has worked hard to make it work.
Mark pauses. For the first time, I think I have actually reached him.
“You ain’t stealing my idea, boy.”
And I hang up, block his number, and call my friend, who swears she had no idea he was that bad. She didn’t actually know him. Mark is a friend of a friend.
For what it’s worth, I will help anyone, anyone at all, who wants to write. But you have to be a reader, and you have to have tried already. You have to have horrible writing you’ve done before you can say you’ve begun.
Then, you write some more.
There’s a scene between two characters I’ve finally gotten a feel for. One of them is the main character, who is the quintessential nice guy. The man has a steady moral compass, accepts loss with deep feeling, and he tries to do what’s best for everyone around him. The other is an agent of change, a woman with a strict sense of what is right and wrong and sees no gray area in anything. They both have the same goal, but where as the Main Character is willing to accept gradual change, the woman is demanding change happen now, yesterday in fact, and sees slow change more likely to turn into very little change or no change at all.
There are linked by the common good yet divided as to how it should be reached.
They clash early in the story, and he understands where she is coming from, and facilitates her plans for a rearrangement of the power structure. This forms an alliance between the two, and things looks good for the future, but a stranger arrives with secrets of his past, and now the mistrust has returned. The murder of this stranger sets the two against one another, yet simultaneously, unites them.
There is a scene, the two of them alone, facing one another, the man calm, the woman angry. She tell him, screams it at him, that his lack of passion for change will be construed as acceptance of status quo, and indeed, will be viewed by some as indifference. Nothing, she tells him, is more dangerous than the people who are simply willing to accept what is as all that is achievable. What, she asks him, are you willing to do, how far are you willing to go, how much are you willing to accept as your own responsibility, to create this change?
He calmly tells her he’s willing to do whatever it takes, but he doesn’t think he’s suppose to yell and scream and act like the world is coming to an end.
She grabs him by the collar and slams him against the wall, stunning him, shocking him, and she puts her face so close to his he can smell her breath.
“That is the attitude that got Christie murdered, the attitude this isn’t worth screaming about.”
I have found the scene.
Gregory McMichael had no regrets about murdering a man who he admitted he wasn’t sure had done anything wrong. When he called 911 he was asked what his emergency was and he told them there was a black guy running down the street. After the murder, he called his friends who worked in the DA’s office to make sure everyone understood that he thought he was doing the right thing, after all, there had been a black man in his neighborhood.
Two different DA’s bailed on the case because McMichael had worked with them before he retired, and one of them said even though it was inappropriate to get involved in the case, he was sure McMichael was not guilty of any wrongdoing.
But William Bryan, for whatever reasons, leaked a video of the murder to the press, and all hell broke loose.
From the very beginning, I assumed Bryan would be the undoing of the defense because he was the third man out going against a father and son, who would see him crucified to help one another, and I think Bryan knew it. I think he leaked the video to save his own ass, not because he felt remorse for killing an unarmed man whose crime was running.
Gregory McMichael is old enough to remember a world in black and white. He was sixteen when segregation ended, and his world of white privilege, the one I grew up with for the first decade of my life, disappeared. But he still remembers the time when white people would treat black people any way they liked, and there would be no legal repercussions.
Gregory McMichael is old enough to have tasted the evil for so long it seemed natural and right. Blacks had their place, and they were supposed to stay down, accept whatever white men like himself allowed them, and it infuriated Gregory McMichael that a black man would run through his neighborhood.
This was an old fashioned lynching in 2021. This was the 1900’s come to life in south Georgia because in his heart of hearts, McMichael knew the white system of justice could be called on the phone and he knew he would speak to the right person, and everyone would understand nothing had happened that had not happened thousands of times before, and he would live his life without so much as a ticket.
But in this day and age, a video is worth a thousand nooses, and the outrage grew as did the size, and color, of the protest crowds. What very likely sank the defense was you cannot chase someone down with a gun, and then claim self defense once you catch them, and kill them. But McMichael never seemed to understand he had done anything wrong.
Because he never understood he had done anything wrong.
In the end, white men like McMichael are ghosts of segregation. They haunt us all, whispering in dead voices that black people aren’t really people, the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, and we were all better off when white people could kill black people anytime they wanted, for any reason.
McMichael has been sentenced to life without parole, and he’s going to have the rest of his life to think about this subject.
You should think about it, too. How one man can kill another, and then think the system will save him from murder.
You should think about how close this came to being swept under the rug of a justice system that still will offer more help to a murderer, than a black man.