Second Hand Stories

While trying to change perhaps the last incandescent bulb out of a lamp, I put my thumb through the lampshade. I bought this lamp back in 1996, when I bought my first house. New furniture, that was a must, people told me, and admittedly, the new furniture looked nice back then, and it has aged well, but now it’s all old and stained, and fragile. I didn’t foresee ever needing a lampshade, but the lamp itself is still good. 

The thrift is run by a religious cult. They get people to donate stuff, sell it, and claim to save souls, and some of the people who work there seem programed. But it’s early in the morning and as far as I can tell, I’m alone in the giant warehouse. It is huge, and relatively sorted. The lamps are right there in front, a suitable replacement is found easily, and my journey ought to continue. I have shit to do. Odd phrase that, actually, but really. Instead, I wander. 

An Italian looking cast iron statue draws my attention. It’s a woman wearing a low cut dress and she’s holding what appears to be grapes in either hand. Where did this come from and who made it? I shall not engage these people in conversation, no. A piano with a sign that reads, “Sold only to a Christian home” and I knew a man named Chester Christian years ago, and I wonder if he needs a piano.

Dozens of headboards, footboards, bedside tables, but no used mattresses, thankfully, that would be a little weird. There’s cheap new ones, still wrapped in plastic, “guaranteed new.”  I wonder how they cover that warranty? If someone gets bedbugs do they give them their money back? 

I wonder how many of these beds were points of conception for someone. Years ago I bought an old mattress to keep on the back porch for the dogs when I was at work, and when I told the woman at the yard sale what I was going to do with it, she balked. She had conceived her children on that mattress, and her husband had to talk her into selling it. The dogs destroyed it in a day or two. 

Racks and racks of clothes, like snake skins shed on hangers, the clothes of mothers, fathers, grandparents, taken out to the retirement home for old clothing, left to go to bed with the dishes and spoons, the cups and glasses. 

Can you imagine what it must be like, late at night, when the beds, and clothes, and the silverware start to talk? The beds have the sex stories, the flatware are the foodies, but I think the knickknacks, the dust collectors, and those items that were whimsical are those with the best tales to tell. Oh, and how sad now, for some mantlepiece vase, passed down by five generations, finds herself rubbing elbows with a plastic plant from Wal-Mart, cast aside for free. 

The ceiling fan, installed in the bedroom knew about the affair, knew the marriage was doomed, but never knew the wife would get rid of everything, even the fan, to start over again. There’s the rug who was bought rolled up, never used, and is still brand new, but so ugly no one wants it, and there’s the mismatched glasses, who have been together since the 1940’s who know that one day they will part forever. An animated movie about the items in a second hand store who share their stories, and at the end, a fire breaks out and burns the place to the ground, with only the iron statue remaining. The sole survivor now holds all the stories within her. 

“How much for the lamp shade,” I ask.

“How much will you give me for it?” The man asks.

“Three cents,” I reply.

“Really?”

“I’m hoping you’ll name a reasonable price and we’ll meet in the middle,” I tell him. 

“Three hundred dollars.”

“I have four bucks in my pocket.” 

“Okay, four bucks it is then,” the man smiles. 

“Got change for a ten?” I say and he stops smiling. We agree on five bucks for the lamp shade. 

Take Care,

Mike

Ambush

Two shells in the shotgun, and five rounds for the rifle. How many men would come down the trail, no one knew, and maybe they wouldn’t come this way at all. But we expected the main force to hit us head on, at the camp, and a smaller group to try to sneak around the back. My mission was to guard this path that led to the farm, and I thought they put me here because I was older, less useful in the attack up front, and the only man in the camp not a veteran of at least one firefight. At a minimum, I would make enough noise to let everyone know there was company coming. Yet it was hoped there would be bloodshed, and not all of it mine. 

Deer, maybe a racoon. That noise, the sound of leaves being crushed underfoot. Loud in the early morning stillness, the sun now above the horizon, the silence of the day just being violated. A tree branch fell to my left, and distinctly someone whispered, “What the fuck was that?” 

I saw a spider crawling up the stem of the bush in front of me. It was a small, tiny, and slow moving thing, and the smell of crushed greenery wafted in. They had come in slow, without a sound; my heart pounded. In front of me, close, and they too, were waiting. I knew they would rush forward as soon as the shooting started. I eased the shotgun barrel forward and became part of the woods. I felt sweat flowing like tears. I felt small, and helpless, and scared. 

Twenty feet of light underbrush would mean nothing to the stainless steel ball bearings loaded into the shells. Finger off the trigger, finger off the trigger, wait, wait, wait. 

The sound of the rifle fire crackled, two hundred yards behind me, and this was the moment we would live or we would die. The men rushed forward, suddenly, and one of them saw me, too late, he stopped, halting the men behind him, and both barrels of the shotgun erupted in fire and smoke. Screaming, screaming, screaming, falling bodies, wild shots, and smoke. 

“Aim low,” Billy told me, “knock’em down, make’em bleed bad, and they’ll be useless in a fight, and somebody’ll have to carry’em, after that, you got five rounds, no more, make it count, Mike, close the backdoor.” 

I was the only man between the camp and the raiders coming in from the back. If they got past me, there was nothing. 

Two bullets made a frying sound by my left ear, close enough for me to feel the warm breath of the Gods of War. I pulled the rifle up, another bullet whizzed by, but men were down, screaming, screaming,  I sighted  and there was only one shooting back, wildly now, panic taking over. He saw the rifle and his eyes opened wide. 

The man jerked hard as the first round caught up just below his throat, and he threw his hands up, as if he might undo the damaged flesh. A man got up, limping hard, trying to run, and the second round caught him in the back at the waistline. He screamed, screamed, and kept screaming. Other men were yelling, “How many of them? Where are they? Jesus Christ, we’re surrounded!” and for some reason, they thought the sounds of gunfire from the camp, echoing through the woods, were coming from all directions. Another broke and ran, dragging a body behind him. My next shot caught in him in the right eye as he turned to fire, and the top of his head exploded like a fountain. That was enough. Two men threw their weapons down leaving me with the injured and dying. I stood and fired. Pop! Pop! Both men went down hard. 

“Don’t get your ass up for nothin’,” Billy told me. “We lose the front, stay down, make a run for it. You go south, move at night, take care of yourself best you can. We hold, if’n we do, and we’ll come get you. There’s be a party after we bury the dead.” 

I waited. The screaming stopped. The shooting stopped, but who won? Who would come down the trail to get me. Five feet away a rifle lay on the ground so I inched forward, grabbed it, and checked. Ten rounds in the magazine, one in the chamber. The former owner started at me with the half open eyes of a dead man, the first I had ever killed. He looked past me into the void. 

“Mike!” It was Salman, the foreign guy who had moved to America a few years ago. He was good with guns, and I looked over my shoulder at him and grinned.

“Sal, we win?” I asked. 

“Yes we win. What you think?” Sal crouched down. “How many get away, Mike? You make a mess in the woods. I tell Billy you messy.” 

“None got away, none got past me. We lose anybody?” I asked as Sal handed me a cigarette. 

“We lose men, Billy’s brother Hank. And new guy, odd name. Bubbles. Wounded gonna die.” 

“Bubba,” and I actually laughed. I looked up and saw a woodpecker fly over, glorious and huge.

“Let’s get the guns, go back and see what happens now, okay?” Sal said and he helped me stand up. “Billy tell me, ‘We put Mike on the back, nobody live, nobody get past.” 

“Thanks, Sal.” 

Wrex pawed at my face, waking me up. I sat up and smelled blood and gunpowder. 

But I held the line before I came out. 

The night was locked in clouds, a light mist, no moonlight, no stars, and I could walked to the place on the trail from here, in the darkness and it felt real, as if the bodies would still be there. 

Breakfast felt odd, too much light showing, they would see me. The dogs whined, went in and out, as if they sensed the veil had been strained, the dreamworld and this one had gotten too close to being in the same time. I was a vet in that world, and I would miss the party. Billy, Sal, and the guys who I had drank with a few days before the fight. Bubba was dead. His wife, two kids. Billy brother, I can’t remember his name now. Quiet man, reliable, it ran in the family. 

It fought me. I went to Yoga class and was dizzy, I stumbled a couple of time, this reality isn’t holding, the other cannot. 

This is the explanation of a dream, if that was what it was.  What about the other side? Are they used to people just disappearing? Did I? Am I still there, drinking to our fallen, secure in a place I helped defend, or is it gone, all gone, forever? 

Take Care,

Mike

Horse Bars and Murder

Talking about writing comes in many forms. You can talk nuts and bolts, sentence structure, where the comma goes or does not, or how to write dialogue which are all needful things. Most of the new writers I meet have this vision their creativity will be enough to captivate the reader so spelling and grammar and structure be damned. This is never the case. The vehicle in which your writing flies will determine how high and how fast and how smoothly the flight. 

And, regrettably in some cases, how long the flight lasts.

But there is the discussion on the philosophy of writing, on how writing should be done, and what it takes to tell a story. The person telling the story decides how, and if they are smart, they will already know how before they begin. If they try to wing it, they might be good enough to carry the tale to the end, but mostly, in writing, they must know right from the start. 

A friend of mine went through a lot of text on a detective story. He began with first person, switched to third person, then back again to first person, and finally went with third person for the tale. Why? It felt right. It felt better to him as he wrote it. The process of writing, not the rules and regulation of writing, is what this is all about, mind you. 

In one scene in the story, he walks into a bar, and the bartender tells him all about the history of the building. It’s a real building and the history is accurate. It isn’t a bar, but an office, but he transported it into another location and reworked it into a drinking establishment where horse racing and horse breeding people come to drink. This is where a murder takes place. The scene is important. How a writer gets that scene into the mind of a reader cannot be taught but it can be borrowed. 

Think about Bilbo Baggins and his Hobbit Hole. That was his family home, Bag End, where Bilbo’s history was stored, his belongings, and his comfort. Torn away from this place was part of the opening of the story, and it defined the main character with style. 

A bar, elegant and classy, where moneyed people go to talk horses, with photos of horses adorning the plain red brick walls, an antique piano on a small stage, and the massive mahogany bar, so brown it is nearly black, the perfectly clean mirror behind with shelves of bottles, each higher shelf holding a rarer version than the one below, and no prices asked or given. 

The work it takes to define a location will stay with a reader. It will give them a place to relax and think about as the story evolves. You have an image of this place, and the people who go there, do you not? And I have not done it any justice. 

What I have done, is given you an idea of what you must do to define, or refine, your story. Where? Where is this place? How does your characters feel about being there? That photo, in the corner, near the old corn cracking hand cranked farm tool, why was the victim standing there, staring at the photo? You have no idea, and no one has told you what or who was in the photo, and by the time the detective arrives, the photo is missing.

Is the photo a clue or a red herring? 

We talked about the photo, over good beers and a chess board. Horses, of course, but a woman was in the photo, but who was she, and was she connected to the murder?

Don’t connect the dots, lead your reader to a room and allow the human mind to look around, to study the place and feel what it felt there. Your location should give you information about the characters there, and who they really are. 

Your character is a woman, self assured and a good judge of character, we know this from her surroundings. We know this because of what she does for a living, where she lives and works, and we know because the other characters treat her with respect. So, does she get into the canoe with the stranger to go to the island in the lake? How big and island, how big a lake, and who is this person? All of this is important information that only you have, and to make your point, you must share it beautifully. 

None of this can be found in a rule book. You can read books written by writers and find out what they’ve done, or better yet, you can read good books, lots and lots of good books, and find out how it’s done right. Or not done well at all. But reading is the best tool for learning how to write. 

Mark, the man who was writing about the detective, had a problem with present a pause between two people speaking. 

“Why would he have that problem?” Mike asked, as he looked around the room, searching for the waitstaff who seemed enthralled by the woman with the baby. It bothered him the child might start wailing and drown out the piano player. 

“Because he had never thought about it,” Mark replied.

There you have a pause between Mike’s question and the answer to it. Mark worked it out. 

This is the kind of conversations people ought to have more often about writing, instead of worrying about sentence structure, which you can learn from a book. I’ve got Fowler’s and Holt’s handbook, Strunk and White’s, of course, but none of that teaches you how to use words effectively to create a mood, or inflection. You do have to build the airplane with these tools, these rules, but the fuel can only be from your creativity. 

Take Care,

Mike

WASHINGTON’S FAREWELL ADDRESS

WASHINGTON’S FAREWELL ADDRESS

Friends and Fellow-Citizens:
The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.
I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country—and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect
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for your past kindness; but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.
The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.
I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.
The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government,
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the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.
In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals that under circumstances in which the passions agitated in every direction were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of
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fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your Union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these states, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.
Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your felicity as a
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people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.
Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of
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the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.
With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts—of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of the whole.
The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common
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government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South in the same intercourse, benefitting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort—and what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.
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While then every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value!
they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same government; which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence likewise they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to
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hope that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.
In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations—Northern andSouthern—Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views.
One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head. They have seen in the negotiation by the executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event
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throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the general government and in the Atlantic states unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi. They have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?
To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute. They must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay by the adoption of a Constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers,
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uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government. All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force—to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by
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common councils and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
Towards the preservation of your government and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect in the forms of the Constitution alterations which will impair the energy of the system and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypotheses and opinion, exposes to perpetual change from the endless variety of hypotheses and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common
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interests in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is indeed little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and
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miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of
his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true— and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character,
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in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of the people the distribution
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or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
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It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be
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revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties) ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all—religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments
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for others should be excluded and that in place of them just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter
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without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions—by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained—and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign
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influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.
Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain
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one people under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forgo the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that
of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world—so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it—for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements (I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy)—I repeat it therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
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Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce but forcing nothing; establishing with powers so disposed—in order to give to trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them—conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another—that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character—that by such acceptance it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could
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wish—that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good, that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism—this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.
How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.
In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the 22d of April 1793 is the index to my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
After deliberate examination with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take—and was bound in duty and interest, to take—a neutral position. Having
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taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it with moderation, perseverence, and firmness.
The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.
Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they
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may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize without alloy the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government—the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.
United States
19th September 1796

G. Washington

Shopping with the Dead Man on Sunday Morning

Shopping zero early on Sunday morning means fewer people to deal with, so the dead man was a surprise, a shock, and for him to be standing in the meat section seemed oddly appropriate. He was among his own in this, all the dead in one place. I fled to the produce section, trying to sort out what was seen. 

Of course, he is not the dead man. The dead man was named Mike, that’s the only part of his name I remember, but he was a deeply religious man at work, and like most of the deeply religious men at work, he had a problem keeping his dick in his pants. He got caught having an affair with his married secretary, he was married, but the deeply religious supervisor he had also had the same problem, so the issue was swept under the rug. 

We had one conversation, about my lack of belief, the only conversation we would have, and he said I ought to change my ways and become a better person and I said, “You first.” And we never spoke again. 

I had a supervisor that was cut out of the same holy cloth, that look-at-me-I-love-Jesus-but-damn-what-a-set-of-tits-on-that-bitch type of white guy with a little power over people. When he wasn’t hitting on the women under his supervision, he was trying to get people to come to his church. 

The dead man died of cancer. Slow and hard, he died over a period of months, and he told people that his god was punishing him for his infidelity to both his wife and faith. I’m pretty sure any deity who would kill a person like this isn’t holy at all, but I was amazed my supervisor bought into it, or claimed to, and worried that his god would come after him one day. 

I went to check out, and at zero early hours, there’s one cashier, usually bored to death, but there was the dead man, being checked out before me, and I hesitated, waited a bit, it felt weird to be that close to someone who looked just like the dead man. 

“The computer just died,” the cashier said, and she had to reboot it. 

The dead man was bagged up, paid, and away he went. I checked out, and left a few minutes later. He was parked beside me, loading his groceries into the trunk of his car. 

“Do I know you?” he asked. 

“I don’t think so,” I replied. 

“You looked like someone I knew,” the dead man said, staring.

“Yeah?” 

“He died back in, uh,…”

“2010.” I finished for him. 

“That’s right,” the dead man says. 

“I got to go,” I tell him, loading my stuff quickly and getting into the truck. 

I pull away and watch in the rearview for just a few seconds. 

Take Care,

Mike

In the Woods with Dogs.

Budlore Amadeus, the Dog of the Amadai, wanted to go out after breakfast. It’s not that he wanted to, or needed to, go out, no not at all, he wanted me to go with him. It was wet, foggy, and damp outside, and going out into the woods with Bud meant my shoes would be wet, and I might pick up a tick or two. But when a dog wants to go into the woods with you, there’s an unspoken agreement that going out into the woods is the best thing ever, so out we go. 

I called Wrex Wyatt to go with us, and he hesitated, and once outside, he quickly doubled back and waited on the porch for us to return. Wrex is aging, and this is the first time I’ve noticed he didn’t join us. 

Both Jessica Elizabeth and Bud hit the trails at speed, and disappear. They’ll wend their way back and forth, closer then further away, no scent unsmelled, no trace of an interloper left uninvestigated, and in Bud’s case, no tree left dry. But Budlore comes in, staying just ahead of me on the trail, tail up, nose to the ground, and he steps over a small rat snake, as do I. There’s no reason to get excited, and the snake freezes, allowing us to go our way, as he will, too. 

Spiders have cast webs, trapping tiny drops of water, magnolia leaves have ponds on them, and the whole world seems soaked with dampness. High above, there’s some clearing, but close to the ground the air is a semiliquid that delays the dawn, and mixes shadows with darkness and gray. 

The overstory of the giant oaks acts as an umbrella, blocks direct rain, but leaking fog through. It’s a surreal and magical feeling, to be embraced within the atmosphere of such ancient and powerful creatures, who stand without effort or strain, reaching towards the nearest star, and the center of the earth, for every moment of their lives. 

I stop to take a photo of the trees, but the light isn’t right. Budlore comes in at speed, as fast as he can run, and I know to stand still, and he will pass. Bud zooms by, barely grazing me, his body a rocket with four legs. He makes the circuit before I can go fifty feet, and comes back again, this time to check in, to show me how happy and excited he is, too. Jessica, on the other paw, is somewhere in the woods, likely digging, but she’s getting to be more solitary now. Jess may, or she may not, follow us in, or she may decide to stay in the woods, and do whatever it is that Jessica does when no one else is with her. She’s becoming an adult, forming into who she wants to be, more and more each day. She likes the solitude of the woods, off the path, alone with the scents that draw her attention. I feel this, and understand it, too. 

Lilith Anne doesn’t go with us anymore. At ten years old, she’s no longer interested in leaf collecting, or whatever creatures are passing through the woods. She slowly chases spots of sunlight, finding a nice place to nap and be warm. This morning is not her type of day, and so the bed will have to suffice. 

Half the pack is inside, not motivated to go out. I’ve seen this before, many times, where a puppy is suddenly gimpy, ten years after arriving here. The very young become more independent, the old dogs become increasingly slow, and the cycle repeats with each new dog.

But Jess comes with us, following Bud, and as we head inside, I wonder why I never grow tired of walking in the same woods every day, sometimes more than once. The dogs never tire of it either, Bud running like he’s chasing the wind, and Jessica investigating the earth Herself. Light or dark, wet or dry, cold or hot, the woods are always the same, and never the woods they were an hour ago. Every space within gives life, feeds life, is everything there is in life, and that is why I am drawn to the trees and the undergrowth, the mushrooms and the snakes. Here in the woods is where we were always supposed to be, even if we never learn it as a whole, there are those of us who will always call this home. 

Take Care,

Mike

The End of Food.

Back in the 1970’s, the early seventies, I remember reading about how overpopulation would eventually kill us all. Fifty years later, which isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, too many people wanting too many things has created a chain reaction of events that will end us. 

California, once a land of endless farms and millions of people is drying up. There is no more water. China, once a land of far too many people, slave labor for the rest of the world, is drying up. India, a land of far too many people, slave labor for the rest of the world’s extended car warranties, is baking. Food production is down everywhere due to drought, high temperatures, and more people to feed. 

The war in Ukraine, predictably, caused food shortages, but toss in those people who make money off misery and things are even worse. Much worse. Greed is the accelerant that fuels stupidity. And people are going to act stupid in times of trouble. But the war was only supposed to last a few weeks, not months. Much production that ought to have been is not. Much of the crop is lost. America is facing her own shortages of food, and suddenly, we’re one more disaster away from famine on a scale that is not only unimaginable, but beyond our ability as a species to mitigate. 

New York City, home to twenty million people has on hand, in storage, enough food for one week. After that, twenty million people are going to start a migration outward, and the areas around New York will be stripped bare. A ripple effect, a tsunami of hunger, will begin to spread to other states. Other large cities will collapse, and as soon as Boston, New Jersey and other parts of the east coast megalopolis cave, the disaster will spread westward and to the south.  The loss of critical east coast ports and air cargo sites will acerbate the situation incredibly. 

In China, where cities with tens of millions of people can be counted by the dozen, the collapse of food distribution will happen much more quickly and on a much larger scale. India’s population will implode, then head outward, millions of people in cars and trucks, then on foot, crushing neighboring countries with refugees, in a scene that will be played out over the entire Eurasian continent. 

In America, fractured politically and disinterested in unity of any sort, addicted to video games, binge watching and plastic, it will be nearly impossible to have a national response. Famine will create the urge not to solve problems, but to arm everyone. As it was once said, 

“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. 
War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. 
War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. 
The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. 
That is the way it was and will be. 
That way and not some other way…
War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing 
of the unity of existence. War is god…
Men of god and men of war have strange affinities.”
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian,1985

You may not have realized until now, or you may not realize it still, but your entire life’s existence has led to this moment in time, and you are responsible for what happens next. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Well

I wondered where it came from, and I still do. It’s a massive structure, revisited, my second time here, and it’s breathtaking. The edifice reaches the clouds, maybe two kilometers in the sky, maybe even higher, there’s no way to measure, and birds must fly around it, great flocks trying to gauge if it would be better to skirt around the man-made mountain or go over. It’s when the birds are close is when the scale becomes apparent. Tiny flying insects they become, against the soaring walls. Higher and higher the flock flies, up and up, until I cannot see them anymore. 

Why red brick? There’s a reason it’s built out of red brick, and I feel I should know why but no. I stand closer now and have that feeling a person gets when they first visit New York City, and walk among the skyscrapers. But a good portion of New York could fit inside this building, and as far as I can tell, there’s no reason for it to exist, except it does. 

Engineering would deny this thing in reality. From space, it would look like an old fashioned water well, simple and round, the walls only thick enough for a small truck to drive upon the open rim, a three meters wide, at most. I’ve been up there once before. I think I fell. 

There’s a tiny café to the left of the entrance and people time their visits to avoid the guy mowing the grass here. He pushes a loud, smokey, clunky mower, just like you would find in suburbia in the mid 1900’s and honestly, I have no idea if one person could actually mow the inside area and not have a permanent job. But the men and women working to repair the wall also have a full time job. There are hundreds of them, scaffolding clings to the bricks in various places, and stray bricks fall at random times. But overall, there are vast, immense areas where unbroken fields of bricks stretch into the skies. 

But why red brick? The question comes to me, even as I walk in the freshly mowed grass, I can smell it, and I know it’s a dream, but the red brick stage setting intrigues me. Something tiny to give The Well a larger sense of proportion? I have no idea. Then I see her, the woman I was looking for last time, sitting alone, waiting for me. The dream is repeating, the dreamscape and characters are back, and even though I know it is a dream, the smile is involuntary. I’ll ask her why the bricks, why everything, over a drink, and a cigarette, but I wake up instead. 

Take Care,

Mike

Rape

While writing a fiction piece about the end of the world, I was interviewing women to learn how they thought they would be treated by men in a nascent civilization. Mostly, women were very pessimistic, with some flatly rejecting the idea of starting over in a site where they were outnumbered by men. Some thought being in a camp with men would be favorable to being outside a camp with no protection from men. It was clear that men would be the biggest problem women felt they would face, even if there were monsters who invaded earth that ate people. 

I asked a woman who I didn’t know well at all what she thought would happen. She said once men did all the upper body strength/ he man stuff like putting up fences and farming, it could dawn on them they were in control of everything inside those fences, and women would suffer for this. 

“Just like that? I asked. 

“That’s the way things work now,” she replied. 

She went on to explain she agreed to talk to me about the project, but only in a place where she could see other people, and be seen, because she didn’t know me. A friend referred her to me, knew she would want to speak about the subject, and we were in a downtown coffee shop. 

“Have you ever taken a woman out on a first date to a really nice restaurant?” she asked me. “Not just a first date, but the first time the two of you went anywhere together alone?” 

I stalled out. Surely, in my life I had, but I couldn’t remember. 

“Most women will guide men away from expensive first date venues,” she told me. “That way, the man isn’t as likely to demand sex on the first date.”

I told her I didn’t think dating was like that, and she asked me if I had ever dated a man. My education, it seemed, was just beginning. 

The biggest problem, she told me, is that in order to get sex from a man to whom she was attracted, she had to make sure he wasn’t going to assault her first. Which meant she had to establish some level of trust on the first date, allow a rapport to develop, and keep him at arm’s length should he turn into an octopus. 

Moreover, she wasn’t on the Pill. When she went out with a guy for the first time, she had no intentions of having sex with him no matter how well things went, or how strong an attraction she developed for him. Women have created bail out calls, where if a woman is on a date and wants out, she can text a friend to come get her out. This woman went a step further by letting a gay friend come over and play video games on her widescreen. She would text him and tell him to stay or go, depending on how a date went. 

So, I asked, does this mean you never had sex on a first date? 

She went out with a guy she really liked, they went to a cozy little bar, then went to his place and smoked pot. She was higher than she needed to be, and knew it, and the next thing she knows, he’s pushed her over on the sofa, kissing her, and she has to make a decision fast. She can try to throw the brakes on, try to get him off of her, hope it doesn’t piss him off, and hope for the best. She was interested, just not this interested yet, but why not just go along with it? What she knows to be true, is that there is zero chance this man is ever going to be charged with raping her, unless he beats her bloody and she has war wounds to show for it, and even then, going through the process of going to the hospital for a rape kit, going through the trauma of filing a report, and waiting for a trial that might take months, assures her only that the man she is trying to put in prison knows where she lives. 

She pushes back, tells him to stop, and he does, for the moment. 

Now she has to extract herself from the situation without pissing him off. They are both drunk, both stoned, and she says she has to use the bathroom, which is a disaster, because she has to go through his bedroom to get there. He follows her, lays down on the bed, and she closes the bathroom door behind her, and thinks. Now what? She almost calls a friend, decides not to, thinks she might be overthinking the situation, flushes, washes her hands, and when she steps out of the bathroom, he’s on the bed, naked.

“At this point,” she tells me, “it’s fight or fuck, and after I lose the fight I’m fucked anyway.” 

A few hours later, after three or four sessions of unprotected sex, his urgency and buzz wears off, and he drives her home. The next morning, she hits the pharmacy for a Morning After Pill, and is pissed at herself for getting in that situation. 

“You’ve never raped a woman?” she asks, looking me in the eye. 

“No, never,” I say and I’m mad she would ask. 

“You’ve never taken a drunk woman back to your apartment, started trying to fuck her, and not thought for a moment that she might be afraid to say no to you?” The question is one open to interpretation, and I almost say that, but I realize it sounds like I’m trying to defend myself against an accusation. 

I tell her about the time a woman came home with me from a bar, like in her case, and we smoked some pot, and we were both really stoned. We started kissing, one thing led to another, but she never said stop or slow down, or no.

“Could she have walked home from your place safely? Could she have called a cab? Was there anyone close by she could have gotten to come get her? Did you have control over her means of transportation?” she asked, and I could tell this was exactly what she had gone through. 

“Did you try to call her the next day, or later, and did she more or less not want to have anything else to do with you?” she demanded. This all happened long before cell phones, back in the 80’s. 

I thought back to that night. It was cold, raining hard, and we were both pretty blitzed. The woman didn’t seem reluctant, or hesitant. 

“Does this mean she absolutely wasn’t looking for a one night stand?” I asked and the question seemed lame for some reason. 

“No, not at all, she could have very well been looking for sex. She might have had a boyfriend and not wanted to see you again for that reason. “But you had a lot more control over the situation than she. Did you ask her if she was on birth control? Did you offer to use a condom? Did you ever wonder if she was pregnant after that night? The questions were flung out at me, but she already knew the answers. 

“Hey, this was decades ago,” I protested. 

“Good point. Nothing has changed since what happened to that woman happened to me, Mike,” she said. “I’m not accusing you of raping her. I’m accusing you of not realizing you had power over her. In your story, if you set up a camp to restart civilization, how are you going to prevent the men from having power over the woman, and then using that power against the women. That’s the question you are asking, even if you don’t realize it.” 

“Wow.” 

“Take the most extreme example. Do you think Thomas Jefferson raped Sally Heming?” she asked. 

“Yes, a woman who cannot say no cannot say yes,” I replied. 

“Even if she liked him, or loved him, and even wanted him, the power he held over her made it impossible for her to make up her own mind as to what to do with her body. The guy that was waiting for me to come out of the bathroom forced me to either confront him, or go along for the ride. I was young, scared, and took the easy way out. It’s not the classic knife-at-her-throat rape scene, but I didn’t feel as if I had any choice. That’s your story right there. Who decides how much power men have over women?” she stood up, to go, and I stood up, too. 

“You’re on the right track, Mike, but a lot of men are going to read it complete fiction.” 

Take Care,

Mike

Cross Pollination

“Like a memory in motion 

You were only passing through

That is all you’ve ever known of life, that’s all you’ll ever do” Caroline by Concrete Blonde

“I think she’s dead” was the entire message. I knew who my friend was talking about, even though the two of us haven’t spoken for any length of time in years. Nothing more needs to be said, and unless something changes, we’re not likely to get together and have some memorial for someone who we both loved, but a very long time ago. 

The late 1980’s was the last time I would really feel carefree and young. Friends came, and they went, we drank a lot, we spent many hours walking in the woods, and talking about things that were interesting, time stood still, then one day I woke up and that time of my life was gone, like I had fallen asleep on a plane, and landed in some unwanted destination where I didn’t understand the language and didn’t like the climate. 

Coincidence, I submit, has likely founded more religions than ethical conviction. After all, when I moved out here in the middle of nowhere, I landed within twenty miles of a woman who had dated the same woman as I had, back then. We were close, and she lost the same woman I did, in the same manner, and took the same hit as I did. Love is the same, living love, losing love, remembering love, really, it is the same. Death is a lot like love. Neither of us are going to do anything, there won’t be a quiet evening drinking and sharing memories, no. After this much time we’ll just acknowledge a person who spent some time in our timelines is truly gone. 

 All this started when, no wait, it was before that, actually. But the story twists and turns upon itself, involving one person meeting another, and in that circle of friends the cross pollination was strong. We went bowling one day, six of us, and I realized all three women in the group had been in my bed, I knew two of them had dated at least two of the three guys in the group. We never got anyone infected or pregnant, as far as I knew.

It’s not as tawdry as it sounds, really. In some sense we all knew no one would wind up with anyone there forever. The woman in question passed on from me to my roommate, and I made them raise their right hands and swear that anything that happened in the future was not my fault, and they did. It was funny, hysterical in fact, and now both them are gone. He had two consecutive relationships end with his female partner leaving him for a female partner. She left him for a woman, and left her for a married man. 

In the end, that was a fitting metaphor for that period of my life. Over thirty years have passed now. One by one, people disappear into the darkness of time, or they die. The songs we listened to together will never be heard as new music, even to those who have never heard it before. It is old music, even classic, perhaps, but the music is something that happened a long time ago, in another era, remembered, and poorly at that, by those who are still surviving. 

Take Care,

Mike