Friday Firesmith: The Sins of Gregory McMichaels

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.

Take Care,

Mike

The Unicorn on a Unicycle

Memory, in your brain, in the human brain, isn’t like memory in a computer. I once read we do not store memories at all, but store the scaffolding of it, and rely on external input to fill in the blanks. This doesn’t make sense at all, until you think about the number of times you’ve remembered the words to a song, but only after hearing the song on the radio. You couldn’t have written them down, but now the song is playing, you’re singing along just like you were a very long time ago.

Dreams are worse, in as far as remembering them goes, for they are not reality, sometimes not even based on reality, so there’s nothing there to grab to build on. They are here, somewhere, in your brain, then the dream is gone, and you cannot remember anything but how it made you feel.

I started getting up and writing down my dreams, back in the 1970’s, when I was in high school, and that helped me remember them. As is usual, the effort you’re willing to make to do something will define how well you do it. But most people ignore their dreams, consider them transient things that happen, and afterwards, only a vague unease exists.

Last night a dream began, ended, and as it was gone before any sort of writing could be done, I cast my line into the darkness trying to snag an image or feeling, or anything that night help. A house, in the darkness, lights on, and that was it. I knew who lived in the house, a woman I have not seen, literally, in decades, and right now I’m having trouble remembering anything about her at all. Wait, it’s the house she lived in with her husband and kids, and I want to say I know where the house is, but I cannot.

You would recognize the house where some character on television lived in, the rooms, the kitchen, but you know it’s a set, not a real structure, and in your mind there are places that actually exist but you’ve never seen them in their totality. Ever been in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant? Ever been on the roof? You go home with someone for the first time, you sleep in their bed, and leave the next morning, and if you see that person again, they show you their garden in the backyard, and it’s a surprise to see the rest of their living space, just as it was a surprise to see their body for the first time. Interesting tattoo you have there, why did you get a unicorn riding a unicycle?

But then the person is gone. This person you were once joined at the hips with has eased out of your life, and you’ve eased away from the backyard and bedroom, and now you are a memory, and so is that person. There was a fight over money or infidelity, or there was nothing there but heat to begin with. Or you were unable to keep from being weird. That happens.

Now, years later, something sets off the scaffolding and the memory is recreated, flawed and patchy, holes in the details which your mind dutifully fills in, and destroys the memory in doing so, but you still, even if you know this as a fact, accept the memory as whole.

We cling to the scaffolding of memory, not the memory itself. The memory doesn’t exist, it never has, and it never will. We accept this, unconsciously, subconsciously, for it is all we have ever known, literally. Dreams lack this, so we allow them to pass into the ether, and even though I suspect the two are closely related, we will declare one a crop, and the other a weed.

The house, the woman of decades ago, the memory of the past is an illusion created in my mind, and after I am done writing this, soon now, it will recede again, a coin flashing and reflecting as it sinks deeper and deeper, until forgotten.

Take Care,

Mike

The Death of Christianity

Back in high school, I began to drift away from the beliefs of my parents, my siblings, my friends, and community. It made no sense to me there might be some old white dude in a bathrobe and sandals, waving a shepherd’s crook around flinging people into Hell forever because they never got dunked in water.

The Christians I knew back then were dying out. The church was changing. There was a time you sat with your family in a hard wood pew in a dimly lit wooden church, and listened to a preacher talk for an hour, if you were lucky. Being a kid didn’t get you out of it. There wasn’t a separate place for children. Infants were held by their mothers; little kids were forced to be still and quiet.

The people in the church did things for the community and nothing was ever said about it. No one ever mentioned the fact that three or four members of the church got together and went over to someone’s house and cleaned up their yard because of sickness or poor health. People donated food because they could. Christianity didn’t need a presentation because it was a lifestyle.

Today’s churches don’t resonate with people because it’s more of a commercial than a message. There are huge television screens, microphones, piped in music, soundtracks, and all of this costs a lot of money. Churches are businesses now. There’s a contract to sign, autopay, direct deposit, and money is a big concern.

Churches have nurseries, ball fields, gyms, carpet, full kitchens, security systems, professionally designed websites, their own email domains, and it’s more of a social club than a spiritual journey.

Atheism is getting easier. Leaving the church isn’t what it once was. Now, it’s like walking away from a bar, or a restaurant. The depth of spirituality of Christians is as superficial as the strip mall buildings they’re housed in. There’s no bond of generations of families who sat in the same pews three generations ago. Convenience of parking, how pretty the lawn is, and how big the building is, yeah, that’s what the Christians are these days.

There are multi-millionaires running billion dollar industries that call themselves Christians, and there are millions of people following this in the name of a man who told people to sell their belongings and give the money to the poor.

I never truly believed. I never accepted the idea of a god of any sort, not even when Christians were good people, conscious of their beliefs at all times, and the driving force in every community. Oh yeah, the judgmental and racist churches that littered the south were a problem for many of us, but overall, I miss the Christians, those who were good people.

Christianity, if it is not dead, is on the brink of extinction. Greed, the love of political power, the raw and ugly commercialism of Christian holidays, and the idea that presentation trumps faith and service is killing the church my grandparents knew.

I always hoped to see the day religion died in America. I just never expected to be this sad about it, and I never thought for a minute it would look this goddam ugly.

Take Care,

Mike

The Pencil

It’s been two decades, now two decades and two years, since I found the pencil. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? I was working on a bridge project in Valdosta, where the two bridges and the field office were close to the State Prison. What roguery men committed to be enclosed in such a place, I cannot say, but I never looked upon those shining spirals of razor wire on those fences without wondering how it is that a man could find his way there, and how other men could find a way to keep him.

There was a set of scales, like you’d see at a farm, or a woodyard, where a truck would pull up to be weighed, and perhaps at one point I knew what they were for, but I have since forgotten. The scale house was an old trailer, falling apart and in ruins, but I pried the door open one day at lunch and looked around.

There was a soft drink bottle on the floor and a trash can with paper in it. All manner of evidence of the office not being used, the smell of urine, recent signs that rodents had taken over, and there on the floor, was a pencil.

Once upon a time, if you used a pencil, and everyone did, the instrument had to be a No. 2 pencil, and that had something to do with the darkness of the graphite that was the part which wound up on the paper. Most people referred to it as “lead” but it never was. This pencil was rather old, having survived many trips to the pencil sharpener, and I wondered why, at the point of its life it had ceased to be possessed by a particular person, it had been left lying on the floor.

It was a big deal, when I was a kid, that everyone had a pencil every day of their lives at school. The worst crime, and all crimes were the worse crimes, was not to have a pencil. We were led to believe we might have a job one day, go to work without a pencil, and be fired for it. True enough, I once worked with a manager who despised anyone who was not, at any given moment, in possession of an ink pen, but for some reason, the world kept spinning and the work was done, and no one, ever, was fired.

I kept the pencil, pondered its existence, and wondered what it had been used for, by who, and when. Had some great work of literature been sweated and scrawled into being by this very instrument? Had a love poem been written during lunch to the object of some man’s affection? Did someone write the letter to their wife or husband, explaining why things had gone wrong, and nothing could fix it ever, and this was the end?

Or, more likely, had this been the tool used to mark official forms, with its No. 2 darkness, date, time, load number, weight, tare, and truck number? Its future sealed in wood, the tiny rubber eraser nubbed at times, day in and day out, like the man, or men, who used it, and then one day, the office closed for the last time, and the pencil lay on the floor, abandoned and forgotten.

How many pencils have I owned? In grade school, middle school, and into high school, dozens perhaps, each one of them gone, forgotten, lost, broke, stolen, loaned, given away, but nevertheless unaccounted for. Perhaps, incredibly unlikely, this pencil was one of those I released into the wild, only to be found accidently, unrecognized, like a chance meeting of the same stranger, twice.

I took the pencil, put it in a plastic water bottle, then sealed the cap with glue. The contractor didn’t notice me digging a hole at the bottom of the form and the next day they poured a footer for the bridge, and underneath that, the pencil lies waiting to be discovered again. It’s damn unlikely, I know, that one day someone will find an old plastic bottle, with an even older writing tool in it, and they’ll wonder, much as I have, why and how, and when, and who.

But it is entirely human, for memory to kick to the surface, the image of that time and place, and that pencil, and it is entirely human for me to write about it now, and you to read it. The prison is filled with men who might be freed if the right words are read, or written, and we must understand the power of this. Yet for all the men, and all the pencils, this is the most likely outcome, memories, laid to letters to be read, and perhaps, found again one day.

Take Care,

Mike

Exit

I remember seeing Greg at Exit 16 for the first time. An odd sight, for there to be someone I knew, someone I had worked with, someone who I had drank with, and someone who was going to college at some point, living under the overpass of I-75. But there he was, sitting, waiting, and homeless.

There were drugs involved, also stealing, cheating people out of money, lying, and it was the lying that seemed to be the worst part of it. Greg became a living lie, with every word and every sentence based on creating a narrative that would somehow transfer money from someone else to his use. Greg and I had reached the logical conclusion to our friendship when he stole from me. Trust was no longer possible, and no longer feasible. But Greg had run out of friends entirely and run out of second chances with anyone he had ever known.

If there’s any truth in the story, Greg’s family had worked hard to get him into college, get him where no one in their family had ever been, and he lasted one year. Cocaine was Greg’s thing, because it represented a lifestyle he could only bear witness to by watching television. Greg and I both worked at Shoney’s, the one on Ashley Street, and I remember him telling me he wanted to be a cocaine dealer. Greg got into crack instead, and he stole his father’s truck, and then looted his family’s home, and sold everything he could put in the truck at a pawn shop. He did that to his girlfriend’s mother, having a yard sale at her house while she was at work. And he stole stuff from his roommates. They threw his stuff out into the yard, and Greg set his bed up in the yard, close to the street. I drove by when I heard about it, and sure enough, there was Greg lying on his bed, in the open, in the yard. The first big rain ended that, and Greg retreated to Exit 16.

For not the first, and not the last time, I stopped and picked Greg up, took him to get something to eat, and turned down every request he made for money, and that was a nonstop thing with Greg. The year was 1985 or maybe ’86. I moved away in 1992, and didn’t give Greg a second thought until I saw him at Exit 16 again, but this time it was 2004.

People who have lived on the road for a while, and I’m talking about those with substance abuse problems, have a smell. Not the unwashed smell of someone who has been working all day in the sun, but a sour smell, of chemicals and alcohol seeping out of their bodies. Frequent walking in the sun bakes them, dries them out, fries their already tormented skin, and they begin to look a lot older than they already are. Being homeless is stressful. There’s no telling who or what is going to happen to you. Greg was now missing teeth from fighting with other homeless people, and someone had thrown something out of a car window and hit him, or so he said. Lies, lies, and more lies, Greg had a narrative of his life as someone who just needed a little more help, just a little more, and he would change.

I’d buy Greg food but never give him money, and someone gave Greg a job about the time I found out he was still in this area. He got fired for panhandling during lunch, with his employer telling him not to lie to people about needing work when he was on his lunch break. The man fired Greg after one day.

I went a very long time not hearing from Greg, and not hearing anything about him. I worked two interstate construction projects, and met a guy who knew him, or claimed to, anyway. Finally, about five years ago someone called me to say Greg’s body had been found along I-75 in Florida. He was off the right of way, in a patch of trees and bushes, and died there, apparently. His body had decomposed to the point there was no way to identify it. Because he was considered homeless and not missing, there was no one out there looking for him, so the body was cremated, and that was that. The only way anyone ever knew who he was is they took X-rays of his teeth and that matched dental records when they finally got a match. I’m not sure how all that works. But his former girlfriend saw me one day at the gym and told me. Apparently, the ashes were already gone by the time anyone even knew Greg was dead.

I saw Susan again today, she saw me, but she was with her family and I know she didn’t want to talk about how I once fit into her life. I was a friend of her boyfriend, and I was there when he was working, and people trusted him. We went out and drank beer, shot pool, ate food we can’t eat anymore without gaining weight, and I remember Susan and I talking once time, about how odd it was that each individual in that tiny bar had come from somewhere else, yet we were all there, at that very point on Earth, at that very point in time, and it was all very unlikely, yet we were. Now, she and her husband are meeting the kids for coffee before church, and there are small people who look like grandchildren with them.

Somewhere out there, unlikely people are meeting for the first time, or seeing one another for the last time, and as unlikely as their meeting might be, it still occurred, and there may or they may not be, some memory of it stored in the brain of a person, or maybe ten. Then one day, one of those people might die along the interstate, thousands of people passing as a funeral procession, and no one knows how death came or where it went next. Like an endless stream, people in your life come and go, and then one day, the last person who remembers you will be gone, and the last person who remembers that person will die, too. And nothing you ever remembered will still be with here, at least not from your point of view.

Take Care,

Mike

Alcohol or the Desert

Alcohol is heaven, no, not heaven, maybe haven, somewhere the sound ceases, or at least is muted. The mesh in the sifter is larger, more permeable, so there’s less to appraise, less that has true depth. The vacation to the lizard brain means the lights are dimmed, no white hot glare of the bare desert full of demons and dreams.  There’s a reason for bars, and there’s a reason most of those places are dimly lit.

The reptilian brain seeks only feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking, the four F’s, and a bar will allow you any of the four, in any combination you choose, or is chosen for you. Ride the anesthesia of loud music, strangers, and the drug of choice in its various forms. Fun, funny, serious, or sexy names for whatever precent of the drug, or what’s mixed with it, and it will get you from Point A to wherever you decide to stop, or wherever is decided for you.

The morning after. There’s still fog, still haze, and maybe a stranger you regret, or a stranger with promise, and maybe you are the regretted stranger, or a promise of sorts. Time to flee, one or the other of you, numbers exchanged, and hopefully nothing else in the dark, that might need medical attention.

There’s absolutely no difference between this, and a Sunday church service, and your chances of finding someone looking for sex are about the same.

Sooner or later, you have to go back into the desert.

No, really, you don’t. Seriously, you can very easily spend your entire life anywhere else but. Unless, of course, you know you belong there. There’s a blank canvas, or a blank page, or a shapeless lump of clay, or a camera staring at you from inside its bag.

It’s a hard scrabble, cracked white gypsum desert. Flat and devoid of even so much as a tough weed, the sun is always directly overhead and perpetually oven hot, without the slightest trace of a breeze. Moisture is sucked out of your skin faster than you can think of water, and there’s no relief from the blast of radiation from the sun. An environment not meant for the weak, meek, or those who retreat.

There’s nothing here. Not a single sound or sight or smell or sensation that doesn’t drive you to leave. You can go into the kitchen and get a snack, or a glass of wine. There’s new social media on your phone. Stay and you have to create something, made of nothing and of sweat, pain, suffering, and time. It’s tedious and repetitive. Your vision blurs and boredom with the process can distract. Crafting with words in this climate is putting melting ice beads on a hot metal string without gloves. The wind in the desert is deafening. Nothing else can be heard, nothing else can be felt, and nothing else exists.

The work done here is parsimonious. It’s panning for pieces of metal whose worth cannot be gauged until the end. There is no surety in hard work except nothing else will produce worth. Second seem like hours, yet when a vein is struck the hours seems like moments that pass without time. It’s trying to mount an invisible steed made of sentences and discomfort.

Words become sentences, which have to be woven into paragraphs, and the thread is wane, weak, sticky, and ethereal. The fiber from which they are created comes from one thing, then another, memories, books, oh my dog, more books, and books, then moments with people long gone, in one way or another, or people who just appeared, and for some reason, there’s a push, a lift, some sort of peculiar catalyst that requires nothing but a thought, or a question, or a presence.  

Suddenly, you step away. What have you to show for this time in the desert? What is it, and what will you do with it, what can you do with it, and more importantly, will anyone else give a fuck?

It doesn’t matter, does it?

You save it, don’t save it, put it away to edit later, or not, none of this matter, because regardless of what it is, or how good it might be, you know you’ll go back, and do it again. It’s not the product, but the process. It’s being there, within, deep inside, feeling the heat, embracing the nothingness and daring to bring forth anything at all, and not hoping for the best, but working for it.

Take Care,

Mike

The Yappy Dog Comes For Thanksgiving

One day the Yappy Dog espied a stranger walking along the sidewalk that bordered the wooden picket fence. The fence separated the rest of the world from the property where the Yappy Dog lived. So the Yappy Dog ran to fence and began to yap at the stranger, and leaped up and snapped and snarled at the stranger. The stranger walked on, as the Yappy Dog got louder and louder, with spittle flying and his voice getting shriller and shriller.

Suddenly, both the stranger and the Yappy Dog came to where the gate was, and instead of it being closed and locked, it was swung wide open, and there was nothing separating the Yappy Dog from the stranger at all.

The Yappy Dog, having lived with the protection of the fence, and the gate, was confused. After all, the property upon which he stood was his, and he was entitled to defend it, but without the gate, he had to deal with the stranger on terms he had never considered before.

The Yappy Dog ran away, suddenly terrified, for this event had never occurred to him, and he feared now that he was no longer protected, the stranger might deal with him, with the same threats the Yappy Dog had issued for so very long.

The water spread out from the bottom of the dishwater like the blood of a murder victim, slowly, but horribly, a bladed weapon used in some third rate pulp fiction novel, and this the night before Thanksgiving. Once upon a time, dishes piled up in the sink, an accusation, or a monument to the Gods of Procrastination, before the time of dishwashers. Those Old Gods, like all before them, and all of those who would come, are replaced, in this case by the dishes left for three days in the washer, the Gods of Out of Sight Out of Mind, rise boldly.  

Yet there is no despair here. I have an extended warranty, good for three years past the date when the manufacturer’s warranty dies, which was less than three months ago. I feel smarter for buying it, but at the same time, the idea that an appliance can bleed out in less than eighteen months is disconcerting. There is little to be done about it. Calling on Thanksgiving Day will not be useless for it can always be used as a good example of wasted time. The mountain of dishes is dealt with in orderly fashion, dried and put away, just like it was done for many years before the invention of a metal box used mostly to forget the dishes are clean.

Friday morning, I arm myself. I have the model number, the serial number, DNA from the inventor, a vial of Holy Water, a talisman from a drunken witch, a full cup of coffee, and playlist that will take me into the next decade. The assault will occur on multiple fronts; a call the store, interaction with a chat box, calls to three different numbers who will play wretched music far too loudly, but eventually, I’ll get to some random human being who will either toss me over to another, drop the connection, or actually help.

“Hello, this is Droma in New Mexico, how can I help you today?”

Droma has a thick accent from New York and by the sound of her voice, this is a person who has just about had it with human beings with dying appliances, and extended warranties.

“Hi Droma, this is Mike from Georgia, you have an interesting name, before we begin, let me start out by saying this isn’t your fault, and I don’t expect you to be able to get anyone out here today, and I’m not going to curse the name of Whirlpool just because I have a dead dishwasher.”

There is a pause, the intake of breath, and a sigh.

“How may I help you today?” Droma asks, and she’s not buying into the idea this isn’t going to turn out poorly.

“My dishwasher is leaking from the bottom of the device, and I’d like to schedule a repair,” I tell her. “Some day next week will be okay.” And I say that because, in reality, that’s likely when it’s going to happen.

Droma reads me my rights, those things that she has to read me, to tell me if I’ve taken a hammer and assaulted the machine, the warranty doesn’t cover that, and doesn’t cover me washing a dinosaur fossil in it, either, and by the tone of her voice, this is someone wounded by her assignment in dealing with the public. I can hear it. I can feel it through the line.

“Droma, let’s agree that we’re both human beings, that machines break down, and instant fixes are the purest fantasy, okay?” I say. “I’m not going to be one of those people.”

“You know, that’s the best thing I’ve heard today,” and her voice breaks, “this man calls me and his dishwasher has stopped working, it won’t drain, water is everywhere and he tells me he had thirty guests over, I tell him it’s illegal to have that many people over, and he goes off on me, and tells me he wants to speak to someone in America. I tell him New Mexico is in America, and he’s mad at me because he doesn’t know New Mexico is a state. My people are from Puerto Rico, but I was born in New York, I’m an American, I’ve lived here all my life, and the people in New Mexico make fun of my accent,” and Droma stops. “I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to do that.”

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “I rather deal with a human being with human problems than a chat bot. People make fun of my accent, too.”

“I think you sound wonderful,” Droma says. “I like the way people in the south talk.

We talk accents and dishwashers, and I tell her the Yappy Dog story, and Droma laughs.

We hang up, and I wait for the automatic review of my experience with customer service. Droma gets the highest evaluation I can leave.

My dishwasher is still dead. It likely will be for a few more days. Who knows when or by who the problem will be solved, but I’m sure it will be. Machines die, they are fixed and come back to life. Life goes on either with them, or without them, just like the Old Gods.

I have lived another day without being the Yappy Dog.

You can, too.

Take Care,

Mike

Clear

The task at hand.

This morning was one of those Zen dawns with no color, no real light for a while, but a nice cool breeze and very gentle rain. It felt good to be outside, and not have insects buzzing around and without the humidity trying to kill me. I’ve been waiting for this morning to arrive, because the back fenceline desperately needs attention, and so many things have gotten in the way of me getting back there and getting the job done.

I have to cross over the fence into my neighbor’s property to hack down a bunch of stuff because wild grape wines, as well as a few other species of vines, are getting on the electric fence and that will eventually cause a short. The wild grape vines do not produce wild grapes, tame grapes, wine grapes, or any other grape, but their leaves look like the leaves of grape vines, so that’s where they got their name. 

The vines have partners in crime. American Beautyberries, a waist high bush with small purple berries, grow in abundance in South Georgia. The vines use these bushes as launching pads towards the top of the fence, so the plan is to clear a section five feet wide and go after any bigger vines if I can get to them, and I have a bush hook, so yeah, I can. 

Slow Progress, and more to go!

It’s a cool day, I feel good, it’s early in the morning, kinda, and it feels good to swing hard and work muscles again. I had major surgery late last year, and this is the first time I’ve really set out  to push, and push hard, my body with this sort of work. The bush hook is a great tool for clearing and the best piece of exercise equipment a human can own. 

There’s vines growing up out of the ground that have cut marks on them, where I hacked on them three years ago. The vine will grow from another shoot, not the old one, so I can tell how many times I’ve cut them. None of this stuff is big but it is thick, and it is bushy as hell. I hack, and hack, then push the stuff away from the fence, hack so more, push some more, and slowly, a path is cleared. 

Hacking isn’t just hacking away at a clump of vines or bushes, or both. There’s a system here, depending on where the open part is, where I need for it to be, and how close to the ground I can cut the bushes, or the stems of the vines. Position of the target dictates position of my body, how much power I have to use, how well I can aim, and I can cut exactly where I want the blade to be. I use a slight slicing movement when I swing, and again, depending on what I am cutting and where, that will decide which side of the blade I use; the flat side for thicker stuff, the side with the hook for vines, so they cannot slip away uncut. I’ve been using a bush hook for decades now, and it’s a part of my body when I work. 

The Rescued Tree

It’s work. It’s hard work. The day wears on and I am wearing down. My breath is quicker and heavier. The handle turns in my hands as my strength ebbs. But fatigue and I are also old friends. I know my limits, or I once did, and this is the first test of my strength and endurance since December of last year. I know better than to push too hard, but where is the point I ought to quit? Isn’t quitting just as bad as going too far, when I have already finished more than half?  

The last twenty feet or so aren’t thick but the twenty feet before that is the very thickest. There’s an Oak tree being strangled to death by vines in that mess, so I decide to, at a minimum, rescue the tree. I have to cut wider to get the debris out of the way. Vines stealing the crown of the tree have to be pulled down. The remnants of bushes and the still grabby vines try to bring me down, because they sense my weakness. Stumbling, yet still upright, I swing away, much less able to hit a target, my hands slipping, my breath ragged, yet moving forward, cutting bush and vine, and making progress. 

An After Photo of the very bushiest part, shown in the first photo.

Suddenly, I reach the end. I’m careful now, tired, no, not tired, I am exhausted. Sweat dries quickly because of low humidity and it is still a beautiful day. There’s nothing about how I feel that seems to indicate injury, but oh yeah, I am going to feel this tomorrow and maybe for a few days to come. I climb the fence to get back over to my property and Budlore Amadeus awaits and escorts, his stubby tail wiggling. The walk to the shed to put the bush hook, hat and gloves seems overly long. 

My left hand isn’t fully functional at the moment. It’s cramping up and hurts. My knees ache. My back? HAHAHAHA! That’s going to be interesting tomorrow, certainly. I cannot remember the last time I was this tired. Yet this is exhaustion, my paycheck from swinging a bush hook for three hours. I have cleared the entire back fence line on the back side. I feel good, my body responded to my demands for more when there didn’t seem to be any, and the job is done. 

It feels good. I feel like me again. 

Take Care,

Mike Firesmith

Leaving The Herd

You come upon a car that is upside down in the ditch. There’s a dead deer in the road. You get out and there are still people in the car. 

Would you check social media in order to figure out what to do next? 

There’s photos of people who have just been bitten by venomous snakes on FB, shortly after the bite, who are asking for advice. 

Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe they found the photo, and are just trying to get a reaction out of people.

Back eleven years ago, or so, when I first started posting on FB, there would be days I wouldn’t check to see what had happened. Once or twice a week, for a few minutes were fine. Slowly, but surely, more and more time was invested, and more and more people were added to the list of people I was connected to on FB. 

The real problem was it was happening to a lot of people all across the nation. Twitter came along, and thought process was linked to brevity. You could only express yourself in a very limited space, and people adapted their thought patterns to this. 

It didn’t take long for advertisers to realize they could tap into social media like drilling for oil. If an acceptable stimulus was offered, people would react in a very predictable manner. This reaction didn’t have to be based on rational thought or logic. In fact, the more irrational the reaction the stronger it would be. You could sell anything to many people, and you might be able to sell everything to everyone. 

The idea that social media was the guide to reaction was sold, and bought, by millions of people. 

Somewhere out there, in the land of both television and social media, and the two are a potent mix, a woman named Carole Baskin was accused of murdering her husband by a drug addict who is in prison. I never watched the show, but Facebook was alight with the unsupported supposition that this woman had committed murder. A television show that featured a drug addict who was in prison ruined this woman’s reputation with half truths and half lies. To this day millions of people believe what they saw on the show, or read on social media, with not one shred of evidence considered. 

The fictional car wreck at the beginning, did you theorize the car had hit the deer and wrecked? Given no evidence or pieces of the story to support that thought, would you have told someone you thought that was what happened? Would you have taken photos of the wreck and posted them on social media, because I can tell you, that is what people do. 

I worked a wreck on the Interstate back in 2010. We opened one lane next to the wreck and nearly every car that passed the wreck had an arm stuck out, with a cell phone held aloft, getting either photos or video of the dying man’s last moments on earth. 

If you will admit that social media causes a strange form of group reaction, like a flock of birds flying out of a tree when startled, will you admit that this could happen to you? Would you admit that something you’ve read on social media might guide you in a direction of thought, not based on real evidence, but based on the fact that people you are connected to are flying off in the same direction? 

If it was not easy, and if it was not profitable to manipulate people on social media the people who own and control what you read and see on social media would not be incredibly rich. The people who own and control social media sell not only your personal information to the highest bidder, they also sell the ability to manipulate your reactions to the highest bidder, and they do so with complete disregard as to the dangers that are inherit to so many people being manipulated by governments, or corporations, whose intents are not questioned. 

It’s possible that the car swerved to miss the deer in the road, and then wrecked. 

Think about how you reacted to the story of the deer and the car. Did you have some idea of what had happened once you read it? The car hit the deer and wrecked. Was that your thought? How did you react to the idea what you thought might have been wrong? 

It’s more likely that the car hit the deer then wrecked, right? 

But this is fiction. Aliens might have been involved. Carole Baskin’s husband might still be alive. There’s no way you have enough information about the fictional car or Mr. Baskin to draw a conclusion, but many, many people have, and it’s purely fictional. 

But given enough support to fiction, people react to it as if it is fact. 

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth”- Joseph Goebbels

But Goebbels never said that. It’s one of those things everyone has heard, but no one can ever track down when he said it and where he said it and to whom he was speaking. You’ve always believed it, but it’s never really been verified. 

Clearly, very clearly, if information, or disinformation is repeated, or reposted, often enough then enough people will believe it, and they will pass it on. The herd grows larger, and as the crowd gets bigger, there are those within that group who become more aggressive in their beliefs. It becomes nearly a religious thing. To question the information is to question God.

How do you think Trump got elected, and by whom? 

Most people in power are early risers. They get to the office before anyone else. Putin gets to his office about six in the morning. Trump late night tweets coincide with Putin’s early morning office hours. 

None of that is true. Not a word of it, except the time differences match. But had I posted in on social media it would have been passed around like a lit joint at Woodstock.

Both theories are very valid, however. Trump was elected by his presence on social media and his ability to reach a target audience and manipulate that audience. To disagree with Trump is to be met with anything but reason. 

At the same time, the theory that Trump is owned by Putin is also a social media thing. Recent revelations by the bipartisan committee without the United States Government give more credence to this theory than most thought possible. 

At some point, rational people have to leave social media. We have to step away from the people who think the deer was an alien and the car was zapped by a death ray. We have to return to critical thinking, researching reputable sources that have been peer reviewed. We have to stop passing on information we do not know is true. We have to learn to disagree without hatred or personal feelings towards disagreement. We have to elect leaders who believe that science is the correct guide to action, not Twitter. 

The fate of this nation hangs in the balance these days. Without an adherence to truth, facts, and reason, most certainly we will be lost. A country whose people are hesitant, waiting for some cue from the larger group, and looking for leadership in a Tweet, are going to be easily led in whatever direction the highest bidder decides. 

Take Care,

Mike

Black and White

I got my last promotion in the Army because I was white. That’s an odd statement, but it’s a true one, and the truth gets even stranger when I tell you this: I got the promotion because the other white guy who was supposed to get promoted was busted on a urinalysis test. This means the stoner was actually in front of me for promotion. Now, here’s the part that’s going to really blow your mind: my unit had a policy that if a white guy was promoted then a minority guy had to be promoted at the same time. Since they were already promoting a minority guy, and their white guy had smoked himself out of the running, I was next in line. 

I got a raise and some new bling on my uniform. 

But none of this made the world a more just or equitable place. Promoting people, white or otherwise, because of a system set up to do just that, doesn’t do any real good. What that system is doing is admitting there are so many people in the system who are racist in some shape, fashion, or form, that you have to do weird things to make it work for people who otherwise would never be treated equitably. 

Worse, I knew racist white people who used the system to help minorities as an excuse to hate minorities. If we’re going to give them something for free then that proves they don’t have to work to get it. So, as a racist you aren’t about to help anyone who isn’t white, and if someone else does, it’s the reason you suppress minorities if you can? 

I knew some really good soldiers. I knew men who were dedicated and competent, but there were policies in place that defined their worth to the military, and therefore the nation, in terms of skin color. My roommate who received an award for his performance as a medic wondered aloud if he was given the award because he was a minority. I thought he earned it. I thought he had busted his butt and done his job, and he earned what he got. But because so many minorities have not gotten what they worked for, there’s the system in place to make sure they do, even when they don’t earn it. 

Did that make sense? 

To truly understand the issue of race in America, you have to understand the history of race in America. People of color were slaves, property, livestock, for hundreds of years. Then, there were subject to race laws, pigs laws, and a host of other codified systems which made sure than no matter what happened, they were not anywhere nearly as successful as white people would be. 

Take a deep breath, white people, I’m going to tell you something that is true, and you are not going to like it. In Nazi Germany, a person could be considered Aryan, if three out of their four grandparents were Aryan. This means you could have a Jewish grandparent, and still be a member of the Nazi party. This was in their laws. 

How much black could you be in America and still be considered white? 

One drop. If a person had “one drop” of black blood in their body, if they had one black ancestor, they were considered to be black. That was in our laws. 

Take a moment with that thought. Sit down and consider what sort of world we used to live in, and how much time and effort it would take to retool the thoughts and hearts of a people who have put laws into place, and lived within those laws, before all trace of that society would be gone, and there would be acceptance and there would be love, and there would be peace. 

We aren’t there yet. We aren’t anywhere near there yet. All the promotions and all the awards, and all the bling in the world cannot change what we have done for hundreds of years, until we understand why we did it. 

If you didn’t know the “One Drop Law” existed, then you didn’t know how bad it was, did you? 

How could you possibly be a part of the solution if you never knew the problem? 

Take Care,

Mike