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

For Who Corona Tolls

“No one wants another lockdown,” is what I keep hearing people say, as well as “We can’t stay locked down forever” as if what people want, and how long it takes, is something where personal opinion means anything at all. Social media has trained us all to be squalling infants, where the loudest, shrillest, and most ceaseless voice is the one in the room who gets the most attention. I have some news for you people: The Plague does not care. 

Politics drove Gov. Brian Kemp to open Georgia up, to lie about how bad it was, and to ignore how bad it’s getting, and he’s still doing it, even as people die. That’s also happening in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and more and more other states, as the economy, a political entity, gets preference over saving lives.

In countries where all lives matter, like Germany, New Zealand, Italy, and most other places where the virus is on its way down, the government and the people are working together as a team to quell the outbreak and to help keep one another safe. In America, it’s all about personal freedom and getting your hair and nails done. 

It took years to get people to stop smoking in public buildings. Some people were just simply going to smoke because “I have a right to smoke” but eventually, most of them gave up trying to force themselves on other people, or cancer got them. The problem with trying to wait those people out now is they’re capable of infecting many other people each day. 

The Plague has revealed a stunning flaw in American culture, actually it’s revealed two, but they are very closely related. The first is middle America is closer to the brink of poverty than anyone imagined. Three months of lockdown and we lose the middle class. Think about that for a moment. If there was some terrible natural disaster, like a plague, and America was forced into isolation for three months, people would starve, lose their homes, lose their jobs, and they would become homeless. Or the government could stop throwing taxpayer dollars at airlines who are laying people off, and help the taxpayers. We’re willing to give money away to corporate giants but not people.

The next surprise is how little America care about their children. Sandy Hook and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting taught is that Americans care more about their guns than their kids, but the Corona Plague has taught us people are willing to, dying to in fact, send their children to schools, without any guarantee of their safety, just so the parents can go back to work. 

American Public schools have been transformed into socialized daycare. 

That actually explains every bit of this, if you think about it. Americans, for many years, have told teachers to pass their kids, just don’t bother me after work about it, and don’t expect me to talk to you about my kids’ grades, and just pass the damn kid, and leave me alone. So kids have been in day care, not an environment they could learn. What they did learn was work was more important than family. 

The utter failure of our leaders to lead is not an accident. They know damn well American are dying to get their nails done, to go out and drink and eat to excess, and will toss their children in front of bullets at school to make a political statement. We wonder why factory farms work, why animals can be trained to just eat, sleep, and then be killed, we wonder how this works, but we fail to see that it has worked very well on us. We live to work. We exist to provide money to CEOs, and there is nothing more important in our lives than to consume products that we are told to consume.

The leadership of this country will teach us the young and the old are expendable. Our children can be murdered, and our grandparents can sicken and die. The one true love and fealty of our lives is to work. We must pay taxes to the CEOs. There are no other considerations. 

Take Care,

Mike

July

There’s no coolness in the air, even before dawn, and the heaviness in the air is palpable. It’s the heat of the Summer now, that part of the year where there will be no relief in any shape, fashion, or form, outside a house where there is air conditioning. It’s seventy-six degrees as I search the sky for a comet. It’s not there, but the mosquitoes are. I go back inside and contemplate calling in for health reasons; I am totally sick of the heat. 

The drive to work is like commuting into a furnace. The sun rises quickly, and it blasts away hope and the wane clouds defending the sky. These are the bones of clouds, eroded and empty, devoid of any rain, or shade now. They’re the dinosaur bones in the sky, the reminder that any possible reprieve is being dealt with unmercifully, and early. Like a lost man finding a skull in the desert there will be no hope found. There will only be the memory of cool days and nice breezes. The forensic evidence of anything less than July will be hard to collect. I drive straight into the sunrise, and I can feel the heat beginning. 

The men who work outside can feel it coming. Swarms of gnats, harbingers of misery, crowd around faces, searching for salt or moisture, and finding enough of both, are as relentless and enteral as the heat. Stinging flies and mosquitoes are there to remind everyone that July means misery, and there’s more than enough to go around. Everyone can have a second helping, not a problem. 

I wear long sleeves, even in this heat. My arms need the protection from the radiation of the star that is far too close right now. The young men strip down and the older guys cover up. I wear gloves, light cotton things, to cover my hands, and everyone thinks I’m crazy. It’s so incredibly hot. But the extra layer of cloth collects sweat, doles it out slowly, and I am cooler for it. Cooler, being a relative term. There is only suffering, and degrees, no pun intended, of suffering. 

By ten, we know the day will be very long. The nearby woods offer a buffer from a breeze, not real shade. The flies and other pests live there when they are not feasting on our blood. We’ve donated more to the insects than we’ve given to the Red Cross. 

There’s a dead hog in the creek, and it looks managed. It smells even worse. We’re hoping an alligator will drag it away and eat it, but that doesn’t happen today. The stench is as omnipresent as the heat. One of the younger guys recommends we try to burn the corpse, but a forest fire would take off running. He wonders aloud if it would smell like bacon. One of the older men tells him to shut up so the young guy starts talking about smoked ham. HE may be murdered before the end of the day, but that is quite some time away. 

About two it rains for thirty-three seconds. The ground and pavement is wet, and the sun comes out and turns it all into a mist, like the smell of the dead hog, incarnate. The heat was unbearable, but now it’s almost like a poisonous sauna. Breathing has that same feel as drinking water that has been sitting for too long, stagnant and dead. The air feels like it’s contaminated with death and disease. Malaria. 

Sweat oozes from the body like a billion gunshot wounds. The face, neck, chest, and shoulder sends rivulets of seawater down the back and front of the body to form pools, and to dampen clothes. The pig isn’t the only thing that is going to be stinking soon, but no one here cares. We’re all trapped on an island in the sun, and no one is spared. 

Steel becomes too hot to pick up and carry. Concrete radiates heat as if it has an internal generator. Exhaust from machines feels like it might kill. Each and every movement by a machine, and every footstep each man takes, means a little more dust in the air. Boots create small clouds, and those become larger, until there’s a flinty smell, the odor of a mountain’s blood; rock deduced to its smallest visible atoms. 

The dust and sweat mix, slip down inside of clothes to produce a unique irritant. We’re being drawn back into the earth, and it covers us as if we are already being buried alive, somewhat. The gnats persist, the flies dive in and land on a face, and the threat of death means nothing to these winded devils. Welts appear and itch. The sun is along in the sky except for the moisture, and the bugs. It is three in the afternoon and we know sundown is at least six hours away. 

The drove home is straight into the sun, again. The heat is unbearable, even with the AC on. There is no relief at all from the radiation, the skin killing rays, and even sunglasses are impotent. Home means the boots come off, water, and unlimited supply, and cool air from the vents. 

Tomorrow will be just like today, except it is supposed to be hotter. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Moon and Me.

At four in the morning, I’ve already been up for two hours. It’s good writing time, this part of the morning, none better, but there’s also a bridge in the southern part of Echols County that needs one hundred eighty-five cubic yards of concrete before the sun comes up and the heat rises. The balance between two worlds, one with concrete and steel, and the other with writing, swings towards hard reality, and I’m on State Route 94, heading east, and watching the moon rise.

If you ever go to Statenville Georgia, and you’re on 94 heading east, the moment you cross over the Statenville city limits, you’ve started the journey into The Big Empty. Until Fargo is reached, twenty-five miles away or so, there’s very little but trees and trees and trees. There’s a house here and there, one paved road going to the left, two going to the right, and everything looks smaller or further away in The Big Empty. Deer, wild hogs, open spaces, planted pines, and ditches full of water, for the Okefenokee is near but damn little else. If you need some time to think about something, you will find it here.

 

The radio is off as I streak through the night, speeding for me, because I always drive slowly. The Crescent Moon is flirting intimately with Venus. It’s easy to see why the followers of Islam love the crescent moon, and why they might be compelled to add a star near it, if you’ve ever watched the sliver of the moon rise with Venus. In a time without unnatural lights, at least not the ocean of them we have created, it would be glorious for a religion to associate itself with the sight before me. Despite why the news tells you, and contrary to the recent history you might read, Islam had been a civilized religion for many centuries. True enough, there have been many wars, but the art, the architecture, and the appreciation of beauty by the adherents of that religion speaks to the soul of humanity, like all artwork will at this time of morning.

 

It’s easy to be a peace in The Big Empty, with Venus, and a Crescent Moon. I wonder if it was Venus, the Goddess of Love, who put the star on the flag of Islam, and maybe more people should wonder this. Please, don’t try to start a debate about what this side did or that side did, let’s just enough natural darkness that had a great light show with planetary objects, shall we? Just this once?

 

The radio is still off, I’m listening to the road, and the sky. The moon is huge, slung down low, and I can tell it has risen slowly since I began. How do you think it felt to watch this sight, thousands of years ago, with nothing but the sound of the world around you? The yellow orange moon, with just a slight touch of silver around the disk, a start or a planet blazing in the sky as the moon rises, who could not feel something supernatural here?

 

The real world intrudes, and harshly so. The artificial glare from the works lights blast out the night sky. There’s enough men here to form football teams with substitutes, and the concrete will arrive soon. Thousands of years old, concrete is still fickle and tricky. Heat, water, and a thousand other variables haunt each pour, and every mistake will be permanent, perhaps even catastrophic. I must return to the world of brought lights, and steel, and stern men who fear the loss of money, and thrive on the work that few understand.

 

Yet as the work begins, the concrete pours into the forms, the steel is buried for a hundred years or more, and sweat becomes the more important ingredient of the morning, I take time to watch the moon rise higher and higher, and Venus is subdued by the starlight of the rising sun.

 

Take Care,

Mike