The Woman on Treadmill #8

 

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“I fell asleep during sex once,” she said in the dark, “and when I woke up I realized he hadn’t noticed.”

After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and seeing one of them off to college and the other two in High School, she and her husband sat down on night and divided the assets. She got the house, the place where the kids would all return to, like ghosts with growing pains, who were the first to notice their family was dying. She had been an eighteen year old, right out of high school and he was the boy she fell in love with. They spent four years in poverty with two kids until he graduated from college with a degree in business and he did well for her, and the kids. She wanted the big house by the man made lake with the man made cookie cutter subdivision, the soccer mom thing, and that was exactly what she got. It was perfect. Or at least it looked perfect, and that was, after all, enough.

They both agreed, no dating until everything was final, and no bringing home one night stands around the kids. It was a surreal conversation she told me, because it had been nearly twenty years since anyone but her husband had seen her naked. After three kids and twenty years of going to the gym a few times a year, she realized there was a lot of work to be done before she could think about a lover that didn’t have a wall charger.

 

He was cheating, had a girlfriend, she was certain of it, but he was discreet as hell, and never brought it home with him in any way. He was a good father, and a good person. They still went to church together, still socialized with the same people, still attended school functions as one, but that was going to end, and this was his way of telling her he would be taking someone else to those events. She wanted to care. She wanted to be hurt by being replaced. She wanted to feel something, rage, anger, sorrow, anything, by losing this man, but there was nothing there at all.

She had cried, silently, alone, while sitting in the minivan. It had been their first family car, twenty years ago, and it had lasted five years, but it was time for an upgrade. But this vehicle had been solid and reliable transportation for all the kids, even the newborn, her last, she knew, and this car bore witness to her transformation from a young woman to a mom. He never noticed the tears or if he did, knew better to ask unless he wanted to hear about it, and he didn’t.

 

They approached child raising as two people committed to crisis management. The constant pressure of food, clothing, waste, entertainment, training, education, and the limited amount of time in each day left them both seeing the other as a co-worker, or wait staff, someone friendly only because that was part of the job. It wasn’t always like that, she said, her voice catching on words she had never spoken aloud before, but it sank, slowly, no matter how hard they bailed the water out of the boat. Bills, school programs, sleep overs, the never ending need for more stuff and more room, and suddenly, he was sleeping on the bean bag in his office a couple of times a week, and to her this was glorious. She had her tubes tied after the last child, and he had a vasectomy. She knew what it meant, but she didn’t care anymore. Tying her tubes mean she would never have to go through this again, after this kid was old enough, her time as a mom to little kids would end. That was something she looked forward to, with glee, and dreaded.

 

Emily, the youngest child, a strange creature who entered high school with perfect grades and a love for Saturday morning cartoons, was a year younger than her classmates, jumped two grades, but light years ahead of everyone. She was the one who sat her parents down and said, “Fix it or fuck it, but don’t fucking rot for it.”

 

But it was already gone, and it had been. They sat down one rare night with all the kids gone and drank two bottles of wine. They split up assets and decided he would leave, take his truck, take the guns, except her pistol, leave the two dogs and the cat, take the boat, please for the love of God take the fucking boat, and then it was a question of small things, who got the good cooler, and who would get the nice plates. He was a nice person. He would get a place of his own, big enough for the kids to come and go, and he wouldn’t take anything she needed, he would get new stuff, and she was good with that. The old stuff comforted her. She didn’t like change, and realized that was part of the reason he was still in the same house as she was but then suddenly he was gone.

Her friends threw a party for her. It was fun. She had forgotten fun. She laughed and drank too much, and listened to women who had gone through this process describe what sex was like the first time after the marriage was gone. After everyone had left she looked at the woman standing naked in front of the mirror and wondered if she could get a man drunk enough to sleep with her. It was time to start training her body to do more than drive a taxi for the kids.

 

The younger women had perfect bodies and merciless souls. All of them were molded from the purest clay, and some of them, even those who were still in their late teens, had implants. Or at least they looked like they did. Most of them shaved their pubic hair, and she still looked like she was giving birth to a wooly mammoth. There was spin classes, and boot camp classes, and Yoga classes, and she threw herself into fitness as an escape from her life, which still required her to be the mom, but now with one kid who had his own car, and another who was independent of all things human, she had time. But she didn’t know what to do with those hours that occurred when she was alone.

 

“I think you have my keys,” she said to me. I was on treadmill # 8 and she was standing here beside it, looking a little embarrassed.

“I have your keys?” I asked, slowing the machine down to a walk. “Did you leave them at my house last night?”

“God no, I mean I think they’re in the cup holder of the machine,” she laughed and blushed.

I looked in the cup holders. No keys.

“You have beautiful eyes,” I told her, “and a good laugh.”

“Thank you, may I have my keys?” she said, but she was smiling.

“They aren’t here,” I told her.

“You’re messing with me,” she laughed, “come on, I have to pick my daughter up.”

“Here,” I said, and I cut the machine off and stepped to the other side. She got on the treadmill and picked my keys up but hers was not to be found.

“Are you married?” I asked.

“No,” she said, looking at her left hand. The smiling stopped. “I have to go.”

 

“I’m pushing forty,” she said the first time we were alone. “I’ve had three kids, eaten junk food for dinner three times a week for twenty years. There’s a dozen women in that building who are my age that look a lot better. You’re going to get scared off once you see me nude.”

“So you’re telling me I’m going to see you nude?” I leered at her, and she laughed hard. More than anything else, she told me later that night, she missed someone who could make her laugh.

 

“I met my husband’s girlfriend at his place one day,” she said, the flickering candle the only light in the room. “She wasn’t the young bimbo type at all. I feared that. I was afraid he’s go out and find someone who would take him for a ride. But she was about my age, and had been around the block once or twice. It was a little awkward, to see the two of them sitting together on the new sofa, and I could tell she had spent the night. She was really civil to me, very well mannered, but this was her turf, and that was her man now. She asked me if it was okay if she got Emily a leather bound set of Harry Potter for Emily’s birthday, and I told her I thought it was perfect. That was when I decided to start looking for someone, too. If he could do that well, hell, there was no telling who I might find.” She put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me.

“I’m moving,” she told me a few months later.  “My oldest got a job in New Mexico, and his wife is pregnant. Emily is going to stay. It’s time for me to get out of this part of the world.”  We went out for dinner one night and then went back to her place, which was filled with chaos and packing boxes. Her ex had gotten married, and finally, she felt something, something akin to loss, something that was a sharp stick, and it hurt.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Homeless.

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Gayle Hardman was a homeless person when she died. She didn’t die in her car, which I was happy to hear, but she did die in a hotel without no one around who knew her, or cared. I’m glad she died, at least, warm and safe, because those were two things Gayle didn’t have a lot of towards the end. Gayle made cheap jewelry, but it was nice stuff, neatly made and beautiful. I’m angry there isn’t some sort of help for people like Gayle. I’m still mad about it, and Gayle has been dead for a couple of years now. I miss her.

 

Greg was someone I knew in the mid 80’s, and I still remember the day he told me he wanted to deal cocaine for a living. We were both working at Shoney’s as dishwashers, and it’s hard to explain to someone that dealing cocaine isn’t something you just start doing as a means of employment. Greg started a very, very slow descent into chronic unemployment. He would buy cocaine, sell some of it, but use the rest of it. The amount sold versus the amount used began to swing hard in the direction of use, and eventually, his roommates began to get tired of him. The drugs were one thing, everyone was young back then, drugs were common and accepted, but the lack of rent money wasn’t. Greg started stealing food from his two roommates and they put up with it for a while, but then they started missing other things as well. They began to torment him, the way young men will torment one another, and one day they hid the toilet paper from him and Greg had to go to a Hardee’s to wipe. I think that was a turning point of sorts. Greg had reached a zone of poverty, self inflicted poverty, that excluded the very basics of living. He had pushed people to the point they no longer cared about him.

 

When they kicked him out, Greg rode around with everything he owned in his car for a while. His bed sat in their front yard, near the street, and I think he actually slept in it until it rained one night and ruined it. Greg lived with his girlfriend, Susan, until she broke up with him, and then he lived in her mother’s garage until he held a yard sale one day, and sold a lot of her stuff while she was at work. Greg was homeless. Worse, he was unemployed, and Greg began a life of truly petty thievery.

 

I let him crash on my couch a few times, let him take a shower at my place, but things started disappearing. Greg once stole some sticky notes from me. I had a pad of sticky notes on my coffee table and he stuck them in his pocket before he left. Sticky notes. What was he going to do, pawn them? Yeah, I got these primo sticky notes here, can you give me a dime for them? But Greg was like that. If he could steal it he would steal it. It finally got to the point I wouldn’t let him in my apartment and he finally stopped coming around.

 

He showed up at Exit 16 a few times, I saw Susan at the YMCA and she and her husband tried to help him, and honestly, Susan was a saint and so was her husband. I remembered him from the 80’s too, and he hated me, and he hated Greg a thousand times worse. Yet he was willing to try, but Greg had disappeared again, likely arrested, and it was a while before I saw him again.

 

Greg was going to college when I first met him. He was dating Susan, who was a very decent human being, and very pretty, too. In the space of just a couple of years, he was living out of his car, and then, suddenly, he was on foot, wandering and stealing, and homeless. He did stupid things, got arrested often, and one cop broke his jaw. Greg mumbled after that, because he never got his jaw set right, and the last time I saw him he was selling gasoline at a gas station. Greg was upfront with me about how he conned people out of money. He would go to a gas station with a two gallon can and ask people for fifty cents worth of gas, a dollar’s worth, just to get his car going, his family was stranded, he told that worked really well, and then when he got a full can he would try to sell the gas for a dollar. He got the hell beat out of him, he told me, because he sold someone two gallons of a mixture of gas and water. He learned not to go back to the same places too often after that. Greg told me he passed out under an overpass one night and was attacked by fireants. He stripped off his clothes to get the ants off of him, and stood there naked by the interstate, picking ants off his skin. Did he see that coming? Did he realize at some point in time this sort of thing would happen? Did he not realize that there would be terrible things, awful things, inhuman things and worse, that would happen to him?

 

“Skeet me some gas in that can, boy,” the man says to me, as he puts a two gallon jug down beside me, and then he turns and yells at the people across the bay from me, and I can tell by the way they’re looking at him, and looking at me, that they have no idea who this guy is. It’s not Greg, but a younger version of him. He’s trying to simply barge his way into people giving him gas, and I can tell by the smell he’s been on the road for too long. Honest hardworking sweat isn’t offensive but someone who simply hasn’t bathed and has been walking the roads smells like it. It’s a chemical smell, devoid of humanity in a way, as if he’s replaced his blood with cheap beer and junk food. He’s pretending to talk to the other people, who are not responding, and they’ve given him enough gas to fill half the jug, so he’s doing well. I have no idea what his angle on this might be, and I simply do not care.

I start to put the hose up and he steps in like he’s going to take it away from me. “Hey, Boy,” he begins but I’m not interested. I squeeze the handle and gas gushes out, and all over him. “Get the fuck away from me.” I tell him, and I’m serious. He starts cussing like hell, but backs away from me, and he realizes that he’s a spark away from being a human Roman Candle. I’m mad as hell. I’m mad as hell that Gayle tried as hard as she did and died alone and afraid. I’m mad that Greg threw away his life on cocaine and petty theft. I’m mad as hell that this guy is running some sort of scam, and expects people to allow him to feed off on them. People like this are the reason people like me won’t help the homeless more than we do, and I am mad at myself for stereotyping homeless people because of people like him.

 

I pull away and he’s yelling and cussing but at least he doesn’t smell like the road anymore. It looks like it might rain, and he can stand out in it and get the gasoline off of him. I have this thought as I look at him in the rearview mirror. I smell like gas now, too, but I can let the windows down and it will pass. I will go home and shower. I have an insect bite on my leg that is oozing right now and I can feel it itching, but I have something for that, too.

 

I wonder who that guy is, and how he got where he is, and why, at the end of the day, I only made things worse for him.

 

Take Care,

Mike

My Friend Dahmer: A Movie Review

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I watched the movie, “My Friend, Dahmer” yesterday, and there was no way for me to know what to expect. I knew it was based on a book written by someone who knew Jeffery Dahmer in High School, and I expected that. I didn’t realize I was going to be walked through a serial killer’s life as he went through the four years of the hell that High School can be for some students. Dahmer graduated a year before I did. He and I were nearly the same age, and he graduated a year before I did, I in Georgia and Dahmer in Ohio.

 

Dahmer was a troubled young man who began drinking early in life, after his parents’ divorce. His drinking caused a deterioration in his school work and his already limited ability to socialize. The circle of friends he did have, including the man who wrote, “My Friend Dahmer” considered him to be a sort of living side show, their personal circus freak, and having no other socialization skills, this is the direction Dahmer took. The film shows a very slow descent into hell from a place slightly less worse than hell.

 

That was High School.

 

I hated every day of High School. I hated every moment of every hour of every day of all four years of High School.  I would rather have to pee on an electric fence once a day for ten years than relive one year I spent in High School. The movie shows the niggling torments of upperclassmen, the indifferent girls who have their daddys’ money and a sports boyfriend, and the petty tyrants that some of the teachers became. It was like a walk through of my time there. It made me squirm with recognition.

Truant, tardy, absent, and excuse from your parents, lunch money, locker combinations, missed buses, and more that the film didn’t mention were implicit in the life of High School students. “Why were you tardy?” “Do you realize you were tardy?” “Do you have an excuse from your parents for your tardiness?”

 

How did any one of us stay sober when having to deal with those kinds of questions?

 

I started drinking before High School. I was smoking pot in the eighth grade. A girl named Candy was my designated Taxi if I passed out in class. She would drive me home and leave me in my car, semiconscious, and someone would pick her up. I lost about half my senior year that way, I think. I really don’t remember. There’s a scene in the movie where Dahmer is drinking out of a half pint bottle at the corner of a building, and that was me.

I’ve had people tell me the best four years of their lives were in High School. I’m more than a little skeptical about these claims, and I wonder if they wasted the rest of their lives doing something they hated. I was on the outside looking in, but I never saw anything in there that looked like it was life.

 

In the movie, one of Dahmer’s friends pretends to be part of the school newspaper, and goes to visit a former Homecoming Queen who, after graduation, still lives in her hometown. He asks her, “What is it like knowing your best years are behind you now?” And she slams the door in his face. But isn’t that what people are saying when they tell me the best four years of their lives were in High School? Isn’t that really what High School is all about anyway? It’s a social club where people can go and be social and know other people who are social. It’s where the same kids that played well on the playground play on the football field or the basketball courts, and the cute girls are cheerleaders and then suddenly, four years later, the doors open and they’re dumped on the street with the rest of us, who at worst, are acclimated already to a world where no one from a small town has any true meaning past their parent’s doorsteps.

 

So they have kids. And it starts all over again.

 

One scene in the movie shows a teacher with his head down on his desk, obviously out of it, drunk, stoned, but still demanding the students behave, and likely he taught their parents, and he might teach their kids. The teachers play their parts in all of this, and they never reach escape velocity either.

 

 

Dahmer kept drinking after High School, and started killing people. He was already killing animals. That was something I never did, and never will do, is harm animals. Dogs were my only real friends when I was in High School, and I think part of my love for rescue is the debt I owe them for keeping me as sane as I was. I knew I could be loved, if only by dogs and not by people. That was enough to keep me alive those years ago, and now I help keep them alive.

 

Are there those of us, Lost Souls, who cannot reach into the community of human beings, so we retreat, into books and into drink, pot and poetry, and we simply find other loves? Do we accept our fates and seek out those we see reflected in our own lives, strays, abandoned, cast away love, and those who never had a chance? Isn’t that what normal people do, when they have kids, is recreate a world they once loved, because the one they live in now no longer accepts them as special and brilliant?

 

I wonder if this, and this alone, the compassion for other living creatures, is what Dahmer was truly missing in his life, and if High School merely whetted his appetite for revenge against a universe that deprived him of a basic emotion of compassion? Deprived of humanity in the sense of an emotion, and bereft of humanity as a group of people, maybe Dahmer simply decided to create a world that devalued human life, and human bodies, and all things normal people hold sacred.

 

Me? I think I’ll stick to writing and saving dogs. Whatever happened to him in High School didn’t make Dahmer what he was, and it didn’t stop me from becoming who I am, either.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Porn

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Being in a committed relationship with my home, my money, and my sanity, I decided long ago never to marry again. In the passing years, friends of mine, various and sundry married men, have arrived at my doorstep each with a sadder story than the next, and each one discovering that there are issues I have no interest in involving myself in, ever. The first is violence. Sorry, Charlie, don’t darken my door. Alcohol, is next, and also, nope, I drink, but it doesn’t affect my life and if you have a problem with alcohol then you won’t affect my life either. And lastly, infidelity. You’re married. Act like it or leave her.

 

I try to weed out those people who think moving into a house in the woods with a bunch of dogs and a Hermit is a good idea. If you’re on the run from something, chances are it’s yourself.

 

So a friend of mine arrives with a suitcase and a strange story; his wife has relieved him of his bedroom rights because he has a porn problem. Firstly, I cannot understand porn. I don’t indulge in it past Naughty Bits and looking up an occasional actress to see if she’s ever appeared nude. But either I have access to a woman willing to have sex with me or I do not. If I do, why porn? If I do not, truly, why porn? Do I need to be reminded I am without?

 

Sex issues are now on the list of things that will cause me to not let you sleep on my sofa.

 

The obvious question: You have a wife. Why do you need porn?

 

He explains to me that he has always watched porn and never thought he’s have to give it up when he got married. After all, she never knew about it before, why would she know about it now?

Any of you women want to field that one for me? I’m not sure I can get the anger level that high.

 

Worse than worst, he got caught sneaking around to have sex with himself. She fired up her cell phone app that lets her see what’s going on inside their house, and other than the cat sleeping on the kitchen counter, everything looks good. But then her husband arrives, opens his laptop and connects with the widescreen, and even though she can’t see what he’s watching, it is clearly something that excites him. She captures the video and then ambushes him with it later.

First, she goes asks him how many hours he put in for the week and he tells her that he’s missed a couple of hours here and there because of rain. Rain? Yeah, it rained yesterday on the project. Rained on the project so you lost some time, did you? And her tone of voice lets him know she’s got something on him, but he digs the hole deeper. Yes, lost time due to rain, you can call my boss. At that point, she is to understand he’s got help in getting off to get off, or at best, his boss will lie for him and he knows it. She files this piece of information back for a few moments.

 

She shows him the video and there isn’t much you can say, and honestly, he might have been able to salvage the situation, but he told her he was watching a video they had made together. Oh? And your laptop will reflect that you didn’t connect to pornhub at that time on that day?

 

Busted. Red handed, in a manner of speaking.

 

So now he’s in truly hot water and he ought to bail out and beg forgiveness but he tries to vamp his way through it. He’s been pretty good about clearing the history of his browser on his laptop and he shows it to her, thinking he’s slick enough to salvage the situation. Okay, I did that once, or twice, but it’s not like I do it all the time.

 

But this is a tech savvy woman who knows a few things about hiding things and finding things. The first thing she gets out of him is his password, and then she changes it while he’s trying to explain everything to her. Then she starts looking around at who he’s emailed, and sure enough, there’s an exchange between him and his supervisor.

 

At that point, things got really out of hand, no pun intended.

 

Seems that in their five year marriage, because he really likes porn, they’ve made some “wife-porn”. She was agreeable to it, why not, and she knows there’s more than a few videos of the two of them in various sex scenes together. But he’s traded videos with his supervisor. And co-workers. And friends.  He’s been watching wife porn of other men’s wives, and other men have been watching his wife porn.

 

The jerk.

 

Hence his arrival at Hickory Head, and his debut to homelessness less than an hour later. If your wife cannot trust you I will not.

 

Okay, I’m in the clear with this one. He’s been handed off, no pun intended, to someone who will let him crash for a few nights, and I can distance myself from this entirely simply by not answering my phone again.

 

Then she calls me. My curiosity gets the better of me and I answer. She’s madder than any woman I’ve ever pissed off, which is a remarkable feat, I must add that, and she’s ready to start legal action. Worse, infinitely worse, she wants to make sure that he understands how mad she truly is. “Tell him,” she says in a tone of voice that can only be described as venomous, “that I still have the video with the two headed monster in it.” And then she hangs up.

Unfortunately for me, I have a very morbid curiosity. I call him up and as he answers it pops into my mind to say, “Your wife just sent me the ‘two headed monster’ video” and on the other end of the line is total silence for about five seconds. Then he says, “Please, call her back, tell her I’ll give her the house, she can keep it, okay?”

A minute later I call her up and tell her what I’ve done and she screams with laughter.

“Call him back,” she purrs at me, “and tell him if he doesn’t sign the paperwork handing the house over to me tomorrow I’m sending the video to his mama.”

“Are you really going to do it?” I ask.

“Maybe.”

 

A couple of days pass and I hear nothing from the two of them. Then I get a text message from her with her holding a house key in one hand and a jump drive in the other. She’s grinning. In the reflection of her sunglasses I can make out someone taking the photo, but not who.

 

Take Care,

Mike

The Wife beater and Me.

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When someone you just met tries to sell you a handgun, then it’s time to think about what you’re about to do and why. On one hand, I had just met the guy; he had moved into the apartment next door to me. He seemed nice enough, at first, but that was my first impression, that he would be one of those people you liked just one time. Less than a week went by and his car was repossessed. Soon afterwards he offered to sell me his .38. Really cheap. At worst, I thought, I would have a gun and he wouldn’t. Think about that one for a few minutes.

 

During the next few months his life got sketchier and sketchier. His girlfriend, who was a great deal younger than he was and a little crazy, went shopping with a friend of mine, a sort of girl bonding thing. His girlfriend shoplifted a ton of jewelry from the store, effortlessly and cleanly, and so we knew it wasn’t her first time around the block. It was scary, in a very real way. Then he started loading up on roommates. He had a two bedroom place and at one time there was eleven people living there, each one of them a little stranger than the last. The young girlfriend left and was replaced by a harden woman about his own age, whose first act was to come up to my apartment and try to borrow five bucks from me. I handed it over instantly. I knew damn well I would never see it again, but how often do you get to get rid of someone that cheaply? She was a grim faced woman who rarely smiled, and cooked a huge meal once or twice a week, and charged the renters five bucks apiece for all they could eat. It was usually soup or spaghetti or something that she could water down, but she did make it smell good.

 

After a few months of the normal residents raging at the landlord about the lack of parking spots, he did an inspection and discovered the population of a small town living in one of his apartments. Everyone there got evicted. And it was about this time, I started dating a woman named JoAnne, who knew this guy very well. The first time she came over and he saw her it was like one of those movie moments where you hear dramatic music in the background.

 

I had no idea this guy was a wife beater until Jo told me, but then a lot of things he said suddenly gained clarity. This was a guy who was always right about everything and was a wealth of advice, unasked for and unwelcomed, on nearly every subject. I was running every day, and he smoked, which led him to tell me that he thought running was as bad for a body as smoking. Fortunately, I didn’t let smokers in my apartment and was more than willing to accept the idea I shouldn’t be in his. Anyway, JoAnne knew this guy.

 

Apparently, his now ex-wife was a nurse, and he didn’t like the idea that he was making fifteen grand a year and she was making twice that. Worse, she began to put money away in stocks and things like that, while he invested in beer. He became the local drunk, violent, and one night, he beat the hell out of his wife and both his kids. At the ER her friends took a lot of photos. Wife Beater was tossed out of his house, had to petition the court to see his kids, and was broke as hell to boot. She took him for a well deserved ride.

 

Wife Beater seemed to realize Jo would tell me the truth, and if he outright called her a liar I had a gun and he didn’t. But he tried to spin the story, saying his wife was the violent one, and she had set him up.  I had lived close enough to him to realize that he wasn’t just your average overdrinking liar. He was actually lower on the food chain than that. A lot lower. It wasn’t long before eviction became a reality, and I was pretty sure I would never see him again. That was in the late 1980’s.

 

Then back in about 2014, I saw him in Starbucks; I would go there to write and he would be there reading a newspaper and drinking coffee. I’m pretty sure I look a lot different now than I did back then. I’m thirty pounds heavier and I’m bald. But he has the same haircut and the same moustache. He never seemed to notice me, and honestly, I’m perfectly fine with it. I like to write on the laptop in Starbucks. It’s the energy of the place, the action going on, and the smell of coffee. I stopped going when they started a new rewards program that minimized my rewards, so once again, I lost sight of this guy.

 

Yesterday, my second day at the YMCA in a year or so, there he was. He looks a lot older than he did four years ago, and you have to wonder if he’s repeating the same mistakes he was making back in the 80’s. Once, I had a smoker tell me she knew of people who never smoked who still came down with lung cancer, and this is her excuse to keep smoking. I wonder if the wife beater still justifies behavior that, most certainly, in the end, will lead to destruction very much like smoking usually does.

 

We were both in the locker room at the same time, and I kept my back to him. I waited until he had left before I did, and when I did leave, he was just making his way towards the door. I stopped and hesitated, not wanting to see him outside of the entrance. He got into his car and looked back towards the building but he couldn’t see me. Maybe he does remember me. Maybe he thinks that if he makes friends with someone who knows him that will mitigate in some way who he once was, or still is.

 

I think that might be it, actually. If someone else can accept what he’s done then he can justify why he accepts it. He’s looking for some sort of support group, of one, to forget the past and move on, perhaps. Women are fools if they think they can change this sort of person, or if they think he’s going to change, as long as she keeps coming back for more. I have no reason to associate with him, ever. A man who will abuse his children won’t hesitate to use violence against anyone else, thinks I.

 

I’m keeping my distance.

 

Take Care,

Mike

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Take Care,

Mike

Murder at a Funeral

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You’re not likely to remember it, you know. I don’t. I cannot remember the last time someone asked for my ID because they thought I was too young to buy alcohol. I remember being carded when I was twenty-seven, and I thought it was funny, and the woman who carded me held on to my license, as if she thought it might be a fake one, for just a second or two. I’m not talking about those places that card everybody regardless, and back in the day, I was buying when I was sixteen. Time was when a kid could go to the store and pick up a six pack for his dad and they’d sell it to him, too. But by the mid-eighties it was illegal to drink and drive, in a major way. I miss cruising dirt roads and drinking, and listening to music and not having to worry about anything going wrong.

 

I looked like a little kid when I was in my late teens. When I applied for a job in a town where no one knew me they really thought I was a runaway. I worked as a dishwasher in a truck stop and the waitresses there thought I was someone’s kid who got some sort after school job or something. I handed my ID to most of them and said “Yes, as a matter of fact I am really nineteen”. I moved in with a thirty-one year old woman and people wondered if I was her son. That really pissed her off. I aged well, at least while I was young.

 

You age the first time you have to deal with murder. Be it someone you know who kills someone or if it’s someone you know that’s dead, murder is something that changes the way you look at life. Everyone, sooner or later, has to deal with a friend who drives a car into something or gets a car driven into them, and everyone knows someone who died on the road, but murder is different. A car accident could be a lot of different things, like the couple I knew who lost a daughter when a car hit a deer and threw the still living deer through their daughter’s windshield. It’s a freak accident that leaves you breathless and bereft, but murder leaves you with someone gone, and you’ll never truly trust strangers again. It’s a difficult thing to talk about when you’re with someone who feels that same loss of that same person and you both try to make it make sense.

 

After a while, you know you’re going to lose someone to some sort of illness, and cancer is a good bet when you know someone with a family history and smoking habit. It’s more difficult to lose someone’s child, or someone young you expected to last longer than your own life. You lose a friend, and then one of his siblings, and suddenly, you start to hear the sound of those hooves behind you.

 

A friend of mine lost her mother on Sunday, and it was expected and the disease had eaten away at her, and now there is a funeral, and a viewing, and I’m getting close to not doing funerals anymore, again, ever. It’s getting to where funerals are nothing more than commercials for religion and one of these days, at the wrong funeral, and certainly at the wrong time, I’m going to beat the fuck out of a preacher at a funeral, and I assure you, it’s going to be worth every moment I spend in jail for it. Might be soon. I kinda hope so just get it over with, truly.

 

There are only two kinds of people; those when they grow older get more religious, and those of us who despise it more.

 

I drove through Valdosta tonight. It was eerily quiet, as it would be in the first hours of a Tuesday, and thirty years or so ago I lived in this town, I still work here, and know which side roads connect to the main roads, and that’s something that the mind finds comforting, the familiarly of knowing where stuff is and how to get there. It’s also a rut, where the sides get higher and higher, and the path get more and more narrow, and I wonder at this very moment if in the same bedroom where I once slept is someone who is having these same thoughts about this same town, and if they’ll find a way out. I almost edited this paragraph but something told me to keep it. It’s important.

 

Something someone said stuck with me today, and I wonder if it will still be here tomorrow. I hope so, because I’m not done with it yet. I have to keep it in my mouth, like a toothpick, and dig around with it, and use it to find things, and maybe put it down somewhere and I might need it again. We are all different people depending on whose perception is being lived. I written things tonight, or this morning, that might seem violent or heretical, to some, and maybe someone else sees them as liberating. Certainly, those whose livelihood I threaten will see this as apostasy but that has nothing to do with me at all, even though it might seem evident.

 

You’re not likely to remember the last time you saw someone. You might remember it was at their house, or in their yard, or they were at some event, but will you remember how it felt to perceive this person, how you looked at them through the eyes of someone who might have really knew this person, or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you read something they wrote and then wondered what in the hell was that all about, or maybe you wanted to ask why, but do you remember what that person was feeling when you stood inside that personal space and shared the same oxygen?

 

If you’re over a certain age then you see a lot of it coming. You see people who have drank hard all their lives and you know that sooner or later it’s coming. But there are sudden events that take people away and you’re left with a memory of seeing that person in the store when both of you were in a hurry and the last thing you thought was, “Well thank god I got away from that before it lasted too long,” which might be what the other person was thinking, and maybe it’s a thought that has more meaning that you realized at the time.

 

It bothers me that she’s dead. It bothers me that some disease they can likely cure but won’t because there isn’t enough profit in it, killed her. It bothers me that I can’t go to the funeral because there is no longer a guarantee that I won’t simply have enough at some point and say something that’s going to leave a permanent scar. Take a moment with this thought, please, that there has to be a commercial for religion during a funeral because they have to strike at people when they are at their weakest emotional state.

 

They can’t get you to believe on pure merit because there isn’t any. There has to be blackmail and threats. Imagine the kind of god that needs that sort of extortion to have believers because that is what you have, you know.

 

When someone is murdered it changes how people look at them. They become a victim, a statistic in some way, of someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time or with the wrong person, and their death defines part of who they are and who they were.

Preachers murder the dead. They have to make that person’s life connect with what they’re selling, like they are going to mention the dead person’s clothes were cleaner because they all used Tide Pods, and sometimes we’re talking about someone who hadn’t set foot in a church in decades but there the preacher is talking about how you aren’t going to see this person in heaven unless you join his religion.

 

It’s spiritual blackmail. It’s extortion. It’s a blatant lie.

 

These people do not own the afterlife and they don’t know a damn thing about what happens after we’re dead. They’re used car salesmen. They are con artists, liars, murderers of the spirit and thieves of the afterlife.

 

I can’t go to a funeral. I just might fight back.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

Cup And Plates

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Take Care,

Mike