Fifty degrees is not always fifty degrees. It’s predawn, raining, and a good breeze is coming through the window. At this moment, fifty degrees feels glorious. Last summer was brutal. It was so hot my garden wilted if I didn’t water it for two hours straight in the middle of the day, and my squash stopped producing for a month. Triple digit heat stayed with is for over a week, and upper 90’s stayed longer still.
Of course, back in December it was down in the upper teens for five days, but the cold didn’t bother me the way the heat did. I worked outside in the heat, and if felt as if my body were melting in my boots. The water was warm right out of the tap it was so hot.
Maybe that’s why I think this fifty degree weather feels so good. Yesterday it was close to eighty. Now, it feels more like it should. I’m down to a pair of shorts, and that’s all. I want to feel this. I want to experience the coolness of the air, the feel of my body not sweating, the bare skin totally free of mosquitoes hunting.
Were it dark enough, I would walk around nude on the deck.
It’s so rare when a new form of stupidity surprises me in traffic it’s almost enjoyable when it occurs. Almost. The thing about traffic that some people seem to miss is traffic laws are a social construct that are transmutable, and the laws of physics are why people die in traffic, in horrible ways involving twisted metal, blunt force trauma, blood, fire, broken glass, and people behaving poorly after the event.
I would apologize for the digression, but honestly there seems to be a certain large proportion of the motoring population who do not understand the forces driving, no pun intended, vehicle accidents, and how to avoid these events. Rather, they seem bent, again, no pun intended, on daring Newtonian Physics to work against them.
Like Darwin, Newton has no fucks to give.
The car in front of me eases forward, we are both in the left turn lane at an intersection, Gornto and Saint Augustine, turning onto Gornto from the west, and all is well. There’s a line of cars behind me. Ahead is clear, the lead car has time to turn without tempting his particular god or Newton to smite him. He turns ever so slowly, and then inexplicably, he stops in midturn.
Did he die? Did his car quit? Was he the one person in south Georgia that actually was Raptured? Did he stop to finish singing a Taylor Swift song about loss? I look forward. Cars are coming. I need an escape route if this gets any stranger. Check mirrors, I can go straight into the left turn on the other side, illegal, scary, but the lesser of many evils, the greatest of those in traffic is not doing a goddamn thing when you could get the fuck out.
Don’t stay with it. If someone is doing something stupid, just get away from them. Go. It doesn’t matter if you have to go ten miles to turn around, or if you miss your turn, or anything. Just go. Leave the circus, because Brother, I am here to tell you one thing for certain and that is stupid rarely self-cures and it most definitely gets worse before it gets any better.
The car eases forward, horns are honking now behind me, and the window of opportunity for escape is closing, but he is moving forward into the turn, and he stops. Again.
Now the only out is to pass him. It’s a single lane at that point, and to pass I have to go into the double left turn on Gornto, but that is still better than sitting still. Cars are coming towards me. The guy behind me is losing his mind; he is likewise trapped. I make eye contact with him in the rearview. “Follow me!” I send that thought and I am getting the hell away from all of this now.
Suddenly, the guy goes forward. Slowly, but forward, and I’m good, the guy behind me is good, but we’re the only two to escape. This guy in front is going ten miles an hour, but he’s moving.
He makes a right turn at Publix, and I am free. The guy behind me follows the offender into the parking lot. This might go poorly, but I am moving on.
I have never seen that form of stupidity before. It was amazing.
Early one morning, as in somewhere around three, I was talking to a co-worker while waiting for the road crew to start work again. A piece of machinery had died, and they had another on standby, but it would take an hour or so for it to arrive.
“I don’t really believe in God,” he said in a near whisper.
As the only atheist most people in south Georgia have ever met, I was used to this sort of admission. In the four different offices I had worked out of in my career, three of them had at least one person to tell me their faith was for show, and in an office where I worked temporarily, two people sought me out to tell me they lacked faith.
None of these people were willing to go public with this information, and I wasn’t going to out them.
Most people who confess, or unconfess, enjoy their life the way they are living it. They like going to church functions, they like the friends they’ve met while there, and they hope their kids grow up to be part of the same community they are involved with.
They simply do not believe.
“I never have believed,” the co-worker continued. “It’s never made sense to me.”
And this is how it happened with me, too. I never have bought into the whole supernatural thing. It’s like at Christmas when you hear the older kids talk about finding presents hidden in the store room, or suddenly the store room door is locked all of the time, or some kid wakes up to the sound of a bike being put together on Christmas morning. After a while, Santa Claus seems implausible, and finally, impossible.
The problem with Santa is parents realize threatening their kids into good behavior over his visit works. The same holds true for religion. It’s not a question of actual belief but rather having a system in place to guide behavior. Sin is bad because God said so and that’s the end of the debate.
It works, to a degree, or at least enough people pretend to believe, and that also works.
The wild thing about Christianity is you can judge people harshly for not believing, and trust me here, being honest about not believing in south Georgia has no benefits whatsoever, is that the same people most condemning of atheism are the same people who have the most trouble staying faithful in the marriages. Adultery was common among the men I worked with, and some of them were the most ardent fans of going to church every time the door opened.
Oh, but no worries, they are forgiven.
Martin Luther changed the way Christians looked at the ethereal world when he nailed his writings on the church door. At the top of the list his disapproval of people being able to pay the church to forgive their sins. Yet what does American Christianity do but call people good simply because they show up for church? They pay to keep the lights on, to keep the widescreen televisions blaring out the image of the high paid preacher, they have a place to go on Sunday morning to pay to be forgiven for what they did on after work during the weekdays.
I’m Rabbit Holing this morning and cannot stop. A story set in Savannah Georgia has to have landmarks and street names, and even real places, so I do a search for Savannah and then start mapping. But then I need Civil War dates, and I need historical figures, and battle names and it is on.
I grew up one hundred years after the Civil War was fought, and the south not only lost the war, but was left in a state of economic ruin, which is what you get when five percent of a region holds ninety-five percent of the wealth. There’s a lot to unpack in that last sentence, but that’s another discussion for another day. That’s a very large, and very deep, Rabbit Hole.
There’s no real reason for this story to be historically accurate. The part that occurs in Savannah is a chapter or two. There is no reason for this sort of detail, except I want it. I want to put the scene in a bar where a band is playing to feel like it is in Savannah, no not way back when, but today, yet with the past hanging over the older people there, like it does me sometimes.
I was a kid when George Wallace was shot, and some people thought it was a sign of the Apocalypse. Yeah, but they thought that about bar codes, too, small group of people, so there is that.
But now I’m wondering if I ought to take a trip, or three, to Savannah, and find a local bar somewhere, meet some strange people, and set the story right there. I know people in that town, and perhaps that the way to do this, truly, but at the same time, something suggests that going solo would be better.
There is danger, real danger, is having even a chapter set in a place that is a floating island of history. If you get there, you might have to stay there, write more about it, and then suddenly the scene is the story, and all is lost, or all is found, it all depends on how it’s written.
Better, now that I think of it, to write a little, leave something dangling for one of the characters to return to, years later, or perhaps the daughter of one of the characters, returning to find the path her mother made into music.
See? See how easily one hole opens and none of the others close?
There’s a feeling I get sometimes, all of this is necessary, essential even, a story has to have more that wasn’t written than was. A reader who is really into the tale will feel it, will see the Rabbit Hole open, want to follow it, seek out my desires to go elsewhere, but return to the path, sensing the depths of the story untold.
Watching the cursor blink, waiting, waiting, the first sentence was going to read, “I don’t like preachers” which would have been accurate, but imperfectly so. Let us try this, shall we:
I dislike preachers.
Yes, that’s more to the point, stronger, and says what I want the sentence to say.
This morning, zero early hours, I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office to give blood for my yearly checkup. I hope I don’t have rabies. After almost dying a couple of years ago or so, I’m more than a little paranoid about getting looked at once a year.
The waiting room fills up, like a wading pool of sickness and injury, and the room may or may not be a launching pad into the Great Unknown.
A man is talking to a woman, and he’s loud. Loudly loud. He has a spiel. I’m under the impression these two have never met, but he keeps telling her how “blessed” she is and how “blessed” he is, and how “blessed” it is to be here, bless his heart.
He laughs every time he finishes a sentence, as if he’s a comedian. And the laugh is the same laugh every time. It has four syllables, like Ha ha ha HA! With the last syllable accentuated. I stop reading to watch. He’s talking loud enough for everyone in the room to hear him, and when any preacher does this, he’s sharpening his knives.
He asks the woman questions, “Where do you go to church Ha ha ha HA?”
“Oh, I go over there on the west side of town, it’s Unified Christian Hypocrites, and. . .”
“Do you like it there Ha ha ha HA?”
“Oh yes, it’s a good church, we…”
“Who is your pastor? Ha Ha Ha HA”
He’s not only pumping her for information, getting her to talk faster and faster to keep up with him, he’s also making her feel more and more like she should. Used car salesmen use this technique to work people into buying a car. It’s fast, effective, and slimy as the feel of a preacher’s hand on your shoulder.
But this is minor deception, a sort of exercise, warming him up for bigger game, and I can feel it. The only difference between a preacher and a homeless person lying to get a few bucks is the homeless person has to be somewhat honest; preachers tell the biggest and the most lies than anyone you will ever meet, and their livelihoods depend on their ability to be great liars. This man is good.
“Mr. Marshall?” the receptionist calls, and the preacher stands up, makes a fuss about saying good by to the woman and have a blessed day.
“I’m Reverend Marshall,” he says with just a trace of that judgmental tone of voice that she should have known that was his title but she was too sinful to be aware. I’m sitting close enough to hear him. So were you, if you were in the same zip code.
“Reverend Marshall, you’re a new patient, we’re going to need cash, or a credit card, or a cashier’s check for your first visit,” the receptionist tells him. There’s a sign on the wall that has this information on it, at eye level, in a 48 font, bold. I’m also sitting close enough for the fumes coming off Marshall to choke me. He’s wearing some sort of perfume, cloying, sweet, and powdery, like cotton candy scented drywall dust.
“The Lord takes care of me,” Marshall says loudly.
The receptionist is a woman who has heard it all before, even if she hasn’t heard this before, it doesn’t matter.
“Yes sir, I’m certain he does. You’re a new patient, we’re going to need cash, or a credit card, or a cashier’s check for your first visit,” she repeats, and doesn’t bat an eye.
“The Lord takes care of me,” Marshall says loudly. “Ha ha ha HA!”
The receptionist sits there, counts to ten, silently, and then repeats what she’s already said.
Marshall laughs and waits.
The receptionist cocks her head to one side, and waits.
Marshall pulls out his wallet and says, loudly, “Money is the root of all evil, ha ha ha HA!”
“Thank you, sir,”
I give three vials of blood to the phlebotomist, while Marshall is talking to a guy who looks older than me by half again. Marshall is doing his rapid fire question routine but the other guy is hard of hearing, and hilarity ensues.
I pick up my paperwork and leave the medical professionals to the circus that’s come to town.
One of the reoccurring Dreamscapes is a building built on a slight rise, so the sidewalk in front of it would be great for skateboarding if concrete wasn’t broken up and cracked so badly. An awning once stood over the length of the sidewalk, but it’s missing in places. The flagpole stands naked. Why the building was abandoned, I have no idea, but the grounds have been kept somewhat, yet it’s deserted, mournful and empty.
More than once in my life, and often in my dreams, I’ve looked at a house or a structure and wondered what the designer had in mind, or if they were just making it up as they went along. Of course, all the Dreamscapes come from my mind, and I wonder what it says about me that this building exists in the form it’s taken.
Early in my career in transportation construction, there was a program that would give each congressional district X number of feet of roads to be resurfaced. These were not highway projects, but meant to be doled out to poor counties and small towns, and usually it amounted to resurfacing a street four of five hundred feet long, in a town with a few hundred citizens. Over the years, I paved roads in dozens of little towns and out in the middle of nowhere county roads, and I swear that building exists somewhere out there.
Life is stranger than fiction. Damascus Georgia, a small town, even for small towns, is the place I began writing, even though I was only there for a few hours. The building in the Dreamscape is possibly larger than the town of Damascus, yet somehow, the two locations, one in south Georgia and the other existing, possibly, only in my mind. I keep thinking I will go back to Damascus, to see if what I remember is still there, but it’s been over thirty years now, and it is possible reality doesn’t exist the way I remember it, for it rarely does.
That would make sense. The original name of Damascus was Kestler. I’m Rabbit Holing now, predawn, coffee setting in, mind bouncing around like a kid out in the rain, following each scrap of information like a Holy Grail. I’ve looked at Google Map shots, tried to find the street, think I might have, but it has been thirty years.
Having no basis in reality, how accurate is a Dreamscape each time it’s visited? Created wholly by the mind, is the mind readily accepting each new version as an exact replica of the last, and the first? Unless a dreamer was to draw a map of the building, each detailed defined, is each dream a newer representation of the same feeling of the building? Is the flagpole a new detail, yet my mind convinced it was there the last time?
There’s no way to tell when the mind is telling you’re the truth, because you are the mind.
Nothing we sense as the truth is totally real, or totally not real. We’re seventy percent water by volume, and if we could get that proportion of reality out of our daily lives, or our dreams, we would be, I think, never aware of it.
Remember when you were a little kid, maybe five years old, and you were watching something on the television? For whatever reason you liked it, you really liked it, but you didn’t have the same concept of time you do right now. A half hour in front of a television when you were a kid seemed to last longer, because you hadn’t developed a sense of time the way you would later in life.
At five, you’re not thinking about everything you have to do, a job, school, death, bills, alcohol, or any number of things that will invade your thoughts later in life.
Later in life, your thoughts will be crowded by much different issues, depending on what’s going on.
Even at the age of ten, you are still a kid, but now there are team sports, you’re beginning to notice other people as a gender, as a function as attraction, your ability to read has evolved, you’ve done things, illicit acts, your parents would worry if they found out, you realize life is more complicated than it seemed five years ago, and five years ago seems to be a long, long, time.
But then at twenty, ten years seems to be a long time, and at forty, if you’ve been married for five years at that point, it may, or it may not, seem to have lasted forever.
But then at fifty, see how I jumped there, because the older you get the shorter ten years can be, but now a half hour show is short, and how television is used, movies, binging, DVDs, series, makes the experience so much different.
Your memories, what actually happened, never really did. Yes, of course your dog died when you were five, and it hurt. But each year that memory is changed by who you’ve become, and who you once were is gone, and so is a vital ingredient of that memory. The person you are has no idea who you were because you have no mechanism to feel that change. All you have is memory, and because you cannot remember a password you reset an hour ago, you know memory is flawed.
And this all gets much worse.
You were sad your dog died and you still are sad when you remember the event. That tells you all you need to know. It’s the emotion of the event, not the event itself. You might not even recognize the dog if he walked up to you, but surely you would, because of photos and videos, but would you really know? It’s how you feel that creates memories, not the physical world. Do you remember the day of the week, what you were wearing, the hour of the day, the color of the shirt of the vet, a million details lost forever, added, deleted, forgotten, changed, but pain lingers, doesn’t it?
Were you five? Your sister remembers you being six. Your mother remembers it happened much earlier. If you have photos or a video, you have a touchstone, something that defines the moment in a certain way, but that doesn’t mean you remember it. It simply means you have a way to identify the time.
You can’t remember an overwhelming percentage of your life, you fight hard to remember names, you have to write down passwords, and someone from your past, you know you know that person, you went to school with them, but who in the hell are they?
You don’t remember. You rarely do, actually. Yet you let what memories you do have to have you, to control how you feel, and to judge you.
Let go of the past. You really do not remember it.
Cold. I remember cold. Maybe because I worked in the heat, played in the heat, maybe because summer was the time of being outside, swimming, doing things, I don’t remember heat, or being too hot. Cold, yeah, cold, I do remember cold. Not just the absence of heat, but the total lack of comforting warmth. The air was cold, the floor was cold, the food was cold, the surface of my skin was cold, the walk to school was cold, the sun was cold, and life was cold.
It’s too late now, to look back, like being in a car and wanting to see where you left an hour after departure. It’s gone. There’s nothing left of it at all. It never existed except in my mind.
Someone told me, who I can’t remember, when is a mystery, and why, yeah, I get why, but they said every time you think back, open a memory, that memory is changed, polluted, obscured, and scarred by your mental touch. Who you were when that memory formed is different now. Now you are not the person who stored that memory so when you feel it, you’re going to add, or subtract, make stronger or weaker that memory, and in all of this, the memory’s original form is lost forever.
“I want to talk,” she said, and of people, this was the one person I most wanted. She and I had dated, broken up, dated, and finally it was final.
We walked across the parking lot of the high school, she stuck her hand in my jacket pocket, her fingers cold, mine colder, we intwined our fingers, tightly, hanging on to the only thing left between us, the tightness too much but that was all we had. The wind blew hard into our faces, and I had no idea where we might be going, just walking.
“I’m pregnant,” she said and I felt cold.
I swallowed hard, tried to do math in my head, tried to think of something to say, found nothing, wanted a drink.
“It’s not yours,” she said, and her voice broke.
She turned around, walked back towards the school, and I waked on, into the cold, and now, at this moment, I can see the image in my head of the paved parking lot, the basketball goals, the field beyond the parking lot, the dead grass, the tree line, and I wonder how much of what I remember was ever real, perhaps little of it, except for the cold.