Lost in the Swamp

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How long had I been lost? The swamp of the Okefenokee was endless but human life is not. I went in to photo the variety of life in the Cypress Cathedral and snuck my kayak down to the landing to keep from paying the landing fee. This was acerbated by my departure from the known trail, my forgetfulness towards my compass, and finally, I had lied to my girlfriend and told her I had to work. I had told work I was spending the weekend with Anne. A rotted tree fell silently and clipped the bow off my boat and shattered my knee. After three days it was clear no one had thought to look here for me. The watercraft was wrecked, my cell phone was tucked away somewhere in the ruin, and I could barely move my leg without a scream rising from my throat.
“You are dying,” the creature said, and I knew he was right.

“Hey you wanna go get a grits bowl,” said a co-worker.
“No,” I replied, “I’m good.”
I parked nearly a quarter mile away from everyone else. I have less than half an hour for a break and an idea for a new short story has wandered in. But this proves my theory that nothing attracts humans stronger than another human trying to catch some solitude.
“You don’t want no grits bowl?” And he asks this in a tone of voice that suggests I’ve refused to admit desire for Helen Mirren in her prime, and she always has been so.
“I don’t like grits,” I say and instantly regret it. The conversation will now continue to the incredible heights of deliciousness of a food with no taste of its own. The proponent will be forced into confessing that grits needs, at a
Minimum, salt, pepper, a lot of butter, and a full breakfast mixed in with it to make it palatable. In the meanwhile, my break is dissolving like a ice cream scoop of butter on a tasteless gloop of ground corn with the nutritional value of seasoned cardboard.
Oddly, the Grits Cheerleader then begins a soliloquy on why he never eats breakfast at McDonald’s.
Splendid! Why not pick a subject at random with some superficial effect on your life, set it ablaze with an anecdote, and shall we warm our souls on the dying moments it consumes?

 

The story looks up at me like an ailing pet. I’ve kept this thing alive with merely one hand, one finger, tapping away at the phone keyboard, in Notes, because that is how strong the desire is to write, yet the moments that remain to me before I go to work wither and die, like the last moments of a dog’s life before the sharpness of the needle slips in and away goes a mortal soul, and nothing remains but to remember and to mourn.

 

 

“You think Carrie Underwood’s face is going to be messed up, you know, really bad?” he asks solemnly, and somewhere out there, in the infinite Universe, filled with infinite Universes, through billions and billions of years of time. Carrie Underwood’s face, whoever Carrie Underwood might actually be, might have some impact on my life.

“You think she got beat up and is just trying to cover for him?” He asks, and he looks around, as if there might be someone who might turn him in for this thought, or might care. I get out of my truck and start walking towards his, which is some distance away.

“Mostly,” I tell him, “women will defend their abusers if there’s a pattern of abuse in the past, and who knows, he may be beating the hell out of her in a drunken rage right now for all we know, but in the end, she has the resources to break the pattern of abuse but she must choose to do so.” And with this I tell him I forgot my phone and double back to get it has he heads out.

 

I sit down and watch his figure recede into the night, and look at the clock. It’s over. Thirty minutes have been devoured and now I am frustrated and hungry. There is no way to recover the time lost and the story must wait until the light of day. I wonder if the time between start and restart will hurt the essence of the tale, and I wonder if there’s some way to regain a few moments to try to put it back together sooner?

 

The truck pulls ever so slightly to the left, and I know this truck well, its quirks and its patterns of drift. I can use details like these in another story of a man in a truck, nothing is wasted when it comes to writing, like the bones of the lion’s prey being bleached out on the plains of the Serengeti. Perhaps it will be covered in some flash flood, to be found millions of years later, and in some way, live again. The story needs someone, Anne, the girlfriend, and suddenly I realize that nothing is wasted in writing, and that all stories need something in them that is buried, like the bone of a kill millions of years old, and I have an idea on top of an idea.

 

The work has begun again, and as I pull up my co-worker has information for me, factual and empirical, and he’s surprised when I get out of the truck with a bag. “Grits bowl, extra butter and hot sausage,” I tell him. “So, you think microsurgery will be enough to save Carrie Underwood’s face or will she be messed up, you know, real bad?”

 

I had forgotten the basic needs of a writer, and that is to be human, to experience humanity, and to live the lives of people who are not fictional. This is nothing new, and I’ve forgotten this lesson before, and I will always forget it again, for that is my nature, to be alone and to write. But I must return my people to learn again, this lesson, and others as well, for without that humanity, without the breath of other people, writing is simply the echo of one man’s thoughts, and that is never a good thing.

 

“You don’t know who Carrie Underwood is,” he is stunned, but eating grits, “she’s got like a billion number one hits, she’s married to that guy, what’s his name, that was married to that girl…”

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

The Nest of Moccasins

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This may be one of those urban myths that gets passed around so often that it seems true, simply because it has been heard again and again. Odd thing this creature, when I was a child I heard the story of a young girl who was water skiing and she fell into the water. As the boat came to pick her up, they discovered she had fallen into “a nest of moccasins” and some of them were still attached to the dead body. As I grew up nearly everyone had heard this story, and nearly every lake of any size had this event happen there, but no one could ever come up with the victim’s name, a date on which it occurred, or even so much as an idea of what year it had happened. But because it was repeated it was believed. The story I refer to is the story of Anne Rice’s novel, “The Interview with A Vampire”. I have heard it sold very poorly at first, but the book was passed around from person to person and simple word of mouth kicked off a worldwide fascination with vampires, once again.

 

 

In stark contrast, and in an unusual cohabitation, I grew up with both snake myths and among people who read. My first real stand against one, using the strength of the other, failed, and failed miserably, and I wondered how a society that loved to read could still hate snakes. I still wonder how knowledge is kept in less respect than fable, but considering the success of religion there has to be some genetic source for it.

 

 

I had friends who read, and read as if their mind devoured books as a means for survival, and considering the state of rural South Georgia, I will allow this might have been true. Books were hardbound and heavy, but a burden that we bore without complaint, for what was there to be done about it? Libraries were gold mines, they were buffets for the brain, and they were the first and last, and sometimes only, refuge from the world where people believed in Hoop Snakes and talking snakes. We never considered ourselves a network of any sorts but once a book was deemed a good read it would be passed around like a joint, to affect the mind of each person that held it, and inhaled it. To sit down with a new book was like kissing a woman for the first time. I can remember going through every page before the beginning. When was the book copy righted? How many printings? Were there notes? Was there a name on the inside cover? I had a ritual for books that required certain knowledge and investigation before the beginning. It was foreplay of the foreword.

 

 

I was a fool. I admit that now, now that it is too late to do anything about it. When computers became ubiquitous I assumed that knowledge would follow. I assumed that given the tools to disseminate information, that we humans would share our thoughts and would share our abilities, and just like my network of readers back when a pocket calculator was a scientific achievement, I thought that we would use this tool to sharpen the mind, not blunt it. What I should have seen was how we were, when given books that told us, very specifically, which snakes were venomous and which were harmless, yet we still blasted away with guns and in terror, that the internet would take its form from superstition and fear rather than that of the intellect.

 

 

As a child, when television first became a household item, and color television became a luxury that no one could live without, I saw that it was a bad idea. There was no way to control the content, and there was no way to control the scheduling, and viewers would be held captive by the whims of those who did control these things. Yet even when these obstacles were overcome, television remained, for the most part, an intellectual wasteland. What made a program a success could be guided by an algorithm and each new program became a clone of the last which had finally run out of even the most outlandish, yet trite, ideas.

 

 

The internet, I first believed, was different. There, at anyone’s fingertips, was information and knowledge. I did not foresee opinion, opinion screamed at a volume where content is irrelevant, becoming how people were educated, or de-educated as it were, on nearly every topic of conversation. I never thought people would submerge themselves in echo chambers and listen to nothing but the sound of their own thoughts, magnified and blasted back into their brains.

 

The myth of the Hoop Snake might have foreshadowed all of this, actually, but it is one thing to underestimate simple ignorance, and yet is it downright perilous to underestimate stupidity, and willful ignorance.

 

 

I’m not sure how to begin this. I’m not sure it will make a difference, or if this is just my way of being one of the last dinosaurs, shivering and alone, wandering a world I no longer recognize. Yet I still believe in the power, and the magic, and the value, of reading. I may not be able to stem the rising tide of sound bite philosophy and high volume screaming politics, but I can promote the one thing that I think makes the most difference in how a human being thinks and trains to think; reading.

 

The Mike Firesmith Nomadic Library and Book Exchange, will henceforth begin. I will send books to people and maybe other people will, too. If I can get others to join me we will become The Nest of Moccasins, a group of readers who will send book off to ensnare other human beings into becoming readers. I have no real idea how to begin this, except I have a lot of books, and I have to believe there are other people out there who still read. At some point in our history, there was a person who first shared a book, and the reason was love for reading. If this must begin somewhere then, happily, let it begin again, here, and now, with me.

 

 

 

To Dream

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There has to be some function that dreams perform, I think. Maybe, and this is something to think about, the various parts and regions of the brain, which make up the human mind, get bored when we’re asleep, and they create fiction to be entertained. It’s four in the morning and about an hour or so ago I had a really vivid dream where a cop shot this guy in the face for playing his music too loud while we were all stuck in traffic. It was as real as if it really happened. When I woke up the first thing that startled me was it was night. The dreamscape had been daylight.

 

Right there, is one clue as to what was happening, somewhere. The process involved decided to change night into day. Then there was the location, Saint Augustine Road in Valdosta, near the mall, approaching Gornto Road, and across from Lowe’s. That’s all from my memory. The process went into my memory and decided to use that location as the backdrop of the dream.

 

 

Does location tell us anything about intent? I’m not fond of the mall, and that particularly intersection can be a bitch, especially the right lane where vehicles try to pull into traffic, and it’s made worse by those people who allow people in. Yes, I know. I know that it’s a nice thing to do, but it’s nice for the person who does it, and it’s nice for the person who is let in, but for the twenty people behind that person who has to sit through another traffic light change it isn’t nice at all. It would be mitigated if there wasn’t this odd delay between the person allowing someone in and that person actually pulling into traffic. The exchange takes too long and there is nothing to be done for it. It’s best just to let that one person sit through the natural progression of traffic and be done with it. I realize I am a minority when it comes to this thinking.

 

 

Next, the dream is populated with an antagonist. He’s a young guy, maybe just old enough to drive, and he’s driving an older model car that’s had a lot of work done to it; shiny wheels, lots of chrome, tinted windows, all that stuff that kills the older cars’ character. I’m not a car person. I’ve never loved a car or a truck any more than I loved a stove or a pair of socks. It would be really interesting to get a real image of the car and find out if it’s a model that exists or if my mind cobbled one together. How much of a dream is imagery and how much is merely emotions hung on ideas? What’s the difference in a dream? I’m not actually “seeing” anything. I’m experiencing emotions based on fiction my mind had derived from memory.

 

 

Or it is memory? Who is this young man? Who is this cop? I can’t see the young man clearly, only is face in his side mirror, just barely, but I see the police man quite clearly. Are they people I know who I feel a certain way towards? Do I, subconsciously, think a cop would fire seven shots into the face of a young man for having wretched taste in music? Is it in me, somewhere in my heart or mind, that I think people who play this song that loud ought to be shot? None of these thoughts occur to be during the nightmare, but after I am awake I wonder what this says about me, and if there is more here, or simply less.

 

 

One day, I wonder if I will meet a young man and think to myself, “Damn, that’s him!” or if I will meet someone who looks like the cop, but I doubt it. I’ve never met anyone in the real world who has inhabited a dream, unless they were already someone I knew. I’ve met some fairly memorable people in my dreams, mostly women, and no, not mostly sexual encounters. The closest any two people have ever come to matching, from dreamscape to real life, was the young girl I met in a dream where she was explaining her dragonfly tattoo to me, while she was in a bikini, and a young woman at a Wendy’s who put some pot in an order for a friend and accidently gave it to me at the drive through window. She realized her mistake instantly and came out of the drive through window and into my truck window to retrieve the goods. We had a very brief, but very interesting conversation while she was all but sitting in my lap, and she reminded me very strongly of the girl in the dream. Were she ten years older and I ten years younger at the time I might have driven off with her and the pot.

 

 

After the young man was shot I could smell the gunpowder from the cartridges in the air. Rarely, have I met someone who can tell me what they smelled in a dream, and I wonder if blind people dream of scents that sight people do not? Do deaf people have more acutely visual dreams that those who can hear? Did you accept the idea of being able to hear music in a dream yet slightly balk at the concept of the smell of gunsmoke?

 

I can see this nightmare being part of a short story. Someone witnesses a murder and it turns out to be a mafia hit or a revenge killing. The video shot by the person who witnessed the shooting realizes there are subtle clues in the video, reflections in the rearview mirror, reflections in the windshield, that might give his identity away. But the video is viral now, and how long before someone discovers who he is?

 

 

The things my mind does when I am out of the driver’s seat disturb me, betimes. Yet I have to remind myself that I am asleep when this occurs, and that I have no control over what happens on the screen when I don’t pick the movies.

 

But seriously, that song is going to drive someone to homicide one day.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

Late Night Drama of the Dogs

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Having totally deprived me of sleep, Budlore is at rest.  

After one beer I was trailing smoke and spiraling down. This is a sad state of affairs but working night shift will do that to a body. Eventually, I awoke to discover that it was still early, and I needed to get a few things done before tomorrow, and things went smoothly. No one was crying and no one was putting beans in their nose. I did some writing, no, not this writing, and then after midnight, I decided go to bed. After all, everything seemed very normal. Why would I expect for there to be anything different or surreal?

 

I turn the lights off and reality slips quietly out of the room.  She sobs softly, leaves a note  on the table about not being able to take this sort of abuse, and runs.

 

 

Budlore Amadeus, who clearly has never lived in the woods before, hears something in the dark. His plan of action is to bark loudly and charge towards the back door, where I assume he will stop, come to his senses, and return to sleep. I could not be more wrong. The entire pack lifts itself out of slumber to join Bud, and it sounds like they’re trying to tear the back door down.

 

 

There is a couple of issues here. One, I’ve been drinking, albeit a while ago, and only one beer, but I have an aversion to picking up a shotgun when I’ve been drinking. My senses tells me that this is Bud gone wild, and the others have joined him in this misadventure, but there is a chance, a small chance, that Bud might be onto something. I reach over for the shotgun and ease into the living room where there is total darkness and chaos to match it. I get to the backdoor and open it, and the pack pours out into the night, loudly, and I listen. Bud is the loudest dog, Wrex has a distinctive voice, Lilith Anne is pounding away at the night, and…where is the Person of the Striped Persuasion? I listen and wonder; has Tyger charged out deep into the woods on her own?

 

I go back to the bedroom and can still hear the bedlam outside. I sit down on the bed to put jeans on and almost sit on Tyger Linn, who has sat this whole thing out. She has not moved. Tyger has decided all this excitement is made entirely of the nope and she isn’t having anything to do with going outside in the wet and making barking at nothing. If Tyger Linn heard nothing and is doing nothing, perhaps it is time that I reeled the pack back in. I get everyone inside but Bud is still keyed. I hold onto his collar and make him lie down. Bud slips into sleep and I’m drifting off.

 

Suddenly, and without warning, Bud is off and running again, barking like hell, with Wrex and Lilith in tow, again. In the darkness I reach over to discover that Tyger Linn is of the nope. She has not heard anything that would convince her that wet feet and a raised pulse is worth anything that she hears going on.

 

I get Wrex in, and Budlore follows, still agitated and barking. Lilith is wound up at the fence barking at the night. She refuses to come in for a very long time and finally I go out and yell at her, and Bud barks at this, too.

 

Bud is totally shocked when he gets put in the crate. The door is locked behind him, and he’s sleeping in there, or not sleeping in there, I shall not care, but we’re done with this barking thing. I get the squirt bottle out and Bud lies down and remains silent. Wrex doesn’t understand why Bud is crated, but he does understand the squirt bottle.

 

Silence descends upon Hickory Head.

 

 

Wrex gets up, once and charges towards the door, but not barking. The backdoor is closed and Wrex is stymied. I remind Wrex the crate sleeps two, perhaps not comfortably, but two dogs will fit into it, yes, Wrex.

 

Silence descends upon Hickory Head.

 

 

By this time, about an hour or so has passed. I’m tired, sleepy, and peevish at the dogs for being stupid. I open the bedroom window and I don’t hear the multitude of frogs that were going last night. Did the dogs silence the frogs? Or was whatever the dogs barking at the reason the frogs are not singing? But whatever is out there, it is not human, and therefore not nearly the threat Bud might think it is. He does not know how to judge threats or how to temper his reaction. From inside the crate Bud whines softly but he does not bark for fear of water.

 

 

When Bert was alive this never happened. Bert knew what to bark at, when to sound the alarm, when to sleep through it, and we never had this sort of late night drama for no good reason at all. Sam and Lucas had good judgment as well, and even the Cousins didn’t do stupid things late at night. But Bert was the best when it came to being a guard dog. He hammered the hell out of humans with his voice and he had a big booming bark. He would bark at deer or other dogs, but when Bert laid it down it was always important.

 

I miss Bert in times like these. I miss having a Great Dog. I miss his stability and the way he was part of management and knew it. I miss the security that he provided and I miss his leadership with younger dogs. There really was never a reason to fear people with Bert asleep on the end of the bed, and there was never a time he got fooled by some odd sound in the darkness.

 

 

The sun comes up and the dogs want to be fed. I need to sleep but I’ll put it off for a while, again. I’m supposed to write today, and this won’t be all of it, but I also have to go into town.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

After Midnight

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After midnight, things slow down because most people are heading home, already home, and snug in their beds, or someone else’s bed, you have to think about that every once in a while, after midnight. Friend of mine, who never was very good with women, stopped to help a woman change a tire, they went to a bar and drank together, and he wound up in bed with her at her place. He was working out of town and didn’t know the place very well so when the husband came home and chased him out of the house, naked, he simply walked down the road in the buff, waiting for someone to call the cops, and they did. The bad thing is they had taken her car back to her house and he had a hell of a time remembering what her house or her car looked like, but they settled on the only house with lights on and people screaming at one another.

 

People with guns, I am here to tell you, put them down when the cops get there because cops react poorly to your second amendment rights, after midnight. They aren’t interested in your NRA lifetime membership pin or the fact that you considered going into the military to be a sniper before you decided that factory work was so incredibly similar that you decided there was no difference after all. My friend retrieved his clothes and his wallet, while one of the cops stood over a recently disarmed and soon to be divorced man.

 

I can stand in the back of my truck and feel the weird coming off the asphalt like the residual heat of a Summer day. The sun leaves hot energy in the pavement and so many people going by leave their strangeness here too. After Midnight, those left around to feel it absorb it, and alcohol just makes it sink in that much deeper. It’s in the air like a mist. If that sounds strange it’s because it is. Yeah, baby. Midnight.

 

It peaks around three. Between Midnight and Three, sex, drugs, alcohol, music, and the road are going to bear witness to some story someone will tell about all of the above in some way. I got into the back of a pick up truck when I was nineteen and rode all the way from Yulee Florida to Jacksonville with a young woman whose name I still cannot remember. It was late, we were drinking, we were young, we were stoned as hell, and now I wonder if anyone saw us and tells the story about two people in the back of a truck going down the road having sex on I-95?

 

The next time you’re out that late, if you aren’t creating the story yourself, with some help from someone you might have just met, if you still do that sort of thing, and wonder what you’re seeing in those cars and trucks passing around you. Why are they up this late? What on earth are they doing? After Midnight, you are either doing, or wondering abut the doing.

 

Some guy who never gets out of the house decides to go with a friend of a friend to go get a women out of her house, all of her stuff in the back of his truck, two cats, and a guitar, while her husband is at work. He pulls up, backs in, the woman and his friend of a friend get everything loaded in less time than it takes to think about dying of gunshot wounds, and suddenly there he is going down the road listening to the sound of two unhappy cats in the back seat of his truck and the woman tosses her cell phone of the truck at a sign. Her name is Robin and she’s escaping a truly bad marriage and no one who knows her knows where she is going and who she is going with. She filed for divorce this morning and now she wants to be a state away by the time the sun comes up. Small talk fills the cab of the truck, and Robin tells him she’s really grateful that he’s doing this, and she was afraid her soon to be ex would kill her cats, and they talk about why one of the cats is named Houdini, and the other is Fuse Box. Four hours later they’re making a transfer, at a truck stop where she has to go do something before she is handed off to another friend of another friend, and the woman and the cats are gone, forever, because past this point they will never meet again, and he realizes they shouldn’t. He stands back and watches the pickup truck disappear and the cars around him zoom past and no one thinks he might be standing there wondering who he just never met.

 

I watch traffic go past and I wonder if someone has just found love, or if someone is leaving, or if someone who just found love is being left by someone on the run. A woman I know lived with a man for five years then married him and had the marriage annulled after a week, and moved in with an ex-boyfriend who had no idea she was serious about someone else or getting married, and damn, you know, it’s hard to guess that sort of thing when you see a car go by, isn’t it?

 

 

There’s a truck that weaves in and out of traffic, a man driving hard, and he’s trying to track down a woman who left him, and he’s got a device on the collar of a cat, but a semi-truck has that device duct taped to his bumper, and the driver doesn’t know it. He’s hammered down on I-75 going north, heading towards a loading dock in Indiana, and in two hours a pick- up truck will cut him off in traffic, and his loaded truck will go right over the top of it as if it weren’t there at all. The cat collar will be destroyed, and the truck driver will always wonder what the hell that guy was thinking.

 

The crazy sounding guy on the side of the road that no one really sees is actually an emissary the one true god, who only wants people to paint more. Yeah, odd thing for a god to want, but you’ve heard stranger shit in church and never batted an eye. We never stop to think the people on the side of the road are aliens, come from faraway places, and this is the best way to be ignored no matter how weird you look and sound.

 

It’s after midnight. The normal people have fled the scene. They’ll get eight hours of sleep, wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. Coffee is not a ritual of desperation for these people, no. They’ll never sit down at a park bench with a cop who just disarmed an eight year old walking across town with a .22 rifle in his hand, mad at his dad, going to mom’s house in his pjs and a hunting cap.

 

It’s after midnight.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Tyger Linn and Prison

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Tyger Linn is not an overly needy dog so I was surprised when she got up on the bed and tucked herself quite neatly against my body with her head under by chin. This is Tyger’s way of letting me know she wants to be held, like a puppy, and even though I want to nap, and it’s going to be hard to get to sleep with Tyger nestled against me like this. There’s some reason inside of this little girl that caused her to come to me wanting comfort. So the nap can wait, and Tyger gets petted on her ears as she dozes in and out of sleep, pushing me with her nose when I stop.

 

In an alternative universe, Tyger Linn is an only dog with an older person as an owner and I think she would be happier that way. But then again, there is no way of telling what is reality except that one we’re sensing right now, clouded by prejudices and desires, perceived poorly by soft machines that are tragically flawed. One beer more and I might not have cared about the person of a striped persuasion, or perhaps, one less and I would have been more reasonable and not tried to rescue the violent little street dog.

 

 

Very few of the dogs I have rescued have been abuse cases, and Tyger arrived in good health, physically, but clearly she was accustomed to fighting for food, space, attention, and for her life. Every disagreement was a fight and every fight was to the end. The reality Tyger Linn lived in there was very little love or affection and no comfort. Sleeping on the bed was something that Tyger delighted in the first time I allowed her. She had to learn not to sleep in the middle, so there would be room for others, and for me, and her was taught not to growl at me, or the other dogs once she was on the bed. But there is something to be said for a bed. It beats the hell out of sleeping on the ground, in the open, or in a cage.

 

While in reasonably good health, Tyger did arrive with a great deal of food aggression. She ate very quickly, scarfing down mouthfuls of food as quickly as she could, growling at me if I got near, and then she was off to do battle for the food of other dogs. Tyger learned very quickly that no one is allowed to steal here, and no one will ever starve under my roof. It took some doing, but in the end, Tyger learned to sit and wait for her bowl to be filled, and she learned to stay away from other dogs while they eat. Comfort and food go a very long way in getting a dog to settle into a pack. Love helps a lot, too.

 

When we see this, and if you rescue dogs you do see it, we assume it’s a natural thing. We assume that if we do the right things the right way, no matter how damaged the dog might be, we can pull it back from the edge, and wind up with a mild mannered lap dog. It’s true, it’s possible, and while Tyger is not exactly perfect right now, the little girl has come a very long way. The clashes are less frequent and far less violent now. Tyger isn’t interested in prolonged conflict with anyone for any reason now. She has her bowl and she has her place. And when need arises, Tyger gets to get up on the bed and curl up beside me, and be comforted.

 

 

It’s odd. As many people who might applaud this rescue of a street dog destined for the needle, there seems to be a blindness when we speak of rescuing human beings. If you can agree that love and comfort will heal the violent street dog and guide her into being a trusted member of a pack, why is it we jam human beings into cages and expect them to be released in a better form? We cringe at the idea of high kill shelters churning out dead pets as quickly as they can be brought in and put down, yet we have become so accustomed to prisons being the only answer to crime and criminals, that we do not wonder any more that they do more harm than good. If prisons work then why do we keep having so many criminals?

 

 

 

It’s difficult to rehab a dog, especially one who is violent. It’s got to be even harder to rehab a human being. Yet with all the millions we spend, are we actually making things worse? I can point to Tyger Linn and tell you that she is a success story, that people can pet her and hug her, and she’s okay with other dogs, but can you take someone out of prison and feel comfortable letting your kids live next to that person? The perception is there, even if it isn’t true. We do not trust our system of punishment to produce favorable results. We use a system to damage human beings and then we blame them for that damage.

 

 

No, I have no answers. I cannot tell you that allowing criminals to sleep on beds and be petted will solve the world’s problems and we’ll all sleep with our doors unlocked. If there was an easy answer here then the world would beat a path to my door and we would all live happily ever after. There is no cure here.

 

 

What this is, in the end, is a question. Why can we do no better? Why is it that we have the wherewithal to seek the retraining of dogs in need yet there are over one million of our citizens in prison right now without any hope of doing more than sitting and waiting for their time to be up?

 

Tyger Linn stirs in her sleep, sighs, and then returns to slumber. This is a damaged being, mistreated by humans, and mistrustful still, at times of their intentions. But it has been worth all that I have done, and it will be worth all I will do.

 

Take Care,

 

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

 

 

Snails and Puppydog Tails

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Childlike, we humans believe that the ability to destroy makes us powerful. One of the memories that have always stuck with me was one when I was in Elementary School, and I watched one of my classmates stomp a snail to death. One thing I discovered very young was that to point out there was a living creature of any sort to the other was to sign its death warrant. The human young I grew up with was at war with the world around them. As they grew older they only grew more aggressive and more cruel.

 

Sometimes, very late, between the rising of the moon and the rising of the sun, in the darkness where no stars can be seen because there is too much light, we have killed that too, I sometimes am alone and I wonder how we got here, to this point of living. I still feel like the same small child, surrounded by other children, who only want to destroy other living things.

 

The time between the rising of the moon and the rising of the sun, and forget about me calling this day or night or morning or the wee hours, I can watch human activity and wonder what other purpose does it serve other than to kill? We may claim that we cannot live without cars and trucks, but when did we ever consider those creature who are on foot, and those who fly? Cruelty could at least be noticed and railed against, but mindless indifference, the same kind you see in drivers and passengers in cars and trucks, is a cultural thing. Small mammals are in our way. They are roadkill. Deer are killed more often by cars than guns. Birds are merely large insects. Our path over the river and through the woods leaves bodies lying to rot in the sun, and we never wonder if we might have just left some animal wounded, to be finished off by the next person, who will swerve far too late.

 

If you’ve never stopped anywhere on a highway and looked under a bridge you’ll discover that there are those people who believe that the underside of a bridge is one vast dumping ground. The people who are brave enough, or stupid enough, to fish in the small creeks and streams leave their own deltas behind. Plastic bottles, diapers, snack wrappers, and all sorts of trash are left behind, to be swept into the water by rain or wind, and the next set of litterbugs will pull fish from the water that have no choice but to live in a world polluted by plastics. We do have a choice. What choice we have made is quite clear; we simply do not care.

 

 

Bridges are also those places where people dump old appliances, blown tires, and pets. Living pets and dead pets are discarded at bridges, and people also dump dead deer here, and household garbage. Out of sight is out of mind, if they had one, and no one really claims the detritus of their own lives. We have thrown it away. It is not ours anymore. Once we can no longer see the problem then the problem has to be taken up by someone else.

 

 

 

The lack of sleep plays with my mind, like a deep drug, like possession, like a second skin that needs constant tugging and pulling up, lest I trip and fall. I feel it, again, the dream I have at odd times, infrequent yet alluring. I carry a weapon on my right leg, a sitting knife it is called, because men of my tribe sit with our right leg always foot down on the floor, the knife in a sheath. It’s as cultural as spitting gum out of the window, and means as much. The knife is a heavy thing, not a throwing knife, not a hunting knife to be used on prey, no, it’s a hacking thing, for fistfights with blades. But they are heavy and unbalanced things, like men who fight with chairs or drinking mugs. It’s a tradition that is only dangerous to ourselves. You can’t carry a knife like that to war.

 

 

We wear the skins of animals, for it is cold here, and it is more important to be able to hunt than to kill other people. But as of late, there are more people to kill, the people who live downriver from us have been coming into our territory, displaced by other people downriver from them, and some suggest we move north…

 

 

It never occurs to us, them, anyone, that we all could get together and talk about what we need and why we need it, and what can be done to prevent war, for we cannot do that among ourselves. We drink hard, and we allow slights to fester, and we fight with our knives that are bad weapons, and we tell our young that the strangers from downriver of us will be our slaves if they come here, and that seems to be a much better alternative to working it out and allowing their young to live in peace.

 

 

So we go to war, the mass of us, the mob of us, on foot to raid the camp of the people we call strangers, and we walk down the river bank at dawn to surprise them, but they have come for us, too. There are many times our number, a wide band of warriors armed with shield and swords and they are stretched over the entire river, hundreds of them, maybe a thousand, and we are fewer than fifty.

 

Some run. They throw their weapons down and they are cut down as we throw our spears at them, killing our own again, because we’re like that and it defines who we are, but there are so very many of those who seek to kill us we know that we can live for just so long before the end and it is very near.

 

 

A pervious lifetime? Perhaps. Maybe just a dream, really. But does it matter if we die, or our children die, by the blade or if they die, and we die, poisoned by our own waste, and our own inability to know that life is connected by life, not by death?

 

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

 

Wendy

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She’s a thin woman, unnaturally so, and it’s the kind of skinny that isn’t healthy or wears well on a woman, or a dog, or anyone else for that matter. It’s a neglectful kind of thinness, the same manner of rib showing that someone who suddenly remembers they haven’t fed the dog, for a while, sees one day in a suddenly epiphany. Her hair is a cropped mane that looks like it got caught in a car door and she cut it off with a piece of glass rather than opening the door again, and you can see this in this woman; she’s made some decisions that really make no sense to the rest of us, who are not her. Why not just open the door rather than cut your hair with a broken bottle? There is a story there, and she will tell it, if you ask.

 

 

The smell, more than anything else, the smell. You wonder why dogs take such an interest in scent? Dogs not only have a much better sense of smell than we do they are also more attuned in what the smells mean. You bring home a strange dog from the road and your resident dogs know this mutt is a stray. They know this dog hasn’t been petted or fed or loved. They can smell the lack of home. And sometimes they are hostile to these dogs, because they really do not know what else to feel about something like this.

 

She starts out overpolite, over the top polite, and it’s “Please sir, if you could just give me a ride to the next exit, my mother dying of lung cancer and my children starving to death, and I just got fired from my job and I got kicked out of my house because my husband was cheating with my twin sister and a dingo took my baby.”  She doesn’t say any of this, of course, but it’s a sad story, and she needs so little from the rest of the world, and she ends it with, “I’m hoping that I will find someone with a heart.”

 

 

The smell is the odor of a human body left out in the sun too long. Not the healthy smell of a hard working woman who got out in the yard and planted tulips and mowed grass and maybe took a crate out and picked squash because her son didn’t show up to do it and she’ll show him, dammit. I went to a friend’s house once and then we went to a field where they would let you pick all the black eyed peas you wanted for five dollars a hamper, and all I wanted was a couple of handfuls, but I was willing to help out. They had a freezer and wanted to put some away, so sure. There was a woman there who had been out in the sun for a couple of hours, the middle of the day sun, too, and I started talking to her. She was there helping someone fill a freezer, and I asked her out. She laughed at me, took off her bandana and wiped her face and asked me, “Are you nuts?” But think about it. You know you’ve seen her at her very worst and very best all in one place in one time. You know what she smells like, really smells like, when she hasn’t taken a shower and she’s covered with honest hard work dirt. Sitting across a table in a restaurant would be easy at this point, and I said so.

 

 

But the woman at Exit 29, off I-75, has a different smell. This is not the smell of garlic, like I carry with me in my body, and those of my tribe carry, too. We garlic eaters know what people say, and we care not at all about it. But this woman has been eating chemicals, not food. She’s been drinking chemicals, not food. She’s been walking down the road trying to get a ride, not working. She’s been doing this for a while now, and any dog could tell you that she is a stray, and she hasn’t been fed, or petted.

 

She tells me her name is Wendy, and that she works for the store in Quitman and I don’t tell her that I live just South of that town, and I know a few people there. I don’t tell her I shop there once a week, at least, because she isn’t really lying to me; she’s spinning fiction. What you and I see in people, as resident dogs, is a lot different than what we see in strays, is it not? We don’t see Wendy as a resident dog. Wendy is a stray. Hackles up! Horripilate! Ears back and voices raised.

 

 

 

Wendy tells me she’s recently divorced, and this too is a creation of fiction, not a lie. In the world of the stray, fiction is the currency of the world, whereas you and I might deal with money to get what we need, Wendy spins fiction, and she hopes to make a living, in a manner of speaking, doing it. We’re getting close now, to her destination, and she tells me she living too close to the bad section of town, and she doesn’t like black men or brown men, but she does like white men. She smiles at me when she says this, teeth not showing because some are missing, and she’s learned to not show her teeth. She has rolled over on her back, belly up, and waits…

 

 

She sits still when we pull up to gas station where she is supposed to meet someone. I hate to ask you for money but I haven’t eaten in a couple of days and… This may be the first close truth Wendy has spoken to me, but it doesn’t matter; I never carry cash.

 

 

As I pull away Wendy goes inside, and I wonder if she’ll be alive tomorrow. Strays are often killed on the road, and those of us who rescue strays cannot rescue them all, we know this, so we choose the ones we think can better survive than the others. We do this with humans, too, even if we won’t admit it. We will let Wendy die, let her stay out in the sun, and we won’t look back because she has missing teeth, she smells bad, she’s bad terrible choices, spins fiction, and there are people we know we can help, and they will survive on their own, and there is no risk in this sort of salvation because we have money and good judgement and haircuts.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Night Work

 

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Nightwork is a strange thing. It’s the only state of mind your employer can legally require you to be in and at the same time be in an altered state. Reality, in as much as you knew it, has changed, and in its place in an alien world full of strange sights and sounds, and even your home life is different. I work twelve hour shifts. This means I get off, drive forty minutes home, and the clock is ticking. I may get six or seven hours of sleep, then I have to tend to the dogs, making sure each one of them feels loved and special since I’ve been gone. They have to feel loved and they have to feel it from me, each and every day of their lives. There has to be some moment with me they can call their own. I truly believe that most of the problems we have with human beings is because there are children whose parents do not believe this with their kids, and this is sad, and it is tragic.

 

 

This is Tuesday. It’s hard for me to feel Tuesday. I was working on Tuesday this morning and I will be working Tuesday tonight, and tonight will turn into Wednesday. When I wake up I have less than four hours before I have to make the forty minute drive to work. If I am smart, I will do the dishes, wash the clothes, clean where I can, and oh yeah, I need to keep writing. The Muse cannot be denied, even in these times. If you cannot make your Muse feel loved and special every day there is something wrong in your life and you need to make a change.

 

Don’t let things pile up, I tell myself, and even on the first day there are signs this can happen quickly. There are one hundred and nineteen days left in this now, and I have to make sure I stay having good habits in the beginning. Keep cleaning, keep petting, keep writing, and don’t become a mindless zombie who just goes to work and dreads it, I tell myself. I have no idea how long I can keep the lie alive, or keep the truth going, but I know I can today.

 

There was a moment in time last night, this morning, okay, there was a time between the rising of the moon, and the rising of the sun, when a story began to form. There was a couple who met online, and they decided to meet in a motel, because she worked there and felt safe there, even though employees were not supposed to sleep with guests in the motel. But what has she got to lose except a minimum wage and the manager told her it was okay, because he’s looking out for her interests in this, and her long distance boyfriend has to provide a credit card.

 

There’s more to this story, but it hasn’t arrived yet. I can feel it in the back of my mind, like a forgotten name or the lyrics of a song, or that actress who played in “Silkwood” back in the 80’s. Cher was in that movie, and oddly, I never forget her name even though it doesn’t come up that much. If you’ve never written fiction you might never believe how it happens, how little is planned, and how much of it seems to come of its own volition, and how little control I have of the process.

 

You can say you want to be a good parent, or have a happy dog, or be an artist, but what are you doing about it? If work and house stuff and life stuff, if all of these things lead you away from being who you want to be, is it because you are forced, coerced, or simply distracted? How long can a person be distracted before it becomes neglect?

 

 

Think about it. Most people tend to their lawns, not because of their bountiful crop of edible grass or because they can sell what they’ve grown. They cannot smoke it and its medicinal value is zero.  Yet we live in a culture whose mindset is that everyone who has a lawn must care for it, regardless of how useless this might be, and people are looked down on for a poorly kept yard. But no one ever asks a friend how that poem is coming, or how that thought might change into a story, no. Poets and writers are valued less than some guy who is good with a mower, or some woman who really knows her way around a weed eater.

 

 

Ask yourself how you invest your interest in other people’s lives and how that influences how they invest in your own life. Do you ask about their kids’ creativity? Do you ask them if their pets are okay? Have you ever mentioned to someone they tend to lean towards having a poetic streak? Or do you talk about how green their yard looks and how even their mower seems to be cutting? Reruns? Binge watching? What happened last night in the zombie show? What are you helping the people around you become?

 

 

The story in my mind forms around my attention on it. Like a fearful dog, I coax it closer to me. I cannot actually see it. I cannot hear it. I cannot do anything but feel it, and feel it ever so slightly, like the first smile from a woman whose name I cannot remember. But by telling you, even if you and I never meet, you exist and so does it.  By writing, more writing comes from writing, by loving more love comes from this, and by giving it my time, it becomes more of me.

 

I have but an hour and a half before I have to be headed back in, yet I have done those things that I must do to keep alive those thoughts I need. The pack is petted and the Muse is fed.

 

Day One is over and the Day Two begins.

 

Take Care,

Mike