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

2006

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There was a time that if the power went out and you didn’t have a telephone, that was it; you had no idea what had happened or why, or if something was going to be done about it. I lived years without a phone, and of course, there were no cell phones when I was in the military. Pay phones were all there were for people like me, and I had gotten used to it. I resolved never to get a cell phone when they started becoming popular and affordable. I finally went down in 2006, the same year I started needing glasses to read. I can’t do without glasses now, or a cell phone.

 

I woke up tonight in total darkness and watched the lightning playing across the sky outside. It’s clearing up, finally, and the moon is no longer full, but the dreary weather that’s hung around all day is finally leaving, at least for a few hours. This is Summer in South Georgia, and it will rain in the afternoon and still be ungodly hot at night.

 

Air conditioning is something else I lived without for decades but I’m not sure I could now. I remember it being hot, damn hot, in Valdosta when I lived there, and about the time it was cool enough to get some sleep it was time to wake up. I miss having the sort of immunity from the heat I once had, but old age and air conditioning will take its toll. I cannot imagine the generation of human beings right now if the AC stopped working. They would all die, I think. But once upon a time people who had wells had to look at those people with electric wells the same way. I was a generation away from hauling water in a bucket from a hole in the ground. I think about that on occasion and wonder how anyone survived it, but everyone, or nearly everyone, did.

 

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been twelve years since 2006, but it has been. In that twelve years I’ve become older and slower and my cell phones are now intricate enough to launch rockets into space and bring them back again, but mostly I use it to send text messages to people I’ll see in less than an hour, and to check the weather at work. It’s also a damn good camera. I take a lot of photos of sunsets and of dogs. If I had to say what use of cell phone really is, photos of sunsets and sunrises would have to be the thing I use it most for, and in the end, that really is a pretty good use for the machine.

 

I went and had my eyes checked and I got reading glasses in 2006 because I was running out of excuses at work for taking so much time trying to read things. It wasn’t bad, but it was getting to the point people were asking me if I wanted to borrow their glasses. I remember talking to a man who said he couldn’t read the dates on coins anymore and I found that incredibly strange. Even with my glasses it’s hard to read some of the dates on some coins, and I can remember when it was easy. The man who spoke with me in 2006 about his eyes being gone and mine going died several years ago. He had quit smoking but the damage was done. I quit in 2005, January of 2005, a full year before 2006 rolled around, so I think I’m safe now, or at least I would like to think I am. I get my lungs scanned once a year, on my annual check up, and so far so good.

 

The moon comes out and the dog are restive. They have no idea why I’m up at this hour, when it is very clear I should be sleeping on the bed, so they can too. I have turned the AC off and opened the windows to hear frogs and night noises, and I wonder if there are people who have never heard these things at night, late, when human noises all but ceases? What noises did someone hear when they went to the well late at night, what sounds did they hear that are now forever lost to us? What was it like to stand in front of the well and look down into it, and see starts, perhaps, in the reflection of the sky in the water?

 

I can pull up an app on my cell phone and it will tell me the names of all the stars in the sky, tell me which stars are what planets, and what constellations are wheeling around overheard, even in broad daylight. Yet the person at the well had only memory of words spoken about stars, and might have looked up at a sky unpolluted by security lights and car lights and town lights, this person might have smiled at the sight of the Big Dipper.

 

My cell phone doesn’t have a dipper. I doubt anyone I know still does. Long before plastic bottles became our trash of choice, people used and reused dippers at wells, and no one ever died from it. Or mostly, everyone survived it anyway.

 

There’s no way for most people to go back to digging wells and sleeping with the windows open, and even I shy away from the idea of having to drink water from a hole in the ground. It’s 2018, so many years have passed since they filled in the well at my grandmother’s house, and the outhouse fell into disuse. Now I can drink water from my glass bottle while writing on a computer, and remember 2006, which was interesting for reasons I cannot bring myself to write about quite yet and don’t think I ever will. But in the end, that year has passed, this one will too, and one day, perhaps someone will wonder how we primitive people got by on so little.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Last

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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

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