The Pencil

It’s been two decades, now two decades and two years, since I found the pencil. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? I was working on a bridge project in Valdosta, where the two bridges and the field office were close to the State Prison. What roguery men committed to be enclosed in such a place, I cannot say, but I never looked upon those shining spirals of razor wire on those fences without wondering how it is that a man could find his way there, and how other men could find a way to keep him.

There was a set of scales, like you’d see at a farm, or a woodyard, where a truck would pull up to be weighed, and perhaps at one point I knew what they were for, but I have since forgotten. The scale house was an old trailer, falling apart and in ruins, but I pried the door open one day at lunch and looked around.

There was a soft drink bottle on the floor and a trash can with paper in it. All manner of evidence of the office not being used, the smell of urine, recent signs that rodents had taken over, and there on the floor, was a pencil.

Once upon a time, if you used a pencil, and everyone did, the instrument had to be a No. 2 pencil, and that had something to do with the darkness of the graphite that was the part which wound up on the paper. Most people referred to it as “lead” but it never was. This pencil was rather old, having survived many trips to the pencil sharpener, and I wondered why, at the point of its life it had ceased to be possessed by a particular person, it had been left lying on the floor.

It was a big deal, when I was a kid, that everyone had a pencil every day of their lives at school. The worst crime, and all crimes were the worse crimes, was not to have a pencil. We were led to believe we might have a job one day, go to work without a pencil, and be fired for it. True enough, I once worked with a manager who despised anyone who was not, at any given moment, in possession of an ink pen, but for some reason, the world kept spinning and the work was done, and no one, ever, was fired.

I kept the pencil, pondered its existence, and wondered what it had been used for, by who, and when. Had some great work of literature been sweated and scrawled into being by this very instrument? Had a love poem been written during lunch to the object of some man’s affection? Did someone write the letter to their wife or husband, explaining why things had gone wrong, and nothing could fix it ever, and this was the end?

Or, more likely, had this been the tool used to mark official forms, with its No. 2 darkness, date, time, load number, weight, tare, and truck number? Its future sealed in wood, the tiny rubber eraser nubbed at times, day in and day out, like the man, or men, who used it, and then one day, the office closed for the last time, and the pencil lay on the floor, abandoned and forgotten.

How many pencils have I owned? In grade school, middle school, and into high school, dozens perhaps, each one of them gone, forgotten, lost, broke, stolen, loaned, given away, but nevertheless unaccounted for. Perhaps, incredibly unlikely, this pencil was one of those I released into the wild, only to be found accidently, unrecognized, like a chance meeting of the same stranger, twice.

I took the pencil, put it in a plastic water bottle, then sealed the cap with glue. The contractor didn’t notice me digging a hole at the bottom of the form and the next day they poured a footer for the bridge, and underneath that, the pencil lies waiting to be discovered again. It’s damn unlikely, I know, that one day someone will find an old plastic bottle, with an even older writing tool in it, and they’ll wonder, much as I have, why and how, and when, and who.

But it is entirely human, for memory to kick to the surface, the image of that time and place, and that pencil, and it is entirely human for me to write about it now, and you to read it. The prison is filled with men who might be freed if the right words are read, or written, and we must understand the power of this. Yet for all the men, and all the pencils, this is the most likely outcome, memories, laid to letters to be read, and perhaps, found again one day.

Take Care,

Mike

Dreamscapes: The Factory

I have repeating Dreamscapes. It’s the places where the dreams take place, a certain building or a town, maybe it all exists in real life, like your childhood home, or maybe it feels like home when you’re dreaming, but the setting is alien to you once you awaken.

The factory building is a massive thing, as big as a town, and it’s a hundred feet tall, at least. Inside there are catwalks and ladders, with no hint to what might have been built here at some time in the past. It’s a feline Dreamscape, with multiple levels, multiple ways of getting from one to the other, lots of chains hanging from the ceiling, and on the very bottom floor, it’s a maze of interconnected offices and rooms.

I was here twice before. Once someone was chasing me, and I dropped a bucket of burning gasoline down a ladder as he was coming up. There were several of us, and some people didn’t get out before the whole damn place burned down like the end of the world or something. It was so hot we were standing by the front gate, four hundred meters away, and could feel it.

The last time was vague, with a low speed car chase in the parking lot, with me against someone else, with both of us trying to kill one another. I have no idea who won, but I’m still alive. The parking lot, by the way, is enormous, like a surreal black plains with grass growing out of the cracks.

There’s a group of guys chasing me, but I’ve led them here. I know it by heart, and they are lost and getting more confused by the moment. I get them into the center of the factory, and then I hit the main breaker to kill off all the power. It’s as dark as a cave now, and until sunrise, they’re stuck where they are. (Yes, no one has a cell phone in the dream except me)

I took some videos of them planning to kill me and posted it on FB. They have no idea they’re already famous, but I still have to get away.

I walk out under the stars and it’s an incredible night. At the very edge of the parking lot is a drop off, maybe a couple of hundred feet, and I walk out to the edge. I can see the stars in the sky, billions of them, and out over the valley there are lights from homes twinkling as well. I forget about someone trying to kill me, but I look down, and there’s an abyss, and one more step and I would fall.

In the dream, it occurred to me that this is how people in real life view the concept of Death. They know it’s out there, and in a broad sense, it’s not really that frightening, and there’s a sort of peace to it. But then, on a personal level, when you look down and it’s right there, it’s scary.

Take Care,

Mike

Exit

I remember seeing Greg at Exit 16 for the first time. An odd sight, for there to be someone I knew, someone I had worked with, someone who I had drank with, and someone who was going to college at some point, living under the overpass of I-75. But there he was, sitting, waiting, and homeless.

There were drugs involved, also stealing, cheating people out of money, lying, and it was the lying that seemed to be the worst part of it. Greg became a living lie, with every word and every sentence based on creating a narrative that would somehow transfer money from someone else to his use. Greg and I had reached the logical conclusion to our friendship when he stole from me. Trust was no longer possible, and no longer feasible. But Greg had run out of friends entirely and run out of second chances with anyone he had ever known.

If there’s any truth in the story, Greg’s family had worked hard to get him into college, get him where no one in their family had ever been, and he lasted one year. Cocaine was Greg’s thing, because it represented a lifestyle he could only bear witness to by watching television. Greg and I both worked at Shoney’s, the one on Ashley Street, and I remember him telling me he wanted to be a cocaine dealer. Greg got into crack instead, and he stole his father’s truck, and then looted his family’s home, and sold everything he could put in the truck at a pawn shop. He did that to his girlfriend’s mother, having a yard sale at her house while she was at work. And he stole stuff from his roommates. They threw his stuff out into the yard, and Greg set his bed up in the yard, close to the street. I drove by when I heard about it, and sure enough, there was Greg lying on his bed, in the open, in the yard. The first big rain ended that, and Greg retreated to Exit 16.

For not the first, and not the last time, I stopped and picked Greg up, took him to get something to eat, and turned down every request he made for money, and that was a nonstop thing with Greg. The year was 1985 or maybe ’86. I moved away in 1992, and didn’t give Greg a second thought until I saw him at Exit 16 again, but this time it was 2004.

People who have lived on the road for a while, and I’m talking about those with substance abuse problems, have a smell. Not the unwashed smell of someone who has been working all day in the sun, but a sour smell, of chemicals and alcohol seeping out of their bodies. Frequent walking in the sun bakes them, dries them out, fries their already tormented skin, and they begin to look a lot older than they already are. Being homeless is stressful. There’s no telling who or what is going to happen to you. Greg was now missing teeth from fighting with other homeless people, and someone had thrown something out of a car window and hit him, or so he said. Lies, lies, and more lies, Greg had a narrative of his life as someone who just needed a little more help, just a little more, and he would change.

I’d buy Greg food but never give him money, and someone gave Greg a job about the time I found out he was still in this area. He got fired for panhandling during lunch, with his employer telling him not to lie to people about needing work when he was on his lunch break. The man fired Greg after one day.

I went a very long time not hearing from Greg, and not hearing anything about him. I worked two interstate construction projects, and met a guy who knew him, or claimed to, anyway. Finally, about five years ago someone called me to say Greg’s body had been found along I-75 in Florida. He was off the right of way, in a patch of trees and bushes, and died there, apparently. His body had decomposed to the point there was no way to identify it. Because he was considered homeless and not missing, there was no one out there looking for him, so the body was cremated, and that was that. The only way anyone ever knew who he was is they took X-rays of his teeth and that matched dental records when they finally got a match. I’m not sure how all that works. But his former girlfriend saw me one day at the gym and told me. Apparently, the ashes were already gone by the time anyone even knew Greg was dead.

I saw Susan again today, she saw me, but she was with her family and I know she didn’t want to talk about how I once fit into her life. I was a friend of her boyfriend, and I was there when he was working, and people trusted him. We went out and drank beer, shot pool, ate food we can’t eat anymore without gaining weight, and I remember Susan and I talking once time, about how odd it was that each individual in that tiny bar had come from somewhere else, yet we were all there, at that very point on Earth, at that very point in time, and it was all very unlikely, yet we were. Now, she and her husband are meeting the kids for coffee before church, and there are small people who look like grandchildren with them.

Somewhere out there, unlikely people are meeting for the first time, or seeing one another for the last time, and as unlikely as their meeting might be, it still occurred, and there may or they may not be, some memory of it stored in the brain of a person, or maybe ten. Then one day, one of those people might die along the interstate, thousands of people passing as a funeral procession, and no one knows how death came or where it went next. Like an endless stream, people in your life come and go, and then one day, the last person who remembers you will be gone, and the last person who remembers that person will die, too. And nothing you ever remembered will still be with here, at least not from your point of view.

Take Care,

Mike

Alcohol or the Desert

Alcohol is heaven, no, not heaven, maybe haven, somewhere the sound ceases, or at least is muted. The mesh in the sifter is larger, more permeable, so there’s less to appraise, less that has true depth. The vacation to the lizard brain means the lights are dimmed, no white hot glare of the bare desert full of demons and dreams.  There’s a reason for bars, and there’s a reason most of those places are dimly lit.

The reptilian brain seeks only feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking, the four F’s, and a bar will allow you any of the four, in any combination you choose, or is chosen for you. Ride the anesthesia of loud music, strangers, and the drug of choice in its various forms. Fun, funny, serious, or sexy names for whatever precent of the drug, or what’s mixed with it, and it will get you from Point A to wherever you decide to stop, or wherever is decided for you.

The morning after. There’s still fog, still haze, and maybe a stranger you regret, or a stranger with promise, and maybe you are the regretted stranger, or a promise of sorts. Time to flee, one or the other of you, numbers exchanged, and hopefully nothing else in the dark, that might need medical attention.

There’s absolutely no difference between this, and a Sunday church service, and your chances of finding someone looking for sex are about the same.

Sooner or later, you have to go back into the desert.

No, really, you don’t. Seriously, you can very easily spend your entire life anywhere else but. Unless, of course, you know you belong there. There’s a blank canvas, or a blank page, or a shapeless lump of clay, or a camera staring at you from inside its bag.

It’s a hard scrabble, cracked white gypsum desert. Flat and devoid of even so much as a tough weed, the sun is always directly overhead and perpetually oven hot, without the slightest trace of a breeze. Moisture is sucked out of your skin faster than you can think of water, and there’s no relief from the blast of radiation from the sun. An environment not meant for the weak, meek, or those who retreat.

There’s nothing here. Not a single sound or sight or smell or sensation that doesn’t drive you to leave. You can go into the kitchen and get a snack, or a glass of wine. There’s new social media on your phone. Stay and you have to create something, made of nothing and of sweat, pain, suffering, and time. It’s tedious and repetitive. Your vision blurs and boredom with the process can distract. Crafting with words in this climate is putting melting ice beads on a hot metal string without gloves. The wind in the desert is deafening. Nothing else can be heard, nothing else can be felt, and nothing else exists.

The work done here is parsimonious. It’s panning for pieces of metal whose worth cannot be gauged until the end. There is no surety in hard work except nothing else will produce worth. Second seem like hours, yet when a vein is struck the hours seems like moments that pass without time. It’s trying to mount an invisible steed made of sentences and discomfort.

Words become sentences, which have to be woven into paragraphs, and the thread is wane, weak, sticky, and ethereal. The fiber from which they are created comes from one thing, then another, memories, books, oh my dog, more books, and books, then moments with people long gone, in one way or another, or people who just appeared, and for some reason, there’s a push, a lift, some sort of peculiar catalyst that requires nothing but a thought, or a question, or a presence.  

Suddenly, you step away. What have you to show for this time in the desert? What is it, and what will you do with it, what can you do with it, and more importantly, will anyone else give a fuck?

It doesn’t matter, does it?

You save it, don’t save it, put it away to edit later, or not, none of this matter, because regardless of what it is, or how good it might be, you know you’ll go back, and do it again. It’s not the product, but the process. It’s being there, within, deep inside, feeling the heat, embracing the nothingness and daring to bring forth anything at all, and not hoping for the best, but working for it.

Take Care,

Mike

Martha Graham Quote

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Martha Graham

The Deer and the Snake

Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 7.38.28 PM
Cottonmouth photo of one I relocated out of my yard several years ago.

 

Today I saw the twin fawns that I first spotted six or eight weeks ago. They are still hanging out with their Mom, but the spots are gone, and there was another older deer with them. They’re getting wary of humans, and bolted before I could get a good photo of them. But at least I know they made it this far. After they leave their Mom’s side and get off on their own, or with a herd, I won’t know it’s them anymore. It’s very rare when I don’t see at least half a dozen deer, and not uncommon to see a dozen or more.

 

Animals get used to human activity, especially when the humans aren’t shooting at them. It’s against federal law to carry a gun on a federally funded construction site, and not too many guys want to be fired, then arrested, for shooting a deer out of season, at work. Fewer still employers will put up with that sort of behavior. But guys are stupid sometimes, when it comes to guns, and the deer are wary about getting too close. I whistle at the deer, so they’ll get used to the sound I make, and they’ll know it’s me. “Sit still, look pretty” is my tune of choice, and the deer seem to like it.

 

I’m deer watching today, eating my sandwich for lunch, trying to get them to come close enough for a good photo, when I see the snake. There’s a sizable Cottonmouth that hangs around a low place in the woods that’s flooded. I think it’s the same snake because, one, it is big, and two, for a big Cottonmouth, it still has a very distinct pattern, and most do not. The darker color is a deep olive green, and the lighter color is brownish. I think this is one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve seen, and as I ease my phone out of the pocket, two of the guys from the project come to see what progress I’m making with the deer.

 

This ruins the progress I’m making with the deer, and infinitely worse, it means they might try to kill the Cottonmouth, unless I stop them, and if I stop them, it’s going to cause friction. But this is a beautiful snake, and I’m not going to stand around and watch someone beat it to death in front of me. The snake is made entirely of the stealth. The scales of a Cottonmouth are what is known as “keeled” which means there’s a ridge running down the middle of the scale, and this refracts light. Snakes surprise people sometimes because of the way their scales scatter light, and so the snake seems to just appear out of nowhere. You have to see the right kind of light, or the lack of it, to see the snake. To me, the difference between the shadows cast by trees and the dark figure of the snake is clear. Neither of the guys has seen the snake, but the snake’s body language tells me it has seen them. Right now, it’s staying put, pretending to be the shadow of a shadow, and it’s working.

 

Throughout the years, I’ve learned the hard way people will kill snakes for no good reason at all. Toss in the snake is packing and they’ll hurt themselves trying to kill it. My theory is people feel inadequate when they’re in nature, and killing something makes them feel more in control and stronger. Which explains why so many people can’t handle being in the wild. The truth is, the ability to blend in, and survive with the environment, is the only way to live. Yet here they are, talking about shooting deer, even if they are unarmed, and there’s a venomous snake less than six feet away.

 

It’s an act of treason or sorts, a violation of man code, but while they’re standing there talking to me, friendly like, and we’re being social, I send their foreman a text and ask him when we’re going to be ready to pour concrete again. This prods him into looking around and realizing two of his men have wandered off. It gets them both into a little hot water, nothing serious, but he recalls them with a few words about wandering away from the project. I get to wander because I’m inspection, not construction, but my time on the fringe is limited, too. Slowly, ever so slowly, the snake begins to move. It eases back towards the woods, and the water, and I still cannot get a decent photo of it.

 

The temperature is mid-nineties, and the heat index is pushing everything into triple digit heat. The bridge deck’s bare steel skeleton radiates heat, and it becomes an oven. This is where it matters, where what I do makes a difference, and so I endure the heat, and make sure things are as they should be.

“So what in the fuck was that all about?”  the foreman asks.

“What?”

“You text me while those two guys are over there talking to you? They piss you off?” he asks.

“Not especially,” I reply, “but I was trying to get the deer to come closer.”

“Bullshit.”

“What?” I ask.

“You were looking back into the woods when I called them, there a moonshine still out there?” he laughs.

“If there is do you really want to know?” I reply. No one in their right mind walks up on a still in the woods. Oh yeah, it sounds like fun, like getting shot is fun.

“No, really, you got a reason for us not to be over there?” the foreman asks. “I can put a stop to it,”

“Do that,” I say. “And don’t ask why, okay?”

“You got it.” And the man knows that this far out in the woods, whatever it is, he doesn’t want to know, and he doesn’t want his guys messing with something out there. They have a job. It is not in the woods.

 

The Cottonmouth and the deer get a little bit more protection. I get another chance to photo the snake, and the deer. The snake gets a chance to live another day, and maybe have babies in a couple of months. That would explain the girth, actually.

 

If it sounds strange to you for me to go to that much trouble to save a snake, a Cottonmouth at that, you just met me. I get stranger, but at the end of the day, I’m closer to nature for it.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

All You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Response You Can Learn in Traffic

I worked in traffic for over twenty-seven years for the Georgia Department of Transportation. There were many times in my career where I had a lot of be proud of, with the bridges and roads that I helped build. There were times I was nearly hurt, seriously, because of traffic, and usually it was because someone behind the wheel of a car or truck wasn’t paying attention, or was speeding, or was drunk.

2018 was my last full year with the department, and 2017 was the last year I spent most of my time in harm’s way, and on I-75 at that. Night work on I-75 was enough to convince me that getting out while the getting was good might just save my life.

 

Traffic is different these days. People are more determined not to yield the right of way, not to surrender what they consider “their” lane, and they’re more distracted. People have gotten more aggressive, and they’ve gotten a lot more rude. They’ve become dangerously infected with the idea things on the road have to be the way they think they should be, at all costs, and that cost is paid by people like me, and the men and women under my management. In good conscious, I could not tell new people it was worth the risk, because I stopped believing it was. The traveling public became too dangerous to work with anymore.

 

Social media has created the idea that all opinions have real worth, and that worth has to be defended. People have become aggressive about what they believe, and it’s gotten dangerous in many ways. Drivers believe what they read online, and they believe it’s important enough to be engaged online while driving on the Interstate at speeds that can kill in an instant. That’s reality. What someone says that you either agree with or disagree with isn’t worth your life.

 

It sure as hell isn’t worth mine.

 

In the last few years, I’ve witnessed more people blocking traffic by positioning themselves to the left, and behind a slower vehicle on four lane roads. They’ll let other people get clogged up in traffic, back up a dozen cars, and they’ll maneuver so no one can get past them. This is new to me. I’ve never seen it until a few years ago, and to pull something like that on the Interstate is insane. But it speaks to the idea that someone wants to be in control of other people, other people must fall in line with that drive thinks is funny, or give that person power or purpose, I have no idea. I do know it is exceedingly dangerous.

 

Sometimes, on social media, I wonder if some people actually have a point, or an idea, or if they’re just getting in the way of other people because it’s their idea of fun. I asked for a recommendation on FB and got a half a dozen people who tossed out stuff that had nothing to do with what I asked. It wasn’t mean, or malicious, but it was a knee jerk reaction to get in the way because they could.

 

I think social media asks that we respond. We can be creative, or obstructionist, or we can even be angry. But we are trained to respond, not think, or consider, or even simply read and move on.

 

Those emoji buttons aren’t there to express thoughts but to give us some way to respond, and feel like we have made some sort of contribution, like screaming at a character in a television show.

 

When Covid-19 began to creep into the American consciousness, I assumed this would play out like it did in 1919. People would do the right things for the right reasons, and eventually, we would come out on the other side, more united, and stronger. But the dialog was driven by politics, and there were far too many people who say the plague, and the response to it, as political. The deaths and suffering of those who were infected, their families, and those who might succumb to the disease were not relevant. Any action, no matter how small or how large, was met with screaming and hostility, because it wasn’t about life and death, it was about politics, personal or national. It was about opinion and what was repeated in the echo chamber of social media posts. People became even more dangerous to other people than they had been in traffic, and for the very same reasons.

 

Americans have become a splintered collection of self-centered, selfish, uneducated, ignorant, self-righteous and highly opinionated self contained media centers that puke out whatever each of them feels best about, once they hear that two hundred and whatever many characters that can be tossed out in less than twenty seconds of typing.

 

The elderly and the children be damned. Social media is the new family now, and it is driven by nothing more complicated than a chicken pecking at a button that delivers a snack.

 

Over the last three years or so, I’ve watched people I thought I knew, and thought I respected, become seething bodies of hatred and mistrust, believing conspiracy theories that are downright laughable. These people will attack in mass, and viciously, anyone who dares ask them to cite a source, or to produce an honest source for what they preach.

 

The reaction to the plague, how people drive, and how they treat other people has become a nearly religious event. The right to a lane, the right to an opinion, and the right to treat people poorly is given to them by the Gods of social media, the support of like minded responders, and the never ending belief that if it can be repeated often enough, it must be true.

 

Can we honestly be surprised the Nazis are back? This is their playbook. People are recruiting themselves for the most assertive groups out there and what they actually stand for is totally and utterly irrelevant because it’s the response mechanism, not the philosophy, that counts these days.

 

And it’s getting people killed.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

Heat and Light

 

 

If you work in a factory making widgets then in eight hours you’ll have some amount of whatever you’re making to put into boxes and ship off to China, or wherever they’re sold. If you mow grass for a living then you can look at a lawn and be satisfied you’ve beheaded enough blades to earn your pay. A highway worker can pave a road and see the results, and be happy the road is smooth.

But writing means nothing more and nothing less than throwing dice where the pips are obscure, and the wager unknown. A day’s worth of writing might mean you merely discovered what part of the plot does not work at all. A finished piece of work may hold no one’s interest. A novel a writer devoted a lifetime into finishing may not sell at all, not one copy, except friends and family, who are just happy it’s over and done with.

 

Accept this. Live it. Take your work, print it out, and burn it, for the heat and light from the flames might be the only useful thing all your devotion to the Muse ever produces.

 

Then realize it doesn’t matter if it’s never loved or appreciated, or printed, or sold, or even seen by another living soul.

 

And get back to writing.

 

Heat and Light.

On The Road: A Book Review

Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” is widely considered one of the seminal pieces of work on the Beat Generation, and I finally got around to reading the book. It’s a fictionalized account of his cris-cross country travels with a friend of his, Dean, who was Neal Cassady, in reality. Several of the characters in the book are based on real people, but Neal Cassady seems to be the main character.

First off, there’s parts of the book which are wildly vivid in the descriptions of people and landscapes, and moods, but there are also vast passages spent on describing personal poverty, theft, grifting, and the idea there is a counter to that day’s culture. Yet at the same time, as much as Kerouac would like to present a world outside the white picket fences and nine to five jobs that normal people have, he and his could not exist without living off these people to a great extent.

 

Yet there is something here, a warning we did not heed, and Kerouac’s voice ricochets from one coast to another, describing a nation that is changing its identity and losing its soul. This was all occurring after World War II, in 1947 or so, with the people of the country more prosperous, yet somewhat adrift. The war that defined them is now behind them. What to do next?

 

Sal, the character that is the narrator and Kerouac’s voice, takes off with Neal Cassady and bounces around the country, philosophizing and drinking hard. There’s sex and drugs and jazz, and I wonder what would have been written in a day where Kerouac’s sexuality would have been more widely accepted.

 

At the end of the day here, I have to reread this book. I have to tap back into the spirit of the writer, because this is a very well written book, and remember this was a piece created before I was born. The language is different, but not alien. The cultural references are obscure, but not unknown to me, dig? The life of wild drinking and untethered sex, long before HIV or any of the other scary sexually transmitted diseases is a long lost dream. The Golden Age of Jazz began right in front of their eyes, and you have to wonder if anything like that will ever happen again, in any form.

 

In another twist, despite their lives of bouncing around, staggering about from one side of an continent to the other, Kerouac manages to write. He gets published. And he takes enough notes to produce a cohesive work that leaves me mystified. I yearn for a life spent wild and free, but at the end of the book, Sal and Dean part ways, and Sal leaves that life behind.

 

“On The Road” isn’t a book written for the mainstream or even those near the edge. It’s a book written for those of us who have slept in bus stations and under overpasses, for those of us who have set foot on the road with no means of getting to one place to another, but bent of traveling anyway, and we always made our destinations.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

Sleep? Where!?!?!???

clock

Sleep has abandoned me, as it is wont to do, and even as I write this I wonder how many times I’ve sat down next to the bed to write instead of sleeping. It was a burden, to write late at night, when I worked for a living, but retirement brings a sort of timelessness to the day which allows writing without the feeling of regret late in the work day. To write or to work? To write or to sleep? To write or do mow the yard, or go out and socialize. There doesn’t seem to be an unclear choice, for as much work as writing might be, it’s less work than the world outside the human mind, no?

The blender is on tonight. There’s no clear image or scene in my head, nothing coherent, and the imagine of a story, new or old, is blank. This doesn’t mean I can’t write or there isn’t anything at all there, but there’s no sign of a plot, or a storyline. There’s a question in my mind in regard to a character, if I should make her evil, or even more evil, or create her in the image of someone who is as evil as she has to be in order to survive.

Feel like helping? Reba married Seth Johnson, the youngest Johnson son, and yes, there was this idea she married for money and security. She was older than he; she was twenty-three, and he only twenty, but times were desperate. Monsters stalked the human race, nearly to extinction, and the survivors in small county in South Georgia banded together, and formed a camp. They fought off the monsters, survived a coup attempt by the Johnson family, mainly because Reba’s husband had been killed, and she left the family for the second in command of the camp, and warned him of the Johnson’s plans. The Johnson’s are executed, and the camp survives. The fields produce crops, the monsters are vanquished, and life, while hard, is pretty good.

The issue that pops us is everyone knows the Johnson family had their own place for a while. And everyone knows the Johnson’s used slave labor. A few people at the new camp came in with the Johnson’s, but they were locals who simply quit and walked away. There were rumors, persistent rumors, the Johnson’s kidnapped people who came in from out of town, people stranded by the monsters, who were worked until they killed by monsters or starved to death. The locals weren’t treated well at all, but they did survive the experience, and they never saw any of the atrocities that may have, or may have not, went on earlier.

A few months after the execution of the Johnson family, a group of survivors are rescued from a camp in Tallahassee some fifty miles away. They’re nearly starved, dirty, and they were held in their camp as prisoners and slaves. Five of them, four women and one man, are escapees from the Johnson place, from the previous year. They all tell the same story: Reba was one of the people holding them at gunpoint.

What does management do, if anything?

 

If someone showed up and had evidence that a camp member was a murderer, would there be consequences?

You’d have to read the entire story to get a real feel for who is who and how people feel about a lot of things, but at the same time, it’s an interesting subject once existing government, and therefore existing laws, disappear. In a camp with just one hundred people, theft would be nonexistent because everyone would know what belonged to who. And after all, what would be a prized possession in a world where there would be so much just lying around?

 

Take away property crimes, and what’s left is people who would be punished for not working, or getting drunk while on the job. Maybe a fight here and there over a woman’s attention, and that’s where the pressure would really lie. A married couple in the camp has a wife who wants to leave her husband for another man, and the husband doesn’t want her to go. Who grants divorce? On what terms?

 

I invented a character named Daisy Cutter, who before everything ended, was a prostitute. In a camp where there are fewer women than men, does management allow Daisy to stay in business? Can they stop her? And what if she’s carrying some nasty little virus that’s permanent and spreadable?

 

And in the early days of the camp, when food is scarce, work is very hard, and life is exceedingly dangerous, what’s to be done with those too old, or too infirm to work? For the people who are running the camp, those who vote on how much food is allotted to which task and what punishment is handed down for infractions, once a decision is made on a subject, let’s say what to do with someone who is physically unable to work, then precedence takes hold. What to do with someone who is severely injured on the job? What to do with someone who is caught faking an injury?

 

But let’s get down to a personal level here. If Reba in the current time, was in a relationship with a man, and he discovered she helped keep people as slaves, how would he react to this news, if she admitted she did? Would this forever mark her as some sort of criminal, even if management of the camp didn’t punish her? How would her partner feel if he discovered this after Reba became pregnant?

 

We have it easy in our world, mostly. I think that might change sooner than later, but at the same time, it’s not like we live in Syria, or in a place where food is scarce or there’s impending doom, or a virus infecting everyone. Again, that may change, and if it does, I’m not likely to be any more prepared than anyone else. But who knows? Maybe if interdimensional creatures appear and begin wiping out the human race, I’ll be ready.

 

Take Care,

Mikeclock