Friday Firesmith – Orange Socks

A friend of mine and myself were talking about serial killers and the people they hunted, and as she was living in Texas, we were kicking around the women the police had found, and couldn’t identify. One of them, whose body was found in 1979, was only known as “Orange Socks” because of the color of her footwear because that was all she was wearing. Beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled, Orange Socks was just another dead woman in a long list of Jane Doe murders in Texas, and the United States.

It’s easy for someone to disappear, and even easier forty years ago. I think serial killers have been driven into being a threatened species of murderers by the Internet age. DNA technology alone has put many of them in prison or in a grave. Yet for every serial killer that reaches our collective consciousness, you have to wonder if there are those out there who are just so damn good at what they do, no one ever hears about them.

I’m one of the few people I know who have logged thousands of miles hitchhiking. I did all of my free riding back in the early ’80s, and it was already getting weird and scary back then. Orange Socks was found in 1979, about the time I was beginning to wander a bit.

But women, back then, and even now, have a hell of a lot more to worry about than guys ever have or ever will. It’s unknown where Orange Socks was, or what she was doing, or who she was with, at the time of her murder, but we do know a man killed her. Her body was moved out of a vehicle thrown over a guardrail and dragged into a culvert. It’s believed she had only been there a few hours before she was found.

The American urge for genealogy has also proved to be the bane of serial killers. They’re relatives submit DNA, and law enforcement will submit forensic evidence to see if there’s a close match somewhere. This has put more than a few criminals behind bars, and I’m guessing there’ll be more in the future.

It’s hard to believe they released the crime scene photos of this woman, this person, this human being, but they are out there.

I wonder if it’s worse when there is nothing. No body, no trace, just a loved one who was there and then not. Elizabeth Gill went missing from her front yard in 1965, at age two. Her sister, Martha and I are FB friends. She’s still trying, still looking, still doing everything she can, but what can she do?

I wonder why the family of Orange Socks never put that sort of effort into finding her. She was never reported missing. We know this because last year, her sister saw a composite drawing on television and contacted police. Orange Socks was identified as Debra Jackson. The family thought she was out there on her own, “doing okay.”

I’m not sure why the stories of Elizabeth Gill and Debra Jackson have stuck in my memory the way they have. Both missing for a long time, one searched for relentlessly and the other nearly forgotten in her own life. But both of them living in a country where girls and women go missing and have gone missing, and there are still no answers as to what we can do, or how to do it, and why we haven’t yet.

The Grave of Debra Jackson.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Bottom Line

You’d have to be an Old Timer, like me, to remember Crocodile Dundee, and his adventures in the city. One of the more memorable scenes is… here this guy is, fresh out of the Outback, and he encounters a bidet.

The most memorable scene might be, “This is a knife!” and certainly none of us really want any more detail, no pun intended, on what people do in the bathroom with that particular device, but the Time of Plague had taught us many lessons about our fellow human beings, and the first of which is “People are stupid.”

Despite there being no evidence of a shortage, or an upcoming shortage, or any sort of real data suggesting something even remotely affecting the toilet paper supply, people began to buy toilet paper en masse, because other people were doing it. And water. Most people either have a well or some municipal supple line, but for reasons that escape most of us, there were those who thought the plague brought us drought.

But back to the toilet paper. Not since the roll under/ roll over debate, as which way the toilet paper should be installed on the holder and for those of us who are single men, that point is moot, there’s never been a time when bidets have been more talked about.

First, let me say, I have never used one. I have never even seen one. But I’m thinking about installing one in my bathroom, just to see if it would be better or worse, or pretty much the same.


People are stupid. The next big crisis, be it Murder Hornets or the release of another Justina Beaver album, might cause another toilet paper shortage.

Oh, what is a bidet? Basically, it’s the touch-free carwash version of toilet paper. Instead of the corpse of a tree, a stream of water does the job. My research into the subject, while sober and not while sitting on the toilet, mind you, suggests the models start out fairly cheap and very simple, with a jet of water cleaning the suggested area, to models that have temperature control for those cold mornings you just cannot bear the idea of icy water on the nether regions. Or perhaps the night of Carolina Reaper Chili allowing you a cooling jet to relieve the agony of heat and arrogance of eating peppers that were sure to haunt you.

There’s some appeal to this, you must admit.
There’s also a model that would allow you to sit and be air-dried, by gentle fans that would blow either hot air or cooler air upon your bottom.

My grandparents, both sets of which used outhouses and corncobs, would be amused by this, to be sure.

Yet my personal experience in this matter is null and void. I’ve never seen one. Is there anyone out there who owns one? Has used one? Pros? Cons? Horror stories of high pressure misadjusted jets blasting away at tender spots and screaming agony? (Just kidding)

Anyone out there using one right now, as they read this?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Childhood’s End

By the time the sixties ended, my childhood was ending with it. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were gunned down. Protestors were murdered in Ohio. The war was not only not being won, it was turning into the longest war the United States had even fought. Richard Nixon was a couple of years from being ousted as president. At ten years old, I saw my personal life as a microcosm of the state of the world; change was coming, and none of it good, and all of it fast.

My grandfather died, my parents were the first people I knew who got a divorce, and in 1971, we moved across town and away from Westview Drive. My childhood as I knew it, was over in ways that I could not comprehend. Everything that had anchored me in who I was and what life meant was gone forever. There would be no return from a trip that was only a few miles.

There was color television, the moon landing, oh the moon landing! There were happy times, and it was a much more simple time. Thanksgiving and other holidays were laid back affairs where people ate, drank, and talked. It wasn’t about what you had, but who you had over. Christmas wasn’t a national day of waste. I think everyone slept better back then, and longer. We spent far more time outside than inside, and children were not allowed in the house for most of the day.

If I could single out one thing that made the biggest impact on my life during that time, it would be the shifting from reading what I was given to read, or told to read, and being able to read a book that I chose to read. Voracious and insatiable, I read books far above my grade level. I read old books and new ones. I read books by black writers and by women.

If there is one really large gap between the world I grew up in, and the one that exists today, I would have to say it’s the time that kids spend reading. We traded comic books, paperbacks, novels, and anything that was printed with one another. We would hang out and read together. And this was something everyone did. If someone was reading it was just like any other activity, you either joined them or left them alone.

I read Moby Dick long after my childhood had ended. It was back in 2002. I hated every page of the damn thing, and I still do. But that was also something we did; if you started a book you finished it, if for no other reason to warn others about it.

If you could single out one thing in your life, the biggest cultural shift, what would it be, and when did it happen? How old were you when you saw it happen?
Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The High Priest of What Huh How

The Time of Plague has made for some very strange personal experiences. I’m working with people who aren’t from this area, and they’ve never seen gnats before, and they’ve never seen yellow flies. Gnats don’t sting but they do swarm around your head, getting into your eyes, ears, and mouth. Constantly. The newcomers use a lot of bug spray, and they wonder what hell they’ve fallen into. But they’re good workers, and they’re easy to get along with, too.

So one guy is telling us at lunch yesterday about his fourteen-year-old son, Miles. They’re living in an area where Miles has to attend school on the laptop, and Miles has been doing really good. But both Mom and Dad have been working on the road, leaving Miles to his own devices for about two months now. Miles has not been idle, I fear.

Sunday morning, Miles comes into the kitchen where Mom and Dad are eating breakfast, and Miles is sporting a totally shaved head, except for one part, in the back and up top, a topknot. Miles is speaking in some foreign language, seemingly. Moreover, Miles is dressed only in a loincloth, and he’s got two symbols painted on his chest in magic marker.

Miles announces himself as the “Priest of What Huh How”. Now, that isn’t what he really says, but his father has no idea what this kid is talking about, and it doesn’t help that Mom has almost fallen over laughing. But Miles is serious. He’s converted to a religion. He’s a High Priest. Miles has powers now. All he needs is, as Dad puts it, “his magic wand”. Miles has another name for it, but neither of his parents can understand what he’s saying.

This is the gist of it: Miles started playing a video game where the player is a character in a mythical land with magical items. There’s not a lot of violence in the game, but there’s a lot of trying to figure out how to get in and out of different places. There are codes, and a lot of the game centers around speaking aloud magical words to open doors. From what I understand, this game isn’t one of those you can simply keep trying once you fail. Apparently, in this game, if you are killed off by casting the wrong spell, or you’ve conjured the wrong spirit to help you, the game kicks you out, and you can’t log in again from your IP address, from that particular system.

Of course, there are ways around this, but the game isn’t easy. After months of trying, Miles reached the temple, went through the rites of initiation, and was able to wander the game at will. Other players had to deal with Miles as a high priest, and some even sent him gifts for his help in the game.

This is where it got interesting. Apparently, he received an ancient scroll through the mail, this contains the coded information to be fed into a 3D printer to make the magic wand. Or whatever the hell it is. Miles, clearly, believes if he gets this magic wand printed out, he’ll be able to transform this world into the one found in the game.

Both parents have decided that Miles needs to get out more.

Dad kinda wants to find out what the hell the magic wand looks like, and wants Miles to see it isn’t magical. But he has no idea how 3D printers work. (neither do I).

I told him to bring the thing to work.  What do would you do?

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Back To Work

It’s hard to believe that in the Time of Plague, someone went to a lot of trouble to find me, and offer me a job. There are some things I have that few people have, certifications that are esoteric to the industry I spent twenty-seven years in, and there was Echols County. It’s not easy to get to Echols County, even if you want to get there, and few people do.

There aren’t many people there, and those who there, are honest, hardworking people who aren’t looking to boost the local economy with tourism. Mostly, they like the woods, and they like being left alone, and if there is anyone alive who speaks that language, it’s me.

Over the course of about ten years, I was project manager over five different bridge sites over in that county, and the people there remember me as someone who doesn’t wander around in places I have no business, I’m polite, and I don’t ask a lot of questions. So, along with some laminated cards saying I can do things that most people have never heard of before, I can also speak the language.

In the Time of Plague, there is uncertainty. There are people I care about who have lost jobs, and going back to work means they can count on me to help. Someone told me everyone has their price, and the people hiring me went over that price a bit, and I felt like if I ever needed a job, this might be the time. I’m back in the bridge-building business, but working as an inspector. That means no management stuff, and no keeping up with employees. Four on, three off, and no benefits, but I don’t need them because I’m retired.

Echols County is a beautiful place. It’s a lot of flatwoods swamp, and the water in these parts is a clear reddish-brown color, from all the tannic acid in the soil. They grow pine trees here, a lot of them, and also moonshine and marijuana. People here will give you the shirts off their backs, but don’t ask where the shirt came from. Mostly, people here are law-abiding, nature-loving, mind your own business people.

One of the strongest enduring myths around these parts is the attributes of the Cottonmouth. People will tell you this snake is highly venomous, incredibly aggressive, and will chase you. Also, it will chase you. Not only that, they will chase you. From Texas to Florida to South Carolina, there’s the story of someone who fell while water skiing, and when they pulled the person from the lake, Cottonmouths were still attached to the dead body.

In recorded history, there have been two people killed by Cottonmouths, and both of those are questionable.

So, here’s a video of me chasing one out of the road. At no point in time does this animal to anything but try to defend itself, and then run for its life.

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – 19 April 1775

One of the dates I’m pretty sure everyone missed this week was 19 April. It was on that day in 1775, the British Army marched in two towns in Massachusetts, those being Lexington and Concord. A lot of history was created in just a few days, the first being the legend of the ride of Paul Revere, which occurred on the 18th, and even though there is some dispute as to what happened and when, and by whom, the bottom line was the colonists in Concord were waiting for the British army to arrive on the 19th.

The British first arrived in Lexington, where a small group of militia, commanded by a man named Captain Parker, was waiting for them. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, Parker and his men exchanged fire with the British, marking the first battle of the War for American Independence.

The British, their confidence soaring after the brief exchange, then marched to Concord, where Parker and his men were joined by a much larger force of heavily armed militia, spoiling for a fight and looking to avenge Parker’s men.

British General, Thomas Gage, was many things, but he was not a fool. Realizing that not only were the militia ready, and quite willing to fight, he surmised if he stood his ground the Americans might at any given moment, receive a great deal of reinforcements.

But Gage wasn’t given the time he required for thought, for Captain Parker lead a formation against Gage’s troops, and Gage was obliged to retreat. On his way back to Boston, Gage and his men were tormented unmercifully by American snipers and small groups of armed men hidden behind trees, which was considered barbaric. It was, nevertheless, incredibly effective.

Take a moment and imagine what must have been going through the minds of the Americans, who were at that time, as British as the men they faced in battle. Parker was an experienced British soldier, having fought on the side of the Redcoats against the French. Yet suddenly, he and his men, the men from his town of Lexington, were standing there, with rifles in their hands, standing down what was the best army on Earth, and certainly better than anything they could conjure. Yet there they were, traitors, in a state of rebellion against their sovereign King, taking up arms against the British Army.

The shooting starts. Parker leads his men to Concord where news of the battle runs like wildfire through the ranks of the men there. Parker suddenly has four hundred men ready and willing to fight with him against the Redcoats, and they are most certainly on their way.

There you are, armed, rifle primed and ready. You look around and see farmers, craftsmen, blacksmiths, shopkeepers, and more than a few very scared men. Coming towards your town are 700 uniformed and well-trained soldiers. You have no idea at all what might happen in the distant future, but in the short term, this is treason. You could be shot, or hanged, or drawn and quartered. Your land could be taken away and your family turned out into the streets.

Parker, famously, said this, at the battle of Lexington: “Stand your ground,” Parker ordered. “Don’t fire unless fired upon. But, if they want to have a war, let it begin here.”

At Concord, Parker had no doubt he was already in a war, and there was no doubt, no matter how the war might end, it would be fought.

Imagine being there, on that day, the day the war began. Imagine how terrifying it must have been for those men to see 700 British soldiers marching right at you. Imagine believing in your country, one that didn’t even exist except for a wild idea, and that belief being so strong, you’d shoulder that rifle, look down the barrel, and fire.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Made Up

I once wrote a short story about a woman who, once a year, was allowed to come back to earth and stay for two weeks. During that time, she would be given the body of her choice. She meets the protagonist and asks him who he would like to sleep with, any woman from the past, and he chooses Marilyn Monroe.

Of course, that’s me choosing Marilyn, and I did so because the woman, other than being the classical form of beauty, was also a very interesting person. But here’s something you might have never realized: Monroe was five feet, five inches tall, and weighed 140 pounds. These days, she might be considered fat.

Here’s something else. This is her photo before she got made up for the screen.

You and I never really saw who she looked like in person. We never knew what the woman looked like outside a certain mindset, did we? We were offered an image for sale, and we bought it.

Take this woman, for example.

This one is a little easier but it might take you a moment to realize it’s Taylor Swift. At five feet nine inches tall, and one hundred and twenty-three pounds, she’s nearly a poster child for an eating disorder.

But again, bought and sold, and a lot of people are buying. It’s an image, a produced picture with canned music.

Now try this one.

Christina Aguilera. That’s one most people would have never guessed. It doesn’t look like the same person we see in music videos or on television.

Oddly, I find all three of these women incredibly attractive in their natural form. I’ve never dated a woman who looked glamourous. I had a friend named Marci who did the complete makeup thing. She also did the go form a decent B cup to a serious D cup over the space of that summer she worked in Jacksonville. One day, she was trying to break up a dog fight and managed to get her right hand injured. I took her out for lunch, and Marci had not a speck of makeup on. The woman had a resemblance to Sandra Bullock I had never seen before, but she wasn’t hearing it. All she knew was she felt naked in public, and hoped no one saw her like that.

I think it’s a shame that we expect this from women, and it is even worse they expect this from themselves. I wonder, really and truly wonder, if Marci ever stops to think about what her boyfriend would think if she had her implants removed, and she tossed her makeup. Would he still find her attractive? Would he leave her? Does he know, or does he even think about the woman under the makeup, carrying the implants around and using spray on tan?

Sometimes, I wonder if the person I could talk dogs with still exists, or if her mask in permanent now.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Cars and Trucks, and Grende

Back in 1978, my friend Bobby Joe, who had saved all his money for all his life, for the event, purchased a brand new, white with blue trim, Z28. He was sixteen years old, and his parents did help him, muchly, but Bobby Joe worked hard and played even harder. Bobby Joe also played the trumpet better than anyone I have ever heard. But his first passion was the Z28.

Bobby then spent every possible dollar he had making this car a thing of greater power and even greater beauty. Most of the jargon I know about cars, I know was learned listening to that kid talk about that car, back in the late seventies.

One night, we hit a straight piece of backroads, the one going to Kolomoki Mounds, and we smoked a joint, okay, took a couple of hits off of a joint, at one hundred and thirty miles an hour. I wondered if a deer stepped in front of us, or a tire blew, or a seed exploded, if the last thing I would think was, “the car isn’t going to live through this, either” and I’m quite certain Bobby would have thought that too. But, luckily, I did not find out.

I would have never told Bobby Joe this, but I think at some level he knew; I never cared about cars. No one bit. Not even a little. To me, cars were transportation. You kept the car reasonably clean, kept a good sound system in it, and you maintained the thing per the owner’s manual. They are still just that.

In 2013, someone pulled out in front of me and ended the 2004 Toyota truck I had bought in 2006. I put some miles on that little red truck and had some great times in it. A week later I had a 2013 Toyota truck, and I still have it today. It’s a truck. It’s sturdy, hard to break, gets good gas mileage, and no one has wrecked it yet. It doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have conversations with me. It’s a truck. It has a job, and it does its job, and until it doesn’t, I’ll keep it.

A friend of mine had a Jeep named Grendel. That Jeep, Grendel, and I had a lot of adventures together, and we rode many a mile. Top down, doors off, passenger seatbelt unbuckled, and the rush of the road under us, in an open space. She lost that Jeep in a divorce, and the other woman traded it in after a couple of months. We talked about trying to find Grendel, and I have to admit, there was a moment of excitement, just thinking about doing that. But the beer wore off and we never spoke of it again.

The day I got my stuff out of the red truck, sitting there with its nose smashed in, the tag removed, the contents boxed up, I felt a slight twinge. The red truck had known some very good road trips with me. When Lucas was snakebit the red truck got me to the vet. I met a woman I thought I would marry while that truck was with me. Dogs and women, now they’re subjects that ought to be permanent, but neither is. We know that, don’t we? Bobby Joe, very suddenly, makes sense right now.

Who was your favorite ride?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Work

I grew up in a time where a man went to work, every day the doors opened, and short of there being a seven-foot-long rattlesnake attached to one of his legs, he was expected to do his job. His family came second, at best, and it was only through the cash flow from the company was he able to feed his children and keep his electricity on. Everyone worked for a living, and young men were expected to have jobs after school, and certainly during the summer between school years. I started working in the fields during the summer when I was fourteen. It wasn’t like anyone was doing anything else.

Nearly everyone in my father’s generation got a job, after high school or college, and they kept the same job until they reached retirement age, and then they got another job after that.

I took a job with the Georgia Department of Transportation in March of 1992. It was a temporary gig. I had fallen on hard times, and needed some money. Twenty-seven years later, I retired. Yeah, it really did happen that fast. I swear.

During that time, how people looked at their jobs evolved, and how companies looked at their workers did, too. Gone were the high paying jobs with great benefits, unless the employee had an advanced degree. People switched jobs, or were laid off, with more frequency. Meanwhile, in what I had always been told was one of the most secure environments in the world, the government job, they began to restructure what benefits employees received, and how much the employee had to contribute. As I began looking towards the door, new employees were not guaranteed a retirement.

The attitude of the people who trained me to build bridges and roads was one of “We are the last line of defense against bad workmanship and poor quality”, but the attitude of the new employees was, “We’re doing the same job you’re doing and we’re getting a hell of a lot less out of this.”

I’m not entirely certain how this is going to work out. But then again, when I was a part of the system that built roads and bridges, I butted heads with those people who said, “Good enough is good enough” rather than sticking to exact specifications. This new age of people who don’t care as much, I’m not sure where they’ll draw the line, that to me, was etched in concrete.

Here’s where all of this is leading, I think: Back when I was just starting out, people in general, and men in particular, were defined by success in their jobs. When businesses began offering less to employees, they began to get less from employees. There was a tipping point, when people began asking, “What’s the point?” and the younger people began being happier with smaller cars, smaller houses, and a hell of a lot less stuff.

When I decided to retire, I was looking for more time, not more money. I wanted time to write, and to be with dogs, and to simply be. I started unloading a lot of clutter in my home. What I am making right now in retirement isn’t nearly what I thought I needed to live comfortably, but up until the Plague hit, I was going to manage.

It’s an illusion, I think, to believe we need more and better stuff. It’s a myth that we need to devote our lives to work. It’s a shame, that people in particular, and men, in general, define themselves by their occupation.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – OxyContin

OxyContin was a drug I had the chance to try, back in 2013, when my friend Curt had cancer. He told me it was as good as morphine but the visuals he got from it were a hell of a lot better. He offered to give me one of the pills, and I declined. I was still working in an environment where a urinalysis test was a possibility. I wasn’t tested on a regular basis, but any sort of workplace accident would bring one on. There was little reward for getting stoned and throwing away twenty years of work.

When I was in the hospital for diverticulitis, they cut me open, cut out a piece of intestine, and they sewed be back up again, then hit me with OxyContin.

It was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my entire life.

When I closed my eyes, I saw waves of colors and patterns and all sorts of fun things. It was like being on some really clean LSD that put a projector in my mind. At some point, there was this huge black, scaled dune, that rolled towards me. It was blacker than black, no shine to it at all, but like an emptiness with a shape, that moved. That was the most awesome thing I have not really seen in my entire life.

My body felt totally clean of any pain. There wasn’t anything that didn’t feel good, because I couldn’t feel anything at all. Those people who spoke with me during this time told me I was very nearly, almost lucid, when I talked about how good this drug was.

After two days of bliss, the doctor did two things; the first was he removed the catheter. That caused a spike in the pain. It also meant I had to get up to pee. The next thing he did was take me off OxyContin, which meant when I got up, I sure as hell felt it.

The next four days I fought hard to get to my feet, and it hurt like hell every time I stood up.

After my discharge from the hospital, the doctor wrote me a prescription for OxyContin. When I got home, I threw it into the trashcan, never to be seen again. One thing I am certain about in this life, is that pain is a useful tool to tell you what not to do, and what is damaged because of something that you did, or something that happened to you.

One thing I know for a certainty about myself, is I have an addictive personality. I get hooked easy on things I like a lot, and I go back to those things often.

So away it went. Even the possibility that some drug like that might be in my life was too much. I rather deal with the sharp stabbing pain of standing up, and the realization it was not as bad as the day before, than be numb to this experience. I knew what was helping because of pain. I knew what not to push because of pain. I knew when I was getting better because the pain was going away.

Do people with cancer need this drug? Without a doubt. Do people need it after surgery? Hell yes. But does everyone need the same level of pain killer, all the time, for all things? No. Sometimes we need the pain to tell us what we need to hear, whether we like it or not.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.