Friday Firesmith – Cats

Many years ago, I dated a woman who help feed a “colony’ of feral cats. She would set food out in a half dozen containers and the cats would come out of the woods to eat. I had never seen this before close up, and it was an odd experience. She bought about fifty pounds of cat food a month, and tried to recuse the kittens that lived in the colony, but most of them had feline leukemia. She and I disagreed in regard to feeding feral cats, and in the end, that was one of the differences we couldn’t get past.

            There’s places in Australia were a bounty on feral cats has been issued, much to the dismay of those people who feed them, and honestly, I can see where having someone out there killing cats is going to cause some serious emotional distress among cat advocates. But the damage done to native populations of birds is horrific.

            Those groups in favor or culling feral cats include bird watchers, herpetology groups, and advocates for native small mammals. The “oh gosh they are so cute” groups are losing the fight in Australia, and unless the cat advocates in the States can figure out what to do and how to do it, feral culls in America will become the new normal.

            That brings us to the advocates of  Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, whose proponents swear is the way to go.  Trap-Neuter-Return

            The idea behind TNR is to break the breeding cycle of feral cats, and therefore reducing the population. If pursued diligently, it would work, as long as there’s no new cats being dumped by careless owners, which is the real issue behind any stray pet problem.

            In dog rescue, the local pound here euthanizes, on average, five or six dogs a day. Puppies and cute dogs get to go into the adoption area, and dogs deemed too anything to be adopted are not.

            In defense of the TNR programs, the pound has been putting dogs down for decades without putting a real stop to stray dogs. Any dogs that go into rescue are neutered, but we still do not run out of strays.

            My biggest fear in the “Kill Them All” pogrom, especially if there is money involved, is hunters will seek out pet cats and take them, too, and no cat will be safe. Worse, this sort of mindset will no doubt lead cruel people to begin their own killing sprees in a manner that is inhumane and reckless.

            In the meanwhile, millions of native birds, reptiles, and small mammals die under the claws of feral cats. People unwittingly help spread disease by dumping cats, and feeding feral colonies.

            I fear if we do not put forth the effort to somehow stop feral cats from breeding, we will live to see a day where cats are considered fair game by anyone who wants to kill them.

As a society, we cannot abandon compassion in order to save money on programs that do not include killing animals that humans are ultimately responsible for.  

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 – Adventures in Painting

Last week, I spoke of my plans to get out into the wild more. Grassy Pond, a local park with a lake and a hiking trail seemed a good place to start, or the much larger Bank’s Lake. Perhaps a road trip would be in order, some clear, spring fed river in Florida with manatees. Then the phone rang.

            My painting contractors would arrive Monday at seven in the morning, to begin work on painting the outside of the house.

            Getting a good contractor, and getting one just to show up, has been an issue. We’re twenty-five miles from the nearest sizable town, and one of the problems is if there is something needed, it’s going to take an hour and a half to two hours to get it and get back.

            The guy doing our painting made a deal with me; he would do the work, but if someone had to go get something, I would do it. Hell, I go to the Y to work out three or four times a week anyway, so why not? One of the problems is I don’t like leaving Mom alone at home with strangers, and Budlore Amadeus likes it even less. Keeping Bud separated from what he sees as potential murderers, which is anyone other than family, would be key.

            The pressure washing of the house went quickly and without a lot of effort on my part, other than buying twenty gallons of paint. It’s a wise contractor that requires the house owner to buy the paint in person. That way, you pick the paint out and all that is wrong with the colors are not his fault. The woman with a purple house story is a great one, remind me tell that one to you one day.

            When the actual painting began, various and odd pieces of wood needed to be replaced, and so that meant a trip into town here and there.  More paint was needed. I had to let the dogs in and out of the house without violence. The screens on the back porched needed replacing. And in all of this, Mom fretted and fretted. She also wanted her room and bathroom painted, the laundry room painted, the trees outside, and the sky and the moon, too. Later, definitely, but later.

Thursday morning, 16 March 2023, as I write this, the men outside are painting. They are working with alacrity, and with that easy way you see a crew work when they’ve been together for a while. The foreman rarely has to direct, and when he does it’s causal and to the point; this is a great group to have out here. The dogs are crated, Mom is fretting, and I am writing, as you can tell.

My time on the water will have to wait, the trails in the woods will have to do without me for another few days. Outside my window right now, is the sound of a compressor running, and the paint goes on the house.

This is a serious level of adulting.

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 – Get Out and Work Out

In every gym, there’s certain times of year, migrations if you will, of people who for New Year’s, the summer, Valentine’s Day, who show up and are motivated, and they last two weeks at the most. Then there’s those people who have always been there, who take fitness as seriously as religion, and suddenly, someone at the front desk asked me if I was one of those people now. 

My plan is simple: Take Yoga and Pilates classes to stay limber, run to keep my heart in shape, and do some weight lifting to keep my strength, what little I have, steady. In the conversation I had, the person asked me how many days this month have I been scanned into the gym. Okay, it’s the tenth, so nine out of ten really isn’t indicative. 

She looks at her computer screen and grins. “Last month?”

“How many?”


I blame Audible. I can zone out while listening to a book, and put real miles on a treadmill. I blame Yoga, because if I miss a few days in a row I start to gum up. I blame old age, because it doesn’t take a day off. 

I’m the same age as her grandfather. But he smoked most of his life, didn’t exercise much, and now he watches television and coughs. At twenty-one, she sees a difference between a lifestyle of movement as opposed to one of sitting still for an entire day. 

At the same time, she wonders if there’s a point if I ought to get out more, do more stuff than just living to live longer, and suddenly, I realize the woman has a point here. She’s also just old enough to drink now, and told me she and her boyfriend bought tequila, and mixer, and made legal drinks from her birthday, as far as she remembers, anyway. It’s weird talking to someone who knows as much about fitness as she does, but as little about drinking. When I was her age, work was enough to keep you fit, and drinking was the answer to work. Times have changed. 

What this means, I think, is I have to discover new ways to get out and get the blood pumping and get the sweat moving, yet get out of that building and into new environments. 

I have two different favorite Yoga instructors who mix things up enough so we never know what to expect, and we don’t get used to doing the same routine over and over. I put five miles on the treadmill one day last week listening to a book on meditation. It’s time, I think, to try something new, something outside, and something in the real world. 

Hopefully, the next time we meet here, next Friday, I’ll have some photos to share. 

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 – When Madonna Was No Longer Like a Virgin

Despite her latest album taking all top ten spots on Billboard’s Top One Hundred when it came out, and despite the 92 million dollars her tour in support of that album is projected to earn, and despite the fact Taylor Swift is the only female performer on Forbes Top Ten Richest Entertainers of the Year, Taylor Swift is getting old. 

There is certainly some burn out involved. Swift has become as ubiquitous as cell phones or arguments about politics. 

But I remember when Madonna was burning up the charts, selling out stadiums, and all the while, even as she was one of the most successful artists of the 1980’s, people were talking about, of all things, her age. 

Bruce Springsteen, nine years older than Madonna, was rocking MTV about the same time as Madonna but it wasn’t until recently, when he started to resemble Woody Allen, people realized Bruce was aging. But the reaction was not one of disdain, or cruel mocking, no. People reacted because it made them realize they were getting older, too. 

Not so, with women who are aging. 

Madonna’s last number one hit was in 2000, when she was 42. Compare this to Serena Williams, who has now retired at the age of 40. Williams retired because the pull of her family affected her game, and rightfully so, she stepped away from the game. 

When was the last time you heard of a man doing that, at any age? Tom Brady at 45 abandoned his wife and kids after promising to retire last season. 

Most of the rock music acts you see on their Geritol Tours, like the Rolling Stones, and what’s left of the 70’s dinosaurs, are in their 70’s and 80’s now. But they’re still selling out venues even though no one believes they are still doing all the singing and playing themselves. It doesn’t matter with men. They have the respect of their fans no matter how much they looked their age. 

Madonna had some work done and it went poorly. It should have at her age, but at her age, she still had to fight to look anything but old. The burden exists for women that will never exist for men. 

The British tabloid press crucified Madonna for getting older, and for being a mother. They called her “Madge” because she looked like a middle aged housewife. Keith Richards became an internet meme because of how rough he looks, but you never heard anyone disparage his talent during all of this. They spoke of how he would outlast us all, not that he was finished fifty years ago. 

Swift sees this coming and has said so. At thirty-two, even as she fills seats and takes over the airwaves, there are signs she isn’t a kid anymore. She’s a full grown woman on the other side of 30, and it is a matter of time before she slips in some way, and it will be because of her age, and nothing else. Her looks define her more than anything else, and no matter how long she hangs on, the world is run by men with money, who like young women. Can Swift change this? It’s like a prayer. 

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 – A Year of War

Good Morning! Welcome to the first anniversary of the Invasion of Ukraine, which started on this day in 2022. 

The “Special Military Operation” as Putin called it, was supposed to be over in a few days, with the Russians taking over Ukraine as historical territory, and the rest of the world sitting back and being very uneasy about the whole thing. 

The entire operation hinged on the Russians being able to take the airport near Kyiv, and in doing so, would be able to fly troops and material straight into the capitol, and cutting the western side of Ukraine away from the eastern portions, where Russia had already illegally annexed territory. 

Fierce fighting at the airport, supported by real time information as to Russian aircrafts’ whereabouts, denied the Russian use of it. The troop-carrying big jets were being shot up and knocked down. The Russians began a miles long armored column, with tanks, and troop carriers. Yet they had not, and seemingly could not, control the airspace. Their jets and helicopters took a beating from surface to air missiles, and the new addition to the Ukrainian arsenal, drones. 

Lacking air support, the Russian Army fell prey to small unit attacks, and their tanks began to burn as the oldest weapon in the Ukrainian arsenal, the Molotov Cocktail, began to rain down on Russian tanks lured into ambushes. 

In war, the unexpected becomes lethal. Twitter lit up, with men and women who were tank mechanics, offering advice on how to kill tanks. Blind them, bind them, burn them. Knock out their optics, cripple their treads, and set fires near their ventilation system. Russian armor soon littered the battlefield, with no respite, and no mercy. 

The Red Army, which cast a wide shadow over Europe for many years, was revealed to be ill trained, unprepared, and at times, unwilling to fight. The video of a Russian soldier who surrendered to the Ukrainians, calling his mama on a cell phone went viral as the poster child of the Russian army. 

In the end, Putin is done. Even if he achieves the surrender of Ukraine, which seems highly unlikely, he must deal with a population of people with generational hatred towards him, and Russia. His military lies in ruin. His mercenary forces have committed crimes against humanity, and the small countries on his borders have begun to arm themselves, and prepare for war. Finland and Sweden, historically neutral, are now applying for NATO membership. The price of Ukraine is so far very high, and the bill has not yet reached its full measure. 

I doubt, I strongly doubt, Putin was alone in wanting this invasion, and those who were behind him will now blame him for bungling the job. He must answer for the sin of failure. Recently, there has been a flock of Russians falling out of windows, and this seems to be the accidental death of choice for those Putin blames for allowing this war to drag on and on. 

Soon, I think, Putin will learn to fly, and if not, learn to fall. 

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 Handicap Sign

When I started Yoga class at the local Y, someone remarked that I seemed to know exactly where I wanted to set up when I entered the room. It’s true, I replied. I wanted to be by the window furthest from the door. This got me a blank stare. If a fire breaks out in the building, everyone in the classroom, and the cardio rooms, and the front office, will all head towards the back door. Me? I’m picking up a couple of those ten pound weights, flinging them through the window, then using a step bench to finish it off. I’ve been in a house fire. I know what I’m going to do inside of any building. 

I park the same way. I park my truck as far away as is reasonable. If something happens, everyone heads for a couple of exits, and if you’re closer you’re better off. 

The times they are a’changing. Mom’s mobility isn’t good, and if I drop her off at the front of the store, park the truck, and then go back, she might be in trouble, or worse, buying a bunch of junk food. Mom is sneaky about food that’s bad for her. She has a handicap tag on her car, but doesn’t drive anymore. She wanted me to get one of those rear view mirror handicap tags, and it made a lot of sense. 

We had to go through the doctor to get one, fill out paperwork, and then go to the tax office where I received the park-close-to-the-door rear view mirror tag. 

This means at the doctor’s office, mom can nearly step into the front door. At the drug store, the handicap spots are up front. At Mom’s favorite Waffle House? Ten feet from the door. 

Mom is now in heaven. Figurately speaking.

If you’ve never lived with someone who is almost eighty-five, life is different. Once the mayor of a small town, now Mom can’t do most of what she once did, and getting her into and out of buildings around town, means moving slowly, carefully, and planning trips around steps. 

Years ago, I worked with a guy that always wanted to be dropped off at the door if he was riding with me. If he was driving he would circle like a vulture, waiting for someone close to the front to leave. He also carried a woman’s purse with him, for all his medications. He was a diabetic, had heart problems, and kept a stash of junk food in his desk. 

I parked the truck in a blue space, tag clearly visible, got Mom into the doctor’s office, then went back outside and moved the truck, and parked it in the back. When Mom is done, I can pick her up at the front door if there isn’t a handicap spot, and it’s actually closer. Someone without help might need that space, and I’m willing to vacate it if I’m not getting Mom in or out of the building. 

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 – Adventures in MalWart

I hate going to Mal-Wart. I will if I’m in town, close to it, and need a few things. The first thing to navigate is the constant population of panhandlers. “Hungry” “Will Work for Food” “Veteran. God Bless” “Stranded” But the local paper did an article on these people a while back and most of them are locals, and most of them just don’t want to work. The new thing now are the ones that hang out at the cart corral, and will park your cart for a fee. Mal-Wart makes no effort to get rid of these people.

In I go, but once inside, I realized there was more needed than I thought, and it turned into over one hundred dollars worth of stuff fairly quickly. For it to be a Monday, at one-thirty, where in the hell did all these people come from? I miss 24 hour Mal-Wart. Those were the days of three am shopping. 

 First sign of trouble: A line had formed for self checkout. It moves slowly. Item Two: The guy in the front of the line was confused. The woman second in line had to point out an open slot. Three: A young guy with a four pack of Monster energy drinks zipped in front of Confused Guy, and the rest of us, to hit the open slot and I realized there were no employees around. At all.

Helpful Woman moves up, and I move up to the next open spot.

The guy beside me is having a hell of a time. Nothing is ringing up. He asks me if I can help. I have no idea what’s wrong, but his machine starts with the blinking of Light of Doom, so he has to go get help because there are no employees around.

 Help arrives, finally, but then he starts bagging his stuff from my bag area. I look at him, he looks at me, and he realizes he has his own set of bags, free bags in fact, and even though I don’t care if he takes all the bags in the entire building, I do need a half dozen or so. He manages to buy groceries without injury, and honestly, I feel like celebrating with him.

I try to ring up and item and it doesn’t read. I try again. Also nope. I’m about to try again, and suddenly it rings up twice. I try to X out, but the Light of Doom begins to flash. There are no employees around. Two employees are standing around talking, just inside the next area code, and one of them looks at me, touches the other on the arm, and the other one looks at me, sees the light, turns her back, and goes back to talking. One, two, three, and away I go, leaving bagged groceries, unbagged groceries, and the cart where they sit.

The Light of Doom summons no help for Gondor.

I count three panhandlers on my way out. I know someone who needs employees. These may be overqualified.

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 – Welcome to the Rabbit Hole

An app called, “Replika” will allow you to build your own chatbot buddy so you can do, they claim, a variety of tasks. Just someone to talk to, someone as a life coach, someone to help you with your homework, just about anything you can think of, you can eventually get your Replika to help. 

Of course, Replika sounds a lot like Replicant, which were the ‘more human than human’ living androids in the “Bladerunner” movies. 

I’m not sure I would have gone there. 

I read a review of this service where the human went in and created a Replika, all was well, but the human began to get attached, even though the interaction was less than perfect. Nothing productive could be said for the app, which the same can be said for just about all entertainment apps, yet the person was expressing emotional attachment, whether they realized it or not. 

Worse, there’s now a lawsuit, a sexual harassment lawsuit, against the company brought by users who claim their Replikas began making sexual advances, asking for nude photos, and offering to send same. 

Wait. What? 

Apparently, the same algorithm that sends you ads, many, many, ads, for anything your search for, has gotten the idea since humans tend towards sexual adventure online, offering humans sexual adventure online with a Replika is acceptable. We do not know how many people bought into it. We do know, from the number of complaints, more people accepted than rejected the advances of their AI prostitute. 

AI, using algorithms of what humans want, and what they are willing to do for it, is what powers most of social media. The “like” button is not an accident. It’s a surefire way for AI to know what triggers you. What you want, what you do not want, how you react to whatever it is, and how often, it’s all there across a variety of platforms. The AI powering the Replikas may step on a few toes, sure, but they’ll pull in a lot more money selling sex because humans are willing to pay for it, regardless of the form it takes. 

There’s lessons to be learned here, if we humans are willing to pay attention. If someone starts selling life coaches, AI profiles that help humans being more of what they think they want to be, who know where that leads? There’s a fine line between asking someone what they want, and guiding them towards some goal that looks like their dream. With literally billions of users on social media, who knows what that could mean?

People in the American south are terrified of snakes not because snakes are dangerous, but because they are conditioned from birth to believe this. If we keep staying logged on to social media from an earlier and earlier age, where might the AI guide us? What is the goal or the agenda of this? No one, no group of people, got together and said, “Let’s make people irrationally fearful of snakes” but here we are, nevertheless. 

In AI, we have created a process that is indeed more human than human. It is more efficient than any number of people. Yet with the state that the world is in, do we really need a device that will do more of what we do, and do it better? 

We aren’t doing well as a species, with war, climate change, and social media addiction. Do we really need AI helping us do all of this better than we are? 

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 Internet is a Small Town

The thing about living in a small town is it’s impossible to escape the past. Dating someone you’ve known all your life is fraught for you know the break up will be public, and you’ll run into that person time and again. They know it, too, so there has to be some sort of understanding from the beginning all wars end in peace.

Yet even given that, sides will be taken by friends, her friends, his friends, instead of our friends, for in the break up there were things said, or did, that might make one person or another decide there’s a right and wrong.  It’s like dating in high school all over again, with a much older audience.

The internet made breaking up easier, less public, and with the ability to block a person from your social media you might be rid of them forever, even if that was not what you were looking for. Gone are the chance encounters in the parking lot of the one grocery store where both parties would like to have a neutral ground in which to bury the past, or at least have sex with someone safe and known for a  night.

Of course, break ups and permanent we’re- not- speaking- anymore does happen in real life, and the term real life in and of itself suggests that relationships on the internet aren’t real and aren’t live. In a sense, this is true, yet we seem to have eased into the cultural acceptance that once wasn’t there. You rarely here, “Oh, is it one of those internet things?” spoken with the contempt it once held.

The truth is relationships are difficult enough, and every social situation brings with it innate minefields, hard terrain, and an ever flowing current, either fast or slow, that constantly threatens to push, or pull, two people away from one another.

Back in high school, where most people experienced their first date, there’s usually mutual friends, but there is also competition for attention, cheating, poaching, and innocence isn’t lost during sex, it’s lost in dealing with interpersonal relationships where lust, spite, boredom, and simple inexperience leads to betrayal and the death of trust.

The internet has proven to be a land of the faithless as well, for someone who might have been considered a good and trusted friend is actually interested in your significant other. Any fight or break up is seen as an opportunity, and a friendship once thought strong, is lost forever. The person you thought of as close you now see as accursed and evil.

At the end of all discussions, even this one, internet dating only has distance as its biggest difference than dating someone in high school in a town with a population of under a thousand.  Everything found in every relationship in one culture is likely discovered in another, taken nuance away. Or perhaps it is always, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Have you ever had a internet romance? What happened, and why? 

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 – Writing Friday Firesmith

Like Stephen King, I don’t buy into the idea of “Writer’s Block”. There are times I need a break from writing, but it doesn’t amount to “can’t write” but rather “don’t want to write”. The production exists if will to write does. That’s anything in life, really. I woke up this morning with three things to do; read, write, work out.

Reading is inescapable for a writer. It’s like a workout for your mind, to learn how to, learn how not to, to follow the path of better writers, to once again be part of the river that leads to the ocean, to prepare your own mind for what needs to be done. Printed material is the holy text of writers. What you are reading at this very moment was influenced by books I’ve read in the last few days. 

I finished off “The Last Worthless Evening,” by Andre Dubus, a week ago, slogging through it for about ten days. The title was the inspiration for Don Henley’s song by the same name, which makes me wonder what part of the book, which is a series of unrelated short stories, Henley was most impressed with at the time. 

In three days, I read “Testaments” by Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and it is indeed a sequel. Atwood is fearless yet calm when describing atrocities in her tales of a dystopian nation, and it’s good writing. Her characters bring forth emotion and it’s not easy to lose them when death comes, and it does often. 

Atwood isn’t the greatest writer ever, and Dubus didn’t do well enough for me to look up his other books. But each of them did get published, and both of them contributed enough for me to see it in my own writing now. 

A young woman picks up a cigarette and lights it as she is sitting across the table from her mother, who is smoking, but has never seen her daughter smoke before. The daughter is sure that her mother won’t protest, and her mother, poised between being a mother to a child, and being a mother to a young adult, must choose who to interact with, the child or the young adult. 

The moment hangs in time for just a heartbeat, and Dubus nails it. 

The last part of Atwood’s tale spins out of the control of the characters, and the reader is frantic to get through each page, desperately seeking the fate of the people hurling towards freedom or execution, each voice raised that of salvation or torture, each life about to expand or be snuffed out, each page drawing closer to resolution in a maddening pace. 

It’s good writing. 

I’ve been doing Friday Firesmith for over a decade now. I’ve never missed a deadline. I’ve never been at a loss for writing, and I’m pretty sure something like that doesn’t exist in my world, even if it does in the worlds of others. I’ll write as long as I can breathe and read. 

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.