Firesmith has surgery

Mike Firesmith had emergency surgery yesterday after perforation of a diverticulum in his innards. He’s already up and walking the halls. He says he feels like “Death warmed over” but he won’t let that keep him down.

We have two weeks’ worth of Friday Firesmith on file so he doesn’t have to worry about that for a little while.

Friday Firesmith – Beds

Twenty something years ago Mom bought herself a bed. Sounds like a long time, sure, but most people are fairly happy with their beds and don’t change often. I’ve had the same bed now for over twenty years myself, but I’m thinking about an upgrade. A king sized bed would certainly mean more room for me and three dogs. Mom’s old bed was one that lifted the foot and head of the bed, with a remote, and never faltered or failed, which I find impressive.

Shopping for beds was interesting. The first salesman we spoke with at a place we saw a good deal was fired by the time we got back. We backtracked, because shopping online isn’t Mom’s thing, and when we were talking prices with the young salesclerk, she added the price of the base and the mattress wrong. I knew it was wrong, because I once worked with math every day, and told her so. She looked at her cell phone as if it were a Holy Relic and said, “Well that’s what it is.” But no. She recalculated and was surprised she was over a thousand bucks wrong.

So we buy the bed and wait for delivery. The appointed hour arrives, and the guys in the truck huddle up to discuss strategy. One of them gets out to inform me that they forgot the mattress. They have to go back and get in, and it will take every bit of two hours.
This isn’t going smoothly, have you noticed? First guy gets fired, second salesperson doesn’t understand numbers, and now this.

Dinna Fash.

Life isn’t about perfection. I tell the guys it’s okay if they stop for lunch, just get it here today, and they seem a little stunned I’m not pissed. Why bother to be angry at this point? It’s not going to make them go any faster and it’s not going to help me at all. They return with all they need and set up goes very well indeed. I help Mom put the sheets on and the new comforter and suddenly, Mom has a roomy new bed, and Budlore Amadeus is impressed. But the old bed, It’s like a relic from a different age, and weighs three or four billion tons. Getting it out by myself isn’t a problem because all I have to do is push it out of the back door, and load it into my truck from the walkway to the Studio (Formerly known as the She Shed) so that’s easy. We’re giving it away to a friend who has health problems, and so away I go.

The problem is this: the guy with health problems has gotten worse. He can’t help me unload the bed at all. His sister is there, all one hundred pounds of her, but that’s all we have. Between the two of us, we get it off the truck, through the porch, up some steps, through two rooms, and finally, get it set up.

This is a guy who has been sleeping in a recliner for several years now because he has breathing issues. Last night, he got to lay down in a bed he can sleep in, read his books, and basically, feel like he’s living a normal life again. The television is in view, so he can watch movies from his bed. He thanks me over and over again and when I get home he calls me and thanks me again.

In all of this, remember nothing went the way it could have. One lesson could be no good deed goes unpunished. Or we could look at life as a series of events that allow us, at any given time, to rise above it, even if my left leg is killing me right 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 – Black Friday

By the time you read this someone will be murdered. Someone who waited in line at Mal-Wart, or Best Buy, or some other retail store will have been trampled, shot, beaten, stabbed, run over in the parking lot, or maybe even died of exposure in line, simply to have more stuff. More stuff. There’s never enough stuff. There’s always some yearning to have more things. We have to have more inanimate objects in our homes, and maybe then, perhaps, we will find happiness, and we will be grateful for it.
But first, someone has to die.

We’re discounting entirely the people on the road, checking their cell phones, speeding, drinking, stoned, and fueled by haste and anger and desperation, (Thanks Aimee!). No, we’ll leave traffic deaths outside the parking lots as collateral damage. We’ll leave them out over there with those people who are filling up their souls with pills and cheap alcohol, as well as overeating. They’ll die slower, maybe even years later, but we’re talking Black Friday, Baby, and someone has to die.

Think about the world, no, that’s inaccurate, think about the Unites States, fifty years ago. Not everyone had a television, and almost no one had more than one. Each house might have had one phone. Most households had one car. There were never more than two or three channels on television. And all the stores were closed the day after Thanksgiving.

But now everyone has a phone, and there’s two or three televisions in each house. There’s two or three cars, and everyone has to have their own music. Each individual has become their own universe, their own little world, with each track on a playlist specific in its existence, and each movie on the phone exclusively for the person who has the device, which no one else will ever use.

This is system fed by desire, the empty space in our souls where there once was interaction between people, and especially between people we cared about, but that disappeared long ago, when people of the same family could watch different televisions, and then, afterwards, they couldn’t talk about the movie they just watched, because they weren’t tuned into the same channel.

More than anyone else you will ever meet, or not meet, I am a product of this system. I could go for weeks without speaking to another human being and happily so. I am the guy you read about who had all his bills on autopay and died ten years ago but no one missed him. Short of my mother outliving me, this isn’t at all out of the question. In a sky full of stars, no matter how close they appear, most are many millions of miles away from one another.

The only thing I can tell you right now is I’m getting rid of stuff. I’m donating things and tossing stuff out, and it doesn’t matter to me what goes. It all has to go. I’m back in Dog Rescue, helping out with other charities, and I’m leaving my phone in the truck more often now. I still don’t like people, but I’m looking for those more like me, and I’m discovering we’re a larger proportion of humanity than I expected.

He’s dead, Jim. That person wanting more stuff at half price was kicked in the head by someone else wanting stuff, and now we have the body count for Black Friday. It’s a very human number, with each person there before dawn, leaving their family behind in more ways than one, for stuff.

I’m walking away.

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 – I Hate Christmas

There was a time when the holidays, any holiday, had a certain time period that it existed. Halloween started gearing up about a week before the event. Kids got out of school the week of Thanksgiving, and that’s when everything really started feeling festive. Christmas trees went up after Thanksgiving, but shopping didn’t start until the kids were out of school again, about a week before December the 25th.

There was a sense of ease and timelessness around the end of every year. People visited other people, ate too much, but there wasn’t the frenetic activity that is experienced today. There was always more food than we could eat, but now, in some ways there seems to be excess in the name of excess. People buy more food than they cook, and who can blame them? There isn’t enough time anymore. Instead of that feeling of drifting towards Christmas and New Year’s, now there’s a race, a competition of sorts, and may the odds be forever in your favor.

Christmas stuff starts appearing in stores right after the 4th of July now. Stores that you’d normally not think of getting seriously involved in Christmas, like the big box hardware stores, devote a lot of floor space to decorations and blow up Christmas displays. All of this stuff is made in China, all of it is cheap plastic sh!t with a short life span, and none of it really means anything except some sense of excess.

Christmas used to be about decorating in a manner in which might be finished in a few hours, mostly people had wreaths or some sort of manger scene on a table, and it wasn’t unusual for the decorations to be handmade, passed down from family to family. Children were encouraged to make tree ornaments. Simple pine cones were painted and glitter might be added. Some people made crocheted items for trees. It was a time for people to come together without an agenda or something driving them to do something. Parties were casual and people drank too much, but there was never the need for anesthesia the way it’s needed now.

As kids, we knew what we wanted, and we knew what was likely, and we never really considered the idea someone else had more, or would get more, or that we were getting less. Christmas morning was fun, the gifts we received were solidly built, and rarely needed batteries. Books were great gifts, incredible and magical, as were gifts that ran off of imagination. There was a time when the wonder of a gift came from the mind of a child, not the processor inside a machine.

I cannot convey in words language strong enough to tell you how much I hate Christmas. It enrages me that China makes billions of dollars off Americans who are blindly addicted to going to Mal Wart and getting screwed out of their money in the name of predatory commercialism. I hate that children are being raised by television commercials and they’ll spend the day after Christmas on social media, immersed in a world that kills their creativity.

I hate Christmas. I hate the holidays. I grieve for the times when there was time, simply to be.

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 – Tattoos, Too

If your question is, “What are they going to look like when you get older?”, my reply is “I am older. I have never been as old as I am today.” But your question is this, really: “Won’t your tattoos look worse as you age?” Maybe, maybe not, but are you grading this on the opinion that you think people look worse as they age?

That’s your real issue here, isn’t it? Not the artwork but the skin. I’ve got news for you: You’re going to age, and unless you get some tattoos, you’re going to look eighty years old, but you’ll also look like you never took a chance in your entire life. Tattoos are scars with intent. They show that you meant something, even if your only meaning was beauty. That’s enough, by the way. It beats the hell out of going through life with nothing to say.

This is tattoo number five for me. I can already tell you where six will go and what it will be. Every time I have sat under the needle I’ve emerged from the other side more of who I was than when I began. I like the pain. I like the way it feels. Scared of needles? Don’t like pain? You’ll be exactly that when you get older; afraid and you’ll have nothing to show for your fear.

I’ve been bitten by dogs more times than I can count and I still rescue dogs. I’ve been bitten by two dozen different species of non venomous snakes and I still rescue snakes. I’ve stubbed my toe in the woods but I still walk in the woods. Pain teaches you to be careful with your skin, and tattoos do, too. What have you got to say that is so totally you that you’ll wear it until the day you die? Hmmm? Anything? Nothing? You’re saying it.

“I am alone here in my own mind.
There is no map
and there is no road.”

I got this quote inked on my left arm on 9 November 2014. Considering Anne Sexton killed herself, some people think it’s sad, or even fey, but to me it’s the condition of the creative. You have to find your own way in your own mind.

Last Tuesday, I got the Oscar Wilde quote, “Never regret thy fall O Icarus of the fearless flight, for the greatest tragedy of them all is never to feel the burning light”.

According to legend, Icarus was trapped on an island. He made wings out of the feathers of birds and attached them with wax. He flew too high, too close to the sun, and the wax melted and Icarus fell to his death. But at least he flew, and flew high.

Oscar Wilde was ruined as a playwright and a poet because of his sexual orientation. For being who he really was, his art meant less to the public. He had something to say, he said it, and even 119 years after his death, his words still speak to us, or at least to some of us.

You don’t have to get a tattoo to express yourself. You don’t have to do anything other than what you want to do. Play music, write, act, do good deeds and never tell a soul if that’s who you are, adopt a stray dog, pay for someone’s lunch who is hungry, build sandcastles that will last only until the tide comes in, it is entirely up to you to live your one life the way you want.

But do not bad mouth people who get tattoos out or ignorance or fear or, most likely, jealousy.

If I fall, I fall. But I will crash into the ground, as hard as possible, with wings that I made, and I will not regret anything that makes me more of who I really am.

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 – Russia’s Resurrection

One of the greatest political prizes that Russia has to gain in the recent post-cold war power struggle against the EU and America, is that of a warm water ports. Most people do not realize that the clashes between Britain and Russia involving both the Crimea and the Balkans stemmed mostly from the desire for the Russians to be able to trade more freely than their own ports will allow. Plus, just as during the Crimean War in the mid 1800’s, Russia was also seeking to stem the influence of Islam into central Asia.

However, Putin seems to have a very bold plan; to subvert and remove the most far western member of NATO, which is Turkey. NATO, weakened considerably by infighting and by the political turmoil in Britain and the United States, hasn’t been able to issue a cohesive statement against Russian hegemony in the last three years. Worse, the Unites States has issued threats to leave the treaty over differences in how much each member country spends on defense each year.

Turkish leader Erdoğan finds himself in a very tight spot. NATO is fractured, Russia has military forces in Syria, and is allied with Iran. Iraq is still a very weak state. There seems to be nothing and no one standing up to Putin on the global stage, so Erdoğan has very little to gain by trying to thwart Russia’s political expansion. If he does, there might be someone else inside his own government who will sell out to the Russians and do their bidding.

The Unites States, having totally betrayed their long time military allies, the Kurds, turned Turkey loose on them, and the Turks, long wary of the prowess of the Kurdish military units, immediately attacked. But both Syria and Russia stepped in to save the Kurds, who now will align themselves with Moscow.

An elite and dedicated military force who has spent nearly two decades fighting alongside the United States has been abandoned, and will now be working with Russia. This will be a treasure trove of intelligence on how America’s military operates both in the field and in Command and Control, as well as weapons, tactics, equipment, and funding. This is an intelligence coup that will cause irreparable harm, as well as creating a sense that America will sell out an ally for no good reason at all. Russia reaps the benefits of an American foreign policy that is both short sighted and seemingly bereft of a knowledge of history.

Unlike Russian’s struggles against the powers in the west during the middle of the 19th century, the war being fought now is being won with influence and social media bots. Public opinion swayed just a few points in favor of one policy over another created Brexit. Boris Johnson won the leadership of Britain yet had floundered once in office. His base of followers, rabidly nationalistic, has isolated him, and their cause, to the point of ruin. Yet Britain’s instability plays well in Moscow. With the EU on the brink of losing Britain, and Turkey now being isolated and surrounded by Russian allies, the Middle East isn’t so far away from Moscow anymore. Russian’s long time enemies are no longer politically relevant.

America’s success in the world was, for over two centuries, a combination of economic influence by the ways and means of favorable trading deals, as well as military might. There were countries allied to the United States who could count on the goodwill and the favor of the world’s strongest country against any other force. This, sadly, has ended. America had turned on Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Britain, and they left the Kurds to be slaughtered. This sort of foreign policy wreck will not be repaired in one election, or even in one decade. We must hope against hope, that in some way, Putin’s plan can be halted within his own country, or that the rest of the world unites. America, as leader of the free world, has fallen from the path of governance.

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 – Retirement Means Tired Again

I spent the last twenty-seven and a half years getting up way before dawn, going to bed early, making sure everything at work got done before I worried about home stuff, and generally throwing my life away one day at a time in the name of a career. I did things, I knew things, there are bridge projects out there that will outlive me by a hundred years, at the least, and there’s a lot to be proud of at the end of things. But things ended. It’s been two weeks now. There’s a new life out there, and new discoveries to be made. Here’s some of the newest ones.

Time. When there isn’t a clock to watch and there isn’t anyone telling you there’s a meeting or a conference, or there’s something happening somewhere you need to be, time takes on a new meaning. I lose track of what day of the week it is. Days fly by because I’m always doing what I want to do and never doing anything else. I watch movies early in the day. I drink coffee at night. I take naps. The dogs are going to be very well trained before it is all over with.

Yet I find lacking any sort of external pressure to get the things done that need to get done, they get done anyway, just not in the same frenetic I’ve-only-got-this-weekend-to-get-things-done activity. I can mow grass today, or tomorrow, or after I get done with something else, because weekends do not mean anything anymore.

I’m not a morning person. I spent most of my life as an early morning person but after two weeks I discovered I’m not, actually. Seven in the morning is beginning to look a lot like my wake up time, but if I sleep longer that’s okay, too. I stayed up last night until after eleven. The dogs are being pushed into a new routine, but that’s okay, because I have time to teach them. I’ve discovered I really love coffee in the morning, and during the day, too.

There’s something to be said for hanging out with other retirees. We have nowhere to go, all day to get there, and none of us are trying to get there any sooner than anyone else. There’s no reason to rush anymore. There’s no reason to hurry. There’s no reason to do something right this very instant. When I was working I planned meals and cooked food for several day and now I don’t.

The Keto Diet and I hooked up a week or so before I retired. The weight is dropping off me, and I’m getting into jeans I thought I had retired. I’m in better shape than I was two weeks ago. You have no idea how much stress you’re carrying, and how much you eat because of that stress, until it is gone. I don’t eat lunch some days because I’m not hungry. I don’t feel the urge to eat right now because I know I can later if I want.
I’m going to be ruined totally once I hang the hammock up in the woods. There’s going to be a day I go out there and just sit and watch the trees grow. I’ll let you know what it was like, if you want.

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 – Timber Rattlesnakes and the Atlanta Braves

A woman I knew had an uncanny ability to find the very worst men to live with. Invariably, any boyfriend she hooked up with left her with debt, problems with law enforcement, or Timber Rattlesnakes. Okay, only one left her with Timber Rattlesnakes, but how many times does it really have to happen?

I make snakes shrink. That’s my superpower. I’ve had a dozen people tell me they just killed a six foot long rattlesnake and once I get there half their snake is missing. I’ve never had anyone tell me they’ve killed a two foot long snake and it was really pushing five feet. Gina assures me both snakes are at least five feet, each.

Gina’s boyfriend had this great idea of turning two Timber Rattlesnakes into a belt. He dragged a big and totally massive table into the spare bedroom, then put a fifty gallon aquarium, that was missing its bottom, on top of the table. There was about six inches of Styrofoam peanuts in the aquarium, to help keep the snakes warm, a hot rock, and a plastic tub that took up half the space in the tank. There was a screen from one of the windows in the room on top of the tank with two boards holding it down with a couple of bricks. Security, you know, is paramount.

Feel free, please, to use this design to keep hot snakes in your home. I know you are wowed. I was breathless.

“How are you going to catch them?” Gina asked, standing at her front door, with her car keys in her hand. Gina hadn’t slept well since she walked into the spare bedroom one day to discover she was living with two venomous reptiles. How her boyfriend got them into the tank only Darwin knows.
I started by trying to locate both snakes in the tank. One was curled up against the glass, and that was good, but the other? I checked the floor near my feet. You know, it could be anywhere. Eventually, I discovered the second snake in the water container. Neither was over two feet long. See? I told you I could do that.

The Timber in the pool acted interested in me but didn’t rattle. I used a hook to fish it out and get it out and it was fairly calm about this, but the entire operation had to be done with me standing on top of the table, and standing over the tank. I’ve never been bitten by a hot snake. Most of the times I’ve relocated anything packing it’s always outside, in the open, and not on a tabletop.

“I’m not having sex with you if you do this, okay?” Gina yelled from the front door.
“You’re not helping by offering disincentives,” I yelled back.

Honestly, I was more into this for the snakes than the girl. If she called animal control and told them she had the snakes they would come in and kill them.

“Please just get them the hell out of my house.”

Gina saw me come back into the living room where I sat down on the sofa to watch the Braves lose to some other team playing baseball. She stood there, sat down, and asked, “This is your idea?”

“Braves Baseball will bore them into leaving. Any sports team that every played in Atlanta will kill the ambition of any sentient being forced to listen to them on radio or television. Live action has been known to produce suicides.” I opened a beer, a prerequisite in South Georgia if there are venomous snakes involved.

“Okay, I’m going to go to the store, I’ll be back in twenty minutes, have a plan, please.” And she fled. I think the Braves’ pitching got to her. It was worse than snakebite that season.

“Jesus Theodore Christ!” Gina didn’t actually say this, but her vocabulary strayed towards the exotic at times. The woman had been married three times, and she was only twenty-four. Yeah, her mouth showed it, at times.
“It’s freezing in here!” she said, and it was very cold.
I turned the thermostat down to fifty. After a half hour or so, I lifted the tank straight up, laid it to one side, and took a broom and gently pushed the snakes, and about six inches of Styrofoam peanuts, into a trash can. The lid snapped on tightly, and we turned the thermostat back up to seventy-five and watched the Braves go into the ninth tied 6-6 only to lose in it in the tenth 12-6. (To St. Louis, I think, Jon)

I took the snakes out into the woods, and watched them slowly realize they were free, and warm. They headed into thicker brush, and I cleaned up the Styrofoam and left.

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 – Paid

The last bridge project I managed cost over nine million dollars. It went over a railroad in Valdosta, Georgia. The railroad, being a powerful and private entity, held up construction when it pleased them to do so and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.

So, let’s say I owned the bridge going over the tracks and decided that because the traffic count is ten thousand vehicles a day, I’ll charge every car a dollar for each trip over my bridge. In just over two and a half years I recoup my money.

But let’s say after that I charge ten bucks a car. Anyone using that bridge will pay me $3,650 a year to use my bridge, even though I’ve been paid in full for it. People too poor will have to find another way around the tracks.

Now, imagine I go out and buy a sewer system, yesssss, now you see where I’m going with this don’t you?

Let’s go deep, okay. Imagine you live in a small town in Mississippi. September the 1st, 2005, your town is all but destroyed. If all services for recovery were privately owned, what do you think would happen to your town?

Deeper still. When the British invaded America during the War of 1812, we didn’t have much of a navy and not much of a treasury. It took getting mauled by the Brits for the United States to start thinking about a stronger central government.

Now, I have your agreement that bridges, sewer systems, the military, and disaster relief should be paid by the taxpayers for the mutual benefit of all citizens.

Why is health care, college tuition, and fifteen dollar minimum wage so radically different than the items we already pay 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 – The Milk of Memory

I remember my kindergarten class being taken to a milk factory in Dothan Alabama. We saw the milk being poured into vats, being pasteurized, being bottled in glass bottles, and some of it was being processed into paper cartons, which was a fairly new thing back then. We had a bunch of parents with us, and all of us nodded politely and we all said “Yes sir” and “no sir” to the man leading the tour. After it was all over they gave us each a carton of chocolate milk and that was one of the best things ever, really. I’m willing to bet you my next paycheck that I likely would not have remember it except for the chocolate milk.

Flash forward in time, it seems like the two events were a lifetime apart, but we middle school students were taken to some place in Albany to see something that was in a factory, and because I was totally bored and disinterested, I cannot remember what they were building there or why we were there. There was an air hose with a nozzle on it hissing away at me, so I reached over and pressed the handle of the nozzle and the sound of the released air scared the hell out of everyone. The teacher was so angry he led me back to the bus and left me there alone. Poor Mike. Left all alone on a bus with nothing but reading material. I was reading “Cracked” magazine, and they were spoofing all the protests that were going on at the time, and one of the cartoon groups of protestors were carrying signs, “Free the Lapland Six” and for some reason, that has stuck in my memory. Four or five other people were kicked off the tour for various offenses and I wish I had thought to call ourselves “The Lapland Six”.

Leap again, into the future, I was a surveyor, or I was on a survey crew, using a bush hook to cut a line through bushes and swamps. It was incredibly hot and dirty work, and our crew chief was a total jerk. No one worked harder or knew more than he did, and all mistakes were our fault, and when he and his wife were fighting, he took it out on us. Survey equipment was just being computerized at that time, and no one really knew how to use it. While the crew chief and his assistant fought against the demons stored in the computer, I watched as our summer help dude, a clueless and klutzy nineteen year old just out of college, attempted to get into the survey van to escape the triple digit heat. The crew chief never allowed anyone in the van unless it was moving so shouting and screaming ensued.
I took a walk down the freshly cut line, two hundred feet of Viet Nam style thicket at a bottom where a new bridge would be built one day. The line had been cut in the wrong place, it seemed, and now I would shift one way or the other and start hacking away again. I sat down on the back of the stream, which was barely moving, and there in the water was a blue and white glass marble, that looked ancient. I kept it for years, and I wonder if I hadn’t found it would I have remembered that day.

What have you found, or been given that summons a memory?

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.