A friend of mine nearly wrecked his marriage playing Halo. He also drank too much, smoked two packs a day, and was obsessed with golf, fishing, and at one point in time, poker. He was always good enough to be better than those who were just good enough but never better than those who were better. Had he just stuck to one addiction, and one that paid, I think he would have been okay. Spreading yourself around on several different time sucks will eat away at your life like being pecked to death by parakeets.
Someone calculated the amount of time human beings have spent playing “Angry Birds” and came up with enough man hours to equal two hundred thousand years. That’s a lot of time wasted on a game, but when it gets down to it, how many man hours have been wasted on people playing and watching baseball or football, or television? How many man hours have we humans wasted on worshiping some religion that in the end, turned out not to be The One True Religion? The people who built the Pyramids were just as futile as those people playing World Of Warcraft except they had a really big pile of rocks to show for it. Okay, they have a really big and orderly pile of rocks to show for it, but how many of the stoneworkers’ s names do you remember? I’m not saying the Great Pyramid isn’t great, but I am saying those people who built it aren’t included in the greatness. They’re like someone who has the high score in Space Invaders. Sure, in its time that was something to talk about but no one is talking about who did it right now.
There were a lot of men killed building the Panama Canal but you won’t see anyone talking about them either. When it comes to great things being done it’s always the nameless and faceless people who build a great wall or something like that but the guys who died getting it done are forgotten. Someone shows up in history as being some fantastic leader for making sure it happened but that’s about it as far as trying to figure how something came to be.
Now we’re in an age where people can waste time in their own little worlds and the downside is there isn’t any rocks being stacked or ditches being dug or tombs being built by all of this thumbing away at the video screen. Individual time sucking produces no glory for the leader, or the country, or for that matter, anyone else. Let’s face it guys and girls, history has oblivion wanting for us no matter what we do, by and large. If you buy into someone else’s grand scheme to build the next big thing it will only mean they won’t be forgotten, not you. So crank up the tunes, pour a strong one, and go after those pigs with a vengeance. You’ll never be remembered for what you do, but you won’t wind up buried in the mud in Panama having died from Yellow Fever.
The recent story of a family whose Christmas display was stolen by someone who lived a block away, and set the display up in their own yard made me think of a woman I once knew who was a waitress in a bar. Dancer was a slight woman, with dark hair and hard eyes, and I liked the way she moved around the bar. She also drank too much and the other waitresses would openly gossip about the woman’s dancing abilities or inabilities with the customers. Dancer really got into it, like a stripper with her clothes mostly on, and the party at the pool where she flashed a camera in mid dive was epic. But she was also a serious student and she like the idea that I was a writer. Mostly I think she liked the idea that I tipped well, but that’s part of it, too.
So one day Dancer came in crying because someone broke into her apartment and stole a bunch of her stuff. All her clothes were gone, and for some odd reason, the crooks took her patio furniture and a big plastic palm tree she had set up behind her patio table. There was talk of us taking up a collection for her but in two days the crime was solved. She was walking back to her apartment and lo! The apartment above hers had a patio set and a big plastic tree! So one of the regulars at the bar was a local cop and he had nothing but bad news for her. Unless the tree or the furniture could be proven to belong to Dancer and not the people above then there might not be a case. However, he and another cop would go and question the thieves.
My hand to god, I swear the next part is word for word as to what happened.
The cop knocks on the door, and a young woman answers and says, “Oh my god I knew we shouldn’t have stole that stuff.” And then the woman breaks down crying and starts pulling out the bags of Dancer’s clothes and some other stuff they had stolen as well. The woman’s boyfriend, who is at work, gets pinched there so loses his job, and a friend who had helped out tried to run from the cops and would up doing serious time because he was on probation. All this for a plastic tree?
The darker side of Dancer was a couple of years before I met her she was the victim in a much more gruesome crime. She worked at a bar close to her apartment and one night a guy followed her home. He pushed his way into her apartment, knocked her down and produced a very large knife and told her if she screamed he would kill her. He gets off of her long enough to close and lock the door and in the meantime, Dancer, ever the accommodating soul, brings his knife to him. What good waitress would offer her rapist a knife without somehow proving the quality of the product she offered? Dancer proceeds to show him that the knife is good for both stabbing and slicing. Moreover, she also provides a demonstration that the handle is easy to grip and will not slip even if someone tries to take it away from you. The would- be rapist tries to flee but oh wait, he’s locked himself in, and now he has to unlock the door to get away from the woman who just a minute ago, was prey. Dancer was a woman with some serious ability to move her body. Who knew she was a natural with a knife?
When the cops got there our criminal mastermind was quite easy to find. The trail of blood led down the street and a few blocks away they found him in his apartment clutching his truncated manhood, such as it was. There was some sort of mix-up with the ambulance service and dammit it all, the would-be man bled to death before they could sew up his wounds.
One night I asked Dancer about that story, if it was true the way I heard it and she asked me not to talk about it again. She didn’t like the idea that she had killed someone, even if it wasn’t a real person.
I was one of the last holdouts for reason. I stood, seemingly alone, against the tide. When everyone else fell to seduction I, Mike Firesmith, was the beacon of hope in a dark, dark, world. The battle could be won, I prayed, if one good man could stand up and say, “No more!” and there I stood and against many voices mine was true.
Then I met a woman who worked for a cell phone company and she talked me into getting one.
It was an odd thing having a cell phone was, because I hated the damn things. Yet the woman was a good woman, and she liked to text me at odd points in the day to tell me she missed me, and although it took some doing, I learned to text. The good woman, as all good women do in my life, went away, but left the cell phone. I had signed a contract. I was locked in. I was trapped, trapped like a rat I tell you. Squeak! Squeak I say!
Then they went and got cell phones at work so I had two. Two! Who the hell is so damn important they have to have TWO cell phones? The president and I have two cells apiece, just in case of nuclear war or a mutt emergency. Instant communication is vital in this world where once upon a time in my life, I didn’t so much as have a landline. I remember the good old days when a phone booth was all you really needed to call some woman and… No, I didn’t have anything to do with the cave paintings, what the hell are you saying?
I remember the day a woman, not quite as good as the first, broke up with me via text. It was an odd feeling. But at least she did it in whole words, not text speak, and she didn’t end it with lol. Instant communications does have it drawbacks. People could once take an hour or so to get to a phone and by that time they might have cooled off a bit.
The smart phone thing gets past me but those who have them love them. It’s a lot like having kids, I suppose. Other people children might drive you up the damn wall but when we’re talking about your little angels it’s another story, huh? Mostly it’s ring tones these days that irritate me because it’s like hearing ten seconds of a really bad song that was a one hit wonder back in the 80’s. A co-corker had “Crazy Train” as a ring tone and to hear the beginning of that song ten or twelve times a day drove people…crazy. What happened to a simple sound to alert you someone is trying to call? Does every single event in your day have to be personalized? Why not have a ring tone go off when you brush your teeth, which by the way, had this guy done a little more of that, it would have helped.
Don’t text and drive. I had a woman nearly kill me yesterday because she was texting as she pulled out of her driveway. I had to pass her on the shoulder of the road to keep from hitting her and she was texting away the whole time. You could once safely thumb a ride to anywhere and now it’s dangerous to thumb while you’re driving.
I’m not saying cell phones are evil and the downfall of civilization and it doesn’t cause homosexuality in lab rats. What I am saying is you ought not let your cell phone influence or pollute anyone else’s life. No one cares if you love Ozzy. No one wants to dodge while you text. No one in a movie theater wants to see the light of your cell phone go off while you’re texting someone telling them what a great movie you are about to be murdered while watching. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s part of the cave that needs painting.
When in doubt human beings will do nothing. They will sit and they will stare. They will not move or think or even so much as offer a clue as to what might be done next. Mostly, this happens in traffic. And where it happens is a fairly predictable thing. All that needs to be done is to change something, anything at all, or worse, have something new or different, and you can paralyze a human being to the point not even the sound of a horn will move them.
Yesterday a woman who was talking on a cell phone went into a state of shock when she realized she couldn’t make a right turn onto a one way street, that is, if the traffic on that one way street was coming at her once she did make that turn. Okay, when you realize if you make a turn you’ll be facing traffic there are various options. First, assume everyone else is wrong and plough ahead; Occupy one way. Two, you could realize your conversation is affecting your ability to drive so you could hang up, make a left or go straight, because really, the right turn thing isn’t happening. But no, this chick Charlie outs and picks “C” which is to sit there and wonder when those sneaky sign people changed the street. The answer to that question is “some point in the 80’s” but don’t let that stop you.
I’ve never met anyone from any state or any country where there is a large rural population and have that person tell me, “Yes, where I am from people understand the concept of the four way stop with great acumen!” Because as simple as the concept is people totally get locked down at a four way stop. It mystifies them. It befuddles them. We will one day unearth a symbol of great vexation to the human mind spawned by some ancient culture and it will look exactly like a four way stop sign. You can put a four way stop in the middle of some vast plain where anyone at the intersection can see for a thousand miles yet someone will pull up to the sign and wait for another vehicle to stop before they pull through, or they’ll wait until the other vehicle has sat there for a full minute and try to wave them through.
Then there are those people who will stop and turn on their blinker in the left lane, but there’s a turn lane right next to them. Not only do they block traffic behind then, but no one else is going to enter the turn lane while these morons are sitting there acting like they’re going to turn. And while we’re on the subject, I could draw a pie chart with two equal parts spilt right down the middle. The first is “those people who never use their blinkers” and the second would be “those people who leave their blinkers on for miles and miles and miles”.
And then there are those people who rush to pass you so they can get one car length ahead you right before a traffic light, or worse, cut you off in traffic just to make a turn one hundred feet after they pass you. There are the ever popular drivers who will let someone into their lane from some liquor store parking lot and meanwhile, there are a hundred people backed up a miles who have been waiting a lot longer than the geezer buying some cheap gin. Of course, when it’s me coming out of the liquor store parking lot, these people are saints, I tell you.
There are a few of my favorite drivers. Do you have any I missed?
Being the only white man on an all black crew at a wood yard was an experience in itself. I was also the youngest by a decade and a half, and I was also the son of the man who was in charge of a major part of the paper mill where the wood from the wood yard was headed. I just saw this as another job, a way to make enough money to support my pot and drinking habits, and really not all that bad of a job. It was incredibly noisy, dangerous, and dirty, but I was stoned so I didn’t care.
The other worker soon realized that even though I had a family connection to the paper mill it hadn’t helped me very much at all. This wasn’t some sort of nepotism but rather some odd form of punishment. For my father to hold the position that he held, and for me to wind up working at the bottom of a crew in one of the worst job associated with the business told them a lot more than I had figured out at the time. While other sons of other paper mill men were off to college or getting experience in some job that mattered, I was shoveling sawdust and dodging broken pieces of trees at the wood yard. In the rain and the cold and the dust and the dirt, I was too stoned to care, and usually drunk enough not to notice.
There were two brothers, who worked there, and they were the first to explain to me that white people in general, and white people who had connections, could only bring them trouble. They too were at the bottom of the paper mill business ladder, something happened to me, or with me, they would share the blame. They fact that I was stoned and drunk most of the time meant that if I ever got hurt or busted, they might in some way have blame cast upon them, simply by the fact they were there and they were black. I had never thought about it that way and it was a weird thing to think about.
It was about that time in my life a friend of mine had a cousin move in with her. I went over to meet the cousin and wow! She was drop dead beautiful. The woman had a mane of jet black hair and incredible green eyes. She was from Possum Holler Virginia, which was near Saltville, and I was in love with her from the first time I saw her. But how to impress this woman from Possum Holler Virginia? I was despondent. I didn’t have a clue as to how to win her heart. But my first thought was to get her drunk, very drunk, and to see what happened next.
It was very nearly Thanksgiving and this put the wood yard crew in a festive mood. I stole a bottle of whiskey from my father’s stash and took it to work with me. One of the other guys, who happened to be one of the brothers, decided to have a drink or two with me, and while we worked we slowly got bombed out of our minds and then we smoked a joint. We were feeling very good about the upcoming holidays, and to make things better, he let it slip he knew someone who might be able to get me some moonshine. Now moonshine was something not easily obtained and you had to trust the people who you got it from. The man told me, after a few more drinks, he and his brother made it, and it was more or less a family business.
Of course, his brother was appalled that the family secret was out, but it’s better to do business with someone than not to, so they sold me a quart of moonshine, and the next evening, the night before Thanksgiving Day, I went to see the woman from Possum Holler Virginia with some moonshine!
At that point in my life I was incredibly and painfully and terribly shy but there is something about alcohol that burns with a clean blue flame. The woman from Possum Holler knew a thing or two about Shine and she declared this quart top notch, and we both took a straight shot. It felt like liquid fire going all the way down to my toes. It took my breath away nearly as much as she did. We toasted ourselves with another shot and suddenly, I wasn’t so shy, and she looked a millions times more beautiful. We mixed some Mountain Dew with the Shine and after a drink we were holding hands and ignoring the rest of the party. The second drink went down and we went for a walk and kissed under a tree. After everyone else left, we cuddled up on the sofa and she allowed that in fact, it was a fold away bed.
The next morning I was still mostly drunk, slightly stoned, very hungover, and had to drive three hours to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving lunch. Now, this was just after my mother had remarried, and her new husband’s family was quite a rural and conservative bunch. I was skinny, had long hair, and smoked a couple of joints to ease the pain in my head before I got there. I looked a wreck. I did take a shower before I left, but my hair had frizzed out on me, I had dark circles under my eyes, and there was a hickey the size of a silver dollar on my neck. My first encounter with my mother’s in-laws was…memorable.
The woman from Possum Holler and I went on to be quite a couple. She got mad at me one night, broke up with me, moved back to Virginia and we drifted apart. We got back together, long distance, five years later, after her marriage failed, but we never quite made that same connection. But that was one Thanksgiving I was always remember most fondly.
Back in Early County all the government buildings, from the courthouse to the outhouse to the school house were all made of red brick. Square red brick buildings with rectangle windows and a flag pole, oh boy, who couldn’t love that? The new high school was a long red brick building and that was a serious walk on the wild side for these people. But the gym to one side, and the auditorium to the other, were basic block red brick cubes, as if it fence in the feral feelings that the unblocked high school building might harbor. Two square bookends trapping the school between was an apt description of where I was to spend the longest and worst four years of my life.
The cube looking Borg of an auditorium building had a little square red brick storage area built onto it, and there was a six foot high chain link fence that the school had put up to keep students herded into one area and out of another. It didn’t make sense to me why one part of the campus was inaccessible from one direction yet perfectly assessable from the other and vice versa but no one else seemed to ever ask why. I could scale fences quickly, and did so on a regular basis. They were four second obstacles for me, at worst, and the one that butted up against the little square storage building gave me an idea. If I stood on top of the fence, I could jump up and grab the edge of the storage building roof. Once up there, if I crossed to the other side, I could slide down the drain pipe to get back down. Students eating lunch outside could see me if I stood up, but if I lay down on the flat roof of the building I became even more invisible than normal. I would lay on my back and look up at the clouds drifting over head, and blow pot smoke at them, and wonder if there were thousands of people like me blowing pot smoke at clouds, and if that changed the composition of them. If airliners passed through these clouds would the passengers and pilots get stoned? If it rained from pot flavored clouds would… I heard voices.
Mike and Mandy were a couple long before any other two people were. Neither were in the jock and cheerleader crowd. Neither were from the poor side of town, nor the rock side either. Neither excelled in academics yet neither floundered around in classes like I did. They didn’t drink, didn’t smoke pot, and neither of them showed up the radar at all. It’s as if the two most beige people to ever fade into the background unseen could only see each other. But Mandy was crying and Mike was trying to comfort her.
You already know what was going on, and so did I. Good girls, bad girls, good boys, not that there are any, rich kids, poor kids, white kids, the holy rollers and the stoners, too, everyone eventually was the same with their clothes off. That’s not entirely true, because some of us never felt guilty about it, and some of us were careful, and some of us were lucky. Mike and Mandy had tossed the dice and lost. I couldn’t hear much of what they said but he kept repeating something about Saturday night, so I knew something was going to happen soon.
Saturday night I traded a Nazareth eight rack tape and a couple of joints for a Valium. A few beers later I ignored a stop sign and wound up sitting it out at the Sheriff’s office. They weren’t going to arrest me but they were going to keep me until my father showed up, or until they got tired of babysitting me, whichever came first. A couple of hours was all they could stand as a general rule. It was an informal, Mayberry type incarceration, and I knew as long as I sat there and acted as if the world had ended they would release me back into the wild.
I had forgotten about Mike and Mandy, up until Mandy’s father came up to the Sheriff’s Office claiming his daughter had been kidnapped. Seems they had gone out on a date, as they always did, but when the appointed hour came for Mandy to return she did not. Mandy’s mother found a letter on Mandy’s bed proclaiming that she was leaving home, and all hell broke loose. Everyone forgot about me, and I just sat there listening to all of it, and as soon as the deputy in charge left with Mandy’s father, I read the note. They were in love, she was pregnant, and they were going to run away, find work, have the baby, get married when they were legal and live happily ever after. I realized no one was watching me so I rode away, finished a six pack and then went home.
Mike and Mandy made it as far as Dothan Alabama, lasted two days, and they were returned home by Tuesday. Whatever your political bent or whatever your point of view is on the subject, back in the mid seventies it was considered shameful and disgraceful for a young woman to be pregnant at age sixteen. I do know that Mandy didn’t return to school until the following Monday. After that, she and Mike were still a couple even if their parents did forbid it, but something had changed. They did not hold hands as often. She rarely smiled. The closeness that was a palpable thing between them had been breached. The rumors that Mandy was pregnant slowly began to dissipate as a month went by, and then another.
Abortion is not as easy issue. If it isn’t your daughter or your pregnancy, I suspect that your opinion is little more than self-serving, self-righteous, hot button politics and you’ve run out of things to do with yourself. If it is your pregnancy, or it is your daughter, I suspect that you could give a damn less what all the sound bite religious nuts are chanting in front of the clinic. I do know that whoever made the decision to end that pregnancy wounded deeply at least two people, and changed forever how they felt about one another. The freedom to make that choice, however, should still be left to those with a daughter, or a pregnancy, even if the wrong choice is made.
Those who have to live with the choice get to make the choice. Everyone else might as well be some stoner blowing smoke at the clouds.
If you did this as the first step towards the unleashing of war, well then, it is evident that nothing else is left to us but to accept this challenge of yours. If, however, you have not lost your self–control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.
I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.
Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy
Back before the war in Iraq started I was accused to treason by many people for my opposition to that conflict. I am, first and foremost, a student of history when it comes to war, and I know that war isn’t like cutting off a dead limb, or removing a rotten plank from a house. War is something that lives and breathes, and it becomes something no one thought it would, and it goes where we do not suspect it will, and it kills without regard. The consequences of war are always greater, much greater, than anyone suspected in the beginning.
Had England realized the Colonies would be free, and had the Colonists continued diplomatic methods, two wars might had never been fought, but neither side knew how long and how bloody that war would become. France bankrupted herself helping finance the war, which led to the revolution in that country, which led to a lot of bloodshed.
In hindsight, we now see that the War Of Northern Aggression would become a nightmare for this country and the Confederacy. It was like many wars as it should have never be fought. The people of The South were deceived by the dream of Southern Nationalism, and there are some today that still buy into that illusion, and a war long, and rightfully, lost.
The Spanish-American War was all about expansion, and getting other countries away from our borders but it left Cuba as a vassal state to us, a position that it would not accept forever. That war would haunt us much later in history as most do.
The first World War was one everyone could have sat out, but no one did, and it set the table for a conflict that no one saw coming. When Hitler rose up from the ruins everyone assumed he was not the threat he appeared to be. Japan was running wild in Asia, but the British were
there to hold them back. No one, no one on earth foresaw what was going to happen, and how it would end. Some of the most brutal fighting in the history of our species took place in that war. Stalingrad: where there was no retreat from either side and squads of men fought each other to death in building with their bare hands until one side or the other was dead. Iwo Jima: where thirty thousand Japanese soldier were killed and only a thousand surrendered in what is likely some of the most brutal no quarter fighting since the first gunshot was fired. And in the end, we were rescued from more hell by the atomic bomb. What does that say about the conflict? What does it say about who we, as a species are, when we can only stop fighting when total destruction is the only alternative to peace? Have we traveled far from that point? Do we know?
We tried partial war as opposed to total war, in Korea, and then in Nam. They were both disasters, and we hoped that the futility of war would finally be exposed. But time passed, and after 0-11, we had a president who sought to do something, anything, that might in some way, make up for the attack on that day. The invasion of Iraq was likely the biggest foreign policy mistake by this country ever. The invasion of Afghanistan was perhaps the most needed military move we made, but how to get out again is anyone’s guess. We cannot stay there and hope for peace, and we cannot leave until there is some resolution.
Yet we do fight wars for reasons good, bad, and terrible. This country could not exist at all in its present form without war. Freedom is not given to us by men in suits; it is taken from the forces of oppression by men in uniform. Men with guns, men who are willing to fight, kill, and die, are those responsible for how we live our daily lives. This country has not been invaded by another since 1814 not because we are a shining beacon of hope for the rest of the world to follow, but because we are well defended. We are defended by the men who fought at Bunker Hill, at New Orleans, at Vicksburg, at Chonan, at Hamburger Hill, at Fallujah and Tora Bora.
I make a good case against the application of military use yet there cannot be a state that exists without the knowledge the state, and people, are guarded by a military that is well trained, and dedicated. The dedication of our armed forces is shown in each war, in each timeline, in each conflict, no matter the cost or cause, they all go forward, each of them carrying the tradition of the past with them.
We have been failed many times by men in suits who for reason we cannot understand, have thrown our military into conflicts without clear reason. Yet out men and women in uniform have never failed us. They have never faltered. They have never stepped back in horror from a task that history teaches us is pure hell. Throughout our history, each generation has given to us Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Soldier that put on the uniform, strapped on their weapons, and stood at ready. We have sent them into the jungles and into the deserts. We have sent them into the air and under the waters. We have sent them to places far away from their homes, their families, and at times, far from reason. We have sent them into ice and into flame. We have sent them into darkness where some of them have never returned, but will never be forgotten.
Freedom is not free. Freedom is guarded not by men in suits, but men, and women, in uniform. Each breath I have ever taken, each word I have every written, and each day I have ever awaken to see the sun as a free man, was paid for, with the blood of the American military.
Drinking in The South was a rite of passage for males. If you were going to be a man you were going to have to drink to excess. The drug thing, not so much, but I felt as if doing a liquid drug was good then doing a liquid and a smoke was even better. I truly do not remember one complete week of High School. I do remember some of the things they told me I did and I remember The Smoke Bomb. It was one of those defining moments of my life as to whether or not I was going to live like some sheep carrying book inside of a prison, or if I was going to voice my concern about my general welfare by committing an act of arson and anarchy. The idea of anarchy won. My freshman year of High school was about to become interesting.
My father had done some black powder hunting but had more or less given it up. He still had some metal cans with gun powder in them, and I had heard that if sulfur burned it smelled truly rancid. I took out a small amount of black powder from one of the cans, mixed it with some sulfur from my old chemistry set, and set it ablaze. It was disappointing. It smelled bad, sure, but it burned far too quickly to ignite all the sulfur. I had to come up with some idea so I tried some filler material. I chose wax because it does burn, but not as quick as gunpowder, and it turns into a liquid and it a bitch to put out with water if it gets hot enough. Sulfur, gun powder, and wax worked very well in the trials.
The boy’s locker room at school was pretty much the standard fare locker room, but there were a couple of the wall lockers that were broken. No one ever used them or opened them, so a couple of days before the event I started hauling in supplies so no one would see me come in with a lumpy package. I brought in the wax and sulfur first because it was so benign no one would or could accuse me of bomb making at that point, and on day of the event I snuck in early, mixed what was about half a large manila envelope of wax shavings, with a pound of gunpowder and two pounds of sulfur. I made a fuse that I would light using a cigarette and hid the bomb under a pile of trash and an old dirty towel. I had gym for the first class and obediently did my jumping jacks, push-ups, and other exercises. While everyone else was showering and getting ready for class, I hastily lit a cigarette, jammed it into the fuse, and then went outside to pick a fight with one of the coaches. Coach Stocky was a bulldog of a man who never grew higher than waist level as a child and as a result, just got broader. I asked him if he ever thought about suing the school for building the floor so close to his ass and he went off the deep end. A cigarette will burn down in about four minutes. A high school coach’s attention span when focused on yelling at the school screw up is considerable longer. About a minute deep I turned and walked off from him which assured me he was going to grab me and made me stand there and take it.
There was a yell, and then another, and then there was a chorus of yelling and screaming and suddenly the locker room began to empty out in a hurry. I followed Stocky back into the locker room, and damn, I’m here to tell you there was some smoke. Think, angry, grey smoke, poured out of the locker like some Stygian nightmare with an industrial color scheme. Like the hell it was, the locker room only needed a bat winged demon for décor. The smart kids were getting the hell out of dodge, some sans clothing but the rest were watching the show. Stocky grabbed a broom and tried to beat the fire out. What he managed to do was set the broom on fire, spread my version of Greek fire, and got a serious case of smoke inhalation. It took four of us to carry him out of the locker room. For reasons I never understood they never called the fire department, but damn, what some smoke!
I knew, really knew, if this had played out like the trials did, they would be looking for someone’s head, and mine would be first on the block. I had learned early on there are two rules to keep yourself out of trouble. 1. Work alone. 2. Never tell anyone what you’ve done.
You wouldn’t believe the trouble you’ll get into have someone there with you. With two suspects they’ll take them to separate rooms and tell each of them, “You buddy says this was all your idea and he was just watching.” They both with turn on one another and they’d get humped. By this time in my life I knew damn well I couldn’t trust anyone else, and regardless of what you might think of the public school system, it is always the unpopular kids who get punished more severely than those who are more culturally acceptable. Blaming Mike Firesmith was an easy way to get out of any trouble, and I played the reverse card on that one constantly saying they always blamed me. This time they were right. They knew they were right. But they couldn’t prove it.
I also learned early on there were guys who would come up to you and pretend to be all excited and happy and your best friend and then take what you had told them to the principal’s office as fast as they could scurry there. So the very first thing I did in the aftermath of the smoke bomb was to run around and asking other guys if they had done it. I tried to get one or two to confess to me they had while we were in front of other people, and this tactic worked better than you could believe. Some straight laced loser who never got into any trouble thought he would mess with me by telling me he did it but someone overheard him bragging about it. While being interrogated I told them I had overheard a confession and so had others.
The incident marked a turning point between myself, the school officials, the coaches, and most of the other students. While I never admitted to what I had done, it was generally believed I had done it. It was the first thing I did that scared people to the point they began to do something they had never done before; they left me alone. Far from an act that I committed for attention, this was fang bearing. This was a long low growl. This was my first trip into real destruction and it showed them whatever was happening in my head had begun to accelerate. The war was to last another three years before they surrendered.
Seeing a dog in a movie or some cute You Tube video may inspire you to go out and get a dog, but trust me, owning a dog is nothing like what you see on television or some twenty second cuteness clip. Owning a dog is a lot of work, and it’s a constant thing. You can’t unplug a dog or simply put it on a shelf somewhere. A dog is a dog twenty-four seven three sixty five. That is, unless you get a puppy and a puppy is a puppy for somewhere around three years. That’s twenty– one years in training time.
I recommend strays. Two of my three were at one point strays, and I’m here to tell you it’s a hell of a thing to pick something up off the highway that someone else threw out. Bert, the one dog I have that I got from a shelter, found Sam, The Happy Hound, near our home in the woods. Sam was a wreck. A woman in the vet’s office burst into tears when she first saw him. I didn’t think any living creature carrying that much abuse would live, or could live, but Sam has been with us now for over ten years. I can leave the gate open and Sam will be in the yard when I get back. Sam has discovered food in only one location on this earth and he is not going to leave. Part Lab, and part Greyhound, Sam has been an interesting mix to watch.
Lucas was a pure road find. I literally stopped and picked him up off the side of the road. He wasn’t nearly as in bad shape as Sam but he was slipping towards it. Lucas is primarily a Weimaraner but he also has something else tossed into the mix and I suspect strongly it’s Pit. I spend a lot of time with my dogs, and I spent a lot of Lucas’ puppyhood training him. “Stunted” as a word the vet used because Lucas had been malnourished for the first six months of his life. Lucas weighs nearly a hundred pounds now. He’s the largest dog I’ve ever raised and he’s got he attitude to go with it. He isn’t mean or aggressive but he doesn’t back down from the Elder Mutts, Bert and Sam, anymore. Lucas seems to think I went out and looked for him in particular, ad that is why we are together. He likes being as close as possible to me, but he isn’t needy, like Sam is. Lucas rode in my lap on the way home the day I found him. He leaned into me, we bonded right then, and it’s been an exceptional relationship since.
Living with dogs, especially a puppy, isn’t cheap or easy. Training, training, training, and then more training will make everyone’s live a lot easier and it can be frustrating. Accept the idea that dogs, like Bert, sometimes dig bunkers. Become one with the idea that some puppies, like Lucas, chew the siding off your house. Live with the idea that some breeds of dogs, like Lab and Greyhound mixes (SAM!), kill small mammals. I have not said it would be easy. I never claimed it would be cheap. In order to override a dog’s instinct to dig, or destroy, or chase, or bark, or bite, the Alpha Pack Member has to spend enough time with the dog to understand why that dog is doing what he does when he does it. Dogs are a lot like children in they know who cares about them versus who is just trying to order them around. I keep order in a house where there is over two hundred fifty pounds of tame wolf embodied in three different fur suits, at least six breeds of canine, with ages ranging from twelve to three. This isn’t a family. This is a pack. The dynamics of the three interacting can be intense. Dogs rely on two things and two things only when they react to the outside, and their own inside, world; their instincts and your training.
I want to say a few words about Pits while we’re talking about dogs. In fifty years I have never met a more loyal and loving breed of dog than Pit Bull Dogs. They are, however, very active and very motivated individuals. They need a lot of play or a lot of work. If you decide to get a Pit Bull then you are going to have to wear that animal out three or four times a week just to break even. You will either exercise a Pit or he will do it himself on his own terms. Pits are not good apartment dogs and they fare poorly tethered as most dogs do. You will deeply regret not talking proper care of a dog in general but in particular, negligent treatment of a Pit can have dire results. This is the fault of the caretaker of the dog, not the dog’s fault.
Do it right, and do it well, and you will find little on earth as rewarding as spending time with canines. They are made entirely of the unconditional love. They know when you are hurting or sad and will do much or anything to help you. They are fueled by play. They are joyous and happy creatures who live to worship you. They can be as fierce as they are loving. No one will ever harm your children as long as your dog draws breath. If Elizabeth Smart would have had a Pit Bull on her pillow you would have never heard her name. They bark at thieves and at fires. They stand watch at night and in day, in weather fair and foul, and all they ask is to be loved.
Dogs are not for everyone for many reasons, but if I found myself at the end of one of those reasons I would change my life so I could have a dog with me.
The stars were incredible. In the darkest night with no other light around you have to feel small in front of that many stars. My vision blurred, and even through the tears I was still awed by that much starlight.
I had to pick a good costume, and I knew it was important to look good this year. Last year I had gone as a clown, and Terry had helped me put the makeup on, yeah, that thick white caked greasy stuff, and she also helped me take it off when she threw a drink in my face. We had been friends for a couple of years and we ought to have known better than to try to be lovers, but she didn’t and it crashed at her annual Halloween party.
So this year people wondered if I would show up, and if I did show up, would I bring a date, and if I didn’t bring a date, if it would be awkward. Terry had found someone else, and I knew the guy. He was one of those people everyone likes, and I suspect they were getting friendly before that last drink was served. That’s just bitterness, I admit it, because Terry wouldn’t have cheated on me, and I doubt she could have kept it a secret if she had. But I had fallen back into the old habit of not going out, and keeping to myself and writing. A few of my short stories sold, and I got picked up for a few months to write for a zine, for money, so I was actually doing fairly well. But I knew showing up alone at Terry’s party would be kinda weird, but I went anyway. I truly love costume parties. This would be the fifth in a row for me, and honestly, Terry always threw a great party.
I was going to skip out, and my friend Rob was the one who pushed me back in. He and his girlfriend were going as his and hers robots, and man, did he do a great job on the robot suits, but at the last moment he broke his foot so he offered his work of art to me. I think he knew I was looking for an excuse to go, and Rob’s Robot was more than enough. It was made out of plastic sheeting fitted with arm holes and the arms were made out of corrugated tubing. Rob had rigged a DVD player up to a thin screen monitor and a cam so on the front of the robot it looked like there was a hole right through! The helmet was made out of a metal strainer, just to make it look goofy, but it covered my entire head. There were a lot of those tiny LED lights, and somehow Rob had rigged it so anyone who talked to him would also get the lights moving in rhythm with their speech. Most of the people at the party knew about the suit, but some of them didn’t know about Rob’s foot. Terry greeted me at the door thinking I was Rob, and I didn’t tell her any differently, and glided past the question about where Debra, Rob’s girlfriend, might be.
I spent most of the night flipping open the hood to explain I wasn’t Rob, and telling the story about his foot, but I also noticed that Terry and Norman, her latest conquest, dammit I have got to quit that, were doing quite well together. They looked like a good couple. And really, how else would someone named Norman come to a costume party except as a Knight? Terry was dressed like a princess and I knew it meant something for them to plan their costumes together, like Ron and Debra…
“You’re the ex boyfriend, the one on YouTube from last year’s party.”
I had seen her at the bar, and Terry always hired a great bartender, but I didn’t know her. She looked young, maybe twenty, and she was wearing a very simple but very original dress. It was something like a peasant would wear, or a serf but she was stunning in it. She had long black hair and incredible blue eyes. She was a little young for me to be hitting on, but she was very cute.
“Yes, that one got quite a few hits.” I laughed but I wondered how she had recognized me.
“You came in disguised, and you’ve avoided our hostess.” The woman said as she sat down on one of the wooden benches in the yard. “The little blonde in the cat suit told on you.”
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“Joan of Arc,” she said, “And your name?”
“Eli, the Tin Man.” I replied. “Joan, you look great in that dress.”
“Oh, you just noticed?” Joan smiled. “You’ve been watching your ex-girlfriend since you’ve gotten here, and you are just now making contact with another woman, even though you’ve got the best outfit by far. But you aren’t in love with her.”
“Really?” Okay, what does a man say to something like that? “How can you tell?”
“You aren’t drinking enough.”Joan said. “You’re watching her because you’re curious about what is going to happen next, not because you’re jealous.” She shifted over a bit and I was forced to either watch her or Terry. Joan won. “You still care, Eli, and that’s weird considering about this time last year you were soaking up a margarita with your face.”
It was odd how this woman watched people, and how well she did it. She told me that Samantha, the cat suit woman, had been watching the gate all night until I got there, and when she realized who I was, or who I wasn’t she stopped watching.
“So does Samantha have the hots for you or this guy Rob?” she asked.
“Hard to say.” I admitted. “I never liked her much. She talks too much.”
“Did you notice how the guy with the telephone on his leg keep trying to talk to her?” Joan asked. “And why is he wearing that weird suit?”
“It’s polyester and he’s a phone knee.”
Joan laughed hard at that, and I liked her. I noticed Terry was watching so I eased a hand around Joan’s waist. “If I push you away right now you can never come back to one of her parties again, you know.” Joan said.
“If you’ll laugh like that at the phone knee joke you aren’t interested in pushing me away.” I said, and I held my breath a little.
“You’re right, Eli.” Joan leaned over to me and kissed me on the cheek. “So let’s scandalize the party and leave together. “
She helped me take the robot parts off and put them in the trunk of the car, and we headed out to my house. I live out in the sticks, but that didn’t seem to bother her at all. She didn’t have a purse, or any accessories like most women do. And we talked for hours in the front yard where all the stars are. I went in and got a blanket and we lay on our backs and held hands. She knew all the constellations, and knew the names of many of the stars, and I could see the shadow of her hand as it flitted back and forth between light years of space between stars and star and stars. The sun was coming up so we went inside and she let me undress her.
We spent the next day talking, and she wanted to see my writings, and it occurred to me that she hadn’t said anything about having to get home, or where she was from, or how she knew Terry. She deflected a couple of questions, and I could tell after the third or fourth try she was getting irritated. What to do? A woman twelve years younger than I, willing to spend the rest of Halloween weekend with me, and no questions asked? Yeah, as curious as I was, I didn’t want to push her away. Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, and after dinner on Sunday she went to take a shower.
“Who do you think is really hot, Eli?” Joan asked me from the shower. “Any woman, at any time.”
“Marilyn” I said. “She still does it for me. Why?”
Joan didn’t answer. I waited for her to say something, anything at all, but there was only the sound of the shower running. I waited for a little while then went to check on her, did me liking Marilyn make her mad? But Joan was gone. The floor was dry, the windows where still shut and all the towels still hung on the rack. But Joan wasn’t there. I called her name but she was totally gone. There wasn’t a sign of her anywhere. I went outside and no one was there either. I was left alone under a sea of stars, and I had no idea if Joan had ever existed at all.