Sunday, October 16, 2016

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season and Home Ownership

One of the benefits of living through several relatively calm hurricane seasons as a kid was that the “minor” tropical storms that did impact or brush the coast of South Carolina tended to create more excitement than actual fear. While these weak storms were still dangerous in many ways, they didn't cause the wholesale destruction people on the coast constantly worried about when they saw dark clouds coming over the horizon while at the same time barometers began registering the atmospheric pressure dropping like a rock. I do remember both my grandparents and parents talking about Hurricane Hazel, a category 4 storm that ravaged several Caribbean islands back in 1954 before slamming into South Carolina with a combination of awe, dread, and outright fear that I found difficult to fathom in my grade-school years. Up until Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston back in 1989, the way the name “Hazel” was whispered by people that lived through that storm it was clear, even to a small child, it had become synonymous with the boogeyman for many in South Carolina.

I was in the last months of my active army enlistment when Hugo struck the coast of South Carolina pretty much wiping away any remaining memory of Hazel. Which is easy to understand since by 1989 the coastal areas of South Carolina were exponentially more developed and populated than back in 1954. As Hugo zeroed in on Charleston I was in the barracks watching the CNN weather reporters on television trying not to look totally silly as the wind and rain threatened to send them flying off like an ill-trained winged monkey from Oz.

Being stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado during that time, I was spared the post-storm aftermath of the long weeks living without electric power, the total disruption of economic services like deliveries of food and fuel, and the general chaos that results when a massive storm strikes. I did return home to South Carolina about three months after Hugo, while the main roads were open again and a good chunk of the storm-related debris had been removed, many locations were still baring the scares. One of my favorite places on the planet, Pawleys Island, had an uncomfortable resemblance to many active war zones with houses looking like an artillery battalion used them for target practice.

Despite the damage and the persistent anxiety caused by Hugo, South Carolina not only cleaned up and rebuilt the state but quickly returned to its near exponential growth along the coast. I came home on leave about a year before Hugo and was frankly disturbed with how much things had changed in the Lowcountry since the last time I was in the area. The best example I can give is that Charleston, once a genuine sleepy little town, had overnight turned into thriving city. Once my enlistment was over in July of 1990, I came back to watch that general area expand in real time into undeveloped sections that had remained untouched since the end of the Civil War. About sixty miles separate Charleston from my hometown and while the pace of growth has slowed, I still expect to see the two essentially joined together in one humid and hot Southern megalopolis before I shed my mortal coil.

Of course, sea level rise and an increase in problematic tropical storms brought on by human-caused climate change is the pesky irritant that could send the descendants of all those folks who fled the northern states because it was just too damn cold up there back home. Hell, if things get bad enough, and I think they will, the effects of climate change might force many Southerners to the relative safety of places like the Midwest. Even now the steadily growing cost of home owners insurance in the coastal areas of South Carolina has already forced many with long family histories tied to the Lowcountry deeper inland. It's not hard to imagine that as conditions worsen, even the folks that can afford the insurance on their raised three and even four-story beach houses might have to retreat from the coast.

As Hugo faded into the background, except for a few minor tropical storms South Carolina didn't have to deal with a major hurricane for a couple of decades. While minor, those weaker cousins of Hugo were enough of an issue that several National Guard units, including mine, were activated and sent down to the coast just in case. The duty was quite boring actually, my memories are mostly of staying in some hot and uncomfortable school gym until the leadership decided we weren't needed and sent home. The worst thing I can complain about during those activations was that I was away from home just enough to upset my wife's morning routine. Our son was in his pre-potty training toddler years where every simple task, like getting him dressed for daycare, could become an epic battle of endurance if say he did a sudden and messy number two in his diaper right before it was time to leave the house.

When I rejoined the National Guard in 1990 after my active army enlistment, I got to hear a great deal of complaining by guys who got called up for Hugo and literally spent months pulling traffic control or guard duty in waterlogged shopping center parking lots. The main reason these Hugo vets were upset was because many of them built or renovated houses for a living, and as anyone can imagine their business was booming during that time. One weekend warrior I knew suggested there was favoritism being shown in the way some guys were released back to their civilian lives while others were forced to stay in uniform. This weekend warrior said he received an Article 15 after cussing out his lieutenant because a couple of weeks into Hugo duty he saw another guy from his platoon, who had been released from his National Guard obligation, down in Myrtle Beach installing new roofs on damaged homes, thereby “making money hand over fist.” I couldn't help but silently laugh whenever I heard such bad attitudes because not only were they rather common, even long before the ball buster deployments for Afghanistan and Iraq began but because they are totally contrary to the high-end recruiting commercials on television showing dynamic and happy part-time warriors.

In the history of tropical storms the very recent Hurricane Matthew presented those living along the coast with some curious problems. While tropical storms have a long history of meandering, and even looping around on themselves, Matthew hugged the southeast coast with an almost supernatural precision. This was after slamming into the country of Haiti, causing yet another round of suffering for those people. However, it wasn't until Matthew began to take a firm aim at the United States that the assorted weather forecasting folks started having panic attacks. The impression I got was that they were worried Matthew might take a sudden left turn as it headed north, concentrating its destructive power in one area.

Since I am now marooned in the Midlands of South Carolina, Hurricane Matthew's wanderings in some respects played out similar to my experience with Hugo. I spent the better part of that Friday and Saturday as the storm crawled northward watching high-paid reporters on television stand in knee deep water while being hit with driving rain exclaiming to their viewers just how much the situation sucked. Where this situation differed from Hugo was that my area was going to get winds whose speeds would be pushing the tropical storm-level of intensity.

My immediate concern as the winds increased was centered on a rather large, twenty-seven year old river birch tree situated on the edge of my front yard growing right beside a stop sign. I'm a certified tree hugging environmentalist but for about five years now I have been pleading with my wife to have someone cut that thing down. The reason being that we've already had two other river birch trees lose major limbs, but at least they were in areas of the yard I didn't have to worry about hitting anyone, and yes, once those two essentially collapsed we had them removed. The river birch next the stop sign loses minor limbs all the time, but the tree is far enough back that at least they almost always fall inside the yard and not on the street.

After one of the other river birches collapsed I was told, by someone I trust, that the wood of that tree is weak compared to other species and that after so many years of growth it is bound to lose of a major limb. The resistance my wife is giving me on having the river birch next the stop sign removed is due to her ideas about the aesthetics of the front yard as well as how all the landscaping adds value to the property. You'd have to know my wife, but I have long since learned there are some battles that are simply not worth the cost, so after a token resistance, enough to qualify me to say “I told you so”, I let the subject drop.

Well, Hurricane Matthew brought my simmering fears to the forefront again and as the winds increased I spent a great deal of time watching that river birch sway in the heavy winds. I'll be damned, but even after some serious gusts that weekend which scared the crap out of me, the front yard river birch not only survived intact, it really didn't lose any minor limbs. Unfortunately, the Leyland Cypress trees that line the backyard suffered a disaster that even a couple of weeks after the storm still has me freaked out.

It was early Saturday morning, even though it was raining and the sky was a subdued gray there was enough light for me to see four of the cypress trees were leaning over at a steep angle. I'll just skip over the words I said after discovering this surprising fact and just say I wasn't happy. As that day progressed, I literally watched my personal homeowner's disaster unfold in slow motion. These cypress trees fell over at the root mass with another degree or two of decent signified with a loud pop as another tendril broke below ground. Just to show how complicated things can get, the root masses of the falling cypress tree lifted up the backyard fence destroying twenty-five to thirty feet of it.

Excuse the following understatement but home ownership to me has always seemed more trouble than it was worth, but this incident caused a new high in my frustration level. Yes, I know many people suffered true disasters losing their lives, homes, and all their personal property because of Hurricane Matthew. As I have already written, this is a personal disaster and will eventually be cleaned up leaving only another bad memory for me. If there is a lesson in this truly small affair, compared to what others suffered through it is that you never really know the direction from which things can go bad.

As the days have passed, my wife and I have discovered that our homeowner's insurance will not cover the removal of the trees. Had one of them crashed into the house, we would be golden, but unless something changes we will have to cover the cost of tree removal and the price to fix the fence that divides our backyard and the neighbors. At least those neighbors are being cool about the situation, although if we wanted to press the subject my wife vaguely mentioned that we MIGHT be able to charge them rent on the portion of our fence they attached their own segments. Yet, another reason for me to hate all the semi-implied and murky details associated with suburban existence.

All things considered, once this situation is cleaned up and removed I plan on keeping my mouth shut and not worry anymore about the yard. Life is too short and there is always something waiting in the wings to make it more complicated. Like the five-year old water heater that started leaking just yesterday. 

The situations is actually worse that this picture suggests. You can't see the damaged fence and a couple of other cypress trees are out of view on the far right.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thoughts on The Art of Writing

Several years ago I read a short, nonfiction article written by a famous science fiction author about an encounter he had with excited but ignorant fan. This author, who was doing the usual promotional duties for his new novel had just spent several long hours sitting in a book store signing his name and answering stupid questions from both fans and those with no idea how hard it is to write. Now the author admitted in the article he was tired and uncomfortable from sitting to long in what was probably the worst location in the book store. As the hours passed, he felt increasingly cramped and frustrated but through it all he kept a pleasant demeanor for those buying his book. However, it was a offhand and stupid comment from a fan that almost pushed him over into a mental abyss. I can't remember the exact words but the encounter went something like this:

The fan, a young man in his twenties, steps up to the small table the author is sitting at and hands him the newly purchased book to sign. “Sir,” The fan begins, “I just want you to know I really love your work.” He finishes saying as he nervously fidgets in from of the author.

The author, as anyone could expect, is happy that not only is someone buying his book but loves his other novels. “Thank you,” the author replies taking pen in hand to sign the book. “What other books of mine have you read?” The author innocently asks.

The fan then lists several of the authors previous works, all big with the science fiction crowd, and a few that ended up the New York Times bestsellers list. It is at this point in the article that the author admits he was rather enjoying the conversation with this fan, until the young man unknowingly dropped a bomb on the author's ego.

“Yeah,” the fan says, “your writing is so simple and clean it proves anyone could write a bestseller.”

It is at that point that the fan takes back the book he purchased from the now stunned author and walks away. The author then writes that it only took a few seconds for him to recover but the question he desperately wanted to ask the fan was that if it's that damn easy why don't you write one yourself.

The reason I bring this up was that while I am only a crappy blogger, I had my own encounter with a nitwit who somehow believes writing is some simple task anyone could take up. I've been doing this blogging stuff for over nine years now and in my own way I have felt the inspiration, disappointment, and the simple persistent satisfaction of doing something just for the sake of blowing off steam. However, the one thing this futile endeavor has never been is simple. As anyone can tell, I don't initially spend a lot of time on such extravagant things like proofreading. But even a crappy sub-hack like me can say that creating just a short story is a complex process that can, and has, fallen apart many times. I can only imagine what a true novelist has to go through to transfer the often nebulous ideas running around his or her head to paper or laptop screen.

My encounter with the nitwit was indirectly the result of me mentioning once to someone I trusted that one of my hobbies was writing. The only things that causes people to run away faster after mentioning you write is telling them you sing or that you have new vacation pictures you want to show everyone. That was the case with the person I told, after giving a basic rundown of what I did he gave me one of those vague nods before changing the subject. Truthfully, I didn't brag about my efforts, or even worse, try to get him to read some of my stuff. Conversely, I pretty much did the same to him when he started talking about all the years he played his electric guitar and his efforts at organizing a band. Once the conversation played out neither of our hobbies were ever mentioned again.

Apparently electric guitar dude did mention my writing to the nitwit who recently asked me, with a straight face, why hadn't I published any of my stories. Amazon's publishing of e-books by unknown writers to be read on their Kindle tablets not withstanding, I tried to explain to this nitwit that you just don't randomly throw several thousand words together and call it a book. The analogy I used was that writing a book is like woodcarving, you start out with a rough draft of what you want to do source material and then proceed to refine the design as you go. Well, by the utter blank look on the nitwit's face my words went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

Strangely enough, I soon began to view my failure to get the nitwit to understand the complex nature of writing as a statement on my ability to convey an idea. It was then that I fully understood why that famous author I mentioned earlier wanted to run up to the ignorant fan and beat the crap out of him. Further threatening my crumbling faith in the average idiot walking down the street, it was then that I began to get an idea why a lot of famous authors were alcoholics.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Book of Joe- A Parrothead Book Review

It's a curious situation when you begin to hate one of your favorite authors, but that is the position I find myself. The author in question is Jonathon Tropper and the reason he is irritating the living shit out of me is because I have just about finished reading all his published novels. For me it started with his book, This is Where I Leave You, which was turned into an excellent movie starring Justin Bateman and Jane Fonda to name a few. The rest followed in rapid succession leaving me with just with Plan B, after having just very recently finishing The Book of Joe.

For me, one of the things that makes Tropper's works so interesting is that they deal with a male main character who is loaded with complex personal issues. In fact, I read a review once that called his stuff “male chick lit” because his main characters are usually so overloaded with emotional problems that prohibited them from having successful or long-term relationships with other people. Even with the main characters almost drowning in a sea made up of horrible past events and bad decisions, Tropper's sense of humor gives his creations a humanity that I would hope everyone could relate to directly. That is the case with Joe Goffman, the main character of The Book of Joe.

Joe Goffman was born and raised in what many would call an idyllic small Connecticut town literally dominated by a winning high school basketball and the coach that leads it. The first, and relatively minor, of Joe's problems though is that he failed to make the cut to join the town's famous basketball team while is father and older brother did become part of its long winning history. By this sports obsessed town's logic, that automatically made Joe, and others suffering a similar fate, a bit of a loser.

Now throw in the fact that Joe's mom suffered from mental health issues that eventually resulted in her committing suicide years before and you have the penultimate event that shaped his life. The death of his mom leaves Joe to suffer alone while his father and brother, who have built a relationship on their respective basketball experiences, share their grief together. However, Joe is able to build a life for himself in the town through the help of Wayne, his best friend, who not only makes it on the acclaimed high school basketball team, but becomes its latest superstar.

Despite it all, Joe is a fairly normal teenager who spends much of his time when not in school dreaming of girls, working in his father's factory, and hanging out with Wayne. This is when a new character, Sammy, enters the story becoming friends with Joe and Wayne. Sammy is an extremely flamboyant kid who worships the music of Bruce Springsteen and has a drop dead gorgeous mom who is often the center of Joe's teenage fantasies. Mostly unbeknownst to Joe, over time his two best friends become involved with each other, which is a problem for a small town that bases its existence on the idea of the sports-loving, heterosexual macho male. What made Wayne and Sammy's relationship something Joe chose to ignore was him becoming involved with a girl named Carly, who filled the void left in Joe that had existed since the death of his mom and his father and brother became engulfed in their mutual interests.

Despite Joe's emotionally dead father and brother, various town bullies, and a marginally sadistic basketball coach things are going good for him, that is until Sammy and Wayne's relationship becomes public. As you might expect for such a town, nearly no one is able to accept that the star of the basketball team is in a homosexual relationship with a newcomer to town who everyone pegged as weird from the get go. Events eventually force Wayne to flee leaving Sammy to suffer the blunt of the town's persecution. Making matters worse, during this time Joe, caught up in his relationship with Carly, distances himself from Sammy to the point he commits suicide.

In the aftermath, Joe and Carly separately leave town after graduation to attend different colleges, more or less suspending their relationship. The Book of Joe begins years later with Joe Goffman a wildly successful author living in New York, whose first book was based on his friends, enemies, and events that lead up to Sammy committing suicide. Needless to say, Joe's book was not received well in his hometown since it painted many of the leaders of the community in a very unflattering light. Pouring more fuel on an already burning fire of resentment and outright hatred, Joe's hometown then has to suffer through the indignities of having their prodigals son's novel turned into a movie that was very successful.

For Joe, his hometown's resentment is something he takes in stride until he receives a phone call from his mostly estranged brother saying their father has suffered a major stroke. After years of self-imposed exile, the decision to go back home is a tough one for Joe. Along the way he has frankly become a self centered prick purposely causing every relationship in his life to self-destruct once things become to serious. This includes even a brief resumption of his love affair with Carly, who spent some time living in New York herself after college. But even when everything says for him to continue his usual practices, Joe gets in his expensive car and goes home knowing he will not receive a warm welcome.

Returning home means reuniting with both Wayne and Carly, but not happily since the years have taken the toll on both of them as well. Wayne is suffering through the last stages of AIDS and Carly is nursing deep wounds after divorcing a physically abusive husband, as well as a hefty dose of resentment towards Joe. Despite everything I have written, I have given nothing away of the story since it is about coming to terms with a bad childhood and moving beyond it.

As the chapters unfold, Joe learns that his crappy childhood and unhappy adult life is matched by the misery his father dealt with after the death of his wife and that his brother's perfect life is a mirage that could evaporate in a second. But it is how Joe deals with the looming death of Wayne that really pulled me into that world. Even though he fights it at every turn, Joe is forced to grow, to the point he faces the mistakes he made with everyone, including Carly who he never really stopped loving.

What makes Tropper's book special for me is that he treats men as real thinking creatures, filled with numerous and maybe fatal flaws. But Tropper does leave his male characters room to make the right choices if they can move beyond whatever hurt they are dealing with. As you might be able to expect, I literally loved this book and it will definitely read it again in the future. I highly recommend The Book of Joe and hope it anyone who reads it from my review likes it as much as me. Now if only Tropper will publish some more novels before I finish Plan B.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Idle Fantasies of Lottery Winnings

Few things exemplify the cultural decline of American values and civic institutions more than the establishment of state-run lotteries. Originally sold as an easy way to raise revenue without increasing those evil things called taxes, lotteries are in reality a regressive tax that lands squarely on the heads of the poor who often see it as their one avenue to escape poverty. The best example that typifies this insanity was an small incident I saw back in Colorado during the late 1980's while I was stationed at Fort Carson.

I was in a convenience store buying a soda and gas when I noticed the woman in front of me. The lady was mid to late twenties and had two small children hanging off her. Long story short, given the location of the store we were inside, just outside Fort Carson and close to cheap apartment complexes, she was probably the spouse of a lower-enlisted soldier. The half-gallon of milk in her left hand was a obvious giveaway for why she was in the store but when it was her turn at the checkout I thought my hearing was going bad when I heard her say to the clerk that she wanted forty dollars worth of lotto tickets. All jokes aside about her being an adult and having every right to do what she wanted with her money, that forty bucks could have at least gone to buying decent clothes for her kids who looked like third-world children from an international charity infomercial.

Lotteries are also the prime example of state governments that refuse to sit down and do the hard work of maintaining the foundations of a working society. Of course, maintaining a decent infrastructure and schools are almost impossible when taxpayers are so short sighted they're okay with lead in the water supply and kids going into middle school who can't read at a third-grade level. So, I guess that on some occasions establishing lotteries might be considered out of the box thinking by state leaders desperate to find even a partial solution to insufficient funding. The only problem is that after the bright and shiny newness of all the colorful scratch-off cards and bingo-like atmosphere of the multi-million dollar drawings wear off people simply don't play all that often thus reducing the incoming cash.

Now that I have honestly expressed my opinion of lotteries and the problems they breed, let me dive head first into the warm waters of blatant hypocrisy and openly state that on rare occasions I cough up a dollar and play the Mega Millions lottery. Why the Mega Millions lotto? Because it still only costs a dollar for one chance at the jackpot and I waste at least ten bucks a week on crappy things like sodas and honey buns, which are a debilitating psychological dependency for me. So, my flawed logic tells me that it's okay to spend a dollar on a lotto ticket instead of buying some pseudo-food that is more high fructose sugar than any other substance.

That massive rationalization doesn't explain the purpose as to why I waste a dollar on a lotto ticket where the odds are so overwhelmingly against me that I have a better chance of dying from a billion year old meteorite falling to Earth and killing me while I sit on the toilet. Don't believe me? Well, one source on Google says that during an average person's lifespan the odd of just such a death by meteoroid is 1 in 700,000.

Let me put it bluntly, I buy a lotto ticket after I have a bad day. Like many Americans, while I am not wealthy I live a decent, middle class lifestyle. Understand, that lifestyle is based on revolving credit so if you wanted to get technical in a way my actual worth is pretty low. That being said, since I have no discernible talents, like singing or say writing, that could catapult me up into the rich and famous crowd nor any wealthy connections that I could latch onto like a leech and suck dry. Because of those reasons I am forced to continue riding my Visa card like a plastic horse on a merry-go-round.

The usual scenario goes like this, after I make it through a seriously crappy day I sometimes feel the need for a little, cheap escapism fantasy that has a nanoscopic chance of becoming real. My usual habit is to buy my lotto ticket at the same time I get gas for the car. As far as picking my numbers the usual practice is to go the Luke Skywalker route and stare at the card I have to fill out hoping for some guidance from the Force. Sadly, there is ample fact-based evidence that I have absolutely no abilities that transcend the known laws of physics or human biology because since the beginning of the lottery in South Carolina I have never won anything significant. But then again, let me remind everyone I don't play more than three of four times in a year.

I guess the main comfort that lotto ticket offers is that it allows me for a day or two to contemplate an existence where I not hassled by the usual modern crap required to stay in the perpetual American race race. I'm talking about stuff that while normal can begin to weigh down on someone like going to work, paying the bills and mortgage, the upkeep of a house you really don't like, and dealing with people who you wouldn't piss on if you suddenly found them burning to death.

This is where hitting the lotto jackpot fantasies come into play for me. For a long time my standard fantasy was that once the multi-million dollar prize was safely deposited in my account I would then go public declaring my winnings and proceed to start telling every a-hole I am forced to deal with on a daily basis just what they can do to themselves. The type of a-holes I'm talking about are the ones that make you grind your teeth because of the combination of complete at the utter stupidity and/or offensive nature of the words that come out of their mouths.

The grossest example of this is the person who agreed with his preacher when he said for the United States to be safe it would ultimately have to build a wall along the northern border with Canada because their immigration policy was letting so many Middle Eastern types come live there. This also covers something as minor as the person who asked me if was I happy with the results of the 2008 election a few months after the fact. What made this seemly innocent comment worthy of a-hole status was the way his face and body cringed as he asked the question, almost if the words left a sour taste in his mouth. Given my extended relationship with that person it was crystal clear that there was a racial element to his question rather than some normal disagreement with Obama's stated policies.

Lately though my post-jackpot fantasies are far more understated and dare I say clever. Instead of leaving the rat race behind with a bang by telling off everyone that makes my skin crawl, I would not go public and essentially drop out of sight as much is legally possible these days. The first step would be to just quit my job unannounced leaving just the name of my newly hired attorney to handle any loose ends. After that the general idea would be for my family and I to go into immediate hiding from just about everyone else on the planet. I've heard and read stories of how all sorts of extended family, long-time friends, and nearly forgotten acquaintances all suddenly emerge from underneath damp rocks as soon as someone they know wins the lotto. From there we would purchase a new home, in a restricted neighborhood complete with armed rent-a-cops to keep away from all the unwashed hordes.

On a critical side note, during this idle and impossible fantasies, I have considered the possibility that someone I know could end up winning the lotto. This brings up the uncomfortable question as to how I would act if such an event occurred. My hope would be that would leave them in peace and wish them well in their new found luck. That being said, if they should need a kidney, segment of a liver, or any other body part I could donate they should be ready to pay out the proverbial ass.

There is a fundamental flaw to my plan of just dropping out of sight though, chiefly that my wife has an actual career that would make a semi-reclusive lifestyle impossible. Then there are my kids that are both far more social and outgoing with numerous friends than their proto-curmudgeon father who, except for a few exceptions, wouldn't piss on the vast majority of the people he lives around if they accidentally set fire to themselves.

This puzzle eventually forced me to adapt my idle and hopeless post-jackpot fantasy. The first elements stay the same, I would still not go public with winning the lottery. But once the winnings were in my account I would go purchase a massive pickup truck and trailer normally used by lawn care professionals to transport equipment. And yes, I would also buy one of those commercial-grade riding lawnmowers and several high end weed whackers and have them neatly arranged on the trailer. The final element would be the addition of magnetic signs attached to the side of the truck advertising my new lawn care business. From there I would cruise around the local area inside my massive manly man truck acting like I am driving to a different job site.

The only purpose of this ruse would be avoid having people start asking questions as to why I don't go to work anymore. Not that it would be any of their business either way, but the one consistency I have discovered about the area I live is a near universal nosiness they have with anyone not living a similar mindless pod person existence. I often liken the personal intrusiveness inherent to this area to a sinister collective mind worried it might be discovered before it was ready to pounce upon an unsuspecting world of free-minded individuals. If too many of the drones start seeing me lounging around all the time they are sure to come investigate.

The freaking thing about this fake lawn care business scheme is that once I was fully equipped I could essentially disappear into the background static of the numerous others pursuing that line of work. Since the birth of the modern New South back in the mid-1970's when millions of Northerners started moving down here to get away from the cold ass winters in those states, there has been a explosion of lawn care businesses. See some upscale suburbanites, especially retirees, hate doing yard work about as much as me, but instead of blowing off the whole thing as much as possible, which is what I try to do, they hire some chump for the job. This has lead to an explosion of near countless manly man trucks driving around while pulling a trailer loaded with commercial-grade equipment. Sometimes the roads are so crowded with such vehicles that I wonder about a future where all anyone in the American South does for work is cut and trim each others lawns.

So after a small investment in equipment I would begin my new career as a sort of Flying Dutchman of lawn care. People would see me driving around on the road but never actually doing any work. At some point though a person would call the phone number I have printed on my nifty magnetic signs attached to the doors of my truck. These inquires would allow me a tempting way to play with the little minds of the locals. I figure the conversation would go something like this on the rare occasions I would actually answered the phone.

“Hello,” I would cheerily say, “you have reached Omega Man Lawn Care, how can I help you today?”

“Yes sir,” the unsuspecting local drone would respond back, “I'd like to inquire about your services and rates. Could you drop by my address and give me an estimate.”

“Slow down dude, first I have to have some of your references. My clientele is quite exclusive and I can't just go around cutting just anyone's grass.” I will say in as deadly serious manner as I can manage.

I figure at that point the caller will be quite dumbfounded since most people in this perceive themselves to be God's gift to the planet Earth. I have found the trait tends to go hand-in-hand with being so nosy these people would have made excellent informants for the KGB or the East German secret police. But whatever the case, my decoy business would continue up until the time both my kids have flown the coop and started their own lives.

Once that happens my ultimate fate is up in the air because, as you probably surmised quite early, I have absolutely no intention of living in this current area for the rest of my life. The last part of my little fantasy has me buying a small cottage somewhere in the tropical hills of Puerto Rico. From there I see myself sitting on a small patio every morning looking off in the distance at the brilliant blue of the Caribbean sea.

Before anyone gets all uppity and condescending, let me remind you this is just a collection my fantasies that help me get through the daily grind. I simply don't buy lotto tickets on a regular basis but I do enjoy the small respite a simple one -dollar purchase can offer when things get tough. It's either that or going to see a mental health counselor and you just about to have to win the lotto to be able to afford one of them, ain't that just weird?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why Sheriff Andy Taylor is a Hero to Me

Going to the local drug store to pick up my wife's prescription isn't my favorite chore, but at least it's fairly straight forward and quick if the pharmacist on duty is in a good mood. There is one lady who works behind the counter that seems to have a grudge against me, so much I figure I must look like a former boyfriend or ex-husband that treated her wrong. I take such incidents in stride now but something else happened yesterday as I walked into the drug store that exemplifies the nearly psychotic times we find ourselves living.

While the drug store in question will go unnamed, just know it is one of those ubiquitous national chains that tries to act like a mini-grocery store as well as having whole aisles dedicated to things like Halloween costumes and even cheap toys. As I walked through the automatic sliding doors I passed one of the store clerks stocking a shelf with colorful boxes. Wasn't really paying attention to the writing on the boxes but I did notice they looked rather heavy. As I turned a corner and started walking down another aisle, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of another person walking through the sliding glass door entrance.

Quick impressions are easily subject to misinterpretation but the guy seemed even more rushed than me as well as slightly perturbed. An idea reinforced when I started hearing an impatient voice whose volume was higher than anything used in a normal conversation. Whatever the case, I had my own task to accomplish and didn't think anymore of it, until I heard a seriously loud bang coming from that direction a second or two later. Being upfront, my first thought was that the guy I believed to be upset had pulled a gun and fired off a shot. At who, I had no idea but naturally the clerk innocently stocking shelves was high on the list.

The sad thing in all was that instead of just blowing off the noise, I instead stopped in my tracks and waited a few seconds to see if anything else happened, like more shots being fired or people beginning to scream in panic. Thankfully, except for the normal noise associated with a business, it was all quiet. Minutes later on the way back out I noticed that one of the shelves the clerk had been placing the heavy boxes on had broken or collapsed. As for the guy who seemed perturbed, I saw him at the general merchandise checkout with an armload of school supplies as I walked out the door.

Yes, this all ended uneventfully but the nasty bug in the societal system is that given the number of mass shootings this country has, sometimes on a monthly or even weekly basis, the possibility the dude buying school supplies was a deranged nutcase sporting a high-capacity firearm was real. At times I really hate all the trash comments I make about the area I live, but to be honest earning your concealed carry license for a handgun is one of the ways guys here earn their man card.

What it all boils down to is that I remember a time when I was a kid that while owning firearms was cool, the idea that you would carry one around in public was crazy to the general population, even here in the American South. This attitude was best exemplified by the ancient Andy Griffith Show where the fictional Sheriff Andy Taylor made a point of not wearing a sidearm because he wanted people to respect him and his authority, not the weapon he carried. That example a little too abstract, well my own grandfather once verbally jumped all over my twenty-something ass in the 1980's when I attempted to carry my own .45 automatic inside a public place.

Understand, my pistol was unloaded and my reason for carrying it was because I didn't want to leave it in my car since one of the door locks was busted, but my grandfather looked me dead in the eye and said only morons walk around with guns in public. Back during those years my enthusiasm for firearms extended to the ownership of an assault rifle as well, which when I look at the pictures of myself taken with it seem really creepy now. To complete this story I sold both the assault rifle and that .45 when I became involved in SCUBA diving and wanted to buy my own equipment.

Needless to say, mass shootings back in the 70s and 80s when I was a kid and young “adult” were outrageously rare occurrences but since then popular culture has made carrying a gun almost a prerequisite for some to have self respect for themselves. Many disagree, but I have had discussions with gun enthusiasts and their denials of that idea always have the ring of drug addicts or alcoholics swearing up and down that they don't have a problem, that the issue is with everyone else. Throw in unstable individuals with easy access to some serious firepower and you get mass shootings and a lot of innocent people dead, including small children. While I had long since moved on to other more constructive activities, that particular event ended the lackadaisical attitude I had towards letting gun nuts have their fun as long as I didn't have to hear them speak.

Gun nuts will skip over this sentence but I'm not calling for the ban of civilian ownership of firearms. I own another .45 automatic, although it spends most of its existence locked up inside a box in my closet. But I don't believe you can rationally say the saturation of guns in our national culture is healthy. Instead of having the calm and cool fictional Andy Taylor saying he wanted people to respect him personally, you have types like Eastwood who made his fame playing a character that asks if some punk is feeling lucky while he points a .44 magnum at his head. Excuse me for picking on Eastwood because he has plenty of company, but people tend to copy what seems reasonable and when countless movies suggest that you need to carry a firearm to solve issues, especially difficult ones involving troublesome people you're creating an atmosphere where civil society can't function.

Yes, there are numerous instances where someone with a gun protected their lives and those of their families, that is not an issue. The issue is that the United States has exponentially more mass shootings than any industrialized western country. Of course, I am not including such third-world countries such as Somalia or any other where civil society has broken down completely. If the widespread ownership of all sorts of weapons promoted peace, like gun enthusiasts say they would here, shouldn't those countries be law-abiding garden spots?

I'll write it one more time, I'm not talking about banning civilian ownership of guns. But in a rational society there should be enough common sense that laws and regulations could be enacted to where mass shootings are once again relegated to the rare, bizarre occurrence like it was when the fictional Sheriff Taylor's attitude was widespread among the public. My general idea is that you have to be trained and then licensed to drive a car, seems reasonable to suggest that something like a gun might require similar procedures. I'll throw mandatory liability insurance as a requirement as well, although the first two things I mentioned sends the average gun nut into seizures. I've noticed the barest mention of forcing gun owners to carry liability insurance turns them into enraged, zombie children out for blood.   

As for those who may think I am living in fear of some unknown madman, maybe I am making more of the incident in the drug store than I should. But, then again I'm not the one who feels defenseless if I'm not walking around in public with a loaded concealed weapon.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I'm still here-sort of-and should be fully functional by October

Time, or the lack of it, totally sucks. The main reason I decided to take a break was because, quite frankly, whenever I tried to sit down at the kitchen table to write several members of my family would invariably rush in and begin some complex project. The usual suspect being my wife who with the assistance of her god-awful expensive blender, made enough noise to wake the dead. The curious counterpoint to making enough noise to trigger a zombie apocalypse is that her blender makes actual human thought impossible when it is used.  
Another issue was a total breakdown in what could be called my creative instinct. I simply couldn't think of a damn thing to write that was even halfway original or interesting. Not that any of my stuff has ever been that inspired to begin with, but even crappy middle age dudes like me would one day like to reach the status of hack writer.

This morning though I reached a bit of a breaking point. I was cutting the backyard feeling disgusted that I was wasting my life in a never ending battle with mother fraking grass. Don't get me wrong, I've never like cutting grass but it's damn near the end of September and I'll probably have to do this shit again one more time before the weather gets cold enough to make my lawn go dormant for the winter.

Somewhere in the back of my head I have this fantasy of buying a fifty-five gallon drum of the most toxic weed killer and spraying it all over my lawn. After that I would burn the now dead grass residue and dance around in the flames laughing like a madman. Some might worry what the neighbors would think if I actually got around to doing those things but they are already working under the assumption that I'm crazy and for better or worse I'm actually okay with them having that opinion of me. They're just a bunch of Trump-loving, semi-suicidal morons deluded enough to think that narcissistic bastard won't frak the country to advance his own interests. My wife on the other hand is another matter, she demands I act civilized and decent in front of the sorry a-holes I am forced to live around. So, that leaves me little else but to take up my writing again and essentially live in the bizarre world that exists between my ears.

I'll leave you with this for now:


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Calling it quits--for a little while--maybe

Just not feeling it anymore. I'll probably be back, maybe really soon, or this might be the end.