Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't bug me, it's been one of those days.

     It’s been one of those days; don’t you hate them.  I had to go to a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I decided to make a run by the “convenience center.”  That’s what they call that asinine place where we have to take our trash and diligently sorted recyclables.  I’m not sure, but I think I threw a bag of trash in the bottles and cans bin and a bag of bottles and cans in the dumpster.  Oops!  With my luck, they’ll trace it and the garbage police will come kick my door down.  Why is everything so complicated today?  Bottles and cans, paper, florescent bulbs, used oil, electronics, plastics, cardboard and trash.  It’s like sorting mail.  I didn’t take the cardboard today; that’s a whole other area of the inconvenient convenience center.  Plus I would have to cut down all the boxes and then take them and stack ‘em in a trailer that is too short for a Munchkin (I hit my head every time, not to mention, soil my hat).  Nope, no cardboard today, it can stay in the stupid garage until I feel like dealing with that hassle.
     But I had to out, so I put on a fake happy face, shook hands, complimented people that should be complimented, joked with the doctor and nurse, smiled and pretended to be that other, more likable David, while the whole time I was steaming; mad at the world and irked by everyone and everything.  No, I’m not pissed about anything in particular; it is just one of those days.  See, I am harboring a low-grade purposeless anger and illogical discontent like some systemic infection in my blood.  I hate days like this; actually come to think of it, today I hate everything, but that is my point.  Oh, yeah, and my pretty, petite, but very pregnant doctor lady says she wants me to come back again in a week (for the co-pay, I’m sure -- they are trying to bankrupt me) and since my digestive track is finally back in order, she wants me on another course of antibiotics.  Oh goody!

      I really don’t feel like working today, but then again I am pretty sure I will want to eat next week.  I am still suffering the financial recession brought on by my recent marital schism.  If I don’t work, I won’t earn money; if I don’t have money, I can’t buy food.  Speaking of food, I have no appetite or desire to cook.  That is odd for me; food is an important part of that other David’s life.  He doesn’t eat; he dines.  Everything has to be some elaborate production; meals are an art form.  His culinary background and experience makes him that way.  On a day like this, however, you might even catch me eating a can of Campbell’s soup or a frozen pizza, but please don’t tell him.

      Well, I see the morning fog has lifted; the sun is shining; it is pleasantly warm and dry with a hint of spring.  That should make anyone happy; right?  Pshaw, I’d rather sit in a dark room and listen to that annoying music on the radio.  Oh, trust me, I have tried every station, it is all crap today; the only thing worse is listening to the tinnitus in my right ear.  It is just one of those days.

     Don’t worry, if we bump into one another on the street, talk on the phone, or exchange emails, I promise to be cordial and nice.  I was raised that way.  Sure, I am angry, sure, I am completely discontent with everything David today, but I can’t show it.  That is not permitted.  Maybe I should write about it as some kind of self-indulgent psychotherapy, but then I would have to ask, “Why are you reading this crap?  Don’t you have anything better to do than peruse the ramblings of an old writer who’s in a foul mood?”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Moonshine, Mason jars and a quiet mountain lifestyle.

Most of you know that ten years ago I decided to simplify my life and move up into the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina.  I moved from several different places until I found this particular mountain with its peaceful view of the valley below and the sparsely strewed houses of the neighbors, all either lower or higher on this difficult grade.  With that as a foreword, very few people know exactly where I live and for the point of this anecdote, that is probably a good thing.
Each year hundreds of thousands of people flock to this area to enjoy cool summer breezes, swoon at the beautiful scenery, and indulge in the folksy history, art, music, dining, hiking, and golf.  But very few tourists or “leafers” ever wander past the well-groomed landscapes of the parks and attractions, almost no one dares to turn off the safety of the pavement onto roads that seem impassible to their cherished automobiles, and few if any, ever meander deep enough into the woods or high enough on the ridges to discover where the real mountain people still live.  It is in these environs that I choose to make my home.  From the county road at the foot of mountain, the first obstacle you encounter when exploring the ingress to my home, is the need to drive across a running creek of mountain-fresh water.  The pioneers who first settled this peak decided to build a stream-crossing rather than to bury a culvert and divert the water under the road.  I appreciate their decision; it keeps the looky-loos off of the one-lane road that is the only access to our houses.
When I first came to this place, I met a couple of neighbors from the mountain that were like me, relocated flat-landers in search of a different lifestyle, but in honesty, there are many families above me that are determined to keep their privacy.  With these hill people, the most interaction you could expect is a wave of appreciation when one or the other of us has to pull over onto a flat spot to let the other one go by heading up or down the mountain.  Now you might think these standoffish neighbors are waiting for me or another barely abided invader to make the first move with some modest basket of food and spirits delivered to their door with a heartfelt hello.  I would beg to differ; these people guard their privacy with fervor.  Many of these mountains are still populated with families that have homesteaded here for hundreds of years keeping to the same piece of land.  They are a people and a culture unto themselves, and many still harbor deep resentment to those who built the Fontana Dam and flooded thousands of acres of ancestral lands, or those who decided that the Great Smoky Mountains need to be preserved for all Americans to enjoy and confiscated generational lands, historic churches and meeting places, forced the evacuation of working farms, and prohibited access to their subsistence hunting grounds and fishing holes, all so that a few hikers and car-bound tourists can come and enjoy the relics and ruins of a once peaceful and secluded community.
There are a dozen or so names that claim ownership to vast tracts of land in these mountains; family names that can be traced back to the original land patents and down through deeds that have been divided and subdivided through the ages.  Some of these names have overflowed into the businesses of the towns and villages, to the plaques on the bank teller’s windows or the employee of the month wall at the local grocery.  Some descendants have chosen to join the growing community of outsiders that have populated their once isolated hamlets, but others have taken deliberate steps to isolate themselves even further from the prying eyes of modern society.  The once commercialized fascination of these backwoodsmen in the movies (locally set Cold Mountain, Nell and Deliverance) has turned to some impressive documentary style exploitations of television in Hillbilly Blood, Mountain Monsters, Moonshiners, Mountain Men, and Appalachian Outlaws.  I am quite familiar with all of these filmed locations and in a few incidences, a couple of the actual characters.  But still, there is danger in the hills when trespassing where you don’t belong.  It is an almost a daily occurrence to be sitting outside and hear the sounds of firearms being discharged.  Sometimes it is hunters in search of supper, often it is merely target practice, in the weeks before hunting season, it is the “sighting in” of their long rifles, but frequently, as evidenced by the rapid barrage and eclectic mixture of caliber rounds, it is nothing more than backwoods fun with a not-so-subtle implication.  Bottom line, I keep to myself.
Shortly after I moved in here, I met the son of the builder who came up from Florida to build this house.  The man asked me if I had ever been to the top of the mountain; I hadn’t.  He told me a colorful tale of a four-wheeler expedition on some trails near the ridgeline and locating the headwaters of our Hide-Away Creek.  He told me the terrain was steep, dense and difficult to maneuver, but that it would be worth my time if I ever get a four-wheeler (a desperate desire of mine).

All that I have written here is the preface to these next few words: 

On a relatively temperate night recently, my nurse-maid/friend, who’s been helping me recover from my recent infirmities, and I were sitting on the deck that faces west.  She shushed me sharply and whispered, “Listen!”  From the high regions just to the north of my house came the unmistakable sounds of clinking mason jars.  We had no outside lights on so we sidled to the edge of the porch to watch and listen.  In the woods, no more than a half-mile from me and about 1,000 feet higher on the hill, were lantern lights in an area where no house stands.  We silently listened as bottle after bottle was filled and stowed until at last the industrious night-workers extinguished their lanterns and the mountain again became dark and deserted.
We traded jokes about hiking up to buy some fresh moonshine, but jokes were all they were.  I know where to safely purchase White Lightning, both the legal kind and the untaxed local kind; I don’t think traipsing off onto a foreboding wooded hillside is a good way to procure a little hooch.  Even if I were able to locate their burner, mash pot, thumper and worm, I doubt I would’ve survived long enough to consummate my intended commerce.

Old-timey mountain life still exists in these backwoods, and sometimes it is just up the road.  People around here still miss and mourn for the country’s most famous moonshiner, Popcorn Sutton.  He lived and worked his stills no more than a fifteen minute drive from where I live.  Because of the ample availability, I know there are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of illegal stills operating within a few miles of my house.  I wouldn’t want to mess with any of them, but it is oddly comforting to know that the indigenous Appalachian culture has not been usurped by the heavy hands of government regulations or the incursive onslaught of the outside society.  

Mason jars clinking in the night, well that is just one more reason I love living in the Smokys.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Times They Are a Changin'

     I know I am a bit of a rebel, I was born that way; a product of my generation.  I slept through last night on purpose.  I refused to get up at two o’clock in the morning just to change the clocks.  What are they going to do?  What, the jackbooted clock-police are going to kick down my door and taze me?  I say, no!  To hell with them!  In fact, if you want to know a secret, that stupid purple clock that my ex decided I should use a ladder and hang eleven feet up the wall, well, it doesn’t need to “spring forward,” because it never fell back.  Take that ex-wifey!
Down with the establishment!

     Seriously, don’t you love when twice a year the government screws with your metabolism by changing time?  I don’t really buy into the theory that it saves on power consumption.  Sure it stays light a little longer in the evening, but for us working stiffs and those who have children still in school, the lights come on an hour earlier in the morning and the predawn commute is a tad more perilous.  We end up using the same amount of electricity while suffering the consequences of an increase in fender-bender accidents.  Hey, wait a second.  Somebody needs to investigate the auto body repair industry; maybe they’re behind all of this. 
     But regardless of whether it is those Bondo-slinging, spray-painting, collision mechanics, or some other maniacal consortium of industrial evil that is responsible, this mandate is yet another Imperial decree meant to bend the freewill of the subservient people. 
Down with the establishment!

     Okay, maybe that is a little over the top, but consider this: 
     What if daylight savings is actually a subliminal experimentation in mass telekinesis?  C’mon, you know that any government that can dream up the evils of the IRS, spend sixteen trillion dollars more than they have or ever will have, and still deny the existence UFOs and confiscated alien technology is also capable of believing that if they can get everyone in the civilized world (which, of course, is only most of North America, Europe and a small portion of South America) to think that spring is actually here, then the collective combined positive thoughts could effectively force Mother Nature’s hand. 
     Now there is a problem with this, like most government regulations, it was dreamed up by idealists who failed to consider its unintended consequences.  First, what about global warming?  Huh?  I bet you never figured that the fate of the polar bears was all a part of this cockamamie spring forward / fall back conspiracy.  And if that isn’t enough to make you angry, the second flaw in this devious new-world scheme, is that our illustrious powers-that-be consider all those ignorant, uneducated, non-Euro-American peoples of Asia, Africa, Oceana, the majority of South America and the entire subcontinents of India and Australia to be unworthy of membership in their exclusive global confederacy that is attempting to usurp the divine power of the gods.  Yes, the uncivilized, barbarian government leaders over there don’t force clock-changing on their people, oh, no.  How uncouth their populations must be.  Can you imagine?  Thank goodness they only make up a mere three-quarters of the Earth’s population.
     You have to wonder when our self-important leaders will realize that we stand no chance at preempting the seasonal schedule when most people on this planet are content to let the wobbly solar orbit of this piece of cosmic debris run its course without our mortal intervention. 
     I say, let the sun rise when it wants to and set when it is time. 
Down with the establishment!
     Did you hear that?  I think I just heard a sigh of relief from the southern hemisphere where they are in late summer and have little desire to see an early onset of autumn.

     That being said, yesterday the temperature soared into the upper 60s at my high altitude homestead, teasing me with a taste of the springtime yet to be.  I sat out on the front deck talking with a friend when in a conversational pause, we were struck by a chorus of migratory song birds accompanied by the rhythm of various tempo woodpeckers.  The melodic high-notes set against the beats of the percussive bug-eaters echoed across the arboreal mountainside in an impressive, natural orchestration.  I know these sounds were only the pre-event rehearsal of the opening overture scheduled to be performed later when the canopy of the forest spreads its verdant cover over the amphitheater of the flora and fauna musicians; an appetizer to the next course in the multi-sensual feast of the Great Smoky Mountains.

     Spring (or fall depending on your solar orientation) is not here regardless of what the clock on your wall says.  It may not be here, but it is near; you should start planning.  I often find it ironic that so many people use the winter solstice and the Gregorian New Year as a time of resolution yet are content to acquiesce to the status quo the rest of the time.  Why not resolve to change something, anything at each and every seasonal change.  I don’t know, maybe it is me being a child of the 60s, but I miss the protests of inexplicable indoctrination and forced conformity.  As that sagacious troubadour and voice of my rebel generation, Bob Dylan, crooned in the winter of 1964, The times, they are a changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bernie's Bomb and Time Marches On

     When Bernie realized that the only way to get the charge close enough to Amelia was to carry it himself, he gave a moment’s consideration to the futility of a revenge that ends in suicide.  But then he realized that for whatever the brief amount of time that would elapse from the moment of detonation to when her brain stopped functioning, she would know the extent of her mistakes and the effects on those around her.

     Only half the lights were on in the office that he had shared with his wife for the past seven years.  Amelia was in the break room pouring coffee, unsuspecting that her estranged husband would show up after a month’s absence.  The transgressions that effectively ended their decade-long marriage had seemingly also ended the partnership that warranted both names under the State Farm logo on the front door.
     Their book of business had been put out for bid and Amelia knew that whatever little compensation they might get would only alleviate an insignificant portion of the debt that now was in perilous default.  The bank could have the house and cars, but it was the money owed to Francisco that worried her; the only collateral available to his type of loans was flesh and blood and broken bones.
     The sound of her husband’s office door startled her as she took a sip of Folgers and left a small stain on the front of her blouse.  She threw the switch for the left-side lights and called out, “I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”
     “Well, hello to you, too, Darling.”  Mumbling, “Bitch,” under his breath.  “And unless you’ve developed x-ray vision, I don’t think you’ve seen me yet this morning.”
     The animus that bloomed from his wife’s financial, spiritual and physical indiscretions was not extirpated by time spent apart.  The center did not hold, and things fell apart.  The device he secreted in his bag was meant to surgically excise the insatiable hurt and sorrow buried in the hearts of both he and his wife.  A final solution intended to end their suffering and circumvent the proposed violence and sexual extortion of the seedy debt collectors.
     Bernie reached to close his office door but he was too late; his wife’s figure filled the opening with an insincere smile and two cups of coffee.  “Here,” she held out a Discount Double Check Arron Rodgers mug.  “Are you getting your things?”
     Bernie thought to himself how ironic the question really would be in the next few minutes.  He considered a facetious retort but was struck instead by the stunning visage of the woman standing in front of him: his one and only true love.  His mind reeled with the unwelcomed recognition that she was still as beautiful as she was when they first met.  She was all but perfect with symmetric bone structure, a clear, luminous complexion and a figure that could never be improved artificially even by the most talented surgeons.  The small coffee spot on her shirt was her only obvious flaw; a sudden crescendo of misplaced sadness welled within his chest and wet his eyes.  He wondered again how things had come to this point; how he missed all of the signs, how she had slid so far, so fast.  There was a pounding regret in the back of his mind, but he knew the die was cast and there was no backing down.
     “Frankie or Francis or whatever the hell his name is, called my brother.  Why the fuck would have told him I had a brother?”
     Her smile faded as she dropped her head, “It was in the beginning when things were still good, we had little conversations about family and vacations, shit like that.  I realize now, he was fishing for information.  I was so na├»ve, I swear, I -- I never intended --” 
     She flopped heavily into the guest chair and covered her face, “I never really intended any of this.”
     Bernie set his Coach briefcase on the desk, knowing the time had come.  “I called him.  He wants both of us at La Trattoria on Market at two o’clock today.  I told him we would be there, what I didn’t tell him is there is no fucking way we can make him whole, not now, not in the next hundred years.  It’s over.”
     The zipper released one tooth at a time taking what their minds perceived to be an hour to reveal the detonator at the far left.  It took far less time than that for Amelia to understand the intent and consequence of her husband’s slow-motion actions.  “It’s over.”  Her mind lurched and sputtered at a kaleidoscopic collage of all the decisions that led them to this point; she watched every sure-win bet deteriorate into an unpayable loss, she heard herself retell every lie, relived every argument, cried every tear and felt that one, single, angry punch a thousand times over.  She knew that Bernie was right, what was done could never be fixed in a hundred years; this inconceivable solution of his, those wires inside that briefcase, this was the only way out for her, but why he was here, too?
     The initial flash of the expanding gases froze as it reached the point of rending the leather of the makeshift bomb casing.  Time as we know it stopped and Bernie and Amelia’s worldly existence ended.
     The blast shook most of the downtown and fire slowly consumed the remainder of the office complex, but neither of the ill-fated insurance agents, would hear the sound or feel the heat.  They would never know the stunned anger of the smarmy loan shark or the savage payments incurred by Amelia’s parents or Bernie’s brother.  The bodies of these once impassioned lovers, mated business partners and marital spouses were shredded in the millisecond after their mortal continuum of time stopped.  Their bodies, their lives, the structure of their beings were gone, all that remained were two lost souls trapped in an infinite moment.

     This is the purgatory of these souls: imprisoned in the lies, deceit, mistrust and betrayal of a destructed marriage.  Their salvation or condemnation is now subject to the wife being able to justify the unjustifiable actions of her vices and earn her husband’s forgiveness for the unforgivable.  Freedom, in whatever form awaits, is contingent on the husband successfully explaining his inexplicable inattention and once again trust his untrustworthy wife.

     The lost husband and the lost wife must find an impossible key to their impregnable jail.  They must suffer all of their sins repeatedly and eternally within that immeasurable instant.  Locked inside the gates of their own construction and lacking the knowledge of what might lie beyond, there is no choice but to try to escape and then try again.

     Does time march on?  Yes, but only for those privileged enough to still have a chance at fixing spent mistakes.  Some will try and succeed, some will fail, and some will consider this whole concept a worthless faith, a myth for the ignorant.  But then for some, time has already ended and nothing will ever be changed; they are the truest believers.