Friday Firesmith – The Toy Truck Stomping Brat

Back in 1996, I was forced to go to a weeklong class that was five hours from where I lived. I would have rather chewed glass and then gargled with rubbing alcohol afterward, but as it was part of my employment there was no getting out of it at all. At that point in my life, I owned one cat and no dogs so getting a pet sitter wasn’t a real issue. But the cat, sensing that I was about to escape for a week, chewed a hole in my best belt. I had to get a new one so I stopped in Albany Georgia, on my way out.
I can’t remember where I stopped but it was likely a K Mart or something like that and I had no idea the store would be crowded in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, but it was. I had snagged a new belt, some water, and some snacks, but the line was killing me. Whatever was going on in Albany that day required many people to buy a lot of things, and the waiting in line thing was never something I was good at doing, even on my best days.

The reason I rail against children being allowed in stores, generally speaking, is they have no idea at all what it takes to make money, yet they have a very good idea about how to spend it. Actually, children have no concept of money they only have a concept of desire. They’ve been raised by televisions whose sole purpose is to create desire, and parents who have sold their souls to this device in the name of temporary peace which always has a price to be paid in the end.

In this case, the kid wanted a toy truck, one of those Matchbox toys and he was making his case louder and louder to his mom, who kept taking the toy out of the shopping cart and putting it back on the shelf. Decibel by decibel, the kid edged up his campaign and his voice became more demanding and shriller as the line got shorter and shorter and the time became smaller and smaller for him to get his way.

When it became clear to him that he wasn’t getting the truck he took a few steps away from his mom and the cart, screamed, threw the toy on the floor and then stomped on it and kicked it away from them both, as his mother simply ignored him.

I very nearly walked over to her and handed her the belt I was buying.

What’s scary is that if the kid was six years old at the time, and he may have been ten, then that means at this very moment he’s old enough to have had kids of his own, and possibly even more than one. Somewhere out there, the Truck Stomping Brat might be raising a family, breeding indiscriminately, and teaching his kids that volume and fit throwing and destruction are all part of negotiating for what you want in life.

What’s the worst fit you’ve ever seen a child throw in public?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – 57

I can remember turning ten years old, forty-seven years ago, and walking with my friend Mark Kelly, who was still nine, and the two of us considered what it meant to have hit the milestone of ten years old. It was a double-digit number. It was divisible by five and two, evenly. And we could think back and remember things that had happened half a lifetime ago when we were five years old and younger, and it was an odd thing to have memories that were that old. That was the first conversation I ever had about aging, and it would not be the last.

At thirteen I recalled the conversation, because it had been so far in my past, three whole years, and I was a teenager. That meant something. But it really did mean something because my body was changing, everyone’s body was changing, and things were changing all over the world. At thirteen both my grandmothers were still alive, and neither of my siblings had gotten married. We were all still children, with the chemicals inside of us to turn us into adults, but we had no idea how far away we were, or how close.

I turned twenty, twice as old as I had been at ten. I had long hair and a drinking problem. I smoked pot and did hard drugs. I strapped a seven-gallon keg into a backpack and gave away free beer on my birthday in the middle of Lacrosse Wisconsin. I remember some of that night, but not all of it.

At twenty-four I got out of the Army, lost a friend to murder, lived alone, read a lot, drank even more, and changed music, with intent. Suddenly, it was real, to lose someone to murder. Someone I had once loved was gunned down for less money than I had in the bank, which wasn’t much. I bought a gun, got a permit to carry it, and I did.

Suddenly, I was thirty. I remember talking to a woman I was friends with and I told her about Mark Kelly, and we laughed, silly kids back then talking about getting older, yet she was barely twenty, and as I turned thirty I didn’t consider her to be too young for me to spend time with, and she would break my heart over a decade later.

Forty found me married, a newlywed, but it didn’t take, it didn’t last. Bert was there, a puppy, and then Sam came along, and then a divorce, and then that woman (from thirty) broke my heart, and she got cancer five years later, and she beat it. She had a daughter who was older than she was when we met, and she remembered the conversation we had about Mark Kelly when she turned thirty.

At fifty I knew what was coming, and it did, as it always did. The people who threw me a small party laughed and made jokes about my age, and the age they carried, but it was a lot more personal as it had been forty years ago. Life was done with a lot of the people I once knew, and it was no longer a strange thing for someone to die. The joke was there will come a time in your life there will be more deaths than births, and at fifty, I arrived at that point.

At fifty-seven, I retire in three years. I am going to start over in a new career. My writing has improved over the decades and I think right now I am better than I have ever been, as far as writing goes. Bert, Sam, Lucas, and more dogs are gone now, but there are four more with me. Life seems slower, but I look forward to going to Rome, Iceland, and somewhere where there is no electricity for about a month, wherever that is. I feel more alive now than I did when I was twenty. I have memories that are old enough to apply for AARP. I have shoes old enough to vote, that I still wear. I have a measuring cup I bought when I was 24.

Happy Birthday to me, Thursday, November the 9th. I am still alive, and I am still living.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Questionable

Somewhere out there, people who train people to manage other people, are teaching normal everyday people, who are managers, to use a certain form of voodoo to hex and vex employees, who through no fault of their own, are forced to endure this sort of training for hours on end. That last sentence was fifty words long. Long sentences are usually inadvisable, but so are long meetings and classes.  But that is where the voodoo comes in. What they are selling to managers is the idea that it doesn’t matter what the content is, no, what matters is that in a sexual harassment class, or any class, you can fill space and time with questions, regardless of content or relevancy.  I’ll get back to that in a second.

But there is another class scheduled for the next hour and another one after that. And each of these class is a requirement to hold jobs, so everyone has to take them Yet everyone teaching this classes has a formula they use to put the information out and then engage in a mind-numbing series of long explanations that give no one any real information.

This is what it looks like: “So in conclusion, keep your hands to yourself, keep your mouth shut, and do your job” ( I paraphrased this, but I thought it would end sexual harassment if guys, and girls, followed that advice) The instructor pauses. No one asks any questions but he has a half hour to kill, so he asks, “Does anyone have any questions? Don’t be afraid to speak up” And there is dead silence. “Someone ask a question,” and right there is when it begins. We discover, to our unlimited horror, that every class has one person who loves to ask questions. No, there is no hope they’ll email the instructor later, or meet with the instructor after class. So during a break we ask the guy who was doing all the asking if there anything else he would like to know, like maybe how to shut the hell up?

So what happens if everyone just remains silent? We had this one guy. Everyone wanted to go to lunch early. We were on the very brink of escape, “Are there any questions?” then, “Does anyone want to ask a question?” But we had this, right? It was not to be. The instructor, realizing we were all leaning towards the door and he had a half hour left did this, “Well, in the last class, someone asked this question… and he went into a thirty minute long narrative on how he handled some problem in 1994.

Teaching is dead. The idea is no longer to pass some sort of knowledge from one person to another or to a group. We now teach to the timer, teach to the time frame allowed, and we teach people that in and of itself, time spent listening to a bored instructor is enough for them to claim some level of knowledge.

Everything you really need to know about sexual harassment can be summed up in three words, “No means no”. The other classes take a little longer, or they do not, but the content should drive that, not a time frame or a person asking questions.

Does anyone else have this at work?

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Sharers

The great thing about social media is it gives a voice to people who otherwise might remain
forever silent. The terrible thing about social media is it gives a voice to people who otherwise should remain forever silent.

Take a news article that is online, any news article, and then read the comments. You’ll discover quite quickly why the meme, “Never read the comments” caught fire like a meth head trying to cook his stuff in the bathroom at a gas station between an oil refinery and a Taco Bell. If the story is as bland and benign as a dog rescuing a child from a flood there is someone out there who can connect it to some hot-button issue which explodes into mindless vitriol in less time than it takes for you to say, “Jerry Springer”.

Worse, infinitely worse, this form of sharing of thoughts has not only become fun for some
people, let’s call them “The Sharers”, but they also feel obligated, and compelled, and even
worse still, they feel as if other people have no right to refuse them. They have something. They want to share it. That’s as far as the equation goes.

I’ve blocked close to fifty people on FB simply because I didn’t like their content, the way they
spoke to other people, the way they treated me or my friends, or simply because they are as boring as hell. No one ought to entertain expectations that I have to put up with anything I don’t want to put up with when I can control the content that I see and hear.

Enter the Sharers.

There’s a guy at work whose daughter is a great ice skater. He has videos of her winning medals that might put her in the Olympics one day. So he walks around with his phone and shares this with anyone, at any time all the time. I love his little girl. I actually like him. But there is a time and place to share and work isn’t always that place.

There’s another guy at work who is nearly incomprehensible. He doesn’t smoke cigars but he
keeps one in his mouth, and perhaps Freud might explain this to me, or not, but aside from his self-induced speech impediment he has a tendency towards mumbling. Worse than that, he likes country music and likes to play it on his phone, and sing along with it, out loud. Imagine if you will, the sound of a drunk man with a mouth full of gravel who is puking the rocks from his mouth and doing so off key. That’s how he sounds.

So he walked into my office and announced that Montgomery Jenkins, or Jacksonville Jennings, or Birmingham Billings, someone who once sang country music, had just died. “Are we sending flowers or merely irritating co-workers in his honor?” I asked. Am I ineffectual when it comes to sarcasm? Have I lost my touch? Is there a sign on my office door requesting Country Music Mourners make their way inside?

No, but the Sharers cannot read or refuse to anyway. They’re like those videos on Bits and
Pieces that crank up automatically and you can’t cut them off, Jon.

This guy starts playing some song on his phone and I started playing “Song of the Cherubim” on mine.

“Hey!” the Sharer complained. “He’s dead.”

“So is the guy who wrote this song but you don’t see me forcing it on you, do you?”

He moved on to his next act of Share.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Aida

The man in 119 started all of this, really, back in 1987, which was one of those years where a lot of music stuck in my head, and a lot of things happened that would echo for decades in my life. Two years before this, I embarked on a quest to expand my culinary experiences. I started eating spicy food as a means to explore the different foods of faraway cultures. I grow Carolina Reapers today, and I’m more or less blazing a trail for new foods myself.

Mostly, my younger years were a time when I was told what music I liked. My parents bought me records when I was a little kid, Disney stuff and that sort of thing, and then later I listened to whatever they liked because children did not have opinions on clothes, food, music, or anything else. I grew up with a very weird streak in music and I have no idea why; Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and that sort of thing were the eight-track tapes I bought when I had my own money and could spend my own time. But the vast majority of music that was being created for commercial radio was three point five minutes long and as derived as it could possibly be. Things only got worse as the main delivery system for music, commercial radio, became a stronger force in music.

Oddly, digital music only seemed to strengthen the 3.5 minutes long formula drive popular music. Genre aside, there is no distinguishable difference in artists, songs, albums, such as they are, or musicians. How a singer looks, who that singer is sleeping with, currently, and how their music is advertised means a lot more than vocal strength, musical ability, and quality of the art.

But let’s stop for a moment or two, and examine what’s happening inside your head as you’re going down the road and listening to the radio. If you drive for an hour a day, and I drive a hell of a lot more, in that hour you’re going to get forty-five minutes of music in three-point-five-minute clips, and fifteen minutes of commercials in one minute or thirty-second clips. Your mind is being trained to latch onto to incoming information for these time periods. Thirty seconds, sixty seconds, or two hundred and ten seconds. Let’s take the classic rock song, “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. The single version of this song is two hundred seconds long. Segar repeats the song title fifteen times at the end of the song. Inside of the song is the tale of young love, seemingly lost, and then a lot of repetition. Your mind likes this song. But you’re training your attention span downward.

Back in 1987, and in the years that followed, I started paying more attention to content than hooks. I started trying to find meaning in the way music was created rather than how much of it was simply background noise. I went out and bought a copy of Verde’s Aida, and decided to listen to how music was once created and performed.

You might want to set aside about three hours of your life if you want to try this. Aida is not for the faint of heart. It’s a love triangle gone horribly wrong with betrayal and treason, lust and love, war and death. It’s a musical experience, unlike anything you’ll find in American popular culture today.

I do a lot of writing with classical music in the background. Sometimes, I stop to consider what was happening when a piece was written, how the composer went in one direction over another, and decided to put one instrument in or perhaps take one out.

I wonder if the rise in Alzheimer’s disease has something to do with how we treat our brains. You would expect for any organ to wear out if subjected to repetitive conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome. I wonder if years of blasting two hundred and ten seconds of musical junk food into our minds cause a certain deterioration. Hours of television, binge watching shows, and sitting there, being fed someone else’s creations while neglecting our own ability to release your mind is little more than keeping a dog chained to a tree in the backyard, and wondering why he looks so sad.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Friday the 13th in October

Triskaidekaphobia- Fear of the number 13.

If you have ever wondered where the whole “Friday the Thirteenth” came from, there are many people who think it arose from 1307, when in October, on Friday the Thirteenth the French arrested and tortured thousands of members of the Knights Templars. This also kicked off rumors of hidden treasure and curses, but that was a fairly unlucky Friday the 13th for those guys, without a doubt.

Back in October of 1972, a plane crashed in Moscow on this date and killed nearly two hundred people. That’s was bad enough, but on the very same day, a plane crashed in the Andes mountains. The plane was chartered to take a rugby team to Chile but it crashed and a dozen people were killed outright. Those who survived knew there was no way in hell they could walk out of the mountains, so they waited and waited for a rescue that never came. Finally, they resorted to eating the dead passengers. Two of the guys walked out of the mountains and the rescue was on. If you have never felt grateful you have food read the book that tells their story, “Alive.” I read it when I was twelve. I’ve never been truly hungry or comfortable flying since. When I do fly, I look at the other passengers much differently than others do, I suspect. You never know.

On October the 13th in 2006, a blizzard hit Buffalo New York and dropped two feet of snow overnight. Since it’s not overly cold in Buffalo in October people didn’t freeze to death but half a million lost power. There were, however, a lot of babies born in July of the next year.

On October the 13th, 1986, also a Friday, the Stock Market shed nearly 200 points dropping the market as a whole nearly seven percent. That day is still known as ‘Black Friday”. I remember that happening because I was working as a Periodic Hydraulic Consumption Monitor, a water meter reader, and was making just enough to keep me in food, beer, and rent. I found it mildly amusing that rich people had lost money on legalized gambling.

Every year about this time, a Facebook meme will appear saying that Halloween will be on Friday the 13th for the first time in 666 years. Mindlessly, this thing is passed around with people hitting the share button far more quickly than their brains normally function.

All in all, I cannot remember anything bad ever happening to me on Friday the 13th. I’m sure there have things that were bad that did happen to me on this day, and something may have even happened to me on an October the 13th, and it was a Friday, but it’s just as likely that I had a car wreck on October the 14th, or July the 19th, and maybe those days were Wednesdays.

However, this about this: On Friday, April 13, 2029, asteroid 2004 MN4 will fly past Earth only 18,600 miles (30,000 km) above the ground. For comparison, geosynchronous satellites orbit at 22,300 miles (36,000 km). “At closest approach, the asteroid will shine like a 3rd magnitude star, visible to the unaided eye from Africa, Europe, and Asia–even through city lights,” says Jon Giorgini of JPL. This is rare. “Close approaches by objects as large as 2004 MN4 are currently thought to occur at 1000-year intervals, on average.”

The asteroid is about 320 meters wide, or roughly about a thousand feet.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Tom Petty

I lived alone for the first time in my life in 1980, at the age of 19. When I was a young teen, music was Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and that sort of thing, but the world was changing and music was changing with it. After a few years of suffering through Disco, New Wave was breaking out and breaking up the old genres of radio music In the middle of the turmoil that would be the early eighties, a song titled “Refugee” came out, and I remember listening to it one night, and realizing that I really liked it. I had never heard of Tom Petty, but he had been around for a while.

I drifted around, joined the army, did my time, and finally landed in Valdosta Georgia in 1985, and that was about the time “Don’t Come Around Here No More” hit MTV. 1985 was the year for MTV and Tom Petty with his Alice in Wonderland themed hit, kicked off the surreal quality and the artistic soul that made that year what it was. I was fascinated by the video and to this day, I like to watch Wish Folsom going through the rabbit hole that was that music.

By 1989, Petty had released a song titled “Jammin’ Me” and I had a female friend who really liked the album it came off of, “Let me Up (I’ve had enough)”. She and I drank together and had an affair that led to the end of our friendship. I have no idea what happened to her after she left Valdosta, but there was a lot of mystery as to what happened and why it happened. But once again, I can link Tom Petty’s music to a part of my life.

1992 found my life in a state of flux again, and this on the heels of the 1991 release of “Into The Great Wide Open” by Petty. I moved across the state and didn’t like much that was going on, but I did have a familiar soundtrack, with Petty on board again. Looking back now, at that time of my life, I see that I didn’t realize that Tom Petty’s music had been a part of my life for well over a decade. I just never really noticed it. He was just always there, in the background.

1994 saw “Wildflowers” come out and I had moved again. It was to be the last Tom Petty CD that I would really listen to, and in the end, this is where I lost touch with his music entirely until his death earlier this week.

I never saw him in concert, I don’t have any stories about the two of us meeting, and I wasn’t such a fan I bought everything he ever made. Mostly, I think Tom Petty was more or less background music to some times in my life that I think he made better through his work. That may or may not be something that makes him great, but this isn’t about telling you how great he was, but rather me telling you that Tom Petty’s music was something that I wrapped myself in on cold nights, no matter what the season, and found warmth, and comfort, and good music.

What was your favorite Tom Petty song and why?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.



Friday Firesmith – Death on the Road

I get up on time, let the dogs out, and start coffee because nothing is going to happen unless coffee. Marco Ladakh and Greyson Charlotte are fed on the porch, Greyson gets fed first or Marco will try to steal her food, and the two Pibble Princesses get fed inside. Everyone has their own place and their own bowl and everyone knows that poaching isn’t allowed, but I do keep an eye on Marco. Coffee, good strong coffee, and breakfast for me, and I sit down to eat while going through the news on the internet. People are killing other people and people are hating other people, that’s everything that can be said for what is happening on the news today.

Before I leave I water the Reapers because they are a very thirsty pair of plants and my decision to take them out of the pots and put them into the ground was a good one. Both plants are more than twice the size they were when they were replanted into the ground back in May. I have dozens of Carolina Reaper peppers on each of the plants. I have a yearn, a yearn to burn.

Because it’s Friday I leave just a little late; Friday is a good day for a bit more coffee, you know, and about a mile and a half later, near Hickory Head Road, I see a car coming around the curve at the top of the kill. She runs off the road, pulls back hard, very hard, and her car drifts over on two wheels before she lands and overreacts again, whipsawing across both lanes twice in the space of a couple of seconds. I’m braking the second I saw her overcorrect so I’m still a quarter of a mile off when she stops, blocking both lanes. As I approach she gets it together and hurries away, not looking at me as we pass one another.

This isn’t a person I recognize, her car is unfamiliar, and it doesn’t occur to me to wonder why she is where she is until much later in the day. Who was she? Where was she going? A few miles an hour more and she would have rolled right in front of me. If I hadn’t stopped to drink more coffee I might have slammed into her while she was on two wheels. Would it have killed her or me or both of us?

I wonder how it would have felt for me to have hit her, and looked at the wreckage of her car, a small silver thing, and looked for my phone to call 911, and to have to wait for help, maybe injured, maybe badly, and how much of any of it would I have remembered?

Would I have come to in the hospital, none of the wreck still in my mind, and not discovered until later someone else was in the wreck, and she was killed? Who would she be to me? How would I feel about her death? Does she have children, a wife or husband? Brothers, sisters, and family who would be devastated over her death?

We Southerners are a superstitious lot of people, and somehow the practice of roadside memorials became common. Would there be flowers and a white cross, stuffed animals and letters to her near the spot where she died? How would that make me feel as I passed that spot each day on my way to work? I’ve never believed in gravestones or headstones or any of that stuff. Cremate the dead, scatter the ashes, and move on, says I. Or better yet, put the body in a hole in the ground and let nature take Her course. Ashes to ashes or dust to dust.

The thing here is this woman, whoever she is, wherever she is, might never stop and think about me, and how we might have forever been linked by her own death. We are an insulated people when we drive, disengaged from other humans, unaware of how close we come in each passing second, to altering lives forever. We change the radio station, answer the phone, light a cigarette, text a friend, and then in an instant, we can be dead, or kill someone. Or both.

Or be forever memorialized on Bits and Pieces.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Favorite One

I know her well; she’s a good person, a responsible citizen, caring and kind, and it’s not like anything is going to change that. But the one thing about FB becoming so ubiquitous in our lives is that we tend to become insulated to what we are revealing, like those people who pick their noses in their cars. With FB, we tend to show what we want people to see, that is, our children, our pets, our nice things, our food, and pretty things, or ugly things. Funny things and sad things, but a good person, a really good person, might make a mistake and show a little too much.

It’s like a photo of a woman sunning on a towel, who raises her head up just enough to get a photo of the surf in the background, perfectly framed as a background for her smile, eyes aglow in happiness at being on the beach. But she’s topless and has raised up just a bit too far, and the photo is there for far too long to delete it and feel safe.

But this isn’t about nipples, and it shouldn’t be, for there is nothing indecent or vulgar about nipples, it’s just that we have been made to believe that it is. In a true and perfect world, the photo would be a photo, and that would be the end of it, as well it should be, but we all know it is not.

Then there are other photos that she shows. She has three sons, all gifted and smart, all of them good people, like their parents, but only one of them turns up on a regular basis on his mother’s FB. One of them gets a lot of photo time and the other two who are just a little younger than the firstborn. They do get some time in the photos with their mother, but they are not The One.

Were it just the number of photos, the frequency in which he is alone with his mother, perhaps that would not be an indication he is the Favorite, but the expression in her eyes, the smile, the happiness of being with the Favored One, the thrill of being near the Scion, the part of her that will live on forever, is what ices it. With Him, is when she is happiest. With the other two, she is merely happy.

I’ve never met a parent who would confess to it but I have always had a favorite dog. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to having kids, but I have noticed that some parents tend to favor one child over the others. Yet each one of them, when I have questioned this, tells me they love each child exactly the same, equally, always, but I suspect at the end of the day this is not true.

Sam, the Happy Hound, was the younger dog to Bert the Beloved, and I never mistreated Sam, and he was well taken care of and he was very much loved, but Bert was my Favorite. I do not think Sam suffered from not being the Favorite.

For those of you with kids or those of you who were once kids (yes, that means everyone) did you have a Favorite, or were you a Favorite? Do you think this is more common than people believe and do you think it is harmful?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.