There was a time I was killing off people at gas stations as quickly as I found them. I was discreet about it because you can never be too careful when it comes to murder. But like all serial killers, I had quirks, and mine was to make sure they always died on the day of the week I found them, no matter how long it took me to figure out when and where and how to kill them.
I’m talking about writing, I ought to mention that now, and there for a while there were some gas stations that printed the names on creditcards on receipts. I’d use those names in fiction when someone had to die, andsomeone has to die, you know.
In case you’ve never thought about it, there’s a very good reason to kill off characters. Remember back in movie, “Titanic”? Okay, everyone, damn near, dies at the end of the movie, but you knew that before you bought the ticket, right? But Jack and Rose meet, fall in love, and then he stays in the water and allows Rose to live while he Smurfs out. The contrast between life and death is pretty sharp there. It’s supposed to be if whoever wrote it was good at what was being done. Another thousand people died in the water but no one got upset about those deaths, did they? No, the writer invented a character people invested in, and that’s why there are grown women right now who break out singing, “My Heart Will Go On” if they drop an ice cube on the kitchen floor.
Surprise is also good. You had no idea that this wasn’t about tire tools at gas stations when you read the title, did you?
You’re smiling at that last sentence, are you? Also a good thing to do, is to know when you break away from the serious stuff, like the scene where Rose cuts the handcuffs off Jack with an axe.
But for the contrast to work, it’s not important that YOU liked Jack as much as you did, but other characters had to like him as well. If Rose had been indifferent to him that would have killed some of the edge. Remember the name of her fiancée? He lived, and that was contrast, too. The good sometimes die because they sacrifice while evil slinks off into the night, to hunt again. But you don’t remember his name. That’s good writing, too, eventhough you hate the character, you do feel something, and that’s why it’s goodwriting.
That feeling people get for good characters is a community sort of feeling, and we humans are geared for it in our DNA. It’s one of the few things about people I really like, and one of the few good things to come out of tragedy, sometimes, is that human beings will come together and instead of forming a mob they form a family.
Good writing, good movies, even bad sappy movies with terrible soundtracks, sometimes, can do this. No gas station character even died without that being, in some way, the intent of their death. It’s the contrast between life and death, love and loss, and between family and a mob. Old Yeller died so you could miss his presence. Jack died so the heart could go on.
Either way, it’s good writing, and it touches us where we live the most, and where we love the hardest.
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.
Seventy-seven years ago today, in 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the United States of America, and the Americans discovered they were involved in World War II, even if it wasn’t called that at the time. Conspiracy theories suggest that we knew the Japanese would attack, and mostly, it’s true we did know that certain diplomatic pressures we had applied might lead to direct and bloody conflict. There was even an alert issued the weekend before, that the Japanese might attack on that Sunday. The warning was a week early.
Things got weird when the Japanese invaded China in 1937. The Japanese were already occupying Manchuria, and given a slight pretext to mount a full invasion they did. At the time, Britain, France, America, and to a lesser extent, the Dutch, were settled in nicely with their colonies in Asia. India, Burma, Vietnam, and a host of Pacific islands, including the Philippians and Hawaii, were occupied by foreign powers. The Japanese were seen as a threat to all of this, so the other colonial powers waged an economic war against Japan. Having very few sources of metal and oil, Japan had to acquiesce to the demands of the other colonial powers, which would include their withdraw from China, or fight back.
What very few of even most hardened military analysts predicted was a sweeping and comprehensive attack by Japan in nearly all directions that would totally cripple the British, French, and American outposts in the Pacific. The French and Brits, having their hands full fighting a war in Europe, looked to the United States to hold Japan in the Pacific until Europe might be secured. The Europeans idea of a “Hitler First” war, would lead to the Americans putting their full weight to fight the Germans, and sending enough against the Japanese to keep them in check. America would very quickly scrap this plan, and went after Japan with ships, planes, men, and fury.
Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese Marshal Admiral, and widely considered the best military mind in Japan, warned that attacking the Americans would bring destruction down upon the country, and the Americans would not hesitate to destroy Japan, and it would not take very long for it to happen. Harvard educated and likely the most knowledgeable military mind in Japan as to America’s capabilities, Yamamoto warned that unless Japan struck first, and struck hard, the war would be lost sooner than later. His advice was largely ignored, in the hopes that if Japan stuck hard enough, the Americans would be intimidated, and sue for peace.
The attack on Pearl Harbor failed to destroy the American dry docks, and it also failed to destroy the American fuel supplies. The American aircraft carriers were not in port at the time and escaped harm entirely. Those three mistakes would prove to be fatal to the Japanese plan to land a cripplingly blow to American military power in the Pacific.
In June of 1942, in the Battle of Midway, America stuck at four Japanese aircraft carriers and sunk all four of them. In June of 1943, having secured the island of Guadalcanal in five long and terrible months, the American launched from that island, the first that Japan had lost to the Americans. an air attack on a single Japanese bomber escorted by six fighters. The bomber carried Isoroku Yamamoto. His plane went down in flames, and the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor was killed. His most famous quote on the attack on Pearl Harbor was this one: “I fear all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve.”
There was a small group of friends I had in High School, and right now, at this very moment, I know three are dead, one is insane, one is in Federal Prison, and I’ve lost track of two or three more. I have no photos of any of these people to prove they ever existed. There are a good half-dozen dogs I knew when I was a kid that are long gone, and I have no photos of them, either.
Cameras weren’t precision instruments when I was young. Photos didn’t always come out well. Some never came out at all. I didn’t even see a digital camera until the 1990’s. Now, you can get one out of a bubble gum machine.
I had no idea a friend of mine would be murdered in 1980. There’s no way to think it will happen to anyone, but it does happen. Car wrecks are fairly common. Cancer isn’t rare at our age. I wish I had taken more photos. I wish I had pictures of the friends I once had and the dogs I once love. I wish I had photos of some of the things I’ve seen and the places I’ve visited. But as far as photos go, the first thirty years of my life pretty much doesn’t exist, except in my mind, and the minds of other people, who are dying off, like dinosaurs on a planet that can no longer sustain them.
Don’t live your life taking photos of every second of every day, but don’t hesitate to record where you are, and who you are there with, and don’t wait until the moment is gone to wistfully wonder if your memory has it right, or if it’s just imagination.
There used to be a rope swing by the river, and for years we would go down to the Chattahoochee and swing high in the air, and land in the cool water below. There was an old wooden platform that we launched from, and if the right people got on at the right time, we could get seven or eight people on that rope. It was one of those ropes that was used to moor the tanker barges to the docks near Columbia Alabama and we were certain it would never break. One day, we were down at the river swinging as I heard a terrible cracking sound, and people were yelling. The tree had broken. It split in two and broke in the middle, and I was surprised to see the center was rotted out. No one was hurt, and that itself was a miracle, but the tree was gone, and before anyone thought to stop it, the rope tied to the piece of the broken tree floated away. It didn’t matter, because the County closed the landing in the early 80’s, and now nothing remains of the site of many fun-filled hours with people I grew up with decades ago.
Take pictures of your life. Take photos of dogs and people you love, and places that matter. One day, they will be all that’s left of a tree, a place, or a person, and you’ll wish you had more.
I’ve never been one to go looking for humans to help. Mark Twain once said, “The primary difference between a dog and a man lies in the fact you can feed a dog and he won’t bite you later.” That’s pretty much been my experience with people. And dogs. However, my tenure in Dog Rescue had led me to believe there are human beings out there willing to do without in order for their foster dogs to have enough to eat.
A local grocery store was having a special where if you bought thirty bucks worth of stuff you could get a turkey for five bucks. I sent out the word on FB that I would donate the turkey if someone in Rescue needed it. Once I got to the store, they were also having a special that if you got a flu shot there, they would give you a turkey. So I would up with the danger of getting autism and being tracked by the tiny microchips you know are in vaccinations, in order to have two turkeys to give away.
Meanwhile, one of the women in Rescue contacted me and told me she and her husband knew of families in need. They run a gym designed to train High School wrestlers in town, and they take in students who can’t pay their entry fees so these kids can have a chance at a scholarship, and hopefully go to college. She knows these people, and she knows their families. The turkeys had just found a home.
I’m not a man of wealth. I went in and nabbed two turkeys by spending thirty bucks. My family’s Thanksgiving was already planned, so we didn’t have the need that a family with very little might have. From what I was told about one of the families in question they were trying to find some way to find more work just to have something at all on Thanksgiving Day. Now, they have a turkey. They will have leftovers, too. It’s a pretty good sized bird.
I may not be able to respond a lot to whatever anyone had to say about all of this. I’ll be on the road Friday taking a foster dog to a new home. Tyger Timm, the dog that needed a home has one if I can get him there. It’s a five-hour drive but the person adopting Timm is someone I know will give him a home most dogs can only dream of having. I have another dog waiting for the crate in my house. The need never ends.
I’m not a big fan of charities. I think it’s a rip-off and a scam, most of the time. But when it comes down to people I know and I can trust, I know my efforts, and the food, will not be wasted. I know it’s needed.
Christmas is coming up. I’ll be looking for deals on turkeys again. Who knows? Maybe I can help the same people. Maybe someone else. But I have so much. I live a life filled with food and the ability to save dogs from starvation and deprivation. Mostly, human beings are why I have to do this, but then again, human beings are those who help me do this. Maybe, and Twain might disagree here, but maybe if I can help people they might help other people when they can.
It may not change the world, but it might change how someone lives in it, at least for Thanksgiving Day.
I’ve read at least five books on the Battle for Guadalcanal. I’ve read so many books, I can now spell the name of the island without spell check looking at me like I’ve just burned a joint and pressed keys at random. Each author brings to the table a different perspective on each individual engagement, and because these works were written independently of one another, some using the same sources, it’s a challenge to figure out what happened and why. But the evidence is there and given enough of it, a much clearer picture of our mistakes, and the Japanese mistakes, emerge.
War is basically a series of events that lead to mistakes being punished by death. The Japanese sent four carriers to Midway in June of 1942, and an undersized and overmatched American force sent all four to the bottom of the ocean. The American intelligence gathering community had gleaned enough information about the Japanese intent to set up an ambush.
One of the most remarkable techniques for gathering information on Japanese ship movement involved men (and likely women) who spend many hours every day, and many days each week, studying the telegraphic codes sent out by Japanese ships. None of these people spoke a word of Japanese, but they were able to identify individual operators of telegraph equipment through keying techniques. Each human being who operates a telegraph key does so with such individuality that it’s as clear as a fingerprint to those who study such things.
As it turns out, if you can establish how quickly an operator moves from one place to another, and we had ships that could triangulate where the signal originated from, then you could tell what sort of ship that operator was on. If he was on a destroyer then he would move quickly. If he was on an oiler he would move slowly. And by identifying how quickly these operators were, we could also tell who they were with, and the size of the force through that information.
Given we already knew enough about the Japanese codes that we could get about fifteen percent of the information we needed, and given the operators were known, we also had Coast Watchers, who spied on troop movements, planes taking off and landing, and ships leaving and entering ports on islands.
Given enough evidence, a clear picture emerged as to what was going to happen, where, when, and who would be there.
All of this had to be done quickly, and when presented to those men in uniform who made decisions of life and death over other men, the information had to be accurate or ships would sink and hundreds, maybe thousands, of men would be killed. Think about the amount of guts it took for someone to say, “The evidence indicates we need to move our forces to this place in the ocean and attack here, so we’ll win the battle.”
We’ve gotten lazy. We’ve become used to the idea that if we have an opinion, and we feel strongly about that opinion, it doesn’t matter if we can’t back it up with any more than a short news opinion by someone who doesn’t do their own research. We’ve lost our respect for those who study information and replaced it with a sense of awe of those who can scream the loudest. We’ve traded critical thinking for who we like more. We’ve given up on doing the hard work of research in order to put information out that’s judged not on content but on how many people will mindlessly repeat it.
Two opinions are not equal when one is based on evidence that has been cross-referenced and the other is based on how it makes someone feel.
Imagine the battle of Midway, based on feeling. Imagine a commander taking a poll of people and using the information from a group of people to make his decision rather than basing it on intelligence gathering.
That’s what we’re doing these days instead of seeking out facts, looking at historical data, and listening to people who have spent decades in research. To blindly go forth into the future having some sort of aversion, and even a disdain for knowledge is as dangerous as driving without headlights, or sailing without a compass, or going into battle without any idea what awaits.
This is an extinction level event. It will destroy us all, in the end, if we abandon thinking.
Today (Friday) is my fifty-eighth birthday. At this point in my life I can retire in two years, which seems really weird because until I was employed by the entity that pays me now, I had never held a job for over a year in my life. I’ll retire with twenty-eight years in.
I have a vague memory of a birthday party when I was a little kid, four or five years old, maybe, and I remember turning ten years old because I was in double digits. Ten was a milestone and I felt older. My friend Mark, who was a year younger than I, came over and we walked around talking about what it meant to reach ten years old. We were serious. We spoke of having memories that were six and seven years old, and if we would remember being ten. I remember turning thirteen, because I was a teenager then, and I remember sixteen because I could drive.
I turned eighteen in 1978, and I bought a case of beer, legally, right after school, and took my girlfriend home. We stopped and parked in the woods and I will always remember that. I got home really late, my father was totally pissed, and I listened to Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen” over and over again. It felt incredible. She’s a grandmother now, still married to someone else, and I still stalk her Facebook page on occasion.
At twenty I had a seven-gallon keg strapped down in a backpack and walked around giving away free beer. At twenty-five, I was in a hotel room in Mississippi, and at thirty I was with a friend of mine, a much younger woman, who was more freaked out over me being thirty than I was.
Time began to pass more quickly as I got older and there were fewer and fewer milestones and fewer reasons to mark them, really. I was married at forty and divorced by forty-three. Some friends surprised me with a small gathering at fifty, and after that, birthdays seem to pile up, like unfolded laundry sitting in the corner of the room.
I had a tradition of drinking good Scotch on my birthdays, but I really like Scotch more than I should, so I avoid it these days. I used to call old friends on my birthday but they are becoming fewer and fewer. One of them is a great grandfather now. I suspect he will be again one day, but because he smokes, his time will be much more limited than it might otherwise be.
At fifty-eight, I find myself caring less and less about more and more. I’ve lost interest in sports to a level I never thought possible. I don’t care as much about politics as I once did. I read more these days, write more, and I love my dogs. Both my parents are still alive, but I haven’t spoken to my father in nearly a year now, and I may not ever again. I have come to terms with this. It is as it is. I’ve learned to jettison toxic people and toxic relationships and never look back. That may be the most important thing I have learned in fifty-eight years.
Back in 2001, when I was married, things were bad. I think they were bad for both of us, but I don’t have her side of the story. You won’t either, which isn’t fair, but I have no idea what state she might be in or if she’s still alive. It’s been well over a decade since I saw her.
One thing that always bothered me is she was bad with money. She wasn’t breaking even with her job versus her spending, so I was supporting her. This made me the bad guy whenever someone had to say we couldn’t go out or couldn’t do something fun. It was like living with a teenager who didn’t understand financial matters, who was also forty-five years old.
I found myself hesitating before leaving work. I discovered things to do late in the day that would push me over eight hours, and I started picking up my co-workers assignments to stay longer. I found myself lying to my wife about having to work weekends and going into work to write on my employer’s computer. I saved it to a 3.5 disk and thought that was the height of technology. I also thought I could fix my marriage by staying away from the person who caused me the most stress.
It did not work.
Now, in 2018, there’s a guy at work who is basically putting in sixty-hour weeks to avoid going home. He comes in early, stays late, works weekends, even when there is no work to do, and doesn’t put most of this time on the clock. He works for free a lot just to keep from having to go home. He has a wife, three sons, and he spends more time at the office than at home.
One morning I had to come in super early, and I found him sleeping on the floor in his office. He had a roll-up mat and a small pillow, and that’s where he spent the night. I have no idea how bad it is at his place, but it’s got to be plenty bad.
We talked about this at lunch one day, and two of the guys who had been around forever told me they knew a man who went home on weekends but spent the night at the office during the weekdays. He’d shower with the hose at night when it was too dark for anyone to tell what he was doing, and during the winter, he got smelly by Wednesday. He stayed with his wife until he retired, and never left her, even after the kids were grown and gone.
I bailed after 989 days. My life consisted of going to work, staying away from home, driving slowly home from work, and dreading most interaction with the person I had married. I watched thousands of dollars disappear with nothing to show for it, and infinitely worse, hundreds of days passed without any improvement in my life, her life, or our life together.
I asked the guy at work why he didn’t just move out, pay the child support, and stop being a prisoner living in his office. He said it hadn’t gotten that bad yet. I wonder how bad it will have to get.
Generally speaking, children are off limits as far as people I disparage. Children, like dogs, are a product of training, or not training, depending on how it’s viewed, and I’ve never met a dog that wasn’t damaged in some way by human beings, if that dog had issues. Children, on the other hand, lack instincts to a degree, and they are burdened with a sense of mischief right out of the box, no pun intended. I can repair the damage done to dogs, because dogs’ nature is to want to be good. Dealing with kids is like bribing smart monkeys not to vandalize everything until you can get them out of your house and out on their own before you lose your entire savings. At least that’s how it looks from here. I’m at a loss as to why someone, someone who was a child, would have one of their own. I’m more at a loss as to why someone would have more than one.
The real problem here is how kids are raised. We sit them in front of a screen with a DVD player plugged into it, and we’re absolved of all responsibility of child rearing for as long as the kid sits there and watches the same movie over and over and over again.
And what’s the end product of this?
Honey Boo Boo. Whose mother has recently married the man who molested her oldest daughter. Honey Boo was famous for yelling out strange things like , “Give me a dollar or I’m going to holler!” The show in which she starred in was a prime example of how not to raise children. Is it Honey Boo Boo’s fault? Of course not. But you can bet your donkey she isn’t ever going to grow out of being Honey Boo Boo, because that’s what made her famous.
In 2016, Dr. Phil made famous a thirteen year old Danielle Bregoli. She was foul mouthed, belligerent, ill mannered, and her catch phrase was “Cash me ousside, how bout dat?” In the ensuing media frenzy, the very young Danielle was heavily rewarded for behavior that should have landed her in prison.
We know where HBB’s parents are. They’re lying around watching television living off their infamy and marketing their daughter for cheap beer and ramen noodles. Bregoli’s mother, who was the one who agreed to take the circus to town with Dr. Phil, is likely doing the same. What they did to their kids, in both cases, was horribly wrong.
Paul from Florida, on the other hand, seems to be taking this parenting thing to another level. There is no surety in parenting, but if effort counts for anything, I think he’s on the right path. Paul will never be famous, he’ll likely never be rich, and his son will never be on television, we can only hope.
You want to make a difference in your kid’s life? Take that child on trips, go places with that kid, and be proud of the fact that you and yours went somewhere and did things together and make sure they learn that going and doing is more important than sitting and watching.
Bob was a guy everyone liked, a lot, and he was one of those people you could count on to help you out if you had a problem at work, or after work. He was polite and he was generous. But there were a half dozen people who were counting down the days until Bob retired. There were six people who suffered, mostly in silence, because Bob, for all his wonderful qualities, was the Office Pooper.
We knew, to the day, when Bob was going to retire. His health was declining and it was surprising he made it as long as he did, and there were a lot of people who came to his retirement party. Yet back several years ago, Bob went shopping for a doctor who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Bob had a weight problem. He went pudgy to portly to oh my dog dude when was the last time you saw your feet? He tried all variety of diets, but he couldn’t stay away from junk food. Finally, he found a doctor who told him he was perfectly fit, and there was no need for him to lose weight. No, really. He did. But Bob had a plan. He would eat like a pig and then take laxatives. He also ate constantly. So this meant three, sometimes four times a day, Bob would have massive bowel movements. Think Mount Etna filled with skunks. When I was in the Army you got used to other people’s stink. You had no choice. In Basic Training, we had eight toilets, four sitting side by side facing the other four. There was no privacy or the expectation of such. You’d sit down beside the next guy and talk about the weather while plopping away. “Say, Smith, that sounded like quite a brick hitting the water!” “Why thank you, my wife sent cookies, I’ll give you a few later!” “Thanks!” But that was the military. You expect that sort of thing,
To make matter worse, my office has a direct door into the bathroom. There was also another door from the bathroom to another office. I blocked the door leading from my office into the bathroom because sometimes Bob would exit into my office, and it smelled like a cross between a chemical weapons attack and a pig farm. Bob, because at the heart of things, tried to be considerate, would hose the bathroom down with air freshener before he exited. He would leave the bathroom coughing and gasping, and the cloud that always followed him was a mix of mountain air breeze and an open-air latrine at a chili cook-off.
My three office mates and I would sometime bolt as soon as we heard the toilet flush, and I think it hurt Bob’s feelings the day I sealed off that door. It really hurt the feelings of the people in the other office, where the other door opened up into, but we sealed first. They would run for cover, too. The sound of a flushing toilet ran us all out, and you might even say we were flushed out.
But now, Bob is gone. We sent the lowest paid person in to clean the toilet with 100% pure bleach and sandpaper. We all will miss Bob’s quirky sense of humor and his tales of fishing. We will miss his laughter and his warm sense of compassion. But we will, all of us, breathe easier.
Oddly, I’ve had people question my first decade of memories. The photographic evidence of the first ten years of my life may have been manufactured, but from 1960 to 1970, the incident of photoshop was fairly low. This means that if my life before desegregation is falsified, there’s a vast conspiracy to paint this part of history in hues that are sharply black and white. I’ve heard sillier conspiracy theories in the last few years and it would seem that the only thing for a conspiracy to gain followers is for it to have no merit in fact whatsoever.
Stop for a moment and consider the Flat Earth Society. You and I both know how stupid this is, I would think, yet you also have to know there are some people who truly believe it. Consider how crazy it is to believe something discredited before people believed in Christ. Somehow, people forgot this was a fact, and decided to thank Magellan for proving the earth was round, and the fable that Columbus braved falling off the edge of the earth was born. It took a while, but now there are people who are once again telling other people the earth is not round, and you have to wonder why they value that narrative.
I’ve had people question my memory. They should. Memory is both fallible and it is malleable. If I was one person telling my story then it ought to be questioned harshly. Or, if there were many facts that were out of kilter about my story, or if my story could not be compared to others like it, yes, then it should be doubted. After all, I was ten years old.
Yet you cannot deny that you, and everyone you know, have memories of childhood, shared memories of childhood, and the first year of desegregation in Blakely Georgia was a terrible thing. There were still separate waiting rooms at Doctor’s Offices. There were still restaurants (with black cooks) who would only serve whites. There were events that were canceled forever, pools that closed, and things that simply ceased to exist before the powers that be allowed them to be anything but what they always had been.
Somehow, at some point in history, we lost the fact that the earth is round. We invented stories about a sailor who went against all everyone else knew to discover a New World, where civilization began anew in the wilderness. We now know all of that is a lie that there were already people who knew the earth was round, and the New World had been inhabited by human beings for thousands of years, and they were not Indians.
Yet even today, knowing that we know about the genocide Columbus started, we still have a holiday named in his honor, and now there are people who believe the earth is flat again.
There’s value in ignorance. Or rather there’s value in an ignorant population. Ignorant people can be more easily led, made to believe things without those people doing any research on the subject, and they’ll accept less because they know less than people who have knowledge and skill. Educating people will equalize them, which is why desegregation was fought against so very hard for so very long.
That’s why there are people who want to doubt my story. Because if they can convince other people it wasn’t that way, then they can erase knowledge of those times and if they can do that… where will it end, do you think?
The Holocaust Deniers are running out of eyewitnesses to confront them. The Flat Earthers are using computer-generated photos to prove their point. And there are people who tell me I did not witness my first ten years because it wasn’t really all that bad.
There’s value in that narrative, but the people who are looking to educate fewer Americans, or making it harder for Americans to be educated, are working against America.