Posts Tagged 'Mobile Alabama'

HISTORY, CIVICS, AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PART 1

HISTORY, CIVICS, AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PART 2

HISTORY, CIVICS, AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PART 3

HISTORY, CIVICS, AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PENSACOLA’S FIVE-FLAGS DISPLAYS

INTELLECTUAL REDNECK

Because I’m a Southerner, and I’m not ashamed

Because I’m a descendant of Confederate veterans, and I’m not ashamed

Because I’m from Mobile, Alabama, and I’m not ashamed

Because I drive a pickup truck, and I’m not ashamed

Because I’m vehemently opposed to this cultural genocide of the American South, this posthumous extermination of the Confederate States of America, and I’m not ashamed

I’m a redneck?

So be it.

I’m an anti-Zionist redneck!

I’m a Beethoven-listening redneck!

I’m a coffeehouse redneck!

I’m a dare-to-speak-the-truth redneck!

I’m an enemy-of-apathy redneck!

I’m a fear-fighting redneck!

I’m a Guinness-drinking redneck!

I’m a home-is-where-the-past-is redneck!

I’m an intellectual redneck!

I’m a Jesus-following, non-Christian redneck!

I’m a know-nothing, know-everything redneck!

I’m a landlubbing redneck!

I’m a mother-fleeing redneck!

I’m a near-death redneck!

I’m an opposite-of-a-redneck redneck!

I’m a pussy-starved redneck!

I’m a question-everything redneck!

I’m a rage-against-the-Digital-Age redneck!

I’m a soothsaying redneck!

I’m a talk-to-strangers redneck!

I’m an unconventional redneck!

I’m a violently peace-seeking redneck!

I’m a War Eagle redneck!

I’m a xenophilic redneck!

I’m a young, old redneck!

I’m a Zen-now redneck!

 

(in the style of Fast Speaking Woman, by Anne Waldman)

SHORT STORY 6 (PART 1)

FICTION IN NEED OF REVISION/EDITING BEFORE PUBLICATION (SS6)

That’s what is written on the manila envelope–SS6 indicates Short Story #6.  The first twelve pages are missing, and I recall why:  My fiction writing instructor suggested I trash them, and begin the story at the bottom of page thirteen.  Now I wish I had the first twelve pages–this draft for a short story was written in 1992, and I see no need to revise/edit much of it, if any, since so much time has passed.  Yet take heart–unlike Unfinished Kill, this story has an ending!  I begin with the scratched-out portion of page thirteen: 

. . . Book of Numbers.  It was a goal he was trying to impress upon everybody–to read the entire Bible by the end of the year.  In this story, the Israelites are given the go-ahead (and really commanded) to scout out an inhabited land to take as their own.  It’s stories like these that keep me from believing the entire Bible as the Word of God.  So I was a little defensive, as we read this in the living room, though I tried not to show it.  If some great voice blared out from the sky and told us Americans that we could just conquer Britain or France or Brazil, and take whatever we wanted–most of us would think it were the voice of the Antichrist or Satan.  But the Israelites were, according to the Old Testament, told to take whatever land they wanted, and kill whatever people they wanted–and the Church of Christ accepts this as the Word of God–along with most other Christian denominations and sects.  It had always seemed to me, as I attended Magnolia Christian School, that those people spent much more time on everybody but Jesus Christ.  And sadly, I later found other churches, including United Methodist, to do the same.  I think the Church, in most of the world, is afraid of the words of Jesus.  For it’s alot easier to live the life of a hard-liner and a yuppie-materialist jerk, if you listen to Moses and Paul instead.  Still, I tried to listen objectively. And the lesson wasn’t bad–something about facing life’s challenges, despite reservations about them.  At any rate, it didn’t matter–I had an outside purpose for attending these Bible studies.  I was Columbo–or a National Geographic reporter, studying a culture group.  They could kick me out the door of that pink house, and I’d still have something to write about.  Yet I wanted things to go smoothly.  They were people, despite their ways.  Some of those girls could develop into after-hours girls, and some of those folks could actually become friends.  And maybe I could be a Pied Piper of words and deeds–leading these people away from their somewhat repressive backgrounds.  So I went along with the study–even volunteering to one day lead a Bible study, after David asked me about it.

David closed the meeting with a prayer insinuating, somewhere, that reading the Bible–from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21–was necessary for salvation.  This pissed me off–and reminded me of the fundamentalist ideas I was taught at Magnolia Christian School.  Yes, I was a reporter in the midst of a foreign, and somewhat primitive tribe–but I was determined to restrain myself from any outbursts or emotional giveaways.

David made two appeals before the meeting was over.  He asked that we each invite someone to the Bible studies–and this was the first time he spoke directly to me, by name, in an appeal.  He also said he planned to paint the sign in front of the church Saturday morning, and would like some help–to “show appreciation” to the church for setting up the Christian Life Center (in what I knew as Mr. Chapman’s old house).  Several people volunteered–I even hinted that I might be there.

But Saturday morning arrived, and no one was at the pink house or below the church sign at the time agreed on–10:00 a.m.  Then I checked a few more times–whenever I was driving that way.  No one showed up.  And the sign still needed painting by nightfall.  I didn’t have alot of time to paint, because of an upcoming Music Appreciation exam–but I’d thought this would be a good way to get to know these people better, and to show them what a trooper I could be.

So I called some of them (I was given a phone list at the first meeting).  And only two of them were home:  James, who was asleep after an all-night lock-in.  And Gary Hofius–the only one in that circle who’d been a classmate of mine at Magnolia Christian.  Gary hadn’t been to the meetings for a while–so I invited him.  We laughed as we said goodbye–it was good to speak with someone I knew from so many years before.

And as I called the folks who weren’t home, I got to know their mothers.  I was a perfect gentleman–though I wondered what those mothers looked like–and wondered if I’d ever meet them, under nicely embarrassing circumstances.

Well it appears that I will have time to study for this Music Appreciation test, after all–though I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I will try to call David after a while–to ask what happened about painting that church sign.  I could never reach him yesterday, and I get more and more curious as to what they decided to do.  In the meantime, I will list all the people I can distinctly remember–who attend the Seven Days Church of Christ young adult Bible study, at the Christian Life Center:

Gary Hofius

James Hamler

David Scrivner

Todd Flint

Janice Adams–a sweet girl, with long, strawberry-blonde hair and freckles she hasn’t outgrown.

Cathy Diehl–a dark-haired girl, pleasingly plump, with a cute face–who sat next to me on the couch, at the last meeting.  She’s very quiet.

Wendy Lovett–the first girl I spoke to, on the first night.  She seems to be the leader of the females of the group.  She is somewhat reserved, but is a generous hostess.

Debbie D’Arcy–the girl who charms my snake, even to this moment.

By the way–though I remembered the first names of these people, I had to refer to the Christian Student Center Directory for the last names.

Monday, February 3

At the meeting of the West Mobile Toastmasters, I delivered my first speech since attaining CTM (Certified Toastmaster) status.  I am working toward the ATM (Able Toastmaster) level, which requires fifteen more speeches.  My goal is to attain ATM status before the year is over.  For the first of these fifteen speeches, I read a short story I’d written.  It had some risque moments, but those didn’t seem to bother my older, professional audience at all.  And the evaluation of my speech was definitely positive.  I wasn’t dressed up, on the outside, when I went to the Bible study afterward–but on the inside I was glowing.  And throughout the Bible study, I remained in my public speaking-mode–gesturing and making profound statements.

For the first time since I’d begun coming to the meetings at the Pink House (literally painted pink), I was only a few minutes late.  The living room door was closed, and the folks were singing those simple songs–too loudly to have noticed my entering the house.  They gave me some polite hellos, as I pulled back the door.  And David offered me his chair, as he looked for another one.  I wasn’t about to make myself comfortable in the chair of a regular, since I was new to all this.  So as soon as he brought in a harder chair for himself, I politely took that one.  And I placed it in the center of the long room, so I could get a reporter’s view of the entire space and the people who occupied it.  Then I lowered myself into it, making myself as comfortable as possible.

There were two guests to whom David called our attention.  One had come alone. He had a mustache, and more than a few wrinkles.  But his countenance was the most peaceful of anyone in the room–this he later attributed, indirectly, to his joy about being saved, and seeing all those saved young people.  His name was Billy Green.

The other new guy was Jerry.  Jerry had brought his wife, their little girl, and their newborn baby along.  His wife said very little–but Jerry was a talker, like me, and like Billy.  All my life, I’d been raised around men who hardly spoke at all (most notably my father)–letting women verbally dominate them.  So it was nice to be around some men who liked to converse, and discuss ideas.  It was also refreshing to attend a meeting with two people as old, or older than I, for a change.  Jerry appeared to be in his late 20’s, and Billy in his late 30’s.  In his introduction, David hinted that these two men were instrumental in establishing the Christian Life Center–and I got the impression that they were some kind of leaders in that church.  Presently, I found that Jerry was to hold the Bible study–or devo–that night.

Jerry’s experience in leadership roles was evident, as soon as David turned the program over to him.  His Bible study contained a cross-section of verses taken from the Old and New Testaments, which gave advice and insight on the subjects of fear and courage.  Most of them I had read–like Jesus’ appeal for us to “take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”  But some were new to me.  After Jerry’s devo, I couldn’t help but express to him the organizational skill he showed–how it was quite like a good speech. And I invited him to a meeting of my Toastmasters chapter, though he seemed barely interested.

After the official close of the meeting (though they often just run into a close)–everyone resumed conversation, which they had carried on before the meeting, and strung through the meeting slightly.  The baby boy, in his little seat-bed became a conversation piece.  And most everyone wanted to look at him.  As always, I was amazed at the smallness of the baby–especially that of his fingers. And it occurred to me–there was a sense of community in these people.  At first I’d thought it inappropriate to bring a baby and a small child to a Bible study (they probably had no babysitter at the time).  Then I re-examined that thought–as I looked onto the baby, to whom his parents seemed so attached, and the young people who knew each other like family–who stood around the room, and around the baby.  I received images of the Amish, the Acadians, and different tribes of the American Indians.  These groups maintain a sense of family and community that many of us have lost.  And this Church of Christ group was reminiscent of these.  The Church of Christ is set in its ways–I knew that already. But what I hadn’t really examined was this family and community way of life.  I realized, as I gazed down at this baby, that I was an outsider in this group.  And I thought of what these simple-living people could contribute to the culture in which I had grown up–and what my native culture could contribute to theirs.  But most of all, I thought of what each of these people could share with me, as an individual–and what I could share with each of them.  The fundamentalist ways of the Church of Christ folk–to which I’d been exposed too thoroughly–still carried a few touches of annoying ignorance.  But the fear of this way of life–which I had acquired as a child in that somewhat dominating school–was fading, as I encountered these people from the perspective of an adult.

At the start of the meeting, I had asked David what happened to plans to paint the Seven Days Church of Christ sign on Saturday.  He said they had painted it–but not until after 2:00 in the afternoon–everyone was running late.  I had looked to that experience for an opportunity to really get to know these people.  So I looked to another–I asked him about the gathering he had recently announced, every Sunday evening at 7:00.  It is a purely social deal, with movies and other recreational things.  He confirmed the time, and I told him I might be there.  He seemed to be hiding this Sunday gathering from me.  If he was, perhaps it’s because they expect me to attend their Sunday night church service first–since the social is right after church.  Or maybe I’m just not accepted by the group enough yet to be included in its social activities.

Nevertheless, I intend to visit this Sunday night gathering.  Unfortunately, this after-church social coincides with the weekly Singles Network dance at the Econo Lodge, on the Causeway.  But the dance costs $5.00–the Sunday social costs nothing.  Sometimes I’m grateful that I’m poor.  Because just a little bit of money–or the lack of it–can make decisions for me.  I’ll probably skip the dance, and attend the social at the Christian Life Center.  My curiosity about these people is a craving.  And I hope Debbie and her girlfriends are equally as curious about me.  A bowl of popcorn in the dark can be the slowest aphrodisiac–and the most effective.

Sunday, February 9

3:06 p.m.

The sky outside my apartment window is almost perfect.  Yellow seems to permeate everything, from the pine trees to the winter grass to the brick buildings.  I’m going to some open place, like the municipal park, where I might get some studying done for tomorrow’s Music Appreciation class–or I might just play.  Not surprisingly, I have no money left to splurge on that singles dance at the Econo Lodge.  So I’ll be engaging in some more reporting at the Christian Life Center.  As mentioned, I plan to attend the social gathering there.  And through the week, I’ve come up with another idea.  I’ve realized that, during those nine years of attending Magnolia Christian School, I never attended a single service of the Church of Christ–anywhere.  I don’t even recall stepping into a Church of Christ sanctuary, unless it was a part of the school.  So this may be a first.  I plan to attend church this evening, at the Seven Days Church of Christ, before joining the college kids at the Christian Life Center.  After all, they will probably be attending church too.  However, it is not my intention to regularly attend church there.  I am not Church of Christ, and I am quite defensive about this.  The last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life checking for sins, like lice on my skin.  I’ve become involved with these people to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

The reason I am writing this journal entry before the church service is to make a few predictions–then to see how correct those predictions were.  Like Jean Dixon, I make predictions based on what I envision.  Unlike her, I make these predictions based on the experiences I had and the things I learned at that little Church-of-Christ-sponsored school, rather than star charts and Tarot cards.  My hands are placed firmly on the crystal ball, and here is what I see:

I’m greeted by cautiously friendly faces as I walk through the doors.  My 6-feet 3-inch frame is slightly scrutinized, as well as my beard.  But the ushers let me into the sanctuary.  The decor of the sanctuary is simple–in keeping with standards prescribed by the Apostle Paul, whose teachings the Church of Christ seems to follow more than Christ’s.  The baptismal font is like a large tub, since the Church of Christ strongly believes in baptism by immersion.

The structure of the service is similar to those of most other Protestant denominations, except that there is no Apostle’s Creed or minister’s spoken blessing as in my United Methodist church.  And the songs are just like those I’ve been singing at the Bible studies–sweet, but simple (I’d like to teach them A Mighty Fortress is Our God, or O God, Our Help in Ages Past, or Christ the Lord is Risen Today).

The sermon is simpler than those I’ve heard from my United Methodist minister. And it deals more heavily with the subjects of sin and death and Hell.

At the Seven Days Church of Christ, I am not at all surprised to encounter a few people I knew at Magnolia Christian School–some of whom I haven’t seen for twenty years:

Mr. Hollinger–who lectured me on whether or not I wanted to dig ditches the rest of my life, after catching me asleep in his study hall.

Coach Vines–who taught me to drive a car (one of the few coaches I ever knew who could teach another subject well, besides football–the best driving instructor I’ve ever known).

Mrs. Crowley–who’s more permanently affixed to that big plot of ground than the hall lockers.

After the altar call (when visitors are urgently requested to come forward, accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and join this church), the preacher dismisses the congregation–and I head toward the Pink House for the young people’s social.

The accuracy of these visions will be tested in less than two hours.  And now that I’ve made these predictions, I am more eager than ever to test them.

11:45 p.m.

There was one major prediction I made before attending that church service–that not all of my predictions would come true.  And this proved correct.

I had called ahead to find that the service was–as always–scheduled to begin at 6 o’clock.  It began a few minutes after that, but close enough.  In the hallway, after entering through the back way, I saw someone who looked familiar.  He said, “You look familiar,” at the same time did.  He had never been a teacher of mine, but I remembered he was very active in the affairs of Magnolia Christian School.  Mr. West still had curly hair, just like his two sons who had been in a grade above mine.  I knew he had been on a committee at the school, and had much to do with changes–especially on the grounds.  But I couldn’t recall what those changes were.  So his recognition of me–especially with my beard–prompted me to ask myself how many other people would find my face familiar.

Mr. West and another man talked with me a few minutes.  This caused me to walk into the sanctuary late–and I felt a clench of fear in my chest.  I had not been to a church service–anywhere–for over a year.  And now I was returning to a service in a place that could not be more foreign–for the purpose of obtaining story material.  But I made my way into the aisle, with a Toastmasters stride.  I stopped when I thought the preacher said, “Let us pray,” then continued when I realized he had actually called out the title of a hymn selection.  Highly conscious of the few eyes that looked at me, I moved on, until I found a seat toward the center of the building.  The voices of the congregation were moving through the second or third line of the hymn.  And a woman in the pew behind me gave me a hymnal.  They don’t waste any time, I thought.  But at least they notice me.  And I quickly became aware that there were no musical instruments–not even a piano. This was the way that was taught at Magnolia Christian.  The Church of Christ had an unusual logic–if it’s not in the Bible, don’t include it.  So it came back to me, during the singing, that–since there was no mention of musical instruments in the Early Church–they didn’t believe in having them here.  And how strange that this became beautiful, in this unusual sound method.  I recalled what my Music Appreciation teacher had said this quarter–that the human voice was the most perfect musical instrument in existence.  And these voices of this Church of Christ congregation took on an orchestral quality of their own.

Presently, the last hymn was sung, and the program moved into the sermon.  The organization of this service was unlike any I’d ever seen.  Instead of the usual choir songs and calls for prayer requests, which I was used to–there was no choir–and the service moved right into the message of the preacher.  It became like a huge Bible study.  The preacher called out Biblical passages, and the congregation followed along, as he read out loud.  And there were plenty of Bibles in the racks.

For a reason still unknown, Debbie and Janice surprised me when they came to sit down at my side, with girlish smiles.  I wondered where they had been, but I slid over to allow them room.  They looked good–real good–in those Sunday dresses that showed just enough leg to make me smile.  And I could not keep myself from showing off, as I turned to each scripture verse with Bible-drill proficiency.  My Bible class teachers at Magnolia Christian had required me to learn all the books of the Bible for recitation.  I still knew that skill–and I could almost thank those teachers–as I became the prepubescent boy again, playing big-shot to the girls beside me.  Debbie’s cheek was inches from mine, and I could have kissed her. And I could have put my hand in her lap.

The preacher was fat, and his jowls could well have been perceived as a mark of credibility, in the fundamentalist seminary circle.  He usually resembled Jerry Falwell, slightly.  And sometimes, when he’d cock his head back to make a point, he would resemble a certain 35-year-old maladjusted, yet intellectual, stubbly-faced man who lives in my apartment complex.  But this preacher’s face was smooth-shaven.  And his manner was much less fiery, Swaggart-like, and Falwell-like than I’d expected.  He didn’t really holler–just spoke loudly.  And he didn’t pop balloons of controversy, as much as he simply taught words from the Bible–at their face value–as he interpreted them.  And I had to admit to myself that I agreed with much of what he said.

He operated according to a surprisingly well-organized outline that everyone was issued.  I had not been able to get one of the blue bulletins with the outline–so Debbie reached around for an old one, and handed it to me.

Interesting way to do it, I thought.  He shares his weekly preaching outline–or a section of it–with everyone else.  His Bible verses were so numerous that I couldn’t count them–and still can’t.  The verses were taken from all over the Bible–and there was a large number of scriptures from the Gospels.  Maybe these people follow Jesus’ words in church more than in the adjoining school, I thought. But this is only one service.

Tonight’s topic was idolatry.  The preacher began with lots of stuff on the adoration of false gods by the Israelites, after their release from Egypt–and on the idols of other nations, like the “fish-man” god of the Philistines.  “The Philistines placed the stolen Ark of the Covenant before their idol–and the idol kept falling down on its face before the Ark–can you imagine that!” cried the preacher, with a defiant chuckle.

The man had no idea there was a spy in the audience critiquing every word and sound–gathering material for a homework assignment.  And the job was not as simple as I’d planned.  I had become personally involved in the service–thus I could not be as objective as necessary for writing about it.  I was also somewhat frustrated that the people weren’t as clearly one-way as I’d envisioned.  The preacher was supposed to be some stupid redneck–but he wasn’t.  He was a man who seemed to believe in what he was saying, though he also seemed to enjoy displaying his gifts.  His sermon was intelligently done, and well-organized.  He was constantly running behind, time-wise, and he didn’t get to cover all the points of his outline equally.  But he could still deliver in a way that my Toastmasters chapter would approve of.

I thought of all the preachers getting in trouble with the law these days–swindling money from parishioners and TV audiences, molesting children in their congregations, getting involved in all kinds of vindictive political power movements.  As with any minister, I tried to imagine that man participating in any sins like these.  I could not very well do that.  Sure, I didn’t know what kind of life he led “behind closed doors”–but he wasn’t like Jimmy Swaggart–no sins (other than a little touch of vanity) were evident in his words.  He was human.  All these people around me–regardless of their often narrow beliefs–were human. This made the gathering of information for my short story annoyingly difficult. The preacher said, “The gods we make for ourselves are not the true God.  We must not worship idols–we must respect the truth.”  He was right.  And I had to know the truth about this place and these people.

The only thing really hell-fire about the preacher’s sermon was his tone.  He used the word, warning, several times–God’s warnings to us.  And I still could not ignore the sin-picking that often occurred in his message.  Yet the man had thought this stuff out.  The idea of constantly coming to this place created a sensation almost identical to that of being sent to the principal’s office in that little parochial school.  And this sermon and the manner of its preacher were nothing compared to that of my United Methodist minister.  But I had given myself an assignment.  I had assigned myself the job of a National Geographic journalist–studying a relatively obscure tribe.  I did not have to take on the ways and beliefs of this tribe that were foreign to me.  But I was expected to study the tribe until the deadline: the end of Winter Quarter, 1992.

After about forty minutes, the preacher wound his message up to the altar call. He had been able to devote only a fraction of the time on the last few points of his outline, since he’d gotten so far behind.  And I couldn’t figure out if the outline was just too long, or if he’d spent too much time on his favorite topics.  The individual speech evaluating, in Toastmasters, had affected me more than I’d thought!

Like the sermon, the altar call was not as shocking as I’d expected.  And I waited for the chimes of an organ to call the service to a close.  But there was no organ, no piano, no bells.  The congregation started getting up to leave after we sang the last line of the closing hymn.

DEALING WITH THE GODDAMNED DIGITAL AGE PART 2: PENSACOLA, FLORIDA

(DEALING WITH THE GODDAMNED DIGITAL AGE PART 1: MOBILE, ALABAMA)

Because of circumstances beyond my control, I had to move from Mobile to this house in Pensacola in March, 1998–I simply had nowhere else to go.  This was my paternal grandparents’ house.  Though my grandfather had died in 1974, my grandmother was still living.  But due to severe loss of blood in a heart operation, her mind was like that of a lost child.  And when I moved here, this house had been vacant for a year–Grandma was in a nursing home.

I didn’t mind moving to this house, I just wished it were in Mobile.  I was attending graduate school at the University of South Alabama–and between the stress of moving and my dad’s constant badgering of me to move to an apartment (he was letting me stay here begrudgingly and temporarily–he wanted to sell the house), I couldn’t finish a paper for the one required class (Theory of Literary Criticism)–thus failed the class, and failed-out of graduate school.

I ended-up staying here for good–my dad soon found he could get a tax break if he let me stay here.  And I spent as much time as I could with Grandma, visiting her at the nursing home, and taking her places.  She died in 1999.  I still miss her–not the way she was, having Alzheimer’s-like symptoms–but the way she was before that.  And I miss my grandpa even more.

In 1998, I found a Toastmasters chapter here (Toastmasters International is a public-speaking organization).  I joined it, and made some acquaintances and a friend named Pat.  Like many members of Monday Nite Toastmasters, Pat was somewhat conservative.  And he told me about the Fox News Network.  Fox News was refreshing–the only right-leaning television network amidst a sea of left-leaning television networks.

During that time, there was a lot of discussion and debate on Fox News about cellphones–especially, as I recall, on Bill O’Reilly’s show.  I can’t remember whether the installation of cell towers was discussed, but I definitely remember that cellphone usage while driving was discussed and debated a great deal–specifically whether cellphone usage while driving should be legal at all.

But I paid little attention to this–I had never seen anyone using a cellphone while driving in Mobile–and I didn’t ever see anyone using a cellphone while driving in Pensacola.  This epidemic of willful distracted driving had simply not spread here yet.

My first unpleasant experience with mobile devices occurred off the road–when my sister Elaine, brother-in-law Jeff, and nephews Jeffrey and Jonathan went to visit my parents in Mobile.  I drove over there, to my parents’ house. Seemed like half the time I wanted to talk to these four family guests, they were using mobile gadgets–mostly texting.  It made no sense to me–why would anyone go to the trouble to type-out a message when he or she could simply talk?  And it hurt my feelings–instead of visiting with my parents and with me, they were texting people miles away.  At one point, Elaine used a mobile device, Jeff used a mobile device, Jeffrey used a mobile device, and Jonathan used a mobile device–all at the same time.  This hurt my parents as much as me.  I asked my mom what their problem was–why they seemed to prefer the company of their little gadgets to us. I felt like just telling them all how rude it was.  But my mom insisted I keep quiet about it–she didn’t want them to stop visiting altogether.  One of the gadgets used was called a Blackberry–I had to ask what it was.

If this were an isolated case–just one family addicted to mobile devices . . . but it wasn’t.  This was already happening all over America.

Back in 2000, I worked briefly at the public library in downtown Pensacola.  This is where I first came in contact with digital video discs (DVDs).  This was Digital-Age Technology.  DVDs were quickly replacing videocassettes at the library–patrons were checking them out daily.

Then in 2004, I dated a woman who had a DVD player.  She would often rent DVDs, and I would watch movies with her and her daughter.  It really was amazing how much clearer the picture came in on DVD.

And several years later, my parents gave me a DVD player for Christmas.  I cannot recall my first DVD, but I began amassing quite a collection, from that point.

In 2007, my word processor stopped functioning.  And I resumed using my late-brother Mike’s electronic typewriter (I joined a writers’ group in Pace, and resumed my fiction and poetry writing).

During this time, my parents considered giving me a second-hand computer, so I could have Internet access (I mention having a computer before then, in a short, nonfiction piece I wrote in 2007, but I cannot recall that).

My parents had already given me a MailStation email machine.  This was Digital-Age technology.  I could send and receive emails with this, though I could not print them out.

I was ambivalent about my having Internet access, but so was my mom.  She worried that I might get into Internet pornography.  It always amuses me, looking back at this.  As I would soon find out–Internet porn was not free-of-charge.  And it was not practical.  I had been getting soft-core porn magazines for decades. Most of these were British.  I preferred the British women because they had better figures–the American porn models were underweight, often grossly so (the only exception being those in Leg Show, which is (sadly) no longer published).  So why would I bother with Internet porn, when I could get my jollies from good-old-fashioned girlie magazines?

No–my mom had nothing to worry about, in the area of Internet porn.  I would end up getting into those damned political forums provided by AOL instead–where I would spend hours arguing with obnoxious bastards who were as opinionated as I!

My parents gave me the second-hand computer.  Now I had Internet access, via a dial-up connection.  This was Digital-Age technology.

My involvement with those AOL forums ended when I finally realized that, no matter what I argued, and no matter how well I argued it–I could not change anyone’s mind.

I began reading my niece-in-law Jessica’s blog instead–then other blogs. This was a lot more constructive.

Blogs were the most misunderstood medium on the Internet–as they still are.  I remember my mom saying how she didn’t understand why anyone would want to share personal information on the Internet–and my failure to understand it, as well.  And it wasn’t until I began reading blogs, and commenting on blogs, that I realized they were not just public diaries.  They were also venues through which people could share ideas, and get almost immediate feedback.  They were even places where bloggers could get to know other bloggers–thereby forming the blogosphere, a community of online writers.

I had been keeping a personal, written journal since 1992, on spiral notebooks. But this wasn’t to be read until after my death.  With a blog, I could share ideas that could be read before my death–and read by almost anyone in the world. How could I resist such an opportunity?

I asked Jessica how I could set up a blog–she didn’t just give me advice, she set up my blog for me.  And for this, I am grateful to her–to this day.

And if you look in my archives, you can see that I began expressing ideas on my blog right away–with my second post, in fact (MY CREED, November 20, 2008).

DECEMBER 8, 2012

(This was originally posted as DRUNKEN POST #24, on December 8, 2012.)

The Singletons ate at an Italian place tonight.  Delbert was back (he’d gone home to Oregon for a couple weeks), so it was good to talk to him again.  And even John joined us after dinner to talk a bit.  But Carl wasn’t there.  He died of a heart attack last week.  It was so surreal.  I’d just spoken with him at dinner last Friday.  Now he was gone–just like that.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he would suddenly show up this evening–if his death had just been a dream.  But it wasn’t. This is the first time a member of Singletons has died, since I’ve been a member. And I’m still the youngest member.

Death is a reality.  Of course it is.  But Carl was only in his 60’s (I think).  My parents are almost in their 80’s, and though they’re constantly bothering me with nonsense like, “We’re not going to be around forever, you need to learn to do things for yourself,” I know damned well that I will die before they do.

That Billy Joel song, “Only the Good Die Young”–that’s really true, for the most part.  The bad just keep on living.  My Grandpa Mayo, the greatest grandfather a boy could ever have, died in 1974, when I was only eight–and I still suffer from that early loss.  Then my Grandma Mayo died in 1999, after having Alzheimer’s for two years.  She was good too (though not as good as Grandpa).  Yet my Grandmother Pyle–a prudish woman–lived on into the 21st Century.  And my Granddaddy Pyle–a dry drunk, and cantankerous man–died last–in his 90’s.

It’s not fair.  Granddaddy Pyle should have died in 1974, and Grandpa Mayo should have died last.  But that’s how it goes.  The best people die first–the worst people die last.  I know of only one exception (not a family member).

There’s a song called “Sweet Mystery of Life”–but there’s no song called “Bitter Mystery of Death”.  I wonder why.

Speaking of songs, there was one that played several times at this Italian place tonight (background music).  I’d heard it before.  It’s a jazz piece, probably from the 1930s or ’40s.  But I couldn’t make out the words.  I want that song–I want to order a CD with that song on it.  I love it–at least the melody.  Before leaving, I whistled it to the waiter, but he didn’t recognize it.  Then I whistled it to the owner, but he didn’t recognize it either.  He mentioned that the CD he was playing was new–I really should have pressed him for the name of the CD, yet I didn’t want to seem too pushy.  After I’d got home, after I’d had several servings of Irish coffee, I called the local public radio station, and left a message.  For the message, I hummed the melody, and asked them to give me a call if they recognized the song.  They play a lot of jazz, so they may recognize it.  I hope they do–and return my call if they do.

In the meantime, I finished listening to the filmscore of “The Fly” (1986) again–love that filmscore–then Aziz Mian’s “Tere Ishq Nachaya” again–then the filmscore of “Splice”–and finally the first half of an Ali Jihad Racy CD called “Mystical Legacies”.  Told you I was eclectic!

I blank-out my last name, for now.  Because I’ve probably made a hell of a lot of enemies from this blog!  But borrowing from a country song called “Bakersfield” (I think), “See, you don’t know me if you don’t like me!”

My left nostril bleeds a bit.  It’s more because I’ve recently changed my medication regimen–then had to change it back–than because I’ve consumed both alcohol and caffeine.  But I’m drinking as much water as I can.  And it’s so strange because last Friday evening–after ordering an extra two helpings of rice because (as I explained) I’d read that a lot of carbs helps prevent a hangover–Carl said the best thing is plain water.  And now he’s dead.  It’s just so strange–so surreal.

I haven’t been so personally affected by the death of another since Donald’s (a very kind second-cousin of mine) daughter committed suicide–just down the street from me.  Before that it was the wreck of the Amtrak Sunset Limited near Mobile, where I lived at the time.  I didn’t know those people at all.  But it happened so close–over Bayou Canot–probably not far from where my dad and I had fished.  I really thought about my own mortality the day after that.  Now I really think again about my own mortality.  If I could have one wish fulfilled, it would be for immortality, invincibility.  Nothing could harm me, nothing.  I would live for thousands of years, maybe millions, even billions.  Imagine the power I’d have.  I could fix the world’s problems–make this planet as close to a utopia as possible.  And I’d have more women than I knew what to do with.

If you consider this an evil fancy, consider yourself.  No one would turn down a chance at immortality, invincibility.  Everyone has had (or will have) this fantasy. No, it’s not evil.  Just impractical.  Because everyone would prefer a dictatorship–provided he or she would be the dictator!

I’m tempted to end this post in the usual way–with a spread of a gorgeous gal. Yet the following would be more appropriate.

pictures5c278255camtrak20monument

UNFINISHED KILL: AN UNFINISHED STORY

UNFINISHED KILL

Scott Mayo

Grey was pissed that you didn’t have any more writing to present today, announced a voice.

I know, thought Mark, And you’d think he’d realize–after eight of his classes, over the past ten years–that I always come up with good material in the end.

Yes, the voice continued, And he probably does.  But perhaps repeating, ‘Get to work, or drop the class,’ is the only method which, he believes, will motivate you.

Well, it’s not!  Mark asserted.  I’ve told him that angry professors intimidate me, and he should be sensitive to this.

He may be, actually, the voice mused.  Yet he might feel that intimidation is the only force to move you out of this rut.  Speaking of which, why don’t you write about the events which led to it–those of Sunday evening?

I can.  But it’s a hunting story–and I don’t want to fuel the ignorance-based outcries of the fools who rally for the prohibition of hunting altogether.

Grey is not likely one of these, the voice argued.  Only he will read it.

Yes, agreed Mark.  However, the chapter will be included in my thesis–and perhaps ultimately published.

So?  The voice was comforting.  If your work is accepted into the academic world, certainly many of its readers will understand that hunters possess the same graces and failures as they–some may even be hunters, themselves.  And for those who oppose this ancient ritual, what better way to prove that the hunter has a place in creation, as the hunted does; that our lives depend upon the deaths of other living things; that life and death are transient realities–dancing together in a circle?

Yes, thought Mark.  Yes, but where do I start?

Where you wish to be, answered the voice.

Of course, Mark thought . . .

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,’ and I cannot imagine a more beautiful place in which to die.  I’ve turned off my flashlight, so the deer will think we’ve stopped looking for him.  My dad is returning to the four-wheeler to get some orange tape.  Until he ran out, he used the reflective clothespins Uncle Robert gave him.  I wait beside the last spot of blood we’ve found.  At eye-level, the shrubs, vines, and palmettos connect the trees with a layer of total darkness. Then the sky-light begins.  The stars are as thick as the forest, and I lie on my back to view them.  The pines cradle me, towering into space as if guiding my eyes toward Heaven.  And ‘Solvejg’s Lullaby’, from Grieg’s music for “Peer Gynt”, flows within my mind.  The four-wheeler rests at the edge of Food-plot #2, where began the events which brought me here . . .

Dad parked the four-wheeler in a small clearing off the road, at about 2:25 p.m. We walked downhill to the path that led to his shooting-house, at the #6 plot. There, he gave me directions to the #2 patch–which is nearest 6.  Then he disappeared into the trees, and I continued onward.

The road is unpaved, and it seems an equal measure of dirt, sand, and clay. Farther up, a crude asphalt is added–but not here, in what my Great-Great Aunt Pearl would have called, “bottom-land”.  And that’s better–the asphalt stinks.  In some areas, flat, layered rocks–obviously from the Appalachian region of Alabama, or some northern or desert state–are used for pavement.  (I’ve taken some of these to my apartment–my tarantula, Charlotte, perches on them.)  The road is nearly always covered with the tracks of ATV tires, hunters’ boots, paws of predator-scavengers, and–hopefully–deer hooves.  The larger the hoof-prints, the more promising–as long as they’re fresh enough.

Scrub oaks grow at the road’s edges, for a short distance.  Then the longleaf pines take over, some of which are harvested and replanted for lumber and paper pulp.  The deer prefer their discarded needles (pine straw) for bedding.  And there’s a lot of it on the ground, right now–so I paid special attention as I walked alongside it.  I also stepped as quietly as possible, in a method my father taught me–of placing one’s heel on the ground first, then gently lowering the rest of the foot.  I avoided dead leaves–which crackle–muffling laughter, as I pictured ‘Elmer Fudd’ saying, “Be vewy quiet–I am hunting wabbits!”

With my left hand, I carried my canvas bicycle pack by its handle–trying not to let it drag along the ground.

Previously, I’d worn it over my shoulders–but it made too much noise whenever I slid it off to climb into a shooting-house.  Mike carried his books in it when he was attending divinity school at Yale, and his address and phone number still show clearly on the tag sewn onto its back.  Now I wear it when riding my Schwinn Sidewinder long distances–such as the Highway-90 route from the Mobile city limits to the Mississippi state line (which, I must admit, I’ve only attempted once).  When bicycling, I carry my chain and lock, and an extra shirt in this bag–but up here, it contains most of my hunting equipment.  And on my left arm, I held clothing too bulky for storage in the bike pack.  I embraced it firmly against my chest, to prevent scraping.  This afternoon’s temperature was very mild–in the high 50’s, at least (terrible for hunting, since deer do not move around as often when it’s warm).  So I didn’t have to take much extra covering–just my Members Only jacket, and the big, goose-down jacket Mike wore through Connecticut winters.  I left my entire right arm free, in order to quickly position my rifle if necessary.  And I carried the gun over my right shoulder, its strap locked around the opposite side of my neck to prevent it from accidentally slipping.

The rifle is a Remington 30-06, with a mounted scope.  It is actually my father’s–he lets me borrow it when we’re hunting.  His own rifle is of the same make and model, but with less varnish on the wood.  I don’t know what “30-06” means–only how to pronounce it, and that it is some kind of measurement.  The cartridges are over three inches long.  Their gunpowder casing is brass, and their projectiles are lead, with a copper finish almost to the tips.  My father doesn’t know this–but I keep one of the unspent bullets at my apartment, as a souvenir.  Right now it’s on my dining table, and I frequently place my eyes at table-level and gaze upward at it–like those protohumans wondering at the monolith, in “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  Sometimes I even shake it, and listen to the powder inside–which is slightly foolhardy.  However measured, this cartridge–when propelled by the gun–is sufficient to kill a whitetail deer of any size, instantly–and probably an elk, a moose, and even a large grizzly.  I had loaded my rifle before we left the camp-house.  When loading, one slides a single bullet into the main hold of the barrel, then inserts the clip underneath it.  The clip (or “magazine”) holds four more cartridges.  This is a semi-automatic rifle–it fires each time one pulls the trigger, until all five bullets are discharged.

It’s always eerie when I’m hiking alone to a shooting-house.  Everything seems more quiet than usual, as if awaiting an explosion.  Leaves rustling in the wind, calls of birds, and barks of an occasional squirrel are all muffled.  And the loudest sound is probably my own breathing–whose volume and tempo fluctuate as I become less or more tense, and as the terrain gets higher or more level.  I try not to breathe through my nostrils at all–they’re always congested (as are my dad’s), thus noisy with passing air.  Instead, I exhale and inhale through my mouth–still regulating each breath for a moderate tempo.  Lately, I hadn’t been working out at Pro Health–and I had to stop myself from whispering, “Damn,” as I realized my lack of endurance caused heavy respiration.

Because a deer’s hearing is better than a human’s–and its sense of smell even better than that–my father says it is very unlikely I should encounter one on the way to my stand–but possible, nevertheless.  It has happened before, to hunters other than myself.  Thus ceaseless vigilance is required.  One’s eyes must be constantly, yet gradually, scanning the horizon–as if a buck will appear, in any second.  It was a little frightening, somewhat thrilling, when I imagined a twelve-point–his weight at least half that of my own–plodding onto the road ahead. There he stopped and turned, as if personally challenging me to shoot him.  I recalled an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, stating that the largest deer ever to exist on earth–which became extinct several million years ago–was over nine feet high, at the shoulder.  I fancied a small herd of such deer still existing in this forest–and my killing of its largest buck, forever establishing my fame among hunters, scientists, and the general populace.  I considered a short story I’d proposed–about a parallel universe in which deer are carnivorous.  The protagonist is trapped in his shooting-house by a buck underneath, with bloodstained antlers.  It continuously watches him, sporadically growling and baring its fangs.  The hunter attempts to follow this encircling beast with the tip of his rifle, knowing he must kill it before stepping down the ladder.  And I thought of ghosts–which deer so resemble whenever they materialize out of the woods in silence.  I remembered learning about Virginia Dare, the first American born to English parents.  By 1590, she had disappeared–along with all other inhabitants of the Roanoke colony.  Yet a myth remains–that she was transformed into a silver doe, by a native medicine man, and cursed to roam the wilderness.  All these things I pondered, as I held back from whistling an old Irish slip jig, called, “The Strayaway Child”.

Dad had told me #2 was alot farther down the road–nevertheless, I began to wonder if I’d passed it.  I looked at my watch, and slightly gasped–only seven minutes till 3:00.  I’d planned to be in the shooting-house before the hour, and hadn’t seen it yet.  Any house is discernible from the road, until sunset.  Each one is several feet above ground, and just off a food-plot–thus it initially appears as a blotch, among the pines.  Still, it can be easily missed.  On the outside, its plywood walls are painted in a green, camouflagic design.  Although deer are color-blind, they can distinguish variations of light–and a large image of a singular shade will alarm them, until they’ve become accustomed to it.  Hence the camouflage, which allows the occupant to wear monotone clothing–like blue jeans–since it’s hidden behind the walls.  But the dark multicoloring of the shooting-house–further complicated by surrounding trees–can obscure it from the hunter, as well.  And for all I knew, it was a quarter-mile away.

Before the season opened, my dad marked each path by tying a strip of bright, orange tape to a bush or small tree at its entrance.  It was this for which he’d suggested I look when attempting to find the #2 stand.  I scanned for the tape and the house, simultaneously–but soon decided to concentrate on the orange strip.  I’d forgotten to ask whether the path started on the left or right side of the road–so I watched both (though I was almost certain it would be on the right, because #6 was).  Each time I noticed my breathing had become more rapid, I inhaled deeply, and exhaled as slowly as possible.

Shouldn’t panic! I thought, realizing my pace had quickened.  At worst, I’ll never find the stand, and will have to settle down at the woods’ edge.  Then I’ll simply wait out the hunt, returning to the four-wheeler at nightfall.

But this is my final chance to get a deer!  Dad’s not hunting tomorrow–and the club won’t allow me to hunt next week, since it’s the last of the season, and I’m not a member.

True . . . However–since deer frequently cross the roads, and sometimes even use them as thoroughfares–I may yet kill a buck, right here.

I’ll be at a disadvantage, though–my plain-shaded clothing, human scent, and unavoidable sounds will give me away.  Furthermore, no buck is going to graze along the road, when there’s a patch full of does nearby–if I see one, he’ll be a rapidly moving target, and I’m not that good of a shot.

It was in the course of this pointless debate that I finally caught sight of an orange ribbon, and stopped.  The shrub upon which it’s tied is almost barren right now–and I probably wouldn’t be able to identify its species, were it even adorned with summer foliage.  The tape has obviously been there a while, because it’s not even a foot off the ground.  I’m certain it was originally placed higher–but its tender, supporting limb was apparently lowered by heavy rain, drought, some curious animal, or snow (which is rare, even this far north).  Yet I saw no trail. Then I peered into the forest–no shooting-house either.  Once more, I surveyed the area nearest the marker.  To the right, there is the remnant of an old path. But pine and oak saplings, as well as fresh undergrowth and pine straw, have reclaimed it so that it’s almost beyond recognition.  Thus I concluded that another, more recently created trail probably lay ahead.  If I would’ve taken this one–although it was the first encountered–I might have ultimately lost perception of its outline, and wasted thirty minutes or more, deciding where it resumed (as when mowing a section of my parents’ lawn where the grass is not quite high enough).  So I continued down the road–memorizing the location of this orange tape, in case I were to find no other.

The ongoing terrain seemed more and more repetitive, until I questioned my strategy.  How much time should I devote to this?  And I employed a simple method I often use when trying to locate one of those rural schools at which I apply as a substitute teacher.  The digital face of my watch showed 3:03–and I resolved to go back to the original marker at 3:15, if I hadn’t discovered a fresher path by then.

Well, I was rather surprised when I did come across another orange strip.  It looked new–and its supporting bush held it proudly above the road, like a tom turkey displaying his chest.  The path–directly behind it–was so clear that I could glimpse the margin of the food-plot at its other end.  To further validate this find, I looked for the shooting-house.  I sighted it almost immediately.  It was only twenty-five-percent visible among the trees–but appeared forsaken, as if in need of my company.

I started down the trail–glancing from side to side, yet focusing mainly ahead.  As the field got larger, I scanned it–and its surrounding woods–intensely.  I came upon the shooting-house earlier than expected.  It was just to my right–disappointingly exposed and low to the ground.  What’s worse–the food-plot was uneven.  The back third of it sloped downward–therefore any deer on that end could not be seen from the house.  Stopping short of a sigh, I moved on toward the ladder.

Pine needles! I thought, when I reached the bottom step.  (Because their fragrance is so strong, yet such an ordinary part of a deer’s environment–they are an ideal mask for human scent.)  Gently, I dropped my bike pack–then looked around, until I found a three-feet pine sapling.  Securing the tiniest branch with my thumb and index finger, I pulled the needles from its tip–then crammed them into my left, front jeans pocket.

Back at the shooting-house ladder, I peered into the grass again.  (Various cereals–including rye, oats, and wheat (but excluding corn, which is prohibited)–are sown to attract the deer.  Winter rye is the primary choice of this club.)  I laid my jackets on the ground, and set the rifle on top of them to protect its barrel and scope.  I was relieved that the shooting-house entrance was in the back wall–rather than the floor, as in some of the others.  A door of this location offers more room for the hunter and his equipment, thereby reducing scraping noise.  I picked up the bag, and began ascending the ladder.  The steps, as well as their frame, are two-by-four sections of pine–not intended to support a three-hundred-pounder like me.  And the legs of the house are several years old–in need of reinforcement.  I became nervously aware of these facts, as each rung wobbled, and the entire structure (no larger than a Fotomat booth) shook.  Perhaps the grip of my right hand–the arm of it being my only support–got tighter, as well.

When I reached the door, I braced my knees against it.  I took the large key ring out of my right, front pocket, and thumbed to the smaller, attached ring–which contained the keys to the cow-pasture gates (though Mr. Williamson had recently sold his cattle), the camp-house, and the shooting-houses.  I unsnapped and removed the Master lock, then pulled the door open.

“What the hell?” I whispered, as a swarm of gnats flew into my face.  Of course they were feeding on something, and I first suspected it was an animal carcass. Then my imagination strayed where I did not want it–and I pictured a rigid human corpse, its teeth clenched in frozen pain, and its eyeballs fixed directly ahead–as if it cursed me to remember that visage in nightmares.  Yet the smell was moldy, at worst–and no flies or roaches accompanied the gnats.  So my breathing slightly calmed, as I waved through them, and let my eyes adjust to the forgotten darkness.

Bits of yellow foam, torn from the seat cushion, littered the floor–along with loose pages of various outdoors magazines and catalogs.  A Ziploc bag, thoroughly smudged with food grease, lay unsealed beneath the chair.  But most blatant was the wide-open, plastic kitchen garbage bag, hanging by two pushpins from the left wall–lined with chewing-tobacco spit, and finished off with apple cores, potato-chips bags, and Vienna Sausage cans.  Ironically, the down-turned caulking bucket–by holding this masterpiece of refuse above the floor–further exposed its contents.

“That son of a bitch!” I said, against the one who had last occupied the house–whoever it was.  Dad had recommended that we go to the #2 and #6 stands because they hadn’t been taken for a while.  But he didn’t know about this mess–nobody did, except the bastard who’d left it behind.  Leaving garbage at a stand is perhaps the worst offense one hunter can commit against another.  It introduces a strange, human odor to the environment.  If whitetails regularly encounter this intrusion, without consequence, they will accept it into their ‘safety zone’.  However, the adjustment is gradual–requiring more time than that between human occupancies.  For a few weeks, the deer will maintain extra caution around the house–some even inspecting it before they graze. Furthermore, insects drawn to the scent annoy the hunter–thereby distracting him, and causing him to move his arms, head, and torso as he brushes them away.  (Although a deer’s vision is poor, in contrast to a human’s, it can easily detect motion.)  When I return to camp, I’m going to backtrack through the roster, and identify the last occupant of this shooting-house.  I think I know who it is–but I’m not certain enough to name anyone yet.

I climbed onto the plywood floor, and leaned my bike pack against a rear corner. I surveyed the open garbage bag, once again–and held my breath (to keep from inhaling gnats), as I ripped it from the pushpins, then grabbed its top edges, and rolled it into itself.  While holding this wad in my right fist, I lifted the bucket.  It was empty.  So I shoved the bag into it, and resealed it against the floor.  Then I exhaled.

As I descended the ladder, I watched the food-plot between rungs.  (One’s prey is indifferent–it can emerge at any time, whether convenient or not.)  I picked up the rifle by its leather strap–then worked my hand to the link at the tip of the forearm, and gently slung it around my right shoulder.  Next, I took both jackets from the ground, by their collars.  I double-checked the area, making sure I’d left nothing behind–then climbed the steps.  And as I oversaw the patch once more, I thought of driving through a yellow traffic light–wondering if it will turn red before escaping my field of vision . . .

If you quit now, warned the voice, you will probably never finish it.

Mark switched off the lamp, and clumsily held the blinds aside.  The clouds over Crestview were pink.

Same at sunrise, as at sunset, he thought.  And he saw a girl strolling along the boulevard in front of the Eiffel Tower–wearing a red-purple-pink, frilly dress, flowing up and down–as she danced in circles, smiling skyward, waiting for him. The plastic strips knocked against the window’s edge when he let go.  Cliche.

You haven’t even settled down in the shooting-house yet, the voice said.

Last night I added one sentence to the story, he replied, it took me seventeen minutes to do that.  (A languid, Old World violin melody–from some television commercial–would not cease, no matter how hard he tried to stop it.  Accept it.) I can recall the music to which I listened on my Walkman, the unexpected behavior of the various does and bucks, even the agony of that wasteful, misplaced shot. But I cannot experience any of it–too much time has passed.

You got an ‘A’ in Grey’s last course–you have nothing left to prove, there.  But this chapter might not stand on its own, against the glare of a thesis committee.

So be it, he said.  At worst, I’ll have to cut the scene from the novel, and transfer this last page to Chapter 1.  Life is haphazard and disconnected, remember?

1997

DEALING WITH THE GODDAMNED DIGITAL AGE PART 1: MOBILE, ALABAMA

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Matthew 23:24

And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

2 Corinthians 11:14-15

These are the days of miracle and wonder and don’t cry baby, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.

Paul Simon

In 1910, in a nun’s nightmare . . . drivers talk on tiny telephones, and tap on tiny typewriters while driving–killing themselves, other drivers, and pedestrians, as a result.

me

Let me begin this post by assuring readers that in using the term, Goddamned, in its title, I am not, from any religious perspective, “using the Lord’s name in vain.” No, I am not using the name, God, lightly or meaninglessly at all–I am quite serious in using it.  Because if anything is damned by God, the Digital Age is; if anything is swallowing a camel, while straining at a gnat, the Digital Age is; if anything is Satan disguised as an angel of light, the Digital Age is; if anything is miracle and wonder which ultimately end the world with a whimper, the Digital Age is; if anything is industrial-scale slaughter on the world’s highways, the Digital Age is.

Yet I use Digital-Age technology to condemn the Digital Age.  Hypocrisy–or good-old-fashioned poetic justice?  I think the latter.  But you decide for yourself.

This Digital-Age technology–it’s like it wasn’t supposed to happen.  It’s like some traveler from the future, from another dimension, or from another solar system or galaxy caused it.  I grew up in the Space Age.  And that was the direction in which technology was moving–toward space exploration.  Then something went wrong.

One day, in my fourth-grade class, the teacher asked us what we wanted to do when we grew up.  I said I wanted to be a starship captain.  No one laughed–this seemed quite feasible.  Another boy said he’d like to be a trucker.  And the teacher commented that he’d probably be driving an airborne truck–that there would probably be flying cars and trucks by then.  And no one laughed.  This really did seem quite feasible to most adults, as well as children.

Even after the last manned moon landing, the Space Age continued–with the space shuttle program, and eventually an orbiting space station (all this Space-Age technological development despite the costly arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union).

Then NASA scrapped the space shuttle program–so U.S. astronauts would now have to rely on Ultranationalist Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime for transportation to and from the International Space Station.

Yet Space-Age technology wasn’t discontinued so much as it was replaced–by Digital-Age technology.  And a human species looking toward interstellar escape from its crowded, polluted cage found itself even more confined to its crowded, polluted cage–with the added torment of ever-increasing social chaos.  The Space Age, which was to free humanity, was replaced with the Digital Age, which further confined humanity.  Something went wrong–and this was it.

It wasn’t called the Digital Age in the beginning–it was called the Age of Information or the Information Age.  And it wasn’t such a monster, in the beginning either.

My brother Mike spoke favorably of compact discs in the early 1980s.  This was Digital-Age technology.  But compact discs were expensive then–compact disc players far more expensive.  We were fine with records and tapes.

Personal computers, in the late 1970s and 1980s, also used Digital-Age technology.  But I never had one of these–most people didn’t.  We didn’t need these.  We have to have personal computers these days, and this takes the fun out of them.  Before the Internet, we didn’t have to.  So computers were fun, and cool.  And we enjoyed watching movies centering around these fun, cool devices, like Electric Dreams and Wargames.

And we enjoyed playing the new computer games (later called video games)–away from home.  These used Digital-Age technology.  My favorites were Phoenix, Robotron, Time Pilot, Ms. Pac Man, and sometimes Defender.  My brother-in-law Tom introduced me to these games.  And my friend Joseph invited me to go along with him and his family and friends to play them.  We used to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s to play them.  The children would eat the pizza–we teenagers would play video games.

One evening there I really stole the show playing Robotron.  On one quarter, one game, I began racking up points fast.  And the other teenagers noticed, stood back and watched as I beat the high score.  I felt great–and was so excited that, when I got home, my dad asked what was wrong with me–asked if I’d been smoking marijuana, or something, in a strongly disapproving tone.  He rarely allowed me to be exuberant about anything.

We wouldn’t play video games at home–we’d play video games at places like Chuck E. Cheese’s, and at video arcades.  It was a social thing.  We didn’t sit home alone playing these–we got out among other people.

And something else: These games didn’t incite violence.  If we shot at anything, we shot at robots, warplanes, or spaceships.  We didn’t get points for killing other humans–we got points for saving them.  This was the case with Robotron.  This was even the case with Terminator 2: Judgment Day–we lost points if we shot other humans.

I remembered this with great concern as I saw one of my nephews playing Mortal Combat and other such games, years later.  You weren’t supposed to kill other humans–but these goddamned games rewarded you for killing other humans. And they still do.

The video game, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, followed the 1991 film.  By this time, Robotron had been removed from most video arcades, lobbies, and rooms–along with Phoenix, Time Pilot, and Defender.  (Sometime in the mid 1990s, I found a long-removed Time Pilot game outside a warehouse.  I asked about purchasing it.  I was told I could buy it for $400–but also told that if when the computer console broke down, I wouldn’t be able to order replacement parts because they were no longer manufactured.  I had $400, but chose not to purchase it for that reason.  Maybe I should have–I might have worn played it out in a day, or in a decade.)

By 1990, I learned of word processing in my Advanced Fiction Writing class.  This was Digital-Age technology.  My instructor had a word processor–some of the other students had word processors.  I couldn’t afford a word processor–I used my recently-deceased brother Mike’s electronic typewriter.  Yet this worked well for me.

The Internet was still a novelty in the early 1990s–most people weren’t online then.  As I recall, even the names Internet and Worldwide Web were used interchangeably.  Singles groups were still the thing, singles bars were still the thing–there was even telephone dating (although no one called it that).  I met a lot of single women through the Mobile Singles Line.  Mobile was one of many cities nationwide that had a singles phone line that was part of Call America Systems in Florida.  Most singles lines charged you by the minute–they were ripoffs.  The Mobile Singles Line–like all singles lines run by Call America Systems–had a flat weekly, monthly, or bimonthly fee ($20, $30, or $40 respectively).  I could call as many times as I liked, leave messages for as many women as I liked, and listen to as many messages as I liked.  Unlike the Pensacola Singles Line, the Mobile Singles Line always worked for me–I met a woman I’d end up dating, every time I signed up.  I couldn’t see the women over the phone, of course–but I could hear their voices, and I could make sure they were who what they said they were.

And letter-writing was still in style–I wrote single women all over the world, women whose addresses I’d received from International Pen Friends, a Dublin-based pen pal organization that would share addresses of members (with their consent, of course) for a reasonable fee.

In the mid 1990s, I finally obtained a compact disc (CD) player (a portable stereo with a dual cassette drive, radio, and CD player).  I even remember my first CD–Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits (“The Streak” and “It’s Me Again, Margaret” were are my favorites–hilarious, timeless).  From there, I began building my CD collection.

And my parents got me a word processor on sale.  It was a wonderful device–no Internet connection, I didn’t need one.  It was wonderful being able to write and revise almost simultaneously.  And the Tetris game on one of the disks was a lot of fun too.

During this time I had a friend named Joe.  Joe was a very private person, with some interesting takes on life.  He was the only person I’ve ever known who didn’t have a telephone–he didn’t want to be bothered with constant phone calls. He laughingly told about how one of the guys where he worked had just gotten Internet service–how he was bragging about having AOL.  For a lot of people, Internet access was just a status symbol then–at least that’s how they came across to others.

And though Joe had a television, he rarely watched it–he spent most of his free time reading books.  He once said that television was the worst thing ever invented.  I hadn’t thought of that before, but I realized he was right.  Television did so much more harm than good (as it still does).  Yet looking back, television was the first worst thing ever invented–the Internet would become the next.  And cellphones and other such mobile devices would follow–in the most nightmarish way.


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