Monday, October 31, 2011


Watching Halloween change over the years has been somewhat amusing, especially living in a small southern town most of my life… It seems everyone is competing for Halloween… Towns halls, churches, corn mazes, neighborhoods and even the local vet is having a dress up your pet night… Strange how things have changed… It seems Halloween has become big business over the years… Thankfully, Zombies have made a comeback after almost going extinct… And now we can at least be protected from them by all the Sexy Police, Firefighters, and French Maids on their way to party…

Zombies were “It” back in the day… I remember hanging out at a friend's house, who had the only VCR in the neighborhood… We watched the 1968 version of Night Of The Living Dead; then it was time for me to walk home. There’s just something about being a little kid and having to walk home down a long dirt road in the dark… My eyes were as big as cue balls combing the woods on each side of me… I just knew something was out there in the shadows… Not only did I have to lookout for the usual lunatics roaming the woods like Harry Hatchet, The Moss Lady, and The Root People, now I had Zombies wandering about, in black and white, no less, to contend with… I knew we were a long ways from Sleepy Hollow, but I was not ruling out the Headless Horseman from riding up behind me… After seeing him on Scooby Doo, I knew that cat was fo real… I would always walk cool and casual at first until something moved in the bushes beside me or a cricket jumped and landed on the back of my leg… Then my little hot bottom shoes were movin’ like the wind… I was out! Home in no time…

I can only remember one time seeing someone attempt to trick or treat in our neighborhood. It was my friend Brett and his mother… When my mother, The Penguin, opened the door and heard the words “trick or treat,” she kinda froze for a moment… “What?” she said confused. Then quickly replied, “Hold on, let me see what we got in here.” I knew right off, I was fixing to be embarrassed fo sho! They could have filmed an episode of Survivor in our pantry… It was always empty except for the echo… The Penguin came back and placed a cough drop and an apple in his basket. “There you go. Happy Halloween…”
No she didn’t… I thought as I turned back to eating my beans and rice…

 As a kid, I did dressed up once as a Western Apache… I went to school and no one got it, especially the principal, who walked up to me in the lunch line and told me to take the bandanna off my head… She said, “We don’t have no hippies here at this school!” I tried to explain I was dressed as an Indian from out west for Halloween, and they did not wear feathers… This seem to infuriate her… Her dark eyes narrowed, “Take It Off!!!”
I say again, Halloween has changed over the years, for me it has definitely changed for the better…

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fried Bread

My buddy Shane and I often reminisce about the food we ate growing up, or even as young adults. Growing up on the upper side of broke and the down side of working class, we learned early on food was something not to take for granted. I look back sometimes on a moment when I was trying to survive on ninety-four dollars a week. This would have been a challenge in itself but throw in a two-year-old child and a wife going to college, and you can easily see how broke we were. One morning, I went to make a sandwich for lunch. Grabbing a package of ham, I quickly realized it was out dated. Its slimy exterior gave a gel like quality to the touch. And the smell was less than pleasant. I was faced with the dilemma of going to work and not eating for the next nine hours or going back to the school of Hard Knocks I grew up in. So, I took the last few pieces of outdated meat over to the sink and washed them with dishwashing soap until it smelled no more. Tasteless as it was, the sandwich was a meal that day and that was just the way it was.

Although growing up with very little at times, I thought of myself as lucky. We always had something growing in the garden, and there was small game that could be hunted to add a little meat to my belly. But the staple meal was beans, rice, and potatoes. Poor folks live on starch which we all know turns to sugar; feeding the bran dopamine; making something as simple as food addictive. I read somewhere years ago this is why alcohol is such a problem with the poor; it has much the same affect going into the bloodstream quickly, making the brain feel good. The same feelings of comfort we had as kids growing up.

Anyways, Fried Bread, Cat Head Biscuits, Potted meat, and Recycled tea bags are all stuff we laugh about now but have been a reality at different times in our lives. One thing Shane and I have in common is our love for music. Creativity runs high in poor communities. It’s away of escaping the world you find yourself in. A relief from the day in and day out. When I played in bands in and out of the Gainesville Music Scene, I was always able to spot the musicians that were self taught. The creativity seemed to be dripping off them. They were very honest with their emotions and it transcended into their art.

My love for music started early on. I shared a room with my sister Teresa, who was like a mother to me, well, to all of us. She worked tirelessly to make sure we were taken care of. She loved music like we all did in the Hodges household. But some music was forbidden by my mother AKA The Penguin. If it wasn’t being sang in church or by Pat Boone, it was not being played in her house.

So, each day we patiently waited for The Penguin to make her way to the mailbox. Once she was out the door and on her way, the fun began. One brother or sister would always keep their eye on the front gate for her return. My sister Teresa would grab her record single of The Ohio Players Fire, from its hiding spot. Suddenly, the needle was on the record and it was time to get down, as we said in The Seventies. Chairs were pushed to the side of the room. Clogs moving under bellbottoms to the rhythm of a funky bass-line was a wonderful sound that still rings out in my mind. These were really some of the first memories I had growing up… Yes Disco warped my brain at a young age… Dancing like the fun would never stop, and thinking to myself why is having this much fun so bad? It seemed like the song was over before we knew it and the lookout was saying, “She’s at the gate.” The record was quickly put back in its sleeve and returned to its hiding spot. The Penguin would walk in with narrowed eyes that seemed to say, “Guilty,” when she looked upon a roomful of sweaty kids sitting quietly. We had gotten away with a little bit of bad, if only for a moment…

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


A wise man once said the dash between the years in someone’s epitaph represents their life lived. He went on to say he was happy he'd been a part of that dash in his friend's life who had just passed away. I wrote a poem a short time back called, "A Moment In Time," reflecting a similar concept. Life is nothing but moments in time; good or bad, they can never be relived. Life seems to come and go whether you want it to or not. Family, friends, love found, love lost, and love given are all a part of life, but it doesn’t make the stinging any less painful when tragedy happens…

The day before my sister Michelle passed away, I ran into her at Publix where she worked. She seemed somewhat surprised to see me but happy all the same. She told me she was sick with the flu and had come in to work another person’s shift. This was a little puzzling to me but not to out of the norm for a Hodges to help someone out, even if they weren’t feeling well. I think we get this trait from our father. He’s a kind man that has spent a lifetime helping others, expecting nothing in return. My sister and I had a short discussion about what her wishes were if something ever happened to her. I didn’t think this was to out of the norm because of something our other sister Laura has said countless times, “The Hodges have always lived their lives with a since of urgency.” Never putting off 'til tomorrow. Smiling, I said, “Nothing’s going to happen to you, Michelle.”

Anyways, I told her she needed to go home and get some rest. She absolutely looked like hell. She just smiled and insisted on giving me a hug, and I insisted on telling her if she did I was going to catch the flu. With a stern look she said, “You better give me a hug.” I did, and that’s the last part of the dash in Michelle’s life I was a part of.

A day or so later, I was walking out my door headed to the Suwannee River to spend the weekend, when my phone rang. It was my mother. She asked if I was sitting down and if someone was with me. I knew instantly the next words would be that someone had passed away. I replied, “Did someone die?” She told me she had found my sister that morning. After making sure my mother was okay and was with plenty of family, I told her I needed to get away for a few days. I couldn’t deal with the world at that point. She said she understood, and I started for the river.

It seemed like I sat by the river for weeks but it was only two days. I couldn’t stop thinking about my sister and others that had passed away in my life. I told my mother before I left that I would speak at Michelle’s funeral. As I sat in the drizzling cold rain, I watched the river flow past like it had for thousands of years. I was thinking at the time how much life was like that river; constantly moving by, whether we’re here or not. I felt incredibly guilty for not hearing her words more clearly. I knew she had struggled with depression for years, but sometimes I think you don’t want to hear what someone is saying to you. Hindsight seems to be 20/20 all the time, yet hindsight can comeback to bite you, if you spend to much time there.

Arriving home, I started to write what I was going to say the next day. Some of the good times I had with Michelle. Her taking me for walks in the woods behind our home when I was a small child. Woods that seemed to be a strange new world of shadows and mystery; animals and strange sounds. She would reach out her hand, looking down at me with her big brown eyes and a warm smile. I would take hold, gripping it with my little fingers. She would say, “Follow me,” and the woods didn’t seem so bad. As I wrote, I could only think that whatever or wherever she was, she would be one of the first to meet me when it was my time to go, with an outstretched hand saying, “Follow me,” and it wouldn’t seem so bad.

Before I knew it, the next day had arrived, and I was standing at the pulpit. I had never spoken in front of anyone before, especially under those circumstances, but sometimes in life you have to do the unthinkable. I was sick by this point with the flu, and my fever had still not broken. I felt as if I were going to pass out. For a brief moment, before I started to speak, I thought of the irony of me being sick with my sister’s cold… A germ alive in me that was alive in her days before. But at that moment I was happy to be sick for it meant I'd hugged her one last time…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Badest One Squawks First

Growing up the youngest of seven kids, I quickly realized why my mother ,“The Penguin,” ruled with an iron fist. She had seven Hodges children to put up with day in and day out… At the time, with me being the youngest of the bunch, it seemed her feathers were almost ruffled daily…

Going into town was always an adventure… We would all load up in our old beat-up station wagon; bounce down the long dirt road to the highway; then make our way into town… There’s an old saying in The South, “The Badest One Squawks First…” This saying was never more true than when The Penguin was enforcing the laws of the land she governed… At some point when we were approaching town, my mother would slowly turn down her Gospel Music playing scratchily through the AM Radio, and make her announcement. Gazing into the rearview, her eyes narrowed as if to pinpoint certain kids when she spoke. She said, “Alright, we’re goin’ to the grocery store, you can act out if you wanta, I’m not goin’ to spank you, I’m not goin’ to get on to you, but when we get home, you’re mine…” Then she would turn her Gospel back up and away we rolled into town.

Once at the store, there was always a few of us kids that would start testin’ the water… pushing the buttons of the Penguin’s patience by, as she would put it, not acting right… Looking back, I think we kids were just so excited to be in a building with AC and surrounded by all that food our brain kinda went into overload… Intoxicated by all the wonders of the big city of Gainesville… Being the youngest, it was kinda easy to see who was goin’ to squawk first out of all the Penguin’s Chicks… Her eyes would cut to the side and narrow into little slits, barely showing any whites; her face pulled into a tight frown of disapproval as she would say the two words and a sound that would assure someone was going to squawk that day, “Darn it All!” which was almost always followed by the sound comin’ from clinched lips and flared nostrils, “Hmmm!!!”
Then she would slowly unruffle her feathers and continue shopping, acting as if nothing had occurred… But we all knew which one of us had been showin’ out on isle 3... We knew good and well they had been marked for a squawkin’ in The Penguin’s mental rolodex of her elephant like brain… She remembers everything, especially if it made her mad… It didn’t matter if thirty years had passed, she can tell you what happened on the Stories (Soap opera), the day you acted out in public… And if she told you to be quiet during an avalanche or tornado, you better do it… There could be cows floating by in the wind, houses falling on witches with sparkly red slippers, and The Penguin would still know you made some kind of noise…

Anyways, on the drive back home, all was normal talk and play between the kids in the car, almost like nothing had happened… Then perfectly on cue, some strange sort of quiet would fall upon us kids as we drew closer to home… We all knew what was comin’… The kids that were fixin’ to squawk, their eyes filled with fear and they turned a strange sort of gray… The kids that were fixin’ to witness the squawkin’ were on the edge of their seat, waiting with a slight smirk of, “Yep, you goin’ to get now…” dressing their little faces…

It was then that The Penguin slowed the car and pulled onto the dirt road leading to our driveway… This is when the silence was broken by my brothers or sisters that had acted out in the store… Their tears, quivering lips, and pleading fell on deaf ears… For the Penguin had spoken and now it was time to deliver… The squawkin’ had begun...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ol' Sparky

We all have moments in our lives where we look back and laugh. If you don’t, then you should look a little closer. Growing up, my father had a great sense of humor. Well, maybe a little warped at times, but never once as kids did we not feel loved by him, and even tough loved at times…

One spring morning, he was out working on our garden tiller, getting it ready to turn the ground. Suddenly, with a shout and a boyish grin, Dad called out to us kids to stop playing and come over to where he was working… We all stopped what we were doing and raced over, eager to see what wonderful new experience dad had in store… Note: Key words to be leery of growing up in the Hodges Household… “Trust me… You’re going to love this…”

Having all of us line up behind the Tiller and hold hands, we waited with eyes wide, watching my father pull the wire clamp from the sparkplug. Carefully, he opened, and shaped it to the size of the first child in line’s finger. Sliding it on with a smile he said, “Trust me, you’re going to love this.” Watching with excitement we waited for what wonderful new joy he was about to bestow upon us. Grabbing the pull string and looking back, he asked, “You ready boys and girls?” To this we shouted, “YEAH…” Dad pulled the cord and this strange bite like sensation flowed from my sister's hand I was holding, making me want to let it go with the quickness. At the same time, my brother let out a good yelp at the front of the line… As my father began to laugh, we all quickly let go and could here the words electrically charged echoing in our brain, “Trust Me…”

My mother “The Penguin,” didn’t share in the same kind of hummer as my father… She was a no nonsense kind of gal… But looking back in my memories, I chuckle at her chasing us seven kids with her paddle dressed with the words across its surface, “Heat For The Seat…” Trust me… Those short little penguin legs of hers were as fast as Mickey Mantle and when she caught you, you would think he was swinging that damn thing… One day I was walking around the yard tossing a baseball around, and somehow it made its way off course to my target, and made its way on course to the barn… Crash, was the sound the ball made as it bounced off the back of the lawn mower… My knowledge as a kid that The Penguin was somehow always watching, made me walk as nonchalantly to inspect the damage as I could… Side note: “My parents could have made copper wire from starching a penny…” I mean they were tight. So, if you broke something, you better try to fix it before The Penguin found out about it… Getting to the front of the barn, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The baseball had hit the sparkplug perfectly, breaking it off in the engine… What the Hell? How am I going to fix this without The Penguin finding out? She’ll see Duct tape fo sho. I know, I’ll glue that bad boy… So, there I was walking into the house, trying my best not to draw the attention of my mother. Finding some Elmer's School Glue I slid it into my pocket… Making your way past The Penguin’s Watchful Eye with a bottle of glue in the front pocket of tight eighties jeans was no easy task… But somehow I made it back to the barn… So, there I was holding the glued sparkplug back together praying it would hurry up and set so I could let go. I had to have looked like a Crack Head watching the kitchen window hopping The Penguin would not look out and see me… Man I was bugged out… Finally, the glue set and I walked away with a sigh of relief… Thank God The Penguin didn’t catch me… Within a few days, I was thinking nothing of the event of gluing the sparkplug back together… Until one morning I heard this strange sound coming from outside… Looking out the window I could see The Penguin pushing the lawnmower and hear it’s motor going up and down in power… It turned off and The Penguin stood back placing her hands on her hips… Suddenly, to my horror, The Penguin’s head turned slowly back towards the house, as if to have psychically known who was responsible… Oh Boy… You better run or something’. She’s goin’ to go Mickey Mantle on your ass… So, out the front door I ran making my way to the woods across the street from my house… I spent the day hiding out in an old sinkhole until I thought The Penguin had cooled off and was busy making supper… I stood a lot better chance of escaping the Heat For The Seat by doing so…

Looking back now it’s all dripping with humor to me… Through good times or bad, my father and mother did the best they could to feed seven kids and provided a safe place to call home. That’s all any of us could have ask of them…


Friday, July 29, 2011


Today I watched a young man around twenty years of age, running around in a parking lot downtown with both hands pressed firmly on his ears, desperately trying to escape the voices in his head… At least it seemed that way to me… No one seemed to be paying too much attention to him really. It just seemed par for the course in the city of Gainesville. Then, a little later, I watched a man walk into a diner I was eating lunch at only wearing a hospital gown, back open with no underwear… He calmly placed his order, and then the person behind the counter filled it with smile… Side note: I did not want to know where he was keeping the 5 dollar bill he produced for payment… After he strolled out and started down the side walk, I thought, I know it takes a lot to be my friend but damn! Being his friend or the man who heard voices 24/7--now that has to take someone with heart. For me, friends come and go in this life… Some come in at just the right moment, they really do… Some are there for tragedy and some are there for laughter, and some are just fun to aggravate… One such friend Tony, I’ve known for many years and have aggravated from time to time because we are as close as brothers… Tony is someone that is extremely ticklish, but I am also someone that is extremely ticklish… Side note, my on personal hell would be, being tickled for eternity by the Devil while having to listen to Celine Dion in the background… Tony had become very leery of me getting within ten feet of him at work… And I’m sure when it was his day off he would have never imaged seeing little ol' me in the grocery store… Because if he did, he would have never placed his arm in the blood pressure machine; letting it tighten down on his arm in an inescapable situation… Yes, to see the look on his face was priceless when he saw my face with eyes full of glee; glazed over by uncontrolled happiness of what was to come… As the profanity laced warnings started to come out of his mouth and the squirming and jerking of his arm trying to break free started, a sense of euphoria settled over me… I thought, now this is what friends are for… As I was within touching distance, I could see he was really uncomfortable, and I think he was saying something about high blood pressure, but I can’t be sure… I decided to let him slide… As much as it was the perfect moment, it didn’t seem right to torture my buddy… Plus, I knew all to well once he got free, he would want pay back…

But I think that’s kinda what friends are for… I know I’ve had my share of squirming from friend’s mischievous ways… The worst memory of this was a few years into puberty, when the awkwardness of being a male can show itself in the most embarrassing ways… When this first occurred, I thought, what the hell is wrong with me? I found myself trying to make sense of this new sensation. I even tried to reason with it, go away! Why are you here? Anyways, this is where a friend did the unthinkable… Well, I think he was thinking of how funny it would be to see me squirm… We were driving over to pick up his girlfriend. Who was a real head turner… He had a small truck with not much room inside… I assumed once we picked her up I would be riding in the back and she would be up front with him… Boy was I wrong… As the truck came to a stop my friend with a big grin says, “Hop in, you can ride on Jason’s lap…” I quickly turned to my friend and looked at him with, please don’t do this eyes. Smiling even bigger, if that was even possible he said, “Come on hop in, we’re going to be late… So there I was, and there she was, and there I was thinking, my good, what is he doing? He is doing this on purpose! Why is he hitting every bump on the way back? I know, he knows, what she may be thinking… Is she thinking? She’s thinking what I’m thinking… Oh no I hope not… But wait I’m not thinking of anything… Oh I wish this was over. This is not funny Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Sweat was running down my neck and I know I probably looked like Waldo in the Hot For Teacher Video… It seemed the ride would never end… I thought for sure I was going to have a heart attack right there in the truck… Finally we stopped at her destination and she stepped out… She said goodbye and we drove away… My friend laughed all the way home…

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Under The Skin Of A Friend

A security guard at a place I worked a few years back was telling me that he didn’t like chasing the homeless people off into the woods by himself. I understood his concern yet something stirred inside me… For some reason I wanted to give him a hard time about it. With a smile I said, “You need to be careful, they may tie you up and leave you in your underwear.” To this I got no response. So, then I said, “Better yet, they may tie you up and put their underwear on you to wear. You know that junk is stank…” His face soured in front of me with disgust as he said, “Something’s wrong with you Hodges.” Shaking his head he then walked away.

It’s not all the time I get under people’s skin, just sometimes. But it’s only ‘cause they let me in the most inviting way. I think it’s the eyes that do it for me. The almost gone mad look they have after their button has been pushed. The first time I really remember getting under someone’s skin I was around ten years old. After waiting for what seemed like the longest line on the planet, it was my turn to play the foursquare king. I know, it sounds like a pretty lame game except there were little games to play at the school I was in at the time. Most of the kids there were some kind of delinquent and if they were cool with the game so was I. 

After finally knocking the king off of his spot I began my little victory dance, and speaking the most amount of jive I could about knocking the king off his thrown. Something along the lines of, “Can you feel it? I’m the foursquare king! I’m the foursquare king…” Then I saw something out of the corner of my eye floating toward me like magic, but believe me it was not magic. It was half a red brick that had moments earlier left the hands of the x-foursquare king. I suddenly came to lying looking up at all the kids standing over me with what felt like a watermelon on my forehead.
Although, the brick was brought on by my dance skills and jive-talk, sometimes, it’s my charm that makes people shine through with madness and overwhelming love for me…

My friend Grizzly Madams loves me like a brother… But that being said, our first trip together into the mountains made her want to beat my ass like a brother. I’m from Florida and have spent many days in the thick woods here. It gets cold but not like the mountains. Grizzly being from Colorado knew good and well to bring the right equipment, I did not… I guess looking back; I had spent a lot of my life outside from working in the dirt, to sitting on street curbs after skating at two in the morning. I knew firsthand what cold was and thought I had packed what I needed. It didn’t help that the night before we flew out my friends threw me a going away party. The next morning, hung over as hell, I grabbed an old sleeping bag out of the closet, put it in my back pack with a few things and took off. After a long flight and too many beers in Dallas, I suddenly was starting to set up camp in the mountains. Once it was night time the temperature started to drop rapidly. Climbing in my tent I quickly realized I was in for a long night with a short sleeping bag. In my state of hung-overness I grabbed a youth size sleeping bag. One my son had used years earlier. Being six-foot one made me stick out about three feet… Yeah I was screwed with the night air quickly dipping into the twenties. I climbed out of the tint and made my way to the fire, which was now just a memory. I searched the ground but there was no real wood nearby. So I began walking in a circle around camp trying to stay warm. By this point the beer from the flight had turned into a good hangover. That’s right two hangovers in one day… Suddenly, things went from bad to worse. I heard Grizzly stir from her slumber. I knew I was in for it… “Hodges is that you?” “Yeah it’s me.” “What the hell are you doing out there?” “I’m cold. I didn’t bring the right sleeping bag and there’s no firewood.” "Hmmmmmmmmmmmm errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Damn it Hodges… I knew that pack looked light and here I’m carrying an eighty pounder. You know it’s in the twenties out there…” “I know…” “You would have froze to death by morning… I should kick your ass… Come on get in the tent…" Opening her sleeping bag she then said, “Climb in and put your back to me, and if anything even so much as moves or rises in this tent I will beat your ass… I mean it… You won’t be able to get away from me.”

So, there I was sleepless in a sleeping bag, warm, and with my best friend that wanted to kill me… It was good times under the skin of a friend…

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Penguin And The Posty

Mornings are a special type of wonderful in the Dirt Worker’s World, or I should say wonderfully entertaining. I was riding into work a few years ago and a coworker said “I just don’t understand all the bumper stickers we keep seeing.” Which ones I asked? He points to the car in front of us and said, “My Boss Is A Jewish Computer.” This is where reading silently pays off. I see the sticker says, “Jewish Carpenter.” Then I look up to see my boss looking back at me in the rearview mirror. His eyes narrowed with amusement as he tried not to start laughing. Don’t get me wrong, I misread things all the time. We’ve all done it, but answering at this point with a straight face was almost impossible… Somehow, I was able to pull it off with just a slight grin and a nod. “I don’t understand them either, my man…”

Riding with coworkers is always interesting, but riding with my super religious mother when I was in high school, well, that was a trip all to itself. Having a southern accent kinda goes along the territory when you grow up in North Florida… My pronunciation could be at times comical to friends. So, one day a friend, while riding in my car, decided to help me out by writing a word down for me on a posty note that I had been saying wrong for quite some time. As she stuck it to the dash board of my car she said, “It’s Vagina, not Fagina Jason!” I didn’t think much of the posty note at the time, it kinda blended in with all the skateboard stickers on my dash. So a day or two went by and I found myself driving back home after a night out on the town. As I looked down the long stretch of highway I saw a familiar sight, my mother’s car on the side of the road, and my mother, The Penguin standing with her hands on her hip. She acquired The Penguin as a name from one of my good friends that thought she acted like the nun in The Blues Brothers. The one that could float across the room and beat people with rulers and stuff…

I pulled over and asked her if she wanted a lift home. She was coming back from church and it was already mid-afternoon, way too hot for The Penguin to walk in her best Sunday clothes. She climbed in and we started back home. As we rode, she seemed talkative at first, then she became eerily quite. I could sense something was wrong but what could it be? Then I saw it, the posty note with all caps, “VAGINA.” I thought, What? Damn! How can I distract her and grab it before she sees it? Jason, she has already seen it. Even The Penguin knows what that word is. My God, what could she be thinking of right now, "Why is my son riding around with a note that says VAGINA on it? What is wrong with that boy?"At that point of the ride I just watched the road, hoping my driveway would somehow magically appear in front of my car. I can see you haven’t been to church lately! Was The Penguin’s favorite saying when I was growing up. I just knew, I would hear those words, but I didn’t. In a way I wish I had, but instead nothing but silence. A fate worst than any other coming from The Penguin.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It Was Thick Water But Never Tasted So Good…

Twisting dust devils drift along the-- Wait that’s good, but not quite what I was looking for… Thorny brush encompassed the jagged rock face as we pushed our way through Skeleton Canyon, and-- Wait, did I just use encompassed? Well, it works, but, okay, this will grab you by the collar and drag you kicking and screaming into my story… “Save the last bullet for yourself… You don’t want to be captured by the Apache…” Sergeant Johnson cried out as he placed the muzzle of his gun to his head. Closing his eyes, he pulled back the hammer with his shaking hand… Now, I have your attention and should if my writing’s worth anything today…

Growing up, my brother David spent countless hours reading books to me, and in large part was the main reason I became a story teller (writer). He mostly read westerns, and stories of the Apache were always high on the list. He knew I was falling behind in school with my reading and although exhausted from working all day, after dinner, he would pick up a book, and the story would begin. The action, the loss, the love, the landscape, the betrayal, everything was laid out before me like a scenic roadmap playing in my mind in the most beautiful way…

So, when I was finally able to visit these faraway places in the west, it was nothing short of the time of my life… Unfortunately, the time of my life was coupled by the flu, and spending a few days in a place like Skeleton Canyon should not be on anyone’s flu-to-do list… The canyon straddles the Arizona / New Mexico border and was a passageway for Geronimo’s band of last fee Apaches fleeing the US Army… Fleeing deep into the Sierra Madre Mountains for safety… Skeleton was also the place where Geronimo would make his final surrender, before his band was shipped to Florida and Mississippi, never to return to their homeland…

Daytime temperatures in the canyon can easily climb into the hundreds and nighttimes plummet to a cold stillness of coyotes howling on the Dark Distant Desert Horizon… Yes, I think I’m one of the few writers left that try to make alliteration work, but it never really does… I think sometimes, I might just have childhood flashbacks of Spiro Agnew giving speeches on the telly, and sometimes I think not…
Upon our arrival, which was a slow car craw over the rocky terrain, we set up camp. My brother David, his wife Gita, Yes, Gita is her name… I think in some language, in some far way place like my mind it means, “pretty cool chick,” and last but not least, my hiking buddy Grizzly Madams, who moonlights as a Roller Derby Girl…

After we settled in, night quickly came upon us. I was really feeling bad by this point running a fever. Lying down and sleeping just wasn’t in the cards for me. So, I stepped out of the tent to a wonderful world of sleep deprivation and fevered chill bumped skin. Alone, I sat in the car looking into the star filled sky. The moon was full and had already began to slip from its crest high in the Arizona skyline. It seem to be so quiet and cold, and my mind was really starting to wander, drift through a lifetime of memories as I sat shaking in the car, wishing the sun would break the horizon. Memories without the luxury of curtains were flooding my weary mind. For there was just me and my thoughts, the audience of the world was out there far beyond the darkness… True thoughts, not Christmas cards at the office because it’s the month of December. You know, like the thoughts you have as you take the last pull from a cigarette on the first ten minutes of the workday. Or the thought of a kiss, you know, the one that seems like it would hold you forever. Finding love, loosing love, all while loosing your mind.

Suddenly, I was awake and looking for water while thinking, wow somehow I got some sleep... Picking up my canteen, I knew we were in trouble, it was light with the last bit of drink, and the sun was climbing along with my fever at that point. Stepping out of the car, I saw Gita busy making coffee and Grizzly checking supplies. Walking over, I told her we were out of water. Bad words for being out there, no, literally “out there…” Her face dropped from expression and she shook her head. All of us were experienced in surviving harsh environments, and knew what no water meant in a place like this… Grizzly said, “This isn’t good. You look like hell, Hodges. We need to get your skinny ass some water…” Then Gita stepped in with reassuring words along the lines of, “Hey, let’s see what your brother thinks…”

After talking it over with him, we all debated driving 2 hours to the nearest town, (30 minutes and forever of crawling over 39876857537698 rocks that could easily shred car tires) or looking for water in the high desert like terrain of Skeleton Canyon… My brother, who has hiked the lower mountains of Arizona for years was pretty sure he knew where water might be… So, we took a chance and went for a walk through the twist and turns of the canyon, with one eye always on the brush for Buzz Worms, (See also Rattlesnakes for a better understanding of my southern slang I find myself using from time to time)…

Finally, we found these giant boulders of granite, roughly the size of cars… On their surface were indentations like big cereal bowls, that were holding rain water from a few days earlier… It was thick water but never tasted so good… A sort time after that we found a watering hole in the ground that held enough to fill our canteens… Dipping my bandana in and bringing it to my neck cooled me in the kindest way. We sat tossing stones for a while, listening to them echo off a wall face. Looking over, I saw Gita snapping moments of time with her camera… At that moment I realize, life is living, and living “out there in the moment”, is the greatest part of all…

Friday, June 24, 2011

I've Gotta Go…

Watching the sun drop from the skyline is a fantastic sight on a twelve hour work day. But watching it rise the next morning on the way to work is not as thrilling. When you make a living pushing a shovel, you have a unique relationship with the sun as it slowly bakes overhead; the winter wind as it cuts through the many layers of clothing you’ve put on to stay warm; or the rain storms that bring streaks of lightning ripping the sky in two and thunder shaking the ground…

Mornings riding to work is the last real moment of rest and, for the most part, the most entertaining. The workers in the truck are hung-over from one thing or another; mostly from life as a Dirt Worker. Poor diets of convenient store breakfasts and long nights of drinking beer, blowing off steam from the work week is usually the culprit… For the most part, the Dirt Worker doesn’t have the luxury of sitting once a week with a psychiatrist telling all, while lying on a couch. They have beer, cigarettes, and each other.

Anyways, this way of life is not the best for the old bowels, and there are way too many job sites with not even a port-a-potty. If you're doing 10 hour days, every once in a while nature's going to come calling.
When you're first starting out in this profession, you do not know these things, but quickly you become acutely aware of the world you are working in. People have told me for years, “Jason, you are so creative.” My reply most times is, “I’m not really creative, I just grew up poor.” Lack of material items will make you think of how to survive… It’s as simple as that. No bathroom and suffering from rock gut, you quickly feel creative. This has gone on for years in the working class. The first time it happened to me I was horrified… There wasn’t anything for miles around… A good friend jumped into action. Digging through my car with speed and agility, he came across an old road atlas… Flipping through franticly as I stood with sweat running down my face, he shouted with excitement… “You ever goin’ to this state?" He called out each name and if I said no, he tore the page out…” Creativity at its best… A few minutes later I took a walk with five or six states in hand.

Although, it was the first time I was caught in a not so pleasant situation, I had been forewarned years earlier by a woman I worked for on a ranch. She had spent many years in the saddle. We were in the backcountry running dogs ( hunting ) when she suddenly stopped and said, “Here take the reins.” She climbed down off her horse and walked off into the brush. I was unsure what was going on. I thought she had lost the tracks of the deer or maybe there was a boar near by. Then, I was even more confused when she came back with the bottom part of her pant’s leg missing… She had to have seen the strange look stretched across my face… She climbed back on her horse and started to explain… Saying what she had done and that missing pant legs was the real reason cowboys wore chaps… “What?” I’m sure was my response. She then explained after a three month cattle drive and cutting the bottoms off their jeans for paper they had Daisy Dukes underneath their chaps… Yes, I know, and you thought I had a sick sense of humor… Still to this day I will spot a laborer with a missing sock and think amateur… Then I will run across a true veteran of the dirt with a missing cargo pocket and say to myself, now he’s got his shit together…  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living In An E R

Sitting in an emergency room is almost always entertaining. Right away I spot the homeless man resting quietly in the corner. ER’s are a great place to spend the day but an even better place to spend the night when there’s no where else to go… No one is asking questions in the waiting room because they’re way too freaked out with the situation at hand. He kinda looks new to the street, not as well worn as some of his comrades. Don’t take that the wrong way, there’s nothing wrong with being well worn on the street. He just hasn’t learned all the tricks of the trade yet. Like going into a fast-food joint and grabbing hot water from the coffee maker; then mixing in some ketchup and free crackers from the commons bar… Hobo tomato soup, at least until you’re kicked out by the manager…
Anyways, my name’s Thomas and it seems I’m always in here waiting on a certain someone I know to finish up with her appointment so we can go home. While waiting on her, I found myself sitting in-between a plus plus size woman that looked like a truck driving uncle I had growing up named Grits, and an old lady in a wheelchair, who for some reason held two purses. I thought it was odd, but you expect to see odd things when strolling into an ER to wait on a loved one.

A few minutes later, out of nowhere, she tells the guy sitting across from us that she is not crazy for carrying two purses. Her head leaned forward as she gazed upon him with doll eyes, blank from expression. He smiled and let her continue with her explanation. She said that the doctor told her to bring in all of the medications she was currently on, and then said, “I just grabbed this old purse and filled it up.” He glanced over to the large woman sitting next to me. You know the one that looked like Uncle Grits, hell lets just call her that for the story's sake… Now where were we? That’s right, so Grits gazed back at him with a look of, “What did that woman just say? Two purses… One for medication.”
Then all was interrupted by the charge nurse walking up to the woman in the chair. “Ma’am we’re ready to take you back now.” The woman with two purses replied, “You want-na change my diaper?” “Oh no ma’am. I said we have a room ready for you now.” The nurse then started to push the old woman away. Grits look over at the man again. “She ain’t short on words…” Then Grits started to chuckle making her fussy chin and thick neck dance in the most bizarre, yet amusing way.

Then a man called out to me from across the room. “Thomas.”
Looking up I replied. “Well, well, it’s been a long time hasn’t it?”
“Your wife is finally ready.”
“Well, where is she? I’ve been out here for what seems like an eternity."
The man smiled. “You’ve been out here for ten years to the day I first laid eyes on you. You told me you wouldn’t cross over without your Betty. Well, today’s the day you been waiting for..”
That’s when I saw her walk through the door, her eyes for the first time in years fell upon me, and she began to weep. I put my arms around her and amazingly I could feel her. Her skin was no longer wrinkled, it was smooth and soft. Her smile was now full of life.
“Honey, what’s happened, and who is that?”
“You’ve passed over and he’s The Hand Of Death, you know The Grim Reaper. He’s here to take us to the other side.”
“Wait a minute, that is so last century, we prefer the term, Assistant Assisting The Newly Deceased…”
“What? That’s a horrible name… I would stick with the old stuff if I were you… That just doesn’t sound like the right job title.”
With a groan, he replied, “Thomas, don’t give me any lip… It's time to go. I have to get back here to Assists The, just take your wife's hand and let's get on with this…” He said with another grumble.
So, with my hand intertwined with love of my life, I walked into the great hereafter…

Friday, June 10, 2011

Queen Asha

Show me your friends, and I will show you your future… I’ve learned over the years nothing could be more true about this saying… My early years in school were incredibly tough. Actually, they sucked. But through all the name-calling and the embarrassment of not being able to read or spell, there was one person that I was always happy to see each day. She sat beside me on the school bus and was always incredibly nice. I was shy and scared of everything back then, especially girls, and it felt like at that point there was absolutely no reason at all to go to school except for my soft spoken little friend named Asha that road the bus with me. She would always ask me how my day was going and chit-chat about life. For me, the fifteen minutes I would spend riding on the bus with her to and from school made the eight hours of hell in school worth going. Something else that sticks out to me about this time was her mother always waiting for her, standing in the gravel lot in front of their little fruit market for the bus to stop. She would wear these super cool outfits. Long flowing dresses with many bright and wonderful colors. Asha would get off the bus and her mother would put her arm around her in a loving way. At the time, with my forehead pressed against the glass bus window watching them walk away, I thought, What a wonderful mother she has. This must be where she’s learned to be so caring. I also remember seeing Asha and her mother at Cloth World around this time. I loved to run my fingers through the buttons in the Button-bin and, according to Asha, she loved hiding in the giant boards of cut by the yard cloth…
So, the next year rolled around and I was sent to a school that specialized in kids with dyslexia. All the kids in school were just like me. No one could spell or read very well and most had been through the God awful public school system… I was happy in a way to find so many other kids out there like myself. I could finally let my guard down and relax a little. Although it was a better place for me because I was not being picked on and ridiculed by my classmates, I missed my little friend from the bus… There was a reel void in my life and a yearning for the only friendship I had in such a difficult time. A longing for someone very special.

After spending three years going to school in Gainesville, I returned to public school and my friend was gone… Moved away… She was the first person I looked for… but she was gone and I was right back in the system of latchkey kids and hopeless promises.
So, some how I finished school, got married, and raised a kid. From time to time, I would pass the old fruit market and think of my friend from so long ago… Wondering where she ended up? I would even ask the current owners of the building, when I ran across them, if the original family ever stopped in. I know it sounds crazy, but she was the one good memory I clung to in my mind of a time that was very dark and difficult for me… A memory of happiness that seemed to transcend into a wonderful feeling when I looked back in my mind…Thirty years passed and I wondered if we would ever meet again…
Then came the internet, where the impossible became possible… And after all the years gone by, there she was… Like two kids on the playground, we picked right up where we left off… And it has truly meant the world to me…

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Whispers In The Wind

Not long ago, I took a trip to see the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Not much has changed in Cross Creek since Mrs. Rawlings worked vigorously typing out literary masterpieces in the thick humidity of Florida. Although the state has done a wonderful job in preserving her home, it’s the overwhelming feeling I got that Marjorie’s presence is still alive and well that made the day for me.

In a way, being a writer and being yourself is one in the same, but not in the beginning. What I mean by this is, when you first start writing you write what you think people would like to read, and all that you have for training in this craft are the authors that you’ve read growing up. Well, that is if you’re self-taught. As time goes on, you become more free in your writing, relaxed if you will; more like yourself but your influences are always with you. Like a shadow they follow you constantly and are always there to fall back on. Especially during the hard times. Like a surrogate family but better, never scolding, judging, never letting you down. I know this sounds twisted, but if you’d been in my shoes at some points of my childhood you would instantly understand clinging to anything, even books and their writers for survival. Hope is fine and all, but books are tangible. Anyways, M. K. Rawlings was definitely this way for me, at least her writing was, along with William S. Burroughs, and Harry Crews, but that’s another story altogether.

After arriving in Cross Creek, the journey began. Walking through the old iron gate, I could only think of the descriptions of her home she wrote so long ago. As I approached the Orange Grove, I saw bent limbs from the weight of ripened fruit. The smell of citrus hung thick in the air, like a blanket smothering the place with its potent smell. Spanish moss blew gently in the morning breeze as mocking birds chased one another through the thicket of scrub that surrounded the homestead. As I walked a little further, I came upon a two hundred year old magnolia in full bloom, its white flowered petals stood out clearly against the tree’s dark green back drop. It’s trunk was so massive three people could not lock arms around it.

Waiting for the tour to begin, I stopped to take some photos. One in particular grabbed my full attention. As I held the digital camera up and snapped a picture of my wife, the screen went black for a moment casting a reflection of something behind me. A shadowed face seemed to be looking over my shoulder. I turned nonchalantly to see no one there. Turning back to my wife, I said, “That’s strange, I saw a refection of someone behind me.” With raised eyebrows, my wife and I met in a gaze of strange expressions, then grins of, okay, let's move on now.

We began following the guide up to M K’s Home and didn’t think much of the incident. Once inside the tour guide asked folks in the group to turn off their cell phones or put them on mute. I thought, mine’s on vibrate and half the time I don’t know it’s ringing, so I’m not turning it off. As I suspected no one tried to called during the twenty minutes I was in the home. But it seemed some one was trying to get my attention. I keep feeling the slightest brush on my side. It was as light as a fingernail, gently, ever so softly dragging on my skin. Soft as a butterfly taking off from a flower fluttering away in the mid summer’s heat. I didn’t know what to think really. I was a little overwhelmed by this point of the tour being in the same home that M K. Rawlings entertained people like, Robert Frost, Margaret Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway and Gregory Peck. The funny feeling I had grew stronger as we finished the walk through. My wife and I started to make our way back to our car when I though to check my phone for messages. Flipping it open I found it was suddenly dead. At this point, I really started to think something strange was going on, like something had attached itself to me, tightly. So tightly it was hard to breath. My heart began to race, but I didn’t want to say anything to my wife, but at the same time I wanted to scream let's get out of here. Then I was frozen for a moment, sweat gathered on the back of my neck and my hands grew clammy. I felt a woman’s arms wrap around me and her soft lips whisper into my ear, “Jason, you have a great imagination. You must be a writer…”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Moss Lady’s Gonna Put A Root On You!

The Moss Lady along with the Coach Whip were two fictional charters that roamed the woods surrounding my childhood home. Both were very effective tools used to keep us kids from straying too far or into places we were not suppose to be. The Coach Whip was a snake that, according to my father, had the ability to rise up as tall as a man, wrap around the child, then whip them, with his tail, with no mercy. “He’ll whip you to death, if he gets a hold of you.” I can still hear my father say in the most convincing tone. According to Dad this snake generally hung out in the high weeds of fields long since touched by a plow point. Fields he was trying to keep us out of. Now, The Moss Lady was a different tale of tallness altogether. She was what we called a conjure woman. Someone who could put a root, ( a curse ) , on a child that wondered to far into the woods alone. She lived in the deepest part of the forest, where the canopy was so thick, very little sunlight crept through at all. The rays that did make it through slightly resembled flashlight beams shining through the tree tops. The forest’s floor was covered with clumps of multi-colored Deer Moss, hence the name, Moss Lady. As a kid the last thing we wanted was to get a root put on us, and shrivel up into a piece of moss trapped forever with the strange woman that lived in the woods.

One day my father and uncle were working the fields that bordered the 16 hundred acres of woods where the Moss Lady lived along with every other folk legend thought up by my father. I’d made up my mind that it was probably safe to wander in slightly to the forest and build a tree fort. Surely the Moss Lady would at least let me have a small place in all those woods to play. Borrowing my dad’s hammer I made my way to a suitable spot and started to build. As the afternoon began to disappear, I started to make my way back home. Leaving the darkness of the woods for the open fields of fireflies dancing freely in the warm night’s air was always a nice sight.

Once inside and starting to eat, my father asked a question that stopped me in mid-chew. “Did you bring my hammer back from the woods?” “No Sir,” I replied ever so slowly. “Well, you better go get it, tools cost money.” Flashlights and batteries also cost money, something we didn’t have too much of. So, there I was, wild-eyed, no flashlight, and slowly walking into the darkened woods. It seemed with each step I took the darkness became more and more. The sounds of the night mixed with the creaking of trees up above. I was sure The Moss Lady was somewhere in the shadows that moved in the distance. I wanted that hammer pronto. Finally after searching the ground for what seemed like forever my small hand touched the handle. Thank God, I thought to myself. I immediately turned and started to make my way back home through the darkness. Walking, I thought I heard something behind me, like small sticks breaking underneath someone’s feet. Man, it’s The Moss Lady. I’m not getting no root put on me, I’m out! My skinny little legs made their way out of those woods with the utmost speed, blazing a trail for the house. I was sure I would be able to outrun her. For every time I heard another sound behind me my feet moved that much faster. There was no way I was getting turned into a piece of moss, trapped out in those woods with her. Finally I burst through the door to see my father now with a smile. “Well, looks like you found my hammer…”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eastern Diamondbacks & Blackberries Calling

Now, each summer as I look down the rusted wire fence lines of Alachua County, what few fence lines that are left, I see blackberries in the thousands hanging from their thorny limbs, and remember a time of endless hot summer days spent eating watermelon or blackberry cobbler. Then sitting on the porch with our out stretched bellies listening to whippoorwills throw calls in the distance as our day fell into night, and the pale moon crept slowly in the star filled sky. Homemade Blackberry Cobbler was always a favorite for me growing up. Each cobbler was picked with careful hands, for we as kids were well aware of the dangers that lay coiled waiting to strike within the brier patch. Eastern Diamondbacks were plentiful in our neck of the woods and greatly respected. Their muscled bodies and oversize triangular shaped head, dressed with flowing scales of diamonds down their backs were something we learned to recognize early on in our lives. To look upon one, with its forked tongue tasting the air and its rattle buzzing at full speed was something very frightening to a child’s mind. The largest snake killed on our farm was over 60 inches and had 21 rattles.
Living amongst these monsters was just part of life back then and had been that way for a long time. But it didn’t make us any less jumpy or take our eyes off the ground when we were walking through the woods that surrounded our home. I was born 33 years after Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote her classic tale, The Yearling, in which a rattlesnake plays a vital role. I grew up roughly 30 miles from her home. Things hadn’t changed that much in North Florida since she was putting pen to paper.
Picking blackberries wasn’t the easiest task in the world. The mornings were always the best time, obviously with how hot it becomes in the south anyone would think this, especially the one doing the picking. The dew drenched berries seemed to sparkle as the morning light rose in the easternmost sky. Birds would scurry about getting food for their young, and the occasional rabbit would burst through the thicket giving us a heart attack with its sudden movement, putting us even more on edge.
Then, before we knew it, the sun was overhead, and the only sound in the hot stagnate air was crickets chirping. This was when picking was no fun. Our backs would be cramping from being bent over, and we would become careless, grabbing to close to the stem which would almost always result in a poke from its thorns. But, no matter what senses we let slide in the heat, it would never be our constant lookout for snakes. This would almost always lead to false sighting and false bitings. Someone would step on a bush near another picker, which in turn would poke that person in the back of the leg. This would send them instantly jumping in the air thinking they were bit. This in turn would send all of us kids stepping high, moving quick, and getting out of the brier patch.
Yes, false alarms were always good for a laugh, but making a false alarm, now that was a joy all to its self. Because most of the folks that grew up in the same area had the same respect for snakes as I did, these manmade false alarms translated into adulthood.
While working irrigation, sometimes we found ourselves in some desolate places. We were always running across snakes of all kinds. My boss always wore shorts even in the middle of winter. When he was walking, and deep in thought, I would pick a small stick. The other worker would look over to me with a grin and a silent nod. His eyes dilated with anticipation of what would come next. Ever so gently I would brush the back of my boss’s leg with the stick, which made him jerk his leg away quickly. He'd turn and give us a barrage of curse words, which led to uncontrolled laugher for the other worker and I. Yes, sometimes the false bite can be a bad one…

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Impressing Candace With The Mont

The late 80’s early 90’s were a fun time, but man where did they go? My first car was a 79 Ford Fairmont, that my friends and I affectionately called “The Mont” and it was ghetto. Two hundred thousand some odd miles of light blue rust spotted junk. Its dashboard was covered in skateboard stickers, and one of its doors was a completely different color than the other three. It may not have been aesthetically pleasing, but it got us where we wanted to go and that was good enough for me. Rap and Metal was the music of choice when I was in high school and the radio in my car was terrible, or should I say treble. It had no bass, at all. The rear dash was full of worn-out speakers from an old nineteen seventies home stereo system. They were cut with care from their boxes, then wired into the back of The Mont. But what would you expect in such a worn-out, busted car? To make matters worse, the ignition switch would have to be held just right so the radio would even have power. I hope I’m painting a well enough picture for you to realize this car was Hood-Rich.

Although my friends and I weren’t living in luxury, this didn’t mean we didn’t try to sound like we had a halfway decent radio. Girls were everything back then and impressing them was the name of the game. So everyday on the way to school we would see a cheerleader named Candace walking to first period. She was stunning and we always tried to get her attention by looking cool or at least what we thought was sounding cool. As we pulled up slowly beside her, my friends would start to stomp their feet on the floorboard when what little bass would thump in the car’s speakers. This we thought was giving the false impression that my car was booming. The problem was, we had no rhythm. So, as hard as we were trying to be cool, we probably sounded like a herd of Buffalo drowning out Metallica or NWA, and looked like four guys getting attacked by bees on their way to school. I could only imagine what Candace was thinking. What the hell is wrong with those guys? They really need help. Oh God, I hope they don’t ask me for a ride in that thing. Luckily for her we never asked and somehow we made it through the awkward years of trying to be something we were not. But hey, we had fun doing it, and that’s what counts.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sarah? Ronnie?

Recently I competed my first book, well really my third, but the first two were thrown in to the pile of failed attempts. But this was not a failed attempt. I felt pretty good early on that one day it could be published. It’s hard to describe, but about a third of the way into any writing project I can usually tell if it is something that is worth continuing. Anyways, after working away for about six months I found myself at the last chapter. Then the thought hit me, who do I choose to read and help correct it? It would have to be someone that could handle the sometimes rough side of life I write about. My sister Laura is typically the one that reads over my work. She has an open mind about any topic I write about and can see the good in any tragic story I’ve put together, no matter how bizarre the characters. But this was different, it had a pretty long and descriptive sex scene between the main characters, something I felt too uncomfortable having my sister read and correct. So, after days of pondering who would I ask to read my work, it came to me, Sarah. She was someone I had known for over twenty years and she was also a writer. So, I contacted her and she agreed to read and correct the book. Then as I was getting ready to click send it hit me. The main character was named Sarah. My God, I thought, I can’t send this to her. This will surely make her uncomfortable reading the sex scene. Especially since the main character not only shared the same name as her, they both had bright red curly hair. Remember, Sarah my friend had not come into the picture until the book had already been written. So, no big deal, I thought. I’ll use world search and breeze through the thirty something thousand words, replacing Sarah with Ronnie. At this point, if I would have read the book one more time, I thought I might go insane. No really, Insane… After competing the name change, I emailed Sarah the book, not thinking too much about it until one day it popped back up in my inbox. In the email she said that she liked the book and that all the corrections were in red. I wrote back thanking her and then began the long and tedious task of the rewrite. So, out of all of the Sarahs the computer happened to miss changing to Ronnie the first would appear in the sex scene halfway through the book. My heart sank as I read “Sarah?” then saw the name “Ronnie?” in red lettering. I thought, how am I going to explain this one? So, I sat down and wrote my friend Sarah to explain, and with all the grace in the world she wrote back saying no big deal. She totally understood. I knew then I had picked the right person for the job. At the time I was horrified, but now it’s pretty damn funny…

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Wrong Side Of My Brother’s Humor

A short time ago my brother and his family made the long and grueling trip across country from Arizona to Florida. Trading one hot miserable summer location for another. Their second day in Florida I finally caught up with them and was able to visit. My brother, who is ten years older than me, has always had a wonderful sense of humor, and on this trip he did not disappoint. While we were standing around talking, my niece, his grandchild, started to cry. Smiling, my brother David, asked me to hold on and then turned toward the now very agitated little girl. Reaching into his pocket he retrieved his cell phone. Holding it up in front of my niece, he pushed the play button. To little Lucy's surprise it was a recording of her crying earlier that day. Lucy’s eyes widened and the tears stopped falling; her brow slowly pulled together as her mind tried to understand how David’s phone was now crying with her voice. My brother then turned to me and said, “I figured that would do the job.”
My brother has always had a great sense of humor, one you did not want to find yourself on the wrong side of. I was about ten years old the first time this happened to me. We were riding back from Gainesville and my brother wanted to stop by U F’s Track and get in a quick run before we went home. So, while sitting in the truck, probably bored out of my mind, I saw an old pair of running shoes someone had left hanging at eye level in a tree. I didn’t think much of them until my brother, finished his run and before climbing into the truck, went over and examined the shoes. He stared at them for a long moment then plucked them from the tree. When he climbed in the truck, I started to give him a hard time about taking the discarded shoes. He explained that someone left them behind instead of throwing them away so if someone wore their size they could use them. I understood what he was getting at and as a child I had seen a lot of hand-me-downs; so, it made sense to me. After a twenty minute drive, which always took thirty five because the cars and trucks we drove never went over fifty, we arrived home. Walking through the door, we were greeted by our large family. Back then there was always a house full. As we all sat down to eat, I couldn’t stop thinking about the shoes that were hanging in the tree at the track. So, testing the waters as younger brothers often do I spoke up and announced with joy resonating in my voice, “David found someone’s old shoes hanging in a tree, and he took them to wear.” Then I started to laugh thinking this had embarrassed him. This was the funniest thing to me at the time but I would not be laughing long. After everyone had finally stop chuckling, David calmly replied, “Well, that’s true, I did find a pair of old shoes I could wear. But in that same tree the person had also left his underwear hanging and Jason with no hesitation grabbed them and said, finders keepers, just my size too.” My expression of happiness fell as fast as it had come. Everyone started to laugh and there was no way to convince them that there was never a pair of underwear hanging in that tree. To a ten year old kid it was not so funny but now I still chuckle when I look back on the first time I found myself on the wrong side of my brother’s humor.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From Typewriters And Whiteout To Backspace And Blogs

So, this is the journey in short. I began writing in 1989. Before this, I was raised by wolves in a '79 Ford Fairmont, at least it felt that way growing up. My younger years were far from easy. Luckily, as a teen I had become sub-culturalized like a lot of the kids from my generation, to survive the sometimes rough culture we were living in. Back then I was a skater and met a lot of cool people. One of the coolest people I skated with was Mike Frazier. His segment in Powell Peralta’s movie Eight was filmed at my home in Florida on what was known as The Jonesville Ramp. Tony Hawk’s segment appears later in the film.

It was around this time I saw the movie Drugstore Cowboy with William S. Burroughs. I had already been writing poems and what we now call flash fiction. But after seeing the movie and reading Burroughs, and others out of the Beat Generation, my imagination took over. With help from a great teacher I had in high school named Barbara Elliott, I started on the long and difficult road of becoming a writer. She was a huge reason I even finished school at all. After years of being dyslexic and lost in the system, it would have been much easer to split and go to work. Believe me, being told at a young age that you would never be able to comprehend and given an F- on your report card paints a different reality than most kids could ever imagine. But I stayed in and Barbara encouraged me to start writing. The funny thing was, I only had her in study hall. This speaks volumes about what kind of teacher she was.

So, after I finished school I joined the working class of the deep south. This is where my true education began. Years rolled by and I continued writing and reading. I would go on to discover Charles Bukowski, Harry Crews, Anne Rice, and Anne Sexton. All were huge influences on me, along with the world I worked and lived in day in and day out. I struggled for many years to get anything published but finally in 1994, the door cracked open, at least for a moment. Then it slammed shut for a little while longer. Frustrated at the publishing world I started an underground zine called C-This. So, I could at least have a place for my friends and I to publish. The problem was, no one wanted to jump on board until there were more than just me writing for it. So, the first few issues or so, I wrote under eight different pen names. Then everyone wanted to be on board. The confusing thing wasn’t writing under eight different personalities. It was answering all the questions from the other writers about the personalities. Like, I love Mike’s column, but why doesn’t he ever show up to any of the writer’s get-togethers? Yeah, it was a fun time but when it was over I never wanted to go down that road again. Finally I became serious about writing and learning how to write. With the help of my sister Laura Hodges Poole, who was extremely good with the written word, and along with a few friends, Poet Sarah E. White and Writer Christina Smart, I slowly began to learn the craft.

Jason E. Hodges Writer Poet