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