Saturday, August 25, 2012

Life Going By

Some days I miss my nephew greatly. He’s doing a five-year stint without parole. To those that really know me, I’m much more of a sensitive person than most would think. Right or wrong the absence of a friend or family member to jail or whatever circumstance keeps them from seeing you is something very hard on me. It is the worst type of misery for I know firsthand how short life can be… So, if you are with someone you love, appreciate them and the moments you have together… Don’t be afraid to tell them either… In life we sometimes don’t get second chances, and sometimes we don’t realize the first ones are standing right in front of us…

When I was in my early twenties, I worked in a small town hardware store doing the best I could to stay afloat on what little that job paid. It was not far from where I lived so spending little on gas was a plus. I also had to air up my tires each morning because most were flat by the following day… 25 cents a day was much better than four new tires…

Although I wasn’t paid much in money, I was paid tenfold in wisdom by two old men that had nothing better to do but drink the free coffee and hide from their wives, kids, and grandkids that they claimed would drive any man crazy. Truth of the matter, their families were probably happy to see them disappear each morning. Both were a handful.

Old Man Slim came in each morning to hover around the coffee pot but not before he walked past it headed straight for the restroom with a slight sucking in posture to his butt and a tiptoe stride to his walk. He would step out 20 minutes or so later complaining that the paper wasn’t fit for a man his age. Then he would make his way to the coffee pot and sit down and talk about life and what it meant to him at his age. He was 94 years old and could account for every minute and some days he did just that.

Slim was the only WWI Vet I ever knew. He said once to me, “You would have not wanted to be where I was when I was your age. The company’s commander would give the signal and the sergeant would blow his whistle. We would climb out of our trench and run straight into the German machineguns. The ones who lived found themselves in the German’s trench fighting, stabbing, and clubbing their way to what was considered a victory. Really we were just trying to stay alive. It’s been 75 years now and I still wake to that damn whistle sometimes in the night. Yeah you wouldn’t have wanted to be where I was when I was your age.”

I understood what Slim was trying to convey to me but still it was a heavy trip to hear his confessions of the things he did in war while the whole time watching what he had seen so many years before play over in his dark eyes. But Slim made it out, had kids, grandkids and made the most of those 75 years after the war.

Uncle Buck ( No relation as far as I know) was another one of the hardware hangout gang of old men. He was the son of a riverboat captain. His father was a violent man when he drank. One such night he tried to kill Uncle Buck with a kitchen knife after drinking half a bottle of whisky. Buck was 14 years old when he wrestled away from his father and jumped from the boat into the waters of the muddy Mississippi never to see him again.

Uncle Buck was not quite as old as Slim but he was old enough. Buck for some reason took a liking to me instantly calling me The Two Tone Hippie. My hair was long and was bleached months before. My roots needed a little work.

Uncle Buck reminisced about his 35 years on the railroad or his first love who had died 20 years earlier. He said he didn’t know how he made it through the loss of her. That it ate away at him for what seemed like a lifetime. Making his stomach turn in anguish of not being able to hold her ever again. There was no doubt in my mind if he could go back to those days, no matter what the difficulties they were going through at the time, he would have without hesitation. He claimed he had finally gotten over losing her and he’d moved on and married another. But the strain on his face as it pulled tight just talking about her told me different. Uncle Buck was one of the most foul mouth big hearted men I ever knew. Most couldn’t see through his rough demeanor, but I could and I learned a lot about life and picking yourself up when you’ve been knocked down by the world from him.

My great-grandfather was another man that lived into his nineties. He had a time in life separating his heart from what was really good for him. He made and ran moonshine for years without getting caught but once his two sons got involved, things began to change. His sons, my grandmother’s brothers, were eventually caught and the judge gave them the option of going to prison or going to WWII. They chose the war and their first day of combat was Normandy Beach D-Day. They survived and came back after the war only to get caught again running shine. This is where my great-grandfather thought with his heart and not with his mind. He struck a deal with the authorities since he was the one they really were after, to take both of his son’s sentences. My great-grandfather went into prison when he was 71 years old and was released when he was 81. He lived on seven more years smoking rolled cigarettes and mountain tap-dancing on his porch when the mood struck him.
So now as I type these words out and remember Slim, Uncle Buck, and Great-Grandfather, I would say to my nephew, “Hang in there. Your time will pass. Do what you can do; what you have control over in your life. Be aware that thinking too much with your heart and not thinking with your mind can sometimes get you in trouble. But don’t be afraid to follow your heart. It might lead you to the right person in this life. Most of all, life goes on. I’ve said it a million times and lived by the philosophy, “A Moment In Time.” Good or bad it is that moment in time we live through that becomes a memory etched in our brains and can’t be taken away. It was lived and will forever be. And there are many more moments to come. Many, many, more.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Take The Good From The Bad And Write

We think tattoos are forever. We think certain memories are forever as well… How could either of these fade? How could we ever forget certain people or events and places that have been such pivotal moments in our lives? But as the wheels of time grind on and circumstance washes over me, I realize tattoos do fade into an unreadable mark of beauty and our memories also fade by the time we reach the old and wrinkled stage of our lives. I believe it happens to a lot of folks but not for the writer or poet. It's our responsibility to write and recall the world that surrounds us until we can’t do it any more.

I recently took a job in a factory that makes cabinets, countertops, trim board, and fireplace mantles. I’m in shipping and loading which means for 10 hour shifts I’m lifting anything from cut lumber filled with splinters and sharp edges to finished cabinets and countertops weighing from 20 pounds to 200 pounds. Pushing and pulling them into long trailers steaming with humidity as the hot Florida sun in the parking lot cooks its steel outside. This has become the everyday norm for me. Down here in the south we were hit hard by the economy falling in Sept. of 2008. It seems it has been a slow recovery and sometimes you have to take what is available even if it’s something that makes every part of your body ache while making the almighty dollar. But there is a bright side to this work… The real pay off is being a writer and working in the factories or digging ditches like my last occupation. The people I’m surrounded by are colorful and full of life, mostly because it is a job they might not go home from. I’d already heard the horror stories way before taking this job. Mill-saws with their carbide teeth breaking off and flying like bullets through the tin roof above the cutter or into the cutter; femoral arteries being punctured by long dagger like wood splitting from the saw blade hitting a knot. I’ve even known men that have lost an eye and even lost their life because of these mill blades. So, taking the job, I was well aware of the dangers but I also knew the rewards that could be gained in my writing by working among these man and women who risked life and limb day after day.

I try to always take the good with the bad. This has been my philosophy for many years along with, you don’t know what is coming around the corner, so be optimistic, the tides will eventually change and tomorrow might be the best day of your life.

The first couple of weeks though working this job was a challenge. An Ozzy Osbourne quote rang in my head as I tried to make sense of this new environment. It was from a documentary called, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne. As a child he was raised in Birmingham England. A place where kids growing up had very little choices. When you became an adult you went into the factories, jail, or the Army. Ozzy was working at one of these factories when he had a conversation with a man.

“I remember being in a factory and one bloke I’d say to him, How long you been working here? And he’d go, ‘Oh 35 years this year. I’m retiring and I get a gold watch.’ I thought, f***ing gold watch. 35 years of your life you’ve been in this f***ing factory, 35 years of your life.” Ozzy Osbourne

At least this is what I could make out Ozzy saying. He’s not the easiest person on the planet to understand but I knew exactly what he was talking about those first few weeks of work.

The oldest worker there is 10 years older than me. It’s not a place to grow old and gray at least not with it matching your true age. As I grew to know this man, I asked how long have you been working here? He smiled showing what teeth he had left and looked up toward the ceiling with his grayish blue eyes as to think, “Hmmmmm about 5 years this year.” I then asked how old he was. He replied, “52, no wait 51, I’m 51.” Again he smiled showing most of the few teeth he still had. An hour or so went by and out of the blue he stepped from the assembly line and said to me, “10 years. I’ve been here 10 years not 5 and I get a gold watch in a few weeks.”

Now two things raced through my mind, Ozzy’s voice reminding me how short and precious life really is and to not waste a second doing something you don’t want to do. And this man’s been here so long he not only can’t remember his age he can’t remember how long he's been here.
As the weeks rolled on Ozzy’s voice started to quiet in my mind. I knew with a job, any job, comes money and options even if it’s not a lot of money or options it’s something. But the biggest for me is, if you want to be a good writer you have to go where real life is happening. You have to take the punishment from the heat of the day and the fatigue of long hours to mean what you want to say. You also have to have enough drive and determination to sit down after these long days to type out what’s inside you. Even when your hands don’t feel like closing from being banged around and cut up from lumber.

So as the next week of work begins, I will be waiting to take the good from bad. I’ll be writing my next book in my mind as the mill blade spins into a dull blur of death beside me and the nail-gun shoots in perfect repetition from the man’s finger who doesn’t know how old he is or how long he’s been working there. Yes, I’ll be writing in my head and on my lunch break. Then coming home to punch the day's scribbles into the computer. All because I’m a writer and this is what I do…