Work Spider

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2017 by Mike
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For the past few months, I’ve had company in the mostly unused shower at my workplace. I use the shower after squeezing in a run during my lunch hour, rinsing off the sweat and funk so as not to offend coworkers with my stank. In the shower, unexpectedly, there’s a spider that resides in the corner under the handicapped handrail. I’m not sure what kind of spider it is, but its thin gangly extremities are akin to those of a granddaddy longlegs. When I start the shower and step into the water, the spray off my body disturbs the spider’s web and it crawls out from under the handrail and clambers around its web, confused by the vibrations that must be coming from a thousand different locations. It doesn’t get too close and I never feel threatened by it, we just share the shower and I ponder its existence. How did a spider end up in a corporate office? Is it lonely or bored in its habitat? What does it find to eat? Does it dine on the dead skin cells of people who use the shower? Maybe there’s small prey that sustains the spider, unseen vermin that wander the tiny world that operates within and despite the bullshit meaningless white collar tasks that support the microcosm. But the spider clearly does not belong and perhaps it wonders how it got there, occupying that grimy, mildewed space in our office bathroom. Does it dream of the outdoors or is it just going day to day? I see it maybe seven or eight times during my workday rinse offs, and then one day it is gone. I step into the shower, let the spray hit my body, and wait for my little friend to appear. But it doesn’t show. I kneel down and inspect the corner of the shower where it resides, looking closely at the mildewed grout lines and around the rail, but the spider is not there. It’s body is not clogging a drain hole. It hasn’t changed locations to a drier and more suitable space near the ceiling. It’s just gone. I picture the morning it decides to leave. It crawls down from its web, steps onto the tile then the next tile, and makes the long trek across the shower to the main bathroom beyond. It waits at the bathroom door for it to open long enough to sprint out of there. It faces the Saharan expanse of carpet leading to the foyer and the main entrance to our building. Then eases under the front door and is gone, out of there. I like to think it’s lived long enough to create a new web in the nearby holly tree, munching aphids, completing its mysterious life cycle without stress or hunger. While pondering its new life and rinsing off the soap, I realize it could have – just as easily – inched across the handrail, scaled the wall, high-stepped through the shampoo bottles in the shower caddy, and is there waiting, perched on my soap, poised to jump on my face and sink its tiny sharp fangs into my quivering eyeball. I slowly, carefully, turn my head and brace for the next instant with anxious wonder, stalling the return to my desk for a few more precious moments.
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Sounds I Make in Songs: The Quiz

Posted in Gags, Music with tags , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by Mike

Much has been reported about bad or misheard lyrics in popular music, but what about the weird sounds and noises that can be heard when you turn on the radio. Some of these sounds are made by the recording artist but many are generated by the listener (me) when he tries to simulate instrumental flourishes in his car.  Wonder if you can hear 10 sounds I make during songs and figure out the name of each song? Let’s try. Reply with your guesses. In a week or so I’ll post the answers.

 

 

The Air Crackles With Protest

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on February 1, 2017 by Mike

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There’s a lot to protest since Trump’s inauguration and, rather than continuing to bitch on FB and Twitter, I thought I would write a real got-damn protest song. Something for the next civilization of radioactive mutants to uncover when they pore over soundfiles and try to figure out what happened. They may listen to this and say, “File 637,455,231a. Check yes for angry, and yes for impotent. Next.” I still bitch on FB and Twitter – we can’t stay silent, people.

Click for Soundcloud track

 

 

 

Music and Time Travel – A Night With Susto

Posted in Music, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by Mike

susto-with-fan_finalAs you get older, you move further and further away from your past selves. One of mine, as an example, is Wildman Mike. Though he still appears now and then, makes a headline, and disappears again like Bigfoot, Wildman Mike resides in the past and survives mostly in embarrassing photos and fuzzy group memories. Once in a while though, if you’re lucky, you get to reconnect with a past self and it’s like a reunion.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited downtown by another couple to see Susto, a band out of Charleston, SC. None of us had any idea who Susto was so I spent a good week watching YouTube videos, reading snippets, and finding out what I could about these guys prior to the show. This is what’s it’s like to discover an unknown band through social media and word of mouth – something that is new to me, a guy who entrusts our local hip radio station to keep me current. But a band doesn’t need radio. They just need a genuine presence and a unique quality that gets people talking and buying tickets.

As it turns out, susto (the word) is a Spanish term that refers to when the soul gets separated from the body, connoting something akin to a panic attack due to trauma, and is treated with the ritualistic, plant-based hallucinogen ayahuasca. Susto (the band) is a five-piece group that can rock or skirt Americana with songs that are both introspective and visceral, and their personal themes elicit personal reactions. The songs conjure the emotions every lost 20-something experienced as he wandered between reckless youth and the vague frontier of What Comes Next. Front man Justin Osborne has a southern growl and backstory that involves anthropology studies, living in Cuba, and getting ACID BOYS tattooed onto his knuckles as a means to remove the mainstream path as a viable option, forcing him to pursue music do-or-die, music as the potential Promised Land for a talented misfit with an aversion for the middle of the road.

There’s drugs, alcohol, a party on every periphery, but the festivities have a dark undercurrent and these aren’t wide-eyed wannabes writing about their first acid trip – these are the guys the next morning. Tired, reflective, the ones at a table at the Waffle House. They’ve been up all night (up for years, even) having their circuits rewired and worlds spun like a bald, dirty basketball on God’s index finger. I’m the dad at a nearby table with the wife and kids in booster seats. I can tell by their eyes where they’ve been and what they’ve seen because I’ve seen it too, maybe 25 years ago but I had the same fleeting glimpse into the other place, the place without the veils, it’s just hard to remember what was behind them all these years later.

This isn’t about a specific song or album though Susto is currently touring in support of their new CD – “& I’m Fine Today” – and the opening one-two punch of Far Out Feeling (soaring and disco-tinged) and Hard Drugs (a dreamy introspective country ride) is a thrilling combination that sets the tone. But to just know the new record is to ignore the gold stuff from their first self-titled release – Dream Girl and County Line, and all the mysterious tunes you will hear at the live show that will simultaneously pull you in and spin you around amid the other listeners undergoing a similar transformation.

These songs are transformative for everyone – they were surely transformative to write and to play, but they also do work on the listener. At least this listener – a 45 year-old existing in two chronologies at one time. Wildman Mike came to the show but behaved – he’s grown up too, maybe. We reflected on our own good times, the ones flecked with blackness, feeling and refeeling what it meant then and what it means now. The music coursed through it all, the source and destination.

In another time I would’ve been right there on the porch of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, their renowned Charleston gathering spot, HQ, crash pad, and hub of revelry for this new generation of Merry Pranksters. Though I’m the old dude at the party, it feels good to be here. Nostalgic but nice. I raise my High Life and tell them that the good times change shape, but they do continue.

Ultimately Susto is not the condition – it’s the treatment.

The current lineup of Susto includes Justin Osborne, Corey Campbell, Jenna Desmond, Marshall Hudson, and Dries Vandenberg. A 6-song set from Audiotree will give you a preview but go see them live – they’re playing all around the US for the next few months. Visit their website here.

I Ain’t Going Anywhere

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by Mike

Here’s a little ditty in case your country band is looking for new material – especially songs that use needless profanity and indirect themes. Pardon the one-take demo feel. I am a busy dad and today it’s supposed to snow here in southeastern NC, so this was recorded between pitiful questions from my kids like, “Where’s the snow?” and “When will it snow?” Also, if my wife listens to this and considers the lyrics below the embedded video, these characters are fictitious. Don’t let the first person format fool you.

Sturgill Simpson, feel free to record this. Or maybe Lyle Lovett. Or even Jackson Browne if you’re ready for a drastic career departure – I also have a freshly penned anti-Trump protest song if that’s more in line with your current mental state. I understand. Let’s make 2017 the Year of the Unknown Songwriter.

 

This 9 to 5 it ain’t no way to live

And I just can’t find a fuck to give

I ain’t getting paid

I barely get laid

And my motivation’s standing on a cliff

 

This worthless feeling, it ain’t nothing new

Buckling down seems like the thing to do

Just when I start to stand tall

I go and piss on it all

And undermine you know who

 

Who cares

What’s the use

Guess my board’s blown a fuse

And there ain’t no warranty on that repair

You can try to inspire me

You can coldcock or fire me

But I ain’t going anywhere

 

Every time you tell me that you’re done

I hear you ain’t happy and I clearly ain’t the one

You list my inactions

And your dissatisfactions
With your mama saying “girl, you better run”

 

I’m supposed to shit or just get off the pot

But I can’t tell if I need to go or not

So I sit there a-thinking

Just stewing and stinking

Idling with everything I’ve got

 

I don’t care

What’s the use

Guess my board’s blown a fuse

And there ain’t no warranty on that repair

You can threaten to leave me

But you just best believe me

Honey, I ain’t going anywhere

 

 

 

After the Disney Ride

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by Mike

Returning to normal life after a week at Disney World is disorienting. The long lines are gone and the magical details that were once everywhere are nowhere to be found. My kids and I were just lying on the hammock together on a perfectly cool late afternoon and my son eased up after about 20 seconds and said, “This is boring.”

A hammock doesn’t turn in circles or flash lights and is not surrounded by animatronic forest creatures singing and jerking in place. It just sits there and sways with the breeze or moves when you want it to. It encourages relaxation and what kid wants to relax when they’ve recently been on a hardcore Disneycrack binge.

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The whole Johnson crew – Day One

Disney World is fully immersive entertainment, not much different than a virtual reality headset. The sounds, sights, smells, and sensations all rocket into your nervous system simultaneously and without interruption. Not to mention the anticipation of the next sensation when your system starts to expect it and the crash when you finally make it onto a bus at the end of the day with the other shell-shocked families to ride back to your room and fall into bed.

Hauling your children down to Disney World is a blast but, do not underestimate this, it is also an exhausting trial. You will carry your daughter on your shoulders for 10 miles a day, for days in a row. You will be battered by relentless sunshine and will seek out taller visitors and try to stand in their shade for half second respites. Even if you think you are attending during the slow season, you will stand in endless lines and be herded like cattle wherever you go. If you purchase a meal plan to try and save some money and make eating more efficient, you will shovel 3000 calories into your facehole three times a day and choke down unwanted dessert so nothing is wasted. But a lot is wasted. The uneaten desserts in Disney bus-tubs could feed nations. You care on the first day; by day three you are walking away from nearly full plates because another bite would cause you to vomit and you have a Fast Pass expiring in 10 minutes and have to cross Main Street and elbow through thousands of people to get there and get in a new line.

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Foster absorbs sensations

Standing in lines does give you time to stop and sweat and think. Here are some realizations I made in Disney lines:

  • Remember when you waited tables and hated when your section filled up with kids? That’s Disney World but your section is miles long.
  • The poor saps in the character costumes must ponder suicide every day – the worst must be signing those little autograph books. Hey kids, Goofy’s hardly legible make-the-dude-write-in-a-puffy-mitten autograph will mean nothing to you in a few years. You will find that forgotten autograph book in a cabinet and resent your parents for enabling such a wasted youth.
  • It’s fun to test your own hidden prejudices by scanning the people around you and trying to figure out where they are from based on their fashion choices, mannerisms, and hair styles. You’ve been stereotyping more than you think!
  • When it rains, putting on a poncho after walking around for hours starts a chemical reaction under the plastic. BO2 + contained body heat3 + subtle methane emanations after all those meals = bigtime stank when you finally take the poncho off again, kinda like uncovering spoiled food.

A successful Disney adventure requires a ton of research and planning (thanks honey!), considerable logistical preparation, and up to the minute improvisation, all of which is compounded by a hurricane churning offshore. When we were there a few weeks ago, Hurricane Matthew was our constant companion.

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Magic bands and an emergency flashlight provided by housekeeping

As Matthew spun ominously closer to Florida, we got many concerned texts from family and friends encouraging us to evacuate and find refuge somewhere else.  Protecting the financial investment of a family vacation and trying to fully collect on time off from work can impact your decisions, and deferring to variables like those is questionable when your family’s safety is at stake. But we decided to bunker down in Orlando and ride it out, figuring those squat solid buildings in our resort were built for rough weather and it sure beat joining a traffic jam on I-95 to retreat to another location that was just as vulnerable as where we already were.

Disney parks closed down and officials ordered curfews for people that stayed, requesting that guests remain in their rooms until the storm passed.  To pass the time, we played an endless game of Monopoly, rationed our snacks and boxed meals, watched Matthew’s colorful radar representation twirl along the long finger of Florida, and occasionally went outside to watch the palms whip and the rain pour.  As a hugely profitable business that trades magic for money, Disney started opening back up quickly – first the food courts, then Disney Springs, then the parks. We missed a day, which we tacked back onto the end without much interruption to our original plans.  At the end of the week, as Hurricane Matthew closed in on our coastal NC community, friends and family back home helped prep our yard and house while we rode rides and took pictures with cartoon characters.

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Matthew tagging along

Driving home in the wake of the hurricane, after a long exciting week of fun, provided instant perspective. Trees were down everywhere, billboards were crushed, astonishing storm damage became the norm. We used porta-johns at rest areas that had no electricity or running water. Communities all around our part of the state were being flooded – floods that ended up lasting for weeks, taking lives and homes and dreams.

Experiencing a natural disaster in parallel with a Disney vacation is like being on another ride – and the ride continues. Nearby rivers have just crested while our first credit card bills arrive. People are burying drowned loved ones while we put suitcases back into closets. We look online at photos from our Disney Memory Maker plan; a Lumberton grandmother tries to salvage a photo album that has been underwater for days. We are thankful for the magic yet appreciate the contrast between the engineered fantasy and the vulnerable reality that exists just beyond the gates. Meanwhile, we relax and rest up for next time.

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Playing games and climbing walls

 

 

 

 

The Untold Story

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2016 by Mike

Empty_bookWhen a loved one dies, you’re left with photographs and whatever recollections your mind is able to drag out to inspect. But my memory is far from a dependable archive and a 2-D image in a photo album can only do so much. It’s easy to start flipping pages or wander down mental side roads that lead you far from where you meant to be. Not a bad thing, really, any introspection is a golden nugget when most days are marked by the hollow, fleeting ding of accomplished tasks.

People with home movies are lucky. Old family videos let you hear your aunt’s voice again and be reminded of the particular way her attention could go from person to person in a room, landing on each face. Or the way your cousin walked—never in a hurry, no reason to suspect that he would die young and only live on in memories and a few precious minutes of video. These are reflections that no still image could elicit.

My grandmother died a few years ago and I’m still adjusting to her complete silence. We used to talk on the phone a lot and we visited her and my grandfather often; the entire family is lucky that we got Nanny for 86 years. Now that she’s gone, I’m stuck with my own remembrances of her long biography and saddened that she will never be able to fill in one of the many blanks in the record.

So I’ve started to record my grandfather’s voice on trips back to Hot Springs, a town that always centered around them and now centers around him, the survivor. If the first time I recorded him made him uncomfortable, it didn’t show. I took out my iPhone, readied the Voice Memos feature, pressed record, and asked him to tell me again about where he grew up. Now I will forever have that detail told through his real voice and inimitable flair. That anecdote and the time when he worked on the boats in Michigan and when he met Nanny and all of these other momentous points in his story, told casually while he cooked breakfast or thumbed through the USA Today. One day, when we return to an empty house in Hot Springs and the cemetery on the hill holds both grandparents, we may play these soundbites again and be able, almost, to share space and time with our beloved grandfather.

***

We drop in to see my wife’s Uncle Norman after having lunch in Sneads Ferry. While we are all together, Mema, my wife’s grandmother, thinks it would be a good time for us to go see him. Uncle Norman is Mema’s uncle, so he is up there in age, maybe 92-93 years old. He lives in a little house overlooking a finger of marsh and it is a beautiful, sunny, cloudless day.

When we enter his house, Uncle Norman is sitting on his favorite recliner, alone in his quiet and dark home, just waiting and sitting. He has diabetes and cardiac issues, with wrecked and swollen feet, numerous stents and a pacemaker—he doesn’t get around much anymore—he confesses during our visit that he basically sits there and wonders why God hasn’t brought him home yet. He’s ready to die. But as we look around and visit with him and talk about his life and look at his pictures, he starts to open up and play host. There are framed pictures around, old black and whites from his years in the service; he mentions that he was there on Normandy, storming the beach in the face of grim odds. It’s hard for me to imagine that a memory of the beach could be so sinister. Despite his poor physical condition, his mind is incredibly sharp and lucid. He sits there with these stories and no one to tell them to—like an album that never gets played or a book that never gets read. It’s a chronicle of a life that just sits and molders, and you’re not quite sure what’s there until you press play or open the cover.

As he talks about those wartime memories from over 75 years ago, I begin to think that this needs to be recorded. His small audience—including my children who are too young to appreciate it and his family who may’ve heard it before, maybe ad nauseum during every pervious drop in—isn’t worthy. He is, or was, more than the deteriorating old man before us. Surely some historian or military buff on nearby Camp Lejeune would love to hear this. Granted, the history is well documented in books and movies, but this man’s unique perspective has a shelf life and WWII veterans like him are getting rarer by the day.

I get home and reach out to a local history writer, David Allen Norris, to brainstorm and see if there is a Story Corps on a local or state level or any organization that may be collecting stories of area servicemen.  Sure enough, there is.

The State Archives of North Carolina maintains a Military Collection that gathers photographs, maps, letters, personal belongings and other artifacts from our veterans, and also manages an Oral History Program that collects their personal narratives. Military Collection Archivist Matthew Peek travels all around NC to interview veterans for the Oral History program, recording and curating them for posterity.

I speak to Matthew Peek on the phone and tell him about Uncle Norman. I get the impression that he hears it a lot, the tale of an aging veteran with stories to share. My job is to lay the groundwork—getting permission from the family, finding out the dates and details of his military service—before he drives down from Raleigh to interview Uncle Norman in his Sneads Ferry home.

Uncle Norman dies before we are able to schedule an interview.