What is Now Isn’t News


Next month marks one year of writing for the local daily newspaper. It has yet to feel anything less than a joy, an adventure and quite the experience.

I see quite a few people once a month or so, and I’ve observed and chronicled them doing their duties, so to speak. The changes are numerous, except that they are all dedicated to their elected offices. That hasn’t changed a bit.

I’ve watched the lines in one small town mayor’s face grow deeper and deeper, his shoulders a little more hunched and his step just a little slower each month.  He volunteers his time to do much of the work needed around his small town without a second thought, and he was rewarded with a drive-by bullet through his front door a few weeks ago.

Another small town mayor’s voice has grown quieter and softer. He’s had to hire help for his aging secretary who had been slowing down quite a bit. Two months ago, he had three stints put into his heart, and showed up to the council meeting two days later. There was a petition to pass around concerning the landmark bridge connecting the two halves of his town.

The mayor of the second largest city in the county is faring a bit better, though his hairline is receding. His town has the resources to support strong and capable people, and he manages them well. But, some of those people have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and have gone through open heart surgery not so long ago. Somehow, it seems that everyone is less excited about the next town celebration event, and no ears heard the latest reports of progress. If the mayor is feeling more weight on his shoulders, he’s bearing it well.

Two years ago, the area’s Representative was young, vibrant, full of life and energetic. When I saw him last, his hair was shot through with gray, his smile was much slower to light his face, and his eyes too tired to lift with the corners of his mouth. Still, his hug was warm and welcoming, though it too was tired.

My editor’s sense of humor and seemingly endless good cheer both have diminished as he continues to work his ass off to get his paper out every day. A whole department was closed, much of the support staff has been laid off, and advertising revenue continues to shrink. The paper comes out every day by the force of his will alone.

Every town is growing, all projected to triple citizenship soon, and all are facing reduced revenues, just like the remaining surviving businesses. So many factories are now idle and silent, empty and boarded up storefront windows line sidewalks, and weeds poke through more parking lots and wall cracks.

Every morning, my drive to work seems a bit easier with less traffic to slow me down. I no longer see Hummers or BMWs, and not many other new cars either. There’s no trouble finding a parking spot at the grocery store, feed store or Wal-Mart. The same cars sit in the dealer’s lot, the for sale signs in front of several houses have faded in the sun and more lawns grow shaggy.

More faces, fewer smiles. The loss is felt all around as good cheer fades away much like this gorgeous flower will fade in no time at all. The beauty is still there, perhaps hanging by a thread, but how much longer will it last? I continue to write the news, but all this is never part of the stories I submit to the paper.

Still, I wonder. How much longer will it last?


Lost in Second Grade

A mean old teacher.

I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. C. She was gray-haired and quite large with breasts that protruded quite protuberantly, held in place by the thick belt around her waste. Pink seemed to be her favorite color.

That this woman was intimidating is an understatement. The first day of class, she sat at her desk looking at the list of names of the new students in front of her. She loudly opened a drawer and slapped a rubber banded bundle of rulers on her desk before she laboriously hoisted herself up out of her chair.

Her feet splayed out and slid on the floor as she slowly walked up and down each aisle between the desks. He dress swayed side to side in time with the irritating sound of her shoes scraping the floor. That bundle of rulers slapped into her palm let us all know in unquestionable terms that it was a tool of business, and she would not be hesitant to use it.

Finally, she stopped behind one boy, Jimmy, who was sitting there as straight and still as we all were. Mrs. C, without warning, reached down in front of Jimmy with that bundle of rulers and smashed it across the knuckles of one of his hands laying on his desktop. The sound split through the silent air with a crack.

“I heard about you, Jimmy. I heard how much trouble you are. Not in my classroom. You won’t be trouble in my classroom!”

If the room was still before, it was deathly quiet now. And, it always was for that entire school year. She put me in a corner and continued like the teacher before her – she went to the next grade up and got the texts and workbooks for me to work on my own. I felt so relieved that I never had to answer her questions or participate in any of her lessons.

But, I didn’t escape her attempts at fun for her class. Square dancing was her thing, and she was competitive about it. There was to be a competition between classes for the best square dancing, and she wanted to win it. Fun, it wasn’t.

Joyce, a tall girl with long brown hair had worn to school a plaid skirt and black knee socks on this one particular day. As always, we were all nervously sitting at our desks, not looking around, and trying our best not to come under Mrs. C’s hateful glare. Joyce had already begun to squirm uncomfortably, waiting for the right moment to request permission to go to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, that moment didn’t present itself before square dancing time. Mrs. C had the old record player cranked up and howling out a scratchy square dance that was quite fast and jiggy. Not a third of the way into the song, the needle scratched across the grooves in a loud and horrible screech followed by a terrifying bellow.

“Joyce! What have you done?”

This time, no shoes scraped the floor, the dress didn’t sashay and there was no way to explain how Mrs. C got from the record player at the front of the room to standing next to Joyce, pinching the poor girl’s arm down to the bone. Joyce’s feet lifted off the floor as Mrs. C spun around to head toward the bathroom in the classroom’s back corner.

We were left standing where we stopped. All of our heads were down, holding our breath, staring at the small puddle of pee left on the floor where Joyce had been standing. No sound came from the bathroom, and we all feared that silence.

Would we ever see Joyce alive again?


The Distance of Cognitive Dissonance


The man sat at my desk with his blunt scissors hair cut reminiscent of a Kennedy, thick and swept to the side in all its thickness. Clear eyes met mine solidly from behind glasses as straight as the crease in his shirt sleeves.

“I think I’d like to do something different, and I’d like some input on that, if you could,” he said.

There was nothing showing on my screen that gave any indication where to begin an exploration like that, except that he had a bit of higher education. I could dig to find out more, but that would break the conversation.

“What was your last position?” I had to start somewhere.

“I was a preacher. I was fired.” My head snapped up to look in his eyes again.

“I was stupid. I had an affair.”

The statement came out without prompting, without hesitation, and without emotion. It was a fact.

“You will have to forgive my bluntness, sir,” I began, and jumped right into discovery. “I was under the impression that to be a preacher comes from a calling of sorts, or a desire to help others, right?”

“Yes, but what else can I do? I have invested a lot in my education, but it is all religious. I have the equivalent of a Bachelor degree, but it’s not quite a real degree. I spent a lot of money and time on this degree, and now it’s worthless. I was thinking factory work. I used to work at _____, but I don’t want to go back there.”

“There are many ways to help others besides religion. You could work at DHS to work with families and children. You could work in a prison (I got a nod here)…”

“I thought about going into law enforcement,” he said.

“…You could counsel or do case work, help adults learn to read…”

“I did have a few counseling courses, but they were religious...”

“It doesn’t matter, you have them, you have the degree and you can probably work for the state in one of the many social service agencies.”

“That’s why I was thinking of becoming a cop. How do I go about that?”

He looks down, then grabs his cell phone out of its holster on his belt. “Damn. She keeps calling all the time.”

“Who?” I couldn’t help asking.

“The woman I had the affair with.” He hit the ignore button and returned the phone to its belt holder. He continued: “So, how do I go about becoming a cop?”

“Lucky for you, the police station is half a block away. Stop in there and ask what you need to do to get into the police academy. All the state job openings are listed online at www…..”

“Great, thank you.  I’ll look there too,” he said, getting up from the chair.

“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, and thank you for being so helpful.” He stuck out his hand to shake mine and headed toward the door.

An elderly woman that works in the office stopped him and the two embraced. I couldn’t make out all the words of their conversation, but I heard her say, “you behave now.”

She came up to my desk. Her speech is not clear, half mumbles, but I picked out the gist of what she was saying.

“It’s sad. You know they are in the process of adopting a child, and I think they are still going through with it,” she said to me.

I couldn’t help it. My eyebrows shot straight up.

“Don’t you know why he was fired?” She shook her head. “He had an affair.” As open as he was about it to me, I thought it was likely that everyone knew. Word travels fast in small towns.

Her eyebrows shot straight up this time.

“He’s lucky he’s not here right now. I’d kill him. I just got done telling him to behave. I’d kill him if he was still here.”

Her back was straight and her eyes were flashing. I believed her.


Too Little Too Much


As difficult as it is to believe, I went through the weekend without a single idea of what to write about. Really.  No, I didn’t have a single idea, I had many. Too many, actually, so I ended up writing nothing. Quite the empty feeling, it was, and A Bumpy Path is left wanting.

The same thing happened with photography. I’d have a great idea that would fly in one ear and pass straight through to fly out the other ear. Out in the Back Yard gets frequent updates – I take a lot of photos – but not this past weekend.

I did get some things done though. I worked with Odin to see how much of a shithead he’d be about going from a lazy pasture pet to a horse that actually earns some of his top-of-the-line feed in the form of entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, he is entertaining! He’s a delightful animal. But, it’s time to do more together, and that means with me on his back. So, I worked him. He surprised me by getting down to business once the saddle was on, but I figured I’d better trim his feet before expecting him to haul me around. When I did his feet the next day, I pushed my ol’ body beyond its limits. Odin is granted another reprieve until my muscles stop aching!

So, I cleaned up around here between breaks of checking Facebook and reading the news. On Facebook, it’s so much like sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. I’m waiting for a message, a poke, an update or even the real phone to ring. Nothing. The news goes from “the economy is showing signs of hope” to “the economy is hitting harder than ever.” Obama is pushing this healthcare plan that he insists on, playing around in the Middle East while seemingly ignoring N Korea, and Clinton is getting poised to step in to take over the media show should the need arise. Unemployment is up, Obama’s rating is down (it’s not quite yet to say “I told you so,” but it’s getting close) and 22,000 soldiers are headed into Afghanistan. About the only thing I could come up with lately out of that mess to write on Eyebald is about some dingbat teenager falling into an open manhole because she was too busy texting to watch where she was going.

Maybe a run into town for groceries would break my mood, especially since the guy never showed up to bush hog my pastures. I jump into the truck, turn the key and clickclickclickclick was all I got. Wiggle this, wiggle that, try again, repeat, repeat, repeat ended with a desperate call to a friend for a rescue. Hours later, the grocery money was spent on a new battery and a truck that now starts beautifully.

After an 11 hour day at work, a Monday no less, I figured I’d better let you all kinow just how scattered I am. It’s about the best I could do. There’s been too much input leading to too little output! On that note, good night…


Featured on The Ultimate Horse Site

Not long ago, I wrote about Life as a Carriage Horse, featuring Duke, a horse that proudly pulls around a Cinderella carriage for weddings and parties here in Arkansas. PETA, the epitome of ridiculousness, had begun a campaign to halt the use of horse-drawn carriages in cities, citing all these horrible conditions and horses badly abused, yada yada yada. Needless to say, it ticked me off, and I wrote about it. Popular article here, too.

Lo and behold, the owner of The Ultimate Horse Site found the article and asked to republish it on their site. After discussing the pros and cons of openly attacking PETA with Karen, Duke's owner, I gave the go-ahead. The article came out in the Ultimate Horse Site's newsletter today.

Who woulda thunk?


What Scares the Pants Off Me


Fear is such a curse. It really is. Even though it’s not the most pleasant thing in the world to do, it’s good to take some time out to go ahead and think about the things that scare or frighten you. Right? It is a good thing, right?

Like, these wonderful, damned bugs that sting. I go right into red alert if I hear the dreaded buzzing, and if I see a bee, I scream like I just broke a bone and head for the hills. The most frightening part of me and bees is that this extreme reaction is way out of my control. The fear comes the instant I see one, it takes over, and there’s no way to stop it. There’s no time to suck in my breath, hold it, and wait for thinking to kick in to get that fear under control. The zoom on my camera allowed me to maintain a good distance so I could take this photo. When the bee flew, so did I!

I fear that lack of control the most. The years haven’t tamed that out-of-control fear either, and of course that adds to the heap to handle.

A few years ago, I drove an hour to work down in Little Rock. Half the trip was through back roads that had little traffic, the other half was in rush hour traffic on the freeway. I put a lot of rough miles on my truck in a short time during that year, and it became quite the worry that the truck would give out and strand me either in a very dangerous spot amid all the traffic, or in the middle of nowhere.

One day, I was just about at the halfway mark when I started hearing something strange going on in the rear end of the truck. Or, I thought I did. My mind raced through the possibilities – a u-joint, the transaxle, brakes, a tire about to blow, the transmission – and the fear washed over me like a tsunami. My vision around the edges started to go dark and I became so light-headed that I had to pull over and stop. When I started to drive again, the sounds were gone, but the tsunami was far from over.

The fear then became the terrifying fear of losing control, of losing my mind, of losing the ability to choose whether I was losing my mind or not. I was helpless, disoriented, terrified and more alone than I had ever felt.

Since then, the terror has, more or less, generalized, packaging itself in smaller, easier to handle chunks. Once in awhile, something will set me back in my tracks and threaten to upset my apple cart again, despite all my attempts to remain adamantly positive, spiritual and content. So when the chunks rain down on me, I’m back to worrying about losing it again.

That’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks. Last weekend, I was so exhausted from fighting it that I slept for 20 hours straight. This week, I went through the motions, but the lights were on and nobody was home. I walked through the week in a dull haze.

Snakes. A yelp and a jump, then curiosity takes over and I check the slithery, slimy thing out. When the pennies don’t quite stretch far enough and I’m faced with the ol’ tap dance (I can’t dance!), I make a plan and put it aside once the decisions are made. When this truck makes a funny noise, I check my cell phone’s number of bars. If I’ve got at least 3, I relax. It only takes 10 minutes to drive to work now.

Now that it’s all put into words and concrete, so to speak, I’m hoping I can wake up tomorrow in a new frame of mind.

What do ya think? Am I nuts?

Maybe I spend too much time alone…


Questioning the Questions

Breaking the sound barrier

Can you imagine photographing an F16 fighter breaking the sound barrier? That there is a visible reaction at all is what astounds me. In essence, we are seeing sound! The moisture caught in the sound waves makes it visible.

It’s like fire. You know it exists, but where is it? You know it takes a chemical reaction of sorts to produce fire, but where does it come from? And when you blow the match out, where does the fire go? Is it gone? It is invisible until it is called.

Yeah, I sit around and think of this stuff. Like the age old “if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it?” conundrum. I could never figure out why someone even asked that question. Of course it makes a sound, a rather big one, because it’s the nature of one physical thing smacking into another, right? Besides, I bet my dog heard that tree fall, even if I didn’t.

Instead of worrying about a danged tree, why not ask questions about thinking and feeling and consciousness?  And, levels of existence? Instead of ignoring the inexplicable because it can’t be seen or measured, why not take the leap and spread out into the metaphysical?

Sure, we fear the unknown. But, ignoring it won’t make it go away. Quantum physics is taking just that leap. By exploring matter at the quantum level, they are about to prove that God exists beyond all doubt. Pity that we insist on limited, rigid thinking to need such a drastic, dramatic pool of proof.

“To be or not to be; that is the question.” If quantum physics proves the existence of Infinity by paring everything down to the smallest element, then we are faced with a different dilemma: If the infinite is the real reality, then anything finite is the illusion!

None of this stuff is new. It’s all been contemplated from Plato on down through the ages of man. All the philosophers spent their lives spewing mountains of abstract wisdom, saying the same things in different ways, searching for a way that will open the eyes of everyone to finding the truth of existence for themselves. Why not? We’re all entitled, it is our right, to live a life of meaning and purpose.

Fire exists. Ask anyone who’s house burned to the ground. We can’t see the wind, yet we can feel it on our skin and watch trees bend over as though gripped by a gigantic, invisible hand. We think, we think constantly, but the only proof of thinking is when something visible is produced by that thinking. We all feel, some more than others, and we know we all feel, yet we have no idea what another is thinking and feeling, no matter how close we are to them. We are all conscious, at least that’s what we call it, yet it’s difficult for most to include spirit and soul within that consciousness. Why is that?

Someone said that they wake up every day, do their thing, then go to sleep every night. That’s it. Well, think about this: We only use a little over one-tenth of our brain. Don’t you think there’s something more? Or, is it simpler, safer to think that the nine-tenths of the brain not used is a residual, evolutionary artifact, like our appendix? Is it easier to believe that than strive to use more of what you have?

Yeah, I sit around and think of this stuff.