Glowing Visions of Fire

The rising smoke must have been visible for at least fifteen or twenty miles. Black. Thick. Spreading out toward the west as it rose and was buffeted by the wind. Leaving a charcoal grey haze across the evening sky. Fire, and not where one would expect it.

As I stared into the distance I wondered to myself what could be burning. Certainly not leaves! Too much smoke. And the smoke was too dark. Could it be someone burning a pile of logs and brush recently cleared from a woodland to create a clear space for the building of a new shopping mall? Too dark again. Tires?

And then the news began to come in over the radio. And on the television. And Facebook. The old abandoned cordage mill down by the river was ablaze. Origin unknown. It had been sitting empty for years. Teenagers used to go down there to hang out. Evidenced by the graffiti. And there were homeless souls camping out there many years ago. And the glass in the windows got smashed. The roof had giant holes in it that had rotted through. The floors were probably rooted too. Not much more than a shell.

It had been fenced off several years ago to keep people out. I’m pretty sure folks still got in there though. I always thought it would be interesting to see what might still be in there. Relics of an industrial past. But I’m sure it had all long since been looted or salvaged. I had also thought it would be cool to buy it and convert the buildings into loft apartments. But it was on the wrong side of the river and no one wanted to live there.

Maybe some kids got in there and started a fire by accident. They still went near the building to get own to the river for a party or two. Or maybe the homeless had returned. Or maybe, like Jack Lemon in Save the Tiger, the building had outlived its usefulness to the owner and was an economic burden best lifted via a torch. All speculation. Unknown origin.

Looking out over the horizon, seeing the smoke, I was reminded of a fire I saw when I was a young boy. The grocery store near my neighborhood burned to the ground one evening. I say grocery store but it was an early version of something like a Wal-Mart. From the residential hillside over looking the store the people of the neighborhood gathered to watch the conflagration with excitement, awe and a new found respect for fire. As we watched we realized that although there were a number of fire trucks there form the local volunteer fire company, they obviously were not trying to save the building. Contain the fire. Don’t let it spread.

With a loud bang and the sound of shattering glass, fifteen hundred square feet of window glass suddenly shattered and blew out into the parking lot. As the air flowed into he building the heat of the flames sucked any and all moisture out of the mortar holding the building blocks together and it crumbled away. The blocks then began to separate. Each one delineated by the lines where the mortar used to be. And then the walls collapsed. A total loss.

Something else now stands where the grocery store was. A shopping mall I’ve never been to. And the residential neighborhood still sits on the hill overlooking the stores. Every time I drive by the neighborhood or the spot where the grocery store once stood I remember that fire. And how mesmerizing it was. And frightening. The black smoke I saw on the horizon, coming from the old mill, couldn’t possibly be good news.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Hunting Squirrel

When you read the title of this, Hunting Squirrel, you probably thought that this was about someone’s efforts at pointing things that go bang at cute little furry things that frolic in the glades and forests and city parks. I’ll admit, I don’t like squirrels. Yes, they are kind of cute. The thing is, the little buggers like to climb up in the trees around my house, leap onto the roof, and begin to chew on the wooden siding of the house. Or on the metal flashing used on the roof. Or to bite, scratch, claw and wriggle their way through the wire mesh covering my chimney flue. All in an effort to get inside my house.

There is plenty of evidence on the outside of the house. Brown sections on the white wood where they have eaten the paint, and wood. Scratch marks on the flashing form their sharp little claws. An I hear them running around on top of the roof all the time. The best, and most conclusive evidence however, was when the little sons of…I mean, cute little fluff balls, dropped down the chimney and landed on top of the fireplace damper. Only to be stuck there. Which left three things to happen. One, they might by some miracle climb back up the chimney and escape. They might die in the chimney, rot and create a horrendous stink. Or, with my luck, they would eat their way through the damper and get loose in my living room!

I’ve had to call Earl Bushmaster twice. Earl is a guy around here who catches unwanted critters and varmints and takes them waaay off into the bush and releases them. Usually to find their way right back to my house. Just kidding. Once Earl gets hold of one of these rascals, I don’t have to worry about seeing it again. But I think Earl is a little scared of squirrels. He’s good with snakes, and bats,, and gophers and armadillos and such beasts. But the dang squirrels are so fast, they move like greased lightning. Earl jumps a little higher than I do when the mother, I mean cute little fluff balls, jump form here to there. They can fly!

We finally catch them, but one of those little …fluff balls (you thought I was gonna slip that time didn’t you), tried to eat his way out the window, but only managed to eat all the wood trim with what seemed like giant teeth gnashing in one bite. Yes, I’ve been known to point things that go whoosh! at the critters.

But I have neglected my story in wasting your time telling you about my feelings on squirrels. The real subject of the story isn’t about me chasing squirrels, its about a badass mother of a squirrel that I saw hunting a cat! That squirrel stood up and pointed that nose right at that cat. And he took his squirrely tail and extended it as long as it could be, and pointed it straight behind him. Then he lifted one of his front feet and stood there. Staring. Waiting. He looked just like some kind of German short haired pointer, ready to attack. Maybe he knew I didn’t like cats much either and was trying to get on my good side that day. Or maybe we just have some tough squirrels around here.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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In the antique business everyone knows what a picker is. A person who goes around scrounging through piles of stuff in crowded barns and backyards and basements looking for valuable treasures. They are looking for that thing that you, or Aunt Jane of Grandma put in the barn or attic twenty or fifty years ago, and forgot about. That thing that is now worth a bunch of money. And they buy it from you for, well, less that what they will sell it for. Nature of the business.

But, a lot of other people know pickers as Mike and Frank, the two dudes from Iowa who go around the country picking. And their sidekick Danielle, who makes a lot of phone calls and sets things up for them. These guys have a show on television called American Pickers. And that is what the show is all about.

They nearly picked my pockets. Or my treasures to be more exact. I’m not sure who initiates this, them or the local area, but the county where I live put out a notice on Facebook that the Pickers were interested in coming to the area and wanted anyone with valuable items to send an email to the pickers people. To cut the wheat from the chaff they included a list of things they were specifically looking for. And a list of things they did NOT want to see. After looking at the list, I realized that I had quite a bit of stuff they were looking for. Folk art, military items, old advertising items, and a scooter. They love scooters and motorcycles! So I sent an email describing my items. And waited. And waited. And waited. I have good junk!

Finally I got an email from the pickers. No, not Mike, Frank or even Danielle. Not even Mike’s brother. They wanted my phone number so we could talk more about my stuff. Oh man! I might get to be on TV! Wow! I was jumpin for joy!

Well, I waited again. And waited some more. And finally the phone rang. It wasn’t Mike, Frank, or Danielle. Not even Mike’s brother. It wasn’t even anyone from Iowa! It was some dude from New York. TV executive of some sort. Whatever. If I get on TV this dude will be my best friend forever.

He asked me several questions about my collection. He was interested in several aspects of it. But what he was really interested in was how it was gonna look on TV. Not my stuff per se, but how I had my stuff situated. He kept asking me if I was a hoarder.

I live in the suburbs. In a single family dwelling. No barn, no shed, no storage bins in the yard. The house is jammed with all this stuff, but you can maneuver around without having to follow narrow paths cut between stacks of junk piled high. Not a hoarder. A serious, and overzealous collector.

He finally said that it sounded like I had wonderful junk, but that I was much too neat for their show. They want the boys to be climbing, and digging, and shining their flashlights. And getting dusty, dirty and sweaty in locating some incredible thing. The same damn thing I have sitting on the shelf in my house. I told him I’d be happy to junk the place up. But no, it didn’t seem like it was going to work. That had to be the first time in my life that anyone had told me that I was too neat!

Oh well. Wouldn’t be the first time I was “this close” to being on TV. There was the crowd scene for the Today Show, and the last round of eliminations for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Maybe next time.

Television or not. I know I have some really cool stuff! And I enjoy collecting it. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Rule

Following rules has never been my strong suite. Sometimes it’s because I just plain old don’t know, or understand the rules. And my memory isn’t what it once was so sometimes I forget the rules. And, of course, there are other times when I just say the hell with the rules and do what I want. Someone once said rules were made to be broken. I can’t remember who, but they were famous for saying that. And what they meant was that sometimes the rules are wrong and sometimes they get in the way of actually getting anything done. And after the rules got broken, someone else famous said it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Can’t remember their name either . Like I said, my memory…

In the yard sale game there is one critical rule. And every time I break it, it bites me in the ass. For some reason, I just don’t always remember it. Even though I repeat it daily. OM, when you see it, pick it up. If you don’t pick it up when you see it, someone else is going to follow the rule and pick it up when they see it. And snatch it right out from under your nose!

I’ve been collecting blue glass lately. Light blue. Big pieces. Mantel sized objects. And today I saw a big bottle, perfect color, nice texture and great size and shape. I pointed it out to my daughter. She picked it up, looked at it, said it was nice…and put it down. I wasn’t watching but the next thing I knew some lady was walking off with the bottle! What the…!!! My daughter and I looked at each other like, I thought you had it! Damn, it got away. Follow the rule!

Later in the day I saw something I liked, but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to pay the second price the seller offered me. It was fair I thought, but did I want to pay that much? I put the thing back on the table, but I kept my hand on it. I knew there were vultures circling, just waiting to snap this thing up. In the end I bought it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been on the other end of someone not following the rule. And I’ve snapped up something that someone else put down. Not my fault if they can’t follow the rules! So I can’t get mad at the other guy. I just have to kick myself in the butt for not following that rule!

The funny thing is that if you follow the rule and buy it when you see it, you may decide later that you don’t really like it. Buyer’s remorse. Or, if you are fortunate enough to go back and find that thing still sitting there later, you may decide that it’s not really what you thought. Or what you wanted. But then again, you might get really lucky, and find that later on, that which your heart desired is still there waiting for you, and still exactly what you wanted.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Mistress Known as Boat

Owning a boat is like having a mistress- flashy and expensive. Not that I know anything about having a mistress. Other than what I’ve heard. But I have owned a boat…or two.

And like a mistress, the boat takes up a lot of our time. And gives us tremendous pleasure. Pleasure not to be found in something more practical. Like a wife. I meant a car. My mistake.

To many men, boats are like the women in their lives. They love them, pamper them, dote on them and take great pride in them. And more often than not, they give their boat a name. Go to any marina and you will see that on the rump, I mean stern, of every boat there is a name, and port of call.

There are all sorts of names. Whatever strikes the owners fancy. Like racehorse names. There is a lot to be learned about the boat owner from the name he gives his mistress. I mean boat. Boats ranging in size from dinghies to mega yachts have names. Like a member of the family.

Now not everyone gives their boat a name. I had two boats, and neither had an official name. They were sailboats and depending on the strength of the wind they might have names like lightning or breezy, or in calmer air names that I probably shouldn’t repeat here, or anywhere else for that matter. Sailors will know what I mean.

In this case, where I had not given the boat a name, the manufacturer was kind enough to provide one for me. All boats have a manufacture’s name on them somewhere. Like a Chevrolet. And many have a model name. Impala. Or a boat may be a member of a class. With sailboats there are racing classes, each with a name.

The two boats I had were small one design sailing classes. Snipe and Moth. Both small flying things. The Snipe I actually sailed. The Moth I restored.

The Moth came to me as part of a weird sort of trade. I got the boat for free. Then I restored it. When I sold it, I split the money with the former owner. I put a lot into the restoration, and got so much more out of it.

The fiberglass hull needed to be repaired in several places. The whole thing needed new paint. Five coats of maritime hull paint. Then the deck needed to be repaired and painted. Five coats of paint again. The wooden tiller and boom needed to be sanded and stained. Metal parts, brass, aluminum and chrome, all needed to be cleaned and polished. And finally the rigging and lines need to be replaced. The hardest part was getting the length of the forestay correct. So the mast would stand up properly. When it was done, it was beautiful. I took a lot of pictures. But I never put it on the water. Instead, I sold it. A guy from Atlanta bought it and hauled it off to another lake. I said goodbye and never expected to see her again.

A couple of months later I was talking to a friend at work about sailing and she told me her husband had just bought a new boat. A small sailer. A Moth. I looked at her and asked her what color it was. When she described it I knew it was my old boat. It was something I had painted inside the cockpit that gave it away. One day I drove by her house and sure enough, there it was in the back yard. Glad to know she’s in good hands.

My friend found another job and I didn’t see her again for a long time. I knew in the back of my mind that she and her husband had the Moth, but I never thought to ask about it. Then one day I was driving around town, looking at apartment complexes with my daughter, when damn, that looks like the Moth! I doubled back and pulled up alongside a building with a small sailboat in the back yard. Right colors. Right look. And there, the splash rail! The same red I had painted it. Totally out of whack with the rest of the blue and buff color scheme!! My Moth had found another new home. And I had found my Moth.

So what’s the deal here? Is the boat following me? Am I following the boat? Are we forever linked? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I’m more aware of a familiar face when I see it. Who knows where she’ll go from here. I just hope she is well loved.

I wanted to stop and talk to the new owner. To tell them that I was the one who did the restoration of their beloved boat. But I didn’t. I just smiled and drove off. Knowing that one day our paths would cross again…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Stealing the Shower!

How many pens do I have?  Oh hell, I don’t have a clue! I pick them up everywhere. Offices, businesses, hotels, restaurants. You name it, I’ll always pick up a pen. Sometimes I feel guilty, like I’m stealing the thing. But the ones I pick up all have some sort of business advertising on them. They are designed to be taken,, Moved around. To spread the word, and fame, of whatever entity has their name inscribed on them. Now a monogrammed pen is a different story!

This weekend I picked up two from the Holiday Inn I stayed in. And I always tale a pad of paper form the room as well. I have to have a place to take notes! Some people are so bold as to take towels and bathrobes from the hotel. But I think most folks would limit themselves to the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner. They are good from travelling.   And if you walk down the hallway while the housekeepers are cleaning rooms you will no doubt seethe cleaning carts filled with dozens of bottles of each.

Two pens, a pad of paper and a bottle of shampoo. Big haul! But what I really wanted to take home from the hotel was… You’ll never guess. Oh wait, the title. Yes, I wanted to take the shower!

It was a little too big to fit into my suitcase. And it would have made a mess ripping the thing out of the wall and pulling out the floor drains. Why in the world would I even think of this you might ask.   The thing is, I’ve been in places where there was no water or bathing, and places where the water wasn’t just cold, it was ice cold! So, when I find a place with nice hot water, and good water pressure, I like to take a long hot shower!

The hotel had a nice big shower stall. All glass and tile and plenty of room to move around. And there was one of those rain style shower heads. Turning it on, the water warmed up quickly. And there was plenty of it coming out! Oh so nice!

My parents had a shower in their house that was anything but luxurious. For nearly forty years I had to put up with this thing whenever I visited. Pink tile. A little tiny shower head. And the hot water only lasted t=for about a minute, then quickly turned cold. And I do mean cold! And worst of all, the water pressure had the water gushing out just like the drip of the Chinese water torture! It was agonizing. Every time. Forty years! They moved now so the shower I get to use at their new place is better.

But I have to give Holiday Inn kudos for their shower. At least in this room. On this morning. Maybe it was a fluke. But for one showers worth, I enjoyed the heck out of it!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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First Ride

As I begin here to describe the warm weather we are experiencing locally, the forecast on the news is that we’re going to have a cold snap. I almost felt guilty describing the warm weather knowing that my fellow citizens north of here are deep into a blizzard. The cold snap will make up for that!

The last few days it’s been cold in the morning but it’s warmed up nicely into the mid 60s in the afternoon. Pretty damn warm for February, even here in Georgia.   And every day I go outside in the afternoon and I think to myself this would be an awesome day to be riding my scooter! But I can’t ride to work because it’s too cold. For me anyway. Unless I bundle up in so many layers of clothing that I can’t move my body!   But it sure is nice scooter weather in the afternoon.

Other than this upcoming cold snap it’ll be warm enough pretty soon so that I’ll be able to start riding all day long. I’ll be able to ride to work in the morning and ride home in the evening.   This past Sunday the weather was beautiful. The sun was out, casting its warming rays freely and the temperature was in the mid 60s. So I pulled the scooter out of its hibernation, put the battery back in and cleaned that sweet bike up a little bit. I put on my scooter riding outfit and I hit the road for the years first ride. It was glorious!

The wind created by zipping along the highways made it feel a little cool, but it felt good. It felt like the freedom I remembered. The freedom I always feel when I’m riding.   I knew I had chosen a good day because I saw other people riding their own bikes. And they all seemed to be happy. Glad to have the warm weather. And we all waved the bikers secret wave as we passed each other and acknowledged the fact that while we all ride different machines, we all love to ride.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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