The Lady with 8 Kids.

I have no illusions that my place in the grand scheme of things is of little significance. What follows is something that I have been thinking about.


At various points of my life, I have occupied various forms of employment. The majority of this employment has required me to wear an ugly, ill-fitting shirt, put things on shelves, and to care for/be nice to people who don’t seem to understand that I am getting paid far too little to care about their petty and boorish needs.

I don’t take my employment for granted, mind you. Some days are just harder than others. And when you get to be a certain age, you have to wonder if your perpetually sore feet and always aching joints are worth the small paycheck and the hassle of having to show up on time. To be clear, it’s not bad work to be associated with. Overall, it provides you with a sense of purpose.

During one of my shifts, I had observed a pack of gingers heading my direction. It was night time and I was in the toy department. I was reasonably worried. You would be too if you saw a gentle sea of redheads threatening your flower-like exterior.

Riding this wave was a small woman carrying a baby. A quick glance and I had determined that the rest of her pack were actually her children. They all, even the baby, had the same shade of hair, and all of the children generally had the same facial features that the mother had.

Maybe they’re all shirttail relations. There are families like that. But I can’t shake the idea that this lady had birthed 8 children. And she was out in public with all of them, without the father.

The absence of the father is also a bit of a mystery. Is he as involved with the kids as the mother is? Does he buy her toys? With the amount of children between the two of them it’s fairly obvious that she stays at home for the kids while he’s working all sorts of hours so that they can keep the lights on.

To the mother’s credit, all of her children were fairly well behaved, even the baby. What I found the most remarkable was the fact that all of the children seemed to get along with each other. You’d think, with a household that size, that “turf warfare” in public would be a regular occurrence. How could it not be? Kid’s are genetically encoded to act like assholes at all of the wrong times.

Whilst I was finishing up my rounds, I stole some extra glances of the mother. She looked like a mom, put upon and often ignored. There was also something a bit different about her face.

It was hovering around her eyes. Trepidation, maybe? Her children were behaving remarkably. Maybe all 8 kid’s had earned a trip to the toy department? She was tired for sure. She is the matriarch of a village after all, and it was 8pm.

This woman is a career parent. She is going to die as a care-giver. There is nothing wrong with that but I can’t help but wonder if she ever wanted more than children out of life?

In the end, I guess that I have always known what the look on the mother’s face really was. It was resignation. Her life will not get any better than it was, that night when I saw her in the toy department.

A True Recollection.

It was a warm spring morning. I was smoking a cigarette at the public bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take me to school. I couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. It had rained during the night. The only evidence was a thick layer of dampness over everything that would be burned off in a couple of hours by the spring sun. The smell of flowers and growth thickened the air.

I wasn’t the only person waiting for the bus. Peppered around the bus stop were fellow classmates, well-dressed people (presumably heading to an office job closer to the center of the city), and an older woman.

I didn’t see her at first. She must have been standing in the doorway, watching me. After some time she positioned herself in my eye line.

“Can I get one of those?” she gestured towards the cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

“Sorry: this is my last one.”

She didn’t say anything. Her face rapidly dissolved from the vagrant face of hope into the indignant face of insult. She took a few steps back from me and continued to wait for the bus.

(Really, I had four cigarettes left. Me, being an underage smoker made cigarettes hard to come by). Safe in my justification, I went back to waiting for the bus as well.

While we all continued to wait, I could feel her eyes on me, digging holes in my flesh from the safety of her doorway. Eventually the bus rolled to a stop at the corner we were all congregating on and we began to board. She stared at me the entire time.

I managed to snag a forward-facing seat relatively close to the front of the bus. The older woman had gotten a seat exactly perpendicular.

She continued to stare at me as the bus passed the local hospital. She stared at me as we passed the grocery store and a slew of still sleepy, residential homes. And she continued to stare at me as I got off the bus, at my stop in front of my high school.

I had managed to get across the street and halfway to the school entrance at the front of the building before I realized that she had exited with us and proceeded to follow me into school.

As we passed through the doors she saw me look over my shoulder. Her face hadn’t changed since I had turned down her initial request.

A cold panic was starting to work its way over my body. It was early in the morning. A fraction of the faculty was in the building but most of them were on the other side of the campus. I couldn’t think of anything else to do but to go about my business. So I went to my locker and got ready for the day. She stopped following me when she saw what I was doing. While I proceeded with my morning routines, I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was still watching me from the opposite end of the hallway.

An eternity passed before she came up to me and asked me a question.

“Do youuuu know what time it is?”

There were four clocks in that hallway. Two behind her, and two behind me.

I stared at her. She stared back at me. I looked at the nearest clock behind her, over her left shoulder.

I resumed eye contact with her, blinked and told her the time.

“6:45”.

She turned around and left without saying another word. I am a white male. She was an older black female.

It would be years before I realized that there might have been something more to this interaction. Maybe she saw me put the cigarette pack back in my pocket and knew I was holding out. Maybe she woke up that morning completely sour with where her life had led her. Maybe there was something psychologically wrong with her.

What really matters is the fact that I still think about her from time to time. I can still hear the dull silence and the smell of hormones between her final question and my answer. I still remember how much of an ignorant teenager I was and how easily I shrugged that whole experience off. And I can still feel the cold emptiness inside of me that I saw reflected back in her eyes.

I’m not in Kansas, but I’m close enough.

When relocating to a part of the world that you’ve never lived in, there’s always a lot that needs to be done. Moves of that magnitude need to be coordinated. Employment needs to be secured. Housing should be established. School records need to be transferred (if there are children involved). Boxes eventually need to be unpacked.

There’s more than enough to do and not enough time, or hands, to help get everything done.

Suffice it to say, anyone in that type of situation is going to be distracted for quite some time. Appreciating life? Maybe life is in a box that you have to unpack?

A week after I had exploded a lizard with my little piggies, I needed to run some errands. What they were, and where I had to go are inconsequential. As I was walking to the car from the temporary residence where my family and I were residing, I was making a mental note of what needed to be done. It was just about to be noon.

Noon during an Arizona summer is when absolutely every one is inside. Dry Heat or not, the Sun is a crushing ball of hate at that time of the day, during that time of the year, in the desert.

As I put my hand on the door handle of our rental car, I spied, out of the corner of my beady little eye, a Wizard of Oz cosplay happening across the street:

What you’re seeing is a bona fide Dust Devil. I apologize for the vertical display. Regardless of my level of distraction at the time, I did have the presence of mind to tip my phone sideways. Hence the video being full frame. Facebook’s gotta facebook, I guess.

So, what’s a dust devil? 

Dust devil’s are the kid sister of tornadoes. They can be as tall as 650 feet high, and anywhere between 10 to 100 feet in diameter. 

In general, dust devils happen when a part of the ground heats up faster than all of the other ground surrounding that part. As the air rises above this super-heated patch of ground (warm air rises, cool air sinks…) it conflicts with the cooler air around it creating the funnel shape of the dust devil. If a gust of wind picks up, it blows the dust devil along. 

Did I know that it was a dust devil? Fuck no. If I’m being honest, I thought that I was finally having that stroke people keep pushing me towards.

No one but myself was in the parking lot at the time. There were zero people walking on the street. Cars weren’t even slowing down. I was the only person outside to witness something like that.

And it was an amazing mental cleanser that made my errands that much more palatable. Our desert year was shaping up nicely.

 

 

I am the Lizard King: Or, My Sordid History with Reptiles.

Prior to leaving the contiguous United States for the Land of the Rising Sun, my family and I lived in NW Florida. Again, existing in this locale was strictly related to my wife’s line of work. 

Regardless, living in NW Florida was a necessity. And on top of that, it was the first time that my wife and I had ever lived anywhere other than our native Northern Ohio.

Let that sink in for a moment. You make it all of the way into your 30’s before you live anywhere else in your country. Looking back on it now, I’d have to say that that move from the more often than not, ice-laden Ohio to perpetually warm, and mostly wet, Florida was a bigger mind fuck for the wife and I than it ever was for our three children. 

There was quite a bit that I did anticipate: the heat, the immensity of the ocean, the type of weirdness that only Florida can bring. But, for all that I did anticipate, there was quite a bit that I, let alone anyone, would have never seen coming. 

Fact: in NW Florida there was no real flying insect problem. 

And this is why.

As best as I can suss out, this is a Green Anole. He likes changing color based on the heat, living in trees, and climbing all sorts of flat surfaces. He dislikes vertebrates, being confused with chameleons since he’s related to the iguana, and getting caught by predators (He will break off his tail in a desperate grab for freedom. I can verify this fact as my youngest daughter used to catch Anoles like Mr. Miyagi caught flies. More often than not, she’d have only a tail to add to her collection.). 

Yes, this son of a bitch was on the inside of the screen in my house. And yes, I was rather pleased that he kept the bugs for himself. But I was equally displeased that I had a lizard to exorcise from my home.

There I was, City Mouse down to the very fiber of my being. What in the hell am I going to do? I can’t kill it with a shoe. I couldn’t catch the damn thing (not because I was super fat at the time, nor because I was sans pants, but because lizards of that size epitomize skittish). And I sure as shit couldn’t use harsh language at it in the hopes that I would bum it out to the point of it letting itself out. 

I did the only thing that I could think of. I closed the window. 

While this may seem a bit inhumane, it was a nice day, as evidenced by the window being open in the first place. Also, it’s a fucking lizard. 

After I closed the window, and put my pants back on, I decided to go around to the other side of the lizard’s new prison to see if there was anything that could be done about extricating my new “friend”. As luck would have it, the screen opened from both sides. So, I opened the screen and walked away. 

I checked on him an hour later and he was gone, along with the horror thought that came from me wondering how long it would take him to find his way into my house and eat my then-plump face off whilst I slept.

A few days later, I happened upon this scene while taking out the trash. 

I obviously can’t verify that this was the same lizard but it did my heart good to ponder the possibility that the lizard had used his new found freedom to get his freak on. 

Fort Walton Beach and the Pensacola Peoples.

This article originally appeared on Parachute (an online magazine owned by MapQuest). A copy of the original article can be found here. 


I will be the first to admit it: my neighborhood and the surrounding area looks a bit boring. There is no bustling metropolis. There is no ‘scene’ (art, music, or otherwise) to speak of. Even the local shopping mall leaves something to be desired. There is urban sprawl as far as the eye can see.

While it may appear that I am dumping on my current locale, I assure you I am not. I’m just telling you what I see on a daily basis. As I have mentioned before, when I relocated here with my family, my wife and I treated every time we left the house like an exploration.

On one of our journeys, I spied, with my beady little eye, The Fort Walton Beach Indian Temple Mound. It is located in one of the most easy to miss areas I have ever seen in my life. Located on a little triangle of land, bordered by Miracle Strip Parkway, Eglin Parkway SE, and Florida Place SE, The Indian Temple Mound is, in my mind, lost amidst the restaurants and tourist traps. It’s a sad but reasonable fact.

Fort Walton Beach sits on Destin’s backdoor. Both are equally nice cities but tourists go to Destin because it is the center jewel of the Emerald Coast. Additionally, both cities are economically happier when it’s tourist season.

One day last week I had a thought: “How many people know about the history of Fort Walton Beach and it’s Indian Temple Mound?”

The Fort Walton Beach Indian Temple Mound is believed to have been built around 800 CE by the Pensacola Peoples. From what archaeologists have been able to excavate, we have learned that the Pensacola Peoples have relied more on coastal resources despite the fact that they were very successful agriculturally. Additionally, we have learned that the mound itself served as the ‘town hall’. At it’s top was the temple and residence of the Tribal Chief. Surrounding the mound at it’s base was where everyone else was presumed to live. As the chief died, it was believed that he was buried in the mound. After his burial, another layer of earth was added to it. Hence the mound’s large stature.

Eventually the mound was believed to have been abandoned in the 1600’s. One of the more popular theories has to do with the growing Anglo-Saxon occupation of the country at the time.

In the 19th century the mound was put back into use when the area at large was re-inhabited by the Confederates during the Civil War. During this time, the mound served as a camp for those who were ordered to guard the Santa Rosa Sound and the Choctawhatchee Bay.

In the 1960s, a museum was established on the mound holding the esteem of being Florida’s first municipally owned and operated museum. While there is something to be said for having a gluttonous and lethargic vacation soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible, and while it is reasonable to think that there really isn’t much to the city that you call home, it never hurts to look to the past in order to see what came before you.

The Indian Temple Mound Museum is located at: 139 Miracle Strip Parkway SE Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548 Their normal hours of operation are: Monday through Friday 12:00pm – 4:30pm Saturday 10:00am to 4:30pm


This article originally appeared on Parachute (an online magazine owned by MapQuest). A copy of the original article can be found here.