The Mouse Story
1. The winter after my father died was one of the worst winter’s that my city and I had experienced in decades. I had just turned 22. I was also still living at home with my mother and coming to grips with the fact that all of that time I had been spending with my father (cleaning his apartment, visiting, making him get fresh air, taking him to doctor’s appointments…) categorized me as his caregiver. This was a fact that I was oblivious to until it was pointed out to me the week after he had passed. That is to say, I was a dumbass.
For the record, it was a role that I had accepted because I knew (at least, subconsciously) that if I didn’t, he’d pass away alone and rejected and would be discovered in some state of decomposition. He wasn’t a very social man.
As far as the weather was concerned, if it wasn’t snowing, then the sun was illustrating how far we were from it and that it had no intentions of getting closer to us any time soon. Point of fact? The tundra like conditions forced homeowners (who were lucky enough to have their own little piece of sidewalk and driveway) to stop fucking shoveling anything more than a couple of tire tracks for their automobiles and general access to their homes.
Back then, as someone who drove as well as exercised his right to be bipedal, this pissed me off to no end.
Now that I am a less stupid version of myself, I can obviously see that to shovel at the rate of which the snow had decided to fall from the sky would have produced a lot of middle-aged men who would be fooling their families into thinking that they were taking a snow angel break when in fact they were being crushed under the weight of a massive heart attack.
2. The front door to my mother’s house was a heavy, old door that had dual, arched windows. The windows started at waist height and went a respectable distance to the top of the door. It offered enough visibility to see who was knocking and enough coverage to hide behind in the event that the knock-ee had a current issue of The Watchtower in their hands.
One of the things that I used to do around this time was to stare out my mother’s front door late at night. I wasn’t being weird about it (my dick stayed in my pants and away from my hands). It just became a part of my late night ritual. I’d come home late from work and I generally would feel like a wrecked individual. I had taken to staring out of one of the double panes because I liked what I saw: a quiet neighborhood, the sleepy houses of my mother’s neighbors, and a fuckton of snow that was existing in purity or some state of spoilage.
It looked and felt perfect. Which was not how I felt inside my own mind at that time.
On one particular evening, I had looked out of my mother’s front door and was greeted by one of the worst snow storms I had ever seen. Howling winds threw around sheets of snow and behind both of them was a goddamn lightning storm punctuating the scant silences. I honestly thought that a few houses would be lost before the sun rose the following day.
That’s the kind of winter that my city and I were experiencing.
3. Around this same time, I had taken to drinking myself to sleep. Given what I had just gone through with my father combined with the fact that the weather was going all ‘end of the world’, it seemed like a logical thing to do. On top of that, I also had an unreliable familial and social network that would become further damaged by my inability to be seen as insecure. Asking for help under any circumstance or expressing my feelings wasn’t a tool in my toolbox back then.
Shortly after that storm, the weather had progressed from environmentally entertaining to potentially lethal. It didn’t matter what the thermostat was set at it in my mother’s house, it never warmed up. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the thermostat or the furnace, it’s just that the damn things could never catch up to the heinous fuckery that the winter was throwing at us.
4. It was upon one of these frigid evenings that I discovered ‘my new roommate’. There I was, knee deep in self pity, watching a rerun of Inside the Actor’s Studio when I spied a tiny brown mouse bravely poking his head out from underneath the dresser that I was using as a tv stand.
“This ought to be interesting,” I thought, raising an eyebrow.
In, out, repositioning, constantly rescanning the landscape… that little mouse exercised more caution than the entire human race has over a millennia. Eventually, the little fella said ‘fuck it’, and fully departed from the safety and dust bunnies that the under side of my dresser had provided.
I watched him for a full minute while he sat in front of my dresser.
“That’s enough of that shit,” I said standing up. The mouse was gone before I even realized what had happened.
I knew then as you probably figured out now, the little fucker was looking for a warm spot to crash. How can he be blamed? It was a brutal winter. That still didn’t stop me from putting my air rifle next to my bed. Don’t judge me: the air rifle was a throwback to my early teens. What’s more is that if my little friend was being that brazen about his presence, then it is a safe assumption that he has bunked with me before. And that is gross.
A little about me. I was an ‘oops’ baby. Instead of my parents going above and beyond and really parenting the shit out of me, they decided to work out their dysfunctions and shortcomings through me. As a result, they generally let me do whatever I wanted. When it became obvious that ‘whatever’ wasn’t a good idea, they gave me a BB gun.The thought was there: Give him something to do that gets him outside and has him use his brain to a degree. I started off with paper targets and eventually graduated to empty soda cans. I was taught right from wrong as well as proper “gun safety”. My parents felt confident that I wouldn’t screw up too bad.One mail truck, a windshield, multiple moving vehicles, several groundings, and a stern talking to later, I learned that shooting things that didn’t belong to you was bad. So, I decided that shooting at the posters I had hung up in my room was an acceptable compromise. It didn’t take long before I made those four walls exhibit a texture like that of a decorative squash.No, giving a child a weapon is never the smartest idea. Especially when you leave said child alone more than you engage with him. The fact is that I was the youngest of four by a decade and when it came time for me to be parented, my parents didn’t know how to do it anymore.Suffice it to say, by the time I had made myself acquainted with my ‘roomie’ I was quite a good shot.
5. The next time I saw ‘my roommate’, I was ready. It was a night just like all of the rest.
There I was, just getting ready to nod off when my friend ventured forth from the safety that my dresser provided. I gave him a full minute to survey the landscape before him before reaching for my air rifle. Miraculously, he didn’t bolt when I did this. He just kept creeping forward.
As he bravely made his way out from under my dresser, I had time to compare and contrast our individual motivations.
As a regular mouse, it stood to reason that there wasn’t a whole lot of cognitive thought going on in his rodent mind beyond instinctual needs. Further, the little fucker was just trying to keep warm. It’s not like he was taking little bites out of me without my knowledge. If that was the case, I’m sure I’d find him in some other part of the house trying to work off a contact high.
My motivations? I was lonely and creeped out by the fact that I didn’t know what a little mouse was doing to me while I snored my way through the night.
He moved a little closer. I lined up my shot. He crept forward a fraction of an inch. I followed him with my barrel. By now, he was a full foot away from my dresser and in the center of my room.
It was going to be a quick and clean death. One shot to his little, mouse head and then I could get on with my ‘routine’. I pulled the trigger.
At the last second, I had fired at the ground in front of the mouse. The little fucker jumped six inches into the air and made that sound that the Roadrunner makes when he leaves Wile. E. Coyote in the dust.
I never saw him again.
I couldn’t tell you what was going through my mind in the seconds before I pulled the trigger. Perhaps my recent dealings with death had turned me into an enlightened being, one who was able to express empathy towards creatures and people who were just trying to survive.
That’s probably galaxies away from the truth considering that my father’s death and having to deal with the related fallout, turned me into a soured asshole almost instantaneously.
In the end, I can’t tell you what I was thinking because I don’t recognize that ‘me’ anymore. But I can tell you that the ‘me’ now is proud of the ‘me’ then for letting the mouse live to fight another day.
Top 5 Things You’ll Only See in NW Florida
I may have mentioned previously that my neck of the woods is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to anything, really. While we do have all of the normal amenities (like toilets that flush or overweight men named ‘Dale’), there are just a few things that you wouldn’t expect to see here. As such, I humbly submit to you my list of five odd duck things that you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else other than Northwest Florida.
As I write this, we are currently hurtling through the first month of 2016. In the north, snow has finally come heralding the legitimate arrival of winter. In my neighborhood, more specifically, in my front yard, my grass has finally started to grow.
No, things aren’t that backwards down here. There are a couple of things that you might not be aware of:
- ‘Florida Snow’ (commonly referred to as rain in other parts of the world) falls the most between the months of November and February. If things are warm, and it’s raining, things typically found in nature (like grass) will grow.
- Lawns in Florida are seen as a status symbol. From March until October it’s basically summertime conditions. When summer actually hits (June, July, August) saying that it’s hot outside is just as intelligent as stating that the sky is blue. There is no heat like a Florida summer heat. As such, grass withers and dies only to be replaced with a weird weed mixture as evidenced by the above photo.
Niceville’s Mullet Festival
No, it’s not what you think. A mullet (in this sense of the word) is a type of fish. It’s ok, I fell for it too. Before we moved here, I did a little reconnaissance and Mullet Festival was one of the first things that popped up. At first I got excited, like “OH EM GEE! There’s a sense of irony and self parody in Florida??!?” Then I calmed down a bit before I went link clicking because it just sounded too good to be true.
Now in its 39th year, “The Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival is recognized as one of the South’s top fall festivals, featuring three days of exciting family fun, delicious food, eye-catching arts and crafts, local and commercial vendors, and live entertainment showcasing both local talent and some of the nations’ best loved performers.”
If you are down here next fall and this strikes your fancy, the festival site is at the junction of College Blvd. and State Road 85 North in Niceville, Florida 32578.
Destin Fishing Rodeo
While on the topic of fish, this one is right over the plate. No, people aren’t riding fish down here: they’re catching them the traditional way.
The Destin Fishing Rodeo occurs throughout the entire month of October and is free for fishermen and fisherwomen fishing aboard a boat that has been registered in the Rodeo. Each year, over 30,000 anglers compete and over $100,000 are awarded in cash and prizes. Weigh-ins occur daily, between the hours of 10am and 7pm at A.J.’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. The Destin Fishing Rodeo can be located at 103 Stahlman Ave. Highway 98, Destin, Florida 32541.
Wat Mongkolratanaram of Fort Walton Beach
One day my wife asked me if I wanted to go and visit a Buddhist temple. Naturally, I thought that she was having an episode. Buddhist temples were a dime a dozen where we used to live. While the religion is becoming more widely accepted, I couldn’t fathom one being this far south (especially one that is tucked away somewhere in the suburban sprawl that we live in).
She searched, then proceeded to educate me.
Wat Mongkolratanaram is a Buddhist temple located in Fort Walton Beach. To be perfectly honest, I’m still a bit unsure of the pronunciation myself. However your tongue decides to trip over the words, consider this: how often will you get the chance to visit a Buddhist temple?
We ended up visiting during off hours when no one was there. While this didn’t provide any further edification for myself or our family, it was still a pretty amazing thing to see this temple tucked in between ordinary looking houses.
Wat Mongkolratanaram of Fort Walton Beach is located at 741 Mayflower Avenue
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547-2907.
A Different Kind of Pride
The South, and Florida as a whole, has a bit of an international reputation for being a weird place. Some of the weirdest crimes happen here, the elderly relocate to our shores because of the consistent weather and everyone else…
… has a sense of style that is only befitting of a Florida resident.
I took this picture a few months ago. While I’d like to state (for the record) that I was not texting and driving and while it is obvious that our cars are in motion, I would have been doing you, dear reader, a disservice should I have passed up this photo-op. (I especially like the purple running lights in the wheel well).
Don’t get the wrong idea: I like where I live. I just pull this picture out every now and again to make sure that my Yankee roots are still, solidly, intact.
Breakneck Gallery: An Interview w/Kristen Burns
Art is perhaps one of the more subjective things in life. What is art to one person may be garbage to another.
At Breakneck Gallery, owners Sean & Kristen Burns aim to do something extraordinary: they are bringing fine art to real people.
How did BNAG get its start?
Out of the blue, Rich (the gallery’s previous owner) called Sean and said ‘Hey, I’m getting rid of the Pop Shop and you’re the first person that I thought to call,’ which was pretty flattering. So Sean called me and he asked me ‘Do you wanna take the Pop Shop?’ Naturally, I couldn’t say no.
Now is the Pop Shop going to reopen at some point?
He said, probably down the line. That’s why he wanted to keep the name. As of right now, he’s going to be concentrating on being a father. It was just one too many things with teaching and having the framing shop.
What’s the meaning behind the name?
Basically, we were trying to figure out what to call the place. It got to the point where we were just reading stuff off the walls and then adding the word ‘gallery’. Then, I was like, ‘Wait a minute! Breakneck Gallery’ Because of the Zapguns song, ‘Breakneck Girls’, the song’s about the girls that you would see when you are driving down the street and you would snap your head around to look at. It beat out ‘Floor Gallery’ and ‘Flyer on the Wall Gallery’!
What has the community reception been like for your first showing?
It was pretty good! Everybody who did come had a lot of good things to say. They liked what we had done with the place. They liked Josh’s (Usmani) art. The only bad thing was that it didn’t get promoted a lot. In a way, I’m glad because at that time, I didn’t think that we were ready to do a huge opening. We had just gotten the place 2-3 weeks before that and we were all there 12-13 hours a day. The one thing that I have heard the most was that we had picked really interesting stuff to view.
What did Josh think of the new owner’s?
Josh was really psyched about it. Sean and Josh were both in a skate deck show where Sean won 1st place and Josh had come in 2nd place. Ever since then, he was a fan of Sean’s artwork.
How do you think the Lakewood art scene fits in with all of the other Cleveland based art scenes?
It’s starting to pick up. There’s Crafty Goodness, which is all handmade items like clothes, and bags. There’s Rockflower Studio, Local Girl Gallery and there is Deadhorse Gallery. There’s a couple of other ones sprinkled throughout. And now with the University of Akron annex school opening in Lakewood and Virginia Marti being a fashion and art school, I think it will pick up even more and kind of give Lakewood that artsy type of feel. I’m hoping that if Crafty can keep going and we can keep going and a bunch of people can keep going that slowly it will keep opening up more businesses like how Lakewood used to be. I would love to see that. There’s just so many empty storefronts, it’s depressing.
What does the ‘Breakneck’ Future look like?
Um… Hopefully full of fantastic art sales (laughs)? Basically, we want to encourage the idea of music and artwork being of the same family. It seems like all of our musician buddies will go to any show for bands that they don’t really know and they’ll support that because it’s music. But then it’s like pulling teeth to get them to go to an art show unless one of their friends is involved with it. Then it’s like the same thing where our artsy friends who are at every gallery show all across the city but they can’t be bothered with seeing one of our friend’s bands play.
There’s definitely a stigma attached to art shows and art galleries: people think they’re stupid.
Yeah! That’s where we got the idea for the ‘Fine Art for real people’ thing. It’s, just a bunch of cool shit. Come in and have a beer, whatever you wanna do and check out some cool stuff and hopefully buy it, so we can pay rent (laughs)!