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Life in the Real Desert: A Moment in Time

Picture of green meteorite
Taking time to sort my site out for inclusion into more places on the Internet, such as Alltop.com which is a pretty good place to find websites that specialize in certain things, and trying to fix a backend problem, which is actually a whole lot less personal than it sounds, my blog portion of my site has suffered. Add to that a big dollop of “I feel sorry for myself” along with fighting the ever increasing heat and I’ve been focussing on movies, television and the odd celebrity news instead of my more personal views of the world.

All of this kerfuffle is taking place among the amazing “real” life in the Arizona desert and two nights ago a “moment in time” caught my attention and fired up my imagination; bringing out my inner child for a frozen space of time. Reminding me that all of life is made up of moments in time, some more beautiful than others.

For a week, after the sun has gone down, the mercury has not. Temperatures stay at over 100 degrees and the wind that blows from the south is hot, arid and around 11 to 12 miles per hour, if not into the 20s. Riding back the night before last, my eyes were streaming tears non-stop as it felt like I had a hair dryer blowing directly into my exposed sockets all the way home.

Getting into the house after the ride, my eyes were sore, gritty and hot. I pondered getting some goggles to replace my glasses, that were lost in Las Vegas and fell asleep seconds after setting down.

The next night, the temperature dropped to below 100, around 97 and the weather site stated that it felt like 93. (Every time I think of the temperature I hear Pvt. Hudson from Aliens in my head stating with forced, and fake, jocularity “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat!”) Wind speed was only around 9 miles per hour and did not feel like it was being sent from the gates of Hell. With my shirt off it was a pretty pleasant ride back home on my trusty Schwinn.

At the midpoint, around three miles from home, I stopped for my congratulatory drink of water. Silence surrounded me broken only by my permanent tinnitus and I looked around at a desert lit by the small sliver of moon and one very bright star.

Off to my left stands the deserted house that I’ve yet to visit and take pictures of and as I peered through the night in that direction, I saw it.

A meteorite that could only have been a quarter of a mile, or less, away was streaking down diagonally to the desert floor and only about 50 feet from the ground. It was large enough that as it burned bright green and red it lit up that portion of the hardpan. At the exact moment I spied this visitor from space even my tinnitus fell silent. The entire incident took place in muffled quiet and time spun out making this tiny incident feel much longer than the few seconds it really encompassed.

Standing there in awe I pondered that if I had not been there in that exact spot, where I stop every night on the way home, this marvel would have been missed. I also had an epiphany of sorts. Life, I decided is a series of moments in time, each insignificant on their own but when added up equal an importance of earth shattering magnitude.

I got back on my bike and peddled into the faint warm wind and, looking nervously at the sky over my head, also realized that luckily, I was over on this section of the desert when the thing from space plummeted to the ground. At the speed that thing travelled, had I been “over there” I’d never have known what had hit me…

Life in the Real Desert: Living with Nature

Cartoon SpiderI know that the whole living with nature thing has sort of gone to my head. All the animals, lizards, insects and unidentifiable creatures which make up life in the real desert have gotten my attention. Sometimes these four, and more, legged denizens have increased my blood pressure and adrenaline levels.

Over the past three or four days there have been some visitors to my new abode that were less welcome than others. A three inch long scorpion who had a definite fascination with my right foot was one that startled me into my Michael Flatley impression a la River Dancing, or as they say in this country Clog Dancing. While I may have had trainers (sneakers) on my feet, I was still stamping away with frantic enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, I have no idea whether my trainer clad foot killed the desert denizen with the stinging tail or not. One last stomp and smear, you know what I mean the old down and drag movement, left only a rusty orange smear on the porch and when checked the sole of my trainer held no remnants of Mr. or Mrs. Scorpion. This means there may be a good-sized vicious creature out there hunting for a balding older chap with black trainers. I probably should warn my neighbors…all three of them.

Scorpion King action figure

There have been some fairly largish spiders as well, one was in the side room which was attacked with a spindly plastic flyswatter at first. This arachnid fell to the floor and quicker than The Flash, made off to a spot in the room behind my desk and disappeared. A few days later it appeared on the ceiling again and this time a flip-flop sent it to spider heaven.

Last night, while standing on the porch for a little night air, a monstrous eight-legged spider moved along the ceiling of the metal roofed porch (What is it with spiders and ceilings?) and then, as I stood transfixed, started moving slowly down the front door. As it reached face level, mine not his or hers, off came the leather flip-flop and bang!

Before feeling too much sympathy for this giant creature, bear in mind that, including legs, it was the size of my hand. Not a tarantula, not furry enough, but a similar size. Now here is the shivery part, once its body thudded to the porch floor, the flip-flop went back on my foot and I stomped the merry hell out of the apparently lifeless corpse. (Spiders can and do “play dead.”) Despite my approximate weight of 186 pounds, the body never “mushed” up.

I then took this very solid body and swept it into the dust pan and chucked it off the porch. Then, after allowing the goosebumps to subside, I went back into the house to find another, smaller, spider on the ceiling of the side room again. Scratch one more trespassing bit of nature.

I am not afraid of spiders. When working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service I noticed that these murderers, car thieves, drug dealers, rapists et al were all terrified of spiders. Being in the countryside large grass spiders used to come in all the time. While these tough guys screamed, cried and leapt on their single beds, we would pick the creatures up and toss them out the window. The sight of the lads practically passing out was worth it.

I do, however, have real issues with the larger arachnids sharing my bed or crawling over my face while in the Land of Nod. All of the other creatures I’ve encountered are cute and lovely to look at. They are also animals; ground squirrels, prairie dogs, jack rabbits with long brown tails who walk, or trot, like a dog and deer. I like coming across all of these.

As for that spider I count myself lucky that it did not make the floor. If we had been on even footing our altercation might have ended very differently and I could have been the one chucked off the porch.

Scene from Murder Story 1989

Christopher Lee: An Almost Personal Memory

Sir Christopher Lee died yesterday and the worlds of horror and fantasy are reeling from the news. The 93 year-old actor made his name as Dracula in the Hammer films and worked more recently in The Lord of the Ring films and worked in iconic cult classic horror films like the 1973 The Wicker Man. I wanted to share my almost personal memory of one of the greatest actors the world has ever known. As Fangoria point out Lee was a versatile actor who appeared in various roles across genres.

Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun (an action film), Bailey, the gunsmith in Hannie Caulder (a western) and Dr. Wonka in Charley and the Chocolate Factory (comedy) are just three examples of different genres outside the fantasy and horror fields he is so associated with. Lee also did a lot of voice acting for video games, Kingdom Hearts II and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (where he reprised his role as Scaramanga) are just two games that felt his presence.

He also worked in the field of mystery, appearing in Murder Story. He starred with a young American actor who would later become famous on television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as the very British Wesley Wyndham-Price, Alexis Densiof. Lee played Willard Hope in the 1989 film, a star author whom Denisof’s character idolizes and decides to emulate.

Murder Story was filmed in Holland and the company hired some local airmen and their kids from Soesterberg Air Base to be in the film. Ellstree Studios were making the film despite having just gone broke and having to restrict themselves to television. Ellstree produced the BBC soap Eastenders amongst a few other television shows that were all filmed in the studios.

After being hired to work on the show by a local casting company, along with a friend from the Armed Forces Radio Station down the hall, I was excited to be working on a film with Christopher Lee in it. Originally, both mine and the AFN chap’s roles were pretty big, we had lines and a bit of action as well. Not knowing much of the film’s plot or action, we were day players only, the idea that we may get to work with Dracula, or just “bump into him” on set was pretty heady stuff for two glorified extras.

That money was an issue became apparent “on the day.” Our initial roles had our Security Policemen talking and getting out of our base jeep to inspect damage done by the onscreen father of Alexis Denisof’s character. An accident caused by his son Tony (Alexis) driving in front of his car on a motorbike. By the time we got in front of the camera, our lines had been cut and we never left the jeep.

The second unit director, who filmed the action scene just prior to our bit, had excited us earlier in the day by suggesting that Sir Christopher Lee may indeed be around somewhere near by. The unit had started out filming in Soest, a small town near Soesterberg and Zeist where a lot of filming took place, and word was that Lee would be in the village.

If he was there, we missed him and a short time went to a section of woods in-between the village and the air base where we met Denisof, very briefly, and his love interest in the film; Stacia Burton (in her only film). The lovely young lady bummed a light off me, much to my second wife’s annoyance. We chatted a bit, which also got a bit of disapproval, and I am still surprised that this talented young lady has not appeared in any other projects.

After a long day, the scene was finished and we never met the legend. A year later, the same folks who cast me in the Ellstree film cast me in a commercial for American, and later British, television. Speaking to the woman who hired me, she spoke of meeting the iconic performer and how nice he was. She also revealed that he had been in Soest that day and that we’d only just missed him.

Sadly the film itself, which was something of a nine-day wonder as many of the high school scenes were shot at the base school and a good friend’s daughters got to meet and work with Denisof, went straight to video and died a quick death. This mystery movie gave Lee the chance to be something other than the villain and he was also able to show his mastery of languages as he did his own lines in Dutch.

As the world mourns the passing of an iconic entertainer, it felt right to share my own little “almost” experience with one of the most gifted actors to ever “wear the fangs” and become the ultimate Dracula to more than a few generations. Sir Christopher Lee gone at age 93, you will be long remembered and missed by a world of fans. R.I.P.

Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Trophy For Little Old Me

Wordpress trophyI do love how WordPress sets these somewhat eclectic targets (for lack of a better word) which when reached by the blogger gives them an automatic trophy. The first thought that goes through my mind is ‘Wow, a trophy? For little old me?’ *By the by, a single quotation mark by some authors is meant to convey thought versus speech anyone disagree with this method? Just curious, answers on a postcard please or conversely you can tell me via the comment section below.* Anyway, as shown by the image above, I now have reached 1,337, with a “real” total of 1,339 followers on my blog.

Cue fireworks, confetti and cheering, even if it is only my hoarse voice you can hear, in wild celebration. I do celebrate these milestone events, albeit rather quietly, since these follower counts mean that slowly but surely, I am building up a core group that like my meandering messages.

Here is where I insist that you give yourself a pat on the back for having such great taste! Seriously, it does mean a lot that either some of you have come back or others have enjoyed my ramblings enough to pay me the ultimate compliment. Thanks to both types of folks and to those who fall into neither camp.

For those still “on the fence” about my writing, that is fine too. I’ve not published anything yet, but I will. In this day and age of self publishing if I cannot get picked up by a publisher when I’ve finished, I’ll do it on my own. I know this is now the norm and quite successful for some folks, like the Winner Twins who I have met, interviewed and still interact with now and then. *On a side note, two nicer young ladies you will never meet and their work is entertaining and good.*

For those who have been here for awhile, thanks for being patient. I’ve veered off the path, most notably working for the content mill and sweatshop GLV where I had no time to devote to my baby. (But I did manage to attend some geeky type cons and meet some dynamite actors and in that aspect had the time of my life.) Now I am back and casting my hook around to see what other writing opportunities are out there.

Thanks to you all; I know that regardless of where my laptop and I end up there are folks who like my writing and will stop by to read and comment. Even though I do not get out and about as much as I used to, and those of you with your own blogs will know what I mean, but as soon as the Internet issue is sorted and I learn to be more organized, I will be more visible at other blog sites. I promise.

Till then, I remain humbly overawed that there are that many people out there who like my work. I think you all are the best. Thanks and I raise my metaphorical glass to you. Cheers and all the best.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Trophy For Little Old Me

Wordpress trophyI do love how WordPress sets these somewhat eclectic targets (for lack of a better word) which when reached by the blogger gives them an automatic trophy. The first thought that goes through my mind is ‘Wow, a trophy? For little old me?’ *By the by, a single quotation mark by some authors is meant to convey thought versus speech anyone disagree with this method? Just curious, answers on a postcard please or conversely you can tell me via the comment section below.* Anyway, as shown by the image above, I now have reached 1,337, with a “real” total of 1,339 followers on my blog.

Cue fireworks, confetti and cheering, even if it is only my hoarse voice you can hear, in wild celebration. I do celebrate these milestone events, albeit rather quietly, since these follower counts mean that slowly but surely, I am building up a core group that like my meandering messages.

Here is where I insist that you give yourself a pat on the back for having such great taste! Seriously, it does mean a lot that either some of you have come back or others have enjoyed my ramblings enough to pay me the ultimate compliment. Thanks to both types of folks and to those who fall into neither camp.

For those still “on the fence” about my writing, that is fine too. I’ve not published anything yet, but I will. In this day and age of self publishing if I cannot get picked up by a publisher when I’ve finished, I’ll do it on my own. I know this is now the norm and quite successful for some folks, like the Winner Twins who I have met, interviewed and still interact with now and then. *On a side note, two nicer young ladies you will never meet and their work is entertaining and good.*

For those who have been here for awhile, thanks for being patient. I’ve veered off the path, most notably working for the content mill and sweatshop GLV where I had no time to devote to my baby. (But I did manage to attend some geeky type cons and meet some dynamite actors and in that aspect had the time of my life.) Now I am back and casting my hook around to see what other writing opportunities are out there.

Thanks to you all; I know that regardless of where my laptop and I end up there are folks who like my writing and will stop by to read and comment. Even though I do not get out and about as much as I used to, and those of you with your own blogs will know what I mean, but as soon as the Internet issue is sorted and I learn to be more organized, I will be more visible at other blog sites. I promise.

Till then, I remain humbly overawed that there are that many people out there who like my work. I think you all are the best. Thanks and I raise my metaphorical glass to you. Cheers and all the best.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

America: The Land of the Big

Two overweight people on a benchSince I have been coming to Burger King to make use of their free Wi-Fi it has become apparent that America is the land of the big. Big Gulps being swallowed by big girthed people. The same huge folks who always go extra large for the small extra charge. These gargantuan folk are all ages and all seem to share the same appetites.

Watching these rotund and elephantine people from behind, they look like carbon copies of each other. The arm swinging waddle with bulging areas of fat beneath each armpit, the roll of fat round the waist and lumped on each hip. It is exhausting to see these huge examples of humanity move. The amount of effort required to move that much mass is amazing and tires me out just watching them move awkwardly toward their SUVs.

When I was a lad, being hefty was considered healthy. Skinny boys and girls were looked down upon. Those were the days when parents urged children to “eat that fat it’s good for you.” Put some meat on those bones boy. A time when those who did not have “love handles” would drink banana shakes with an egg or two in it to gain weight.

Times changed and people learned that eating fat was not good for you. Carrying around all that excess poundage was bad for your heart and meant that more than likely, those who had those “love handles” would meet their maker that little bit sooner.

Living in England for 32 years, I used to hear about “fat America” from mates and colleagues. While there, I observed quite a number of folks with weight problems and felt they were exaggerating. Surely the US was no worse than the UK. Since moving back though I noticed that the average size of the average American is “big.”

You can see them with those Big Gulp drinks, or their equivalent, eating the double whopper with extra cheese and the super-large fries, followed up with a large desert. Afterward, their hearts pound while moving all that fat through their veins and arteries. Heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen and when they fall, the floor will tremble.

It is depressing to witness so many trying so hard to kill themselves slowly with big appetites, big servings and little exercise apart from struggling to hit the next fast food outlet. Seeing fat parents, fat children and fat babies, is enough to put one off eating.

America land of the big you are burying yourself under the weight of food and drink. Learn moderation and exercise, before the entire country becomes a welter of bulging XXXL people who lose the use of their legs when these appendages refuse to carry the excess poundage.

For your own sake stop.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: The Sands are Alive (With the Sounds of Barking)

Schwinn 700C - my bike
After an eventful weekend of flat tyres on the bike, repeated attempts to fix this problem went badly and left me with a disposition best left alone, and weird dreams, it was time to take stock of the critters who have been scampering, scuttling, and gamboling across the desert floor. The sands are alive this time of year, it seems, with all sorts of little animals, and a lot of huge insects. The air is also alive with the sounds of barking, I’ll talk about this a bit as well and doves are not the peaceful creatures they seem to be. This will be sort of a pictorial, and I will apologize up front for the poor quality of my snaps.

I blame it on my poor iPhone, which to be fair has had some rough handling this year, two spills in the desert, one in a wash and the other on what seemed to be perfectly flat ground, a “hit and run” in Love’s car park and another impromptu flip when hitting the wrong brake at Burger King.

Quick quiz: What is the big difference between having a tumble in Love’s Truck Stop car park and Burger King’s car park? Answer: Burger King has employees who care! Two employees who did not know me that well, yet, came over and after checking I was okay, and that the bike was not damaged, went back to their personal conversation. Did I mention that they were on their break? Class act Burger King.

Not so my prospecting neighbor. He has come back in from searching for gold to bring eight dogs, one of which is a loud constantly barking Chihuahua that sets the rest of his pets off. The noisy little bugger should thank its annoying little stars that I do not own a gun, otherwise at five in the morning, he, or she would be eliminated with extreme prejudice. Sorry animal nuts lovers, no irritating creature is worthy of saving when it will not shut the f*** up.

I have only seen the dog once. It stood on the other side of our property fence and glared daggers at me while barking non-stop. The little sh*** never even stopped for air. My hands itched for an instrument of destruction but my more civilized instincts took over. Besides, it was not five in the morning.

One friend who lives three houses down mentioned the irritating mutt and told of how it came and barked at their entire garden party for a couple of hours. Just as it was mentioned that perhaps a marauding coyote might eat the little pest, it stopped yapping and moved on. I am currently on the look out for a coyote call on the internet…

Apart from obnoxious domestic dogs, I’ve discovered another type of dog; prairie dogs. What I had mistaken for a kangaroo rat was in fact a hole dweller. I did not realize my mistake until one stopped and reared up on its rear haunches, stretched its neck up and took a long careful look around before proceeding. I took the cute creature’s picture after it decided to hide out in a hollow spot on the hard pan floor and peek out:

Prairie dog in AZ
Camera shy…

When a camera is not immediately to hand, these small cute creatures scamper quickly across the eye line. They do pause to have a quick look about and then zoom on their merry way. These same animals were the bane of a cowboy’s existence back in the old days as many a horse stepped into a prairie dog hole with the end result being a broken leg and “old Paint” being put out of his misery with a well placed shot.

Other wild creatures include lizards, like this health conscious lizard filmed on the fence (this was before the little happy mutt moved in next door, hence the total silence except my commentary):

Another chap hangs around the side of the house and under the carport:

Lizard

A neighborhood visitor, a prairie gopher snake – now we know what those prairie dogs are scouting for – came by for a leisurely visit and despite not being bothered by all the attention at the time, has not yet been back:

Snake crossing the road, @4ft

Now about those doves…Certainly the air has been full of barking from the eight dogs, all ranging in size like the owner is paying a personal homage to the dogs in Second Hand Lions – sadly there is not pig or chicken hanging around for comic effect. The other noise, which permeates the early morning hours along with the woodpecker’s knocking on wood, tin, brick and anything else they can bash with their beaks, are the doves.

Sidenote: These woodpeckers are young ones, I think, and thus far they are uncanny at imitating the knocking noise associated with someone pounding on your front door. There is also a bird, a mockingbird perhaps, which does an insanely good job aping a cock crowing. Without the necessary power of a cockerel this feathered micmic sounds like it has laryngitis as it whispers, “cock-a-doodle-doo” a few times then stops. I am trying to get this on tape as it is priceless.

Doves, despite their calmly cooing on an afternoon, are the loudest creatures in the world come mating time. Squawking, flapping, fighting, mating, and otherwise making one hell of a row by smashing on the tin roof of my domestic dwelling, they are the loudest neighbors imaginable.

They also stomp. These birds are well known for making the least practicable nests possible in England and it seems their American cousins suffer the same inept home building skills. Building their temporary abode out of brittle sticks, they place them on air conditioning units and window ledges.

It seems that the brittle sticks are not to their liking so the feathered homemakers then stomp on the twigs presumably in an effort to soften them up. For such a “peaceful” bird, when stamping on the nests they could be wearing seven league boots, or at least heavy hobnailed boots. Plus, it has to be said, that for such pretty creatures, their offspring are, “Uuuugleeee!” See for yourself:

Baby Doves
To be honest they were a lot uglier a few weeks earlier…
Baby Doves
See? UUUGLEEEE! (Just sayin’.)

There are other creatures awaiting discovery via my iPhone 5. A red-tailed lizard, which was apparently quite a delicacy amongst the local Native American denizens, crawls into a crevice and inflates itself so it cannot be plucked out. One was glimpsed on a ride into town, although its tail was more orange than red and it was huge.

Of course there are other inhabitants in the real desert. Coyotes, one of which is so “domesticated” that according to another friendly neighbor, it comes and lies on top of the low fence for a nap, completely ignoring all the two-legged denizens who are walking around its sleeping form. Baby bunnies are all over the place, one in my garden has gotten so use to me that it no longer runs when I come out.

Deer, mountain lions, bobcats or wildcats all make this area home. I found a dead deer the other week and all that is left of that poor thing is one leg, a bit of vertebra and the odd rib bone. Tracks of a large mountain lion have been spied on my several jaunts across the desert floor and luckily I have yet to bump into this large predator.

One more desert resident can be seen constantly (usually searching or as in the case of the expired deer landing nearby) and this is the buzzard or vulture. Surely the ugliest creatures ever created; these can be seen soaring above the sands looking for carrion. They also sit in trees near a dead, or dying animal, waiting…

Buzzards...or vultures...

Single vulture
This chappy looks like a bit of CG but he is real…

The only creature I’ve not included in my little pictorial was that of the very aggressive rattlesnake I encountered on the way back from town. The snapshot taken of this angry chappy did not turn out too well as I opted to stay clear the other side of the road from him. This after coming within two scant inches of his slowly moving form. Slow, that is, till I turned round and took his picture, in my Twitter feed I named the creature Kanye West; who also hates having his picture taken by strangers…

20 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Pilgrim’s Progress

Author photo March 2013
Finishing my first cup of tea and ruminating over the past few days events has left me with an epiphany of sorts. Let me explain: Back in 2012 while I was in Basildon Hospital, in the UK, and recovering from the dual surgery that saved my life, I got a visit from a lovely lady who worked in the medical facility. She warned me that one day, it would all sink in about how close to death I had been. “It is usual for survivors to experience crushing depression,” she said.

Well, it is now over two and a half years since that fateful day; where my universe shrank down to a tiny space of unbelievable pain, and that depression has still not made an appearance. Certainly I do feel down sometimes, these happen at the oddest times as well. Yesterday, for example, had this new desert dweller becoming the recipient of not one, but several acts of kindness. Yet when arriving back home, I was caught up in a blue funk that lasted till sleep.

Most of that was from being overly tired. My only mechanical mode of transport was out of commision for a few days, requiring a back inner tube, so it was two days of attempting to patch said tube and one day of angrily marching a total of 3.5 miles only to realize that by the time I got to the store it would be closed. It was then a much slower trip home as the anger was spent and I was tired, after all the wasted adrenaline drained away.

That walk, although not too hot according to the thermometer, beat the hell out of me and for the next two days I hurt everywhere. Lesson learned: Do not storm off on a moderately hot day in a foul mood.

This pilgrim’s progress has been slow and not just to adjusting to life in the desert here in the southwestern state of Arizona. The reason for this slow acclimation to things since that August day where I should have died not once, but twice, came to me this morning after an odd dream in the wee hours just as the sun was peeping over the mountains in the east.

Sleeping fitfully, I moved between dozing and wakefulness, I thought, all night. As the sky began to light up, I was laying on my left side, half-awake and grumpily cursing the doves and their annoying nest noises; they stomp on the brittle twigs making a sound like people walking on gravel which is very disconcerting when half-asleep.

As the birds settled down and began to make their cooing noises, I felt the cover beside me move. Four little feet made their way to my back and a small warm body then lay carefully next to my upper back. I could “feel” a bushy tail move up near my neck and could “smell” a fusty fur smell. I instantly relaxed, although in the back of my head was the awareness that there are no animals in the place, and felt totally at peace as sleep reclaimed me.

That this was a dream became apparent later when I had an amusing thought that I could well have a wild skunk lying right on top of me and I turned to see what was snuggled against me. I found a rag doll in the shape of pointy nose elf-like creature with a sewn on striped cone hat. We conversed, as one does, with no words but in our heads.

I did actually wake up at that point and found that I was alone and pondered the doll thing that my mind had dredged up. It made no sense, after all why would a two-legged doll walk on all fours to get across my cover. It was a surreal moment and the realization that it was so brought on my epiphany.

Speaking to someone a few days ago, I mentioned the forecast of massive depression from the medical lady in the hospital and said that I was still waiting for that shoe to drop. My “light-bulb” moment this morning was that this will not occur. What has happened instead is a constant state of surrealness, if you will.

I left Basildon Hospital (the cardiac section) four days after one of the most invasive surgeries one can endure, the first surgery should have been so routine that it was boring, and everything, it seems stems from that time. My second surgery took a long time, during which I was “technically dead.”

A machine kept my blood pumping and my lungs breathing while the doc’s stopped my heart to perform the aortic dissection and bypass, this after they whipped a vein out of my right leg, and the estimated time I was “dead” was around eight or more hours. Now, if you had asked me after I recovered from this procedure how long I was “out” or how long I was “dead” no answer would have been available. A lot of remembering had to happen before I could recall and this only happened after I asked my daughter, who had to live through all this.

The point being that from the moment I was moved from ICU to the recovery ward, everything has seemed surreal. You could even argue that my waking up during the first surgery, when they discovered that my aortic arch had been perforated and most of my aorta was split open, and managing to talk around the tube in my throat started the whole thing. This also is the reason, I believe, for the “gravel” in my voice since the surgery.

Sidenote: To the family who were staying in Basildon Hospital with their own medical emergency, “Thank you for the kindness you showed my child who had to deal with all this on her own.”

The epiphany this morning has been that I have never really gotten over the surreal stage of this whole heart attack malarkey. My brain seems to be operating in a sort of fugue state of semi-awareness with small moments of clarity. At times I can almost react to things normally but there is still that feeling of unreality flitting around the edges.

I find myself unable to function properly in social settings. The actor in me puts on a good show, but basic things like exchanging phone numbers while interacting with another person who has just asked for mine go by the wayside. Just trying to remember to thank someone for a good deed or act of kindness is also fraught with inactivity or at least poor responses.

Anyone who has known me well can tell you that I have a radar that can tell when a person is on the level or not to be trusted almost seconds after meeting them. That ability seems to have been left on the operating table along with some of my common sense. How else can I explain being taken in by a con artist so completely that I moved in with the bugger, and his wife, and only woke up after it seemed I was about to be made a patsy? (And upon learning that he was a “wanted” felon.)

There are a long list of things that all point to my mind still existing in this surreal state. A place where my subconscious is attempting to get round surviving back in 2012 and despite my resolute marching forward to this new beat of the drum, I am struggling. Not desperately, but just enough that my thinking is affected.

Everything happens for a reason. I firmly believe this, just as I believe that my “pilgrim’s progress” here in the desert is needed at the point in time. A step back from busy society and a chance for me to get my soldiers back in step. This quiet time is needed to help me get back on an even keel, or at least recognize that moving back to the foreign country I left so long ago is either my new “normality” or just another turn of the screw in my current directionless journey.

Time will tell and at least now I can realize where my “head is at.” Even if it took a two-legged dream doll to point me in the right direction.

19 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Facebook Match-Making and Spam “Friends”

No Soliciting sign Call me cynical (No really, you can call me that, I was a Prison Officer for 10 years, trusting; I am not.) but the sudden influx of friend requests from pretty, young and, presumably, single females had me flummoxed. Not that I do not have young, pretty and single, or otherwise, ladies as friends already, but they are usually mates from my old jobs or folks I’ve met through my daughter, or YouTube, or other media outlets connected with journalism.

Let’s face it, on Facebook you tend to meet a lot of people who have similar interests, jobs, or are “friend’s of friends.” These folks are not all individuals that you have met in person but can, nonetheless, become quite valued mates on the net.

However, these sudden friend requests from a bevy of beauties looked suspicious to say the least. There were no mutual friends and apart from a flurry of friend requests in my local area, had nothing in common with me at all. A few times I accepted. (Yes, I can be amazingly obtuse at times.)

I then got spammed, only once – to paraphrase a character from Something Big, “My mamma didn’t raise no fool.” The other times I got messages. Most said, “Hi” and then waited for awhile to see if I would respond. Usually I do not, apart from saying “Hi” back and leaving it at that.

One young lady, however, got rather chatty and explained that she’d seen me on Facebook “Match” and was interested in getting acquainted. If I were a bit less cynical, I’d be flattered.

But…

As I told the young lady, who helpfully informed me that she was 32, given that she was younger than my oldest child and that at my age and after two failed marriages, I was not interested in a relationship with anyone; not even a gorgeous young thing like her. So, “Thanks but no thanks.” Another one I told point blank that I was not in the market no matter how succulent the bait.

Now I don’t know if Facebook has decided to be helpful and pasted my mug on various pages which offer match-making services, but I would ask that they stop. Like I asked them to stop putting advertisements on my page of singles seeking older men.

Yes, I am older but I am not seeking younger women (Don’t get me wrong, if I were seeking they would definitely be younger, both my wives were younger age-wise, number two considerably so.) or older ones. For those who have seen my picture and think I’m an easy mark? Think again.

This reminds me of my second day covering The Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con last year. I was tired and hungry. Finding a spot at the Oyster Bar in the casino, I ordered clam linguini and began working on my article for that day. The waitress brought me an iced tea and I noticed a devastatingly beautiful young lady walking toward the cafe/bar.

Short shorts, halter top, and a flower in her blonde hair, she was turning heads as she approached. This vision sat one chair away from me at the bar. She kept trying to make eye contact the whole time I sat there sucking down my linguini. Finally she caught my eye and began the small talk.

I explained that I was working the comic con and writing up my article for the day. I asked for my check and excused myself. The look on her face was one of chagrin mixed with a bit of disbelief. Leaning over I apologized and explained that if I did not have to work, nothing could have torn me away.

Walking away, I realized that she must have been a professional lady and I’d obviously looked like a good mark. Wrong. Not only did my employer pay me so poorly that my own money paid for the food eaten (and the bugger still owes me over $1,000 after I left last year – the Guardian Liberty Voice do not work for them…) but I had nothing left over for illegal activities, if you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

The point of the story is that even if I had the money for a little “fun,” I was not interested. Those who know me and have read my blog for a while will know why. Now Facebook is sending me folks via Match? Come on chaps. If I were interested in finding a perfect mate, or “a friend with benefits” I would already be a member. All right? Even being a “young” 56, I still love video games, movies and so on, who finds the younger gal much more attractive to look at and interact with, does not mean I’m on the lookout for anything.

I am, as mentioned above, a cynic. So…unless you have a really different spiel, don’t waste my time or yours. As for Facebook, take my picture off the sites, if they do exist. Just as I do not want “Asian” women searching for mates, girls looking for older men, or older women searching for partners, I also do not want a “match.”

Cheers.

12 May, 2015

Michael Knox-Smith