Life in the Real Desert: Close to Death

Buzzard in desert,
It is safe to say that my day got off to a bad start. The old prospector next door, with his eight noisy mongrels, woke me up when two of the animals began barking at just before 6 a.m. Despite best attempts to head back to the Land of Nod (I was tired as sleep in the night was interrupted by an idiot who was trying to start an engine with no muffler, aka exhaust pipe, attached to it from 23:30 to 00:30, that is half 11 pm to half gone midnight for those who have difficulty with the 24 hour clock) I was unsuccessful, it was too light and I was too annoyed. On top of that it was blooming hot and once awake, both at night and in the morning, sleep was, in the former instance a long time coming and in the latter, not approachable at all.

To exacerbate the poor start to my day, literally yards from my desert dwelling, an elderly neighbour came within a cat’s whisker of knocking me and my bike right off the road. Completely oblivious, at least I hope he was and that this was not a deliberate attempt to help me meet my maker, the sod never slowed down, although to be fair he was not travelling that fast, nor did he acknowledge my shouts of fury and my, very, rude gestures. As my adrenaline surged, I found myself making obscene remarks about his lineage and accusing him of self masturbation, in other words of being a wanker. Had I thought of it, I would have grabbed a rock and sincerely tried to hit the windscreen on the back of his Chevy pickup truck.

I am, it is safe to say, still furious. I still have the huge bump and bruising on my right leg from the other unconscious prat who knocked me off the car park surface, aka parking lot, at Love’s Truck Stop. *A place I have avoided like the plague since that little incident in March.* After my close brush with yet another attempt on my life, I was paranoid about every vehicle that passed me.

I realize that many of my fellow desert dwellers are, as stated in the title, close to death. Failing skill sets, a lack of cohesive attention to tasks at hand, failing health and, in some cases, just a bad attitude full stop, do not make these folks the best of neighbours.

Needless to say, blogging while angry is not a good idea, but, like the Incredible Hulk, sans the green and the increased size, my rage has been running on high since this idiot almost hit me with his bloody truck. All the way to the public library, titles for my first blog post scampered across my imaginary laptop screen, the one in my head, each more annoyed and insulting than the last.

Title’s like, “Rednecks Never Die, They Just Move to Quartzsite,” was the least offensive of the lot. The thing that calmed me down was the continual attempt to rework the old mot, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed Jack is king.” This last internal dialogue, where I kept trying to substitute several annoyed phrases in place of blind, finally allowed the worst of my vitriol to dissipate.

Not completely though.

Just enough to stop the “Hulk smash” urge.

The problem is not just living amongst folks who are closer to death than I am, at least in terms of age. With an existing hole, apparently still in my aortic arch and damage to veins and arteries, as well as in one kidney, I may pop off more quickly than they will. With the exception of a dear new neighbour who has only a short time to live, and this lovely chap will be sorely missed by all who know him, the rest of the population in the neighborhood are a mixed bag who may all outlive me, especially if they persist in trying to kill me with their effing motor vehicles and that is where the problem lies.

These inept drivers may be quite nice away from their cars, trucks, vans and ATVs, although others seem to have the type of bad attitude that brings out the worst in me. If I can keep from becoming road statistic, I will remain tickled to death to have survived my further close brushes with the grim reaper.

Hopefully writing this rant out on a hot and dry day in the desert will help my anger and annoyance to abate further. If not my next update may come from behind bars and not, I hasten to add, the kind that serve drinks.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: The Hummingbird Feeder Experiment

Hummingbird wikipediaI am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. Innate curiosity does drive much of what I do and as a young boy I did think that science was the path to be taken. That was overridden by the realization that I would not be the next Brains Benton or even Sherlock Holmes. My brain lacked the essential element necessary to make one an expert in the scientific world.

Logic.

Years later my curiosity and imagination are still here and logic, while it has increased in some aspects, has ceased to be the main reason behind not pursuing a scientific path. It is now brainpower and time that stops me dead in my tracks.

It was the curious part of me that wondered why all of the neighborhood birds flocked around my nectar filled hummingbird feeder. The upside-down bottle is full of a homemade concoction, recipe taken from the good old Internet, and when first filled only the little manic wing flappers supped from my good-natured offering.

When I made a new batch, using slightly different measuring utensils, other feathered friends began stopping by to have a drink. Even the woodpeckers would land awkwardly on the small feeder, using a series of gymnastic maneuvers that can only be described as comical to the extreme, to drink from my tiny well of nectar.

This intrusion on my little hummingbird friends would be acceptable except that a lot of the other birds are actively chasing off my little feathered chums. First there were the yellow, quite pretty birds, then the red headed and red crested ones and now the woodpeckers are all having a go at the original recipients of the nectar.

I left the feeder empty for a couple of days and all of the winged ones were approaching it, landing and dipping a beak in to see if anything was left. I then filled the thing with common tap water, sans boiling and sans sugar.

The idea being that as this is the desert and not a lot of excess water is to be found, perhaps the other birds are just thirsty. Time will tell whether this hypothesis is correct or not.

Thus far, the feeder has not been approached by anything apart from the odd hummingbird. After a day or two, I will boil some water to see if the avoidance is because of “treated” liquid. Apparently the tap stuff needs to be boiled in order to rid it of the chlorine, et al.

It will be interesting to see if all of the winged neighbors in my area return to have a sup of plain old water after the chemicals have been removed. Afterward, I will go back to the original utensils to make the nectar and see if the hummingbirds can partake of the sweet drink undisturbed by the bullying birds that have invaded their feeder.

I wonder if the enormous road runner spied this morning will decide to have a drink in either of the provided fluids in the feeder. While is seems unlikely that this veritable giant could manage it, the woodpecker with gymnastic tendencies is not shrinking violet.

Watch this space…

23 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

Life in the Real Desert: Riding Through a Dust Devil

Photo of dust devil in Arizona Living in the real desert has definitely been an eye opening experience thus far. (Not to mention a chance to clean my cluttered mind of the trappings of too much civilization, which has been an unexpected plus.) Recently the weather has matched my life to a certain extent. A lot of air turbulence, aka wind, has kept the dust and sand in constant upheaval. Quite a number of “dust devils” aka mini cyclones have been created and move across the hardpan floor recklessly ignoring traffic to traverse roads and avenues.

A few days ago, a volcano in Chile erupted. This lava-spewing spectacle occurred twice in a short time period, if I can remember the Facebook notices correctly, and like the Icelandic eruption a few years back, it has affected the weather noticeably. Cooler temperatures, clouds, a lot of gusting wind and heavy showers are making their presence felt in the normally hot area.

Clouds of debris have entered the atmosphere once again and will loom up there for some time. With my sporadic Internet, and no television, I do not know if the event has messed with air travel. The Iceland volcano certainly did; shutting down flights for several days in England and other countries.

Years ago, when I lived in New Mexico with my first wife and our son Donovan (who was a fearless 8 or 9 month old that walked boldly off the end of the settee…repeatedly) sand storms were a regular occurrence and dust devils could be spotted easily.

During one sand storm, according to my white-faced then wife, I was almost decapitated by a whirling sheet of galvanized steel. However, the most spectacular sand storm took place during the filming of a Sean Connery film, “Wrong Is Right.” The film set was in White Sands and a small group of locals were there to watch the professionals go through their paces.

The wind picked up steadily and suddenly, in mid-scene, a white wall of sand could be seen approaching. A park ranger announced over the PA system that if people wanted to leave, now was the time to do it. Along with a number of other locals, the wife, baby and I left, only to be caught up in the advances of the wall of sand.

Before we got into the car, a cameraman on the crew grabbed my arm. Sounding like the epitome of a “surfer” he excitedly asked, “Whoa dude! Is it like this all the time around here? This is so cool!” I agreed and suggested he take cover and protect his equipment as these natural events could strip paint off cars and deliver sand in unbelievable places.

Dust storm picture from Google images

In those days, sand storms were a new experience. I had only ever been through one similar incident a few years previously. A dust storm had roared over the Oklahoma state line and enveloped a small Arkansas town where I was doing drywall work. Purple clouds filled the sky and suddenly the whole world was swirling dust and darkness.

Creepy.

Back to present day and my ride through the dust devil. As I was already fighting against 11 to 17 mph winds, my concentration was more on getting home than on the birth of the mini cyclone up ahead.

For a split second I thought of the Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt film “Twister” and their experiences in dealing with tornadoes. The cyclone grew steadily, from a few bits of debris swirling around to a lot of sand, dust and more debris building up to a small twister about six feet in diameter.

Biking with my eyes squinted against the wall of wind pushing against me I noticed that the dust devil was almost stationary ahead of me. Up to the left of me, it seemed to be waiting for me to pass. As I drew nearer, it began to move into the road. I thought briefly about stopping and trying to get a video of the thing.

It was not going to happen.

The thing was upon me in an instant. Suddenly all the pressure that had been trying to force me back the way I came stopped. The bike and I were being pummeled back and forth. The wheels actually slid sideways for a second or two and the bike began to wobble in the wind.

Luckily I was wearing my prescription sunglasses so the dust and debris did not blind me. Eyes almost shut I could see from inside the small cyclone. I felt a little like the surfer-dude cameraman from the Connery film being filmed in 1981.

“Whoa dude!”

Just another experience of living in the real desert to be savored; riding a bike through a dust devil, aka mini cyclone, and living to tell the tale.

26 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith