Wednesday, March 28, 2007

At Seven

At Seven
James Robert Smith

At seven years old
Your room is full of comic books
And Famous Monsters
And Creepy and Eerie

You gaze in wonder at
Wrought by
And Wood
And Frazetta
And Torres
And Crandall.

You wait for
Films from
Creatures that dwell
In darkness
From lost islands
Strange places
Other days.

And then.
At night.
Things come out.
October Country things.
That slither like
Fine silk
In the closet.
That crinkle like
Old pulp
On the shelves.
That blow
Not quite silently
Across your brow.

But there are rules
That keep you
You Seven-year-old.

Cover your eyes
And that which you
Cannot see cannot see

Keep your fingers
And feet
From hanging over the
Abyss below your mattress
For they cannot
Invade that cotton

And whatever
Whatever you do.
Do not get up
In the night
In the dark
In the silence
Until first light
Brings dawn.

Only then is it safe
To read again
Tales by Archie Goodwin
Stories introduced by grinning
Ghouls and smiling zombies.
Only then is time
To watch
And vampires
And Creatures from
Black Lagoons and
Things from Another World.
And time enough
For October Country
And tales etched on an
Illustrated Man.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


James Robert Smith

Imagine being raised in a religious void.

There’s nothing there, in the past, no religion at all. Your parents have never said anything. You’ve never been to church or temple or mosque, that you can recall. And you’ve never been indoctrinated into any religion, at all.

You sing religious songs at school, from time to time. But “Jesus Loves Me” is just a song, because you don’t know who “Jesus” is. “Jesus Loves Me” might as well be “Don Gato” for all you know. Or care.

And then one day, in the third grade, you get a teacher who insists on someone in class getting up in front of the other kids before the day really begins, and reading a quote from the Holy Bible. This is the mid-60s, the days before anyone actually pushed a separation of Church and State. You don’t know what the Holy Bible is. It’s just another book, but with a black cover. Not as big as the dictionary, and surely not as interesting. But one day it’s your turn, and some of the other kids keep telling you to look for short verses. Something curt. Like, “Jesus wept”. But you can’t find “Jesus wept”, so you find something a couple of lines long and you read it.

No one discusses the verse. For God’s sake, we’re all only eight years old! The teacher, this Miss Goody, she just wants us reading a verse from The Book. For our own sakes. This is the same teacher who, when we’re singing religious songs with “Hellelujah” in it, won’t let us pronounce that final syllable, that “YAH” sound. ‘It’s a vulgar sound,’ she tells us. Just say “Hallelu”. So we drop the “YAH” and end with “Lou”, but we have to drag it out “looooooouuuuuuuuuu”. (And in my mind, I always added that “YAH”!) She’s a real hoot, this woman.

So now I begin to realize that there’s something out there called “religion”. And I realize there’s this thing people call “God”. And there’s this guy people call “Jesus”. And there are these nebulous jerks people call “The Twelve Apostles”. Like a group of some kind. Maybe like “The Dave Clark Five”. One kid in class walks around all puffed up with pride because he can name all twelve of them. I can’t name those twelve damned apostles, but I know the Beatles, and I know the seven original astronauts. I tell the other kids the seven original astronauts whenever they bring up the twelve apostles. This always succeeds in changing the subject pretty darned fast. Only one other kid in the class knows even six of the astronauts’ names. John Glenn and Gus Grissom are a lot more important to me than Paul and Peter.

However, the damage done, I start to ask about religion. The teacher explains to me about “God” and “Heaven” and, by golly, it all sounds pretty good to this eight-year-old. Then, a few days later, someone talks about “being saved”. I file that away, not wishing to display my ignorance. For, you see, I’ve been raised in a religious void. It’s amazing that my parents were able to do this. Just amazing.

This “being saved” stuff: it’s bothering me. What is it? I decide to ask my mom.

After school, I go into the kitchen. We have a sandwich bar in the kitchen, with bar stools. I nab me one of these stools and sit down at the bar. Behind me are windows that look out on the playground of my school where my third-grade teacher has begun to tell me about “God” and “Heaven” and “being saved”. (My parents are lucky, to live right next door to Oakhurst Elementary School and this son just has to walk out the door and about thirty yards and he’s in school each weekday morning.)

I’m sitting there at the bar. My mom’s just on the other side, where she usually is this time of day getting ready to make supper (“dinner”, we call it there in Atlanta). My head, as I say, is full of these cool thoughts of this loving “God” and this absolutely perfect placed called “Heaven” where you get to go when you die.

“What’s ‘being saved’ mean?” I ask my mom.

“Saved?” she asks, repeating me.

“Yeah. ‘Saved’. I heard it at school today.” She doesn’t ask me who told me about this, and I’ve always assumed she just automatically knew. I don’t volunteer it.

“Well, you have to be saved before you can get to Heaven.”

I sit there for a second. This doesn’t make sense. What about the unconditional love and all that stuff? Finally, I say, “You mean, you have to be saved before God will let you into Heaven?”

“Yes.” She goes on about her business of getting dinner ready.

“So, not just anyone can go to Heaven? Not everyone is allowed in?”

“That’s right. Not unless you’re saved.”

‘Damn! There are strings attached,’ I think. This is not right! At that moment, then and there, all the tumblers fell into place. All the circuits closed. All the switches flipped. That mother of all cornerstones, weighing as much as all of Logic, it went down with a solid and immovable thud.

“Then I don’t believe in God,” I told her. “I don’t believe in Heaven. It’s all a big lie, isn’t it?”

My mom stopped what she was doing (pouring water onto lentils in an enormous pressure cooker, as I recall). She wiped her hands dry on a blue towel, some green lentils clinging to her hands pink from hot water. “That’s right,” she said. “There’s no such thing as God or Heaven. Good for you.”

And that was that.

The next day, in class, the teacher asks whose turn it is to read from the Bible. I raise my hand. She points to me.

“I don’t want to read from the Bible any more,” I tell her.

“Why not,” she asks.

“Because I don’t believe in God,” I tell her.

Some of the kids gasp (some girls, smarter than most of us boys and realizing the implication). Most of the children don’t give a damn, because they’re only eight years old, for Pete’s sake. My teacher looks at me, then down at whatever workbook she’s perusing. And she says, “Well, Mr. Smith, you can be an atheist if you want to be.”
‘Atheist’. That’s a new one on me. I don’t ask her what it means, but I think I know. And there’s that dictionary sitting at the back of the room, by golly, and I plan to look it up as soon as I have a free moment.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Racist bastards.

For several wonderful years, I lived in a place called Gilmer County in the mountains of northeast Georgia. It was wonderful because I lived on 120 heavily forested acres that my parents had bought there. Our house was way down in a deep valley surrounded by old hardwood trees beside a spring-fed stream and our driveway was a mile long. Our nearest neighbor was two and a half miles distant. The nearest paved road three miles. The nearest public phone more than five miles away. This was the 70s, when there was only one option for phones: Ma Bell. They couldn’t figure a way to turn a profit by running that much line to our house, so they didn’t.

At any rate, I loved growing up there. I was so close to the hills and the trees and the wildlife I came to love. I even made a few friends there. But, largely, the people of Gilmer County were a horrid lot. It’s no wonder that James Dickey used Gilmer County as the template for the location of his monster-story, DELIVERANCE. And the people he wrote about in that novel…well, I lived among them, and he was not kidding, and he was definitely not writing in metaphor when he described those creeps.

But, because of the friends I did make in that place, and because of the beauty of the county, I still have some nice memories and some kind feelings for the place. So I found an online forum for the county seat of Gilmer County: Ellijayforum. I hooked up there with an eye toward finding out what had changed in the decades since I moved away, and what remained the same.

Sadly, what had remained the same is that a fair portion of the population remains (as then) hideously racist. Gilmer County was easily one of the most monstrously xenophobic places I’ve ever visited, and definitely the most xenophobic I’ve ever lived. A huge chunk of the native folk there are suspicious of every outsider, and distrustful of them to an almost pathological degree. And, of course, as the county then was 100% Anglo, the poisonous race hatred could almost be seen to be dripping from the rotted fangs of the inbred, mouth-breathing white boys.

At any rate, I started reading and posting at the Ellijayforums and quickly discovered that the place was crawling with the same racist assholes who had lived there when I was a kid. When I lived there, they would openly brag how they would (and did) murder anyone of color who tried to move into the county. Today, these same racist dogs have to put up with Hispanic citizens in their county, because the folk who run the apple orchards and other large businesses there want migrant laborers to settle down and fill the job vacancies. With the rich bringing in these new “coloreds”, the monster racists are left to gnash their green teeth and spew their venom. They soon were using the forum to scream about “the Mexicans” and the “brown-skins” and announce their “Minute Man” meetings.

Alas, the forum owner tried to clean up the board. Apparently they didn’t want the town to be known as a center of vile racism. But they couldn’t police the board fast enough, and so it was taken down, and now, this is what remains of it:

Kind of a clever solution, but it’s sad to see them shut it down. So it goes. The bad guys can gather at the local Shoneys and Heil Hitler among themselves and commit buggery in the woods.

Let ‘em rot.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I wrote this as a comment at another blog. Seems appropriate to post the brief bit here:

When I was in college just after high school, there was a retired Air Force pilot in one of my classes. He recounted how, during a heart operation, he KNEW that he was floating above the operating table looking down on his own body and the physicians and nurses.

A classmate said, "Man! You had an out of body experience!"

And the pilot said, "No, I had a goddamned hallucination, you dumbass.

I don't recall that pilot's name, but he remains foremost in my mind as a right thinker.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

How to Embarrass Yourself

I am not known for having any tact. My lack of diplomacy often leads folk to think I'm a completely insensitive lout. This may be so, to some extent, but quite often my social missteps are just that: JRSmith stumbling along.

The following are a series of actual letters, the result being that I end up being a jerk. I have removed names and email addresses to protect the truly innocent. (And, yes, I could not possibly have made this up.)



The National Forest Website for North Carolina is the worst I've seen. Which is a shame, since the National Forests here in North Carolina have so much to offer and should have a superior Website to promote them.

I'm not sure what the budget is like, but the National Forests in other states seem to do a much better job of promoting the forests for recreation, and informing the public of the rewards of taking advantage of this valuable natural resource. I visit the National Forests in most of the states around North Carolina, and finding information on them is so much easier, and the information is provided in a simpler format that is also much easier on the eyes.


James R. Smith

06/13/2005 10:43

Subject Fw: Website

Not sure who this is....

W-- G--, CGFM
Acting Administrative Officer
National Forests in North Carolina
Asheville, NC
Telephone ***-***-****

> ----- Forwarded by W-- G--/SRS/USDAFS on 06/13/2005 10:42 AM
> Mailroom R8 North
> Carolina
> Sent by: V--
> Bogany W--
> 06/13/2005 06:39
> AM Re: Website
----- Original Message -----
From: "T-- S--" <>
Sent: Monday, June 13, 2005 12:55 PM
Subject: Fw: Website

We received your comment and I wanted to follow up with you; if you don't
mind taking a few minutes I would love to hear your suggestions for the
type of information you are looking for.

I look forward to hearing from you

T-- S--
Public Affairs Officer

"James Smith"
"T-- S--" <>
06/13/2005 04:38 cc
Subject Re: Website

I don't have a lot of time just now, so I'll try to get my point across briefly.

To simplify matters, I would like to direct you to the Monongahela National Forest Website for a look at a superior method of informing citizens about the Forestlands they're looking for. This is one of the finest NFS websites I've used. One of the reasons my family goes at least once per year (and usually more often) to the West Virginia National Forest is because we can locate detailed information on their facilities online so easily.

Another good Website that I use often is the one for Jefferson/Washington National Forests in Virginia. This year my wife and I decided to stay at Beartree Recreation Area and were able to get a lot of information on that facility before we finalized our plans.

These are the kinds of sites the North Carolina National Forests need to have at work. I don't know if some college students at UNCAsheville are cobbling your Website together for college credits, but that's what it looks like. Frankly, it's graphically sophomoric, and trying to find information on specific areas in North Carolina's National Forests is a tough go at our Website.

Well, there it is, briefly.

If you want to look at the websites I mentioned, the one for Monongahela is

And the one for Jefferson and George Washington National Forests is here:

Mount Rogers NRA is here:

And Beartree is here:

I hope this helps. My wife and I had been planning a stay at Standing Indian
Campground, but finding information on that facility has been a tough go. The brief description on that fuzzy .pdf file along with two or three dozen other facilities was not a very good option for helping us make a decision. We had just about decided to head for West Virginia again, but are taking a chance and going blind to Standing Indian.


James R. Smith

From: "T-- S--" <>
To: "James Smith"
Subject: Re: Website
Date: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 9:57 AM

thanks for the prompt feedback; actually I manage the website for the
forest but it is an "other duty as assigned" and I have no formal training
in area; guess it shows:)

I will be making a pitch next fiscal year for a position that among other
things can work on our web content; in the meantime we will keep chipping
away at adding content and improving navigation


----- Original Message -----
From: James Smith
To: T-- S--
Sent: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 4:35 PM
Subject: Re: Website

----- Original Message -----
From: "T-- S--" <>
To: "James Smith"
Sent: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 9:53 AM
Subject: Re: Website

> thanks for the prompt feedback; actually I manage the website for the
> forest but it is an "other duty as assigned" and I have no formal training
> in area; guess it shows:)

Oy. Didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but being blunt seemed to best way to get my ideas across in a short amount of time.

My wife and I had just been so frustrated trying to plan a National Forest vacation in our home state. We have no trouble planning a nice vacation in Georgia, WV, or VA, but now that we've decided to spend more time in the National Forests here in North Carolina, we're having a rough time getting the information we need.

Good luck on talking them into getting a full-time position to handle the Website. I understand budgets are tight in all of the Forests and Parks. Alas. National priorities are ass backward.

Take care. Sincerely,

James R. Smith