Freelining with Mike Freeman: A night of overflowing horror

 Onto each day, it seems, a little sunshine must fall.
At least that was my hope this morning, when the heavy rains came down so consistently and, it seemed, endlessly, that I started to feel like it was a plot to sour my mood on what could otherwise have been a perfectly fine, relaxing Saturday.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem whatsoever with the rain. It hasn’t rained in months, and the poor plants in front of my home not only had to combat the sub-freezing overnight temperatures this week, but the lack of rain for months. For their health and well being alone, I welcomed the downpours.
But for those who think rain can mysteriously set you into a funk, can wash away your happiness and plunge you into a dour mood, on this day they were right.  I desperately wanted some bright sunshine to make me feel more cheerful, rather than sitting by the window watching the rain come down.


But the truth is, the funk had set in much earlier.

At 2 a.m., to be precise.

I’m not a late night person, and I tend to crash early on Friday nights — yes, I know, I know, another sad reminder of the fuddy duddys of getting older, yeah yeah yeah — but usually by Friday evening I’m so worn out from work that a night on the town is about the last thing on my mind. Such was the case last night. I turned in hopelessly early and had no trouble fading into dreamland.

I woke around 2 a.m., and have no idea why. Nothing in particular brought me out of my sleep, like a loud noise or a cat seeking attention, or even a particularly unpleasant dream. No, I just sort of opened my eyes, and the pitch darkness of the night seemed to beckon to me: Geez, haven’t you slept long enough? I was on the verge of being ready for the new day. Too early!!

So I got up, went into the bathroom, quickly did what nature called on me to do, and then flushed the toilet, hoping the sound wouldn’t wake up the others in the house at such a late hour.

Little did I know ….

There’s nothing more depressing at 2 a.m. than watching a backed up toilet fill to the top of the bowl with disgustingly dirty water … and then keep rising. You find yourself standing there in front of that bowl, pleading with it to stop, to resist the urge to go any further, to please have a little consideration at such an inconvenient hour — like the toilet is poised to look up at you and say, Hey, sorry, nothing I can do about it. Isn’t it strange the way a toilet that’s backing up sometimes stops just as it reaches the tipping point? And then, of course, there are nights like this one.

Over the side it went, all that dirty water, flooding my bathroom floor. There isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do at moments like this, except stand there and feel depressed and defeated. My first urge was to turn and walk away, with the justification that it was, after all, the middle of the night, and who fights overflowing toilets at 2 a.m.? Even insomniacs have to figure they’ve got better things to do.

But I didn’t walk away. With three other people living in my house, I wasn’t about to let any of them wander into the bathroom first thing in the morning and discover, to their horror, what lies awaiting them. So out into the kitchen I went, then back into the bathroom I waded, armed majestically with paper towels and disinfectant spray. I also spent copious amonts of time applying that plunger to the toilet, wondering as I did if someone had died while using it, fallen in, and gotten stuck in one of the pipes. It sort of felt that way for a while.

How can one toilet be so much trouble?

After you’ve spent a half hour dealing with something like this, let me tell you, getting back into bed doesn’t exactly lead instantly to sleep. I sat there in bed, listening to the perfect sleeping conditions — total silence everywhere — but knowing sleep was now a distant memory.
 I suppose it was just one of those nights, when everything seems to go a little haywire. I can deal with that, I suppose, if the other six nights during the week are relatively groovin’.  But I did wish I could have woken up to a bright sunny day, beckoning me outside my house to happiness and bliss.  The rain made it seem depressing, like everyone was ganging up on me just because I went to bed early. I know that’s not quite what was going on here, but when you’re feeling down, I guess you grasp for creative excuses.

It’s sunny now. The rain is gone. I’ve strolled around my front garden and my plants look happier today, so they’ve made me happy as well. Now if I can only overcome the enormous anxiety I have about stepping into my bathroom for the first time since 2:30 a.m. My poor neighbor has got to be wondering by now why I keep ringing his doorbell, asking if I could run to the john one more time ….

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When Restrooms Go Wild -- a possible reality show?

Contact Mike Freeman at

Freelining with Mike Freeman: a bullying victim in my 40s, but not in high school

Last April, I was driving with a buddy when I said something that ticked him off.  I didn’t anticipate his response, which was to remain perfectly quiet, nod his head .. then swing the back of his hand right across my mouth.
I let out a scream of  “ouch!” loud enough for folks in northern Maine to hear, and I was pretty startled that he’d responded so aggressively. Most guys, I suppose, would have pulled the car over and insisted they fight it out then and there. But I didn’t; I continued driving, and kept my mouth shut. I was thinking back to when this same friend told me, “Mike, I’m bigger than you, and stronger than you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
 That’s not the only recent incident I’ve had like this. I have another friend who smacks my hand if I try to bite my nails. And I have a third friend, a bit older than me and considerably bigger than me, who was driving me home one day when I played a practical joke on him. He slammed on the brakes, stared at me indignantly, and then said if I ever did it again he’d take me behind the car and give me a “whoopin’.”
Sometimes I wonder if I have “punching bag” written on my forehead.
The odd thing is, I’m at the age when you no longer expect to put up with this stuff – it’s all supposed to be light years behind you. And thinking about these three incidents made me flash back to my high school days. I spent three years – long, long years, it felt at the time – being the ultimate shy, withdrawn, nervous high school Geek who didn’t dress cool, or act cool, or hang out with any of the cool people. And I also went straight through high school never, ever getting bullied. 

Doesn't everybody feel isolated and lonely sometimes? For Michael Freeman, that defined his high school years, when he felt like he was invisible walking down the halls, as classmates passed him by without even acknowledging him.

I’m not saying I don’t know what it’s like to be bullied. In middle school, I was the virtual poster child for bullying victims. Thin enough to make a Third World villager look like a Weight Watchers candidate, and about the least athletic student on record, I can remember having “Prime Target” written on my back on a daily basis.
There was a long, steep hill leading from my house to the middle school I attended, and so many afternoons the bullies would give me a head start and then chase me, with the warning of a full fledged beating if they caught up. Maybe that’s how I stayed so thin as a kid, running up that hill in abject terror.
I can also remember one sorry day when our teacher left the classroom, and a classmate who disliked me got up, came over to my desk, and began punching me. I responded in the classic Geek manner, swinging my chin directly into his fist with a kind of “Take that!” virtuoso. As you might imagine, it failed miserably to discourage him.
The teacher got back in time to break up this “fight,” as he called it – although if I was swinging my fists at all, it was defensively, not aggressively – and hauled us both down to the principal’s office, where I was given three days of detention. I’m not sure what depressed me more, that I could get punished for getting beat up, or that my parents were distinctly unsympathetic to my outrage.
That was a different era. Back then, if you got picked on at school, you were expected to learn how to fight and punch the other guy in the nose. I’d known that was a lost cause about the same time I first picked up a basketball and football and thought, “Oh, forget it, this isn’t for me.” My poor father was so embarrassed to have a son who couldn’t fight back.
In high school, though, I got left alone. In retrospect, that was no surprise. My mother died during my first year in high school, and after that, nobody ever picked on me again — a strangely uncharacteristic sympathy factor among bullies, perhaps, or maybe just plain old pity. Whatever it was, I faded from the jocks’ regular hit list. 

What a Geek! Mike Freeman was a scrawny kid in high school, but the jocks mostly ignored him in those years.

Something odd happened, though. I went from being a target among those who liked roughing up the weaker students … to being someone who was totally anonymous. I was quiet, withdrawn, and had trouble making conversation. I faded away almost entirely through most of my high school years. I almost became like the school wallpaper – always there but hardly ever noticed. It was a lonely existence, in some ways more agonizing than being harassed. It’s like Pink sings: “If you’re too cool for school, and they treat you like a fool … we can always party on our own.” Well, I did a lot of solo parties in those days.. I had a nasty divorce from my distant friend self respect around this time, and I lost interest in school work entirely and relied on the pity of my teachers to get me by with sympathetic, but still passing, D grades. My father and I didn’t get along much throughout these years.  
I don’t have a lot in common with that high school student these days; my social network is pretty wide, I’m more extroverted than ever before, and anybody who knows me would hardly mistake me for being “quiet.” But one thing hasn’t changed — I’m no fighter, even today. Just ask my buddy who smacked me across the mouth. He knows this all too well.
Until that spring day when he whacked my lip, I thought my days of getting roughed up were long past me.
I don’t feel like a victim, though. There’s plenty of truth in the wisdom that if you get bullied, you need to stand up for yourself and not shrink back and take it. I wish I had adopted that attitude in middle school. Maybe I would have developed the self-confidence I painfully lacked back then.
So these days, I approach things entirely differently. I’ve gone online to find a bodyguard, and set aside some money to hire one to accompany me to various events and activities. Now, the next time my buddy doesn’t appreciate something I say and raises the back of his hand to smack me, the bodyguard will be sitting in the back seat, ready to reach over and break his wrist.
Contact Mike Freeman at



Freelining with Mike Freeman: Alone and abandoned

Editor Michael Freeman works at his home computer while Squeaky looks on, offering to help.

One recent morning, well before sunrise, my cat Squeaky woke me up. The back door leading out on to my lanai is right next to the window near my bed, and I could hear Squeaky fiddling with the cat latch at the bottom of the door. Sometimes it takes her a few times before she pushes the latch open and climbs through, happy to be back in the warm house. Usually she then jumps on my bed, climbs on top of my chest, and starts purring.

And as she did that, I felt absolutely enraged.

Now, I wasn’t angry at Squeaky for waking me – falling back asleep isn’t a problem – or for jumping on the bed. I like that. In fact, I love Squeaky because she’s one of those cats that absolutely craves affection, and I’m always happy to have another opportunity to pet her and provide her with that loving, even if it does come about just as I’m trying to get some sleep after a long, exhausting day.

No, what bothered me is that for a moment, I had this vision in my head of Squeaky being alone in the house, and there is no cat latch to let her go outside. Instead, she’s simply stuck in there.

Considering that on this particular night temperatures dropped down into the 30s, you might ask, What’s the big deal? What was haunting me at that moment, as Squeaky purred wildly to be sitting on me, is I couldn’t help but think about a press release I’d received the previous day from Niki Whisler, who is Osceola County’s Public Safety public information officer. It caught my attention; it also happened to infuriate me. It involved Osceola County Animal Control’s investigation of the death of an abandoned cat.

According to the news release, it started on Dec. 1, when Animal Control got a call about a cat inside a vacant home in Poinciana. An Animal Control Officer was sent to the house, and was able to see through the windows that the poor cat was roaming around alone in the house.

The officer made several attempts to determine if the cat’s owner was inside the home, unsuccessfully, so the officer left the property and began the process of getting a search warrant to legally enter the residence.      

That search warrant was issued, but it took several days for the officer to track down the owner of the property and then to get the property manager to let the officer into the home. When the animal control officer finally got inside, the cat was dead.

At the same time, the officer noticed there was still food and water in the cat’s bowls and that its litter box was full, indicating that the cat had been eating.

The cat was transported to a local animal lab to have a necropsy performed, and the examiner determined the nine-year-old cat had died from kidney failure and feline hepatitis, not starvation.

There are a lot of reasons to be angry about this report. Osceola County’s budget has been decimated by the collapse in the housing market and the resulting drop in home values and property tax receipts, and the county could hardly afford to pay for valuable resources to be spent like this when the owner of the home could simply have made arrangements for the pet to be taken care of.

A counter argument could be that if the cat still had food in its dish, it probably hadn’t been abandoned. But if that’s the case, why was the home vacant? And how long had the cat been lying there dead before the officer found it? Possibly up to three days, it seems. Perhaps the cat’s life could have been prolonged, even for a little while, if the officer had gotten into the house on the first day, when it was still alive.

When Squeaky came into my life, she was a stray that wandered onto my back porch and discovered the food I’d left outside for my own cats. Feeling bad for this hungry-looking stray, I gave her some canned cat food, then hoped she would disappear by morning, because boy was she cute, and I’m a total sucker for cats like that.

Squeaky rarely loses interest in getting affection.

When I went to bed that first night, Squeaky was still outside on my back porch, watching me through the window.

When I got up the following morning, I went to the back door, opened it, and … there she was, still lying there. As soon as she saw me, she sat up and cried.

So I picked this cat up in my arms, and I cradled her, and I began gently scratching her belly. Sometimes a stray will get scared when touched by a stranger and run. But this one didn’t. Instead, Squeaky began purring wildly, then curled up in my arms like a baby.

That was it. I was hopelessly in love with this cat. With her soft, squeaking cry for affection, I decided to call her Squeaky.

She had also been fixed, so it was clear Squeaky had belonged to someone else at some point. That was five years ago, and no one has ever tried to claim her, so I can only come to the inescapable conclusion that Squeaky had been abandoned by someone.  At least they didn’t lock her alone in the house and drive off. 

Does someone truly love me, Squeaky loves to ask.

I’ve heard a lot of stories like this, of people who pack up and move, and simply toss their cats aside, leaving them behind. Those cats are left to fend for themselves, hoping they find a Mike Freeman willing to put food out for them. Since I can’t adopt every stray I see, Squeaky become one of the lucky ones that got taken in permanently.

And as she sat there on top of me that frigid morning, trying to get warm and looking, as usual, for a little affection, I couldn’t help have that ugly flash in my mind of what she would have done if Squeaky had found herself alone in this house, unable to get out, totally abandoned.

Why do we do such a cruel thing?

Contact Mike Freeman at

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