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December 2023 M T W T F S S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
The Book of Cat
I wrote a two-part article on genealogy for the Alton Telegraph a couple of years ago tracing my Jones family roots to Wales in the 1600s and the Baldwins to Scotland. Of course, the only specie on Earth concerned with such matters is humans. Until now.
Dr. Shirlee Godsend Pink-Tuchus, of Tufts University has traced the genealogy of cats, following the domestic cat line all the way back to biblical times. I recently submitted a cheek swab of Scout the cat, losing a finger in the process, and sent it to the Tufts laboratory.
A few days ago, a chart arrived in the mail, tracing Scout’s ancestors to a dark alley in Egypt circa AD 1142. Because cats do not name themselves and all they do do is eat, drink, sleep and fornicate, all we can surmise is that Scout’s great-great-great-great grandfather was Egyptian, and her great-great-great-great grandmother was a mix of Asian, Greek, and Belarussian, and that the two met and “did the nasty,” “plumbed the nether regions” or as the Egyptians call it, “got it on.” And presumably walked away and smoked cigarettes.
As a kitten, Scout was found in a vacant lot in the Chicago suburbs, and she showed signs of abuse, which may explain her reluctance to be around people. I adopted her from a shelter, and the rest is history. Sort of. No cat has ever written a history.
I contacted Dr. Pink-Tuchus, and to my surprise, discovered that she is writing a sort of cat bible, “The Book of Cat.” For the ease of the reader, she names the felines so we can follow along. In the beginning, male cat (Binky-poo) mates with female cat (Calamity Jane), and it progresses from there. They were furry-naked, so no original sin there. Binky-poo and Calamity Jane had two sons, Triptych and Sockeye, and Sockeye murdered Triptych over a rat carcass, and so it went.
There is a documented Great Flood, but a cats-only ark. Just as with the human bible, the question is where did all the other females come from? We read about the cat Moises, who was discovered fornicating on a riverboat, and Salmonetta and her cat dance of ecstasy driving alley cats wild with desire.
Dr. Pink-Tuchus’ book is rather short, as it only contains a few hundred sentences which repeat and repeat, owing to the eat-drink-sleep-fornicate conundrum. Sample: “And Shorty fornicated with Jazzy, and they begat Conchita and Pretty Boy, and Pretty Boy hooked up with Delilah, and they begat Chauncy, Hickey and Rotorooter, and Conchita fornicated with Fancy Dancy and they begat La’Chaparral and Flypaper and three malformed dead kittens which they ate, and so on and so on and so on and so on, all the way to Scout the cat.
Scout is uh, fixed—no fornication. But she has the eat-drink-sleep thing down to perfection, a model of evolution, the theory of which was discovered 100 years before Charles Darwin by the historic Bookworm Attic Pussy Cat, in AD 1645.
I highly recommend Dr. Pink-Tuchus’ book. Her next book, “Antsy,” (according to publishing rumor this project will contain double the fornication!) the genome and genealogy of Formicidae Hymenoptera, a moving saga of an ant diarist (scrawled in her own poop) searching for her uncle, will be published this fall.
“Pink-Tuchus is a pioneer of animal genealogy research. I didn’t have to put it down; I read it in 15 minutes.” Malcom Gladwell, The New Yorker. “Groundbreaking, postprandial, peacockish, punctilious, palindromic, and chock full of sex!” Marjorie Taylor Jandowkowitz, “New York Review of Books.” “I read the dirty parts.” Bobby Sandusky, Elephant’s Breath, North Dakota
To pee or not to pee is not a question. Neither is it an answer. I have been peeing all my life, in public, in ratty road restrooms, in palatial bathrooms, accidentally on floors, in jars and bottles, in showers, on flowers, on scorpions.
My mother called peeing piddling. As in, “Gene, have to piddle?” The family was dirt poor when I was little, so we took cheap vacations, traveling to Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Nebraska, to the homes of Mother’s many brothers and sisters. The piddle question always came up on two lane back roads. Dad would pull the car over to the shoulder, Mother would open the passenger side front and back doors, and my sister and I were expected to pee in the area between the doors. I’ve never talked to my sister about this, but I developed quite the shy bladder, trying to pee with cars and trucks driving by.
I was on a Khoury League ball team when I was twelve. Our pitcher, Joey, had the worst case of nerves you ever saw. He had to pee after every inning. His mom would escort him to the family station wagon and in would climb Joey and thirty seconds later, out would climb Joey, and I never asked him what he peed into. I wonder what the sixty-six-year-old Joey does.
My most memorable pee happened in New York City, at the Broadway opening of playwright Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. Before the show, I walked into a men’s restroom and stepped up to a stall. I heard footsteps behind me, and who should step up and pee to my left but the great Jerry Stiller, all five feet of him. So I was peeing and trying to think of witty repartee, thinking I wanted to yell, “Festivus!” and careful not to look over the panel. Mr. Stiller couldn’t have looked over the panel, as it was way over his head. He finished first (me and my shy bladder) and walked out, not a word exchanged. Jerry Stiller doesn’t wash his hands after peeing, which puts him in the 62nd percentile of men.
The funniest pee I ever saw was on July 4, 1967. I and some friends were at the St. Louis Arch, for the fireworks. At least a million people were there. The men’s restrooms were tents lined with metal troughs. There would be twenty or so lines of men slowly making their way to the front. The smell was pungent and eye-tearing.
I was nearing the front of my line when I saw a small Black kid, maybe ten-years-old, unaccompanied, in the line to my left. The kid looked worried, as the trough was at his chin level; you could see him thinking. So he arrived at the trough, and to his right was a ginormous white man, decked out in a white, short sleeved dress shirt that draped over his corpulence. The fat man peed, the kid fumbled with his pants zipper and a fountain of pee rose in front of him, curving to the right and onto the shirt of the fat man, held prisoner by virtue of the fact that he was in mid-pee. The fountain slowed then lowered, and the Black kid zipped up and walked off, not a drop of his pee reaching the trough.
Women go to the restroom in groups, but who knows what goes on there. The New Yorker magazine published an article about Ronald Reagan and his annual gathering of conservative pols, at his ranch in California. Reagan and Henry Kissinger and their pals apparently lined up together and peed and talked and shook their members and zipped up and decided world order.
One of my all-time favorite high school student playwrights, Laura, wrote a fabulous comedy set in a women’s restroom at a quinceanera. The cast of aunties and moms and grandmas come in and out of the restroom, peeing, powdering their noses, reporting on scandals at the reception, the sexual history of the bride, the inadequacies of the groom, the alleged sluttiness of the bridesmaids, accompanied by sounds of the flushing of toilets. Hilarious.
The most famous pee scene in the movies (mainstream movies; they pee in a lot in porn movies—so I’ve been told) was Kate Winslet’s stand-up pee in Holy Smoke, with the great Harvey Keitel. Kate’s character hates Keitel’s character’s guts, and she walks toward him, lifts her skirt and pees, rivulets running down her bare legs. It was strangely moving—the pee, I mean, and a fascinating lesson on female anatomy. I’ve seen the film, studied the film, ten times.
I have a friend who shall remain unnamed. She had a summer house, and friends filled the place all summer long. Sometimes the people combos didn’t work so well. My friend had an opinionated daughter who was dismissive of an elderly gentleman friend, a foul-mouthed, crusty neo-conservative type. The two would clash and the verbal claws would come out. One night, the daughter told the gentleman to go fuck himself. The feisty daughter went to bed, and the even feistier elderly gentleman, who had imbibed about six scotches, walked outside to the daughter’s car, unzipped and peed all over the her car.
The town of Staunton used to have a Christmas display in the square, a crèche with presentational figures of Joseph and Mary and Jesus and the wise men, fashioned from wrought iron and decorated in folds of twinkling Christmas lights. The wise men were standing, so iron stanchions were required to hold them up, said stanchions coming out of the wise men’s mid-sections, and the rolling lights giving the appearance that the wise men were peeing. Thus, the “Pissing Wise Men” were born.
I know of no pooping rituals. I bet they’re out there.
TV Narrator: Fans, Majority League Baseball™ has announced more rule changes, intending to liven up slow games even more. Starting in 2024, a new position will be added: Designated Sniper. He or she will be chosen for their skills in shooting teenage door knockers, people of certain, uh, hue, road rage drivers, and antifa.
The designated sniper will “fire a hard one” randomly from the centerfield bleachers, the stadium rooftop, the men’s restroom, the pretzel stand. Talk about heat! The bullet will travel 3,000 feet per second! Beat that, Aroldus Chapman, Mr. 105 MPH!
During play, the designated sniper’s AK-47 will be able to stop a base stealer or a pitcher or a batboy or batgirl or a fielder lunging for the ball by firing. Talk about your kill the umpire! If the designated sniper misses, they cannot call seconds.
The first trial game occurred on May 27th, 2023, at Wayne LaPierre North-Dakota Stadium in Elephant’s Breath, Wyoming, with two minor league teams the Montegues and the Capulets facing off. The following is a highlight reel. Sportscaster Don Dickson makes the call:
Don Dickson: Bidet, the runner on third has a big lead. . . Here’s the pitch. Oh, the runner’s stealing home. He slides . . . no, wait. He has been shot by Trigger Rogers, Miss Wyoming and today’s designated sniper, ladies and gentlemen! OMG, the catcher has been shot by the same bullet! The umpire calls the runner and the catcher out. They’re out out, alright. The crowd is going crazy!
TV Narrator: It gets crazier. Fans, Majority League Baseball™ hasn’t forgotten you. Upon arrival at the ticket gate, the first people to watch a game with the designated sniper rule receive chits with numbers, one of those numbers making a lucky dad or mom or kiddie a second target. The wounded or killee’s ™ family will receive team pennants, autographed baseballs, all the hot dogs they could eat, Charlton Heston’s memoir, “My Cold, Dead Hands,” and unlimited Bud Lite beer!
Now, enjoy this second clip from the game on May 30th. Take it away, Don.
Don Dickson: Two men on, two outs, infield in, and here’s the pitch. Line drive over the shortstop’s head. The designated sniper fires at right fielder Stevie “Wonder” Miller. It’s a head shot, the ball rolls to the wall, the head rolls left! Wonder’s teammates are removing his gold chain and smart watch! Three runs score!
Wait, did I hear an explosion?. . . we’re looking for some lucky shootee™.
Found her! Along the third baseline, a little girl carrying a box of popcorn has been shot through the kneecap! Her father catches the box of bloody popcorn! What a catch—sign him up!
And now ushers and paramedics are rushing to the family. . . the little girl is screaming, the parents are jumping up and down with joy, the vendors are offering hot dogs and Bud Lite! Speaking of which: Say, fans, don’t forget to stock up on Lindsey’s foot-long Bro-brats! At fine stores everywhere.
Oh, what a moment. . . The paramedics, twins Matt and Billy Joe Gates are lifting the girl onto a stretcher. Matt Gates is giving the little girl mouth to mouth resuscitation and rubbing her chest. Wait for it: Yes! She’s waving to the crowd! The sniper is fending off adoring women who are climbing their idol! Holy Cow! Our reporter, Mia Foula Fannie, is with the girl’s mother. Mia?
Mia Foula Fannie: Thanks, Don Dickson. Congratulations, mom, you must be very proud.
Mother: We love you, and Don the “Dick,” Mia! Thank you and thank Majority League Baseball™ for this wonderful idea. It takes the fear out of getting shot.
Mia (to the father): Sounds like you might get lucky tonight.
Father: I hope so. Wanna join us, Mia?
Mia: I’ll check my calendar. Thoughts and prayers to your daughter, our first shootee™. . . Don Dickson, introduce our designated sniper.
Don: Mia, today’s designated sniper is gun owner Kanye “Puffy” West-wing. Take a bow, Puffy!
We’re just gotten word that right fielder Mitch O’Conway will never be able to play again. He couldn’t keep his head in the game. Never means never, Mia Foula Fannie.
Mia: And no means no, Don the Dick. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mitch O’Conway and his wife Marjorie Tylor Moore. Back to the booth.
Don: Thanks, Mia. Say, girl, wow oh wow oh wow™, I don’t see any panties under that tight skirt.
Mia (laughing): Don the “Dick,” you pig. What would your wife Melodia say?
Don: Just kidding, kiddo. Great job. Melodia sends her love.
Mia: Love you, Donster!
(We hear rat-a-tat noises.)
Don: Wait a minute, folks. This “Wait a Minute” moment is brought to you by the Gospel of Mark. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.’ Mark 9:23.
Back to the action. Puffy West-wing the designated sniper is. . . oh my God, he’s firing his assault rifle indiscriminately, mowing down people around him. Speaking of mowed down, get on down to downtown Elephant’s Breath to Penny Pence’s Hardware for all your mowing needs. Take a test run on the new Mother Electric 5000!
Oh my God, he just shot Mia Foula Fanny! That is illegal—wait. Oh my God, the second base umpire has ruled it’s legal! Oh my God, I can confirm that Fannie has no panties! I’m being told by my producer that Puffy West-wing will be escorted out of the stadium and given a parade sponsored by Majority League Baseball™! Wow oh wow oh wow™. Fans are falling like dominoes. Speaking of dominoes, order your Dominoes’ Pizza on your way home. Try their new magic shroom and sausage pizza today!
Wow oh wow oh wow™, America! You can’t beat Majority League Baseball™! Don’t forget to press ‘like’ Don the “Dick” on Facebook. See you tomorrow, folks!
TV Narrator: As the great Yankee Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Yogi was right. Rest assured, Majority League Baseball™ is right! God bless you, and God bless America. Let our own Don Dickson have the last word, actually, the last five words: “Wow oh wow oh wow!™ (listening to earpiece) Oh, I’ve just been informed Don Dixon was shot to. . .
(Fade. The credits roll: In memorium, Mia Foula Fannie. She sacrificed her life for baseball. In lieu of flowers, send checks to the Mia Foula You-a Foula Fund for Tots.)
I Am Somebody
I was stretching in the parking lot at Clifton Park, feeling elated having walked two miles at my normal old man gait, and climbed two bluff roads up and down, and encountered five chickens walking in a row, as if in a parade, Two middle-aged ladies were holding their ski pole-style walking sticks, and when they saw me, they waved.
“Gene!” one of them exclaimed.
There was no denying it: I am Gene.
“Baldwin!” I am Gene Baldwin—I can’t recant.
Once, when I was giving a talk on Indian artifacts to a third-grade class in Chicago, an adorable little girl raised her hand and said, “Can I have an arrowhead, Mr. Bald One?” She was a logician, you see.
“Jones! Jones Baldwin!”
Oh-oh, I thought, old girlfriend from high school whose fanny I slapped, bill collector, feminist who equates me with Harvey Weinstein, online date chat that involved naked pics.
“You write for the Telegraph!”
I WROTE for the Telegraph. Then they decided I wasn’t talented enough, world class writers that they are. They said they no longer used freelancers or some such excuse, but I knew the real reason.
I was not good enough for America’s paper.
(Many call the paper the “Alton Tell-a-lie,” but I won’t. Sure, in 1984, they wrote a cover story about my New York play. The headline read: “W. Eugene Baldwin, A Poet Comes Home.” They misspelled my fucking name, and my father loved it.)
“I love your articles!”
I asked, “Who are you?”
One of the women said, “We’re nobodies.”
As artists go, I think I am as much a regular guy as anybody. I have known some jerk artists in my day, particularly in the theater. I have stood next to egos taller than the Empire State Building. Rhymes with “dammit.” Never mind. The shorter the actor/writer, the taller the ego.
“They won’t use you because you’re a Democrat,” the second woman said. I didn’t correct her on that one.
Then who should drive up, but Stevie, the elderly woman who for years ran Stevie’s Fish Stand out of an airstream trailer next to her house. One of my last articles for the more talented than me “Alton Telegraph” was about the Mississippi River flood which engulfed Stevie’s house, and the kid volunteers who showed up to sandbag. Readers loved that article.
Stevie knew the ladies, so the four of us chatted, and somewhere in the chat was, “Gene is the best writer.” I’d like to tell you that the ladies cussed out the Telegraph and vowed to cancel their subscriptions, but they didn’t. They are polite Midwesterners, after all. It ended there.
But I drove home, knowing I was somebody, and gosh darn it, I was good enough.
Just not for the Alton T——-H. Rhymes with “grapes-of-wrath.”
Going to the Theater
In the classic 1942 Ernst Lubitsch comedy “To Be or Not to Be,” the great comedian and radio star Jack Benny and the splendid actress Carole Lombard (she would die in a plane crash days before the film’s opening) play actors in a Polish theater troupe, who, with their fellow actors, outwit the Nazis. It’s a wonderful fantasy. Quentin Tarantino honored it with his film “Inglourious (his spelling) Bastards.
I watched Lubitsch’s film on TV several times as a kid, mostly because I was obsessed with all things theater long before I became an actor/playwright. Old time movies on black and white TV influenced me as much as books. The film was received poorly at first, a ground-breaking-work making satire of evil Nazis, including a one night “Hamlet” in the Polish theater at which Hitler is the honored guest.
I thought of “To Be or Not to Be” as I read about Oksana Syomina, who, with her husband fled to the sanctuary of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, Ukraine. Ms. Syomina and her spouse were in a group of hundreds of other refugees who fled their bombed-out homes to shelter in the theater. She was in the basement of the theater complex in her bathrobe when a massive explosion caused by a Russian bomb leveled the building.
Six hundred people were killed in an instant. Ms. Syomina had to step on dead bodies of children and parents in her bare feet just to escape and run to the sea. She told a reporter, “All the people are still under the rubble because the rubble is still there. This is one big, massive grave.”
The city designated the theater as a shelter weeks before. The scenic designer, using set paint, created two giant signs on the front and back sidewalks: “CHILDREN.” He or she was hoping the sign would alert Russian pilots. . . and it did—perversely.
Art is an umbrella under which are writing and painting and music and dance and theater and sculpture, all venues for expression which stimulate thought and kill no one. Beauty and ugliness, joy and sorrow, but emotive. You get to walk out of the art space and meet friends for drinks.
The reality of human endeavor is everywhere: slaughter. Between bouts of slaughter are fucking and singing and drinking and eating and cradling pets and babies and religious fervor and watching sunsets and hiking in wilderness and praising and denouncing God and then. . . More slaughter. With slaughter there is only when, no if.
By March 15, 1,200 people were sheltering in Mariupol’s theater. Women with children were put in the dressing rooms. All the floors, the balconies, the theater seats, and all the rooms were crammed with refugees. Then the bomb hit. A woman told of yelling for her mother, but tens of people were also crying, “Mom!” Six hundred people, not a soldier among them, lay dead.
Many of the survivors walked or ran to the sea. Some took shelter in the nearby philharmonic hall and then it got bombed. Over many days, Russian bulldozers razed the theater, now a mass grave.
Hate Russians? Might as well as hate Germans and Americans, et al as well. We are but one species, many cultures.
Meanwhile, I have an idea. A group of actors lure Vladimir Putin to a theater for a performance of “Macbeth.” Putin thinks it’s a comedy, takes a bite of popcorn and a long swig of Coke—which has been laced with arsenic. He stops laughing.
James Baldwin wrote of culture that Blacks from all nations cannot truly have cultures until Europeans (who designated people of color as savages beginning in the sixteen hundreds) withdraw from every country and territory they looted.
Which will happen on the twelfth of never.
Every year, only in the northwest window of my office, a family of pseudoscorpions set up home. They are the tiniest of spiders, and they have non-poisonous, scorpion-like claws, which they wave about. And yes, reader, I wave back. Their world is the space between the screen and the windowpane, and they catch and devour small insects and mites.
Which is fine by me, as I am neither insect nor mite, just a Roman sitting at his desk and watching the mini gladiators bring down meaty, ant-y carnage, and cheering.
According to entomologist Donald Lewis, “They also spend most of their lives under mulch, leaf litter, stones and tree bark and other places where they will be hard to see. They have also been reported in bird nests and between siding boards of buildings.”
(There is the old robin redbreast joke. The girl robin sees a bulge on the boy robin, and she says, “Is that a pedipalp in your feathers, or are you just glad to see me?” Ba-dum-bum!)
So, my pseudoscorpions probably live inside my house siding, and the window screen is their playground. They run up and down the screen wire, like tiny racers. And yes, I suspend work and watch these delightful creatures, and they are damn cute, though one is not supposed to anthropomorphize critters.
Pseudoscorpions are the fun spiders; they appear to play tag and they are great dancers. They watch the hummingbirds at the feeder just inches away from the screen. Perhaps they dream of hummingbird pie. I dream of Helena Bonham Carter pie—I grok dreams.
On Saturday nights, four or five pseudoscorpions gather in a circle in the middle of the screen and clap their pedipalps in rhythm and sing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee’s (I sang with them once) oldie, “Cornbread, Peas, and Black Molasses.” I call them the Jackson Five—I know, I’m not politically correct like you libtards out there. My spideys are the Jackson Five. If you don’t like it, go find and name your own pseudoscorpion boy band.
In summation, I am not ashamed to admit, I palpitate precipitously, passionately, phenomenalistically, psychotherapeutically, and photoautotrophically over pedipalps. You can have your pedicures. I heart pedipalps!
“Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way. It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people. My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens. People have a story to tell. Why not capture it.”
How lucky was I to be watching fleets of birds
Flying over the winter fields the skeletal trees
To have walked and been sung to by trilling wrens
And happy pale children and dogs chasing through the park
Having nothing to fear and savoring peace—
—while a young man of color is kidnapped
By police vigilantes murdered in measured steps
Tortured in the process while he called for his mom
The spiritual “Killing Black Youth With Our Song”
When will we ever learn never never never—
—in a world custom made for The Pale a rigged game
And I never knew it until now my White miracle
The luxury of growing old and unchallenged
And welcomed with open Pale Aryan arms
I am free the unfairness is bargain-basement fate—
—Tyre Nichols fairy tale boy of the Dark Wood
Ogres grim relentless waiting to steal away his life
Driving home is the crime the crime of place of horror
And there is no philosopher to explain this
And God is silent his will be done the Black child cursed—
—and when if ever will it end the rigged White deck
And guilt will not change it and emojis will not change it
And prayers will not change it and marches will not change it
And religion will not change it and DNA does not change it
The fact our species born of Africa is denounced is comfortless—
—so we await the next episode of SCORPION squads USA
Stalking children in city streets to hurt spray choke them
And Tyre’s mother and Tyre’s friends and Tyre’s old teachers
Beat their breasts for senselessness for absurdity hopeless
For it will not end it will not end it will not end it will not—
—how gifted am I and rich and White vibrant White free
Not knowing not wanting to know the pain of Blackness of hate
The luxury of growing old and unchallenged and free
O White o Purity o Numbness o Bliss o sweet sweet Ignorance
And having nothing to fear and savoring peace—
A mountain lion was recently hit by a car near here. Drivers stopped and watched the juvenile cat, which lay in the middle of the road. Eventually, stunned but unhurt, it stood up and bolted for the woods.
As I read the story, I was reminded of a nineties summer hike I took in a Cascade Mountain wilderness east of Seattle. That part of the Cascades was like a rainforest, muggy, tree leaves dripping with moisture, and banana slugs crawling on bark.
I got about five miles into a narrow canyon when I came around a curve in the path, and there in front of me was a man in rags. He just stood on the edge of the path and stared at me. As I walked by him, I said good morning, and he responded with a deranged scream: “You’re late!”
And he charged. For the first and only time in all my hikes, I reached for the sheathed Bowie knife I carried in a side pocket of my backpack. “I don’t know you,” I shouted. “You’re dead if you come nearer.”
I could hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth, but I knew my fight or flight response had kicked in. It was a standoff, the knife between me and the scraggly man. He stopped and stepped back. I told him if he followed me, I would hurt him. He didn’t follow, but I kept looking backward for miles. I was as scared as I had ever been.
But all that looking back got me out of another situation.
I was passing along a melting, snowy ridge, a small waterfall of melt musically muddying the path, drowning out the forest sounds. I glanced behind me. . . A tawny shape was slithering along, just the top of its back showing, stopping every few feet, headed for me. It was a mountain lion, crawling on its belly like a housecat. It saw me facing it, and it stopped then stood, its hindquarters quivering.
I reached in my jeans pocket for my keys, and I held them out and jingled them furiously. The cat’s quiver ceased, and I started singing in my highest octave some aria—I don’t remember which one—and then I jogged toward the cat, keys ringing, aria resounding, surely the first aria ever sung in a wilderness, and the cat leapt and ran off, disappearing into the forest.
Noisemakers, singing: these are in the handbook of what one does if encountering a lion or a bear. Not a grizzly bear, mind; it will eat you. I have never seen a grizzly in the wild. I have seen plenty of black bears, including one which came walking along the Appalachian trail in Virginia, me going in the opposite direction, and the bear just sauntering on by and disappearing.
In midafternoon, I had to walk the same path twelve miles back to the car. I knew the lion would not return. I also knew the crazy man might well be in the spot where I met him. But he wasn’t. I got back to the car and drove west, passing the town where “Northern Exposure” was filmed then driving by Twin Peaks. Yes, that “Twin Peaks.”
The most dangerous animal on earth is Man/Woman. There is no animus in nature, but there is hunger, something to keep in mind. If there are cubs, turn and walk back, as a mother will soon appear, and she will come after you. Mostly, when one meets strangers, we all introduce ourselves and share sightings and stories and food. The wilderness is high church for some, a hiding place for others.
No human generated art or architecture can match the carving hand of God.
“You’re dead if you come nearer.” I learned something about myself on that hike. The experience reminded me of the Richard Connell short story masterpiece, “The Most Dangerous Game,” which I read as a kid, and which informed me about my own dark and moody father.
I lost the Bowie knife because I forgot it was in my backpack at an airport, and Homeland Security took it and grilled me—who was I, where was I going, why did I need a knife—then let me go and sent me notice of a hefty fine.
If I’m ever lucky enough to see a mountain lion again, I imagine myself opening my arms and welcoming it, and holding it and taking my chances. I would be gravely disappointed if I died in bed.
Hansel and Gretel
I walked through the LaVista Park woods yesterday. It was easy to get distracted, by birds, strange animal sounds coming from the trees, the people walking their dogs. And new this year, the disc golf course, where convivial players, even when the temperature is below freezing, walk the 18 holes and toss Frisbees at cages.
I was comforted on my walk by the fact that I would not get lost. Cigarette butts thrown on the side of the trail led one to Clifton Park and back. There were other markers: bubble wrap, Styrofoam containers, bottlecaps, used tissues, crushed Bud Light cans. Bud is the favored trail marker of beer drinkers. (Does Budweiser bear responsibility? Of course not! Capitalism is unfettered; that’s how money is made, stupid.)
The village park district is always looking for outdoor activities for its residents. This is often to the detriment of the trees, something the world needs more of, but my town disagrees. It views trees as statues surrounded by open space. The park district both plants trees incorrectly—for example oak trees are planted too closely to each other, meaning certain rot for some of the crowded, mature trees—and cuts down other trees (in the name of progress?) with abandon.
There are already “scalped” parks galore including the very ugly and uninspiring Glazebrook Park with its acres of sterile, open land. Sure, you can walk it. Heck, you can walk Godfrey Road, same openness, and pavement. Perhaps the village’s vision is to cut down every tree and pave the entire village.
Once the park attractions are built, there is no monitoring of same. The result is discarded beer cans and cigarette butts, even though the parks do not allow smoking or drinking on the premises. The village believes in individual responsibility, that old Republican trope, and it has no money for park rangers. The trouble is individuals who equate disc golf and other fun, accompanied by beer and cigarettes, don’t give a rat’s behind about rules.
But good news: all of these are superior markers to the stones and breadcrumbs of the classic fairy-tale “Hansel and Gretel,” where a brother and sister are fighting cannibal witches and parents who intend to kill them. Stones may roll away. Breadcrumbs may be eaten by crows. But cigarette butts have just enough heft to be there for centuries of hikers. Because humans are so generous, one imagines altruistic cigarette manufacturers designing filters to not degrade for a thousand years—for the betterment of mankind!
The Great River Road and its paths are similarly marked with trash of all kinds. It’s as though McDonalds et al plotted together to create unrecyclable materials—plastic cups because they’re cheaper, for example—to help walkers not get lost. Plus, drivers pitch in by pitching—their trash. Once again, the principal of personal responsibility is at play.
Humans. Do not tell a human to put unwanted trash in a refuse can or follow environmental regulations—it’s Mel Gibson yelling “Freedom!” don’t you know. “Braveheart,” that’s us, kilted out Libertarian Celts ready to war with… environmental regulations! Never mind prying a gun from one’s hand, try prying a patriotic plastic cup.
Capitalists seem not to have noticed that Earth is a round ball. There will be no expansion. “Growth,” in the business vernacular, is an oxymoron. Humans are filling up every nook and cranny. Mountains have stood as classic obstacles—until recently, as states like West Virginia cut off mountaintops for coal, killing the mountains. Soon enough, we will drain every river, and then we’ll use up at the vast seas until they are salty puddles.
Then, there will be cigarette butts and plastic cups to eat. Imagine a future Thanksgiving: plastic cranberries, a plastic turkey to poke at with plastic sporks, some plastic stuffing, plastic pie, plasma donated by Grandma to drink, and we hold hands around the table dressed in our finest plastic clothing.
Until there are no trees and tons of sickly children, let the national song ring out: God mess America/Land that I trash/Stand beside her/empty cans Budweiser/and foul it ’till my grandson gets a rash!