Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Death on Red Bird Lane

The young creature lay in the muddy ditch, her last few breaths painful and labored.

I was only surprised that this had not happened sooner and more often. Sure, I’d taken lives before, twice intentionally, but those were old, bitter chickens. (It’s harder to kill a chicken with a .45 Colt M1911 handgun than you might imagine.)
This time it was just another vehicular tragedy, one car vs. one young whitetail doe.
I’ve lived in the country most of my life. I see live deer at least a couple of times a week. I have always been watchful and cautious especially in the morning and in the evenings when deer get brave enough to roam. But it’s still pretty much a numbers game, drive enough miles amongst that many deer, it’s bound to happen eventually.
I’ve had a few close encounters. Several years ago I was taking my morning walk down a country road as I did every morning for several years. The road was lined by old cattle fencing which was overgrown with various tall and climbing weeds in most places. I heard a queer noise. (I’m taking that word back) from behind the brush. It was as if someone were coughing; short, sharp staccato coughs into a large steel barrel. At the time I had no idea what it was so I went ahead and wet myself.
Within seconds a large male whitetail leaped over the fence right in front of me, hoofs clattering onto the rough pavement. I froze. The buck didn’t. He was braver than I in this situation. He took a couple of quick steps then launched himself over the fence on the other side of the road. I took a moment to reflect on what I’d just witnessed. Though still slightly shaken, I did absorb the event. As I was absorbing there came a rustle to my right, then a whoosh as five females, moving as if connected, leapt in turn over the fence, onto the road and over the fence on the other side, no more than five feet in front of me.
Then they were gone. All turned quiet. I quivered, marveled and stood awe-struck for a while. I had noticed something disturbing. They did not look both ways before crossing. This simple lesson usually honed into preschool human children was completely unknown to these fair creatures. They did not look around; they merely followed the buck and each other blindly.
This was the first of a couple of deer-related lessons I have learned, and taught to some of my children.
1. Where’s there’s one deer, there are probably more, and they aren’t paying attention to you.
I recall telling my story to others at work that day, each and everyone I told it to had their own story of deer and roads, occasionally ending in disaster. It seems everyone I know has had close encounters or been the son, daughter, sister, brother, spouse of someone that did. The stories usually involved vehicles and tragedy.
I thought about this a lot, especially as I drove past that very spot twice a day, at sunup and sundown. I always slowed down near the area, expecting history to repeat itself in a bloody and metal mangling way. I thought about what to do if it indeed happened, just casually driving home from work then WHOOSH! a gaggle of deer leaps over the fence into my path. I studied the area. It wasn’t that different from any of the other country roads I drove, blind curves, narrow, shoulder-less stretches, fences, fence posts, utility poles, trees, and always sharp, deep, rock lined ditches. My options would be limited should nature ever attack unexpectedly. No matter which way I veered I would not fare well. The ditch would bend the frame of the car, the fence posts, poles and trees would certainly crush the front end as well as deploying the airbags into my beautiful face. Crossing over to the other lane would risk a head on from some redneck hauling ass in his mammoth rusty pickup truck.
I decided then and there on lesson number two.
2. Don’t swerve, ever.
This rule applies for squirrels, dogs, cats, raccoons, koalas, and flamingos as well, depending on where you live. Swerving is far more likely to get you mangled or killed than just hanging on and punching through. Apply brakes of course, but if I recall correctly it takes a 40MPH car about six miles to come to a complete stop. You aren’t going to be able to stop in time in most cases, but you can try to minimize the damage; the damage to your car that is. A deer’s spindly legs weren’t built for lateral assaults by Oldsmobiles. The animal is most likely going to die.
Does that sound sad and heartless? It shouldn’t, everything dies eventually. Death is just a part of life; well it’s the very, very, very end part of life, but still a part of life. Deer used to have natural predators in these parts that took care of the dirty work. Bear, wildcats, saber tooth possums and giant carnivorous frogs.(trust me on the frog thing) We’ve all but eliminated those natural predators, in fact we’ve pretty much replaced them. We have become the deer’s only remaining living, breathing predator except for fleas and ticks, and those tiny things take forever to take one down.
Out in the country where I live the number one killer of deer is starvation, disease and freezing temperatures. Okay, okay, that’s more like the top three killers but you should get my point. Nature itself kills more deer than all the rolling steel that Detroit has managed to put out. It is our solemn duty to take on the serious and somber reality we inherited by eliminating the other predators.
3. Deer are stupid, or evil.
They aren’t wise and lovable furry pets as depicted by that mass murderer of animals, Walt Disney. His classic cartoon ‘Bambi’ was no more about wildlife than Spongebob Squarepants is about cleaning supplies. ‘Bambi’ was just another animated metaphor about a coming of age youngster that just tragically lost a parent. (Walt killed off lots and lots of parents, especially moms. Just think about it. Even Nemo’s mom was sacrificed for mere entertainment purposes.)
Deer are basically rats with bigger eyes and longer legs. They are not sweet, affectionate, gentle creatures. You’ve seen the video of the deer brutally attacking the innocent hunter haven’t you? They are wild creatures with no manners and no respect for boundaries or authority. They may appear cute and timid, but they are no more innocent than the perfectly harmless blacksnake you hoe in half in your garden or the mice you trap and poison in your attic.
Tens of thousands of years ago (or six thousand years ago depending on your belief system) early humans domesticated wolves to become their best friends, not deer. Why is that? Because wolves could put two and two together and deer could not. Not literally, true mathematics still seems to elude dogs, but what I’m trying to say is that wolves/dogs figure things out, they learn from past experiences. Deer just don’t seem to. (Also deer could probably never successfully intimidate cattle enough to be able to herd them, the cattle would probably just snicker)
Also to that point, my brother’s old small pickup truck was attacked by a crazed covey of deer just a few months ago. Four of them leaped right into the side of his truck as he was innocently driving to work. The damage to the truck was significant and expensive. Two of the deer died immediately of snapped necks, the other two ran away, limping and cursing. This example points out that deer are either A. Stupid, or B. Vicious, suicidal terrorists. I’m actually cutting them some slack by calling them merely stupid.
This morning started out no more dramatic than the previous thousand or so. The sun had been up for mere minutes, I left the house at my usual time, ready for the long commute. Klondike road to Red Bird Lane, to Hillsboro - House Springs Road, to Hayden, to Highway 21, then on to St. Louis’ own modern version of the Trail of Tears, I-270. This morning’s run ended early on Red Bird, no more than three miles from my house and just around a gentle curve. Directly in front of me stood a doe, a deer, a female deer. She bolted, as did the two behind it. Unfortunately that move put the lagging two directly in my path. No road shoulder, a deep ditch, trees, all the pieces I had imagined were in place. My self training and indoctrination kicked in. I applied earnest braking, non-skid, and hoped for the best. In those mere nanoseconds of rapid brain activity I saw it all. I calculated that the third deer was simply not going to make it, it would clip the passenger side of my small car with its full broadside, and there was no way around it. I even envisioned the possibility of it crashing through the windshield into my lap as noted in some of those stories I’d heard.
It was over very quickly; I pulled to the side of the road, engaged the emergency flashers and examined the damage. The deer was in the ditch, totaled. I didn’t approach it because that would be stupid. You’ve heard the stories. It was either dead or dying or just waiting for me to get close enough to her to attack. It was either the deer or me, today was my turn to survive. I had no gun or long knife to put it out of its misery if it was suffering. It lay lifeless in the ditch, not even a flinch.
The car fared slightly better. The headlight cowling and the hood took the brunt of the impact. No mechanical damage, but the hood was dented and pushed in and up a few inches significantly reducing its otherwise near-perfect aerodynamic profile.
I drove home to use the phone to call the insurance company; there was no cell phone coverage on Red Bird. Within fifteen minutes of the accident, I again passed the spot where it had occurred. Sitting there were three large pickup trucks idling and flashing. Four or five overall and becapped men stood by the trucks starting longingly into the ditch. The animal would be turned into food for these men’s families; the purest, earliest form of recycling.
Yes, it bothers me that I killed a deer. I like animals and usually go out of my way to avoid hurting them. I anthropomorphized the deer and its family and friends. I then realized that this was just silly. Her family and friends did not even slow down or look back. Deer lack sympathy, compassion and grief.
I reviewed my self-taught lessons, don’t swerve, deer are stupid, where there’s one there are more. I still stand by them. I’m sorry that a deer had to die for no better reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But then again, that’s how they all die.

Part 2, the sequel, some days later.

My car is in the shop, possibly for quite a while. The deer damage requires a new hood and a new headlight assembly and maybe some tweaking to the front quarter panel. Parts availability is an issue for a ten year old Oldsmobile.
For the first two days I drove Angel’s 2005 Trailblazer SUV. I had never driven it before. It’s big and large and huge. My 2-door Olds Alero is tiny in comparison. The Trailblazer’s ride is very smooth and it runs very quiet. My Alero handles pretty good; it’s low to the ground and holds the road pretty tight. The Trailblazer is a cruise ship by comparison. Its brakes are exceptional, by which I mean in better shape than the Alero so I made a LOT of jerky, erratic stops in the big SUV.
I suppose I could eventually get used to it.

This morning I left the SUV since Angel needed it to transport some dogs. Instead I took Adam’s car. It’s a ‘99 Cavalier with one hundred and seventy thousand miles, large primer spots and only three hubcaps. It was never intended for anything other than getting him to class and work. He has taken it down to Springfield a couple of times though.
I started to take it yesterday but got worried. First the check engine light was on, that didn’t bother me too much, but the radiator light kept coming on and going off. I turned around after a couple of miles and took the SUV instead.
It was just a month ago that I lost the main fan belt on the Alero. I was on the Trail of Tears (I-270) when lights started popping on, the steering got stiff and the temperature started rising. I was able to eventually coast it into a gas station where I spent the next couple of hours in the rain watching a local mechanic fix it right there in the parking lot. I shelled out nearly three hundred, cash (no checks or credit cards please) and lost a couple hours of work. When the Cavalier’s dash started blinking I had flashbacks and decided I did not want to deal with another car crisis this soon.

I called home later and asked Angel to get Adam to check the fluids, etc. Turns out it was just a little low and that everything else was either a known problem or not a problem.
So this morning I crawled in and decided to not worry. It started just fine though with a little puff of dark smoke and a few rattles. It smelled like hot oil and old age. Unmistakably this car had been around the block more than once. The steering was stiff and not quite centered, the wind whistled through the dried and cracked door seals. The interior lights were dim, the stereo was knobless. The worn cloth seat fit somebody like a glove. I could hear every piston stroke of the small engine. Once on the highway I threw caution to the wind and opened it up to 65. It purred along nicely. In a way it felt comfortable, familiar, the stiff steering was actually a good thing, it was responsive not squishy.
This car seemed oddly familiar, it rode, smelled and sounded just like my old Mazda.
Five or six years ago in Maryland, I decided to get a project car and fix it up Those of you who know me can stop laughing any time now, I’ll wait.

I paid six hundred dollars for the 1985 Gen 1 RX7. A two seater with a rotary engine, a leaky oil cooler and virtually no paint left on it.

I spent an additional thousand bucks to get it to pass the state inspection; tires, alignments, rocker arms, brakes, and a few other parts I’d never heard of and to this day am unsure if they actually exist. I spent several weekends chasing down electrical issues. The original wiring harnesses had been spliced and rerouted several times in the 20 years since originally installed. Nothing ended up being where it was supposed to be.
It took two solid weekends just to solve the puzzle of why the stereo fuse would blow every time I turned the headlights off. (False ground).
I drove this car as my daily commuter for nearly two years. I never did get it painted and I never trusted it enough for cross country cruising. But for going to and from work, it was just fine, almost fun and fearless. A couple of trim parts did fly off in a high wind once, but other than that and the ever-present trail of oil, it did it’s one and only job quite nicely. I sold it for slightly less than I paid for it not feeling bad about that. I’d had my fun, and was ready to slip back into practicality.
Adam’s car got me to work in plenty of time, no fuss, no muss. I remembered to turn off the headlights (the headlights in the Olds and SUV are automatic) and left it in the parking lot, unlocked, heck, I could have just left the keys in it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Viral emails, life lessons finally challenged, innocent lemmings being murdered by Walt Disney. . .

We all get these emails I believe, no not those, the others. You know, someone reads something they find interesting, amusing, or inspirational and forwards it to you and about eleven thousand other people, half of whom will also send it to you.
Often these things are distributed blindly. Many of these ‘viral’ emails contain misattributed works or outright falsehoods. This should not be news to you. I decided to go to and check this one. * ( the * indicates a footnote.)
Well, well, well. It turns out that indeed Regina Brett is a columnist for the ‘Plain Dealer’ and she did compile this list. HOWEVER… She’s not ninety, she’s only in her early fifties. That’s right; she’s the same age as me. Which means that I am potentially just as wise as she.
When I said she compiled the list, I chose that word carefully and with some malice. None of these are her original thoughts or words. This infuriates me, and I assume (hope) it bothers her. This is her most popular column ever and she didn’t even write the nut of the thing. She collected a pile of bumper stickers, church signs, Hummel figurines, kitten posters and 'Family Circus' cartoons and found some homilies she liked and then made a list of them. Wow… what a great gig that would be.
Just for grins, I decided to challenge her entire fluffy philosophy, line by line. Below is the article as sent to me, with my commentary added in italics (the slanty letters).

Written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, in the "The Plain Dealer" newspaper, Cleveland , Ohio :
"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 41 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:"

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good. Correction… Life is not ‘good’ it’s just assumed to be better than death … by how much is always debatable.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step. What? Step into even more certain uncertainty? I don’t’ think so... Stop, drop and roll! Duck and cover! Retreat! Your next small step may be the last one the lemmings took! ** ( See note below!)

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Unless they really, really deserve to be hated.. then it’s better than candy.(ex's anyone?)

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch. You obviously have never met my friends or family. At least my job pays for part of my health insurance.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month. The only way I could do that is by paying them off with other loans or credit cards. I’m sorry, but I learned financial management form the government. I just hope I'm deemed too big to fail.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree. I disagree, vehemently and so should you, so there.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone. Crying isn’t about healing. Only time (and maybe money) heals.. crying only gets you made fun of by other dudes. It also makes your face all red and puffy. That is just not a winning look in my world.

8. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck. Gee thanks, NOW you tell me.

9. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile. Chocolate is a only a flavor. Easily enough resisted if you just put on your big girl skivvies and act like a responsible grownup.

10. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present. I choose to not only make peace with my past; I completely ignore it at every possible opportunity. However my ‘present’ still gets screwed up anyhow. Whats up with that?

11. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. Yet you seem to know 41 secrets that will make my life better… hmm… your hypocrisy (or merely flawed logic) is showing.

12. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it. That sort of takes all the fun out of it. What a buzz kill. It also makes me suspect that you’ve never actually had a secret relationship, or you’d know better. I encourage everyone to form some type of secret relationship!

13. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind. Even better than just air, take a deep toke on a certain controlled substance, that’ll really put your mind at ease. (so I hear)

14. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful. I did, that’s why my family and friends won’t be around to bail me out. Make up your mind.

15. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger. No, it just makes you not dead yet. I’ve been near death a few times, and I’m still an overweight, out–of-shape couch potato.

16. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else. Happy childhoods are vastly overrated. It’s what you do with whatever shambles were handed you that truly defines your character.

17. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer. Unless that thing you love is socially awkward, or even unacceptable, like fondling strangers… I would really, really love to fondle certain strangers… should I take ‘no’ for an answer?

18. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special. Today? Not so special, I’ve got a headache.

19. Over prepare, then go with the flow. This is silly, going with the flow completely negates the need for preparing and planning. I say, why expend the frontend effort?

20. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple. You don’t remember the seventies do you… ‘Purple’ was quite the thing…

21. The most important sex organ is the brain. But even that organ tends to be premature or hopelessly flaccid a lot more than it once was.

22. No one is in charge of your happiness but you. Never, ever, ever put me in charge of anyone’s happiness, especially my own.

23. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?". I said that very thing during Hurricane Katrina, and my first marriage… turns out that the answer is quite often ‘Yes”

24. Always choose life. Unless you are buying food. Dead food tends to take a lot less preparation.

25. Forgive everyone everything. But forget nothing…

26. What other people think of you is none of your business. "I think you are a lazy, incompetent idiot…So you’re fired." Hmmm, maybe sometimes it IS your business.

27. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time. Just ask any lawyer, it isn’t always TIME that heals best … quite often large sums of money work just as well.

28. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. Or not… If all things change then surely the validity of this statement will as well.

29. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. You’re kidding right?

30. Believe in miracles. Miracles are like luck, there’s no real harm in believing in or hoping for such things, just don’t count on them.

31. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now. Don’t take stock of your life? Wow, who’s the underachiever now?

32. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.... I don’t think you are qualified to make that assertion. I’d like to actually hear from some dead people, old and young as to which is preferable.

33. Your children get only one childhood. And they only get one liver, stomach, brain and nose as well. I’m not sure of your point.

34. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. Really? Living in a box on a cold street corner addicted to crystal meth doesn’t really matter in the end? Your crimes against humanity don’t matter in the end as long as you loved?

35. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere. But only outdoors?

36. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back. Not on your life. I’ve really, REALLY boofed the pooch a few times…

37. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. Wanting something we don’t have is exactly how we evolved into the fine creatures we are. We are born completely helpless and must rely on others for everything. The shrill cry of a hungry baby is completely selfish. It demands unashamed and unapologetically to be fed and tended to. Is this form of envy a waste of time? No, it’s how we survive and thrive. To stop reaching for more, to stop wanting more or better is to settle for who, what, and where we are as the best it can possibly be for ourselves. H.G Wells described people like this. They were called the Eloi in his book: 'The Time Machine'. ***

38. The best is yet to come. Man, I certainly hope so…It's been a real all-uphill roller coaster ride so far..

39. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up. Unless of course you feel like you have H1N1… then please, please stay in bed.

40. Yield. You are saying do not lead, do not set goals, do not strive for your own better wants and needs, let everyone else go first? Really?

41. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.. Life is not a gift, it’s a result. Your parents… well you know what they did.. and you were the result. They didn’t even know what you would turn out to be. And yes, sometimes life isn’t pretty.. duh. It took this lady 90 (53) years to come up with that nugget of wisdom? Man, I 'm way ahead of her on that curve...

Feel free to email this article this to eleven thousand people.



** Lemmings do not actually commit mass suicide.


There, I’ve beaten her word count, used original thoughts, conducted actual research, included references and footnotes. I’ll sit back now and wait for MY Pulitzer.