Thursday, December 13, 2007
Mad Bee Flies By
My father spent his entire working career at Ethyl Corporation, the company that made the anti-knock compound -- basically of lead -- for automobile gasoline. When I was a boy and you went to the gas station, the attendant would ask, "Regular, or Ethyl?"
Sometime in the late fifties or early sixties, the company formed a recreation association for its workers. They collected dues, bought some property, and built a big swimming pool out the Old Hammond Highway, in what was then the country. The ERA pool was open to workers and their families. Well, as long as you were white or could pass for such.
I worked there as a lifeguard for three summers as a teenager.
The summer I was seventeen, the guards all got together and took a trip to Mike Scanlon's grandparents' house, which was around Thibodeaux, Louisiana. The family home was on the edge of a swamp and bayou, Mike's grandparents had several flat-bottomed boats, called bateau (French, for "boat," I think) with outboard motors, and a house full of rifles and shotguns.
We divided up into two groups of three or four boys, got into a couple of bateaus, and, bearing .22 rifles, went out to cruise the swamp to drink beeer and harry the alligators. The biggest of the gators were twelve or fourteen feet long, and you could skip a .22 bullet off their backs without damaging them.
I had a little Beretta pistol, chambered in .22 short, a Minx. Not much gun, but the first handgun I'd owned outside BB-pistols.
Most of us were country boys or raised by parents who were, and knew how to shoot and the safety rules. There was one guy, call him Wheeler, who had no experience with guns -- though we didn't find that out until later.
Wheeler wasn't in my boat.
We cruised up and down the bayou, shot at big wasp nests, and floating beer cans, the latter of which we tossed into the water once we had emptied them, like that.This way the hell and gone out into the swamp, miles from any houses.
Then, on the opposite side of the waterway and maybe sixty feet away from my boat, Wheeler decided to shoot at something in the water between the two craft.
The gun safety rules, more or less, are these. 1) Never point a loaded gun at anything you don't want to see destroyed. 2) Guns are always loaded. 3) Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. 4) Know what is behind your target in case you miss. There are other rules, like keeping the gun pointed downrange and like that, but those are the big four.
Wheeler cranked a round off. The bullet hit the water at a shallow angle, bounced off like a skipped rock, and smacked into the side of my boat with a nice metallic clunk!
In a very loud and agitated voice, I indicated that Wheeler's intelligence was on the low end of the human scale, that he had engaged in sexual congress with his female parent before he switched to homosexuality and began to enjoy fellatio.
Before anybody could reach up and take his rifle away, Wheeler laughed and fired another round in our general direction.
I heard the bullet go past my ear like a bumble bee on speed. Six inches to the left, it probably would have killed me.
I wasn't afraid -- I was royally pissed off, and it was everything I could do to keep from pointing my little pistol at him and emptying the magazine. I wanted to do it. I came this close. I was enraged to the lip of deadly violence, the proverbial red haze.
At which point, Mike, or his older brother, Pat, grabbed Wheeler's rifle, jerked it away from him, and offered their own choice words as to his parentage and lack of intelligence.
So, no harm, no foul, but aside from the lesson that teenagers who drink beer shouldn't have access to guns at the same time, the big one that came home had to do with the hindbrain. The reptile part of us under the reasoning mind, where the basic operating hardware and software lie. Where that primal beast that dwells in the cave exists, ready to deal with the essential survival questions: kill-or-get-killed, go-or-stay.
And what I realized, then, and more so later, is that when that beast steps out, all bets are off.
That at our core, no matter how much civilization we have tried to pave over it, the apes still have pointed teeth, and can be like the gators: killers. We might regret it later, it might cause us emotional pain, but when the beast is awakened, it rules until it does its job and goes back into the cave.
King Kong versus T.Rex? Put your money on the gorilla ...