Quiet in my neck of the woods.
And I mean woods. Florida flatwoods made mostly of pine and spiked here and there with a squad of oaks, live oak and water oak. One of the oaks monopolizes my frontyard, its brancches sprawl and spread and wreak havoc of sap down upon my vehicle, not to mention the excrement of the wildlife that call its branches and nestles home. It’s a frozen explosion. A gnarled old Ent. And it made me really fucking nervous during the hurricane. But it’d stood its ground, dug in with its massive roots – damn near requires an act of congress to push my trash bin over them roots to the curb – and caused no damage to my humble abode and that’s not me waxing poetic, my home is humble. Small and humble and its squats in the flatwoods and is colored like the earth and the leaves and the trees though its doors imitate a flat blue winter sky. Flat blue in the Florida flatwoods.
There’s a native wildlife section at the local zoo. Far as I understand most, if not all, zoos have a native section to intrigue the patrons with what they might find in their own backyards, even if it’s a fenced-in yard with a manicured lawn. Bears in the suburbs isn’t unheard of, hell, it’s barely news here. Bears, all variety of reptiles, racoons, possums, cats (some feral, most wild), turtles and tortoises, and gators which is always news. Incredible creatures, alligators. Florida is the only place in this whole goddamn fucked up war at which alligators and crocodiles co-habitate.
I co-habitate with nine snakes (four natives), five lizards (all exotic), a hedgehog, a rabbit, a tarantula and any given number of geckos and anoles who’ve snuck inside at any given time, also frogs and toads manage at times to find a cozy corner indoors. I catch em and release em. If they’ll allow me I feed em. Critter keepers, bird seed, squirrel feed, millet, all in my vehicle in case I meet a critter in need. And there’s a firearm kept in my vehicle in case I meet a critter in need of being left the fuck alone. C’ain’t abide the strong abusing the weak, throwing shit at em, littering the only place they’ve got go cause we’ve bulldozed the rest of their homes for our subdivisions and malls, laying traps and poison bait, just being fucking assholes. Once caught a couple guys harassing geese. These geese had just fledged. I advised those guys of their choices: fuck off or fuck off. More often than not I don’t even have to expose my firearm. My face is enough. Those guys fucked off and I gave the geese millet and left them alone.
En route to work one morning saw a possum flattened on the road. Flattened in the flatwoods. No one, obviously, had bothered to move his body. I pulled over, turned on the hazard lights, and moved him into the woods where his body could be of some use. Recycled. Most recycling occurs in plants. Makes sense. Most of the biomass is concentrated in plants; speaking of, I’ve tried, many times, my hand at gardening, not planting exactly, and maybe gardening isn’t the right word. What I do is bury dead babies (yes, damnit, my snakes and lizards and rabbits and all are my babies, fuck you if you don’t like it) in pots with a plant, usually some variety of fern, and their bodies nourish the plant and so they go on living through the plant. Plants get their nourishment from the soil, that’s a given, but also from the air in the form of chemicals including carbon dioxide which plants get through bacteria and fungi. Recycled babies. Sound sick? Disturbing? I do it however it sounds. Sure, I could just bury them in the earth but the way I do it they can be taken along if ever I change the place at which I lay my body. Speaking of my body: when it’s dead I want it put in the earth without a coffin and without ceremony. Don’t want to be sealed. Don’t want to deprive the natural world of human nutrient which is rightfully its own. Don’t want to starve the Earth. Have already waged war upon it, spilled blood upon it, kicked corpses – gotta make sure it’s a corpse – upon it and so, I figure, I owe her one. Probably simply burying my body in the earth won’t be allowed. Coffin – corpse box – or cremation. Cremation doesn’t appeal to me on account of greenhouse gases and the amount of fuel required to burn a body down to its nutrients – a corpse you can put in your pocket. Still, that’s probably what will have to be done and when it’s done I want what remains spread among the flower pots of my dead babies.
This was a topic my former fiancé had ritually avoided. I’d tried to tell her, “This is how it is: I’m deploying to a combat zone and I might come back in a body bag . . . if I do this is what I want you to do . . . ” tried three times, once before each tour, and all times she’d brush me off. Tried with mama and sissy too. Mama, before I’d shipped off for my third and final tour, had exploded, “Stop talking like that. Just stop! You’ve already come back twice. God wouldn’t kill you now. Just stop talking like that! You’re special. He brought you back twice already. He’ll bring you back again. You’re special so just STOP talking like THAT!” I’ve seen body bags filled with the bodies of special sons. Special daughters – Females aren’t allowed to serve on the frontlines, ne guh tiv, oh, yeah, well, maybe they ain’t allowed to “serve” on the frontlines but I’ve sure as shit seen what remained of them after they were killed on the frontlines, un fur muh tiv – so I’d shut up. Mama has said, time and time again, that she wants to be buried in her wedding dress. Ummm, okay. I guess after she’s been embalmed she’ll fit in her wedding dress. Ain’t fat by no means. Lives at the gym. But she just ain’t the same size. Point blank period. Just like I ain’t the same size. My job is physical, pushing, pulling, lifting, lowering, always moving and I do PT, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, but that don’t change the fact that I c’ain’t fit in my BDU. Desert digital, dig? High tech battle dress uniform – the side with the simplest uniforms wins – and sissy ain’t the same size. She’s had three kids and it shows. Still beautiful, my God, still beautiful, but not the same size. Neither she nor mama are flat. Neither she nor mama are comfortable at my home in the flatwoods. Shit, sissy ain’t never visited. Mama has done so briefly. Too ramshackle? Too backwoods? Got a kitchen sink but get water from the bathroom sink to wash dishes. Sure, I could fix it. But it ain’t a problem. When I c’ain’t do my dishes it will be a problem. No dishwasher, no clothes drier. Gotta a portable washing machine, the kind folks who live in RVs keep, dig? but it requires filling a bucket with water, pouring said water into the machine and draining said water out. Manual laundry. Not a problem. Would be a major problem for them with their automatic machines. They think not having cable t.v. is equivalent to not having indoor plumbing. Their lives are round and inflated with technology. Mine is flat. Flat in the Florida flatwoods. And I like it that way.
And I like the significance of size with respect to how any organism lives and diffuses gases and nutrients and how the disposal of its body recycles. I like the Beatles – any band that progresses from She loves you . . . yeah, yeah yeah . . . to Helter skelter . . .helter skelter . . . is ingenious. So are beetles, specifically the genus Nicrophorus whose members are the only group of nonhuman animals who move carcasses to a suitable place of burial. Not beetles. Ne guh tiv. But other species, birds and mammals, whose bodies are buried as a source of food for their babies and a cornerstone of their mating and reproduction. Neat. There are beetles who practice monogamy and detailed parental care of their offspring. Beetles are so special that I leave them the fuck alone. Gotta a tarantula, but she’s a sweetheart dependent upon me. Just a common Rose-hair Chilean, but uncommonly sweet. Loves to perch on me, lap, shoulder, knee, whatever, but it makes me nervous because, having an exoskeleton, falling from the shortest of heights can kill her. Sometimes I play with her spinarettes, weave the webbing around my finger. She don’t mind. One of a few females who don’t mind what I do.
Mama minds EVERYTHING I do. Have you eaten? What have you eaten? Did you eat enough? Hungry? Come up for supper – Mamma, I ain’t drivin’ for two hours for supper – or at least to pick up suppers you can freeze and thaw out for later. Later, helluva word. Some days I don’t eat at all. Intend to but then think I’ll eat later. And don’t. Food is not a ritual for me. Food is simply survival. And I can survive on food that is not dependent upon the death of another animal. Snakes gotta eat small mammals or birds. Lizards gotta have meat and fat. I don’t. So I don’t. Hey – found a small farm whose eggs come from hens who ain’t squashed in cashes, whose male children aren’t immediately killed. Each hen is allotted 108 square feet, bare minimum, with a dust bath and a perch, and they ain’t stuck inside unless there’s inclement weather or nighttime – protection from predators, dig? and their baby boys are allowed to grow up and they themselves are allowed to die when they die. No chicken on this farm is butchered for meat. So now I can put eggs in my egg drop soup instead of just tofu. Don’t misunderstand me; I love tofu. I also love fried eggs sprinkled with green onions. Now I can have some. Without a guilty conscience. A pleasure in my life has not taken pleasure from another’s life. A helluva thing for someone who has ended so many lives.
How many people have you killed, Jack?
Directly or indirectly?
Directly: my trigger finger pulled the trigger that fired the fatal bullet(s).
Indirectly: my orders brought the airstrike or artillery that killed the killed.
Well, hell, might as well ask me how many peas I’ve eaten in my lifetime.
Don’t wanna know.
I do know that skulls always last the longest. I know that human animals are the only consistent predators of elephants. Love elephants. And it ain’t just on account of my political affiliation. A card-carrying Republican my party, the G.O.P. – is symbolized by the elephant. The major opposing party, Democrats, are symbolized by the jackass, oh, sorry, the donkey. Goddamn stubborn. Anyfuckingway, I love elephants. On land we are to elephants what sleeper sharks and hagfish are to whales: the ultimate recyclers. We’re assholes.
The end of that paragraph and the beginning of the next had a lapse of fifteen minutes because the rabbit was expecting his greens, the lizards were expecting their mealworms and I had to make and enjoy another drink of vodka with a capful of Coke, you know, just for color, dig?
Theodore Roosevelt was an asshole depending on who you ask. He’d hunted in Africa many many many many many many times and Africa is said to still have Pleistocene fauna. Florida, flatwoods and all, had been part of Africa. I’ve read in many books that prehistoric Florida made modern day Africa look like a children’s petting zoo. I’d applied for a job as a petting zoo keeper. Had an interview. Ain’t hired. Suspect they’d thought my face would frighten away the kiddies. Ain’t just my face. Neck, chest, abdomen, back, arms . . . ain’t just my face, darlin’, so the fucking joke is on you!
I am a large (5’11”, 180 lbs, so large is subjective), big-brained H. erectus, member of species that has mastered fire, made tools for cutting and piercing, stabbing and shooting, blowing up and nuking . . . I am a poor hunter compared with a baboon or a chimp, neither of whom need tools to hunt and eat hares and monkeys. I am not a hunter, point blank period.
I am not.
Not I never have been.
And when I had been the prey had been other human animals.
Have to say that the females of our animal species are . . . dunno what . . . only know that I c’ain’t resist em. Their hair smells soooo good, no matter the length of style, and their hips have this come hither curvature and you just wanna put your hands on em, softly and innocently, put your hands on her hips grateful for the privilege of her allowing you to do so; and her feet so smooth and easy in sandals and her hands so soft and demanding and . . . hands on hips . . . mine on hers, hers on mine . . . hands on hips . . . and I’d very nearly almost but didn’t kinda did but not really had an affair with a female captain – Goddamn, sarge, her tits are higher than your rank – and she’d begged me to get out, get out, don’t serve a third, because a third would be too close to my last. Only ever seen her at the F.O.B., her being a nurse and living there and seeing the wounded maimed devastated bled out blown up and her seeing me come in with what the bullets and the heat and the . . . her seeing me with my face and most of my neck not what it had been and that’d been that. The other scars she’d considered inherent risks. The wounds that would become facial scars she’d considered a big fucking hint from the Big Six in the Sky that I had to get the fuck out of the U.S.A. (United States Army, not of America, dig?) before my service therein killed me. I kinda not really did but almost didn’t sorta promised her that I would. And didn’t. Never saw her during my third tour. Probably married a guy with a safe office job, maybe has a couple of kids, living in the suburbs with cable t.v. and a washer and drier and automatic automated don’t have to touch it everygoddamnthing. Dunno. Do know that I never learned how she feels on the inside, if she likes kisses on her ears or at the back of her knees, all those “irrelevant” places or if she just wants the main parts fondled and excited: tits, ass, humma humma, but I kinda sorta certainly but not truly belief that she would be happy living with me in the flatwoods of Florida, wouldn’t mind mice and rats thawing out in the kitchen sink nor turkey-free Thanksgivings, would understand my feeling of nakedness without a firearm, why I despise noise pollution and why sometimes I stand guard outside because . . . because . . . but mostly she would understand that fear of predators is one of the most basic survival strategies and animals, human and nonhuman alike, acquire this fear through genetic programming, learning by experience, cultural education, training at Fort McClellan, humma humma, and that, basically, I’m a nice guy. Don’t threaten me, my family (this includes my babies), or my country and I’m a nice guy.
Right now I’m a drunk guy.