Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Defense of Lucifer

I love the devil.  Not in the bow-down-to-the-dark-lord kind of way.  I'm averse to sacrifices and midnight meetings in the forest -- who has time for that?  No, I love him aesthetically and philosophically.  He can be found on my kitchen wall, on my keychain, on my vehicle (as a she), and if I ever decided to finally get that tattoo that Bev is always on about, you would find him just above my left hipbone.  Yes, he's scary-sexy, but it's more the idea of him that compels me to hang him about.

I'm not much a fan of the sodomizing, Bosch-inspired devil or the three-mawed, frozen-in-hell devil of Dante.  I like the pitchfork devil, the bifurcated-tailed devil, but most of all, the winged devil.  Lucifer.  The fallen angel.  I like him because he had the balls to balk at the idea of being given life simply to worship someone else.  God called it pride when Lucifer challenged him and cast him out.  Maybe there was something in him God hadn't counted on. Ultimately, Lucifer was creative.  Maybe that's what pissed God off.  Like Dr. Frankenstein... there's nothing more irritating than when your own creation gets a mind of its own. 

Next week I'll have a little to say about Cain and Ham and other biblical shaftings.  But it's almost Halloween.  So I'm giving the Devil his due.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Passeriformes Lamenticus

I live in a neighborhood of small, narrow backyards. The occasional fence impedes the progress of the current brood of 15 rather aggressive turkeys and most other earth-bound creatures, but fifteen feet up, there is a pine-lined strip of open sky that runs the entire length of the quarter mile or so of my street. Birds seem to love flying at breakneck speeds down this thoroughfare. And we have a lot of birds. It is like some kind of avian superhighway.

Birds scare me. I have a history with them (outside of the usual shit-christening, which I'm sure most of us share). When I was in college, my daily walk to my summer job as a bakery wench took me through a park with a large, stagnant pond. One day I was slightly alarmed by a red-winged blackbird, entirely upset with me; he swooped, once, dangerously close to my head. The next day, he flew above my head, screeching and threatening to actually land on me until I broke out in a full run (embarrassing to say the least but the trees shielded me from the large city avenue that bordered the park, which was, thankfully, empty at the time). And on the third day he made contact, with my head, pecking at my startled scalp, impervious to my hysterical flailing and screaming and ducking. As there was no sidewalk on the other side of the road, and as I didn't much relish the thought of waiting to take an erratically-scheduled city bus a mere three blocks, and as I could not afford to quit my job, I came up with the brilliant plan to carry an umbrella with me to shield myself from impaling beak and tiny talons and the distinct possibility of having my eyes pecked out by the fucker. Sweaty grip on plastic umbrella handle, upon entering the miserable park, I immediately heard his thrashy, throaty complaint, his undeniable protest to my apparently disagreeable presence. Chemical fear. I opened my umbrella and started running. He, because this is me, flew immediately under my parasol, somehow got himself all turned about so he was upside down, gripping fiercely to my bangs (another reason not to wear them), at which point he started pecking at my forehead, threatening to break skull, to eat brain. And my panicked reaction? To pull the umbrella down on top of us both, pinning him to my head, as I stumbled-ran blindly through the shrubbery right into oncoming traffic. Horns blaring, bird screeching, me screaming and bawling and swearing and bleeding. Traumatic. I started taking the bus.

So why would I, you ask, only ten short years later, adopt a featherless, infant starling which I found pinned between a bottle of windshield washer fluid and my garage wall? Because that red-winged blackbird ate some of my brain. And because it seemed so helpless. And I'm a sucker. I made a nest for him out of a styrofoam cup, I fed him cat food out of a straw, Bev's daughter and I dug up worms for him and cut them up and fed them to him (until I found out about chokeworm, a parasite found in earthworms, which could have killed the little bugger -- and which likely would have been a better end). For a very long month, I fed him every two hours, I took him outside with me while I gardened. Motherless, he learned to fly -- and one day he flew away. For ten minutes. When I called him, he flew to me out of the trees. We were happy, Screech and I... He had his freedom; I had a tame wild bird. But then, like an ill-behaved or mentally-challenged child, he became an embarrassing nuisance. First, he landed on the elderly neighbors as they gardened, violently demanding to be fed, as was his way. I could hear their screams from my kitchen. So, I went over and talked to them as he perched obediently on my arm. They fell in love. Then he landed on the mail lady, who never fell in love. Then it was the UPS delivery man, who dropped his package and nearly threw himself off my retaining wall in his attempt to escape my winged wonder. Thankfully, as he was to deliver most of my wedding gifts that summer, he said he thought it was grand once he recovered from his terrified embarrassment. Screech sat on his shaking arm. "The damndest thing..." he said. His final act of avian lunacy came only days later when he paid a visit to my family/neighborhood cookout. I wanted to show him off. "Watch this," I said. I called, he came swooping down from the pines. The "oohs" of delight were soon replaced by the shrieks of despair. Screech was not graceful, nor was he quiet. Every visit was a demand for food, and he loved heads and hair and anything near the facial orifices. I had taken to wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat that summer. His visits were assaults, and he abused every unfortunate guest sitting in the quiet repose of that early summer evening. He made the rounds. Some ran toward the firepit, others in circles. My soon-to-be mother-in-law simply sat in her lawn chair, eyes closed, immobilized and whimpering slightly as he yelled his profanities in her ear. But the next day he was gone. It is my belief that Bev's cat, Felix, ate him. But it could have been that he just flew away and joined his starling brethren. Or maybe the rejection at the cookout was too much and he flew himself headlong into a picture window. Whatever his fate, I was sad. Well, sort of sad. I had become secretly afraid of him, of course. And he was needy and obnoxious. But the moral of the story is this: if you love something, set it free; if it can't fly (yet), break its neck or stomp it to death.

And finally, seven years after Screech, the crow. Last March I was standing in my narrow backyard, pondering the sorry state of my tarp-covered garden which has lain fallow since the arrival of my children. I was contemplating imaginary tomatoes and figments of sugar peas, when I was distracted by dangerous, acrobatic squirrel sex taking place in tree directly in front of me. This went on for quite some time (you wouldn't think squirrel sex would last so long). Lost in some kind of distorted daydream, I failed to see the crow hurtling toward me. It seems he somehow also failed to see me. I heard feathers on wind, turned my head, and there he was, as surprised as I, furiously flapping his wings in reverse to arrest his forward progress. I ducked and closed my eyes very tightly; the tip of his wing brushed my cheek. It was a black feeling. I opened my eyes; he was already above the trees.

Shaking, ohmygodshaking. Blessing? Curse? Rare, yes. Surely this had some meaning. Or are crows like humans? Do they get distracted while they’re flying? Was he watching the squirrel sex too? Or was this punishment for my watching the squirrel sex? It is kind of creepy that I was standing there watching it… and I’d probably be creeped out if I caught a squirrel watching me do that… but why would a crow care if I was watching a squirrel? Maybe instead of having the personalities of the animals in fables and children’s stories, the creatures in my backyard are like characters from Dynasty, all sex and punishment and jealousy. Of course, all of this was distracting me from my real fear – that being brushed by a crow’s wing is somehow portentous. Was somebody close to me going to die soon? Was I going to die soon? After all, this came just one week after my visit to the psychic when the sword cards kept coming up. I couldn't shake the memory of how quick and quiet his visitation had been. That silence bothered me.

But I moved on, past that, past the swords… and life went on, too.  Whew.  Then about a month or two ago, Bev’s husband told me that crows have the ability to recognize and remember individual humans. Further, they can communicate to each other about specific humans. In disbelief, I looked it up. The New York Times confirmed it. They can pass their hatred of specific people down through generations (why do I assume it only applies to hating? I’m just sure it does…).  It doesn't help that I'm a Hitchcock fan.  It doesn't help that I've been touched.  I'm worried again.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Once a Tickle, Now a Rash

About three weeks ago, my three-year-old son saw this video. (How he saw it is a discussion for another post on lazy parenting strategies, a topic on which I consider myself an expert.) Since that day, we have watched the video no fewer than four times a day. We have uploaded the song for him on our iPods so he can listen to it in the car. Is he running the show, you ask? Yes, he is. Isn't this my just dessert for not monitoring his viewing habits? Sure. But it still beats the more offensive songs in his repertoire: "The Wheels on the Bus," "London Bridge," "Twinkle, Twinkle..." You get the idea.

The question, of course, is what the long-lasting effects of repeated exposure to this video will be on his three-year-old mind. Pyromaniacal tendencies? A healthy fear of angry women? An unhealthy attraction to angry women? The ability to count backwards from nine? A bizarre and difficult-to-fulfill clown/transvestite fetish? Or just really bad taste in music?

Another question: have I inadvertently recreated the song's central message in my own home? "This used to be a fun house" (before we heard this song).

Aside from the counting, can anything good come of it?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Doing Business As

It was a bad summer. I'm back. I'm glad to be here.