Girlfriend of Son #1 says perkily the other day, “Gee! My fish is still alive! It’s been a whole year, and he isn’t dead yet!”
I am good. I clamp my tongue firmly between my back teeth and smile through the ones in front. This benighted fish has been blighting my living room for a year. He isn’t dead yet because I take pity on him occasionally – when the water in his bowl is thick and green and half-evaporated, or when his color has gone from purple to faded grey, which happens when he hasn’t been fed for awhile. I get a god-like thrill from tending to him – like Lazarus, he rises from the depths to enjoy another day.
Does he enjoy his days, I wonder? He’s a Siamese Fighting Fish, and so spends his life in solitary confinement. He does have a castle, so from a materialistic point of view he’s done rather well for himself. But even the plants he swims around are fake ones. I read once, in a fit of Feng Shui enthusiasm, that artificial plants are as healthful to have around as real ones – apparently, Ch’i energy doesn’t know the difference as it floats through your space. Really? I can’t put a whole lot of faith in a universal life-force that can’t distinguish between a dusty cheap plastic geranium and a fragrant green and growing one.
But I digress. Fish of Girlfriend of Son #1 is always and forever by himself. Does he mind? Loneliness is, I suppose, the price you pay for killing anything that comes within range.
In Colorado Springs, a 70-year-old gentleman is paying the price for the same impulse. Gregory Watson has been issued a summons for third-degree assault and prohibited use of a weapon. He took aim at a squirrel that threatened his castle last Friday. The squirrel dodged the bullet, but Watson’s next-door-neighbor did not. That man wound up in the hospital, shot in the arm — and not by a pellet gun. “He received a minor injury,” says the local paper, downplaying the outrage of being wounded by gunfire while gardening in your own backyard in an affluent American city in peacetime in the middle of the day.
Have I mentioned that Colorado Springs is a bastion of self-righteous religious fervor and conservatism? It’s on fire again, which is a very terrible thing. But if artsy aging-hippie left-wing Boulder were burning, Colorado Springs would nod with smug complacency and say that it was clearly God’s judgment.
Mr. Watson might enjoy traveling down to the small North Texas town of Aubrey, where for $795 he could spend fifteen minutes in a helicopter firing off an estimated 500 rounds of .233 semiautomatic rifle ammunition. “It’s like the ultimate video game,” Dan Claassen of Helicopter Sniper Adventure told local ABC affiliate WFAA.
Folks who live near the range say they were unaware of the airborne shoots until they heard the assault rifle fire raining down from above. “The first time they were hovering right over our two acres, shooting at whatever,” said local resident Michael Lauer. “You really didn’t know (if) they were shooting at you.”
Mr. Lauer should talk to Mr. Watson’s hospitalized neighbor. Doesn’t much matter what they’re shooting at if they miss the intended target.
The $795 heli-shoot price tag includes safety training, lunch, and an awards ceremony. I bet, for the right money, the Sniper Adventure people would round up a dray of squirrels to use for target practice – artfully cover a big chicken-wire pen with some camo fabric for that natural look from above, and then fill it with varmints to help complete the wilderness conquest experience.
Years ago, my own grandfather pulled a Mr. Watson by pulling a trigger in town. He took aim at a pigeon in his neighbor’s backyard. Now, my grandfather was a genial outgoing fellow and a passionate bird-watcher. He kept a long detailed Life List in his battered copy of the Peterson Field Guide (in tribute to him, I have a Peterson’s Guide of my own. Granted, it’s the Western edition rather than Eastern; tributes are not an exact science. I tell myself the thought really is what counts).
Grampa loved his birds. But he hated pigeons.
The family legend goes like this: Grampa O’B spots yet another goddamned pigeon on his Vermont neighbor’s bird feeder, fetches his rifle, and fires into the yard next door. This, within town limits. Now, as my father says, “the goddamned Irish drink too much.” But this happens during Grampa’s more mellow maturing years, when Vichy water with a shot of bitters was all he drank. There is nothing to blame but the pigeon and the prejudice. Grampa’s neighbor, a gentle and respected fellow, approaches (somewhat cautiously) to ask what the racket is all about. Grampa shoots his mouth off about the goddamned pigeons, whereupon his neighbor says quietly, “They’re God’s creatures, too, Emmet.”
This became a humbling family adage (the goddamn Irish need a little salutary humbling on occasion).
My own father pulled a Mr. Watson last summer, and it even involved a squirrel. I was visiting, and in the middle of cooking dinner. Only my dad and I were at home. And, yes, since the goddamned Irish drink too much, we’d each had an adult beverage or two. Suddenly, Dad stops mid-sentence and says, “You stay right there.” He trots quietly upstairs, and I hear a window surreptitiously open.
Bam! Bam!! Two murderous shots mar the quiet country afternoon.
Back down the stairs comes my father, swearing because he missed the goddamned squirrel he tried to shoot from the bedroom.
I am rather happy that he missed the squirrel. There are thousands of squirrels in the woods around his house – killing one is not going to keep them away from his birdfeeder. Mother squirrels won’t advise, “Remember what happened to your Uncle Earl over at the O’Brien place. You’d best stay away from there.”
I say, with what might have been a bratty air disguised as a tribute to family tradition, “They’re God’s creatures, too, Dad.”
My sense of timing has never been good.
The fruit doesn’t fall far from the family tree. I catch myself today with intent to kill, pitching a rock at a goddamned squirrel who’d hung precariously upside down from a narrow limb in order to chew a big hole in my brand-new thistle-seed bird feeder. If I had a gun, I’d have used it. That is why I don’t have a gun.
And now, I’ll close and clean the fishbowl as penance. Fish of Girlfriend of Son #1 is God’s creature, too.