Sitting squat on a footstool, BB rifle butt wedged against my shoulder, eyes scanning the now disheveled room through the barrel sights, finger poised on the trigger; it came to me with the suddeness of a Firestone blowout: This is being God. Hardly a revelation for a real sniper, full of godhood delusions and FBI taunts, but an oddly disparate one for me.
For months I had been aimless; well, moreso than usual. Daily ennui seemed insurmountable. A trip to the grocery store was a sentence to the gulag. Deleting 859 penis enlargement e-mails was being strapped to a bed of nails, forced to watch an A&E biography of Yakov Smirnoff. Facing an ATM machine was having acid thrown in my face and let to burn until I resembled an Iron Maiden album cover. Listening to a chain-smoking Filipino, with a greasy yellow smile, hype the finer points of a used car was to be a masseuse in a Third World leper colony.
I could not write. That line from fucking Throw Mama From The Train, of all movies, looped inside my head, mocking me: "A writer writes. Always." I would have written a revised version of the Quran with Billy Crystal's blood had I not been apparently imbued with the lackadaisical attributes of the generation stereotype known as slacker. I had pictured myself as something other than a hedonistic mutated Ritalin end product, but as day after day was swallowed into the vortex of summer, the evidence mounted.
I read a book about Greenland in order to think cool thoughts, only to find that Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world. I set out to learn feng shui, only to uncover I had been under the tutelage of a 33rd degree Freemason, with obsessive compulsive disorder, serving as a recruiter of free labor for a landscaping outfit. I hooted at a hooker with an Andy Warhol-white wig on Aurora, only to have the misfortune of discovering it was actually an elderly woman with varicose-free legs in short-shorts.
I had a crisis for the span of ten minutes, two weeks prior to my birthday. I was convinced that I was to turn 30 this year. I had visions of premature balding, greying, impotence, liver spots, dentures, regular rectal exams, social security checks, AARP membership, and June Allyson-autographed adult diapers dancing in my head. My brother reminded me that I was actually turning 29, instead. That's right--I forgot my own age. Not an uncommon occurrence, actually. I sometimes forget my own phone number, too; yet I can remember the vital statistics of Soda Popinski from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Fucking Alzheimer's.
Some days felt as if light were on the verge of bursting from its kernel of darkness. Seeing Ruud van Nistelrooy of Manchester United single-handedly dominate Scottish Premier League Champs, Celtic, live and in-person; the moment of anticipation before tearing the cellophane off a new Stephen Malkmus cd or cracking open a new Chuck Palahniuk book; discovering quirky fragments of myself beneath another girl's skin: all glimmers. As quickly as they streaked along the horizon, though, something trivial would send me spiralling back toward entropy; be it receiving a Dear John e-mail or stepping in a fresh pile at the dog park, and the gag-reflex inspired drudgery of clearing each little individual track of my trainers that comes afterward.
Then, one morning the phone rang, my uncle was dead, and whatever hope of breaking out of my doldrums was lost beneath the sarcophagus lid.
As a latter-day teen, I was preoccupied with death. I fell in love with tortured writers that had killed themselves. The very act of breathing seemed to be a betrayal of art. But, then you grow up. The feigned fearlessness dissolves, you no longer have a taste for girls with pallid skin and raw razor blade scars, your mortality is an open sore. Time becomes an enemy, and you find yourself living your life like a schedule. Novel by 30, married by 33, first child by 35. It is like living life as a contest. One deadline missed, the buzzer sounds, and the next contestant trots onto the stage, buoyant with hope. You become the pond scum in the corner of the green room that is trying to stuff as many cream-filled donuts into your maw before studio security forcibly escorts you from the lot to your new life: divorced by 45, bankrupt by 55, eating dog food in a roach-infested apartment until someone downstairs detects the miasma of your corpse.
These are the thoughts that come when someone dies. At least when it is someone you were never all that close to. It is the inherent selfishness of self-preservation. When you are not truly invested in someone's life, their death either does not register on your personal radar or it serves as a catalyst for reflection of your own mortality, though, more importantly, the mortality of the ones you really do love; the ones that make your heart hurt just to think that someday they might not be there. Because, see, truth be told, I never really knew my uncle. I knew he was sad, that is about it. His voice had this Eeyore quality. If you were to share good news, he had a way of sapping the energy out of it with one sentence. What I know of him are only through stories from my grandma. She would tell some story, and even though he was just in the other room, within earshot, scouring the newspapers for who knows what, he remained silent. Never let on to what secrets he held. He seemed to be closer to the TV than he was with blood (exception being my grandma). Admittedly, I never went out of my way to bridge the gap. There was something unapproachable about him. To get to know him, in some sentient way, was to laugh at a TV screen alongside him, never looking each other in the eye.
It was that eye, that nondescript eye, looking back at me from behind the rifle, when I realized I was being God. I thought, if only I had mastered my uncle's level of denial, the kind where you are able to ignore the physical realm surrounding you, I would not have to deal with this; my knees and lower back would not be stiff, throat parched, blood pressure raised; I would still be relaxed, reclined in a pool of light, reading the apropos titled novel, Perv by Jerry Stahl. Instead of enjoying smart-alecky, sexual hi-jinks, within a moment your sanctuary could be invaded and reality could broadside you with a rustle.
A longtime friend recently revealed to me that she is not a Buddhist, but a "baby-Buddhist" (delineation being, I suppose: one is learned, the other is still learning). Nevertheless, I know nothing of Buddhism. The scant I do know comes from Beat novels, the movie, 7 Years in Tibet, and Discovery documentaries. The sum of those sources equal: a lecherous little scene from Kerouac's The Dharma Bums where he and Gary Snyder get some hot yabyum action going on with a chesty girl named Princess, a scene from 7 Years where Buddhist workers halt work to evacuate insects from a construction site because they fear the souls of ancestors may have been reincarnated as insects, and, along that same vein--besides the interesting parts about monks using their minds to control their bio-rhythms in order to survive overnight exposure to the sub-zero cold of the Himalayas, cloaked in nothing but a thin robe--the image that remains in my head is of Buddhist monks living, side by side, with rats.
Rattus norvegicus, rattus rattus, rattus whatever. Whatever the variety of rat, it is safe to say that I hate it. Yes, I know, hate is a product of fear. And, yes, though that fear may be inexplicable, tell that to my mind. Logic says one quick stomp of my sasquatchian size 15 trainer, voila: rat waffle. Instead, illogic takes root, and suddenly I uncontrollably let out a cry, sounding, yes, much like a shrieking woman, and, yes, I shatter Hermes' split-time as I dash to the next room, wondering aloud, "What the hell am I going to do?"
You never think that you will play out a pathetic Shelly Duvall in The Shining scene in your lifetime, but here I am, my mind going from novel-reading zero to shrieking, hauling-ass 150 mph, bombarded with Willard flashbacks, Tori Amos rat-crawling-on-her-face music video, neck-swells-and-turns-black-till-you-suffocate-and-die bubonic plague paranoia, and like Duvall, I grab my Rod Carew signature baseball bat that I have not used in going on two decades, yet instead of swinging lamely at Jack Nicholson, I am slapping it against my palm with force, attempting to pump myself up to confront a grossly undersized opponent, who the least of which is trapped in a corner. (If I had an administration lurking in the background, pulling marionette strings, supplying me with a voice: I would be George Bush). Half an hour and two failed attempts at close proximity confrontation later, I dust off the old BB rifle for a little shock and awe.
Wait breeds doubt. I have not shot a gun, let alone a BB gun, in a coon's age. See, BBs do not fly true, they curve. Even with the way the couch is arranged, after having moved it away from the wall to find out what the hell was rustling behind it, so that the rat has only two ways to escape from the corner, if you factor in my nerves, lack of practice, and a projectile that swan dives once it leaves the barrel--the odds of me hitting a small, moving target is nil. I am convinced of this, convinced that once I miss, my furry friend will hightail it toward me, and again I will be reduced to a strident sissy. So, in between the sound of the rat choosing a third party exit--scratching and gnawing at drywall--I contemplate surrender. I follow the after-school special formula, put myself in my enemy's situation, and think, I could be this rat. Hot Indian summer day, doors wide open for ventilation, my cat Rover a good-for-nothing as a mouser, uprooted from home and starving because (I theorize) the neighbors abruptly moved away from their crummy duplex (like lice in elementary school, when it comes to vermin, nobody takes credit), the scent of leftover catfood or some other food draws me in, nibble, nibble, ah, sustenance, sanctuary... I lose track of time, doors close on the night, trapped, disoriented, I search for an exit, wander into the wrong part of town, and find myself looking down the barrel of a gun, into the eyes of a tin pan god, fear palpable as skidmarks. The same look mirrored in the rat's eyes; the same look I imagined in my uncle's eyes when death's hand squeezed around his heart; the same look, maybe, in the eyes of God, itself. Because, for all the bluster and hellfire of the days of yore, when Sodomites had their Scooby Doo ending, muttering, "I could have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling God," it is not so outrageous to imagine a god afraid of its own creation. Artists sometimes fear what they create, parents sometimes fear the enfants terribles their angels become, purists always fear variations, even if inspired by a form they deem pure. Fear could explain God's lack of intervention, nowadays. A god perched on its dais, omnipotent tommy gun wedged against its shoulder, all-seeing eyes scanning the now disheveled hovel of a planet, finger poised on the trigger, veiled by the anonymity of distance, ready to mow down the flock, indisciminately strafing people in the midst of their day-to-day routine, in an endless effort to kill off its Frankenstein: This is being God, and we are the rats, fucking in time to the metronome tick of the population bomb, cornered by Murphy's Law fallout, waiting, like abused housewives, for the backlash to strike upon us, sadistic, without reason.
With a change of heart, I lowered my BB rifle and clicked its safety on. The rat nosed out of the shadows, and even though my phobia squirmed inside, I walked across the room, opened the back door, and waited a long while, until the rat caught a snoutful of outdoor breeze drifting in and quickly scurried toward its source, into the night, one less bullet to dodge in its lifetime.
Happy ending, right?
Thing is I lied. I shot it, of course. Not only that, I was proud. I was one of those guys on the hunting shows: I let out a Herculean sigh as if I had been through a tremendous ordeal, damn lucky to be the one to come away the victor, then took time to admire my skill, having placed a curving projectile through an inch and a quarter gap from about fifteen feet out, target ensconced in shadows, nothing but a silhouette, and somehow nailing it dead center. It was basically equivalent to a hunter going to a ranch, deer damn near tame from being fed by ranchers, sitting up in a tree, getting stewed on Jim Beam, waiting for the buck of your choosing to appear in the clearing to eat from the pile of oats you left out on the plain, and then have the balls to act like it was some spiritual encounter. Because, that said, even though it crossed my mind for a moment what my baby-Buddhist friend would think of my transgression, I am no Buddhist. The only harmony I live with is Supergrass and Dandy Warhols records. I am that asshole that comes away with a sense of something like spirtituality from a moment devoid of any. For, even though I am an atheist, taking that oh so courageous leap of saying, "I don't know," in the days that followed that BB piercing that rat, I came to think of it as a sacrifice. Like ancient civilizations, fearful and superstitious, I accepted coincidence as good fortune in exchange for another being's death. The moratorium was lifted: my doldrums vanished, my words are flowing again. Life is as rich as a hard struck D chord. Thousands of salmon are smashing headlong up the river to fuck and die, soldiers are dying on foreign soils everyday, celebrity obituaries are plastered across screens as meaningful--there is no shortage of death out there. But if my muse ever needs another kickstart, I have my BB rifle locked and loaded, for it is said that one female rat can bear up to 40 young a year. To hell with terrorists abroad, I say, how about the ones that might be plotting under my house?