Saturday, December 27, 2008

Birds Shoot Back

It's tough to be the man of the house when you've just learned to drive.

See, my parents split up when I was a kid, and my dad ultimately moved far away. So I was left as the Sole Non-Chihuahua Male in a house with my mom and younger twin sisters. So the traditional Man Crap fell to me, but I had no one to guide me. No testosterone Sherpa. (I do actually have an older brother, but he is about 14 years older from a previous marriage, and was not living at home for most of my childhood memory.)

What if something happened to the car's alternator, or any other problem not solved by adding gas to the tank or air to the tires? What if I had to run some high-gauge copper wire behind the wall to do whatever you would need to do in that situation? What if we were attacked by crazed Visigoths who wanted to break our A/C unit and make off with the women? What if all the grocery stores were destroyed and I had to hunt for food?

Well, I could learn about that last one. My Uncle Don invited me to come with him and my cousin Marc to kill birds. Don't worry about dinner, Mom -- I'm bringing home a trove of fresh blue jays.

I must have been 16, since I remember being excited about making this long drive alone. Uncle Don lives on the far side of Athens, AL, a drive of just over an hour from Huntsville. I remember it was autumn, both because of the weather and because we scheduled this for an off-week for Auburn's football team. Don had the guns, ammo, and land. All I needed was my killer instinct.

I know shit about guns. Thanks to my choice of reading materials, I know far more about phasers and swords. I got the quick lesson on shotgun use: don't point it at anyone, and hold the butt hard up against your shoulder before you fire. The recoil hurts a lot less if it's just pushing against your skeleton than if it gets a running start. You can test this yourself. Hold a book up to your shoulder and have someone hit it with a baseball bat, then again without the book.

Two hours later, I'm standing alone in the middle of a field, feeling like an idiot. There aren't any birds out here. I hear the occasional shotgun boom in the distance. I'm guessing that Marc is just shooting to make us think he found birds. I do actually see a deer. I level my gun at it, but I don't want to shoot it. Starting to think I don’t belong out here. The deer is heading off Uncle Don's property, which is dangerous. The neighbors might know how to hunt.

Then, I see a bird! It's coming out of some trees and flying RIGHT TOWARDS ME. I can hear it CHIRPCHIRPCHIRP, but to me it sounds like HAHAHAHA. It's maybe 50 feet off the ground.

Safety: off. Butt: firm against the shoulder. This is before I ever had a physics class, but I do know I have to lead it a little, but it's hard because it's coming straight towards me against an overcast sky. Closer.... closer... The gun barrel is rising higher and higher...


Most memories replay in our heads very much like we experienced them originally. We see them as movies filmed through our eyes. The details may fade or change over time, but the perspective remains the same. But sometimes, events live in our memories as still shots, like a photograph or a drawing, and we see them in the third person. That's how the memory of the shotgun blast lives in my mind.

In that instant, three things occur to me simultaneously:

  1. I didn't lead the bird enough
  2. I didn't have the shotgun tight enough against my shoulder
  3. I have just fired a shotgun straight up in the air

Me: "SHIT! Oh shit! Fuck fuck fuck!"

Bird: HAHAHAhahaha.... (continues to fly in perfect safety off into the distance)

I already said I didn't know physics, but I did know enough to know what happened to things that went straight up.

I drop the gun, collapse to my knees, bend my head down to the ground and cover my neck with my hands. For several seconds, nothing happens. Maybe the wind took the pellets? Maybe they reached escape velocity? You see celebrating Muslims firing machine guns into the air all the time. Maybe I am more a danger to the shuttle than to myself? But no.

The first pellet hits the ground nearby with a soft thump. Soon, more and more are thumping, like microwave popcorn almost ready to eat. I hear, more than feel, one hit my jacket. It doesn't penetrate the fabric, and I have been a big fan of air friction ever since. It seems like they fall for several minutes, but I know it must have been only a couple of seconds.

I stand up, searching for my gun and dignity. In the direction the bird went, I hear "BLAM!" "HAHAHAHA"

Glancing around quickly, I don't see anyone. My standard male Fruit of the Looms have turned to lacy silk, but no one is the wiser. What little taste I had for hunting is long gone, and I spend the rest of the day deliberately shooting away from live animals and never raising the barrel higher than 10 degrees above the horizon.

We gather again after we're all out of ammo to see how we did. Tallying up our kills, we have a total of zero, although Don and Marc brag of some "near misses." The only person who hit anything was me when I shot myself, but I don't tell them.

Since then, word has apparently spread that I am no danger to the avian community. There are always birds around, from LBJs to birds of prey. I was even adopted by a parakeet, but that's another story.

Support your local grocers, people. I'll be dead without them.

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