Garage - Track
Feb. 02, 2008 - 10:55 p.m.
The Food Chain
One of the perks of my otherwise lowly position at RadioMonsters, Inc. is that I am granted 30 days vacation per year. That's not 30 consecutive days, by the way. We're talking 30 work days here. If I took them all at once that would be six continuous weeks of being paid union scale for sitting around in my underwear testing an already overtaxed liver.
Ok, before you go getting all jealous...I'm just kidding. I don't wear underwear.
So anyway, if I ever start bitching about how cruddy my job is and how I'm thinking of leaving and my life stinks because I have to get up at 3-am five days a week so I can sit in a booth and do nothing but sound pleasantly authoritative for 7 hours a day, please print out a copy of this entry and ram it forcefully up my nearest orifice. I'll thank you for it. (I probably would anyway, come to think of it.)
I just recently enjoyed a few of those *cough*hard earned*cough* vacation days as a matter of fact. A week unshackled from the pressures of fighting off groupies, plugola, and feigned civility. I didn't go anywhere, just kinda re-charged the hamster wheel. Mostly by keeping it bathed in a combination of Oban single malt and hickory/mesquite BBQ smoke.
What I noticed through both my literal and figurative fog is that this is an ugly time in North Jersey. April may indeed be the cruelest month, but January is the filthiest.
Grey rules our blighted world. Ashen faced denizens, low on Vitamin-D, huddle in dun colored parkas beneath Canadian Arctic fronts and coastal warming systems battling overhead. Ice pellets from invisible clouds in gunmetal skies pelt us daily.
Pillars of snow stand grimy sentinel on every corner, covered in the salt, sand and deer entrails mixture our D.O.T. sprays on the roads in vain hope of providing some traction. It's not uncommon to see a tiny pair of boots poking out of them, the only visible clue that some kid barreling down the hill on sled or hubcap didn't make the turn and just plunged headfirst into the hideous obelisk. The parents won't find his remains til the thaw. In August.
You'd think the thousands of acres of pristine woodland surrounding DangerHouse would remain somewhat more bucolic than the roads during winterís siege, but it just ain't so. This is New Jersey. The air here is 58% nitrogen, 11% oxygen, 9% carbon monoxide, 1% argon, and 21% fecal matter. We all have the lungs of 6 year old London chimney sweeps, and our foliage likewise pays a heavy price. At the first opportunity every piece of arboreal greenery literally leaps off branch and twig to burrow as far underground as it can, preferring a life of mulch to sunny effluvia. One day in early September we go to sleep looking out our window at a vast panoply of majestic autumn colors, the next morning we wake to an ocean of giant matchsticks on all sides. All the leaves have not only fallen overnight, but they've somehow all managed to escape. We have desperate flora.
So it is, then, that by January of every year the 6,000 acres of Natural Wonder which spreads out from DangerLawn on every side looks more like a poo colored expanse of telephone poles than a forest. Even the evergreens are stripped.
Even the houses, what few there are, turn sullen. We've all been fed Hallmark/Disney/Charles Wasocki/Thomas Kinkade images of winter scenes for so long we think that's reality; cozy cottages snuggled in cozy Middle Earth grottos, with cozy windows glowing from warm comforts within, blanketed in a cozy coverlet of snow, puffs of apple scented smoke lazing up from the chimney. Kinda like this. EXACTLY like that, as a matter of fact.
The reality is that houses cower in fear during New Jersey winters. They squat and tremble, reducing headroom as their wooden frames shrink and shift against the cold. They refuse to turn their lights on at night, hoping blackouts will shield them from the enemy above. And wind? I've had friends from Chicago leave for home twenty minutes after having just driven fourteen hours and 810 miles to visit me. You'd think my home had no walls, only a front door and a roof. However, it's just that the wind here is so damned thick. Imagine wave after wave of microscopic depleted uranium rounds slamming into your house hour after hour for weeks on end. Mere brick and mortar is more porous than my dad's fishnets in the face of that.
Of course Casey the Wonder Corgi notices none of this. His ancestors were bred to herd Auks out on the arctic ice floes. They long ago lost all cold receptors. Snow, sleet, liquid nitrogen - none of it registers. It's never too cold to go for walkies. So every afternoon I put on my NASA surplus lunar exploration suit and waddle along as he randomly pelts up and down the frozen trails at 40 mph after absolutely nothing.
After 7 years I'm pretty used to it. What still surprises me though is that Gloria the Boneless Kitty always insists on joining us. She's small, even for a cat, and doesn't seem the type to go roughing it out on the tundra. But, though the drifts be several feet over her raised tail, whenever she hears Casey yapping at the door in pre-walkie excitement she leaps up and shoots out the doggie door to tag along.
A regular stop on our walk is a rocky outcropping that juts out over a valley in the middle of the park. It's one of those "You can see 3 states from here!" spots that we always bore friends with when they visit. I plop down there on my insulated ass, Casey casts about for whatever woodland creatures aren't hibernating, and a half hour later he comes trotting back so we can continue on.
And so it was last Tuesday. I got home from work around 2, knocked together an asparagus-n-jelly sandwich (I'm trying to healthy up my diet, but have to do it in stages) then donned the space suit and grabbed the leash. Casey and Gloria bolted towards the horizon down the trail, and I wallowed ponderously behind til we got to the outcropping. Same olí, same olí.
Now, one January feature that is not soul scorchingly bleak, and one of the reasons why I continue stopping at that outcropping, is that Northern New Jersey lies along a raptor migration route. This time of year hawks and eagles of various stripe all pass overhead on their way to someplace less toxic. (A few do stay, and the lakes near me even feature some year 'round nesting Bald Eagles. They've even re-introduced Peregrine Falcons in the past decade or so.)
So while Casey tore around corralling invisible ruminants, I sat and watched the slow kaleidoscope of feathers twirling by. Some were above me, some below, and some I could look right in the pinion as they circled at eye level. It's quite beautiful, all snarkiness aside, and it's particularly great when a bunch show up at once. I sit with my back against a big oak, shielded from the wind, and just watch the parade. Gloria usually stretches out on a bare rock nearby, soaking up as much residual warmth as possible.
Which is where she was this particular afternoon. At least for the first ten minutes. It being a brutally windy day, any solar output was overwhelmed instantly by yet another Canadian Cold Front pushing it away at Mach 4. Seven pounds of pet cat didn't stand a chance. It was dive into daddy's coat or be transformed into a pussy-sicle (which, come to think of it....).
This happens a lot in the winter, so as soon as I saw her stand and turn towards me I unzipped the top half of my Columbia and spread the flaps. She trotted over and sprang the last three feet right into the opening.
And as soon as she did...
You know how, a fraction of a second before you're hit with a pillow or a St. Bernard puppy, you hear a 'whoosh and sense a slight air pressure change? That was EXACTLY the sensation which just began to register in my brain before my immediate world was blasted apart in a hail of grit and feathers.
A HAWK - a motherfucking 4 foot wide Red Shouldered HAWK - slammed into the ground RIGHT WHERE GLORIA HAD BEEN LESS THAN A SECOND AGO! It was trying to snag my cat!
And this sucker was MOVING. What's the terminal velocity of an adult hawk in full dive, anyone know? Whatever it is, that's what this bird was doing. I'm telling you, when that thing plowed into the ground - just inches from Li'l Elvis, btw - I didn't hear or see a thing until almost the moment of impact. Just the beginnings of a 'whoosh', a quick pressure on my left cheek, then a reddish lightning bolt all in under a second. It was that fast.
It was that startling, too. My instant buttock clench was so strong it literally threw me from my sitting position five feet to my left. There's no other explanation for how I ended up that far away flat on my back.
Gloria had a startle reaction of her own. She extended all 4 claws, plunged them straight into my chest, then partially retracted them so they were set like fish hooks in a Grouper. She wasn't taking any chances, even if it meant bleeding daddy dry.
But that was NOTHING compared to how the hawk was faring. At first I didn't even recognize it as a bird, let alone a hawk. There was just this formless brown koosh-ball lying there with thousands of ruffling cilium swirling and twitching in the wind. I was about to crawl over and poke it with a 9 foot branch when suddenly half the koosh ball unfolded and a gigantic wing popped straight up into the air. Then a frighteningly oversized claw, bright yellow and covered in massive plate armor, slowly pushed out of its side, a foot off the ground. At that point the entire formless lump rolled 90 degrees onto that claw and the bird stood up.
It still had the one wing completely extended, but the other remained tucked tight to its side. The second knurled claw wasn't able to fully telescope out, causing him to dance in tight circles as he constantly lost balance in one direction. His head was turned sideways so one eye looked straight down at the dirt and the other straight up at the sun. And his beak was jammed almost vertically open.
For about ten minutes that's how things stood. I lay watching as he continued that halting pirouette, one wing out, one eye up, one down, beak open. I wanted to help, but...what could I do? I probably have about as much training in Emergency Avian Medical Procedures as you do. And besides, Gloria the Cat was continuing to burrow into my flesh and I was starting to weaken from blood loss.
Gradually though, with what was obviously Herculean effort, the hawk did manage to reboot. He kept spinning, but his head finally twisted right side up, the straight wing folded a bit and the folded wing straightened somewhat, and his upper and lower beaks eventually met. Then the stationary circling ceased also. He actually looked like a bird again, something I wouldn't have guessed 10 minutes earlier.
I don't think that hawk ever even noticed me. I'm sure he saw me - once his head was back in its normal head position he began clicking it left and right, up and down, assessing his surroundings - but I wasn't of any particular concern. And considering his five inch long, Sabatier sharp beak was working again, he was right.
He stagger-hopped to the edge of the outcropping, flexed his wings partway open, and jumped.
I quickly crawled to the edge and peered over just in time to see both his wings finally extend fully. That pulled him out of his dive, maybe 200 feet below and with less than 20 to spare. With a bit of a wobble in his flap he was off and flying horizontal, then a minute later he was gone over a hill.
Back at Dangerhouse I peeled off my coat and called for NewWifey(tm).
"Honey, could you bring me some disinfectant and a roll of gauze bandages?"
She came trotting around the corner from the kitchen.
"A roll of...why the HELL is the cat attached to your chest?!"
"She was attacked by a hawk in the woods, and for some reason she now can't seem to relax her claws."
NewWifey(tm) looked at both sides of the cat, then gently tried pulling a paw off. No dice. We were one.
"I'll get the needle nosed pliers..." and she trotted back out to the kitchen.
I lay on my back as NewWifey(tm) twisted and prized the claws from my flesh one by one. As each was freed she rammed a mini-marshmallow on to keep Gloria from re-inserting. By the end I had my chest back, but it looked like the Tivoli fountain spouting Chianti. Gloria sprinted away as fast as the marshmallows would allow, and didn't come out from under the day bed for several hours.
Meanwhile NewWifey(tm) troweled an entire tube of Bactine onto my chest hair, wrapped my upper body in a makeshift bandage (a spare bed sheet), and jammed a bottle of Maker's Mark into my face. I sat mummified, sucking down bourbon and watching "El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera!" episodes (my new obsession) until bedtime.
Despite the pain I actually dropped off pretty quickly. I'm guessing 30% less blood coupled with 80% more alcohol may have played a part, but whatever. I had no trouble sleeping.
I also had no trouble waking up at 2:15am, which was when NewWifey(tm) sat on my face.
Now, this is not an atypical way to start the day at Dangerhouse. Or at least if isn't on the weekends. Usually, despite a perfect storm of libido, booze, and Irish constantly swirling inside her, NewWifey(tm) manages to squelch her carnal mania on my work nights, knowing how precious sleep is to someone who gets up at 3am. But this morning, desire (booze) must have gotten the better of her. I smelled that ol' familiar musky tang, felt that furry mound cross my cheek and cover my mouth, and then the top of my head got wet.
The...top of my head got wet?
Ok, THAT'S not usually one of her perversions.
I reached up and felt around.
NewWifey(tm), normally carefully coiffed at both poles, seemed to have sprouted a tangled, matted, LARGE mass of pubic hair overnight.
I extended my two first fingers and began to massage, gently probing.
AND HER VAGINA BIT ME!
"What the fuck are you doing?!" I screamed at NewWifey(tm).
"Hzzznn...hmgggff...huh? What?" she said, from four feet away on the other side of the bed and obviously still half in Morpheus' grip.
I bolted upright and flipped on the light.
There was a rabbit on my pillow.
A very large, grey, half dead, bleeding profusely wild rabbit. When the light came on it started squeaking and waving one paw feebly, fending off invisible attackers.
Gloria was sitting at the other end of the bed, licking her paws and paying no attention to either of us. She had delivered her Thank You gift to me, and now she could chill and groom the rest of the night.
The light also woke NewWifey(tm), who rolled over and found herself face to face with a bunny missing half an ear and bleeding out of its mouth.
The scream she let out woke the dog, who couldn't see what was going on from inside his crate but naturally assumed from all the hubbub that the Mailman must have finally gotten in. He immediately let loose a nonstop barrage of frantic howling and began hurling himself at his cage door.
This was one of the very few times I've ever, EVER, seen NewWifey(tm) at a loss for words. She was backed up into a corner of the bed breathing hard, her eyes wide and body shaking. It looked like an episode of Happy Tree Friends had broken out in our bedroom.
Obviously, I had to do something. But I was due to leave for work in an hour and a half, so that meant drinking to forget was out. Time to fall back on Plan B: I put on my robe and a pair of winter gloves, gently scooped the hapless bunny off my pillow, and carried him down the back stairs to our yard. When I set him under the overhang of a blighted shrub, he just lay there panting.
I went back inside, calmed down NewWifey(tm) and Casey the Wonder Corgi with booze and Benadryl respectively, and swapped out the bedding for something less crimson streaked. Then it was off to the shower to wash bunny blood from my hair. By then I was nearly late for work so I just threw on a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt, grabbed my headphones and a loaf of bread for lunch, and sprinted out the door.
Where I was just in time to see an owl swoop down and carry off the bunny.
Man, winters are tough in New Jersey.