Friday, February 22, 2008

Piles of Guano on Magic 105

When I was a little kid, my family and I had the horrendous misfortune of having our home become a pigeon roost.

I'm not talking about a couple pigeons. I'm talking Tippy Hedronesque -- nest upon nest, filled with pigeons that crapped like cement mixers. Our eaves and the walkways between our house and the neighbors' would get covered in piles of guano so deep that archaeologists would stop, thinking they were Indian mounds.

The droppings were so acidic that they literally would eat through asphalt shingles and cause the porch roof below the eaves to leak. White streaks ran down the side of the house. We were ashamed. And nothing worked. We tried plastic snakes, and gummy, sticky stuff that they supposedly were loathe to sit in. I think they took to using both to reinforce their nests.

Aside from the physical mess, the cooing just about sent me over the edge. You might think is soothing when you first hear it. But when 20 pigeons think they're roosters and start arguing in a Satanic chorus right outside your window at dawn, it becomes Cheneyesque torture, like having glass ground into your face or hearing Jeff Tanchak give a weather forecast.

Coincidentally -- or not -- my brother John and I finally prevailed upon our parents to get us a Crosman 760 air rifle about the same time the pigeons began to get out of hand. The 760 was no Daisy spring-ding. It was the kind you could pump up -- and up and up. A poor boy's Benjamin, as it were.

Now, I confess that at that age, I might have fantasized that it would be great to grow up, get a .30-30 and shoot a deer and enjoy the great outdoors and all. I might have checked out "Outdoor Life" from the library. I plucked some deer photos out for target practice.

But I wasn't a bloodthirsty killer. I never hunted until college, and only a few times at that before I realized that while marksmanship was a hoot, blasting a bunny or a bird to death for no good reason felt kind of ... well, sinful.

Nonetheless, sometimes there comes a point in a man's life when he is left no choice but to take up arms in defense of something fundamentally dear. In my life, that time was when I was about 9, and the fundamentally dear things included sleep, and shingles.

I won't drag this out too long, but one day a pigeon sat on the Schraders' roof, no more than 20 feet from the bedroom window where I'd already ripped a hole in the screen just the size to accomodate a pellet gun's barrel. I pumped the gun at least two times more than the recommended max of 10 pumps. Then I took aim and fired a Charles Whitman sampler.

I was the Audie Murphy of the Squab Squad, picking off pestilence and vermin with my parents' tacit approval. I expected, or hoped, that the bird would wobble, gasp and maybe do a half-spin before falling forward, like the marauding tough guys always did after Alan Ladd or John Wayne blew them away. Instead, the pigeon fluttered down, two stories, to the ground.

My heart raced as I ran downstairs to find the carcass. But when I stepped out the side door, I was most disturbed to find the pigeon standing there on the ground, as if it were waiting. It looked at me -- a bloodless stare of blank recrimination. Suddenly, the fun started to go out.

It had to be hurt, I figured -- probably mortally. And I knew it must be suffering, which was the last thing I wanted. A sportsman takes down his target with one clean shot, right? Some sport I was. I'd just done the equivalent of snapping a leghold trap on a muskrat.

Guilt washed over me and a lump rose in my throat. I have to end this humanely, and quickly, I told myself. One more shot -- the proverbial "out of its misery" round. So I pumped up the gun 10 more times, loaded a BB and fired, almost point blank, into its head. The bird blinked. A drop of blood ran down the side of its blue-green head. Then it started to stagger away. Oh my god, I said. I've got no choice but to do it again.

But this time, as I pumped up the rifle, the bloodied bird began to trot out from between the two houses. Into the front yard. Where the neighbors could see.

Lots of the neighbors had pigeon problems, too, and wouldn't mind a bit of pest control. But they wanted something unseen and sanitary. They surely didn't want to have to be confronted by the violent mechanism, nor the executioner.

The bird seemed to know this. Maybe it remembered the public-opinion impact of My Lai. So it ran -- walked, really --- across the Schraders' lawn with me chasing it and pumping on that gun's forestock lke Joe Morgan at the plate.

Pufft! Another shot.

Blink! Another ghostly ocular taunt, a wink at my guilt-thrashed soul.

That pigeon, I thought, must be in searing pain by now. It was all my fault. And still the bird walked away, onto the Millers' lawn.

Then it made a mistake that had to make us both feel better: It wobbled into the little right-angle crotch where the Millers' concrete steps met their porch. There, I stood over it and fired. And fired again. And again. It took seven shots in all before the bird fell down and quit moving.

I looked up to see the Graff girls and their mother staring slack-jawed at me, eyes bulging in fearful disbelief.

I wanted to explain that I wasn't being a psycho -- I was being humane. I was trying to end mad suffering as quickly as possible. Their faces, however, told me I was heading for hell.

The point is that the whole escapade started out nobly -- I wanted to eradicate the vermin that were damaging our home and potentially spreading disease. But I wound up looking crazy. My parents found out and I got in a bit of trouble -- mainly over the embarrassment and spectacle. And frankly, I felt horrible about how it all went wrong -- too much suffering and mess.

Which is why I did not go get a big-boy gun -- say, a .270-cal. Remington bolt-action rifle -- and walk into the studios of WMJI-Magic 105 the other morning, even though the vermin known as Lanigan and Malone are far more noxious and full of shit than those pigeons.

You may remember the Lanigan show as being the open sewer of hatred toward cyclists -- the show where the hosts screamed about how "bikers" don't belong on the road. The show that egged listeners on with laughter as callers told tales of whizzing pop bottles at cyclists, or running them off the road. Ha. Freaking. Ha.

The escapade became just the sort of minor scandal that DJs love -- naughty publicity coast to coast and a faux apology from Clear Channel that let the show milk even more pub. Some well-intended dumbasses accepted the apology and maybe a $200 tax-deductible donation to Don't Kill Bike Riders Very Often, Please, and called it even.

Lesson learned? Obviously not.

This week I was driving to work in a storm of snow and freezing rain and accidentally hit the MJI button. This time the two corpulent pustules were railing against pedestrians, joggers and dog-walkers who had the gall to use their feet on the plowed streets instead of walking on the snow- and ice-covered sidewalks. The nerve! Lanigan was getting all worked up. What right do they have using the roads? What's a fatass radio host supposed to do -- drive his Caddy all the way around the runners, two feet to the left? Why bother, he implied -- run them down because they don't belong.

I'm not a hater, usually. I have my bad days, sure, but I don't really wish heinous things on people, even enemies.

But in this case, would it really be hateful to eradicate the vile plague that is that show? Or would it be like certain wartime heroics, where an act that's evil in another context becomes an act of nobility that saves society from, say, Nazism?

It would have been exciting to pull the trigger. But what if the hosts just lay there gurgling? What if they kept blinking? I know I couldn't handle that.

And I know that jury selection would be too risky, given the number of haters around here who think Lanigan's rants are entertaining. So I would have probably gotten grounded for a long, long time at LCI.

But I couldn't help but dwell on it as I rode my bike at lunch today. I thought of this:

I have a brother who is a pretty good man, a guy who has given the world three great kids and who has served as a police officer for 34 years, clearing our streets of killers and threats. My brother has cancer that very well may be terminal, and he is suffering through the treatment as I write.

I won't bring myself to Lanigan's level and advocate violence. But I can dream. And I hope this is the dream I have tonight: I reach down my brother's throat. I grab his cancer like a bloody black catfish and pull it out. Then I turn to Lanigan and Malone. I open their mouths and shove that cancer deep into them, and I let it go. Then I laugh about it with my listeners.

Aw, shucks. I'm just joking. C'mon ... it's in good fun.

Get it?

- JN


Rick said...

i guess the SBR stuff is done then?
jk....see you tomorrow.

Eric said...

one reason why I have Sirius radio in my car. Lanigan is a fool.

Hope your brother does well with his cancer. He's added to my thoughts.

Ray Huang said...

wow-and i do mean wow. I am blown away by this and I couldnt agree more. Great writing once again.
Thank you and best wishes for your brother.

JC Sell said...

Maybe Lanigan will spill his coffee on his switchboard and ZAP ZAP ZAP, he'll give himself the chair!

thump said...

This really is a poignant piece, and beautifully put.