Shadows Without Bodies

1

I’d been a vegetarian for about eighteen years by the time I got the urge to go hunting. I own several guns and like to shoot at billboards and beer cans, but I hadn’t had any kind of animal in my sights since my boyhood, an unspecified amount of years ago, the one time I went quail hunting with my grandfather and one of his buddies. We stirred up a covey, the buddy and I both took aim and fired at the same bobwhite at the same moment, the bird fell (although we never found him), and I got credit. I cried for thirteen hours.

It was supposed to be my weekend with Sophie, but then Maddie called and informed me of this very important sleepover upon which Sophie’s tender heart was set, and I said of course she should go slumber with her friends. I remembered what it was like in my long-ago youth: on my normal at-home weekends nothing occurred. My friends did nothing, stayed home, watched reruns, studied, were grounded, did anything but something fun or exciting. But then after at-dad’s weekends I’d go to school on Monday to find out all my friends were in a car chase that started in a Wal-Mart parking lot at 2 a.m., or they’d called and called my house to set me up on a date with **** ****, who apparently thought I could be Tom Cruise’s brother, but then I couldn’t be located so they set her up with someone else instead, some rich asshole, less handsome, less smart, less funny, less deserving and in love with **** **** than me, and now they were a couple, which status was consummated by a messy handjob in the asshole’s brand-new Ford F-250 Supercab, or—I don’t know, just about anything that went on in that region of even marginal interest was certain to happen on the weekends (every other) I was away, at my pater’s. So I understood what it was like, and I said it was fine, I’d see her in two weeks. Maddie could tell that maybe Sophie’s heart was set on this very fucking important sleepover, but my heart was set on spending the weekend with my adored daughter, but I was going to be very stiff-upper-lipped about it, and she did this thing where she was at once very pleasant and understanding and trying to make me feel better, as if it’s not that the girl doesn’t love me or want to spend time with me, just that she’s at that age where her friends (most of whom she won’t be friends with and probably won’t even remember their names in two years) are the most important thing in her life, but at the same time she was slightly hostile and put-out, which didn’t do much to enhance my mood, so when I got off the confounded phone I said, “Well, fuck,” and I went into the kitchen and ate half a jar of peanut butter, not that sugary shit that’s televisionally peddled to ostensibly choosy parents but actual oleaginous peanut-tasting peanut butter. Then I dug around in the pantry to see what else I could eat, and there I found this half-full bottle of gin that I couldn’t remember buying. I didn’t have much to mix with it, no limes, no tonic water, not even a lemon-lime soda; all I had was this sports-drink powder that I take on backpacking trips. I added gin, water, sugar, ice, and two heaping spoonfuls of lemon-blast-flavored instant performance hydration drink mix to my old cocktail shaker and shook. I named the concoction a Gin Fizzless, which I might not try to sell for $9 at a martini bar, but it did the job that night. I got to feeling very self-pitiful, missing Sophie, missing Maddie, then missing my long-ago youth and my far-away home region in a little corner of Missouri. I grew up out in the country and have always been irrationally fond of dirt roads. I used to drive fifteen miles out of the way on my way to and from school—in the days when gasoline sold for well under a dollar a gallon—just so I could take dirt roads most of the way. Somehow my mind traveled from those dirt roads to some of the dirt roads that existed between Boulder and Denver back in the mid-nineties, pre-Sophie, pre-divorce, when Maddie and I were living in Boulder. We used to drive around the back roads and imagine what the prairie used to look like, and even as recently as the tail end of last century it didn’t require a hugely flexible imagination, if you looked east, to picture the old pre-sprawl Great Plains. We’d climb fences and wander around people’s pastures, throw this old Frisbee until the sun went down, settle down and stare at the stars. There was a time, a magic little window, after the seventies-era haze and pollution, on which I missed out because I didn’t grow up out here, but before the—I guess the official word for it is boom—big boom of the nineties and zeros, when you could see the stars from anywhere in and around Denver. The air pollution’s supposed to be not as bad now as it was in the seventies, but you need an exceptionally clear day just to see Pike’s Peak, and when you combine the pollution with all the city and sub-, con-, and exurban lights you have a situation that’s not great for the telescope industry. Our pastures now are suburban slums. They’ve all been sold, divided, and subdivided and over-built on. Our favorite spots were out in this very free and open area off highway 7, where you could see for miles, and there was very little to get in the way of your plainsward view except for sunflowers and hay-bales and a single little line that I now remember as quaint and charming even though then I hated them of telephone poles. And now this whole area is some kind of sub-town called Anthem, which is part of but somehow not the same as Broomfield. It’s a town that’s not a town, a “planned neighborhood.” The median price for a “home” in Anthem is roughly $700,000, which is misleading because no house on earth is worth $700,000, even though many of the residential structures in Anthem are worth, or at least sell for, considerably more than $700,000. The median income for residents of Anthem is roughly $100,000. I know these things because I own a computer and pay—even though I think it’s stupid and every month I tell myself I’m going to cancel because the Internet is eating my fucking life away—for the goddamn Internet. Within, or throughout, the “community” of Anthem wind forty-eight miles of bicycle trails. There are twenty-two parks, more than seven hundred acres of open space, and a 32,000-square-foot rec center. But no stores, no schools, no libraries, nothing that connects it as either town or neighborhood, except a sewer line. Back to that open space, those seven-hundred-and-some acres worth: Maddie and I used to dream about what it would have looked like a hundred years ago, maybe more, with a legion of buffaloes roaming around a seemingly endless prairie. This question must have occurred to the developers of Anthem, and—maybe there’s, somewhere undrillably deep within them, some vestigial speck of humanity inside these people—they’ve sought to answer it by spending what must be tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on these sturdy, blackish-brown, life-height but not life-girth iron bison. They’re similar, I guess, to the umbrous cowboys you see sometimes in people’s front yards, longer-lasting, harder on the fist if you’re stupid enough, as I am, to try to punch and kick them, but no more substantial than cardboard cutouts. If I were an academic I might refer to this phenomenon—which doesn’t originate in but is certainly epitomized by Anthem—of replacing beloved but basically extinct regional icons with safe, reliable cutouts as the Westernization (as in movie Westerns) of the New West, where before we made movies based on the West, and now we remake the West based on (G-rated) movies. Cowboys, Indians, buffaloes—all eradicated and replaced with sanitized replicas. Every time I drive past this over-inhabited ghost town I cringe, I rage; sometimes I drive past it just so I can rage, because I need a good rage, I need to remember that I’m supposed to be fighting against something here and I can’t get too comfortable in my cozy little alpine cavehouse, in which, just then, I was sitting, half-drunk, in the dark now, thinking about those old dirt roads, this new breed of two-dimensional bison, those shadows without bodies, the ignoble fate of their predecessors, and I thought to myself, by Jove, I’ve got to exterminate the fuckers. If I’d had access to any smallpox-tainted blankets, just then, I’d have been tempted to take them with me, hand them out to the Anthem natives.

I pray for wildfires, nature’s cleanser. You hear about these people who build multimillion-dollar homes in the mountains, then expect the state to send in smokejumpers to protect their trophies when a fire comes through. The state spends millions of dollars. Firefighters die every year. I can see the justification for spending money and resources to protect towns and cities from the fires, but not individual homes that are built in high-fire-risk areas. Let them take their chances, as I do. I live in the mountains, in a house that I own free and clear and for which I paid (not including the land) less than the idiot who bought this certain vehicle that I’m going to destroy later in this story paid for his now-derelict automobile. And I have insurance. You also hear about these people who lose their homes in a wildfire, and they never thought to buy insurance. You try to feel bad for them, but it’s like the one or two guys every hunting season who shoot themselves in the face while trying to crawl through a barbed-wire fence with their shotgun or rifle, off safety, in their hands. It’s impossible to feel sorry for them. My house is in a high-risk area, with which I’m fine because I’ve taken certain precautions—insurance, for one, and I keep my firewood fifty feet away from the house, I even dug a little fire ring around the house, plus I understood the risks when I built the fucking place—and if it burns down in a wildfire I’ll be upset but it won’t be the end of my world, I’ll rebuild, all of which is not entirely relevant: the thing I’m trying to say is that sometimes, quite frequently, really, I pray for a wildfire to rage down on the plains, right through the heart of Anthem. There are a lot of places that would be better off burned, but Anthem tops my list, and this is the kind of published statement for which an author can get into serious trouble. In airports you can get arrested just for talking about a bomb, like for instance if you’re standing around shooting the shit with a friend or colleague or just fellow sky traveler and you say something as simple and rational as “If those fuckers make me take off my shoes I’m going to blow this place to high goddamn heaven,” and the ever-hypervigilant security guards, upon all of whom I wish nasty, itchy, throbbing hemorrhoids, overhear you, you will go to airport jail, and from there you might go anywhere, federal prison, Egypt, maybe just home (as I did, before I officially quit flying) with a hefty fine. The whole country, the whole earth now even, is one big happy airport. Just the act of writing down this secret wish of mine for certain eyesores to just burn down is enough to get me jumping up over every little noise to see if it’s the FBI tromping over my living roof, or just a ground squirrel.

I have feelings of ambivalence about this next part: on the one hand I’m basically proud of what I did, I think it was a good thing; but on the other hand I do regret that I needed a good half-liter of gin to screw up the courage to drive (drunkenly, which is the part that really bothers me) down to Anthem—I was present enough, mind-wise, to take the hated but less hairpinny and hazardous I-70 route on down to I-25—for my suburban safari. I was drunk and dumb enough to think it’d be a hot idea to roll down there with my old .22 in tow, and this was a stupid idea because I wouldn’t even trust a .22 to take down or even irritate a flesh-and-blood buffalo, let alone a full-metal simulacrum, to say nothing of potential ricochets, but fortunately I sobered up enough (not completely, of course, just enough) in the car to identify the stupidity of this formerly hot idea and cast around for new methods of extermination, which were not easy to come up with because I knew from prior experience they weren’t really vulnerable to fists or feet and were too solidly founded to be tipped over like their sleepy cousins, and then I thought I might lasso one and drag it away tied to my bumper, but it had been a long time since I’d tried to lasso anything, and even in my junior-high days when I practiced up to two hours a day I’d never had any skill at it, and although I’m fairly adept at knot-tying I wasn’t sure what knot to use for a proper lasso, and it seemed important for me, in the first place, to truly lasso the buffalo rather than walk up to it and place a sliding loop around its head, and in the second place to tie a proper lasso knot, which may be different, I thought, from your typical, simple noose, and finally I didn’t have strong enough rope with me to do this kind of job, and I couldn’t think of any place that might sell proper horse-and-cattle-roping type rope that would be open (here also it seemed important to use lasso-specific rope), so I would have to come up with some other hunting weapon. Then Providence brought to my mind Brighton Rock, specifically Pinkie’s bottle of vitriol, which would be perfect, I thought, because I was full of vitriol—vitriol was the motivating force behind this whole misbegotten adventure—but where the fuck do you buy a bottle of vitriol? Vitriol is otherwise known as sulfuric acid, but in my gin-clouded mind I otherwise knew it as hydrochloric acid. I remembered from college chemistry that you could supposedly mix hydrogen peroxide with vinegar and salt and approximate hydrochloric acid, so I aimed for a drugstore (this theory seems, after some backyard experiments, to be bogus). Then I remembered Maddie’s garage, the floor of which is a very lovely-colored concrete, a sort of desert shadow color that she got from a commercial concrete stain, the primary ingredient of which is hydrochloric acid, so I aimed for the only place I could think of that would a.) be open at this hour, b.) sell concrete stain and concrete stain applicators, and c.) also sell hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and salt as backup in case they didn’t sell concrete stain after all: good old goddamn Wally-World, which I’d been boycotting for twenty years or so and where I got everything I needed that night and paid in cash.

The effect, whether I used the pseudovitriol or the concrete stain, would have been pretty much the same, but, even though peroxide and vinegar would’ve been cheaper, I went with the concrete stain because I could only find the common 3% peroxide solution, when I’d have preferred the 30% solution you can buy, during regular business hours, at any good feed store. Plus to apply the stain you need these plastic containers with attached hoses that are, with a little imagination and gin, suggestive of the Ghostbusters’ Proton packs. I bought the concrete stain applicator, but I also picked up two heavy-duty, heavy-artillery weapons of mass saturation (Super Soakers), mostly for dramatic effect. Also to that end I purchased an orange hunting vest, a camo Buckmasters hat, and some fingerless camo gloves, and also, on a further impulse, a bottle of generic correction fluid, which I used to amend the first letter on the Buckmasters hat. The judge ordered (and my attorney advised me to comply) me to mention that one should always wear proper safety gear—safety goggles, acid-proof gloves, boots, NIOSH-approved facemask—when working with hydrochloric acid or other chemicals.

I pulled over on the shoulder alongside the town—or community, area, I don’t know what I’m supposed to call it, the McPolis perhaps—around midnight. There they were, my metal enemies, well-lit like lawn ornaments. There was too much light and too much traffic. If I bashed a light I’d only draw attention to myself, so I drove up and turned off the highway at the official Anthem exit—that’s a road a little ways in front of which there’s this giant billboard with an arrow and the word Anthem and some idyllic pictures of the—again I’m not sure what word to use, so fuck it.

I drove past what I took for the main entrance, which looked to have a suburbanized sentry station that I couldn’t tell whether was manned or not. I crept on up the road about a quarter-mile and pulled into this big parking lot that led nowhere, drove in a slow circle, exited the lot and got back, the same way I’d been going, on the road I’d just left, and turned left at the next intersection. There were no cars on this road. What there was, however, to my delight, was a big pond, or little lake, with a paved trail surrounding it. This, I assume, was a little section of the famous seven-hundred-plus acres of open space—wide open space, good old-fashioned prairie, replete with manmade reservoir and a nice, quaint, vulnerable herd of faux buffalo. I took a swig of gin, but the bottle was empty. Under cover of the starlight-filtering air pollution I crept, armed with two pump-action Super Soakers filled with commercial concrete stain, toward my prey, which—and I was as gung-ho about it as I’ve ever been about anything—I blasted, so to speak, to death. “Squirt!” I screamed, maniacally. I felt drunker; that phantom swig, perhaps, put me over the edge. “Ka-squirt!” I screamed. “Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-squirt-squirt, you miserable fucking shades!”—not great hunting etiquette, I will grant you—“ka-squirt-ka-squirt-ka-squirt-ka-motherfucking-squirt!” and so on until I was empty and the bison were super-soaked. Then I raised a steaming nozzle to about mouth level and quipped, “Splish-splash, motherfuckers,” and blew away the steam. I felt good, very virile and victorious, but also troubled and unfulfilled because nothing was happening to the iron bison except some bubbly and fizzy action that I couldn’t see very well in the dark. I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t in vain, that the iron was being corroded and at the very least when the rosy dawn did that thing with her fingers the bison would be the wrong color, but my heart wanted action: sizzling metal, noxious fumes, gaping holes. I wanted to see them melt like a wet witch. I returned to base camp to regroup.

Maybe the Internet hasn’t eaten my whole life away, like hydrochloric acid through a McDonald’s hamburger (and if it can eat through that it can eat through iron, it just takes a while). The Internet is sometimes useful. I’ve learned a few things from it, like for glorious instance how to hotwire a car, which skill I’d needed because I dropped my keys in my composting toilet and wasn’t keen on going in after them, and this brings me to the part where I destroy the automobile that cost more than my house. I used to get depressed about things sometimes—deaths, poverty, television, politics, contemporary literature, low points in my life, the future my daughter faces, or just the general all-around horribleness of our times—but no more, and whenever life gets you down I want you to do what I do now and remember that, however bleak things seem, whoever’s president, life is sublime: picture me properly accoutred for hunting with my orange vest, camo gloves, and Fuckmasters hat, driving that behemoth, that schoolbus-yellow, six-miles-per-gallon Hummer H2 with the gargantuan tires and six-liter V8 engine, with Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Gimme Back My Bullets”) blaring from the steroidal speakers, destroying the lush lawn abutting the fascistically clean driveway from which I stole this filthy yellow Humbert, then destroying the neighbor’s equally lush lawn and barreling over a border of open space that separates the outer line of houses from the road and speeding my way up to that intersection and running the stop sign, nearly overturning, coming to a halt at the hill that overlooks the big pond or little lake, gunning the engine, screaming, laughing, cursing, overcome by this sense of joy and peace, this feeling that for once everything was right in this world, then this banshee-like tire-screech as I let loose and raced down the hill toward those poor, harmless, unsuspecting pseudocreatures, plowing one, two, three, four adult and one I think it was supposed to be adolescent buffalo before losing control of the Hum and flying—this is barely an exaggeration, I went over an incline on my way pondward and was one second in the air and the next under water—into the reservoir, which contains wastewater and is advertised unsafe for human consumption and natation. I’d been smart or lucky or god-guarded enough to roll down the windows before my rampage. I executed a submerged self-defenestration and dogpaddled ashore and ran to my car and drove straight into a goddamn cop car on my way out of the parking lot.

Across the road was a condemned prairie dog colony. Either Anthem was expanding or the land was being developmentally disabled for a new planned neighborhood. The prairie dog—a keystone species rather than a menace, as it is portrayed by some ranchers and developers, and (along with vultures, magpies, and coyotes) one of my favorite animals—is another regional icon, but until there’s a narrated television series or animated children’s movie (which if there ever is, please, Hollywood, let me lend my voice to one of the characters, maybe the angry anarchist prairie dog who gets arrested after being framed for trying to sabotage a golf course or something and has to be rescued by Sean Astin or that Michael Cera, who would be ideal because he looks a bit like a prairie dog anyway) about them no one’s likely to immortalize them in iron and plant them on lush front lawns. When developers want to build on land that’s being homesteaded by prairie dogs they (this is the relatively rare humane species of urban developer I’m describing) suck them up in vacuum tubes and transplant them to some less desirable location, a technique with parallels to the Indian Removal Act that I don’t really want to examine closely here, my real point being that I just wish one day these rich fucking developers could know how it feels to be a prairie dog (or an Indian). The old Greasewagen was still drivable after the collision. I could have driven off and done the car-chase thing, but I was fascinated in watching the prairie dogs, who should have been in bed but were all scurrying up from their holes and getting up on their hind legs and screeching. Some of them seemed to be shaking their little rodent fists as Anthem’s finest (which are really Broomfield’s) hauled me from the car and clubbed and cuffed me. One brave black-tailed prairie dog came all the way out to the road, screeching to high heaven, with, it seemed to me just before I succumbed to the baton-blow to the head that blacked me out, his middle finger raised in defiant, cuddlesome display.

 

 
Photo Source: Sturgis Photo and Gifts

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About Author

Alan Good has written things that appeared in Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Bookslut, and The Legendary.

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