Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

You Have My Permission To Die

This post would represent a first on many counts. First post to focus on pests, at least the pests that a pest control company would deal with. First post to practically require a soundtrack (this or this). First post to be specifically requested (in this case, by a stalwart reader).

Only I don’t know whether it’s interesting enough to merit that last, but what the heck. We aim to please.

<throat-clearing noises>

 

Fast-rewind back several years. I had just returned from my annual summer pilgrimage to West Chester University. I dragged my luggage, largely full of “DMA-experienced” clothing (eww sweaty), into my house, set the washer and dryer to their appointed task, and plunked myself down in front of the television. My goal was to decompress for a couple of hours, get some sleep, and hop right out again the next morning. After all, the UMass version of DMA was starting the next afternoon. Must be ready to kick it into gear.

I had been sinking slowly into the couch for about ten minutes when I would swear a shadow crossed through the living room. I had looked away from the TV for just a moment, and thought maybe a reflection from the TV had played tricks with my vision.

Then I thought, “oh. Hell. Bird.” I’ve had two experiences with birds trapped in a house before, and they mostly resulted in long, nearly-fruitless efforts to convince a terrified bird that all it had to do was Fly Out This Foolish Open Door!!! And Be Free!!! To Fly Another Day!!!

So I stood up and looked toward the curtain rods near the ceiling, sighing, resigned to a bit of a long evening ahead.

And the shadow flitted past my head, again.

Being the brave, bold and resolute person I am … I ducked and blanched, pretty firmly. And then realized that I was about to spend a little while as the main character in a movie thriller. (I was not thrilled.) Because that was no bird.

That was a bat.

 

Great. In twelve hours I have to be back on the road … and suddenly it’s pretty likely that I will spend at least ten of those hours tracking down, somehow, a flying critter. Because I don’t want to leave the house in the hands of this little guy for five days, do I?

Where’s my broom?

Because that, of course, will be both a good offense and a good defense. Maybe.

Hey, if you’re grazed by a bat, it’s not a good thing, is it? Lemme see if I can remember what the consequences are… rabies, do I recall correctly?

Maybe I’ll get my gardening gloves, too. And a hazmat suit.

All the lights in the whole house went on. Because of course bats work best that way.

One trip around the first floor (living room, dining room, kitchen) yielded no sign of the thing.

Two more trips. Nothing.

I just knew that if I actually sighted the thing, I would be instantly on the attack. There would be no coaxing the thing out a door; there would be only the putting-you-out-of-my-misery.

And, quite probably, broken lamps. And such.

Two more trips, this time in the opposite direction. Who knows; the thing could be hiding on the other side of a chair that I hadn’t inspected going clockwise, right?

All this, I did with the dim suspicion that I was going to turn a corner and get hit right in the snout by this panicky flying creature.

Still nothing. Except the blathering of the TV baseball announcer.

Right. Upstairs.

Still brandishing my broom like some impoverished lacrosse defenseman, I ascended the staircase. Every stretch of wall, every patch of ceiling, every inch of carpet … held the potential to be the launch pad for a leather-winged nightmare. I still had no sense as to just how large a thing I was hunting.

Let’s just say I was glad that I didn’t suffer from high blood pressure already.

Lights on in the … GUEST ROOM!

Nothing.

Lights on in the … BATHROOM!

Nothing.

Lights on in the … MASTER BEDROOM!

Nothing.

Lights on in the … OFFICE!

Noth– … oh. Not nothing.

Up there. In the corner of the room, parked daintily very near the join of two tangerine-colored walls (not my choice of paint) and the ceiling.

The bat’s folded-up wings measured only about four inches long, top to bottom. It hung there, looking very bat. Which is to say, it moved not at all, but somehow I knew … that it knew … that I knew … that it knew … that it was in fact watching me very, very, very carefully.

I have no scientific evidence to back this up.

But neither do movie thriller heroes. That’s what the incidental music is for.

In order to GIT this thing, I was going to have exactly one shot. And I was going to have to deliver a killing broom blow in the exact right place, not glancing off one wall or the other, but right on target. No second chances; all the motivation in the world not to let this critter off the hook. I had no interest in chasing him (her? it) around the house all night long. I had places to be in the morning.

The windup … the pitch …

Whack.

To this day I will swear to you that I executed an inhumanly accurate strike directly to the head of this creature. With enough force to end its poor, unfortunate life with one swift stroke.

You can imagine my disappointment when, instead of being a rather ugly mess on the wall, the thing flopped to the floor and flapped a bit.

I am not (as has been claimed here recently) a violent person. But the ancient caveman instinct kicked in, good and loudly, and I quickly overcame my disappointment. I delivered a series of downward strikes on this thing that would have made John Henry’s blue ox take a good-sized step back.

Wham wham wham wham wham wham wham.

I don’t remember what exact shade of red the haze of vengeance was that filled my vision.

But, and forgive me for this, the little tiny stain of bat blood remains on the carpet in the corner of my office, serving as a warning to any other winged creatures that might try to invade.

Like that’ll work.

 

This morning, some nice men from the pest control company came to my house and did lots of work to seal up the various places where bats were probably getting into my attic and congregating. Yes, the time that has passed since my moment of bat-bludgeoning can be measured in years, not days, and you’d think that I would be foaming at the mouth to get those things gone.

Well, no more bats have ever actually worked their way into the actual house; and other life issues intervened, and, well … it took until my termite guy came by awhile ago and, while making a general sweep of the house, mentioned that there were examples of what is known as guano on the floor in the attic, and asked me if by chance I had a butler named Alfred helping me out at all…?

Well, better late than never. By the end of the week I’ll have my attic back, anyway.

 

There is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge … me.” -Bruce Wayne

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Church Has Left the Building

About a year and a half ago, the leadership of the church where I “church-gig” decided we needed a renewed focus.

It’s fine to put up lovely Sunday morning services, and it’s even fine to hold lots of activities at church during the week. And it’s just as fine to provide helpful organizations like Al-Anon and our local Savoyards group (which donates its profits to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, specifically to fight hunger in the world) with a place to hold their meetings.

But, said our senior pastor, we need to get out of our building.

Partly this was because, as our Social Principles document suggests, we properly demonstrate our faith not just by talking about it but by doing good works. And, whew!, there’s so much work to be done out there in the big world. All kinds of people need all kinds of help; and if we can be of help, we ought to be of help. Bring food to food pantries. Send supplies and helpers when natural disasters strike. All that good stuff. We call it “outreach”.

Also, the Methodist owner’s manual suggests that we ought to try and bring folks into our fold. In another post in this space, I described briefly how happy I am that when you look up “acquiring new members” in the Methodist rule book, it does not say “put up large billboards” or “get in people’s faces and demand that they repent on the spot”. We prefer a style that some might call more passive-aggressive, but I would just call more considerate.

Acquiring new members – or, “making new disciples,” as the Social Principles more elegantly put it – may require a bit more effort than just having a church building and pointing to it and saying, “…come join? … We’re nice?”

So, our leadership created a gently descriptive slogan for our new efforts, 18 months ago or so: “The Church Has Left the Building.”

On the Sunday we kicked off this campaign, we worshipped out in front of our church building … so that passing motorists might notice, and who knows who might remember that and come by again later? And afterward, some of us went across town to help build some picnic tables for a local school’s play yard; while others of us went around the corner to sing and play tunes for the residents of an assisted-living community … and there were a couple of other project destinations, as well, which escape me at the moment. You could look at it as advertising; we preferred to think of it as a prelude, hopefully, to further interaction.

The effort reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my high school band students, early in my teaching career. Probably ninety-percent-jokingly, he chuckled, “oh, we don’t like freshmen.” I suggested that perhaps this might not be the best philosophy ever; and my student actually nodded as I was saying it. “Yeah, I don’t think I mean that, really.” Right, I said, because if we don’t get new freshmen each year … eventually we die.

Certainly, a very similar conversation happens within the leadership of most denominations nowadays. Fewer and fewer people, when polled, are indicating that they are regular members of any religious organization. Our senior pastor reported that in pastor circles, those people are nicknamed “Nones”.

 

So, last night, after spending quite a bit of time watching the television news coverage of yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombing, I did what any journalism-fatigued soul would do: went online and started observing the Internet’s coverage. Obviously.

And in short order, I spied the first two indications that this event had turned the corner, going from “horrible disastrous event that affected a state, a nation and the whole world” to “hey! an opportunity to hitch my wagon to this star”.

The first indication was when a radio talk show host supposed that the blasts in Boston had been a government plot from the beginning (so within a couple hours, we had “Marathon Truthers”, I guess). Talkers gonna talk… If you have a three-hour show every day, ya gotta fill it with some damn thing, I guess.

The second indication, I suppose, should not have surprised me.

The Westboro Baptist Church weighed in.

 

These people from Topeka, Kansas, hold simply hateful views and appear to have been deprived of parental attention as toddlers. The WBC has made a name for itself by holding demonstrations outside public events like football games, music concerts, and funerals. An average of six every single day, by their own estimates. For a long time, they’ve seemed to me to be a pack of Johnny-One-Notes: their whole raison d’picket is that they believe some event has something to do with that nasty ol’ gay agenda thingy. Their favorite slogan suggests that God hates gay persons, although they express it using instead that word that starts with “F” and in England also means cigarettes and in Italian musical scores happens to be the abbreviation for “bassoon”, as the word originally meant “pile of sticks”, and let’s face it, a bassoon looks like a tree-trunk with a mouthpiece.

Sorry. Digression. But you now know what word they use, which I won’t use, since it’s an epithet and I don’t do epithets, unless they’re creative, such as Shakespeare used to invent.

In fact, the URL of the WBC’s website is … well … it’s “that slogan”-dot-com. Seriously. They don’t shy away from it. They’ve linked plenty of picketable events to the scourge of The Gay, events you’d hardly expect to have anything to do with it. Notably, one of those events was the funeral of a member of the US military, killed in Afghanistan. Hmmm. Mysterious. And another of those notable events was a Kansas City Chiefs football game. Hmmm. Doubly, triply mysterious. The NFL? Really? Really?

(Y’all read the papers?)

So, they’re focused – and their church Has Left The Building. I’ll give them that.

 

I’ll also give them this – a gentle thought or two:

I don’t espouse violence, and certainly the past day has been one to decry violence; it’s no civilized way to make a point.

I don’t espouse shouting people down, because that’s no way for people to come to an understanding either.

I don’t even really think counter-demonstrations are helpful (satisfying, yes) – even though I understand other people’s need to carry out counter-demonstrations – the need to try to demonstrate to you just how heartless and cruel your First-Amendment-protected expressions appear, to everybody but you. All that does is bring out the journalists to cover the point-counterpoint, and regardless of what transpires after that, in the end that only gets you the attention you obviously so desperately crave, and cements in your mind how right you are to do what you do.

What makes this country great, or at least admirable, is that our system of government’s guiding document protects your right to say things. And it protects everybody else’s right to respond. Implicitly, it supports both those rights so long as the sentiments are not irresponsible or do not endanger other people. I’ll leave it to other people in other spaces to decide whether the WBC expressions always meet this standard.

So I would hate to ban the WBC from even being able to express itself, no matter how awful I think their expressions are. Don’t want a Constitutional crisis. Don’t want that particular slippery slope.

But how you can be a member of an organization that reportedly spends a quarter-million dollars a year on this picketing effort (how many hungry people would that money feed, I wonder?) … how you can be a member of an organization that suggests that God hates anybody (again, isolated bits of the Old Testament aside, that’s not the God that I learned about in Sunday School) … how you can be a member of an organization that thanks its particular God for acts of violence and claims that those acts were perpetrated to demonstrate how right it is to hold their particular views … and still call yourself a member of a church?

You’re just foolin’ yourselves.

That’s no church that I was ever taught about in Sunday School.

And your church has left more than just its building, I think.

 

Again, let me be clear. My Sunday School lessons included plenty about turning the other cheek … about loving other people as you love yourself … and I have ever held fast to those tenets. I do not – do NOT – support the use of violence. As the illuminated Martin Luther King Jr. quote in New York City said last night, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”

But if you have the guts to issue a press release less than a day after bombs kill three people and injure and maim more than 170 others … a press release that praises God for sending that violent act, regardless of what reason you think s/he sent it …

and then if you have the guts to hold your usual kind of demonstration outside the funeral of an innocent eight-year-old kid from Dorchester, Massachusetts – who was at the Marathon not because he cared a toot about gay marriage but because he wanted to cheer on his dad as he finished running a 26-mile road race – and whose only mistake was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, right in front of that first bomb …

Amazingly … somehow, because s/he is capable of it where arguably no one else on Earth is capable of it … the God that I was brought up to believe in will still love you.

I can’t speak for the residents of that little kid’s Dorchester neighborhood though.

I dunno. You all may have chosen a very poor bear to poke, this time.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | civil rights, current events, journalism, media, news, politics, religion, social media, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What For?

Of course, I only stepped out for a moment.

I hate when I do that.

Jumped in the car, drove across town to check on something. A something which was entirely trivial, in the grand scheme of things; but I’m on vacation this week and I had a moment to do it. I was thrilled to locate the bit of information I was looking for. As I drove back home, I cranked up the volume on my CD of cheerful songs and rolled the windows down a bit, also happy for weather that seemed a bit less wintry.

Got home; strolled into the house, chuckled at the fact that I’d been so intent on the bit of information, I’d left the TV on.

I saw “Boston Marathon” as part of the on-screen graphic, which made sense: before stepping out of the house, I’d been watching the incredible elite runners finish that storied race. Then the full graphic offered me my first double-take opportunity of the day: “Explosions near Boston Marathon Finish Line”. That made less sense.

What, near what now?

I became a TV news coverage sponge. Again. How often do we go through this procedure? Put down anything you were carrying, don’t even look away from the screen to find a place to sit; just stand, watch, grimace, and hope it’s not as awful as it looks.

The longer I watched the TV coverage, the less likely it seemed that the hopeful, Pollyanna part of my brain would be proven right. No mere unfortunate gas explosion, this. No mere bad-luck accident – particularly when the second loud boom sounded. As much as the local news outlets labored mightily not to jump to conclusions, pretty soon official reports confirmed the worries: yup. Small packages full of big explosives. Packages, plural. No accidental mixture of materials which were never meant to bump into each other; but on-purpose mixtures of materials which had a definite and loud purpose.

Most of the rest of the world has been experiencing this sort of thing for a very long time now … but this is still relatively new on us, hereabouts. There are those who might well look sideways at us Americans and murmur, well, welcome to our world. It doesn’t make it right. Doesn’t make it any easier to calm the shaken nerves. But for the majority of us (and, one would hope, for people charged with making decisions and policy), it does spark thoughts like, “there must be a way to make this sort of thing less likely, for more of the world.”

Just a few hours after the explosions, the news media began to tiptoe gingerly into this territory: why? Not just the howl of horror and revulsion and disgust, “why?”, but the desperate bid to determine, then to understand: whose work was this? What was their point?

Since there’s terrorism at work in the world on a regular basis … is it possible that people at International Terrorist Central saw this big public event and/or location – one which is a security challenge, to be sure – one which a large part of the world is familiar with and pays attention to – and had a light bulb go on over their heads? We’ve been down that road before, just down the road from Boston.

Or, is it possible that this could have had have something to do with domestic policy here in the US? Writer Charlie Pierce noted that today, April 15, was both Patriots Day (a curious holiday in Massachusetts and Maine commemorating the events of April 1775, as the American Revolution kicked into gear not far from Boston) and also the due-date for income tax returns. Commenters on that online article (entitled, appropriately, “Holy Mother of God”) alternately excoriated and uplifted him for making those points, even though he wasn’t making specific connections or accusations. For weal or for woe, writers gonna write …

On the other hand, it didn’t take long for one radio talk show host to suppose that the federal government was behind the blasts. Nor did it take long for the ghoulish Westboro Baptist Church people to announce their intent to picket the funerals of the people who were killed today. So I’m thinking that writers like Charlie Pierce might be allowed to wriggle off the hook here, if they were ever on the hook to start with.

Or … speaking of ghoulish … was this just the work of a lone deranged yahoo, pursuing an agenda that only he or she was privy to? Or, perhaps, was there even an agenda at all? In movies, superheroes often battle supervillains whose sole purpose seems to be causing destruction and mayhem merely to see it happen. No fiendish, ancient Ra’s-al-Ghul plan to save civilization by destroying it; just the compulsion to watch things go bang, and watch people run around scared and hurt afterward, and get some kind of sick thrill from the watching. Are people with that mindset working in our non-cinematic world, too?

After an initial few hours of merely trying to get the order of today’s events straight, the inevitable speculation, opining masquerading as news analysis, accusations, flaming, and trolling have now begun, over the airwaves and upon the Internet. No matter what the investigators finally discover, though … what this all boils down to – if the yesterday’s explosions in Boston do not in fact represent a random act of a random person with a random thought process – is this:

There are still people out there who feel that the best way to make a point is to use violence.

The people who have suffered today were just there to cheer on the participants of a road race. They weren’t there to discuss global jihad, or Second Amendment remedies, or Roe v. Wade, or the price of gas, or banks too big to fail, or standardized testing, or even the Red Sox bullpen. They were watching an athletic competition, on a decent spring holiday afternoon, minding their own business. And they got hit by improvised explosive devices that contained ball bearings and other bits of pre-packed shrapnel designed to inflict great damage on the unlucky humans that happen to be in the way. And for what?

There’s something distinctly unfair about that.

News outlets reported early this evening that one of the three people who did not survive the explosions (as of this writing) was just eight years old.

There’s something far, far beyond unfair about that.

April 15, 2013 Posted by | current events, journalism, news | , , , , , , | Leave a comment