Tales From Mephitis. Chapter 22: The Great Pigeon Hunt Rebellion
Serpens nisi serpentum comerderit non fit draco.
After Frank distributed the ‘memo’ about the hazards of Pigeon infestations, the grumbling against the birds turned into action. All the other stations cleared their buildings of the local flocks with BB guns, taking great care to only use them when there were no patrons there.
Only at the Florence Station were there still flocks of undisturbed winged rats. Here Rodney was holding off any action against his wards.
“I feel like I’m losing a fighting battle. I’m the last man at Custard’s last ice cream stand.” He told Frank.
“Rod: Those birds do not belong in the buildings. They belong outside. They can make people sick. You heard what that guy who came here to work on the overhead door said; he got Pigeon Fever from them, blood poisoning that damn near killed him.”
“So? I don’t know him.”
After lunch when Frank came back out, he passed Rod sitting in his truck, windows up and stereo blaring, oblivious to the world. Out by the garbage hopper both Anton and Gill were laughing so hard tears were streaming down their cheeks.
“What the hell is so funny?”
“You’re not gonna believe it!” Gill choked. “Did Rod ever tell you about that porn chat room he visits each night after Della goes to bed?”
“Yeah. Unfortunately, he often tries to tell me what he did there.”
“Well, you have to have a user name and sign in.”
“Yeah. Okay. So?”
“He has two of them: ‘Ghost Wolf’ and ‘Cubby Bear’!” The two of them went off into another paroxysm of laughter and coughing.
“You’re kidding me.”
“No! I can’t believe he told us that!”
While Rod was sulking at lunch, Gill began decorating the walls with “Ghost Wolf” and “Cubby Bear” in crayon.
“Okay, you asked for it! It’s Whammy time!” Rod declared after he finally got back and discovered all the graffiti. He began his ‘wind up’; circling his right hand in front of him like he was washing a car.
“Hey, cut it out! We were just joking!” Gill tried to defuse him. He was an earnest and conscientious young man, but a worrier. Rod really made him uncomfortable at the best of times, but this “Whammy” thing was scary for him.
“Too late. It’s Whammy time: You’re gonna die in a motorcycle accident! I see it! ‘Whammy!”
“That’s not funny, Rod!”
Rodney thought it was; gloriously funny. He exulted in being in the superior position, riding on top. He saw the worry; he knew he was getting to him. He pushed it and pushed it. Every time he saw Anton or Gill over the next few days he hit them with a ‘Whammy’.
“Samantha’s gonna get pregnant, Anton! Whammy! “
“Hey! You leave her out of this! I don’t want to hear you mention her name!”
“Whammy! You’re gonna get cancer from that snuff, Gill!”
That one struck a worry point for Gill. He had quit smoking and now took snuff instead, but he was scared of getting cancer from it, and Rod had overheard that.
“Also: You’re girlfriend is gonna have twins! Whattya think of that ‘little Gill’? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
But eventually he pushed too far. Since Anton had come back, he had been on the verge of rebellion against Rod’s tyranny of personality: The ‘Whammies’ tipped him over the edge.
“Ok. That does it. For each ‘Whammy’ you put on us; a pigeon will die.” Anton grimly told Rod.
“Not on my watch!”
“We’ll just wait till you’re off. What do you think of that? Each day you take off, a pigeon is going to die if you don’t knock off this ‘Whammy’ shit. Think of that. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
“You better not!”
Frank thought it time to take it a step further. “The responsibility is now yours, Rod: You heard Anton. If you take a day off; a pigeon will die. It is on your head now. Take a vacation and the pigeons die. Cancel your vacation if you want to save them.”
“If I do that, Della’ll kill me!”
“Then it’s you or the pigeons. You choose.”
Rod chose to live and started his vacation days. Anton was dead serious this time. He asked if Frank and Gill had BB guns, and if they did, bring them in and they were going to take the pigeons all out once and for all: It was war.
Not only war on disease-bearing vermin, but a war by Anton on Rod; a battle to free himself from the suffocating control he’d been wrapped up in for years now. The Great Pigeon Hunt Rebellion had begun.
Gill brought in a BB gun he bought at ‘Wally-World’, especially for the occasion. He missed his first two shots. Frank borrowed the rifle and on his second shot killed one. It was an impressive long shot, knocking the bird off a rafter near the ceiling.
Then Gill got the range and killed a couple more. Frank got another one that plummeted to the floor far below, flopping like a fish. He went downstairs and gave it the coup de grace with a crescent wrench.
Then Anton got a kill and his stirred-up bloodlust, long dormant, combined with the burning urge for revenge on Rod: He and Gill went on a killing spree.
They not only shot any pigeon they found inside; they cleaned out the warehouse and the C and D building. Slaughter was even extended to point-blank range on nestlings. They kept a running tally that surpassed fifty pigeons that first day.
The rest of the huge flock eventually got the message and stayed away: Smart filthy birds. By the end of July Mephitis’ buildings were pigeon free. Two of them got in the next January and Frank shot them immediately.
Rod’s response when he came back was muted: His bluff was called and he was found to be an impotent dragon. All he could do was pretend not to notice, beyond commenting suspiciously that it was “awful quiet around here.”
So, to make sure there was no mistake, that he was really aware of the rebellion, Anton and Gill began leaving dead pigeons where Rod would find them, flattening some with the skidsteer first.
“You’re not nice.” was his only response. He decided to get back at Gill, if not Anton. Rod knew he was actually somewhat afraid of him, thinking he was a psycho.
“I’m going to come back from the dead and haunt you, only you will be able to see and hear me, but you’ll never get rid of me.” He began telling Gill.
“Also; I’ll get in bed between you and your girlfriend, and ya know what I’ll do?”
He also threatened him with showing up at his apartment. And he did show up there one morning at eight. When Gill threatened to have him arrested, Rod claimed he had just dropped by to see if he had gotten his check that week
“You have dreams, Rod?” Frank asked him one day. He was curious what dreams somebody like him had.
“Uh-huh. Alla time.”
“What are they about?”
“I don’t wanna talk about them…. I don’t rememberie them.”
“Who knows what’s good luck, who knows what’s bad luck.’
“I have the same nightmare about every two weeks, ever since I was fifteen. I wake up screaming, standing up in a flash right on the bed.” Anton commented.
“What was it about?”
“I can only remember that something was coming for me.”
“Try to ‘sink into it’ and feel what it was like.”
He was quiet for a moment, his eyes closed. “Sh*t. I just flashed on something, I remember that there was something behind me, but it was me who lunged for it.”
“How about you, Gorilla Arms, you have any?” Gill asked Frank.
“Oh, yeah. Lots of them. I’m interested in the meaning of them. I roughly follow Carl Jung on interpreting them. There’s a Talmudic saying that ‘An unexamined dream is like an unopened letter’. Most of mine aren’t interesting, but sometimes…”
“Well, about thirty years ago I had a dream that there was a house with a haunted attic, an older, well-cared for house with hardwood floors and a center staircase going up several floors.
A young girl was both scared and interested in that attic. During a dinner party she went so far as to smash the serving dishes on the table with a staff to call attention to it.
Suddenly I seem to have taken her place and found myself in the hall on the top floor directly under the open attic trap door. Something was up there: It sent out waves, pulses, of evil.
Terror washed over me like icy water and the hair on my arms stood up. Whatever that presence was, it was powerful and wanted me to do something, or get me up there, or get out itself.
I saw part of a small oriental rug hanging partly down through the opening. I reached up and pulled on it. Something up there pulled back.
I won the tug-of-war and pulled the rug completely down. Lights now came on in the attic. It was furious.
From then on the power of the presence was even stronger. I could see shadows of something moving.
I woke up several times, each time scared for my soul, and each time I fell back asleep I was right back in the dream.
I realized that what I had to do was make peace with it, and help it. I didn’t like that idea.
It started all over again with another dinner party, just below the attic trap door this time.
Again I saw part of a rug hanging down. I climbed up on top of the table and pulled on it. Much more resistance this time, but I still managed to pull it down.
I found there were three, four, maybe more oriental rugs attached together at the ends somehow with paperclips. They formed a sort of ladder.
This time I saw the shadow of a head up there right near the opening and could feel its terrible fury.
I dropped down to the hall floor. I realized that I was now alone, at night, in this haunted house with the ‘Thing in the Attic’.
I figured my fear came from my not understanding that it really needed my help. I started to do what I felt I must. I saw how the first rug was folded and went about folding and attaching the others in the same manner. I just hoped it wouldn’t kill me before it saw I was trying to help.
Intensified waves of cold evil told me the Thing in the Attic had come down and was now on the landing with me. I concentrated on what I was doing, not looking up. As I worked the feeling of menace subsided, but still burned with cold.
When I finished, I stood up and faced what had come down.
In the dark hall, bathed in a stark light, stood a slim, bare-armed woman with long blonde hair. She wore a floor-length, shimmering emerald green sheath-like cocktail dress.
I could only see the right side of her face. It looked like raw, bloody hamburger from the side of her mouth all the way up past her eyebrow; terrible wounds covered the entire side of her face. I could not see an eye. Mutely, I held out the completed ladder to her…and she was suddenly gone.
Where the maimed woman had stood, there was now a pixie-like girl or woman. She was very happy with me and with finally getting out of that attic.
She excitedly talked about all her plans for where she was going and what she was finally going to get to do.
After she left, the house crumbled. The scene shifted to the City.
“Brooklyn Bridge is to be torn down too.” a voice said.
‘Shame.’ I thought, ‘But not surprising.’”
The three had been spellbound by the story.
“What was that about?” Gil asked.
“What was trying to get out was my repressed memories. The woman’s maimed face was mine from when I was a boy and my ‘father’ threw me through the fourth floor window of our apartment in the City.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Unfortunately, yes. My ‘dear’ mother has rung down the curtain however. He pulled the plug on the witch in the hospital.”
“Nice family ya got there, buddy.”
“Even when she was in her seventies she still wanted me dead. When I had enough of how they treated me and Mel, I had a confrontation with them. At the time, I still hadn’t remembered what they really were. Anyway, as I was about to leave, she said ‘I could die!’ I told her ‘So? So could I.’ She got real thoughtful and then said ‘Yes. You could.’”
“A couple of months later we had two attempted break-ins at one in the morning. I never could prove it was them, but when I called down to the City, they weren’t there. Neither was one of my brothers. He had a black SUV. And I saw a black SUV during the day both times, driving back and forth past our house, slowly.”
“Wonderful mom ya had there. What was her problem? What did she have against you?”
“Long story. But she was a beaut. When I was three I walked in on her having sex with some guy, not her husband.”
“Nope. There was a reason they called her ‘Crazy Stacey’.”
“Talking about ‘mothers’: I vividly remember another childhood dream from when I was eight.” Anton suddenly said. “I was standing with my mother at the edge of a square, made of concrete walls about three and a half feet tall. On the side opposite us was a man in a military uniform standing stiffly at attention. I looked inside the square and saw it went down forever, and at the bottom there was only a black nothingness.”
“Damn! How come you guys have such cool dreams? I don’t dream.” Gill said.
“Who knows what’s good luck, who knows what’s bad luck. Maybe you do, but just don’t remember them. Or maybe they’re not intense enough to remember. If the Jungians are right in that dreams compensate for an one-sidedness of the psyche, or are camouflaged memories, as Freud also thought, I guess not having remembered dreams means your psyche is happy with how things are going as they are: You are where you should be on your life’s path.”
“Hey, I’ve heard you say that a couple of times already, that ‘Who knows what’s good luck or bad luck’ thing. What is that?”
“Ah...It’s the tag-line from a parable by Chuang Tzu. He was a Chinese Taoist sage who lived about the same time as Confucius.”
“How did it go?”
“What, you want to hear it?”
“There was an old, poor man who lived with his son in a small village in ancient China. One day, his only horse ran off.
All the villagers came and offered their condolences. He shrugged and said ‘Who knows what is good luck, who knows what is bad luck?’
The next morning, he found that his horse had returned, bringing with her an entire herd of wild horses. All the villagers marveled at it and congratulated him.
He simply shrugged and said ‘Who knows what is good luck, who knows what is bad luck?’
The next day, his son fell off one of the horses while trying to tame it, and broke his arm. The villagers once again lamented his bad luck.
Once again he said ‘Who knows what is good luck, who knows what is bad luck?’ That day the emperor’s troops came to his village and seized all the young men as conscripts into the army.”
He stopped and looked at them. “All together now: ‘Who knows what is good luck, what is bad luck?’”
“That was cool.” Anton said
Rod was silent, like a child, stories mesmerized him.
“Got any others?” Gill asked
“Of that nature?”
“Yeah. About how you can’t tell whether something will turn out good or not.”
“Well, there’s one from the Arabic about ‘Il Khidir’.”
“’Il Khidir’, ‘The Green One’. I don’t know much about him. He apparently gave off a green light that some could see. He wasn’t an Angel, and of course he wasn’t Allah, blessed be his name, but he was some sort of unearthly being who appeared from time to time to instruct.”
“Well, what was the story?”
“One day Moses was walking along…”
“Wait a minute. Moses? The Moses?”
“Sure. In Islam they revere Moses as a great prophet same as Christians and Jews.”
“No sh*t...Moses was walking along and he sees Il Khidir and instantly recognizes him for who he is. He pleads with Il Khidir to let him follow. Il Khidir tells him no, because he will not understand. Moses keeps bugging him, so finally he agrees, but on one condition: If Moses criticizes him three times, the deals off. Moses says, ‘Sure’.
So they walk on.
Eventually, they come to the seashore where some boats are moored. No one is around. Il Khidir picks up a large hammer and smashes a hole in the bottom of a fishing boat. Moses can’t contain himself. ‘Why have you done this to these poor fishermen?’
Il Khidir says ‘That’s one.’ Moses shuts up, and they go on their way. They come to a village. In it there is a funeral for the parents of two small children. Il Khidir goes to their house and smashes a wall and then leaves. Moses tries to keep quiet but he’s outraged. ’How could you have done that to those poor orphans?’ Il Khidir said ‘That’s two.’
As they are walking across a deserted plain, they see a handsome young man coming toward them. When he reaches them, Il Khidir kills him without a word. Moses is shocked beyond belief. ‘You have committed a terrible crime! And why?’
Il Khidir said ‘That’s three. I am leaving now. But before I go I shall tell you the reasons for what I did. Pirates were coming to steal that boat. They will find it unseaworthy and not take it. But the hole is easily repairable. The wall I destroyed will be re-built while it’s being rebuilt the treasure the orphan’s parents hid there will be found, providing for the children. The young man I killed was on his way to commit a horrible crime that would hurt many others and cast shame upon his family. Farewell.’”
“Man, I like that one!” Anton grinned. “How do you say it again?”
“Il Khidir. Like ‘Elk or Deer’.”
“Cool. What religion are you, anyway?” Gill asked.
“I don’t have any.”
“I deeply despise infantile religious beliefs; of Christians in particular.” Anton stated with feeling. “But I’m terrified that when I die, that’s all there is; a black nothingness. Everything I hold beloved will vanish forever. I’m terrified of death and its nothingness afterwards.”
Tips from the public were infrequent and not lavish. Frank suggested they pool them: When they got enough, they could send someone out for pizza. Gill and Anton enthusiastically agreed, but not Rodney.
“My tips is mine. They gave them to me.” He obviously was incapable of learning from his stint at the Civic Center.
As he was not going to share with them, they were not under any obligation to share with him. Frank and Gill turned any tips in to Anton, who put them with his in a magnetic key holder he hid on the back side of the metal supply cabinet on the bridge.
The rebellion of the “Great Pigeon Hunt” encouraged Anton in asserting himself against Rod in other ways, with all the vengeful qualities of long over-due payback.
One day Rodney set aside a Treadmill for himself. When Anton saw that, he jumped into a skidsteer and, maniacally grinning, proceeded to crush it into fragments by dropping the bucket on it, over and over, the skidsteer rising up on its rear wheels like an enraged stallion.
All Rod said was “You’re not nice.”
Gill too seemed to have cast off his fears of Rod’s potential for danger. He took to interrupting Rod when he was holding a female customer captive by walking up and deadpanning: “Is he causing you trouble, Ma’am? Is he bothering you, Ma’am?” much to Rod’s discomfit. The women invariably laughed delightedly. But some actually did say “Well, yes; he is.”
Near the end of the day the first Saturday in August Frank was alone by the trays while Gill and Anton hunted pigeons, when a vehicle pulled in.
He waited patiently for it to stop. He looked over at the swamp. Swallows circled effortlessly. It had been another extremely hot summer. Each year now joined the ranks of the ten hottest on record. He was so glad not to have ride a bike in it this year.
“Nope. No such thing as ‘Global Warming’. Uh-uh. Morons.”
A heavy woman with some grey streaking her long black hair, dressed in a purple top and black stretch pants got out and opened the trunk, chatting amiably while Frank waited.
A bumper sticker said “Co-Exist”. A blast of very ripe garbage assailed his nostrils when it opened. Those bags had to have been in the trunk in the heat for several days judging by the size of the maggots that covered the surfaces of the bags.
He groaned silently and bent over to seize the bags and haul them to the hopper. Maggots slid off the bags by the hundreds onto the floor of the trunk.
“Oh, look!” she pointed to the wriggling larvae.
“Yeah. I see. Would you like me to get you some newspapers to wipe them up with or something?”
“Oh, no! That would kill them.”
Frank glanced over at the hopper where hundreds more of the wrigglers writhed on the wall where he had rested the bags before pushing them in. He looked back at the woman and was greeted by the less than scintillating sight of her enormous buttocks as she bent over, doing something in the trunk.
She straightened up with her hands cupped, looked around and spotted the grass between the car lanes and the fence.
“That’s where you’re going to go.” She spoke to her cupped hands. “Come on. I’m going to bring you to your new home.”
“She’s talking to maggots. The woman is talking to maggots. She’s picking them up one by one and carrying them over to the grass to let them go as if they were crickets or something. She has no idea that she’s not saving them. They’re about to become bird or ant food.... ‘Lord, lettest now thy servant depart in peace, ‘cause I’ve done seen it all’.”
Little Tom agreed to accompany Frank to his Road Test on the eight of August. But when Frank drove in to pick him and the truck up, he was stunned to find that Ray had suddenly decided to send the White Truck to the shop for an overheating problem it had developed a few weeks earlier.
Now it sat there in the garage, torn apart while they waited for the fan clutch to be shipped in; might be a week. Frank was told he had to take his test using the other truck, a piece of wreckage that he hadn’t even driven once.
Tom and he went to the shop to pick up that heap. When he got in to start it up, with a rising anger he saw that it was overdue for inspection, the ABS lights wouldn’t go out, it had a broken speedometer, half the lights didn’t work, and a side mirror was missing.
Frustrated, he told Tom the inspector wouldn’t even let him on the road with this, never mind take a test with it. Tom called Ray, who called the shop, and they threw the other truck quickly back together again.
When Frank arrived at the test site, he found that this test inspector was in a hurry. As soon as he saw that Frank knew what he was doing and looking for; it was all over. He waived all the other pre-trip points and told him to get in.
They did a quick loop that didn’t last fifteen minutes. Just as well, because the truck had already overheated on the way to the test site, and now on the highway the high temperature alarm went off.
Frank glanced back down at the gauge that he’d been watching warily; it was in the red. He reached over and threw on the heater and turned on the blowers to help cool it down a little.
“’Houston; we have a problem.’” He jokingly told the test inspector, who never cracked a smile, just dourly glanced at his watch.
He passed the test, so he bought Tom an ice cream cone as thanks for accompanying him. He also bought two pizzas for everybody else to celebrate his new license.
Hoppin’ John ate two slices with the rest, and then ate seven more on the sly.
Frank was surprised how fast the word got around. Apparently he had impressed the Highway Department, the mechanic in the County Garage, and the County Building and Grounds people with having taught himself to drive that truck so quickly and getting his CDL on the first attempt. Through the comments he heard, he also found out that the Drivers that he worked with had confidently predicted he’d fail.
But now he’d earned a lifetime license. If someone had told him he would learn about the mechanics of a truck and how to drive it when he was young, he’d never have believed it. And it actually turned out to be extremely easy.
Now he could begin to think and study again about other things than truck driving; after one more task: A Class A CDL so he could drive semis.
He had intended to start looking for other work whether he got the license or not, but Ray had said if he won that license he’d be using him now and again as a driver. Between that prospect and getting almost full-time hours, Frank was now in no hurry, he’d take the time to learn how to drive these trucks too.
His first day back to work he headed for Farmer’s rig out back.
“On to the Class A…What the hell?” Frank stared at the empty spot where the tractor trailer had been. It was there when he came in for the Road Test on Wednesday.
“Hey, Anton! What happened to Farmer’s truck?”
“I don’t know. I’ll ask Ray.” He picked up the phone. A few minutes later he hung up. “The County auctioned it off Thursday. The winner hauled it off.”
“So, what is this? Coincidence that everything fell so easily in place for me to get the class B, but when I go to try for the A, it is elegantly taken out of my reach?
I’ll never convince Ray or DPW to allow a part-timer, a sixty-one-year-old part-timer, to train with a driver. The only way I got training for the B was because the truck was right here and I needed no driver. Game over.”
He realized he felt a let-down, a frustration, and an agitation. It was a familiar feeling for him that occurred after an accomplishment, a battle won: Nothing had changed as a result of it. Against all the odds, he got the license. But there he still was, stuck baling garbage and cardboard. He needed to go for that license in order to make his employment there meaningful, to make it a stepping stone to something better, not a final destination.
“Practically speaking, of course it was a good move. Psychologically it was needed to give a direction to my life, to tell the world ‘I’m not licked yet!’....Time to start looking for other work.”