Saturday, June 7, 2003

The Crows Move In

So, Nate and I are walking around in the backyard after putting out the peanuts for the Jays. I try to get him off the deck now as soon as possible because he’s gotten tall enough to not just reach the peanuts on the little planter box stand (the ones I leave for him to dismantle), but he can reach the nuts on the deck railing (the ones reserved for the Jays). He ends up throwing these over the side or smashing them to pull out the nuts, he basically just wastes them. Although, it has been fun to show off and crush peanuts into smithereens between my thumb and forefinger, a cloud of broken nuts, shell dust and onion skin thin brown nut covering falling to the deck in front of his surprised, smiling face. He’s also started to share peanuts once he’s gotten them out of the shell, which is cute. All this makes a tremendous mess, and doesn’t really achieve the goal of feeding the Steller’s Jays. Not that this REALLY matters. I’ve taken to looking at time with Nate as something other than just the time to accomplish things, it’s more like hockey game time and I’m the goalie on the team with a 1-0 lead. All I have to do is hold him off until that final buzzer and we’ll win, the reinforcements will be back. Hockey game time is entirely different from baseball game time. If I was watching Nate on baseball game time I’d have to accomplish three things per day or per inning in order for that inning to be over. In essence there is no time, there is only the accomplishment of tasks. We’re not quite there yet. I’m perfectly happy on hockey game time. He could sit there and tear apart peanuts for an hour (the Jays will still find the nuts, on the deck, below the deck, in the shell, chewed up and spat out by a little 18-month old nut chaw spitting rascal, whatever, they’ll still find them and eat them. Unless…unless they encounter more rascally competition than Nate, even more nefarious than Chip the Chipmunk [who still prances about the lawn like a springing brown sack of mischief], unless bigger birds move in on their territory. Which is exactly what happened the other day. Crows. Two, big black mean crows swooped in, chased away the Jays and made off with the nuts we’d left. The Jays were left to digging around under the deck like Chip and the Robins, searching for scraps. The scene started me thinking on Darwin and charity and Keynes and what this all means. Is it really survival of the fittest? I don’t think that is the phrase Darwin would have wanted people to remember whenever they heard his name, there was so much more going on in that brain (I saw a History Channel special). Simply because crows are bigger and can scare away some Jays to get free peanuts doesn’t mean that crows will live and Jays will drift to obscurity. This is hardly an indicative sampling and they might have descended from the same dinosaur anyway. What this is about is giving, and what burden a gift puts on the receiver. What weight lies on the shoulders [do Jays have shoulders?] of those birds to defend what I’ve given them? What responsibility do these peanut welfare recipients have to behave nobly in an ignoble world? How do you measure the burden of the guilt of the recipient? And, getting back to our Hindu mendicant for a moment, who holds more power in this exchange? Is this time for derogatory interrogatory or is there a reason for these questions? Let’s imagine “giving” as being bad. My feeding the Jays is bad because it upsets the natural order of things. A government giving welfare to a permanent underclass is bad because it “enables” that permanence. Plus, the recipients are burdened with the weight of charity. They must acknowledge every day that they have failed and they need help in order to survive. This fosters bitterness and resentment. It’s not that they can’t help themselves, it’s just that the rules are set up so that someone else always wins. Every child knows, if the game is fixed it’s time to cheat. Except “cheat” is too strong a word, kids develop a workaround. I’m sure everyone’s seen this in action. An object turns into a toy, the object is feared a danger, the object gets put out of reach. The child wants the toy, waits until the parent isn’t looking, moves a chair, climbs up and gets the toy. An assembly line worker loses his job, he doesn’t work for a year, he doesn’t have money to pay for things he’s told he needs [little things like health insurance, car payments…food], so he steals a car, sells it and gets the money. Is it cheating or is it a workaround? A devout and passionate Muslim sees his co-religionists mired in second-class status around the globe while others who do not share his beliefs are making the decisions that affect history, humanity and all that that implies. He doesn’t have a conventional army at his disposal to force his will [and what he sees as the will of both a vast population and an almighty being] upon the world, so he develops a network of al-Qaeda operatives who will give up their lives to take the lives of those that don’t believe what they believe and achieve his ends. Is it cheating or is it a workaround? A presidential candidate doesn’t think he has enough votes to gain office, but he knows the people who control the voter rolls. Those people remove lots of people from the voter rolls who are likely to not vote for that presidential candidate. And, lo, the presidential candidate wins (after half a recount). Was it cheating or was it a workaround? Either way the results were achieved and there is no doubt the achiever felt a sense of accomplishment rather than the burden of receipt. If you don’t get caught it might even taste sweeter than conventional success. If a player feels the game is inequitable, refs are bought, fouls go uncalled, then anything goes as long as you don’t get whistled. If the player can get away with it, not only does he enjoy the fruits of winning, he also gets to rub his success in the nose of an opponent he views as inferior or as playing unfairly), but this isn’t a game. This is life and there aren’t tidy 60 minute worlds divided into 20 minute periods. There aren’t consistent rules applied to a contrived reality. This is life, and life is not a game. Life is complicated. And in writing those words I’m breaking (twice) a promise I’d made to myself never to write the words “life is” specifically because life is complicated. So in saying “life is complicated” I’m lowering even my meager standards for stating what is patently obvious. Conversely, saying “life is…” insert anything else, and I’d be setting myself up to look even more stupid than I already must. But, now that I’ve started I might as well go whole hog (mmm…whole…hog). Life is not comprised of neat absolutes. Life is not black and white. Life is shades of gray. Occasionally, though, when the gray reaches its most smothering universality it doesn’t hurt to inject a sharper hue to change the mood. “Into the great wide open, under the sky so blue, into the great wide open, a rebel without a clue,” oh, Tom Petty, you slay me. Is this on? Is anyone listening?
You know what, I really don’t give a shit which birds eat the fucking peanuts, just as long as Nate doesn’t choke on one.

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