The owls in the forest were hooting asymmetrically like Charles Mingus and his quasi-big band at Carnegie Hall, but it wasn’t the same without the tawny owl guiding the woodwinds. Sleep flickered dully against me like a butterfly carrying out a wee vendetta. My skin felt aloof and distant and perhaps entangled in conflict with my touch. I understood the wrinkled sheets were not clean, but still.
I had no good answers for any of the obvious questions. Like, what and where? And why not? Don’t ask me why.
My breathing was superficial and shallow. Nothing new there. I might have called my doctor but I don’t have a doctor to call. The last time I remember speaking to a doctor, she wanted me to turn my head and cough. In fact, she was insistent.
So it could have been a premonition of squirrels on the roof that rankled me next, or perhaps marauding opossums who are not cute. Or a raccoon rooting slavishly for grubs. Or the return of that wry fox who had dumped a questionable load of auburn shit near my back door the night before. I remember that as a shitty start to a sleepless night. There was a message in that load of shit, I’m certain. Unless it was just plain and simple duplicity. The ground was still slick from rain the night before that. I remember now who the real enemy was. I was, that’s who. Unless it was the night before that. I remember it was dark, one of those nights. A hidden message from a wry fox is not unheard of around here. I remember that much about many unforgettable nights.
So next, before what came to pass, and follow, I heard sounds resembling grunts, groans, wheezing. In fact, the close and eerie resemblance startled me. I armed myself with a big knife. Don’t ask me why. Unfocused light was twisting in the trees like Hank Ballard and Thee Midnighters. That was before it got weird.
The tawny owl was off on one of his transcendental journeys to Big Sur, along with his lovely wife Thee Mrs. of course, so I was home alone. I was not afraid, exactly, but the potential was poised and alert, as always. Four red-tail hawks were supposed to be policing the grounds from two hundred feet in the air but it didn’t feel the same. What I conjured was not a premonition exactly, but an itch. Nothing new in that. Though I questioned if those were chains I could hear clanging. Unless it was a twitch. But, still.
From Big Sur, the tawny owl intended to do a little astral traveling in the area that straddles the nether regions between spiral galaxies NGC3314a and NGC3314b. I think the lovely Thee Mrs. was heading North to visit some relatives in a clan of pygmy owls near Mt. Shasta. Unless they were hooded owls near Mt. Hood. It is never easy to know what goes on in the vast unknown. The tween twins were busy performing shenanigans in Santa Cruz, so that left me out, too.
The eeriness began to escalate as I looked up to see an invasion of deputy sheriffs scrambling up the hill to my house. My eyes had never turned tricks like this before. I know looking up is good for my posture, and looking down is better for concentration, but still. Unless it was just plain weird. They thrashed like armor clad gladiators through the wild strawberries and the poison oak. Weapons were drawn and pointed like stick figures. I did not pause to consider how much itching and scratching there would be in the morning. I dropped my knife in my tracks. Apparently, I was bleeding. The blade stuck like truth in the dirt. The word ‘weapons’ in this case performs syntactically as a euphemism for big guns that explode.
Again, don’t ask me why, but I felt compelled in that next moment to take that next step. I found myself more or less exposed for what I had become. I raised my hands high as if James Brown was alive on stage and yelled, “Don’t shoot.”
There are many entries under personality disorders affiliated with compulsive behaviors in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Among them are Histrionic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. But, still
Unmistakably, I heard, “Put your hands up.”
“My hands are up… Don’t shoot.”
I am aware that I did not need to point out the man’s lack of visual acuity. If anything was clear, that was it. My hands were certifiably in the correct position and going nowhere. Or one version thereof. Unless it was not a man. But, no less than any sensible man, I was willing to submit completely. Except for my big fat mouth. To whomever. And go as low as any man or whomever could go to get there.
“Don’t shoot,” I repeated.
I added another supplemental, “Don’t shoot,” just in case I had not groveled sufficiently to be on the safe side. There was a whiny component in the inflection that was hard to miss. That’s how low I wanted to be, and stay. I know the limitations of language as well as the next guy but I remained compulsive. In no way was I trying to be smarmy on purpose. To me, it did not seem like an excessive use of verbiage.
Then I heard one of the sheriffs say”That’s not him. He’s one of those pro bros who get drunk in the village on Wednesday nights. I busted him once before. Along with that asshole lawyer of his. We screwed that asshole but good.”
Emboldened, I said, “That’s right. I’m the wrong man. No just any asshole is the right man. Don’t shoot.”
I did not admit that it had been many years since I had stumbled drunkenly with the pro bros in the gutters of the village, not all of whom are technically assholes. I knew exactly which lawyer he meant, though. My criminal lawyer, not my divorce lawyer. My divorce lawyer was not a member of the pro bros. Way back then, the drunkenness was on a Thursday night.
“If that’s not him, who is he?”
“And what are we doing here?”
“Let’s get a move on.”
As it turned out, I did not get shot. I should have known. I was, in fact, as I had always been, the wrong man. The wrong man is hard to dig up and identify with accuracy in a crowd. He is hard to define. As an adjective, ashen comes close. Who better to blame for any crime than the wrong man? He’s there, he’s square. Or round. No matter. Pick a man, choose a crime, voila. It is so simple, so acute. Whitish, brownish, clownish, tan, wan, ashen, ecru. There are so many pairs of balls swinging hard for the fences. One is not a great deal different than another. Multiply that and what do you get? Behind any door the wrong man can be easily found. As wrong men, we are the true majority. None of us ever get away with anything. Technically, it doesn’t even have to be a crime.
“We better get going if we’re going to get anywhere before it’s light.”
“We’ve still got a job to do..”
Stupidly, I began to respond, “But..”
In response, a grumbling occurred. Deep needs and voices became aroused. Non-verbal communication.
“Just forget it.”
“As far as you know we were never here.”
Then the lead voice, not a man I was sure this time, though deep, said, “No harm, no foul.”
Plaintively, I said, “But, still.”