Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2003

Wide open spaces strike fear in city boy

June 1, 2003


Before we moved to the country, my visions of a bucolic, Thoreau-like existence were haunted by nightmares of intruders taking advantage of our rural isolation, murderous vagabonds creeping up the long driveway in rusted cars with broken windows, seats held together with duct tape, tailpipes dragging on the gravel.

I imagined tattooed desperadoes with missing teeth and greasy ponytails, wearing beer-stained tank tops, escapees from Leavenworth strung out on methamphetamines, accompanied by foul-mouthed floozies who'd provided the getaway cars. They'd hold us prisoner for weeks, eating up our provisions like the suitors of Penelope, while they tortured us for laughs. Our neighbors wouldn't notice a thing.

Finally they'd tire of the sport and, inspired by the lyrics of Johnny Cash, they'd shoot us, "just to watch us die." Then, in a script inspired by a news report I'd read, they'd finish off our fried chicken dinner, their ravenous appetites unspoiled by our bodies lying in pools of blood on the floor.

I'd been a city boy all my life and though the urban world is far more dangerous, it was the world I knew -- neighborhoods infested with gangs, juvenile sociopaths who commit murder for a Big Mac, pistol-wielding junkies who wouldn't think twice about shooting an old lady with a walker to finance a fix.

The city is a jungle. Every time you go out to pick up the paper, you risk getting mowed down by a drive-by shooting. You're a fool to step outside unarmed. But I'd grown comfortable with city perils. The country represented the unknown. According to my imagination, it was swarming with depraved, illiterate, half-witted predators who dismember their victims with chainsaws and axes. They'd be watching the construction of our new house with interest, fondling their hoes and pitchforks, laying out their gunnysacks, drooling in anticipation of the day when the helpless city folk moved in, like chickens ready to be plucked.

I began plotting strategies to foil them. I'd scatter canisters of pepper spray and stun guns throughout the house, string rows of tin cans around the yard, set up shot guns on trip wires, fence the premises with concertina wire. I would have snares and deadfalls, pits lined with sharpened bamboo stakes, scarecrows dressed in fatigues to give the illusion of armed guards.

The approach to the house would be posted with menacing signs: Armed Response, Radioactive Waste, Pit Viper Refuge, Gurley Home for the Criminally Insane, Now Seeking Victims for Human Sacrifice -- Apply Within.

Packs of dobermans and pitbulls kept on a near starvation diet would roam the grounds, of course, along with flocks of guinea hens, which are reputed to make excellent watch birds.

Occasionally, I'd post myself down by the mailbox and fire warning shots at passing trucks, just to get the word around that old Gurley himself is mad. He bites, he's rabid, he's best left alone.

To bolster my moxie, I'd wear a T-shirt that proclaimed: No Fear! And I'd dress every day in a bullet-proof vest.

Alas, none of these strategies made me feel safe. The enemy had taken up residence in my brain. Some wise guy said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. But that's not much help to someone who's possessed by fear.

An entire industry has sprung up to pander to people like me. It offers motion detectors, video surveillance cameras, electronic ears that listen for breaking glass. But no high-tech invention can dispel the terror when you hear that creaking on the stairs. And how many kings have tried to purchase security with alligator-stocked moats and portcullises, only to be poisoned by loved ones living within their walls?

My philosophical sister says that nothing can rescue you when your time is up. "Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorred shears, and slits the thin-spun life," to quote John Milton, that good old boy.

I console myself with the thought that my fears are phantoms. I'll probably get swallowed by the black snake, "big as a python," someone recently reported crawling across our drive. Or devoured by the mountain lion everyone in the neighborhood has sighted. A pterodactyl could swoop down from the sky and pluck me from my Adironack chair. Or, I'll just get wrapped like a piece of taffy around my tractor's PTO.

-- George Gurley, who lives in rural Baldwin, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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