So Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face.
I know that looks terrible laid out there just that way, and probably there's not another newspaper in the United States that would lead with such a stark, untempered sentence, but in the few and fleeting years granted us on our cold, thin earth between bog and bedrock in this state that lies in so many ways beyond the main, we've learned to see clearly and speak directly. Simple, honest, declarative (and yes, Mr. White, mostly active voice) statements do sometimes startle.
But there it is, with all the sudden, knife-edge horror of “His wife left him,” or “He's drinking again,” or “They starved their dogs,” or “She tied her toddler to the furnace.” We're pretty judgmental, I know, but we hold ourselves to the same standards as our neighbors and though we falter, fail or fall short, we retain our right and duty to say what we see. Vice President Richard Cheney discharged a shotgun without making sure of his target and a man took a load of shot in his face.
Now, I know a lot of guys who like to night hunt, who will sometimes have more steaks and roasts and sausages and hearts and livers in their freezers than one expects to cut from just that one legal deer. Not everybody I know who hunts poaches, of course, but very few hunters I've talked with have not been guilty of the crime of driving deer. Urban readers will want me to explain that this practice uses the simple expedient of having several of the party walk through the woods arrayed in a loose front, advancing in such a way as to present a deer or several in an open area where one or more of their fellows stand or sit ready to drop a big hole in the heart-lung area of those of God's wild creatures who aren't smart enough to outflank the drivers and follow behind them.
The deer thus dead are no more put out by the process, I'd imagine, than those shot from a tree stand or stalked or tracked through the woods or lured in with a bottle of doe urine (those bucks—they're animals!) or attracted by a fat kid clacking some old antlers together while his dad scans the treeline for a willing combatant. The reason driving is illegal is because it can put a driver in line for a bullet almost as easily as the intended victim, what with all the trees and bushes and the tendency of some of our less fastidious practitioners to deliver a “sound shot” or two when the crack of a twig intersects the arc of an adrenaline surge. Know your target, we say. Be sure before you shoot.
All I have is what I read in the other papers and see on the TV news, but as I make it out neither the vice president nor anyone in his party made haste to inform the public. The story took a day or so to ooze out, and the reportage generally downplayed the event. It seems that Harry Whittington, “a millionaire attorney from Austin,” according to the AP, was “alert and doing fine” and “in good spirits” said Katharine Armstrong, owner of the fifty thousand acre ranch where the deed was done. Well, sure. Of course he was. Christ, it's really an honor, when you think about it, to maybe have your goddamn eye put out by a good ol' boy of the caliber of the VP. And besides, said Ms. Armstrong, “The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came.” Well, there. Just like that. No harm, no foul. Private health insurance can work its magic; the fine doctors of Corpus Christi Hospital will apply whatever balm exists in that dry and dusty Gilead to make the wounded whole and comfortable and as happy as a millionaire Republican judge deserves to be. Find your own reward in whatever you infer from a sterling member of the most virulently Christian, faith-based administration in history having the good luck or good sense to shoot his innocent bystanders within hauling distance of the Body of Christ Hospital.
I want to make it perfectly clear right now, before I mine this flaky diversion from the terrible truths we all confront this and every day, that I do not for an instant believe Vice President Cheney shot his hunting pal on purpose. I think this for two reasons. First, Dick doesn't do these things himself. If he'd wanted Judge Whittington shot, he'd have delegated it, calling in Scooter Libby's successor and making his desires known. Whether Scooter II would confide the bloody details to Bob Novak or Judith Miller one can only speculate.
Secondly, we'd have heard of the judge in the days or weeks before he was turned into a smoking crater. We would have understood by the day of his deserved demise, that he hated freedom, was an enemy of America, favored cheap heating oil for poor people, or had failed to sentence sufficient of the accused to the Texas state needle in his court.
I think Harry was an innocent victim of a careless hunter. You know the type—a guy who'll snap off a shot or two in the general direction he thinks something might be creeping or hopping or flying; a man eager to go to war on a rumor or a lie. Again, though, the mainstream press sees it differently than we do here jammed up against the edge of Canada. In Texas, apparently, in order to avoid being shot in the face, you are required to announce yourself. It seems this crazy millionaire was just wandering around the field at the edge of Dick's peripheral vision, looking for his own quail to slay, and was supposed to say at intervals, “Don't shoot me, Mr. Vice President.”
Again, landowner Armstrong lays it out succinctly: “The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good.”
Well, Jesus, Harry, how stupid is that? You should be ashamed of yourself! Who made you a judge, anyway? (Most likely, poppa Bush, if I had to put money on the question, but he's partly responsible for making Dick veep and entirely so for, well, for just making the current iteration of a Bush president, so which of those three separate but related mistakes is the greatest crime against decency, you'll have to decide for yourself.)
He “got peppered pretty good.” We're right back where I started. See, I'd say (I did say) and I think my friends the deer drivers and night hunters would say, “He got shot in the face.” Hell, even our metaphors are direct in these territories—she did, after all, “get her tit caught in a wringer” when she found her old man sporting with the baby sitter. I guess we'd name the act and the price: Vice President Cheney shot his hunting partner in the face. We'd also tell you the make of his gun and the size of the shot and whether he'd loaded the shells himself. And we wouldn't expect everybody to put on body armor or duck and cover or wear bells if they didn't want to catch lead between their teeth. (I'm assuming, lacking evidence, that in Texas you can still litter the landscape with lead shot; if I've maligned that progressive, humane state, I regret the error.)
Dick got in some trouble a while back for dispatching seventy pheasants all of one happy afternoon. Another time Mr. Undisclosed Location was reported (sorry, E.B., but you read enough sloppy “news” and you lapse passive sometimes) as having killed “an undisclosed number of mallard ducks.” And were any of that number rendered to a foreign country for interrogation? There is so much we just don't know, and that's fine with the vice president and most newspaper publishers and about half the citizens of our diminished nation.
Apparently no file photos of Mr. Cheney exist where he does not appear to be hissing the F-word out of the side of his mouth. Mr. Whittington looks like a judge or a businessman and, really, between those two positions in America these days, why quibble? But I bear him no particular ill will, and I hope he sues Dick's soft, white, draft-dodging ass. While he's recovering, he should listen to the very fine songs of Austin singer-songwriter Ray Wiley Hubbard; something good could come out of this for him.
Maine's contribution to Austin music is of course Slaid Cleaves, who will surely be back to play the bars and festivals in his home state next summer. I'll ask him if he knows why such big men like to shoot such little birds as quail.
But I'm sure I mock what I don't understand. It must be terrifying to have a whole covey of quail burst up out of the puckerbrush like so many haters-of-freedom. I'd probably let go with everything I had myself, in one mad burst of fire, collateral damage notwithstanding, my corrupt, rotted heart beating wildly, my only thought to fight 'em in Texas so I wouldn't have to fight 'em here.
Christopher Cooper lives in Alna Maine. Weak, unmanly and unpatriotic though he may look to many, he admits to never having shot a man or a bird. Express your disgust with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article also appeared in the Wiscasset Newspaper (Maine).