Monday, December 10, 2007

ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE HORN HONKS... honks for thee.

A few days ago I was talking to Velociman, and the conversation eventually degenerated - as it so often does - to matters Vile and Repugnant.

Somehow (I forget exactly how), we got onto the topic of roadkill. It may have been because V-man was enroute to Jacksonville and, while cruising through a wide spot in the road, may have seen some fragrant small-town menu offerings at the local barbecue, chili, and outpatient surgery joint. But how we got there, topicwise, matters less than the fact that, well, we were there.

Most of us of driving age have had Roadkill Experience. If we ourselves (Gawd forbid) have never had direct vehicular contact with a living beast, we certainly have seen the aftermath. I particularly remember seeing a dead cow alongside the inner shoulder of northbound I-85 in Georgia one day. Wonder what the other guy looked like. A cow is a massive thing to deal with at 75 MPH, unless you’re driving an eighteen-wheeler. And even then, it’ll put a major ding in your grille.

Hate to be on the Disposal Crew, the guys who have to drag those fly-blown, reeking carcasses off to the local Rendering Plant: “Your Local Used Cow Dealer.” Nasty job, that.

There was also one time - same road, perhaps a little farther north - I was driving at dusk and had to slow to a crawl because a herd of deer had wandered onto the roadway. I was hoping one of ’em wouldn’t panic and send the whole herd thudding frantically into my car. If you’ve ever tried to visualize what the expression “deer in the headlights” means, this was it: about twenty pairs of eyes, glowing with the reflected light of my low-beams, milling stupidly about.

The Missus and I have driven long stretches of fog- and rain-shrouded interstate at night in the cold season, knuckles white with tension on the wheel, fearing the sudden appearance of a deer or other large beastie. You do not want one of them going through your windshield as you cruise along at well over a mile a minute.

The smaller critters may be less scary from the standpoint of being less likely to cause you to become Roadkill-Kill, but what they lack in retributive potential, they make up for in emotional engagement. It’s hard to see a half-decayed cat or dog on the shoulder of a highway without feeling a momentary pang, the knowledge that that carrion-heap might possibly have been someone’s pet.

And so we assuage our pain by lowbrow attempts at humor. We give the roadkill a funny name.

Road Pizza.

Road Latka. (Smaller than a road pizza.)

We make up dopey songs:
Oh, Tom-a-Toad,
Oh, Tom-a-Toad,
Why are you lying in the road?
Yeah. Roadkill Humor. It’s black humor, sure, because at its heart, there is the dark realization that the Secret McDonald’s Motto has more than just a grain of truth to it: We are all meat.

I still have a very clear memory of my first up-close-and-personal encounter with roadkill. I was in second grade, give or take a year or so, and I was playing with some friends who lived across the street from our elementary school. We heard the squeal of brakes...

...and minutes later, we were in the midst of a small crowd that had gathered where a dog had been struck by a car.

It had been a spaniel of some kind, with a brown and white coat. From the neck up, he looked normal enough - almost as though he had inexplicably decided to take a nap in the middle of the street. But from the neck down, he was like nothing so much as a big, wet sack of Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage. With paws.

We watched - too fascinated to be sickened - as someone used a flat-bladed shovel to scrape the remains of the dog up into a bushel basket. I can still hear the sound of that shovel against the asphalt, sounding out the death-knell for someone’s family pet. It was the sound of mortality, and I was hearing it for the first time.

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