inteus_mika (inteus_mika) wrote,

Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind

The sky opened up today, dumping a heavenly residue over a significant portion of the central US.  Aaaaand now we have snow days all around, across affected regions.  It’s not exactly blizzard conditions.  Even so, lotsa folks abandon job posts in favor of cabin fever at times like this, causing business shutdowns all over for the duration of this multi-state “whiteout.”  Soooo, I have some unexpected free time on my hands right now.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine also happens to be sick in bed.  No connection, just convenient timing, since he now gets the day off without using PTO.  But still no fun for him.  Apparently, being bedridden can lead one to some questionable television viewing choices.  In an IM chat this afternoon, he said he couldn’t find his remote, and didn’t feel well enough to either look for it, or get up to change the channel, so he’s been stuck watching second rate cable shows about cryptozoology, the paranormal, and other pseudo-science since mid-morning.

Not being a man who places much value in most broadcast network television, I have a hard time imagining how anyone could ever be “stuck” watching anything on TV.  Did you know there is more brain activity going on in your head when you stare at a blank wall than when you’re zoned out in front of the boob tube?  Its a fact! Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy some quality cable programming on occasion.  But here I have to stress “quality.”

I was flabbergasted to learn not only are there multiple complete series, but entire networks dedicated to exploring these types of “strange mysteries” and “unusual phenomena.”  Spose this is what happens when you put Rupert Murdoch in control of National Geographic.  Or maybe, this is what results from the institutional dumbing down of a nation.  Perhaps both.  But don’t get me started on that soapbox.  Don’t want to come off like a conspiracy theorist.  Though, I believe I’m not going too far out on a limb to suggest there’s a time coming —and probably sooner than you’d like to think — when the “plot” to effectively lobotomize our general populace no longer seems quite so farfetched.  You don’t have to dig too deeply into current affairs before considering the notion might carry some weight.  In fact, you’d only have to check out a handful of hot-button political issues.  I’d even venture to say, if you’re not there already, you probably haven’t been paying attention.  Did you know there is an entire subsection of our culture which actually believes — yes, in the 2nd millenium, even — that the EARTH is FLAT?  I’m really not kidding.  Seriously.  I wish I was.  Is it any wonder those men of science with a media persona are starting to come across in the public eye as a little bit cranky?  For now, anyway, let’s just agree it’s amazing what passes for entertainment these days.

My friend doesn’t know when the show first aired, but “The History Channel” — where, based on its current flight schedule, this name obviously does not mean what you think it means — recently reran a presentation focusing on UFO nuts upset with Barak Obama because in a public address he came out as saying there is no evidence of alien visitation to the planet, and there are no government documents which prove the existence of aliens.  Now, me, personally, I don’t know about whether or not there’s evidence of alien visitation to the planet... I never thought it important enough to lose any sleep over.  It wouldn’t surprise me if aliens had at some point in our history visited the earth, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if it hadn’t happened, either.  There are billions of star systems out there, and I don’t think we’re so important we’d be terribly worth visiting across the vast expanse of space, since there’s no sentient life outside ourselves within our own solar system.  So I wouldn’t disagree there’s no evidence of alien life... I simply wouldn’t know.  Not only that, but I also sincerely believe the lack of knowing is not likely to impact my life one way or another, regardless of my opinion on the matter.  Though, I will say, as gigantic as the universe is, anyone who believes we are the only intelligent life to have ever emerged, across a macrocosmos of planets in existence since time began, has got to be a special kind of arrogant.

But I just don’t understand people who devote so much of their lives to the search for aliens and cryptozoology.  I’m okay with NASA doing space exploration, of course.  The President did indicate our government is actively searching for life on other planets, and I consider that a worthwhile pursuit.  A constant drive to explore the unknown and unexplained — that’s how science works.  Gene Roddenberry understood that.  He inspired a whole new generation to seek out new life and new civilizations, as many of today’s astronauts were motivated to chase after the space program because of Star Trek.  No joke!  The rest of us, though, I would think, should be content to recognize there are some things in this world we just don’t and can’t know everything about, and leave the unearthing of advancements in science to the experts who have actually dedicated their life’s work to being involved in that process.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be curious, and I wouldn’t discourage that curiosity.  I mean, if you really feel it’s your calling to be the next Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Augusta Ada King, Louis Pasteur, Madam Curie, or Jane Goodall, then do it.  But at least go about it with something resembling a logical approach.  Like, through NASA, AIBS, ASM, IWLS, WAZA, or WHO, etc., for example.  There’s a reason major, world-changing discoveries of science are never made by rednecks in the woods with wire hanger antennas and tinfoil hats.  Trust me, I know — I’ve seen this in action.

When I was 24, I’d planted my feet for a while in Cloudcroft, NM.  Cloudcroft was as far as I’d wandered after breaking away from the Mescalero Reservation, where I’d been connected for a spell when a journey to find my father had lead me there, but turned up empty.  The parting was both amicable, and inevitable.  Taking my leave from the community had something to do with a sweet young gal I just couldn’t bring myself to settle down for.  If ever anyone coulda done it, she’d have been the one, but by then I’d seen enough to figure out life on the rez just really isn’t for me, and I had to move on.  I’d say more about that, but I’ll save it for another time.  This is the story of my run-in with a group of Steve Irwin wannabes, a not-so-supernatural being, and their brush with the law.

I was working at the time as a veterinary assistant in the local clinic there.  Having a natural way around wildlife from being raised on a farm in the woods by a shima with a soft spot for tending to needy strays — her own “catch and release” program, shed joke — yielded the kind of skills that are profoundly beneficial to overworked villagers smack dab in the heart of a National Forest territory.  In a sticksburg of less than a thousand, it doesn’t take long to become familiar with everyone, not just by name and reputation, but by knack and know-how, both on and off the books.  It’s even easier for them to get to know you when you’re the freshest face there.  Particularly if you bring with you shiny new talent and abilities to be added to the common kitty.  Which is how I came to find the night patrol Ranger (whom I won’t name out of respect for his privacy, due to the nature of his position) knocking on my door at nearly two in the morning one crisp early autumn evening in 1999.

He had a special case that required emergency attention; said he’d seen enough of my work to figure I was the right man for the job.  Based on his urgency, I didn’t even argue, I just got dressed and followed him to the animal hospital, where I would have expected the vet and a couple of techs ready to operate, with me as an extra hand for cleanup or sedation support if necessary.  But when we got there, I was surprised to find it was just him and me.  And the patient.

The Ranger hopped out of his truck and motioned for me to give him a hand, then jumped into the flatbed, struggling to maneuver a rather sizable bundle into a position where two men could carry it.  Now, I’m not normally hesitant in a crisis.  Adrenaline fuels you, training kicks in, muscle memory takes over, and you just do the job that needs to be done.  But I have to admit the blood in my veins felt like ice for half a second when I met him at the back of that truck.  I had no idea what was under that fire blanket.  It was bigger than a wolf, but smaller than a bear.  I only took a moment to assess that it wasn’t moving, though, so I knew whatever it was, it was in trouble, so I gathered my wits and found my feet in short order.  The two of us wrangled the limp, dead weight onto a table in the OR, where I found a surprise I wasn’t prepared for.  When the Ranger carefully unwrapped the blanket from the beast in the bundle, I might have done a double-take at first.

I may not have a degree or any formal higher education, but I like to think of myself as mostly knowledgeable about the world we live in.  When I was younger, though, the internet was not as easily accessible to me, I never watched much TV, and most of the books I read were older, secondhand, probably fantastical in nature.  (Life outside the shack didn’t have much to offer I didn’t want to escape, so I was something of a head-in-the-clouds type daydreamer... these kinds of books helped me to get away a lot better than any others.)  Consequently, I might not have been as smart as I thought I was then.  Looking back on it, I’m sure of it.  Spose I’m probably still not as smart as I think I am, even today.  But at least now, though, you can give me a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone, and a coffeehouse with wifi, and I have the world at my fingertips.  These days there’s a lot less than can shock me.

I must have stood there with my jaw gaping for longer than I meant to.  The Ranger had to repeat himself a couple times to snap me out of a daze so I could get his instructions, and hear the story of the creature in front of me.  Even then, it still took me one or two tries to stop staring long enough to focus on what he was saying.  I was just certain I was looking at a genuine Kensah,* in jeans and a flannel.  (*Or, what Ina would have called Chiyetanka, Shima knew as Yéitsoh, and you pilgrims, depending on what region you hail from, might be more familiar with by the more common names, Sasquatch, Wendigo, Yeti, or simply, “Bigfoot.”)  But anyone who’s been around a while has learned, as I did that night, things are not always what they appear to be, and even appearances are not always what they seem.  More often than not, there’s probably a rational explanation for most everything ostensibly unexplained.

His name was Hector.  He was 6’5,” 285#, and covered in thick, black hair from head to foot.  He grew up in Brazil, had a masters from San Paulo, and was getting a doctorate in Juarez.  He’d taken a working vacation to Sunspot, and was enjoying a weekend hiking excursion into the interior of Lincoln National Forest, doing some camping at Benson Ridge.  He was out for a midnight stroll to watch the stars, when he was happened upon by a delinquent band of ruffians, drunk and loaded for bear, who took his family’s hereditary condition for lycanthropy, and fired at him.  The punks hadn’t left it there, though.  Certain they had caught themselves a real live werewolf, the hoodlums chased him down in their truck, hollering and carrying on like a lynch mob.  When the Ranger had come across them, they’d caught Hector, had him tied to the trestles at the Mexican Canyon railbridge, and were busy contesting each other’s skill by pelting him with rocks and pissing on him.

If the Ranger hadn’t come to his aid, Hector probably would not have made it through the night.  In addition to pulling buckshot from his nethers, I also treated him for multiple wounds, and significant blood loss.  He was bruised and battered from the beatings, lacerated from running for his life through the woods, and, most importantly, suffering from shock, and the early stages of hypothermia.  New Mexico is generally pretty warm, but it gets down to the low 30°s at night in early October, which is more than a body can handle on top of extensive body trauma, even a body in flannel with a natural fur coat.

I patched him up as best I could, gave him fluids, kept him warm, and stayed with him through the night and much of the next day.  The clinic was officially closed on Sundays, except for emergencies, and I was on first alert that weekend, anyway, so it worked out that we didn’t have to bring in the Doc.  The Ranger didn’t really want to get too many people involved in this mess, which is why he’d taken Hector to me, instead of to Gerald Champion, the nearest major hospital in Alamogordo.  Gunshot wounds are an automatic call to the police, and while the Ranger had no interest in protecting this group of gangsters, he was sure the news would be all over the story, and he didn’t want that kind of press either for our small town, or for Hector.  Hector’s family is prominently renowned in Brazil — not just because they’ve passed down multiple generations of hypertrichosis, but because they represent a well established business legacy, and leadership in their community.  The fallout of this debacle had potential to create an international incident.

When his condition was stable, I spent some time connecting with Hector.  He spoke English well, and taught me a little Spanish, even though his native language is Portuguese.  He figured a little Spanish would be more practical for me, given our location.  Hector himself put me to shame with his extensive linguistic aptitude... he spoke at least a dozen languages, at the time, and quite possibly knows a few more now.  He was a decent fellow, and surprisingly understanding, considering the torture he’d endured.  I learned a lot about grace in the face of extreme injustice, and the true power of genuine mercy.  He refuses to harbor resentment because it eats at you from the inside, and if you can’t let go of a grudge, you will be controlled by it, he says.  He told me, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison, expecting another man to die.”  Words of the Buddha, I do believe.

Hector may have been willing to overlook the matter, but the Ranger wasn’t.  He was not going to let the hooligans get away with what they’d done.  They were a group of fratboys from local provinces scattered within the Lincoln territory — Mayhill, Sacramento, and Weed, specifically.  Ironically, their connection to each other was through one of the many churches in the Forest.  Weed — which gets its title from the surname of its founding family, not what you were thinking — is a miniscule little borough of about a sneezeful of people, where everyone is so close as to be practically related, and the shame
alone of a misdeed this monumental might have been soul-crushing for the twin brothers from that neck of the woods.  It may very well have actually done so in one case... perhaps both.

I don’t remember the entirety of the punishment the Ranger cooked up for them, using pressure from the boys’ understandably outraged families as leverage to help them stick to their sentence, but I know it involved astronomical fines that took years for most of them to pay off, donated to the charity of Hector’s choice — which I believe was wildlife preservation — that he was happy to earmark as dedicated to the Lincoln National Forest.  The Ranger wanted it to go towards furthering the advancement of hypertrichosis research, but Hector wouldn’t hear of it.  He said no one in the history of his family, living with this condition going back hundreds of years, saw it as a debility, and everyone he knew who had it was a well rounded, genuinely happy individual... why would that need to be cured?  In addition, each of the “brute squad” committed to a set amount of community service, to be carried out in the burn unit of GCRMC, or any other place that would cause the wayward young men to have to look upon the undesirable and care for the suffering with dignity.  If the Ranger could have found a leper’s ward, I’m sure he would have pointed them there.

I kept up with Hector for a few years through letters, and more recently, in email and on social media.  He continued to visit Sunspot while he was still in school, making a point to add Cloudcroft to his list of routine stops on his periodic weekend getaways.  He became something of a part-time town hero, for a brief while there.  Though Ive long since been gone from that area, and Hector himself hasnt been back in ages, I still consider him a friend, a mentor, an inspiration, and a role model.

As for his tormentors, one of the twins ended up hitting the bottle pretty hard, landing himself in and out of county lockup throughout his 20s, graduating each time to worse and worse crimes, until he eventually went to prison before he was 30, where he was caught in the middle of an internal gang scuffle, and beaten to death.  For the other three, the results of this escapade were much more positive.  The other twin brother from Weed, woefully remorseful, confessed his sins before his church, rallying their forgiveness and emotional support.  Encouraged, humbled, and seeking absolution from a higher power, he went on from there into Seminary, where he became a Baptist minister, and returned to lead his home congregation.

The Sacramento commoner, with the Ranger’s permission, spent a good portion of his college days in a Green Peace exchange program, traveling the world, giving to the underprivileged and needy all across the globe.  I think he’d initially meant to effectively use the opportunity to flee the country and thereby escape his “punishment,” but the Ranger, knowing what Green Peace stood for, valued the education he would glean from the experience, and allowed it.  When he came back, he was a truly changed man.  He married and moved to California — ironically, to Sacramento — where he now lives with his wife and two daughters, running a family bakery.  Together, the couple donates at least 25% of their annual proceeds, and a significant portion of their time and energy, to feeding and helping the homeless and hungry in the area.

And the Mayhill resident, already in a medical program, originally intending to become a plastic surgeon, determined to dedicate his skills to something more lofty than simply making money, and joined the ranks of Doctors Without Borders, where he now practices every day pediatrics, and sometimes donates his training to performing no-charge facial reconstructions on third world children with cleft palates.

I’ve met a lot of troubled souls in my travels.  And I know there are plenty who espouse the mentality that there are some people in this world who just can’t be saved.  But I think the most important lesson that arose out of this encounter for me — though it took a while for it to become clear — may be that, no matter how malevolent, how destructive, how far gone a person may seem... everyone is redeemable.  Because anyone can change.  Change, as it happens, is inevitable.  You might just have to coax it in the right direction.  And, miracles do happen, but sometimes, in some of the hardest, most tough love cases, it might take a miracle — perhaps even delivered in the form of a fuzzy angel — to bring about the otherwise impossible.  So never say never.  Because you just never know.

Moar Storease!: They Said It Couldnt Be Done*
i can haz votes, pleez?*

* Please also see especially the skillful works of Team Clueless:
   •  A Moonlit Winter Canvasellison
   •  Blade of Darkness i_love_freddie
   •  Heroes and Legends prog_schlock
   •  Thank You For Not Smoking sinnamongirl

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