“Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.” — Dr. Johnson
“If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.” — Dr. Johnson
There is an evil often perceived as a good but no less black than sin itself. This evil I speak of is the rejection of evil—so prevalent in today’s society. It is, of course, just as false a premise to say that everything is evil as to say nothing is evil. When a man is confronted by pure evil itself, he must overcome this with a valiant thrust of goodness. He must dispel the darkness by letting in the light. Ironically, I did not perceive the evil I will write about until I turned on the light. Often, we find that is the case.
I once took an online literature course which focused on Native American Literature. In one of those books, the opening line has the main character urinating. It is one of the many fallacies of modern creative writing that the bodily aspects of men—such as urinating, flagellating, bowel movements, etc.—must be described. Your main character snorting his snot all over his napkin does not add to his realism. It is gross. That is all. It says nothing about him or humanity, other than the too obvious fact that they do gross things. Any artist, I hope, would accept that. Would a musician compose a symphony of notes depicting the many noises of the human stomach? A painter would not paint a portrait of a man drooling all over himself or picking a scab. But I fear I’ve stressed this preface too far, and I only give it for two reasons: (1) My story begins, unfortunately, in the same way as that Indian story I mentioned, and (2) this preface keeps this post from undergoing the same tragedy, though it perhaps draws more attention to it.
So there we have it. Every morning I observe the common human experience of “using the restroom,” to use a euphemism. Now, as I’m undergoing this daily ritual, it so happens that my cat, Theodore, must paw at my leg until I am finished. Often this causes me to move around the toilet and in between the bathtub, though, praise be to our Lord above, that was not the case this day. I then proceed to pick up Theodore when I am finished and hold him until he is content and ready to be put down. Now, I must add that I was barefoot and did not have contacts in, meaning I was virtually blind. Holding Theodore, he contorts his body so that it is cradled, much like you are holding a baby. This means his head hangs and he can see around in many directions. As I was holding him, then, he happened to catching something out of the corner of his eye. I then noticed it too. This thing was on the bottom of the tub, in between it and the toilet. Right where I often step, barefooted and exposed.
Theodore scurried out of my arms. The battle began.
As Theodore pawed whatever it was, I left to get slippers and glasses, thinking to myself that it was some spider. Returning, I could now see much clearer, and I recognized at once that this was no spider. I recognized that I almost died. I quickly grabbed Theodore, who continued to squirm and squeal and swear at this thing, daring it to attack him. Though impressed with the cat’s courage, I put him outside the bathroom, closed the door, and began my own battle.
Striking the thing with my slipper once, twice, I soon realized the folly in this. This slipper was too flimsy. I sensed the demon grew angry and even perceived it to strike the slipper in retaliation—perhaps letting my imagination get the best of me. I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, a plunger. I struck it. Or attempted to. But hitting little devils with plungers requires hitting them on the very lip. Otherwise, they are relatively safe, unless one press down firmly. I did not. So missing the mark, I turned the plunger sideways and struck, missing. Then, again, hitting this time. Then turning the plunger back upright, struck again, like a sword meant to pierce a heart rather than swipe a head. I trapped the demon to the floor. Unsure how much damage I had done to it, I decided on a new tactic.
“Theo! We almost died!” I said leaving the bathroom and not letting him in, for he was still full of wrath and indignation. “That was a scorpion!” I continued. The first live one I’ve ever seen. I grabbed a more firm sandal, put on the slippers, grabbed some bug spray, and returned to the battlefield.
Not sure how injured the scorpion was, I thought I would “free it” from the plunger and numb it with the sandal before dousing it in bug spray. I slowly lifted the plunger and at once realized the plan must be abandoned. The scorpion clung to the lip of the plunger, giving me no angle to strike. I re-trapped it, regrouping, grabbing the spray, and turning its “safety” off. When swords don’t work, I suppose we must use the inferior gun.
I figured it would scurry away once I sprayed it and I had to be swift and prepared to re-trap it, if necessary. So, slowly lifting the plunger, I sprayed. No movement. I had apparently stunned it enough with my earlier stabs. But I sprayed again, and again, and again, until I was certain the demon was dead. And there, with heart beating, I stood over the dead scorpion and thanked the Lord I did not step on it.
I have a sincere belief—based on no theological premise—that certain creatures have been completely given over to Satan. These creatures look too much like the incarnation of hell itself, as if all evil was put into an exoskeleton or snakeskin. When I see scorpions, thankfully in pictures, I see only evil. But reflecting on this battle, I thought to myself how un-American my reaction was. That is, I reflected on my perception of true evil and its powerful force. And this belief changed how I reacted. I struck it. I did not strike a deal with it; I did not rationalize its existence; I did excuse it because most scorpions are not lethal; I did not sit around and wait until Theodore was stung to death and I woke up with it my bed; No, I played no diplomat. But neither did I, like the ultimate coward, who recognizes the danger but will not confront it, sit outside the bathroom and wish it away; I did not draw a red line; I did not sit outside and try to kill it by throwing pebbles at it; I did not set a trap, or call an exterminator, making it someone else’s problem; I did not concede defeat. As a fragile, faint-hearted, frail man with old bones and weak nerves, I confronted the demon despite my fear, for the situation called for courage. I confronted it with sword and spray. And I confronted it until it was completely obliterated and I knew I—and Theodore—were safe. My cowardly little self proved the common truth that man is made for battle. Even in the early hours of the morning, he must be alert. He is like Nevada. He is battle born.
Written at Sunrise Coffee Shop,
Las Vegas, Nevada
December 15, 2015
Painting: “To Battle: Knights”
By Brian Hatton,
Oil on canvas laid on board, 1909