It’s hard to turn on the tube or pick up a paper without hearing or reading about what a dangerous place the world is today.
Well, being always a skeptic, I have to wonder if that’s really true, particularly in view of world history, but even if it’s so, I guess that how safe you are, or how safe you feel, depends largely where you are, and more than that, on who you are.
A few years back, I was lucky enough to find myself with some free time, so I decided to visit Great Britain.
Trust me, there is nothing that will convince you of what a cozy little womb today’s world is than to wander among European history. Every stop in the road seems to be the site of one or another massacre, revolt or beheading.
I particularly remember riding around London on one of those double-decker buses listening to the guide regale us with various bloody stories about who was slaughtered where, and by whom, and what they did with the resulting body parts.
“On yer roy-et, in that wee courtyard is buried the bowdy o’ Suh Thomas More ‘e was executed after a l’il run-in w’ ‘enry the VIII… ‘is ‘EAD is buried at St. Dunston!”
If I may digress, I wasn’t really sure if I remembered all the details of this story correctly, in fact, all I really recalled clearly was the guide’s Cockney accent saying ” ‘is ‘EAD is buried…”. Anyway, in hope of finding all the details of the matter, I did a Google search on “London” and “head is buried”.
The results ran on for eight pages of links to hundreds of the most gory, blood-spattered and unsettling stories imaginable. Suffice it to say, that in London’s history, LOTS of people have been buried apart from their heads. It occurred to me that the results of my ignorance and poor memory were an even better example of my point than was my story.
All over England, Scotland and Wales, and I suppose, all of Europe, are castles, forts and monuments, not to mention cannons, trebuchets, guillotines, and gallows, all dedicated to preserving the memory of great blood-baths large and small.
I kept wondering though, if a simple man, such as myself, could have lived a quiet, unassuming life in those days, rather like I do now; could have avoided dismemberment or disembowelment and could have lived to die quietly of the plague or something at a ripe old age such as forty.
Well, probably not, but I suppose if one stayed out of the way of William the Conqueror or ‘enry the VII, or Hitler or Stalin; if one hid out in the forest and kept one’s nose clean, conceivably it might have been possible to avoid brutality.
This makes me think of a story that I’ve told so many times that no-one who knows me will sit still when they hear it coming.
Back in the days of my own history, when I was a real estate broker, I was showing property with one of my agents and his clients, a young couple from Philadelphia.
To be perfectly honest again, I don’t believe that I have ever been to Philadelphia, although I may have been, as one stinky eastern metropolis looks pretty much the same as another to me.
If it happens that I have NOT been to Philadelphia, and if you have not either, then perhaps if will help to tell you that this is the place about which W. C. Fields is supposed to have left the epitaph on his gravestone saying that, “All in all, I’d rather be here than in Philadelphia.”
Whether that’s true or not, it is certainly true that Philadelphia is where they consider the combination of beef and cheese on a sandwich to be such a remarkable piece of original thought that they gave their name to this stunning invention. It is a place where people talk even funnier than they do in the rest of the northeast, and where human life has about the same value as haiku poetry in Texas.
Anyway, these kids were from Philadelphia. As I recall, they were on their honeymoon, and although that charming detail has little to do with the story, it does help to develop colorful pictures in one’s mind as one wonders about the years of matrimony they shared thereafter.
My salesman, whom I’ll call Clarence, because his real name was Bob, and I drove the couple out to see the property they were interested in. At any rate, the GROOM was interested in the property. The bride seemed mildly bored at best.
It is not uncommon for people who have spent the greatest bulk of their lives on pavement to misjudge exactly how far into the woods a few miles can be, so I’m certain that when he read the advertisement which mentioned that this land was about ten miles out of town, the young man was thinking about how far ten miles would be from the nearest subway station, or something like that.
In fact, this ten miles was paved for about a mile past the city limits, then it turned into a pretty-fair gravel road which shortly turned into a pretty awful one.
Because we were hardened real estate professionals, the minute we arrived at the property, we headed down an old logging trail so as to quickly get the clients away from the dry dusty appearance of the road frontage and down into the hollow where, during the wettest of times, one might find a little trickle of a spring, if you knew where to look.
Once we arrived at the end of this trail, we all got out of the vehicle for a short walk through the woods. All of us, that is, except the young bride, who seemed to be getting a headache, and who decided she would just wait in the Jeep.
It was spring-time, just a little later in the year than it is now, and since this particular property didn’t really have much going for it except a lot of woods, Clarence apparently had decided that the thing to do was to show the kid a LOT of it, probably because the typical city-dweller is always amazed to learn how large a plot of just a few acres really is.
I guess we wandered as much as a hundred yards through the woods, just out of sight of the Jeep really, when our conversation was interrupted by frantic horn-honking emanating whence we had come. Not just your little toot-toot, “C’mon-it’s-BORing-out-here” sort of call, but a more frantic, panicked beeb-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEPP (!).
Obviously, the girl was in some sort of dire distress. Perhaps she had rolled up the power windows with her head outside. Maybe she’d accidentally stabbed herself in the jugular with a nail-file and was spurting blood. Conceivably she had decided to change one of the tires for practice, and accidentally knocked the jack over so that the car was sitting atop her as she bent her leg double reaching up from under the vehicle and through the window to honk the horn with her toes.
Our minds raced through all these possibilities and more as we three ran back through the branches and brambles as fast as we could.
When we got there, we found her… alone, just as we’d left her, except now, instead of sitting resignedly by the open window of the vehicle rolling her eyes in boredom, she had rolled up all the windows against the threat that a rabid maple might launch an attack on the vehicle. Also, she was sitting in the middle of the car so she didn’t touch either door in case some bit of god-awful Nature, perhaps a human-hating hoary puccoon, might seep through the closed windows by osmosis and suck the blood from her innocent veins. Maybe she was worried that a Giant Anaconda might… but you get the idea.
I guess the good news is that she didn’t seem to be bored anymore.
I would characterize her demeanor as more like a combination of hysteria, unbridled terror and, of course, the sort of all-encompassing fury that only a healthy young woman is capable of.
In short, she seemed quite invigorated.
I recall thinking that for the last few moments, this young woman had probably been in about as safe an environment as she’d ever known in her twenty-odd years, but I’m proud to say that I kept my opinions to myself. I felt that this was someone else’s problem, praise the Lord, and that it was not my place to interrupt the avalanche of tears, insults, curses and threats that she was leveling against the new groom and, less directly, at all of us for leaving her alone and defenseless in this thicket of blood-thirsty post-oaks.
They didn’t buy the property.
I have thought about this on numerous occasions since then. Despite that memory, however, I once stopped by one of our properties, while I was in the company of a woman that I was dating at the time.
There were some gentlemen there that I had hired to run a water-line under a roadway and in the course of discussing the work with these fellows, they wanted me to take a look at an area just out of sight of our car around a curve.
I knew it wasn’t terribly polite, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. In my defense, I did go to the effort to notice that my companion had brought a book, and since she was holding it right-side-up, I supposed that she knew how to use it, so I felt that she would not be just terribly bored if I were gone for only a moment, even though there was nothing around to buy, even at full price.
I walked down the road and spent maybe five minutes out of her sight.
As you’ve probably already guessed, by the time I returned, she was absolutely livid. As I quietly endured the subsequent tongue-lashing, I was remembering the bride from Philadelphia, although I don’t believe that, on this occasion I was ever to learn exactly what the problem was, but I assumed it was fear of the Devil Vegetation again.
My point here is that in all of creation, nothing is as dangerous as man. Most everything you’ll encounter in the woods is even more afraid of you, than you are of it. I’ve been standing in waist-high vegetation and seen, through a break in the foliage, the ugly charcoal-gray body of a cottonmouth slithering away from me as quickly as he could, and I’ve been about thirty feet from what must have been the World’s Biggest Bobcat, but all I saw of him was his rear – very briefly.
Of course, there are exceptions like grizzlies in the Rockies and pythons in the Everglades, but statistically speaking, you’re much safer in the woods than in the hoods.
More humor from Neil: