Community Forum: Christopher L. Mason, In pursuit of manliness

This week’s writer is Police Officer Christopher L. Mason, school resource officer for Middlebury.
Working as a school resource officer, I frequently find myself reflecting upon my time in high school. Fortunately most of the embarrassing details are buried in the murky depths of my mind, but a few persistent memories invariably bubble to the surface. Most revolve around falling in love and the attendant heartbreak. Aside from the romantic misadventures, another prominent theme is my struggle to define manhood. I can distinctly recall being bemused by this, feeling that the examples of violent and irresponsible men available to me were not attractive, but unable to find any inspiring alternatives. After considerable soul-searching, involving the writing of maudlin poetry and anguished pouting, I decided manliness consisted of rugged independence. In pursuit of this ideal, I began taking long, solitary jaunts through the woods and along the bleak coastline of my hometown.
Those excursions were deeply satisfying, but I felt I was facing very little real danger — besides the occasional gorse thicket and misplaced soccer hooligan. The south coast of England has an undeniable charm, but I began to thirst for something more challenging. I persuaded myself that after my schooling was complete, I would travel to a remote tropical country, where I would charm the wary indigenous tribespeople into divulging all their survival techniques, and then venture forth into the heart of darkness. Obviously I would have suffered a gruesome death — assuming the tribespeople didn’t just shoot me with poisonous darts for being insufferable, I’m sure I would have succumbed to the venomous fauna or toxic flora within moments.
I imagined locating a picturesque cave, replete with rocks eroded by the elements to resemble furniture, and settling there for not less than three years, which struck me as a suitable amount of time to digest all the wisdom of the forest. I was convinced I’d find enough food, either in the form of succulent berries or wild, char-roasted creatures that I would catch using sharpened sticks and my finely honed jungle wits. I had, after all, seen “First Blood,” starring Sylvester Stallone, several times, and was, as such, well informed on how to manufacture lethal pokey traps. I was fairly confident that if an overweight, dull-witted policeman ventured into the forest at night I’d be able to pounce on him, and, armed with only rudimentary carving flints, transform him into porterhouse steaks.
At that point in my life I’d never actually killed anything more substantial than a baby rat, and, in all honesty, the rat incident had not gone well. I’d caught it using one of those sticky glue traps. An ill-considered choice, since upon capture one must surmount the additional emotional hurdle of dispatching the wriggling beast. I admit, I hadn’t thought that aspect of the process through, imagining the murderous squishing would deliver a blow to my conscience of roughly the same magnitude as stepping on a bug. Since I had, as a young male, deprived many an insect of its life through magnifying lens, ritual de-legging and other unsavory means, I anticipated no difficulty. I was entirely unprepared for the beady, yet poignantly expressive eyes, conveying, in equal measure, terror and appalling cuteness. Due to the flood of hypocritical sympathy evoked, I found myself completely incapable of enacting my initial plan of whacking it over the head with a hammer.
I consulted the medical student who lived next door regarding the most merciful means of termination. He promptly informed me that, in his professional opinion, drowning was by far the most benign method of killing an innocent animal. So, I filled a bucket and heroically descended into the basement to face my fury victim.
At that point it struck me that immersing the glue trap in water might render it useless, and if I were to remove the horror-stricken mammal from the adhesive, it might be possible to save myself the crippling expense of another plastic tray filled with gelatinous gunk. To this end, I went in search of tools. Though the baby rat was only about the size of my little finger, I wasn’t prepared to touch it. I could tell it possessed razor-sharp biting teeth, and, despite my burgeoning sympathy, I wasn’t about to give it the satisfaction of exacting revenge upon my delicate digits. The only remotely serviceable tools I could find, however, were enormous wrenches. So it was, with one pair of vast, steel-toothed tongs holding the trap and another grasping the baby rat about the torso, I struggled to pry them apart. Alas, I had vastly underestimated the tenacity of the glue, and it took so much pressure to wrench the little beast loose, its organs were completely crushed.
I continued with the drowning, but I knew in my heart it was a farce — the rat had already suffered a terminal squishing. Still, it somehow managed to swim free from the pincers at one point and rise to the surface. It was with a hint of admiration that I weighted the little fellow down and sank him to his final ignoble doom.
As I sat there, hunched over the bucket, re-drowning the wretched creature, it struck me that the magnanimity of the process had been somewhat undermined. In retrospect I suppose the hammer would have been infinitely less cruel.
Still, I imagined myself in the tropical landscape skewering a wild pig or antelope, skinning it and pulling its innards out would pose no significant problem. I have since participated in the evisceration of a few chickens, and, I have to say, inserting my hand into a recently deceased chicken is one of the most repulsive things I’ve ever experienced. I thought it would be akin to removing the giblets from a frozen bird — I was completely unprepared for the warmth and obscene wetness awaiting me within the cavity. And that was a chicken! Imagine the sheer volume of inside parts one would encounter in, say, a zebra.
Of course, since I would never have gotten within several miles of a wild animal it’s all rather academic. Even if some slow (preferably maimed) creature had by mischance hobbled into range, and I had cast my pointy stick at it, it’s more likely I would have induced cardiac collapse through the sheer comedy of my effort than pierce any vital organs.
I did, ultimately, realize my ambition of traveling, and I did have strange and wondrous experiences. Fortunately I never had to depend upon my dubious jungle wits to survive, which is why I’m here today, still struggling to figure out what it means to be a man. It’s safe to say, I no longer believe it’s all about rugged independence. I consulted my 12-year-old daughter on the issue, and she declared with supreme confidence, “Boys are annoying!” It was all the wisdom I could extract from her, and I’m reasonably certain she was not excluding me from her judgment. It may be that peace resides in embracing my ignominious heritage as a man — to be a source of irritation to the womenfolk. In the words of the illustrious Greg Kinnear, sometimes “the best thing you have going for you is your willingness to humiliate yourself.”

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