Monday, August 27, 2012

The best defense


The predawn philosophers’ club only met once, but I really wanted to tell those guys what I meant when I said the thing about making your own truth. You don’t always say things the way you want when you’re anxious about being garroted.

I bought a high-powered LED flashlight to carry with me after that. It’s designed to be blindingly bright, and you can even stab someone with it if you need to -- an innovation that brings flashlights into the 21st century, or so its marketers claim. What value this is to me in an urban environment is unclear. I think it could be very useful for women, so frequently are they molested by men. I’ve taken it camping, and I like the idea of being able to beat off a rabid raccoon with it.

The light has two power settings: low at 5 lumens, high at 200 lumens. A lumen is a unit of measurement relating to LEDs, like watts are to conventional bulbs. The low setting is very nice. I often use it in the middle of the night, when the contents of my bladder are purged. The high setting is like opening a porthole to the surface of the sun. You can see the colors and details of whatever you are inspecting from a block or more away.

Recently I was at a state park several hours outside the city. I was camping with three women, one of whom asked me if I knew how to operate a firearm. I told her I had very high scores for weapons proficiencies in GoldenEye on the Wii. Nobody had a real gun, but I said with my flashlight I felt more than a match for any animal under 12-15 pounds.

We couldn’t get our fire started; none of us had been camping in ages. Ask me and I will explain to you at length that I know very well how to make a fire in a controlled setting, namely a fireplace, but all we had was damp kindling and the wood this shirtless guy sold us on the way in. No Duraflame or fatwood -- or properly seasoned wood, evidently, of any kind. I meant to bring my long-necked butane lighter, the kind they have for starting grills. Surely that would have made an impression. As it was, we had a single box of wooden matches and multiple iPhones.

We were quite hungry after a leisurely afternoon spent lost in the woods (long story short: we knew our location via satellite but no one else’s). While none of our food really needed to be cooked, have you ever eaten veggie dogs straight out of the plastic? Around this time it occurred to us we had neither beer nor hard alcohol, of which I am never too finicky to make a meal.

Eventually one of my party went looking for someone from another campsite to help get our fire started. As the only dude in our group, I thought this was a terrible idea. I could see a whole line of inquiry into what we thought we were doing in the wild without the skills necessary to survive, the crooked finger of patriarchy pointed squarely at me. I’m vaguely aware that people prepare their whole lives for this moment, when they can assume a posture of overblown authority, just as I have dedicated myself to denying them that chance at every turn. Broadsided by my campmate’s decision, I resigned myself to the worst.

A girl scout started our fire, it should be known, with the aid of an enormous flaming log she had retrieved from her own. As feared, the rest of her party gradually materialized in our camp, a large family of all ages from southern Illinois. My group says they were very nice, while I maintain they were genuine weirdos. This earned me no sympathy from my peers, who can’t possibly appreciate what it feels like to be vulnerable and have a penis, with some balls.

True to form, there was the requisite monologue on the elementary principles of fire building: you have to start small and build up; heat rises; fire is hot -- and so on and so forth from every corner of the camp, until each age group felt itself to have made a proper contribution. In vain did I wait for mention of the “large flaming log” approach to incendiary excellence. “Don’t thank us -- it’s just what we do,” a thirteen-year-old chirped at the end of the tutorial.

We thanked them anyway. It was nice to have a fire, and in my view they weren’t bad people, just deeply flawed. As they departed, the matriarch called to us through the night: “Just make sure you do the same for others when they ask for help.” Because the natural human temptation is to...what? Kick them in the teeth? And so it was that a morality lesson was tacked on to a 35-minute lecture about how fire works.

Admittedly, it could have been worse -- like a trio of inebriated douchebags getting randy with the ladies. In that case I would have been called upon to blind and bludgeon each with my flashlight, when in truth I was only prepared to challenge small game. I contemplated this at length while eating s’mores.