This goes on all the time, of course; one culture after another picks an animal and makes the poor critter the repository of all the alleged cultural virtues, whereas the animal itself is just trying to make a living and support the wife and kids on the crummy salary national symbols get paid. This happens to birds all the time; the French cockerel, for example, does not worry all that much about projecting pride, arrogance, and that certain je ne sais quoi that makes the French French. No, he’s just trying to avoid being the coq au vin when your family comes over for Sunday night dinner and sometimes he does not succeed. Recently, Americans had had to put up with penguins marching hither and yon, like maitre de’s on parade, and some animated nonsense about penguins dancing up a storm south of the border, down Antarctica way. Now, penguins may dress better than your average bird, who, with a few exceptions, tend to dress with all the style of your sixteen-year old son going to the junior prom (ruffled pink shirts and big bowties? What the hell were we thinking?), but penguins also tend to live together in huge colonies without bathrooms, like the completely stoned inhabitants of some very bad 1960’s hippie commune—ashram—Volkswagen minibus packed with Deadheads, and feed their kids by puking half-digested fish into their mouths on a regular basis. Try doing that with your kid and the tuna sandwich you had this morning and see how fast you wind up in the slammer. Clearly, while the penguin is, no doubt, a very snappy dresser, penguins are lousy dancers and it’s pretty clearly they lack the social graces to be successful in modern American society. So, eagles are noble, doves are peaceful, swans are romantic; this sort of thing is all codswallop and balderdash, when it isn’t busy being poppycock. Birds are none of the above; they are altogether filthy creatures with quite disgusting, if not actually nauseating, personal habits, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they wouldn’t mind crapping all over your brand new shoes just for the fun of it, if you gave them half a chance. All the patriotic chest thumping about the symbolic importance of the bald eagle can’t change that one damn bit.
Other species get the same sort of treatment as well, and I blame most of this on Walt Disney. During his career, Walt probably did more to protect animals that don’t deserve protecting than anyone else in human history. Mice, whether you call them Mickey or Minnie, are not cute little adorable balls of furry fun; they are vermin. Ducks really are as vile-tempered as Donald is, so there’s a little truth in advertising there, and deer are not sweet, lovable nature’s children who only want to play and frolic in the forest primeval with their cute little furry friends without having to worry about people and their nasty firearms; deer are oversized rats with hooves. Deer don’t want to frolic in the forest primeval; they want to eat my mother’s geraniums and her shrubbery and crap all over my front yard every chance they get. So when my co-workers accused me of trying to kill Bambi the other night, my answer is a) I didn’t kill the deer, b) I wasn’t trying to kill a deer at all, it was an accident, and c) the little bastard had it coming.
The fact is all I was doing was going to get my mother some milk and eggs. I was on a back road and a car had just passed me when I saw a deer bolt across the road like he’d just heard Bugs say deer season. I jammed on the brakes, as the one thing you learn quickly about deer around here is that where you see one, you will quickly see two. In my case, there were six or seven of the despicable beasts, all charging across the road at top speed without bothering to look to see if there was any traffic coming. There was; I was it. I managed to miss deer two through six with considerable ease; number seven, on the other hand, proved a little harder to miss, given its insistence on charging right in front of me and then hurling itself up onto the hood of my car. I slammed on the brakes; it seemed the right thing to do at the time; and the sudden de-acceleration caused my somewhat unconventional passenger to go flying through the air with the greatest of ease, and to land without the slightest scintilla of acrobatic grace. He landed with a pretty loud thump. As if that were not enough, the beast then gave me a dirty look that said if he had two legs instead of four, he’d be looking for a lawyer and suing my ass off right now. Then he went charging off into the woods after his friends, and without giving me his insurance card, either, which is the sort of silly irresponsible behavior that give many deer a bad name these days, if you ask me.
I suppose things could have been worse; hitting the deer only resulted in $327.56 worth of damage to the car. While he was busy being an unwilling hood ornament, the deer managed to kick my passenger’s side mirror off its mounting and to damage the electrical system on that side of the car, too. I wasn’t hurt at all, except in the wallet, and I think the deer suffered little more than bruised ribs and injured pride; he was up and running within seconds of my hitting him; so maybe this will alert him to the dangers of running around with a fast crowd after dark. If it doesn’t, then the next time he gets in my way, see if I cut Nature Boy anymore slack; no way, Bambi—next time, you’re venison.