Screwing a Dead Cat

Apparently I have a lot. I guess, since they’re old hat to me and since my days are pretty much like anyone else’s, I don’t think about it. But we got to talking about Helsinki on Midsummer’s Eve, about eating bush meat in the Amazon, about being bombed by the IRA, about cutting an 86 year-old woman’s heart out of her chest (don’t worry–she was already dead), and so on.

I was telling them a story about shotguns and Eli. Eli is a former soldier in the Israeli special forces who married a woman from Texas. When I met him he was interviewing for a job and had four year gap in his resume which he explained, convincingly, as PTSD. He had seen something so terrible in the service that it had taken him awhile to recover. It was making it difficult for him to get professional work.

Although born and raised in Israel, his parents were Russian Jews, and, if I can perpetuate a stereotype, he loved all things math and chess. He was good at math, and as a young manager, I needed dedicated people with serious math skills. (We were running a complex MILP, scripted in Python and held together with Excel, Access, and duct tape.) I took a risk and hired him.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. However, he was a nice guy and he filled many happy hours with stories of his life in the service. My favorite was the one about the Hamas soldier who, thinking he was alone, screwed the corpse of a dead cat whilst having several Israeli night vision scopes trained on him.

One time at the bar, Eli and I were both a little tipsy. I don’t pretend to know anything about weapons or combat. It’s just not a part of my life, much like fashion or French literature. I asked him what should I know, as a civilian that is.

He said in his thick Israeli accent, “I’ll tell you what I told my wife. What is the first rule of fighting?”

I had no idea. I think I just shrugged.

He had his arm around my shoulder-remember, most of the world does not have the paranoia about personal space like Americans do-and pulled me close and said words I’ll never forget.

“There are no rules.” And he was serious.

He said for your average Joe like me, there was no point in learning hand-to-hand combat. It takes practice to be any good, I’d never likely to use it, and any situation where there was a real threat would be better (and more easily) resolved with firearms.

“Get a shotgun,” he said. “Perfect for home defense.” It requires no special skill, and in the close quarters of a home-rooms and hallways-everything will be in range. As long as the barrel is pointed in the general direction of the target, he said, I’d be fine.

I still don’t know anything about weapons, not like he does anyway, and I still have no idea if half of the stories he told me about his time in the IDF were true. Not that I care. They were great stories. And that’s the thing. Worrying about whether or not they are true, caring about it, misses the point of the story.

I told someone recently that there is an important but subtle difference between suspension of belief and doubt, and that most people don’t manage that gap well. In that respect, they are rather like shotguns.

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