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November 16, 1999

Confessions of a Lapsed Activist

by Debbie Lindsey

The day I turned CNN off and the jazz radio station on I knew my political soul was dead.

A day later I passed the newsstand without a glance, without curiosity. My letters to the editor switched to short story rough drafts. My ever-present newspaper was replaced with a novel. I fear this is more than a sabbatical from political pondering -- I fear I may never muster the enthusiasms to overthrow the government again.

There was a time when I could not leave the house without a petition in hand, a campaign button pinned to the upper left of my Wonderbra (this always helped draw attention to my less-than-overwhelming breast), and a purse filled with stacks of pre-addressed and stamped postcards to city council members in the event a worthy community issue arose suddenly. I still wear the Wonderbra but the T-shirt is unadorned by political buttons and the “Save the Whales” slogan is replaced with jazz great Miles Davis in spite of his misogynist ways. Trust me, abhorrence to male piggishness will never waiver yet still I allow my love of jazz to supersede boycotting the man’s talent.

Actually it was the media’s treatment of the murderous misogynist O.J. that began my disillusionment with the media. It seemed that only celebrities were capable of bringing domestic violence to our attention, and once there, the star-studded sickness dominated the news. Just about the time I was ready to give the major newscasters and editorialists another shot they became fascinated with Bill’s body fluids and Monica’s dry cleaning dilemmas.

It is easy to blame the muckraking media and philandering politician for my apathy but I suspect it is self-generated. Heartfelt and sincere as it was, my activism was self-serving and very rewarding. There was nothing wrong with the agreeable feeling altruism gave me, and not being Mother Theresa, my motivation often needed the lift my ego-boost gave it. But soon my literary pursuits and dabbles in writing began to fill my time and meet my needs -- I was willing to squander my hippie heritage for a rejection slip. I was no Sister Prejean, able to write books into film and still save the world. I was a lapsed activist.

While lapsing and lamenting over this change, I continued to search for its source. It was a man’s ear that answered, if not all, then some of my questions. This revelation occurred one morning at coffee. I became so irritated by the man’s ear hair that I thought I would have to speak with him about it -- surely he would want to know if hair sprouting forth from his ear offended me. Maybe not. The next morning I was jumping out of my skin at the manner in which a lady ordered her coffee. Her innocuous inquires about flavors just struck me as ridiculous. That was when I began to suspect that my hormones lacked harmony. Was my estrogen taking an elevator to the basement and passing the floors of my political passions, animal rights activism, and easy going nature? Gee, this might explain a lot. Not only did I drop my boyfriend of seven years, become homicidal over hair, decide that if my plants wanted to live they could just buck up and get over me not watering them, I also began to kill mice. Mice, “big deal” you might think. But I, who would not seek the cure for cancer through research on mice, was now seeing how many mice I could lure into traps.

Every morning I nervously peek out my window to see if PETA or the SPCA has organized a picket line outside my home. I tried to be true to my cruelty-free and pesticide-free heart. I poured cayenne pepper in their path, tortured their little ears with Barry Manilow loudly crooning from the stereo while my neighbor’s yappy little inbred dogs provided a howling chorus, and Jerry Springer emceed from the television. All the while several mice playfully scampered about the room. Over stimulated by Jerry, Barry, cayenne-peppered paws and mocking mice, the dogs began to nervously urinate. The next day I purchased the traps.

The peanut butter baited traps proved effective. The first kill was fast; and there I was donning my latex gloves and burying the victim, trap, and gloves in the Azalea bed (I just knew some Hitchcock freak with binoculars was observing me from his rear window and phoning the police). I looked so guilty with those damn gloves, sunglasses and my over-the-shoulder glances, hoping no one would see this crime against nature. By the seventh casualty (by now it was war) I had become chilled with callousness. I was no longer a murderer -- I was a soldier. But little did I know that a retaliation was under way.

Since LuLaBelle, my feline company of sixteen years, had passed recently not only did mice take up residence, so did birds. Wonderful birds of many varieties began to enjoy balcony dining, appreciating the day-old bread crumbs. It was during one of these dining moments that I noted an unusual bird; unusual in its crawl up the wall and its long skinny tail feather. Reinforcements -- the mice had put out a call to the rodent community and empowered their forces with a rather large rat.

My murderous manner certainly justified this rodent invasion. And I still do not believe these critters belong in a research lab, but my home was not going to become a rat resort. So that day I enlarged my arsenal and upgraded to a larger heavy-duty trap.

In war the evils of killing hit home in the form of “friendly fire” -- when misguided aim takes down your own. The next day, on the balcony next to the plate of bread crumbs, I found I had unwittingly brought to action the title of my favorite novel, bible, and moral muse -- TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I, staunch vegetarian and fried of fowl, murdered a bird. That was it -- a cease-fire would commence; the rodents could and would remain if necessary. I had to accept living under post-war occupation -- they were here before me and I would have to adapt.

A few weeks later a dove roosted, gave birth, and made my balcony the home for her offspring. I was vindicated. Forgiven. And, I refuse to see revenge in the ever-growing piles of bird droppings these fledglings fling. I will not rock nature’s balance again and as a penance I am reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in the hopes of finding my lost activism among the mouse gnawed pages.

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