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Not so long ago I bottomed out. It was a hard stoppage.
If you’ve ever been out on the desert, driving too fast on nominal roads, and suddenly high-centered your rig in the rocks, you’ll have some idea what this felt like. There were some nasty scraping sounds as my skid plate dragged over the rocks, followed by a solid “kathunk” and a jaw-jamming loss of forward movement. Things on the backseat ended up on the dashboard. My seatbelt locked up like a parachute harness and there might have been some whiplash. It was all quite unexpected because I was actually at a dinner party. This was happening internally and so no one around me had any idea. I took a sip from my beer and sat with it for a minute and then, much like you would out on the desert, I got out and took a long look around.
I didn’t like what I was looking at. Not one bit.
There are cures for the things that ail us. Every one of those cures starts with discipline, and discipline starts with the ability to conduct an honest personal evaluation. Jocko Willink, among others, has turned the entire Extreme Discipline idea into an industry, and he’s not wrong. His status as a commander of SEALs lends him credibility although having spent 4 years and two deployments working intimately with SEALs I found them, in real life, to be among the least disciplined bunch of people I’ve ever known. Maybe things have changed but celebrity rarely bends bad habits back into their proper shape.
These personal wrecks are good to have on occasion because they demand evaluation. Walking around the bent frame and hissing radiator of my high-centered self, it was clear that I needed to make some course corrections and plot a better route for the second and third acts in my life. When I have these moments, and I’ve had them a few times, I almost instantly think of the badger, because he is an animal that can teach us a few things.
“Hey baby, you put me on hold and I’m
Out in the wind and it’s getting
Colder than a gut shot bitch wolf dog
With nine suckling pups pulling a number four trap
Up a hill in the dead of winter
In the middle of a snowstorm
With a mouth full of porcupine quills”
‑Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner
When I was a boy one of my uncles had a side hustle trapping badgers out on the desert. He gave me a beautifully tanned pelt that I promptly stretched into a shield cover and took to school. My thought was the badger hide gave me strong medicine and would ward off stick spears and pinecone grenades, but on the playground battlefields of Janesville elementary school it brought only moderate success. Recess raids could be brutal. The shield itself was beautiful to look at and for a while our teacher hung it on the wall behind her desk like a totem. I kept that badger hide close to hand for many decades but it finally got lost when I moved out of Arizona chased by a late summer haboob.
I wish I had it back.
Having that hide like a binky blanket for so many years gave me an interest in badgers. If it had to do with badgers I paid attention, and that attention once brought me around to a profile of Gerry Spence by Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes. This was a long time ago. Spence was hauling Bradley around his ranch in Wyoming, pointing out buffalo jumps and old tipi rings and waxing on the creation of his Trial Lawyers College, a non-profit that trains lawyers and takes only cases from ordinary people — no big money, no corporations. Spence, who for many years ran around in buckskin and fringe like Brando during his “Indian Period”, is mostly famous for being one of the greatest defense attorneys in American history. I’ve evaluated that claim under high-powered glass and it is probably accurate. I spent a long time as a cop and have no love for a certain brand of criminal defense attorney, but then again I’m awfully goddamned glad we have them. That’s true because when Big America is finished reshaping me into an outlaw — which they are actively working on every day — it’s possible I will need a good one. At any rate, Spence dragged Bradley around until finally they stopped at a badger hole somewhere on the ancient and wind scoured Wyoming steppe.
The badger, Spence said, and he wasn’t kidding, never bothers anybody. But if you put your hand down in his hole, it’s likely he’ll take it off to the elbow. Described in that uniquely Spence dramatic fashion, and enjoying the startled look on Ed Bradley’s face, I seized the image in my teeth and have never let it go.
Because that’s precisely how I want to live. Because I don’t go putting my hand down anyone’s hole. It’s true that my fights are all defensive. I don’t start them. But I’ve noticed that Big America today seems to specialize in probing my den to see what they might haul out of it. I sit in the bottom looking upward to the sky and see their reaching flashy fingers. Spence’s bigger point was that the badger is a kind of riffraff, and really, if we are paying attention, the riffraff is us.
So, those are some of the reasons the badger is forever tattooed on my soul. Like the badger, I am prone to cycles of torpor. Like the badger, I’m not above working with coyotes to get a job done. Like the badger, I find that the coyotes often reap the greater benefit. Also, the badger knows that nobody ever wins a siege. He sees security in mobility, and when he moves out, which he frequently does, he leaves behind a fine place for someone else to live.
Scanning the shitshow of Big American politics I’ve lost confidence that we can do much better than take up the badger life. It’s a theory and maybe it doesn’t hold up but I’m interested in much longer time lines these days — which tend to render the immediate political stews thin and watery. The Lakota Black Elk told John Neihardt that he liked the idea of making decisions that would stand up for seven generations. We don’t have that art. Certainly we don’t have that patience. And anyway, my parliament of personal demons is a continual shouting match, I don’t need a rally in Toledo or a debate in Las Vegas throwing fuel on that fire. And I won’t be voting this time around. I’m on a deep reconnaissance. I’ll stand in the corner or sit in the back seat of a cold car and just watch the comings and goings, licking my pencil and keeping notes. Maybe I’ll dig my den a little deeper with an eye on moving out by morning. But I’ll have to do all that without drinking because I hung that up after high-centering in the hard desert of a dinner party.
But that’s discipline. And it’s also badger theory, which is merely a thing I made up, and which sometimes feels like the soul-sucking, windblown, tumbleweed blues.
Craig- I just happened to see a recent NatGeo show where they left a dead calf out in the desert and it completely disappeared in a day or two. Turns out the badger had dug out the ground around and under the calf and then buried it. Resourceful critter.
Regarding the ending of drinking, I wish you the best. I myself have been weighing that decision as well.
Craig Rullman says
They really are resourceful. And magnificent, I think, in many ways. And thanks for the well-wishes. So far so good. It’s been an important decision. The benefits were almost immediate. Thanks for being here at our campfire.
Mark Solomon says
The Badger doesn’t care who you are or where you came from, just what your doing while your hear and when your leaving.
Craig Rullman says
Yup. And he isn’t a dick about it. Unless you reach down in that hole.
Keith West says
Good luck with the drinking. It can be a hard habit to break.
Craig Rullman says
Indeed. 60 days in and I feel great. No turning back. Discipline wins the day. Thanks Keith, hope you and yours are well.
J.F. Bell says
In the end, there’s nothing more terrifying to a herd animal than the idea that others may not wish to join. This begins as a point of concern, then the subject of hushed whispers, and eventually the mob is assembled and the torches lit. Who dares stand against the collective will save fools and lunatics?
I suspect the only real good news in this equation is knowing that the sort who’ll go all-in on a group mentality is sufficiently incompetent — however irritating otherwise — to do much themselves.
That, I suppose, and the knowing a mob will soon enough begin to eat its own.
Best of luck with the course change. As the saying goes, some learn by watching, the rare few by reading the manual…and the rest of us just gotta whiz on the electric fence ourselves.
Jim Cornelius says
There ain’t one thing in my life that hasn’t benefited from hanging up my drinking spurs. Hats off to you, my friend.
Ugly Hombre says
All of the stupid stuff and scrapes, I got into in my life, involved a powerful thirst for the Hop’s, seemed like a good idea at the time- not. Funny thing though- once you give it up, you wonder– “why the hell did I do that?”
My answar is those days, looking back- funny as hell stories. The Austrailian flaming dance in a Pampanga girlie bar etc.
Watashi’s rule of voting is ” If you don’t vote you can’t complain.”
Learned that the hard way too.
Craig Rullman says
“If you don’t vote you can’t complain.” This is a trope that doesn’t stand up under any kind of adult scrutiny. There is no moral imperative to vote for people who do not represent me or my beliefs. That I refuse to vote for a cartoon character does not preclude me from the right to harbor and voice an opinion about the cartoon characters and their cartoon policies. Not even close. Additionally, the fact of the matter is, if I voted 20k times it would have zero impact in the state in which I live. None. My vote already makes ZERO difference — which actually speaks to the larger point.
lane batot says
Reminds me of that scene in the movie “Thunderheart”, where a fellow stuck his hand down a badger hole! Yikes! ALL badger species are rather pugnacious critters, but also solid citizen types, if yer into anthropomorphizing(which I do my share of, but NOT inaccurately, I don’t think). And after all, the wolverine is a very close cousin, to boot! But remember the badger’s effective survival tactics–sure, hole up and defend yer burrow when intruders invade, but have a rear exit(or two, or three), and lots of other dens to retreat to when overwhelmed–don’t try and hold just one hole–you can always dig another! And yes, bury that cache of firewater forever, as you would a pile of feces in your burrow–nothing but slow white man’s poison, that.….
Yup! Spot on buddy and your paragraph (below) had me laughing out loud. Just the right amount of darkness and rich flavor to be enjoyable.
“You might have noticed that most every modern pathogen seems to develop in either Africa or China, which seems like a reasonable warning to avoid eating bushmeat and bugs. We’re told that Ebola made the leap because humans were eating jungle simians and Covid-19 is quite probably the result of some food truck guy in Wuhan serving up a cold soup full of bat assholes. Don’t kill the messenger, but I’m told a bat taco has a rubbery texture and is an acquired taste — like escargot or mushrooms without butter.”
I enjoy periodically placing myself in uncomfortable scenarios. There were times in California, I just stopped, stood still in various Costco’s and people watched. It was also interesting to see if anyone would key on subtle behaviors that would generally stand out, or present potential flags for those aware? Nothing stupid, but Craig would have marked me as he strolled through with his 10 pound bag of tortilla chips. I may as well have been naked — because I was essentially invisible. I base that on peripheral conversations, zero eye contact and nearly 30 years of reading people and crowds. Hopefully the Costco security unit noticed.
I recently did the same in our local North Idaho Costco and it was different. I was noticed; assessed and the type of eye-contact requiring confirmation of acknowledgement, occurred more than once. Lots of vets, cops, hunters, old men with bad hips, knees and cauliflower ears walking around up here. I am probably in a better place removed from the pressure cooker, however my institutionalized inability to ignore behaviors in public, highlighted the differences. You can pick up a prepper kit at Costco, grab a 30 round .223 mag at your local North 40 and a smoothy on the way home.
The growth related problems, meth, rising real estate cost and steady stream of Washington crooks learning dope is still a felony in Idaho, is a thing up here. I do feel as though people are healthier than my former home and the America hating, flag burning, anti military / police crowd is in the minority. Knowing the guy next to you in the store, at the stop light, or at the wrestling meet is probably armed, increases the likely hood of being polite or at least decent to one another. I was recently checked myself in traffic and appreciated the “reminder”
Point taken on spending too much time on the X, raiding for supplies and I was reminded after a recent 36 hour booch-fast, that I eat too much anyway.
The “Costco Trip” could be a mini series, perhaps something like “Craig in Costco.”