FROM THE ARCHIVES, Mar. 1 - This originally posted on sammcpheeters.com on 3/13/06.
Hasbro's Super Soaker Flash Flood Blaster retails for $19.99 and is designed to resemble the weaponry of the future. Its hard plastic handle and trigger are set between two goofily oversized storage tanks that, between them, can hold up to forty ounces of punishing water. The packaging, covered in pictures of squealing adolescent boys, boasts that the SSFFB is “The ORIGINAL High Performance Blaster” with “Drenching FLASH FLOOD mode or High Powered Streams!” and “CPS”, which stands for “Constant Pressure System”. The box includes a handful of Soaker Tag Elite Body Targets, which look like strange nicotine patches and are for use in frolicking and joshing around.
My business with the device at 2AM on a recent Wednesday involved neither frolicking nor joshing around. A mockingbird had set up shop in the back yard. During the days it slept, or harassed other neighborhoods. At midnight it let loose with an apocalyptic barrage of screeches and shrieks. Sometime halfway through the early morning hours the bird switched to trills, piercing modem spikes that hurt - physically and emotionally – and were high enough to cut through any earplug on the market. Sleep was out of the question. It could go on like this for eight hours, an avian filibuster that was part personal ad, part Craigslist Rant. If it's true that the mockingbird mimics other animals, I hope I never meet the nightmare H.P. Lovecraft creatures this one associated with.
And mockingbirds do have powerful friends. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this haughty little swine is the state bird of both Texas and Florida. What does shock is the animal's continued protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. To kill one is to risk a $15,000 fine and/or 6 months in federal prison. Same goes for nests and eggs. The patient hunter must either employ surgical caution, or slay and obliterate with one shot. Having never actually seen the mockingbird gave it more authority over my life; searching by flashlight only drove the monster into car alarm mode. Anything could have been lurking in that tree. It occurred to me that I had chosen a child's toy for a job requiring the lance of St. George.
Was the Super Soaker Flash Flood Blaster up to the task? Of all the raw elements a gun can shoot – fire, rocks, electricity, hatred – water seemed a wimpy choice of ammo. Still, I could respect its heft. The SSFFB had a nice, heavy grip, like an experimental Navy weapon. Standing in the unfamiliar darkness of my own back yard, it was not hard to picture a high-powered beam of projectile kinetic energy slicing through tree limbs and power lines and rooftops. Legs spread, aiming in the general direction of the disturbance (at that moment alternating screams and 'gaw-gaws' mimicking a torture session at the city zoo), I braced for the recoil.
And here is the first product flaw. For each shot, the Super Soaker Flash Flood Blaster has to be primed thirty times by pumping a long plastic shaft. The squealing adolescent boys on the product box must be very comfortable with their own sexuality. For those hunting the evil that lurks in darkness, the downtime between shots in inexcusable. It took a half minute of pleasuring the weapon to squeeze off a single blast. If this were wartime, or the civil disintegration that seems inevitable, I would have already been beaten to death with my own hardware.
There is a lot of room for a small bird to hide. The house dates back to 1914 and its tree, a massive California Oak that shades half the yard, must be several decades older still. Lovers’ initials have long since sunk into bark. Branches reach in all directions. One of its three master limbs arches over the neighbors yard, and it is in this region the mockingbird likes to hide, forcing me to shoot onto someone else's property. This is Flaw Two. The Super Soaker has an impressive reach of 35 feet, but on a tree this size that's pretty much where the canopy starts. I need a water gun that can blast three times as far. And forty ounces of water would be impressive only in a single shot; at one point I contemplated buying a trunkload of 40 ounce malt liquors and hurling each into the dark branches.
Perspective can fail in these situations. Pumping and firing in a groggy rage, only part of me understood that this struggle was on the low end of many ultimate battles being waged across the planet. Although I proudly support Rhode Island's economy by buying Hasbro whenever possible, tiny type on the packaging warned me that the actual product had been manufactured in China, presumably by imprisoned Falun Gongers. Elsewhere on the packaging, the slogan “unleash a tidal wave” had been carefully concealed by a box-colored sticker, out of respect for the victims of 2004's Indian Ocean tsunami. I thought about these things as I cased the tree for footholds, choreographing my ascent up the trunk to club the bird to death with the Super Soaker itself. Things could be worse.
Except; sleep is a human right. Amnesty International gets involved when there's not enough sleep. And this is both the bird's offense and defense. By the time it gets going, it's too late to fight back. On this particular Wednesday night I finally understood the nature of my enemy, that the bird itself was the Lovecraft villain, something sent from beyond time and space. As with all Earthly firearms, the SSFFB is inadequate firepower. With heaviness in my heart and drippy munitions, I retired to the living room floor, stopples in my ears, sorrow in my heart, and my weapon of choice not yet invented.