was only one time in my life where I witnessed a rape, and, let me tell you, it
was enough to turn my stomach, make me feel sorry for the victim, and become a
proponent of chemical or literal castration in the legal system against the wackos
that feel the need to take sexual advantage over some poor, poor person. I understand
that sometimes we're a product of our environment, that sometimes rehabilitation
works, but sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes, backwoods justice is the best
We were going on a camping trip over the summer, Joe
Giuliani, Jeff Berry, Bob Oliver, and myself. Bob was the one that chose the spot
- a little place in northern Michigan called Cold Lake; it was somewhere near
Alpena. Bob had known the area well and was excited to see it again. Joe and myself
have been camping a few times and were ready to get out into nature, whereas Jeff
wasn't really looking forward to it. We had to coax him, bribe him, do everything
but kidnap him. But when I lied and told him there was a nudist colony a few miles
from where we were planning on camping, he was all for it. Jeff was not an outdoorsman.
He was not the kind of person to play in mud or pick-up snakes as a child. His
idea of "roughing it" is staying at a Holiday Inn without an air conditioner.
It was a bright Monday morning when we loaded up our canoes
and tents and packs and guitars. We had planned on making some music in the wilderness.
It somewhat of an "Indian" thing, I guess. Music, the wilderness, outside,
making sounds, being in tune with each other, and the earth. Joe and Jeff brought
along bongos, as they are drummers.
By midday we arrived at
the spot. We had a little trouble finding the place. Bob couldn't remember exactly
how to get to the river, and he was getting some taunts from two old locals that
saw his car head up one stretch of road, stop, turn around, come back, stop turn
around, go down the same stretch of road.
"D'ya know where
ya'll are headed?!" one shouted at Bob as he drove past him. Bob slammed
on his brakes. Dust kicked up around the car. The two old men glared at Bob. And
Bob, with his steel-like eyes, just glared back.
. . . remember . . . asking you . . . for your worthless . . . fucking . . . opinion,"
Bob said, slowly, intonating every syllable to show the seriousness, and how he
could, at moment's notice, tear off their heads and shit down their necks even
if they were old men. Yeah, even if they were old men. But it didn't matter. Not
to Bob. An asshole is an asshole. And age, gender, religion, or citizenship should
never make one above an ass-kicking, or even a killing, if he, she, or it deserves
Bob sped away, spraying the old men with gravel and
dirt kicked up by the back tires. Eventually we found the road. That was the good
thing about Bob: sure he can get to a place late (almost always late), but he's
sure to find it if given enough chances.
Bob began unloading
the packs and tents. Joe began untying the straps to the canoes on the roof. "Can't
wait to get in the water," Joe said. "Man, it's been a long time since
Jeff walked to the edge of the water, looked
both ways, again and again. I walked up next to him and it must've been an odd
sight if someone was watching us (and someone was, upon which I will illustrate
later). Jeff is 5' 3''. I am 6' 4'' and weigh over 300 pounds. Next to Jeff I
look like the Incredible Hulk, except not as green and not as Incredible. I put
my arm around his shoulder.
"Lovely place ain't it, my
dear?" I said.
Jeff pushed my arm away and looked up at
me from beneath the bill of his Tiger's cap. "So where is it?" he asked.
"You know goddamn well what."
"The chicks! Where are the nude chicks?!"
. . ." I said.
"You lied to me again, didn't you,
I shook my head. I was a bad liar. But then
again, Jeff was even worse at believing my bad lies. When Bob and I wanted to
go to Toronto, we told him there was a nudist colony there. When Joe and I wanted
to take a trip to Indiana to pick up some Everclear and illegal fireworks and
we wanted Jeff to drive (since we would be hitting the Everclear on the way back),
all we had to do was tell him that there was a nudist colony by where we were
heading. I would almost feel bad about lying to my friend so much, but this is
the same guy that had sex on my toilet while I was throwing a party over the last
Memorial Day, thus breaking my toilet seat and cracking the seal around the base
of it. So fuck him. (And, yes, in case you're wondering, he had sex with a woman,
not his hand.)
"I knew I shouldn't have come along,"
he said, kicking a pile of dirt into the river.
on Jeff," Joe said. "Look at that river! It's just waiting there for
us. We're going to have a good time, even without naked chicks."
was Joe for you. Always looking on the bright side of life, as the Monty Python
song goes. Always ready to take charge when it needed to be taken, to rally the
troops, and get everyone happy. Joe was really, in a way, the brick and mortar
that held the group together . . . Then and later. In fact, it was more later
"I still think it was a mistake coming up here,"
"Why?" I asked.
don't know, I just do."
"Quit your whining, you bastard."
That was Bob. That was always Bob. "Let's get in the
river," he added.
"What the hell do you want to go
and fuck with that river for?" Jeff asked him.
Bob smiled. "Because
it's there. Don't worry," he said, "I'm going to have you back in your
little suburban house in time to see the football game on Sunday afternoon."
few minutes later we were in our canoes, Bob and Joe in one, Jeff and I in the
other. The river started calm, but soon grew more rocky, rapid as it snaked its
way through the forest. We paddled until our shoulders hurt and finally hit a
clearing about, five miles down from where we started.
take a break, guys," I said. "I'm getting a little tired."
made our way to the clearing and parked the canoes along the water's edge. Bob
hoisted a bow out of the floor of the canoe. Joe grabbed a fishing pole and told
us that he was going to try and catch some bass for dinner.
gotta go to the bathroom," Jeff said and trotted off into the woods.
don't you go with him," Bob told me.
it's Jeff, Mikey. You know how he is. He'll probably find a way to get eaten by
a bear or some damn thing."
"Or end up taking a shit
and wiping his ass with poison ivy," Joe added, plucking a live worm from
a coffee can he had stashed in the canoe and stabbing its head with the hook on
the end of his line. He cast the dead thing into the river and waited for live
things to eat it.
Knowing the guys were right, I turned and
walked into the woods after Jeff.
And that's when I saw them
. . .
Two men were standing around Jeff. They were tall, and
with their cowboy boots and cowboy hats, they were even taller. The one on the
right with the long brown hair was wearing a maniacal grin, the kind of sick smile
you'd see inside a lunatic asylum just before the straight jacket is secured and
the sedatives are injected. The other was a beefy man, curls of blonde hair poking
out from underneath his hat, just above the shoulders of his American flag-decorated
"Where you from, boy?" the American Flag
"Uh, Michigan," Jeff answered.
in Michigan, fuckwad," the long haired one said.
part?" the blonde one asked.
the long haired one said. "Hell, only steers and queers come from Monroe,
and I don't see no horns on your head! Haw!"
one laughed at that. "Yeah, city boy. You queer?"
shook his head.
The two rednecks moved closer to him. "Where
you going?" the blonde one asked.
"D-D-Down the river,"
Jeff stammered. "To a place called Aintry, I think it's called. I think that's
what Bob said. Aintry."
"River don't run into Aintry,"
the long haired one said. "You done took a wrong turn, boy."
with that said, the long haired one pulled a knife and held it to Jeff's neck.
"Gonna slice me off a chunk of queer meat!"
wait any longer. "Hey, you sonuvabitch!"
"Let him . . ." I was going to say Let him go, but
I couldn't get the words from my mouth. I was stunned. The words rose and died
on my tongue, faded away like a tab of fresh LSD. I only wish what happened next
was a hallucination. They came closer to me. Closer. And was I really seeing them?
Was it really them?
Dear God. Was Toby Keith and Ted Nugent
really assaulting Jeff and I?
Yes. Yes, they were. And they
were going to do much, much more than that, I am afraid to say . . .
wish I could tell you that I broke free. I wish I could tell you that I was able
to get Jeff and I to safety. But this is not fiction. If it were, I would be telling
a different story. This is reality. This is truth. And truth sometimes isn't pretty.
Truth sometimes can be the most horrific thing on the planet. There was too much
truth that day . . . Too much of it.
Toby grabbed my arm and
pulled a pistol from the folds of his American Flag jacket. Nugent grabbed me
and threw me against a tree, moved to the side of me, and placed the knife hard
against my throat. I could feel my pulse blast and beat against the cold steel.
I could also feel a slow stream of something pour down my neck. Was it sweat?
Was it river water? Please, God, I thought, please let it be sweat. But I knew
what it was . . . Blood. Nugent was slowly, slowly cutting into my neck. I thought
of Nick Berg. I thought of Daniel Pearl. I thought of how both Nugent and Keith
support the war in Iraq.
"You're in our territory now!"
Nugent said. "We don't take kindly to outsiders!"
Keith agreed. "We'll stomp a mudhole in ya'll's asses, for fuckin' up our
"Yeah, a mudhole! Haw!" giggled Nugent.
put a boot in yer ass!"
"A boot! Haw!"
not messing up your land!" Jeff shouted. "We're just on our way through!"
you ain't!" Keith screamed. "You're outsiders! Outsiders come here an'
mess everything up!"
"Put 'em in a stranglehold,
Toby!" Nugent yelled.
"Oh, I'll do more than that!"
he yelled back.
"Look, if you want us gone," Jeff
said, nervously, "we'll leave!"
"Oh, it's too
late for that, boy," Keith said, flexing his well-fed muscles under the folds
of the American Flag. "Too, too late. You're trying to bring your stink into
God's country! We ain't having it! You're either with us or against us! And you're
against us! And this is what happens when you're against us!" He sighted
Jeff in with the gun. "Now," he said, nodding to Jeff's pants. "Take
"Yeah!" Nugent said with a scream,
jumping up and down, digging the knife further into my neck. "Take 'em off!
Take 'em off!"
Jeff shook his head no. Keith cocked the
hammer. "Take 'em off, I said."
Jeff did. Relucatantly.
Slowly. He pulled off his pants.
"And the shirt,"
The shirt came off.
now the underwear."
Jeff shook his head no, again and
again. "No," he said. "No." Keith came closer to him. Jeff
took a wild swing, but Keith was bigger and faster, and he caught him quick. He
threw him on the floor of the forest and began taking off his American Flag jacket,
and undoing the American Flag belt buckle, and unzipping the pants of his American
Flag blue jeans. "This is what happens when you're against us!" He yanked
down Jeff's underwear with one hand and grabbed Little Toby from his trousers.
"You just like a little hog, ain't you boy?" Keith said.
"Haw! Haw! Get 'em Toby! Get 'em!"
Nugent screamed, jumping up and down! "Do the wango tango! Do it! Do it!
Get that hood scoop! Pretend your face is a Mazeratti!"
look like a pig, boy!" Keith whispered into Jeff's ear, the thick chin whiskers
brushing across Jeff's face and neck. "Can you squeal? Squeal! Do it! Go,
He grabbed Jeff's ear.
"Do it!" he commanded again.
And Jeff did: "Weeeeeeeeee!"
that's when he entered Jeff with a mighty thrust. I closed my eyes. But I couldn't
close my ears.
Squeal like a pig, boy!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!"
Nugent was shouting. "Wang dang sweet poontang! Haw!"
then Keith said: "Who's your baby? Who's your daddy? Who's your lover? Who's
your man? Now, squeal!"
it! Go: Weeeeeee!"
is what happens when you spit on America, boy! This is what happens when you come
up here and soil the beautiful land that God created! That the Lord himself made
with His own two hands! Squeal! We let you in here and you disrespect us! We let
you walk in our land and you abuse it! You disrespect us, and God, and our land
that we have worked so hard to keep from others! Squeal! You're pagans! You're
godless! We try to teach you lessons! The Lord tries to teach you lessons but
you don't learn! You are against us! Squeal!"
Nugent said. "Ye-
And that was the last word I heard the
Motor City Madman say. A loud thump came from beside me. I opened my eyes. I turned
my head. Joe was there behind Nugent with a large branch. Nugent grabbed the back
of his scalp, and screamed loud and thick like a banshee. Joe swung again but
Nugent ducked and sprinted away faster than I've ever seen a man capable.
looked over in my direction. He spotted Joe. He rose up from Jeff's tired ass
and grabbed his pistol and aimed it at me. "Pagans! Against me!"
shot went off.
But not a shot from the gun.
was an arrow. From Bob's bow. It had struck Toby Keith in the neck. He stumbled
forward. Grasping at his neck. The blood was running down the front of his sweaty
chest. He had this look of disbelief. His gun dropped to the ground and his shaking
hands went upward to the long shaft and arrow head thrust through his neck. He
looked down at the gun and tried pulling at the arrow at the same time. I couldn't
help but think - even then, throughout that entire horrible mess - about playing
cowboys and Indians, white people fighting natives. Some of us never give it up,
I guess. Toby Keith looked down at the ground at the instrument of the cowboy
from underneath his ten gallon Stetson and tried to pull the symbol of the natives
from out of his neck, the symbol that shut off his voice and all his speeches
about God, and how we soiled the land, and how we disrespect him, God, and the
country because we were outsiders, unwelcome, and not like them, and against them.
Keith tumbled forward onto a low slung branch and the last breath of his life
escaped his body through the arrow-filled hole in his neck.
walked forward and asked me if I was alright. I held my hand close to the wound
and decided that I was okay. He asked Jeff. Jeff just shook his head.
got his clothes back on by this point and all of us were huddled around the corpse.
Bob reached down and pulled the arrow out of Keith's neck and there was this slimy,
sticky sound to it.
"What do we do now?" Joe asked.
do you think?" Bob asked in return. "We bury him," he nodded to
"We can't just bury him!" Joe said.
"We need to notify someone! It's against the
Ha! Law?!" Bob outstretched his arms. "Where's the law here, Joe? Do
you see the law? I only see the trees, the river, the rocks, the forest, us, and
him! There ain't no law here! And, shit, these people up here, all of them are
related. I'd be goddamned if I'm gonna come back up here and stand trial with
this man's aunt and his uncle, maybe his momma and his daddy, and maybe Kenny
Chesney, Mark Wills, and Montgomery Gentry sitting in the jury box!"
we . . ." Joe stopped.
"Alright then," Bob said,
"let's have a vote. Mikey . . .? What do you say?"
looked around. I saw the river. I saw the rocks. I saw the forest. I saw us. I
didn't see a law. "I'm with Bob."
Bob turned. "Jeffery?"
had the look of someone that was trying to stare through a dense fog, a person
trying to see something in front of them but can't. He lunged at the body and
began kicking it and hitting it and even, yes, even tearing at it with his teeth
like a wild animal. There was no longer a man in our presence. This was a beast.
A beast not created by God or Nature or Evolution. This was a beast that only
dire circumstance, desperate situations, and evil undertakings and outcomes could
produce. In other words this 5' 3'' maniac was the most dangerous son of a bitch
on the planet. The way he tore into Toby Keith's body, the way he kicked it, stomped
it into the ground . . . It was horrible. Even for the rapist, it was horrible.
Bob, Joe, and myself just stood staring at each other. I looked into Bob's eyes.
I saw a tinge of fear in them. As with Joe. As with myself. All of us knew, I
think, that if we tried to intervene on the beast's revenge . . . it would have
been as gruesome for us in the end. Sometimes it is better to let a man, or beast,
have his revenge. Because sometimes justice fails and the only kind of fitting
end is the one found at the end of a bullet, arrow, fang, claw, or hand. Every
so often God forgets to inject a sense of right and wrong into the world. It is
the beast's responsibility to do it for Him.
Soon the beast
was gone and Jeff was back. He wiped sweat off his forehead and spit on the corpse.
bury him," he said. "I don't want this getting around."
so we did. We buried Toby Keith out there beneath the soil and worms and leaves
and branches. We buried him in that land he loved so, so much. The land that we
had "soiled" with our presence. But when we dug the grave with our hands
and threw the dirt atop him, I saw no sign that this was "his" land.
I saw no sign that he owned it, nor did I expect to. It was land, and that was
all. It was useless to argue over it or claim it for your own. It was just dirt.
But even as I realized that, I knew deep in the back of my mind there were people
I would encounter for the rest of my life who would claim pieces of dirt as their
own, they would try to scare someone away from "their" land, away from
"their" dirt, and yes, even kill a man for it. Some of these people,
I knew wouldn't be as bad as Toby Keith or Ted Nugent, but some of them might
be worse . . . Some of them are worse . . . Some of them lead countries and say
that their land is of God and they are of God and that you are a pagan that deserves
no less than death and humiliation and that if you are not with them you are against
them, leaving you to either fight back in some way, be it small or large, or to
sit down and quietly carve your own epitaph. From the Earth and to the Earth returned.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
We kept an eye out for Nugent
on our way back to civilization. We never saw him. And we never told anyone.
way back to town was a silent one. The drive was long. The night was long. And
the river - the same river we rode down to a dark and dim destiny - that sat just
beyond my window also was long.
Sometimes in the dark I can
hear the ripples of a river that simply isn't there. And the river is very cold.
Very dark. And very long. And I fear that if I listen to closely to the river
I might drown.