Aesop Rock, one of underground hip-hop’s most enduring and illuminating talents, recently released Spirit World Field Guide via Rhymesayers Entertainment. The collection, arguably the most expansive and ambitious work in the verbose MC/producer’s storied career, is a concept album of sorts; a guide to an upside-down world illustrated across 21 insightful chapters of firsthand know-how of the terrain, wildlife, and social customs of our parallel universe, rife with hallucinatory images of killer eels, magic spells, and people on the run, peppered among anecdotes, recipes, survival tips, warnings, maps, drawings, and more.
(Photo Credit: Ben Colen)
[Editor’s Note: The “Angel” in this story is better known as rapper Homeboy Sandman.]
Years ago I was on tour with some friends. I forget where we were. We had stopped at a truck stop to stretch the ol’ pegs and re-up on snacks.
If you’ve ever driven across the vast expanse of beauty and horror we call America, you know that there are a few different types of truck stops out there. There is your basic triple threat: convenience store/gas station/bathroom. Then there are larger ones that include some fast food options, a larger general store selling clothing, CB radio stuff, outlandish knives and more, as well as showers available for the truckers, a crane-game, etc. Then you’ve got the ones that offer a more regional experience. They carry the basics while offering a window into the traditions and values of the locals via decor, inventory, and ambience. There are other kinds too, but this covers the major categories, IMO.
We were at the last kind.
My friend Angel is 6’5” and very strong. He was about 36 years old at this time. He’s the type to not only hit the gym multiple times a day, but scan every room he enters for furniture and floorspace he could potentially use for further exercise. “Oh, these filing cabinets are perfect for dips!”, etc. Beyond that, he is an athletic person, a competitive person who does not like to lose, an all-around sports enthusiast and, perhaps above all, he is confident in his abilities.
This particular truck stop was a maze of woodland camouflage, flannels, ear-flap hats, and souvenirs that generally seemed to celebrate hunting. Zigzagging through the aisles toward the restroom, we walked past a glass display case housing a taxidermied bobcat, posed and mounted as if it were frozen in time, mid-leap.
An adult male bobcat (Lynx rufus) can measure 49” in length from its head to the base of its tail, 24” floor-to-shoulder, and weigh over 40 pounds. Their diet consists mostly of rodents, birds, and fish, but they have been known to attack larger mammals as well — raccoons, dogs, goats, deer, elk, and more. The bobcat stalks its prey and pounces, using retractable claws to restrain its target until finally biting the throat, skull, or chest to kill. It has been known to take animals up to eight times its weight. It’s not a lion, but it’s certainly not a house cat.
But I didn’t know most of that at the time. I just thought it looked cool.
“You think you could take that thing?” I asked Angel as we passed the display. It wasn’t really a serious question, but I did find his answer interesting.
“What, that little thing?! I’d fucking punt that thing. Get the fuck outta here.”
Angel is certainly larger and stronger than a bobcat. What struck me, however, was that he felt he could win without so much as a scratch. In my mind, speed, agility, fighting style, claws, and teeth were at the very least worthy of consideration. But Angel was defensive, and he was flippant, and he felt insulted by the notion that the cat would be anything less than instantaneously atomized. By the time we were back at the van, the challenge had been streamlined: Angel vs. full-grown adult male bobcat, one on one, sanctioned event, no weapons, no time limit, one round only, fair fight to the death.
As a guy that knew virtually nothing about bobcats beyond what they look like enclosed in glass at a truck stop, my opinion at the time was that while Angel had a chance of winning, the bobcat did too. This is a wild animal. Even a house cat in fight mode is a fucking demon, so when I picture the moderately scaled-up version thrashing and biting and clawing and kicking, it is difficult to imagine an ending that doesn’t involve one seriously compromised human, regardless of who actually dies.
Beyond physicality, the bobcat is a killer. It kills to eat. It has the mind of a killer, and has been watching the life-force fade from its adversaries’ eyes only to moments later gorge on the meat and drink the blood (*guessing) for its entire life. Given that, I am forced to ask myself: Is Angel a killer? Nevermind his physique, is he mentally strong enough to do this? Could his moral compass potentially invite the slightest hesitation at the wrong moment, allowing the bobcat an opening it might not have had were its opponent truly an equal?
Angel was not having it, and felt positive his “Are you not entertained?!” moment would be swift and effortless.
This debate has continued to find its way into our communication for years, neither of us really budging from our initial takes. It actually came up recently, and I decided after that I’d finally do a quick search about the concept of “man vs. bobcat.” After all, neither of us really knew what we were talking about. With minimal effort — three to five minutes — I found out some interesting stuff.
For one, it is very difficult if not impossible to find an incident of a bobcat killing a person. I find this shocking. I still feel like it’s probably happened at some point but I am forced to wonder… Had I been overestimating the bobcat’s savagery? Its spirit? And secondly: I was able to find a handful of cases over the last decade or two in which a human was forced to fight a bobcat. (I’m sure there are more.) While each person was subject to substantial slashes and bites all over their bodies (one woman reported broken fingers on both hands), in every case the human was eventually able to subdue and strangle the bobcat to death.
I don’t know. I guess that information should ease my concern a little, at least in regards to my friend surviving the event. I just hope that behind all the braggadocio he’s been taking it all a bit more seriously. The bobcat remains a formidable foe and should be treated as such, even if humans have been killing them with their bare hands for all of history.
Before closing, I feel it only fair to allow Angel a few words, to revisit/update his position on the bobcat challenge:
“I was not defensive. Aes was defensive because I dared not be afraid of a bobcat. He was defensive that I was not defensive. It infuriated him such that he took the conversation back to the van. And wherever else it’s gone. I love bobcats. I love all of God’s creatures. If a bobcat tried to get at me I would put it to sleep, just as I would any of God’s creatures under those unfortunate circumstances. I would never say that I would punt a bobcat. That’s not the way I talk. But I would put a bobcat to sleep if I had no other choice. But I think it’s way more likely that me and a bobcat would be cool.”
There you have it. I’ll try to keep you abreast of any notable updates regarding this theoretical altercation. And remember: This challenge is purely speculative. Any bobcat(s) that may die at the hands of Angel in the future is entirely coincidental, and should be assumed to have been an unavoidable encounter.
(Photo Credit: Ben Colen)