Some public acts turn the head, others the stomach. This is a case of the latter:
The Holley Fire Department, of upstate N.Y., is a bastion of life-saving volunteerism, comprised - according to its website - of a community of volunteers that has at their disposal two pumpers, a ladder truck, a grass fire/utility truck and other vehicles designed to preserve the sanctity of lives in peril. These are rescuers who on a moment's notice dispatch emergency medical services to care for their fellow residents whose lives and property are at risk - and, following moments of horror, sacrifice and personal sadness, also honor the fallen brethen who died honorably among them.
The same can be said about the killing spirit, particularly when the killing is done in cold blood - mass killings at movie theaters, shopping malls and too many schools have borne this truth recently. There are those who say such sort of hard-edged slaughter has to be nurtured, starting in childhood. Indeed, this very theory is central - even now - to our nation's hot-button debate on gun control, a dialectic being echoed here in New York State's Capitol building too.
So this leads to the question of why such a life-embracing team of courageous, unpaid souls would dispatch small children into the woods with loaded weapons to compete in something called "The Seventh Annual Squirrel Slam." Yes, this means six such contests have already preceded this one, leaving bags of kids' prized grey and red squirrel carcasses in their annual bloody wake.
What is the price of one life, anyway?
Inquire of the Holley Fire Department membership and by virtue of these volunteers' selfless deeds in safeguarding the human community, they will affirm that life is undoubtedly without price. It is worth saving at all costs and personal risk. Ask any firefighter's widow who lost half of her heart in a smoky blaze. Ask children whose father was overcome in the embrace of a building that collapsed around him.
But ask that question again on Sat., Feb. 16, and fire officials will tell you the price of one life: It is $50 cold cash. That's the top prize for the single fattest dead squirrel bagged by any child's gunshot. (And no cheating, folks: As the website advises "No internal packing or soaking of squirrels for added weight." You obviously cannot make one of these lives worth more than it is really worth.)
For a team effort, netting five dead squirrels, the reward is greater: The children get $200 to share among themselves. And in the spirit of progress, the good people of Holley's fire department have added a new category, making kids 14 and younger eligible to join in the slaughter. These prepubescent soldiers of fortune also qualify now to bring their dead fatties in for $50. Hey it sure beats waiting for that weekly allowance.
So Annie, get your gun. Better yet, get your tickets. They're $10 apiece from the volunteer rescuers of Holley and that price includes refreshments after the slaughtered animals have all been weighed. A mere $10. You can't even get a good movie ticket for that price.
Still, with $50 or more in hand, the victors can probably afford to go to the movies now and even treat their friends. Perhaps they'll take in a special screening of "The Hunger Games," watching teens just a few years older than themselves in that violent, dystopian Hollywood drama taking aim with their bows, arrows and guns. But this time, it will be on one another.