Sunday, August 31, 2014

Text along the Watchtower

Joker: There must be some kind of way out of here.
Thief: WTF?
Joker: There’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief.
Thief: Can’t get any. LOL. Xplain?
Joker: Businessmen they drink my wine. Plowmen dig my earth.
Thief: U have earth?
Joker: None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
Thief: No reason 2 get excited.
Joker: Not excited!
Thief: There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But
Joker: Not u?
Thief: No. You and I we've been through that.
Joker: Thru what?
Thief: Life joke. On you. Haha.
Joker: Life is a joke or I’d be out job.
Thief: With you, not at you.
Joker: OK. Freaking watchtower scares me. Not cruel joke?
Thief: Not our fate.
Joker: Nice. Some kinda way out here still seems like good idea.
Thief: Bullshit.
Joker: Bull????
Thief: Takes one to know. Let us not talk falsely now.
Joker: Let’s not. Y not?
Thief: The hour's getting late.
Joker: Yeah. That makes me feel better. What’s up all these women & maid servants?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Meat the animals

Spoiler alert. Seriously. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but human beings kill animals and eat them. Old news, I know, but at age 7 I didn’t know it. Nope. Hadn’t processed the facts. Hadn’t faced the awful truth. Not that I was stupid. Intellectually …

Stop. Before we get into it, let's set the clock back to the scene of my freaking childhood. 1960s Florida. Astronauts, civil rights movement, Cuban Missile Crisis, Jackie Gleason. Get the picture? Great. Let's get back to how smart I was ...

OK. Intellectually, I resembled the bright, scrawny chicken kid in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. Classic egghead. Bright. But no sense of how the world really worked. Take meat, for example. The meat/animal continuum. There's a connection. Obviously. But what? We kill animals and eat 'em, dumbass. No, no, no. It's gotta be something else ...

So, I mulled this enigma over in my mind. For weeks. Then finally cooked up a clever explanation: The meat they sell at Publix has the same names as animals on farms! But the "chicken" that pecks for corn and the "chicken" in Colonel Sanders' bucket are two different things. Crazy coincidence, huh?

Sure, kid. Makes sense, if you think about it.

So I thought about it.

And one fine day, I shared my solution at the Fugate family dinner table. Just sorta blurted it out in my autistic spectrum way. Shouting at the top of my voice like Spock in an early Star Trek episode ...

“Hey! Words are funny! Like homophones!"

Little Sister's look said Shut up and die you stupid showoff. Dad, the angry young Southern novelist who actually resembled Foghorn Leghorn, looked skeptical and on sudden high alert, like a boxer waiting for the next sucker punch. Ah, sweet Christ on a crutch. Marty's got that crazed look in his eyes. This is going to be bad. Where in the hell is he going with this? Mom, the beloved teacher, looked impressed. My 7-year-old kid has a 10th grade vocabulary! Yeah, I did. And I knew damn well that Mom and Dad knew what "homophone" meant. But that wasn't going to stop me from telling 'em what they already knew. Before sharing my brainy bullcrap.

"Homophones? That's like ... you know how like sometimes a word means one thing but it also means something completely different? Like, there’s "orange" the color and there’s "orange" the fruit. Or lamb. There’s "lamb" at the grocery store. And then there’s "lambs" on the farm.”

Yeah, right. “The farm.” 

By way of historical background, if you study the kids books of my childhood, you'll see that the friendly farmers in those books had a close loving relationship with their animals. Not in the Biblically condemned sense, OK? Love in the nice sense. Farmer Brown or Farmer Bob or Farmer Whatever just sorta hung out with their animals — the cows, the pigs, lambs, chickens, etc. They were all pals! They all lived together on this big, idyllic farm! Farmer Whatever didn’t hurt the animals or anything. No way. He liked them! And he had better things to do than kill his animal friends. Farmer Whatever was a busy guy. He drove a tractor around, raised wheat, wore a straw hat and overalls, and watched his fat wife bake pies. Aside from that, the books didn’t get into the economic model of how he paid the light bill. They never remotely suggested that Farmer Whatever would kill his friend the pig and sell his remains to the grocery store. Uh-uh. His farm was a happy place! Farmer Whatever loved his animals! And they loved him. Let's leave it at that.

Seemed plausible enough at first. On closer examination, this narrative had obvious holes. 

I’d recently noticed a few.

Cuts of meat? Why "cuts" exactly? And why is the anthropomorphic pig outside Billy Bob's B-B-Q holding a meat cleaver? Are those blood spots on his apron? For that matter, why does Charlie the Tuna want Starkist to pick him like it's show biz or something? Starkist doesn't make movies. They sell tuna in cans. Tuna the food, not tuna the fish. Right?

Based on these observations, the thought crawled into my bright little mind that maybe real farms weren't so nice. And maybe ... Maybe real farms turned animals into food. I didn’t want to face this thought. So I hatched my cute linguistic theory. And dropped it like a bomb at dinner. Homophones, remember?

"There’s "lamb" at the grocery store. And then there’s "lambs" on the farm.”

These words came out of my mouth. 

Dad, the cynical Southern philosopher that he was, just sorta looked at me with half-lidded Robert Mitchum eyes from his throne-like chair at the head of the table. You can't bullshit the bullshitter. No, you can't. Dad knew exactly what I was doing. Yeah. Dad sussed me out. Marty's a sensitive soul. On that basis, he's rationalizing the fact that we kill and eat our animal friends. Dad instantly knew it. And he just kept looking at me with those all-knowing eyes …

Then started going, “Hmmm-hmmm-hmmm.” Just this little understated laugh. “Hmmm-hmmm-hmmm.”

Dad’s thinking: Aw, son. You still think the world’s a happy place. Poor idealistic, naive kid. You’re doomed, you know that?


Up to now, Dad thought this scene was pretty funny.  

Hmmm-hmmm. Marty thinks lambs on farms and lamb with mint jelly are two different things. Damn funny, in a cutesy horseshit kind of way. I should sent in the quote to "Kids Say the Darndest Things." Do they pay for that cornball crap? Can I get him to say it twice?

So Dad's chuckling, and adding up the big check from Art Linkletter. Then he suddenly felt the weighty significance of our discussion. The disillusion he'd have to hand me. The dirty looks from Mom. The big stink hanging in the air.

Dad stopped chuckling. Then he stopped talking. The rest of us did too.

When that happened in the Fugate household, it's always scary.

Tense silence. It dragged on for awhile. Family Dinner was now a Mexican standoff. If this was a Spaghetti Western, they'd be playing the theme from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. In the absence of close adult supervision, Little Sister's launching peas on the wall, using her spoon as a catapult. Dad's eyes drilling holes into me. Mom's eyes are silently screaming: Don't tell him now! He's not ready!  But hardass Dad's not backing down. He's studying me, weighing his words, my possible reaction, and Mom's likely reaction to that. Must kick wimp son's ass and force him to be a man. Must avoid Mom's ball-busting response. Harsh dilemma, eh? More of that tense silence ...

Then Dad finally spoke.

“Well, son. I’m sorry to disillusion you. But the "lamb" we eat from the grocery store and the "lambs" on the farm are exactly the same thing.”

 I looked at Dad with bigass saucer eyes. My lower lip started quivering.



"No ..."

“Yes. Listen ... Son, I spent a fair portion of my formative years on the family farm. I can assure you from personal experience that meat doesn’t come from the grocery store."


"No, son. Meat comes from animals.”


Dad doesn't answer right away. Just looked at me again. Sizing me up with those X-Ray eyes. Mom's still looking at him, her eyes flashing like Goldfinger's laser: Back off! Don't destroy his sensitive soul, you jerk! But Dad ignored her. Then suddenly leaned in like a scary father figure in a John Kricfalusi cartoon. Got right in my face with his Kirk Douglas chin. 

“Yes, son. Animals. Chicken comes from chickens, beef comes from cows, lamb comes from lambs.”

“Soylent Green is people”
would’ve had the same effect on me.

Dad figured I was ready for the awful truth. But Dad was wrong.

My saucer eyes got bigger. Tears gushed. I started howling like Sam Kinison.

“Agggghhhh! So … meat is dead animals? No! Agggghhhh! We eat dead animals?”

“Yes, son. That’s one way to put it.”

Kid’s gotta face facts sometime, right?

Yeah, I faced the facts. My response was: “Agghhhh! Agghhhhhhhhh! Agghhhhhhhhh!”

Dad, philosopher king that he was and still is, instantly backpedalled. Mom's look of intense hate probably influenced his decision.

“No, no, no, son. You misunderstand me! Farmers don’t kill animals.”

“Yes they do! Agghhhhh! They do -- you said! Agghhhhh! Farmers kill animals and cut ‘em up … and …” Choke.

Like a character in an EC horror comic, I choked before I could get the words out.

So Dad got his words in.

“No, son. No, no, no. Please believe me, son. Please. Look me in the eyes."

So I looked him in the eyes. 

And Dad said ...

"On my word of honor: Farmers don’t kill animals.”

“They don’t?”

Aw, so damn trusting. This son of mine. He'll believe any damn thing I say.


"W-what do they do then?"

"Well. You know how they shear sheep?”

“Y-yeah, dad. Mrs. Roberts. She showed us a film about Australia." Sob. "These -- these sheepherder guys were cutting off wool and stuff with this big electric razor."

"Did they hurt the sheep?"

I shook my head no. Dad clapped his hands in triumph.

“Well, that’s exactly what they do with meat!”

“They do? You mean the farmers?”

“Of course, son.” Trying not to laugh. "Farmers ..."

"You mean ranchers," says my insanely bright little Sister. Five years old. Reading Little House on the Prairie or Cross Creek or some stupid girly book with ranchers in it.

"Well, farmers, ranchers ... "

Sister rolled her eyes and started sulking. Mom did, too. She looked around the table for a Chianti bottle, a rolling pin, or anything she could hit Dad in the head with but not kill him. Nothing really worked, so Mom got up, went into the kitchen and started clattering stuff around. Then Dad said ...

"The point is, cutting off the meat doesn't kill the animals. It doesn't even hurt."

"Why not?" I asked. 

Dead serious question. Really wanting to believe there's no slaughter behind my sandwiches. Just buying this thing lock, stock and barrel. And Dad's happy to sell me.

"Well, son. You see ... Over centuries and centuries, farm animals have been bred to have special meat pouches on their sides.”

“Their sides? You mean … their flanks?”

“Flanks, sides, yes. Well, as I was saying, the farmers cut the meat from the sides ….”

“Does it hurt?”

“No, no, no. It’s just like shearing, son. It doesn’t hurt one bit. In fact, it hurts if they don’t cut the meat off!”

“Like a cow that has to be milked?”

“Exactly, son. Long story short, the farmer -- or sometimes the rancher -- cuts off the meat pouch, sprays on Mercurochrome, and the animal runs off to play. A few weeks later, the animals grow more meat and the farmer or rancher repeats the process.”

“OK. I guess that makes sense.”

“It makes perfect sense, son. Hmmm-hmmm. Now eat your liver.”

So that was that. Mom came back from the kitchen. Dad spent the rest of the dinner talking about how that snotnose Kennedy punk was taking the country to hell in a handcart. An Irish Catholic handcart. I choked down Mom’s special concoction of liver and onions. Told myself this wasn’t a segment of some dead animal. Or Prometheus' organ. Yeah. I believed Dad’s happy story.

But not for long.

Smart little bastard that I was, I looked up “meat” in the school library the next day. The text skirted the issue. “Meat production,” blah-blah-blah. But the pictures laid it all out. Guys with cleavers and bloody aprons. Animals, or what was left of former animals, hanging on hooks in assembly line factories. Smart little bastard that I was, I quickly figured out that Dad had lied to me and handed me a bullcrap story because I was screaming my head off and ruining dinner. The harsh realization finally came ...

Real farms didn’t resemble the happy farms in kids’ books. “Lamb” and “lamb” ain’t like “orange” and “orange.” Lamb the meat is lamb the animal, kid. Meat is dead animals. Farmers kill ‘em and cut ‘em up. Then we eat ‘em. Then you eat 'em.

If this was a happy PC story, it’d end with, “After that, I never ate meat again.” The truth is, I did. And enjoyed every bite.

Unless it's liver.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Fat Games

Katishness surveyed the swaying shadows of the smurfberries in the no-man's zone, that ugly gash in the land dividing District 12.5 from District 12.4999. A jagged barbed wire fence straddled the center of the gash. It was supposed to be electrified, but it hadn't been for years. The electric fences of Capitol One never stopped crackling. Legend had it that birds, bats and careless children, sizzled and popped from dawn to dusk. Such was the privilege of the ruling class. And speaking of birds ...
A Jabberjaw was stuck in one of the smurfberry gorses. It honked and stuttered in a grotesque Curly imitation.
"Nyuck! Nyuck! Nyuck!"
A genetically modified abomination, created during the Uprising in the labs of Capitol One. The Jabberjaw wasn't dangerous, just extremely irritating. Some had mated with wild Jib Jabs, producing offspring resembling Shemp. A few resembled Curly Joe. No one spoke of this.
Katishness extended her long, slender fingers into her quiver. And removed an ancient weapon. A Jart. Cruel in its efficiency. Efficient in its cruelty. You threw it like a big-ass dart. This she did.
Swiftly, it cut the air. Thuck! In microseconds, its spike protruded from the Jabberjaw's shiny bald head.
"Hey Moe!" it cried. Then fell.
Sprawled on its back.
Dead? No.
Its legs began kicking. Hideously, the Jabberjaw began running on the dusty ground in a circle. Like the hands of a clock. Or legs. A bleeding clock with feathers and a Jart sticking out of its head.
At last, the ghastly reflex stopped.
She stooped to pick it up. Dead at last ...
"Nyuck! Nyuck!"
Running again. Running.
OK, now it was dead.
Food on the table tonight.
Distantly, from the distant village beyond the distant hills, a single note cut the air. E Flat.
The Reeting.
It was the call to the Reeting, all reet.
"Damnit!" she cursed.
The Reeting.
The cruelty of it. The cleverness.
To put it in Young Adult Fiction terms, after Apocalypse One, Apocalypse Two, the Al Gore Years, the Zombie Years and the improbable return of Disco, Planet Earth was pretty much screwed. Capitol One arose from the ashes. A city on a hill somewhere in what used to be Utah. (Actually, the city was flat. Perfectly sea level. They just called it "a city on a hill." Let's not dwell on that point.) A city ruled by ruthless elite who worshiped junk food, old John Waters movies, and polyester.
Under their pudgy-but-iron fists, what was once the United States and Canada became "PanAm," a country taking its name from a defunct airline of the 20th century because the uniforms were so kicky.
The rulers of PanAm had no taste. The rulers of PanAm were fat.
Not just, oh-I-gotta-lose-a-few-pounds fat.
Get-the-chainsaw-and-cut-a-new-door-in-the-trailer fat.
And they demanded that everyone under their rule be fat as well.
More than a century ago, the 13 and 1/2 districts rebelled. People began eating sensible food and (according to Capitol One propaganda) made themselves throw up. The Uprising rose up! And was quickly put down.
The rulers' response was ruthless.
After a rain of death and destruction, the rulers of Capitol One kicked the districts to the curb. After that, they did some really bad stuff.
To keep the districts in their place, they created the Fat Games.
Every year, from now until the end of time, two representatives from every subject district would be selected by random lot. Children, under the age of 18. This isn't a ripoff of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," but more of a kooky coincidence.
Each year, the lucky children gather at the Fat Games.
An eating contest, of course. The rules are simple.
Eat. Keep eating. If you stop eating, you die.
If you die, you lose.
The child who keeps eating after all the other children stop wins.
Honor, glory and more sugar to the district of the winning child!
And hello, before you know it...
Katishness is standing in the Village Square. (Which is more of a rhombus, but let's not dwell on it.) A crowd of Village Idiots is standing there with her. This is a big damn deal. Whole lotta standing going on, OK?
And that includes the purple-haired Squinky Everglee. The coiffed and fluffed-up shill of Capitol One. The vacuous, all-you-can-eat fashion plate.
Katishness gapes in horror.
As Squinky stands at a podium plucking a name from a fishbowl.
"And the winner is ... Spankbottom Everclear!"
Her sister.
"Hey wait a minute ..."
Like a dumbass, Katishness said that outloud.
"Oh, we have a substitute! Hooray, hooray for the substitute!"
"No, no, no. You're the one saying 'substitute.' I didn't say that. For the record. I love my sister and all. She's really irritating, sure. But I love her. On the substitute level? No. No way."
But the crowd of idiots was applauding and nobody heard.
"Katishness Everclear will be competing in the Fat Games as tribute for District 12.5"
Hooray hooray.