By: A.B. Thomas
“I’ve decided that I am gonna be one of those Herb whores.”
Those were the first words spoken to me by the eight year old as I put his dinner plate down in front of him.
“Sounds good – not too many kids your age have a career plan,” I said as I sat down, “Does he have a benefit package?”
The boy’s upper lip curled up as his nose scrunched up with a look of confusion. I had, apparently, not given the response that he had expected and thought it best to clarify the matter.
“I ain’t gonna to eat meat,” he added.
“Well, Herb’s not going to like that one bit – I imagine that there are certain expectations of service in Herb whores, you know.” There was a large exhalation of air from a small set of lungs.
“I mean I ain’t gonna eat, you know, animals,” as if his words perhaps were too large for me to comprehend he mimed a cougar lunging out at the unsuspecting broccoli that sat blissfully on his plate.
“Oh”, I replied as I looked at the moose steak sitting in a lovely pond of its own juices upon my plate. The nine year old brother thought that I had not fully understood what his little brother had just informed me, decided he should shower me with his knowledge of all things worldly.
“You see, he wants to be a herbs whore an’ eat vega…vegit..vegitables…but I’m a carni whore, I like meat an’ bones an’ skin an’ blood!” To show his vapid adherence to his statement, he shoved his entire piece of moose steak into his mouth and growled like what I suspect he thought sounded like a lion but through the meat filter came across like a jogging asthmatic attempting to wade through a swamp filled with thick sludge. The six year old didn’t add anything to the conversation; he was far too busy drawing a smiley face in his ketchup with his tongue.
The boys’ mother, never one satisfied to let someone else drive the knife through a person’s eye socket chose to take a sledge hammer to the tip of the hilt in order to ensure that the blade had broken through the back of my skull.
“The word you’re looking for, honey, is vegetarian.”
I felt flush at the use of that…that…word in my presence.
“Don’t you use that kind of language in front of the kids!” I demanded, “That’s the kind of talkin’ a boy learns under the monkey bars at school or from cable.”
All sets of eyes were on me for the briefest of seconds, it was deathly quiet – with the exception of the nine year old who was choking on the over abundant half chewed moose meat that was overflowing out of his mouth. Their mother repeated the offensive word to which the eight year old repeated; I checked to ensure the kitchen window was closed lest one of the neighbors heard the child saying it and reporting it to children’s services.
Vegetarian. I’ve been told a lot of things in my life; the preacher informing the folks that I wasn’t welcome at the church, my best friend telling me he was gay, that Elvis had passed away, that the Liberals won another election but none of these could have prepared me for this.
“Well I suppose I could drop you off in a pasture an hour before school then pick you up….”
“Hush!” his mother growled through clenched teeth at me from across the table then put her hand on the boy’s without taking her glare off of me. “WE ARE GOING TO SUPPORT YOU HOWEVER WE CAN, AREN’T WE?” Funny how women can do that; make a statement of fact and make it sound as if there’s an inkling of choice involved in the matter.
I recall only bits and pieces afterwards of the conversation the boys had about omnivores, carnivores, herbivores and vegetarians; the force of the salt shaker to my temple after a few “moos” of opinion that I had given resulted in some disorientation. The downside of this condition was that the drool running down my chin watered the gravy on the potatoes considerably. The upside was that I had the illusion of eating two moose steaks from the temporary double vision I was experiencing.
It is said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions but sometimes I am of the opinion that it is tarred by forced supportive gestures. The next afternoon I was the tar as I took the eight year old to the supermarket. His mother was worried that a growing child needs some form of protein and it was delegated to me to take the boy to investigate meat alternatives that he would like to try on his journey of becoming a cow. At first I didn’t have high hopes for this mission; I had told many a tired looking woman sitting alone at the bar in the past that I would generously provide an all natural protein shake to pick their spirits up to no avail, but then I did recall several of these women saying they would prefer something they picked up at the store, thank you very much.
It was if I had stepped onto another planet as we entered the soy product aisle; gone were the familiar and welcoming brand names into a land where the word “faux” harkened to the edge of the sputtering volcano its followers. I could now empathise with those who survived “Agent Orange” attacks while their neighbors suffered, emasculated soul after emasculated soul stood listlessly as they squinted eyes hidden deep within their sockets at the packages.
I tried to slow my pace down to a shuffle to avoid harming any of these creatures but a pony tailed man had gotten trapped in the draft from my gait. I heard the sounds of bones snapping accompanied by a voice on the store intercom calling for a clean up in aisle one. I had to wipe a tear away from my eye as I watched what once would have been a women until the fibre, not satisfied with simply flushing her system had flushed away most of her muscle and tendon, crawled slowly on the floor pushing a packet of tofu with her forehead towards the check out counter muttering, “Yessss, preciousssss, I havessss you now, yessss, preciousssss”.
There was a crowd of these poor tortured souls looking forlorn at one of the coolers. As I got closer I saw what had caused their sadness: on one of the coolers a sick twisted son of a bitch market manager had put a door upon it. I know I shouldn’t have done it, much like you don’t feed a bear since they are more likely to come back, but I gave a smile and pushed the door open. The gates of Heaven opened for those folks as they fell to the floor and wept. I took out a piece of elk jerky, took a bite, nodded, and continued on. As the boy and I walked over to one of the other coolers I heard whispers of how for years they would never forget that they had been there for the second coming of the Messiah.
With trepidation I peeked into the cooler, half expecting to see a hand come up from under the white plastic to pull me into meatless hell. It was not as bad as I expected, the pictures on the packaging looked as if the contents were appetizing. As we went from faux chicken breasts that looked like chicken breasts, faux chicken strips that looked like chicken strips, faux wieners that looked, well, let’s be realistic, as good as a wiener can look, and faux turkey I couldn’t help but feel that soy producers just may be the sneakiest sons of bitches on the planet. Politicians could learn from these people; wanna-be cassanovas could take lessons on how to woo the unsuspecting targets of their affections from those masters of deception. I don’t want to talk about the price of this stuff – it’s far too depressing to think of how many cuts of red meat I could buy for the price of a small package of stuff made from what I usually dump into the mulch pile every time I mow the lawn.
The boy and I talked it over and he decided that we would try the product that from the package cover resembled a juicy hamburger. As I picked up our intended purchase my chest tightened, sweat beaded on my forehead, I sensed something – something that I had not felt since the last family dinner I had attended years ago. I turned to see him standing at the edge of the aisle – my uncle.
Don’t get me wrong, my uncle isn’t evil…intentionally, but running into him at this particular spot was akin to walking out of a peep show with a used tissue in your hand and running into your mother. You can’t deny where you were, you can’t say, “oops” and laugh it off and it doesn’t help matters when you pretend to be blowing your nose and end up being a little more plugged up than you were initially. My uncle is a rancher through and through; you don’t grow crops to eat, you grow crops to feed it to the livestock that you then kill the livestock and eat them, getting your grains through their meat. I am probably no better than he is, but I do like to fool myself into believing that I am somewhat culinary androgynous. My uncle however, is strictly meat and potatoes and made no bones about expressing his opinion on the matter when someone was foolish enough to bring it up in conversation. I thought perhaps that just once I would catch a lucky break. Nope.
I saw him; he saw me – more to the point he saw what I held in my hand. His eyes narrowed.
“Doin’ a little shopping?” his voice said menacingly, daring me to answer yes.
I let out a nervous laugh and coughed, hoping to buy some time to come up with a reasonable yet manly enough sounding explanation for such an overt violation of Nature’s way. The eight year old opted to speak out at the very moment I had run out of options and about to lay my head on the wooden neck rest of the guillotine.
“I’m gonna be a veternarian!” he said excitedly, “An’ we’re pickin’ out stuff!”
My uncle continued to icily look at the bastardization of all that was holy in my hand.
“A veternarian, eh?” he asked the boy suspiciously. “So what’s with….that.” I quickly stepped up to the plate to save any unpleasant minor-ness innocent pulling the blade’s rope.
“Attack hamsters,” I said.
“Attack hamsters?” he echoed back to me.
“Well, sure! Think about it – a decent guard dog takes up too much room but a hamster…” I held up the faux hamburger, “This is the first step – making the hamsters identify meat as food. Through the use of operant conditioning…we introduce this into their environment so that they can accommodate the shape of this stuff as an alternate to their food pellets. Then we feed them real meat so they develop a taste for it…then, uh, we market them as mousers who are able to go where the mouse could go and promote the ankle biting capabilities.”
My uncle looked blankly at me for a moment.
“Why not just get a cat,” he asked.
I was taken aback, and quite frankly, just a shade shy of being miffed – for forty years I had only heard him use the word “fucker” for any animal that he had spoken about. Dog: “mangy fucker”, horse: “fast fucker”, pig: “mean assed fucker”, chicken: “feather fucker”. Growing up I had even evolved with the same descriptor; when I was just knee high to a bee I was a “rambunctious fucker”, then as a young lad, a “fucker of a whip” as a teenager, a “mouthy fucker”– how dare he decide at that very moment to suddenly develop a noun specific vocabulary? Sneaky fucker.
My uncle looked at the boy, gave a nod.
“Good luck on becomin’ a veternarian. Tell your mother I said hello,” then with a distasteful looking glare aimed at me, added, “And to hide the bottles a little better.” With that he turned and walked back the way he came from.
I put my hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “Let’s go home”.
I cooked up the “hamburger” for dinner that night, and just as Caligula would have done, the boy’s mother had ordered that we all would enjoy the experience of a meatless repast. We sat down at the table watching to see who would be the first to take a bite. It ended up being me – which was fine by me, I had laced my burger with a large glob of bacon grease. I slowly chewed my burger and once it was clear that I was not going to have a seizure, the rest began to eat their own meals.
Afterward I asked the eight year old what he thought of his first meatless hamburger. I hate to admit it but I got sorta misty eyed as he responded, “You know, I think I’m going to be a half herb whore, if that’s all right.”