In the bag were four pheasants; they'd likely been shot within the last week, because they weren't frozen, nor thawing, nor thawed; these birds were cool and pliant as only never-frozen meat can be. They'd been cleaned, although many pin-feathers were still stubbornly clinging to the skin, and I'd been warned to be aware of lead shot still in the birds, and the shards of bone from one which had been caught in the thigh, pulverizing its leg.
The blood still ran on the birds, which gave easily, lithely, when lifted from the sack. I was fascinated, like a cat staring into a goldfish bowl.
I'm not a country boy by any stretch, and as such my experience with dead animals has taken only three forms: the dearly departed pet (whom I have buried weepingly), the dissection subject (whom I have sliced and teased apart with proficiency and decorum only occasionally broken by making the fetal pig dance and sing like a formaldehyde-stinking Howdy Doody) and the shrink-wrapped, highly-processed meat that started, in some distant and indistinct past, as a live animal on a ConAgra Farm-o-tron somewhere in eastern Colorado or Nebraska, but has since been rendered sterile and devoid of any animal essence. These I slice and fry in olive oil, or grill, or occasionally roast.
All of these are just objects to me: apart from the hamster (of blessed memory), I had no more emotional reaction to them than I have to store mannequins or pineapples or tire irons; maybe funny, maybe tasty, maybe good for removing tires, but not able to spark any fire in my heart.
But those pheasants, there was only one word for what was in my heart: Lust. Blood lust.
I work at a small private school for "troubled children"—not that we are necessarily a suitable place for troubled youth, nor that it is part of our philosophy or mission statement to serve troubled youth. But, frankly, a great portion of the youth today are in trouble—with the law, with their parents, psycho-emotionally, academically—and once more than half of your students have been through the legal system, a psychiatric hospital or are on medicine to normalize emotional or psychological disturbance, you need to come to grips with what you are.
They are troubled youth, we are a tiny school uniquely suited to their needs. These are troubled times.
Casually, both students and staff refer to the school as "a hippie school," and that's probably about the most honest assessment. Think commune, and you're on the right track.
In theory, Thanksgiving could be a very awkward holiday at a left-leaning school like ours: American History at the school comes mostly via Zinn's People's History of the United States and Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. Over the last several years, Government has included participation in political protests. We are very big on the cannibalism of Jamestown over the winter of 1609-1610, and very light on the largely mythical image of the "First Thanksgiving" enshrined in American History textbooks. Nonetheless, these are American kids, and well used to the cultural duplicity necessary to get along.
So, the Feast is big with the kids, and always goes well: a potluck that actually works, with everyone committing to bringing some dish. On the day of the Feast the high schoolers clean the building and cook with the middles, while the youngers decorate and run around like overstimulated little lunatics.
This past Thanksgiving we fried one turkey at the feast (which, after doing it for two years has now become an enshrined tradition from time immemorial for the short-memoried youths), brined and braised another, and I fried the four pheasants (donated by the same dad who brought in the fryer.) Pheasants are normal animals, not endomorphic farmbirds, and subsequently don't squat obediently in the fryer basket like fat little yodas. When you pull them out, you find that they've slouched into distinctly human postures of repose, and then been frozen in that posture by their skin seizing up as they cook. I ate a pheasant that looked startlingly like Ingres' Grande Odalisque.
But, most startling was the taste. Fritz (a fellow editor of this fine publication) has long maintained that dark meat is much tastier and more desirable than white meat, and it is only classist poppycock of the last century that has popularized white meat, boneless-skinless chicken breasts, et cetera. I'm not inclined to disagree, and only note that I myself cannot distinguish between white and dark chicken meat. This was by no means the case with the pheasant's meat which, although scant—these are little birds, once you pull of the impressive tails, swift necks and puffy feathers off of them— was rich and greasy and delicious, with the dark meat of the haunches markedly more aggressively flavorfully than the drier, leaner meat of the relatively tiny breasts.
This was good, thoroughly good, and left me scheming on how I could persuade my miniature poodle (twelve pounds of ball-fetching, tutu wearing fury) to become a bird dog of some sort.
My own meat-reverie aside, a large portion of the students at the school are vegetarian kids, so the feast included plenty of vegetarian fare. But it was those pheasants that made me realize that vegetarianism is, in a deep way, not where my head is. A lot of the kids, whether they know it or not, are really on the fence about eating meat, and the pheasants were a real litmus test on that: the veg kids found it terribly disturbing and left the room when we were preparing them. The fence kids were fine with the turkey (it being more-or-less a meat icon rather than an actual animal, what with being so plumped, hormoned and selectively-bred), but couldn't handle the pheasants and split. The meat people—of whom it turns out I am one—gathered around the doubled, slightly blood-tacky grocery sacks. Our eyes gleamed, and we effused over the birds. I actually started salivating when I pulled the bloody birds out of the bag, which was sort of weird.
Because I'm not that kind of guy. I'm not a hunter. I don't even eat much red meat. I like tofu. I hit a deer last year with my car, and was legitimately upset to have senselessly killed the poor doe, who was blameless in the whole affair. Really upset. I apologized to the cooling corpse, there in the road, as cars pounded past in the icy velvet of the december night.
I'm not a meat guy, just a guy that eats meat. I thought.
Several weeks after Thanksgiving, I was having dinner with a student and his mother—both vegetarians, although they had been thoughtful enough to make several chicken burritos especially for me—and I told her about my experience with the pheasants and the saliva.
"I bet your blood is O negative, right?"
She was right; I was surprised, and said so—also noting that she could make a good living at State Fairs, right next to the guy on the strip who guesses your weight. What was her reasoning?
Turns out she'd read a book about diet and blood type—she's had lifelong weight issues, and the sort of health problems (heart conditions, type II diabetes, etc.) that go with them for most of her life—and one of the theses in the book is that O negative is "one of the oldest blood types" (what is meant by that is lost on me), an anachronism from our hunter/gatherer roots—a basic blood type, which explains why it is the "universal donor." O negative is the savage blood of homo erectus with a cudgel in hand going out to beat something to death, and thus reap the benefits of its protein-rich muscles and blood. Meat isn't a dietary habit, but a dietary necessity for O Negative people.
Several graduates came back for the feast (which is usual.) I note that a disproportionate number of our graduates buy guns when they turn 18. The "30-aught-6" is popular, as are AK-47s. This isn't generally unusual in Michigan: a big gun state, where the Militia is common and schools in many districts take the opening day of deer season off. Of course, the school I teach at is decidedly pacifist in its leaning (as am I), and we're not precisely in the sticks; Ann Arbor, Michigan (home of those perpetual Rose Bowl losers, the Wolverines) is a Mid-Western intellectual Mecca.
Surprisingly, the tendency towards arming up among our graduates leaves me feeling alright. When I look at the federal government today, right now, I appreciate the 2nd Amendment and its well-regulated militias a great deal, but am a little bothered by the fact that, if worse comes to worse and general hostility breaks out between the Federal Government and Groups of Citizens, my options are the Totalitarian Martial Regime, or the Christian Patriot Militia guys. In case it doesn't go without saying, neither group precisely represents my views and lifestyle, as an overeducated loud-mouthed Jew. So, the fact that the mohawk kids and their little intentional tribes are also stocking up ammo and doing target practice makes me feel better—especially when I know that the core of these tribes are seeded with young men who've graduated from our school, and thus have two-plus years of functional, consensus based democracy and tolerance-training under their belts.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that I personally know these kids, taught them for years, travelled with them, helped them. I like these kids. They like me. And they have bunkers. When Federal Storm Troopers start loading the boxcars, these kids aren't gonna turn me in for 2 gallons of petrol and 50 Brownie Points with Uncle Sam.
So, anecdotal conclusion: You teach kids about real democracy, you make them get their hands dirty in it for a few years, then these kids read the papers and the Internet and see what we've got here, then they buy guns and practice. I guess this is what Thomas Paine was all about, right?
It should come as little surprise that the American flag that hangs in my classroom is the beige one with a rattlesnake on it and the legend "Don't Tread on Me."
I myself am not a gun person. Or, at least, I never thought of myself as one. My father is, though, and so around Thanksgiving we went to the gun range, and I shot a pistol for the first time in my life—a 9mm Beretta, like the ones I'd seen in hundreds of action films.
In short, the experience was terrible: scarry, and aesthetically unpleasant. I missed every shot, and only finished firing all ten shots in the clip by raw force of will. Nonetheless, I returned with him several months later, and shot with his .22 target pistol. An entirely different experience; not that I enjoyed it—it was still a cold interest at best—but, despite only being my second time shooting, I didn't miss a single shot. Shell after shell, clip after clip, each bullet found its place in the target's head, in the chest, in the groin, in the knot of arteries and nerves at the armpit. At 25 feet, at 50 feet, I couldn't miss. And I was cold. When I had shot the 9mm, I couldn't help imagine a bullet coming into me with every shot—even though the targets I shot at that day were simply bulls-eyes, not the human silhouettes I shot with the .22 target pistol. The violence of the gun, of the explosion, of the speed of the lead and the ejecting of the hot brass of the spent casing—it was intolerable and terrible. But with the .22 that day, I was cold. Even when I tried to bring those visions of taking a bullet forward, they had no power, just distant and meaningless symbols of some quaint superstition, a glow-in-the-dark petagram dropped in a muddy parking lot; Who cares? Who could be scarred by that?
My father was thrilled, and I had no idea what to think, but have been thinking about guns since. A lot. Maybe I should get a .22 pistol I think. Something small, but heavy, that easy weight that puts the bullet wherever my mind chooses.
I have no idea what I'd do with a gun. But I want one. There's something in the middle of my forebrain, up front and just behind that front most curve of the gentle, evolved, talkative, sociable neo-cortex that craves a pistol in my hand.
I don't know what to think about the whole thing, except for to note, at least to myself, that the graduates who buy guns, are also the same kids who were salivating around the pheasants with me. I have little doubt that, were I to flip over their drivers licenses to the "anatomical gift" form on the back, I'd see that each is an O neg like me, a "Universal Donor," the ancient bloody hand.
With this talk of blood and the tools of murder, can one help but think of vampires? Knowing that most of our monsters are just strange, shorthand warnings about aspects of our nature, isn't it clear that the old myth of the vampire is just 65,000 year old shorthand glyph: Look, there's some of us who are human, and can make a lot of choices in what we eat and how we live and how we solve problems, who can walk away from meat, who have hearts too soft and gentle to easily cope with the violence of meat. Good folks. But there are others who can never walk away from the blood hunger, because it dwells in their blood, who can never thrive in the light, for whom killing will come with no effort at all, as easy as breathing, who can put a bullet in the target with their mind alone.
They are monsters, and although it will be hard, you need to kill them, with the gentle symbols of a God of Peace and Love and with the pierce of sharpened ash. Kill them when you can. They are old things, and monsters, and not fit to thrive.
There was a time that humanity needed that bloodlust, that cold violence and deadly accuracy to pull us up beyond what we were. But that time of faceless, jealous gods is gone, and the myth of the Vampire is the warning we send forward in time to ourselves: once useful, now monsters. Cut them out, become the step further that you're to be.
I'm glad that so many folks I've known have been vegetarians—are still vegetarians. They have good, compassionate hearts and, as they lack the dark hunger for blood, I can only hope they similarly lack the compunction to put a stake through my heart and bury me under water with the gaping mouth of my severed head full of garlic.
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