THE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERY GARDEN PROJECT or GREAT QUANTITIES OF JERKED MEAT
The summer was spent to advantage, as we were careful to spread such reports as suited our interest. I remained at Louisville until the spring following, continually discharging the multiplicity of business that was constantly brought from every quarter.
We now began to feel the effect of the depreciated state of the paper currency. Everything was at two or three prices, and scarcely to be had at any price. We set out on a plan of laying up, this fall, great quantities of jerked meat. -- George Rogers Clark, 1777
The Kentucky Derby is happening, and you and I have been invited to a party. Our small crisis, which we make big, is revealing to our new neighbors our vegetarianism. This would have been best taken care of upon the initial invitation. When they said "We're gonna grill up some burgers -- you all should come over," I should have said "I'll bring the Not Dogs. The False-age Links."
But I didn't.
Maybe I didn't take their invitation seriously, or maybe I didn't intend to go, but they began to mention their cookout each time I saw them, and I became less comfortable with bringing up veggie burgers.
Honestly, I was afraid they would think I'm a pussy. Our new neighborhood is already suspicious of me, since I painted our front steps bright blue. They've seen you in the front yard repairing the lawnmower, me planting chrysanthemums.
Once I saw our neighbor chase his daughter out the front door and into the street screaming "You ain't no better than me!"
The next day you wrote me a letter to apologize. I accept. But I'm not clear whether you were apologizing for saying it or believing it.
The first night we slept in the same bed, I said something ridiculous in my sleep. We had a roommate then, and you felt uncomfortable having sex with him there in the next room. "It's cool," I said. "I understand."
Then, sometime during the night, you tell me I turned to you and said "We totally could have fucked and he wouldn't have known."
We totally could have fucked. I have no memory of saying this, only the image you gave me the next morning. I was lucky enough that you thought it was funny. But I wonder. What else have I been telling you?
I was sitting in the Filson Historical Society. I'd been doing some research -- the nation's storehouse for Lewis & Clark information. Why was she there? She played Sacajawea once in a school play, only black girl in the school. I was in a play about conservation. I was a guitar-playing shark.
She had on this terry-cloth hoodie. Baby blue. She pulled the hood tight and chewed on the plastic thing at the end of one of the cords.
In the Lewis and Clark room she showed me a boar's jawbone, the only animal artifact from the expedition. She pointed this out to me. "Did you know they didn't take enough food? They had to eat their colts."
"What? They ate horses?"
"They ate baby horses."
Does she spend her days studying Lewis and Clark at the Filson, smelling like infants? Was it the smell of youth still clinging to her?
I found out she works in a nursery.
Is this true? If I'm biologically inclined to impregnate women, then I'm inclined toward other traits: competition, aggression. Could I eat a pony?
Well, yeah, I said. But the cavemen did lots of things I don't do. They all lived together in caves, for instance. I think there's also evolution, I said, which didn't sit well with him, which I think he took the wrong way.
We sneaked out to rent those movies and buy whiskey when we had turned down free alcohol at the party. And they saw us coming back.
We are terrible people.***
People like to challenge our vegetarianism, make arguments about how we're supposed to eat meat, take our place at the top of the food chain.
I haven't understood the resentment till now. But I see what they're thinking. I want to be better than human.
Todd Dills They called my friend Muhammad "the Terrorist." New on the town scene in seventh grade, the boy was anchoring the linebackers on the ninth grade team -- over six feet tall and devoid of any growth-spurt awkwardness Muhammad was, and parents of the cross-town Castle Heights Knights were crying foul before the Rawlinson Road Raiders even played a game that year. God knew how old the boy was, they said. Muhammad's parents were Iraqi exiles, and as the first war was on at the time, our little South Carolina town didn't take his presence lightly. This all pissed off most of us on the team, of course. So for the debut matchup that year against the Fort Mill team 10 miles down highway 21, Muhammad strode onto the field with "The Terrorist" emblazoned in black permanent marker across the front and sides of his white helmet. He bagged 20 tackles in that game alone, plus three forced fumbles and two recoveries, to bring the win home. We all loved the kid, and freely took to his self-designation. But the local daily the next day made an issue of it, the sportswriter calling for the young man's parents' heads. "The very flowers of our community are threatened," the fat bastard wrote. We laughed, and even our parents seemed to be ignoring the sportswriter's bullshit indignation. Muhammad let it roll right on off the back of his now besplotched helmet -- Coach Jenkins of course was the one who freaked out. Jenkins forced our "Terrorist" to take a bottle of industrial-strength glass cleaner to his helmet, which did nothing but sort of smear the black ink around a bit to the point where the helmet took on an ugly shade of grey. Jenkins then carted it off to the daily paper's office the Monday after the game and shoved it in the face of the obese sportswriter: "Here, are you happy?" he said.
But the sportswriter was not satisfied. He followed with an editorial on the coach's visit. The "sacred flower of journalistic objectivity," it seemed, has been compromised by an angry ball coach, and that on top of the town's grand footballing tradition having been sullied by foreign influence. Jenkins took Muhammad aside before the next game and, though nobody ever really found out what he told the boy, our terrorist came out on the field that Thursday with a gleaming white helmet, newly spray-painted over, and a fresh message for the opposing team, the wimpy Clover Reapers: "KILL ALL THE UGLY FLOWERS" it read. And we did kill them, if you can say the wimpy Clover boys were flowers, or maybe the sportswriter and his many sacred blooms, who soon enough adopted Muhammad's own original moniker, after he got no response from the community to his racist jeering of Muhammad's folks, after Muhammad the great terrorist himself scored 21 defensive points against the Reapers.
Yeah. The headlines that year were classic: "RAIDERS' TERRORIST FINDS THE LOST ARK AT SULLIVAN." "THE TERRORIST STRIKES AGAIN." "ALL HAIL THE RAWLINSON TERRORIST."
Anne Elizabeth Moore There is no land so barren as that which lies under the Sioux YMCA Camp Leslie Marrowbone for At-Risk Native American Youth, which sits in the very center of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. I shouldn't have mentioned that part, probably -- you hear "river" and you think "lush," but this part of the prairie is devoid of moisture, of movement, of ease. It is dry and empty like old crushed bones. The land is brittle; trees won't grow on it. We don't even have electricity, or running water. Nothing works. It is no place to raise children.
But somehow there are kids there anyway, and there is not much that can be done about them now -- although much has been tried. They are there and they are laughing and they are chasing each other and now you have to deal with it.
Or, I did. In fact, I had come to the Sioux Y to do just that, deal with them. I had been born not far from the camp and had never been back as an adult. But now there I was: an adult. The proof was that I was among the tallest of people there, and that I could discern, to some degree, right from wrong. By which I mean that if wrong occurred, I was the one who meted out the punishment. It was difficult to say which took greater strength: creating new punishments or keeping up with their application.
In one such fit of futility, the eleven-year-old boys who had tied up little blonde Sarah and left her in the eldest boys' tipi during lunch with a sign that said "Rape Me" were charged with the task of planting a garden. I found this hilarious. Rambunctious, dirty things, all three of them, suffering from some colossal misapprehensions about sex and gender, this gang was led by a tough boy named Lenny, the grandson of a gambling addict who sold his bike for money to lose at bingo. The afternoon we found Sarah, I lectured them for hours on the beauty of the flowers that would soon grow and spread joy throughout the camp. Pretty flowers, I explained. Happy flowers. And everyone would know who was behind it.
They could not have been more humiliated, especially after I described the various Latin names for the flowers that would soon carry their legacy: Girls Underpants Flower was one you might not be familiar with; another rare breed was the Pleasingly Pink Pansy; most distressing to them, however, was the really big bloom known commonly as the My Name is Lenny and I Love Sarah And Want Her To Be My Girlfriend. Latin, I explained to the kids, was a very weird language.
Indian humor is renowned for its sharp wit, its cutting edge, its lack of attendant facial expression. It's a humor built on elaborate lies, as in the uproarious game where you refuse to tell any adults your real name. All the kids get in on this one and wait patiently for clues before calling each other anything. (There are children I worked with all summer long whose real names I never heard.) Or the other game, where you start telling a story you steadfastly claim to be true. "Once?..." this game begins, "my auntie?...she was playin' bingo?...and she won!...a spaceship...from NASA!...so we went...to the moon for a picnic…" And then it reminds another kid of the time he went to the moon, too, but for dinner. In a balloon.
The beautiful flowery garden project became a sort of ongoing punishment for all of the toughest boys, who verbally balked at the feminine task, but privately reveled in the idea that getting really dirty might actually contribute to society. I taught them to loosen the soil, plant the seeds, water the rows, and speak kindly to the plants as they grew up. They took this, all of this, to heart: instructing the plants to do their bidding before cleaning up for dinner.
"Kill all the ugly little flowers," Lenny liked to tell the barely-hanging-in-there zucchini. "And don't listen to Tyler. He doesn't know what he's talking about."
"Why so glum, carrot?" Tyler would ask. "Are you wondering why Sarah won't talk to us still? Well, sometimes girls are like that."
Sarah was not allowed in the garden. It became boy-only space, except I didn't count. The boys consulted with the plants carefully on this, of course. Even the zucchini agreed: I didn't count as a girl.
And at the end of the summer, Tyler, Lenny, and I shared a spinach salad, ate a wisp of a carrot each, sauteed a medium-sized zucchini in olive oil. We believed that we consumed this food maliciously: we savored each taste loudly and with much excited discussion. Each tiny bite of carrot spawned peals of resplendent poesy from the dirty boys, and our hard-won zucchini was praised, both for its stick-to-it-iveness over the months and its final sacrifice. We believed we were making the other campers jealous: they believed it a punishment to have to eat vegetables.
It was the entire contents of our garden, that meal. Lenny had convinced the zucchini after all to take out the Girls Underpants Flower and the others, and a summer of work on dry land had yielded hardly a plateful of food. So many seedlings had sprouted only to die in vain. So much wasted potential, so little possibility for growth.
But when Tyler went home, he planted some tomatoes in the backyard. Lenny claims they help him cheat on his math homework.