In which the Elegant Bastard encounters the guest from hell and a question regarding his right to consume whatever fellow creatures fail to escape.
It may be a reflection of my general approach to life, but people have often felt a need to ask me questions. I can recall returning home from a wildly successful track meet in grade three, itemizing my triumphs – I had not run the wrong way even once! – only to have my overly pragmatic mother say, “That’s fine dear, but where are your shoes?” (I told her they were likely with my also absent coat, in retrospect not the best possible answer.) In that same year, the angry parent of the local bully asked me what had compelled me to bite his son’s fingers. (He did not appear to find it necessary to ask why his son’s fingers were often found in places where they could be bitten.)
Some questions were motivated by kindness: “I see. So someone who loves you actually said you could wear yellow?” (I answered in the affirmative, having not by then fully mastered irony.) Others demonstrated either patience or stoicism: “I am assuming there’s a reason we’re in Moose Jaw?” (There was. Everyone else fell asleep and let me drive. What did they think would happen?) Occasionally, I could feel the presence of a mild antagonism, such as Significant Other’s recent query concerning exactly what I had hoped to achieve by introducing a third cat in to a residence already equipped with two dogs.
I have myself often taken up the questioning role. “Explain to me again,” I asked my eldest one warm afternoon, “how the simultaneous availability of water and a large red balloon compelled you to search for a window directly above the one vice-principal you already knew was nervous?” His answer made no real sense but that was not the point. The question, not the answer, matters. It is only via questions that we can understand how it is that we are able to live in a world with smart phones, bubble tea and occasionally soggy vice-principals.
None of this, however, made me any less annoyed when She turned on me her patronizing gaze and oleaginous voice and asked me why I ate meat.
(For purists among you, I will stipulate that however you might wish to define “meat”, I use the term to refer to any formerly living animal that is now 1) dead 2) cooked 3) served and 4) incapable of reversing conditions 1, 2, and 3.) There are further stipulations. Prior to being dead, that which is “meat” does not require me to 1) breed it 2) catch it or 3) contribute in any other way to it’s becoming “meat”. Finally, it should not at any point in the process be an animal capable of turning me into “meat”.
The questioning She had arrived uninvited with an old friend. He explained that she had also arrived uninvited at his home just as he left for my dinner party. I smiled and said she was welcome; he smiled and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief; she smiled and immediately began to demonstrate why all her arrivals were likely uninvited.
It started with the sorrowful and suffering gaze she directed at another guest’s new Gucci shoes. “So beautiful,” she murmured, “but so paradoxical when one thinks of the many poorly shod children in the city.” She apologized immediately, smiling shyly and informing us that she had always been cursed with too deep a sensitivity for those less fortunate than she. A pity, no? Ah well.
Judging Gucci owner’s stare to be indicative of a rapidly impending homicide, I started to open what I knew was the wonderful (and calming) pinot grigio a third guest had generously donated. Our Lady of All Sorrows expressed her sincere wish that so wonderful a wine be organic, for if not it would stimulate one of her incapacitating migraines. Not organic? Ah well.
Then perhaps I had a mineral water, artesian if possible, and bottled in glass, not plastic. She had, you see, the rare ability to smell plastic, a condition that made her life a struggle to be bravely borne. Only plastic? Ah well.
At this point the other guests stampeded to the balcony where they collectively took up smoking.
This allowed me uninterrupted access to her views on a variety of topics. On music. She found the classical genres to be so unfairly Eurocentric. On electric cars. She used only public transit to minimize her carbon footprint. On vacations. She intended to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity and would I like to make a contribution to the cost of her Rwanda trip?
Was she leaving soon?
Through it all she maintained the kind of facial expression that promises she will perform at the very least a virgin birth – or even two – before the end of the evening.
By now desperate to reboot what had been intended as a celebratory evening, I mentioned that the evening’s menu included several guests’ favorites, including prosciutto, scallops and chicken. She then turned to the gentleman she had arrived with, slapped his hand playfully and called him a naughty boy for not mentioning to me that she was vegetarian. Again the suffering smile. She would just have salad and perhaps a little bread – if I happened to have some that was gluten-free?
It was much later, I think during the chicken course, that she looked around, ensured all eyes were on her, and launched in best torpedo fashion the question she had held in reserve.
“Why do you all feel compelled to eat meat?”
Had she asked why we felt forced to push old folk to the ground or children over a cliff, she would have sounded less judgmental. The unspoken sub-text flashed around the table. “Why, Gluttons, do you tear at innocent flesh, worship your own arrogant species and betray the oneness of Nature?”
“Because I can!” was on the tip of my sinful chicken-loving tongue when I paused. More, I noted that my fellow carnivores had all paused with me. Along with the confit of pork, a question had arrived at the table. It demanded an answer. Why the hell did we eat meat?
I will be back, Dear Reader, when I return from the butcher’s. It isTuesday, the turkey thighs and the beef cheeks are in, and on occasions that momentous, Time waits for no man.