Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Number One and Still Going Strong

The other day I had a guy say the following to me:

"You know who the number one predator on earth is?" (Pausing for like 5 seconds and smiling smugly) "Human beings." (Pausing again to let it sink in) "Yeah, that's right. Man." (Nodding his head knowingly)

First of all, the pauses pissed me off. It was as if he was giving me time to think of an answer. As if I was feverishly trying to solve his little puzzle - "Umm, #1 predator. . .Uh. . .bear! No, lion! Wait, five lions! That makes no sense. Oh geez, hurry up, he's looking right at me. Okay, focus. It's probably something small, like a rat or a monkey. Monkey! Rabid monkeys!! Syphilis!! Syphilis monkeys!! Fuck, maybe it's birds. A flock of something! A flock of eagles!! I don't know!! Jesus, I hate myself!!"

Screw you, dude. Everyone's heard it already. Where would a person have to be living for the past 10-15 years to be like - "Humans!? Really!? Have you seen what a riled horse can do?? Okay, I'll take your word for it." News flash, guy, you're not blowing any minds.

On the larger point, can we all just agree never to say this to each other ever again? Not only has everyone heard it before, but frankly is it anything to be proud of anymore? Okay maybe some time during the Paleolithic era when man first topped the charts it would be a source of pride - "Hey, Kurg, guess what just came out. No, the latest results on the #1 predator thing. Guess who's #1. I'll give you a hint: it's not that gigantic tiger that ate your family. Get this, it's. . .US!! Yeah, that's right! Man!"

But since that time we've invented the automatic rifle, the armor piercing bullet, and the ballistic missile. For Christ’s sake, we have flamethrowers. And we've endangered just about every animal on the planet and the ones who aren't endangering are the ones we raise in cages to be slaughtered on an assembly line. I think we can stop boasting about our dominance of the animal world now. Look, when the first monkey figures out how to manufacture an AK-47, I'll say "Hey, let's bring back the old rivalry!" and we'll teach that monkey who's boss. But until that time let's cool out on patting ourselves on the back about our aptitude at destroying things. It's like saying "You know who would kick butt in Little League?. . . .Me! That's right, a grown man!"

I guess what got me most was the way that guy smiled so contentedly as he laid his knowledge on me. It reminded me of something from my past, something from an outing I took with my grandfather when I was a little kid (Probably the most ill-conceived day-trip in the history of day-trips). He brought me and all my male cousins to a chicken processing plant in an apparent attempt to permenantly scar us. I was 10 years old and quite happily living in ignorance as to why the chicken on my plate was featherless and delicious. But that's what happens when your grandpa is a little bit redneck.

(Most of my family is from Georgia. At the time, my grandfather lived in the most Georgia-est part of Georgia, the northeastern mountains. Just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, that's where the movie Deliverance was set and filmed. Don't get me wrong, my grandfather is no back-woods hillbilly. He just enjoyed the peacefulness of the area so he built himself a house and retired there. But still, you don't move out to Redneck Central without being a little redneck yourself. Among other things, he drove a beat up truck, he chewed tobacco and spit it through the hole in his floorboard, and he taught me and all of my cousins how to gut a fish by before we could read.)

Anyway, so we are forced to go on this tour of the plant. The first step, of course, is taking the chickens out of their cages, hosing them down and running 12,000 volts through their bodies. It's Nature's way. After that, the chickens are run through a machine that cuts their throats to drain them of blood, and then (according to our racist tour guide) "the Mexicans pluck 'em" (apparently only Mexicans can perform this job). After that the chickens are beheaded, gutted, and de-footed. Then an angry man cuts them in pieces, and now they're ready to be washed, packaged and shipped right to your local market!! Hurray!

Back at the factory, now that the gross part is done, the workers can move on to the grosser part - the cleaning up, which entails a man with a huge snow shovel scraping everything (everything!) off the ground and putting it in the hot-dog mixer. The whole process is done in a sanitary and efficient manner. . .no, wait. . .Nope, the whole thing was just disturbing and stomach wrenching, start to finish. It was just one horrible sight after another. For instance, as soon as the chickens come out of the cage, they're hung by their feet in these circulating hangers that take them all over the factory. When the feet are cut off, they're left in the hangers. So the entire tour we had to watch these disembodied chicken feet being run back and forth on the conveyer, like some kind of horrific laundry mat, until they reached their final destination. They didn’t show what that destination was, but I’m guessing it was the hot dog mixer. Anyway, after seeing all this, I didn't eat chicken or hot dogs for the better part of a decade.

The grizzliest part of the tour, the part that reminded me of this story, was this one guy at the factory who had what has to be the worst job in the world. This guy in a small room, about the size of a walk-in closet, stood in fishing waders up to his shins in blood and his sole duty was to occasionally slit the throat of a rogue chicken. The tour guide said something like, "Now I'm going to introduce you to Joe who's job it is to make sure all the chickens are fully processed before they're plucked” as we walk up on this guy camly sitting on a bar stool in a pool of congealed blood. He had this weird, far-off look on his face, like he was daydreaming of some other fantasy world in which he worked a job in which he was covered in only a little blood. When he finally realized we were there, he looked at us and said, "Hi, boys. How are y'all?" Oh fine, Joe. We're just dandy. How are you? Can we get you anything? A soda? A moist toilette? 'Cus you got a little something on your pants. How do you answer that? I think Joe should have said "I know how it looks but I can explain." It would have been more appropriate.

He then proceeded to tell us all about his job, which apparently consists of sitting, waiting for the chickens to come through the machine where their throats are cut and if one is still flapping around, he gets up off of his stool, wades through a foot and a half of blood, and calmly slits the thing's throat with a straight razor. Well, actually, he didn't really tells us as much as show us. About halfway through his lecture on the finer points of throat-cuttery, he saw a chicken that had survived both the electrocution and the cutting machine, so he walked over, practiced his art, and walked back over to us as blood just gushed down and the chicken made this awful gargling sound. And he continued on like nothing had happened. I wanted to scream, "Let the poor thing go! Can't you see this chicken's got gumption!? It's a survivor, Joe! You should name it Champ and make it your mascot or beloved family pet! You could fight crime together! Crime!!" But I said nothing and, like my cousins, just stared in horror at Joe and his terrible room of death.

After he'd finished, Joe asked if we had any questions. Could there be a more inappropriate time to ask this question? What are 5 little kids going to ask the most horrible human being they've ever met? "Why yes, Joe, is there some kind of apprenticeship program I can get involved in?” Nope, no questions. We all just moved on and tried to forget that we were ever there.

But to me, that's the face of the world's #1 predator - a smiling imbecile performing minor atrocities on poultry for $6 an hour.

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