Me and my buddy Joe used to go a lot to this smorgasbord (I think it was really just a buffet but they wanted to sound fancy) in a kinda lower class part of town. I was in my thirties while Joe was pushing seventy. This joint was super cheap and offered all sorts of downhome kinda fare, like corned beef and cabbage and fried chicken and liver and onions and bread pudding. But the place was run down and routinely closed down by the health department. The customers, by dress and grooming, were even a step down from the Golden Corral crowd, except for the black folks who came in after Sunday church dressed sharply in pastel pant suits and matching hats. Joe used to joke that if you found a table with all matching chairs, they’d give you a free meal. I forwarded Joe an article once about the places in the city with the worst records for health violations and this place was at the top of the list. He didn’t seem happy when I asked him about it later. Why I felt the need to reinforce this knowledge, I’m not sure since Joe obviously knew by the frequent shut-downs and the documentation they’d tape on the door that hygiene wasn’t a top priority.
From time to time, in place of the meatloaf or cabbage, they’ve have this thing called a medley. It had noodles and meat and vegetables, sorta like a casserole or a colossal portion of vaguely defined Hamburger Helper. I used to joke with Joe if he was gonna get the medley. He always said no and that, when he was a kid, his mother called it goulash.
“It’s all the shit that’s about to spoil. You mix it up with some noodles and spice it up and pawn it off as a meal.”
I couldn’t image the risk, in that place, of eating the medley, composed of who knows what and in what degree of spoilage it was in before it got all mixed up. Anyway, that’s been my idea of goulash ever since.
Vegan or carnivore. Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or atheist. Gay or straight or something else altogether. Male or female or something else all together. Liberal or conservative. Democrat or republican or libertarian. Isolationist or internationalist. Ass-eater or cocksucker or cunnalingist. Gamer or gaming journalist. Black or White or Latino or Hispanic or Asian or Persian. Urban or rural. Flat-footed and left handed or right handed with proper arching. Adidas or Nike or Under Armour. Ali or Frazier. Yankees or Red Sox. Bud or Miller or Jack or Beam. TradCon or careerist.
Or wiping one’s ass from front to back or, if you’re a real maverick of personal hygiene, from back to front.
We’re amalgams of things. And in a way it is and isn’t a choice of whether or not and/or how they define us. It wasn’t your choice to be born male or whatever nationality you are. But it’s your choice how much it defines how you think and act.
When you think and feel the way you’re supposed to based on the variables you were bequeathed or you chose, it dampens the sense of meaningless and isolation. It gives you a crowd to run with. A crowd that understands you and you understand it. But sometimes we try to be clever and go the opposite of our given crowd, giving us a different crowd and a different thing to be, that’s all.
But for most, we’re born male or female and we willingly adopt the role and all its mannerisms and affectations. And it feels good because it’s been clearly defined over centuries what that is. Those roles have meaning. Definitions having meanings and if I wasn’t such a dunce at the philosophy I once studied, I’d be more clear if I’m talking about a tautology or not.
Luckily, if you don’t like your role in the play, feeling that the unadulterated version of what you’re supposed to be doesn’t suit you, you’re afforded the freedom to be clever, which you exercise by running with the libertarians instead of the liberals or you go all blue pill or black pill or purple pill instead of red pill.
It’s a fine line of knowing what you inherently are and accepting it for what it is, but also rejecting it.
You sit with the vegan and you’re a vegan too, so you understand a significant amount about the other. That feels good cause you’re both vegan-pilled. At least you’re not alone in this aspect of your thinking and feeling and behaving.
You sit with the vegan and you’re a carnivore. You don’t give a shit that he’s a vegan and you’re a carnivore. He doesn’t give a shit either. That’s your connection. You connect better over your dissimilarities by caring about them less.
You sit across and you see his veganism as the elbow macaroni in the goulash. He sees your carnivorous habit as the onion that perks up the meat that was gonna spoil in another day. But you understand and accept each other for what you are, something more than the vegan and carnivore. Uou accept each other for what you are, not playing pretend that you’re something far finer than this confused mixture of once grey chuck roast and pasta and vegetables and spices. And in the space between you, you allow him to ignore that he was once an accomplice to tossing a kitten off the freeway overpass onto the trailer of a semi going 70 MPH and laughing as it tumbled along top, then onto the pavement. Or how he utterly crushed the heart and soul of Kristy Cooling that summer between his freshman and sophomore years of college. He’d used her to relieve the boredom of that summer at home when nobody wanted to hire and train him for the few months he’d be there. And he knew Kristy was really falling for him. Maybe she even saw an opportunity for some upward social mobility in that college guy compared to the lowlifes and potheads she was used to dating. But to the vegan, she was only a plaything. And when he let her know that by cowardly action, not confession, she was crushed.
Or you, how you don’t mention how you regretfully only visited your sister twice in hospice before she died. Twice within the weeks she laid there dying.
You’re both well aware of what you are – far more than just vegan or its opposite. But maybe that’s what all the attention to these fragments of our identity are about: avoidance of recognizing the fucked up totality. Forgetting about Kristy Cooling as we revel in the discovery and novelty of becoming something different or the comparison of ourselves to something else.
But we’re not generally content just to let things be. The vegan (insert any identity that has a counter or parallel identity) wants you to be more like him, cause as a mostly non-malicious carnivore, you provoke part of his world view and identity. Your mere existence is proof to him that his worldview (or at least a fragment of his ethics) and identity may not necessarily be that meaningful, or even right. Similarly, the moral failings of your dietary choices compared to his make you wish you were more ethical or committed or disciplined like him (whether you admit it or not). You wish, either secretly or not, that his practice – this aspect of his identity – will fail, for it’s failure proves your lifestyle and identity better or right.
Collage art isn’t easy to pull off, that’s why you don’t find much in museums, I guess. Conceptually, it might be interesting but aesthetically it’s generally shit. There’s no denying that some causes are worth fighting for. But that may only be one image out of the dozens that compose the collage, still making the collage as a whole a work of garbage, not art.
I get that you’re vegan and that he’s a carnivore. Or that you’re atheist or a Celtic or Greek or Egyptian pagan or a libertarian or that buying the eggs of free range chickens is meaningful to you. I’m not denying that. I’m enough of a realist to accept that. But I don’t give a shit about it, either for you or him or me, no more than I care which direction any of us wipes our ass.