- Oxblood Furnishing
There was a temperature to avoid, where the blood actually curdled. Cattle blood was forgiving, so I could drain and package the liquid before it coagulated. Most butchers poured blood into the sewer, but I was raised not to waste. My father’s ghost would’ve balked at the sight of me letting anything spill. Find a use for that, boy, he’d say over the rattling chains. I never saw that disdainful apparition, thanks to the Southern Oregon chapter of SISTM—Students in Service of Terminating the Machine.
My shop, Mike’s Meats, had a booth at Eugene Spring Fest, stocked with cedar-smoked venison jerky samples. I’d enlisted my niece, Annabelle, to sling samples to the tattooed students dragging their feet between tables. When the sun grew orange around the edges, a tall, brooding woman with a clump of black dreadlocks emerged from the horde, whom Annabelle introduced as Nevah, a classmate from Reed College.
Oh my god! Nevah gasped, grabbing my hand. Our blood guy just disappeared! She waited for my response. We’ve got no supply now, she continued. I stared. Annabelle poked my apron. Mike, she said. They’re performance artists. Jesus, I replied. You people shouldn’t assume I’m on the same page. Nevah realized she had to bring me up to speed. We do radical political performance pieces in public places. Tomorrow we’re reenacting the Kent State Massacre in Kesey Square. You should check it out. The cops might be there. She winked and disappeared into the red Eugene evening, leaving me to ponder her strange request.
I learned how when men lived past 50, they crystallized. Change became difficult, especially for butchers. Decades wrist-deep in raw [End Page 89] meat made new things gross. After a while, they realized blood was a natural essence, like soil, lavender, or stone. Sinews and tendons had earthy qualities, and they could taste metal in the air. Its slimy feeling became no different than a handful of dewy grass. The things which became gross were the ones that felt less natural over time. I once saw an older butcher mush ground beef into the shape of an iPhone and pretend to play Angry Birds. Complex mechanisms, unfamiliarity, and above all, the inorganic, were not easy things to process through age. I understood why it was hard.
Meat may have been of the earth, but it decomposed. Rot did not—like fresh meat—become a natural essence. Other butchers disagreed, but I never stopped flinching at the stench of rotting meat. Death became natural; decay did not. When I first noticed my body breaking down—liver spots, wrinkles, creaking joints—I moved in an opposite direction than most. I felt change was essential, as the most effective combatant to rot. After that, I devoured every fresh thing I could find.
Nevah’s strange proposal fell in line with my desire for newness, however abrasive her performance. I accompanied Annabelle to Kesey Square with fifteen quarts in a cooler. Before seven, when the event was scheduled, we met behind Nevah’s red 18-passenger van. She gratefully gave me two hundred dollars, which was more than I would’ve asked. In turn, I didn’t investigate the legality. Oh my God, Mike, she said. You’re our savior. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this. Without it, we simply wouldn’t have a show. I examined the dozen hippies sprawled on the patchouli-tainted grass. Two awkwardly felt each other up, others passed a small joint in a circle, and one man in a dress picked intently through the grass.
What is the show, exactly? I asked. Oh! she cried. This isn’t the whole cast. Of course not. The squadron is on the other side of the square, marching down Willamette. I followed her pointed finger, but didn’t see anything. I looked back, confused. Listen, Mike, she continued. You’re the guy. You’re the reason we do this. Snide chuckles rippled through the scattered [End Page 90] hippies. What? I asked. Come on, Uncle Mike, Annabelle said. Let’s go find a seat...