As Turkey Bloodbath Remembrance Day approaches, reflections on mortality plague the Gangster. My back went bad on me and I’ve been spending a lot of time on the couch, ice pack on my back, washing down Advil with bourbon cut with cherry bounce. My neighbor died a few weeks ago of cancer, and we weren’t close or anything, but I saw him coming and going a few times in the final weeks, and he looked beat, but I just thought, “He’s been dealing with that for a long time. He’ll come back around eventually.” Then he just died. And as I was driving back from Estacada the other day with a live turkey in a box in the back of the pickup truck, my sciatic nerve screaming at me to stand up or lay down, I had a thought: How do we know when we’ve run out of fight? I mean, John was walking. He needed help, but he was moving around, then he just died. He must have felt that coming.
I was pretty tired because that’s what chronic pain does—wears you down to a nub, a reflex, a rundown automaton that just goes, “ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch….” And as ridiculous as it sounds because, really, it’s just a bad back, I started to wonder how much closer this is putting me to the grave. I really thrive on my physicality and laying on the couch, surfing the internet and moaning, isn’t my idea of a life worth living. I like to moan and whine while busting my ass over some poorly-conceived and laborious project for which I’m unprepared and ill-suited. If I’m just limping to the grave, trying to avoid pain, I have to think about what I’m really living for. Let’s add it up: family, …alright I’m about out. Let me just say to my friends who suffer from chronic pain: I now understand why you’re so sad all the time. Sorry I’m so self-involved.
But none of this exactly explains why I decided to slaughter my own turkey this year—maybe that was just a coincidence. I decided a few weeks ago to see if any farmers were selling turkeys direct on Craigslist, and of course they were. At first I considered using deception to get a free bourbon red tom from somebody in White Salmon who stated in their ad that this seven-month-old turkey was not “an eating breed. It is a pet only.” I considered telling them that I was taking the “Joaquin Phoenix Turkey Rescue Challenge” to adopt a turkey this Thanksgiving and let it sit at the table and peck at a Tofurkey while we humans sang a secular humanist devotional dedicated to the emancipation of livestock worldwide, but I decided to take the high road.
The high road involved buying a royal palm turkey hen from a lady in Eagle Creek named Patty, who is amazing. The living conditions qualified as better than “free-range” but not quite “pastured” because, Patty explained, there’re a lot of predators up in the woods on Wildcat Mountain.
I explained to Patty that I hadn’t thought this thing through fully, and was really way too busy to be slaughtering my own turkey this year. But here I was with a large plastic storage container with no lid, some sheets, and some rope and a knife in the truck just in case I decided to do it out there in the woods rather than bring the thing home for my 3 year old daughter to fall in love with. Patty chastised me for trying to pet the turkey (I was just trying to calm it down), then she (implicitly) questioned my intelligence for not bringing the lid to the box. I was questioning my own intelligence for thinking maybe the turkey would just lay down on some sheets in a box, and what did it matter if it flapped around in the canopied bed a little on the way home? “Oh, we don’t want any flapping,” Patty warned me
So we put the turkey in the box, and I bungeed a sheet to the top and prayed the bird wouldn’t flap it off of there on the way down the highway. I needn’t have worried, since it never even occurred to the dumb thing that the top could come off.
In fact, it was still just calmly standing in there when I came back from taking my elderly neighbor to the grocery store almost 2 hours later. I felt bad about leaving it there for so long, but I had promised the old lady I would help her out after she fell and dislocated her shoulder and went to the hospital. No matter, the turkey didn’t seem to mind.
It was dumping rain, but the little girl said she wanted to watch daddy kill the turkey. We had a little conversation about that: did she understand that it would be alive, then dead? Did she know we were going to eat it? Did she want to eat it? Yes, yes, and yes, but I was still hesitant. I know a lot of people would be like, “Oh yeah man, that’s a good education for a kid, they gotta learn where food comes from. Good for you man!” But let’s face it, we generally don’t just throw the totality of the truth right in front of children’s faces from the very beginning. I mean, my kid knows that babies come from mommies’ bellies, and that it has something to do with daddies, but I’m not going to give her the low down on penetration just yet. Likewise, when she asked about a picture of a tank in an article that I was reading about some clusterfuck in the Mideast the other day, I explained that tanks are for killing people, and that freaked her out plenty. I didn’t then go and hunt down some pictures of charred human remains to drive the point home. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to be brutal about it.
So I hope it didn’t do any damage when she stood out in the rain in her little frog raincoat and watch me tie this strikingly beautiful white and black bird up by it’s feet, decline her request to pet it, and slit it’s throat with a knife that was way too big for the job. I’ve shot animals before, but this was a lot bloodier, and a lot more intense. Despite wrapping it with a sheet to keep it calm and contained, the thing flapped loose for a minute while it bled out, and got it’s pretty white feathers all bloodstained. After it was dead, it flopped a few more times, and that confused the child.
“Is it still alive?”
“Why is it still movin’?”
“Because…,” and I started to explain about electrical impulses, and the nervous system, and involuntary movements, and realized that although true, that was a little too much for her to absorb. So I just said, “everything moves for a little while after it dies.”
“Is it going to come back alive?”
“No. Nothing comes back alive after it dies.”
And that, and all it’s implications for mommy and daddy, grandmas and grandpas, and Lucy the cat, is a conversation that we’re still having today, and we’ll be having for a while still.