Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fear and Loathing in the 'Bu.......

 I spent most of my youth trying to be of some importance. At sixteen, I read just one of my mother's PETA magazines( only a true masochist would have a subscription).I immediately became a vegan, occasionally relapsing into dairy and eggs. I dutifully read "Diet For a New America" by John Robbins, and tearfully paraphrased the part about the Indian Chief Sitting Bull's plea in his honorable moment of defeat to take care of the animals as God intended us too to whomever would listen. (He must have known it would fall on deaf ears as we ( whitey) had slaughtered the buffalo wholesale at that point and done all sorts of  awful shit to pretty much every brown person we encountered.) But nevertheless, I was comitted to the cause of animals. I researched and purchased only cruelty free beauty products, actually throwing away my beloved Loreal Blackest Black mascara ( evil fuckers that they still are today) and my purple tinted Chanel face powder. I restocked my cabinets with PETA approved products, and wrote letters to the companies on the provided list of torturers .I tried to help.
I had been privy to this information about testing cosmetics on animals since sixth grade, when our science teacher, Mr Lautner, explained it to us. He told us that animal testing wasn't the rosy image of rabbits wearing blush or having their nails done. It was cruel and painful and often resulted in horrible suffering and ulimately death.All so we could wear blue eyeliner. I wasn't wearing any makeup yet but the girls that did simply rolled their squinty eyes overly lined in electric blue and snickered. I guess empathy doesn't come until later, but he must have been totally depressed by our  lack of interest in such a compelling and easily fixable issue.
Time went on and I toed the line and probably would have thrown red paint on some old woman's mink coat if given the chance(although some of my fondest memories are of dressing up in my mother's huge knee length raccoon coat). I told anyone who would listen about the slaughterhouses and downed cows  taken to the trash with forklifts while they were still alive. I enlightened my family about the chicken ranches where the cages were small,crowded and stacked to the ceiling so the unfortunate chickens on the lower level literally lived in chicken shit. I passed on the  rumours about  genetically engineered chickens with no bones and swore  that the story was true about  Martha Stewart personally suffocating an enormous garbage bag full of baby male chicks after a photo shoot because she had no use for them.I spent hours chasing stray dogs from street to street, unsuccessfully trying to tempt them into my back seat with dog kibble. I actually watched a dog get hit and left on the curb. A few guys bothered to pull it off the road ,but they went back to their porch and left it to die. I pulled over and insisted that they put it in the back seat of my Jetta. I drove around for 45 minutes  calling every vet and animal hospital.Everyone wanted to know if I had enough money to pay for it's care and/or euthanasia..I was astonished that the bottom line was money, though it probably shouldn't have been that surprising.I finally found a place off Bundy that was open and would take it.I remember hearing it's last breath somewhere in the middle of Beverly Hills and feeling relief that it wasn't suffering anymore, but also disappointed that I had failed. The animal control guy came to the car and matter of factly picked up the dog and slung it over his shoulder. He walked back into the building and the only evidence that the dog ever existed was the blood on my back seat.
It became overwhelming to be apart of the cause. It was impossible to go to the grocery store and walk past the meat aisle without PETA magazine flashbacks, and in the milk aisle I could hear the bawling of the calves.I watched veal disappear from restaurant menus, only to return a decade or so later with minimal fuss. I dreamed of going undercover and exposing the people who perpetrated the heinous crimes against our fur  and feathered brethren. I was lucky enough to audition for a dreadfully cheesy movie about a women's batallion of soldiers that shot in the Phillipines. The producer was a guy named Chris De Rose, a reknowned animal activist and founder of Last Chance for Animals, and we talked for an hour about the cause and what needed to be done. I didn't get the part but I bought his book, and despite it not being very well written, the guy was doing something.He later crossed the line by paying a notorious dog dealer to kill a dog so he could secretly video tape it. The case was thrown out because it was considered entrapment.
After hearing that, I was kind of glad I hadn't tried to join his brigade of animal avengers.Maybe he took it a bit too far.
Meanwhile, I was acting and trying to book commercials,which meant I was a cater waiter.It was fun enough work.Good money, swanky parties, celebrities,but sometimes the jobs were awful. Sometimes we had to carry huge platters up and down stairs all night. Or work for thirteen hours without a break because they hadn't hired enough people. Or pass appetizers to people with whom I had just done a movie.Or cater my agent's Christmas party and have all of them squirm each time I came by to pick up a dirty glass.
My most unpleasant job was a lobster bake in Malibu. Mercifully, I was not in the kitchen/garage where the 100 plus lobsters were to be terminated and served for supper. I don't care what the science says about them not feeling a thing when you plunge them into the boiling water- they scream and flail and knock the lid off the pot seemingly trying to escape . I just can't convince myself that it isn't what it looks like. And it doesn't exactly whet my appetite to see my dinner in agony before I eat it.
I was assigned to the top floor of a three story house in the Colony.I had three tables of eight and ,after dropping bread and wine, we were to go down to the garage,get a pot of lobsters and bring it upstairs to the tables.I was lined up to get my first pot of lobsters and saw a few familiar faces in the pick up line.One was a guy named Milo , a dark,funny, deeply sardonic soul with a  sensitive nature.He could barely look at me.I expected some jokes and some riffing on the absurd situation.It was dead quiet in the kitchen except for the usual clatter of pots and pans.I swear they all  looked traumatized. I can't imagine killing 100 plus lobsters is fun, especially when they are to be eaten by a bunch of rich fuckers who have no idea how it gets to their plate.It might be different if we were all stranded on an island and lobster was the only option. Even so, I would hope for breadfruit.
I began to carry my extremely heavy, piping hot pot with eight dead lobsters inside up the stairs and serve them cheerily to the awaiting bibbed guests.Pretending  to trip  and send hot lobster jus cascading down the stairs crossed my mind, but I am not really a rebel at heart.Plus, they would just have to kill eight more lobsters.I made it to the top of the stairs, sweating and disheartened by the human race.Did anyone else present  have the feeling  that this was all just a little icky?
I had already served two people when someone approached with a camera and took a  picture of me serving my third guest. I paused, humiliated and grinning from ear to ear holding the lobster up like a baby.Temporarily blinded by the flash, I struggled not to drop the lobster on to the table.My hands were beginning to cramp from holding it for so long.I moved the lobster slowly in the direction of the next plate in line.The person sitting there actually moved the plate away from me and said "no thank you, that lobster only has one claw".I looked at it,and sure  enough, it had only one limp dead claw  instead of two. The next person declined as well and so it went.No one wanted the one clawed lobster.I was sweating profusely at this point.One claw or two, they are heavy little guys, and I was getting close to dropping him.It was all I could do not to walk around the table all Jack Nicholsony,dangling it's lifeless one clawed body menacingly over their heads, hissing at them about how this lobster gave it's fucking life for you and you deny it because it only has one claw??? He eventually went back in the pot and I had to request an extra one in the next pot.No one had any response to my explanation for the returned lobster.They just took it back and put in the refuse pile with a few others.
 Needless to say,it was a horrible event, but the highpoint was watching a woman in really expensive knee high suede boots walk directly in to the lap pool masquerading as a floor and become submerged up to her neck before she was pulled out. (Some idiot designed a black bottomed pool to blend in with the floor and then they put a floor to ceiling window featuring the Santa Monica Mountain Range right behind it.The natural inclination was to walk toward the window admiring the view and fall into the pool.).
I felt really disgusted with the human race after that event.Not just because of the  lobster but because of our exclusively human need for that level of excess.I mean, lobsters aren't the easist thing to serve to a crowd anyway, but something about the difficulty of the process appeals to something in human nature.How about some nice lasanga? That is easy to make, serves a lot of people and it can be made well in advance and frozen,too. You don't see horses preferring the hand harvested hay to the machine cut kind.Or fish preferring a certain species of hand caught guppy only found in the remote waters off Fiji. They eat what they can get because food has no status for them.It is fuel. It is life.It's like Katie Couric proclaiming bread to be "in" on the Today Show.What's next, air? I don't think you can make the staff of life any more desireable than it already is,Katie, you moron.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from the company that hired me for the event. I opened it and pulled out a black and white xerox of a photograph.It took me a moment to realize that it was a picture of me holding up the one clawed lobster and grinning like a fool. I stared at it in abject horror.I really didn't recogonize myself at all. There it was, captured on film forever- selling my soul for a hundred bucks and a crappy tip. I looked just like the chimpanzee on the poster for the  Bobby Bersoni Show in  Las Vegas. The ones that he was secretly beating with sticks when nobody was looking?They are smiling so strenuosly and desperately on that poster that I couldn't believe that someone didn't catch on sooner.They are 98 percent the same as we are after all.
 Look, I am not saying that no one should ever eat a lobster.I have eaten them in sauces and in the odd appetizer since then and not spiraled into self loathing. I didn't feel good about it and it really isn't all that delicious in my opinion.But eating things that have to be killed is pretty gross. Perhaps necessary, but still gross. I have a copy of "Dominion" on my shelf as well as "When Elephants Weep" and they are actually more traumatizing to read than it was to be part of the lobster bake. They describe in great detail the terrible suffering of animals all over ther world.They offer no hope and simply illustrate how awful life is for any living being that humans admire. I no longer have a place in my life for such information. I really wish I did, but I think saving the world is a young woman's game.And so is eating lobster.It is loaded with cholesterol and implicit promises of sex for the person who buys it for his date.
I stepped back from all causes, got married, had kids, had few more careers and have been idle in any kind of activism for quite some time.My cats died, and I have enjoyed and animal free exitence for about a year and a half. No hair, not vet visits, no euthanasia. And then one day Milo, our cat, walked into the back yard.It took me a month to commit to making him ours.Soon after a friend approached me about being on the board of an animal rescue organization she is founding.This afternoon is the first meeting of the board of The Kitty Bungalow, a foundation commited to the rehabilitation and placement of feral cats. Here we go again......I guess old habits die hard...

1 comment:

  1. I LOVED YOUR STORY, IT MADE ME LAUGH, AND CRY.
    When I was 18 I tried to get a job at the only zoo.... They discouraged me, told me they never had openings, basically forget it, never told me how to get a job at a zoo. I took a test, was told my heart's desire was to be a secretary...I dropped out of college...
    39 years later, married with 6 Granddaughters, and my heart is still with the Chimpanzees...and I want to build a sanctuary for them.....
    I have too many "rescued cats"...

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