April 25, 2014

Small Town Talk

I was asked three times today why I live in this little town. I’m always complaining about the restaurants, the rednecks, and the rain, and I’m sure that leaves my big-city friends and colleagues questioning my sanity. In all honesty, I often question it myself.

The “city” leans more right-brain, more right-wing, and is proud of it, despite the fact that a California university calls it home. But as long as I keep from expressing myself via bumper stickers, and I keep my mouth shut about the stuffed animal heads in the hardware stores, the everywhere public advertisements for the rodeos, and the photos of the “livestock” competitions on the walls of the locally based national markets, I get along with everyone just about fine.

Except in the mailroom.

It’s hard to hide my activism from the good folks who sort the mail every day. And after a couple of years of animal magazines, leaflets, pamphlets and envelopes sporting return addresses the likes of “The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade,” they’ve just about got me pegged.

It came to my attention again today. Small talk somehow meandered into a discussion about barbecues. A part-time employee—who apparently didn’t know better — asked me if I liked chicken. “Watch yourself, David,” his superior warned him. “That there is bona fide animal rights activist.”

It made me smile — but not so they’d have seen it. Yep, I thought, this here is a bona fide animal rights activist. I was proud.

“Is that right?” David wondered. It was as if he were laying eyes on one for the first time in his life, and couldn’t believe it. Right there, in his little hometown, he had met the enemy.

And I didn’t look rabid.

So, I guess he felt empowered, because on came the questions. After settling against the counter near me, David politely encouraged me to indulge him. “I don’t believe animals have rights,” he said. “What do you say to that?”

I voiced exactly what was on my mind. “I say: I miss Los Angeles.”

“No, c’mon,” he insisted, ignoring my barb. “What about your leather shoes?”

“They’re not leather,” I answered, watching him take a second look when I held up my foot.

“What about all them starving children you could be helping?”

“If Americans alone went vegetarian,” I informed him, “the sixty million people who would otherwise die this year of starvation — including the 20,000 children who’ll die today — could all be fed on the livestock grain we’d save.”

He paused, studied the issue more closely — as if he could find some secret loophole that no one else had sought before. “Yeah?” he finally wondered. “You eat plants: they’ve got feelings.”

“We all draw our lines somewhere,” I reminded him. “I don’t eat anything that breathed oxygen in order to live; oxygen-breathing beings are my kin.”

“Plants breathe oxygen,” he argued, and I really think he believed that — until his superior injected a scientific fact from across the room so I didn’t have to.

I made my way to the exit. “You draw your lines,” I echoed, “and I draw mine.”

“I don’t draw lines,” he insisted, not quite finished with me.

“No? You’d eat a dog?”

“Well, no,” he answered, almost heatedly, as if I’d insulted him.

“So you draw your lines at dogs, then,” I analyzed for him. “Cockroaches, maybe?”

By now, he was feeling a bit overwhelmed, I guessed. His tone had changed a little, seemed calmer. “Well,” he compromised, “I see what you’re saying. So I guess the difference is just that you think animals have rights and I believe they don’t.”

“Yep,” I agreed with him, pausing in the doorway, allowing him that much. But then I couldn’t help myself (I really miss Los Angeles sometimes), and I added, “Slave owners bought and sold blacks on that very foundation: that they didn’t believe blacks had rights. But that’s the nice thing about beliefs, David: just because you’ve put your faith in them doesn’t make them true.”

When he didn’t have an answer, I left the building, and reflected on why I live in this little town. I guess I’m here to educate the people who really need the education. Fighting the good fight, you might say, one redneck at a time.

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