The Politics of Roadkill

So I go to this very elegant dinner party with some of the more pretentious pretzels in town– my wife’s friends, not mine, of course. But don't think my friends aren't pretentious – they are. The only difference is they're poor and pretentious.

Dinner for 8. Very elegant, quite nicely done. Place cards. Food is exquisite. Capitalism is, no matter what, delicious and just is all I can think of. So we’re all just about to have dessert, or I am anyway – I don’t think any of these humorless anorexics are going to touch anything, when suddenly one of them throws a condescending spitball in my direction, something like: So have you picked up any roadkill lately? Trying to embarrass me in front of everyone. I said as a matter of fact, yes, when I was going to get my daughter and her friend at ballet class on Wednesday I was driving down Georgetown Road and I saw this lady hit a deer right in front of me. I pulled over to the side – she didn’t even stop – and the bambi is stone cold dead, right there. So I throw it into the back of my vehicle and when I pick up Cate and her friend Phoebe at the dance studio I tell them not to look in the way, way back, because there’s a still-warm dead deer back there. Ha, ha, you’re so funny dad, she says. But what was really funny were the shrieks of terror when they did dare to look. Priceless. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!

Clucks of disbelief and disdain at the table. What? That’s free range, hormone-free meat, baby! You liberals should be eating that stuff up, um, literally. My grandmother grew up on the ‘poor farm’ in Somerset, Massachusetts and people would bring in deer meat to feed the orphans. I’m not kidding. In Texas I think there’s something like 1,000,000 pounds of venison given to soup kitchens every year. Granted, it’s all mixed up with possum and wild boar, but that’s the Lone Star State for you.

After dinner one of the guys comes up to me and tells me he’s from Texas and he shot and ate stuff all the time. Another guy says to me he’s from South Carolina and they used to eat roadkill. So I say let’s go wingshooting and get us some birds, and we schedule a day. They both show up looking like disheveled harlequin extras from Deliverance, but were absolutely crack shots. Lotta fun, and they’re now two of my best friends.

Ed’s wife comes over while we’re chatting and says that she ate road kill when she was growing up, too. Ok, I tell her, next time I get something I’ll bring it by for lunch. She says fine. I ask her if she’s sure. She says she’s sure. I say as long as you’re sure.

As we’re driving home that night and my wife says, genuinely baffled: So, you pick up dead raccoons and eat them and you’re the hero of the party – how does that work?  

A couple of weeks later I had been trying to rustle up the whistle pigs living under my shed, and I finally caught one of them in a Have-a-Heart trap. It’s early Sunday morning as I drive over to Sam’s house. Why don’t you hum this classic ditty to put yourself in the same frame of mind I was in on the way:

Shoulder up your gun, and whistle up your dog
Shoulder up your gun, and whistle up your dog
Off to the woods for to catch a groundhog
Oh, groundhog!

Run here, Sally, with a ten-foot pole
Run here, Sally, with a ten-foot pole
To twist this whistle-pig out of his hole
Oh, groundhog!

Here comes Sal with a snigger and a grin
Here comes Sal with a snigger and a grin
The groundhog gravy all over her chin
Oh, groundhog!

Now, look out, fellas, I done gone wild
Look out, fellas, I'm a-goin' wild
Gonna eat that hog before he strikes a boil
Oh, groundhog!

Ya eat up the meat and save the hide
Eat up the meat and ya save the hide
The best durn shoestring that ever was tied
Oh, groundhog!

I knock on the door and Ed answers in his pajamas. I tell him I’ve got a present for Sam. He starts chuckling, as he yells to her that she’s got company. We walk out to my vehicle, and their dog Gnarly is barking like crazy. She looks in and says “It’s still alive.” I say, yup, you're going to have to take care of it. She says she doesn’t have a gun. I say I brought one for her.

Wait a second, before you start getting all huffy and puffy and mock-shocked. All meals involve death, as I’ve written about before, you just don't see them, or want to. Even all you vegans have no reason to feel superior – lots of animals and vermin and pests are destroyed to make your salads Instagram-pretty and crispy and politically-correct edible.

Ed skinned it, and he and his daughter salted the pelt and tacked it to a board to dry in the sun. She eventually made it into a coonskin cap. We had the gopher for lunch, all of us, and it wasn’t very good – better than raccoon, not as good as rabbit.

Another time, I was driving the kids to school and there was a huge buck laying by the side of the road about 100 yards from my house. I knew it was killed the night before, because I had driven in to town the evening before and it wasn’t there. I called my buddy Tony and he brought his pickup truck over. I got my tractor and we went down the main road in town, during rush hour it turned out, and were loading it into the back when my wife drove by in her Mercedes on her way to work. She didn’t even acknowledge us. Nobody did.

It just so happened it was the day before Thanksgiving, so I told Tony I wanted to hack off one of the back legs and bring it to the in-laws, as a surprise gift. Which I did, wrapped in butcher paper. Uncle David’s wife Michelle nervously smirked when she saw me carry it in and plop it on the kitchen counter. She thought it was some kind of jokey, fake prop from a horror movie. Nope. I asked if anyone wanted to learn sumpin important, and cousin Hayley said she did. We soaked it in brine overnight, and then proceeded to butcher it the next day. We wrapped it in bacon, which is called (I can’t think of the word – anyone?) and slow-roasted it, using the outdoor grill like an oven. Heaven.

About a month after that I was going up to the school for Cate’s Parent/Teacher conference when I saw a lady walking around in my front yard. Her car was parked on the lawn. I stopped and asked her if I could help her with anything. She said she had just hit a deer and was looking for her side-view mirror. I helped her find it, and figured the deer was dead somewhere in my back yard.

I go to the meeting with Ms. B., who I had introduced myself to at the beginning of the school year at the Meet the Teachers night. I didn’t want to go, and I figured I’d just hang out in the back of the room and horse around while the syllabus and rules and all that junk was being presented, and then leave when it was all over, none-the-wiser. But no. We were told we had to sit in our children’s seat, and of course Cate’s was right up front and center. The first 45 minutes of the presentation wasn’t the presentation at all, but Ms. B. answering all of the parents’s concerns about Spencer’s allergies and Kelsey’s lactose intolerance. She then had to cut the discussion short and spent 10 minutes on the syllabus. At the end she said she wanted to tell us a bit about herself: she grew up in West Virginia and her dad was a coal miner. They didn’t have much. She went to a community college back home, and then got her teaching degree at West Conn, I think. Her teeth were crooked, and she didn’t have the right haircut.

I arrive a bit late, and tell her that some lady hit a deer in front of my house (I always say the best hunter in the world is a woman with an SUV), and I was going to butcher it up when I got back home. She said her family ate deer for Thanksgiving when she was growing up because they couldn’t afford a turkey. I asked her if “not having much” meant that she didn’t have electricity. She said no, they had electricity, but they didn’t have plumbing. But they did have an outhouse. I told her I couldn’t imagine how surreal it must be for her to have to endure all these incredibly petty problems and pampered, self-entitled little monsters run amok around here, when she had almost nothing growing up but the respect and purpose that hard work and suffering brings, palling and trivializing, almost, anything other than the necessary. She said yes, it was.

I went back and strung that buck up, and it was a huge, 8-pointer, the largest I had ever seen. I like big bucks and I cannot lie. Uncle Bob came over the next morning and gave me a lesson in psychology, anatomy, metaphysics, and humility. You’ve heard the cliché that we’re all the same inside? Well, I’ll include all mammals in that description. Seriously, that’s what we look like, what we are, more or less, and it’s just that matter-of-fact.

Yes, I admit, a lot of my sophomoronic antics are for shock value and comic effect, to be honest. But there’s a whole lot of uncomfortable truth in jest. A few weeks back I was coming home from the nail salon (I treated my daughter to a mani-pedi, oh you cruel, peanut gallery trolls), when I saw, in the street, right in front of my house, a perfectly laid-out squirrel. I parked and walked back out to have a look. It didn’t look run over at all – in fact it was in a pristine, mint condition, like it was taking a cat nap in the road. So I brought it inside, and plonked it on the kitchen table. I had seen a video years earler that showed some redneck pulling the pelt off a squirrel like a dirty sock. I looked and found it on YouTube. Just put a small slit at the base of the spine with a sharp knife, place your boot on the tail, and then pull the animal out of its own skin with a quick, uncomplicated tug. My only question is: how come every backyard instruction dude with a southern accent has at least one dog running around in the background of their video, or sometimes a mongel pack and a half?

This particular individual said not to gut the thing, but to just quarter it, since most of the meat was on the limbs. I did. I then got out a big pot, and started emptying the fridge when my buddy Stirling popped by for a beer. He asked where I got the rabbit. I told him all about Rocky, and he looked at me and said: “You need help.”

Couldn’t agree more. But what I’d like to ask is: How do you see the world? Do you see a long line at the DMV as almost interminable misery? Or is it an opportunity to talk with the lady in front of you, who tells you about her 1976 Mustang convertible, that she bought new. She took it out on the highway outside of Atlanta after midnight the day she got it, to see if it could go 130 miles an hour, as the brochure, and the salesman, assured her it could. The Georgia State Trooper who stopped her asked her if she knew how fast she was going. She said yes, 127 miles an hour and I’m pissed – the car is supposed to be able to do 130. The cop just shook his head in wonder and admiration, of sorts, and let her go with a warning.

Do you see a dead squirrel in the middle of the road, or the perfect opportunity, albeit years and years after the fact, to see if your college roommate from Willachochee, AK knew what the heck he was talking about when he told you how ironic it was that the expensive and swank NYC restaurant you once ate at, boasting of “acorn-fed wild boar”, wouldn’t dream of featuring a squirrel dish, when they in fact fatten themselves up on the very same acorns and are just as yummers. Free-range chickens, but not free-range venison – what sense does that make? None, as far as I can tell. At least not rational, coherent and logical sense. But I don't know how you feel about it, which seems to be the crust of the biscuit for every discussion these days.

 The question is simple: how do you look at life? What is your recipe for success; for deciding what’s really real and not real; to tell good from bad; to know how to really pay attention to what matters and then go out and act forthrightly in the world? My simplistic view is that comedy is ten times better than tragedy. 

Speaking of recipes, I thought I’d show you how to make a Brunswick stew, in case you needed to know ­– I mean where would you be if Kim Jong Un drops the big one and you’re all alone in the woods for days and days with nothing but a knife, and your guts, even though they're empty? Hopefully not nowhere. Digression: I was on the ferry to Squirrel Island out of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, when I started talking to the guy sitting next to me. Thick accent, from away, way away – turns out he was from Kentucky, and was wearing a Squirrel Island hat. I said that was a kind of sarcastic sideswipe, wasn’t it, because Brunswick stew. He said they called it ‘Burgoo’ back where he was from, and that was only the poor kinfolk who et it. What do I look like, chopped liver?

As a matter of fact this universal, empty-the-fridge dish is also called Mulligan, Hobo, Pantry, or Community stew.

Ingredients

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon course salt
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cans beef or chicken broth
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
3 carrots, roughly cut
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 celery, roughly chopped
1 onion, cut into eight wedges
1 can of corn, green beans, lima beans and/or peas
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

First, bag your quarry – but remember the old adage: harm watch, harm catch. Then toss the flour, pepper, salt and meat together. In a large covered pot, brown beef in oil. Add broth, water, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, and basil; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 hours. Add carrots, potatoes, celery and onion; cover and simmer for another 40 minutes. Add corn, beans and/or peas; cover and simmer 15 minutes longer, or until vegetables are tender.

Serve in large bowls with a crusty hunk of chunky bread. Watch as your loved ones shovel the gamey nutritious everything-but-the-kitchen-sink loveliness in like aristocratic cackalack monkeys.
August 07, 2018 by Johnny Mustard