When I was a kid, a man would periodically show up at a friend’s house. He’d pull up in an off-white truck emblazoned with a logo I hadn’t learned to read yet. He left giant boxes in the kitchen. The Schwaan Man, progenitor of an inheritance.
A dead thing in a cardboard box. A marinated slab in a freezer. A pig once soaked and killed and packaged in shrink wrap, not in that order, but maybe in that order. A frozen pork chop.
Savory, but a sweet and yet unknown marinade. Hardly a pig with that secret juice. A meat sponge, soaked through with a question mark.
And the chop was round. Too round. I like a chop to have a natural shape. Is it natural to want a chop to have a natural shape? The hell is a natural shape? I want a chop to remind me that, hey, this was alive once, cut from the belly of some oblivious swine and is not the oral excursion of some great leechworm on an incidental pig spree. A chop like this leads me to believe the chupacabra exists. Get your shit together, Schwaan Man. America is terrified.
Take any rural establishment and roll it out flat and thin. The result: Sweet and savory, the distillation of a laborer’s intent, Great Falls is lefse in its formation and individual composition. The Sons of Norway. Vikings, or, fried beef on a stick. The way an elderly woman assembles one, digging her hands, gloved in transparent green, digging her hands into a tub of spiced red slop. They have the cutest smiles. And when they tell jokes, oh my.
The strongest remaining memory of my Grandpa Dave is that morning. We woke up at the crack of dawn and rolled over to the Sons of Norway headquarters, a small cabin like structure emblazoned with white frills that mimicked the prow of Viking longships. Tubs and tubs of meat. Jake and I forgot to take our hats off. We scoffed at the rule, but felt guilt, if only for pockmarking grandpa’s public representation of his legacy.
I rolled hundreds of balls of hamburger that day. They Vikings were made for the state fair, breaded and fried for hungry passersby. Later that evening he was interviewed by local news team. His caption read, “David Larson – Meat Guy”.
He passed a few years later. All I have left of my physical inheritance is a shrink-wrapped pork chop, singular, circular, and cold enough to shatter. It sits in my freezer, collecting purpose.
A muscle bereft of blood isn’t so scary, much akin to a puppet without strings: a doll. The fear of animation remains, but is abstracted by a lack of string or wooden cross. The pork chop, its string is my grandfather, who, through his own animations, coaxed the meat slab through passive and actively bidden contingencies—propellant factors include, but are not limited to, commerce, the elderly demographic and inclusive market presence, and the objective “good” in the taste of dead pig—to land upon his very own mantle, that is, in a box, in a freezer, in a garage, in Great Falls, Montana. It took the entirety of one man and one pig (and only one, I hope) to bring said chop into my ownership. Eat the chop, you say! It is only a chop of pig singular, you say. Psh. Chop singular is chop multitudinous. Chop multitudinous deserves my dissection—intellectual. Of chop multitudinous, the layman knows not, sees not, hears not. Chop multitudinous contains chops, multitudinous.
I wander through life attempting to truly remember, but I’ve forgotten how to feel nostalgia, there’s some pig meat in the way.
A day calendar sits on a table in my apartment. Each page is a headline from The Onion, a tidbit of critical social satire that wavers between playful mockery and malicious cynicism. It reads January second. Today is February seventh. My grandfather had a day calendar too. Complex logic puzzles, one a day. I am twelve in the computer room at his house. On the desk sits said calendar, March twenty-first or something. The day is correct. The logic puzzle concerns numbers and their numerous complexities. I don’t understand it. I can’t—the prompt is distorted through the noise of my grandfather’s inscription, the flow of his jazz logic. He is in his eighties and he does this every day. Successfully.
A pig detaches from his mother’s teat. He turns his new ears to the throttled shrill of a brother in panic. The brother paces back and forth, attempting suckles from each happenstance teat. The brother’s lower jaw hangs loose, jostling with each quick trot. Broken. A pig attaches to his mother’s teat.
As I write this my day calendar collects the days. And I stare at it across the room. My intent is vacant. My regret, an imperceptible filet knife carving out all the good parts of me.
Within two years, the empty fields behind my grandpa's modest abode would beget a modern commercial shopping plaza. A Carmike, chainlink Italian restaurants with the same parent company and shit breadsticks, a grocery store with a club membership, a Staples bursting with pallid cubicle aromas, and of course, a Barnes and Noble bookstore--the last remnant vestige of corporate corporeal in steadfast opposition to dot coms and associative jungulature. But mom and pop still cry, Ebay just ain't the same as corrugated spines and coffee so black it oozes so slow out that spout that the old folks without names come from miles around just to smell a pour.
But this particular B&N felt like one of those mom and poppers, despite the physical difference. No, each proud display of the latest Butcher or Brown stood like a homegrown citadel, as if born from the very earthy off-green tile many fiscal moons ago.
The sole difference was the concentrated human interest of a single man. My grandfather would lead us through his backyard, over a small chainlink fence, through a driveway or two where his squash garden used to be but ten years ago, and across an empty blacktop desert to the Barnes and Noble. And he would insist on this trek, all in the interest of a simple introduction.
"Hey, you better get back to work!" The employee arranging the books smiled with familiarity. A young brunette.
"I'll get back to work as soon as you pay up." She smiles, wide and genuine. "Where them cookies at?" We grandchildren stifle then don't stifle a nervous laugh.
"Oh, these ones ate them all. You like grandpa's cookies, don't you." He gets a nod because it's true.
"Welp, you better have some next time or I'll have to start teasing again." she says. He does that worn out grandfather guffaw, hollow, but a warm hollow. A laugh only gets hollow like that from using it so much.
A pig looks up from his slop. The barrier persists. It swings with a wild screech to signal the arrival and departure of the slop-bringer. The slop-bringer secures it with the silver snake. Another day then. A pig looks down at his slop.
I've met no man with a comparable appreciation for and awareness of the individuality of every person.
Me? I can't say I've ever made eye contact with a B&N employee. Sometimes I'll hand them my cash or credit and catch a glimpse of their face or brunette hair, but never do we share more than what the vanilla transaction requires
A pig is led to a room of porcelain blue. First in line. A man thoroughly garbed in white wraps his arm around the pig. The pig squeals. The pig is dead. The pig is led out of the room of porcelain blue and hung from a great hook.
Just over a year ago, a piece of that super dead pig hung out in my grandpa's freezer. A few miles away he was getting ready to undergo emergency surgery. For each vertical slice of the pig, a sewn internal hemorrhage for my grandfather.
Neither made it.
I would slaughter every pig on this rolling green if it meant I could bring the man back. And I would do it smiling, an innocent smile lashed with hope and curling forever upward with the black gallons, still innocent, impeccably honest. Fear of the variable.
But he’s done and gone, and I’m sure he doesn’t mind. Though I was told he had doubts on that last bed, about how he could’ve been a better father, about he could have been a better husband, about heaven and its whereabouts. Turns out it didn’t matter much. Heaven was here all along, with us, he said.
No one remembers him for what he lacked anyway. They remember him for his magic shows, his beautiful carvings, his innocent punnery, his warm smile and ho-ho laugh, his articulate book-keeping that measured how many books he kept, his volunteer work, his hugs, his love, and his dedication to it all. We remember Dave, not for his self-doubt or existential tension--we remember Dave for exactly what he wanted to be remembered for.
So maybe I'll hold onto that porkchop. It reminds me of my grandfather and his inclusive and gargantuan positive vibes, but chop multitudinous is also a grim reminder of luck and control. A pig--a living, breathing, feeling thing was once born, then fed, then popped in his soft pig temple with a hydraulic bolt, then hung from the ceiling to drain out his black pig blood, then, for the ever important purpose of satire, the pig was disassembled by piggish American laborers on a disassembly line (you're welcome, Ford), and shipped off to porcelain distribution centers whereupon he or she or it were, in short time, consumed by piggish American bachelors in their expensive studio apartments (Me?). Ignorance may be bliss, or maybe only passable existence, but at least it’s a some kind of fragile insurance for fulfillment.
I admire a man for his platinum virtue, but gawk at the casual creation and destruction of a pig. The humanities require revision. But, cynicism swims just beneath the slightest effort. If all of existence is but a neon wireframe, then role play can only help. Imagination is a stand in for texture. Make a goddamn story.
And eat more vegetables.