Bio Note: I’m back to teaching at Boston University, which is good, but also commuting through Boston gridlock, which isn’t. My contribution this month is another in a series of monologues from flinty, opinionated Mrs. Podolski, a widow with peculiar reading habits. In this one she again holds forth to her young friend, prompted by her purchases at the supermarket.
Helping Mrs. Podolski Put Away Her Groceries
Yes, pork chops. I cut off the fat and wrap them separately in plastic, my dear. Thanks. I know I shouldn’t eat them but they were on special, and they were Mr. P’s second favorite dish—porkchops with baked beans and applesauce—so they’re for old times’ sake. His first favorite? Roast beef and potatoes with green beans or cauliflower, all of them cooked to death, the way his mother did them. In time, he’d tolerate a little crunch in his vegetables and a blush in his beef. Over the years, I even got him to spread out as far as the occasional lasagna and stir fries over white rice. He preferred beef to chicken or pork and spit out my one attempt at tofu. Well, in fairness, so did I. No take-out but his precious pepperoni pizzas. Would you wash off those potatoes, dear—and just set them on the drainboard? Talked to him once about becoming a vegetarian. Fat chance. We’ve always eaten animals, he claimed, speaking for the species. It’s in our nature, like razing forests and dumping the waste overboard. In his opinion, shitting upstream from the camp’s in our genes. Nietzsche thought so, too: exploitation belongs to the essence of what lives. . . But, my dear, all the cow farts and ex-rainforests! Saw this young scientist on TV and thought he meant to flatter us. A spectacularly successful species, he said, then I caught the irony—it’s like calling the bombing of Hiroshima a proficient job of urban renewal. Well, we can’t live without our steady fix of diffusible molecules; stones won’t do and meat tastes good; but the more we eat the worse things get for us and the world. When the heat thuds down, we up the air-conditioning, burn more ancient algae, a deadly cycle. If to live is to exploit, then is the only answer death? But who wants to hear that salvation requires starvation? He may live without love, what is passion but pining? But where is the man who can live without dining? That’s Bulwer-Lytton in a genial mood during the Industrial Revolution. Yes, dear, the-dark-and-stormy-night guy. Mr. P. didn’t start out sclerotic but, like his arteries, he got more so and wound up believing our DNA is as conservative as a Georgia Republican. What do I know? Maybe it is. But the genes can evolve, can’t they? Opposable thumbs, less hair, bigger brains? Did you see it hit a hundred-and-eighteen in Siberia last week, dear? Siberia. Way things are headed, nature’s going to turn on this successful species and she won’t spare the vegans. Old folks have much to answer for, unthinkingly gunning our V-8s , heaping up the national debt, outliving the Social Security actuaries’ projections—so selfish. Nietzsche was too mad a prophet to be consistent, too sensitive a seismograph. He extolled the planet’s beauty but knew what spoiled its complexion. The earth has a skin, and that skin has diseases; one of its diseases is called man. What was that, dear? Progressive but sexist? Maybe, but I don’t think he meant to let women off the hook—or that he hated us. Read him closely. I think you’ll see he was afraid of us. Oh, the cold cream and shampoo? Just set them aside, dear. I’ll take them upstairs later.
©2021 Robert Wexelblatt
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