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Meat Stink - Charnel House Rock: A Tangent in Three Parts

By Aaron Voorhies Jentzen
December 1, 2001

I. Do Not Go Gentle into That Foul Meat

A clanking of frying pans, the hush of the opened freezer. The kitchen. Jon's at it again, making that meat stink in the kitchen. Two weeks ago, he bought a package of forty frozen Manor House-brand hamburger patties at the Safeway supermarket.

The large glossy carton featured blown-up photos of steaming burgers on a dark background. Flame-broiled. Hearty. Really, really cheap. I watched him carry it into the apartment, into the kitchen. The kitchen. It had the heft of a carton originally bound for the Folsom Prison cafeteria; at some point, somehow, someone diverted it to the day-glo supermarket. Or abandoned it there. Manor House-more like Jail House. Since the day they arrived, Jon's animal protein binge has raged day and night.

Although I leave the apartment for hours at a time, I know when the patty scarfing has continued in my absence. I don't even have to give a "Meat? No meat?" sniff in the entryway upon my return. If it's there it's there. When it's not, things seem strangely normal-the sinister calm before the storm. If I don't smell meat, that just means I will in the immediate future.

Things have been said; things have been cooked: the stench of cooking meat strangulates my apartment. But this is no ordinary meat-cooking smell. Nor am I some kind of veggie and/or animal rights type, in fact, I like the smell of fresh-cooked meat (or at least I once did, as I haven't had the balls to test these waters of late). This meat smells old, old before it was cooked, old before it was even born, old when the foundations of the earth were laid. Meaning, when you fry up a patty, it immediately smells like last year's hamburger grease, the remnants of which probably still linger on in the kitchen. The kitchen. The meat gives off no fresh smell, no clean, honest smell. No cowboy-on-the-open-range-grillin'-over-a-campfahr smell. Just this ancient...heartiness.

Why does this prison grub smell like something dug up out of a bog? Are these "pure beef" patties actually pressed mammoth meat, exhumed from thousands of years of Arctic ice? Is the meat in fact to blame? Perhaps the fault lies with Jon's culinary techniques? These questions deprive me of sleep.

In hopes of answering these questions, I spent the last two weeks observing Jon's preparation methods, which I here describe: With a twist of a knob, the spiral element on the electric range glows hellish orange. Next, he drops two tablespoons of lubricant-butter, margarine, vegetable oil-into the foul-smelling skillet ready on the stove. Ready from the last time. While the oil splutters and pops and greases the joints in the air molecules, he reaches into the freezer for one of the variegated pink columns waiting in the far-back corner. He chips a frozen disc off the top of a column, then another, and tosses them into the bubbling oil. The odor fills the air. "This is how they cook 'em at fast food joints," he explains. Some consolation.

I suspect the ancient meat stink emanates from something a shade too abrupt in the transfer of heat, the immersion of frozen muscle fibers in a puddle of boiling oil. As I see it, the meat immediately rips heat from the oil, searing its contours as particles of meat sublimate from solid (frozen) to semi-solid (thawed) to solid again (cooked) instantaneously. The oil in turn rips heat from the pan, which has to go and flail some more out of the heating element. Something complicated happens between the stove and the household circuit, and the smell of ozone blends into the stench.[1] An obscene transubstantiation has taken place. At this juncture, my scientific hypotheses begin to peter out.

Like fast food joints, Science never held any great consolation for me, and neither has helped to elevate my current standards of living to tolerable levels. I am living in an armed camp. The old meat stink saturates all my possessions, and I myself am contaminated. I go to get a slice of bread, and the bread bag is just one more oil slick. The dishes have a film of chuck wagon extract smearing them. The kitchen is just the start. The kitchen. My blankets, pillows, clothes, even books carry the dread stench. I try to preserve my own body inviolate, but I must unwittingly inhale and thus consume countless particles of Manor House heartiness. Where's Captain Planet when you need him?

II. Young Men Should Burn and Rave at Twenty-Five

The problem, of course, is not Jon. It's not the way he cooks. It's not the intense grease-per-mole composition of the household air. And it's not even the damned meat. The problem is this first sour smell of bachelorhood, the smell of single, out-of-college, twenty-something males. Fortunately it is the first, not the last stale breath; there is time yet. Jon is only twenty-one. He has, tops, four years to escape the meat stink. If, by twenty-five, the meat lingers on, he's done for. I'm twenty-two. But we'll get to my situation later.

Since my late teens, I've held a firm belief that age twenty-five was...well, you just didn't want to be that guy, let's put it that way. One of those mysteries of the faith. Let me put it this way: as suggested in a recent film, the day you graduate from college, your undergraduate affectations are instantly renamed: vices. Where once cigarettes were a chic accessory to your wardrobe, now you find you are an ignoble smoker, etc. The point is, twenty-five is a similar turning point, where your youthful ways lose all gracefulness, yet you are unfit for any other pursuits. In short, you're an instant schmuck.[2]

For years I thought twenty-five was strictly a numerically unlucky year, but now I'm beginning to suspect that it is not that literal. Some men are twenty-five for several years, some never. It has a lot to do with whether you choose to act your age or to act considerably older.[3]

I didn't discover this phenomenon; in fact, I realize I'm one of the last to know. Countless other males my age have already reached these conclusions and orchestrated a counterattack: they skip right from 20 to age 35. See if these tell-tale indications ring any bells: The worsted double-breasted suits. The sensible yet sexy sport compacts. No nonsense haircuts and flossed teeth. Knowledge of two or more items on the wine list. Gym membership. Enough exotic tastes to be alluring to certain women, but not to the extent that would suggest eccentricity (not alluring). Conversation littered with Russian novels,[4] old jazz (CDs, not platters), stocks, good out-of-the-way restaurants you should try, the names of certain officials and vague mention of various unnamable "contacts." And to top it all off, a job that, while necessarily somewhat menial, at least allows the employee to cultivate the abovementioned niceties, the trappings of the Big Career Job that create the illusion that said job exists, the job which, we are to assume, produced said trappings. Figure that one out.

These faux 35 year-olds are everywhere, but they are difficult to spot, for they blend right in with the real ones. Making the jump requires such absolute belief in the 35 year-old identity that the body itself is often tricked, as attested to by the rapid acceleration of pattern hair loss and other physical deterioration of a more private nature in such individuals. Thus, they blend right in with the real silverbacks.

The large number of men opting for this accelerated path to middle age only demonstrate the plight of more traditional twenty-something bachelors in higher contrast. There are few; they stick out like sore thumbs. And, being lonely sorts, they don't band together very well (except at sports bars) and thus deny themselves the potential of strength-in-numbers.

I confess I am tempted to throw in a few real-life examples of 25 year-olds in action, to shore up my theories with hard evidence. Tangibles. Facts. After considerable thought, I decided that the majority of these stories are simply too painful to relate. Besides, if history teaches us anything, it is that the humiliations of small men have scant educational value. Well, perhaps I could tell you about what happened to the guy with the personal Guinness keg in his closet...or the guy with the uh, the uh...No, it's really not worth dragging this whole sordid tale out. That's what shows like Drew Carey are for.

Without miring ourselves in the miseries of actual case studies, we can mention a few general traits: As a traditional twenty-five year-old, the TV reigns supreme. Taking that big beer shit is your principal agenda item for Saturday. You're single, or virtually so. Even your socks are single, seldom to be found in matching pairs. You become a guru on some arcane subject, such as The Smiths 45's, Star Trek or weed.[5] Again, just a few examples. In some ways, this is merely the tip of the iceberg; in other ways, it's really all there is.

While we're on the subject, one obvious danger of the traditional 25 year-old route is that you dramatically increase your chances of sharing your roof with a small fry drug racket. Everybody expects you to sell weed anyway (what else are 25 year-olds good for?) and there are plenty of ways to justify peddling your little plastic baggies to 10th graders. For example:

  • Think of your little racket as an entrepreneurial venture, a way to "make ends meet" (i.e., buy more Klingon action figures).
  • Consider buying and selling little bits of green stuff as experience, practice for your real job as a stockbroker or a banker a good ten, fifteen years down the pike.
  • You'll soon have all the friends you can handle, especially high-schoolers.
  • You'll also learn all the lingo and techie jargon pertaining to your trade, which is perhaps the first tentative step towards Hip.

But the number one reason for a 25 year-old to operate a miniscule marijuana distribution center?

  • Instead of spending those Friday and Saturday nights watching television alone and smoking a bowl, you can watch TV with someone who is happy to smoke a bowl of yours, and you can also putter around with grow lamps and such.

(Ok, so that's two reasons. Ask me if I care.) But before you sign up for your subscription to High Times, realize that a bust for selling pot is just the kind of indignity that brands you 25 FOR LIFE.

III. Rage, Rage Against the Bachelor Estate

The reek of marijuana, much hamburger grilling, use of "alternative deodorants," beer burps and chronic masturbation: all contain elements that contribute to the distinctive bachelor smell. But the hamburger is the big one. The real kahuna. The heavy. The ball-breaker. Remember hamburger? If not, turn back a few pages and refresh your memory. Or pause and take a trip to your own kitchen. The kitchen.

But wait: by linking bachelorhood with disgusting cooking odors, are we implying that we can solve the stinky meat problem by finding a woman to assume scullery duties, leaving hubby to bask in his La-Z-Boy whilst sniffing the aroma of fresh punkin pie? Do men solve the problem simply by handing it off to another victim? Are relationships between men and women actually just a matter of food prep? Are we all going to hell in a hand basket? With the exception of the last question, the answer to all of the above is No.[6] The simple truth is that until a bachelor has a partner of some sort (or is trying really hard to get one), his own cooking can never improve. There's no motivation. Once said partner enters the picture, he may very well become an accomplished chef. It is also possible the new partner knows how to cook. If neither can cook, at least the blame can be shared. But this is mere speculation.

To sum up our findings thus far: It is impossible to be single, a real twenty-five year-old, and a good cook. One or more has to go out the window. We've explored the ramifications of sacrificing the last-witness Jon's stinky meat. Giving up on being twenty-five and exerting your will to be ten years older is also an option, although you greatly increase your buffoon factor. The other option is scrapping the single scene altogether, although this will instantly alienate you from your single friends (remember the high school stoner kids?)

I've said little in defense of this last option, so I thought I'd soapbox my personal story. Let me first explain that my interest in these subjects is mostly academic. Two years ago a remarkable woman took an unexplained interest in me, and we reached a certain agreement by which I vowed never to fry the stinky meat if she would pass by the 20/35 year olds and their ways, and so on. We also swore never to talk about Russian novels. All of which, taken together, give us a considerably better chance of finding true and lasting happiness than most other clueless young men and women (i.e., those who ignore such vital pacts).

I've never really understood why she took an interest in me in the first place-she is reticent to discuss her reasons. I haven't pressed the point, since she is more or less fabulous, and she sometimes calls me "punk baby" (what more can you ask?). I suspect, however, that she foresaw the day I would get my first whiff of that unholy meat stink and break out in cold sweats. She may have, out of pity, bailed me out of this charnel house, or she may be avoiding her own undesirable predicaments-she has mentioned that certain plastic book shelves of hers are making her uneasy... Truth is, I don't really care why. Sorry if you expected some kind of words of wisdom or helpful advice at this point, you know-the conclusion. But you're on your own. She's given me a ticket off this slaving meat wheel-the rest of you fucks can fight for the scraps.

[1] Thus we experience some type of "burger fission"... resulting in "heavy grease," a compound who's properties resemble those of lithium, (only if it were lithium, I should be feeling a lot more happy about the whole situation).

[2] Palmer Avery writes in: "Whilst taking the Spark's Bastard test a moment ago, I came across an interesting fact they had stumbled upon. 'FACT: The most bastardly age group so far is 27 year olds. 27 year olds average 46% bastard.' Thought that tied in nicely with your Theory of Meat Stink.
Your 37% Bastard friend,

[3] For a twenty-five year old to act younger than his age is impossible, on the basis that trying to act younger than twenty-five is the defining behavior of the traditional twenty-five year-old. The logic is just crippling, ain't it, folks?

[4] It is truly amazing the way knowing a bit about Russian novels can pass for intelligence in social situations. We're not talking about actual literacy, mind you-just a name to drop alongside a studied brooding look. Mention a Russian novel in conversation and you are unassailable. "Question his intelligence? That guy reads Russian novels!" (The really efficient ones don't even bother to read the books, knowing full well that no one who talks about Russian novels has actually read them, and no one who has read them talks about them. Much like how people who talk about writing don't really write much of anything, while those who do write, don't talk about it. Same with sex.)

[5] The bad habit of parodying Dylan Thomas is definitely a step down this particular trail of tears. Corniness factor: 6.5

[6] While this piece addresses a distinctly male problem from a male perspective, don't assume I have no sense of gender equity-this isn't Maxim, for Pete's sake.

Aaron Voorhies Jentzen
is writer/musician who ran the microscopic music zine, Enigma/Ultra. His material has been featured in several magazines and journals as well as his recent self published collection entitled "Plague Doctor."