Dr. Phil Has Nothing to Do with Meat Processing

Note: This is a long, unedited piece that blends writings from several different years.

Dr. Phil is bald and sounds like a hick. He’s into psychotherapy in some respect. Not sure if he has a medical license and can dispense, I mean prescribe, drugs. But he’s popular on television, where he treads into his murky ways of helping people weep their way through problems, usually surrounding relationships.

He has his own show now, after a stint as a popular guest on the Oprah Winfrey show. (note to self: do I need to drop “Winfrey?”)

DR PHIL (raising his eyelids):
Do you know what a co-dependent is sir?

HEAVY METAL T-SHIRT DUDE (sobbing):
Yeah, I think so.

drphilDR PHIL (twisting his head to the side and back)
Are you sure you know, or do you just think you know.

HEAVY METAL T-SHIRT DUDE (a momentary lapse in sobs, punctuated by a breathe)
Uh, I just think.

DR. PHIL (more reflective, questioning his own training, then recovering):
Well let me splain sumpin to you about it.

DR. PHIL (once again widening his eyes, but this time also raising his nostrils a bit and pulling his head back to indicate disgust)
I’m thinking you’re much more than the co-dependent in this relationship. You’re more than a co-pilot. Heck, you’re in the driver seat. Are you in the driver seat with this dependency?

HEAVY METAL T-SHIRT DUDE (taking a deep breath and then exhaling immediately and feeling a bit of the Malboro Red that the other dude gave him last night after he smoked a J and then the nicotine nearly sent him over the edge, not figuratively, but quite literally since he was kicking back and forth in a folding metal chair with his feet on a pool table):
I, I don’t know.

DR PHIL (letting his puffy cheeks fall into a smirk like twins sitting side by side on identical pink balloons nearing their exploding point, then nodding his head up and down slowly as if he was in some catatonic state of giving head to his gay lover, or some other guy that doesn’t necessarily have to be gay, but just like the slow kind of catatonic blow jobs that Dr. Phil gives)
Oh, you know. You know that you’re not only in the driver’s seat, you’re the taxi driver. She’s payin’ your fare in this mess. She’s sitting back there watching the meter tick, and each dollar that clicks off is another year of her life that’s wasted in the soulless world that you’ve created. Can you accept that? Can you accept that you’re the taxi driver of her dependency driving her off course and the “long way” to a soulless life?

HEAVY METAL T-SHIRT DUDE (remembering that it wasn’t a regular pool table, just bumper pool, since Michael Corleone, his best friend since third grade, was too cheap to buy a pool table and merely lugged the bumper version from his parent’s house to three apartments during community college, to his permanent two apartments to get a post-associates degree, and accidentally bleached the green felt with a mixture of scrubbing bubbles and Tilex <copyright> to clean up a bit of puke from Sandy Deaton when she had a momentarily loss of esophageal control during the quarters game, which should have never been staged on the bumper pool table)
I think I can.

DR. PHIL (relaxing and letting go of the “think” versus “know” line of questioning, which is getting old, and is now smiling like Hoss on the Ponderosa after he’s realized he’s not just “fat” comic relief because he’s actually provided a plot advancement that leads to saving his brothers and hence, some fatherly recognition from Lorne Greene that amounts to much more than a heap of Alpo on a stainless steel dog bowl.)
That’s right. A soulless life. A life without soul. No James Brown here son. Your “feel good” is a temporary high. You know what? You know what? I think you’re much more than a taxi driver. Can you cop to that bro? Because you’re much more. You’re a kidnapper. That’s right, a kidnapper. You’ve kidnapped her and are trying to ransom her soulless life back to the desperate people that love her. And each blackout she has that you’ve blackened even more is another cutout letter on the ransom note. Heck, you’re even more than the kidnapper. You are the black shadow that has kidnapped her, driven her the long way on a running tab and robbed her of her vitamin D. No, you are much more than that son. You are the kidnapping, taxi-driving shadow of death that snatched her from her idyllic childhood innocence and thrust her into the soulless existence that comes close to losing the exist. I’m going to go one further. You’re a familiar, a beast of burden for the dependency witch that took your long arm of decay and reached into her mother’s womb to snatch her and drag her into your diseased world, severing her from the harmony of mother and daughter in the umbilical cord so that that you could control her nourishment for the rest of your pathetic lives. You feeder! You feed her on dependency, and once you acknowledge that, you can at least take the first step toward healing, and I mean, it’s an incredibly small step, something akin to each little thrust forward from the six little feet of the minuscule black sugar ants that ran trails along my grandma’s window sill. Do you know what I’m talking about brother?

HEAVY METAL T-SHIRT DUDE (just sobbing)
I know. I know. Oh God I know.

Which has nothing to do with….

The fact that I’ve long been sick of being Dr. Death, a person who has killed his share of animals and is daily conflicted about eating them. Not the ones I killed. Let me splain.

I’m tempted to start in Boulder, Colorado, at the poetry reading. Because one is oft tempted to start at pivotal moments and then work backwards. I guess that’s why they call them pivotal. But heck no. I’ll start in Sacramento, California, on a warm summer night after a Grateful Dead concert, when I was but 25, working as a journalist in Oakland. Stephanie, an acquaintance’s girlfriend, was giving me a ride back to the Bay after I spent a night avoiding the jam sessions and whirling dervishes at the Dead Show and instead battled a possible “freakout” from mushrooms by obsessively tracing our route home with my index finger on a crumpled California map resting over a patch of grass outside the stadium. (One of my roommates ended up in the little hippy tent on a real freakout from the same batch of shrooms and was later wheeled out to one of our cars in a wheelchair, quite fittingly, if you’re going to be wheeled.) A perfect Dead Show by all accounts.

So here’s Stephanie, a half hippie chick, since she eschewed patchouli for roll-on for her underarm hair but still flittered about without a job and ingested all manner of drugs to keep her pupil’s consistently cavernous. And I’m in the car with her, alone, for some reason, and she decides to go through a fucking Jack in the Box drive through and order a chicken sandwich. I didn’t want anything.

The muffle of the worker bee’s questions buzzed through the little black speaker dots beneath the world’s most vibrant and enticing fast food menu…God it was beautiful…and the bee rattled off the repeat of what she wanted: “That’s one chicken sandwich.”

But those four words may have well been double the six that launched Hamlet’s soliloquy, for in my mind’s eye, we spent the next twenty or so minutes discussing, questioning and exploring, the state of chicken meat processing.

Stephanie threw her little rice burner pickup into to neutral and took her foot off the clutch, and to my recollection, it went something like this:

“So is this chicken sandwich processed?”
The dots pondered. “Processed, m’aam?”
“You know, processed. Is the meat processed?”
“I’m not sure m’aam. It’s cut up and put on a sandwich.”

Stephanie was not the least bit flustered. “I know it’s cut, I’m talking about how it gets from the henhouse to the fryer….Is it fried?”

“Well yes m’aam, it’s fried. (PAUSE) Actually, no m’aam, it isn’t fried. It just looks fried.”

I read the face of the passenger behind me in my side mirror. He wore sunglasses, at night remember, and bounced a cigarette up and down on his finger out the car door window.

“I know it’s a sandwich, and I know it looks fried, and I’m not really worried about how it’s cooked, but is it processed or merely cut?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by processed, m’aam. You mean cleaned?”

“No, I mean is it like the meat that’s been chopped up in little pieces and reformulated into a patty with little fry bumps on the top, or is it a whole of meat that’s simply been cut.”

I thought the dots might never reply. The kid’s meal toys on the menu board were starting to scare me. 99s. 99s. 99s.

“Ma’am. It has tiny bumps, and that’s just the breadin’, but I don’t know if it’s been chopped or cut.”

“Well chopped is cut…but I mean, has it been chopped to the point that it’s no longer part of the source meat…I mean, is it a mixture of different chickens. Chopped chickens.”

“Well…I wouldn’t know. Hold on. I didn’t give them a diet Coke. I gave them a real Coke. No I didn’t. It’s the syrup. Well, give them another Coke! Hold on m’aam, let me get a manager.”

I thought about running, fleeing into the night, grabbing the dude’s bouncing cigarette behind me, taking a long drag and stumbling into the strip malls, never returning to the little pickup. Getting a job sweeping garbage at a laundromat and collecting forgotten undies and lint and making pillows out of them.

The dots grew more authoritative. Must have been the manager. “Sir…Sir, the chicken isn’t processed like cheese. It’s real chicken. But I can’t say that it’s chicken that is a sole chicken. We get ’em as patties.”

“Ahh, I understand” Stephanie said. And I assume the manager knew “sir” was the wrong salutation after that.
“So it’s probably processed to the point that it’s not just one chicken.”
“I can’t say for certain m’aam.”
“Do you have any other chicken sandwiches?”
“Well, we do have the spicy chicken sandwich.”
“Is that processed?”
“Well…it’s the same as the regular chicken sandwich, ‘cept it’s spicy.”
“Hmmm…..OK, I’ll have one.”
“Would that be the regular or the spicy chicken sandwich?”
“Regular.”
“OK, thank you m’aam.”
“WAIT….what comes on it?”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. What was she thinking? She wasn’t on mushrooms, either. She just held up the sunglass dudejackboxsign for about an hour on the processed-chicken question. We finally pulled off and the menu followed us in a long stream of juicy apparitions that disintegrated into a spiral of…I got dizzy and turned to the mirror to see Jose Feliciano with one sickly eye piercing the tint of the sunglass lens pull ahead and finally get his turn at processing the Jack and the Box menu. Or maybe he knew exactly what he fucking wanted.

I wish I knew what I wanted. Actually I did. That night, listening to Stephanie, I thought that I wanted the idyllic world where I pet my meat and became friends with it before kissing it softly good bye and butchering it to a dinner table on an annual feast date. Chicken? I would simply wring its neck—like Stephanie’s—in a deft and swift movement. Then some plucking. I think the thought was a curse, if your own thoughts can really be one. And if they can, God help us all. Regardless, death ensued shortly after when I returned to Austin, Texas, where I had gone to university for four years.

From then on, after the night of Jack, I began killing animals. (On to Dr. Death?)

 

 

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