Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Toothless Meatman

[To be read with a voice reminiscent of Kelsey Grammer’s …]

Years ago – decades, really – as a young man I would drive to the north country to an old cottage owned by my parents to spend my vacations there, alone with my thoughts. The days were fair, sunny and warm, on the edge of these untamed woods, and the nights dark and chilled, ever more so as summer waned and the days grew shorter. I would spend my first day in town, mingling with the locals, purchasing supplies for the week and gaining any news I could of any strange occurrences, which were not at all infrequent in such small towns and villages far from the civilized suburbs I was familiar with.

Far was it for me to know that I myself should become part of the local lore which I eagerly sought out.

The second day in to my solitary stay brought the crisp air and bright skies of an aging August considering the change of season. I spent the morning in a leisurely drawn hot bath, reading some books on history, if memory serves correctly. As the sun marched methodically up the walls of the sky I dried off, dressed, and gave lunch more than its due as I contemplated the rest of the day.

Then, a hard rapping at the door.

A hard rapping at the door? Who knew I was here? True, there was a highway, or a “rural route” as I believed they are called this far out, not a hundred yards from the cottage door, but never in my time here alone had a guest graced me with his presence. I delighted in the possibility of company, but, I have to admit, a shiver revealed itself in the voluminous bumps ranging up and down my arms. That hard rapping indeed seemed too hard to be considered the innocent calling of a graceful guest.

I approached the front door through a spider-web-encrusted walkway, all too aware of the metaphorical implications as I brushed the silken strands from my hair. Also, all too aware of a sense of insecurity, as I realized as I fondly eyed the fireplace poker poking out to me two rooms away.

A shadow moved behind the curtained door. I reached a tremulous hand out and grasped the brass door knob. I turned the handle and I opened the door.

And I was face-to-face with the Toothless Meatman.

Was he an ex-con? The tattooed pictograms covering every cubic inch of arm, faded to a blurry blue, could give one that impression. Swirling snakes and skulls and rose-like flowers, as well as the occasional anchor and even the Christian cross, drew my eyes to his arms and neck. The clothes were rough and workmanlike: the dirty and faded blue jeans of a laborer, the sleeveless black shirt of some motorcycle enthusiast. My eyes roamed upwards – and did I see some shark-tooth or similarly-sharp-toothed teeth on a cord wrapped around his neck? And then, the man’s head, bordered by a goatee and a mullet, and then he smiled, and I realized the man had lost his two front upper teeth.

He lifted a hand and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. A beat-up pickup truck sat loudly idling in the driveway. “Would you like some meat?” he asked, aspirating heavily and missing that final “t” sound.

Was it me or was he daring me to mock him?

I shook my head, but only, I think, to buy some time. For some reason, my mind had decided to entirely sit this one out. Was this man offering me “meat”? As in flank steak, or chop meat, from a butcher or a grocery store, or some Purdue chicken tenders? There were no commercial markings on the man’s vehicle. I could not see its front, its bumper especially, and I wondered if there was blood splattered across it. “Road-kill,” I believed the locals referred to that type of free meat.

“I’m sorry,” I stuttered. “Did you say ‘meat’?”

“Yeah. Meat.” As if repeating the simple single-syllabic word would clear up all misconceptions. When he continued observing my confused visage, he resumed what I come to think of as his sales pitch: “I get meat for free. My friend gets it for me. I can give it to you real cheap.” And he waited as if he was offering me the sale of the century.

Hmmmm, cheap meat. What man would not consider such a proposition? Just about every sane one! Now – how to get rid of this meat salesman … without becoming tomorrow’s cheap meat …

He must have spotted the myriad objections in my face before I even gave them voice, because he began what must have been his second sales pitch, a car salesman’s “let-me-talk-to-my-manager” kind of pitch. I held a hand up and decided to firmly put an end to this.

Unfortunately, not only had my mind decided to entirely sit this one out, it decided to put on headphones and listen to Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “The Resurrection,” and simultaneously do the Sunday Times’ crossword puzzle.

“Well, thanks anyway,” I blathered, “but I’m not interested.”

“Do you know anyone who would be?”

“Nah,” I continued blathering. “I’m up here all alone. Just me. No one else. I’m here all by myself. All alone. Yep. Just me, no one else. I’m up here all alone.” And, for emphasis, I added, “I’ll be up here by myself for the rest of the week, than I’m leaving.”

He turned, sullen, and headed back to his white pickup truck – or meat wagon, if what he said was to be believed – and drove off without a further word, me waving like an idiot at the front door.

I shut the door, sighed, and briskly rubbed my hands. “Well,” I said to the empty room, “at least that’s over with.”

Then, that shiver returned. Was it really “over with”?

You fool! Oh cursed wretched runaway mouth of mine! Why oh why can’t I just shut you up! Fool of fools! I ran through the house, just because my feet needed to do something. The clock on the wall in the shape of a copper kettle mocked me: “It’s twelve-thirty – night falls in seven hours! … And the Toothless Meatman will be back!”


There was a bench made from a log I dragged across the floor of the dining room and slid securely across the front door. There. That ought to keep the Meatman out. Then, I glanced at the windows looking out into the yard. All twelve of them. Oh dear.

I spent the next hour lamenting that the cottage had no natural defenses. Plenty of glass windows. Plenty of flimsy doors. Some of the doors had locks, I think. The one that did I locked. True, I could get into my car and drive the two hundred miles back to civilized suburbia, but that would be silly.

Wouldn’t it?

The fire poker! I grabbed it, and brought it upstairs, to my bedroom, and rested it securely against the bed frame. No! If the Meatman came in to my room while I was sleeping he could do me in with my only weapon of self-defense! I hid the poker under my bed. Were there other weapons I could use? I thought about the wood shed. I spent another hour thinking about it. Then, I scraped the courage to fight the spider webs and entered the wood shed. And I saw the axe.

After careful deliberation, I placed the axe next to the fire poker, both under my bed.

Long shadows crept over the back yard from the line of trees surrounding the cottage. Soon after I had to turn on the lights inside the cottage. Soon after that I had to draw the shades, on those too-few windows that had shades. The Meatman could be within that line of trees, looking in, planning his next acquisition of meat.

Night fell, and I survived. Axe in hand, I survived a sleepless, and ultimately uneventful night.

I proved I had what it took to overcome the Toothless Meatman.

So proven, I cut my vacation short, and headed back home to New Jersey.

And the Meatman? Some say he’s myth, a legend, the nightmares of a great people and a great land. But I know better. I know he’s real, and out there still, scouring nameless villages and townships in search of isolated packets of tourists … searching for those souls of the damned to sell … meat gotten on the cheap.

[Fade to black for a long moment, then Mr. Grammer steps forward for his curtain call.]

No comments: