* * *
I’m sipping a milkshake, self-consciously, it turns out, after Sarge finished berating me about ingesting anything plant life. You know who subsists on plants? He asks-tells me. Prey. Prey, that’s who. He’s now into his third burger. Just burger. He harassed the counter staff, a young girl probably working an after-school shift, is she even in high school, I wondered, she’s that young. Good on her, I think. Initiative. That’s what the real immigrants bring to this country. Hard work and initiative. Her, or her parents. I can’t tell if she was born here. Either way. A solid work ethic.
So it’s not like I’m anti-immigrant across the board.
Sarge’s flustered her, unnecessarily, I think to myself. It’s not like she’s trying not to get it, being deliberately obtuse, like he asked her, bullied her, Are you being deliberately obtuse or do you just not understand English? I’m pretty sure we’re not going to get served after that. There’s a ripple of uneasiness from some of the other staff working behind the counter, behind the girl, the cooks, the ones dealing with drive-thru orders. But this one wants no trouble, it looks like. Again, good for her. Go along to get along.
I’m beginning to think this whole thing, Sarge’s menacing behaviour, the homicidal intent driving on the way over here is purely for my benefit. A test, he’s testing me. My bonafides. To see just how committed to the cause I am. This outing, the chance encounter at the bus stop, the lecture he delivered outside of the food joint here about only eating meat, as he gorged himself on burgers, just the paddies, no bun, no condiments unless you count bacon, vital nutrients for the hunter, berry and nut gathering for the weak and the wounded, the hunted. All of it.
No coincidence, not some random drive-by. Orchestrated. At what level, I wonder. A solo project? Or from the higher ups? Mr. Lucius and the brain trust. Investigating me. What is it they distrust or suspect?
I’ve got nothing to hide from them. My conscience is clear. Are they looking for purity from me, purity of thought? Trying to ferret out some sort of heresy? Well, who died and made them boss?
I’ve got nothing to prove to guys like Sarge here, scarfing down beef and swine like that’ll fortify the fury. You know who else lived on red meat? Neanderthals. And where are they now? Extinct. Subsumed into a superior species, that’s where. This, this keto or whatever diet bullshit. An act. Nothing but symbolic. Like gang colours. This is Who I Am, world! Oh yeah? What’s that? Who are you, exactly?
I’ve read Nietzsche, yeah? His words and thoughts I’ve ingested not just pig and cow. I didn’t eat my way to where I am. Every enhancement of man has so far been the work of an aristocratic society. Yeah? Beyond Good and Evil. A society that believes in the long ladder of the order of rank and differences in value between man and man.
“So you’re an aristocrat now, are you?” dad jibes. “When did that happen? You marry some sort of princess when I was at work?”
Work. Right. You? Sorry I didn’t just settle for being some high school teacher who keeps his job because of his goon union buddies.
“You do know ol’ Freddy went off his nut, don’t you?” the old man continues blathering.
“Wherever there is madness,” I quote at him, “there is also a grain of genius and wisdom.”
“I heard it was syphilis.”
Look, I’m no grunt, OK? I’m not in this to be a foot soldier. I’ve done my homework. Every movement needs its brains. There’s plenty enough brawn to go around. I mean, look at the hamburglar here.
“What did you just call me?” Sarge yaps, grease-mouthed and fingered.
“That McDonald’s character,” I tell him, laughing, keeping it light. “The Hamburglar. Remember? Stealing hamburgers and getting arrested by Officer Big Mac.”
“What are you, a fucking child?!” Sarge nearly screams. Thankfully, he’s finished off his last mouthful. Almost. “Or a clown?” he says, dialing it down a notch. “Ronald Mc-fucking-Donald. That’s you, is it?”
I’m about to back off. Put my hands up. Apologize. Just joking, man. Just joking. But you know what? Fuck that. You’re a grunt only if you let yourself be a grunt.
“Bit? What the fuck are—”
“Yeah, bit. Just happening to drive past me at the bus stop, bringing me here and be some sort of dietician.”
“I was hungry, man!”
“Meat doesn’t make the man, man,” I lean in further, almost like I was trying to spark some serious pushback. Was I?
“Knowledge kills action,” I pretty much whisper at Sarge, “for action requires a state of being in which we are covered with the veil of illusion.”
Sarge doesn’t flinch. He just stares at me, tonguing bits of meat from between his teeth. A smack of the lips as he sits back in his seat.
“So… a bit of a free thinker. Is that what we got here? An egghead know-it-all sitting at the back of the class trying to show he’s smarter than everybody else?”
He gathers the food wrappers on the table between us, crumpling them up into one big ball.
“Just trying to be collegial, is all, my friend. Reaching out to somebody who looked to be… what? Out of his element. Know what I’m saying?”
I didn’t, and shook my head, more in disagreement than disbelief. Out of my element? What the fuck?
Sarge stands up and turns away from the table, toward his truck in the parking lot.
“I guess being the brainiac you are, you can find your way home? There’s got to be a bus stop somewhere around here.” He tosses the wrapper ball way wide of the garbage pail, almost deliberately, I’d guess, to make some sort of point. Rounding the corner of the building, Sarge flips me the finger.
It’s all good, I tell myself, pulling out my phone and start scrolling. Look busy, unconcerned, not ruffled. I’m not ruffled. I made my point. Made an impression. Finally. That’s what matters.
I continue scrolling, looking for nothing in particular. Just to be looking as I hear Sarge’s truck peel out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires, blaring of horns and some indiscriminate yelling and shouting. All for my benefit.