The Legend of the Squab
When I was fifteen years old my home was blown up, but that's not the reason I'm homeless. After the explosion - and the subsequent aftershocks - that shattered my world, I made a conscious decision to remove myself from society. I don't regret that decision. My ten years on the street have been an invaluable experience and I've learned many lessons, most particularly how wrong I was. But I never would have realized this had I not run away. Before I left society, questions and doubts enshrouded me like a second skin. However, the transience of street life makes it difficult for too much moss to gather, and I suppose it was only natural that eventually I would have stumbled upon larger revelations. These came at a cost of pain and loss but the alternative would have been much worse. Remaining stagnant, my second skin would have solidified and, as a result of this emotional alchemy, I would have been sealed off to the point of suffocating inside of myself. I never would have felt a thing
Technically, I told myself, there was nothing dishonest about it. If you order squab at a restaurant, it stands to reason you know what you're getting. Therefore, you're probably not going to ask where it came from; after all, how many times have you inquired about the slaughterhouse which produced your steak? Most people have a notion that a cow was slaughtered somewhere near Chicago, and they leave it at that; no one really wants to think about the details. No one ever worries that their food might be, in any way, substandard. But the restaurant owners know everything about the food they serve. They've got the upper hand and, unless you ask probing questions up front, you put your trust in those hands.
Deep down I knew it was wrong, but it was a case of survival. I had to permit myself to believe in the technicalities of the transactions. If I didn't, I couldn't have gone through with it.
But it was more than just survival. I once saw a headline in the Herald peeking out from the window of a yellow newspaper box. The accompanying article related how the suspected Unabomber had been living in a shack in the middle of nowhere. I envied him. I thought it must have been wonderful to live like that - free from society. But now I've realized that society is the one thing we cannot be free of. Its boundaries are like the glass walls of an aquarium: invisible and impenetrable. It is our whole world and we are the fish swimming inside. We can swim solitarily but we cannot pass through the glass; it holds our world together and without it, life would drain from around us all.
But at fifteen, I had thought differently. I thought I could detach myself from society and only duck my head through its door when absolutely necessary. It was those times when I'd show up in the alleyways of some of the finer restaurants in Boston with my little canvas sack. A transaction would be made, and I would walk back through the door, weighted down by some cash and my technicalities.
This worked for years until the evening Sid picked the wrong bird out of my bag.
"I don't think you'll want that one, Mr. Sid. I was going to throw it away. It didn't look very good."
"Aah, I'll do you a favor," he said. "I'll take it off your hands half price, seeing as you were gonna toss it, anyway."
"It may have been sick."
He laughed, the tip of his ever-present cigar glowing like a brake light.
"Always the salesman, Cole," Sid chuckled. "Okay, then I'll give you two bucks. What's the use of throwing it away?"
He laughed again and handed me two more crumpled bills. Although the brake light flashed between his teeth, I thought about the pack of cigarettes I could buy and put the money in my pocket.
Copyright 2001 Andrew K. Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be printed in any form without permission. For permission to reprint this excerpt, please contact www.sotherebooks.com.
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