Dreams of Becoming The Six Million Dollar Man

I had some unusual career aspirations when I was a kid. I chalk that up to my having ADD, which I didn’t realize until I was thirty seven. The first career I ever remember trying on for size in my imagination was that of a bus driver, because I thought driving anything with such a big wheel would be way cool. I’d spend countless hours in my basement with a bike wheel in my hand and rows of make-shift seats behind me, driving through my imaginary town blurting over my pretend microphone “Keep it down in the back, hoodlums. Have a good day ma’am. Next stop, 7-11. Vrrooom.”

That love affair ended with a crabby bus driver who kicked me off his bus for being a nuisance. I sat in the seat adjacent to his and talked his ear off, asking repeatedly if I could take the wheel, or give out a transfer, or open the door. Anything to get a taste of the job of my dreams. He got mad when he realized I didn’t have anywhere to go, and I’d be taking the route all the way back to where I got on, which was the beginning of the route, actually. My future as a transit driver was not to be. Those guys were pricks.

I didn’t brood for long, deciding that what I really wanted was to drive a tractor, a front end loader, or one of those rigs with the super-sized shovels that pushed mountains of snow to the curb to create awesome snowbanks. Not only would I be cool for driving such a wicked machine, but I’d also be able to make mammoth snow hills that you could toboggan down, or play “king of the castle” on. Or jump from. Or take a house down in a couple of big scoops. That seemed like shitloads of fun.

For a time I thought it would be neat to be the guy who delivered chips to all the convenience stores, ostensibly because I assumed it would have guaranteed an endless supply of free chips. But I had a friend who was a masterful thief and was routinely able to steal boxes of chips of all varieties, seemingly at will. The idea of more chips at my disposal became passe, and so too did my fleeting career aspiration.

In reality, the keen desire to be a stuntman consumed me for years. My imaginary dalliances as a firefighter, a fighter pilot, a marine, and a cowboy were all passing fancies; insurance careers in case I didn’t make the cut of daredevil super-stardom. They were subsumed well below the ultimate aim of television and movie awesomeness, even if getting to hang off the back of a fire engine at full speed was pretty amazing. The dream of being a stuntman was a constant in the mental mix of endless career hats I wore in my formative years.

Evil Knievel being ridiculously awesome doing a pop-a-wheelie while wearing a cool cape.

I had all the Evil Knievel figurines and filled scrapbooks with costume ideas for my own trademark daredevil suits. I wish I’d kept my prototype cape drawings, because my recollection is they were stunning. My cape ideas and other artifacts of my pre-pubescent youth were obliterated by the onslaught of testosterone, which gave me lots of boners, seething rage, acne, and clouded my mind with macho ideas that led to a purge of all remnants of my dreamy, artistic former self. But it kept the flames of my passion for stuntman-dom burning bright.

As a kid, I knew I had to toughen up my body for the shock of stunt legendariness, or legendrification, or legendiferousness. I knew you had to withstand contusions and broken bones to be a stunt legend like “the Knievel”. I needed a few dates with some papier-mache and crutches to get some stuntman cred.

I took to rolling down stairs. Frequently. It used to drive my mother insane with fear, but I got pretty good at it. I didn’t realize until much later there was actually a method to falling down stairs. Huh. Who knew?

I’d do four-tire ramp bike-jumps over neighborhood kids and knew how to shake off an ass-over-tea-kettle face plant after things went awry in mid-air. My mother and friends could count on being repeatedly shaken from their Saturday afternoon cocktails by the sight of me plunging from the window of my second story bedroom into piles of leaves or snowbanks on the ground. Sometimes, I’d just see if could land from a jump off a high surface like a cat: on both feet. I did land on both feet, but usually then turned on an ankle and ended up in crutches, which did not discourage subsequent “accidents,” by the way. I got a lot of attention with those sticks.

I really, really, expected the falling down and self-destruction would make me a shoo-in to be the stuntman in the 1990’s version of The Six Million Dollar Man, which my eight year old self was absolutely certain was going to exist. I remember vividly, how I believed that, if you willed something badly enough, you could make it happen. I plunged headlong into many six foot fences as I tested this theory, running at full speed while mimicking the sound the bionic man would make as he jumped over a speeding car, or ran in slow motion, bionically, or threw a shoe at bionic speed at a gun-toting criminal. Having severely compromised many poorly-posted fences and being unable to regularly hit a large target in my backyard with dodgeballs I’d stolen from my school, I abandoned the idea of throwing projectiles at any thug brandishing a weapon.

I loved Steve Austin. Lee Majors, on the other hand, not so much. He stole Farah Fawcett away from me, which was only partly forgiven because he was the bionic man. I loved Farah Fawcett very much, or at least as much as an eight year old was capable of loving another human being. I assumed that Lee Majors had a bionic schlong to have landed such an ethereal beauty. It wasn’t fair. He had it all.

When The Fall Guy came to air, all grudges against Lee Majors were forgiven, and my dreams as a knockabout movie stand-in were still in full swing. I took my practice on the gridiron, getting the living shit kicked out of me every practice and every game. I had every confidence in the world that I could withstand the ill-effects of jumping out of a helicopter or plunging off a bridge into the river below, as I remembered happening every week on the Dukes of Hazzard, a show about blue-blooded rednecks that no black kid should have ever had affinities with. The sounds “Heeeee Haaaaaw” shouldn’t evoke fondness in the hearts of most blacks, but it sure as dickens put a smile on my ten year old face! It’s the colour-blindness that happens when you live in a WASP family as I did. I am not sure who I loved more, Daisy Duke or Rosco P. Coltrane. I’d call it a tie, coo, coo, coo.

I never did become a stuntman, in case you were wondering. At some point it occurred to me that Lee Majors was just an actor, and that stuntmen were underpaid adrenaline junkies whose careers were as short-lived as the thrills they sought. Too much grandiose philosophizing in my college days quickly turned me into a chicken-shit, which has taken years of real life, and kung fu, to fully root out.

Still, every time I watch a cheesy action movie with a guy getting his ass blown away by a semi-automatic, crashing through a window, and hurtling to the ground to meet his maker I think: ‘fuck my life, I go to a cubicle every day, when THAT coulda been my job.’ Then I brood for a little while, until the thought occurs that Six Million Dollars ain’t shit to make a bionic man.

Bacon: My Gateway Meat

There’s something about bacon that keeps bringing me back to meat. Throughout my life I’ve had many solid stints of vegetarianism thwarted by the smell and ultimately, the crumbling of my will to the scrumptious virtues of bacon.

I might turn to gnawing off my arm on afternoons when I find myself a little peckish if I were to bathe in this.

I’ve taken to referring to bacon as my ‘gateway meat’. It always seems to happen that, well into a course of vegetarianism, I forget myself and and accept an invitation to dine with friends at a place with a breakfast buffet. There, I am tempted by row upon row of sausages, ham, and bacon. I look despondently at my plate of scrambled eggs, hash browns, and pancakes, as if staring at a photo of orphaned children pining for a family. Then, the seed of my undoing emerges: “a couple of strips of bacon won’t hurt, will it?”

The taste of bacon is the catalyst for a precipitous decline into a pork binge in the days that follow. Pork roasts, pork tenderloins, spare ribs, and pork chops for dinner. Ham sandwiches and smokies with sauerkraut for lunch. Pastas with chorizo, pancetta, prosciutto, or italian sausage, hold the peppers and peas. Breakfast with sausage, ham, and all varieties of bacon: back, peameal, side, maple, and hickory smoked.

In the span of a couple weeks, the goodness in all the legumes, nuts, greens and roots I once called a meal regimen is ruthlessly evicted from my body, pushed out by the invading masses of saturated fat I’ve mindlessly crammed in. With it, my bowels return to a steady-state of semi-constipation, a homeostasis far more at home to me than the constant bloatedness and the endless emptying I experience on a vegetarian diet; that leave me cursing my toilet and nursing my over-worked anus.

You eat veggie patties, I eat pigs. Either way, something’s going to die for our meal, why not wash your guilt down with some bacon grease, no?

With vegetarianism on hiatus, the risk of ‘sharts’ and countless trips to the crapper a day are usually behind me. A moisture, suppleness, and colourful hue return to my hair, skin, and complexion. I don’t have to fight the onset of lethargy and burn out during intense workouts or runs longer than five kilometres. The idea of never staring down another plate of quinoa or bulgur wheat and uttering the lie “wow, looks great!” is liberating and keeps me running to the butcher. Soon enough, I’m eating steak, fish, and chicken for nearly every meal.

But the guilt and shame of my ethical failing quickly returns.

I am filled with anxiety when I look my yoga-enthusiast, buddhist, anti-animal cruelty friends in the eyes. Can their ayurvedic noses catch the whiff of pork-fat oozing from my pores? A one-time slip into savagery could be forgiven. I was raised in a family committed to the Tyrannosaurus Rex diet, where vegetables were a colourful but perfunctory accoutrement to the meat. The habit of tearing the flesh of sentient beings with my incisors is well-honed and hard to break.

But the subsequent heaps of unethically slaughtered, animal flesh that I willingly fill my palate after the lapse; that I crave like air? By my tenth ‘slip’ into eating meat, I’ve usually traded in my rice cooker for a  new set of carving knives. Once I’ve ambled firmly down the carnivore path, paying good money for a meal of exotic vegetables in lieu of the succulent meat offerings on a restaurant menu seems tantamount to asking my doctor for a colonoscopy when a ‘smear-test’ will do.

So I avoid meal-time socializing with my vegetarian friends, at least until I get a good fix and get back on track. In the meantime, invites to barbecues are sheepishly accepted. Following a few words of contrition for any past sanctimony on my part, my hosts are delighted as I share in the main course of burgers, ribs, or steak they’ve prepared.

I don’t leave hungry and agitated because I’ve had to hash together a ‘meal’ out of potato salad, coleslaw, chips, or other side-dishes. I am spared the leathery, freezer-burnt insult of some veggie-oriented meat substitute liberated from several months of living a sad, anonymous existence buried at the bottom of the freezer beneath a constantly changing roster of roasts, ribs, chicken fingers, and ham. Instead, I leave with a good taste in my mouth, a satiated belly, and the contentment of strained friendships set right.

Broccoli? Yeah, like, not even close to being as awesome as bacon. It’s green, like Kermit the Frog and algae, and smells like farts when you cook it. Like farts. ‘Nuff said.

I struggle with the repeated turning away from vegetarianism. There are plenty of genuine reasons to disavow meat: e coli, salmonella, bovine spongiform encephalitis, irradiation, the spread of anti-biotic resistant diseases, colon cancer, enivironmental degradation, and so on. As a wealthy society, there are plenty of affordable options that make the elimination of meat from our diet altogether, or at least a dramatic reduction in our consumption of meat, a reasonable and viable option.

Then there is the ethical argument. We are raising domesticated beings for their ultimate slaughter and consumption.  The slaughter of animals, whether mass produced or “free” range is horrifying and cruel. It couldn’t be otherwise. It would be more fair if we had to hunt our food and kill it with our own hands before we ate it, but we don’t. It’s bad karma to ignore what is involved in getting that steak to your plate, if you believe in that idea, which I do. I desperately want to be a vegetarian for these reasons.

It’s just that, well, meat is so bloody delectable, isn’t it? No vegetable will ever come close to delivering the full bodied bliss of a rib-eye steak done to perfection, or of fresh tuna sashimi. The best, most well-prepared vegetable dish will never rival the crappiest grade of bacon, if such a thing could even be said to exist.

Bacon is one of the simplest, cheapest, and most reckless choices in a carnivorous diet. It is laden with salt, saturated fats, cholesterol, and all the other horrendous byproducts of food produced for mass consumption. It takes only a few strips to approach the intake of calories and fat content of an entire meal.

Except, no lover of bacon eats just a few strips at a sitting, do they? That’d be like having just three kernels of buttery popcorn at the movies, or two Doritos from a bag, or four french fries from a carton. Who has that kind of self-restraint? Not me, that’s who. Every time I eat bacon it’s lots and lots of bacon; so much that I’m forced to eat lettuce and water for the rest of the day, or go for a four-hour workout to avoid racking up three days’ worth of fat and calories in a single day.

That’s not a complaint, by the way. It’s just a fact. The imposition is well worth it.

The irony that bacon is my gateway meat is not lost on me. My vegetarianism has never been thwarted by a tenderloin steak, or a succulent grilled mahi mahi, prime rib, or coq au vin. It’s always been bacon that lures me under the bus of moral turpitude.

It’s a troubling admission because pigs are filthy, grotesque, vile animals who live in mountains of their own dung and devour anything under the sun when hungry. It’s disturbing to think of how enjoyable it is to eat an animal whose bodily waste, if properly harnessed could power a city, but instead is left to poison metric tonnes of groundwater. The idea of eating a majestic horse, or a tropical bird seems more acceptable. Except it isn’t. Pork really does rule the culinary roost (forgive the mixing of metaphors).

There are plenty of religious sects whose adherents disavow eating pigs for these reasons. Assuming you subscribe to the nonsense that moral purity were within our grasp, it seems a reasonable edict that consuming a pig seriously undermines the project. Well, for twenty four hours at least, depending on your constitution. There are really no redeeming qualities of a pig – other than its flavour when grilled to warm, delectable perfection.

But I accept that I am a human possessed of endless avenues for moral depravity, a few genetic twists away from my evolutionary ancestors the caveman and the fish. I don’t steal gum from 7-11. I don’t fill up bags of goodies at the bulk section and eat it all up as I shop at the supermarket. I don’t cheat on my taxes and I never yell at my kids. I don’t honk my horn or flip the bird, even to really, really bad drivers, and I always let people cut into my lane if they need it. I think I’ve earned some kudos on the karmic scale. So I say “pass the ribs, please.” I never set out to be Jesus.

Because here’s the thing: bacon is porn for my palate. My tongue and taste buds moisten at the sight and smell of the stuff. A strip is all it takes to guarantee the ‘money shot’ in my mouth. It’s a difficult analogy for a heterosexual man like me to fathom, but it’s the most fitting in the circumstances. I willingly accept it as true for bacon. Well, also for pork roast, kielbasa, german sausage, and schnitzel. And pork sausages swimming in pools of maple syrup. Money shot, all of them.

And that is why I am still on hiatus from vegetarianism – four years after those fateful morsels of bacon put me on my current carnivorous path. My advice for those whose commitment to vegetarianism rests on a wobbly foundation: just say no to bacon. Unless it’s a vegetarian establishment, don’t even go into a restaurant at breakfast time if you can help it. You will regret it.