I hate to speak ill of the dead, but Maggie Newsom never smiled anyway. Her daddy Earl was a hard swallow and most people generally thought that it was being forced to share a dining table with that dour son of a bitch that made her so grim.
Things would happen on the playground when we were younger that were so funny that people across the street from the school would laugh. The birds in the trees would laugh, even them stupid assed ravens that always hung out by the swings.
But Maggie never did. That girl could listen to a mix tape of Eddie Murphy's Greatest Hits and not smile. This is not to say that she was shy or any thing near that. In fact, she was very forthcoming with her both feelings and her opinions; she just didn't find anything humorous about the human condition.
Maggie was thin and tall for her age and had straight reddish brown hair and large green eyes. She would have passed for attractive too had she revealed that dimple on her left cheek a time or two.
I went to Sunday School with her when we were growing up. Our reasons for going were different though. I went because we were Baptists, and the people in our particular church didn't like when people were having too much fun, so they forced their children go too. There were many times that my mom spanked me all the way out to the car so we could go Sunday church talk about the goodness of Jesus.
Maggie went because she didn't like having fun anyway. The more broken, wounded, and hurting the people of the congregation were, the more she seemed to like it. I saw her flash the dimple once when Gladys Rivers talked about how badly her husband's drinking problems were affecting her family.
One Sunday, we got into an argument over the wisdom of telling people that God was going to burn them in hell. I handled the CON position, but she was definitely on the side of the Pro position,"If you are telling people that the punishment of sin is death, then God has to deliver on his promise."
I should have just said that they should quit telling them the punishment of sin is death. It was obvious form where I stood that everybody on this planet died, saints and sinners alike. Saying it the way that she argued made it look like merely going about your daily business was a sin punishable by death. All I really wanted to say was that they should make that part a bit clearer.
Instead, I went with how I didn't like the idea one damned bit mainly because I was worried a bit about how high the bar seemed to set. Maybe, if they would've forgiven us males for lusting after our neighbor's wives, for example, I might have thought differently. Mrs. Jennings, my neighbor's wife, caused me to lust without me even trying. She step out the house, and I would just lust. I couldn't control it and had never practiced it or nothing. Didn't seem fair.
Maggie would raise her hand and calmly say, " The punishment for sin is death. There simply has to be consequences for crimes committed against God."
I didn't bother raising my hand and just blurted out, "Crime! How is looking at your neighbor's wife a crime worthy of death? I, er uh, we can't help it if she's pretty." I smiled at the end because Mrs. Jennings was also our Sunday School teacher. She blushed. I realize now that I was doing an early version of multitasking: sinning, lusting, flirting, and debating Maggie.
I was also struggling with the concept of faith and rebelling against both God and my parents but didn't know it at the time. Looking back I can now see that I was lusting in the House of the Lord, but I was just a kid back then. I don't think I ever fornicated there; the fear of God hitting me in the nuts with a lightning bolt kept me in check in that regard. And it wasn't because the girls weren't willing; some of the horniest girls I had ever met were church girls.
The year we entered 7th grade, Maggie fell in love with Morrissey the singer for the rock band The Smiths. I perceived him to be just another dour guy like her dad. Maggie had a thing for preachy types. Morrissey wrote lyrics like this:
In my life
Why do I smile
At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?
I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I'm miserable now
Maggie loved Morrissey while I wanted to kick somebody in the eye every time his music came on the radio. What was he thinking? You can't go around kicking people in the eye because they annoy you. Every body in the world would be sporting two black eyes. He was writing compilations like The World Won't Listen, and I wanted him to write one entitled I Suffer in Silence.
Later on, I listened to some his music and came to the conclusion that maybe I was a bit too harsh in some of my judgements, but at the time it all sounded whiney; I had a thing about bands and singers who whined; I hated them. I think too that I didn't like him much because of Maggie loved him so much.
In 1985, the Smiths came out with an album called Meat is Murder and this is where this story really starts. To Maggie, the album was as sacred as the Beatles White Album was to Charlie Manson. She especially loved the title song and thereafter foreswore eating meat. That was not the problem; The problem was she also swore off eating meat for the rest of the us too.
Her campaign to convert the rest of the world first began at home. She would throw lay on the floor and scream temper type tantrums if she so much as discovered a tiny sliver of beef jerky lost in the cushion of her's dad's big green, easy chair. She threw out all the contents of her family's freezer in the garbage bin, including the ice cream and and the ice cube trays. I guess she thought that they were contaminated beyond redemption for being in close contact with a pound of hamburger.
She then took her protest to school. At lunch, she would jump up on the table with a pork chop hanging from a chain around her neck and wiener in each hand and a big red and white bullhorn. It was funny at first watching her try to operate that bullhorn with the wieners in her hands.
My friend Gary alerted me to the act by pointing toward Maggie and mumbling with a sick looking grin, "Look, wieners!" I turned to see what he was talking about and saw Maggie put down the wienies and start droning through the bullhorn.
"Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder."
Then suddenly she just starts screaming at the top of her voice. Her tiny little best friend Emily Dawkins is doing the best that she could do to keep up with Maggie but is hindered by the fact that she don't know the words or the pattern of the screams, so she sounds like a tinny little discordant echo.
The proper authorities were called but only after about five or ten minutes. I noticed that Rennie Scott, the school newspaper's jack of all trades, was there and taking pictures of the whole thing. I saw him gesture to Maggie that his camera was out of film and that was when she quit screaming.
The authorities were called in, or actually authority, because there was only one, Joe Buttcrack Tentleman, the school's grossly obese custodian. He calmly and gently escorted Maggie to the office after carefully considering whether Emily should go along or not. In the end, she went with them pretty much walking on her own volition. I heard her squeak as she was walking out of the door, "Well, I was screaming too."
My idiot friend Gary ran over to the table and picked up the bullhorn and started chanting, "Eat More Meat! Eat More Meat!" The kids started laughing hilariously. Then Mrs. Joe, the lunch lady, started walking toward him, and he first picked up the wieners and acted like they were nunchakus, then laid them back on the table and took off running in the opposite direction
Mrs. Joe sauntered over to the table, picked the wieners up, saw all the kids looking, took a bite out of one, and then hoisted the bullhorn to her lips and shouted, "You heard the man; eat more meat!"
The laughter in the room was so loud, you couldn't think straight. I didn't really know what to think anyway. I wrote the whole thing off to God testing my resolve.
Considering that auspicious beginning, I found it very surprising that Maggie soon attracted a bunch of followers who swore off meat too. They called themselves the Maladjusted after a Morrissey song of the same name. They wore black t-shirts with the words Never Be Easy written in white beneath an Anarchy sign.
And they weren't ever easy. In fact, the were damn right annoying. They talked back to all their teachers and questioned them about everything they did. When someone in class would try to make a joke to please them, they would look at each other and roll their eyes. They would do all this in classes with most kids, but if Leroy Hollins or Jeffrey Beane were in the class they would tone it down a lot because them two dudes were nuttier than a walnut pie and would beat their maladjusted ass for eye-rolling them.
Once, Emily snickered at a Jose Blas, a tiny little Honduran kid because he brought a Spanish language Bible to school. Leroy saw her look at Peggy Simone and roll her eyes. Leroy bumped Emily's desk so hard that her glasses fell off and went scooting across the floor. When she jumped to confront him with and upraised index finger, he just looked at her and mumbled something like, "I'm no vegetableatarian, but I'll eat that scrawny little finger if you don't get it out of my face and sit down." She retrieved her glasses and sat down.
The club thrived and started gaining in influence. The demanded and got, vegetarian items added to the school menu. They got the cooks to quit using animal fats, and they created Salad Bar Mondays to go with the Meatless Fridays that were already on the calendar. The school newspaper ran a front page spread on Maggie wherein she explained her mission to erase the carnivorous diet from the face of the earth.
On the sidebar of the article, Rennie placed some stats, ran some quotes from famous vegetarians, and had a list of famous people who didn't eat meat. Rennie made a huge blunder when he ran a small thumbnail of Adolf Hitler on the side of a bio that explained why famous mass murderer didn't eat meat. I saw Maggie beating him over the head with her umbrella for doing that.
In Sunday School, Maggie was even more insufferable as she kept creating ever longer lists for things that people should be burned in a lake of everlasting fire for doing. Eating meat was at the top of her list. Second, was insulting Morrissey. I made the mistake of calling him a big dummy one day, and before it was over, Mrs. Jenson had to call in Reverend Ron and Deacon Jones in to pull her off of me. I stuck to debating her reasoning after that. I could beat her up but figured that God wouldn't especially like me beating up a girl in church, even one as annoying as Maggie.
"Maggie, you really think that God is going to burn me forever for thinking that Don't You (Forget About Me) is a better song than That Joke isn't Funny Anymore?"
She would look at me with undisguised hatred and say, "I think that it would be a distinct possibility. To even compare Simple Minds to Morrissey should be considered blasphemy. It would certainly signify that your brain has rotted away because of excessive masturbation, and that is a mortal sin."
Mrs. Jennings coughed and blushed which made her look her look even more adorable. I continued, "I don't get the whole eternal barbecue thing myself. It would seem that you being a vegetarian and all that you would have bit more compassion for your fellow man."
"The word you are trying say is empathy. It would seem like I would have a bit more empathy for my fellow man. I don't. The laws of God are clearly stated and have been for thousands of years. If one chooses to transgress them, they would only have themselves to blame for their suffering."
"Well, I'll think about that when Tim and I are eating our double deluxe cheeseburger at lunch. Do you think it would be a little less sinful if we ordered them rare and with pickles?"
The stare she gave me could raise the room temperature. This was a scientifically proven fact. Me and couple of the other dudes worked out an experiment to prove it. It was 72 degrees when I started egging her on, and it was 75 degrees four minutes later after she gave me the laser stare. I had gone right up to the edge of implying that Morrissey wasn't all that, but stopped right before she was ready to come across the table on me. Three degrees difference might not be much for the Sun, but for a skinny, humorless girl it was impressive indeed.
The apex of her movement was when she and her militia shut down the Farmer's Appreciation Day Barbecue. They had arrived right before school and chained themselves across the entrance to the school. Several members of the group also chained themselves to the fences leading into the school which was an absolutely foolish thing do considering they were at a middle school and middle school kids are, ..well, middle school kids.
The resulting hubbub put a damper on the whole affair. Police had to cut the chains and haul the pint sized protestors off to jail. Parents were angry on both sides of the issue, School Board members got involved and the whole shebang. A couple of the television stations came from Freeport came down and filmed and asked a bunch of questions. Emily was on the 6:00 O'clock News lisping because of her new braces and looking and sounding every bit like the snot nose little nerd that she was.
As a result of the protest, the School Board decreed that the three days a week, the school menu would not serve any meat products. After a month of eating rabbit food, the Maladjusted became the most hatred group of kids on the school grounds. Kids would go out of their way to torment and bully them and the members began to desert the cause like mice fleeing a sinking ship. After a second month, the cafeteria went back to serving meat everyday of the week.
Maggie left school a month before school got out. The word was that her vegetarian diet had triggered something in her body that caused her kidneys to start acting up. She was hospitalized in July and never came out. She died right at the beginning of the next school year, and the school planted a tree in her memory and named a vegetarian dish on the school cafeteria menu after her. Emily took over the role of the most annoying kid in school and carried on with Maggie's mission.
Rennie became a well-known Rock journalist and spent four weeks following Morrissey around as the singer toured Asia. He was kicked off the tour in Japan after sampling some Kobe beef. He was in some dark little restaurant off of Tokyo's beaten track when Morrissey walked in and caught him in mid chew.
And me, I went on to study Theology at a Lutheran seminary in Minnesota (don't ask), but was kicked out for shagging the Rector's wife. She was a vegetarian and, I would venture to say, very unlike most Rector's wives. I am, however, still trying to figure things out. I don't want burn in hell. I owe Maggie for that.
And by the way, Maggie was cremated.
I guess there's some kind of lesson to be learned by the tragedy that was Maggie's life; I found three myself:
#1 If the people you are hanging with make you act crazy, go hang
with someone else. I am referencing her father here. I know it
would be difficult to distance yourself from your own dad, but
sometimes you got no choice.
#2 Believe in real things and not just people and imaginary
scenarios. I think that Maggie's fixation with Morrissey
had a romantic/erotic source. In my book, Maggie no more
cared about animals than she did about people. Remember,
she wanted to burn people in hell for eternity.
#3 Life is tougher to handle than a garbage bag full of
16 penny nails. Without the proper lubricant, even the air
we breathe can rub us raw. And I ain't talking about
petroleum jelly or animal fat; I'm talking about laughter.
If you can't laugh, you're already in hell.