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December 04, 2004

The case of the missing beef

My wife and I went grocery shopping today and picked up a three-pound pack of ground beef, since we seem to get through quite a lot of it. This isn't in itself unusual, nor was the manner in which we collapsed spent into chairs whilst the various children who congregate in our house, some of whom are alleged to be ours, unpacked the groceries. When the smallest child (who shall remain nameless, for what follows is partly her fault, and there's nothing cowardly about me placing partial blame on a seven-year-old) presented me with the ground beef and asked what should be done with it, I replied that she should put it on the island and I would deal with it.

The plan was to unwrap the beef, separate it into three one-pound portions, wrap them, and put them in the freezer. Thus I would avoid the normal disaster that unfolds when it comes time to use the stuff, namely me trying to hack apart a frozen mass of beef with a ludicrously large knife, growing more and more frenzied by the second, until I either a) succeed in breaking off a chunk or b) stab myself through the hand.

At this point I too must accept partial responsibility for the ensuing events. Had I gone to work immediately and parceled the meat up there and then, none of this would've happened (though I still insist that Jeremy -- not her real name -- is mostly to blame). I didn't, in fact, do that, astonishing as it may sound to those who know me. What I did do was decide to nip onto the Internet for a few minutes first, possibly have a smoke, that kind of thing. Within 13.8 seconds of opening my laptop lid I had of course forgotten all about the beef, and four hours later went to put a pizza in the oven for supper.

I strolled to the freezer and pulled out the pizza, swiveled jauntily on my heel and made my way over to the stove, and, in the corner of my eye, saw the beef still on the island. I pulled open the oven, slid the pizza in... and realized that something about the beef wasn't quite right, but I couldn't place it. I closed the oven and gave my full attention to the meat, and noticed immediately (for nothing escapes my profound observational skills) that someone, or something, had been gnawing at it.

When I say gnawing, I actually mean taking really quite large bites out of it. And by that I mean taking really quite large bites through the plastic wrap and, in parts, through the polystyrene base, but only on the side nearest the edge of the island. Something like an inch and a half of meat was gone from one entire side, I noted meticulously.

Naturally my first thought was that my wife was the culprit, because boy, does she ever love her steak tartare. But in this case I knew it could not be so, since she'd left for work long before. I then turned my focus onto the children. It is widely known that children are barely above the level of the beast, and ours in particular do, it must be said, occasionally remind one of living in the same house as a small herd of warthogs. Am I suggesting one of them had stooped so low as to eat raw ground beef directly from the packaging, and also eat the packaging, while the others kept lookout and whispered frantic encouragement? Yes. Yes I am.

Upon probing them, however, I was greeted with such expressions of wide-eyed innocence that even I, a heartless cynic, momentarily forget the savagery of their true nature and concluded they were not the perpetrators of the horrific crime scene upon which I had stumbled. It seemed as if my investigation had come to a dead-end. I turned back to the kitchen, my face a picture of despondency.

But wait! I stopped dead in my tracks. Could it be that the dog, whom I shall call Winston (for that is his name), was looking at me somewhat guiltily? I met his gaze. Our eyes narrowed and locked. Sweat formed on our brows. He tensed. I raised a single eyebrow. For untold seconds we stared unblinking at each other, like two titans meeting over a chess board, or a pair of gunslingers in a town of insufficient capaciousness. The mournful wind bounced a tumbleweed between us, but neither did it distract. Like Kennedy and Khrushchev were we in this Herculean clash of wills. And then... And then he crumbled, averting his eyes with a tiny submissive whimper, the whimper heard around the world. I had broken him! Yes. Yes, now it was all so clear! It wasn't my wife who had munched surreptitiously on the tasty protein carelessly set aside in the kitchen. It wasn't any of the various children, sunk in depravity as they undeniably are. It was him all along!

But the pulse of glory victorious was soon replaced with bitter self-recrimination. What kind of a detective, what kind of a man, would not have turned his attention to Winston before any other? Why did I not immediately deduce the link between the missing beef and this constantly hungry, infamously disobedient hound? Why did I not recall at once his daring late-night forays into the garbage bag, his apparently insatiable lust for fresh meat? Suddenly it all clicked. What a fool I was!

I shook myself out of it. Yes, perhaps I should've made the connection sooner, but I had made it, and that was the important thing. But as logical as that seemed, as true as it may have been, yet my anger increased with every step back to the canine-caused carnage. How could I have been so stupid? Am I really that short-sighted? I ripped the remains of the plastic wrap from the meat and threw it approximately in the direction of the garbage bag. Winston, who has apparently been secretly trained since birth to show up the very nanosecond even the possibility of food is considered, unwisely decided then was a good moment to approach me for scraps.

Well, that was the final straw. A tiny but vitally important blood vessel burst deep inside my brain and I flew into apoplexy. Plunging my fingers into the fleshy pulp of beef slightly back from the point to which it had been violated I tore off the contaminated strands and, shaking with blind rage, hurled the dripping mass wildly at the dog's head. I did it again and again and again. Very soon I'd stripped off another half-inch from the edge of the meat, all of which I flung furiously at Winston, until there was no more bad meat to remove. I took a deep breath.

It was then it occurred to me that tossing handfuls of succulent grade A beef at a permanently famished carnivorous animal was not perhaps the most heinous of punishments I could possibly devise. I looked at the dog. He was wolfing down the last remaining morsels, near-orgasmic joy afire in his eyes. I sighed and tried half-heartedly to conjure up more fitting penalties, but by then my anger was abating. The beef-throwing had soothed me and reason was resuming its seat. I divvied up what was left of the godforsaken stuff and encased it in GLAD Wrap, then deposited the now significantly-less-than-one-pound chunks in the freezer.

So what is the moral of this story? It's tempting to say "procrastination can only lead to extra work," but that's too easy an answer. I believe there are really two lessons here: first, don't ever get a dog. Actually, that's it. Just don't get a dog. Or, if you do get a dog, fit extensions to the legs of your kitchen island. Or remove all his teeth. Or turn vegetarian. And never trust Jeremy with meat. But it's much simpler just to not get a dog, or, if you already have one, set it free. It'll be happier that way. And even if it isn't (say, if it's immediately and fatally run over by a truck), you'll be happier. Trust me.


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