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Midnight Meat Training

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Kelly Hughes

2016-02-23-1456246480-394387-creepybutcher.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-02-23-1456246480-394387-creepybutcher.jpg

When you're making a movie, fake blood is fun. But real blood isn't.
Back in the 80s, I worked for a butcher. One night only. My job? Cleaning blood and guts off the cutting equipment.
When meat is frozen, you can cut it like blocks of wood. And the store had this band saw for cutting meat. But when I got there at the end of the day, all the frozen muscle and gristle had thawed. All the bits of animal tissue were stuck to the industrial saw blade. And beneath the saw was a stainless steel pan that caught the dripping blood.
I was supposed to wipe the chunks of meat off the blades, and empty the blood pan. But the guy that showed me my duties left after about two minutes, and forgot to tell me where to dump the blood. The guy, who looked like Morgan Freeman, but jittery, had hired me over the phone. I'd called on an ad from the student paper at the University of Washington. No interview. He just said, "Can you start tonight?" Three hours later, I was there.
The store, a liberal upscale organic cruelty-free Seattle grocery co-op, was closing for the day. The few remaining workers avoided the butcher shop. Cashiers with no makeup. A produce guy wearing a natural fiber apron. Maybe they wanted to believe everything in the meat section was a tofu based substitute. The way they could go to a peace rally in new tennis shoes, and ignore the over-worked and under-paid Third World children who'd stitched their Nikes together. Was I a reminder of their compromised principles, shunned and hidden in the back room?
I had to clean up blood in two of their stores that night. So by the time I made it to the second one, it was nighttime, and everyone was gone.
I'd found a utility sink at the first store. And dumped the blood down its drain. And figured I could do that at the next place. But I couldn't find a light switch. And it was almost pitch dark inside. I had to touch the walls to move through the butchering room. Couldn't even see the glimmer of a saw blade. But I could smell the thawed meat. Could hear blood dripping into a pan.
Now let's go back about twenty years. When I was a preschooler, my father owned a business that supplied the butcher trade. He had a small warehouse. Big trucks delivered big piles of sawdust. And my dad boxed up the sawdust, and delivered it to local butcher shops. And they spread the sawdust on the floor. And it soaked up all the flying blood and guts. So to clean up, they just swept everything out all together: blood, guts, and sawdust. Never had to touch any of it.
So here I am, in the dark, wishing for the old ways. Wishing this co-op wasn't so damn green. I mean, wood chips are biodegradable. Duh. Just buy a few boxes and sprinkle it all on the floor. Then recycle it as--I don't know--redwood bark? Spin it any way you want to. Just don't make me put my hands in it.
So after a few moments, my eyes adjusted to the dark. And I found the pan of blood. So I picked it up. But to get to the sink, I had to go through a freezer. And I thought, what passive-aggressive lefty designed this place? The freezer door had a heavy latch. Which I opened with my elbow, careful not to tip the cow blood into the waistband of my jeans. And then I heard a sound.
What was it? An electrical buzz? My frosty breath? A Hare Krishna releasing the safety catch on a Tommy gun?
But it was nothing. I think. Was somebody there?
The dark is always intimidating. But this place had an extra vibe. An extra presence. Made me understand why my boss wanted to get the hell out of there before sundown.
But there I was. At a Seattle grocery co-op. After hours. Alone. In a freezer. In the midnight meat section. Thinking of that Smiths album. Thinking maybe meat is murder. And I'm holding a tray of blood.
So I dumped the blood. Cleaned up, got out of there, and took a bus home.
And first thing in the morning, I quit.
And my boss, who contracted the work with the co-op, didn't pay me. So I called the Department of Labor, put the squeeze on him, and about three weeks later, got my check. And forgot about the souls of the dead cows. Dismissed the vibe.
Yet all these years later...
I mean, hasn't Clive Barker written entire novels on lesser premises?


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