Back in my Room at the Hotel, at odds with my rented-out House, I have been somewhat unscrupulous with my schedule this past while. I browse the Rupert Thomson section at the bookstore but can’t quite get it up to make a move.

 

I try to ask someone something but they don’t aver to know and I don’t know who they are.

 

So I move some time sleuthing around, trying to establish what kind of city Dodge City actually is, as if I hadn’t passed through this phase long ago, the first time I came here and moved into the Room, which, when I moved out, I didn’t think I’d ever end up back inside of, but here I am, or will shortly be, unless I want to spend another night on the boat launch by Park Pond in Pond Park.

 

Dodge City was newer to me then, but its sum inexplicability has either never waned or else it’s been steadily and sub rosa replenished. The question of whether I’m reenacting my earliest days here or if these days are simply still those is a question for someone else, Rupert Thomson perhaps, whoever he really is.

 

Some mornings I feel like a planner casing a plot of undeveloped land, trying to decide whether a city should be built here at all. Other mornings, I get that feeling where I wonder if the whole place wasn’t razed and rebuilt almost but not quite exactly the same while I was away in the Desert.

 

*****

I discover from chatting up butchers that the Hereditary Cannibalism is back.

 

It’s deep in the genetics here, in the sense that everyone has it and no one can deny or overcome it, but it’s not deep in the sense of being buried far from the surface: it rears its hungry head every few years, I’m told, like one of those off-cycle cacti or like a mutation that has confused generations for years, expressing itself numerous times within the lifespan of each individual, rather than only sometimes in the lifespan of an ongoing family.

 

These butchers go on to sum up how it usually goes, which is also how it went this time:

 

The Cannibalism surfaces in adolescents first, borne on the backs of the standard hormones, parlaying sex into violence in classic camp fashion, sending them off eating their younger siblings and grandparents, those at the extreme age ends of the inner circle, plaguewise.

 

Before they start eating their parents — to whom it has by now spread, so that they’re growing hard to restrain in their own right — Tom the Knacker bumbles out to the Suicide Cemetery and digs up whatever fresh-enough, non-poisoned new arrivals he can, hauling them with the help of some volunteers out into the town square, a movement roughly opposite to that, historically, of the Plague Cart.

 

A Pit BBQ is set up — rubs, brines, basters … hardly matters to the Hereditary Cannibalism, but to the people it’s expressing itself through … maybe it does. There is still such a thing as taste.

 

So they latch the intact bodies to spits with screws in their shoulders and hips and the spit itself run straight through pig-style, and shave those less intact down into Burnt Ends and Pulled Pork.

 

Certain Sauce Maestros only turn up on these occasions, mirthful after years of peddling lesser wares on the peripheries.

 

Those whom the Hereditary Cannibalism has affected most severely are permitted to eat some raw, if it’s that bad, and are given first dibs once some’s been cooked.

 

The leftovers, humped up in the walk-in of the Wayfarer’s Tavern, last a few days, long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another.

 

*****

Long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another until what? you might well ask,” the butchers tell me.

 

I shrug: they’ve got me there.

 

“Long enough for our first fresh batch of Human Bologna to firm up good,” is the answer.

 

“What, like Delicatessen?” I ask.

 

They snort. “Nope. That’s kid stuff. This is a weaning-tool. A respectable substitute. Animal meat, straight up, and poultry, and fish, reptile, and so forth, what-have-you, and other proteins, yolky things, raisins, cashews, doesn’t matter: a meat to come next best to the Fellow Man once the Pit BBQ cools its jets and the Sauce Maestros saunter back to whence they came.”

 

I nod like I get the picture, sniffing the air for some sign of what’s in question.

 

“Weans the Hereditary Cannibalism back down … eases ‘er back into remission for a few more years,” say the butchers, sadly now. “Back to rest in the genetics.”

 

“This is what we see as our actual work. Transcendentally speaking. The rest of the time, all the years, slivering off chuck and pimento loaf, tubbing out potato salad … all just stalling, keeping afloat, thinking how we’ll make the next batch of the real thing when the time comes … Human Bologna’s an ancient Dodge City recipe, as old as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself, and intimately bound up with it in ways I’m sure a man of your breeding and education can guess at already.” 

 

They look down in reverence at the paper-towel lined tray of Human Bologna in the display case, only about a quarter hunk left. The rest of the case is empty; the tags for other meats are piled up.

 

“What, so it’s like Cannibal Nicorette?” I ask.

 

For a while, no one answers. Then the butchers hand me a sandwich, wrapped in wax paper and napkins.

 

I hear the bell on the door of the shop and can tell that I’ve made my way out.

 

*****

I eat my sandwich back in the main square, where the Bill Callahan booths were, and then the Pit BBQ.

 

It tastes about how you’d expect.

 

I lick my gums; should’ve gotten a soda somewhere, a water at least.

 

“Sometimes, it’s too convincing.”

 

I hear the words but don’t see their source.

 

“Sometimes, we conflate the Real with its Simulation. Sometimes we swap Disease and Cure, and swap them again, and again, as if it were our right to go on swapping.”

 

I look around, see no speaker on my eye level, so I look up.

 

There he is: Professor Dalton on a high balcony at the Hotel, bellowing through a bullhorn. A crowd gathers around the site of the Pit BBQ.

 

“Sometimes the human essence proves incompressible. Sometimes we cannot forget it. Sometimes we know who we are and what we are made of … and the taste lives upon our lips and tongues.”

 

So this is The Human Bologna Scare. I crinkle my sandwich paper and listen.

 

“Sometimes The Fundamentally Human is unmistakable no matter how finely ground and how much subterfuge is employed to disguise its presence within an alien host. With our palettes as judge, let us swallow no lies about our kin! Human Bologna is what it is called and also what it is, it is no euphemism. Where are our friends? Our lovers? Our elders? Our infants? Let us clean ourselves in deed this time, not only in word. Let us hose ourselves down with the truth one time. Let us revert to animal meat forever more!!”

 

The man never misses an opportunity to pop up, let it be said.

 

He says his piece, to my ear, with enough polish that I’m inclined to believe this sort of thing has occurred before. Perhaps every year the fear that Human Bologna is indeed human meat surfaces in the citizenship, as regularly as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself.

 

A phrase like I feel sick, in reference to what I’ve just eaten in light of what I’m now thinking, occurs to me, but isn’t precisely true. I feel the same as I tend to after lunch.

 

 

 

“That’s Spinoza, up on a Mountaintop,” says Rigid Steve, gliding into position behind me, looking up at the pontificating man on the balcony.

 

I’ve been here long enough to not reply, “No, that’s Dalton, up on a balcony.”

 

I’ve been here so long I almost don’t even think it.

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