I remember the smell of dead chicken permeating the room of crowded people. The year was around 1989 although my memory has faded a bit with time. I was twelve years old while my friend was thirteen. My family was there, and so was his, including his younger brother, age eleven, who was also a friend of mine. My thirteen-year-old friend was having the party for his Bar Mitzvah after we had gone to a boring religious seminar of prayers from the Torah. At this age, it symbolizes that a boy becomes… A man.
All over the room, gifts were abound, from checks in envelopes, to wrapped gifts. There were balloons, lots of rock music, dancing, and alcoholic drinks for the adults. The “Hava Nagila,” famous Israeli folk song, also known in English as “Let us rejoice,” and another song called “Shalom Aleichem,” was playing in ceremony, and hundreds of people were laughing, joyously imbibing, singing, and dancing to the melodies. It was a good time for all.
My friend was going to be a rich kid for a thirteen-year-old! But, all kidding aside, his parents likely held onto most or all of the checks and cash from that special day for when he would be old enough to use the money wisely. He had a Philadelphia Phillies baseball theme at the dais, which was the seat of honor, and only the person’s closest friends would sit at the table with him there. Each of the other tables had a different baseball team. My favorite teams were always the American League’s New York Yankees and the National League’s New York Mets. At this age, both of the brothers, and I, would regularly go to live baseball games, sit in each other’s homes to watch the games, played video games about baseball, wore the clothing, and we even traded baseball cards, which I still do to this day with people online, at flea markets, and at sports card shows.
Everyone’s food order was taken ahead of time via the RSVP card, indicating that people would be attending the Bar Mitzvah or not. So, my preference, which was the only person out of about five hundred people, as a vegetarian at the time, was to have a grilled cheese sandwich. This was many years prior to me going vegan, and you are about to be very surprised by the interaction at my table. While everyone was either distracted by entertainment, or in a different room for whatever purpose, no one could have imagined what was about to happen…
More than twenty-five years later, I still cannot believe how violated I felt…
My food, along with everyone else’s, was waiting at our tables. I was so hungry as I had not eaten prior to the religious seminar. Luckily, I had checked what was inside of my sandwich, and I cannot recall why I had checked it. Maybe I saw what was in there, was suspicious of someone, the sandwich was too high, or I might have smelled it… I am pretty certain that I had seen the dead chicken parts sticking out of the sandwich. I’m almost positive of that… For some reason, my long-term memory still recalls seeing fried chicken in the sandwich either as I was just about to sit down or after I had taken my seat. I felt very ill at the time, and thinking about it now, in the year 2015, I still feel violated because of it.
I knew who had done it. I still recall his bottle-shaped head and huge buck tooth. He was a short fellow who I wanted to squash for how he treated me for so many years, but back then, I was a scared kid with glasses and braces. I wore ties to picture day at school, got straight A’s in most of my classes, and had never misspelled a word in a spelling bee. I had won the Battle of the Books in the fifth grade in my school, as well as in the surrounding schools with whom I competed. In short, I was a lady’s man! Nah… Actually, I was the farthest thing from it. So, you could imagine how I did not defend myself that day or a couple of years later when I was a high school freshman. I never caused him any problems. He was just a jerk. I ran away from him when he came to my home that year, and I had to lock the door with myself trapped inside. The family dog was barking incessantly, and one of my friends, who no longer hung out with me after that day, had been ringing the doorbell, trying to get back his skateboard that was in the house. I recall being chased by the short guy, and running away from him in the school as well. I was on the baseball team, possibly the fastest runner who could steal bases, but more importantly, I was on the track and cross country teams. I was really fast, but my confidence had never allowed me to stand up to him or to fight back. There were a lot of kids like him… No, not ten or twenty… Not thirty or forty… Not one hundred… Lots of guys like him! I got it all day every day from the time I was seven years old until I was about fifteen. Maybe today some of them are more successful than I am, have more money, their own families, etc., but when you have nothing left, you look into the deep abyss, and you find your soul. In the majority of my blog posts, I seldom have ever used foul language, but in this one, I think it is morally appropriate to say that every single one of those bullies can FUCK THEMSELVES!!!! They could never break me then, and they could never break me now! Keep reading, and you’ll see how these experiences give me the resolve to be a die-hard vegan and animal activist. It’s not over yet… Read on!
One time, when he was trying to get me into the garbage pail, which was a high school ritual through which all freshman runners went, he had me cornered. I took off his shitty, overwork hat, threw it, and I slammed the mother fucker into a locker. I was still afraid of him, not just what he might do normally, but out of retaliation for fighting back. He had lots of back up… These guys were bigger, stronger, and faster than me.. And, the little piece of shit was rarely alone. There were also other groups of people who did awful things to me back then as well. I eventually got the braces off, started wearing contact lenses, and I had grown the hair on my head past my behind. Let’s just say that women were envious of it. A lot of people ridiculed me for this, especially other jocks. I became a metal head who went to some really great concerts, and I even sang in some bands, later picking up a little bit of electric guitar although I only had one or two thirty minute lessons in my entire life. I never learned how to read music. In a school where I had already been getting it bad, I was once again an individual who never backed down. There were a small handful of people in this school who were like me, but none of them got what I got. I remember being stalked regularly by a very large young man. He would come to the door of my math class while it were in session. He would insinuate that he was going to get me, making a fist in one hand, and cupping it with the other. I felt so sick, and panic was the norm. I had passed a note to an acquaintance of mine who also listened to my sort of music. He returned it to me that he will follow me, and if the big guy touches me, he would get him after class. This is the sort of kid that I was until sophomore year of high school… I was scared. I didn’t eat meat or dairy although I did wear a leather jacket at the time with all kinds of chains, spikes, artwork, bands, pins, etc. My boots went up to my knees, had lots of buckles on them, and spurs on the back. I worked after school as a porter, cleaning toilets and floors. The grease trap stunk! I will never forget the smell… Just like the chicken. I was honest. I was a good person. Most of my friends were in a nearby school to which I eventually transferred. For the most part, it would be a fresh start. The trauma was so bad that I can count on one hand, prior to this blog post, how many people even were told about the transfer. Upon releasing this post, those who know me will learn something new. I sort of did it secretly as even my friends at the new school had no idea that I was on my way. In short, I was afraid… No, I was terrified of just about everyone. I am refraining from a lot of examples, many thousands of altercations, where I had kept a level head despite the hurt. They used to blow up the mailbox regularly at my home, egg the house, prank call me very often, and even used me as a scapegoat when someone else had done something bad… Until the perpetrator came forward. But, I took it anyway even though I didn’t know anything about the situation that had occurred.
I always had the dog… She was my world. I would have given my life for her. Upon switching to my new school, I was one of the most popular kids. The lower grades that I had received in the first school, on average of a “C,” had quickly switched to “A’s,” and once again, I was on the Honor Roll just like in grade school. I later had gone to Brookdale Community College where I competed all over the country on the track and cross country teams. As a matter of fact, I led the three of us, one man, one woman, and myself, to recruit more runners. Each semester, it had grown into more and more people. I acted on stage in the theater, made speeches about investing and stock trading, and I had even taken Honors courses and was in the Honor Society. I was the only man to graduate Highest Honors with a gold stole around his neck. I had become a member of the Rutgers University Chorus where I sang without any talent. It was an absolute honor to sing in front of hundreds or thousands of people on the same stage with the Chorus. We even teamed up with the Kirkpatrick Choir in the Nicholas Music Center. I don’t know how I made the Chorus with people who actually knew what in the world they were doing! Of course, my fraternity and I had done lots of community service for people, animals, and the environment… Although I was still somewhat of a loner, it was a slow springboard, combined with the rudeness of meat eaters, that eventually propelled me into being more outspoken.
I seek no sympathy, not even empathy. I am trying to show you a great deal of how I eventually grew into an animal activist and a vegan. Had I not endured the countless masses of individuals who herd shamed me in school for many years with laughter, insults, ridicule, and even physical assault, I would never have had half of the backbone that I do today. I have been punched in the face, directly in the eyes, plucked in the eyes, my arms twisted, my arms held behind my back while another person punched me, had my hair burned and cut, been book checked many times, had my possessions stolen, and I have been threatened more times than I could count. I had so many panic attacks from grade school through high school that I do not know how I made it through it all. I’ll keep it very short to avoid any upset, especially because I love them all dearly, but it was tough at home as well. I would fight with everyone since I was four years old about having dead animals on the table. I still remember the blood in the plastic grocery bags that would have leaked from the plastic packages encompassing the dead cows, chickens, fish, etc. I would use soda bottles and cereal boxes to block the dead animal juices from hitting me when eating would commence. I would eat at a separate table on holidays, especially on Thanksgivings. At home, I would sit at the counter and not at the table sometimes… Other times, I would lie on the booth, petting the dog as she laid in the corner of the kitchen in a little ball. Even since the days of Facebook, I have officially become the most deleted vegan on the entire website. Once I announced that I’m a vegan, former friends, co-workers, and classmates deleted me, at first here and there, and then, en masse. My pain will never come close to what most humans contribute to on a daily basis several times per day to such innocent animals. I could be the only vegan in the world and never turn my back on the animals.
I had seen a documentary of some sort in pre-kindergarten, and I immediately became a vegetarian. I knew that the dog was no different than the other animals in their capacity to feel love and pain. I also knew that, although I was upset that animals in the wild ate other ones, humans at least had grocery stores, and there was no justification to kill animals for food. We could be healthy, fit, and never be hungry. The real reason comes down to the ethics behind it. It is never okay to kill someone… ANIMALS ARE SOMEONE, NOT SOMETHING. My entire life, I never even knew a vegetarian, until I met my Big in my college fraternity. She was an Indian who was a vegetarian due to religion. Nine years ago, I became a vegan for the same reasons that I went vegetarian except I had had no idea about the suffering and killing of cows when humans drank their milk, so I had all of those years of consuming cheese prior to going vegan. I had instantly given it up upon learning the truth about dairy cows. If we are drinking the milk, then someone else is not… The calves are killed within weeks of being born… They are used for veal. The mothers are forcibly impregnated so they can produce babies and milk, and she is slaughtered when she is no longer able to make money for farmers. This is not limited to factory farms as it happens on most farms throughout the world. Many years later, as a lone vegan, I started meeting vegans… Pardon my language, but there’s some fucking ANGELS in this world! The way I truly learned love and compassion for all humans and animals was having the family dog growing up… I will love her until the end of time. She was a Sheltie that lived with the family from when I was four years old until I was twenty-one when she passed on to a better place.
*This was not her. It is just a stock image of a Sheltie. One day, I will post her photo. She looked similar to this one, but she did not have as much white on her face near her eyes.
Fast forward, twenty-five years or more, and I sing at various karaoke venues. In one of the establishments, called the Buttonwood Manor, which is located nearly across the street from Loving Hut Vegan Cuisine in Matawan, New Jersey, I had looked to my left upon walking in there, and saw that first door on the right where the little twerp had placed chicken inside of my food. My confidence is significantly greater than it used to be, however, I still have the occasional difficulty with individuals who give me a hard time for being a vegan. They want me to respect their beliefs to eat meat while they respect mine to be vegan. And, I will not have it that way. Many people do listen and make changes, but it is an ongoing battle that has yet to be won. The majority stand for everything that is against every single moral fiber in my body. It’s like a feminist saying to a man that it is okay if he continues to hate women, but she will continue to liberate them. Social justice is not built through compromise. It is built by direct action, which has many various sects and levels of activism. There is no wrong way to be an activist. No deed, no matter how little it happens to be, is ever too small. Even a small drop of water will help to quench one’s thirst or to build an ocean.
I believe in people’s liberation as well as the animal’s liberation movements. I believe that we are all here for our own purposes, none of which is to be tortured and killed. We all come into this world with the desires given to us by a higher power, which include love, kindness, fear, pain, and so forth. I am not afraid to stand up for what is right. Of course, I stand up for all social justice groups as a vegan, but I will always be who I am and never become a part of the herd. This does not mean that I will never follow, as following has it’s place when good people show others how to be better people, but I will never follow just to fit in with a group no matter how much I might stand behind some of what they do. I will do what is right inasmuch as I can, with the highest of integrity, with morals, and keeping others in mind. I am my own vegan and animal activist.
In conclusion, I surely hope that someone out there reading this excerpt will find moral support, whether it is due to the fact that you’ve been bullied for any reason whatsoever. Know that you are never alone. Not only do others go through it, but it is all temporary. You will never see during the harmful period the strength that you are gaining through the torment. Everything happens for a reason. And, if I were physically pressured to harm another being, whether human or animal, I know for a fact, that nothing could make me. I would never eat their flesh, wear their skins, use them for sport or entertainment, or for any other purpose. With all of the emotional and physical abuse that I’ve endured in my earlier years, I have hardly even begun to mention my experiences in this essay. I still do not know how bad the animals have it. This is not about me. It is about them. So, if you have, in any way, felt something from this entire posting, please know that animals are afraid, being boiled, burned, and skinned alive, harpooned, hung by sharp hooks from the ceiling, ground up alive, shot, punched, kicked, choked, drowned, force-fed, fought with one another for people to profit, neglected, abandoned, and so on… This is not a complete list of the torrential torture through which animals go each and every day. Yes, this is a Holocaust that must end. When I hear a person mock their suffering, to laugh about “bacon” or “veal,” my heart and mind are recharged like the fists of Bruce Lee, and my purpose is always redefined and becomes clearer. As long as there is an inherent purpose to save lives, I will continually speak out on their behalf, no matter how many people’s feelings I fail to spare. In due course, the suffering will end, and people will begin to change course, never admitting their contribution to the killing, never laughing, and never condoning the use and abuse of animals. Over several generations, it will become less and less until it is no more. The notion of being vegan for health will no longer take precedence over the fact that these are living, sentient beings. Vegans will populate the Earth. Hunters, animal abusers, slaughterhouse workers, meat consumers, and many other archaic types of inhumane torturing of animals will legally become crimes in the future no different from war criminals who have taken the lives of innocent humans. The tipping point has come and gone. It is too late to turn back now. I will leave you with a quote by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”