Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
The time was 7:40 A.M. I reached for the phone.
“Do you have your axe?” came the voice on the other end. It was Mad Dog.
“Is your axe sharp?”
“No, but I can sharpen it while you’re driving here.”
“How about your knife?”
“Everything needs to be nice and sharp.”
Fuck, I’m supposed to kill a goat today. And I couldn’t even kill the fly in my room last night. Really. Sadly. I just put a drinking glass over it, covered the opening with a saucer, then set it free outside. I’m a victim of my own empathy. I wouldn’t be too happy if someone squished me flat, so it seems cruel to do the same to another living thing.
Fifteen minutes later, Mad Dog pulled up in a weathered blue Dodge Ram 3500 truck with skull-and-crossbones floor mats and a lone bumper sticker depicting a gun sight next to the words THIS IS MY PEACE SYMBOL.
The goat peered curiously at me from a beige dog cage in the back of the truck. It was much cuter than I’d expected. It had a wide smile, silky white fur, and a gentle disposition. I began to feel sick.
Symptoms: dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath.
I turned away. I didn’t want to pet it, befriend it, name it, or grow attached to it in any way. If I did, there was no way I’d be able to go through with this.
My girlfriend Katie, whom I’d brought along for moral support, felt the same way. “Oh my God—it just baa’d at me,” she squealed in delight and horror. “I can’t look. I’ll fall in love.”
So much for moral support.
“Is this wrong?” I asked Mad Dog as we drove into the forest in grim silence. “I need a moral justification for doing this.”
“This is the circle of life,” he answered coldly, without sympathy. He was thin, with ropy muscles, a receding hairline, piercing blue eyes, and a brown handlebar mustache. His hat was emblazoned with the Revolutionary War slogan “Don’t tread on me,” and he wore a sleeveless T-shirt advertising his handmade knives.
“Every steak you bought at Safeway started out looking like this,” he continued. “If you need a rationalization, you’re hungry and you need to eat today. And if you want to eat, something has to die.” Then he leaned forward, flipped on his stereo, and blasted AC/DC’s “Kicked in the Teeth.”
Unlike me, Mad Dog was a real man. He could chop wood, make fire, forge weapons, kill his own food, and defend himself with his bare hands. In other words, he could survive on his own—without Con Edison, without AT&T, without Exxon, without McDonald’s, without Wal-Mart, without two and a half centuries of American civilization and industry.
And that’s exactly why I was with him right now, crossing a moral boundary from which there was no return.
“Help me look for a good hanging tree,” Mad Dog ordered as he stopped at a clearing deep in the woods and turned off the engine.
Every moment, this felt more and more like a Mafia execution. In the distance, I saw a deer bound across a clearing and disappear into the forest. It was such a strong, beautiful, graceful animal. I didn’t think I could ever shoot one.
Unless Mad Dog told me to.
After finding the tree and throwing pigging string over a branch, we returned to the truck and stood at the rear bumper next to the goat cage. “This is your protein source,” Mad Dog began his lecture. “Right along its neck is its carotid artery. You’re going to straddle the goat, push your knife through from one side to the other, and cut out the throat. Then we’re going to hang it, skin it, and butcher it.”
Symptoms: dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, self-disgust, guilt.
He let the goat out of the cage and put a leash around its neck. It walked up to me and nuzzled its head against my leg. Then it stepped away and peed and shat on the ground.
“The more waste it passes now,” Mad Dog said, “the better.”
This was when reality set in. I felt, in that moment, like I was going to hell. The goat was able to handle a leash, and it waited until it was out of the cage to relieve itself. It was practically domesticated.
I didn’t have to kill it. I could always ask Mad Dog if I could just keep it as a pet.
“Don’t anthropomorphize your prey,” Mad Dog barked when I confided this to him. “Most animals won’t piss and shit where they lay down.”
“I’ve been trying not to get attached,” I told him. “That’s why I haven’t given it a name.”
“I have,” Katie blurted. “I named it Bettie. B-E-T-T-I-E.”
“When did you do that?”
“When she fluttered her little eyes at me.”
That was the last thing I needed to hear.
Symptoms: everything, nothing, complete and total panic.
I wasn’t sure I could go through with this.
I was wearing an olive baseball cap, a matching army shirt, khaki cargo pants, and a gun belt with a Springfield Armory XD nine-millimeter on one side and a three-inch RAT knife on the other. This wasn’t me. Until a month ago, I’d rarely even worn cargo pants or baseball caps, let alone guns or knives.
Why, I asked myself, was I about to do this?
Because I wanted to survive. This is what people did for protein before there were farms and slaughterhouses and packing plants and refrigerated trucks and interstate highways and grocery stores and credit cards.
I never thought the day would come when I’d have to make a backup plan.