I am a poacher in the great state of Texas. I own no gun, and I have never killed an animal, but I am on the record nonetheless, as if I’m some fiercely independent scofflaw determined to feed my family meat through the mean winter and no gawdamn guvmint is gonna tell me otherwise.
But I am no such militiaman. I’m just a writer with a passion for exploration, and several years ago I embarked upon an experiment to see what would happen if I said yes to every decision that presented itself. (This was, incidentally, well before the release of the Jim Carrey film, Yes Man, of a similar plotline…) Obviously, there were necessary provisos against jumping off tall buildings and such, but aside from the offensive or mortally threatening, I really went for it. The experiment touched its apogee when a series of yeses placed me on the lead float of the Halloween parade through Manhattan in front of two million people. After that, it would be several months before I would finally terminate the experiment, and only after I became a poacher in the great state of Texas.
I read the dictionary frequently, and one night I discovered that the word yes itself derives from the same root as “to be.”Incidentally, I didn’t just get drunk one night and decide that this was what I was going to do with my life. I read the dictionary frequently, and one night I discovered that the word yes itself derives from the same root as “to be,” that yes is the emphatic contradiction of nothingness, that yes is the very essence of being, that yes is the inescapable act of life itself. Believing as I do that every word is a magic word, I wondered how much more deeply I might enter into life simply by saying yes.
So, yessing along thus in the yesness of existence, I found myself at a retreat in the Texas hill country outside of Austin. It was a marvelous weekend: primal tumbling, rugburn wrestling, hot tubs, saunas, swimming holes, and plenty of dancing. On the day I was to leave, I was peaceably eating my breakfast when a chiropractor I will call Rambo approached me and invited me to come along and watch him harvest a deer that his girlfriend had just hit with her car down the road. I had no choice but to say yes.
So we three—Rambo, his girlfriend, and myself—drive down the road a couple of miles to where, sure enough, there’s a dead buck relaxing into his final repose. Rambo is very enthusiastic about this carcass, and he jumps out of the truck, hunting knife already drawn, and immediately proceeds to begin gutting the deer right there on the side of the road, explaining all the while how time is of the essence since decay sets in immediately. I stand back, watching with some interest as he disembowels the deer, this madman chiropractor up to his elbows in blood, periodically retching as he triumphantly pulls out each organ and identifies it: the liver, the stomach, the heart (this he holds up and squeezes repeatedly, as if it’s still beating), and even spaghettis out the small intestine, which looks just as squiggly as you might imagine. His girlfriend, meanwhile, is still traumatized from having killed this animal, and keeps announcing that she’s a vegetarian, lighting some incense and wondering aloud if we should all say some kind of prayer to facilitate the spirit’s passing. As for myself, I’m just kind of watching and beginning to think this is all a bit strange as passengers in passing cars gasp aghast at this grisly scene on the side of the road. I had been assuming I was going to maybe just help him wrap it in a tarp and toss it in the back of the truck to take elsewhere, not hang around watching this absurd roadside autopsy. I voice this concern, but he assures me that he has a hunting license and this is all perfectly legal.
Shortly after that, a couple of police cars arrive, pistols unsnapped, looking at us like we’re the Manson family.Shortly after that, a couple of police cars arrive, pistols unsnapped, looking at us like we’re the Manson family. Of course, I’m just standing there with my hands in my pockets, but I’m ordered to keep my hands where they can see them. They ask me if I have any weapons, and I say no, only a harmonica, which I show them, and which they confiscate. They continue to scrutinize me like I’m some freak, which is unsettling, because after all, Rambo is the guy up to his elbows in blood; I’m just audience to this bloodbath. Squinting at the vultures beginning to circle in the sky above us, I rub my eyes and finally realize why they think I’m equally lunatic. The last night at the retreat had been a costume party, and as I rub my eyes I realize that I’m still wearing a dozen bindi stickers around my eyes from the night before. I explain to the officers that I don’t normally look this fabulous, that the jewels all over my face are left over from a costume party last night and I forgot I still had them on, and that furthermore I don’t really even know this guy but just came along out of curiosity. This amused and relieved them, as they had thought the bindi stickers were facial piercings and that maybe we were some kind of satanic sacrificial cult. They even gave me my harmonica back and asked me if I could play it, and I complied, standing there on the roadside, mourning the deer with my harp as if I were playing Taps on a trumpet.
Meanwhile, Rambo’s girlfriend keeps waving her incense stick around and exclaiming that she’s a vegetarian, and the mood is light, but then Rambo suddenly announces that he needs to clean his knife and reaches for it, causing the officers to grab at their pistols and bark, “Stay away from the weapon!” However, despite Rambo’s relentless and unrepentant idiocy, these first two police officers were amiable and generally enjoying the encounter, and were really just waiting for the Forest Service to arrive. When the Forest Service finally did arrive in two more cruisers—placing four police cruisers on the side of the road—a bona fide traffic jam began to emerge as everybody slowed down to see what in the name of god was happening. Apparently, dispatch had received several hysterical calls from good citizens who had seen Rambo digging the guts out of this deer, and the Forest Service officers were in no kind mood. I had to explain all over again about my fabulous face, Rambo’s girlfriend continued to exclaim that she was a vegetarian, and Rambo continued to make things worse. When they asked Rambo if he had any guns or drugs in his truck and he responded by asking them why, I began to fathom how truly awful this situation could turn out to be.When they asked Rambo if he had any guns or drugs in his truck and he responded by asking them why, I began to fathom how truly awful this situation could turn out to be.
But police officers are real people, and despite their bossy demeanor they saw clearly enough that I was a reasonable person caught in a bizarre situation. In any event, despite Rambo’s assurances that this was all perfectly legal, it wasn’t, and the three of us were ticketed for poaching, “possessing a white-tailed deer out of season,” for which I was indignant, for I never had any desire to possess that rotting piece of road kill. I considered contesting this ticket, trying to explain the ludicrous situation to a judge, but in the end I just paid the ticket to get it over with, and chalked it up as the cost of tuition for this lesson.
And the lesson was not merely that harvesting road kill is illegal in Texas, or that chiropractors are wannabe surgeons. In the contemplative days afterwards, I thought often of the steam escaping from that buck’s body cavity. Its torso was more or less the size of my torso, after all, and it was difficult not to realize how tenuous and fragile an individual life really is. We involve ourselves in our vast illusions of culture and identity, cajoling ourselves into believing that there is some permanence in this universe, but actually there is not. We are all of us sparks of spirit trapped in these meatsuits, here to live, yes, and ultimately here to die. And while I no longer say yes to every random decision that comes my way, I do say yes to the emphatic contradiction of nothingness, the very essence of being, the inescapable act of life itself, always dying, and always being born.
Yes i said yes i will yes,*
*”yes I said yes I will yes” is the final line of James Joyce’s Ulysses.