I walked into my 7th period senior English class and sat down, nodding to my friend who walked in behind me. Our teacher was the last to enter the room, and we all watched him, quiet as all good 18 years olds should be. He walked quickly to his beaten up, handmade podium that some admiring student of his had made in wood shop years and years prior us, and sat his bag on the floor next to the teacher’s desk. He rested one knee on the bottom of the podium to relieve some of the pain from the aching joint and scanned over our small class of 15. He clasped his hands together and banged them on the top of the podium and took on a very serious facial expression.
“I hope you all didn’t eat too much in lunch last period,” he said, scanning the room again. Meredeth, a loud-mouthed, superficial girl asked him why. He just smiled at her and reached down to pick up the literature book, and all of us followed suit, taking out our books that had been issued for senior English, and flipped to the page when he wrote it on the board.
Turning back to look at us, he said, “I hope you don’t have too much in your stomachs because today we are going to talk about very gross food.” And this random change from the norm didn’t faze most of us, having realized by now (it being May) that Mr. Graff was prone to odd, unexpected periods of sporadic teachings that at first seemed irrelevant, but always reverted back to the topic on hand eventually, always making some kind of connection. A definite mark of good teaching, as not many teachers can loop back from something completely weird and that relates to us teens, and actually make it work in the day’s lesson plan.
He pointed to the page in his book that we all were on as well. “Jonathan Swift,” he projected to us, “was a genius when it came to the satirical and sarcastic arts.” Mr. Graff began to teach us, (not dictate as some “teachers” do) about the many writings Swift had done and about how the author had believed that he had been a failure. He had written Gulliver’s Travels in an attempt to enlighten the Irish people about the horrible way their government was being run, and did not see how it had reached any of his readers in a way other than a cute story about a man who traveled to other places.
“Swift wrote an essay called A Modest Proposal, about the problems of poverty, famine, and overpopulation in Ireland, ” and he smiled and closed his book, and we all did the same, “which wasn’t much of a modest proposal at all.” And with that, he jumped into another spell of “random” and asked us, “Who here likes eating turkey on Thanksgiving?” Almost everyone in the class raised their hand. He nodded and said, “Now take that turkey, sitting there in the center of the Thanksgiving table and replace it with a pink, plump 18 month old human baby.” Meredeth just about fell out of her seat, blubbering on about the horrible thing Mr. Graff had just said. He looked at Meredeth and asked her, “Why not? A human baby is quite edible…and very tender and plump…and it’s a carcass just as the turkey was.” We all stared at him with looks on our faces that screamed ‘What the hell?’ He continued his rant.
“Babies are much more healthier to eat than turkey. They’re fed on milk and strained green beans at most. Now, here’s how they prepare your favorite Thanksgiving meal. First, you have hunters dressed in dirty, grungy camouflage with bits and pieces of their attire colored bright, neon orange, armed with guns. They go out into the woods during turkey season and find a nice fat scavenger bird that eats the things that you guys run over on the roads (and you are what you eat, you know,) and they shoot it. It’s dead! Then what? Well, then it needs to be prepared before you can eat it. And I’d bet that if all of you had to prepare your own meat from the original source, you wouldn’t be able to do it without throwing up, and 85% of you just wouldn’t do it period. So, to prepare a turkey, first you cut off the head and feet and let all the blood run out, and what next? Well, you have to yank off all the feathers...just rip ‘em right off! Then you pull out all the guts, but don’t throw them away, because some people like eating the heart and liver and the other innards. And then you fill the empty cavity inside with stuffing and such and put it in a pan and baste and bake it. Then you set this cooked carcass on the table and everyone rips into it.” And all the while he spoke, he made wild gestures and energetic movements to compliment what he was saying.
He stepped back after a moment to see our reactions. No one spoke, and no one moved.
“So…which seems better, now? If you’re hungry enough, eating human flesh isn’t such a bad idea, and this it what Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal said, and like I just did, said it in a very sarcastic way. So don’t go home and tell Mommy that I said to eat babies, because I was being sarcastic.”
Then he folded his hands and rested them on the podium again, as he had before and smiled, saying, “Now, let’s talk about hotdogs...”