The smell of a good barbecue can draw visitors like vultures to a battlefield. There's something Jungian about wood smoke and roasting meat; they reveal a human kinship deeper than mere culture. Facing an unexpected crowd, most casual cooks will either generously hand out free grub or huffily turn unwanted guests away. A more enterprising backyard barbecuer might seize the opportunity, though, turning slow-cooked pork into fast money. Fortunes have been made with an old family recipe and a knack for promotion.
Sam was not such an entrepreneur. He didn't have any notable talents or personal qualities, and compensated, as his sort often do, by attaching himself to as many organizations as possible. Boy Scouts and church groups as a child led to a kaleidoscope of extracurricular activities in high school. Cut from the basketball, football, soccer, track, and croquet teams, he became a water boy. Cut from the marching band, he became a drum major. He was on the prom committee, the yearbook committee, and the get-people-to-join-committees committee. After turning eighteen and graduating, he became an activist for the local Democratic Party.
What Sam did have, though, was a great barbecue recipe handed down from his great-great-grandfather, and the social connections necessary to get somebody else to handle the entrepreneurship. His chance came in his sophomore year of college, when a few of his brothers in Kappa Java hosted a cookout with Sam manning the grill. His ribs were a hit, and he soon became a fixture at tailgate parties, garnering big bucks for his frat. Everything was peachy until he met Rochelle.
Rochelle had always known her life's purpose. She loved animals and felt driven to help them, with a passion that inspired some and frightened others. Whether rescuing horses from the glue factory or preaching the virtues of soy protein, she worked with a tireless energy that belied her bony frame and sallow skin. As founder and president of the University Vegans United to Liberate Animals (UVULA), she recruited dozens of impressionable freshmen to a group so vigilant it made PETA look like the Rotary club. One Saturday afternoon, she was riding her moped home from a protest across town when she caught a whiff of succulent roast pork from the direction of the stadium, and decided it was high time she took action.
Kappa Java's barbecue stand was no match for UVULA. Rochelle's loyal followers marched on the tailgate party in wedge formation, chanting "Meat is Murder" and waving signs exhorting the reader to "End quadruped enslavement NOW." The vengeful vegans approached the befuddled frat boys with hatred in their eyes.
Rochelle herself emerged from the back of the wedge, dressed in a pig suit complete with curly tail and square-ended snout. With a shrill shout of "Murderer!," she splashed the cook with a bucket of uncannily realistic red dye, did an about-face with military precision, and marched off.
This should have been the end of the story, aside from some perfunctory local newspaper coverage and perhaps a misdemeanor charge. But it wasn't. Sam was a very ordinary man, you see, but in that moment he found something extraordinary behind the foam rubber pig snout in the gaunt face of his assailant. He'd spent his whole life as a joiner and hanger-on, instinctively latching onto anything with a will stronger than his own. Under different circumstances, Sam might've found himself goose-stepping in Berlin or drinking Kool-Aid in Guyana.
Sam, without warning or precedent, had fallen in love with a militant vegan.
Rochelle didn't quite know what to make of it when Sam started showing up to UVULA meetings. He spoke remorsefully about his past transgressions and claimed he'd seen the light, but Rochelle couldn't readily believe a heathen could have such an abrupt change of heart. Her followers glared at him suspiciously, as unease permeated the room. Finally, she decided to put him to the test: Sam was to return to the Kappa Java house, take all non-vegan food from the refrigerators and cabinets, and haul it to the landfill. Sam protested, realizing it would mean ostracization from his fraternity, but Rochelle was adamant and Sam was still smitten. When a hungry but hung-over Kappa Java staggered out of bed the next morning to the unpleasant task of pouring Old Milwaukee over his Rice Krispies, a door had been closed in Sam's life forever. Two months later, he and Rochelle were married at the county courthouse.
Sam was happy at first. Rochelle, and her cause, gave him a purpose stronger and more focused than he'd ever known. Rochelle, for her part, was kind and forgiving to Sam, but at heart she was a Caesar rather than a Jesus. She was not a cruel person, but her nature was to use others for her own ends. Sam did what Rochelle wanted him to, and she rewarded him with attention and affection. For a while, things went well.
But Rochelle never forgot her mission. New recruits to UVULA took time to train, and the organization had to maintain its public presence. She found out for herself what every autocrat eventually discovers: the master, to achieve an end, must work even harder than the servants. Unwilling to delegate responsibility, Rochelle was constantly busy. Some days she hardly took the time to notice Sam.
Sam didn't take this well. He felt neglected and lonely. Ordinarily, a person in such a situation will spend more time with friends. That wasn't an option for Sam, though: he'd burned his bridges with Kappa Java and the rest of his old life, and UVULA members treated him with a wary respect, regarding him as an extension of Rochelle. He spent a few months in lethargic gloom until he happened to notice a sign in front of a neighbor's house:
Free kittens to good home.
A kitten will cheer just about anyone up, and Sam was no exception. Its soft fur and playful antics made him forget his troubles. For the first time in months, Sam was happy.
Rochelle walked in the door just as Sam was feeding the kitten a can of tuna. Her face, seemingly incapable of blushing, now turned beet-red with anger. How dare he betray her and the vegan cause like this? Trembling, Sam explained to her that cats were carnivores and couldn't survive on a vegan diet. That's no excuse, she replied. How can he possibly justify the slaughter of innocent tuna? But the kitten was awfully cute, and an innocent animal itself. She couldn't just throw it out on the street.
The kitten didn't do very well on tofu. It nibbled reluctantly at the stuff, meowing piteously in hopes of a better meal. Eventually Sam got it to eat a soy based tuna substitute, but this just didn't provide all the nourishment a cat needs. It moped and shivered, its growth apparently stunted. Sam took his pet to a veterinarian, who said it was malnourished.
Later that day, Rochelle walked into the living room where Sam sat on the couch watching television, a cute but scrawny kitten asleep in his lap. He told her the news from the vet. Rochelle just sighed and walked into the next room. What could she do? The thought of allowing an animal to come to harm brought feelings of righteous injustice. But she couldn't compromise her principles, allowing other animals to be killed so that this one might live. She peeked around the doorframe once more to watch the kitten in its perfect innocence, and the fallen, corrupt man. She knew what she had to do.
When the police arrived to investigate the missing person report, they were greeted by a healthy, well-fed cat.