Good Ham

10-Minute Sunday Stories For Growing Men, Issue N005

How I noticed

You might not have noticed. I have. It can be hard to see. But it’s important. I’m going to let you know. Because most people don’t know. They don’t care. And that’s where the problem starts.

Let me begin at the bottom.

It’s not quite the bottom per se. Not objectively. But when you are there it feels like the bottom. Depending on where you are with your mind. You know what I mean. Either way, it’s pretty low. Certainly different for everyone. What’s fine for some isn’t okay for others. But of course, you know that. Anyway, it was pretty far down for me. Almost at the bottom. Not all the way. But pretty far.

Let me explain.

You know how they sometimes come over to see you. On a Saturday. And you know how these people say “Tomorrow is another day” or, “look at the bright side”, or “all things considered it’s still pretty great, isn’t it!”

They say these things because these things sound like they mean something. And they shoot these empty shells your way — when they lean into your space — in a way, that should convince you of the essence of something that it’s not. And when they say it, they believe it. And then you start believing it too.

“Tomorrow is another day,” that’s what they say when they notice. But of course, they don’t ever notice. Never. Not on their own. But sometimes they ask. They say “How are you?” for example. And you think “ah, well…why the hell not…,” so you tell them. You tell them how you are and that’s how they know. And they say “ah, well, it could be worse, think about that,” and such things.

Yeah, think about that.

Usually, they have a full stomach when they say that. A full tummy feels good. It makes you forget how things are sometimes. They’ve typically had some soup, or broccoli, or beige chicken, or something. So their tummies are full and they feel warm and complacent and self-righteous. And they’ve had some wine with that or freshly pressed juice. Whatever they like. And they’ve had that with their family at their dining table. The one they upgraded from the Ikea one.

They sit there at their upgraded dining table, with their two children, and their wife or whomever. And they look and don’t see each other. Their mouths speak about the economy, or the politics, or the chicken. And their minds think about their neighbors, or their neighbor’s chicken, or their neighbor’s wife.

And they sit there at their table and they say things like “this is good chicken.” That’s what they said last week too. But this is a new day and a new week and a new chicken, and they think it’s a good time to mention their fondness of their current beige chicken. Because that’s what you do. That’s what’s left to say when you sit at the table and your current words for the economy and the politics have all been used up.

And then they smile with their mouths because mentioning good chicken is a nice thing to do. And they say to their children “how’s your chicken? This is good chicken, isn’t it! Have some broccoli with your chicken.” And they eat their beige chicken, and their broccoli, and sometimes potatoes. And they drink their wine. Good wine. And they finish and they have their bellies full and that’s good. It’s the best. Full bellies are the best. That’s how their world works, basically.

And when they come over to visit they ask “how are you?” And that’s where the nonsense begins.

So they ask and you say, “well, you know, I’m dying. I have this feeling that I have been feeling for a while. It feels like a dying person is inside of me. Not quite dead, but dying. Like a geriatric embryo that’s sucking my intestines dry. You know? And it’s slowly rotting. The embryo is. And my intestines are. And I’m pretty sure, that I’ve been dying like this for some time. And now I’m almost dead. That makes me sad because I’m too young to die and I don’t want to be dead. I want to be alive.”

And they sit there in your house with their heads that look like wrinkled pink bowling balls. And they look at you with their looking holes and they nod.

You say, “I want to be alive, you know. But I realized I’m not alive. Not very much so, anyway. Not many parts of me are anymore. Just some of my parts are. The moving parts. The parts that move me around and get me from the sofa to the kitchen, and from the doorstep to the car, and from the car to the office. And they get me to the grocery store and the playground and the dentist and to soccer practice and back to the house.

There is little I can complain about when it comes to my moving parts. Not at my age, I can’t. That’s because, you know, they are on the outside. My outside parts. And I’m only dead inside. I’m dying from the inside out and that’s not good. So I’m kind of unhappy about that. Depressed you could say. Some people would use that word. That’s how I feel. That’s how I am.”

And then they sit there, still nodding their bowling ball heads. Their bellies are warm from their beige chicken, and their car with five seats is parked in your driveway, and they smile and their mouths say “tomorrow is another day.”

And you smile back and you don’t say anything because they are right. Technically they are. There’s no doubt about that. But who cares?

And then they drive away with their five seats, back to their driveways. And they pick up some chicken on the way, or maybe two steaks because today is Sunday, and a bottle of good wine, or another, and they drive off into tomorrow. Into another day.

The Story Of It All

So, that’s when I noticed.

When you live long enough and you use your senses the way they are intended to, you will notice. Not everyone will. Most people won’t. But you should.

You use your senses and your brains and you think about work, and politics, and degrees, and religions, and borders, and laws, and money, and governments, and education, and expectations, and their sensibilities and your feelings. So you think about all that and everything else, and you realize that it’s just made up. Built in your brain. Just a mental construct.

So you think about that.

You think about why it’s there, and what it is, and how it works, and you come to this one conclusion. The only conclusion that makes sense: the one that everything is made up. Just a story. A narrative. Tadaa!

Everything that is, used to be a story. Just a story that someone told someone else and everyone agreed that it’s a good story and there you have it. That’s what makes it real. That everyone believes in the same story.

So, that’s my point. Everything is just a story. Your whole life is. You are. Everything is made up that way. There’s nothing that isn’t. And everyone believes these stories. And they make up the world. And everyone repeats them. Over and over. Then more people believe them. And that’s how they live. The people live the made-up stories, and they reproduce them. Like rotting embryos. Because that’s what you do. Pop them out and hand them down, you know. That’s how it’s done. It’s always been that way. And that’s what makes them real. The stories, I mean. And that’s how the world works. That’s right. And now you know how this whole apparatus operates.

The Good Ham

That doesn’t sound great. I realize that.

I’ve tried to tell them. I’ve told them that we are dying on the inside, everyone is. That there are people rotting inside of us that suck our intestines dry. And that’s how we die. From the inside out. And they sit there looking at me with their looking holes, nodding their heads and using their mouths to say “that’s deep” and other things that aren’t deep.

So you find other ways to tell them. At least you try.

Here’s an example.

That one year we drove over, with our car with five seats. We brought good wine and good company and all that to their house. They brought ham to their dining table. It was Easter and it was good ham. And we had the good ham and the good wine, and we talked about the economy, and the politics and the ham. And I looked at the ham. And maybe I had a little too much of the good wine. And I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. And I said: “Have you heard the story about the ham?” They hadn’t, and they chuckled and they chewed their ham and their looking holes looked at me.

So I told them the story about the ham.

“This family,” I said, “they would eat ham every Easter. To bake it, the wife would always cut it in half. And that was interesting because maybe it cooks better or tastes better, or maybe gives you an all-around better ham experience if you cook it in two halves. That’s something to wonder about, isn’t it?”

“Turns out the wife had learned it from her mother. Her mother would always cut the ham in half to cook it. Family tradition. That’s how you learn. That’s why the wife did it. Wouldn’t you believe it. And the wife’s mothers’ mother did the same thing. It’s beautiful to see how this knowledge, how the ham cutting ritual, gets passed down from one generation to the next. It’s how we evolve as humans, isn’t it? Passing down things, picking up what we’re told. Evolution.”

They nodded their bowling balls and poured more of the good wine into their drinking holes.

I did the same and continued, “so, the wife cut the ham in two because of her mother, who did it because of her mother. And generations of mothers cut the hams in halves because of their mothers. And they all did it because of the great-grandmother. She was the one who started all this cutting hams in halves business. And you know why she did it? She did it because her oven was too small for a large ham.”

And then they chuckled more and laughter went around the table. I took a swig of the good wine. We had more ham and more politics and whatnot. They didn’t get it.

That’s why sometimes you give up. And you don’t tell them. Not anymore. Because you have tried and they don’t care. And they don’t get it. And they say they do, but you know they don’t.

You know how I know? Because they have their pillows on their couches in their houses behind the driveways with their five-seaters. And those pillows have curly letters on them that say things like “Life Is What You Make It,” and “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It,” and “Thoughts Become Things.”

And they sit down with their asses on their pillows on their couches. They slouch on “Thoughts Become Things,” and they fart quiet farts, and they say “tomorrow is another day.”

They don’t get it. But who cares? They don’t.

That’s why I’m telling you this story. Because I care.

And you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.

It Takes Two

So here we are. The two of us. And we know what we know.

And to be honest, there is no escaping it once you know. Sorry.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. That’s one thing they like to say, too: “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Anyway, here’s the silver lining:

When you think you are dying, and it feels like there is a rotting person inside of you and that person is sucking your intestines dry, day in and day out, and all you feel is that you are rotting too. That’s when you know you are about to be born.

You think that sounds deep? Well, it isn’t. It just is what it is. Take it from a dying man.

So that’s when I was at the bottom. There’s only so much wine you can pour down your drinking hole. And chickens. And five seaters. And you look at your children and you think they should know this: if you see someone cutting their ham in half you should ask them, and maybe it’s just bullshit. Usually, it’s just bullshit.

So you realize that. And it’s like you step into the sun and the sun hits your bowling ball head and the light shines into your holes. And you see eyes in there. The holes are eyes and ears and mouths, with lips and teeth and taste. And you taste the light. And you don’t have to chew it or pour it or force it down. It just streams and flows and circulates. And then you’re full of light. Glowing, you could say.

Get it? See, you get it! And that’s great. I still remember how it was for me. It was great. That moment, when I looked at everything that was made up and decided: that’s not bad. Yes, you can just decide that.

I’ll make things up.

I’ll make my own ham. The best ham ever. Better than the best chicken.

I’ll make it and I’ll cut it into circles and triangles and all the shapes that will shape my world.

And I’ll pass it on. And I will say: “I swear I didn’t make this up.”

And they will believe me because that’s what they do. Because that’s what you do. Because that’s how it’s done. Because that’s how it’s always been.

That’s how stories are told. That’s how they become real. How they become reality, I should say. You better believe it.

Or take it from my friend Hank. He once said this: “It takes at least two votes to make reality real. Artists who have worked years ahead of their time have found that out, and people of dementia and so-called hallucination have found it out too. If you are the only one to see a vision they either call you a Saint or a madman.”

So, there you have it. It takes two.

Here’s me and there’s you.

It’s a start.

Tomorrow is another day!

See you then.

About the Author: Nick Lions is a former hero. Now he is middle-aged and tired. He writes 10-minute Sunday stories for growing men. Every other week. Subscribe here to get them delivered right to your inbox.

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Nick Lions

Narrative is the code to program reality. I Publish News From The Next Stage. Every other week. — www.nicklions.com