Friday, December 23, 2011

The Horse and the Hamburger

A while ago, somebody close to me read about the horse and the hamburger and asked how they had found themselves alone in a medical tent, one tormented, the other unconscious and dying. The answer is that there was violence, of course, and it did not go well for the hamburger. The sad thing, what upset the horse the most, was that the hamburger was not wounded by enemy fire or artillery but by the explosion of a poorly maintained generator on which he was sitting. He was not supposed to be injured, in other words, and this thought dismayed the horse, and it dismayed the horse that it dismayed him, because nobody, of course, was supposed to be injured, it just seemed more natural that if the hamburger was injured it would be because of combat action and not becuase of poor maintenance of a generator.

The horse and the hamburger had not known each other at all, and the total infamiliarity between them increased the horse's dismay. They were alone now in the medical tent, and not just alone for the first time but near each other for the first time; the hamburger was close to the horse but the horse could not be said to be close to the hamburger, really, because the hamburger was unconscious and probably irrevocably so and so nothing could really be said to be close to him. The horse had some ideas about what might be close to the hamburger now, but they were watery and contradictory: the leftover religious want of his youth created a hazy paradise for the hamburger, and a long-forgotten religiously experimental friend from college informed now an idea that the hamburger had transferred  into another plane, and the horse's medical training, his strongest influence, inclined him to believe that the hamburger, right now, was nonexistent, nothing, void of feeling and thought, suspended. Then too his own desire influenced him, and his desire was to imagine this hamburger in a delirium, living a fantasy from which he wouldn't want to (and probably would not) return, sharing pizza with a long-forgotten girlfriend or driving his first car, all the world glowing softly and comfortably heated.

The horse and the hamburger may have been friends outside of this tent, outside of this conflict, but it was more likely they would not have been. Despite his respect for soldiers like the hamburger, the horse had difficulty imagining them in positions with status reflecting his own, as physicians or lawyers or politicians or executives. It seemed likely that the hamburger, before this conflict, had worked as a pipe fitter or a plumber or as a cook at the sort of restaurant the horse would usually not visit. It was possible that, had the horse seen the hamburger working at one of these restaurants, he would have enjoyed an uncomfortable moment of pity, a prideful judgment on the hamburger, dressed probably in the baggy, shiny slacks of kitchen staff, in the loose NASCAR t-shirt of kitchen staff, in the sweat-matted hair of kitchen staff, and he would have thought that the hamburger's life was awful, a nightmare lesson to him about the dangers of professional laziness, a congratulations to the horse on the pursuit of his advanced training. And now the horse felt shame for thoughts he hadn't actually had. The hamburger, of course, did not work in a kitchen.

1 comment: