This weekend I went with my sister and her fiance to breakfast at Bakery Bar in Portland. The website and reviews looked pretty amazing, so we wanted to see if it was worth scheduling a time for cake tasting, but sadly the service just didn't deliver and we will not be taking wedding cake business their way.
However, that's another story for another time.
The whole point is, while we were sitting there waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting some more for the coffee and subsequent food to arrive at our table (two hours later), there was plenty of time to look around and watch the hipsters, bridge pedal bicyclists, animal lovers and "Keep Portland wierd" crowd that had congregated for Sunday brunch.
While I observed that one guy sitting on the stairs wierded me out a little because he was wearing the simple metal frame glasses of the 80's that scream serial killer to me, my sister's fiance' was watching our waiter pet a dog (ewww) who was sitting in the same vicinity as my serial killer look-alike (who I am almost certain is a perfectly nice man with, umm, interesting taste in eyeglasses).
He remarked, "This city is definitely full of animal lovers."
I heard, in my own killer world over the buzz of the crowd, "This city is definitely full of cannibal lovers."
Yeah, pretty different meaning. So, it got me thinking all about what we mishear and may or may not care to ask what the person really wants to say. Sometimes we know what we've heard is wrong, but it makes it so much more interesting than that which was really said. I feel like this weekend was one of those times.
writing exercise: Think of a time when you misheard something, or someone misheard you, and use the mistaken sentence as the impetus for your story.
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a cannibal-loving city. I have to admit I'm a little frightened by the direction it took, so if you don't do well with cannibals, consider yourself warned.writercizer sample response:
I tread carefully through the brush, barefoot, careful not to make a sound. I didn't want to send a leaf fluttering, let alone sound the snap of a twig, for fear that they would hear me, would know I was there.
Years ago, as I was finalizing my entomology degree with a course in anthropology of hidden civilizations, I read about a tribe deep in the jungle that had outgrown their own population and run out of food resources, thus turning to cannibalism. The course was a cultural requirement to complete the program; since many of us would be out in the wilderness for weeks and even months at a time researching species and habitats, we were expected to have some knowledge of how to interact with native people and indiginous cultures.
Before seeing the skulls strewn about the forest floor yesterday morning, I'd been sure it was a myth, created to keep us Westerners away from this lush, wild, largely untouched part of the world, or a way for professors to instantly identify scaredy-cat entomology students during ghost stories at the annual bio-department bonfire.
But there was no question that what I had seen yesterday was fresh human skull and bones, meat torn off not by ravage beasts, but with tools, a distinctively human trait. I hid in a bush, terrified, not knowing which way to turn.
The tribe, known as the "cannibal-lovers," had turned to cannibalism decades ago as a result of overpopulation. They were nomads, so agriculture was not known to their society, and the number of non-poisonous plants for human consumption in the area was small. The flora and fauna that had been part of their regular diet had diminished with deforestation; several of the species they were accustomed to eating had slowly been disappearing. Shifts in climate hadn't helped either, and several animals had been hunted just outside of their jungle or come in contact with disease.
People in the tribe became famished and started lashing out at one another in anger, until some of the leaders came together and determined that in order to survive, they must both decrease the population and increase the supply of untainted meat. The only solution to this, being a non-agrarian society with limited access to the outside world and no money, supplies, language or talents for trading, was cannibalism.
Self-sacrifice was preferable, but when there were not enough people ready to sacrifice their bodies for the good of the group, leaders of the tribe would pick victims at random or go on hunts. In many ways, it was considered an honor to give one's body, for they were sharing meat and food to keep others alive. Families were smiled upon that did not have many elders, for they were gracious in the cannibal ways. Families with many elders were not widely respected, for they were seen as selfish. Besides, the more aged the body past fifty, the less desirable the meat, for the texture and nutritional value were both compromised.
I hoped that as a non-member of the tribe, even if they found me, they would let me go. Perhaps they would think I could be tainted or diseased as an outsider, or not the right consistency for their meat, or insignificant since I didn't directly contribute to their overpopulation and thus didn't need to be subjected to such overzealous population control, but I knew I couldn't bank on such hopes, so I hid.
All day long, until dark fell, I watched from afar as they roasted a unknown substance over a fire and shared dinner with one another. I listened to a language I was completely unfamiliar with, unrelated to either the Spanish or the Quechua I'd prepared myself for prior to this trip.
Now most of them had gone to bed; it had to be well past midnight by the position of the moon above me, from what I could see through the dense canopy, but I was certain that if I made noise someone would discover me and I'd be tomorrow's supper.
So I crept along and held my breath right up to the edge of the trees, when I could no longer see the evidence of their smoke or remnants of skulls and bones along the ground, then I stood up and ran, as fast as I could, back towards "normal" society and far, far away from the cannibal lovers and my insect species discovery expedition.