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THE SWINES

Anecdotes Of A Piggly Family
by H.M. So
Chapter 2 Illustration

Chapter 2


Vegetable Assignment


"The idea of vegetables agitated him like sticky rice in his pants."



Friday morning began with the usual early raucous of sounds, noises, grunts, and somatic explosions. Coughs and the cacophony of phlegm from Dad and a loud random yaaawwwaaahhhh! just because.

From the kitchen emerged the rackety sounds of clacking dishes, utensils, pots (bang!), and mixers (vroooom!). Though she seemed extremely busy, what Mom was exactly doing, no one really knew for sure.

Then there was the dissonant reminder from the alarm clock that signaled the conclusion of my dreams and the commencement of another school day. While not quite a nightmare and gulag for children, school isn't something one chooses to get up for on a cold morning day in lieu of a warm, soft bed, especially in the middle of something important. No one likes being interrupted during a fierce battle with zombies in the grisly bosom of the Apocalypse. "I'll be back tonight after school and homework!" I promise the undead. I don't want to miss the end of the world.

I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I put on old pants I hadn't worn yesterday and then noticed crumpled paper in my back pocket. I opened it up: SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT โ”€ VEGETABLES. I had forgotten. I was supposed to give it to Mom.

We're learning about vegetables at school but I didn't think my parents would be too keen on it. It doesn't resemble even remotely what we eat at home, which are mostly slaughtered bovine carcasses and poultry. And starches like potatoes and rice.

Mom was a binivore. Strictly starches and meats. Dad, on the other hand, was somewhat more selective with his diet: meats only. Only meats. Just meats. Red blooded meats. Nothing but meats. If it wasn't slain, it's not edible, was his credo. Of course, pigs are supposed to eat everything, but we weren't ordinary pigs.

"What's all this about vegetables?!" Dad bellowed.

He was in a particularly foul mood today and the idea of vegetables agitated him like sticky rice in his pants. He did not approve and his booming orifice was ejecting slobber rockets like B-52 bombers.

"Is this America or some third world country that we have to eat barks and leaves?!" he growled, drooling and driveling, forcing me to take cover on the other side of the room. It was like napalm in the morning except the smell was worse.

"Don't mind Dad," Mom said. "He hasn't been able to poop in seventeen days. He's very backed up. I love veggies. Plantains, sweet potatoes and raviolis . . ."

"That's all commie and hippie food!" Dad hollered with more spittles of yellow phlegm. "And don't talk about my poop! That's personal."

"No, Mom. Potatoes aren't really vegetables," I tried to explain. I was like a desperate Vietnamese villager dodging aerial bombs. "That's a starch. And plantains and raviolis too."

"Starch is in the laundry room," Mom countered.

"No, no . . . a starch is a carbohydron," Dad thundered, dropping more saliva napalm. "It's what they ate during the war. Along with grass. There ain't no dang war! I'm a red-blooded hog. I need my proteins or I get allergies. Acchhhooooooo!"

Dad's allergies were acting up again along with a bevy of other ailments. Sometimes it gets so bad he calls the ambulance and goes to the hospital emergency room. He thinks it's some kind of first class medical service for VIPs because he doesn't have to queue for three hours like others in the waiting area.

"Well, here are some recipes from Sam's teacher, Ms. Jones. Maybe we should give it a try?" Mom said. "Let's see here . . . BROCCOLI. The instructions say to STEAM FOR TWENTY MINUTES. SALT. BUTTER. OLIVE OIL. Sounds easy."

"Good grief! Ms. Jones can steam me some steak! You can steam whatever you want, including broccocrap." Dad was heaving now. Allergies, backed up plumbing, and unwelcome jungle vegetation were aggravating his emotional ecosystem.

"Sit on the toilet, dear. Maybe you'll feel better," Mom exhorted.

"I'm sitting on the sofa and watching the game!" Dad barked. "Poop will come out when it's ready to come out! If it takes another year, fine. It's not something I'm waiting around for. There's no hurry."

In between bites of my cereal, I wondered how I was going to escape my assignment and the rhetorical fusillade disturbing my own personal homeostasis. My emotional ecosystem was being tested, too, and it wouldn't take much to turn over a twelve-year-old's sensitive equilibrium.

"You're upset because you're constipated."

"Your nagging is constipating!"

Thankfully, the school bus had arrived and demanded my attention. The din of the blaring horn exceeded the ruckus of two squabbling middle-aged parents in the middle of matrimonial bliss. But the bus would mean being greeted to another kind of bedlam.

"Off to school!" I yelled, grabbing my backpack. I waved goodbye and ran out the house like an escaping refugee.

"Have a good day at school, Sam!" Mom shouted.

Inside the belly of the yellow tin can, I was ambushed by another melee. Crumpled papers showered down like miniature asteroids. Erasers bounced off the ceiling like ricocheting bullets. Wet projectiles resembling tiny cannon balls ejected from hollow tubes โ”€ formerly writing instruments โ”€ splattered on vinyl seats and startled fresh-faced victims.

And I was almost blinded by a paper plane that hit me straight between the eyes. That should be illegal! But I was too tired to join the mayhem. I was an escapee looking for asylum.


* * *


In health class, lessons on vegetables continued. Ms. Jones distributed graphs, fact sheets, and factoids. She entertained us with slide presentations and short video clips. Who knew that spinach originated in Persia and really did make you strong like Popeye? Well, almost.

"Scientific studies have shown that vegetables are essential for good health," Ms. Jones told the class. "Veggies contain important minerals, amino acids, micronutrients, and phytonutrients."

Our teacher was a slim thirty-something and adhered to a strictly vegan diet. She was popular with the male faculty at school but with women it was a more complicated relation. Maybe she was too skinny for her own good? Ms. Jones was an avid yoga practitioner and taught classes three times a week.

"Vegetables also help you avoid upset stomach, keep you regular, and are more gentle to the land and ecosystem," she said.

In fact, we learned that more people could be fed if we reduced our proportional intake of animal products and replaced it with plant based foods. Plants are good for ourselves and the environment.

"Fewer people in hospital beds mean more active people jogging in the park, exercising and doing yoga," she added.

Some of the biggest and most powerful animals in the world, like elephants, rhinos and gorillas, are also plant eaters. Notwithstanding what Dad says, energy and strength doesn't just come from steak. Carbs, essential for endurance, and proteins, the building blocks of muscles, are abundant in plant based foods.


* * *


When I came home from school, I was pooped. Our PE teacher made us run a whole mile. I was feeling bushed. Hungry. And despondent about my assignment. How will I make some vegetables? Dad was ideologically against it like a #NeverVeggie activist. And Mom hadn't a clue about anything green. She only knew white and brown, which she consumed like a pig. She stopped growing vertically a long time ago but her ankles resembled tree trunks.

When dinner was ready I rushed down like a famished beast propelling my homework papers flying into the air. I was probably the fastest runner in school. Some students and teachers speculated I had animal genes.

Dad sat at the front of the table with a big slab of steak. "Ahooooo!" he yelled, signaling his readiness to devour it.

"Yikes! You scared the living daylights out of me," Mom complained, busily getting the rest of the food served. "How many times do I have to ask you not to yell?"

"I'm just expressing myself! I'm being a natural warthog. That's what we do! We HOOOLLLLLLERRRRR!"

I asked for vegetables but it was steak and rice for me, too, with a little side of garnish. Parsley growing wild in the garden seemed to be the best Mom could muster up.

Mom resigned herself to yesterday's leftovers. Some old chicken. And potatoes to clean it down. Someone had to finish off the old chow. Mom didn't like things going to waste. It would be very un-porcine of her.

"How's the assignment going?" Mom asked.

"Nowhere. DOA. Dead on arrival. I need to have some vegetables and learn what green stuff feels like in my mouth. You know, like food."

"There's some parsley on your plate. Chew on that."

"That's not enough, Mom! I need a plate of real, big vegetables. All kinds of vegetables."

"Rice is a vegetable."

"Not really. It's a starch."

"Are you sure? I always thought rice was a veggie."

"No . . ."

"For sure potatoes are veggies. Here, have some of mine."

"No, Mom! Potatoes are also a starch."

Nonstop talk about green food was giving Dad upset stomach. He was feeling queasy. He was up to his hairy ears with vegetables. It was fouling his mood and spoiling his medium rare, juicy steak dinner.

"Stop, stop!" he shouted. "Honey, why don't you take Sam to the supermarket and get him some of that broccolat. But if you get sick, Sam, it's not our fault!"

"Sick? Why would I get sick?" I demanded. "You can't get sick with vegetables. Ms. Jones says it's good for you."

"I've seen it happen! A friend of mine ate a bucket of coleslop and got sick. Don't think it can't happen. You don't know what's in that green stuff. It could be slime or puke!"

Unexpectedly, Dad's stomach began to suddenly cramp. He's been stuffing his face all day but nothing was coming out the exit.

"Uggghhh . . . my stomach," Dad moaned, clutching his over-sized midsection. "I really need to poooo . . ."

"Oh, dear," Mom muttered.


* * *


The drive to the supermarket was uneventful except Mom was the slowest poke on the poky road.

"Mom, you're going too slow. Go faster. Everyone is passing us!" I whined like a nine-year-old.

"Now, now . . . you make me nervous when you shout," Mom said timidly, clutching the steering wheel. "Passengers are not supposed to disturb the driver. It's against the criminal law of this country."

Mom was not confident behind the wheel but she was never involved in an accident or ever got a ticket in her thirty years of driving. Dad, on the other hand, was the most confident driver in the galaxy but his collection of moving vehicle citations could fill up moon craters.

I continued to whine and complain as car after car zipped past us. For a second I even thought I saw a classmate and tried to hide. The supermarket was probably no more than six miles away but it might take half an hour to get there. Do the math!


* * *


I had never spent much time in the grocery section of the supermarket. Our family was primarily an aisle and back shopper โ”€ boxed goods, canned goods, cereals, and meats.

The variety of natural colors from all kinds of fruits and vegetables was a novel experience. And for Mom too. But she poked and pinched like she was some kind of picky pro with exacting standards when actually she hadn't a clue. Potatoes she knew, but kale was a different kind of animal. No mass and body to it. Leaves? What do you do with that? Nibble?

She recalled the old days when her family used to chow down on pretty much everything, including green, red, yellow, orange, and purple vegetables, roots, and fruits. Cruciferous vegetables. Spinach. Swiss chard. Savoy cabbage. Celery. Basil leaves. But that was a long time ago when she was a little piglet in Cornwall.

I wanted to try them all. The funny looking things called artichokes. The red, squishy things called tomatoes. The pungent, white bulbs called garlic. Mom recoiled with confusion. She knew garlic bread. But just plain bulbs of garlic were something new.

Mom and I together carried a basket of all kinds of leafy greens and fruits to the checkout counter.

"My, my . . . are we having a big family get together?" the clerk asked. She was plump with a maternal silhouette.

"Ummmm, no. Just food . . . for dinner," Mom said haltingly.

"You guys eat really healthy! Good for you!"

"Oh, yes. We always try to eat the best," Mom said, lying shamelessly through her snout. She was at least seventy pounds overweight, even for a pig. She says she can't help it she has thick ankles.

"Mom, what do you mean?!" I asked, very confused.

"Hush!" she interrupted.

"But this is our firstโ”€" I was whisked away before I could finish elaborating.

"I have a school project! We normally never eat like this!โ”€" I shouted outside the entrance like a boy being taken hostage.


* * *


About thirty minutes later, Mom and I arrived back home.

"What took you so long?!" Dad shouted between belches. He hadn't pooped yet and his body felt like an overfilled septic tank.

"Mom drives slow!" I said, stating the obvious. Redolence from Dad's internal plumbing was starting to overtake the room.

"Oh, we were shopping. It takes time when you're shopping for more than boneless rib-eye," Mom explained. She tried opening some windows to break up the strong incense. No use.

Anxious about the project, I wondered how the other kids were getting along. Did they have a big veggie meal planned like me? I wanted to go upstairs for fresh oxygen and get in touch with my classmates.

"I'll clean the veggies and cook up something tomorrow!" Mom shouted as she spotted me running up to my room.

"Thanks Mom!" I yelled.

Minutes later, the responses I got from my classmates were a little puzzling. It seemed no one was doing anything special at all.

"Having roast with cesar salid. Soft karots potatose. Mum also got bock choy," posted Mason on Snapshaft.

"Were going to soup nation and have all you can eat buffet. Will try some veggies for the report. They have delish ice cream!" wrote Asha on her Facebark page.

"Nothing special. Spageti. Tomatoes. Spinich. brocolini. Same junk!" tweezed Tim on Twizzer.

Aside from a few marginal additions to the menu, it was just the same old for most children. No one seemed to be unfamiliar with plant foods except me. That stinks! I thought. It didn't seem fair.


* * *


The next morning I found a kitchen full of greens, reds, oranges, and yellows.

"AAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Dad roared randomly.

My eyes feasted on the colors while my brain tried to interpret its meaning.

"What is all this in the kitchen? Are we turning into a giant stinkin' forest? It's smelling up the house!" he belched.

"I can't way to eat!" I exulted.

Genetics is weird. Sometimes I wonder how I could be related. My science teacher, Mrs. Porter, says chromosomal recombination can have unexpected results. For instance, Dad has tusks. I have pink, rosy cheeks. He's rough and shaggy. I'm soft and hairless. He's all boar. The school nurse says I'm perfectly boyโ”€and cute. He hates veggies. I can't wait to try them. Maybe Mom . . . ? Perish the thought!

"Calm down! It's just for a day or two," Mom said.

Mom used some of the recipes from my teacher but looked up a few more from the internet as well. She started to remember some of the dishes she had as an infant. She prepared tomato sauce. Salad with Italian dressing. Spinach pot pie. Steamed carrots and broccoli. Fried rice with pineapples.

Mom was a relatively bad cook but somehow she managed to whip up all kinds of dishes. But its authenticity was a different matter. None of us knew what it was supposed to taste like because recipe books don't come with flavor and smell. No one could tell whether she did a poor job or the dish was just bad from the start, confirming Dad's suspicions that "if it ain't meat, it ain't fit to eat!"


* * *


At dinner Dad was still in his usual foul, truculent mood.

"Gang dangit . . . Gggggooooooooddd!" he yelled.

His personal septic tank was becoming more and more uncomfortable.

"Achoooo! Achooooo! ACHHOOOOOOOOOO!" His allergies were starting up again too.

A dinner of mostly vegetables was served for the first time in the Swine household and Dad was not very happy. There was some meats on the table, but it was paltry compared to what he was used to. Certainly, not enough to satisfy a full grown, four hundred pound warthog.

"It's just this one time, honey. Try some pumpkin and spinach. And sautรฉed cauliflower in sweet and sour sauce," Mom implored.

"Ahhh . . . alright. But you're to blame if I get sick!"

"You're not going to get sick, dear."

"I told you about my friend. He almost died from a bucket of coleslop."

I came down from my room and was amazed by the cornucopia of colors and vegetables of all kinds. While I didn't have the stomach size to eat it all, I wanted to have a taste of everything.

The broccoli was ticklish against the roof of my mouth. The zucchini was soft and mushy. Pumpkin was sweet, almost like candy. And the carrots were soft and squishy. But sometimes hard. Mom was inconsistent. She also baked up some kale and they were crispy like potato chip treats. MMmmmm . . .

"Yummmyyy!" I exclaimed.

"Thanks, sweetie. I don't think I've ever gotten a compliment on my cooking."

"Ain't it good, Dad?" I asked. He was all frowns.

"Arrgghhhhhhhhh!" he shouted. "I'll manage. But I'd love a barrel of fried chicken right now."

Slowly but surely, the Swine family scarfed down the tableful of vegetables from arugula to zucchini. I flitted from plate to plate, biting a little bit here, a taste there, and a portion of something new and delicious in another part of the table.

"You're running around like a fox!" Mom said to me. "Foxes make me nervous."

"I'm trying to taste everything, Mom. I have to do a report."

Soon, the table was almost bare. And Dad, despite all his protestations, had finished almost the entire meal on his own.

"BUUUURRRRPPPPP. BEEEEELCHHHHHHHH!" Dad excreted. It sounded like he was finished. "I think I'm done. I can't have another bite. I probably weigh a ton."

"Did you have a favorite, dear?" Mom asked.

"Hard to say. It all tasted grassy! Mushrooms bring back memories of the time I was lost in the Piney Woods of East Texas when I was a baby. I had to scavenge for food. The tofu with black sauce was alright. I can almost taste protein. Sort of has a meaty flavor. Lentils with cumin and refried beans were okay, too."

Dad was obviously keen on protein and essential amino acids. "Maybe we'll make lentils and refried beans a regular thing," Mom said.

"But nothing compares to STTTTEEEEAAAAAKKKK! I want steak TOMORROWWWWW," Dad roared. "None of this SALAD CRAPALALALALALALALALALA! Burrrrpppp!"

But unexpectedly, in the middle of his outburst and earsplitting screamologue, something began to transpire . . . Like a volcanic eruption, from a dormant septic tank long assumed dead.

"Grrrrrrrrrrr!"

"What's that terrible sound?" Mom wondered aloud.

"Booooong. Biiiiing. Bbbrrrruuuuuuuuuhiiii!"

"What the heck?! That's more disgusting than usual! Mom, are you sure I'm not adopted?" I asked. I had to know.

"Of course, dear. Don't be silly. You're all pig, just like your dad and me," she replied. That wasn't the answer I was hoping for.

"Guugugugugu! Guguguguguggu! Gaaagaaagaaagaa!"

"Yuck," I yelped, with a scowl I couldn't help evince, utterly disgusted with whatever it was, whoever it was, obviously Dad. Vainly, I tried to pinch my olfactory glands, but the miasma was like tear gas. My eyes were forming pools of sad water.

Abruptly, Dad jumped from his chair and began to run. He ran like the warthog of old. Almost as if an African lion was chasing him. He ran. And ran. On all fours. Straight to the bathroom on the other side of the living room.

Mom and I looked at each other with amazement, amusement, and aversion. What had just happened? Is it possible? After nineteen days, could this be the breakthrough Dad was waiting for?

And from the most unlikely โ”€ actually likely โ”€ source. VEGETABLES! Full of fiber and other good stuff.

"Waaaahhhhhh!"

Flush!

"AAGGGGHHHHHHH!"

Flush!

"EEEEGGGGGHHHHHHHH!"

Flush!

"RELIEEEEEEEEEEFFF!"

Flush!

"HOOOOORAYYYYYYYYY!"

Flush!

Fifteen flushes in total but it felt like infinity and forever. Dad was making poo mountains in the toilet and pushing the outer limits of modern plumbing. I was afraid the sudden rearrangement of mass could put the earth's natural rotation at risk.

Almost twenty minutes later, Dad emerged from the bathroom with a big smile of relief on his face from tusk to tusk.

"Yaahhooooooooooooooooooooo!"

"Feeling better, dear?" Mom asked rhetorically. Of course he was feeling better.

"Sure am . . . finally got it done," Dad announced proudly.

"It was probably those vegetables," I remarked.

"No, I did it!" Dad refuted strongly. "I pushed it down! My body had enough of the krayola and pushed it all out!"

Privately, however, Dad knew the vegetables had worked its magic, as they usually do. The fiber in the carrots, kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and a myriad of other greens, yellows, and reds acted like a sewer snake in Dad's very bloated, distended, and jammed intestinal plumbing system.

He was pleased as well even if he wouldn't admit it openly. His septic tank was cleaned out. And that should mean fewer unwelcome eruptions throughout the house.

"You want me to make more vegetables for dinner?" Mom asked.

"Let's not get carried away, but I'm okay . . . with an occasional lettuce leaf," Dad answered reticently.

In coming days Dad adopted changes, albeit small, on the heels of the gastronomic miracle that will probably go down in Swine family lore.

A bit of veggies were added in between mammoth slabs of steak. He wasn't going to cut back on meat โ”€ no chance of that โ”€ but he was willing to help wash it down with some kale and asparagus from time to time. Just to clean out the plumbing, he said. A precautionary, safety measure. Plumbers do it all the time, he explained.


* * *


I presented my school report and it was one of the best in class. I was rewarded with applauds and ovations from the other kids punctuated by burps from a couple smart alecks, which I didn't appreciate. More importantly, I earned an A+ for content, creativity, and effort. Ms. Jones was impressed with my exuberance for something as mundane as plain squash.

She said I helped the class see vegetables like it was for the very first time. For me, it really was. "Plant shapes and colors erupted from Sam's presentation, reminding us of exotic candies, distant stars and crazy monsters," praised Ms. Jones. Her lofty encomium almost made me turn radish red.

Speaking before the class was a little nerve-wracking but I ate my greens and got through it. It didn't give me superhuman strength but downing a can of spinach in one gulp like Popeye was a funny ice breaker.

"Cherry tomatoes exploded in my mouth like warm grenades," I told the class in my oral presentation. And "asparagus resemble spears that could lance aliens from cauliflower planets." I probably went a little over the top. My imagination can be bananas.

My classmates also learned valuable lessons from Dad's experience as well. Vegetables are not just tasty, but important for overall good health and feelings of wellness

As the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates once said, "All disease begins in the gut." What goes into your stomach inevitably redounds back to you. That might be in the form of a healthy, sound physical body. Or like my dad, clogged plumbing that leaves you stuffed and feeling irritated.