For the past several weeks, every time I step into the Al-Gamil grocery store, I head directly to the meat counter. I pull out my phone, ready to snap a photo. I expect to be greeted by a delightful and sort of disgusting holiday surprise and I am never disappointed.
First, there was a round-bellied snowman made out of raw meat with a plastic carrot nose and olive buttons. He was bald.
Then, there were three meaty snowmen with hair and green pepper arms and the words “Merry Christmas” spelled out in raw ground beef.
Then, there he was, shall we say, in the flesh? Papa Noel, Santa Claus, complete with bloody-fingerprinted eye glasses, meticulously molded cheekbones and red lips, pursed as though to imply he was mid “ho-ho-ho-ing.”
I love these creations. They are so gross, full of fat and raw meat. But they are also so creative and unique. To me, they tell of someone behind the meat counter who loves his job and has time, energy, and courage to play. It could be that he is simply bored, but boredom doesn’t tend to lead to creativity, more often boredom leads to a Candy Crush addiction.
I wanted to find out who was behind these meaty holiday sculptures.
I asked the young woman at the cheese counter and she said, “The Filipino butcher makes them.”
“Can I talk to him?” I asked.
She laughed. “Sure.” She called him from the back and he came out, half-sheepish and half-proud.
“You’re the artist who makes the snowmen and the Santa Claus?”
He told me his name, I told him I came straight away to the meat counter to see what I’d find there. I suggested he try making a Djiboutian camel and he laughed.
He said he had the idea for making these one day while in the back. I thought maybe it was a cultural thing? Nope. Turns out he had an idea and ran with it.
Each sculpture takes him about five minutes, maybe six. I questioned that, but I guess essentially it is simply rolling meat around and sticking a few plastic veggies into it.
They last about three days and then he makes a new one.
He also is the artist behind the dangling holiday decorations over the meat and cheese counters, shiny, spiraling icicle-like creations, and lights.
I thanked him for his work and said he is both butcher and artist.
I can’t quite pinpoint why these make me so happy, why I smiled and giggled my way through the rest of my shopping, and why they put me into such a good mood for the coming hours.
I could be reading too much into it, but I think they make me happy because I see in them a playful joy and a lack of taking oneself too seriously. They are a physical example of someone making something and putting it into the world, knowing it will be rotten in a few days, and doing it anyway. They are tangible evidence that people, creative and inspired and thoughtful people, are behind the counters and doing the everyday work that makes the world keep turning.
No lives were saved, no diseases cured, no buildings built, or causes for justice fought for. Just some meat. Just a guy, doing his job, and having a little fun while he does it.
That makes me happy.
Merry Meaty Christmas.