I also get this feeling when I’m in good places. Understanding that nothing I have ever done has warrented such fortune. The cliched moments before a kiss. Narrowly avoiding a car accident. Finding a dollar in the bottom of my purse. It’s that feeling that we are inevitably going to do something that will royally screw up all this bliss.
Living in Los Angeles, there is absolutely no shortage of this feeling. I was never, ever, ever meant to be here. I followed a boyfriend. Didn’t follow him to a slight drinking problem and unemployment. Happily left the boyfriend but stayed in LA for no good reason. It’s hot, it’s sunny, it has enough shiny, moving parts to keep anyone distracted for a lifetime. Good enough for my 20s.
In LA, the how’d-I-get-so-lucky tightness occurs when someone important treats you like a human being (movie producers), or when you’re told that, say, Marlene Dietrich used to live in your apartment building, you know, before it was overrun with roaches. It also occurs when you get to tell former classmates that you live in Hollywood, while they still live in their nana’s basement. It nearly always revolves around Hollywood, and usually involves one-upmanship. It’s not the purest form of good balloon stomach, but sometimes, when I’m feeling petty and desperate, it’ll do.
It’s all I had ’til I found myself trapsing along sixty one acres of vineyard in Malibu, land of a special, priveledged class who find the time to go surfing at 11 am on a Wednesday. I was touring the farm for my job. The man who owns the vineyards (in case you haven’t guessed already) is about as wealthy as the Catholic church. From my subtle questioning, I ascertain that he earned the money through “defense contracts,” which I now take to mean that he bought and/or sold metal things that killed, or could potentially kill, lots and lots of people. I try not to think about that when I’m looking at his car collection that, if sold, could feed all of Skid Row.
Driving through the grounds in a Cadillac Escalade, we first see the horses. Gorgeous thoroughbreds with gleaming chestnut coats. I know my parents wouldn’t have bet on them at the Belmont track, because they only put bets on the gray ponies. But these guys could beat gray ponies without breaking a horsey sweat.
Next, we see the zebras, and I realize that this man doesn’t only invest in metal. He also has a jonesing for exotic livestock. The zebras look like graffitied ponies– short, squat, and toddler-esque; their existence feels entirely fabricated because they’re on private property. Previous to this, I’ve only seen them in their natural, American habitat– the Bronx Zoo. They share a short pasture with a few giraffes, and a wooden fence that blocks them off from Fordham University. Such is the way of things. I would think that these are fiberglass models, except no one makes fiberglass animal models that look sullen and kind of depressed.
We carry on, spotting a shaggy cow (a Scottish Highland, reigning supreme in a lonely herd of one) and see one camel. It’s laying down, basking in the painfully hot sun. It looks a little shaggy, but content. The car behind ours signals for us to stop. The owner’s adult daughter runs to the window, telling us that a baby camel was born just a few hours ago, and we should go and see it. Instinctually, I wonder if some sort of Los Angeles bureau knows that their camels aren’t spayed and neutered. Soon, the city is going to need shelters just to hold them all. No kill camel shelters will be heralded by Betty White and Bob Barker.
We get some passing remarks about the vines (“Look, chardonnay, isn’t it pretty…”), and then we’re at the portion of the lot reserved for newly-birthed dromedaries.
We tromp through the gatekeeper animals– a bunch of roosters and chickens who skitter about, while blue and red Macaw parrots focus their beady eyes on us from a large cage. The soft and persistent cluck of chickens is oddly very calming, but watching a passel of kids, aged ten and under, harass the animals makes me sick with rage. What do parents do when their child accidentally kicks a chicken? If a chicken gets hurt, do they just chop off its head and eat it? Something tells me there’s something special about these chickens and that these chickens are probably very expensive. Not the kind you buy for $3 a pound at Costco. A child is holding a large bird like a complacent housecat. One wrong move and that chicken (or the kid’s eyeball) is toast. I’m worried more about the animal’s bone structure, as the child appears to have a guardian. The chicken’s on her own.
The camels in Aladdin are not drawn to scale, for your information. Again, in the Bronx Zoo, you can pay a few dollars and ride a camel, but my mother refused to ever let us board one. She insisted that they spat and were unfriendly; my guess is she didn’t want to fight the losing battle of trying to get camel stench out of our clothes.
Grown camels are huge. Over seven feet tall at the hump with snakelike necks and eyes the size of tennis balls. Supermodels ought to be jealous of their flapping eyelashes. Their lips never stop moving and their mossy teeth chomp down on hay, both fresh and, apparently, regurgitated. It’s a pretty spectacular site, and a remarkably repulsive smell. I grin, and I bear it. Because this is the closest I will ever get to a camel. Ever. Because now I know better, and know that clothing that comes in direct contact with camel will never be freed of camel stench. And I only own one pair of jeans.
A co-worker spied the baby camel– an unmistakeable and lanky creature, the color of a dirty Labrador. She pouted that the baby camel was humpless, and was not satisfied with my explanation that camel humps are fat reserves, and baby camels, two hours from the womb, don’t exactly have the time to build up their stores. I was clearly being a know-it-all, and hot damn, did it feel good.
And then, while watching a baby camel, it happened. Balloon tummy. A wrenching tightness of the abdomen, when you realize all the fun is over. A thousand baby camels could not save the moment. Zebras, chickens, parrots– their festive patterns and colors washed away; they were now merely drones of mirthless chatter.
Because it was at that moment that the mother camel almost stepped in her placenta.
The balloon stomach tightens as your consciousness lifts from your body, and watches, helplessly, as you fall into a pit of morbid curiosity. Because of the organ’s location, at the very center of the ring containing both mother and baby camel, you know something terrible will inevitably happen. And you debate with yourself– do you or do you not want to see? Can you even tear your eyes away?
I turned and looked at the expensive poultry again. Not nearly as riveting as the baby camel. Even expensive chickens are just damn chickens. But one glance back at the camel, and all you can see is pink ooze.
It already is swarmed by an ominous cloud of black flies, buzzing fitfully as you realize: in the mere hours that these flies will be on the earth, this is the happiest moment of their lives. The flies have found their Valhalla. The flies can die happily now. Oh, how silly they were to previously be contented with mere camel and Scottish Highland dung, or to flit happily around the food troughs of chickens and macaws. This, this is what they have waited generations to see.
Now, I don’t know about you, but prior to seeing a camel placenta, I had thought that my health and reproductive education had been, sure, lacking, but in the end, suitable. I attended high school in Connecticut, in a freakishly liberal town that taught sex ed with the opening salvo of, “Abstinence is the only way to 100% ensure you won’t get pregnant or catch STDs. But since we know that won’t happen, let’s get on with the show.” It was the type of education so honest, you couldn’t look classmates in the eyes after the bell rang. Undressing a crush with your eyes was now clinical, rather than tempting. You may not ever have seen such parts with your teenaged eyes, but goddamn, there were diagrams. And up until this moment, those diagrams had prepped me just fine, thank you very much.
But nothing, no amount of discussion of gestational phases or horrific, gonadal afflictions, can prepare one for seeing a placenta. Of a camel. On the ground. Besieged with flies.
Dear God, I thought to myself, as my stomach swelled and deflated, in an oscillating pattern of disgust and self-loathing. I was never, ever, ever meant to be here.