Years later, if you had asked Robbie exactly when it was that he decided to eat the elephant, he would have had trouble coming up with the answer.
Perhaps the seeds had been planted in his early childhood. All those elephant jokes…
Q: What’s red and white on the outside, and grey and white on the inside?
A: Campbell’s Cream of Elephant Soup.
Most kids had simply laughed at what had been one of many elephant jokes that had been circulating at the time. But Robbie was different. He had thought to himself: Hmmm. Elephant soup… what would it be like?
Growing up, however, Robbie gave no thought to elephant or other rare viands. He, like many of his generation, was a meat-eater, plain and simple. And by the time he was an adult, he was a carnivore of the first water. He liked – nay, loved – his red meat. A honking big porterhouse? Cowboy cut ribeye? Smoked brisket? An inch-thick burger, running with juice? Robbie was there.
But Robbie was mainly a beef man. Leg of lamb was about as exotic as he cared to get.
And yet, over the span of years, a feeling began slowly, gradually gnawing at him. Was this all there was? Surely, something more exotic was out there. Something more interesting. Something delicious. Something… big.
Inexorably, the disquieting feelings grew.
His butcher may have been the first to notice it: an unexplainable, faraway look in Robbie’s eyes. It was as though he were looking beyond the meat in the case, gazing off into the distance… but at what? When his number was called, he would, with no little effort, bring himself back to reality and focus his eyes on the slices and chunks of grain-fed steer right in front of him, forcing himself through the ordeal of placing his order.
Robbie himself knew something was amiss, but he had trouble putting his finger on it. The rich steaks, the majestic cuts of prime rib, the tender braised veal shanks that he used to love had turned to ashes in his mouth. Week after week, dinner became an ordeal of pretending things were normal, pretending that he enjoyed falling to his evening meat as he had in the past.
And then, late one night, Robbie sat bolt upright in bed. Suddenly, he knew what he wanted. What he needed. What he craved.
He wanted elephant.
He wanted elephant with a white hot passion.
He wanted elephant as much as he wanted life itself. He had to have it.
The idea of eating an elephant – an entire elephant – became an obsession, then grew to a compulsion. All of his activities began to focus, with laserlike precision, on the end of obtaining and consuming an elephant, no matter the cost.
With money obtained from credit cards and unsuspecting lenders – I’ll pay them back later, somehow, he said to himself – Robbie made clandestine arrangements with a few easily corrupted officials at the local zoological garden. There was an elephant there, a superannuated old codger known as Ezekiel, who was showing signs of reaching the end of his lengthy elephantine lifespan. If Zeke were to, say, trumpet his way off this mortal coil a bit, ahhh, prematurely, why, the zoological garden would need to provide for disposal of the body, would it not? And Robbie was only too eager to help…
Thus it was that, several weeks later, Robbie was the happy owner of a blood-caked band saw and a brace of deep freezers, all packed with gargantuan slabs of freshly butchered elephant meat. And with his larder fully stocked, Robbie now was ready to set about the business of fulfilling his new dream.
How do you eat an elephant? Robbie knew the answer to that one: One bite at a time. Years ago, he had read a story about a guy who had eaten an entire pickup truck, consuming the vehicle in tiny pieces every day over the course of several years. By God, he would do the same thing! And an elephant, he thought, would surely be more tasty than a Ford F-150.
He set happily to work.
* * * * *
It was several months later, after he had worked his way about a third of the way through his inventory of elephant meat, that Robbie had a somewhat belated epiphany.
Elephant meat sucked. He loathed it.
It was gristly, greasy and rancid-tasting at best, gamey at worst. And not “good” gamey like venison, which he had enjoyed in his pre-elephant days. “Bad” gamey… like bear. Old bear.
Whatever was I thinking? was Robbie’s bitter new mantra.
Robbie missed beef. He missed lamb and duck and ostrich. But he had squandered his money (and all that he could borrow) on elephant, of which he had approximately three metric tons remaining. There was nought else for him but to eat it.
One fucking bite at a time.