I never liked Meet the Fockers. It’s the second installment of the Meet the Parents movie series. Why anyone decided it was worthy of a trilogy, I’ll never know.
In the movies, Ben Stiller is an awkward, but lovable character who does really stupid, embarrassing things for the duration of the film(s). I have a hard time watching someone make literally all of the wrong decisions for 95 minutes. Other people can laugh at other’s embarrassment, “Oh look at what he’s gotten himself into now!” they might say. “I can’t believe he keeps embarrassing himself, haHA!” But for me it brings up a pain I’m all too familiar with. The worst part is the jokes have a set with an obvious spike coming up later.
“Don’t flush this toilet,” the father-in-law says.
“The cat is allergic to milk.”
“This urn contains the ashes of my father (the most important man in my life), and it’s sitting on a mantle that is far too small above a set of nice, hard bricks that would most certainly shatter it if you were to accidentally bump it. And I wouldn’t find it funny. At all. I’m Robert DeNiro and I’ve been typecast as the disapproving father.”
Then, Ben Stiller shits in the toilet and flushes, drops half-and-half on the cat, and in his effort to stop the cat from licking itself, he bumps the ashes, sending them crashing against the floor; plumes of ash rise in living room, recreating a sandstorm one might see in Saudi Arabia. And now Ben Stiller is painted grey by the remains of a dead person. And the cat has fire hose diarrhea because it’s lactose intolerant.
I’ve definitely used a toilet when it was out of order. I’ve definitely made up stories for a girlfriend’s parents to look cool, even though the story was transparently false. I’ve watched a friend’s cat, lost it the first day and found it nine blocks away, five days later. I probably don’t enjoy those movies because it seems less like a comedy and more like my biography.
But I dislike Meet the Fockers due to a specific scene. In the scene, Ben Stiller is going through an old family photo album when he gets to his baby page and finds a piece of something in there, wedged between the pages like a pressed flower. He holds it up and asks, “What’s this?”
Without a flinch his father, played by Dustin Hoffman, smiles and says “That’s your foreskin.”
Ben Stiller does what the audience is feeling and drops it, dry heaves and leaves the room. (And yes, the foreskin does fall into soup and, of course, the father eats it and, absolutely, no one tells him but Ben Stiller knows and the audience laughs and cringes.) I hated the scene because I knew it would never happen. WHO WOULD SAVE FORESKIN!? I wanted to shout in the theaters.
The characters could have levitated, walked on water, spoke to Martians or calculate the square root of the 1,000,000th digit of pi and my suspension of disbelief would be less destroyed. I refused to believe a normal person could come out of a family that would save anything like that.
It’s a scene I hadn’t thought about until my sister had her daughter and even then it didn’t cross my mind until the week after Wren’s birth.
We were sitting at my sister’s house when there came a knock at the door. I was nearest, so I answered. When I swung the door open, a small woman greeted me with a pearly smile. Her curly hair exploded outward behind her as if she used the “Leaf Blower” setting on her hairdryer.
“Chrysanthemum.” She says, stretching her hand towards mine.
“Nick,” I instinctually say and give her a hand shake.
Her eyes are perpetually half closed, as if she’s staring into the sun or enjoying a really good high. She scoots past me and peels off her boots, then curls her legs under her on the couch next to my sister.
Chrysanthemum is here to sell something to my sister. She’s a specialist with child birth, a doula, and in her free time she takes people’s placentas and turns them into capsules. Chrysanthemum says she uses capsules to make the placenta easy to digest, but I know it’s because there’s something inherently wrong with eating a bloodied organ that comes out of your hoo-ha.
You see, the body does a miraculous thing: it tastes/sees/smells/feels disgusting things and says to you, “If you don’t put some distance between you and that thing pretty soon, you’re going to vomit.” Things that disgust us are usually things that carry disease. Anything that comes from the business end of our torso is probably pretty safe to avoid.
So it baffles me that someone would do what this woman does. At what point did someone decide that a placenta was something you’d want to eat? Who would go through hours of labor, witness the brutality of childbirth, then watch the afterbirth come sliding out in a bloodied mess and think to themselves, “What’s the best way to eat this?”
What part of that bloodied organ is appetizing? The nurses told us there were cases of people asking for a fork and a knife; to eat it right then and there and ask as casually as a couple in need of utensils out for dinner.
To which I respond: don’t bullshit me.
To which they said: seriously they do.
To which I lament: what happened to the human race? At what point of human evolution did we decide that a pooped out organ was for dinner?
Chrysanthemum tells us the placenta is full of nutrients, and even though it no longer sustains the child it can still be used for the mother’s purposes.
“It helps balance your hormones,” she tells my sister. “And it’ll help regulate breast milk production, or help with that process.”
It’s perfectly natural, she says, stating that mammals do it all the time. I want to add that it’s totally natural for a dog eat poop, but hold my tongue.
I totally get it; I’m 100% behind regulating hormones and helping with breast milk. I’m all for natural remedies and things that help my sister and niece be the healthiest they possibly can.
It brings up so many questions.
Does it involve smuggling out an organ? You can’t leave the hospital with a severed finger, does that mean there a black market of placentas? What if you have a really good placenta, does it go for higher on the placenta black market? Who was the first person to eat their placenta and how many friends and family did they alienate?
She tells us she dehydrates it, grinds it (“in an industrial grade coffee grinder”) then capsulates the dried powder of my sister’s uterus crop (“the female body is like earth: it cultivates and grows life for its children”). When its dehydrated, it looks the consistency of salted, dried meat (“kinda like beef jerky”). I will never look at beef jerky the same again.
I’m just happy I’m seated behind her, I’m certain my contorted, squinted facial expressions would no doubt create some inquiry about the state of my stomach and if I am going to be ill or not. Yet my entire family is unfazed. My sister and brother-in-law sit in their seats, eyes glued to the half-drooped eyelids. My mother chomps noisily at some potato chips and watches the scene unfold. She is beside herself, watching the dichotomy between my sister and I.
“Here are the prints I did,” she says, pulling out white construction paper you might find in a 3rd grade classroom. She’s made a print of the placenta. “As you can see, it looks a lot like trees.” Her fingers follow the veins of the now encapsulated placenta. “It resembles the root system of a tree; you can see the intricacies of every vein.”
The paper is lined with a brownish sort of paint, almost the color of rust, in the half-circle shape of a kidney. It’s as large as a cantaloupe and has caused the paper to ripple and warp: signs of too much paint being used.
“So did you use a natural paint?” Jason asks.
“Oh no,” she tells us. “You’re going to eat it, so I didn’t add anything other than what’s come out of your body. If you want to keep the print, you’ll need to make photocopies since…” She smiles when we don’t finish her thought, “since the blood naturally fades.”
I open my mouth to double check with her that she meant to insinuate that the print was made with blood when I realize that’s exactly what she’s insinuating. Jason and Alison look at the prints like two kids at the Body Worlds OMSI exhibit: a disgusted intrigue. I hold a fist to my mouth and try not to think about what spaghetti would look like half-digested and on the floor of my sister’s house.
My mother giggles next to me.
“And this,” the woman says, reaching into a bag, “is the dried umbilical cord. You can see the veins if you hold it up to the light.” The tiny veins zigzag through the parchment thin membrane like cracks on an old sidewalk. “This kinda looks like beef jerky too,” she says, solidifying my new found disgust with dried and salted meat.
My mother crunches loudly next to me and leans over, “Potato chip?” She bites down on a chip and smiles.
“What would we do with it?” Jason asks.
“Whatever you want! That’s the beauty of it. Some people keep it in a box, others use it as a keychain.”
A little part of me died right then, the part of me that knew Meet the Fockers was fiction. Now I lived in a world —a reality— where people keep parts of the human body best kept only in memory. All of the sudden, that scene from Meet the Fockers could be not only be possible, but probable as well. How many of Ashland’s residents kept the umbilical cord? How many ate their placenta? 10%? 5%?
The truth is, anything over 0% is much more than I thought it’d be.
How naïve, I was, to think that this was beyond the realm of possibility. Because I was sitting there watching this woman pull out dried, dehydrated bits of my sister and looking at them not with awkward weirdness, but medical indifference. An umbilical cord is a far cry from foreskin but it’s closer than I ever thought was possible. Closer than I ever wanted things to come.
Ashland is a town that I’ll never fully understand. There are parts of it that are beyond my realm of comprehension. I’ll get used to it, in the same way someone gets used to reoccurring hemorrhoids or their receding hairline, but I don’t think my brain can fully fathom its numerous intricacies. There’s a whole subculture of wacky, different things that tourists never hear about and one can never know until they live here for several years. I live in a world where saving a placenta is not weird. And that’s weird.
I can go up to a complete stranger and say, “I know someone that saved their placenta and ate it.”
And the response won’t be abhorrent disgust but confusion: “And…?”
The woman left, leaving behind the capsules, and prints. My sister and brother-in-law looked at what they had before them and exchanged a laugh. Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, the laugh seemed to say.
My mother chomped down on another chip, and my mind went back to the cord.
“I think she forgot to leave the cord.”
She had, and I thought of how she’d explain its presence when someone found it in her purse.
“Is this Jerky?” they’d ask. And Chrysanthemum would explain, no it’s just someone’s umbilical cord.
In any other place, in any other town, in any other world, the person would wonder about the woman’s sanity. They’d drop it instantly and wash their hands and never, ever eat beef jerky again.
But in Ashland they’d smile and say, “Cool! If you hold it up to the light you can see all the veins!”