Mmmm…squirrel brains 

I'm a hardcore homebody. It's hard to get me out of my house, because I like being in my house. I control the temperature of the room and the buttons of the TV remote. I don't have many reasons to go out amongst the texting drivers, off-leash dogs, reprobates and ne'er-do-wells. My range is roughly that of a possum, about 0.6 miles. That'll get me to three pretty good restaurants, so I'm guaranteed not to starve. I can easily cover the whole stretch on foot. Lately, though, I've had reason to go up to Kentucky to visit daughter Jess, who's engaged in academic, artistic and athletic endeavors up there in the bluegrass.

Once I'm on the road, I enjoy driving through the Kentucky countryside. It's pretty up there, especially now that the leaves are starting to turn. There's just enough curve in the highways to keep the drive interesting. Sure, every gas station is packed with hot-boxing chain smokers, but that's good for the local economy, not to mention much-needed death-panel research. I buy my gas outside, at the pump with the card reader, then ease on up the road.

But there is this one thing that makes me wonder. A lot of the cars up in Kentucky are oddly modified, like those no-legged and multi-legged frogs that keep showing up in swamps across America. The frogs, heaven help 'em, have their own problems with wormy swamp creatures injecting them with some kind of evil bug juice that causes the frogs to grow extra legs. Worse yet are the dragonfly larvae that just love biting the legs off tadpoles. Bastards.

A while back, I had a day to kill and I was missing my darling daughter, so I drove up to Kentucky and met Jess in the parking lot of a Kentucky strip mall, which had a McDonald's and a CiCi's pizza joint. After a quick assessment, I realized that the parking lot was a lot like a swamp full of troubled frogs.

"What's up with all these dented cars," I asked Jess.

"I'm stumped," Jess replied. "Everywhere you look up here in Kentucky, you see dented cars. They've got dents all around. Top to bottom. Front to back."

"Dents are the least of it," I said. "There's a late-'70s AMC Gremlin in the McDonald's parking lot, and it's got a spoiler epoxied to the roof."

"No AMC product needs a spoiler," Jess replied. "And I don't know how these cars got such wide variety in their dents. There are watermelon-sized dents, baseball-sized dents, and human-head-sized dents."

"I think I know what's going on," I said.

"Well, tell me," Jess said. "Up 'til now, the only dents I've seen on cars came from other cars."

"People are fighting on the cars," I said. "It's because they're sick, and they're not thinking straight. Some years back, I learned that some rustic Kentucky folk took up the custom of eating squirrel brains. The people who ate the brains came down with mad squirrel disease, and it made them go crazy. It's just like mad cow disease. People get the staggers, go witless and then drop dead. It's a hell of a price to pay for eating one little walnut-sized squirrel brain."

"You're making that up," Jess said.

"Nope, I'm telling the truth," I said. "About 10 or 12 years ago, doctors were studying this very thing at the University of Kentucky, up in Lexington. I know because I'm deeply interested in aberrant human behavior, which would include people brain-eating and car-fighting. As I recall, in the brain-eating parts of Kentucky, when a man wants to impress his neighbors, he presents a whole squirrel head to the lady of the house. That's followed by a ritual shaving of the squirrel head, and then there's the frying of the squirrel head. The man who brought the squirrel head gets to take a little bite of the brain."

"So," said Jess, "you're saying that the rustics go out and kill squirrels, fry their heads, eat their brains, and then they come down with a disease that makes them want to climb up on cars and start fighting?"

"Maybe even fighting to the death," I said. "They've tasted the tainted brains, and they're heading for the bright and mystical light at the other end of the squirrel. They've got nothing to lose."

Before I headed back to Nashville, I thought it best to leave Jess with a father's sound advice for living in Kentucky.

"If anybody invites you to a brain-tasting or a hillbilly car-fighting celebration," I said, rolling up my window, "for cryin' out loud, decline."



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