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Settling Beef

James Beamon writes because he can't afford to make the movie version. You can find him in Virginia with his wife and son when he's not traveling to places no one wants to go. This marks his third appearance at DSF. Check out what he's cooking next at fictigristle.wordpress.com.

When the cows started wearing toupees, we laughed behind their backs. We weren't going to be impolite about it.
All of us understood the n'ermer were an advanced alien species, not really cows. After all, they walked upright, had four-fingered hands instead of hooves and wore clothes--these shiny garments which looked like tracksuits or garbage bags, depending on style. Still, they had cow fur, cow faces. After six months on Intergalactic Space Station Cooperation we had gotten used to them. Then these advanced beings with the cow-like fur and faces started wearing human hairpieces and walking through the space station like it was a summer fashion trend. How could we not laugh?
Then we learned those weren't toupees, but the scalps of humans they had killed during the war. Suddenly, it wasn't so funny.
My boss, Ambassador Tanner, nearly went rabid. He was an old school Texan who came to work in his corner of the joint station in a cowboy hat and bolo tie. A white-haired, gristled vet, he wasn't about to take orders from the n'ermer or "get steered by steers" as he put it.
"Goddamn beefies itchin' for another war?" Tanner asked me and his other aides as he stormed about his office. "Cause I ain't one to shirk from a cattle drive."
"We can always talk to them?" I offered.
"Can we?" Ambassador Tanner asked sarcastically. "Last thing I'm gonna do is rely on that janky ass translation software. That crap's worse than auto-correct. And last time I checked none of y'all have been trained to speak moo."
"How will they know we have a problem with what they're wearing if we don't say something, sir?"
Ambassador Tanner took his cowboy hat off and regarded me as if my brain was made of one cell. "I thought we hired you cause you were smart, Tyrone. Are you the diversity hire? We still doing that sort of thing? Son, you don't think they know wearing people parts is offensive to people?"
"So what do we do, sir?"
The ambassador put his hat back on his head and adjusted his bolo tie. "We call Washington. Fight fire with fire. And use fire to cook beef. I ain't gonna bargain with them. I don't kowtow to cows."
Tanner's antagonistic view of the n'ermer was half the reason Washington assigned him here. He was sure to check all possible n'ermer aggression with deliberate human aggression.
Not for the first time, I wish I worked for the Indian delegation. Many of them were Hindus and got along with the n'ermer like nobody's business. Since I couldn't talk to the n'ermer, I walked three hallways down and talked to the Indians.
When I got back to the office, most of the staff was shredding documents. One aide told me it was an order in case the beefies overran our embassy office. In the back, Ambassador Tanner had opened the gun cabinet and was handing out rifles. I was pretty sure they were all part of his personal arsenal.
"Sir, you know all the n'ermer aren't wearing scalps, right? It's just the ones that are directly across the hall from this embassy."
"You telling me I got stationed next to Ground Zero, Pamplona before the bulls start running? How do you know that?"
"The Hindus, sir."
"Them cow worshipping Uncle Toms," Ambassador Tanner scoffed. "Don't got enough sense to know God ain't supposed to taste good with barbecue sauce."
"The Hindus know more about the n'ermer than most other delegations. They say the n'ermer rely mostly on indirect social shaming to resolve conflict. Things we would consider passive-aggressive."
"Anyone saying that wasn't in the war," Tanner replied and checked a rifle.
I could waste my time talking about how the war, caused by misunderstandings on both sides, only lasted one year. But I value my time in ways the ambassador clearly didn't.
"Come with me, sir. It'll only take a minute."
I led Ambassador Tanner outside of our offices and into the giant hallway of the space station. Ten aliens with cow faces and human hair stood about. Blonde tresses, nappy box fade, one brown mullet. Tanner looked at me like I was Benedict Arnold leading an army of redcoats down his throat. I held up one hand to silence protest.
"True story, when I was sixteen I worked at KFC. The restaurant was in the West End of Louisville, which is predominately black. Our uniforms at that particular KFC were black pants, burgundy dashiki, and a fez of Kente cloth. At first I thought nothing of it, mostly because I was sixteen and eager to have an honest job. Later, I figured the company was embracing diversity, acknowledging the community. Makes sense, right?"
"Tits on a bu--," Ambassador Tanner cut himself short and looked at the n'ermer. "You going somewhere with this damn story, son?"
"Yeah. Some years later I really, really thought about it. I wasn't infiltrating some strange land where it was important to dress like the natives. Unlike you, I wasn't an ambassador. I was a kid selling fried fricking chicken to fellow black people in a damn dashiki. I could've done that in a polo shirt like the KFC employees do in virtually every other store across the States. Taco Bell employees in Hispanic communities don't wear sombreros."
I approached Ambassador Tanner and reached for his neck. Not to strangle him like I do in so many of my daydreams, but to remove the cowboy style bolo tie, the one with the miniature silver longhorn cow skull that acted as the slide clasp.
"Sometimes dressing traditionally is important," I said. "Sometimes it's just the wrong choice."
Unanimously, the n'ermer took their hairpieces down and stuffed them into pockets of their trash bag tracksuits. I looked back at my employer.
"I'm pretty sure the janky translation software can handle 'I'm Sorry.'"
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Author Comments

This story was the product of a contest within my writers' group. One of the writing prompts was about a strange article of clothing. Initially I thought of the bolo tie and afterwards my mind flashed to a Chic-fil-a commercial starring a cow in a blonde wig. The story wrote itself after that. The "true story" section that the protagonist narrates in this story really did happen to me.

- James Beamon
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