Barry Westin woke up on Sunday morning to the incessant ringing of the house phone.
“Hello?” he answered, wiping crust from his eyes.
The woman on the line cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. “Is this Mr. Berry?”
He found it strange that she would refer to him by his first name following the title “Mr.”
“Speaking,” said Barry.
“Mr. Berry, we’ve been looking to get ahold of you for a while now. My name is Shirley, and I’m the rally organizer at Wows for Cows. I’m sure you’ve heard of us.” She paused for dramatic effect. Barry guessed that Shirley thought Wows for Cows was an important organization.
“I’ve never heard of Wows for Cows.”
“Very funny, Mr. Berry,” she responded, laughing dryly. “Belittling us will get you nowhere. I’m calling to fulfill our legal obligation to inform you that there will be a rally this morning outside of your residence to protest your corporation’s inhumane meatpacking practices. As it will be taking place on public property, we please ask that you do not assault or confront any of the peaceful protestors. There will be police present to control the situation.”
She paused again.
“Um,” Barry mumbled.
“Have a good morning, Mr. Berry,” she answered, and hung up.
Barry set the phone down gently. He put on his khaki shorts, drew his bathrobe around his shoulders, and poured himself a bowl of Reese’s Puffs.
While he chewed, Barry was perturbed by sounds of chanting that seemed to be coming from the streets below. He lived on the first floor of an apartment in New York City.
Screams of “WE HAVE BEEF, YES WE DO, WE HAVE BEEF, HOW ABOUT YOU” penetrated the walls of his apartment, doubling in volume every five minutes.
Barry stood up at his table, wondering why people were chanting such inane phrases outside of his apartment. He poured himself another bowl of Puffs, using the milk left over from the first bowl. They were especially crunchy this morning, he noted to himself.
He carried his breakfast out to his apartment’s balcony, hoping to see what the ruckus was going on below. On the way, he looked up Wows for Cows. They were an organization that protested animal cruelty. He had no idea why they had come to his apartment. He did not own a company that had inhumane meatpacking practices to protest. Barry didn’t own any companies. Barry, in fact, was not employed anywhere, to the displeasure of his family, who he barely spoke to anymore.
As soon as he stepped onto the balcony, the cheering stopped. A crowd of over a thousand people fell silent, staring at Barry. They were lined up neatly, cordoned off by fences and packed into the small city square in front of him. At the head of each set of fences was a rally organizer, holding what looked to be a megaphone. The rally organizers wore white shirts with large black spots. In front of the organizers, like the heads of a roman legion, stood three police officers overseeing the protest.
Near the front, one protestor started to boo him, and it spread throughout the crowd. The rally organizers booed him through their megaphones, and the cars on the street honked in annoyance at the protestors.
The three policemen started yelling and waving their hands, seemingly scared of a stampede or riot. From Barry’s limited point of view, it didn’t seem like they were doing a great job.
Suddenly, Barry put up his hands in a sign of surrender. The crowd quieted in turns, those who were looking at Barry stopping their boos first and others after they realized that booing wasn’t the fashionable thing to do anymore. Traffic slowed as drivers looked up at Barry on the balcony.
“My friends,” yelled Barry, pieces of unchewed Puffs flying out of his mouth to pelt unfortunate protestors below. “I have realized the error of my ways. Cows, like us, deserve the right to live and die naturally. All beings deserve companionship and love. Who are we to take this away from one another? Perpetuating violence between species will both decay our moral senses and perpetuate the ongoing climate crisis.”
With his pronouncements, he waved his spoon wizard-like over the crowd. Now he shifted the spoon so that the curved scooper pointed towards himself.
“For too long, the owners of big corporations, like myself, have exploited the existing political system for their own gain. We have always killed animals, we say. Why not continue to do what has always been done?”
“Yeah!” Shouted one protester, before realizing that no one else had shouted with him.
“But no more!” proclaimed Barry. “I rinse my hands of these sins. I will not participate in the culture that encourages us to consume and produce at the expense those around us. From now on, no cows will be killed on my watch!”
Jaws dropped in disbelief.
And then the cheering started. Protestors hugged each other, tears streaming down their faces. Some immediately took out their phones to take selfies with Barry in the background. Some with loudspeakers started to chant “NO MORE COW CHOW,” but the crowd had stopped paying attention. They were too busy reveling in the success of the day.
Protestors started to disperse, headed to work or home or wherever else they were going that day. Barry yawned, went back inside, and finished his cereal.