They clack their teeth to ward off predators.
An experimental documentary short film about faces, places, and choices.
Note: video contains jerky-camera shots, fast-cut effects, and strobe lighting.
Five skulls with antlers were mounted on the wall above Len and Mara’s fireplace. The skulls’ elongated narrow jaws formed an overbite of large incisors framing two dainty front teeth that slightly inclined toward each other, as if sharing a secret. The skulls glared down through outraged eye sockets at the people in the living room room who were mostly tall, and mostly men. The men stood in clumps around the living room, chatting in closed circles of threes and fours, drinking beer, and wearing t-shirts featuring nerd memes.
They worked for a large Silicon Valley company. My husband knew all of them; I knew none. Len’s wife, Mara, was a stay-at-home mother in her thirties who governed a nation of four children under the age of six. She had managed to get them to bed early before the party started. She had made several different kinds of hors d’oeuvres, and two Canadian briskets were steaming in the oven. The house smelled like hot dogs.
I joined the clump of men that contained my husband. One of the men asked, “MC2 should be finished in six months. Has anyone seen it?”
“I’ve seen it,” said another man. He drank from a can of watermelon-flavored beer.
“Will your team go?”
“Not sure yet.”
I asked, “What’s MC2?” looking Watermelon Beer Man right in the eye. He looked back blankly and didn’t respond. There was more oblique talk. I left the men, drifted over to the hors d’oeuvres table, and scarfed five prosciutto-wrapped cheese bites.
Mara walked by, glancing at the table to see if the food needed replenishing. I said, “These prosciutto bites are very good.”
She stopped and promptly rattled off the ingredients. Encouraged, I asked, “Do you know what ‘MC2’ is?”
“Who fucking cares?” she said. We smiled at each other.
I asked her, “What’s up with the skulls?”
“I shot them,” she said.
“With a… gun?”
“What animal did they belong to?” I asked.
“Javelinas. They’re wild hogs. Arizona encourages hunting of javelinas in particular, to reduce their population. They’re a menace.”
“What were you doing in Arizona?” I asked.
“I had a career as a mining engineer before we came here and had kids.”
“Oh,” I said. I tried to imagine this diminutive white woman wearing a yellow hard hat deep inside a mine, blowing things up. I tried to imagine her with a shotgun in the sun-blasted desert, squinting into her viewfinder at her prey, and pulling the trigger.
I had so many questions, but I knew that I would need at least two hours to get through them all. Instead, I changed the subject by asking, “How did you manage to make hors d’oeuvres and dinner, and simultaneously care for four young children?”
Mara said, “I took the kids to the park and made them run. Then, when we came home, I made them do laps up and down the hallway to fully exhaust them. I pretended it was a game.”
I nodded, impressed. She looked pleased. We both knew that her pleasure was more about tricking fate than pride. Even if Mara handled shotguns and explosives expertly, she could still be easily taken down by innocent toddler sabotage. Today she had won.
Javelinas don’t actually have antlers. Mara had glued them onto the skulls. What’s more, javelinas are not wild hogs, they’re peccaries. They clack their teeth to ward off predators. They like to stick with their herd and mostly don’t cause trouble. These skulls came from misunderstood and misidentified animals who died violently, then their bones were used for cross-species collage. The skulls had several legitimate reasons for their unhappiness.
Video of four buskers dressed as life-size puppets outside a museum in Bilbao, Spain. One of them says, “I love you.” They rhythmically clack their jaws in a short percussion performance.
Over the years I noticed that other tall men standing in clumps at other Silicon Valley events consistently allocated me to a Plus One herd. I was amazed, because though I didn’t work at a large Silicon Valley company, I had been in tech for decades. There was no question in my mind that I could navigate and contribute to tech conversations if given the opportunity, though admittedly I found most tech subjects boring.
I got over the rejection when I realized that I vastly preferred the Plus One herd. Its members were people with deep intelligence, strong personalities, and wide-ranging skills. Mara was just the tip of the iceberg. When I asked the Plus Ones a question, I got an answer. They included the excluded.
A guest returning from a Canadian business trip smuggled the brisket through Customs.
MC2 referred to an unreleased product. If a person was not “disclosed,” that is, if that person didn’t have the required clearance, then information couldn’t be shared about it. Watermelon Beer Man might have lost his job had he explained to me what MC2 was. After I asked my question, he may have been paralyzed with fear that either he had made or would make a disclosure mistake. Not that I knew any of that, at the time.
I don’t know if Mara herself did the work to decapitate, clean, and bleach the skulls of the javelina corpses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had.
At the ruins of ancient Messene on the Peloponnese, Greece. by T. Bull
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