One day I was storming down the street howling to the skies and mud about the greyfaces that assaulted me on a daily basis, when I suddenly heard someone nearby howling louder than myself. It wasn’t hard to spot the gnarled old bastard with a face like a chewed caramel zigzagging back and forth across the streets grabbing people by their ears and bellowing “IS ANYONE THERE?” into their faces, then turning to someone else and repeating the same procedure. One after the other after the other . . . I watched, stunned, wondering why the people being screamed at didn’t take offense. If someone grabbed me by the ears and screamed into my face he would be swiftly introduced to my good friend Mr. Steel-Toe Boot, but these people seemed to swoon, and then stare off into space in a daze.
I had to find out what was going on.
Eventually the old coot made his way toward me and grabbed for my ears. Before he could take hold I said, Yes, I am here. What do you want?
The old man didn’t blink an eye but just grabbed me by the shoulder and walked me onto a quieter side street. Thank the goddess, he said, sputtering and breathing hard. I thought I was the only one left, he added.
The only what? I asked. He turned his paper-slit eyes toward me and said: The only person left.
The only person? But what about all the people you were shouting at?? I asked. For a few moments he stared blankly at me, as if he hadn’t heard what I said. Those weren’t people, he said finally, they were Cabbages.
Cabbages? I asked. They looked like people to me. The old man laughed. Of course they looked like people, Cabbages look exactly like people. They walk like people, they talk like people, they eat like people, they sleep like people, they go to work like people, they see movies like people, they watch tv like people, they read books like people . . . they are the best copies of people you’ll ever see. But they are not people, my son, they are most assuredly Cabbages.
What’s the difference? I asked. He leaned toward me, and said: People dream, my boy, people question. People think. People play. People laugh. Look at these poor souls, sleepwalking through life . . . they think they’re people, but they are vegetables. Blind, ridiculous, vegetables.
Ah ha, I said with glee. I know many Cabbages, my life is full of them, and they are the bane of my existence! I know them as Greyfaces!
No! the old man said quickly. Do not mistake the two . . . Greyfaces and Cabbages are not the same, except when they are. Greyfaces are much more dangerous.
Dangerous? I asked. How?
Well, let me ask you this, he said, which would you be most wary of . . . a sleeping dog, or a dog having a nightmare?
I suppose a dog having a nightmare, I said. The old man smiled. Exactly, he said. A Greyface is a Cabbage who is living a nightmare. The Greyface’s nightmare is truly terrifying. He is told that the world will crumble around him if all do not think and act exactly as he does, the only sane person on the face of the planet, and will stop at nothing to ensure that his nightmare doesn’t come true. Greyfaces believe the world is humorless and product-driven. He believes there is a way to draw a perfect circle and you damned well better find out how, or pay the price. Never turn your back on the Greyface, my son.
I pondered this. So, I said after a while, those I referred to as Greyfaces were actually Cabbages?
I don’t know them personally, the old man said, but I would imagine they were. Almost everyone you meet is a Cabbage.
What’s the difference, I asked the old man.
All Greyfaces are Cabbages, he said, but not all Cabbages are Greyfaces. Some Cabbages wake up and become real people, some even become Children of the Goddess if they are very on the ball . . . but Greyfaces rarely become people.
How do I know if I’m a Cabbage? I asked.
He stood up, and patted me on the shoulder. Son, the Cabbages never even ask that.
The old man began to walk away from me, toward an older lady. I could see his fingers twitching with anticipation at the thought of grabbing hold of her ears. WAIT! I called out to him, What is your name?
He turned back to me briefly. Coleslaw, he said. For, I shred the cabbage of people’s minds.