The following is a transcript of emails, illegally recorded by federal eavesdroppers, between XJ3516, a member of Taystee Turkey Farm in Salisbury, Maryland, and Tom, a member of Wattles Unlimited, a Shelter Island-based turkey social group.
Tom: Just checking in, XJ. Trusting that you made it through Thanksgiving down there.
XJ: Tom! Great to hear from you. Still here, still upright, although that can be a struggle with my bulging girth. Wow, what a madhouse the last few weeks were. If I didn’t know better, it seemed like a life-or-death struggle to get ready for the holiday. All our human assistants were really hustling to keep us relaxed and fed and they even got into the holiday spirit, decorating the conveyor belts with green pine boughs and wearing historically accurate Pilgrim costumes as they tended to our creature comforts.
Tom: I was concerned about you because modern “farm life” these days bears little resemblance to the agricultural lore our elders handed down: Spacious outdoor pens, languid snacking on grain and goofy guys in overalls who considered raising us a hobby. From what we hear, it’s all business now and personal relationships are given short shrift.
XJ: I hear you, brother. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a whole other agenda at the farm and it’s not all about our longevity. Since spring, we were treated like royalty, given seconds and thirds during our three liquid meals a day and asked to do virtually nothing in return. In fact, we barely moved since August as our living space shrunk as we put on a surprising amount of weight, particularly in our pectorals, which grew to Schwarzeneggerian proportions.
My conversations became limited to fellow turkeys to my right and left with whom I could still make eye contact. The turkey in front of me was nothing but a blizzard of white feathers stuffed in my face. But, as I said, the food, though amazingly bland, was always plentiful even if we were jammed to our gullets from the meal before. By autumn, most of us found the feeding protocols to be excessive. Did we totally buy into the farm’s party line that such gluttony was in our best interest? Not really. But what are we going to do? Go on a hunger strike? You can run but cannot hide from the feeding tubes.
Tom: As a relatively bony wild turkey, I will be candid and say that sort of life sounds dreadful.
XJ: The worst part is the overwhelming sense of shared purpose has simply evaporated in the post-Thanksgiving era, to say nothing of the thousands of missing turkeys, presumably relocated to other farm quarters. While I’m treated with the utmost respect here, I catch myself wondering what it would be like to hang out in the more rough ‘n’ tumble world that you Wattles endure.
Tom: Careful what you wish for, XJ. Your indolent lifestyle and predator-free environment look pretty good in the dark days of Island winter when our daily routine boils down to dodging cars, pecking at the frozen earth and worrying about foxes. On the other hand, XJ, we can still fly, an ancient genetic bequest that may not be of much practical value these days but instills in us great pride as winged fowl. Clumsy and inelegant aviators we may be, but what a flush of freedom to take to the air, even if just for the heck of it!
XJ: I know it is not your intention, Tom, but your paean to flying is deeply depressing. When I talk of not being able to move, suggesting that I even want to, I am being disingenuous. My knees are a wreck (a very common complaint here at the farm). If the feeding tube were two feet away, I would cut down to two infusions rather than painfully shuffling to my three squares a day. It seems my legs are utterly useless for my bulked-up frame!
Tom: I should be more sensitive to your situation, XJ. I know you have made agonizing (no pun intended) tradeoffs to be fox-free for life. But, I must say, dealing with tender knees so you can chow down to your heart’s content seems a far cry from constantly looking over your shoulder for salivating Vulpes vulpes, whose raison d’être is turkeycide.
XJ: Tom, I do appreciate the state of continuous embattlement you face in the Island wild. In my pathetic physical shape, I would be easy pickin’s for a fox. Hey, a mole could give me a run (no pun intended) for my money! But the word here on the farm is that the fox threat on the East Coast has dwindled to DEFCON 5, similar to the odds of being attacked by a hyperactive human third grader. So why the paranoia?
Tom: Rotundo old pal, there are evil stirrings in Mashomack here. Call it crazy coincidence, but ever since that Clooney/Streep movie, the maliciously titled “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” cleaned up at the box office a couple of years ago, these mange-ravaged turkey killers are making a comeback.
XJ: Tom! Hello! It’s an animated feature! It’s a diverting fantasy! It’s a kids’ movie for grownups! You are so over-reacting.
Tom: Listen, Fatso, I promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but I don’t like your tone. That post-Thanksgiving lull on the farm you refer to? It’s not a lull, it’s the savage result of the annual Turkey Day Armageddon! Your missing cage buddies — and that’s what it is, XJ, a cage, not “living space” — became meals! You lucked out because you probably have a physical imperfection and are not suitable for retail! Don’t you see that?
XJ: On that note, I’m signing off, Tom. Take a walk on the wild side! Feast on roadkill! Face down a battalion of Ford F-150s! Fly into a live LIPA power line! Go nuts, man. My midday food service has arrived.