By Ed Staskus
On an early May morning Frank and Vera Glass visited Barron Cannon, who they hadn’t seen much since the previous October when they met him picketing the Hungry Oasis, a vegan restaurant in their Lakewood, Ohio, neighborhood. They had stopped by several times, but once winter settled in had not paid him a call.
The first time they saw met encountered Barron they were attracted by the flashing lights of a black and white SUV at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it: HYPOCRITES!
In cold blood red crayon.
The two exasperated patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he maintained he had more than enough reason, and cited his first amendment rights, he finally agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign jangling over his shoulder.
He was going their way, up West Clifton, and after falling into step with him, they were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.
“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”
He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their hides. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He didn’t snack on chocolate, slurp miso soup, or pour salad dressing on salads. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.
“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “and since that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are, and here I am. At least I don’t have to live with them.”
As least as long as they weren’t his parents. Although he lived alone, he had to live with his folks.
“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, roasts, sausages, hot dogs and frozen fish home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions. They chew on Slim Jim’s while they watch the news on TV.”
It turned out he lived in an orange yurt in the backyard of his parent’s house overlooking the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile-and-a-half south of Lake Erie. He had built the Mongolian tent himself. He did not have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.
“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery,” he said.
Vera gave him a sharp glance. They had two house cats, Shadow and Sky King. She didn’t think of them as slaves, and she was certain they didn’t think of themselves as slaves, either.
“Have we met before?” Frank asked as they turned down their side street and Barron continued his trek up Riverside Drive.
“I don’t think so,” said Barron.
A college graduate with a master’s degree in philosophy and a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid student debt, Barron Cannon was unqualified for nearly any and every job, even if he had been remotely interested.
He did not vote, watch television, or take medicine.
“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”
He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion.
He had few friends, other than several sketchy bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs. But he only worked for them if they did not have cars and agreed not to talk about their problems, especially their health problems.
“Insurance, HMO’s, meds, doctors, it’s all a racket,” he said.
Whenever they visited Barron they always walked, because if he knew they had driven to see him, he would refuse to see them.
“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” Vera asked, reminding Frank of the nearly four-mile round-trip hike from our house.
Barron lived on an allowance his mom and dad begrudged him, shopped at a once-a-week local farmer’s market, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.
Unbeknownst to them he had dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he had lain and buried a concealed transmission wire.
“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, off the natural gas and coal, which I will tell you is a blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”
“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”
He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater and LED’s were strung in a kind of lazy chandelier. He cooked on a Cuisinart 2-burner cast iron hot plate.
Barron had previously refused to employ or enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.
“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve on draft, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They’re too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they’re doing.”
Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.
“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which Frank reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed them. He gave me Frank a mirthless grin. “At least they’re only half lying to themselves.”
Vera, who described herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a dazzling smile at Barron Cannon, wisely keeping her eating habits to herself, gnashing her teeth at the same time.
As they approached Hogsback Hill overlooking the Metropark valley, they looked out across a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter. Barron’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where the long downhill of the road intersects Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the big city.
Frank was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club, so he didn’t mention it.
“Vegans are the worst, the whole lot of them,” said Barron.
“Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or someone who spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga, and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their Lord Vishnu immersions in Germany, and everywhere else around the globe for their yoga retreats, damn the carbon footprint, I’m racking up the miles, and I’ll show you the real invisible man who’s burning up the planet.”
Since Barron did not own a phone, or even a doorbell, they were happy to find him at home that morning, although Vera was less happy about it than Frank. Barron was laying out rows of seeds and tubers outside his yurt. They joined him, sitting down on canvas field chairs. He had opened the flap over the roof hole of the yurt. Vera poked her head inside, remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his house.
“Inside your tent, I mean,” she said.
“It’s a yurt,” he said.
“Whatever,” she said under her breath.
Frank was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.
“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”
He noticed a yoga mat rolled up.
“Where do you practice yoga?” asked Frank.
“Here in the backyard, and sometimes at Inner Bliss. The owner and I trade cleaning for classes.”
“That’s probably where I’ve seen you before,” said Frank.
“Maybe,” said Barron
He led them to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.
“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”
“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. They make you a slave to the supermarket. Freedom is a better idea.”
As they prepared to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag and handed Frank the bag.
“You should take every chance you have to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”
On the driveway of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback, looking across the valley towards the Hilliard Road Bridge, Barron tapped the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.
“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.
Frank and Vera walked the long way around to home, crossing the bridge, on the way to Rocky River. The 900-foot long concrete Hilliard Road Bridge was not the first bridge on the spot. The earliest one was known as the “Swinging Bridge” and was a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and swayed in strong winds.
Vera was unusually quiet. She was a naturally gabby woman. As they passed a small eatery on Detroit Road, with outdoor seating, she suggested they stop for refreshments, since Barron hadn’t offered them any.
“I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” said Vera, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron wouldn’t like it, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes, not thinking about that wise guy.”
They both agreed that the vegans they knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. They could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.
Or maybe he was just somebody’s cranky uncle.
They had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun slip in and out of the springtime clouds, and walked the rest of the way home in the late afternoon in a happy buzz state-of-mind.
Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.