Yam Men

Michael saw the rise of the Yam Men from the beginning. But there was nothing he could do. He was just a kid – a naughty kid who didn’t like Math much – who was offered a new cookery programme. “A man should know how to cook,” his father said. “You never know what kind of trouble you might get into. At least you can eat.”

The classes took place in the school’s commercial kitchen. Michael spent the first ten minutes looking at people’s distorted reflections in gleaming steel units. Mr. May said, “We are going to chop and mash today, so everyone, please wash your hands.” He showed them the proper way to do this – you run hot water at full blast, reciting “O Canada, We stand on guard for thee,” twice while rubbing and rinsing.

He handed out large knives, and told them to each take a yam from a cardboard box. It was a simple instruction, but for some reason Michael didn’t want to do it. He held back his hand. “Can I use an ordinary potato, Sir” he said, forcing a cheerful tone. “After all this is Spud Valley.” Mr. May’s eyes seemed to flash lilac as he said, “This recipe requires these special purple yams, Michael.”

So Michael put his hand into the box without looking. He felt for a lumpy tuber. At first there seemed to be nothing there, but then he grasped one. It seemed to jump right into his hand.

Michael placed the purple leather-coloured, torpedo-shaped lump on the cutting board. It had little growths, like tiny limbs. The Yam rocked and settled itself into place. He put both hands together on the large knife and pushed down hard. He wasn’t sure what happened next. There were squeals all around the kitchen. It seemed that everyone had cut themselves. But when they looked at each other’s hands, there were no injuries or blood. Just cleanly chopped yams, shining purple inside.

They finished the job, boiled them for ten minutes, mashed them with salt, pepper, and butter, and took them home. They were delicious. “Almost like eating meat,” said his father.

The rest of the cookery course was less eventful. Mr. May never again mentioned yams. But he encouraged their consumption of ordinary potatoes, which he said were a different species. He promoted the MAC diet: MACaroni cheese, MACkeral, MACDonalds – with roasted, boiled, and fried potatoes respectively – and he suggested that they visit Scotland to eat MacMACaroons.

Other classes also got weirder. In music they tried a new instrument the school had just purchased – the tuba (pronounced tuber said their music teacher). In English class they played word games. “If someone threw a root vegetable at you?” said their teacher. “Would you yammer?” In Religious Studies, they discussed the Jewish yamulka. In Chemistry it was polyamides.

And the strangeness spread further. Instead of going to garage sales at weekends, Michael’s dad said that he was rooting around. The Mayor, who was also a farmer, began to campaign as the Y’amor (to appeal to both youth and Quebecois, he said). People asked for their sandwiches with Yamonnaise. When friends asked about his birthday, even Michael couldn’t help saying, “The second of Yam”. There was pressure everywhere, on everyone, to use the Y-word. And the streetlights were changed to produce a purple glow.

In spring, people removed their winter gear and revealed more skin. Everybody was sunburnt and more leathery than before. And despite no longer wearing clunky boots, or carrying skis, their gait remained the same. They walked around stiffly, as if they had no joints. Lumpy masses of purple-browned flesh roamed the streets.

There were peaceful protests from the yoga crowd, who occupied the supermarket car park. Then they chanted together at the Farmer’s Market. It was unnatural to be that stiff, they said.  People were meant to be flexible, and fluidity was a sign of good health. They were supported by members of the Tai Chi, Karate, and gymnastics communities.

Their campaign had some early success in the village, but soon their battle was lost. For all along the Valley, farmers were building special hothouses, amending their soils, and making egg-sized holes. Michael got a farm job that summer, working with his friends on a planting crew. Their bodies became stiff from bending over, and their skins burnt purple from sun exposure. As they dropped seed yams into holes and covered them over with dirt, they heard small cheers.

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One Response to “Yam Men”

  1. That whole story’s world with a whole load of wierdness sounded like my real world now but that doesn’t mean I dislike it.

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